House of Representatives
3 July 1931

12th Parliament · 1st Session

Mr.Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) tookthe chair at 10.30 a.m., and offered prayers.

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Minister for External Affairs · YARRA, VICTORIA · ALP

– I lay on the table the second interim report of the committee of representatives of the returned soldiers’ organizations appointed to consider matters relating to the necessary reductions in war pensions.

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– Will the Prime Minister state whether any further payments have been made by the Commonwealth recently in respect of interest due overseas by the Stateof New South Wales? If so, is it intended that the other States of the Commonwealth shall continue indefinitely to make good the default of New South Wales?

Mr.SCULLIN.- The position has not changed since I last made a statement to the House. As the interest becomes due, it is paid by the Commonwealth. Meanwhile the legal proceedings instituted by the Commonwealth against New South Wales willbe continued unless, as a result of negotiations, the Government of that State agrees to meet its obligations.

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– I ask the Treasurer whether the banks have made any definite promise to reduce the rates of interest on overdrafts and advances? If so, will the honorable gentleman statewhat the reduced rate will be, and when it will commence?


– As a result of a conference between the Commonwealth Bank and the private banks, decisions have been reached involving reductions of the deposit and advance rates of interest.


– The deposit rate has been reduced, butwhat of the advance rate ?


– In some instances the advance rate also has been reduced. I have received a letter from the Commonwealth Bank conveying the decisions of the banks in relation to this matter, and also the negotiations with the savings banks. If the honorable member desires further particulars, I ask him to place a question on the notice-paper.

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Independence Day - Fight of Post and Gatty


– To-morrow will be the 4th July. Having regard to the signal service which President Hoover has rendered to the world by his proposal for the suspension of all payments in connexion with war debts, and recognizing the desirability of further fostering the friendship between the English-speaking peoples, will the Prime Minister, if he has not already done so, cause a felicitous cablegram to be sent to President Hoover ? Will he also, in view of the marvellous exploit of the American aviator Post, in company with the Australian Gatty, make a happy reference to their epic flight?


– The honorable member’s suggestion will be fully considered.


– To-morrow being the 4th July, will the Prime Minister cause a statement to be issued, outlining to the Australian public the enormous material gains and other benefits derived by the United States of America from a war which deprived Australiaof 60,000 of its sons?


– I shall not give consideration to that proposal.

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– In view of the growth of communism and its serious menace to Australia, will the Prime Minister consider the advisability of declaring communist organizations in Australia illegal?


– I shall refer this matter to my learned colleague, the Attorney-General.


– Owing to the violent and revolutionary utterances of Mr. Hardy, of the Riverina movement, the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) and the All for Australia League, will the Government cause those organizations also to be declared illegal?


– That suggestion also will be referred to the Attorney-General.

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Cream Separators


– I have received from the Primary Producers Union the following letter : -

Those of our members who are dairyfarmers are gravely concerned at the proposed increase of primage duty and of the sales tax, which must, in turn, inevitably increase the price of machinery of production such as cream separators. They recommend that the latter should be totally exempted from the application of primage duty and sales tax. Part of clause 29 of the report furnished by the Under-Treasurers and economists at the present Premiers Conference suggests that the sales tax might be raised 5 per cent. and the primage duty to 10 per cent. . . . “with care that in both cases basic foods are exempt, and possibly also the more important goods which are direct instruments of production such as machinery. …” In this connection we submit that cream separators are essentially “instruments of production”. We have ascertained that the present primage duty and sales tax have already provoked an increase of 25s. in the price of a 90-gallon separator of a wellknown make, and that if the proposed primage duty and sales tax become effective a further increase of 32s. will result, making a total cost of 57s. in all. According to official statistics the total value for duty of the 15,268 separators imported into the Commonwealth in 1930 amounted to £165,392-


-Order ! The privilege of asking questions of Ministers was never intended to permit the reading of lengthy letters of a propagandist character. I suggest to the honorable member that he should indicate to the Minister concerned the effect of the communication, and then ask his question.


– I shall do so. Having regard to the facts that the total value for duty was £165,392, upon which the primage duty and sales tax at existing rates would be £11,725, and the additional rates proposed would yield. a further £15,034, making a total of £26,759 to be borne by the purchasers of separators, will the Minister for Trade and Customs, in order to assist the primary producers to obtain essential machinery that is not made in Australia, consider the exemption of cream separators from primage duty and sales tax?

Minister for Trade and Customs · CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND · ALP

– In the interests of primary producers, cornsacks, woolpacks and rock phosphate are already exempted, and other applications for exemptions are being considered. If the honorable member will let me have the letter from which he has quoted, consideration will be given to the representation therein.

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asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -

  1. What is the amount of motor-car hire paid in Australia on behalf of each Minister since the present Government took office in October, 1929, until the 30th June, 1931 ?
  2. What has been the cost, during the same period, of maintaining and running Government motor cars for each Minister of the present Government ?
  3. What was the amount of motor-car hire paid in Australia on behalf of each Minister of the previous Government during the life of the Eleventh Parliament?
  4. What was the cost during the life of tha Eleventh Parliament of maintaining and running Government motor cars for each Minister of the previous Government?

– I have caused inquiry to be made into the cost involved in preparing the information requested by the honorable member. As a detailed examination of the accounts of the various Commonwealth departments would be entailed, necessitating considerable expenditure, represented by the salaries, &c, of officers, I do not feel justified in authorizing the work to be proceeded with.

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asked the Treasurer, upon notice -

Is it a fact that as a result of investigations made in or about 1923, it was estimated that if the maternity bonus were limited to persons having a family income of less than £300 per annum the saving would be about £29,000?


– There is no record of any such investigation or estimate having been made by the department. According to the press, an estimate on the lines referred to was made by persons outside the department.

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asked the Treasurer, upon notice -

  1. What has been the amount paid by the Commonwealth in bounties from 1920 to 1931, inclusive, showing the industries for which the bounties were granted and the State in which the bounty was received?
  2. What amount has been expended by the Commonwealth in the Commonwealth Oil Refineries ?
  3. What amount has been expended by the Commonwealth in Amalgamated Wireless ( Australasia ) Limited ?

– The information is being obtained, and will be furnished as soon as possible.

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asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -

  1. In connexion with the importation of tea into the Commonwealth for the years 1928, 1929, and 1930, will he supply information showing (a) the total importation (in lb.), and (b) the total value of importations, from each of the following: - India, Ceylon, China, Java, Sumatra, and other countries?
  2. What is the duty on tea?
  3. What amount of revenue does the Government receive from tea?

– Information is being obtained.

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asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -

Has he taken steps to prevent the dumping of Stewart Island oysters in Sydney and Melbourne ?


– Certain complaints have been received on the subject, and are being fully inquired into in order to ascertain all the facts of the case.

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Parliament House Roof


– On the 2nd July, the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked me the following questions, upon notice : -

  1. What was the original estimated cost of the roof of Parliament House?
  2. What was its actual cost?
  3. What were the names of the contractors?
  4. What was the name of the architect or the officer who passed the roof as rainproof?
  5. Is it a fact that 80 tons of gravel were placed on the roof after the honorable member for Melbourne drew attention to its condition?
  6. If the amount was not 80 tons, what was the weight?
  7. Is it a fact that lately there have been several leakages in the roof; if so, what was the cause of the rain getting through?

I am now in a position to advise him as follows: - 1 and 2. The honorable member’s attention is invited to the reply furnished to him on 28th March, 1930. Since that date, a sum of approximately £50 has been spent on the roof.

  1. This information was supplied to the honorable member in answer to a similar question of 23nd February, 1929.
  2. The architectural staff of the late Federal Capital Commission. 5 and 6. Approximately 80 tons of gravel were placed on the roof.
  3. There have been one or two slight dam]) spots, caused by small faults occurring in the bitumen covering.

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– On the 1st July, the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) asked me whether I would advise the House of the terms of the Government’s reply to the SecretaryGeneral of the League of Nations on the subject of the draft convention for the regulation of whaling. I now advise the honorable member that I have had a copy of the letter laid on the table of the Library.

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The following papers were presented : -

Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1931 -

Nos. 13 and 14 - Amalgamated Postal Workers Union of Australia.

No. 15 - Australian Postal Electricians Union; Australian Third Division Telegraphists and Postal Clerks Union ; Commonwealth Postmasters Association ; Commonwealth Public Service Artisans Association; Commonwealth Public Service Clerical

Association; Federated Public Service Assistants Association of Australia; Fourth Division Postmasters, Postal Clerks and Telegraphists Union; Line Inspectors Association, Commonwealth of Australia; Meat Inspectors Association, Commonwealth Public Service; Postal Overseers Union of Australia; Professional Officers Association, Commonwealth Public Service.

Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Pharmacy Ordinance - Regulations.

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Bill brought up by Mr. Theodobe, and road a first time.

Second Reading

Treasurer · Dalley · ALP

by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

After the Prime Minister had moved, on the 18th June, the second reading of the Debt Conversion Agreement Bill, I explained the details of the financial rehabilitation plan, including the necessary reductions of Public Service salaries and the further economies towhich the Commonwealth Government is committed by the following decision of the recent conference in Melbourne: -

A reduction of 20 per cent. in all adjustable Government expenditure, as compared with the year ending 30th June, 1930, including all emoluments, wages, salaries and pensions paid by the Governments, whether fixed by statute or otherwise, such reductions to be equitably effected.

This bill is in conformity with that decision, and its provisions will enable practicable effect to be given to it. It provides, also, certain measures that are necessary to effect some portion of the additional saving of £1,000,000 in miscellaneous expenditure, to make up the total saving of 20 per cent.

Mr Beasley:

– Shall we receive a detailed statement of how the adjustable expenditure will be reduced?


– In my budget speech next week I shall give fuller details of other economies not covered by this bill.

Mr Beasley:

-Will they be effected by this bill?


– Economies which necessitate statutory amendments will be effected by this bill in the manner I shall indicate later.

The measure covers a wide field of legislation, as it is necessary to amend the existing provisions of several acts of Parliament. For the sake of convenience, the bill has been subdivided into parts, grouped to conform with the various acts affected, and with the various sections of the plan. I shall deal briefly with its provisions, and in committee the proposals can be considered in detail, this being essentially a bill for discussion in committee. Salaries and wages are dealt with under Part II. The provisions apply to all the officers and employees of the Commonwealth, or of an authority under the Commonwealth, and, speaking generally, cover all remuneration payable under special appropriations or otherwise.

Mr Beasley:

– Do they apply to the judiciary?


– Yes, so far as travelling expenses are concerned. They apply to salaries, wages, fees, or allowances paid for the performance of duties. The Ministers of State Act of 1917 will be amended by reducing the aggregate salaries paid to Ministers from £15,300 to £11,857 10s., a reduction equivalent to 22½ per cent. The reduction in Parliamentary salaries and allowances will be as follows: - £1,000 and under, 20 per cent.

Over £1,000 and up to £2,000,22½ per cent.

Over £2,000, 25 per cent.

For the purposes of thisreduction the salaries and allowances paid to senators and members holding parliamentary office are aggregated. The net reduction of the emoluments of Ministers will be 22½ per cent.With regard to Commonwealth employees, the object of the proposals is to secure over the whole field of Government salary expenditure an average reduction of approximately 20 per cent. on salaries as at the 1st July, 1930. The total of the salaries and wages bill charged against the budget is about £11,000,000. Of this amount, the total salaries under £250 represent about 25 per cent., those between £250 and £500 about 65 per cent., and those over £500 about 10 per cent. Honorable members have been supplied with a graph which illustrates the operation of Commonwealth salaries under the various groups. It will be seen that the vast majority of public servants are in the lower salary groups, and that fact shows the impracticability of omitting from the scheme of reduction those on the lower salaries, and making a proportionately higher cut in the salaries of those receiving £600 per annum and over. It can be seen at a glance that if all the higher salaries were abolished, the proposed reduction on the lower grades would be diminished by a very small amount indeed.

Mr Long:

– Commonwealth public servants in the States are subjected to unemployment and other State taxes. Will this 20 per cent. be in addition to those other imposts?


– The provisions of this bill will not exempt Commonwealth public servants from their contributions to unemployment taxation, but there is a provision to prevent further special emergency taxation being applied to Commonwealth servants who may be resident in a State.

The scheme is based, in the first place, upon the fall of the cost of living throughout the Commonwealth, which justifies a reduction of the basic wage, and, in the second place, on a further percentage reduction, according to a sliding scale, on the remaining salaries.

For an adult officer the reduction to cover the fall in the cost of living is £34, inclusive of any reductions effected since 1st July, 1930. A saving clause is provided to preclude this reduction from bringing any adult male officer below £182 per annum, which is the basic wage justified on the latest cost of living figures, namely, those for the March quarter, 1931. A further percentage reduction on the remaining salaries is to be calculated in accordance with the formula set out in the first schedule to the bill. That formula explains in what manner the further percentage reduction will operate.

The reductions are on a sliding scale, and vary from 3 per cent. to 24 per cent. The following table, which is very much on the lines of that which I gave when introducing the Debt Conversion Agreement Bill, illustrates the scheme in greater detail.

The Government regrets the necessity for the introduction of such a measure as this; but it has been framed to operate as fairly as possible. For the basic wage worker, the proposals involve only an adjustment of the cost of living figures. The further percentage reductions on a sliding scale arise from the stern necessities created by the serious plight in which Australia now finds itself. The extensive field of salary and wage payments of the Commonwealth is so complex, owing to the variation of the awards and conditions, that it is not practicable to apply this scheme of reduction to every employee, and at the same time secure equitable results. Further provisions have, therefore, been added to the bill to meet these conditions.

The pay system of members of the Naval, Military and Air Forces is entirely different from that of the Public Service. It includes active pay, deferred pay, free quarters, rations, specialist allowances, and other emoluments. As it is not practicable to include in the bill a comprehensive and equitable scheme of reduction to apply to those forces, provision has been made for the details of reduction to be determined by the Minister, subject to the reduction being approximately the sameas will apply to other employees in receipt of corresponding salaries.

Employees under the Federal Arbitrator’s awards, which provide for cost of living adjustment, and have prescribed a further reduction of 10 per cent., will be paid in accordance with those awards. No further reduction will be made in such awards unless the Minister so directs. This power is necessary to cover cases in which there may be serious inequality as between the awards and the general reductions under this bill for employees receiving similar pay.

Mr.Beasley. - The Minister will virtually take the place of the Arbitration Court.


– Only for the purpose ofapplying the scheme generally on an equitable basis, not to interfere with the conditions applied by the court.

Mr Beasley:

– But for the purpose of setting aside conditions?


– No. This is an effort to make the salary reduction as equitable as possible in its application to the whole body of Commonwealth employees. It is no simple task. It would be a comparatively easy matter to adjust the salaries that come under the jurisdiction of the Public Service Board; but a large number of employees do not come under that Board or under the Public Service Arbitrator. In order to make the scheme apply as fairly as possible over the whole field, special provisions have been inserted which may be dealt with in detail when the committee stage is reached.

Mr Beasley:

– Will the employees concerned have a right to submit their case to the Arbitration Court?


– They always have that right. As a matter of fact, Public Service employees, through their associations, have been making representations to the Government during the two or three weeks that have passed since the Premiers Conference terminated.

Mr Hughes:

– Does this scheme apply topersons outside the Public Service?


– No. Employees under Federal Arbitration Court awards in which there has been no adjustment will also be dealt with by the Minister.

Other classes of employees that will require examination include employees under State awards. There has been no uniformity as between States in the variation of awards, and some reduction may be necessary to prevent serious inequalities in the treatment of Commonwealth employees. I instance employees under industrial tribunals, such as in the Federal Capital Territory, and certain employees not under an award, such as female office cleaners and exempt junior telephonists in country districts. The bill provides that these cases shall be dealt with by the Minister.

Mr Beasley:

– Will the employees of Cockatoo Dockyard be affected?


– All Commonwealth employees of establishments which come under the provisions of federal awards will be affected. The federal awards will be applicable, with the revision that was recently made. Where such employees are under a State award, and that award has not been adjusted commensurately with what is contained in this bill for application to the Commonwealth Service, the Minister will have the right to revise the rates applicable, taking into account the circumstance that the Commonwealth employees concerned may be working side by side with other persons who are doing the same class of work and are in the same grade, and whose rates will not be reduced. All such difficulties that must be left for adjustment by administrative action. Such instances will be dealt with by a Minister who will be designated by the Prime Minister for the purpose, and will be assisted by a committee.

Mr Beasley:

– So the employees at Mort’s Dock engaged in similar work to that of employees at Cockatoo Dockyard will receive a higher rate of wages than the latter !


– The honorable member is not right in assuming that. If he believes that an inequality will arise in such cases he may raise the point in Committee. The honorable member is incorrect in assuming that the Government will reduce the wages of its employees below those received by other employees outside the Service who are engaged on similar work. The rates applicable under this scheme, which is designed to remove inequalities, will in some States be lower than may be applicable to workers outside the Public Service. To enable the Minister to deal suitably with all these classes of employees provision has been made for the appointment of a committee consisting of a member of the Public Service Board, the Public Service Arbitrator and a person to be appointed by the Governor-General. This committee will inquire into all special cases referred to it by the Minister. The bill also provides that the committee shall inquire into, and submit a recommendation as to - (a) employees under Eederal Court Awards; (b) employees under State Awards and industrial tribunals; (c) certain employees not under any award, such as female office cleaners.

Salaries paid under contract or agreement are brought within the scheme of reduction, as it would not be equitable to exempt them.

Payments, fees and allowances, fixed by or under any act in return for services performed are to be subject to a 20 per cent. reduction. That will apply to the fees paid to members of Parliamentary Committees, the Tariff Board, and similar boards.

Mr.White. - Will it cover any persons who may be under agreement with the Government ?


– Yes. There are various allowances paid by the Commonwealth to which a hard and fast rule cannot be equitably applied ; they will require special treatment on their merits. These cases will be determined by the Minister on the recommendation of the committee already referred to, but any reduction is not to exceed 20 per cent.

The salaries of the Governor and the Deputy Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, which are fixed by order in council, and the remuneration of the directors of the bank, which is fixed in the Commonwealth Bank Act, are to be reduced in accordance with the general scheme. The salaries of other employees of the bank are not covered by this bill, as they are not fixed by the Commonwealth, but by the Bank Board.

As the members of the Commonwealth Public Service and other employees of the Commonwealth will be subjected to severe reductions of salaries and wages under this bill, it is necessary to protect them from any new harsh scheme of taxation by any State. Provision has, therefore, been made in. clause 17 to limit the effect of any increase in State taxation above the taxation in force on the 30th June. It is not practicable to fix in the bill, a definite limit to such increases, and provision has therefore been made for “prescribed rates and percentages “ to be determined by the Governor-General. This provision is designed to meet such cases as would have arisen in New South Wales had the new State Income Tax Bill been passed. The passage of such a bill through any State Parliament would mean that Commonwealth Government employees resident in the State would be called upon to suffer a second reduction in their salaries. They would, in such a case, be contributing heavily in two ways to the financial rehabilitation of Australia. Many employees would be placed in a most unfair position if such circumstances arose, for employees in one State would be contributing much more heavily than employees in another State, although all sections, being employees of the Commonwealth, would have the right to be on a somewhat equal footing. It is to prevent any great inequality that this provision is included in the bill. This provision will not prevent any State Government from applying an unemployment relief tax to Commonwealth public servants. Such taxation is now applicable to them In Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, and New South Wales. It will still be competent for the New South Wales Government, for instance, to collect the present unemployment relief tax of ls. in the £1 from Commonwealth public servants and members of the Commonwealth Parliament who reside in New South Wales or represent New South Wales constituencies. While the Government did not think it would be desirable to interfere with the right of New South Wales to impose this relief taxation, it felt that it would be proper to take steps to prevent the imposition of unduly onerous State taxation upon Commonwealth employees. At the same time, it will be competent for States like Western Australia and Victoria, the income taxation of which is lower than that of some of the other States, to increase their rates to an equitable extent, and apply the new rates to Commonwealth public servants resident in the State, so long as the new rates do not exceed the prescribed limit.

Mr Hughes:

– Will the prescribed limit exceed the highest State tax at the 30th June?


– It may exceed it, but the amount of such excess must be prescribed. No definite rule is laid down in the bill. The matter is left to the discretion of the Governor-General, who would, no doubt, be guided in exercising his discretion, by the taxation which applies in other States as compared with that under notice.

Part III. of the bill deals with pensions. The Judiciary Act, the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, and the Bankruptcy Act contain provisions for the payment of pensions to retired judges. The maximum pension payable is equal to half the salary on retirement. Provision is made in this bill for these pensions to be reduced by 20 per Cent. At present a pension is being paid to only one retired justice of the High Court.

All contributions by the Government to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund are to be reduced by 20 per cent. These payments by the Government now amount to approximately £280,000 a year. As the law stands at present, when a salary is reduced to a new salary group the number of units to which the contributor is entitled is automatically reduced. This provision is being repealed and a new one substituted, the effect of which will be to give the officer affected the option of contributing for the higher number of units, or of applying to the Board for his units to be reduced in accordance with his new salary.

Maternity allowances are dealt with in Part IV. of the bill. It is proposed that the allowance shall be reduced from £5 to £4 in each case, and that it shall not be payable unless the claimant shows that the total income of herself and her husband for the preceding twelve months did not exceed £260.

The bill provides in Part V. for th4 amendment of our invalid and old-age pension legislation in such a way as to bring into operation the reductions to which I referred in my speech on the Debt Conversion Agreement Bill. It is provided that the amount of pension shall be limited to £45 10s. per annum, or 17s. 6d. per week, in lieu of the present £52 per annum, or 20s. per week. The limit of income, including pension, is to be £78 per annum, or 30s. per week, instead of £84 10s. per annum, or 32s. 6d. per week. In the debate on the measures which have already been introduced to give effect to the financial rehabilitation plan, some honorable members have said that a peculiar degree of hardship would be imposed upon pensioners in receipt of only 5s. per week if their payments were reduced by 2s. 6d. per week; but those honorable gentlemen have not taken into account the reason why a pension of only 5s. per week is being paid. The reason is, of course, that such pensioners own property in excess of a certain amount. If we limit the income to £78 per annum, pensioners in receipt of less than the full rate of pension will not be worse off than other pensioners provided they have an income of £78 per annum. In such cases the adjustment would be equitable, ever though it involves some pensioners in a loss of £5 and others in a loss of only 7s. 6d.

Mr Lazzarini:

– Are old-age and invalid pensioners being dealt with on parallel lines?


– Yes. The total amount of income in each case will be limited to 30s., as against 32s. 6d. as at present.

War pensions are to be treated as income.

At present the value of a home in which the pensioner permanently resides is wholly exempt from calculation as property. This liberalization has had a wider effect than was intended. The bill therefore provides for the value of a home over and above £500 to be treated as property. I do not think that this can be considered a hardship. If old-age or invalid pensioners are living in a home the value of which does not exceed £500 their pensions will not be reduced on this account; if their home exceeds a value of £500,’ the amount of excess will be treated as property, and the pension will be diminished accordingly.

Mr Lazzarini:

– The Treasurer cannot water down these provisions by talking around them.


– The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr.- Lazzarini) will be entitled to defend the present system if ho desire3 to do so; the Government is satisfied that the new provisions which it is making are reasonable under existing circumstances. The pension payable to inmates of institutions is to be reduced from 5s. 6d. to 4s. 6d. per week.

Mr Eldridge:

– Will not these amendments act as a double cut against the pensioner ?


– No. One of the most difficult adjustments that must be made in order to give effect to the agreement of the Premiers Conference relates to war pensions. Provision is made in the bill for the amendment of the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act to give effect to the proposals which I have previously outlined in this connexion. It is provided that the pensions to ex-soldiers shallbe reduced by 20 per cent., but that a refund shall be made in cases in which income from all sources is regarded as insufficient. Refunds are to be determined having regard to the following minimum income: Ex-soldier, £2 5s. Od. a week; wife, 10s. a week; each child under 16 years of age, 5s. a week. If the reduced family pension, plus other income, is less than the prescribed income, the refund is designed to bring the total up to the prescribed income, but this is not to exceed a 20 per cent, reduction. In the case of widows and widowed mothers, who have no other income, a reduction of 10 per cent, is proposed. If such persons have other income the reductions will be from 10 per cent, to 20 per cent., according to the amount of such income. In the case of other dependants, a general reduction of 20 per cent, is provided. But no reduction is to be made in the case of motherless orphans, that is, children of deceased ex-soldiers whose mothers are also dead. At present about £250,000 is being paid in living allowances which are really supplementary to the pensions. It was originally proposed to reduce these allowances by 20 per cent., but it is now proposed to vary this provision by treating the allowances as pari of the pension, thus bringing them into the field in which concessions below the 20 per cent, reduction will be permissible. For this purpose “ pension “ has been defined in the bill to include payments made under regulation 89 a to 89 s inclusive.

The bill also provides for the discontinuance of the following practices: The payment of six months’ arrears of pension, the payment of a pension to war widows for two years after re-marriage; and the payment of pensions to “ new wives “ and “ new children “.

The proposals which I have just indicated were explained by me in greater detail in my speech on the Debt Conversion Agreement Bill. The matter was then taken up by the representatives of the various returned soldier organizations, including the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, the Blinded Soldiers Association, the Limbless Soldiers Association, the Tubercular Sailors and Soldiers Association, and other sectional organizations of that kind. As the result of representations made to the Prime Minister, a war pensions committee was appointed, the personnel of which was nominated by the soldier organizations. Professor Giblin, the Acting Commonwealth Statistician, was appointed chairman of the committee, which undertook to consider fully the methods by which the reductions were to be made, and to make suggestions for the reallocation of the proposed reductions. The committee was asked to submit recommendations which would provide for reductions equivalent to £1,290,000, which was the amount which the Government has undertaken to save in this direction. Two interim reports of the committee have been submitted to the Prime Minister, the second of which was circulated this morning. So far, the committee has not been able to furnish a plan which can be adopted in substitution for the Government’s plan, but the negotiations have not come to an end. The Prime Minister is still in consultation with the members of the committee.

Mr Eldridge:

– Is he in consultation with the full committee, or with one member of it?

Mr Scullin:

– The committee is sitting in Canberra to-day, and its decisions are being conveyed to me from time to time.


– The Prime Minister and myself have also been consulted personally by the federal president of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League, and the officials of other returned soldier organizations, including the Blinded Soldiers Association, the Tubercular Sailors and Soldiers Association and the Limbless Soldiers Association. These gentlemen have shown a very reasonable spirit. Naturally, they are anxious to mitigate the effects of any reductions upon the people they represent. They desire to temper the wind to the shorn lamb tothe greatest possible extent, which is very natural, and they have shown great ability in presenting the case for the persons whom they represent. But we feel that we are committed, as part of the general scheme of financial rehabilitation, to a substantial reduction in the cost of war pensions; we cannot escape that. If the matter were left to the free and unfettered decision of the Prime Minister, myself, or any other member, we would be naturally prompted to exempt the maimed and wounded soldier from any reduction of his pension, just as we would desire to show the same consideration to the oldage or invalid pensioner, or the lower-paid member of the Public Service, or any other such person who would otherwise be affected by the economy cuts of this plan. But we know that we cannot get the general result required if we exempt large bodies of recipients of pensions or pay from the Commonwealth purse. In the report from the “War Pensions Committee which the Prime Minister tabled this morning - it is signed by the majority of the committee, and is accompanied by a dissenting report by Professor Giblin, and also by an alternative plan prepared by General G. H. Dodds, a member of the committee - the following statements appear, to which I desire to draw attention : -

The committee recognizes that this procedure will impose on dependants on the average at least twice the percentage reduction which would be given by a uniform cut over all pensions. It does not, however, recommend that this cut should be uniform over all dependants. It believes that a more careful analysis of the various classes of dependants is required, and when it has had time to make this analysis, it will bo prepared to recommend thu exact proportions in which any given cut should be apportioned to the different groups and subgroups of dependants.

It remains to explain more fully what is meant by “ the required reduction in war pension expenditure, not provided for in other ways,” which it is recommended should fall entirely on dependants.

Other way3 include the “ other savings “ referred to in the proposals of the Honorable the Treasurer, and further savings which the committee proposes.

The committee is unanimous in accepting the second of the Treasurer’s “ other savings,” namely, the discontinuance of pensions to widows for two years after re-marriage. For the other three, the committee by a majority recommends -

1 ) That the commission should be authorized to grant up to three months’ arrears of pension when it is satisfied that expense has been incurred by the soldier on account of his war disability before the successful application for a pension was made. (It is unlikely that this will reduce the Treasurer’s estimate of saving by more than £10,000.)

That pensions for “new” wives and “ new “ children be continued, except in the case of *’ new “ stepchildren and “ new “ . adopted children.

That no change be made in regard to tubercular pensioners.

The amount of “other savings” would by these recommendations be reduced from £181,000 to probably about £100,000.

The committee, however, believes that there are other ways in which considerable savings could be made. One such way would be by taking the income of the recipient into account in the case of parents and “ other dependants “ who receive pensions. The committee is not prepared without further investigation to make definite recommendations on thi3 and other possible savings, which it believes would amount in some cases to total elimination of the pension. The result of other savings of this kind would be that the percentage reduction on the general body of pensioners could be substantially lightened.

When all other savings have been determined and the amount taken away from the total savings to be made, the balance will be the amount which the committee recommends should be spread over wives, children, parents and other dependants.

Professor Giblin makes the following useful contribution to the controversy: -

I think income should be taken into account in determining all war pensions, and see no objection to doing so, except the administrative difficulty and expense.

I very strongly dissent from the recommendation to exempt ex-soldiers from any reduction and put double the cut on the wives and children. The effect of this would be to discriminate between ex-soldiers according to their families, putting a heavy burden on the large family, and none at all on the single men, who at the present level of prices would be considerably better ofl than he has been at any time since 1920, when the present scale of pensions was adopted.

I think that a general gradation of pensions with reference to income would be practically too difficult to bo worth attempting, but that discrimination in favour of war pensioners who have lost their usual employment is reasonably practicable and much to be preferred to any other form of discrimination that has been proposed.

It was in recognition of the soundness of the principles enunciated in that message of Professor Giblin that the Government originally propounded the proposals embodied in the bill. A change in the mode of paying pensions by taking into account the income or means of the pensioner could not be made, because that would have been a fundamental departure from the basic principles of all pensions; but it was thought that we should take into account, and relieve of any reduction, the pensioner who is unemployed. That is the essence of the scheme submitted. It must be confessed, however, that the scheme now embodied in the bill is meeting with great hostility from the soldiers themselves, who believe that some considerable saving could be made by applying different rules for the reduction. If that can be done without diminishing the necessary total saving, the Government sees no objection to accepting suggestions that may emanate from the returned soldier organizations and the pensioned soldier bodies; but the Government must be satisfied that whatever scheme is adopted is equitable. It would not do for the Government to lend itself to an undertaking to accept any scheme propounded by the returned soldier bodies which might wreak considerable hardship on certain sections of those receiving pensions.


– If an alternative scheme is accepted, will the Treasurer amend this bill accordingly?


– Yes: I remind honorable members that the proposal on behalf of the soldier organizations will have to come to hand at an early date. It is expected that this bill will be passed next week; but representatives of the soldier organizations are in Canberra, and there is opportunity for much consultation before the bill reaches the committee stage.

Mr Beasley:

– Did not Professor Giblin have most to do with the original proposals ?


– No ; it would be wrong to assume that he took a major part in regard to them. They are formulated as the result of long and earnest consultation between the Prime Minister and myself and the Repatriation Commission..

Mr Beasley:

– But he is an. employee of the Government?


– He is temporarily acting as Commonwealth Statistician. It should be said in fairness to him that he has given extremely valuable service to the Government without much consideration or emolument. His services are really loaned to the Commonwealth by the University of Melbourne to meet a difficulty which arose because of the unfortunate and sudden illness of Mr. Wickens, the Commonwealth Statistician. Professor Giblin’s post as Ritchie professor of economics at the Melbourne University is much more important than that he is now filling for the Commonwealth Government; but his services are particularly valuable to us in these most difficult times, and they are appreciated.

I propose to furnish an outline of the scheme which the soldier organizations are considering; but to which they are not committed. They have had some preliminary negotiations regarding it with the Prime Minister. It is based on Brigadier-General Dodd’s scheme, but does not follow it in all details.

It is as follows : -

Ithas been pointed out to the representatives of the soldier organizations that the foregoing scheme will not yield what is regarded as necessary to the economies with respect to pensions. It falls short by about £400,000 of what is required. The soldier organizations have taken into account other economies in regard to repatriation services, and have reduced the amount that ought to be cut off pensions.

Honorable members intersecting :

Mr SPEAKER (Hon Norman Makin:

– The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini), the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson), and the honorable member forWest Sydney (Mr. Beasley) have been indulging in a cross-fire of conversation which cannot longer be permitted. During several debates of late such conversations have been far too frequent, and I shall not give further latitude in regard to them. The Chair intends to insist on absolute decorum, and if the rules are not observed, action will be taken to enforce them.


– The negotiations between the Government and the soldier organizations are proceeding. I hope that these will result in the production of a plan that we can substitute for that now in the bill, acceptable to all parties; but we must obtain a greater saving than has already been suggested on behalf of those organizations. It seems that we cannot obtain agreement on the economies required with regard to pensions unless there is some reduction in the pensions of the soldiers as well as of the invalid and old-age pensioners. Personally, I think that it should be 10 per cent., to give the soldiers equitable treatment under the general scheme. The soldier organizations’ representatives have undertaken to make further representations to the Prime Minister on the matter.

There is a clause in the bill relating to the judiciary, the object of which is to limit the places in which the Full Court of the High Court shall sit, by providing that such sittings shall not be held except at such places as may from time to time be specified by the GovernorGeneral by notice in the Gazette. At the present time, the court is empowered to sit in both original and appellate jurisdiction, at any place where there is a registry. The principal registry is, for the present, at Melbourne, and district registries are located at Canberra, and at each of the State capitals. It is proposed to give the Governor-General power, for the present, to confine sittings in appellate jurisdiction to certain places only, but not to interfere with the place of sitting of single justices in original jurisdiction. I understand that fairly considerable savings will be effected in regard to travelling expenses, and this can be done without inconvenience to litigants who have matters to bring before the court in its appellate jurisdiction.

It is also proposed to make savings on bounty payments. The amount now payable for bounties is between £500,000 and £600,000 a year. It is proposed to reduce the gold bounty by 50 per cent. When this bounty act was passed, the rate df overseas exchange was 9 per cent. Since then the rate of exchange has increased to 30 per cent., and this increase represents a benefit to the industry of about £360,000. The reduction of 50 per cent. will reduce the estimated bounty from £200,000 to £100,000, against which the industry will gain, as already stated, £360,000 from the altered exchange rate. The bill also provides for a flat rate reduction of 20 per cent. in respect of other bounties.

Mr Nairn:

– What about the sugar bounty ?


– There is no appropriation of revenue for sugar; otherwise, I have no doubt, it would be brought under the bill. The various provisions of the bill are to take effect from dates which will be fixed by proclamation. It is desirable to consult the convenience of the Service in respect tothe various pay days. It will be more appropriate to discuss the details of the bill when we are considering it in committee; but, for the present, I have given honorable members sufficient information to enable them to know the worst.

Debate (on the motion by Mr. Latham) adjourned.

page 3408


Report of Delegation

Prime Minister · Yarra · ALP

– I lay on the table of the House a summary of the proceedings of the Imperial Conference of 1930 and move -

That the paper be printed.

Besides the summary, there is a volume of appendices, containing the full reports of the various committees, together with the speeches delivered at the plenary sessions of the conference. A limited num ber of reports have arrived, and these will be distributed to honorable members. I regret that I was not able to submit even a brief report of the conference to honorable members when I returned from abroad, but it will be realized that we have been pressed with other very urgent business. I do not propose to make a lengthy report now, but I shall place before honorable members some of the outstanding results of our deliberations. Later, the Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan) will move a resolution in connexion with the Statute of Westminster, so that an adjournment may be secured on that, and we may continue the debate when we get through the emergency measures now before us. It will be necessary to have the resolution passed before the end of July. As a matter of fact, it was at. first desired to have it passed by the 1st July.

Many benefits flow from the holdingofImperial Conferences. One great advantage derived is the personal contact of Australia’s representatives with those of other nations comprising the British Commonwealth of Nations. If no other material advantage arose out of those meetings, the personal contacts effected would be of some value. They enable the representatives of the various parts of the Empire to learn and appreciate each other’s point of view, and this is ofadvantage in carrying on the government of the Empire’s component parts. Because of the world depression, there was naturally greater public interest in the economic work of the Imperial Conference than in its other activities, but we must not lose sight of the great importance of the work done on the constitutional side. That work will be of permanent importance to every part of the British Commonwealth.

As honorable members know, the Imperial Conference of 1926 made a general declaration of principle as to the constitutional relations between the various nations comprising the British Commonwealth of Nations. There was presented at that time what has become known as the Balfour report, which represented a definite stage in the development of mutual Empire relations. It marked, I might say, the coming of age of the young nations of theCommon wealth. That report of 1926 was a very valuable and important document, but it was the task of the 1930 conference to translate the 1926 declaration into legal form. This had to be done in such a way as not to impair the unity of the Empire, based upon mutual interest, mutual goodwill, and common kinship. In 1926 it was declared that the status of the nations within the British Commonwealth of Nations was that of equality and autonomy. Great Britain and the dominions have international relations, but they are not foreign to one another. The work before the last conference was really that of clothing the new constitutional principles in legal language, a task which was accomplished in that same spirit of friendship and co-operation which prevailed throughout. The increased self-government now enjoyed by the dominions will not, in my opinion, weaken, but rather strengthen, the unity of the British family of nations. The various subjects on the agenda of the conference relating to inter-Imperial relations were first discussed by the heads of delegations, and then referred to a committee, known as the Committee on InterImperial Relations, presided over by Lord Sankey, the Lord Chancellor. This became known as the Sankey Committee. The Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan) and the Solicitor-General (Sir Robert Garran) represented the Commonwealth on this committee. The several sections of the committee’s report were then discussed and finally dealt with by the heads of delegations.

The Balfour memorandum, adopted by the Imperial Conference of 1926, had recommended a sub-conference to examine and report upon certain questions connected with the operation of dominion legislation, and with merchant shipping legislation. This sub-conference, referred to as the Operation of Dominion Legislation Conference, on which Australia was represented by Sir Harrison Moore, met and reported in 1929, making specific recommendations for implementing the Balfour memorandum by legislation of the Parliament at Westminster, to give legal effect to the principles of autonomy and equality recognized by. the memorandum. The Imperial Conference of 1930 approved of the report of the Operation of

Dominion Legislation Conference which it incorporated in its own report, and carried the matter a definite stage further, both as to the form of the proposed Statute of Westminster, which is to be the legal basis of dominion status, and as to the steps to be taken to request the British Government to introduce it into Parliament and pass it into law.

The purpose of the statute is to declare the complete legislative autonomy of the dominions. This involves the following separate declarations : -

  1. That a Dominion Parliament has full power to make laws having extraterritorial effect.
  2. That no Dominion law hereafter made shall be void for repugnancy to any act of the United Kingdom, and that the Colonial Laws Validity Act shall cease accoraingly to apply to such Dominion laws.
  3. That no act of the United Kingdom hereafter passed shall extend to a Dominion, as part of the law of that Dominion, unless it be expressly declared in the act that the Parliament of the Dominion has requested and consented t’o its enactment.

There is also a clause dealing with the application of these principles to the special subject of merchant shipping laws.

The procedure for bringing the Statute of Westminster into effect was discussed at length. The Australian delegation was in sympathy with the view, which accorded with the principles of the Balfour memorandum, that a request from the Dominions should precede legislation at Westminster.. The conference accordingly resolved that resolution by both Houses of the Dominions Parliaments, with a view to the enactment of the statute, should be forwarded to the United Kingdom. The time-table proposed by the conference is that the resolutions should be forwarded by 1st July, 1931, if possible, and in any case not later than 1st August, 1931 ; and that the statute should become operative from 1st December, 1931. The next step, so far as Australia is concerned, rests with this Parliament. The Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan) will shortly introduce legislation on this matter. The resolutions of the conference conform exactly, both in the letter and in spirit, with the Balfour memorandum, which was accepted as the settled basis for constitutional legislation.

British nationality - the common status possessed by all subjects of His Majesty, and based upon a common allegiance to the Crown - is at present regulated by the “British Nationality Act 1914. But with the constitutional development of the Dominions the term “ nation “ has come into common use in relation to the Dominions, and the term “ nationality “ in relation to citizenship of a dominion. Thus, there is one word to denote two distinct concepts - the common status throughout the British Commonwealth, and a particular status in a single Dominion. The difficulty of nomenclature is increased because some of the Dominions apply the word “ nationality” to the local status, whilst others apply it to the common status of all British subjects. The problem is, however, more than one of nomenclature. Under the new position, though no change is necessary in the existing nationality law, every Dominion will have power to change it ; and it is important to the unity of the Commonwealth that no change which affects the Empire-wide recognition of the common status should be made except on a basis of common agreement.

Mr Beasley:

– Is that all the Balfour memorandum was concerned about?


– No. I have already explained that the whole subject of local autonomy was defined in that memorandum, which has been presented to this Parliament and discussed here. It remained for the 1930 Imperial Conference to give legal form to the principles enunciated in the Balfour declaration, and it was in respect of that obligation that we reached an agreement. The details of the agreement will be summarized by the Attorney-General when he moves the resolution in respect of the Statute of “Westminster.

For some time past a number of women’s associations throughout the British Commonwealth have urged the amendment of the nationality laws to enable a British woman, on marriage with a foreigner, to retain her British nationality. Much sympathy has been felt with these efforts, and it is generally recognized that the present law leads to many cases of hardship, especially where, by the law of her husband’s country, the wife does not acquire her* husband’s nationality, and, therefore, becomes “ stateless “ ; and also in the exceptional cases where husband and wife separate. There is a large body of opinion which believes that a change in the law is chiefly needed for exceptional cases; and that in the great majority of cases it is desirable that the members of one household - husband, wife and children - should have the same nationality and the same allegiance.

This matter was dealt with at the Hague Conference of 1930. In the Nationality Convention there concluded, it was agreed that a woman should not lose her nationality on marriage unless, by the national law of her husband, she acquired his nationality, and also that naturalization of the husband during marriage should not change the wife’s nationality without her consent. This convention was signed by all the members of the British Commonwealth represented at the conference, including Australia. At the Imperial Conference, careful consideration was again given to the matter. The proposals of the Hague Conference were welcomed, but it was clear that no further modification of the existing law would meet with general agreement.

The Operation of Dominion Legislation Conference of 1929 called attention to the desirability, in view of the equal and autonomous status of the members of the British Com- ‘ mon wealth, of making provision for some kind of tribunal for determining differences and disputes between them. The Imperial Conference gave careful consideration to this matter. It was agreed that the occasion for the use of such a tribunal would be rare, and that there was no need for the creation of a permanent court, or even for standing panels from which a court might be constituted. But it was thought that provision should be made for the creation of an ad hoc tribunal of an arbitral character when required. It was further agreed that this tribunal should have competence only in disputes between governments, and then only in disputes of a justiciable nature. General rules of an elastic nature were laid down for the composition of the tribunal. It should be noted that the proposed tribunal is entirely distinct from a court of appeal in law-suits between private litigants; being merely a provision for voluntary arbitration between governments of the British Commonwealth as to their mutual rights and obligations. I am making this report very brief because honorable members will have an opportunity to read the summary of proceedings and the appendices. I am now touching merely on the general aspects of it.

A number of questions have been asked, principally in another place, with regard to merchant shipping. Much attention was given by the Operation of Dominion Legislation Conference to the subject of merchant shipping legislation under the new position, when each dominion will have full legislative power, not only over all ships within its territorial waters or engaged in its coasting trade, but also over its own registered ships, both intra-territorially and extraterritorially. Obviously, the practical convenience of shipping under these conditions will call for co-operation and concerted action between the members of the British Commonwealth to secure the utmost uniformity of ‘ laws, as well as reciprocal aid in the enforcement of those laws. The conference examined carefully the draft of an agreement covering the main points on which uniformity seems desirable. The agreement, which pre-supposes that the Statute of Westminster has been passed, and that it shall come into force simultaneously with that statute, was recommended by the conference.

Mr Beasley:

– Was anything done with regard to the unification of articles of agreement, which was decided upon by the conference at Geneva in 1926?


– That was one of the subjects considered by the conference when putting forward its proposals.

Another question also considered was the appointment of Governors-General. The Balfour memorandum declared that the Governor-General is now the representative of the Crown, holding essentially the same position in the dominion as is held by His Majesty in Great Britain, and that he is not the representative of the British Government, or of any department of the Government. It clearly follows from the principles enunciated in the memorandum that, in the appointment of a Governor-General, as in other matters relating to the affairs of a dominion, it would not be in accordance with constitutional practice for British Ministers to tender advice at variance with the advice of Ministers of the dominion. The conference found no difficulty in coming to certain fundamental conclusions, as follow: -

  1. That the parties interested in the appointment of a Governor-General are the King, whose representative he is, and the dominion which he is to administer;
  2. That the constitutional practice that His Majesty acts on the advice of responsible Ministers, applies;
  3. That the Ministers who tender, and are responsible for the advice, are the Ministers for the Dominion; and
  4. That the Ministers tender their formal advice after informal consultation with His Majesty.
Mr Eldridge:

– In that case the recommendation of the Federal Government in respect of the present GovernorGeneral was quite in order?


– Absolutely. Our advice was the only advice tendered to His Majesty.

Mr Beasley:

– Does that practice apply with respect to advice tendered by Ministers of State Governments?


– No. That position has not been changed as a result of the deliberations of the conference.

Successive Imperial Conferences have made recommendations as to the communication of information, and the system of consultation in relation to foreign affairs. The Imperial Conference of 1930 stressed the importance of full and prompt information being given to the governments of other parts of the Commonwealth as to treaty negotiations especially, and also as to all aspects of foreign affairs. Where a dominion has no Minister of its own accredited to a foreign State, the conference considered that the existing diplomatic channels - through the Foreign Office and the British representative - should continue to be used, but with some degree of flexibility. They accordingly recommended that in cases of urgency time might be saved by simultaneous communication with a British diplomatic representative and with the Foreign Office.

Means for co-operating for the promotion of the policy of disarmament and world peace were discussed. Since the last Imperial Conference, the Treaty for the Renunciation of War had been concluded, and the optional clause of the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice had been accepted, with certain reservations, by a large number of States, including all the members of the British Commonwealth. The conference welcomed the progress thus made towards the preservation of peace. It also commended for acceptance the general act for the pacific settlement of international disputes. This has been approved by the Commonwealth. The conference made a strong appeal for the early convocation of the General Disarmament Conference for which the League of Nations has been making preparations. That conference has now been fixed for February of next year.

In addition to its work of putting into legal effect the constitutional principles formulated in 1926, the Imperial Conference of 1930 laid the foundations for closer economic co-operation within the British Commonwealth of Nations. We were- gathered together at a time when all the peoples were suffering in varying degree from economic depression. To-day, in a world in which we are gaining an ever greater command over nature, and in which science is enormously increasing our power to produce food and manufactures, we have failed to improve, with equal rapidity, our system of distribution. As a result, we have the spectacle of poverty and want amid greater plenty than the world has ever witnessed before. These conditions constitute a challenge to our civilization. Problems such as the world’s monetary position must obviously be studied upon an international basis, and their solution will probably have to be an international solution. We must all agree as to the need for international co-operation, ‘but economic co-operation, like charity, can begin at home; and within the limits of the British Commonwealth of Nations we have a field vast enough for our immediate efforts. That was the spirit in which the representatives of Australia approached the discussions of .inter-Imperial trade. In the British Commonwealth we have unexampled opportunities for complementary trade. The United Kingdom

Mr. Soullin. is the world’s greatest purchaser of most of the. primary products which are the main basis of dominion exports, while the dominions already provide an enormous market for many classes of manufactures. The development of these markets should create such a further demand as to be the basis of the prosperity of our industrial centres whether in Great Britain or in the dominions. There is no doubt that the most important method of assistance which we offer to the marketing of British manufactures in Australia is our system of tariff preferences. On the other hand, Great Britain has been giving certain of our products, including wine, sugar and dried fruits, most welcome assistance through its tariff system. In the case of each of these commodities, the preferences have been essential to us, because the producers have to face competition from countries paying very low wages. I pointed out at the conference that Great Britain is giving preference to only 12 per cent, of our exports to that country, -while we give preference to 90 per cent, of its goods entering Australia. The representatives of Australia at the conference were prepared to discuss any method by which the ideal of economic co-operation could be furthered. All the dominions declared emphatically in favour of tariff preferences for the purpose of increasing mutual trade. It was acknowledged, however, that the representatives of each part of the British Commonwealth must give first consideration to the needs of their particular country. The Government of the United Kingdom, for instance, felt that there were special circumstances in their own country which compelled them to consider very carefully any proposals which would involve a departure from traditional tariff policy. In the light of this general attitude on the part of the British Government, it was satisfactory to have secured from Great Britain the declaration that existing preferences on certain products would bc maintained for a period of three years, or until superseded by some more beneficial arrangement which may be reached at the Ottawa conference. Pronouncements made in Great Britain last year gave every ground for fear that the existing preferences might be removed in the near future. We, therefore, strongly urged their retention.. It is scarcely necessary for me to emphasize what such a withdrawal would have meant to the Australian industries concerned. In terms of cash, the preferential rebates given to Australian sugar, dried fruits, and wine are worth more than £1,000,000 a year. This sum, however, very much underestimates their real value. There is little doubt that without the aid of the preferences, Australia would find it impossible, in view of the low-wage conditions prevailing in competitor countries, to obtain any market at all for these commodities in Great Britain. The total value of these exports is well over £5,000,000 annually.

The dried fruits industry is of considerable importance to the Commonwealth. The area under cultivation for the growing of dried vine fruits is more than 45,000 acres, representing a capital outlay of about £4,000,000. About 7,000 people are directly engaged in the industry either afl growers or as employees, and 40,000 people are dependent upon its continued prosperity. The annual production is 68,000 tons, and the proportion of the pack shipped to the United Kingdom, amounting to 48,000 tons, is worth nearly £2,000,000. The principal market for Australian dried fruits is Great Britain, where a preference has been granted of £7 a ton on sultanas and lexias. and £2 a ton on currants. The retention of this preference was vital to the industry.

The two main factors that enable Australian wines to be marketed in Great Britain to-day are the export bounty of ls. 9d. a gallon paid by the Commonwealth, and the preference granted in the United Kingdom of 4s. a gallon on Australian fortified wines. Without the assistance provided from these two sources, the export of Australian wine overseas would practically cease. The principal outlet overseas for Australian wine is Great Britain. That market absorbs approximately 92 per cent, of the total exports of wine from Australia. This -preference has enabled Australia to ship between two and a half and three million gallons of wine annually to the United Kingdom. Had the preference been withdrawn, the wine export industry would have been destroyed, and the propa ganda work and advertising undertaken over a period of many years, and the goodwill that has been built up by London merchants among hundreds of thousands of wine consumers, would have been nullified.

Another Australian industry vitally concerned in the preferences granted by the British Government is ‘that of sugar. From the monetary point of view, it ia the most important of all, because the value of the preferential rebate in 192S-29 was estimated at more than £600,000. As is well known, the sugar industry all over the world is suffering from a severe fall of prices. In the light of the disturbed world position of the sugar industry, it would have been disastrous for the Australian producers had anything occurred to deprive them of their principal export market in th>» United Kingdom. Quite apart from the welfare of the sugar producers themselves, it is vitally important that at a time when, with the object of rectifying our adverse trade balance, we are doing everything possible to reduce imports and increase exports, our overseas market in sugar should be- maintained. The continuance of this overseas market is dependent upon the maintenance of the preference given to our sugar by Great Britain. In view of the British Government’s reluctance to impose increased duties for the purpose of giving preference to the dominions, other means of increasing the consumption of dominions products in the United Kingdom were considered. It is still my belief that tariff preferences provide the most satisfactory means of increasing trade between the various parts of the British Commonwealth, but in the circumstances, we naturally expressed our willingness to discuss other methods, such as quotas, import boards, bulk purchases, and the promotion of agreements among industrialists. All these methods came under general review in the Commitee of Economic Cooperation, on which the Commonwealth representative was the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney), who did excellent work.

As instancing the complexity surrounding these methods, and also because it is an illustration of especial interest to Australia, I cite wheat and the possibilities of establishing a dominions quota in the imports of that commodity into the United Kingdom. These plans are dealt with fully in the report of the Committee of Economic Co-operation. The object of a quota for dominion wheat would be to secure that a guaranteed, and, if possible, increasing proportion of the total quantity of wheat milled in the United Kingdom was of Empire growth. It was intimated to us that no price guarantee could be given for dominion wheat, and the discussion was, therefore, confined to securing a guaranteed share of the import requirements at world prices. A quota scheme for United Kingdom wheat has been under consideration for some months, and the machinery and procedure have been discussed in detail with the trade organizations concerned. Much apprehension was felt by the dominions representatives at the conference at the marked increase in 1930 as compared with 1929, of the exports of Russian wheat, much of which is shipped on consignment, that is to say, to be sold on arrival for what it will fetch. Experts consider that Russia, for the future, will probably be a more important wheat exporting country than it has been in recent years. After an examination of this position, the conclusion was reached that a quota which secured to dominions wheat a guaranteed market for a quantity in excess of the figure of recent years would be beneficial to the wheatexporting dominions by giving to them, for a definite quantity of their exports, a secure market, of which they could not bedeprived by any dumping competition. This advantage would be enhanced in so far as it was possible to increase the quota progressively over a period of years. The quota would be a guaranteed minimum, and it would be open to the dominions to compete equally with foreign countries for the remainder of the supply. The points to which I have referred will show the many factors that have to be taken into consideration, and, consequently, how difficult it is to arrive at hurried decisions in matters of this kind. The report of the committee is being examined in detail by the British Government.

In view of the known attitude of the British Government towards tariffs, we realized that the difficulties we would have to face would not be confined to the question of increased tariff preferences, but would extend even to the maintenance of the existing preferences. The position with regard to existing preferences has now been consolidated, and the threads of the discussions initiated in London last year will be taken up shortly at Ottawa, with, I hope, mutually beneficial results.

Mr Beasley:

– Was the right honorable gentleman satisfied with the decisions of the conference?


– Not by any means, but each government represented there has a perfect right to control its own tariff policy. Having regard to the tariff policy of the British Government, I was very pleased to be able to retain the preferences already existing, which were seriously threatened.

Mr Maxwell:

– Was Great Britain satisfied that it is getting a fair deal from Australia in respect of preferences?


– We were able to demonstrate at the conference that Australia is giving considerably more preference than it is receiving; we give preference to Great Britain on 90 per cent. of its exports to us whilst we receive preference on only 12 per cent. of our exports to it. At the same time it is important that Australia shall retain the preferences it has, and we hope that further discussions will result in their extension.

Mr Archdale Parkhill:

– Were we ever in real danger of losing those preferences?


– The announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Snowden) last year made the position of those preferences very precarious, and it was not until two days before the end of the conference that we received any definite assurance of their continuance.

Mr Beasley:

– It shows that Great Britain has not much regard for Australia.


– I feared that we might have to leave without any assurance that we would retain the present preferences, which are of very great importance. I still maintain that the preference we give to Great Britain is much more valuable that that we receive from it. But I do not regard an Imperial Conference as a counter for bartering trade advantages; it is a gathering to promote co-operation and reciprocal arrangements between the nations of the Empire. After all, the United Kingdom is a very valuable market for Australia, and the retention of it will mean a lot to us.

Mr Eldridge:

– Then the Imperial Conference was the right place in which to press the interests of Australia?


– Yes, and they were pressed.

Mr Eldridge:

– I believe that, but I had in mind the right honorable gentleman’s reference to the counter.


– What I meant to convey was that a spirit of huckstering and bargaining should not animate discussions between autonomous nations of the same family; but Australia’s needs were pressed both in open conference, as the reports show, and more closely in committee; the discussions were frank, and in many instances without reservation. We must persevere with these discussions, for only by persistent and. patient endeavour can far-reaching changes in the economic relations of the various sister nations be brought about.

Many other matters were discussed at the Imperial Conference with which it is not possible for me to deal at present.

Mr Eldridge:

– Was consideration given to Australia’s war debt to the United Kingdom ?


– It is not a subject to be dealtwith by an Imperial Conference, but it was discussed at private interviews with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. At those interviews I strongly urged the modification of the funding agreement in respect of both interest and sinking fund payments.

Mr Eldridge:

– Was the entire cancellation of the war debt urged?


– That is a subject not for the Imperial Conference, but for an international conference.

Mr Eldridge:

– Was it discussed at the interviews with British Ministers?


– Yes, and amongst the members of the conference, and by one of the committees. Amongst other . matters dealt with were radio communication, civil aviation, and overseas settlement. Several economic subjects, such as the work of the Imperial Institute and of the International Institute of Agriculture, cotton-growing, petroleum production and refining, mechanical transport, statistics, shipping services, taxation, and so on, were referred to a general economic committee for consideration. A summary of the work accomplished in regard to all these matters will be found in the paper which I have tabled.

I take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation of the very capable support I received from my colleagues, and the officers of the delegation. They were unflagging in their energy, and spent long days and nights at work in committees to which, at times, little public attention was directed. But for their assistance, it would have been impossible to have dealt satisfactorily with the many important matters that came before the conference.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Parker Moloney) adjourned.

page 3415


Dominion and Merchant Shipping Legislation : Imperial Conference Resolutions

AttorneyGeneral · Batman · ALP

by leave - I move - That-

Whereas the Imperial Conference held at London “ in the year 1930 by resolution approved the report Of the conference on the operation of dominion legislation (which is to be regarded as forming part of the report of the said Imperial Conference) subject to the conclusions hereinafter recited:

And whereas the said Imperial Conference by resolution recommended -

that the statute proposed to be passed by the Parliament at Westminster should contain the provisions set out in the schedule annexed to the said resolution;

that the 1st December, 1931, should be the date as from which the proposed statute should become operative;

that with a view to the realization of this arrangement, resolutions Sassed by both Houses of the lominion Parliaments should be forwarded to the United Kingdom, if possible by the 1st July, 1931, and, in any case, not later than the 1st August, 1931, with a view to the enactment by the Parliament of the United Kingdom of legislation on the lines set out in the schedule annexed :

that the statute should contain such further provisions as to its application to any particular dominion as are requested by that dominion;

Now, therefore, this House resolves that the Government of the Commonwealth be authorized to request and consent to the submission by the Government of the United Kingdom to the Parliament at Westminster of a bill for a statute containing the provisions set out in the following schedule, and the enactment of the said statute: -

page 3416


Clauses inproposed Legislation.

Certain Recitals in Proposed Legislation.

The motion now before the House carries a stage further the processes outlined by the Imperial Conference of 1926 for bringing the legal status of the dominions in the British Commonwealth of Nations into harmony -with the accepted constitutional position. It carries the matter, indeed, to the penultimate stage of requesting the British Parliament to pass the statute necessary to give effect to the proposals. The final stage will he the passing of that Statute by the Parliament at “Westminster at the request of the dominions concerned. The object of the statute is, first, to complete, and, next, to give legal recognition to, dominion status as we know it in practice. The statement has been made in some quarters that there is no need for this formal statutory recognition, because the equal and autonomous status of the dominions already exists, and does not need the further support of British legislation. To an extent that is true, but in certain respects existing constitutional law does place definite limitations on the dominion Status which nothing but British legislation can remove. The first of these is the law governing inconsistency or repugnance between British and Dominion acts of Parliament. By the Colonial Laws Validity Act of 1865, any colonial law which is in. any respect repugnant to an act of the British Parliament extending to the colony is to the extent of that repugnancy absolutely void. “ Extending to the colony “ is defined as meaning applicable to the colony by express words or necessary intendment. It is perfectly true that at the present day the British Parliament does not in practice pass acts extending to a dominion without the concurrence of that dominion; but that is a recent development, and there are on the British statute-book many important acts which do extend in law to the dominions, and in respect of some of them great uncertainty exists as to how far they extend. A notable instance is the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894; itself a consolidation of numerous acts reaching far back into history, that statute is in its main outlines a valuable inheritance of an important part of British jurisprudence. In detail, in many respects, it has ceased to be in harmony with Australian’ ideals and practice.


– Yes. Parts of it are expressed to apply to all the British Dominions; others are expressed not so to apply, but many of its provisions are in general words. The question whether they apply to the dominions is one of construction, which remains in doubt until adjudicated upon by a competent court - and sometimes, it may be said, afterwards. ‘ In one case, at least, provisions of a Commonwealth act have been held void for repugnance to a law of the United Kingdom. That is the case of the Union Steamship Company v. the Commonwealth, which honorable members will find reported in 36 C.L.R. at page 130, and doubts have arisen in many other cases. As that case well illustrates the importance of the statute which we are asking to have passed at Westminster, I shall refer to it in a little detail. The facts were as follow: -

The muster of a British ship registered in the United Kingdom, not being a ship engaged in the Australian coastal trade or a ship whose first port of clearance and port of destination were within the Commonwealth, having requested an officer discharging at a port within the Commonwealth the duties of a superintendent under the Merchant Shipping Acts to allow discharges of seamen on the termination of their engagements and engagements of seamen to be effected in his presence, the officer refused to do so unless the conditions imposed by section 60 of the Navigation Act 1912-1920 and regulation 9 of the Navigation (Master and Seamen) Regulations 1922 in respect of discharges and engagements of seamen, including the payment of fees, were complied with.

Held, by Knox C.J., Isaacs, Higgins, Rich and Starke JJ., that, with respect to discharges, and (Higgins J. dissenting) engagements, of seamen, the master was not required by law to comply with such conditions, on the ground that the imposition of such conditions by the Commonwealth Parliament in respect of such discharges and engagements was repugnant to the provisions of section 124 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1 894 and of sections 30 and 31 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1906 respectively.

It was held that -

The Navigation Act 1912-1920 is a colonial law within the meaning and operation of section 2 of the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865, and therefore, any provision in the former act or in regulations made thereunder which is repugnant to the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts 1894 to 1906, is to the extent of such repugnancy void and inoperative.

A portion of the argument and the substance of the judgment aTe fairly well summarized in page 140 by the Chief Justice, as follows: -

It ib not disputed that the Commonwealth of Australia is a “ colony “ within the meaning of that provision, but it wag argued for the defendants that the power given by the Constitution to the Commonwealth Parliament to legislate with respect to shipping and navigation (sections 51 and 98) excluded the operation of the Colonial Laws Validity Act on laws made by the Commonwealth Parliament with respect to those subjects, the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act being an Imperial Act later in date than the Colonial Laws Validity Act. It was said, also, that the Constitution Act operating on sections 51 and 98 of the Constitution exempts the Commonwealth Parliament from the restrictions on colonial legislation imposed by sections 735 and 73C of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894.

In effect, the argument is that the Constitution Act operates as an implied repeal pro tants of the Colonial Laws Validity Act and the Merchant Shipping Act 1894. It would follow, if this contention were correct, that the Colonial Laws Validity Act would have no application to laws enacted by the legislature of a colony on which a constitution in the usual form - i.e., giving power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the colony - had been conferred by an act of the Imperial Parliament passed after 1865. In my opinion, the argument for the defendants on this point cannot be sustained. The Colonial Laws Validity Act is an act dealing with laws mode by colonial legislatures generally. It assumes the competence of a colonial legislature to make laws with respect to a given subject-matter, and deals only with such provisions of a law otherwise valid as are repugnant to any act of the Imperial Parliament or to any order or regulation made thereunder. It deals with a special subject, and I can see nothing to justify a limitation of the plain words, “ any colonial law “. to laws made under authority given by the Imperial Parliament before the passing of the act. In my opinion, the Colonial Laws Validity Act applies to laws passed under a power given by an Imperial act passed after that act. as much as to laws passed under a power given bv an Imperial act passed before it.

T think that one may say that it would have been difficult to come to any other conclusion than that unanimously arrived at by the court.

Mr Latham:

– At about the same time, in the Limerick case, there was a different conclusion.


– I am not prepared to discuss that at the moment. I think there is no room for doubt that the decision of the court in that case discloses a complete repugnancy to the declaration of dominion status which has now been generally accepted, and to which effect is proposed to be given by the Statute of “Westminster, which this resolution foreshadows.

The other limitation on dominion status is the rule, the extent of which is the subject of much doubt, that, in general, a dominion has no power to pass a law having extra-territorial effect, that is, to make it an offence for a person to disobey a Commonwealth law when outside the Commonwealth. As generally stated, this rule applies to prevent extraterritorial operation of the laws of a dominion, even where such operation is ancillary to the peace, order, and good government of the dominion. If, as the weight of judicial authority appears to indicate, the rule has this wide application, it would be impossible, for instance, for a Commonwealth law to punish a person, found in Australia, for having entered into a conspiracy in England to commit an offence against Commonwealth law. An example might be a conspiracy for the forging of Commonwealth notes in Australia. It is now a matter of familiar history that at the Imperial Conference of 1926 a committee was formed, with the Right Honorable the Earl of Balfour as chairman, to investigate the fundamental questions of intra-imperial relations. The report of that committee, which was adopted by the conference, and which is known as the Balfour report, is an interesting and notable document. It begins by defining, in memorable words, the relative position of the Mother Country to the dominions. The latter are declared to be -

  1. . autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

The report proceeds to point out that the existing forms of government are not wholly in accord with the status thus defined. That is to say, in the evolution of the free and equal status of the dominions, legal theory has lagged behind constitutional practice, which is perhaps the converse of our general experience in common affairs. The report of the 1926 conference, with which honorable members are familiar, deals with a number of items of inter-Imperial relations which do not involve any change in the law of the United Kingdom, and are, therefore, not relevant to the resolution now before the

House. One important section of the report, however, deals with the operation of dominion legislation. As to this, it is recommended that steps should he taken by Great Britain and the dominions to set up a committee with terms of reference on the following lines : -

To inquire into, report upon, and make recommendations concerning -

Existing statutory provisions requiring reservation of dominion legislation for the assent of His Majesty or authorizing the disallowance of such legislation.

(a) The present position as to the competence of dominion Parliaments to give their legislation extraterritorial operation.

The practicability and most convenient method of giving effect to the principle that each dominion Parliament should have power to give extra-territorial operation to its legislation in all cases where such operation is ancillary to provision for the peace, order, and good government of the dominion.

The principles embodied in or underlying the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1869, and the extent to which any provisions of that act ought to be repealed, amended, or modified in the light of the existing relations between the various members of the British Commonwealth of Nations as described in this report.

Another section of the report dealt with merchant shipping legislation as a specially important instance of the need for co-ordination of law and administration. The report contains a recommendation that the general question of merchant shipping legislation should be remitted to a special sub-conference, to be held in conjunction with the committee on the operation of dominion law, which should be invited “to consider and report on the principles which should govern, in the general interest, the practice and legislation relating to merchant shipping in the various parts of the Empire, having regard to the change in constitutional status and general relations which has occurred since existing laws were enacted.”

The report of the Balfour Committee was adopted by the Imperial Conference of 1926, and in due course, in 1929, the suggested committee, which is usually referred to as the “ Conference on the Operation of Dominion Legislation “, or shortly the “ O.D.L. Conference “, sat in

London. Great Britain and all the dominions were represented, as -also was India. Australia was well represented by Sir Harrison Moore. The recommendations of the committee are based upon the principles of the Balfour report, and are in the shape of definite and precise proposals for the carrying of them into effect.

Shortly, the committee proposed, amongst other things, a declaratory act of the British Parliament, passed at the request, and with the consent of the parliaments of the dominions, which would definitely recognize and place on a legal footing the equal status of the parliaments and governments of the United Kingdom and the dominions. To attain that end I am moving this motion.

At the Imperial Conference of 1930, which I had the honour to attend after having helped to represent Australia at the Assembly of the League of Nations at Geneva, the report of the Operation of Dominion Legislation Conference was accepted as a basis, and there was no departure, except by way of verbal revision, from its recommendations as regards the proposed Statute of Westminster. The precise contents of the statute, so far as they concern Australia, are set out in the schedule to this resolution. The statuteproposes three fundamental changes in the principles of the law. The first of these is a plain declaration and enactment that the parliament of a dominion has full power to make laws having extra-territorial operation. The meaning of this is that after the enactment of the Statute of Westminster no law of a dominion can be held to be invalid merely by reason of the fact that it purports to control persons outside the dominion, or to punish persons inside the dominion in respect of things done outside. The second principle is that no law hereafter made by the parliament of a dominion shall be void on the ground of inconsistency with the law of England. The third principle is that no act of parliament of the United Kingdom hereafter passed shall extend to a dominion as part of the law of the dominion unless it is expressly declared in the act that the dominion has requested and consented to its enactment.

These last two principles involve the repeal of the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865, so far as a dominion is concerned. To meet the position of those dominions which have a more or less rigid constitution, that is to say, a constitution which can be amended only by special procedure and not by the ordinary process of legislation, it is proposed to insert a provision to prevent the statute purporting to have the effect of enabling the parliaments of those dominions to alter their constitutions in any other than the established manner. Thus the Commonwealth will have no greater or lesser power to amend the Commonwealth Constitution after the passage of the Statute of Westminster than it has at present. The rights of the States with regard to the maintenance of their constitutional powers are also therefore fully safeguarded.

In the case of Canada, some difficulty was caused at the conference by reason of the fact that the British North America Act, which is the Constitution of Canada, contains no provision for its amendment. The amendment of that Constitution when it is necessary, is effected by the Parliament of the United Kingdom upon representations made from Canada. The precise share in those representations which is taken by dominion and provincial authorities respectively is nowhere authoritatively laid down, and consequentlythe Canadian representative at the conference reserved for further consideration the form of the provision for Canada on this point in the Statute of Westminster.

Mr Crouch:

– Consideration was given to this two months ago, and a recommendation made.


– Canada has acted rather more than we have. An incidental provision of the statute is an alteration of the Interpretation Act of the United Kingdom for the purpose of excluding dominions from the meaning of the word “ colony “ as used in future acts of Parliament.

So far, the provisions of the statute relate to future legislation by the Parliaments of the United Kingdom and the dominions respectively, but there are two special cases in which it was thought desirable to alter the application of the existing British laws to the dominions.

The first case was the provision of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, as to the powers of colonial legislatures.’ Section 735 requires the reservation for the King’s approval of the laws made by the legislature of any British possession relating to ships registered in that possession. Section 736 requires laws made by the legislature of a British possession regulating the coasting trade of the possession to contain a suspending clause providing that they shall not come into operation until the King’s pleasure has been signified. These two sections of the Merchant Shipping Act are to be construed as not applying to the parliament of a dominion.

The other case relates to certain provisions of the Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act, which require certain laws to be reserved for the King’s pleasure, or to contain a suspending clause which requires rules of court to await the King’s approval. These provisions will henceforth cease to apply in any dominion.

There is one other matter required to be dealt with as a consequence of the changed relations of the British and dominion parliaments. The King is the King, not only of the United Kingdom but also of the dominions. But the law relating to the succession to the throne and the Royal Style and Titles is a law passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is obviously a matter in which uniformity throughout the British dominions is essential. It is therefore proposed to insert in the preamble to the statute a declaration that, inasmuch as the Crown is the symbol of the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, it is united by a common allegiance to the Crown. It would be in accord with the established constitutional position that any alteration in the law touching these matters should thereafter require the assent of all the dominion parliaments as well as of the parliaments of the United Kingdom.

It is clear that the passing of this Statute will create a fundamental change in the legal relations of the United Kingdom and the dominions. But it is a change which will be little felt - a change which, as indicated, will bring constitutional theory into harmony with constitutional practice. To some minds it may appear as a weakening of what are commonly called “ imperial bonds “ ; but most thoughtful men will look confidently for an opposite result. They will see in the Statute of Westminster the apotheosis of colonizing genius, and the expression of that complete mutual trust and goodwill which, more than anything else, go to make the foundation and fibre of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Substantially and legally, the existing limitations on the powers of dominion legislatures will disappear, and the United Kingdom will formally assume a place of equality in status with the dominions. The legal nexus has never been the main strength of the Imperial tie. The real bond of common race, common traditions, and common interests will remain, and these are symbolized by the Crown under which the unity of the Commonwealth of Nations is permanently assured.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Latham) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 12.42 to 2.15 p.m.

page 3421



Report by Mr. Coleman, M.P.

Debate resumed from 17th April (vide page 1019), on motion by Mr. Coleman -

That the report be printed.


– When the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) was conducting his inquiries into the administration of Australia House, I ventured to offer some observations regarding his suitability for the task entrusted to him, and I asked whether it was proper for a private member of this House to undertake such a duty. I do not withdraw any criticism that I made on that occasion, because I still think that it was improper to ask a private member to make an investigation which was humiliating to the High Commissioner, and which depreciated him in the eyes of his fellow high commissioners and the office itself in the eyes of the world.

Mr Scullin:

– The honorable member was Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.That conveys very little to me. If I had my way, such a committee as that would not be in existence at the present time; I think it is unnecessary. Seeing that so many Ministers were in London in the past year, at least one of them might have carried out the inquiry with far greater propriety. In my opinion, it should have been conducted by a Minister, in conjunction with the High Commissioner, and, perhaps, other high officials at Australia House.

I must confess to some little disappointment with the conclusions at which the honorable member has arrived. I find no fault on the score of lack of industry in connexion with the inquiry, or of the expenditure of time on more or less unimportant details, nor do I object to the cost to the Commonwealth at which the report was furnished ; but we are still without suggestions regarding the high policy that the Commonwealth should pursue with respect to our representation in London. We have many and meticulous details in the report as to the employment of chauffeurs, servants and others in the High Commissioner’s office. One cannot speak with authority on those comparatively unimportant matters; they come under the domain of staff superintendents, and officers of that kind, who have had long experience in dealing with such details. What one desires to know is what is the real value to Australia of this office, and how can it be improved in order to render more important service to this country than has been given in the past? With very great respect to the honorable member, I submit that his report provides, no light or leading on that question. He goes so far as to say that, if the office of High Commissioner were abolished, Australia would be no worse off. I entirely disagree with that view. The importance of the Commonwealth is such that it should have a High Commissioner in London, and he should be the best man that Australia can provide.

The honorable member ventures the opinion that Australia House is wrongly situated. It stands in one of London’s most important thoroughfares, the Strand, at its junction with Fleet-street; but, after all, what matters it where the building is located ? The Commonwealth has such important interests that, with competent and efficient representation in

London, Australia House will be sought, irrespective of where it is situated. I deny that it is located in an obscure or unfrequented part of London. Efficient representation of this country at Australia House, with the facilities provided there, should ensure splendid value for every shilling expended. In my opinion, the present situation of Australia House is an admirable one, and all we require is that the representation shall be of a character in keeping with the locality and the building itself.

I submit that any weakness in the representation of Australia in London is due, in the main, to the policy of Australian Governments. They have been more blameworthy than the representatives of Australia in London, because in recent years they have not given the High Commissioner the status in London that he should enjoy. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Colo? man) pointed out, in his speech, that the duties of the High Commissioner should be defined before he left Australia. This officer apparently is sent to London without a clear definition of his duties. I know this to be a fact from conversations that I have had with High Commissioners. Officers for whom he has not asked have been imposed upon him, and there are activities in London of which he has no adequate knowledge. The present High Commissioner, and his predecessor, I venture to say, have had more advice regarding important appointments affecting Australia House, and regarding League of Nations business, from the newspapers and from Reuter’s cable service than from the Prime Minister’s office in Australia. I have, on occasions, gone to Australia House and asked for the names of persons appointed to various public positions and similar information, but I could get no information on the subject; the High Commissioner’s office had, like myself, to obtain enlightenment from newspaper reports. Men have walked into offices at Australia House, and the first knowledge of the High Commissioner regarding their appointment has been their own announcement to him. Commissions have been appointed from time to time, and the High Commissioner has been left entirely ignorant concerning their duties and humiliated by their acti

Mr. Archdale Parkhill. vities. How can such an important officer satisfactorily perform his duties under such circumstances? That is putting the case mildly. I have my own views regarding the re-organization of the office of the High Commissioner. There are many activities surrounding the representation of Australia in London over which the High Commissioner has no control, but for which he has to take responsibility if anything goes wrong. There is what may be described as an inner circle of activities which are directly controlled by him, but, outside Australia House, there is an outer ring of boards and commissions, such as the Dairy Export Control Board and the Dried Fruit Export Control Board and many others which are directed from Canberra, and were previously supervised from Melbourne.

Take the High Commissioner’s communications with the British Government. He has not even acted as the channel of communication between the Government of Great Britain and this great dominion. A method was introduced by which a liaison officer at Whitehall was employed for this purpose. I say nothing of that officer, because I am not familiar with his work. Those who are competent to judge say that he discharged his duties there with conspicuous ability; but I contend that there was no occasion for such an appointment. No other dominion has followed Australia’s example in that respect. I cannot conceive how the British Government can entrust to an officer at Whitehall confidential information, upon the Empire’s most important and critical subjects, that it is not prepared to convey to the Australian Government through the High Commissioner. The system is wrong. The High Commissioner should be the medium through which communications from the British Government are sent to Australia, and no other person should intervene. I have no objection to there being an officer of the Commonwealth Government at Whitehall, but he should be attached to the High Commissioner’s staff, and he should pass on to the High Commissioner such information as he obtained.

I agree with the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman), that the offices of the Agents-General of the various States should be abolished, and I expressed the same opinion four years ago. The Government should take steps to impress it upon the State Governments that they can be more effectively served by placing their representation in Australia House under the direction of the High Commissioner. In this way they would save the taxpayers of their States considerable sums of money, which now go to the upkeep of what are now more or less sinecures in London. I see no reason why the States should not be represented in London by the High Commissioner, or by a Deputy High Commissioner. After all, the matters in which the States as such are chiefly concerned in Great Britain have to do with the control and extension of their trade, and this phase of their representation might well be placed under the control of an officer within the High Commissioner’s office. I have already indicated that the High Commissioner should have the supreme direction of our relations with Great Britain, and he should be given a standing commensurate with the duties he has to perform. His work should be confined to the ambassadorial side of our representation; he should see that this Commonwealth is adequately represented in political matters, Empire affairs, and in regard to treaties. &c. Every Australian who has been in London knows of the heavy demands which are made upon the High Commissioner in attendance at social functions, and addressing important trade gatherings. These duties, together with the proper political representation of Australia in Great Britain, should be about as much as Australia has a right to demand of the High Commissioner. The other part of the work carried on in Australia House has, as I have said, to do with trade control and extension, and in charge of this there should be a Deputy High Commissioner, who should be the most capable administrator in the Commonwealth Public Service. If no officer possessing the proper qualifications can be found in the Service, the most capable person available outside should be obtained. All trade activities should then be centred under him. The office of Agent-General should be abolished, to gether with all unessential industrial boards, while, those which remain, such as boards at present being supported by the industries concerned, should be brought under the direction of the Deputy Commissioner, who would be responsible for them. If these reforms were carried out, the High Commissioner’s office would be of much greater value to Australia than it is now.

We have also an Australian representative in Paris. I disagree entirely with the report of the honorable member for Reid, with regard to the work of Mr. Voss, our Parisian agent. I also disapprove of the method by which the honorable member for Reid obtained the information on which that portion of the report dealing with Mr. “Voss is based. In his report he says, with apparent pride, that while Mr. Voss was away on holiday, he sent another officer to occupy his position, and required this locum tenens to make a note of the calls, both personal and telephonic at the office, and of the work which was done. Upon the information obtained in this way, he based his opinion that the Parisian office was more or less unnecessary. I am not in favour of espionage of that sort, and, moreover, I do not believe that the information so obtained was of any great value. In my own case, for instance, if I were to announce in the personal columns of the press that I was going away to Queensland or Western Australia or Hew Zealand, for three weeks, very few persons would call at my office while I was away, because most prospective callers would desire to see me. So it would be with Australia’s representative in Paris. If it were stated in the Parisian papers that Mr. Voss was going on holidays for three weeks, those who wished to see him would wait, if their business permitted, until his return. In the circumstances, there would naturally be a falling off in the number of callers at the office. If a man occupying a position has any personality at all, those with business to perform at his office desire to transact it with him personally, rather than with any one temporarily occupying his place. Moreover, I cannot agree with the opinion of the honorable member for Reid that an Australian representative can do no good in Paris in the absence of a trade treaty between Australia and France. There is no reason why there should not be such a treaty very soon; but even in its absence, I am convinced that a considerable amount of trade could be done between France and Australia. Mr. Voss is an exceedingly competent officer, one of conspicuous ability and efficiency. The greatest difficulty with which he has to contend is lack of support and recognition of the work he is doing. When we read that so many superfluous officers have, in the past, been employed in Australia House, we realize how unfair it is that Mr. Voss has not been able to employ even a secretary and typist in the Parisian office, because he could not afford to pay her the equivalent of £2 a week. lt is evident that there is something radically wrong with Australia’s representation abroad. There is nothing wrong with the men holding the positions : but a great deal is wrong with the method of control which prevents good men from doing better work. We are used to hearing much sympathy expressed with persons in lowly positions, with the workers and so on; but surely there is something also to be said for men in the higher positions, who are struggling to do their job without reasonable assistance, and whose efforts are nullified by lack of co-operation and encouragement by those who employ them. That has been the lot, to a considerable extent, of Australia’s representatives abroad.

I shall not venture to criticize the dismissal by the honorable member for Reid of the chauffeur who had done service in the establishment of the High Commissioner in Great Britain ever since Sir George Reid occupied the office. I do not know the details of the affair, nor do I know anything of the rearrangement under which the High Commissioner is compelled to pay the wages of another servant who was previously paid by the Commonwealth.

Mr Hughes:

– Those do not seem to me to be very important matters, anyway


– They are not, and I cannot see that they should be regarded with much pride or satisfaction. We are not concerned here with minor matters of that kind, but rather with how Australia’s representation in Great Britain can be made of greater value to us than it is now. The honorable member for Reid claims in his report to have saved something like £16,000 by the reduction of salaries and the dismissal of officers. The total savings amount to £1S,359, if one excepts the Immigration Department, which, owing to the diminution in the number of immigrants coming to Australia, really retrenched itself. The actual result of this investigation has been a saving of £18,359.

Mr Hughes:

– What is the total expenditure ?

Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.A considerably greater saving could be effected. Australia House is overmanned undoubtedly, because for some years unwise appointments have been made. There is room for a competent review of the Australian representation abroad. Many improvements could be made. I pay little heed to the views of visitors who return from abroad, and criticize at length the details of our representation at Australia House. It is extraordinary that these misleading views should be published by our leading newspapers, and 1 have often expressed amazement that such prominence should be given to the illfounded, and sometimes vindictive, criticism of disappointed tourists who have just returned from London. I feel certain that our position at Australia House would be considerably improved if the High Commissioner were allowed to take his proper place in Australian and British politics, and were given well ordered and competent assistance to enable him to maintain the dignity and efficiency of his office. * Quorum formed.]*

PostmasterGeneral · KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA · ALP; FLP from 1931; ALP from 1936

– I listened with considerable interest to the speech of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) respecting the inquiry of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) into the conditions at Australia House, but I am inclined to think that he did not give due credit to the honorable member for Reid for the fine work that he performed while in London. Honorable members on both sides listened dispassionately to the speech of the honorable member for Reid in explanation of the excellent report that he presented to this Government. He has saved this country at least £16,000, exclusive of the sum of £2,359 which was unexpended because of the abandonment of our immigration policy. That in itself is a highly creditable performance.

Some fault has been found with the location of Australia House. It stands, unfortunately, on an island between the Strand and Aldwych, and in approaching it one has to cross a crowded thoroughfare, with difficulty and at considerable risk. Australia House should have been in the Strand somewhere near Canada House, New Zealand House, or the building in which the Agent-General for Western Australia is housed. There are few Australians among the rank and file of the personnel of Australia House. That position arises because of the rate of pay for typists and ordinary clerks being based on the English rate for such officers. In any case, it would not have been economical to transport Australian public servants to London. I am told that nearly all the employees at Canada House are Canadians. When in London I found that nearly all the lower grade officers at Australia House, with whom I came into contact, knew little or nothing of Australian conditions. I am pleased that as a result of the investigations of the honorable member for Reid, a certain officer whom I shall not name, and with whom the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was certainly not persona grata, has been dismissed from the staff of Australia House. He was known aB the Entertainments Officer. There is a weakness in the Australian character which becomes evident when our citizens arrive at Australia House. They nearly all desire to be presented at Buckingham Palace, and to attend functions with which Royalty is associated. It is strange, that we, who regard ourselves as democrats, should exhibit a weakness that is common also to some American tourists in Europe, who are anxious to shine in society, and to be presented at Court. There used to be criticism of the manner of some of the rank and file at Australia House. It arose from that well-known tendency of the average Englishman who finds himself in a fairly lucrative job, to patronize visitors from the dominions.

Another cause for complaint was the cinema in the basement. When at Australia House, I saw a film depicting Australia as a paradise for the working man and woman. It showed a young English girl of the servant class boarding a steamer just prior to its departure for Australia. The trip was pleasant and the weather fine. The accommodation was all that could be desired, in fact, palatial to the girl’s mind. She landed at Fremantle and was welcomed by the wife of an Australian squatter. They both entered a limousine, the girl sitting alongside her mistress, and in due time, arrived at her new home. The average squatter’s home is built more for utility than for ornament, but in this instance it was a magnificent residence amid beautiful surroundings. Later the girl was shown dusting in a genteel way in a sumptuous drawing room wearing a little white cap, such as is usually seen only on a waitress in a teashop. The next scene showed the squatter’s son paying attention to the maid, and of course, they were eventually married. In the last scene the motherinlaw was sitting by the fireside with her knitting, while the new mistress of the house attended to the household affairs. I am glad to say that such pictures are no longer exhibited at Australia House.

Social functions form a great part of the work of Mr. Voss of the Paris office, but we cannot expect him, or any other representative of Australia in Paris, to accomplish much in that city while our trade relations with France remain strained. As we are disinclined to trade with America because of our large adverse trade balance, so France is disinclined to do anything to help Australia.

It is regrettable that some of the State Agents-General are not domiciled at Australia House. Western Australia, for instance, claims to have a distinctive advantage by maintaining a separate and more centrally situated establishment, at which it makes a brave show; but I agree with the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) that the time is overdue for accommodating all the Agents-General in Australia House until such time as the State agencies are abolished.

In regard to the suggestion that the High Commissioner should have almost plenipotentiary powers, party polities render that impracticable; the Government of the day must be able constantly to instruct its representative in London.

Debate (on motion’ by Mr. Hughes) adjourned.

page 3426


Soldier Pensions - Ministers’ Travelling Allowances

Prime Minister · Yarra · ALP

– I move-

That the House do now adjourn.

As the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) stated to-day, negotiations have taken place between the Government and representatives of returned soldiers’ organizations in regard to proposed reductions of the expenditure on war pensions. Captain G. J. C. Dyett,Federal President of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, has interviewed me in behalf of the conference that has been sitting in Canberra for the last two days, and I have received from him the following letter: - 3rd July, 1931.

Dear Sir, - Further to my interviews with you, relative to the above matter, I am desired to hand you herewith the proposal unanimously adopted at a conference of representatives of returned soldier organizations held at Canberra to-day, which, it will be observed, provides for a reduction in war pensions and other repatriation payments to the extent of £1,018,230. Attached you will find a letter signed by three members of the War Pensions’ Investigating Committee onbehalf of the majority thereof, in which they accept responsibility for endeavouring to save a further £281,770 on the latest obtainable figures if allowed to continue the investigations for another six weeks, subject to the Government -

  1. 1 ) inviting war pensioners voluntarily to relinquish portion or whole of their pensions for the period in which the Premiers’ Conference decided to balance the budgets; and
  2. empower the assessment appeal tribunals to reduce the war pensions of those who submit ‘ appeals.

Although the total amount of the proposed and prospective “savings” will be £117,000 below that required by the Government, it is felt that it will consider that the amount involved is a fair contribution towards the efforts being made by the Commonwealth and State Parliaments to extricate Australia from the present financial and economic difficulties.

The conference recognizes that the surrendering of the aforementioned amount was essential to the success of the rehabilitation plan, and, whilst the said proposal will doubtless occasion considerable inconvenience to those concerned, they will accept the sacrifice entailed with a view to assisting in expediting the restoration of prosperity in Australia.

Yours faithfully,

  1. J. C.Dyett,

Federal President, R.S.S.I.L.A

The proposal adopted by the conference, which is based principally on the plan embodied in the report by General Dodds, is -

That proposal is signed by -

  1. J. C. Dyett, Federal President, Returned

Sailorsand Soldiers Imperial League of Australia.

  1. J. Chambers, Federal President, Tubercular Sailors and Soldiers Association.
  2. Martin Farrow, Federal President, Limbless Soldiers’ Association.
  3. J. Lynch, Acting Federal President, Blinded Soldiers Association.
  4. Hetherington, Federal President, Partially Blinded Soldiers Association.
  5. J. Brosnan, Secretary, Totally and Partially Incapacitated Soldiers Association.

– Yes. It is supplemented by the following report signed by three members of the committee -

We, the undersigned, being members of tha War Pensions Investigating Committee, hereby on behalf of the majority thereof, accept responsibility for endeavouring to save a further £281,770 on the latest obtainable figures, if allowed to continue the investigations for another six weeks subject to the Government -

1 ) inviting war pensioners voluntarily to relinquish portion or the whole of their pensions for the period in which the Premiers Conference decided to balance the budgets ; and

empower the assessment appeal tribunals to reduce the war pensions of those who submit appeals.

Yours faithfully,

J. Lynch.

J. Chambers.

Martin Farrow.

Mr Fenton:

– Were the mentallyafflicted soldiers represented?


– No ; they have no organization.

Mr Latham:

– They are amongst the totally and permanently incapacitated.


– These proposal of the soldiers conference represent substantially the economies which are required in respect of soldier pensions, and the Government is prepared to accept them. They will be embodied in the Financial Emergency Bill in lieu of other provisions now contained in it. TheWar Pensions Investigation Committee will be authorized to continue to function for a furthersix weeks, and a clause will be inserted in the bill to empower the Government to make regulations to give effect to their recommendations if acceptable; or if the committee fails to reduce the pensions by the necessary amount, the Government will reserve to itself the right to propose further economies in order to bring the total saving up to £1,300,000.

I take this opportunity to express on behalf of the Government and the Parliament, appreciation of the spirit which the representatives of the returned soldiers have shown in again coming to the aid of the country in a time of national crisis.


.- The House will have an opportunity in due course to discuss the details of the proposals which the Prime Minister has outlined. I rise now only to express, on behalf of members of the Opposition, appreciation of the work done by the representatives of the returned soldiers in connexion with proposals which obviously presented very great difficulties. They are to be congratulated upon the spirit in which they approached a complicated and more than unpleasant task.


– I asked certain questions of the Prime Minister in regard to the hire of motor cars by Ministers, the cost of government motors for ministerial use, and the travelling expenses paid to the secretary of each Minister since the Government has beer/ in office. I was told in effect that asa detailed examination of the accounts of the various Commonwealth departments would be entailed, necessitating considerable expenditure, the Prime Ministerdid not feel justified in authorizing the work to be proceeded with. I have no objection to the Government practising economy; on the contrary, I am willing to assist it to do so; but I suspect that the refusal to supply the information for which I asked was prompted by considerations other than a desire to economize. My questions affect Ministers directly, and there appears to be a desire to suppress certain information. I resent evasions of this character.

Mr Thompson:

– I call attention to the state of the House.

A quorum not being present,

Mr. Speaker adjourned theHouse at 3.17 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 July 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.