13th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. 9. H. Mackay) took the chair at 11.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– As the Government is anxious to press on with the discussion of the bill arising out of the Ottawa conference, I ask honorable members to give notice of questions which, in other circumstances, they would ask this morning without notice. On the motion for the adjournment this afternoon there will be an opportunity to discuss matters of urgency.
Debate resumed (vide page 2266), on motion by Mr. Gullett -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Scullin had moved by way of amendment -
That all the words after “ That “ be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “the bill be withdrawn and negotiations opened for a new agreement embodying concessions to Australian producers and . preferences to Great Britain on specified items without endangering our protective policy or depriving Parliament of its power to give effect to the will of the people on general tariff policy.”
.- This bill is one of the most important thathas been brought before this chamber for a number of years. As one of the new members of the House, I regard myself as somewhat fortunate, because the excellence of the speeches of members representing the various political parties has made it easy for me to mark out the course which I propose to. follow. For over two years Australia, in common with all other countries, has been passing through a most critical period in its history. Many remedial measures have been proposed to meet the pressing economic and financial problems that have beset us. The failure as the individual nations within the British Empire to rehabilitate their industries and solve their unemployment problem led to the conception of a cooperative effort, with the result that, in July of this year, an Empire conference was held at Ottawa. After protracted discussion of the many proposals submitted by the representatives of the Mother Country, the self-governing dominions and Grown colonies, an agreement was reached, and we are now asked to ratify that made between the United Kingdom and Australia.
Members of the Labour party, as so often is the case with regard toproposals introduced by this Government, have shown unremitting hostility to the measure. They have offered no worthwhile reasons for their attitude, but have submitted a number of excuses why the bill should not be passed. By devious means, they have endeavoured to cloud die issue. They have provided themselves with an abundant supply of red herrings which they have used with a liberality characteristic of a party that has lost its soul only to find itself floundering in the depths of a political morass.
– I regard the statement that the party to which I belong has lost its soul as offensive to me, and ask, therefore, that it be withdrawn.
– As the honorable member declares that the expression is personally offensive to him, I ask the honorable member for Lang to withdraw it.
– I withdraw it. The right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), in opposing the bill, made the amazing statement that the agreement would shatter Empire unity. All the delegates to the Ottawa Conference were actuated by one ideal only - the preservation of the unity of the British Empire. Their one purpose was the adoption of proposals which would cement the bonds of Empire, and we know that, throughout the entire proceedings, the best of good feeling prevailed. Eventually, there emerged from the conference, an agreement steeped in the spirit of unity, and this House is now asked to ratify, the proposals as they affect the Commonwealth and Great Britain and the Commonwealth and the sister dominions.
Opponents of -the agreement, to suit their own ends, have endeavoured to minimize the benefits which Australia will receive from Great Britain, and, to suit their own ends, have magnified the concessions which Australia is making to Britain. It is, however, significant that the British Labour Party, or what is left of it, is opposing the agreement because under it Australia is getting too much, and the Australian Labour Party . is opposing it because it is giving Britain too much. The clouded visions of the Labour parties in these countries led to their decimation less than twelve months ago.
– Order ! The honorable member’s remarks are not relevant to the bill.
– “When the conference was decided upon about twelve months ago, the Scullin Government, which was thenin power in this Parliament, endeavoured to have the sittings fixed for a date earlier than July, so that it might choose the delegation to represent Australia. But the hand of fate prevented that. Iu an appeal to the people, the Scullin Government was defeated, with the result that the Lyons Government was charged with the responsibility of apppointing the delegates to represent Australia. If the attitude of the Labour Opposition in this debate may be taken as an indication of what the attitude of the previous Administration would have been, had it, unfortunately, been able to choose the delegation, I dread to think what the result of the conference would have been. Honorable members opposite also contend that the acceptance of the agreement will result in many manufacturing concerns closing down, with the result that thousands of employees will be thrown on the labour market in this country. Apparently those statements have been made without considering the effect of the policy adopted a couple of years ago. In their innocence, members of the Labour party thought, when they were returned to power, that all that was necessary to’ provide employment was to impose a prohibitive tariff. This the Scullin Government proceeded to do, the consequence being that some mythical hundreds of thousands found employment, but, unfortunately, a few real thousands lost their jobs. Under the agreement, as I see it, Australian industries will be protected and given every opportunity to develop. Although our great natural industries were established under an unreasonably low tariff, they made satisfactory progress, and when increased protection was given to them under the Greene and Pratten tariffs, they prospered to a remarkable degree. But there has been practically no development during the last two years. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) suggested, as one reason, that this Government, or the party supporting it, favours a policy of freetrade. He must know that that there is no foundation for such an assumption. During the last few months several members of the Opposition have been touring the different States making wild and irresponsible statements as to the consequences to Australia of the acceptance of the Ottawa agreement. Possibly this is considered good politics, but I contend that they are doing a very grave injustice to the workers of this country and a disservice to Australia.
The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) made special refer ence to the textile industries, and predicted disaster for them if the agreement should be accepted. He stated that the agreement, as well as the tariff schedule previously introduced, adversely affected our textile industries. The honorable member’s opinion is not supported by some figures which I have obtained within the last few days, from the secretary of the Textile Employers Federation, concerning the position of seven of the nineteen woollen mills in the metropolitan area of Sydney. I have chosen these seven because I have been able to obtain, in respect of them, comparative figures for May and October of last year. These show that in May, 1931, the seven mills employed 2,190 persons, and in October, 2,641, an increase of 20 per cent. Three of the largest mills are in my own electoral division, and from inquiries which I have made I am satisfied that the figures furnished to me are accurate. On Monday last, I was advised that, owing to the volume of work, it has been necessary for the management to approach the ‘State Government for permission to increase the amount of overtime in the mills. This proves conclusively that ‘the statement made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) was very wide of the mark. The following extract is taken from The Tailor and Mercer, the only trade journal in Australia which is devoted entirely to men’s wear : -
OTTAWA, AND ITS AFTERMATH.
Tina Mills and How They are Affected. (Specially written by N. F. Wilson, Manager of the Globe Worsted Mills Limited, Marrickville. Sydney. )
The great majority of Australians will breathe a sigh of relief. We are granted what we so sorely needed - security of tenure. We are still masters in our own house. The Commonwealth Government deserves the gratitude of all parties. They have defied the lightning of the freetrader on the one hand, and the thunder of the European exporter on the other hand. The importance of the secondary industries has not been lost sight of. As a field for employment of our growing population they have been protected; the fence is still secure. As an avenue of investment, they remain a road to prosperity.
In view of the criticism of the agreement by some honorable members and also the unjustified and contemptible remarks applied to the right honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce), let me also quote a statement of Mr. Robert Vicars, the president of the New South Wales Textile Manufacturers Association, who has now returned from the Ottawa Conference at which he was an unofficial representative of the Australian Textile Manufacturers. He said -
I am satisfied that good will come out of ‘ the conference, and I look forward with optimism. Admittedly there are some difficult things in the agreement, but I believe that everything will work out satisfactorily in the long run. Our own delegation stood up well at the conference, and were conspicuous even at such a gathering. Undoubtedly Mr. Bruce ranked among the best nien there. Whatever was done for Australia was done by men of excellent capacity with no thought of individual’ glory.
The opinions of those two gentlemen need no elaboration. If the manufacturing industries of Australia, and particularly the textile industry, had been adversely affected by the agreement, such favorable comments would not have been made by them.
Several articles in the agreement have been adversely criticized during the course of the debate. Article 10 has been bitterly attacked because of the phrase “Reasonable competition “. There are two kinds of competition - reasonable and unreasonable; and I do not think that honorable members who are opposing the agreement would prefer the word “ unreasonable “ substituted for “ reasonable “. What would be meant by “unreasonable coinpetition “ ? It would be either extremely high competition to the degree of excessive tariff protection such as that given by the Scullin Government, or extremely low competition to the degree of freetrade as advocated by some misguided enthusiasts in this chamber who represent the scattered population of the continent. Between those two extremes of unreasonable competition is the reasonable competition for which this Government and most of the Australian manufacturers stand, which is provided for in article 10 of the agreement. I am satisfied that the Australian manufacturer does not desire anything more than reasonable competition. There are two methods of protecting industries, one by tariff protection and the other by the removal of some of the restrictions which are crippling them. That aspect of the matter has, up to the present, been neglected, because it does not furnish a good political cry. It is the duty of the Government to remove some of the restrictions that are at the moment hampering Australian industry. Article 12 lias also been adversely criticized. It provides that no new protective duty shall be imposed and no existing duty shall be increased on United Kingdom goods without the consent of the Tariff Board. 1 1 was to be expected that that article would be strenuously opposed by the members of the Labour party, because they wish to keep the Tariff Board and the fiscal policy of this country under the control of the Parliament. If the Parliament is more competent than the Tariff Board to make recommendations in respect of duties, then the board should be abolished and the expense of its administration saved ; but if the Tariff Board is the more competent body to carry out that, function, its decisions should stand. Of course the members of the Opposition contend that as the Tariff Board is the creature of the Parliament, its recommendations should be subject to veto by Parliament. Yet what is their attitude to the Public Service Arbitrator, who is also the creature of the Parliament? Only a fortnight ago the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) moved the adjournment of this House in order to protest against the Government’s action in procuring the disallowance of an award of the Arbitrator. The right honorable member protests on the one hand against any interference by the Government with the decisions of the Public Service Arbitrator, and on the other hand against the non-interference of the Government with the recommendations of the Tariff Board. His attitude is inconsistent. As was pointed out by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), the Leader of the Opposition will not be satisfied until the Parliament has control of the Commonwealth Bank Board. Of course, I can quite understand the desire of the Leader of the Opposition that Parliament should be the supreme body.
Article 12 will act as a safety valve and a guard against any rash actions on the part of an inexperienced and over-enthusiastic honorable member who may suddenly and unexpectedly be placed in charge of the Trade and Customs Department. It is in the initial stages of industry that great care must be exercised to avoid tariff mistakes. It is therefore necessary that an independent tribunal, composed of experienced men who have as their object the future well-being of Australia and its industries, should investigate and report on industries which are seeking protection. The recommendations of the board should be final, and it is amazing to me that this Parliament has, in some instances, seen fit to vary or veto them. Article 16 provides that the term of the agreement shall be five years. The members of the Opposition say that one parliament must not tie the hands of the following parliaments, yet last year the Scullin Government entered into an agreement which bound this Parliament, and so unjust were its terms that the parties affected by it have since voluntarily agreed to review it.
– That is absolute moonshine.
– No doubt honorable members opposite find that action hard to defend. For his action, the Leader of the Opposition has made the miserable excuse that the agreement ‘entered into was between the Commonwealth Government and. the Queensland Government. To me, an agreement is an agreement, whether the parties to it are two governments, two parliaments, or two countries. There is neither logic nor reason in the argument of the right honorable member. It is immaterial to me whether the term of the Ottawa agreement is two, five, or ten years. Provided that the agreement is in the best interests of this country, I shall support it. Honorable members opposite say that if, before the end of five years, they hold the reins of government, they will alter rt»« agreement, but they fail to take into consideration the likelihood of it conferring upon Australia within that period, benefits which will be appreciated by every section of the community. For political reasons, they now say that, if they are given the opportunity, they will alter the agreement, but I might point out that between them and the agreement stand the Australian electors.
I have been astonished at the attitude of several honorable members, particularly those representing the northern States, not only on this measure, but also on other measures before the House. When I entered Parliament I believed that Queensland was a State in the northeast of Australia. Since I have been here an effort has been made to impress it upon me and other honorable members that Australia is a little spot to the south of Queensland, and that even that little spot may slip out of sight on a banana skin. That is the characteristic attitude of some of the Queensland representatives in this chamber. The operation of this agreement will mark the beginning of that degree of co-operation which is necessary not only among the British Commonwealth of Nations, but also among all nations if we are to bring about the rehabilitation of the world. We hope that the acceptance of the agreement will result in the acceptance of a more far-reaching agreement at the impending World Economic Conference. I support the bill, and trust that it will be carried by an overwhelming majority.
.- I join with other honorable members in expressing regret at the illness that has prevented the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) from listening to the debate on this agreement, in the making of which he was so vitally concerned. I also pay tribute to those who, in an official and an advisory capacity, represented Australia at Ottawa.
I wish to emphasize the necessity for giving the greatest possible measure cf assistance to the primary industries of Australia, so that they may continue to provide products for export, and thus establish Australian credits overseas. Many persons held the view that when Great Britain exhibited a readiness to enter into an agreement such as this, she was prepared to sacrifice her own interests in order that the dominions might benefit. I ask such persons to consider whether it is likely that Great Britain would depart from what is almost a traditional policy in order to give concessions to the dominions without deriving any advantage for herself. It would be foolish, and opposed to common sense, to expect an immediate return of prosperity from the operation of this agreement. It is easy to slip down a hill with a big load, but most difficult to regain the position, formerly held. The primary producers of Australia do not” ask for assistance that will enable large profits to be made, but merely sufficient to ensure the continuance of their operations. One point that I should like the Government and honorable members generally to keep vividly before them, is that during the difficult years of depression through which we have passed, Australia has been blessed by nature with bountiful seasons. These have made the conditions in rural industries more tolerable, than , they otherwise would have been, and have enabled primary producers not only to fend for themselves, but also to provide foodstuffs for those who, unfortunately, were out of work. I say to honorable members, particularly those who have no practical knowledge of country life, that the acuteness of the troubles caused by the depression will be felt most severely by all classes of the community when there is a return of the drought conditions that inevitably we shall experience 1 sooner or later. Meanwhile, every assistance should be given to the different departments that will control the services resulting from the agreement. The people generally throughout the country have made considerable sacrifices in an endeavour to maintain their solvency, and to continue production. Greater production would benefit Australia, particularly in relieving our interest burden overseas.
I am in no sense a freetrader; I consider that adequate protection should be given to secondary industries to enable them to expand and provide employment. But if they have to he bolstered up at the expense of primary production, it will be necessary to allow fie importation of what cannot be economically produced in this country. In no case must wc strain our trade relations with other countries by protecting secondary industries that are likely never to succeed.
Attention has been drawn in this House io the destruction in Western Australia of emus that have caused considerable damage to wire-netting fences. Although I do not favour the slaughter of bird or animal life, I consider that the Government should assist settlers to prevent the destruction of their fences, which protect them from the depredations of rabbits. If such fences are destroyed by emus or kangaroos, the position of the landholders is untenable, because the prohibitive price of wire-netting makes it impossible for many to purchase it now. The increases in price within the last ten or fifteen years have very largely been due to the tariff. I am pleased that the Government has decided to give some assistance to wheatgrowers, who have made big sacrifices in cutting their costs to the bone so that they might remain solvent and retain their holdings, which in many cases are on the verge of being surrendered.
I propose to support the bill, because I realize that some good will accrue from it in the future. But foreign nations should not be discouraged from purchasing a portion of our production. If there is a spirit of co-operation within the great Commonwealth of Nations that comprise the British Empire, I feel confident that substantial benefits will be derived by all, but particularly by Australia, the most important dominion in the Empire.
– I congratulate the Australian delegation on the wonderful results that it achieved, and pay a tribute to the valuable preparatory work done by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker), whose explanation yesterday was most enlightening.
Many of the speeches that have been made on the bill disclose a serious misunderstanding of the agreement. The Ottawa proposals are more or less in the nature of an experiment. Never before in the history of the world have a number of nations combined as an economic unit to the practical exclusion of the remainder. I favour the agreement, and shall support its enactment; but I do not consider that Australia will derive from it the enormous benefits expected. There will be definite advantages associated with dairy products, meat, fruit and other foodstuffs, the output of which can be absorbed within the Empire, but I should not be surprised if the suggested increase of £100,000,000 in the value of our primary production is proved to be an over-estimation. A world economic conference will have to be held before Australia can expect to experience lasting prosperity. Two of our most important primary industries are wool and wheat-growing, and unless they prosper to a much greater extent than has been the case within the last few years, Australia cannot hope to have the vast spending power which is derivable only from exportable products. Has the Ministry a right con.ception of the situation in which those industries are placed to-day? Many persons who have been well established in the wool industry for a number of years, say quite definitely that if the present conditions continue much longer they will have to go out of business. A large number of wheat-growers also are firmly of the opinion that they will have to cease their operations unless prices improve substantially in the near future. If the British Empire could absorb the whole of the wheat produced by Canada and Australia, and the wool produced by Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, we should be definitely on the road to prosperity. But it is recognized that we must depend on the competition of foreign buyers for the absorption of those products. The imposition of embargoes on foreign goods results in those countries having an adverse trade balance with us. Nations are not in the habit of accepting such conditions. Naturally, they take steps to correct their adverse trade balance, and if they cannot increase their exports, their only alternative is to prevent importations. That has happened in the past. At the present time, every country in the world is endeavouring to correct an adverse trade balance, and to restore a certain amount of prosperity to its people, by the establishment of industries under the protection of tariffs.
Let us consider what high tariffs have done for the various nations. Australia produces wheat and wool, and sends most of it overseas to the world’s markets. Other nations, when they want to buy from us have to pay world parity and high import duties, which, naturally, make our products very dear to them. Similarly, because of the duties and embargoes that we have imposed -against foreign products, we have to pay world parity, plus heavy -duties, on the manufactured goods that we import. The effect has been to make our wheat and wool and other products “very cheap on our own markets, but very dear to the people of other nations. Thus trade has been restricted, and the manufactories of other countries have become unprofitable. This has upset the industrial balance in every country. A number of European nations, which formerly took a great deal of our wheat, are now producing enough wheat for their own requirements, and in some instances are exporting it. By the imposition of heavy import duties we have built up secondary industries which, in some instances, are being conducted on an unsound basis. In other cases there is grave suspicion that a number of the articles manufactured in this country are kept at a price just high enough to be below the cost of the imported goods, plus duty.
– There is no doubt about that,
– I agree with the Minister. While some nations have thus deliberately built up their primary industries, we in Australia have similarly established secondary industries, and, therefore, the tariff reductions that would be most desirable throughout the world, cannot easily be effected. Such conferences as that at Ottawa may do something towards the solution of the problem ; but I urge the Minister to seize every opportunity to discuss with foreign nations a general lowering of tariffs. I know, of course, that this policy is not palatable to some members of the House. Having given a good deal of consideration to the subject of tariffs, I feel that unless their general reduction is brought about, industrial dislocation all over the world will be inevitable. Many of our primary producers will have to go out of business, because new primary producers are springing up in other parts of the world, and other primary producing nations are building up their own secondary industries. Since- the prices of secondary products in Australia and the prices of primary products in countries which have established secondary industries are high, and since the nations are trying to correct the position by means of increased taxation, it would be remarkable if those who compose the different nations were in a prosperous condition. I urge the Government to take every opportunity of discussing with foreign nations the best means of overcoming the economic difficulties.” After the last war, borrowing on a large scale made a great deal of cheap money available to individuals. In some cases the money had not been earned; it was merely credit due to inflation, and those individuals purchased a number of things that they were not really in a position to buy. In Australia a person would buy a motor car from overseas, and pay a deposit on it. The money required to make the purchase would be immediately sent out of Australia; but the person who paid the deposit would probably never be able to complete the payments due. Other countries had experiences similar to those of Australia. There is one easy way in which the problem of world-wide industrial stagnation can be solved ; but it would be most unpalatable to the champions of the time-payment system. If I were a Mussolini, I would make a law providing that everybody who bought a luxury article should pay cash for it. I would not make that law apply to all goods, because a certain amount of credit is helpful to business. The present problem seems to have been discussed from every angle except the right one, and I suggest to the Government that it should get down to the root cause of the present trouble.
I support the Ottawa agreement, because I believe that it represents a step in the right direction. I do not anticipate wonderful results from it; but I expect a certain amount of benefit to be derived in an. increased sale of our goods within the Empire. I am not opposed to the establishment of secondary indus- tries in this country, provided they are carried on upon sound lines. I was impressed by the observation of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), that some of the words in the agreement suggest that in the past secondary industries have been established in Australia upon an unsound basis. The champions of high protection in this House should ponder seriously over the fact that the suggestion has found expression in this important agreement. Something has been said about a lack of reciprocity on the part of Great Britain. It is claimed that a comparison between articles 4 and 12 of the agreement shows a balance of generosity in favour of Britain. I do not fear giving the Tariff Board, for the main part, the power to determine tariff matters, for it is an expert body, and its opinions should be accepted in preference to those of members of this House.
– I regret the illness of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett), and I hope that he will quickly recover. I congratulate the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Parkhill) upon his elevation in the Cabinet; but I do so with a certain amount of regret, because the people whom I represent have lost his services as Minister for the Interior. In that capacity he made himself conversant with their conditions and aspirations, and they were looking forward to receiving a considerable measure of assistance at his hands. Yet I feel sure that the store of knowledge that he acquired during his recent visit to North Australia will be placed at the disposal of his successor. One cannot help being struck by the faintness of the praise that has .been bestowed upon the Ottawa agreement, even by supporters of the Government. Numerous speakers have begun their remarks with a eulogy of the bill, and, paradoxically, have both commended find condemned it in the same speech. If honorable members had had before them a list of the grievances of the other dominions iv. regard to this agreement, we should have been in a much better position than we now are to assess the value of the achievements of the Australian delegation at Ottawa, compared with the work of the representatives of other parts of the Empire. The people have been led to expect more from the agreement than can possibly be realized. This conference was born as a consequence of the world depression. It was evidently thought by the leaders of the various parts of the British Commonwealth of Nations that if they came together they would be able effectively to re-adjust the trade available within the Empire to the advantage of the different constituent parts of it. But an- examination of the results of the conference reveals that even the greatest depression the world has ever known - and this one may truthfully be so described - was not severe enough to cause our political leaders to overstep the parochial boundaries which have hitherto been the limit of their vision. In my opinion, the submerged millions of the world’s population have borne a far greater share of the general sacrifices than they should have been called upon to bear, and in appreciation of their heroic self-restraint, the leaders of world thought, particularly within the British Commonwealth of Nations, should strain every nerve to ensure not only that there shall be a restoration without delay of some measure of our former prosperity, but also a building of our economic life on a basis which will make the recurrence of the experiences of recent years utterly impossible. To this end I say, advisedly, that we must abandon the uneconomic enterprises in which we have hitherto engaged, and rehabilitate our industries on a basis which make possible an early resumption by our people of their tranquil and peaceful life of former days. Whether we be high or low protectionists, it must be admitted that in the past we have based our industries on a more or less unsound foundation. We have bolstered them up with bounties and grants of one kind and another, although we knew that the result of that policy would be that they would not be able to compete on economic conditions with the products of other countries.
A study of the commercial statistics of Great Britain provides convincing evidence that there is room for a readjustment of trade within the Empire. Yet when our delegates went to the 1930 Imperial Conference they had to fight strenuously to retain even the small preferences that then existed in respect of Australian primary products. Great Britain imports goods to the value of £737,000,000 per annum. Of this quantity £270,000,000 worth is drawn from within the Empire, the remaining £467,000,000 worth from foreign countries. Another important consideration is that Great Britain resells for 22s. every £1 worth of goods that she buys within the Empire, while she resells for less than 10s. every £1 worth that she buys from foreign countries.
Much attention has been given during this debate to the meat industry. Great Britain imports 900,000 tons of beef, mutton and lamb per annum. Of this quantity she receives 626,000 tons from South America, 180,000 tons from New Zealand, and 80,000 tons from Australia. The New Zealand proportion is made up of 15,000 tons of beef, and 65,000 tons of mutton and lamb, and the Australian quota consists of 40,000 tons of beef and 40,000 tons of mutton and lamb. It is notable that New Zealand is exporting 100,000 tons more meat per annum than Australia. This is a serious indictment of the land policy of this country. England also imported, in 1931, 557,000 tons of bacon, a large quantity of which was green. I point out that the chilling problem does not enter into this branch of the meat industry.
Bearing these facts in mind, let me take honorable members on an excursion, to the Far North of Australia, where thousands of pigs in the pink of condition are running wild over our wonderful river country. This territory is the natural home of pig raising. As this industry is not dependent on chilling operations, it has tremendous possibilities for Australia. Yet successive governments have done nothing whatever to develop it.
– What do the pigs feed on ?
– They live on natural bush foods. If the right honorable gentleman had seen the thousands of wild pigs that I have seen in that area, he would be astounded. The cheapness of the land, the favorable climatic conditions, the ample rainfall, and the proximity to the world markets of this area are all factors which should cause the Government to focus attention upon it immediately. Instead of doing this, in the past we have devoted our attention to uneconomic soldier settlement projects in the southern States. The Victorian Government, for instance, has paid £24,392,149 in the purchase of estates for soldiers, but the successful settlement of them has been impossible owing to the high capital cost of the land and, in some cases, the uncertainty of the rainfall. Other liabilities have brought the capital cost of these properties up to £26,000,000. For the year ended the 30th June, 1931, the dues owing in respect of this land amounted to £1,213,652. But of that amount, only £594,000, or 49 per cent., had been paid. The accumulated arrears at that time amounted to £3,319,804, while the total value of the concessions granted to the soldier settlers had reached the colossal sum of £8,245,971. Speaking in the Victorian State Parliament recently on the subject of soldier land settlement in that State, Mr. Dunstan said that even if the Government paid interest to the extent of £13,284,000, a deficit would still remain of £200,000, and an additional £100,000 would have to be met annually for administrative expenses. Surely no one would suggest that a policy which has proved so unprofitable after all these years is economically sound. The unfortunate soldier settlers who have gone on to this country can never hope to pay even interest on the capital cost of their land. The figures in relation to New South Wales are somewhat similar. The latest available returns indicate that the total advances have been more than £26,000,000, and ‘that the outstanding arrears in payments are £14,500,000. A settler on a 600-;acre block must pay interest, including amortization, to the extent of £212 annually. Of 11,396 returned soldiers in Victoria who took up the impossible task of making a success of land settlement, 5,396 have been forced off their holdings. Obviously, economic production is impossible under such conditions as these. Some soldier land settlement schemes have involved the payment of £13 an acre for farms, and this has meant that a 600-acre block has cost £7,800. I state these facts to show that we must adopt other means of extricating ourselves from the deplorable financial morass in which we are bogged. We must produce under conditions which will enable us to market our products profitably in world centres. The fallacious basis upon which we have been building cur industries has undoubtedly retarded, to a serious extent, the development of this great ccountry. If we persist in our present policy, our whole economic structure will inevitably collapse. We may postpone the evil day by the granting of concessions of one kind and another, such, for instance, as the Government is now proposing in regard to superphosphates, but sooner or later we must fail unless we build our industries on a sound basis. We cannot forever evade the cardinal principles of sound development. The present world depression has shown that’ our hope of building a Utopia in this fair land was a dream. Such a dream must remain unrealized until we abandon, the economic fallacies which have brought us to our present condition. The reconstruction of this broken world will be achieved only by efficiency, courage and skilful reorganization. We shall have to jettison the parochial ideas which hitherto have dominated both imperial and international conferences. We shall have to face economic facts.
When I speak of the fertility and value of the huge areas of undeveloped land that lie in the far north of the constituency which I represent, I am frequently regarded as a reckless advocate of the use of Crown holdings for developmental purposes. But the Postmaster-General (Mr. Parkhill), who has recently visited the Northern Territory, has seen our beautiful rolling downs and our rich river fiats, and he knows and appreciates the prospects of successful development in this hitherto neglected territory. The Minister knows that in some of the country of which I am speaking there is an abundant rainfall, and no fear of droughts. This land should’ be made available under reasonable conditions to the people of Australia. We should cease attempting to achieve the impossible by the bolstering up of uneconomic propositions such as are many of our soldier settlement projects, and devote our attention to the development of our far north country. The annual rental of this country averages about 2s. a square mile. If we could put settlers on blocks of, say, 640 acres of this land at such a rental, they would have every prospect of success. The area of which I am speaking is 3,500 miles nearer the home markets than our developed country in the south. The Postmaster-General knows from his recent travels in this area that it is destined to become one of the greatest centres of Australia for the production of exportable primary products. It is not the barren waste that so many would have the public believe. The Northern Territory possesses land which is capable of producing the bulk of our primary products. Under existing ordinances there are pastoral leases in the territory aggregating 142,634 square miles. There are 65,0S1 square miles under old acts and ordinances, much of which will soon revert to the Crown, while 35,660 square miles granted under later acts will be resumable in 1935.
Obviously there must be a readjustment of the surplus population, not only in Australia, but throughout the British Commonwealth of. Nations. The Northern Territory offers a solution. If we divided that 35,660 square mile3 among new settlers, giving each 1,280 acres, we could establish 1,750 families in that area. That makes no provision for the 65,081 square miles resumable under old acts.- Such a course would be infinitely preferable to the fallacious schemes that are so glibly propounded from time to time, for it provides an opportunity to bring about land settlement on a sound economic basis.
– Would the honorable member encourage a chartered company to do it?
– I am prepared to encourage anybody, or any corporation, to take up country in the Northern Territory, if genuinely desirous of developing it. I am not opposed to big interests simply because they are big interests, but I am against those who take up country for the” purpose of damning it. Honorable members must be well aware of the important part that Lord Vestey played in connexion with the Ottawa Conference. Prior to and during the preliminary stages he caused a vast amount of literature to be distributed throughout the British Commonwealth of Nations, with the object of proving that Northern Australia cannot successfully produce fat beef and mutton.
– The honorable member does not seriously suggest that Lord Vestey sought to damn the Northern Territory ?
– I do. When the Postmaster-General was in that area recently, the manager of one of the biggest stations in the territory informed the honorable gentleman that he “was aware that Vestey’s were not pulling their weight in the territory, that at the time they first settled there he met representatives of the Argentine meat industry, to whom he said, “I suppose you welcome people like Vestey’s, who come to a country with the object of developing it? “ The Argentine people said that Vestey’s would spend money in the country, not for the purpose of developing, but to damn it, and added, “ You will live to see the day when they have accomplished that purpose.” Why are Vestey’s holding that great tract of territory in the north? The Minister has evidence that they stock it only to the extent required by their undertaking with the Government, but that their main purpose is simply to lock up valuable land to prevent serious competitors establishing themselves in North Australia.
– Very few will be prepared to take that land up when it reverts to the Grown.
– The honorable member need have no fears on that score. I know many who would be pleased to take it up, and it is the duty of this Parliament to encourage them to do so, and ensure that the areas are exploited to the utmost. Prominence should be given to the Northern Territory as the finest sporting country in Australia. By indulging in that and other favorable publicity, permanent benefit would be conferred on Australia. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) knows that, no matter what is done to bolster up some of our wheat farmers, they cannot make a success of their venture, as they began on an uneconomic basis. But they could be established in the Northern Territory, and could grow the whole of Australia’s exportable requirements. By developing that huge tract of valuable country, we should be doing something tangible towards dragging the country out of the morass of despair into which it has temporarily fallen. To honorable members who claim that it would be impossible to secure applicants for land in the territory, I refer to the way blocks of land in the south are rushed when applications are called for. The country is there in the north, and it is only necessary to employ systematic organization to make its development a success. We know how immense is the quantity of bacon which Britain imports annually. In the Northern Territory there are rich river flats carrying, as I have said, thousands of pigs, which are bush fed and in the pink of condition. The country provides a natural home for them. No matter how much we produce for internal consumption, in the final analysis our salvation lies in the production of saleable commodities for the world’s markets. Until they are exploited to the utmost, Australia will never prosper. We must abandon fallacious reasoning, and get down to the root cause of the trouble. In considering ways and means of surviving and surmounting this devastating depression, let us get away from the mythical and tackle what is real. It is the duty of the Commonwealth Parliament to ensure that every opportunity shall be given to the people of Australia to take up land in the Northern Territory. If that is done, we shall have progressed a long way towards the permanent reconstruction of our nation.
Sitting suspended from 12.58 to 2 p.m. [Quorum formed.]
.- In rising to support the bill I desire, first, to offer my congratulations to the Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Bruce) and the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett), as well as the staff which accompanied them, on the work which they performed at Ottawa. Our thanks are due also to the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker), who, as Minister for Commerce, was responsible for much of the preparatory work. I am convinced that Australia’s delegation was second to none at Ottawa, and we on this side, at any rate, extend to our repre sentatives our heartfelt thanks for their good work, which, we feel sure, ‘ will be of great benefit to Australia. During the last election campaign candidates who supported the present Government advocated greater trade reciprocity within the Empire. This agreement is the result of their promise to work in that direction, if returned to power. Although the agreement may not give us all that we desired, it marks the beginning of a new era, and is an earnest gesture of what is yet to come. I agree with what has been said as to the advantages which will accrue to Australian primary producers from the agreement, but I go further, and say that the benefits will not be confined to them. As a representative of a city constituency, I am convinced that benefits to primary producers will reflect themselves in a very definite manner in the cities which supply many of the requirements of the man on the land. The improved purchasing power of the farmer will increase, for instance, the business to be done in manufactured foodstuffs, clothing, machinery and fertilizers. The prosperity of one is bound to be shared by the other. Those engaged in secondary industries, as well as those now unemployed, will also gain an advantage. Indeed, I am convinced that all sections of the community will share in the gains.
In the short time at my disposal, I shall confine myself to only a few items, chief among which will be the fruit industry, particularly as it affects South Australia. Each year Australia exports apples to the value of £1,250,000 to the United Kingdom, but I expect that, as a result of the concessions granted by Britain, the value pf our annual export of apples will be doubled. The preference granted by Britain in respect of apples is 4s. 6d. per cwt,, or about 2s. a case, and since it costs Australian producers about 6s. a case to market apples in Britain, the preference covers onethird of the cost. The agreement will encourage fruit-growers, of whom there are 20,000 in Australia, to extend the areas under cultivation, and if, as a result, each grower engages one additional man to work on his orchard, 20,000 of the unemployed will be absorbed in that way. The greater the area under cultivation, the greater should be the production -of fruit, and, consequently, the greater the demand for machinery and implements as well as labour. It will be thus seen how our secondary industries as well as the unemployed will share the benefits which this agreement will confer on our primary producers.
In the past pears to the value of £70,000 per annum have been exported from Australia. As in the ease of apples, the preference on pears is 4s. 6d. per cwt., or 2s. a case, I am confident that our pear export trade will expand as a result of the agreement. Our orange export trade is still in its infancy, but I believe that a much greater volume of business can be done with Great Britain in this direction. In the Murray valley, where large numbers of returned soldiers and others have been settled on the land, at great cost to themselves and the State, oranges grow to perfection. The development of this trade should be of great value to Australia. Many of the difficulties experienced in past years in the marketing of our dried fruits have now been practically overcome, so that we may look forward confidently to a greater export trade. The possibilities of the Murray Valley are enormous. In that portion of the Commonwealth large areas suitable for the growing of fruit under irrigation are still available, and this agreement will help to bring them under cultivation. Once our fruit-growers are assured of a market for their fruit, they will extend their orchards and produce larger quantities of fruit. Britain gives Australia a preference of from 7s. to 1.0s. per cwt. on dried fruits, so that the value of the agreement to Australia is obvious. Dried fruits to the value of approximately £3,0.00,000 are exported annually from .Australia, and of that quantity Britain buys about 30 per cent; but because of the preference given to Australia by the agreement, it will provide a better market for these products. In addition to currants, raisins and lexias, large quantities of dried prunes, apricots and peaches are produced in this country, and under the favorable conditions provided by the agreement, an expansion of trade in these products may confidently be expected.
There are also tremendous possibilities for the development of our export egg trade. Of 26,000,000 great hundreds of eggs imported each year by Britain, only 1,000,000 great hundreds come from Australia. There is, therefore, scope for a greater expansion of this industry.
The Ottawa agreement gives Australia a preference of lid. per lb. on’ butter. Since the cost of marketing butter in Britain is about 17s. per cwt., or a little less than 2d. per lb., it will be seen that the preference will almost cover the cost of sending butter to Britain.
The Murray Valley also offers great possibilities for an expansion of the dairying industry. Some years ago when I visited that area, I found one dairy herd of 400 cows on a comparatively small irrigation block. I look forward to seeing more dairy farms in the Murray Valley as a result of this agreement.
I also confidently expect a greatly increased consumption of Australian wheat by British consumers because of the preference given to Australian wheat under the agreement. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Blacklow) spoke of the large amount of gold hoarded in the United States of America and France. The depression through which we are passing is not confuted to Australia. The other nations which are facing similar difficulties to those with which we are now confronted are as anxious as we are to reach a state of financial and economic stability. Prior to the depression, the Commonwealth was annually importing from the United States of America about £35,000,000 worth of goods, while America w:as purchasing only about £5,000,000 worth from Australia, leaving an adverse trade balance against Australia of £30,000,000, which had to be met by payments in gold. To-day, the vaults in the United States of America are full of gold, on which she is not receiving any return, and tho purchasing power of other nations has, in consequence, been so seriously diminished, that America finds that the peoples of other countries have not the money to purchase American products. The honorable member for Franklin also said that if the United States of America loaned Great Britain an amount equivalent to the gold she has in her vaults at 1 per cent., trade would revive, and additional money would be placed in circulation. Perhaps it would be unreasonable to expect a large sum of money to be made available at such a low rate of interest, but possibly, it could be loaned at 2-1 per cent. The United States of America is fully aware of the fact that the hoarding of gold has resulted in the stagnation of trade, not only in other countries, but also in America, where there is a vast army of unemployed. We are all hoping for better days, and the time seems opportune for countries te trade more freely with each other.
Honorable members opposite have referred to the extensive powers with which the Tariff Board is to be entrusted. During the last election campaign, 1 stated that, in tariff matters, this Parliament should be guided by the recommendations of that board, the members of which are experts in the work upon which they are engaged. Honorable member* cannot be expected to have an intimate knowledge of the numerous tariff matters which come before this House for consideration. On many such matters they have varying opinions, and in these circumstances, it is difficult for Parliament to reach a correct decision. While this Government is in power, I trust that it will be guided by the recommendations of the Tariff Board; the decisions of which it should not be expected to follow in every instance.
The high tariff imposed by the Scullin Government did not have the beneficial results that its most ardent supporters anticipated. We must have a tariff acceptable to the Australian people; but one which will not interfere with - our overseas trade. Trade agreements such as that we are now discussing should be the means of binding the component parts of the British Empire more closely together. We who are of British stock should endeavour to extend our commercial relationship with other portions of the Empire. There are some who suggest that we should break away from Great Britain, and as a self-contained nation charge whatever price we choose for the commodities we produce. If all the goods we produce could be sold within this country, we could perhaps obtain higher prices than now prevail, but an overwhelming proportion of our primary production must be sold in open competition in the markets of the world.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the Dutch East Indies where I am sure there is a wonderful opportunity for disposing of large quantities of Australian primary produce. I understand that Canada is spending over £40,000 annually in securing trade in the East, where Australia is practically without representation. In Java, which is about 630 miles long, and 100 miles wide, and has a population of 43,500,000 persons, I saw inferior Australian apples sold at 4d. each. I must admit, however, that I have paid 3d. each for similar apples in Canberra. Superior apples could be exported from Western Australia as deck cargo, thus dispensing with the cost of refrigerated space, and be landed in Java within a few days of shipment from that State. There is also an opportunity for marketing other Australian products in that country. If additional markets were obtained we should not have any difficulty in disposing of practically the whole of our surplus of primary production. It has been said that the purchasing power of the people in the East is so low that they are unable to purchase our goods. If every person in Java purchased 3d. worth of Australian products weekly, it would represent £25,000,000 a year to Australia. The market is there and we should exploit it.
– What Australian products does the honorable member suggest could be sold in eastern countries ?
– -Flour leather, canned and fresh fruits, and many other commodities of which we now have a surplus. Our trade with Japan in wool is extensive, but with a suitable representative there, we would find a good market for other goods. I hope that it will not be long before tha Government comes to a definite decision with respect to Australia’s representation in the East. I support the bill because I believe that the ratification of the agreement will be of great benefit to Australia and the Empire generally.
– I desire to give reasons why I consider it the duty of every representative of the Australian people in this Parliament, particularly those representing country interests, to support this agreement at this critical stage of our history. It is amazing to me to find that merely because the agreement may be regarded as experimental, and must necessarily involve certain risks, it should meet with such violent opposition of a strikingly partisan character. During the debate, -I have been surprised and disappointed to find that the members of the Opposition have not submitted constructive criticism, or shown any desire to help Australia or Great Britain. They have adopted an entirely destructive attitude;, they have looked for every possible fault,, and there must be faults.
– Get on with the bill.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) began by attempting to chop it into pieces in his. usual hypercritical fashion, and concluded without contributing one helpful suggestion in the direction of Empire economic rehabilitation. It is amazing to find that an agreement which a short time ago was hailed throughout the Empire with delight has virtually become an apple of discord in Empire politics. This disruption in not confined to Australia ; it is even more intense in Great Britain than it is here. The position which has arisen compels one to ask whether there is any fundamental weakness in the principle of Empire cooperation, upon which a hard and fast treaty may be based. One is tempted to ask if this agreement on which there is so little unanimity, and which is bringing about so much political warfare in” Great Britain and Australia, has some serious defects which have not yet been detected. Having closely followed most of the speeches delivered on the bill and having read a good deal of material on the subject, I have come to the conclusion that the cause of. the disunity and confusion over the whole issue is that it cuts right across the grain of national interests and sentiment. It is the first time in the history of the British Empire that there has been an attempt to mobilize our economic resources in the direction of what I may term international cooperation - as the British Empire comprises a number of independent nations, any move in this direction must necessarily be international in character. Immediately an attempt is made to mobilize our economic resources, we find highly nationalized interests which have grown up in various parts of the Empire, including Great Britain, becoming highly antagonistic. It is these extremely national interests and view-points which are affecting this agreement. In Great Britain party interests- are antagonistic. No effort is made to achieve Empire co-operation, and it is on- that basis that attempts are being made to defeat the agreement. We have strong protectionist interests in Australia represented by the Australian Labour Party, the members of which are opposing the agreement, not on coherent and comprehensive grounds affecting the welfare of the Empire, but wholly and solely because they believe that it is detrimental to the manufacturing interests of Australia. All the criticisms levelled against the measure have been from the view-point that it constitutes a blow at the established protectionist policy of the Commonwealth. We must, therefore, conclude that the Opposition in Australia, as evidenced by the criticisms offered during this debate, is anxious to safeguard only sectional interests. If we judge the issue from that angle, we shall never get anywhere. We should study this important subject from a new angle. We shall never break the cast-iron band which is controlling our national activities if we decline to do so. The general conclusions reached as the result of investigations by economic and financial experts are that if the world is to escape from the present depression, there must be greater international co-operation ; there must be a lowering of trade barriers between countries, and a more determined effort to trade with each other. It has even been said by economists that before we can operate under a new monetary system there must be more friendly trade relations throughout the world. This is the first attempt thalia as ever been made to give effect to such a policy. There must be a more friendly co-operation between the units of the
Empire, such as is being attempted under the agreement now before this House and the British Parliament. We would be lacking in our duty to the Australian people if we did not give this agreement a trial. It does not matter whether it is to remain operative for five or ten years. If it is to have the consequences which some honorable members suggest, we should have the courage to repeal ‘ it. Members of the Labour party, because of their devotion to and infatuation for the policy of high protection, should be prepared to take a risk, because, if the agreement should prove to be a pronounced success, their present condemnation of it will make them seem rather foolish.
– If it should be a failure, the supporters of it will look foolish.
– We are prepared to take that risk. The members of the Labour party are obsessed with the idea that their fiscal policy must begin and end with the preservation of high duties. They believe that so long as they keep out goods from other countries, they are fulfilling their duty to the workers. The honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Baker) said that his party was concerned not so much for the manufacturers as for the workers employed in secondary industries. That is the basis of Labour’s fiscal policy. But, even allowing for that, the Opposition is not wise in opposing an agreement which may prove highly advantageous to the Australian people. Much of the criticism of honorable members is speculative and unconstructive. Those honorable gentlemen should, at least, take the risk of not condemning the agreement knowing that, if it should prove a failure, the responsibility and blame will rest on the present British and Commonwealth Governments and on all who sponsored it. We, on the other hand, who believe in the agreement in the interests of the Empire, are willing, to give it a trial. If it produces the dire consequences which the Opposition alleges it must have, there will be a means of terminating it. We are taking no undue risk in that regard.
One of the principal grounds upon which objection is taken to the agreement, is that the United Kingdom is getting all the advantages out of it.
Those who have studied the parliamentary debates and political developments in Great Britain, must be surprised at that argument, because there is a much greater cleavage in the Old Countryover the Ottawa agreement than there is in Australia. It is obvious that the political situation developing there will eventually lead to a general election. The fundamental economic policy of the country for generations is being sharply attacked by the agreement, and the rate at which criticism is growing in Great Britain suggests .that the Government will soon have to submit this issue to the country. I am certain that in Australia, too, this will be the big issue at the next general election. It is a big and inspiring issue upon which I am prepared to take my stand, and I am confident that the people of Australia will support those parties which are courageous enough to try to break away from outworn political fetishes. Surely our experience in the last three years has taught us that the policy of high protection, whatever the benefits it yields to Australia, is not a remedy for depression or a safeguard for our people in a great national crisis. It has entirely failed to protect us from the direct consequences of world depression. Therefore, we are entitled to seek a new policy that will not only stimulate new currents of activity, but will also give Australia a better chance to face a similar economic crisis in future. The agreement is the only big constructive proposal that has developed out of the depression. Fundamentally it is sound; it is based on co-operation between the national units of the British Empire, and must succeed. The greatest economists in the world, men whose conclusions have not been and cannot be disputed, say that without greater international co-operation, there is no hope for civilization. All the movements of the modern world depend wholly on international relationships. Purely national movements and policy have been mainly responsible for getting the world into its present mess. For that reason I wholeheartedly support the agreement. If it should prove to be the “ dud “ that members of the Opposition have predicted, I shall be ready to take my share of the blame. I am confident that if it smashes our cherished policy of protection, which failed us badly recently, if hundreds of factories are closed, and tens of thousands of secondary producers are thrown out of employment, the Government responsible for such consequences will not survive an appeal to the people. We are prepared, however, to take that risk. Such a contingency is unlikely, but were that to happen, it would be proof that this effort to bring about economic reciprocity and understanding is fundamentally wrong, that co-operation even between the units of the British Empire is disastrous, and if applied throughout the world, would spell ruin to ‘ civilization. No responsible thinker on economics would support such a notion. All the intelligence and organized thought is in favour of more, not less, co-operation; lower, not higher, tariffs, and a new monetary system. No one has yet evolved such a system, but it will be a necessary outcome of international co-operation and lowered trade barriers. I pin my faith to those ideas, and, therefore, confidently predict that, although the Ottawa agreement may prove defective in many respects, it will ultimately be hailed as the greatest blessing ever brought to the people of Australia.
I am not at all impressed with the attitude of the British Liberal party, which, curiously enough, is parallel with that of the high protectionists in Australia. Surely a rule that meets every case is excellent. According to both the protectionists of Australia and the freetraders of Great Britain, the Ottawa agreement will smash the Empire. The former say that it will promote freer trade which they do not desire, and will encourage an inflow of goods from other countries, which will be detrimental to our secondary industries. The freetraders of Great Britain declare that the agreement will impede the flow of trade, and Mr. McKenzie King, the Leader of the Opposition in the Canadian Dominion Parliament, is opposing the arrangement because, in his opinion, it will prevent freer trade within the Empire. The agreement cannot operate both ways; it cannot prevent the flow of trade into Australia, and at the same time increase it; it cannot encourage the flow of trade throughout the Empire, and at the same time check it. We are, therefore, bound .to conclude that the objections so far taken to the agreement are mainly partisan and political. The document itself is neither partisan nor political, and does not permit of partisan or political treatment. The critics approach it from the wrong angle. If it has faults it should be attacked entirely on non-partisan grounds. Had that need been realized throughout the negotiations, and the outburst of partisan denunciation, particularly in Great Britain and Australia, been avoided, a much better arrangement would have been reached. I believe that the fear of partisan opposition in Australia prevented our representatives at Ottawa from making greater concessions to Great Britain, and that the fear of criticism from freetraders in Great Britain prevented the Ramsay MacDonald Government from making greater concessions to the dominions. The real weakness of the agreement is that it has not gone far enough. If the parties had been a little more generous towards one another, if they had not driven such hard bargains, if they had overlooked purely national considerations and tried to formulate an agreement on an international and co-operative basis, they would have done a better job. However, it was necessary that a beginning be made, and this agreement is a beginning. If the agreement can be implemented by Great Britain and Australia even for two years, it will lead to an entirely new outlook throughout the Empire and the world. Already the Ottawa agreement, though not yet put into operation, has had a marked effect on the political affairs of the United States of America. Any one who has followed events in that country must realize that the verdict of the electors, which resulted in the dismissal of the Hoover Government, was influenced by the Ottawa Conference.
– It was influenced by “ booze
– No ; the liquor issue had very little effect on the result. The position is summarized in a cable message from New York, dated the 13th October, which states -
Government commerce experts in Washington estimate that the Ottawa trade agreements will result in a loss to the United States of America of about 75,000,000 dollars annually.
Public and press reaction to the agreements is largely of a political nature, and the democrats are assailing the high rates of the Smoot-Hawley tariff law with renewed vigour.
The election has resulted in the greatest political landslide in the history of the United States of America, and has proved that, in the opinion of the electors, the time has come for America to change its traditional fiscal policy. That is the first victory achieved by Ottawa, and there will t>e others. I do not wish to pose as a prophet, but I warn honorable members of the Opposition that the day of the high protection fetish is gone. The Labour party cannot go on winning elections ou the tariff issue; it will no longer be wise to stake its future on the high protection vote. Just as the high protectionists in the United States of America, as represented by the Republican party, could not get away with it this time, so I expect that any Australian party which goes to the electors with a proposal to abolish the Ottawa agreement, and re-institute the regime of high protection, which has let us down so badly during this crisis, will receive a rude awakening, and will be driven into the political wilderness for many years to come.
.- I am pleased to observe that the Ottawa agreement will be of considerable benefit to our primary producers. We all recognize that, if a country is to prosper, its primary producers must be able to carry on at a profit. Our delegates are to be congratulated for having obtained preferences for Australian primary products on the English market. At the same time, we must not overlook the fact that Great Britain, in undertaking to give her dominions a certain measure of preference, has granted that concession only in respect of such goods as she really needs - foodstuffs, &c. I wholeheartedly support the proposal for assisting the primary producers, as I have supported all efforts to help them since I have been a member of this Parliament, but I wish to make my position, quite clear. I came into this Parliament pledged to support a government that would restore confidence in. Australia, and enable employment to be provided for those now out of work. I do not believe that, if we allow our protectionist policy to be broken down, we shall be doing anything to assist the unemployed. Australia has now been pledged to a policy of protection for many years. In the early days of federation, it is true, many New South “Wales representatives advocated freetrade, but I represent a State which has always’ been protectionist, and which, pursuing that policy, has built up many fine industries. I am particularly anxious, therefore, that Parliament should do nothing which will increase unemployment. I fear that, if effect be given to this agreement in its entirety, the position, so far as unemployment is concerned, will not be improved, but will be rendered infinitely worse than it is to-day. If men who should be engaged in secondary industries are thrown out of work because the goods they ought to be making are being imported from Great Britain and other countries what hope have we of solving our unemployment problem ? Great Britain has undertaken to buy from us a part of her requirements, and she has other possessions with which she must also deal. She will not buy wheat from Australia merely because ve have wheat to sell, but because she needs it. Unfortunately, the manufacturers in Australia are not able to keep their workshops going full time, because the people cannot buy their products.
– Because the goods are too dear.
– No, it is not because the goods are too dear, but because the purchasing power of the people has declined. I know the value of protection. If the representatives of the farming class knew their business, they would recognize that, when prices were high and employment was plentiful, when the workers were able to spend freely and pay high rates of interest on the money they borrowed, the farmers were better off than they are now. At the present time, we J have thousands of men and women out of work who, in normal times, would be employed in our factories. I put this simple question : How are those people to improve their position if we import from other countries the manufactured articles that our workers should be making here? How are our people going to live?
I believe that, when fixing our protective duties, Parliament should seek the advice of the Tariff Board, and act upon it if it sees fit. The board should take into consideration the basic wage payable to the workers, the margin of skill allowable for expert employees, and the margin of profit allowable to the employers. On this information, the board should base its recommendation to Parliament, and with this advice to help it, Parliament should then use its own judgment in fixing the rate of protective duty.
– That is the new protection, which was ruled out long ago.
– Those who ruled it out might have been wrong themselves. The honorable member himself admitted that he might be wrong when he said that we could try the Ottawa agreement for two years, at any rate. Of course, if it proves a failure, thousands of our workers will, in the meantime, have been thrown out of their jobs. Parliament, which is elected by the people, should take full responsibility for the tariff. I regret that
I cannot support the Government in connexion with this measure. I shall vote for the second reading, but reserve to myself the right to vote against some of its provisions in committee.
– To what part does the honorable member object?
– I object to clauses 10,
II and 12. Yesterday, or the day before, the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) stated in this House that slippers were being imported from Japan, and being sold in one of our capital cities at 7½d. per pair, and one honorable member was heard to say, “ Good luck to the people if they can buy slippers at 7-^d. a pair.”
– That would be the honorable member for Wentworth.
– It was not the honorable member for Wentworth. Although there are several boot factories in my constituency, I should like to make it clear that I am not an advocate of protection solely on their account. I have been a protectionist all my life, and whether or not I represent a constituency in which there is a large number of secondary industries does not concern me very much. Possibly, it concerns this side of the House very much more than it concerns me.
– It is merely a strange coincidence !
– There are many strange coincidences in this House, and the honorable member is one of them. I am a protectionist because I believe that, under reasonable protection and conditions, our manufacturing industries can provide employment for our people. To me it is a tragedy that so many of our secondary industries throughout the Commonwealth, and not merely the boot factories in my constituency, are not able to provide full-time employment. I know that the idea is prevalent among many men, including manufacturers, that Australia is in its present condition because of over-production. I do not subscribe to that view, and I think I have been able to demonstrate to one or two manufacturers with whom I have discussed this problem that our trouble is not over-production, but under-consumption, due to the fact that so many thousands of our men and women who, in the ordinary course of events, would bc fully employed, have been without work for so long, and that thousands of them are now on the dole. The action of the various State governments in making provision for the purchase of considerable quantities of boots aud shoes for those who are in distress has had the effect of ensuring employment for a number of men and women in our boot factories. I make bold to
Say that if, within the next few weeks, it were possible to restore the prosperity which we enjoyed five or six years ago, nearly all the operatives who were then employed in our factories would be in full time work again.
– Can the honorable member point to any provision in the agreement that is inconsistent with the policy of protection for this country?
– Newspaper reports of the attitude of other dominion governments to the agreement indicate” that neither Canada nor New Zealand accepted article 12, under which the Commonwealth undertakes not to impose any new protective duty or increase any existing duty on United Kingdom goods to an amount in excess of any recommendation made by the Tariff Board. If the go-‘ vernments of those dominions could adopt that attitude, it should also have been possible for the Commonwealth to do so. I therefore regret that I feel ‘ compelled, in the circumstances, to vote against article 12. I cannot support the amendment moved by the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition, because, if it were adopted, the whole of the agreement would be thrown into the melting pot. It should, however, be possible so to redraft the three articles to which I have referred as to make them acceptable to all concerned.
– I agree with those honorable members who have expressed the opinion that this bill is probably the most important which this Parliament has been called upon to consider for a long time. The party with which I am associated takes the view that the agreement gives to an outside body, the Tariff Board, sole control overthe fiscal policy of this country, and that there is no evidence that our primary or secondary industries will obtain any material gain from it. In common with many other honorable members, I sincerely regret the illness of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett), and I hope that soon he will be restored to his usual good health. The honorable gentleman, when submitting the agreement, predicted that it would he the means by which prosperity would be recaptured by Australia. I do not agree with him. My sympathies are with the Australian delegates, because I fully appreciate the difficulties with which they were called upon to deal. The whole of the British Empire is suffering in much the same way, and probably to the same extent, as Australia. In the circumstances the natural desire of all delegates was to secure an agreement under which the country which they represented could sell to the other countries within the Empire, more than they bought from them, and as all Empire countries are suffering from over-production, the task was extraordinarily complex. Strangely enough, before the various Parliaments of Empire countries had had an opportunity to discuss the details of the Ottawa agreement, the achievement of the respective delegates was hailed in the press as a wonderful success. But since the agreement has been subjected to critical examination in the various parliaments, doubts have arisen as to the value of the concessions obtained by, or given- to, the countries concerned. There is a remarkable divergence of opinion on this point among political elements in this country which usually are associated. “Whilst Government supporters indulge in fulsome flattery of the achievements of our delegates to the conference, they keenly resent any suggestion made by honorable members on this side that the agreement may not, after all, be so advantageous to Australian industries, and that our delegates failed in their mission. The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Parkhill) has lately added spice to the debate by an attack on the Bank of New South Wales, because that institution, in its monthly circular, offered some adverse comments on the results of the Ottawa negotiations. Se resented what he termed the entrance )f the Bank of New South Wales into die political arena.. It may not be out of place to remind the House that, for many years, the party with which the Postmaster-General is associated, has :* 1 WaYs been the subject of flattery by not only the Bank of New South “Wales, *)ut also other banking interests in this country, so that it is not a fact that the Bank of New South Wales has only lately interested itself in political affairs. Our banking institutions have, for many years, exerted an important influence in the political life of this country.
– They usually work underground.
– That is so, but lately they have come right into the open and now make no secret of the fact that they control governments in this country. It is well known that the Bank of New South Wales is financially interested in primary and secondary production. It has advanced huge sums of money to these industries, and its very stability depends on the success or failure of the arrangements made at. Ottawa. Since the bank is so directly interested in our primary and secondary industries, it has just as much right as any other person or body to express its opinion as to the probable results of the conference. I, therefore, suggest that the attempt on the part of the Government and its supporters to associate the Bank of New South Wales and its general political policy with honorable members on this side of the House who oppose the agreement, is this season’s best joke. There has also been an attempt to import into the debate a spirit of jingoism; a tendency to rely on Imperial sentiment to add weight to the arguments in favour of the agreement. Many honorable members have expressed the view that Australia has not, in trade matters, been over-generous in her treatment of Britain. I have taken the trouble to examine the position from the point of view of Australia and Canada, they being the largest dominions represented at the Ottawa Conference. I have taken the imports of those countries for the years 1912 and 1930, and I find that by comparison, Australia has no reason to be ashamed of her position. In 1912 the imports’ to Australia from all countries totalled £78,000,000. Of this amount, United Kingdom goods were valued at £45,000,000, or 58.76 per cent. of our total imports. In the same year, Canada imported from all countries goods to the value of $522,000,000, the value of imports from the United Kingdom being 116,000,000 dollars, or only 22.25 per cent, of the total imports. There is a vast disparity between the two percentages. In 1929-30 the value of the imports into Australia from all countries was £122,000,000, the value of imports from the United Kingdom being £54,000,000, or 42 per cent, of the total imports. In the same year the value of imports into Canada from all countries was 906,000,000 dollars, the value of imports from the United Kingdom being 149,000,000 dollars, or only 16.50 per cent, of the total imports. During those two periods the percentage of British goods absorbed by Australia was nearly two and a half times the percentage of British ‘ goods absorbed by Canada. The question that arises is whether we can bring about an Empire trading bloc without antagonizing foreign countries, and causing them to take retaliatory measures. We, in the dominions, produce more primary products than the Empire can consume. Just as the primary industries of Australia need a foreign outlet as well as a British outlet, so do the primary and secondary industries qf the other nations. We, therefore, cannot exclude other nations from the markets of the Empire without antagonizing them. The following is a statement made by Sir John Simon, the British Foreign Secretary, in the House of Commons, recently : -
As the result of the agreements, Britain now has an opportunity such ;w she never had before of making bargains with other countries. Since the return of thu delegates from Ottawa, the Foreign Office has been besieged by foreign representatives desirous of negotiating trade treaties.
That is a clear indication that the making of the Ottawa agreement forced foreign nations to approach the British Government with a view to entering into trade treaties, and it shows the interest that they have in the exploitation of the British market. If the advances of those foreign nations are rejected on the ground that Great Britain can trade only within the Empire, the inevitable result will be that, in order to get an outlet for their goods, those nations will enter into a mutual arrangement among themselves and establish an intertrading bloc in opposition to the British bloc. Such a step would react not to our advantage, but to our disadvantage. There has been mention in this debate of our trade with the East, and ‘I am convinced that the Ottawa agreement will have a prejudicial effect on our entry into the Eastern markets. In 1929-30 the value of Australian trade with China and Japan was £14,000,000; in 1930-31 it was £17,000,000; and in 1931-32 it was £21,000,000. There has, therefore, been a steady . development of our trade with the East. What will be the effect upon it if we exclude the Eastern countries in the manner proposed under the agreement? Tt might be argued that Australia has adopted a policy of exclusion of other countries in respect of its tariff; but I suggest to honorable members that that is an entirely different proposition. Every country has a right to develop its own fiscal policy, even if it means the exclusion of goods of other countries. To exclude foreign countries from trading with Australia, which has a population of only fi.000,000, is quite a different proposition from that of excluding them from trading with the whole of the British Empire.
I come now to article 5 of the agreement, which states that the duties provided by Great Britain on wheat, grain,, copper, lead arid zinc are conditional in each case on Empire producers continuing to offer those commodities on firstsale in the United Kingdom at prices not exceeding the world price. It is, therefore, evident that we shall not have au open market or open preference in Great Britain in respect of those commodities. There has been much discussion of this bill, but we have not heard one word from the Government supporters in explanation of this provision.
– We know full well what it means.
– Can the honorable member inform me how the world price isto be arrived at? In what centre will, the price be fixed? I understand that the Liverpool exchange has in the past been largely accepted as the centre for the fixing of the world price of wheat.. but as Liverpool is, of course, in Great Britain, it is evident’ that the world price for our wheat exported to that country must be fixed outside of it. That is where the danger lies. We know that Russia has had a bounteous harvest, and is likely to dump wheat on the markets of the world. We know that in North America there is a glut of wheat. In the press of the 28th October, appeared the following report from Vancouver : -
During the coining winter much grain in North America will probably be used in the farm-house furnaces. Weight for weight, wheat is quoted in some cases below the cost of sawdust.
It is the duty of those who have endeavoured to justify this agreement to inform the House of the centre in which the world price of wheat will be fixed, and under what conditions. The disposal of our wheat will, under the agreement, be one of our greatest difficulties. Canada and Australia produce three times the quantity of wheat consumed in Great Britain. Therefore, no matter what protection is given to us by the British Government, even if we arrive at some satisfactory method of fixing the world price of wheat, we shall still have probably two-thirds of our wheat crop to dispose of in other markets, probably the markets of countries that are to be excluded from Empire trade under the agreement. I cannot, for the life of me, see in what way the primary producers would obtain any benefits under article 5. Let me give honorable members figures relating to the destination of our wheat exports, and the proportion sold to various conntries. In 1929 the United Kingdom bought 53.2 per cent, of our wheat, and in 1930-31, 33.6 per cent., a reduction of 19.6 per cent. In 1929-30 Italy bought S per cent., and in 1930-31, 10.7 per cent., an increase of 2.7 per cent. In 1929-30 European countries bought 2.7 per cent., and in 1930-31, 7 per cent., an increase of 4.3 per cent. In 1929-30 Japan and China bought 7 per cent., in 1930-31, 35.4 per cent., an increase of 28.4 per cent. In 1929-30 India bought 19.3 per cent., and in 1930-31, 8.6 per cent., a reduction of 10.7 per cent. In 1929-30 other countries bought 9.8 per cent., and in 1930-31, 4.7 per cent., a reduction of 5.1 per cent. Therefore, the reduction of our wheat exports to Empire countries in 1930-31, a3 compared with 3929-30, was 30.3 per cent., and the increase to foreign countries 30.3 per cent. Our loss of trade in the Empire markets was neutralized by our increase of trade with foreign countries, and the question is whether we shall gain anything by excluding those countries from our trade. If they band together in order tq give us a dose of our own medicine, the outlook for the primary producers of this country will be worse than it is to-day. How will the exclusion of foreign countries from Empire trade affect our wool industry? In 1928-29 the United Kingdom bought 27. S per cent, of our wool production, and foreign countries 72.2 per cent. In 1930-31 the United Kingdom bought 29.7 per cent., and foreign countries 70.3 per cent. Our wool production is too great to be consumed wholly within the Empire. Most of the foreign countries which bought our wool during those years will be detrimentally affected by the Ottawa agreement, and if, as the result of its operation, those nations retaliate, the outlook for our wool trade will be serious indeed. I think it is generally conceded that no effort was made by our delegation to secure benefits for our wheat and wool industries. The absence of any such benefits has been deplored by represen tatives of country electorates. I ask leave to continue my remarks” on another occasion.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
The following, papers were presented : -
Navigation Act - Regulation amended - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 124.
National Debt Sinking Fund Act - National Debt Commission - Ninth Annual Report, for year ended 30th June, 1932.
Commonwealth . ARBITRATION COURT : Removal of State Railway Employees - Australian Glass Manufacture - Matson Shipping Line - Assistance to Wheat Industry.
Motion (by Mr. Archdale Parkhill) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I direct attention to what I regard as a very serious matter affecting the operation of the Commonwealth laws for the peaceful settlement of industrial disputes in Australia. It has special reference to 130,000 employees of State Governments, who may eventually be prejudiced by action that it is suggested may be taken very shortly in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. At present, the proposal is only mooted; but, if it comes into operation, it will affect immediately from 60,000 to 70,000 railway workers. The suggestion is that these workers should be excluded from the operation of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, which has functioned for many years in Australia. It is not a question of an application by a new body to the court, but a callous proposal to remove from the jurisdiction of the court a body of men who, for seven years, have worked under its awards and have, at all times, loyally abided by its determinations. Without any sound reason being advanced, it is now proposed to make application for their removal from the jurisdiction of the court. That action, I understand, is contemplated by three State governments. It is noteworthy that other governments do not propose to apply for the exclusion of their employees. I raise the matter in this House so that the Government may take such action as is deemed necessary to make known in the right quarter the will of this Parliament. I say with confidence that this Parliament never intended that the provisions of the act under which it is suggested that this action may be taken, should be used for that purpose; they apply to special circumstances. This Parliament has always stood for the widest application of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. To prove that, I shall briefly review its history.
In 1901, on the motion of Mr. H. B., afterwards Mr. Justice, Higgins, the Commonwealth Parliament unanimously declared in favour of federal arbitration. The motion was -
T hut, in the opinion of this House, it is expedient that the Commonwealth should accept full power to make laws for Australia as to wages, hours, and conditions of labour.
The original act was passed about 1904, and railway employees were specifically included in it. In 1906, the High Court of Australia declared that the act was ultra vires, because it included railway employees. The matter was taken to the Privy Council, which held that the decision of the High Court was wrong, but did not desire to intervene in that particular regard. In 3 920 the High Court reversed its previous decision, and railway workers were no longer excluded from the operation of that act. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) attempted in 1928 specifically to exclude such employees. The honorable member secured the support of only five members of this House, proving the correctness of my statement that, at all times in its history, this Parliament has affirmed the principle of the widest application being given to Commonwealth conciliation and arbitration. The present Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) was Attorney-General in the Bruce-Page Government at that time, and, on that Government’s behalf, refused to accept the amendment of the honorable mem- ber, which was defeated. On that occasion, the Attorney-General said -
If all the States were to unite in asking the Federal Government to place railway systemsoutside the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court, it would be a live issue, but at present this is far from the case.
He indicated to the House that there was to be held that month - June, 1928 - a conference of Premiers, at which the question would be discussed. It was brought forward at that conference on a motion moved by the then Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Bavin, to exclude State employees from the Commonwealth Court, but the proposal was defeated.
When the section of the act known as 3Sc was being considered, the AttorneyGeneral received a deputation of representatives of what is called the State Instrumentalities Unions Committee. That deputation subsequently reported to its members that the Attorney-General had definitely stated that, in his opinion, the proposed new section would not have applicability to unions which w.ere functioning under, and had obtained awards from, the Arbitration Court. Section 3Sc specifically instructed the court to take into consideration the question whether it was more desirable that any industrial dispute should be adjudicated upon by a State tribunal; and, if so, it must refrain from dealing with it. Since 191.1 there has been in the Arbitration Act section 38 h, which confers on the court the power of exclusion. But what I wish to emphasize is that, in the opinion of the Attorney-General - a sound opinion, I consider - -.even section 38c, which has since been repealed but which was very drastic, did not contemplate the exclusion of an organization already registered in the court and working under an award of it. Sections 38c as it existed then 38 h, and the present section 38 o a all refer either to original applications to the court by organizations that are not registered in it and working under its awards, or to special circumstances justifying the suspension of an award or the exclusion of an organization from the court. Some parties may mutually agree not to approach the court. There is practically a mutual agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the Commonwealth Public Service to have their cases settled by their own special tribunal, although at one time the federal Service was registered in the Arbitration Court. There may be such an agreement in a State. In these cases the court has the power to remove the organization from its jurisdiction. Or again, action may be taken by a party to an award warranting the court in considering whether it should be excluded from the court, and its award’ cancelled. But I believe I can say with confidence that at no time has this Parliament contemplated excluding, or permitting the exclusion willy-nilly, of any large body of men from whatever benefits or protection the court can afford them.
Honorable members have probably not forgotten that, in 1929, when the BrucePage Government attempted on a wider issue practically to abolish federal arbitration, it met defeat in this Parliament and in the country. At the last elections a very definite statement on the matter was made on behalf of the United Australia Party, which is now the governing body in this Parliament. I well recollect the Attorney-General giving the assurance that that party accepted the verdict of the people given in the elections of 1929. That, as I have said, was on the wider issue; but I submit that it embraces also what may be regarded as the smaller issue, which refers particularly to the railway workers of Australia. A big question is involved, because the men who will be affected number from 60,000 to 70,000. The people have declared that they stand for federal arbitration. This Parliament has given decisions repeatedly in favour of federal arbitration. I leave it to the wisdom and discretion of the Government to decide what action it ought to take should the occasion arise. I have raised the matter now before it is sub judice, and also before action has actually been commenced, to prevent what I consider would be a serious thing for this country. If there is one thing’ that we must endeavour to maintain throughout the length and breadth of Australia it is peace, order, and good government, including peace in industry, particularly in the public services. That is the fundamental reason why the Constitution, when framed,” in cluded the power of conciliation and arbitration, and why this Parliament enacted the arbitration law, put it into operation, and has steadfastly stood by the principle throughout the years of federation. We have a right to ask the Government to take whatever action is deemed necessary, either by intervention in the court, or, failing that, by an amendment of the act, to prevent any of its provisions from being used contrary to the intentions of this Parliament. This Government must prevent any State Government from robbing its employees of the right to enter the Federal Arbitration Court. The withdrawal of that right would mean the denial of the privileges of Australian citizenship to those employees. Protection must be given to this large body of railway workers, who are being assailed without provocation. They have loyally abided by the decisions of the court, have spent considerable sums in resisting attempts to prevent their reaching the court, and have had to fight many constitutional battles in the High Court. Even as recently as 1930, and also as far back as 1920 and 1906, they have fought their constitutional battles, and, having spent their money in obtaining awards, it is callous and unjust to attempt to remove them from the jurisdiction of the court.
– In supporting the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), I recall that, on the adjournment of the House a few weeks ago, I made reference to the decision of the Federal Arbitration Court in an application by the Minister for Transport in New South Wales for the setting aside of the federal basic wage in its application to State railway employees. On that occasion I referred to the fact that, in the determination of the basic wage, whether under Federal or State jurisdiction, certain formulas are followed, and in the case of federal jurisdiction I spoke of the formula laid down by Mr. Justice Higgins in the Harvester judgment. I showed that, by various processes and inquiries, and at much cost to the industrial organizations, a basic wage had been laid down; but, without any regard to what wage is required to keep a man, his wife and two children in reasonable comfort, the court, willy-nilly agreed to the application of the New South Wales Minister to have its own basic wage set aside. I felt then that that was a sure indication that, during the regime of antiLabour Governments, there had been a determination to undermine the arbitration system, and that the court appeared to be assisting in that direction. According to the Leader of the Opposition, an attempt is now being made by certain governments to cut right under the court, and to leave the railway workers in an isolated position, so that, owing to the process of rationing and dismissals to which they are subjected, they will be forced to accept any conditions likely to be imposed upon them. The reason advanced by the various State governments, in their attempt to justify this action, is that it is impossible to balance railway accounts. But a peculiar feature of their argument is that, .while they lay claim that the cost of wages is the principal part of railway costs, they practically ignore the enormous burden due to interest payments in connexion with the railways. Much publicity has been given to the cost of running the State railways; but no anti-Labour government has admitted that the chief burden is that of interest.
It seems that at the elections our opponents endeavour, by various means, to persuade the public that they believe in upholding the interests of the workers; but, when they are in power, they never fail to use their position in a subtle way to repudiate their promises and attack the workers. I am reminded of a statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), on the occasion of a visit by him to a Sydney electorate, in which he declared that it was most desirable that the United Australia Party should not be permitted to get into the old rut of conservatism which the anti-Labour forces had followed for many ‘ years. He tried . to convince his audience and the public that the United Australia Party was a different political organization from that which supported the tory, liberal, and nationalist governments which have occupied the treasury bench in the past.
– So it is.
– If so, why does that party take every opportunity to interfere with the industrial conditions of the workers, as tory governments have always done in the past? The present Government is supported by the same organization as past anti-labour administrations, because the same forces stand behind it. For proof of that statement I need only reflect upon the actions of the managers of that party in New South Wales. It is true that recently other anti-labour organizations made a bid for political control; but in the course of six months, by the good generalship of the tory party, they were entirely swamped and brought under control.
– A new organization has been formed, and it has proved successful:
– Then we should let the workers and the public know that the party in power in this Parliament has the same policy now towards federal arbitration, as it had about the end of 1928. As we see the inroads being made by a piece-meal process - this attack is a first step towards a common end - upon the employees of the State instrumentalities, we shall know definitely whether the party opposite is putting into practice a policy definitely aimed at restoring the economic policy of the open go. That it is doing so is obvious to those who have time, after the heat and bustle of an election, to examine these matters dispassionately. I have pleasure in adding my small contribution to the remarks of the .Leader of the Opposition on this subject. If we are not sufficiently strong to-day to prevent this inroad being made, it is desirable at all times that public attention should be drawn to what is going on. The workers who may be misled at election time as to which party is most likely to safeguard their industrial conditions, will at least be made to realize where their best means of defence lie. They will be best advised to adhere solidly to the political party that has made arbitration possible, and which has defended their interests for many years through political and industrial organizations.
– The important subject of the tribunal, which is to determine the wages and other industrial conditions of the employees in the railway services, illustrates the strangeness of the industrial system under which we live in Australia. If honorable members consider the history outlined by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), they will appreciate some of the strange attributes of this duplicated system. In 1904, railway servants were included in the ambit of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, but in 1906 the High Court decided that the provision under which it was considered that they were so included was invalid. So first they were in and then they were out. In 1920, the High Court overruled the decision of 1906, and they came in again. In 1926, I was AttorneyGeneral, and was engaged with amendments to the Arbitration Act with the object of conferring judicial power upon judges of the Arbitration Court by making the appointments for life. It was proposed at that time that three judges should replace the president and the two deputy presidents of the court. Sir John Quick, as deputy president of the court, was then dealing with a case relating to railway workers. The hearing was a very long one, and had already occupied many months, if not more than a year, and a request was made to the Government that means should be provided by which he could continue the hearing ofthe case. Consequently, I took pains to provide that the court should proceed with the hearing of the matter without any interference from Parliament. It was left entirely in the hands of the court. Special measures were adopted to extend the appointment of Sir John Quick as deputy president of the court for a considerable period so that he could complete the hearing of the case.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) has referred to section 38c, and to an opinion that I expressed upon it. I consider that what I then said was right - the section is no longer in the act, having been removed in 1930 by the previous Government - the provision was intended to apply only to the initiation of proceedings, and could hardly be fairly applied to proceedings that had already been on foot for many months. During the last election campaign, the leader of the United Australia Party (Mr. Lyons) made a formal announcement on behalf of his party to the effect that, notwith standing what had been attempted in 1929 in the Maritime Industries Bill, it was not proposed by the United Australia Party to interfere with the Federal Arbitration Court. That statement was made subject only to a saving clause as to something unexpected or emergent occurring as to which no government or party could bind itself. That is the position of this Government and party to-day. Accordingly, speaking on behalf of the Government, I say that the attitude of the Government is that the administration of the law shall be left to the court, and that this matter shall be left to the court and shall not be made a matter for political determination in this Parliament. The general view of the Federal Parliament has been that certain jurisdiction shall be conferred on the court, and that it shall be left to the court to exercise its jurisdiction without any interference of a political character. This is a very important principle. As to whether State railway servants shall be subject to the jurisdiction of federal or State industrial tribunals, there is the widest divergence of opinion in this House.
– The railway servants have their own classification boards.
– There are various State tribunals and that has been one of the difficulties of a duplicated system of industrial control. I shall not take this opportunity to enlarge upon them. Many honorable members have already heard me speak on the subject.
The position is that three State governments, apparently through their railway commissioners, propose to make an application to the Arbitration Court for an order, the effect of which would be that the determination of the matter in question shall be : rernitted to State tribunals and shall not be dealt with by the federal court.For a long time, there has been a section in the Arbitration Act, which reads -
The Court shall, as regards every industrial dispute of which ithas cognizance -
That provision confers upon the court a very wide discretionary power. The question at issue to-day is whether any action should be taken by this Government to influence - to use a fair word - the manner in which the court shall exercise its discretion in this respect. The secretary of the State Instrumentalities Unions Committee, wrote to me as Attorney-General, and requested that, in my official capacity, I should intervene in the hearing of the application by the State Governments to which I have referred. The Arbitration Act provides for intervention by the Attorney-General in two matters only : in those which affect the basic wage, and in those relating to the standard hours of work. The purpose of the provision of the act which permitted the Commonwealth AttorneyGeneral to intervene, and for the introduction of which I was responsible, is to make it possible to open a general inquiry concerning these two important items, instead of limiting it to those connected with the particular industrial dispute before the court. I can best intimate the attitude that I adopted on this request by reading to honorable members the letter that I sent on the 29th October in reply to the request of this organization. When I wrote it I was under the impression that the application had been made, but, apparently, the formal steps had not been actually taken. The letter was in the following terms : -
I am in receipt of your letter with respect to certain applications by three State Governments now pending before the Arbitration Court. _ The railway services to which the applications relate are not Commonwealth services.
Section 38 h of the Arbitration Act leaves application of this character to the discretion of this court, and as no industrial matters affecting the Commonwealth Government are involved, the intervention of that Government could only be for the purpose of expressing a political view, on one side or the other. The Government is not prepared to adopt such a course. In so far as the opinion of governments should be regarded at all, the relevant opinions in these cases’ would naturally be those of the State Governments directly Collcerned
The Commonwealth Government, therefore, considers that the matter should be determined by the court, without any intervention by the Government.
It is, therefore, considered that no useful purpose would be served by making arrangements for receiving - a deputation on this matter.
The attitude of the Government is clearly set out in that letter. It appeared to the Government that, apart altogether from the complete uncertainty as to whether or not the court would hear the Federal Attorney-General representing a Government which was not concerned in any of the matters in dispute before the court, it would be unwise and would be setting up an undesirable precedent to intervene for the purpose, as I stated in my letter, of expressing a political view as to which tribunal, Federal or State, ought to deal with the application.
The Government considered that the only safe course to pursue was to adhere strictly to the provisions of the statute which vests this power in the court, and to allow that body to determine the point. It also recognized that if a government could intervene on one side now, another government could intervene on another side later; that if the views of governments varied upon the point, one government might support one side, aud a SUeceding government the opposing party. Furthermore, if the Federal Government created a precedent by intervening in such matters, if would place the court in a difficult position. What weight would the court attach to the intervention by the Federal Government in a dispute to which it is not a party?
– It is not suggested that the Attorney-General should intervene as to the merits of the dispute, only as to hi? right to be heard.
– The latter point is the only one that arises in this case. But ever since 1904 this Parliament has left to the discretion of the Arbitration Court the determination of whether it is wise for it to take charge of any particular dispute. I suggest that the relevant legislation, which dates from the beginning of the Arbitration Act, is sound, and that we should bewell advised to continue allowing the court to exercise its discretion in this respect. Of course, if it is found that any part of the Arbitration Act is not working satisfactorily, it is open to this Parliament, within the limits of its constitutional power, to amend the act as it thinks proper. As at present advised, the Government is not prepared to intervene in this matter for the purpose suggested. It will adhere to its general policy, to which the Leader of the Opposition has referred, that of maintaining the Arbitration Court and of allowing it to determine these matters. So far as it is at present advised, it is not prepared to propose an amendment of the Arbitration Act, which would remove the determination of such matters from the discretion of the court.
– I desire to add a few words to the appeal made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) on behalf of the railwaymen and employees of other State instrumentalities concerned. The AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) knows all about the position, as he was responsible for some of the provisions which are the cause of all the trouble.
– The present difficulty arises out of an original section which I have not touched.
– I shall come to that in a moment. The provisions I refer to are 38c, -which does not now exist, and 38 h which does exist. The Attorney-General will agree that these were intended to prevent overlapping, and the overloading of the court, which could grant registration to more than one organization covering the same class of work, and refuse registration to a new applicant if it considered that an organization already registered covered the same- class of work. Section 3S h gives to the court power to decide whether a matter referred to it, or part of a claim being heard by it shall be referred back to a State tribunal. But that does not and was not intended to mean that the whole claim of the organization shall be so treated. The Attorney-General will agree as to what has been in practice for years. During the seven years that railwaymen have had their conditions fixed by the Arbitration Court some portions of a claim, relating more or less to domestic matters, have been left to the State classification boards to settle ; but the big issues of classification, standards of skill, and basic rates of pay have been left for the decision of the Federal Arbitration Court and should continue to be left to that body.
I was pleased with most of the reply that was given by the Attorney-General, but I do hope that he has not said his last word on the subject. He has admitted that all parties in the Federal Parliament have definitely agreed that the Arbitration Court will stand. That principle has been endorsed by the people over and over again, and the AttorneyGeneral made it clear that neither his party nor any other party in the House has any intention of going beyond the decision of the people. if Parliament stands for the Arbitration Court, and the court is the creation of this Parliament, surely it is the duty of the AttorneyGeneral, acting on behalf of Parliament, to ensure that certain sections are not unjustly used against those who have applied for and received registration, and are working under the awards of the court. I admit that injustice might be unintentional. The railwaymen believe that they are in danger of being deregistered, or of being refused leave to have their grievances fixed again by an award of the federal court, which amounts to the same thing; if their registration under the Federal Arbitration Court becomes null and void they are’ likely to lose their federal award..
– Will not the court go into all these considerations?
– The court is now considering the matter. The trouble is that the organization concerned, which represents more than 130,000 employees, is afraid that the joint application by several State governments will have such effect on the minds of the court that it will refuse to allow them to carry on under the terms of its award as they have been doing for the last seven years. Those industrial organizations spent £20,000 to make sure that their case was safe and sound, and the State Governments concerned must have expended an even’ greater amount, bringing the total cost to £50,000. As the result of that expenditure these organizations have worked for seven years under the determinations of the COUrt, which has reviewed their claims from time to time. As a consequence, peace and harmony have prevailed; there has been no holding up of industry, notwithstanding that the pay of the railway men has been reduced very considerably. Although harshly treated, these men have not violated any award or broken any agreement. In spite _ of the setbacks which they have received at the hands of the court, they desire to continue going to it for the settlement of their grievances. Surely, that indicates that they intend to abide loyally by its decisions. They paid their money to obtain the best advice obtainable on which to build their case. They approached the present Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) when he was Premier of Tasmania, who replied to their representations in the following terms -
I am in receipt of your letter of the 3rd January last, furnishing me with the views of your union regarding the right of employees of State Instrumentalities to approach the Federal Arbitration Court.
I now desire to inform you that my Government, being of opinion that State employees should not be definitely excluded from the jurisdiction of the court, will not participate in any agreement having for its object the exclusion of. these employees.
I am sure that the right honorable gentleman meant what he said, and also that his views are the same to-day as then. His reply satisfied the members of the
Tasmanian branch of the organization. In the light of the Premier’s letter, they did not fear that the State Government would attempt to exclude them from the court. Prior to the 1929 election, the unions approached the present AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham), and asked his advice, as has been done on many occasions. He discussed the matter with them on the 24th May, 1928, and stated definitely that although section 38c, which has since been repealed, would give the court power to decide whether a dispute which had been listed for hearing could bo dealt with better by the State authorities, in his opinion, the section would not apply to unions which were already functioning under the court, and had obtained awards. He said that the purpose of the provision was to prevent overlapping, and that it in no way affected the constitutionality of the position.
– They now fear that they will lose their rights. At the same interview, the Attorney-General emphasized the great congestion in the court, and stated that this section would enable the judges to unload some of the claims which were continually being lodged in their jurisdiction. As regards the Australian Railways Union, the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen, the Merchant Service Guild, and other unions already registered and working under the court, he stressed the extreme unlikelihood of anything happening that the unions might fear. He was most emphatic that there would be no interference such as the unions feared, and in support of his contention, he urged that as the definitions of “ industrial disputes,” “ industrial matters,” and “ industry “ were unchanged by the amending bill then before Parliament, ‘the position of the unions in the court would also be unchanged. Having, therefore, not only the definite assurance of the Tasmanian Government, but also the plain statement of the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth, the unions felt safe, and consequently kept their ‘ organizations intact, and from time to time approached the court. Furthermore, when at the 1929 election the electors decided that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court should remain, the unions were justified in believing that the State instrumentalities would remain within the jurisdiction of that tribunal. Now they are afraid that the State governments are about to take action to destroy them. Already one State has intervened, and the States are now pressing the court to set aside the existing award. Those directly concerned are the railway workers, who include engineers, carriage-builders, and others. Surely these men have suffered enough already from the effects of the financial emergency cuts. There can be no necessity for further reducing their wages and conditions. The Federal Parliament has endorsed the principle of federal arbitration. It was not even an issue at the last election, because at the previous elec- tic-n the people had given an emphatic verdict that the Federal Arbitration Court should continue. Moreover, these unions have for seven years worked under the awards of the court.
If the Attorney-General now conceives the idea - and it is obvious that he has - that certain sections of the act are being used in a manner not intended, and that these railway workers may be deprived of their right to obtain an award from the court, surely it. is only reasonable to ask him to suggest to the court that, in justice to these registered unions, which are working under its awards, and want to continue working under them, the sections shall not be interpreted so as to give it the authority to cancel the awards or reduce the wages and conditions of the workers concerned. The AttorneyGeneral himself has admitted that the sections ve.r3 not intended for that purpose, but «’:re inserted to prevent overlapping. Section 38 h, which takes the place of section 38c, is not so. strong as the provision which it superseded. It was intended to give the court certain power in exceptional cases only, such as those in which the plaint contained varying and cumbersome items. Some of those items could be more easily settled by State instrumentalities, such as railways classification boards, which during the last seven years have dealt with many of these smaller matters, leaving the major questions to be decided by the Arbitration Court. The power given in the section was not intended to be used os the unions now fear it will be used, f ask the Attorney-General to confer with Cabinet, with a view either to approaching the judges in the way that I have suggested, pointing out that it was never intended by the Parliament that any section should be used in that way, or to amending the sections so that they cannot be used for a purpose that was not intended. If that is not done, I fear that further inroads will be made on the system of settling disputes and of determining wages and conditions in industry in this country. I am afraid that this irritating and coercive legislation will, like other similar measures, tend to increase the discontent already simmering in the community. That discontent, which is due to some extent to the depres- sion, will become more acute if unions which have spent so much of their funds to preserve their right of approach to the court, and have not been involved in any direct action, are refused the right to have their grievances reviewed by the court. Unless something is done quickly along the lines suggested to-day, I am afraid that the smouldering fires of discontent and unrest will be fanned into a flame, and bring results that we do not desire.
– I am loath to keep the House late after an all-night sitting ; but I point . out with respect, Mr. Speaker, that, no doubt inadvertently, the call has been given to three members on the other side of the House, and to only one from this side.
– Order! The honorable member should not have made that remark. Calls were given to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) and, after him, to the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), because the latter honorable member had previously informed me that he desired to catch the afternoon train to Sydney, and I knew that the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) would not be leaving Canberra until later. In the circumstances, I think the honorable member might have overlooked what has happened.
– I could not know those facts.
– The honorable member could have made inquiries and ascertained them.
– There has been a good deal of comment in another place on the subject of sheet glass, and I should like to know if the Government is able to say when the position with respect to this commodity will be stabilized. Undoubtedly there is no greater stimulus to trade than fiscal peace. Although glass is a commodity that is required in large quantities by those engaged in the building trade, in which trade there has recently been a slight revival, conditions in connexion with its manufacture in Australia are most unsettled. I must confess that I am not conversant with this subject in all its ramifications, but I think I ‘can give the material facts.
The Scullin Government imposed a prohibitive duty on sheet glass which enabled a certain company in Sydney to commence production. The present Government allowed glass to be imported under by-law, but I believe that, as the result of a protest by the company, and after a proper investigation had been made by officers of the Customs Department, it acceded to the request of the Australian Window Glass Proprietary Limited, which for some time has enjoyed more or less of a monopoly, and drastically rationed importations. As the result of this embargo, sheet glass cannot be obtained in sufficient quantities to meet trade requirements.
– The company can supply Australia’s requirements.
– We have often heard that statement, which I submit is not true. No matter how enthusiastic - I was going to say fanatical - honorable members opposite may be in their advocacy of protective duties, it must be admitted that this industry is employing comparatively few hands, yet at the same time is keeping up the price of glass, or, at any rate, making it exceedingly difficult to purchase supplies at reasonable prices. This reacts upon the building trade, not only making it more difficult for those who wish to build homes, but also keeping out of employment men who follow the building trade. When we hear references from time to time to the unfortunate position of the wheat-growers and other sections of the community who are in dire need, and workless who have been out of employment for years, it is well to remember that the protection which is given to this company is instrumental in keeping such men-»out of employment. For the information of the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins), who says that this company can supply the requirements of Australia, I quote the following letter which I have received: -
The Australian Window Glass Proprietary Limited requested us yesterday to cancel a few small orders we had with them, as they had dismantled their tanks, and would not commence manufacturing again for at least eight weeks.
– Business is being held up?
– Yes, because the glass industry is in the hands of a monopoly.
– Every manufacturing concern should be assisted in its initial stages.
– But we have also to consider the needs of those who use glass.
In any case, this industry has had a fair opportunity; it has been highly protected, and yet cannot deliver the goods. The position with which we are now faced is the result of imposing a prohibitive duty and of the fantastic fiscal faith of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde).
– Arrangements are being made for the admission of further supplies of glass, because the Government is satisfied that there is a real shortage of this commodity in Australia.
– Can the merchants get all that they require? -
– Further admissions are being made, which should be sufficient to meet the requirements of the trade.
– I should like to know whether the Government will sanction the admission of sheet glass ordered before the 23rd September, and which is at present on the water? The Government has allowed a small quantity to come in, but on the assurance of the company that it could produce all that was required, it has now gone back on its word.
– The importers ordered abnormal quantities.
– What are normal quantities ?
– The Tariff Board made certain recommendations.
– The Tariff Board does not support what is now being done. This is the result of the prohibitory tariff imposed by the late Government.
– It was the present Government which prohibited importations.
– This is not a small industry of the type so frequently derided by honorable members as a “ backyard “ industry. Such small industries usually have abundant competition. On the contrary, it is one in which a large amount of capital has necessarily been invested. Heavy expenditure would have to be incurred before any other company could set up in opposition in order that users of glass could receive supplies at a reasonable price. Monopo- lies appear to be in control of cement and other building materials, and of certain foodstuffs. I think that it is time to consider the introduction of legislation to control monopolies, such as was suggested some years ago. Trusts and monopolies should be watched and controlled. We know what has happened in America, and in other countries, and it appears that already combines are having a detrimental effect upon Australian trade. I ask the Government to make a clear pronouncement on the subject, and to indicate whether it does not consider it necessary to hold an inquiry into the operations of trusts and combines in Australia. At present merchants in Australia are faced with uncertainty as to whether the glass which they have im- . ported will be admitted, and in view of the fact that the manufacturers are unable to deliver the goods, definite action should be taken to place the glass business of Australia on a sound basis.
.- In view of the complaints which have been made from time to time concerning the manufacture of glass in Australia, 1 visited the works of the Australian Window Glass Proprietary Limited, and found that it was able to produce sufficient quantities to meet our requirements. It is true that certain difficulties were experienced in the initial stages of manufacture, but that is only to be expected in any new industry. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) read a letter to the effect that certain purchasers of glass could not be supplied, but I have received communications to the effect that the company has always been able to supply all that has been required, and that the quality is superior to the imported product. At the factory there are stacks of glass which the company has been unable to sell because of the imports coming from Belgium.
– We have received the precise figures from the company regarding stocks on hand. Not more than 2,240 cases are in stock, which is about three weeks’ supply for Australia..
– Seeing that this company is able to supply the needs of Australia, I think the Government might very well leave matters as they are.
– I desire to draw the attention of the Government to the menace of the Matson shipping line at present trading between Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America. This is an American shipping lime, and came into being as part of the plan of the Government of the United States of America to capture the shipping trade of the world. That Government began with a fund of £250,000,000, and hoped ultimately to build a fleet of 100 ships. Already we have three United States of America ships trading to Australian, Fijian, and New Zealand ports. When the Mariposa arrived at San Francisco on her maiden trip, a San Francisco newspaper recorded the event under the heading, “ A challenge to British supremacy on the seas “. We in Australia should take up the challenge. Already the American ships have captured the greater part of the trade with Suva, and much of the passenger trade between Sydney and Auckland. Previously that trade was in the hands of the Huddart Parker Company, an Australian concern, and the Union Shipping Company, which, though registered in New Zealand, has large Australian interests, and claims to spend £400,000 a year in Australia. At any rate it employs Australian labour, buys Australian goods, has its ships repaired here and conforms with Australian conditions of trade; whereas the American shipping lines spend as little here as possible.Their ships victual in America, and, under the United States of America law, all but urgent repairs must be carried out in the United States of America. The American shipping lines are subsidized to the extent of £265,000 a year. Honorable members in this House complain bitterly because Japan, with which we have friendly trade relations, sends us cheap goods. How much more are we entitled to object to subsidized American shipping lines taking away our trade? At one time there was a considerable trade between Australia and Honolulu, but when the United States of America took possession of Hawaii, it was included under the coast-wise trading regulations, and British and Australian shipping, among others, were excluded. One result is that not even Australian food on board the ships trading to that port could be brought inside territorial waters, and had to bo thrown overboard. I cannot understand why we should be so extraordinarily tolerant to the treatment we receive from the United States of America. She excludes us from her shipping trade, she will not deal with us on ordinary trading conditions, but we permit her to take from us the trade that properly belongs to this country and to New Zealand. By means of our Navigation Act we have excluded British shipping from interstate trading, greatly to the disadvantage of three of the Australian States, yet we allow the United States of America, a commercially unfriendly but powerful neighbour, to capture our legitimate trade while excluding us from hers..
The Commonwealth Government by itself cannot do anything to remedy this state of affairs; it must act in conjunction with the Government of New Zealand. It was recently pointed out in this House by the honorable member for Martin that an old Customs Act passed by the New Zealand Parliament gives power to that dominion to enter into an arrangement with Australia to exclude the shipping of foreign countries. Australia has no such law, and our first step should be to pass legislation to enable us to co-operate with New Zealand with a view to excluding the United States of America shipping lines. Thi3 matter has been held Over for some time owing to the absence of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett), but action should be taken, before the end of the present session. If we delay too long, the American shipping lines will become established, vested interests will bo created, and pressure will be brought to bear .to prevent action from being taken. We should first take steps to enable us to act conjointly with New Zealand, and then pass legislation similar to the present Navigation Act, hut extending the provision of that legislation to inter-dominion trade.
– I desire to bring under the notice of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) a telegram which I have received from the Queensland Wheat Board. It states -
Bequest you intercede behalf of wheatgrowers. Federal bounty superphosphates no use. Queensland’s allocation should be increased proportionately.
I hope that, during the week-end, the Prime Minister or the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Stewart) will get into touch with the Queensland Wheat Board with a view to providing an opportunity for the Queensland growers to express their opinion on this matter. Wheatgrowers’ organizations throughout Australia have already informed honorable members of all parties in this House of their dissatisfaction with the proposed assistance to the wheat-growing industry.
– But they have a local price for wheat in Queensland now.
– The honorable member may be able to speak with authority for Gippsland, but I am placing before the Prime Minister the representation of the Queensland wheat-growers. I ask that, an opportunity be furnished the representatives of the growers to state their case before a definite decision is come to. Grave dissatisfaction has been expressed in all parts of Australia at the meagre assistance which the Government is offering. The sum of £1,250,000, which is to be distributed among the States on a production basis to help distressed farmers, will not meet the situation. It is the responsibility of the State governments to render further assistance to those farmers who are to-day in dire distress as the result of low prices. The growers really want assistance in the form of a cash payment - a bounty. The Scullin Government was severely criticized by the present Prime Minister, when he was sitting in opposition, for not granting to the farmers a bounty of more than 4id. a bushel. Notwithstanding that the Administration was then facing a very much worse financial position than exists to-day, it made available a bounty of 4½d. per bushel, aggregating £3,500,000. A large number of the wheat-growers throughout Australia consider that the proposed payment of a bounty of £1 per ton to the fertilizer manufacturers, on condition that they reduce the price of superphosphates’ by £1 per ton, does not meet the needs of the grower who is hard pressed ; he wants a cash bounty. The £1 per ton will be paid to the big companies, and the grower will not have the opportunity to handle cash and in his discretion pay the baker, grocer, or draper. The telegram from the Queensland Wheat
Board, Toowoomba, should be carefully considered by the Government before legislation to give effect to the Government’s announced policy is introduced. And the wheat-growers of Australia generally should be consulted, because evidently their views have not been taken into consideration and they are greatly dissatisfied. The assistance which the Government proposes will not amount to more than approximately½d. per bushel, as against the 4½d. paid by the Scullin Administration when Australia was in worse serious financial straits.. Wheat-growing is a great employing industry, and assistance given to it will provide more work at a time when unemployment is acute.
– To-day the honorable members for Maranoa (Mr. Hunter) and Darling Downs (Sir Littleton Groom) placed before me the views of the Queensland wheat-growers, and I have undertaken that the Government will consider them before introducing legislation relating to the wheat industry next week. But, as was interjected by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), the Queensland wheat-growers are in a much better position than those in other States. If the latter were anticipating 3s.10d. a bushel for their wheat on the home market, they would not be asking us for assistance and the Commonwealth Government would not be thinking of giving it. However, the merits of the Queensland case will be considered by the Government. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) said that the views of the wheat-growers of Australia should receive attention. Last night, following representations by the honorable member forGippsland, the AttorneyGeneral stated that the Government was prepared to do that, and I have to-day assured the honorable member for Gippsland that I am willing to meet a deputation of representatives of the wheatgrowers in order to afford thorn an opportunity to state their case. The Government will give full attention to any view put forward on behalf of the growers, but I do not admit the allegation by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) that the growers generally are dissatisfied with what the Government is offering. They are divided on the subject, and no proposal which the Government could afford to make would satisfy all of them.
The illness of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) is not the only reason for the delay in taking action in regard to the competition of the Matson Shipping Line. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) has stated that joint action must be taken by the Governments of Australia and New Zealand ; but even that will not be sufficient. Any action by the Commonwealth and the dominion must be taken in consultation with Great Britain, which would be definitely affected. The matter is not so easy to determine as the honorable member has suggested. At Ottawa the Australian and New Zealand delegates conferred tentatively with the British representative’s, and the discussion is to be resumed in London. An opportunity to do that has not yet presented itself, presumably because the British Government is fully occupied for the time being with matters arising out of the Ottawa agreement. The Resident Minister in London (Mr. Bruce) will confer with the representatives of the United Kingdom and New Zealand as early as possible, and if legislation is necessary to implement any agreement arrived at, it will be introduced in conjunction with New Zealand legislation or otherwise.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.52 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
en asked the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The information will be obtained, and a reply will be furnished to the honorable member as soon as possible.
en asked the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
l asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
All superphosphate manufacturers, to be held in Melbourne, at an early date., so that the Government’s proposals may be fully considered ?
– Further information supplementary to that contained in my statement on this matter in the House yesterday will be made available to honorable members at an early date.
s asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice - .
What was the quantity of clear sheet glass imported for the year ending the 30th June, 1932, and what were the countries of origin ?
– The imports of plain clear sheet glass into the Commonwealth during the year ended the 30th June, 1932, were-
These are advance figures, and are subject to revision.
Advances forWire Netting.
s. - On the 9th November, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) asked the following question, without notice : -
In connexion with the advances made by the Commonwealth to the States for the purchase of rabbit-proof wire netting, is it a condition that the money must be expended on wire netting made in Australia?
I am now in a position to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
It is provided in the agreements entered into under the Wire and Wire Netting Act 1927 between the Commonwealth and certain States, including Western Australia, that all wire and wire netting to be purchased by the States, pursuant to the agreement shall, unless otherwise approved in writing by the Minister, be of Australian manufacture. No approval has yet been given by the Minister for the purchase of wire or wire netting manufactured outside Australia.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 November 1932, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1932/19321111_reps_13_136/>.