House of Representatives
3 May 1933

13th Parliament · 1st Session

Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. H. Mackay) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.

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– In view of the fact thai sincethe signing of the Ottawa agreement, Great Britain has arranged with foreign countries trade agreements which are detri mental to the interests of Australian producers, I ask the Prime Minister whether the Commonwealth Government will take steps to have the Ottawa agreement reviewed ?

Prime Minister · WILMOT, TASMANIA · UAP

– Great Britain is at liberty to make agreements with other countries provided that such agreements do not conflict with arrangements already made between the United Kingdom and Australia or any other country. As I do not know the relevant facts, I am not able to say whether any agreement recently made by Great Britain is or is not detrimental to the interests of Australian producers. Therefore,the Government is not prepared to take the action suggested by the Leader of the Opposition.

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– Is the Minister for Commerce able to make any announcement regarding the eligibility of Australian citrus fruits to enter New Zealand, so that growers and their agents may make forward arrangements for the export season commencing within the next three or four weeks?

Minister for Commerce · PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · UAP

– The terms of the projected agreement between the Commonwealth and New Zealand will have to be ratified by the respective Parliaments before they can become operative, and I understand that the Dominion Parliament will not meet until August. Therefore, even should the lifting of the New Zealand embargo on Australian citrus fruits be included in the final agreement, obviously, this trade cannot commence immediately. I remind the House, however, of the public statement by the Prime Minister that the embargoes imposed on imports by the respective governments are still the subject of negotiations.

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Personal Explanation

GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA · CP from 1922; ST CP from 1937; LCP from 1940

– I desire to make a personal explanation regarding a reprint from the Melbourne Age of the 4th April, 1933, of a statement made by Mr. J. Hume Cook, secretary of the Australian Industries Protection League. The statement is headed -

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Ill-based Assertions.

Country Party’s Anti-protection Campaign.


At the outset, I assure the House that I have none of the ill feeling towards manufacturers with which I am charged. Mr. Hume Cook refers to allegedly conflicting statements made by me from time to time regarding the prices of farm and factory products. I am correctly quoted as having said on one occasion that, adopting the figure 100 as the 1911 price of both primary products and manufactured goods, the average price of farm products to-day is 112, as compared with 200 for manufactured goods, showing a difference of 88 in favour of the manufacturers. Mr. Hume Cook says that on another occasion I quoted the price of wool as having gone back to the pre-war level of 100, wheat as being 21 per cent. below, and cream for butter fat 25 per cent. below that level, whereas the prices of factory products are 90 per cent. higher. He contends that, because I showed a difference of 88 per cent. on the first occasion and over 100 on the second occasion, my statements contradict each other. My critic is not comparing like with like. First, the figures applied to different periods, and secondly, I referred on the earlier occasion to the grouped average of the prices of primary products, and on the second occasion to three specific products, namely, wheat, wool and butter fats. In regard to figures I had quoted from the Quarterly Summary of Statistics No. 130, Mr. Cook makes the extraordinarily puerile remark that my statement showed a disparity of 747 points between the prices of primary and secondary products, or over eight times as much as I first alleged. It is almost an insult to this Parliament even to explain that on the first occasion, the index number employed was 100, and on the second occasion 1,000. This accounts for the alleged disparity. The figures I have quoted from time to time have been obtained from the monthly summary of the National Bank of Australasia, the New SouthWales Statist’s monthly return of wholesale prices, and certain tables published by the Commonwealth Government Statistician. Whilst these sources of information may not be so complete as we desire, I have always endeavoured to make an honest use of the best data available. If more complete data were provided for this Parliament, I should he delighted to use it.

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– Has the Prime Minister read the newspaper announcement that British bankers have undertaken to lend to the Bank of France £30,000,000 at2½ per cent. ? If this statement is correct, can the right honorable gentleman explain why the Commonwealth was obliged to pay 4 per cent. for a conversion loan recently floated in the United Kingdom?


– I have no explanation to offer other than that the circumstances differed. For instance, the loan to the Bank of France was for six months only. I shall obtain for the honorable member whatever information is available regarding the facts.

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– Has the Minister for Commerce given consideration to press statements that therecently completed Anglo-Danish trade agreement is a severe blow to the Australian dairying industry? When deciding what policy it will adopt as a result of this treaty, will the Commonwealth Government take into account the following statement cabled from London, and published in the daily newspapers of the1st May: -

Mr. It. Burnie, a Victorian butter exporter, stated, “ The Anglo-Danish agreement is ‘ a smack in the eye ‘ for Australian dairy farmers. Major J. V. Fairbairn and myself are investigating butter marketing in Britain, particularly as to means of preventing the mixing of Australian and foreign butters. We are going to Denmark to discover why Australia has to take its hat off to the Danish cow.”

Minister for Commerce · Parramatta · UAP

by leave - It was my intention during this afternoon’s proceedings to make a statement dealing with this very matter, but in view of the honorable member’s question I shall deal with it now.

Honorable members have sought information regarding the provisions of the trade agreements entered into between the United Kingdom and Denmark and the Argentine. Although details of the agreements are not yet available, I am able to give information concerning certain aspects of the agreements affecting Australian interests. These are as follow: -

The agreement with Denmark as to butter, while not restricting the importation into the United Kingdom of butter from Denmark, reserves to the British Government the right to do so, and defines the position of Denmark if a scheme of import restrictions is adopted. The recent general discussions on proposals for a scheme of restrictions have apparently influenced the negotiations with Denmark, because the agreement provides that, in the event of the regulation of imports being found necessary by the British Government, the Danish annual quota will be not less than 115,000 tons, which is approximately 12 per cent. below the anticipated imports from that country for the year ending 30th June, 1933. If the scheme of regulation fixes 405,000 tons as the total annual import, the Danish share will be 115,000 tons. If the total permitted importation exceeds 405,000 tons, the Danish quota will increase proportionately. The duty of 15s. per cwt. on foreign butter, arranged at Ottawa, still remains.

The British Government is already regulating the foreign importation of bacon and ham, including supplies from

Denmark. The agreement with Denmark provides that the Danish share of the foreign imports of bacon and ham will be not less than 62 per cent. Obviously this does not affect Australia.

The agreement provides that if any scheme for the regulation of egg imports into the United Kingdom is introduced, Denmark’s share of the trade will be 5,500,000 long hundreds - a “ long hundred “ being 120 - unless that quantity is found to be too great to permit of a remunerative level of prices being maintained, in which case any reduction made will be by negotiation. In any event Denmark’s share will be not less than 38 per cent. of the total imports permitted from foreign countries. The duty arranged at Ottawa on eggs entering the United Kingdom from foreign countries is from1s. to1s. 9d. per long hundred, according to the weight of the eggs.

The agreement also provides that during its currency - three years - there shall not be any increase in the duties on. butter, eggs, and cream. I may mention that fresh Cream from foreign countries is at present subject to a duty of 10 per cent., while the duty on preserved milk and cream is 6s. per cwt.

In her agreement with the Argentine the United Kingdom reserves the right to restrict the imports of chilled beef below the level permitted by the Ottawa agreement if such action is considered necessary to secure a remunerative level of prices in the market of the United Kingdom.. Any such restriction, when imposed, shall not exceed 10 per cent. below the level mentioned, and shall not be maintained if the gap thus created is being filled from other sources. Special provision has been made so that the experimental shipments of chilled beef which are now on their way from Australia to the United Kingdom shall not be taken into consideration at all in connexion with that agreement. If unforeseen circumstances demand a greater reduction than 10 per cent., -the Government of the United Kingdom undertakes not to impose further restrictions on Argentine shipments unless a proportionate reduction is arranged with all other countries, including the dominions. The agreement provides that imports of edible meat offal from Argentine shall bear strict relation to the volume of carcase imports from that country. That is a valuable concession which has been referred to in this House more than once during the last week or two.

The Government of the United Kingdom undertakes not to impose new ot increased duties on meat, bacon, ham, wheat, linseed and maize, and not to institute quantitative limitations on wheat, maize, linseed, wheat offals, raw wool, or unrefined tallow.

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– If a trade agreement is entered into with New Zealand, removing the quarantine restrictions on potatoes, will it then be competent for a State government to prevent the sale and distribution of New Zealand potatoes under its own regulations, such as is now operating in Victoria against Tasmanian potatoes ?

Attorney-General · KOOYONG, VICTORIA · UAP

– The honorable member’s inquiry is in regard to the sale and distribution of potatoes within a State, and not in regard to the power of a State, whatever it may be, to prevent the entry of potatoes within its own boundaries. My answer, therefore, will deal with the sale and distribution of potatoes within a State. No State can interfere with foreign or interstate trade and commerce where there is Commonwealth legislation with which the State’s legislation or action would be inconsistent. But, when commodities have entered into a State, and trade either in a foreign’ or interstate sense has ceased, the sale and distribution of those commodities are then entirely within the control of the State authority.

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– Will the Prime Minister lay on the table of the House the file and all papers connected with the final disposal of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers?


– It is not the practice to lay on the table files that contain confidential communications that have passed between the Government and its. representatives abroad, either the High Com missioner or the ‘ Resident Minister in London; but I undertake to make available to honorable members, in due course, all the information that it is considered necessary to divulge.

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– In view of the assurance given by the Minister for Trade and Customs to the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Hutchin) last week - that he would consider making a rebate of the duties paid by Cadbury Fry and Pascall, of Tasmania, in connexion with imported machinery which could not be manufactured in Australia, will he take similar action in connexion with the application to MacRobertson’s, of Fitzroy, for a refund of duty on similar grounds?

Minister for Trade and Customs · BALACLAVA, VICTORIA · UAP

– If the honorable member will bring the facts under the notice of the department, I promise him that, as in the other case mentioned, the matter will be investigated.

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Formal Motion tor Adjournment.

Mr SPEAKER (Hon Gr H Mackay:

– I have received from the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House this afternoon to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The proposal to remove the embargo from New Zealand potatoes.”

Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,


.- 1 move -

That the House do now adjourn.

I make this motion for the purpose, of obtaining not a vote upon it, but information as to the intention of the Government. This matter has aroused intense interest in Victoria - I speak only for that State - and the feeling there is acute. The- potato-growers are alarmed at the proposal to remove the embargo from New Zealand potatoes, mainly because the potatoes grown in that dominion are affected with the disease known as corky or powdery scab. The introduction of this disease into Australia would mean the absolute destruction of the properties of the potato-growers here. It has been said that there is no reason to be alarmed at the introduction of New Zealand potatoes, but I noticed the other day that Dr. Shields, M.L.A., of Victoria, said that he had fully investigated the corky scab disease, and he expressed the opinion that if this disease got into the potato land of Victoria it would be quarantined ‘for at least ten years, land values would drop 50 per cent., and absolute ruin would face the potato-growers of Victoria. That statement was made by one who has a full knowledge of the subject. Dr. Shields is recognized as a student of potato diseases, and he made the statement which I have just mentioned, publicly, to the Premier of Victoria. He saia that it had been proved that even when infected fields had been put under grass cultivation, the fungus had been known to continue in them for at least ten years. It might remain there foi- twenty years for all we know. The disease is one that it is almost impossible to eradicate. I have seen a statement to the effect that the Government in negotiating a treaty with New Zealand might consider allowing potatoes from the clean, districts of New Zealand to come into Australia. I have it on the authority of Mr. Harris, late Chief Inspector of Health in Victoria, who has been in New Zealand, that there is not one spot in the dominion clear of this disease. If by any chance a clean spot were found, an experience that we had in Victoria might be repeated in New Zealand. Some years ago the disease, to a slight degree, was found to exist in Victoria and, with the exception of a small area, the State was quarantined. That small area was declared clean. Prior to the declaration of quarantine, that district exported not more than 500 tons of potatoes a year, but after the rest of the State was quarantined the exports from the clean district went up to about 10,000 tons a year. Potatoes from that district were sent all over Victoria. I am afraid that the same thing would happen if a clean district were found in New Zealand. Doubtless in such circumstances, the production of that district would go up by 50 per cent, or 100 per cent. In other words, in addition to exporting the potatoes that were actually grown there, that district exported potatoes grown elsewhere in the dominion. The State Governments take every possible precaution in this country to eradicate pests affecting produce or animals.

Mr Dennis:

– Even in fowls !


– Disease in fowls is a very serious thing. Yet in spite of all our precautions in this regard, the Commonwealth Government is contemplating the taking of a step which would certainly lead’ to the introduction of a very serious potato disease. With one stroke of the pen all previous precautions would be rendered abortive. If this disease enters Australia, ruin will face the potatogrowers. Their land will, undoubtedly, be reduced in value tremendously. Areas for which they paid £50 an acre will immediately drop in value to £25 an acre. Doubtless that will cause mortgagees to foreclose, with the result that the potato-growers will be ruined.

The potato industry is extremely important to Victoria. The value of the potatoes produced in that State is third from highest in the value of any single product. Wheat and hay alone exceed potatoes in value. The industry gives employment to thousands of men in the digging season. If the embargo is removed, the potato-growers will be annihilated. Very great pains have been taken in Victoria to keep the land free from disease. We have even placed an embargo on the importation of potatoes from Tasmania. The result is that we have the cleanest potato land in the world.

This disease has been known for many years. It exists in Wales, Scotland, South America, and the swampy parts nf Ireland. It will be deplorable if the Government does anything to allow the disease to get a footing in Victoria. The situation is serious to men who have devoted their lives to potato-growing, and have put all their little savings into their farms.

I also urge, the Government not to take this step because of the financial position of the potato-growers to-day. About 95 per cent, of the potato-growers of Victoria are On the verge of insolvency. For throe years, potatoes have been sold at below the cost of production. The growers have lost on practically every ton of potatoes that they have sold. By the time they have paid freight, wages, and marketing costs, including the price of bags, their returns have fallen short of their expenses. I could make out a good case for the granting of consideration to the potato-growers on the ground that they have always been good protectionists. They have paid their quota towards the protection of our secondary industries. Although they have been producing for the last three years at a loss, and although 95 per cent. of them are now on the verge of insolvency, they have not appealed to either the Commonwealth Government or the State Government for assistance. They have not, like the wheatgrowers, clamoured at the door of Parliament for a bounty, but have carried on their task manfully, in the hope that better days would come. Until just recently, they had the prospect of a crop of1½ tons to 2 tons to the acre, but around Bungaree, in the Ballarat district, heavy frosts have devastated hundreds of acres under potato crop, with the result that many growers will not get 1 cwt. to the acre.

The growers regard the position as being very serious. They are so anxious to obtain a clear and definite statement from the Government that a representative deputation of from 15 to 20 growers will arrive in Canberra to-morrow or Friday to interview the Prime Minister.

Mr Rosevear:

– I thought the honorable member said they were all broke.

Mr Fenton:

– Unfortunately, they have to come to this Bush Capital to make their request.


– The Prime Minister they understood, could not go to Melbourne for two or three weeks, and as they were intensely anxious to consult him and the Minister for Commerce, they decided, at great expense, to make the journey to Canberra.

Mr Lyons:

– It was quite unnecessary for them to do so. They seem to have been led into this unnecessary expense by some one who was not considering their interests. There was no necessity for them to rush to Canberra, as I shall be in Melbourne before anything definite is done.

They need not waste their money in coming to Canberra.


– I gave them a message to that effect which I received from the private secretary to the Prime Minister, butthey were so disconcerted by the outlook that they were not satisfied. They waited on the Minister for Agriculture for Victoria (Mr. Allan), and asked him to send an urgent telegram on behalf of the Government to the Prime Minister. They were so dissatisfied with the reply they got from that gentleman, who, by the way, is a member of the Country party, that they decided to hold a meeting immediately at Temple Court. I am referring now to some hundreds of potato-growers representative of all the potato-growing districts of Victoria, and not to half-a-dozen men. These growers were thoroughly alarmed at not getting a definite reply from Mr. Allan, and I assure the Prime Minister that no power on earth will stop them from coming to Canberra, for they are determined to interview him.

Mr Lyons:

– They need not come to Canberra to interview me. I am prepared to go to Melbourne to meet them, and will guarantee that nothing will be done in this regard until I do meet them.


– I conveyed the right honorable gentleman’s message to them, but the position is so serious that it brooks of no delay. To indicate the effect upon the market of the proposed removal of the embargo, I need only remind the House that when the Assistant Treasurer (Senator Greene) left New Zealand, potatoes were selling in the dominion at £2 a ton ; immediately following the publication of the Government’s intention, the price rose to £6. In Victoria, the quotation last month was £8 a ton; it immediately dropped to £5 a ton. This is the price at which Victorian growers are selling their potatoes to-day. As they cannot wait three weeks for the Prime Minister to meet them in Victoria, they have resolved tocome to Canberra.

Mr Lyons:

– But no change can take place during that period.


– I have already stated that there has been a substantial alteration in the market price, following the publication of the Government’s intention to remove the embargo. The very existence of our potato-growers is at stake. The Prime Minister, like myself, represents a potato-growing district, and knows all about the growers’ difficulties. I should like to have a definite assurance from him that the position will be reviewed, so as to avoid the introduction of this dreaded disease into the potatogrowing districts of Australia. The Sydney Daily Telegraph of to-day’s date reports that an attempt is being made in the Ignited States of America to evolve a potato that will be proof against this disease. Money is being spent in that direction, but’ apparently this Government contemplates allowing the disease to be introduced into Australia. I hope that it will reconsider the matter.


.- The question raised by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) is undoubtedly a very important one. The potato-growers of Australia have been greatly alarmed by the report published in the press recently, that the Government intends to remove the embargo on the introduction of New Zealand potatoes. I have received numerous telegrams and some letters on the subject from various parts of Australia, and particularly from Victoria, a State which, I think, produces one-half of the total potato crop of the Commonwealth. Potato-growing being a most important industry, we cannot afford to take risks in regard to it by the introduction of the disease called corky “or powdery scab. I do not know what may he in the mind of the Government, but I suggest that it has been unwise in allowing the rumour of its intention to be circulated. It is not sufficient for the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) to say that he will meet a deputation of potato-growers in Melbourne in three weeks’ time, and that, in the meantime, nothing will be done; because, as a matter of fact, much harm has already been done by the action of speculators, following the reported intention of the Government to remote the embargo. The effect on the market has been very serious indeed. If the growers were in a position to hold back their crops, perhaps they would not suffer so severely,, though in that event the consumers would suffer by the withholding of what is an article of daily food. No one will deny that our potato-growers have had a bad time dur ing the last two or three years. Market prices have hardly covered the cost of digging, to say nothing of cultivation, and although the price this year is comparatively high, the growers have not got a heavy crop. This Parliament should say whether it is prepared, for the sake of trade advantages in other directions, to take the risk of introducing one of the most deadly potato diseases that has ever been known. I understand that this disease, having made an appearance, can never be eradicated; it certainly persists for more than a decade. Mr. Harris, who was the senior inspector of the Department of Agriculture in Victoria, stated recently at a deputation, in Melbourne, that thirteen years ago, he saw the disease in New Zealand potato crops, and was informed that it was to be found in every potato-growing district of the dominion. It is said still to exist in districts which had not been used for potato-growing for several years’. For many years I lived in one of the most important potato-growing districts in Australia, and I know that no other agricultural industry lends itself so much to intense cultivation, or provides a larger volume of employment on small areas. It is one of the few rural industries that depend almost entirely upon manual labour.

Mr McGrath:

– None of the work is done by machinery.


– Machinery is employed to only a very limited extent, and directly and indirectly, the industry gives employment to a large number of persons. About 130,000 acres are cultivated for potato-growing in Australia, and, as I have stated, about one-half of the total crop is produced in Victoria. The menace of this disease has been well known for many years. As the embargo was imposed originally about fourteen years ago, and has been maintained by successive governments since then, our growers are now much concerned at published reports of the discovery coincident with the arrival in New Zealand of the Assistant Treasurer to negotiate a trade agreement, that some potatogrowing areas of the dominion are clean, and that the embargo is to be removed These reports indicate, I think, that the Government is prepared to take this risk in order to improve our trade relations with New Zealand. I am most anxious that we should increase our trade with the dominion, because that country offers a market for many Australian products, some of which are produced in my own electorate. There was, for example, a good market in past years in New Zealand for Australian boots, and it is capable of being expanded. I should be glad to see our trade with New Zealand improve, but not at the risk of introducing this dreaded disease to the potato crops of Australia.

I do not know what information the Minister will give to the House on the subject. We are, to a large extent, groping in the dark. The statement was made to-day by the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Stewart) that trade proposals submitted by the Assistant Treasurer, and the removal of the embargo on New Zealand potatoes, are still the subject of consultation, and that the Government’s decision will be subject to ratification by this Parliament, so that we can allow this matter to stand over until the legislation giving effect to the trade agreement with New Zealand comes before us for ratification. But I think that this matter should be settled at once. The Government should have all the facts, and should declare that if there is the slightest danger of the introduction of this disease into Australia, the embargo will not be lifted.


.- There is no doubt about the anxiety of our potatogrowers concerning the possibility of the removal of the embargo against the importation of potatoes from New Zealand. The embargo was imposed, I think, in 1919 because of the prevalence in the dominion of the disease known as corky or powdery scab. It was removed for a period iu 1926, but was re-imposed. I am not in a position to say whether this disease is as dangerous to the potato crops as has been suggested by the honorable member who moved this motion, and by those eminent authorities in Victoria who have expressed their opinions on the matter. I have not seen the disease in growing crops, though I have seen some affected exhibits. There is no doubt that, in its worst form, it would prevent the sale of potatoes, even if it did not make them uneatable. The Commonwealth Government has an efficient Health Department, attached to which are plant pathologists who are competent to say whether the disease is dangerous to potato crops in this country. If they have given their opinion that it is, and I presume they have, potatoes should not be allowed to come into the Commonwealth from New Zealand, more especially as we produce within the Commonwealth all the potatoes we require. It is admitted that the disease exists in some parts of Tasmania. I have not seen crops affected by it, though I am as familiar with the potatogrowing industry as is any other honorable member of this Parliament. It has not spread to the north or north-west of Tasmania, where practically all the potatoes grown for export are produced. Victoria has prohibited the importation of Tasmanian potatoes because of the presence of this disease in Tasmania, and it would be an extraordinary position if the Commonwealth Government were to admit potatoes from New Zealand, while the Victorian Government would not admit them from Tasmania, because of the prevalence there of the same disease which affects New Zealand potatoes. I am sure that the Government is considering that phase of the matter carefully. The AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) has stated that, even though potatoes were admitted to the Commonwealth from New Zealand, Victoria would still be able to prevent, their movement or sale within the State.

I am concerned principally with the economic effect of the removal of the embargo. If the disease is not a serious menace, the embargo should not be imposed ostensibly on that account. I have always assumed, however, that the embargo was imposed, in the first place, in the honest belief that it was necessary to keep out New Zealand potatoes in order to prevent the spread of the disease. The potato-growers in Australia produce potatoes year after year at less than cost, the consumers obtaining the benefit of low prices. Occasionally, in one year out of five or seven or ten, something happens to the crop. It may be frost or blight, or some other disease, and half the crops are destroyed. Then the price is relatively high, and I claim that the potatogrowers of the Commonwealth are entitled to supply the Australian market at the higher price. If this disease is not a menace, and there is on that account no justification for the embargo, an adequate duty should be imposed to prevent the introduction of potatoes from neighbouring dominions to the injury of Australian growers. The AttorneyGeneral, speaking the other night on another matter, quoted figures to show that the destruction of the Tasmanian potato crop by floods in 1929 resulted in the payment of £3,000,000 extra wages throughout the Commonwealth. I do not propose to discuss these figures beyond pointing out that ‘the employers must have enjoyed the benefit of lower wages during the years when the Tasmanian crop was normal. In my opinion, there is no need to admit potatoes from New Zealand at all. The New Zealand growers have a limited market, and are, perhaps, producing more than that market can consume. They are prepared, therefore, to sell their potatoes for export at a price that merely Days for taking them out of the ground. Honorable members should keep in mind that prices for potato-growing land are extraordinarily high, not because of speculation, but because it costs a great deal in labour and money to get such land into cultivation, most of it having originally been heavy forest country. The potato-growers are not in the same position as those engaged in secondary industries which receive protection. No one will claim that the secondary industries carry on year after year at a loss, but that is certainly true of many of the potato-growers.

I have every reason to suppose that members of the Commonwealth Government are familiar with all phases of’ the potato-growing industry, and with the peculiar position of the growers. I saw the Minister (Senator Greene) before he left for New Zealand. I had a conversation with him on this subject, and was convinced that there was little about the industry that he did not know. Later, I had interviews with the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), and the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Stewart), and it was clear to me that they were well informed on the subject. The effect upon the local potato-growing industry would be disastrous if the embargo were lifted unless a substantial increase in the tariff were made, and I feel confident that the Government will allow it to remain in operation.


– There are two kinds of embargoes imposed from time to time by the government of the day. One is frankly for the purpose of restricting trade, of putting up a barrier against the flow of trade between one country and another, while the other is imposed at the instance of a health department with the object of preventing the spread of disease either to plant” life or to animal life. The embargo against the importation of potatoes from New Zealand was imposed with the object of preventing the spread in Australia of a disease to which New Zealand potatoes are subject - the disease generally known as corky scab. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath), the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), and the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell) have not hesitatedto introduce economic arguments into their advocacy of the retention of the embargo. I do not propose to follow their lead in that respect, but shall confine myself entirely to discussing the risk of bringing this disease into the clean potato lands of Victoria, and I have been assured by Mr. J. P. Ramsey, the Victorian potato expert, that, so far, Victoria is absolutely clean.

It may be surprising to honorable members to note the extent to which Victorians are interested in this matter, but it should cease to be surprising when I point out that, out of 130,000 acres of potato-growing land in Australia, onehalf, or 65,000 acres, is in Victoria. Two or three weeks ago I interviewed the Victorian potato expert, Mr. J. T. Ramsay, and asked him to express his view regarding the extent, of the danger of infection if New Zealand potatoes were permitted to be brought into Australia. He regarded it as a very serious matter, and said that the risk of bringing the disease to Victoria would be so great that the embargo should continue. He pointed out that, according to Mr.

Mcintosh, of the Scottish Board of Agriculture, this disease did most damage in cool and moist districts at fairly high altitudes. He reminded me that half the land under potatoes in the Commonwealth was to be found in Victoria, and that about two-thirds of Victoria’s potato lands were situated at altitudes ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 feet, the rainfall varying from 30 to 70 inches per annum, and the climate, for the most part, being cool. .It is thus seen that the conditions in Victoria are entirely’ favorable to the rapid spread of this disease. Mr. Ramsay assured me that the disease was not to be found in Victoria at the present time, and he added that it would be impossible completely to control the distribution of New Zealand potatoes in Australia, should their importation be permitted. I have received a letter from an agriculturalist in East Gippsland, which throws a light upon the danger of importing potatoes, or any other agricultural product, from New Zealand, even when a government certificate is given. My correspondent is Mr. G. G. Seehusenof Bruthen, who states -

I noticed an article in the Argus on Saturday night, that the Federal Government was going to lift the embargo on New Zealand potatoes. The article suggested that the potatoes would be let in on condition that they were to have the New Zealand Government’s certificate guaranteeing that they were free from disease. Having had some experience of certificates issued by the New Zealand Government Department of Agriculture, I can say that their guarantee is not worth the paper it is written on. I got some Canadian wonder beans from a city merchant in Melbourne with the New Zealand Government certificate guaranteeing them from bacterial wilt. I took them home and planted them, and when they came up they had the disease worse than any other beans planted in the district. What was worse, they were not Canadian wonder beans, as described, but a mixture of several kinds. When I tried to sell them, I found them to be absolutely unsaleable. So much for the New Zealand Government guarantee.

That letter gives the experience of a man who bought a New Zealand product, backed by a government guarantee. As one who has no liking for the imposition of embargoes for purely economic reasons, I hope that the Government will retain the embargo against New Zealand potatoes because of the great danger of the spread of this disease to the clean potato lands of Victoria.

Referring to the interjection made by the right honorable the Prime Minister with respect to a deputation which, he was reminded by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. ‘McGrath), hoped to meet him in Canberra this week, I may mention that,, on Friday last, I received a telephone call from Melbourne regarding this deputation, and I was informed by the Prime Minister’s secretary that, in the event of the deputationists not being satisfied with the statement which would appear in Saturday morning’s press, the Prime Minister would still be prepared to meet them. Immediately I reached Melbourne on Saturday, I was rung up by the gentleman who had telephoned me on the previous day, and, although I informed him that sufficient breathing space had been given to enable members of the deputation to wait until the Prime Minister would be in Melbourne, they informed me that they were quite determined to come to Canberra, having the assurance of the Prime Minister that he would meet them if they were not wholly satisfied with his statement.

Mr Lyons:

– I shall certainly meet them; but I should like to save them expense and inconvenience by interviewing them in Melbourne.


– I can assure the Prime Minister that I put that aspect of the matter to the deputation. I appeal to the Government not to overlook the tremendous risk that’ the lifting of this quarantining embargo would involve.


.- I represent an electorate which probably includes most, of the potato lands of South Australia, and I support the request of the honorable member .for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) that the Government should consider the grave danger of removing the embargo which has been imposed on the importation of potatoes from New Zealand. I have the authority of the Director of Agriculture in South Australia for saying that the disease of corky or powdery scab has not been found in the potato fields of South Australia, and I can assure the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), and the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Stewart) that the potato-growers in my State are deeply concerned about the danger which threatens them. If potatoes from New Zealand were permitted to enter any part of Australia, some of them would probably find their way eventually into South Australia. The Prime Minister remarked that it was not necessary for the deputation to visit Canberra. A number of persons interested in potatogrowing informed me that they were desirous of joining the deputation to the Prime Minister, but I told them that I did not consider it necessary for them to do that, because I-felt certain that no action would be taken in the matter before August or September next. Thereupon they asked me to advise them when they should interview the Prime Minister. I impress upon the Government the fact that the growers in South Australia are most concerned over this matter. For information regarding it, they have to rely on what they read in the newspapers, and they have been led to believe, through statements appearing in the press, that it is possible that the embargo will be lifted at once, in which case Australia might be flooded with diseased potatoes from New Zealand.

Mr Ward:

– Cheap potatoes!


– That is not feared at all. The growers in this country already have sufficient troubles to contend with without having them increased through the introduction of a new disease. Certain diseases,” such as eel-worm and grub are more or less natural to potatoes grown in Australia; but there is grave apprehension over the prospect of another and more serious disease, in the form of corky scab, being introduced. The manipulation of the market at the present time, owing to the uncertainty as to whether New Zealand potatoes are to be allowed to enter Australia, is another matter of grave concern to the potatogrowers. The fact has been stressed by every speaker to-day, except the Acting Leader of the Country party (Mr. Paterson), that for years the growers have been producing at a price which does not pay them. The South Australian growers are in a worse position in that respect than any others in the Commonwealth. My State has not a large city population. Potato growing is a speculative business to some extent, and large areas of potato lands are cultivated, and the growers usually plant more than can be consumed in the State. Last year, no better price than £2 a ton - ruled for the main crop, and hundreds of tons were either fed to stock or left to rot in the pits. Therefore, the manipulation of prices that is taking place at the present time is a serious thing for the grower, and for that reason alone I hope that the Minister, in his reply, will clear up the matter, so that the public will know exactly what they are to expect, and the grower will not be deprived of what he is entitled to receive, by reason of the manipulation of the market by speculators. I am confident that the Government realizes fully the seriousness of the position, and that it will not do anything that may be detrimental to the potato-growers. I am particularly anxious that the corky scab disease shall not be permitted to enter South Australia.

Minister for Commerce · Parramatta · UAP

– Those honorable members who have spoken, have stated that the Australian potato industry has become alarmed at certain prospects which are said to be associated with the Australian and New Zealand trade agreement. The reason for that alarm is, that cognizance has been taken of unauthorized press and other scare statements, instead . of reliance being placed on the authoritative published statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons). Honorable members will, I think, be fair enough to admit that, until an agreement of this character has been ratified by the respective legislatures, none of its details should be published. Last week the Prime Minister made the following definite statement in regard to the matter: -

Some matters, including the question arising from embargoes in Australia and New Zealand, upon potatoes in the one case and fresh fruit and vegetables in the other, are still the subject of negotiation.

Yet there are honorable members who would rather believe a press report which a fortnight or three weeks ago stated that the embargo was being lifted.

Mr Scullin:

– That is not denied in the statement made by the Prime Minister.


– The whole question is still the subject of negotiation. Having regard’ to the fact that the Prime

Minister is receiving to-morrow a deputation which will largely be representative of the potato-growing industry, the suspension of the ordinary business of the House this afternoon may be open to question. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath), in moving the motion for the adjournment of the House, made the somewhat rash statement that the Government contemplates, by a stroke of the pen, wiping the potato-growing industry out of existence. The Government is not contemplating, by a stroke of the pen, wiping the potato-growing or any other industry out of existence.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) spoke of the speculation in potatoes, and gave honorable members to understand that owing to rumours concerning the lifting of the embargo prices on the local market were affected. The honorable member for Ballarat also made a statement to that effect. But what are the facts? While Senator Greene was in New Zealand, the price of Tasmanian Brownells on the Sydney market - that is the market which imports from New Zealand would affect - ranged from £6 to £8 a ton. The price yesterday was from £9 to £10 a ton.

Mr Bell:

– Those figures are not accurate.


– The Sydney Morning Herald is my authority. Tasmanian Bismarcks were quoted at from £6 to £7 a ton, while the negotiations were proceeding in New Zealand, and yesterday, the price on the Sydney market was from £8 to £9 a ton. Local potatoes were fetching from £4 to £7 a ton then, and the price now is from £8 to £10 a ton. That, I consider, isa complete answer to the suggestion that indecision on the part of the Government, or the withholding of publication of the real facts, permitted speculators to operate to the detriment of the local grower.

Mr Scullin:

– Does the Minister deny that the price of potatoes fell by £3 a ton in April?


– The negotiations were held subsequent to that date, and, consequently, were not responsible for the fall. It cannot be denied that prices are higher to-day that they were while Senator Green was in New Zealand. The right honorable gentleman also said that the embargo had been in operation for fourteen years.As amatter of fact, the present embargo has operated only since January, 1927.

Mr Scullin:

– That is misrepresentation. It was put on in 1919, and lifted for brief periods.


– It has been asserted several times this afternoon that the importation of New Zealand potatoes would inevitably result in the introduction to this country of the dire corky scab disease. The House has not be informed, however, that in 1926, our importations of New Zealand potatoes totalled 8,000 tons.

Mr Scullin:

– We took a risk which ought not to have been taken.


– But that fact contraverts the assumption of the right honorable gentleman. In 1927, no fewer than 14,400 tons of New Zealand potatoes were imported into Australia.

Mr Scullin:

– Why was the embargo reimposed ?

Honorable members interjecting,


– Order! I insist upon honorable members refraining from continually interjecting while the Minister is speaking. Honorable members who have already occupied the time of the House cannot now make further contributions to the debate in this way. The Minister is entitled to be heard in silence, and I shall see that he is.


– The history of the matter is this: The original embargo was imposed in 1919, and it has been lifted and reimposed on several occasions since that date. If I wished to debate the matter, I could point to the claim by different speakers - that Australia is now free from this disease - as evidence of the fact that that condition was not altered by the importation of large quantities of New Zealand potatoes in 1926 and 1927. But as this matter is still the subject of negotiation with the New Zealand Government, it would be unbefitting of the Minister for Commerce, or any other Minister, to embark upon a discussion of the merits of the whole position.

The honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell) dealt fairly with the question when he expressed his belief that those

Ministers who are responsible for this particular phase of administration are fully seized of the necessity for protecting this industry. I need only reiterate that the Government is fully alive to both the economic and the quarantine aspects of the matter, and that it will do nothing that might imperil the potatogrowing or any other valuable industry in Australia.

West Sydney

.- If the uneasiness that exists in the minds of the potato growers of Australia needed any justification, that justification has been furnished by the speech that we have just heard from the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Stewart). Upon what the honorable gentleman has said, potato growers throughout Australia should continue an active agitation against the importation of New Zealand potatoes. The warrant for the motion for the adjournment of the House has been fully established, because it has been clearly and definitely stated that the negotiations are still proceeding. The Minister himself has brought to light the circumstances suggesting the lifting of the embargo by stating that in 1926 and 1927 thousands of bags of potatoes were admitted into Australia, and no harm resulted. Why, then, was the embargo re-imposed immediately afterwards ?

Mr McGrath:

– There was very good reason for that.


– That is my opinion, and no one knows better than those who are engaged in the industry how good the reason was. With all due respect to the Minister, I am prepared to accept the word of the growers, and to stand behind them in their agitation for the protection of their interests. The statement that, as negotiations have not yet been completed, honorable members are not competent to ventilate this matter carries no weight with me. A trade treaty is now being negotiated between Australia and New Zealand, and if the growers do not register their protest now, it will be too late to do so afterwards. All credit is due to the growers for agitating in an endeavour to safeguard their interests. I also commend the tobacco-growers and the producers of wheat and wool for having organized in an endeavour to place their precarious position forcibly before the powers that be. Existing economic circumstances make it imperative that every section of the community should be alive and do everything possible to ensure that they secure at least a living from their labours; otherwise they must go to the wall. I agree with the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell) that potato-growers are entitled to have embargoes placed on imports from other countries and the home market preserved for them. I hope that the honorable member will carry that argument to its logical conclusion, and give similar consideration to other industries and sections of the community which are similarly situated to the potato-growers. I am prepared to support primary producers to the best of my ability during this economic depression. Every country is struggling to survive by promoting its own industries, and therefore is restricting imports. We must follow suit, protect our own producers, and our own country, and, if necessary. “ let the rest of the world go by “.

Mr Stewart:

– Has the honorable member applied that argument to the embargo imposed by New Zealand on citrus fruits from Australia?


– Like ourselves, New Zealand is struggling to overcome the difficulties which beset it. I do not complain because different countries are striving hard to preserve their own interests. The sooner we realize that a tremendous struggle for existence is in progress in all countries, the better it will be for us in Australia. Believing in this, 1 do not blame Great Britain for entering into trade treaties with foreign countries. Circumstances have rendered it necessary for Great Britain to take that course so that it may freely exchange its products with those of other countries, in comparison with whose trade that of Aus-. tralia is negligible. In these circumstances we are entitled to do everything possible to preserve our own interests in this economic struggle for existence.

I have in my possession figures which indicate that, apart from the danger of introducing corky scab into Australia, the Government should take prompt steps to prevent the importation of potatoes. Added to that, the opinions of experts and honorable members who are competent to speak on the subject as to the menace of the disease, make it evident that no government should hesitate in clearly stating its position in the matter. I am sorry that the Minister did not declare that the Government will take no risk of introducing this dreaded disease into Australia. From information supplied to me, I find that, for the past five seasons, the average annual production of potatoes in Australia was approximately 130 lb. per head of population, while the average consumption per head over the same period was 128 lb. If those figures are correct, they prove that Australian potato-growers can meet local requirements.

Undoubtedly, apart from the fear of disease, the economic factor is all powerful in this agitation. I have no reason to doubt the explanation given by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath). During the last few weeks I have been a good deal among primary producers, and I am satisfied that the greater number of them are on the verge of insolvency. Naturally, the growers are not prepared to wait until the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) goes to Melbourne before making a pronouncement on the subject. They realize that conditions are changing daily in connexion with the trade agreement that is being entered into between Australia and New Zealand, and that many things could happen before they met the Prime Minister in Melbourne. They are aware that the position is so desperate that no opportunityshould be lost in impressing its seriousness upon the Government. It is said that corky scab is already established in Tasmania, and it is said that Victoria for that reason has prohibited the importation of diseased potatoes. The economic position alone should be sufficient to cause the Government to make an immediate pronouncement in this matter, and relieve the growers of an anxiety which must be most trying. Again, the Government should resolve that in no circumstance will it allow diseased potatoes to be admitted to Australia. I regret that the statement made by the Minister was not. more definite, for the position warrants a clear declaration from the Government.

I hope that a vote will be recorded on this motion, so that the opinions of honorable members may be recorded.


– I wonderwhether honorable members realize how dangerous is this disease of corky scab to the potato industry? In the first stages of the disease one might consider, from the appearance of the affected tuber, that it was innocuous, but, as time goes on, there becomes visible a formation of minute spores, from the appearance of which the name of the disease is derived. The disease is contagious, and may be transferred to perfectly good tubers which come into contact with the hands of those handling diseased potatoes or with a vehicle in which affected tubers were carried. It can then be transmitted to any land in which potatoes are planted. For longevity, the spores maybe compared to the dreaded tetanus germ. It. has been definitely proved that the spore of corky scab will remain active for ten years or more in land temporarily unused forpotato-growing, but immediately the land is again placed under potato cultivation the new tubers will become infected, and the value of the land as a potato-growing proposition vanishes.

With good reason, the Commonwealth has imposed embargoes on the importation of diseased potatoes. Unfortunately, from time to time, the necessity for that safeguard has been temporarily forgotten. In 1926-27, 13,000 tons of New Zealand potatoes were allowed “to enter Australia. Some of them were landed on Melbourne wharfs, but, thanks to the keenness of the Victorian Government to keep Australian potatoes free from disease, the authorities refused the importers permission to remove them, and they were promptly destroyed. Of the 360,000 tons of potatoes produced in Australia each year more than onehalf is grown in Victoria. The potatogrowing industry, in both the digging and the growing season, requires a good deal of labour, and since it provides a means of livelihood for large numbers of families, the people of Victoria urge that every care shall be exercised so that this industry may not be injured. I shall not attempt to estimate the number of persons engaged in the growing of potatoes in Victoria, but I know that in the Bendigo’ and Flinders electorates a large proportion of the adult population depends on the cultivation of potatoes for a livelihood. The Victorian Potato and Onion-growers Association desires that its views on this subject shall be placed before the Government. . I have endeavoured, without success, to ascertain from the Victorian Department of Agriculture, whether or not corky scab exists in Victoria, but the growers, whose holdings range from an altitude of nearly 2,000 feet to sea level, assure me that it has not made its appearance there. They say that even a threat to introduce potatoes into Australia would be most disastrous. They claim that their industry has. experienced five bad seasons during the past six years, and that prospects for the coming season are not bright; light crops and frosts are expected. These men view the present situation with a great deal of concern. They bought their land at high prices, paying as much as £50 an acre for it, and they say that if corky scab makes its appearance in Victoria, their assets, which are heavily mortgaged, will disappear entirely, causing a great deal of unemployment and the loss of, probably, £3,500,000 per annum to the primary producers of this country. Whichever way we look at the suggested lifting of the embargo on New Zealand potatoes, we can see ‘the anxiety of the man on the land, who is endeavouring to make a living by growing potatoes, and our sympathy should be with him. It is little satisfaction to him to be told that there is a duty of £2 10s. a ton on imported potatoes; he looks to the embargo for protection. Nor does it comort him to be reminded that the freight on potatoes from New Zealand is 35s. a ton in addition to handling charges amounting to about £1 a ton. He realizes that, from time to time, he must expect the loss of a year’s crop, but he contends that he should not be called upon to run the risk of his potato land being destroyed. With that view I sympathize deeply. As the result of representations that I have made to the Government, I am aware that it is considering every aspect of this subject. Only last week the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) assured a deputation that the Cabinet was fully alive to the serious-

AIr. JB. i Harrison. ness of the situation. There is, probably, a good reason for the statement which appeared in Saturday morning’s newspapers not being more definite. I am convinced that, at the right time, the Government will make a statement on this subject, and I hope that when it is made it will prove satisfactory to the potatogrowers of this country.


.- At Strathbogie, Lancefield, Romsey and other places in my electorate, are grown some of the finest potatoes in the world. The Romsey district supplies seed potatoes to various other parts of Victoria. I have received many letters on this subject, and, to-day, I sent to the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Stewart) a largely signed petition for his consideration. 1 enter my protest against the importation of diseased potatoes from New Zealand or any other country, not on economic grounds alone, but for the * reason that we cannot afford to take the risk of admitting any disease into Australia. Already we have introduced into this country far too many pests from other countries, among them being sparrows and starlings, and rabbits and foxes. It is almost impossible to exterminate these pests, which, in the aggregate, have done damage amounting to many scores of millions of pounds. Australia has suffered too from many insect pests which have been introduced. Most of the things which trouble Australia have been imported. So many . pests and diseases have entered this country that the greater part of the time of our primary producers is taken up in combating them. Should the introduction of these harmful things continue during the next half century, as during the past half century, I predict that one-half of our arable land will become valueless. Already many thousands of acres have been rendered unproductive by the introduction and spread of star thistle, California thistle, stinkwort, ragwort St. John’s wort, hoary cress, and other noxious weeds. Every precaution should be taken to prevent the introduction of further diseases or noxious plants into this country. The Government should exercise its quarantine powers to the utmost in dealing with any attempt to bring into Australia anything which may prove harmful. It has been suggested in the press that, in exchange for a market for our citrus fruit, the embargo on the importation of New Zealand potatoes may be lifted. I am not prepared to admit diseased potatoes into Australia, even to find a market for our citrus fruits, and I know that the large body of citrus fruit-growers whom I represent are of the same opinion. Our Victorian potato-growing lands, which are now free from disease, must be kept clean. It has been reported that almost the whole of the potato-growing land in New Zealand is moTe or less affected by corky scab. It is much easier to deal with a pest by keeping it out of a country than to eradicate it once it has been admitted. In a letter which I have received from the ex-Premier of Victoria, Mr.. Hogan states - “ Corky scab “, a fungus disease, is prevalent in every potato-growing district in New Zealand, and when it gets- into the ground it cannot he got rid of. It is worse than “ boll weevil “ in cotton or “ bunchy top “ in bananas or “ blue mould “ in tobacco plants. lt is as great a menace to plant life as smallpox or leprosy is to human life.

It is the Government’s duty to keep this or any other disease out of Australia, and to keep our land clean. Australian land-owners are compelled by governments to eradicate noxious weeds and plant and stock diseases, and heavy expenditure is incured towards that end. If land or stock is infected with disease the farm is quarantined by a government inspector, if it is necessary for governments to take this drastic action to prevent plant and stock diseases spreading in Australia, surely the Commonwealth Government should continue the embargo against importing New Zealand potatoes to prevent corky scab spreading to Australia.

If this dreaded fungus disease is permitted to enter Australia by the Common wealth Government, the land would be polluted, and infected land would fall 50 per cent, in value. Financial institutions which have advanced money to the owners of such lands would sec their security rapidly depreciating. Thousands of farmers would be struck a paralysing blow, and would he unable to pay traders’ bills, let alone rent or interest. Employment would rapidly diminish and the devastating financial effects of introducing this disease hero would continue spreading in an ever widening circle.

I agree with those sentiments, and urge the Government to use every means in its power to prevent the introduction of corky scab or any other disease which would be inimical to the interests of the man on the land, and a menace to the prosperity of this country.


– I urge the Government to do nothing that will injure the potato-growers. I can find no definite evidence that corky scab exists in Australia, and, therefore, I accept the assurance of the potatogrowers in Victoria that it is not found in that State. The growers would not be so alarmed but for the agitation of persons who are interested, not so much in the growing of potatoes, as in getting kudos for assisting the growers. That is the most regrettable feature of this controversy. The projected deputation to Canberra is unwarranted. Had the growers been left to their own devices they would have followed the correct procedure of representing their case to the Government through their members. For a considerable time many honorable members, including myself, have interested themselves on behalf of the growers to prevent corky scab from being introduced into Victoria.

I cannot allow to pass unchallenged the statement of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), that Lancefield, Strathbogie and Romsey are the best potato-growing .districts in the world. For this crop the land about Koroit is undoubtedly the best in Australia, if not in the world.

Mr Hill:

– It is too rich to grow good potatoes.


– The Portland district also is being developed; because of its newness it is free of disease, and it would be a shame if corky scab were allowed to menace both the old and the new potato-growing areas. Already Victorian potatoes are banned by the Government of New South Wales on account of the lucerne flea, although I am not sure that this restriction is justified, because there is in New South Wales a flea that differs in only minor details from the lucerne flea in Victoria. There is, however, every reason for confining the areas affected by any plant disease or insect pest, and in the interests of potatogrowers, corky scab should be kept out of Australia.


.- Had Australian governments been more cautious regarding the importation of pests, this country would be much wealthier than it is, and would have better prospects. Unfortunately, a great proportion of the time of the Australian people is occupied in combating and trying to eliminate diseases and pests affecting stock and plants, and by reason of the fact that pests have been imported without their natural parasites, we are at a greater disadvantage than are the countries to which the pests are indigenous. An embargo was applied against New Zealand potatoes because corky scab is prevalent almost throughout the dominion, and why the Commonwealth Government is even negotiating in regard to the removal of the restriction, I cannot understand. Every honorable member who has spoken this afternoon, including the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. E. F. Harrison), who is attending to the interests of the Flinders electorate in the absence of its representative, the Resident Minister in London (Mr. Bruce), has expressed opposition to the importation of potatoes from New Zealand. Because of the alarm felt by the growers, the Government should at once announce that in no circumstances will the embargo be removed. If it were merely a matter of commercial competition, Australian potatoes could, probably, hold their own in the market against the products of New Zealand, but the menace of disease makes a decisive declaration by the Government urgently necessary.


.- The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) deserves to be congratulated upon having brought this matter before the House, and I -regret that the Minister for Commerce has seen fit to argue in favour of the removal of the embargo against New Zealand potatoes. When the growers have read his statement, their alarm will be very much greater than it is to-day. The honorable gentleman quoted the statement of the Prime Minister that embargoes are still the subject of negotiation. That is sufficient to cause the growers the gravest concern. In order that they may know exactly where they stand, they are anxious that the Government should cease to entertain the proposal that this embargo on potatoes should be removed. According to the potato experts in Victoria and South Australia, corky scab does not exist in either of those States. Australia has had many disastrous experiences of the introduction of noxious weeds and diseases of plants and stock. If an outbreak of pleuropneumonia occurs in a herd, officers of the Agricultural Department destroy the cattle, and the owner gets no compensation. The Commonwealth Government can more easily refuse admission to diseased potatoes than individual farmers can combat the disease after it is established.


– Does the honorable member say that corky scab does not exist in Australia?


– I have said that the experts in South Australia and Victoria declare that it does not exist in those States, and the Commonwealth Government will be accepting a big responsibility if it permits potatoes from New Zealand to enter either of them.

Mr Fenton:

– Such a proposal has no chance of passing this chamber.


– I do not think it has, but the Government should declare definitely at an early date that it is ceasing negotiations on the subject. The perturbation of the growers must increase while the negotiations continue. Many growers have approached me in regard to the matter, and I have told them that any agreement with New Zealand cannot be ratified until the present potato season is finished. But knowing that the Government is continuing to negotiate, they are not reassured. I cannot vote for the motion for the adjournment of the House,but I would support a motion that the embargo be continued. I hope that the Government will make an early announcement which will obviate the need for the large deputation of Victorian growers that is coming to Canberra to interview the Prime Minister.

Darling Downs

– The Commonwealth Government is endeavouring to negotiate with the New Zealand Government a reciprocal trade treaty. Such agreements usually extend over a period of years, but the quarantine power, which is essentially one which may have to be exercised suddenly to meet an emergency, should not be made the subject of a trade bargain. That power must be conserved unrestricted so that the Government may take whatever action may be neces-sary at any time to resist the introduction of diseases of humans, plants or animals. Therefore, it is inconceivable that the Government would enter into a treaty with New Zealand whereby it undertook to lift the embargo on potatoes, and not reimpose it, say, for a period, of five years. The Commonwealth quarantine power is a matter of administration, and must be exercised honestly and fairly to prevent the importation of any disease or pest. I am sure that the Government will look at the matter from that point of view. We are told that the matter- in question is .the subject of negotiations. That suggests, obviously, that bargaining is taking place between the Australian Government and that of New Zealand. It is quite legitimate and proper for representatives of the two Governments, when complaint exists between them, to consider the reason for it, to ascertain the object of the embargoes that have been imposed, and to consider, their respective positions. Australia and New Zealand are sister dominions within the Empire, desirous of living on terms of goodwill with each other. We, therefore, do not wish to see hostile action of the one against the other. That Australia exercises its quarantine power against New Zealand is not a reason why that dominion should exercise a similar power against us. Certain powers have to be exercised to obviate dangers. 1 am sure that the Government will be guided in this matter by the advice of its expert officers after they have made a thorough investigation of the position, and treat it as a quarantine matter. Prima facie, a case has been made out for the continuation of the embargo upon New Zealand potatoes, and there should be strong reason given before it is lifted. Of course, New Zealand is quite within its powers in placing an embargo upon our citrus fruits. That embargo might affect us injuriously; but, if it has been imposed in a bona fide manner, and in the belief that such action is protecting the industry in New Zealand from serious danger, we have no ground for complaint. Australia and New Zealand are both self-governing communities, and in our dealings with one another we should act on the assumption that each is working for its own good and in good faith. We all desire that better trade relations should exist between Australia and New Zealand, and it is quite proper for the representatives of the dominions to meet together to discuss proposals for overcoming any trade difficulties which may exist-

Mr Hill:

– What will happen in the meantime ?


– If, while the negotiations are taking place, the necessity arises for a further exercise of our quarantine powers, we should not hesitate to exercise them, even to the detriment of New Zealand. That is a matter of administrative duty in respect of both Australia and New Zealand. It would be utterly improper to suggest that the exercise of our quarantine power should be bound up in an agreement which ties our hands, and prevents us from taking action to defend ourselves from any danger that may arise in the future. I do not think that the Government contemplates doing anything in that direction. The deputation of potato-growers which is to wait on the Prime Minister is acting properly in putting its case to the Minister before the agreement is actually completed, because some of the suggestions put forward may be found to be valuable and of considerable assistance to the Government in coming to a decision.

East .Sydney

.- After listening to the arguments put forward by honorable members representing the producers of potatoes, it is evident to me that they have a line of reasoning which can be adapted to meet any situation. I have in mind the attitude of members of the Country party towards the importation of Fijian bananas under the Ottawa agreement. The bananagrowers opposed the importation of Fijian bananas because of the danger of introducing into this country some disease from which it was at present free. On that occasion the members of the Country party were not- much concerned about the banana-growers, because they were not in their particular electorates. But they have in their electorates producers of potatoes, and, because of that, they are to-day adopting an attitude utterly different from that which they adopted when the Ottawa agreement was under consideration. The whole of their arguments have centred round the prevention of the introduction of certain diseases into the potato-growing fields of Australia. But I suggest that the motive actuating the potato-growers and their representatives in this House, in their opposition to the lifting of the embargo on New Zealand potatoes, is the protection, not of lands from the danger of disease, but of the market for Australian potatoes. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) has clearly pointed out that the production of potatoes in Australia is beyond the local consumption, and the growers are, therefore, quite justified in endeavouring to protect their own interests. The Country party should really be called the freetrade-protectionist party, because it believes in freetrade in one direction and in protection in another.

Mr Paterson:

– We believe in protection against disease, at any rate.


– As I have already said, the members of the ‘Country party can adapt their arguments to meet any situation. Even the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse), who was so anxious to have black-grown and diseased bananas imported into Australia, is to-day greatly concerned about the need to protect the potato-growers from the introduction of disease from New Zealand. The potato-grower would spend his time much more advantageously in combating, not the pest that attacks his .crops, but the greatest pest that we have in this House - the Country party.


– The honorable member must know that his remarks are unparliamentary, and I ask him to be more careful in his choice of language.


– I was provoked into making that remark.

Mr Prowse:

– In what way was the honorable member provoked, unless he provoked himself?


– I have no objection to the representatives of the potato-growers endeavouring to protect the Australian potato market, and I shall support their efforts in that direction. But I ask the members of the Country party to be honest.

Mr Paterson:

– I take strong exception to the suggestion of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) that there is anything dishonest about the Country party, and I ask that his remark be withdrawn.


– I am sure that the honorable member for East Sydney, if he has suggested that any member of the Country party is dishonest, will withdraw his remarks.


– I did not challenge the honesty of any particular member of the House. What I say is that the real motive which actuated the Country party in supporting the Ottawa agreement does not actuate it to-day in respect of its opposition to the present proposal. The real motive of that party is to protect the Australian market for the Australian potato producers.

Mr Paterson:

– I consider that the imputation of motive is not proper, and E ask that the remark be withdrawn.


– The honorable member for East Sydney has disclaimed any desire to question the honesty or motive of any member of the House. I deprecate the action^ of honorable members in rising to frivolous points of order.


– During this debate, many honorable members have quoted what they say are potato experts, but we have not been informed in what way those gentlemen have become classified as experts. No doubt many of them have become classified as such because of being interested in the trade, and apart altogether from any desire to prevent the introduction of disease into this country, they would naturally, in their- own interests, oppose the lifting of the embargo on New Zealand potatoes. If the completion of this trade agreement meant the lowering of the price of potatoes to the benefit of the people living in the industrial areas of this country, then, even according to the argument of the Country party, we would be justified in supporting it, because that party has continually said that the cost of production must be kept as low as possible. The only commodity that the worker has to sell is his labour, and if he were able to obtain cheaper foodstuffs then, according to the argument of the Country party, we would be justified in supporting the agreement,. But the party which I represent takes a much broader view of this matter. We say to the representatives of the potato-growers that we will assist them to protect the Australian market for the Australian product, if, in return, they will give some protection to the workers in respect of the commodity that they produce and sell.


.- I have listened to this debate with great interest. Ever since the Government has been trying to negotiate a trade agreement with New Zealand the question of the embargo on potatoes has been exercising the minds of the potato-growers throughout Australia. We must all agree that the Government should do its utmost to develop trade. The whole of the nations of the world are to-day endeavouring to develop their trade by entering into trade agreements, and in that particular this Government is only following the example set by other countries. A large body of our primary producers are advocating the extension of our trade with Eastern countries. But it is more important that ‘we should develop our trade within the Empire. Any agreement that we come to with New Zealand will be merely an extension of the Ottawa agreement. The potato industry deserves all the protection that this Parliament can give to it. Few industries are so readily available as is the potato-growing industry to the man who wants’ to settle on the land, and what this country needs more than anything else are men willing to settle on the land. In Tasmania, the pioneers in this industry went into the forests, cleared the timber from two or three acres of land, and planted potatoes. That State has some excellent land for the growing of this product. In what way is it possible for a man to develop country more effectively and with greater assurance than by the growing of potatoes upon it? The man who grows potatoes must occupy a relatively small area, and so encourage closer settlement. He is assured of food, and so is living in some degree of certainty. This industry, therefore, is deserving of the greatest encouragement that the Commonwealth and State Governments can give it. Very often the most elevated and most heavily timbered land is the best potato land. . A man who has a few acres of good potato land and a cow, can live. Of course, a rabbit or two is also helpful.

Honorable members who are particularly interested in this industry have had several interviews with the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), and in his absence, with the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) on this subject, and they have been given definite assurances that no trade agreement will be entered into with New Zealand until it is brought before Parliament. No honorable member of this House is better acquainted with the potato industry than the Prime Minister, and I do not believe that that right honorable gentleman would do anything to injure this industry.

When we turn to the subject of quarantine and health regulations, as between the States, we open up a big field for debate. If, for instance, an agreement were entered into with New Zealand which permitted New Zealand potatoes to enter Australia, we should find that that dominion would have a definite preference over Tasmania, because Tasmanian potatoes are prohibited from entry into Victoria. Tasmanian potatoes may be marketed in all the States except Victoria. That is an extraordinary position. In these circumstances, there is, undoubtedly, room for a re-organization of the health departments of the various States with the object of achieving a greater degree of co-ordination and uniformity. So long as our quarantine and health regulations even appear to restrict trade as between one State and another, interstate irritations will result. The present position in this respect should not be allowed to continue. We should have one law governing the whole Commonwealth. ‘

In conclusion, I again urge that the greatest possible encouragement be given to the potato industry, because of its value as an agency for closer settlement.


.- According to the statement of the Attorney-General this afternoon, the State Governments can prevent New Zealand potatoes from landing within their borders; but if once potatoes are landed in Australia, the States cannot prohibit the sale of them. I do not know whether the Government intends to agree to the entry of New Zealand potatoes into Australia, but if it does so, Tasmania will certainly be at a disadvantage. In the event of such an agreement being made, the Tasmanian people will have every justification for requesting the lifting of the embargo upon the entry of Tasmanian potatoes into Victoria. Tasmanian potatoes are allowed entry into every State, except Victoria. If an agreement is made between the Commonwealth Government and the New Zealand Government, which permits New Zealand potatoes to enter Australia, the sister dominion will have preference over one of our own States.

Motion (by Mr. James) put -

That the question be now put.

The House divided. (Mk. Speaker - Hon. G. H. M :KAY.’


NOES: 51

Majority 45



Question so resolved in the negative.


.- The discussion this afternoon appears to be the result of an agitation on the part of the potato-growers of Victoria and Tasmania, whose main concern, I think, is to preserve to themselves the exclusive right to the Sydney market. The agitation has been buttressed by a great deal of exaggeration. It is said, for example, that corky scab is so devastating that, if it were allowed to be introduced, it would destroy the potato-growing industry in Australia. It is also declared that no part of New Zealand is free from it. If it be true that the disease is so devastating, how is it that New Zealand growers are able to export to Australia? It is plain that the disease is not nearly so serious as has been stated. The solution of the difficulty has been suggested by the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), who has advised that the Commonwealth Government may permit potatoes to be landed on the wharfs, and that State governments may be empowered to prevent any movements of such importations within a State. If that course were followed, the Government of Victoria could, by means of regulations, exclude potatoes from Victoria, but not from New South Wales or Queensland, which, I suggest, was the principal object for which the agitation was started.


.- Representations with reference to the probable action of the Government have been made this afternoon by representatives of all parties in this House. I wish to direct attention to the serious economic position of our citrus growers. Satisfactory trade agreements with respect to specific industries are difficult to make, because of their effect on other industries ; but I am not going to suggest that efforts should not be made to secure an agreement that will be beneficial for the whole of the Commonwealth. I merely ask now that the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) be not unmindful of the serious position in which our citrus-growers find themselves. About 1,000,000 new citrus trees have been planted in recent years, and the growers are finding it exceedingly difficult to market their product at a profit. I hope that the Prime Minister will give the citrus growers an opportunity, through their organization, to present their case as it is affectedby this trade agreement.

New England

– I represent what is probably the best potato-growing district in Australia

Debate interrupted under Standing Order 257b.

page 1129


Mr. GUY laid on the table the report and recommendation of the Tariff Board relating to plain, clear sheet glass.

page 1129


The following papers were presented : -

Commonwealth Bank Act - Treasurer’s Statement of combined accounts of Commonwealth Bank and Commonwealth Savings Bank, together with certificate of the Auditor-General, as at 31st December, 1932.

Export Guarantee Act -Return showing assistance granted to 31st March, 1933.

Judiciary Act - Rule of Court - . Dated 18th April,1933.

New Guinea Act - Ordinances of 1933 -

No.5 - Extradition.

No.6 - Birds and Animals Protection.

No. 7 - Motor Traffic.

No. 8 - Immigration.

No. 9 - Post and Telegraph.

No. 10 - Miners’ Homestead Leases.

No.11 - Mining (No. 2).

No. 12 - Explosives.

No. 13- Land.

Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Ordinance of 1933 - No. 7 - Juries.

page 1129


Second Reading

AttorneyGeneral · Kooyong · UAP

.- It would, I think, be convenient to honorable members if this and the Royal Commissions Bill were debated as if they were one measure, though, of course, there must be separate motions for their second-reading and other stages.

Mr SPEAKER (Hon G H Mackay:

– There are precedents for allowing cognate bills, which have been set down for consideration, to be discussed simultaneously, and, unless objection is taken, I will allow that course to be followed in the present instance.


– I move-

That the bill be now read a second time.

As honorable members are aware, it was decided by the Government to institute an inquiry into the prices of petrol and other products of mineral oil, and, because of the importance of the subject, and also because of its relation to vital aspects of Commonwealth legislation and policy, the announcement that there was to be such an inquiry was received with satisfaction by this Parliament and by the people generally.

On the present occasion I do not propose to examine or deal with the distribution and sale of oil in Australia. This bill, and the Royal Commissions Bill which is to follow, relates, not to that subject, but to the method of conducting the inquiry, and I suggest that this debate should be a discussion of the law relating to royal commissions, and the proposals for amending it, and not regarded as a discussion of the subjects to be investigated by the commission which has been set up. I certainly do not intend to prejudge any question which will be submitted to the commission. A royal commission was appointed under the Royal Commissions Act 1902-1912, section 2 of which provides -

Whenever the Governor-General by letters patent under the Great Seal of the Commonwealth issues a commission to any persons to make any inquiry, the president or chairman of the commission, or the sole commissioner, as the case may be, may by writing under his hand summon any person to attend the commission at a time and place named in the summons, and then and there to give evidence and to produce any books, documents, or writings in his custody or control which he is required by the summons to produce.

The commissioners are Mr. Lamb, K.C., the Honorable John Gunn, the Director of Development, and Mr. A. J. Hancock, accountant. They have been commissioned to make certain inquiries into matters associated with the trading in petrol and other oils. The commission met, and subpoenas we’re issued to witnesses. Two of these witnesses, officers of companies, declined, when under examination, to produce books and documents admittedly in their possession, and also to answer certain questions relevant to the inquiry.

The Royal Commissions Act, as one would expect from its title, gives to persons appointed under it powers of inquiry, with the auxiliary powers necessary to ensure the attendance of witnesses, and to compel them to answer questions. The provisions of the act have often been applied. “Within recent months two royal commissions have been appointed under ,t, one to deal with the standardization of taxation and the other with performing rights.

The appointment of a royal commission is an ordinary procedure, which is convenient for the purpose of obtaining information upon which either the Government or Parliament may act, if action be considered necessary. But the legislative powers of the Commonwealth Parliament are limited by the Constitution. Some years ago the question arose whether this Parliament had power to legislate to compel persons summoned before a royal commission to answer questions upon subjects in relation to which this Parliament had no direct power of legislation. It is not easy to determine the limitation of the Commonwealth’s power of inquiry by royal commission into subjects incidental to the exercise of its powers of legislation. This Parliament has power to legislate in regard to certain specific matters set out in the Constitution, and, . further, the Constitution may be amended. Therefore, if the Parliament is entitled to authorize inquiries into subjects which possibly may be dealt; with upon an amendment of the Constitution, there would be no limit to its authority to provide, by legislation, for the making of such inquiries by a royal ‘commission. But the question has arisen whether the Parliament has power, under a general act, to authorize an inquiry, either into subjects directly .or obviously within its constitutional legislative power, or into subjects which are not within that power, but might be brought within it by an amendment of the Constitution. The Royal Commissions Act, which is sought to be amended by the bill whose second reading I intend to move later, is a general act purporting to authorize inquiries by commissions appointed by the Governor-General into any subject whatever. That act does not mention any limitation of the federal power.

In 1911 a royal commission was appointed to inquire into the sugar industry. While the inquiry of the commission was in progress, proceedings were instituted in the High Court for the purpose of restraining the commission from asking certain questions. Accordingly, the validity of the act came before the High Court for consideration, in the. case of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company against the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth, recorded in the Commonwealth Law Reports, volume 15, page 182. The case was heard by four judges of the High Court, and it was held by all the judges that power to enact a law compelling persons to give evidence on matters as to which the Executive Government of the Commonwealth thinks it desirable to collect information to be made use of in exercising any existing power of the Commonwealth Parliament, is incidental to the execution of that power within the meaning of section 51 of the Constitution. All four judges held that, in relation to subjects assigned to this Parliament, the Parliament was able to legislate in this general form so as to authorize inquiries to be made, and compel answers to be given to questions relevant to such subjects. Two of the four judges also held that the power extended to compel persons to give evidence on matters information as to which was relevant only to a possible amendment of the Constitution. There was, therefore, a difference of opinion among the members of the High Court, and the opinion of the Chief Justice and

Sir Edmund Barton, prevailed on this point. The result of the court’s decision, therefore, was that there existed power under this general act to compel answers to questions aflecting matters which are within the legislative power of the Commonwealth, but not as to other matters.

An application was made for a certificate under section 74 of the Constitution, because this was a matter which, it was thought, affected the constitutional limits of the Commonwealth and States, inter se. A certificate for appeal to the Privy Council was granted in this form -

Pursuant to section 74 of the Constitution this court doth certify that, so far as the question whether the Parliament of the Commonwealth has power to make laws for the compulsory examination of witnesses by royal commissions touching matters which are not within the ambit of the existing legislative powers of the Commonwealth, that is to say, such powers as may nowbe exercised without an amendment of the Constitution under the provisions of section 123, is a question as to the limits inter se of the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth and those of any State or States, the question is one which ought to be determined by His Majesty in Council.

Honorable members will perceive that the point with respect to which the certificate given by the High Court invited decision by the Privy Council was: Did the Royal Commissions Act authorize inquiry regarding matters not within the existing legislative power of the Commonwealth ?

Mr Beasley:

– But this bill does not affect that,


– The necessity for this bill arises out of this decision. The case went to the Privy Council, which gave a general decision on the whole act, not on the. point which was referred to it by the certificate.

Mr Scullin:

– And the only point that was so referred.


– What I have read was, admittedly, the point referred. It is difficult to say whether there was not a right of appeal on the other points apart from the certificate. The Privy Council did not confine itself to that point, however, and made little reference to it, hut held that the act itself was invalid. Although the Privy Council declared the whole act to be invalid, a distinction was drawn by it between the general act and other possible acts which the Parliament might pass, and it is to strengthen our hands, and put upon a more secure basis the powers of the royal commission on oil, that this bill is introduced in accordance with the terms of the Privy Council’s judgment. The judgment stated -

It is of course true that under the section the Commonwealth Parliament may legislate about certain forms of trade, about bounties and statistics, and trading corporations. Such legislation might possibly take the shape of statutes requiring and compelling the giving of information about these subjects specifically. But this is not what the Royal Commissions Acts purport to do.

The bill now before the House purports to do that. Its object is to pass a statute requiring and compelling the giving of information on specific subjects. On the following page of the judgment it is stated -

A royal commissionhas not, by the laws of England . . .

This refers to the common law, which is also applicable here. The judgment continues - any title to compel answers from witnesses, and such a title is therefore not incidental to the execution of its powers under the common law. And until the Commonwealth Parliament has entrusted a royal commission with the statutory duty to inquire intoa specific subject legislation as to which has been by the Federal Constitution of Australia assigned to the Commonwealth Parliament, that Parliament cannot confer such powers as the acts in question contain on the footing that they are incidental to inquiries which it may some day direct.

It is there indicated that if a specific act is passed authorizing an inquiry into a specific subject within the legislative power of the Federal Parliament, such an act would be within the terms of the Constitution.

When the Government was faced with this refusal to answer questions, it had thesealternatives before it : It could either have re-litigated the questions previously litigated in 1913 and 1914, or it could introduce legislation of the kind now before the House.It wouldbepossibletotaketheviewthat, havingregardtothespecialcircumstancessurroundingthePrivyCouncil's decision,thatdecisionwasnotbindingon theHighCourt.However,theGovernmentthoughtitdesirabletoavoid,if possible,boththedelayandtheexpense involvedinsuchprocedure,andhastaken thecourseofintroducingaspecificbill dealing with this particular inquiry. I add to the considerations of avoiding delay and expense, this observation : There is something to be said for obtaining parliamentary, rather than merely executive or governmental, authority for an inquiry of an important nature, when matters involving acute controversy come into question. If these bills are passed, there will be the authority of the Parliament, and not merely the desire of the Government of the day, behind the inquiry. When the commission met, **Mr. Lamb,** the chairman, put certain questions, to which the representatives of certain of the parties raised objections. **Mr. Menzies,** K.C., appeared for the Shell Oil Company, and said - >The attitude of the Shell Company is that while it has every desire to assist the Government and to assist this commission in investigating the particular difficulties and problems of the petrol trade in Australia, it does not desire either to have made public, or put in a position in which it may ultimately be made public, its private business affairs. The commissioners will appreciate that that statement is made in no merely contrary spirit, when I say that there are at least 28 petrol companies operating in Australia, a great number in a competitive way, and the exposure of the ordinary business details of any company to the scrutiny of its competitors possibly will have disastrous results on its business. There followed some discussion on this question of disclosing information which trade competitors are always only more than willing to obtain if they can. Later, **Mr. Menzies** stated - >The point I wish to get at is that my company does not desire to take up the attitude of saying through its witnesses in the witness box: "We are going to determine what is relevant and what is not relevant, and we are proposing to give the commission just what it pleases us to give." We think that would be a position which would fall short of proper respect to this commission and its letters patent under which it is operating. It is more satisfactory in our view to take up the clear, definite position that the company objects to whatitregards,havingregardtothenature oftheinquiry,andthetermsofthesubpna asaninquisitionintotheprivatebusiness affairsofthecompanyanditthereforeproposes tostandonwhatitisadvisedisthestrict legalposition,namely,thattheRoyalCommissionsActoftheCommonwealthisinvalid, andthattheredoesnotexistanyauthority whichcancompelittoproducedocumentsor togiveevidence. The Vacuum Oil Company, through its managing director, prepared a statement which was formally placed before the commission by **Mr. Ham,** K.C., on behalf of the company. That statement contained the following remarks : - >The Vacuum Oil Company Proprietary Limited and I, as its managing director, have been advised that, in view of the decision of the Privy Council and the act under which this commission has been appointed is *ultra vires* and void, the company is not legally compellable to produce any documents or answer any questions. > >The company, in common with all business concerns, is disinclined unnecessarily to expose the details of its business to its competitors, and to have the time and attention of its principal officers occupied in investigations which are no part of its business. In view, however, of the unfair criticisms that have been levelled at us and other oil companies in Australia, it does not desire to shelter behind its legal right to refuse to answer inquiries. It can show by sworn testimony supported by documentary evidence that its critics are either uninformed or misinformed in their suggestions, and it prefers to assist the commission in order to refute these misapprehensions rather than withhold from it the necessary and relevant material. The terras of the commission, referring to the industry in Australia, appear to be directed to an investigation as to landed costs, selling prices, capitalemployed in, and profits derived in its Australian operations, customs duties, and income taxation and incidental matters. My company is prepared to give evidence and disclose the relevant accounts and invoices and vouchers showing the actual landed cost in Australia, the selling prices, the capital employed in and the profits derived from its Australian operations, and to demonstrate that it has paid all duties and income tax chargeable upon these profits. It can show that the profits have been reasonable, and that its contributions to the revenue of the Commonwealth in duty and taxation have been enormous. Then **Mr. Ham** proceeded to say that matters relating to ex-Australian business are irrelevant for the purposes of this inquiry. He was prepared to produce many documents, and he added, referring to the company which he was representing - >There are many matters in respect of which it is willing to give full information to the commission which it would wish not to be made available to its competitors, if any means for safeguarding this can be devised. He further stated - >The company has been advised that it is not legally compelled to produce any documents or to answer any questions, but it does not desire to withhold any information. It desires to place information in the hands of the commission to enable the commission to investigate and properly to report on the matters which it has conceived are the sole matters which the commission is called together to inquire into. But that does not mean that the company waives and abandons its constitutional right to refuse to answer certain questions, and to refuse to produce certain documents. Therefore, when a witness is asked as regards particular documents, some, he will tell the commission, are not in existence and never have been. As to others, he will freely produce them, and he will volunteer to produce others which are not called for, but which will be necessary and proper for the investigation of the actual landed costs, the actual profit made, and the actual determination of what taxation duty has been paid. If the commission requires witnesses to produce all documents, and to answer any questions, the position will be that the witnesses will be bound to take advantage of the legal position as the Privy Council has declared the law, that they are not compelled to answer and they will respectfully decline to answer in regard to those matters. A good deal of discussion occurred as to the precise significance of that statement. {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr Beasley: -- What did our own company - the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited - say? {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr LATHAM: -- I did not read its statement, but I do not think that it objected in this way. {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr Beasley: -- Yes, it did. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr LATHAM: -- I have little doubt that the company to which the honorable member has alluded in such friendly terms as " our company " will also not be anxious, in the interests of the Commonwealth and of the people, to disclose all its business affairs to its competitors. Any business man would adopt a similar attitude in regard to such matters. I have read enough to show that the objection is taken that, on account of the decision of the Privy Council, the Royal Commissions Acts are invalid. We could fight that decision again. There is nothing that I, personally, would enjoy better. It seemed to the Government, however, that rather than enter upon litigation of that kind, it was better to adopt the simpler method of strengthening the position of the commission, and, therefore, we are following the course which was adopted in 1914, after this decision was given. On that occasion, it was decided to have an inquiry made into the meat export trade, and the Parliament was asked to authorize the appointment of a commission. This bill is drawn on the basis of Act No. 1 of 1914. We thought that it was the wisest course to follow that line. The petrol commission was drafted with a full knowledge of these decisions and the legal problems to which I have referred, and an effort has been made to associate the inquiry, which it is desired to make, with Commonwealth powers. I have here a copy of the commission, which recites first that the Parliament of the Commonwealth has power to make laws "with respect to matters specified therein, including taxation, trade and commerce, with other countries and among the States, and foreign corporations, and trading or financial corporations formed within the limits of the Commonwealth ". The next recital is in the following terms: - >And whereas it is expedient that information he obtained for the guidance of the Government of our said Commonwealth in considering whether any proposals should be made, and of the Parliament of our Commonwealth in determining whether any proposals should be adopted, for the amendment of laws relating to or affecting, or for the making of further laws relating to or affecting, the importation, refining, treatment, distribution and sale of mineral oils, and petrol and other products of mineral oils. Honorable members will see that these subjects are associated with the lawmaking power of the Commonwealth, and, accordingly, the commissioners have been appointed - >To make inquiry and report (with respect to such period or periods as you think fit) into and upon the following matters in relation to the operations of the importation into Australia, and the refining, treatment, distribution and sale in Australia, of mineral oils, and petrol and other products of mineral oils: - > >landed cost, including the items constituting such cost: > >wholesale and retail selling prices; > >capital employed in, expenditure and losses incurred in, and income and profits derived from, such operations; > >customs and excise duties, and federal income taxation; and > >matters incidental to any of the before-mentioned matters in relation to such operations : It is not the desire of the Government to inquire into matters with which it has no concern; but, having regard to the responsibility of this Parliament, and of the Government, in connexion with the Parliament and in connexion with general administration in relation to the taxation of oil concerns - to employ a general phrase - not only by way of income tax, but also by way of customs duty, and, since oil refining has been commenced in Australia, by way of excise, it appeai'3 to the Government to be quite proper to inquire into all the matters to which reference has been made. It is hoped that the effect of the Petrol Commission Bill will be to make it possible for the commission to prosecute the inquiries to which I have referred. Honorable members will see that the first measure provides that a commission which has been appointed to inquire into these matters shall have all the powers, rights and privileges which are specified in the Royal Commissions Act 1902-1933- because we are now proposing to amend the principal act - and the provisions contained in that act shall have effect as though they were included in this measure, and the terms made applicable to the present commission. So the object is to make specific legislation conferring all these powers upon the commission. We have taken the opportunity to provide that two members of the commission shall be sufficient to form a quorum for the purpose of taking evidence. The second bill, which provides for the amendment of the general act to which I have referred - the Royal Commissions Act - deals with certain matters of procedure before the commission, and it refers to three subjects as to which it is thought that improvement is desirable - disclosure of profits and the like, powers regarding the examination of documents, and powers regarding the examination of witnesses. I shall first deal with the disclosure of the profits and the financial position of any person. It will have been seen that the objection raised by both the companies to which I have referred, apart altogether from reference to the validity of the legislation, is an objection to disclose information in public which may be of value to trade competitors. Anybody who has had actual experience in business knows the serious nature of the results which might well follow from such a disclosure. There is nothing that an active business man would like better than to be allowed to have the free run of a competitor's office, to find out the terms upon which he deals, the manner in which he obtains his goods, or arranges for rendering the services which constitute his business, the terms of sale to small and large customers, and to what extent there is a chance of under-cutting. The Government has considered this matter, and, of course, recognizes that it is for the commission itself to determine whether it will hear any particular evidence in public or in private. There is no legal requirement that the evidence must be taken in public; on that point I wish the House to understand the position plainly. A clause in the bill provides that in a certain case the commission " may " - that is to say, it has the discretion - hear evidence in private, if it thinks proper. I do not wish honorable members to imagine that, if this clause is not passed the commission cannot hear evidence in private. This particular clause is inserted for the purpose of indicating the view of Parliament - if it be the view of Parliament, after the debate on the measure - that, in certain circumstances, it is fair that evidence should be taken in private. I can refer only generally to the clause at this stage. If any honorable member wishes to raise questions upon it, the discussion will be more proper during the committee stage of the bill. The clause deal3 with the ease of a witness requesting that evidence be taken in private on the ground that it relates to the profits or financial position of any person, and that the taking of the evidence in public would be unfairly prejudicial to the interests of that person. In those circumstances the commission may take the evidence in private. That is the whole effect of this proposed legislation. Of course, there are other auxiliary and ancillary clauses. {: .speaker-K9A} ##### Mr Gander: -- If a witness refused to give evidence in private, is there power to compel him to do so? {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr LATHAM: -- The same power us to compel him to give evidence in public. The other bill is directed to this matter. The view of the Government is that, if the commission gets the evidence - and there is nothing in this legislation that limits it in obtaining evidence - and if the commission is one upon which we may rely, no good purpose is served by, perhaps, irremediably damaging the business interests of those concerned, and the Government certainly would not accept the proposition that all the evidence must, as a matter of course, be heard in public. It is hoped, also, that this reasonable concession may help to modify the attitude of those concerned, because, after all, this is one of the main points to which they objected, and in this bill, I submit, the objection is met in a fair manner. {: .speaker-L08} ##### Mr Rosevear: -- Even though that objection is met, they could still object to answer questions. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr LATHAM: -- Yes; but that will be much more difficult after the other bill has been passed. Clause 3 deals with a matter that may appear to be one of detail, but is of importance in practice. It amends section 6f of the principal act, which provides that a royal commission may inspect any document, books or writings, produced before it, and retain them for a reasonable period, and may make copies of them or take extracts from them. That power is given only to the commission. It appeared to the Government that such a limitation was unreasonable. Some books must be inspected by the accountant rather than by a lawyer member of the commission. The amendment will entitle not only the commission as a whole, but also a commissioner, or a person thereto authorized in writing by the chairman of the commission, or by the sole commissioner, if one person constitutes the commission, to make the inspection. Under the act as it stands, a witness is bound to answer only such questions as are put to him by the commission. I remember that, on one famous occasion, the point was taken that the commission had to put every question ; therefore, barristers and other persons who represented the interests which appeared before the commission were unable to interrogate any witness directly. Honorable members, whether they have or have not had experience in the courts, will know that a cross-examination which was mediated through a commission would be the most hopeless imaginable. The object of clause 4 is simply to enable the ordinary procedure to be followed; that is, to allow barristers, solicitors, or other persons authorized by the commission to appear before it, to put questions to witnesses in the ordinary way upon relevant matters. Those who appear before the commission may examine or cross-examine witnesses only to the extent that the commission thinks proper. {: #subdebate-12-0-s2 .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN:
Yarra .- The Attorney-General **(Mr. Latham)** has, I think, adopted the right attitude, in saying that the subject-matters of the petrol inquiry do not come under discussion; that those matters are more or less *sub judice;* and that, in any case, if this Parliament decides that there shall be an inquiry, we can leave it to the investigating body to deal with the merits or the demerits of the subject under review. This legislation has been found necessary because of the refusal of witnesses who have appeared before the commission to answer questions which were put to them. {: .speaker-KLM} ##### Dr Maloney: -- Gaol them. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- If this Parliament passes legislation giving full authority to an inquiry, I believe that they could he gaoled if they refused to answer questions. Whatever honorable members may have thought about the necessity for an inquiry - and I may say that my Government made preliminary investigations to ascertain whether there was a prima facie case for a royal commission - the one thing that we in this House cannot tolerate, is defiance of the authority of this Parliament. The Government represents the Parliament, and if it institutes an investigation in the interests of Australia, full authority must be conferred to have every question answered. Consequently, I support the proposal to tighten up the law for that purpose. I, however, raise the question whether this proposed amendment of the law will meet the whole of the requirements. I do that with a certain degree of diffidence, because it is a highly technical, legal subject, and being a layman, I do not pretend to be able to discuss it with the freedom and the confidence of lawyers. The bill for an act to amend the Royal Commissions Act 1902-1912, is for the specific purpose of inquiring into the operations of the importation, sale, &c, of petrol and other oil products in Australia. The Attorney-General **(Mr. Latham)** pointed out that the object is to meet a decision of the Privy Council. I ask, is this sufficient for that purpose? There remains the constitutional aspect. While ihe Constitution may not he amended by act of Parliament, I suggest that' there is a way in which that may be overcome. When the High Court was appealed to in the case of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, there was an equal division of opinion among the four judges, and on the casting vote of the Chief Justice it was decided that the power of the Commonwealth Parliament had been exceeded. It was held that that power did not extend to an inquiry into the internal or the domestic management of a company created under State law. The court agreed, however, that because of the equal division of opinion, the subject was one which should be referred to the Privy Council; and a certificate was issued. It is strange, however, that the Privy Council gave no decision on that very important question; it is still undecided, and undoubtedly will be raised, because it is the most important of all the points that were raised by the representatives of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr Beasley: -- The Privy Council did not decide what was referred to it. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- It gave no decision on the specific reference; but it declared the act to be invalid, on other grounds, to which I shall refer. The point really decided was stated in the judgment of the Privy Council in these terms - That until the Commonwealth Parliament had entrusted a royal commission with the statutory duty of inquiring into a specific subject, legislation as to which had, by the Federal Constitution of Australia, been assigned to the Commonwealth Parliament, that Parliament could not confer such powers as the act in question contained, on the ground that they were incidental to inquiries that it might some day direct. That decision also implies that any such action must be in accordance with the powers conferred on the Commonwealth under the Constitution. The point specifically decided, however, was that there was no act of Parliament which gave authority to inquire into sugar. That is the objection which this bill purports to meet, the idea being to have passed by this Parliament legislation dealing specifically with an inquiry into petrol and other oil products. The decision of the Privy Council was a declaration that the Royal Commission Acts of 1902 and 1912 were *ultra vires* of the Commonwealth Parliament; that is to say, that the Commonwealth Parliament could not pass a general law, that it must deal with a specific subject. Two judges of the High Court held that it was within the power of the Commonwealth Parliament to have an inquiry into any matter that might be the subject of future legislation, or that might even be the subject of an amendment of the Constitution. On the casting vote of the Chief Justice, however, the decision was that that was not so. The Privy Council held that there could not be a royal commission with a general power of investigation ; that the specific subject had to be stipulated. It was held that, although the Commonwealth Parliament might legislate concerning certain forms of trade, and in relation to bounties, statistics, and trading corporations, such legislation might compel the giving of information specifically in regard to those subjects; that is to say, that although the Commonwealth had constitutional power over the question of bounties, trading, statistics, and so on, which could be held to cover an investigation, there had to be a law specifically authorizing an inquiry into those subjects. I believe that the bill now before us meets that objection. There is one point, however, upon which I should like the Attorney-General to enlighten honorable members. I am not clear on it, and I have not obtained legal advice concerning it. My reading of the Privy Council's decision is that it declared invalid only a part of the Royal Commission Act- {: .speaker-KFK} ##### Sir Littleton Groom: -- The decision reads, " These acts are *ultra vires,* and are void ". {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- All the compulsory powers were held to be *ultra vires.* {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- So- far as they purport to enable a royal commission to compel answers generally to questions. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- Or to order the production of documents, or otherwise to enforce compliance by the members of the public, with its requisition - which means that a royal commission could sit as a voluntary tribunal, without any compulsive powers. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- I should think that the stress would be on the words " answers generally ". That, however, is not so much the question about which I am concerned. If the Royal Commissions Act has been declared invalid, will it not be necessary for this Parliament to pass a complete Royal Commissions Act containing the specific references? *Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.* {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- As I pointed out before the dinner adjournment, in the Colonial Sugar Refining Company's case, the High Court held that the Commonwealth Royal Commissions Act was valid, but it also held that the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament did not extend to an inquiry dealing with the internal management or domestic affairs of a company created under the law of a State. When the matter went to the Privy Council, that body simply declared that the act was invalid, and gave no judgment on the constitutional aspect. Our purpose is to ensure that the will of Parliament shall prevail and, if possible, that no legal loopholes shall be left in our law. In that respect there are two aspects I should like to place before t he Attorney-General. If, as declared by the Privy Council, our Royal Commissions Act is invalid, it must be amended to make it valid. But there is no proposal in the bills before us to make the Royal Commissions Act valid in the direction referred to by the Privy Council. {: .speaker-DQC} ##### Mr Hughes: -- Did the Privy Council declare the act to be wholly invalid? {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- The AttorneyGeneral said that the Privy Council had declared the act to be invalid, but my reading of the judgment was that it had only declared certain parts of the act to be invalid. Those parts, however, are vital, for they give power to a commission to compel answers to questions. The Privy Council declared the act to be invalid did not refer to a specific subject. Now, instead of amending the Royal Commissions Act, or of introducing a special Royal Commissions Act to cover an inquiry into petrol and oil products, the Government has introduced a bill for a specific act for an inquiry into the petrol industry. Nothing in the Petrol Commission Bill provides machinery prescribing penalties for witnesses who refuse to answer questions at the inquiry, nor does the measure specify privileges for those who give evidence. Those points the Government seeks to cover by inserting in the Petrol Commission Bill a reference to the Royal Commissions Act to the effect that the commission - shall have all the powers, rights and privileges which are specified in theRoyal Commissions Act 1902-33, as appertaining to a royal commission. If, however, the Royal Commissions Act itself is invalid, what is the worth of the powers, rights and privileges specified therein ? Presumably, the Government accepts the decision of the Privy Council ; otherwise it would not be introducing this legislation. I am not trying to dogmatize, for the matter presents many difficulties to me, but I ask : Does this special bill, designed to cover an inquiry into petrol, make the Royal Commissions Act valid? With all humility I suggest that it does not. I suggest that there should be a royal commission bill covering an inquiry into the petrol industry, and embodying the existing machinery, with the addition of the special provisions contained in the Petrol Commission Bill. The Privy Council has ruled that this Parliament has no power to pass a royal commission act for a general investigation ; that it can pass such a law only to inquire into a specific subject. {: .speaker-DQC} ##### Mr Hughes: -- Surely this is a specific subject. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- But this bill, which is for an act to inquire into the petrol industry, embodies no machinery for the inquiry beyond saying that the commission will have all the powers, rights and privileges which are specified in an act which has been declared by the Privy Council to be invalid. {: .speaker-DQC} ##### Mr Hughes: -- I think it was declared invalid only because it did not refer to a specific matter. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- Even now the Royal Commissions Act does not refer to any specific matter. It is left to another measure to do so. The Attorney-General referred to the Meat Trade Export Commission Act of 1914. That was drafted in almost identical terms to those in the Petrol Commission Bill. It may be argued that that measure has stood the test of time. My answer is that it has not been challenged. It was assented to in June, 1914, and war was declared on the 4th August following. Presumably, anything was valid in wartime, for constitutional points were not so important when the War Precautions Act was in operation. The constitutional aspect of this matter is a serious one. So far as I can judge, the appeal that was made in the Colonial Sugar Refining Company's case came under two headings - {: type="1" start="1"} 0. That the Royal Commissions Act was *ultra vires* the Commonwealth Parliament. and alternatively - 1. That the company was not hound to answer questions which related to a subjectmatter over which the Commonwealth Parliament had no power to legislate. The Commonwealth Parliament has no power to legislate upon intra-state trade. The domestic affairs of the oil companies would constitute intra-state trade and would, thus, be beyond the powers of this Parliament; therefore, the claim was made that the company was not bound to answer any questions relating thereto. The Privy Council, however, was silent on that point, having already declared the act invalid on the first count. Presumably, if an appeal is lodged in the present case, it will not go beyond the High Court, and if that body takes the same view as it did in the Colonial Sugar Refining Company's case it will hold that the Commonwealth Government does not possess power to make inquiries into the affairs of domestic management of a company created under the laws of a State. {: .speaker-DQC} ##### Mr Hughes: -- Is it not the intention of the Attorney-General to guard against that, by asking the Victorian Government to co-operate with the Commonwealth Government in this inquiry? {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- That is what I was about to ask the Attorney-General, for he did not enlighten the House in that regard. I venture the opinion that if the State Government is not asked to co-operate with this Government, we shall be involved in costly litigation, and the whole affair will probably end in a fiasco. There must either be an amend ment of the Constitution to give the Commonwealth the necessary powers, or we must seek the co-operation of the State powers. I should like to hear the AttorneyGeneral upon clause 2 of the amending bill which provides that a witness may make a request that his evidence shall be taken in private - on the ground that the evidence relates to the profits or financial position of any person, and that the taking of the evidence in public would be unfairly prejudicial to the interests of that person . . . Section 6 d of the principal act reads - >Nothing in this act shall make it compulsory for any witness before a royal commission to disclose to the commission any secret process of manufacture. Honorable members will agree that that is a necessary provision. Witnesses should not be called upon to reveal to competing companies private information that would give competitors an advantage; but this proposal goes beyond that, for it says that witnesses may request that their evidence shall be taken in private on the ground that it relates to " the profits or financial position of any person." The profits of any company relate to the profits of some person who is connected with the company, and they certainly must relate to the financial position of some individual members connected with that company. If that is a correct interpretation, witnesses may request that any evidence relating to the profits of an oil company shall be taken in private. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- That is to be taken concurrently with the other element, that the evidence would be " unfairly prejudicial to the interests of that person." {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- The bill goes further and provides that if the publication of any evidence would unfairly prejudice the interests of any person, it shall be heard in private. The clause would better express the desires of Parliament if it were drafted in more general terms. For instance, it could provide that if, in the judgment of the commission, certain evidence would unfairly prejudice any person or company, the commission in its judgment could hear that evidence in private. But when profits are specified in the act itself in this respect, an indication is given to the commission that profits are one of the things that must not be disclosed. Of course, it may be said that their publication would unfairly prejudice the person. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- Under this legislation profits will be disclosed to the commission, but not in public. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- The value of the inquiry may be considerably weakened if there is merely to be a secret investigation into the profits made by the oil companies of Australia. {: .speaker-L08} ##### Mr Rosevear: -- Howwould the commission promulgate its findings on those points if it heard no evidence in public? {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- It would have to give its findings without disclosing the facts on which they were based. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- It would probably put them in an aggregate sort of form, which could easily be done. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- I would prefer to leave the commission with the discretionary power it already possesses. {: .speaker-DQC} ##### Mr Hughes: -- In that case, in the event of an appeal to the High Court that body would fall back on the assumption that the commission had exercised its discretion, and the commission, not the High Court, would decide the matter. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- At present the commission has discretionary power to hear any evidence in private. No good purpose can be served by the words of this clause when the commission already possesses a discretionary power, and accepts the responsibility for its action without our giving it a lead by providing that, should the matter relate to the profits of a person, the inquiry should, in our opinion, be held in private. I do not agree with that. When the Attorney-General **(Mr. Latham)** was asked the reason for this discretionary power being given to the commission when that power already existed, he said, " I am coming to that ". But he did not come to it. I take it that what he really was coming to was the subject of penalties. As I understand it, the original act does not provide for any penalties for disclosing certain information. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- There are none. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- Then that would be a legitimate amendment to make. Any evidence taken *in camera* at the discretion of the commission should not be revealed by any one, in which case there should be a provision for penalties. I see no reason either to take from the discretion of the commission, or to give to it any lead as to the things in which it should use its discretion. If we are content to rely on the commission doingthe right thing, we should be willing to allow it to exercise its discretion in all matters without excluding such things as profits, which will probably be one of the most important subjects to be investigated. After all, the public has to be satisfied; and I cannot see how the public can be satisfied that it is not being called upon to pay exorbitant prices for petrol unless it knows the profits of the oil companies. {: .speaker-L08} ##### Mr Rosevear: -- Under this provision the commission could not disclose those profits in its findings. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- It could probably disclose the total profits of all the companies. {: .speaker-DQC} ##### Mr Hughes: -- Without the cooperation of a State an inquiry into profits would be useless. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- I agree with the right honorable gentleman ; but on that point the Attorney-General was silent, although I expected an announcement by him regarding it. We can rest assured that these interests will fight by every legal method of which they know. If we eliminate intra-state trade, we cannot have a complete inquiry into the whole of the trading operations of these companies. {: .speaker-DQC} ##### Mr Hughes: -- It would be most difficult to disentangle the interstate from the intra-state trade. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- In the past attempts have been made to do such things, hut they have not been successful. If honorable members will look at the list of questions asked by the royal commission into the sugar industry they will find that they were no more an investigation into the intra-state trade of the sugar companies than are these questions in relation to the intra-state trade of the petrol companies. Unless we secure the co-operation of one or more of the States, the inquiry will be worse than valueless, because it will mean much costly litigation, and yet will get us nowhere. I am anxiously awaiting an announcement by the Attorney-General as to what is intended. {: #subdebate-12-0-s3 .speaker-KFK} ##### Sir LITTLETON GROOM:
Darling Downs -- The question raised in the first bill is not new to this Parliament. As far as the Commonwealth power of legislation is concerned, I remind the House that, in 1902, the first Royal Commissions Act was introduced by the then Attorney-General, **Mr. Deakin.** The powers conferred by that act were moderate, and were set out in simple language. It dealt with the power to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents, and contained regulations regarding the fees of witnesses. Previously, by virtue of the King's prerogative under section 2 of the Constitution, a commission had been issued in connexion with the transport of troops from .South Africa. By reason of the King's prerogative, that commission began without the assistance of any statute. About 1911, difficulties arose in connexion with the taking of evidence in an inquiry into the sugar industry, as the right honorable member for North Sydney **(Mr. Hughes)** no doubt recollects. Ultimately, a bill, which later became the Royal Commissions Act of 1912, was introduced. That legislation was criticized at the time, chiefly along the line whether we should adopt the English practice of having a small degree of power for a commission ordinarily appointed, while introducing special bills containing drastic powers in regard to particular objects of investigation. Most of the Australian parliaments had followed the rule of having a general statute dealing with inquiries. In Queensland, that legislation is known as the Official Inquiries Act. The Commonwealth act of 1912 was called into question before the Privy Council. As the AttorneyGeneral **(Mr. Latham)** has said, the High Court of Australia was satisfied that the act was valid so far as all those powers which were set out in section 51 of the Constitution were concerned - powers of legislation - but the justices disagreed regarding matters affecting the internal administration of the company and other things. {: .speaker-DQC} ##### Mr Hughes: -- Was not **Mr. Justice** Gordon the Commissioner? {: .speaker-KFK} ##### Sir LITTLETON GROOM: -- I think he was, originally. A point discussed in this Parliament on the 1912 bill was whether drastic powers should be given to any and every commission, or whether they should be reserved for commissions presided over by members of the judiciary or persons qualified to hold judicial appointments. As regards the 1902-1912 act, the Privy Council, in its judgment, declared- >They think that these acts were *ultra vires* and void so far as they purported to enable a royal commission to compel answers generally to questions, or to order the production of documents, or otherwise to enforce compliance by the members of the public with its requisition. It will be sufficient to make a declaration to this effect with liberty to apply to the High Court. In examining the whole of the measure, the Privy Council realized that the Commonwealth had certain powers; but it went on to say - >Without redrafting the *Royal* Commissions Act;-, and altering them into a measure with a different purpose, it is, in their Lordships' opinion, impossible to use them as a justification for the steps which the royal commission on the sugar industry contemplates in order to make its inquiry effective. The Privy Council left the Commonwealth in the position, so far as its judgment is concerned, of having to follow the lines which it suggested. On page 154 of that judgment, after referring to the particular subjects upon which Parliament could legislate, the following appeared : - >Their Lordships have already referred to the material heads in this list. None of them relate to that general control over the liberty of the subject which must bc shown to be transferred if it is to be regarded as vested in the Commonwealth. It is of course true that under the section the Commonwealth Parliament may legislate about certain forms of trade, about bounties and statistics, and trading corporations. Such legislation might possibly take the shape of statutes requiring and compelling the giving of information about these subjects specifically. But this is not what the Royal Commissions Acts purport to do. Their scope is not restricted to any particular subject of legislation or inquiry, and no legislation has actually been passed dealing with specific subjects such as those to which their Lordships have referred as matters to which legislation might have been directed giving sanction to some of the inquiries which the royal commissioners are now making. **Sir John** Quick, in his *Legislative Powers of the Commonwealth,* pointed out that their lordships had overlooked the fact that we had passed legislation dealing with this very subject of sugar bounties, and other matters. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr Scullin: -- Would not that have had special reference to a particular act? {: .speaker-KFK} ##### Sir LITTLETON GROOM: -- On page 192 of **Sir John** Quick's book the writer said - >Their Lordships seemed to have been under the impression that no legislation had been passed by the Commonwealth Parliament dealing with subjects such as those which the royal commission on the sugar question was charged to investigate. Yet their attention might have been directed to the Customs Tariff Act 1908-1011, in which duties of customs to the amount of £6 per ton were imposed on the importation of sugar, and to acts dealing with excise duties, rebates and bounties on the local production of sugar. That judgment was criticized at the time along the lines to which the AttorneyGeneral has referred, namely, that the Privy Council had gone beyond the certificate of leave to appeal, and this was mentioned by me in the debate in 19.14. In that year, which marked a somewhat contentious period in federal politics, Parliament had to deal with this matter. A good deal was heard of the beef barons of Queensland, and of American trusts which were establishing themselves in Australia, and were likely to form monopolies to interfere with the Australian export of meat by cornering the meat trade to the United Kingdom. At that time **Sir Joseph** Cook was Prime Minister, and **Sir William** Irvine was AttorneyGeneral. A commission was issued appointing **Mr. Justice** Street a commission of inquiry. The question arose whether the government of the day should rely on the ordinary power of the Royal Commissions Act, which had been declared invalid in the way that I have already indicated, or whether we should follow the judgment of the Privy Council. I was Minister for Trade and Customs at the time, and conferred with **Sir William** Irvine on the matter, with the result that, ultimately, it was decided to act on the side of safety. Inasmuch as this was an important public inquiry, and as the concerns into whose operations we were inquiring were backed by considerable wealth, it was thought that every precaution should be taken to ensure that everything done was constitutionally sound. The bill now before the House follows the precedent to which I have referred. The Meat Export Trade Commission Act of 1914, which, as Minister for Trade and Customs, I introduced, applied the whole provisions of the act of 1912 for the purpose of the commission of inquiry. The preamble included the following words with respect to the commission: - and directed to inquire into and report as to the operations of any person, combination, or trust tending to create any restraint of trade or monopoly in connexion with the export of meat from Australia. Section 2 - the operative section - provided that the commissioner appointed by the Governor-General to make those inquiries in regard to the export of meat - shall have all the powers, rights and privileges which are contained in the Royal Commissions Act 1902-1912, and that act shall have effect in relation to the said commission as if it were herein re-enacted and in terms made applicable to the said commission. The judgment of the Privy Council declared that the Commonwealth had limited powers; therefore, it was necessary to make sure that our legislation gave specific powers of inquiry, and was in accordance with the Commonwealth's powers. The ' Commonwealth has legislative power in respect of imports and exports, and the operative section of the' bill then introduced was that dealing with exportation. As wide an interpretation as possible was given to the word " exportation", and correspondingly extensive powers were vested in the commission. ' But the question was raised whether the word " exportation " had a limited meaning, and a controversy took place as to whether the commission could inquire into all contracts made by the trust in relation to future progeny, the gathering of meat in all parts of the Commonwealth, and the preparation of it for export. **Sir William** Irvine said - >We have power to deal only with exportation, and can deal only with purchases which we can connect directly with the act of exportation. If we were able to show that it was the invariable practice to buy certain stock, slaughter it, freeze it, and put it on board ship, we might connect all the transactions as part of the act of transportation, but ordinarily, that could not be done. Many of these matters were inquired into by the commissioner, and so far as I can recollect, his jurisdiction was not disputed. The terms of the bill now before the House are practically the same as those in the act of 1914, but the reference to the power of the commission is abbreviated. Instead of the bill reciting the whole of the terms of the commission, that body is referred to in clause 2 as having been appointed - to make inquiry and report into and upon certain matters specified in the Letters Patent in relation to the operations of the importation into Australia, and the refining, treatment, distribution and sale in Australia of mineral oils, and petrol and other products of mineral oils. . . . Probably, in view of this reference, the court would regard the terms of the whole commission as incorporated in the statute, because we are legislating in respect of a specific instrument which is identified, and is referred to as the source of authority of the commission itself. I think that .the word " importation " would be regarded as having a fairly wide meaning. Several American authorities give to it a wide meaning, which I do not think would be narrowed by Australian courts. But in order to safeguard the commission, it is necessary to link it up with certain of our legislative powers, and having done that, the Commonwealth is authorized, according to the judgment of the Privy Council, to direct the commission to inquire and to exercise the powers of compulsion set out in the act. The Meat Export Trade Commission, after very wide inquiries, found that three American companies were operating in Australia through distributing agencies, but could find no evidence that they were acting in combination. Following the removal of the duties imposed by the United States of America on foreign meats, the companies bought Australian meat, and sold it on the American market. The judge indicated that if the companies, which already controlled a large proportion of the Argentine beef trade, obtained a hold of the Australian industry, the Commonwealth and States might have to co-operate to prevent serious consequences. He pointed out that the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Argentine might be affected, and that it might be necessary for the three countries to combine to deal with any trust acting in restraint of trade. The inquiry by that commission was not questioned. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr Scullin: -- But it dealt wholly with matters of exportation. {: .speaker-KFK} ##### Sir LITTLETON GROOM: -- At what stage does exportation begin and importation cease? {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr Scullin: -- Refining cannot be regarded as coming within the scope of importation. {: .speaker-KFK} ##### Sir LITTLETON GROOM: -- The commission also, incidentally, refers to certain other powers of legislation, many of which have been exercised, and gives a power of inquiry which can be linked up with such legislation. The AttorneyGeneral has, I think, adopted the right course. The Leader of the Opposition **(Mr. Scullin)** referred to the fact that the 1912 act was declared null and void, and he asked whether it would not be better to re-enact the whole of the powers of the Royal Commissions Act specifically, instead of by mere reference. The form adopted in the bill is not unusual. Validating bills may proceed by reference instead of by re-enactment. This bill, by its reference to the 1902-1912 act does, in effect, re-enact the whole of the terms of that instrument in its application to the Petrol Commission. It provides that the Petrol Commission shall have all the powers, rights and privileges which arc specified in the Royal Commissions Act 1902-33 as appertaining to a royal commission. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr Scullin: -- But the bill does not purport to amend the Royal Commissions Act. {: .speaker-KFK} ##### Sir LITTLETON GROOM: -- No, but it says that the provisions contained in the act " shall have effects as if they were herein enacted " for the purpose of this proposed investigation. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr Scullin: -- Can an invalid act be made valid except by an amending statute ? {: .speaker-KFK} ##### Sir LITTLETON GROOM: -- The act was declared invalid because of its generality. This bill refers to it and provides that its provisions shall have effect " as if they were herein enacted " in application to the specific matters with which the Petrol Commission is to deal. {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr Beasley: -- But the specific matters must be mentioned. {: .speaker-KFK} ##### Sir LITTLETON GROOM: -- They are mentioned; the bill refers to the appointment and scope of the commission, and says that the terms of the act shall be applicable to the commission so appointed. The House will not have any difficulty in accepting the second bill to amend the Royal Commissions Act. One of its provisions enables certain evidence to be taken in private. It is true that a commission already has power to take evidence in private. In Todd's *Parliamentary Government in England,* it is stated - >Within the limits of their prescribed functions, and subject to the provisions of any act of Parliament defining the same, commissions have the absolute power of regulating the proceedings of their own tribunal, and of admitting or excluding what persons they please from attendance during their sittings. That is the common law right of commissions at the present time, but the hill goes further. In these days, evidence is taken in shorthand; it may be recorded by four or five reporters during the day, and by them dictated to as many typists. It is possible that some unauthorized person may see the evidence and publish it. Therefore, a safeguard is provided by enacting that the publication of the evidence shall be an offence, rendering the publisher liable to a heavy penalty. This provision is also an indication of tha intention of this Parliament to treat the companies fairly ; in order that witnesses may give their evidence as freely as possible the commission will have power to protect them against the disclosure to the public and commercial competitors of their profits and other confidential details. {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr Beasley: -- They have not been very fair to the public. {: .speaker-KFK} ##### Sir LITTLETON GROOM: -- After all we desire the laws we enact to he just. All parties desire justice, although at times our views as to what constitutes justice may vary. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN:
YARRA, VICTORIA · ALP; FLP from 1931; ALP from 1936 -- Could not the purpose of the Government be achieved by eliminating proposed sub-section 2 of section 6d? {: .speaker-KFK} ##### Sir LITTLETON GROOM: -- The principle contained in the proposed subsection is sound. As to the proposal to permit the examination of witnesses by counsel, no right of audience before a royal commission is enjoyed by counsel as such. In the *Laws of England,* of which Lord Hailsham is editor, it is stated - >There are some proceedings, such as inquiries by royal commissions, &c, where there may be no right for any one to appear except the persons summoned, and when, therefore, counsel have no right to appear. > >But at such inquiries, counsel, by leave of the commissioners, are often present, and examine and cross-examine witnesses. It has been contended that all questions to witnesses should be asked through the person presiding over the inquiry. Such a course would not be effective. Under the bill, any barrister or solicitor appointed by the AttorneyGeneral to assist the commission or authorized by the commission to represent any person may, so far as the commission thinks proper, examine or cross-examine any witness on any matter which it deems relevant to the inquiry, and any witness so examined or cross-examined shall have the same protection and be subject to the same liabilities as if examined by any of the commissioners, or by the sole commissioner, as the case may be. The Government is, in my opinion, taking the proper action to strengthen its position, and to make the commission as strong as possible, so as to prevent its operations from being challenged. In a matter of serious import, affecting the community as a whole, Parliament is justified in conferring drastic powers upon the commission to assist it in its investigations, in order that justice may be done. That is all that this bill purports to do, and I therefore support the motion for the second reading. {: #subdebate-12-0-s4 .speaker-DQC} ##### Mr HUGHES:
North Sydney -- I rise merely to emphasize the opinion expressed by the Leader of the Opposition **(Mr. Scullin),** that this inquiry would not only be useless, but might also bring the Commonwealth into contempt, if this commission is treated as former commissions have been. I have a lively recollection of the treatment that was meted out to the sugar commission. About the meat commission my mind is not so clear. I think, however, that the right honorable gentleman was right in saying, first, that the circumstances were entirely different; that the subject-matter had relation to exportations- there was no inquiry into profits, so far as I know - and, secondly, that there was a war proceeding. At this moment there is no war, and we have to deal with those processes of the law which sometimes are a little difficult to follow and to understand. But one point stands out clearly: without the co-operation of the States, this inquiry cannot succeed. The Attorney-General **(Mr. Latham)** may not have mentioned it this afternoon, but I feel sure that that is his opinion. I should like to call the attention of the Attorney-General to a relatively minor matter arising out of the phraseology of the bill. This is a bill for an act to facilitate the proceedings of a royal commission. According to clause 2, the commission has to make inquiries, and report into and upon certain matters specified in letters patent, in relation to the operations of the importation into Australia and the refining, treatment, distribution, and sale in Australia of petrol and other products of mineral oils. The range of that provision in these respects covers matters entirely foreign to those set out in paragraphs *a, b, c, d* and *e* of the commission itself. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- It states that the commissioners are to inquire into and report upon the following matters in relation to the operations of importation, refining, treatment). &c, namely, landed costs, &c. {: .speaker-DQC} ##### Mr HUGHES: -- Is the right honorable member referring to the commission? {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- Yes. The right honorable gentleman must also bear in mind the words, " and upon the following matters in relation to ". {: .speaker-DQC} ##### Mr HUGHES: -- What I wish to bring before the notice of the Attorney-General is that while in the commission emphasis is laid upon the refining, treatment, distribution and sale of mineral oils, prices, profits, capital employed, and cognate matters, the bill is silent on these things, but speaks of matters which, I suggest, should really be inquired into. We want to know what are the profits' of these companies, the landed costs, the wholesale and retail selling prices, the capital employed, the expenditure, losses, income and profit derived therefrom. The public is indifferent as to the process of refining, and is not greatly concerned about the process of distribution. What they want to know is how it comes about that for many years these companies have charged a very high price for petrol. I speak, of course, subject to what the Attorney-General may say, but it does appear to me that clause 2 does not emphasize the points which are of vital importance. We want inquiry made into the matters covered by paragraphs *a, b, c, d* and e of the commission, and not particularly into the refining, distribution and sale in Australia of mineral oils. The bill does not strengthen the commission's power to inquire into the matters which are of importance, and to investigate which it has been appointed. It will not do for this commission to fail. If it shall turn out that, notwithstanding the co-operation of the States and the Commonwealth, there is no power to inquire into the operations of these companies, then our present system of government is a farce, and we should hand over the government of the country to them. I entirely sympathize with the natural resentment of the right honorable the Attorney-General at the companies' contemptuous references to the Commonwealth's action in inquiring into their affairs. There can be only one government in this country. These companies are carrying on under the laws of Australia, and they must be taught to realize that their operations have to be conducted in such a way as to make for the good of the people. It is notorious that since the appointment of this commission was mentioned, the price of petrol has been reduced by 2d. or 3d. a gallon. The companies are placarding the whole of Sydney, and no doubt, every other capital city, with notices to the effect that if it were not for the taxation imposed by the Commonwealth upon petrol, they could sell this product at ls. a gallon. Tha t is a belated discovery, because there was nothing to prevent the companies from selling petrol at ls. a gallon long before this Government imposed a tax of 7d. a gallon upon petrol. {: .speaker-KFE} ##### Mr Gregory: -- Where is the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited? {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr Beasley: -- That company is working in conjunction with the other companies. {: .speaker-DQC} ##### Mr HUGHES: -- My point is that these companies are carrying on business in this country. They have the right to the protection of the law, but they have not the right to throttle both the primary and secondary industries by levying a toll upon the people. I venture to say that they have been exploiting the people for long enough. I should imagine that the States would gladly co-operate with the Commonwealth in this matter. I cannot conceive of any reason why they should not do so. I hope that the Attorney-General will give every .consideration to the suggestions that have been made by various honorable members. Although I feel sure that he has given most careful thought to the drafting of this measure, my own experience is that no matter how carefully measures are drafted, the ingenuity of counsel retained by the defendants, as it were, finds a way through them. Because of the unhappy distribution of powers between the Commonwealth and the States, with neither the States nor the Commonwealth in full control, every effort on our part to frame a law that is at once valid and effective, seems to be in vain. I shall support the bill. I trust that the co-operation of the States will be obtained, and that we shall achieve, as a result of the inquiry, some lasting good. {: #subdebate-12-0-s5 .speaker-KXT} ##### Mr PATERSON:
Gippsland .- I have little to say on these two small bills, but I should like some more information from the Attorney-General **(Mr. Latham)** on the subject. These measures raise the question of the division of powers between the Commonwealth and the States in a way which seems to stimulate the legal members of this House, but which, nevertheless, tends to oppress the ordinary layman with a heavy burden of, shall I say, inferiority complex. The main bill - that amending the Royal Commissions Act - contains in clause 2 a provision which will remove the principal reason advanced by representatives of the oil companies for their reticence - a not unnatural reticence, we have to admit, since no business concern desires to expose its affairs completely to the eyes of its competitors. It may be that this cause of objection, having been removed, other difficulties will be found. The Attorney-General made it clear that the royal commission appointed by the Commonwealth cannot force firms that are being examined by it to give information respecting things in connexion with which the Commonwealth has no legislative jurisdiction under the Constitution. Even when the commission is clothed with the powers which this bill seek to give it we may later on reach some further obstacles which this Parliament has no power by further legislation to remove. All power must be possessed, presumably, by the Commonwealth and State Parliaments in combination, and it may be that we shall reach an obstacle which' we cannot surmount, and which will make it necessary for us to appeal to a State to ' delegate certain of its powers to us. {: .speaker-DQC} ##### Mr Hughes: -- I do not think that that is suggested. The idea is that *se* State would appoint a royal commission; in other words it would confer certain powers upon this commission. {: .speaker-KXT} ##### Mr PATERSON: -- I did not quite gather that from the remarks of the Attorney-General. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr Scullin: -- That step was taken in connexion with the Coal Commission. {: .speaker-KXT} ##### Mr PATERSON: -- That, of course, would overcome the difficulty. I was about to ask the Attorney-General if, before bringing down this legislation, it would not be better to secure delegated power from one State in order to do the job completely at the outset. I can see now that provision already exists for doing this, by a method of which I was unaware. {: #subdebate-12-0-s6 .speaker-JVR} ##### Mr NAIRN:
Perth .- Some honorable members opposite appear to be rather concerned that by clause 2 of the Royal Commissions Bill, we specifically empower the royal commission to take evidence in private. It has been said that if this is the law already it need not be re-stated. I think, however, that it is just as well that it should be restated in plain terms, if only for the purposes of certainty. It has been suggested that if this oil combination is a monopoly operating to the detriment of the public, it would be very largely in the public interest for the fullest publication to be given to all the information that may be elicited at the inquiry and for none of the facts to be suppressed. That is right, but in this inquiry, as in every other inquiry by a royal commission, we have to rely upon the discretion of the commission to do what is right. Any commission, quite irrespective of this bill, would be entitled to make, or to refrain from making, inquiry as it saw" fit. Honorable members may be assured, I think, that this is not a "hush" commission. It has been appointed for the purpose of making a really searching inquiry in the public interest. I shall, therefore, be very much surprised if any matter, the publication of which would be for the public benefit, should be suppressed**^ the commission. The personnel of the commission can be fairly relied upon to exercise a wise discretion. In the ordinary course of the law, the general principle operates that there shall be the fullest publicity. There are only one or two small exceptions, which are negligible. The general rule, undoubtedly, is publicity. The reason for this rule is that, speaking broadly, it is in the public interest that the fullest opportunity for publicity should exist. But the operation of this rule often inflicts hardship on innocent people. I think it is a pity that greater discretion is not given to judges and persons exercising judicial, functions in regard to the allowing of publicity of details which might injure individuals when such publication can be of no value to the public. There is a distinction between this commission and criminal proceedings. There is nothing criminal suggested in connexion with this inquiry. It is quite permissible for even monopolies to get the best profits they can, even though we may consider that it is desirable in the public interest that their affairs should be examined. It is not desirable, however, that, in seeking to elicit the fullest information, we should inflict any more injury than is necessary on these concerns. The commission may be relied upon to exercise a wise discretion in regard to matters which shall or shall not be given publicity. Those which are of public concern should be published, but matters which are of purely private concern, the publication of which might inflict injury upon the companies and which would not benefit the public, should not be published. {: #subdebate-12-0-s7 .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY:
West Sydney .- It was generally understood from the inception of the appointment of the commission to inquire into the operations of the major oil companies that the subject of profits -would be investigated. The justification for my motion for the adjournment of the House on the 16th March last to discuss the operations of these oil companies is to be found in the fact that they have since reduced the price of petrol by 3d., and, in some cases, 4d. a gallon. I am informed by honorable members on my left that a reduction of even Id. a gallon is worth £1,000,000 a year to the people. The companies which have made this reduction have attempted to justify themselves by stating that circumstances have arisen in America which have made the reduction possible, but the chairman of the National Roads and Motorists Association stated in Sydney that this was not the case. The following report issued by one of the independent oil companies of Sydney is also interesting on this point: - >When some other oil companies operating in Australia were selling first-grade petrol at 2s. Id. a gallon in October last, our company adopted a standard of ls. 9d. as a fair price to the user. This was fixed on a definite basis of cost, showing a fair profit, and it is not our intention to reduce it. > >The cost of motor spirit overseas to-day is in no way different from what it was in November last. Customs duties and primage charges have not varied - there is no sales tax - yet the price charged by major oil companies is 4d. per gallon lower than it was in October last.' It is quite clear to every one who is aware of the facts that the major oil companies, to use a plain expression, have been robbing the users of petrol in our primary and secondary industries. This being the case, I can see no reason why any member of the Government, or any other person, should wish to shelter the companies. Every means that can be used to force them to disclose their position and reveal their methods of operation should be employed, for they have undoubtedly cut right across every other section of the people. While incomes have been reduced in every other avenue of industry, these people have continued to take full toll from Australia. In the circumstances, there is no reason why the fullest possible publicity should not be given to the business practices of these concerns, so that the public may have every opportunity to ascertain the extent to which criticism of their activities has been justified. It will not be denied that there is a good deal of foreign influence in these undertakings. That is an additional reason why their practices should be fully exposed. I have very strong objections to any attempt being made to hold a secret inquiry. There is no justification for a private investigation. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- I have never suggested that there is. The matter is being left entirely to the discretion of the commission. {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY: -- If that matter is already within the discretion of the commission, as explained by the Leader of the Opposition **(Mr. Scullin),** why should we emphasize the point and invite the commission to ask for secrecy? If there is no doubt about the existing law, why raise the point? {: .speaker-DQC} ##### Mr Hughes: -- This is in answer of the attempt of the companies to flout the commission. {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY: -- I understand that **Mr. Menzies,** who is the Attorney-General of the United Australia Party Government, of Victoria, and has held a retainer from the Shell Oil Company for the last ten years, is interested in the proceedings of the Petrol Commission. **Mr. Menzies** would claim to be the champion of the rights of the people, and a man who, at all costs, at certain periods of the year at any rate, would speak at great length from the various political platforms of Victoria about the necessity for correcting certain wrongs, such as this robbery by the oil companies. But he is, apparently, advising the major oil companies in the course that they have taken in the preliminary stages of this inquiry. It is now clear that he has advised his clients not to answer any questions that may give the public any information. It may, perhaps, be said that such statements should not be made; but I know very well that other business concerns, not so favorably situated financially as these big oil companies, are subjected to criticism. Nothing much is said about the lowering of their prestige or the discrediting of them in the public eyes when they are requested to furnish information for public purposes ; but apparently **Mr. Menzies** thinks that the major oil companies should be protected from this sort of thing. The Attorney-General made lengthy references this afternoon to what **Mr. Menzies** has said. Is the right honorable gentleman introducing these bills in consequence of suggestions that have been made to him from this source? {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- Not at all. I have not heard anything from **Mr. Menzies** either directly or indirectly. {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY: -- I cannot" divorce these big companies from their associations. When an inquiry is being made into the affairs of the workers, and boards of trade or arbitration tribunals of one kind or another seek information about the private affairs of the parties, there is never a suggestion that the inquiry should be made in private; but there is always a tendency to shield the big business community of this country from such investigations. In the case of companies which have been exploiting Australia for many years, there is not the slightest justification for the granting of privacy of this description. No doubt, however, many things can be done when money is plentiful that are not done when it is scarce. {: .speaker-KHL} ##### Mr Holloway: -- We cannot even get information about the Commonwealth Oil Refineries! {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY: -- That is so. I may refer to that matter later. The financial influence of the major oil companies is extensive. The right honorable member for North Sydney **(Mr. Hughes)** asked the question whether the powers of these companies are not greater than the powers of the Government. It would appear that they are from the statements made in the letters of Messrs. Chambers and Tregannowan to the Government in regard to the development of the Newnes shale oil deposits. Perhaps past efforts to develop the oil-bearing country at Roma and elsewhere in Australia have been rendered fruitless by the exercise of those powers. I regret that the Government seems determined to allow a certain amount of secrecy. According to the statement of the Attorney-General, this course is being adopted so that the business affairs of one company shall not be revealed to other competing companies. But is it not a fact that the major oil companies have been able to deal very effectively with their competitors? I have received a long statement from the Petrol Resellers Protective Association which I' shall hand to the Attorney-General if he will read it. **Mr. Mailer,** a consulting accountant of Sydney, dealing with monopolies quite recently, gaVe some information of value regarding the power of the major oil companies to cope with their competitors, from which it is quite apparent that the companies have adopted practices which have very effectively prevented their competitors from, getting a footing in Australia. The major oil companies are not much concerned about their competitors. In all the circumstances, I think that the facts should be fully disclosed to the public. The people are entitled to know exactly how these companies have dealt with their competitors. A certain firm, supplying oil in Australia from inde-pendent sources, intimated in a broadcast statement not long ago, that it would advertise in the press of Sydney within a few days the methods which had been adopted by the major oil companies to prevent it from carrying on operations. But it could find only one newspaper which would publish its advertisement. {: .speaker-K9A} ##### Mr Gander: -- What newspaper was -that? {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY: -- The *Labor Daily,* of course. It would appear, therefore, that these oil companies are able to control even the newspapers of New South Wales. No doubt, the same thing is true of the newspapers in other parts of the Commonwealth. This special pleading about the revealing of their profits does not appeal to me at all. It is clear, from a perusal of these measures, and from what has been said in the discussion, that the Government wishes to save the oil companies from the wrath of the people due to the exploitation which has been practised by these companies for a number of years. Members of my party consider that only one bill is necessary to meet objections raised by the decision of the Privy Council. While I do not intend to discuss this subject from the angle of those who know the law, I think sufficient information has already been con.veyed to the House to convince honorable members that one bill will be sufficient to enable the inquiry to proceed. Doubt has been expressed that, without this legislation, the inquiry could not proceed to the point at which the companies concerned would be forced, to disclose the information desired. We were given to understand that, in order to ensure a thorough investigation, it was the intention of the Government to seek the cooperation of one of the State Governments, and, according to press reports, the Attorney-General stated that an invitation would be extended to one State. Victoria was mentioned. I think that, if it was the Government's intention to proceed along these lines, the right honorable gentleman would have told us so in his second-reading speech this afternoon. Since he did not mention the subject, the inference to be drawn is that the attitude of the Government has yet to be determined. Whether **Mr. Menzies,** who is the Attorney-General in Victoria, has suggested that such a course is unnecessary, I do not know. Perhaps there has been no consultation on the point, or, possibly, it is thought that, if such action were taken. the position would be made too watertight to suit the interests of the oil companies. However, time will determine whether there is anything in that suggestion, and whether the commission will do anything worth while. Some people share the view -that benefit has already accrued from my adjournment motion and the subsequent action of the Government in appointing the commission, and they point to recent reductions in the price of petrol. Petrol users are thankful for that slight concession, but the fear is general that, when all this trouble blows over, and without the public being fully informed as to the actual position in regard to profits, the major companies will, in, say, twelve- months' time, find some excuse, suggesting, possibly, altered circumstances in foreign countries whence the oil comes, to justify an increase in the price of petrol in this country. Unfortunately, we shall have no means of meeting such a situation as that, because, if the true position is not disclosed, the people will not be sufficiently aroused to prevent the companies from exercising a power which, in other circumstances, they would hardly be game to use. In this way further increases in the price of petrol may be forced upon the public. We feel that the second bill, which deals, *inter alia,* with the taking of evidence tn *camera,* is not necessary, and we should like to know what will happen if representatives of the companies concerned refuse to give evidence. Under existing powers relating to royal commissions, and without receiving requests from interested parties, the commission may order that certain evidence be taken *in camera.* Adopting that procedure, the companies may, upon the advice of counsel, argue that the disclosure qf information will be prejudicial to their interests, and, for that reason, they may refuse to answer certain questions. The second bill does not vest the commission with authority to force them to disclose such information. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- The first bill, by its reference to the Royal Commissions Act, is intended to facilitate the proceedings, and deals with that aspect of the matter. It' is the measure which is directed towards compelling answers to questions. {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY: -- Do I understand the right honorable gentleman to say that if the commission, with or without request being made to it, asks certain questions of a witness, or orders the production of documents, the company concerned will not be able to evade answering? {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- The honorable gentleman must not expect me to give him an absolute guarantee. I believe that in these measures we have, as far as is pos1 Bible. strengthened the position of royal commissions; but 1 cannot give an absolute guarantee as to what the decision of the High Court might be. {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY: -- I appreciate the information given by the AttorneyGeneral. I am mindful of the fact that no one can say precisely what might be the decision of the High Court. The next point for consideration is the position of a company which takes the view that the publication of- certain information would be prejudicial to its interests. It appears to me that we should have é'lear direction on this important matter. Perhaps I can best explain what I mean by saying that a certain newspaper, reporting the proceedings of the commission, might draw its own conclusions from certain aspects of the inquiry, and the company concerned might declare that the publication of such information, which was disclosed *in camera,* was prejudicial to its interests. It seems to me that it will be difficult to avoid such a position because, as this inquiry touches a most important subject, it is natural that the press of this country should give full publicity to the commission's proceedings, and possibly strain every nerve to inform the public fully about what is being done. To this end it might focus attention upon particular aspects of the inquiry in the hope, possibly, that at last these exploiting companies would get their deserts. I should like to bring to the notice of the Attorney-General one or two points upon which, I hope, he will be able to enlighten me. Some have already been raised in this debate, but I may be pardoned if I endeavour to elaborate them. In the first place, I should like to know how far the royal commission will be bound to include in its report evidence taken *in camera* and upon which it may base its findings. I assume that practically the whole of its report, and certainly the major portion of its recommendations, will turn upon evidence taken behind closed doors. Therefore, it would be interesting to know how much of such evidence will be included in the report and made available to Parliament. Involved in this point is the question of profits. The right honorable the Leader of the Opposition mentioned this aspect, and I think the Attorney-General, in answer, said that the commission might refer to profits in the aggregate. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- I can answer the honorable member at once, by saying that if evidence is taken *in camera,* it will not be revealed to Parliament by this Government. To do otherwise would undo the whole purpose of this particular legislation. I would, however, expect the commission to report fully and frankly upon everything that it considered to be in the public interest. {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY: -- Then we may assume that the commission is to be above Parliament; that Parliament is an inferior institution. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- Not at all. The commission will act under the direction of Parliament, and it is suggested that these bills contain the directions given by Parliament. {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY: -- As the three gentlemen comprising the commission will be the only persons in possession of vital information concerning the doings of the oil companies, the people of this country will have to leave the matter entirely in their hands, because Parliament will have no further say in the matter. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- Members of the commission will probably take the view, with which every fair-minded man will agree, that certain evidence should be taken in private. {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY: -- We claim that provision for that procedure is contained in the existing legislation. Consequently, there is no necessity for this second bill. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- Cannot the honorable member see that our intention is to deprive the companies of grounds for their objections ? {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY: -- Does the right honorable gentleman believe that this Government, or even that he as AttorneyGeneral, should bow the knee to these companies after what they have done? {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- I do not bow the knee to anybody. {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY: -- I believe, and I feel sure the public will support me in the belief that, in dealing with these people, we should employ their own weapons. No Parliament, and no government, or Minister, should take heed of special pleading on their behalf at this late hour. This Government, as also did the preceding Government, made every endeavour to get these concerns to realize their responsibilities, but they simply slammed the door and refused to do anything in the matter. We have now reached a stage when strong action is demanded. The people of this country are definitely aroused because of the treatment meted out to them by these companies, and they now demand fair treatment and a complete disclosure of their activities. They would commend the action of any government, irrespective of its political label, that took the gloves off to these companies and definitely demanded a " show-down " and forced them to recognize their responsibilities. I regret to think that this course has not been taken. In other matters, the Attorney-General is not disposed to pay regard to points raised by opponents. I have no quarrel to find with him on that score because I believe in the same methods. Therefore, I should have preferred the Government in dealing with these people to take action along these lines. Apparently, the Attorney-General has taken heed of the special pleading by counsel for these major oil companies. The position of **Mr. Menzies, Mr. Ham,** or any other member of the legal fraternity, is not different from that of the ordinary users of petrol in this country.. I regret to state that the Government is inclined to be lenient to these companies, instead of facing the issue and declaring that this is to he a fight to a finish, and that no obstacle must be placed in the way of the commission to prevent it from making the most thorough public investigation in the interests of the people. My third point is this : It may be claimed by the Shell Company, the Vacuum Oil Company, and others, that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries is a competitor. The Government is associated with the Commonwealth OilRefineries, and has its representatives on the board of directors. It may be objected by the other companies that the Government, in instituting this inquiry, is providing itself with means for obtaining information regarding the business affairs of its competitors. Is the Attorney-General of the opinion that they can legitimately raise that issue? {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- I shall deal with that point later. {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY: -- Finally, we are of the opinion that the Government, in attempting to treat with the companies, is adopting a wrong attitude towards organizations which have been robbing the public over a long period of time. {: #subdebate-12-0-s8 .speaker-KFE} ##### Mr GREGORY:
.Swan .- I do not propose to discuss the merits of the bill beyond expressing my sympathy with the Attorney-General **(Mr. Latham)** in the task which confronts him. I can understand certain of the companies refusing to answer questions on the ground that the Commonwealth Government cannot interfere with matters of trade within a State. I hope that the Commonwealth Government will be able to influence one or more of the State governments to bring in legislation to enable a complete inquiry to be made. I repudiate the suggestion of the honorable member for West Sydney **(Mr. Beasley)** that, because **Mr. Menzies,** Attorney-General in the Government of Victoria, has accepted a retainer from one of the oil companies, it is useless to expect any helpful legislation to be introduced in the Victorian Parliament. I am sure that if a bill on the lines proposed were introduced into the Victorian Parliament it would be passed by the majority of the representatives. During this debate we have heard a great deal about monopolies, but very little has been said to indicate who the monopolists are. In 1920, I think, the right honorable member for North ° Sydney **(Mr. Hughes),** who was then Prime Minister, introduced a bill covering an agreement between the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and the Commonwealth for the purpose of establishing a Commonwealth oil refinery. A company was to be formed in which the Commonwealth was to have a majority of the shares, and its purpose was. to destroy anything in the nature of a monopoly. The agreement provides that the refining company shall not enter, or be in any way concerned in, or be a party to, or act in concert with any commercial trust or combine. The Commonwealth put £425,001 into the venture, and holds one share more than the AngloPersian Oil Company. It appoints three of the seven directors, and should be able to control the policy of the company, at least to the extent that only a fair price should be charged for petrol. The Government is bound to refund to the company any customs duties paid by it on the importation of crude oil to be refined in Australia, though the other oil companies operating in Australia have to pay duty. When we remember, as I pointed out during the tariff debate a little while ago, that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries are permitted to import free of duty as crude oil a product which has been enriched with petrol up to the strength of 70 per cent., the value of this concession is evident. I should like to hear from the Government what it proposes to do in regard to this matter. The agreement, which was for fifteen years, has only about two years to run, and the Government should make up its mind whether it is going to continue showering benefits on a company which, though initiated for the purpose of restraining or preventing trusts and combines, has now, apparently, itself become a member of a combine. Moreover, the Commonwealth Oil Refineries has not erected a modern refinery as the agreement required. It has merely installed a skimming plant, which would not be of the slightest use in extracting the values from crude oil if such were ever discovered in payable quantities in Australia. The Government must make up its mind whether it proposes to continue this half-hearted cooperation with what many members .say is one of the biggest monopolies operating in Australia. {: #subdebate-12-0-s9 .speaker-K0A} ##### Mr GABB:
Angas .- Compared with recent debates in this House, the present debate appears to me as an oasis in the desert, because it now appears evident that, in this matter, at any rate, the Government and most of the members who have spoken are really trying their best to do something for the people. The honorable member for Wakefield **(Mr. Hawker),** speaking on the tariff the other day, stated that certain executive action amounted to government of the people for the greedy. At any rate, that cannot be said of the measure now before the House. It is sometimes very difficult, I know, to follow the motives of men in politics, but I believe that, in this matter, the Government is really in earnest, and is trying to deal satisfactorily with one of those trade combinations that have been fleecing the people of Australia. I commend the action of the Government, following, as it does, upon its action of a few weeks ago in regard to the match monopoly. In my opinion, the principal duty of a government is to protect its people. It had seemed to me that the oil companies were above government control, or even government influence. Perhaps I had been affected by the many rumours that have gone abroad in regard to the Roma oil field, and by the opinion that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries company, which was formed as act as a check on the other petrol companies, seems to have entered into a trade arrangement with them. There is no doubt that the people as a whole believe that the great oil companies are able to do practically as they like, and that no government has the courage to compel them to deal fairly by the public. I hope' that this bill will be merely the forerunner of others designed to curb the power of monopolies. In this connexion I may mention the soap industry and the condensed milk industry, both of which require some attention. This Government has made some serious blunders, but if it is prepared to protect the interests of the public in these matters it may be able to stem the tide of opposition that is rising against it throughout the country. {: #subdebate-12-0-s10 .speaker-L08} ##### Mr ROSEVEAR:
Dalley .- I believe that the importance of the proceedings which the Government has instituted in order to bring about a thorough investigation of the oil industry in Australia cannot he over estimated. The public believe that the oil companies have been exploiting them for years, and that, even after paying the taxation imposed, the companies are still making enormous profits. Petrol and oil are playing an ever-increasing part in the life of the people, industrially and socially, and it was therefore- inevitable that we should, at some time or other, get to grips with the interests which are controlling the supply of oil to Australia. The sooner the matter is brought to a head the better, and if it is necessary to amend the Constitution, then let us have it amended. The few months which would he necessary to place the position before the public, and to take a referendum on a proposal to amend the Constitution, would be well spent if we were able to obtain definite legislative power to deal with the monopolies as they should be dealt with. I believe that that would be much preferable to the proposals contained in these two short bills. {: .speaker-KXT} ##### Mr Paterson: -- We should have to wait too long. {: .speaker-L08} ##### Mr ROSEVEAR: -- We have already waited a long time, and the public has been exploited. During the short time that has elapsed since this subject was first broached in this Parliament by my leader, the price of petrol to the user has fallen by about 3d. a gallon. If the Government showed a determination to ask the people, by means of a referendum, for power to deal with this monopoly, the oil companies might be induced to make even further reductions of their prices. If the Government was determined to take off the gloves, it would receive the commendation and support of the public, as well as the respect of the oil monopoly. I notice that, in the first bill, no reference is made to profits, while, in the second measure, protection is to be given to those who give evidence in relation to profits. The right honorable member for North Sydney **(Mr. Hughes)** noticed this anomaly, and maintained that the most important matter with which we have to deal is not the refining, distribution and sale of petrol, but the difference between the production costs of this necessary commodity, and the price s. which the public has to pay for it. The right honorable the Attorney-General **(Mr. Latham)** has stated that by the passing of the first bill, which facilitates the proceedings of royal commissions, certain legal difficulties will be overcome; but other opinions have been expressed in this chamber to-day, which, apparently, cause doubt whether this small measure will confer the powers that are sought to be conferred by it. I should like the Attorney-General to state why no mention is made in the bill of the subject of the profits of this monopoly. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- The matters into which inquiry is to he made are those set out in the commission which I have read. {: .speaker-L08} ##### Mr ROSEVEAR: -- I have no objection to the bill if it facilitates inquiry into the matters specified in the reference to the commission. My party has no desire to obstruct the Government in investigating fully the affairs of the oil companies ; hut it has the strongest objection to the second bill, which will ensure secrecy in regard to the evidence before the commission concerning the operations of the combine. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- The honorable member, surely, objects only to the second clause. {: .speaker-L08} ##### Mr ROSEVEAR: -- I am dealing particularly with that clause. I take it that the commission could be trusted to see that nobody likely to convey information given at the inquiry was admitted, and I fail to see that there would be any danger of the contents of documents being divulged. It has been suggested that those into whose hands the shorthand-writers' reports fell might be instrumental in divulging evidence taken *in camera;* but it is unlikely that the officers of the commission would fail to prevent that. I see no necessity for clause 2. When employees of the oil companies apply for fair wages and working conditions, they have to submit to all kinds of indignity in courts of inquiry, and there is no talk of taking their evidence *in camera.* Yet, when the operations of the oil combine, which in the opinion of most people exploits the public, are being investigated, it is proposed that its business affairs should not be made known. On the contrary, I contend that the whole of its business operations should be exposed to the light of day. I, personally, and, I believe, also the members of my party, would object to the smothering up of any evidence of that character. The oil companies have at least been guilty of evasions when called upon to give accounts of their operations, and the real reason why they are anxious to avoid this investigation into their industry should be exposed. As the Leader of the Opposition **(Mr. Scullin)** has remarked, the reference in the bill to the profits of * any person " would cover the profits derived by the operations of the companies. These companies have defied the Government, and have expressed their unwillingness to have an investigation made into their business affairs. I cannot see that the powers of the commission would be greatly strengthened by the passage of the second bill, which appears merely to be designed to. smother up the operations of the oil combine. {: #subdebate-12-0-s11 .speaker-KNT} ##### Mr E F HARRISON:
BENDIGO, VICTORIA · UAP -- This subject interests practically everybody in the community, because, in these modern times, motor spirit is in general use. During the last four or five years the people of Australia have spent on the average about £40,000,000 a year on petrol, and the opinion is definitely held that the public has been under the heel of the oil companies for a considerable time. The action of the Government in appointing a royal commission to investigate the companies' affairs was applauded throughout Australia. A good deal of sympathy with the Government was expressed when a legal point was taken which rather nullified the powers of the commission to inquire into the profits and charges of the companies. That legal point was possibly foreseen by the Government; but the position was unsatisfactory to the community, and I am sure that the people are pleased that it is now proposed to amend the Royal Commissions Act in order that a fuller investigation than has been possible in the past may be made. Whether or not the inquiry will be conducted in conjunction with the authorites in another State, I am not aware; but I know sufficient of the Attorney-General of Victoria to be able to say that, irrespective of whether he receives a retainer from the oil companies or not, he will give an entirely impartial opinion on behalf of Victoria, if and when he is asked to do so. I point out to the honorable member for Dalley **(Mr. Rosevear)** that the bill to amend the Royal Commissions Act is not intended to facilitate inquiry merely into the profits of the particular oil companies whose affairs are now to be investigated. The amendment has relation to the Royal Commissions Act of 1902-12, and to royal commissions which may be appointed at any subsequent time. On consideration, I believe that the honorable member for Dalley will agree that it would not be fair publicly to delve into all the affairs, such, as profits and losses, of other companies, dealing in other commodities at some other time, in such a way as to give their competitors an unfair advantage over them. The intention of this bill is, not to shelter any oil company, or this " ring " which is now alleged to be operating in Australia, but to be fair to those whose operations, on some other occasion, may come under the purview of a royal commission. There are still difficulties ahead of any commission which may investigate the oil position in Australia. I throwout . the suggestion to the Government that, in some cases, the companies operating in this country are subsidiary to large overseas companies. The latter may be following the example of the film companies, and may be invoicing their products at a very high rate, so that the position revealed by the -books of the subsidiary companies, which are kept in Australia; will not give a clear indication of the true position. I do not believe that a royal commission would have any power to investigate operations carried out beyond the confines of Australia. We have experienced a definite reduction of petrol prices in this country, and since the appointment of the royal commission, not only has the price of petrol been reduced from '3d. to 4d. a gallon, but within the last three days the penalties previously imposed on resellers of the products of smaller companies have been removed by the major oil companies. Probably the public of Australia does not quite appreciate the value of the price reduction that has occurred. A reduction of Id. a gallon in the price of petrol means a saving of £1,250,000 to the users of this commodity, and the reduction of 3d. a gallon which has been made in the last few days means that the "public is paying nearly £4,000,000 a year less for its petrol. For that reason alone, I think that the public should be pleased. The honorable member for Dalley remarked that no specific reference was made in the bill to the profits which were being made by the oil companies in Australia; but the terms of reference to the commission should be read in con junction with the measure which has been introduced for the purpose of facilitating the" proceedings of the commissions. The petrol commission has been definitely asked to inquire, among other matters, into the "capital employed in, expenditure and losses incurred in, and income and profits derived from " the operations of tie oil companies. As the Attorney-General **(Mr. Latham)** has pointed out, the bill is drafted in a convenient form. The terms of reference, however, are definite, and make it clear that the profits of the oil companies are to be investigated. For too long has this commission been held up. It was hoped that it would go straight ahead with its work, but, on account of the legal technicalities that have been referred to, the investigation was brought to a standstill. I believe that the public wish the commission to investigate to the full the entire oil business of this country. It was hoped that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited would exert some influence in the direction of lowering the cost of motor spirits and lubricating oils to the Australian user, but that has not been the result of its operations. The public are now expecting definite conclusions that will enable them to go forward, knowing that they are not being fleeced. They wish the commission to succeed, and at an early date. The Government is to be commended for having endeavoured to meet the legal objections that have been raised by the eminent counsel who were briefed by the oil companies. For that reason, it is a pleasure to support such a bill as this. {: #subdebate-12-0-s12 .speaker-KNX} ##### Mr E J HARRISON:
WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES · UAP; LP from 1944 -- I may be permitted to express a few generalities in connexion with this matter, the legal aspect having already been dealt with exhaustively. I am sorry that the various details are considered *sub judice.* Many honorable members, I feel sure, would have liked to make public certain information that has been handed to them, and to refer to certain facts that led to the appointment of this commission, and to the introduction of this legislation, which will make it a commission in fact, instead of only in name. One must express satisfaction at the decision of the Government to confer on the commission the necessary powers to investigate the various ramifications of the major oil companies. I have sufficient confidence in the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth, as well as in the Attorneys-General of the States, to believe that they will look after the interests of the people. They have at heart the good of Australia, and will combine in their efforts to prevent the exploitation of the people of the Commonwealth, so that in these times of depression our industries may function economically. It is a well-established fact that legislation is never far in advance of public opinion. It is public opinion that has really forced the taking of this action at the present time. It demands that an inquiry shall he conducted, because certain of the major oil companies have become most arrogant in their attempts to exploit the public and in their attitude towards the competition that has recently threatened them in no uncertain manner. They have sought to impose their will in a way that smacks of a definite restraint of trade. They have threatened industries, as well as certain resellers of petrol and oil. These and other matters have caused a definite reaction in the community. Who among honorable members has not been approached by persons outside who have reacted strongly against certain actions of the major oil companies? The whole thing seems to revolve around what shall constitute fair and reasonable methods of trade, and "the profit that should be made by these companies. The honorable member for Bendigo **(Mr. E.** *F.* Harrison), and other honorable members, have questioned whether certain information in relation to the trading operations and the profits of these companies should be made public. There is a strong argument in favour of refraining from exposing the ramifications, the trading methods, &c, of these companies, because an unfair advantage might thus be given to their competitors. I feel, however, that the commission should have the right to determine just what should be exposed. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- That right is being conferred on it. {: .speaker-KNX} ##### Mr E J HARRISON:
WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES · UAP; LP from 1944 -- I am glad to learn that. If the commission has definite evidence that these companies have been unwarrantably exploiting the public, and that it is its bounden duty to expose such matters, business axioms and principles should be set aside, and the information should be given to the people, so that they may be able to preserve their rights in the future. The provision that will enable the commission to say what shall be made public is a wise one, pf which full advantage should be taken. At the outset, the commission was appointed for a definite purpose, but its bona fides have since been challenged, and it has been flouted by the major oil companies. When all is said and done, its appointment has been made by the repre sentatives of the people. That immediately raises the question whether we have the right to inquire into these matters. I consider that it should be generally conceded that the Crown and the Government, who are the "representatives of the people, should have the right to inquire into any matters which it is believed ought to be investigated with a view to safeguarding the welfare of the people as a whole. Within certain limits we may exercise definite powers in legislating for the well-being of the people; and our power to institute inquiries should be equally as full. Whatever power we possess, .we should use to the limit. No company, and no group of people, should be able to arrogate to itself greater powers than we can exercise. Parliament appointed a royal commission, which asked the petrol companies to provide certain information. It was refused. Presumably, those companies have arrogated to themselves powers greater than those possessed by this Parliament. If we have the power to introduce legislation to cause those companies to supply that information we should take full advantage of it-. I feel that that is being done by the introduction of those measures. The only hope that I have in regard to this inquiry is an anticipation that, in the event of an adverse decision being given by the commission, the reaction on the community will be such that impetus will be given to the establishment of the Australian oil industry, possibly through the medium of the Newnes, Baerami or other shale oil deposits. If we can develop that industry in Australia we shall be able to cut ourselves adrift from the possibility of exploitation by overseas companies, and the result of this action by the Government will be that Australia will have taken a decided step forward, for its own wellbeing. {: #subdebate-12-0-s13 .speaker-KJQ} ##### Mr JAMES:
Hunter .- 3 shall not' say anything about the Petrol Commission Bill, but I strongly object to clause 2 of the bill to amend the Royal Commissions Act, which provides that evidence relating to the profits of any company may be taken in private. The people of Australia are entitled to know what profits the oil companies are making, yet the Government is deliberately taking steps to prevent such a disclosure. This inquiry affects our great transport industry, a matter of major importance to the community, and its proceedings should be held in public. The Government is to be condemned for countenancing star chamber methods which are designed to protect this monopoly from public criticism. How different is the attitude when an inquiry is to be made into a workingclass organization. Nobody suggests then that the evidence should be taken in secret. I regret that 'the AttorneyGeneral **(Mr. Latham)** has fallen in with the suggestion of these great organizations. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- This is not a suggestion from anybody, it is an original thought of my own. {: .speaker-KJQ} ##### Mr JAMES: -- I shall oppose it. {: .speaker-K0A} ##### Mr Gabb: -- The honorable member does not like it. {: .speaker-KJQ} ##### Mr JAMES: -- Some honorable members are always too ready to ridicule members of this group when they ventilate their opinions. I have always refused to cast a silent vote, and I am never afraid to give my reasons. I refuse to support a measure which contains a clause designed to protect the operations of this huge monopoly from the criticism of the public. {: #subdebate-12-0-s14 .speaker-KHL} ##### Mr HOLLOWAY:
Melbourne Ports -- Probably if I say a word or two now it may save time later in committee. First, I am wondering whether the affairs of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited will come within the scope of this inquiry just the same as those of other companies. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- Yes, on the same footing as the others. {: .speaker-KHL} ##### Mr HOLLOWAY: -- The man in the street regarded the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited as an institution which would counteract monopolies, and have a steadying effect on prices; but he has found that this semi-public concern has charged the same prices as those fixed by the major companies. Now, when something has occurred to cause those companies to reduce their prices, the Commonwealth Oil Refineries has followed suit. The man in the street wants to know the reason for this consistent adherence to the policy of its competitors, and has come to the conclusion that it is just as great an exploiter as the monopoly. I hope that this commission will also investigate the affairs of the pricecutting pirates. I do not believe that the cheapest thing is the best, and think that some of the price-cutting pirates are a menace to the country. They employ practically nobody and have their drivers sleeping in their caravans at night as well as working all day. They are the greatest sweaters in the land. The major companies do enter into contracts through which they pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in freight. These small concerns pay nothing. I think that the Attorney-General said that the question of revenue will be considered by this inquiry. It has been said repeatedly that the inquiry will cover the affairs of the major oil companies. I ask whether- it will cover all oil companies, or only those to which people refer as the major oil companies. Every concern trafficking in oil should have its affairs investigated. The Attorney-General knows better than any other honorable member that inquiries are held practically every day by persons who have it within their discretion to regard certain evidence as confidential. Without clearing the room in which the inquiry is held, or having anything mandatory set out in the terms of reference, those concerned are permitted to take evidence in secret. Since the Attorney-General caused the Arbitration Act to be amended, it is a common thing for the judge to allow an employer to hand in certain information as confidential, and even the opposing advocates are not allowed to make themselves familiar with it. If, as the Attorney-General has stated, the reference to this commission is broad enough to permit of such practices, why is clause 2 inserted in the amending bill? It merely emphasizes the fact that those concerned can make the whole inquiry a secret junta. I consider clause 2 to be superfluous, and it would appear that the Attorney-General himself is gradually accepting that view. The right honorable gentleman has said that, irrespective of clause 2 of the amending bill," the commission has power to accept information confidentially if it considers that its publication would prejudicially affect the interests of that person by revealing information to a competitor.- The general public have been charging the major oil companies with being one huge combine, not in competition one with the other. Now the Attorney-General appears to hold a brief for each, of them, in case one company gives something away to the others. {: .speaker-KX7} ##### Mr Ward: -- How could any disclosure of one company's profits affect its competitors ? {: .speaker-KHL} ##### Mr HOLLOWAY: -- It would make no difference to the other members of any combine. I submit that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited should be placed on the same footing as the other oil companies. I want to help the Government in this investigation, and yet I cannot vote for clause 2 of the second bill, which almost insists on the commission giving every facility to these people to give their evidence *in camera.* {: #subdebate-12-0-s15 .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr LATHAM:
AttorneyGeneral · Kooyong · UAP -- I shall reply shortly" to the various points raised in the course of a debate in which honorable members have shown a genuine interest. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr.' Scullin) asked why no attempt had been made to deal with the decision of a majority of the High Courts - I speak in a technical sense - to the effect that a commission appointed under the Commonwealth Royal Commissions Act could not lawfully ask questions, or demand the production of documents, relating solely to the internal management of the affairs of a company. It is true that in thesugar case, to which reference has been made, that opinion was held by the then Chief Justice and **Mr. Justice** Barton. There is very little in the decision indicating the ground for so holding; but it is reasonably apparent that the ground was that the subject of the internal management of a company did not fall within the legislative powers of the Commonwealth, but within those of a State, and that, therefore, no power of the Commonwealth could be applied so as to deal with that subject. In response to the request of the right .honorable gentleman that I should explain why I did not deal with this subject in the legislation which has been introduced, I say, first, that if that decision of the High Court is to be followed in the future, it will be followed as a constitutional decision on a constitutional ground, and that no legislation could alter the position. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN:
YARRA, VICTORIA · ALP; FLP from 1931; ALP from 1936 -- I said that. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr LATHAM: -- If, on the other hand, it is not a sound constitutional point, no legislation is needed. But I do not anticipate that that decision would be upheld by the present High Court in view of its more recent decision in the Engineers Case, 28 C.L.R. 129, to the effect that the- Commonwealth powers in the Constitution are to be interpreted first, in relation to their application according to the natural meaning of the words without any limitation derived from any implications or reservations in favour of the powers of a State. It is most unlikely, therefore, that any' difficulty would arise on that point. The manner in which federal powers are construed since that decision is to take the meaning of the words in the Constitution independently of any supposed reserved powers of the States. Applying that rule, it appears- to me that there is no room for any limitation as to the internal affairs of a company. It has been suggested that it would be better to incorporate the Royal Commissions Act in explicit and detailed terms rather than by reference, on account of the fact that that act has been held to be invalid. The bill is drawn upon the basis that the Royal Commissions Act is referred to .as a document, and is sufficiently identified. I do not think that there is any real ground for the apprehension entertained, as the meaning of the bill is so plain. Reference is made to another particular document, and its provisions are made applicable to this commission. Other honorable gentlemen have suggested that we should invite the Government of a State to join in the appointment of this commission. On that point I am afraid that I shall have to ask honorable members to go so far as to place some degree of trust in the Government as to the best and most likely method of attaining the objective of securing a full inquiry into the operations of the oil sellers in Australia. I admit that on this point I am not saying, or purporting to say, everything that is in- my mind. I simply ask honorable members to believe that, at the moment, it is wisest not to approach any State Government in this connexion. The Government has not overlooked the point, but it thinks that, for various reasons which it is not practicable to mention now, it is desirable to ascertain to what extent the Federal Government, acting under its own powers, and without relying on the leave, license, authority, or assistance of a State Government, can go in making these inquiries. The Government believes that that is a duty which it owes to the Commonwealth and to the people as a whole. There are other reasons why it would be inadvisable, at the moment, to invite the assistance of a State - reasons which are entirely legal, and not political. There has been a good deal of discussion on the clause in the second bill relating to the hearing of certain evidence in private, if the commission thinks proper. I call attention to the following words in that clause : - " that the taking of the evidence in public would be unfairly prejudicial to the interests of that person ". The word " unfairly " has been deliberately inserted. It is not merely a question of whether a person does not like it, of even that he would be prejudiced, but of whether the taking of the evidence in public would be unfairly prejudicial to his interests. It would be the duty of the commission to disclose any wrong or improper exploiting of the public; there would be no unfairness in disclosing such information. It has been suggested that, as the Government is particularly associated with Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, what is secret in relation to other companies may not he secret as against that company, in which event it has been hinted that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, through the Government, would obtain valuable information concerning the business of its trade competitors. I can only give an assurance that, so far as the present Government is concerned, Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited will not be given any advantage over other companies by having passed on to it any information obtained at a private hearing of which the Government may happen to become aware. Any such action would be flagrantly unfair, and this Government would not be a party to it. Honorable members will have observed that I have abstained from saying anything about the motives and objectives of the Government in having this inquiry made, because of the fact that the inquiry is to be made,' not by the Government, but by a commission which it has set up. It would be unfair for a member of the Government to reflect upon the procedure of any of the companies concerned, whatever his own opinion might be. This is not an occasion upon which it would be proper to do that. But, as much has been said regarding Commonwealth Oil Refineries, I propose to place before the House some information which has been given to me by the Commonwealth representatives on the board of that company. There has been only one occasion on which the price of Commonwealth Oil Refineries' petrol was increased; that increase was on account of the imposition of a new duty, but not to the full extent of the duty. Honorable members have said that this company always sells at the same price as the other companies, and that, therefore, there must be an agreement between them for the regulation of prices. The Oil Agreement Act of 1920 provides that there shall be no agreement between Commonwealth Oil Refineries and other companies as to prices, and I have the most positive assurance from Commonwealth directors on the board that there is not, and never has been, such an agreement. {: .speaker-K0A} ##### Mr Gabb: -- Do the other companies control Commonwealth Oil Refineries through the supply of raw materials? {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr LATHAM: -- No; Commonwealth" Oil Refineries Limited obtains most, if npt all, of its crude oil from the AngloPersian Oil Company. In 1924 Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited commenced operations, and . the ' price of second grade petrol was then ls. lid. a gallon, plus duty. It is now ls. 0^3. plus duty. The price has fallen, but I do not say that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is entirely responsible for that. In 1926 and 1927, years which appear to have been forgotten by some honorable members, the price of Commonwealth Oil Refineries second grade petrol was from 2d. to1½d. below that of rival brands. But in 1927 the price of the competitors was reduced to that of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries. I speak only of facts, and not of causes; members may draw their own inferences from those facts. When the private companies reduced their prices, the sales of Commonwealth Oil Refineries decreased, but in September, 1929, its rates were again 1d. below those of its competitors. In 1931 the rival companies reduced their price to the level of Commonwealth Oil Refineries. As to these facts there can be no dispute, and I suggest that honorable members might inform their minds with some degree of care before they suggest that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is working in defiance of its charter, by entering into a price-fixing agreement with other companies. It is a smaller company, and, of course, in order to compete, it will have to sell at prices as low as those of the other organizations. The proposed inquiry will make it possible for all matters relating to prices to be investigated, if any exercise of federal power can make that possible. It is desirable that we should ascertain whether, on account of the Commonwealth power in respect of customs and excise, and general taxation, this Parliament has power to order an inquiry into prices. This legislation has been expressly designed, and the commission has been drafted, *ab initio,* with the idea of exercising to the fullest extent every federal power which is known to exist for the purpose of obtaining the necessary information. Question resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a second time and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted. {: .page-start } page 1159 {:#debate-13} ### ROYAL COMMISSIONS BILL {:#subdebate-13-0} #### Second Reading Motion (by **Mr. Latham)** proposed - That the bill be now read a second time. {: #subdebate-13-0-s0 .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN:
Yarra . -This measure has been already discussed in conjunction with the bill which preceded it. I still hold that clause 2 is unnecessary. It specially invites the commission to take evidence in private, with particu lar relation to profits, and I regret that the Government has placed this blot upon the measure. The amendments proposed in clauses 3 and 4 will facilitate the taking of evidence, and will improve the original act. Therefore, I offer no opposition to the second reading, but I suggest that the Attorney-General should withdraw clause 2. The commission already has discretionary power to admit or reject evidence or persons, to hear any evidence in private, or to order that any documents be handed over to it in confidence. I would place upon the commission the responsibility of deciding what evidence should be taken in private, instead of this Parliament giving a lead with a special reference to profits. I am afraid that clause 2 will be interpreted in a way not intended by this Parliament, and not even expressed by the AttorneyGeneral. Question - That the bill be now read a second time - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. H. Mackay.) AYES: 47 NOES: 6 Majority . . . . 41 AYES NOES Question so resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a second time. *In committee:* Clause 1 agreed to. Clause 2 (Evidence may be taken in private) . {: #subdebate-13-0-s1 .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr LATHAM:
AttorneyGeneral · Kooyong · UAP .- The Government believes that clause 2 is a proper provision, and that it sets out a fair principle which it is desirable should be shown to the public upon the face of the bill. It does not prevent the commission from receiving any evidence, but merely directs that that body may, if it thinks proper, hear certain evidence in private where it would be unfair to take it in public. The Government does not press the clause unduly, and is prepared to leave it to the decision of honorable members. In all the circumstances, I commend it to honorable members as a desirable provision. {: #subdebate-13-0-s2 .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN:
Yarra .- The point stressed by the Attorney-General **(Mr. Latham)** suggests that those who are opposing the introduction of this clause into the bill are not in favour of giving fair treatment to any one who may appear before the commission to give evidence. That is not the position. The commission to-day has full discretionary power to hear evidence in private. What we object to is the action of the Government in putting into this provision practically an instruction to the Commissioner to hear in private evidence on the specific question of profits. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr Latham: -- Only if the hearing in public would be unfairly prejudicial to the interests of the witness. {: .speaker-F4Q} ##### Mr SCULLIN: -- The discretionary power which the commission has to-day enables it to hear in private any evidence which, in its judgment, would be unfairly prejudicial to the witness. We should not give to the commission a lead on one specific question. This provision is a blot on the legislation. It may be misunderstood, and perhaps misapplied by the commission, and because of that I propose to call a division upon it. I am in favour of the other two clauses, which I think improve the legislation. I did not vote against the second reading of the bill, because I wished to facilitate, so far as possible, the carrying out of this investigation into the position of the oil industry and the price of petrol. I con sider that this clause is unnecessary and dangerous. {: #subdebate-13-0-s3 .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY:
West Sydney -- We are opposed to this clause, and we voted against the second reading of the bill because this clause contains a principle of which we entirely disapprove. Why should this company be protected in regard to its profits? This debate has clearly shown that the major oil companies have unduly fleeced the public of Australia for a number of years, and, having done so, they have lost all right to sympathy. Their operations should be exposed to the fullest possible extent. Every detail that surrounds their transactions should be made public. The enormous ramifications of these concerns have enabled them to hide their profits by making transfers to subsidiary concerns associated with them. No doubt as this inquiry proceeds the processes by which this has been done will be disclosed. We have already learned from the preliminary report submitted to the honorable member for Maribyrnong **(Mr. Fenton),** when he was in office, that these companies have transferred profits from one fund to another to a very marked degree. This being so, they do not deserve an atom of sympathy. The public should be furnished with the fullest possible information while the commission is unravelling this business. I, like other honorable members, have received correspondence from various quarters regarding the transactions of the major oil companies, which makes me hold strongly to the view that the fullest possible light should be thrown upon the methods which these companies have adopted to hide their true profits. If the Attorney-General **(Mr. Latham)** is firm in his conviction that this inquiry should be seen through right to the end, he will avail himself of every means that the law allows to throw light on the business processes adopted by the companies so that the public may be fully informed on the true extent of the profits that they have been making. The principle proposed to be embodied in this clause has not been applied in other directions. There is not the same desire to keep private the circumstances of certain other people who have to appear before public bodies and give evidence. The facts that these major oil companies constitute a monopoly, and. that they have made such huge profits out of the users of petrol, confirm me in the belief that their operations should be exposed in every way. {: #subdebate-13-0-s4 .speaker-KOC} ##### Mr HAWKER:
Wakefield .- I direct the attention of honorable members to the fact that the objections to this clause are coming from the section of honorable members which is generally opposed to private enterprise of any kind being private. The provisions of this clause give protection to the traders of this country only at the discretion of the commission, and similar only to the protection given to individuals or firms appearing before either the Arbitration Court or the Tariff Board. When a certain amount of inquisition is necessary into the private affairs of people or companies, such inquisition can be effective only if the trading sections of the people have general confidence in the inquiring body and if witnesses and firms are protected from the necessity of making unfair disclosures. The words "would be unfairly prejudicial " are reasonable, and protect the public from any possible hiding of information which, in the public interests, should be disclosed. It has been quite clearly proved in our experience of the Tariff Board that where private inquiry has disclosed the making of excessive profits the amount of such profit will be revealed. We had an experience of that in connexion with the inquiry into the match industry. The profits being made in that industry appeared to the board to be excessive, and they were therefore published in its report. There is not the slightest doubt, as the Attorney-General has pointed out, that if the commission finds, from the evidence, that any of the transactions of these companies go beyond the bounds of fairness, it will say so. I strongly commend the clause to the favorable consideration of honorable members. I am quite satisfied that the commission will act fairly. If the clause is included in the hill, this commission, and other similar commissions, will he given much more assistance and support than they would otherwise get from the trading section of the people, who, after all, are the section best able to bring forward evidence that will help such commissions to protect the public. {: #subdebate-13-0-s5 .speaker-L08} ##### Mr ROSEVEAR:
Dalley .- The honorable member for Wakefield **(Mr. Hawker)** has not accurately described the attitude of the party to which I belong. We are not concerned particularly, in this case, because the major oil companies are private concerns. We are concerned that they should be compelled to conduct their operations on a fair trading basis. The honorable member in referring to the match industry, said that the Tariff Board had exposed the profits being made in that industry because it considered that they were excessive. I point out that even if this commission finds that the oil combine has been making excessive profits, it may not be able to disclose the profits, because it may be argued that such disclosure would be prejudicial to the business of the companies. {: .speaker-KOC} ##### Mr Hawker: -- I remind the honorable member that the words used are "unfairly prejudicial." {: .speaker-L08} ##### Mr ROSEVEAR: -- There is no proper analogy between the case of the major oil companies and that of the match industry. But, in any case, the Tariff Board apparently has not the power which it is proposed to give to this commission. Witnesses who come before the commission may argue that, even if the profits being made are excessive, they may not be disclosed if the disclosure would be prejudicial to the business concerned. We have to consider not the position of an individual who may have his money invested in a particular company, but that of those persons who, under the lap, as it were, have big investments in a number of companies. It may be in the public interest to know how capital is interlocked in these concerns. Is it suggested that, because a particular witness might desire not to disclose his financial transactions, the commission should exclude both press and public from the inquiry? All available information should be disclosed, so as to enlighten the people, who, because they have to pay for the luxury of this monopoly, have a right to know its ramifications. I agree with the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition **(Mr. Scullin)** that existing powers are ample, and that this legislation gives to the major oil companies consideration to which they are not entitled. Question - That the clause be agreed to - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. Bell.) AYES: 37 NOES: 16 Majority . . . . 21 AYES NOES Question so resolved in the affirmative. Clause agreed to. . Clauses 3 and 4 agreed to. . New clause. {: #subdebate-13-0-s6 .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY:
West Sydney -- I move - >That the following new clause be added: - 4a. After section six fa of the principal act the following section is inserted: - 6fb. The commission shall submit a report to Parliament within four months of the first day of sitting of the commission. My purpose is to ensure that the inquiry will not be indefinitely protracted. I am not suggesting that the Government does not propose to push on with this investigation; but, from our experience of royal commissions, we know that inquiries of this nature are sometimes so longdrawnout that doubt has been expressed as to the intention of such commissions to do the job thoroughly. The question of expense to the Commonwealth is also involved. The commission, and the companies, also, should be given to under-' stand that the people of this country are deeply concerned in this matter, and that it is the desire of Parliament to have the inquiry completed as soon as possible. For this reason I suggest that the commission's report should be presented within four months from the first sitting day. Mr.Riordan. - What would happen if the companies stone-walled? {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY: -- The companies have plenty of money available, and might take advantage of every legal process to delay a finding by the commission. In that event, it is conceivable that the inquiry might go on for years. To meet such a contingency, this Parliament should state definitely that the investigation must be expedited. {: #subdebate-13-0-s7 .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr LATHAM:
AttorneyGeneral · Kooyong · UAP -- For some years it was the practice, when appointing royal commissions, to specify the time within which a report must be presented. That was in accordance with the idea of the honorable member for West Sydney **(Mr. Beasley),** who has proposed the addition of a new clause to guard against delay. But again and again it was found necessary to extend the time. For this reason I suggest that it would be useless to fix a time within which this commission . should make its report. If we "fixed a limit of four months, or even five months, it might be necessary for theGovernment to come to Parliament again and ask for an extension. In these matters, one really has to depend on the quality and character of those forming the commission. It is quite possible for the members of a commission to present some report within four months, or any other fixed time, but there is no means of forcing a tribunal to present a final report if it has not had time to deal with the matter. If a provision as suggested were inserted in full legal form, the commission's powers would cease at the end of the four months, provided the clause were properly drawn. No one wants that to happen. I have seen the persons who have been appointed to this commission, and I can assure honorable members that they are anxious to get on with their work, and, as far as they are concerned, there will be no delay. Therefore, no useful purpose would be served by inserting the proposed new clause. {: #subdebate-13-0-s8 .speaker-JOS} ##### The CHAIRMAN (Mr Bell:
DARWIN, TASMANIA -- It appears to me that the proposed amendment is not in order. This bill is to amend the Royal Commissions Acts 1902-1912, and does hot refer to any specific commission. The proposed new clause purports to give instructions to some commission that is not named in the bill. {: #subdebate-13-0-s9 .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY:
West Sydney . -In order to meet the position, I am prepared to move an amendment that the time fixed shall apply to any commission appointed. {: #subdebate-13-0-s10 .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr LATHAM:
AttorneyGeneral · Kooyong · UAP -- The honorable member would surely not press such an amendment. Would he be satisfied if I gave an undertaking to look into this matter during the week or two before this legislation is dealt with in another place in order to see whether we can fix a reasonable time limit in a form that will not bring the whole investigation to a dead stop at the end of the fixed period? {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr Beasley: -- This is a matter regarding which the public is looking for a reasonably quick decision. {: .speaker-KZO} ##### Mr LATHAM: -- The Government also desires it. {: #subdebate-13-0-s11 .speaker-10000} ##### The CHAIRMAN: -- The proposed new clause is not in order. {: .speaker-JLY} ##### Mr Anstey: -- I desire to raise a point of order. {: .speaker-10000} ##### The CHAIRMAN: -- The honorable member cannot raise a point of order on a ruling of the Chair. {: .speaker-JLY} ##### Mr Anstey: -- May I not speak on that ruling? {: .speaker-10000} ##### The CHAIRMAN: -- No. Title agreed to. Bill reported without amendment. Motion (by **Mr. Latham)** proposed - >That the report be adopted. {: #subdebate-13-0-s12 .speaker-JLY} ##### Mr ANSTEY:
Bourke .- I desire, **Mr. Speaker,** to report to you concerning proceedings in committee. The honorable member for West Sydney **(Mr. Beasley)** proposed to add to the bill a new clause, and the Chairman ruled that his amendment was out of order. I understand that an amendment of a bill may be in the form either of an alteration of words or of an addition of words. The Chairman has ruled that nothing may be added to this bill because the bill proposes to amend the Royal Commissions Act, and does not mention any specific royal commission. Is that also your ruling? {: #subdebate-13-0-s13 .speaker-KIT} ##### Mr SPEAKER (Hon G H Mackay: -- There is no appeal to the House against any decision of the committee. Question resolved in the affirmative. Report adopted. {:#subdebate-13-1} #### Third Reading >That the bill be now read a third time. {: #subdebate-13-1-s0 .speaker-JLY} ##### Mr ANSTEY:
Bourke .- Is it in order to move an additional clause to the bill, or an alteration to the existing clauses of the bill, on the motion for the third reading ? {: #subdebate-13-1-s1 .speaker-10000} ##### Mr SPEAKER: -- The AttorneyGeneral **(Mr. Latham)** has asked leave to move the third reading of the bill. It is permissible, before the motion for the third reading, to move that the bill be' recommitted for the purpose of making additions in committee. Bill - *by leave* - read a third time. {: .page-start } page 1163 {:#debate-14} ### ADJOURNMENT {:#subdebate-14-0} #### War Pensions Motion (by **Mr. Lyons)** proposed - >That the House do now adjourn. {: #subdebate-14-0-s0 .speaker-KX7} ##### Mr WARD:
East Sydney .- I desire to bring under the notice of the Minister in charge of Repatriation, the case of a returned soldier who has suffered an injustice in regard to his pension. He has made frequent representations to the department, but has not been able to obtain a favorable decision. The case is that of Victor Hugo, in connexion with which I was accused some time ago in the House of having made a misstatement. The Assistant Minister in charge of Repatriation (Mr.Francis) said, at that time, that I had not had access to the departmental files. The Prime Minister **(Mr. Lyons)** also said that I had not had access to the files. Since then, the file has been brought to Canberra, and there appears on it the authority which I stated I had produced to the officer in charge in Sydney when the file was handed- to me. It is evident, from a perusal of the file, that the man left a good position as an engineer with Dalgety and Company to join the forces. He was on active service from the 2nd June, 1916, to the 6th August, 1917, and was discharged on the 19th February, 1917. In many instances the department has altered the amount of pensions on the ground of facts disclosed in papers received from overseas; but, in this case, instead of the overseas papers weakening this soldier's claim for a pension, they rather establish it. Captain R. D. Heggarton, of the Australian Tunnelling Company, with which this particular soldier was serving, said, " I consider the above to be insane, and not fit to be at large ". That view was supported by lieutenant-Colonel Newland. In form B.179, of the 30th August, 1916, appears the following : - " Disability caused through active service and strain. Opinion of Medical Board - incapacity 50 per cent." Since his return to Australia, Hugo, has been an inmate of No. .4 Australian "General Hospital, Randwick, and of Broughton Hall. He was granted a 50 per cent: pension from the 20th February, 1917, and on the 28th March, 1918, his pension was increased to 100 per cent. On the 1st January, 1920, it was reduced to 75 per cent., and on the 1st July, 1920, it was again increased to 100 per cent. This shows that the case was investigated on many occasions, and it is unlikely that the department was not aware of every aspect of it. The department then sought further medical advice, and on the 10th January, 1921, **Dr. D.** L. Howell, who was treating this soldier, who was then resident at Collarenebri, New South Wales, said that his condition was due to war service. He added that there was no likelihood of further improvement, that the condition of the soldier was not due to his fault, and that he regarded it as the worst case in the district. This contention was supported on different occasions by twenty different medical men, including **Dr. Benjafield. Dr. K.** Smith and **Dr. C.** C. Minty examined Hugo, and declared that he could be classed as " totally and permanently incapacitated." He was granted a special rate of pension from the 12th November, 1925. On the 21st May, 1931, he was further examined by **Dr. C.** K. Parkinson, on whose report, in opposition to the opinion of the twenty doctors who had previously examined him, the pension was discontinued. **Dr. Parkinson** reported - >In my opinion definitely and totally incapacitated, due to chronic alcoholism before, during and since war service. This doctor suggested that chronic alcoholism had existed even prior to Hugo's enlistment in 1916. He is evidently a very clever medical man. But we find from the departmental files that, on the 23rd May, 1931, **Dr. K.** Smith, one of the medical men who examined Hugo prior to the granting of the special pension, reported that the incapacity was due to alcoholism. {: .speaker-KNP} ##### Mr Maxwell: -- Was **Dr. Parkinson** the first to suggest that alcoholism was the cause of the incapacity? {: .speaker-KX7} ##### Mr WARD: -- Yes, according to the ' departmental files. The department went to the trouble of obtaining police reports, and these disclosed the fact that there were no convictions against Hugo, that he was highly respected, that his associates were temperate in habits, and that he was a good character. A further police report read as follows : - " Have not come in contact with Hugo ". Yet this man's pension was cancelled. **Dr. Benjafield,** in a report appearing on the file of the Repatriation Department, said - >Every alienist of any standing will support the view that, in such circumstances, alcoholic indulgence is an effect, and not a cause, of the mental disturbance. On page 33 of the file, it is pointed out by **Dr. Benjafield** that twenty medical men had examined Hugo subsequent to his discharge, and that if alcoholism had been present, it must have been discovered by them. A further report dated the 19th July, 1932, by **Dr. W.** S. Dawson, of Macquarie-street, Sydney, substantiates the contention of **Dr. Benjafield.** Having gone through the file personally, and having paid great attention to its contents, I can say that it at least establishes the fact either that the Repatria-tion Department or the tribunals which deal with the individual cases of exsoldiers, do not give sufficient attention to the evidence submitted to them, and their methods cannot be regarded as efficient, or that there is a definite intention to deprive certain ex-soldiers of their rights. The Minister should make inquiries into this case, and probably other honorable members have had similar cases brought under their notice. Since this is the only way in which this matter can be brought under the attention of honorable members, it has been necessary for me to raise it on the adjournment of the House. I hope that the Minister will go through the file, check what- 1 have said regarding its contents, and then state whether he considers that this ex-soldier has been deprived of his rights. {: #subdebate-14-0-s1 .speaker-JWT} ##### Mr FRANCIS:
Assistant Minister for Defence · Moreton · UAP -- As Acting Minister for Repatriation, I may inform honorable members that this particular matter has not yet been brought under my notice; but the principles observed in regard to such cases are definitely laid down in the Repatriation Acts and in the acts providing for the appointment of ex-soldiers' appeal tribunals. In the first instance, an ex-soldier has an opportunity to make a claim for a pension, or a claim can be made on his behalf, and then the Repatriation Commission in his particular State examines his claim. Special boards have been set up in each State for the investigation of soldiers' claims. If a soldier is not satisfied with the decision given by the State branch of the Repatriation Department, he has the right of appeal to the central administration in Melbourne. From a panel of doctors a number of medical men are called in to advise the department, and make recommendations. These expert medical men, in the main, have had long war service, and are well acquainted with the circumstances under which the soldiers fought. They have had long experience since the war in the investigation of many cases of the kind in which their opinion and recommendation is sought. The facts are carefully looked into, a report is made to the department, and a decision on the matter is reached. Even then, if an ex-soldier who is making an original claim for the pension is not satisfied, he lias the right to apply to the Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, and he may have an approved advocate to present his case. Every member of that tribunal is a returned soldier, and has shown undoubted sympathy with returned men. Since the appointment of the two appeal tribunals a large number of pensions have been granted which had been previously refused. If the ex-soldier is still not satisfied, he may collect further evidence, and appear again before the tribunal after the lapse of six months. {: .speaker-KX7} ##### Mr Ward: -- But Hugo had been receiving a pension. {: .speaker-JWT} ##### Mr FRANCIS: -- If an ex-soldier is hot satisfied with the amount of his pension, he may then appeal to the assessment tribunal. He may, in accordance with the act, enlist the services of anybody who is prepared to appear before the tribunal on his behalf. If he is a hospital or mental case, he may, if he so desires, enlist the aid of an officer of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League, or any other individual, and, after a very full inquiry and investigation, the tribunal will give a decision on the matter. I shall examine the file, to see whether in this case all these rights of appeal have been exercised. If they have not, I shall see that the soldier in question is properly advised. If it is possible for the department to assist him further, I shall arrange for it to be done. {: #subdebate-14-0-s2 .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY:
West Sydney -- The Minister has covered a wide area of ground with "which honorable members are quite familiar. We are acquainted with all the procedure to which he has referred, because many of us have taken a part in. the passage of the legislation through this House. The facts outlined by the honorable member for East Sydney **(Mr. Ward)** must have convinced those who listened carefully to them that an extraordinary situation exists. The soldier in question received not only a 100 per cent, pension, but in addition a special pension, on account of the disabilities from which he suffered.. He had to run the gauntlet of the closest examination by twenty medical men. Then, fifteen years later, another doctor declared that his condition was due to alcoholism contracted prior to enlist- ment. Faced with that declaration, another Macquarie-street medical man gave a contrary opinion. To say the least of it, the position is not at all satisfactory. The honorable member for East Sydney observed that the whole of the evidence may not have been fully gone into. I cannot claim to have been so closely associated with the different tribunals as to be in a position to say that they give lengthy consideration to these cases; but I could quote many instances of the divergence of medical opinion in the cases of invalids who have been receiving pensions for considerable periods. Certificates have been given by specialists, and by medical men who have made a close study of the particular ailments, yet departmental doctors - who, it can be claimed, are not as competent to express an opinion - have declared that there is not a total and permanent incapacity. When the question of medical testimony arises, the matter cannot be glossed over in a stereotyped fashion. The honorable member for East Sydney is in the fortunate position that he has had an opportunity to peruse the file, and to take extracts fromthe medical certificates. He has given a full and concise account of the case, and I am sure that those who listened to it are satisfied that it has unusual features. On the surface, it would appear that an injustice has been done, and that some factor has been overlooked. Rather than that an injustice shouldbe done to even one man, the Minister should brush aside all routine, and as a returned soldier personally associate himself with the case. {: .speaker-JWT} ##### Mr Francis: -- In the course of my reply I offered to do that. {: .speaker-JOM} ##### Mr BEASLEY: -- I appeal to the honorable gentleman to see that this unfortunate man is given a little comfort in the declining years of his life, because of the fact that he is suffering, not only a physical, but also, in a measure, a mental disability. {: .speaker-JWT} ##### Mr Francis: -- It was on account of his mental disability that I offered the assistance of the department. Nothing more can be done. Question resolved in the affirmative. House adjourned at 11.35 p.m. {: .page-start } page 1166 {:#debate-15} ### ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS *The following answers to questions were circulated: -* {:#subdebate-15-0} #### Banks: Charges and Profits {: #subdebate-15-0-s0 .speaker-F4O} ##### Mr Lyons:
UAP s. - Inquiries are being made and areply will be furnished as soon as possible to the honorable member for Perth **(Mr. Nairn)** in answer to questions, *upon notice,* regarding the charges made and profits earned by the private banks and the Commonwealth Bank. {:#subdebate-15-1} #### Adulteration of Foods {: #subdebate-15-1-s0 .speaker-KLM} ##### Dr Maloney: y asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, *upon notice -* {: type="1" start="1"} 0. Has the attention of his department been called to the statement in the press that in Great Britain analysts have found iron filings in tea, coal tar disinfectants in stout, arrowroot in cocoa, and sand in certain milled or ground foods, and that6,496 samples of food and drugs were reported as adulterated; also that samples contravening the regulations included 307 sausage and other meat products, that there were 4,581 samples of adulterated milk, that lead was found in samples of beer, and that synthetic flavouring and no butter was found in rum and butter toffee? 1. Has the Department of Health the necessary equipment for testing the foods sold to people in the various States? {: #subdebate-15-1-s1 .speaker-KXQ} ##### Mr Archdale Parkhill:
Postmaster-General · WARRINGAH, NEW SOUTH WALES · UAP -- The, answers to the honorable member's questions are asfollow: - {: type="1" start="1"} 0. The full official report on the " Sale of Food and Drugs Acts " in Great Britain, which is referred to in the press statement, was received by the Commonwealth Department of Health from the British Ministry of Health. 1. Yes. The testing of foods for sale in the various States is constantly carried out by the State Departments of Health either in their own laboratories or by the Government Analysts. {:#subdebate-15-2} #### Public Health {: #subdebate-15-2-s0 .speaker-KLM} ##### Dr Maloney: y asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon *notice -* >Will he request the Department of Health to draft a bill to enable his department to join with the State Departments of Health in protecting the health of the people in a more systematic, scientific, and successful method than at present followed by seven separate Departments of Health? {: #subdebate-15-2-s1 .speaker-KXQ} ##### Mr Archdale Parkhill:
UAP -- The matter will receive consideration. Co-operation between Commonwealth and State Governments in protecting the health of the people has already received detailed attention, and in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commission on 'Health, a Federal Health Council was formed on which the Commonwealth and States are fully represented. This council meets annually to discuss and advise upon health problems affecting the Commonwealth. As regards food and drugs, the Commonwealth cooperates closely with the States, and convenes special conferences between Commonwealth and State authorities to consider matters relating to the sale of food and -drugs,' and to formulate uniform standards and provide for uniformity in the legislation covering these matters in the several States of the Commonwealth. Production o* Pearl-Shell {: #subdebate-15-2-s2 .speaker-KF9} ##### Mr A GREEN:
KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA · ALP; FLP from 1931; ALP from 1936 EN asked the Minister for Commerce, *upon notice -* {: type="1" start="1"} 0. What waa the total world production of pearl-shell for the years 1028, 1920, 1930, 1931 and 1932, respectively? 1. What ivaa *tha* Australian production of this commodity for the same periods? {: #subdebate-15-2-s3 .speaker-KV7} ##### Mr Stewart:
UAP -- The desired information is being obtained, and will be furnished to the honorable member as soon as available. {:#subdebate-15-3} #### Federal Capital Territory: Funding of Expenditure {: #subdebate-15-3-s0 .speaker-F4O} ##### Mr Lyons:
UAP s. - On the 29th March, the honorable member for Darling **(Mr. Blakeley)** asked the following questions, *upon notice: -* {: type="1" start="1"} 0. Is it a fact that on the let January, 192S, a total net expenditure of £2,906,000 of the selection, development administration, and maintenance of Canberra and the federal Capital Territory, together with interest thereon of £442,961, was funded by statute as the debt of the National Capital and Territory, and that these two sums, amounting to £3,400,501, are subject by statute to compound interest with yearly rests, and that this statutory funding of compound interest with yearly rests for the eight calendar years, 1925 to 1932, has caused an addition of approximately £750,000 to the capital debt of Canberra and tlie Territory? 1. Is it a fact that expenditure amounting to £14,000 prior to July, 1908, and before Canberra was selected, with interest of £7,060, or a total sum of £21,600, was funded in the debt of Canberra on the 1st January, 1925, and now amounts to approximately £26,000, with the addition of statutory compound interest with yearly rests? 2. Is il a fact that no payment is made from the National Consolidated Revenue for rent and interest on capital cost of national buildings at Canberra, exclusive of Parliament House; that no payment is made for services such as water supply and sewerage to these buildings; and that the cost of these services to the nation generally is accumulating in the debt of Canberra? 3. As the compound interest with yearly rests and the interest on and the cost, of services to national buildings are rapidly augmenting the nominal cost of Canberra, will the Government take immediate steps to adjust the finances of the National Capital on an equitable basis? The answers to the honorable member's questions are as follow : - {: type="1" start="1"} 0. In accordance with the provisions of section '21 of the Scat of Government (Administration) Act 1924-1929 and regulations thereunder, the total net expenditure of £2,966,600 by the Commonwealth prior to 1st January, 1925, in connexion with the establishment and administration ot the Federal Capital Territory, together with simple interest thereon, namely, £442,961, was fixed as the liability of the Federal Capital Commission. Interest was compounded on this sum of £3,409,561 from 1st January, 1925, until the expiration of the Federal Capital Commission on 30th April, 1930. Following on tlie repeal in 1930 .of the Scat of Government (Administration) Act 1924-1920, the Federal Capital Commission ceased to exist, and financial responsibility in connexion with the Territory reverted directly to the Commonwealth. The whole of the interest charged in respect, of the abovementioned net expenditure of £2,966,600 was written back and in place thereof the accounts now show the actual interest allocated by the Treasury in respect of loan moneys used in the construction, development, and maintenance of the Territory. 1. -The sum of £14,000 expended prior to July, 1908, is included in the above-mentioned sum of £2,966,600, but as the whole of the £14,000 was expended from revenue, no interest is now shown in the Federal Capital Territory .accounts in respect of this amount. 3 and 4. No payment is made for rent and interest on the capital cost of national buildings at Canberra or for water and sewerage rates, but payment is made for water supplied to the various buildings which includes water used for sanitary purposes. As stated in 1, interest is now being charged in respect of expenditure of loan moneys only. Consideration is now being given to the question of dissecting the costs of the Territory to show national buildings apart from those works necessary for the administration and maintenance of the Territory.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 May 1933, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.