14th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon.G. J. Bell) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers..
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House when honorable members may expect the report of the Petrol Commission to be presented, and state the cause of the delay in its presentation ?
– I am not in a position to say exactly when this report will be available. The Government has asked that no time shall be lost in its presentation. I understand that the finalization of it will be begun within the next two weeks, and that its presentation may be expected within the next three or four weeks.
– I have received from the Unley City Council a letter which reads -
FLOOD WATERS, MAPLE-AVENUE, ADJOINING KESWICK MILITARY G ROUNDS.
By direction of the Unley City Council,I have to acquaint you with the following resolution of the council, passed the 12th instant, viz. : - “ That this council urges upon the defence authoritiesthe urgent necessity of taking some adequate action to prevent the recurrence of the flooding of the homes in Maple-avenue, Horn Castle, Keswick. Further, that we communicate with the member for Boothby, and the Premier of South Australia, asking them to make representation in the proper quarters for the compensation of the sufferers from recent floods.”
The city surveyor says-
– Order ! I direct the honorable member to ask his question.
– Has the Minister for Defence given consideration to the representations in connexion with this matter which I have made to him on two occasions? Is ho now in a positionto state whether the Government is prepared to compensate the sufferers from the recent floods?
– My recollection of this matter is that the Defence Department does not admit any liability. I shall, however, have inquiries made into the representations of the honorable member upon it, and advise him further with respect to it.
– Is the Minister representing the Postmaster-General in a position to say what action he intends to take in connexion with the notice of motion standing in his name, expressing the desirability of appointing a royal commission of experts to inquire into the operation of the Australian banking and monetary systems?
– I intend to withdraw that motion; but it will be moved by another honorable member.
– I desire to inform hon orable members that copies of the report of the directors, and of thebalance-sheet as at the 30th June, 1934, of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, have been placed on the table of the Library.
– Will the Minister for the Interior state who was responsible for the contents of the affidavit transmitted by telephone, which was submitted to Mr. J ustice Evatt in the Kisch habeas corpus proceedings? Will the honorable gentleman also give the reason for the sudden withdrawal of that document? Was that action taken with a view to the avoidance of cross-examination in relation to its contents’?
– I was responsible for that affidavit. I ask the honorable member to give notice of the second portion of his question.
– In view of the recent visit to Brisbane of the Director of Posts and Telegraphs, Mr. H. P. Brown, with respect to post office matters, and of the press statements in connexion therewith, will the Minister representing the Postmaster-General obtain for me the following information:: -
– I shall obtain the information for the honorable member.
.- by leave - For the information of honorable members, I announce the successful conclusion of a provisional agreement with the Belgian Government, whereunder that Government, in returnfor permission to import into Australia a limited quantity of Belgian window glass annually, has agreed, first, to remove all restrictions on the importation into Belgium of Australian frozen meat, and, secondly, to withdraw the threatened embargo against the importation of Australian cereals.
The effect of the arrangements that have been made in regard to window glass will be, to allocate the Australian market in this commodity on the following basis : -
Honorable members will recall that in December last the High Commissioner for Australia in London, the Right Honorable S. M. Bruce, acting under instructions from the Commonwealth Government, entered into a temporary agreement with the Belgian Government. That agreement contained a provision whereunder the Belgian Government would grant licences for the importation of Australian frozen meat into Belgium to the. value of the Belgian window glass admitted into Australia. As no permits for the importation of Belgian glass were issued, Australian meat exports to Belgium ceased shortly after this agreementwas signed. Our meat exports to Belgium in the first half of the year 1933-34 were valued at £33,410, compared with only £750 for the second half of the year. When the temporary agreement concluded by Mr. Bruce was terminated by the Belgian Government in August last negotiations for a new agreement commenced, but they were subsequently interrupted by the dissolution of Parliament. After the Government was reconstituted in September it resumed negotiations with Belgium, and this agreement is the outcome.
International obligations prevent the Commonwealth from granting an import quota exclusively to Belgium, and in order to meet this situation the Government has followed its policy of allotting import quotas among the different overseas supplying countries in proportion to the imports from those countries in previous years, except that in the case of the United Kingdom the quota has been allotted on a preferential basis. The British Government, recognizing the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the establishment of the sheet glass industry in Australia, the imposition of the deferred duties, and subsequently, the import embargo, has generously agreed to the application of the quota arrangements to imports from the United Kingdom.
When the initial negotiations with Belgium were commenced it was estimated that the Australian consumption of glass was 7,500,000 square feet per annum, and consequently this figure was adopted as a basis. In accordance with the percentages already mentioned the 7,500,000 square feet will be allotted as under -
The quantity to be allocated to overseas manufacturers will be divided as follows : -
Owing to the revival in the building industry it is estimated that the Australian demand is now at least 8,500,000 square feet of glass per annum. The allocation to Australian manufacturers will, therefore, be approximately 5,000,000 square feet, with corresponding increases to overseas supplying countries in accordance with the percentages for the excess demand previously referred to.
All the sheet glass permitted to be imported under the quota arrangements will carry the present revenue duties of2s. per 100 square feet, British preferential tariff, and 4s. per 100 square feet, general tariff, plus primage duty not to exceed 10 per cent. ad valorem. Protection will be given to the local manufacturer by the limitation on the quantities which may be imported. The local manufacturers should be able to carry on with an assured market for 5,000,000 square feet of glass, and a proportion of any additional demand which may result from a continuation of the building trade activities. The Government has also agreed that, should it be necessary at any time to increase the import quota owing to the temporary inability of local manufacturers to supply the full quota allotted to them, the additional imports will be allocated among overseas supplying countries on the same basis as the excess demand quota.
The agreement is for a period of twelve months commencing from the 1st November, 1934.
Mr.Scullin. - Will the agreement be brought before Parliament for ratification?
– It does not need ratification, because at present there is an embargo.
Mr.Scullin. - Will Parliament have an opportunity to discuss the agreement?
Mr.Scullin. - If the Government proposes to act before consulting Parliament, of what use will any discussion be?
-Provided neither party gives notice of its wish to terminate the agreement it shall continue until the prescribed two months’ notice is given. The
Australian and Belgian governments have also agreed to pursue negotiations for the conclusion of a more comprehensive agreement with the least possible delay. The agreement with Belgium represents an earnest endeavour on the part of the Government to retain a former valuable export market for Australian primary products while preserving a secondary industry.
– I again ask what opportunity Parliament will be given to discuss the agreement ?
– The right honorable gentleman will have his opportunity later.
– I ask for that opportunity before the Government takes action.
– I shall not be sidetracked by the Leader of the Opposition. Were the duty on glass so low that glass from overseas flooded the Australian market, the local industry would be destroyed ; whereas under the quota agreement, which I admit is a departure in tariff making, Australian manufacturers are guaranteed a definite market.
– But only for a limited production.
– It will be remembered that during 1933 Belgium placed an embargo on’ the importation of Australian frozen meat and proposed to apply similar restrictions to Australian cereals and fresh fruit. When it is recalled that during the last five years the average annual value of our direct exports to Belgium was - frozen meat, £200,000; harley £170,000 ; and wheat, £150,000, it will be realized that the Government was faced with a very serious situation. On the other hand, our imports of sheet glass from Belgium in the years prior to the establishment of the sheet glass industry in Australia were valued at about £100,000 annually, the peak being reached in 1925- 86 when glass to the value of £160,000 was imported.
Under the present arrangement Belgium will have the right to supply annually a minimum quantity of sheet glass, valued on the basis of importations in recent years at about £18,000 in
Australian currency, and larger quantities when the Australian demand exceeds 7,500,000 square feet.
– Has Belgium undertaken to accept Australian products in exchange ?
– Yes. In return for this concession Australia retains access to a market for meat, cereals and fresh fruit. Assessed on the base quota, the glass quota is worth approximately £10,000 to Belgium in its own gold currency.
As an indication of the value of the Belgian market to Australian primary industries I remind honorable members that our exports to Belgium of primary products other than wool and sheep skins, during the five years ended June, 1933, averaged £1,600,000 annually, while our direct exports of all produce averaged £5,250,000. On the other hand, our imports from Belgium averaged a little more than one-tenth of that amount, or £575,000 annually.
The effect of the Belgian embargo on barley was a matter of particular concern to the Government. Approximately 35 per cent, of the Australian production of barley is exported. Moreover, apart from the local consumption, South Australian barley is grown principally for the Belgian market and is of a type which cannot readily he diverted to other markets such as the United Kingdom. The Government strove to find other markets for that barley. Prior to the diminution of the trade last year owing to the uncertain trading position, Belgium took more than half of our total exports of barley; in 193.1-32 70 per cent, of our total barley exports were disposed of in that market.
As a matter of high policy, I emphasize that in its own interests Australia should endeavour to maintain and cultivate the friendliest, possible arrangements with such a valuable customer as Belgium. Being a highly industrialized and densely populated country, of small area, and consequently unable to provide all its requirements of raw materials and foodstuffs, Belgium must continue to he a large importer of those commodities which contribute so much to Australia’s economic welfare.
To those who are inclined to criticize this arrangement I point out that the existing and the proposed prohibitions by Belgium were brought about by the force of public opinion in Belgium.
– “We may be inclined to criticize, but we are not given an opportunity to do bo.
– The honorable gentleman would be more in his element discussing the Kisch case.
– I rise to a point of order. Long usage has established the custom - in my opinion, a proper one - that a. member who has been granted the privilege of making a statement by leave, and which, therefore, cannot be debated, does not abuse that privilege by making a party political speech or seeking a personal advertisement. The Minister is offending along both lines.
-In making a statement by leave the Minister should confine himself to the subject with which he was granted leave to deal. I remind the honorable member for Batman, however, that the Minister departed from the established’ practice only -because of dis*orderly interjections.
– The keynote of the trading policy of Belgium to-day is to divert its import trade to those countries which show a disposition, to trade with Belgium-. This policy has been adopted by the sheer weight of public opinion in that country. 7 ,ie present case is a striking illustra ion of the antagonism which can be ar.used in our good-customer countries by misguided action. The request of the grass manufacturers, that the deferred duty be imposed prior to the date to which it had been deferred, and years before the company was in a position to produce, glass, has brought about the present, position. Honorable members will recollect that in June, 1930, the then Government imposed duties which had been deferred by ministerial action to August, 1930. Belgium regarded this as a distinct breach of faith. The local industry was not in a. position to produce sheet glass until some years, later. This led the. Tariff Board to recommend the reversion to the revenue duties previously operating. The Government acted on the recommendation but, owing to the fact that the industry was in a transitory stage of establishment, a prohibition was imposed in September, 193&, until the Tariff Board could further examine the position. The prohibition was contingent only on there being no scarcity of glass in Australia. But between June, 1930, and the date of submission of the Tariff Board’s report in 1932, Belgium had decided that the circumstances warranted the adoption of a different trading policy towards Australia. The embargo imposed by the Lyons Government was not a complete one, as substantial quantities of sheet glass were admitted late in 1932 and early in 1933 to meet Australian requirements.
Honorable members will appreciate the difficult circumstances confronting the Government and will also realize that the division of the Australian market in this case is not indicative of the general policy of the Government in trade treaty making.
The Government anticipates that employment in the glass industry will not. be. greatly affected,, as until recently the output of the Australian factory was very little greater than the share of the market reserved to it under the new arrangements. If the present revival in building continues, the ‘ local industry should at a very early date be able to regain its manufacturing position and employing capacity.
I also desire to stress the fact that the glass industry as a whole has fared very well at the hand of Australia, and there should be every disposition on its part to contribute to the well-being of the primary industries and the national economy generally. It is largely a question of weighing employment in the barley and meat industries against employment in the glass industry. If, in the light of the figures I have quoted, honorable members will weigh the contribution to be made by the glass industry against the advantages accruing to the meat industry of Western Australia and agricultural industries of South Australia, and other states, they must agree with the course, of action taken by the Government.
The text of the notes exchanged expressing the agreement with the Belgian Government is as follows: -
The Minister for Trade and Customs to Theconsul-general, for Belgium in Australia.
I have the honour to inform you that pending the conclusion of a Trade Agreement regulating in a more complete manner the customs and tariff relations between the Commonwealth of Australia and Belgium His Majesty’s Government in the Commonwealth of Australia have agreed as follows: -
The foregoing arrangement in respect to the importation into Australia of Belgian plain clear sheet glass is. subject to the following mutual understandings: -
Minister for Trade and Customs. The Consul-General for Belgium, 160 Castlereagh-street, Sydney, New South Wales.
The Consul-general of Belgium in Australia to the Minister for Trade and Customs, Commonwealth of Australia.
Consulat General de Belgique. No. 1234.
I have the honour to confirm to the Commonwealth Government of Australia on behalf of the Government of His Majesty the King of the Belgians the following arrangement which has been arrived at in the course of our discussions in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra between August and November of the present year:
Pending the conclusion of a Trade Agreement regulating in a more complete manner the customs and tariff relations between the Commonwealth of Australia and Belgium His Majesty’s Government in the Commonwealth of Australia have agreed as follows : -
The foregoing arrangement in respect to the importation into Australia of Belgian plain clear sheet glass is subject to the following mutual understandings: -
I remain dear sir,
Consul-General of Belgium
The Honorable the Minister for Trade and Customs of the Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, F.C.T.
In order to give honorable members an opportunity to discuss the subject, I move -
That the paper be printed.
.- It is not possible for honorable members to debate the merits or demerits of this subject on the motion “ That the paper be printed”; but I shall take this opportunity to make one or two observations. I asked the Minister whether the House would be given an opportunity to discuss this treaty and he replied “ Yes. “ I then asked him whether the House would be given an opportunity to discuss the subject before action was taken in connexion with the treaty, and he re- plied that action was being taken at once. make an emphatic protest against this procedure. It is taking action behind the back of Parliament. “We are concerned at the moment not with the merits or demerits of this treaty, but with the fact that the treaty is probably the forerunner of many others which apparently will be put into operation before Parliament is asked to ratify them. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) was given an offensive answer when he asked the simple question whether the House would be given an opportunity to discuss the subject. With all due respect, I submit that the honorable member was perfectly in order in asking that question across the table.
– The right honorable member is fully aware that any interjectionis disorderly.
– Then there are times when very few members are in order. I contend that before action is taken in connexion with any treaty this House should be given an opportunity to decide whether the treaty should or should not be ratified. We have before us a trade treaty which will affect an important industry in this country. I am not proposing tostart a debate on the treaty, but I assure the Prime Minister and the Minister for Trade and Customs that if we are not given an opportunity to discuss the treaty now, before action is taken in connexion with it, we shall, in another way, make an early opportunity to discuss it. I suggest to the Prime Minister that he give instructions to the impetuous Minister for Trade and Customs that no action shall be taken to give effect to this treaty until Parliament has been given an opportunity to consider it. The mere recital of the facts without an opportunity to consider them in all their bearings and the mere adoption of a motion “ That the paper be printed” are not sufficient. I venture to say that honorable gentlemen who have cheered the introduction of this treaty have been influenced by their prejudice in certain directions. They do not know and appreciate the full effect of the treaty. The arrangement that has been made amounts to more than a 40 per cent. restriction of our production. As progress is made - and one would expect progress to be made - in the production of window and sheet glass the 40 per cent. of this trade that will go away from Australia will represent more glass than is at present being produced here. For the last two years this industry has been able to supply all the glass required in Australia, and has been employing Australian labour to manufacture it.
Mr.ArchieCameron. - At a price!
– The honorable member who so glibly interjected is apparently ignorant of comparative prices, or he would know that the price of glass has come down since the establishment of the industry in Australia. We are obtaining our supplies at a lower price than formerly and providing employment for our own people. The fact of the interjection having been made warrants me, as Leader of the Opposition, in saying that before action is taken to give effect to this treaty lie rights of Parliament should be respected, and honorable members should be afforded an opportunity to .discuss the subject in detail.
I support the view of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin). We have been told that this Parliament is supreme, but that statement has not been borne out by our recent experience. Parliament has had jio say whatever in respect of the treaty laid on the table this afternoon ; yet the effect of the treaty will be that the livelihood of certain people of this country will he taken away from them. Apparently two or three persons can exercise a kind of dictatorship without any reference of the matter to Parliament, and take a course that will rob many people of their livelihood. This treaty has been made behind the backs of the people’s representatives. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), and also the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White), said that there would be no interference with our tariff arrangements by the new Government ; but almost the first thing that happens after its assumption of office is that a quota system of imports is arranged with Belgium without any reference of the subject to the representatives of the people in Parliament. This treaty provides, in effect, that if there is any increased prosperity which results in more building being done in Australia, Belgium shall have the advantage of practically the whole of it insofar as sheet glass is concerned. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, if we are not given an opportunity to discuss this subject now, we shall take early action to make one, for we realize the necessity to protect the interests of the workers of this country. It is quite true that certain provisions have been made regarding particular primary products. We are just as deeply interested in this connexion as honorable gentleman who claim that they represent the farmers. I am sure that if any proposal were introduced which, in the opinion of those honorable gentlemen, adversely affected the farmers, they would insist on an opportunity being provided for them to discuss the subject in Parliament, and if no such opportunity were provided they would <be on their feet at once. Honorable members on this side of the chamber who represent, not only the workers, but also every section of the community, will avail themselves of every possible opportunity to protest against the action of the Government in entering into a trade agreement without consulting Parliament.
– It will mean more unemployment.
– Of course, it will. The Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies) and other Ministers have said from time to time that it is the desire of certain persons in the community to assume authority ; that is to say, to set up a dictatorship; but, by entering into an agreement with Belgium without consulting Parliament, this Government has introduced a form of dictatorship. We strongly protest against the action of the Government, and shall raise every obstacle we can to prevent the Government giving effect to an agreement between Belgium and the Commonwealth without, first consulting Parliament.
– The right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) has endeavoured to make it appear that by imposing an import, quota on glass without first giving Par.liament an opportunity to debate the matter, the Government has departed from precedent. Honorable members will readily recall the various tariff changes - if changes they could be called, because they were so violent - brought about by the Government led by the right honorable gentleman about three years ago.
– But this is a trade treaty.
– It has the same effect as hundreds of the new duties and embargoes imposed by the Government led by the right honorable gentleman and of which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) was the Minister for Trade and Customs. Prohibitive tariff schedules were tabled and we were prevented from debating them for nearly two years. A long list of straight-out prohibitive customs duties and surcharges was introduced by the Soullin Government.
– The Minister was not game to oppose them.
– We exhausted our rights under the Standing Orders in opposing them. I marvel at the audacity of the Leader of the Opposition in endeavouring to get away with a statement of that sort. What has been done? An agreement has been entered into between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of Belgium, and Parliament will have an opportunity, if it so desires, to debate the tariff changes. What is the nature of the bargain or what does the exchange represent in the matter of employment? We have re-opened the door for the export to Belgium of frozen meat, barley, and wheat, a trade, which, on the average for the past five years, is valued at £520,000 annually.
– I rise to a point of order. On the motion moved by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White), “That the paper be printed”, the Minister (Sir Henry Gullett) is proceeding to debate the subject in detail. The well-founded complaint of the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition is that we are prevented from discussing the subject. We are prevented from discussing it, as all the debate appears to be conducted from the other side of the chamber.
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has moved that a certain paper be printed for the purpose of allowing honorable members to discuss the subject-matter contained in that document.
– The statement made by the Minister for Trade and Customs was by leave.
-The question before the Chair is, “ That the paper be printed. “ The paper which the Minister for Trade and Customs moved be printed explains the agreement between the two countries, and that is the subject now under discussion.
– The agreement provides Australia with an opportunity to export annually £520,000 worth of primary produce, in return for which we are to permit Belgium to export to Australia window glass to the value of £18,000 per annum. That is the actual result of this proposal against which honorable members opposite are protesting. Surely more employment is involved in the annual production of £520,000 worth of Western Australian beef, South Australian barley, and Australian wheat - virtually new trade, because trade with Belgium in these commodities had ceased - than there is in the manufacture of £18,000 worth of window glass.
– We are protesting against the action of the Government in making an agrement without consulting Parliament.
– There is no other way in which it can be done. The embargo is operative at present.
– There is another way.
– There is a complete embargo on the importation of Belgian glass, but permits can be issued for the admission of a certain quantity of it, and to-day the Minister for Trade and Customs has issued such permits. The Government has taken the first opportunity to inform Parliament of the step which it has taken. I submit that it has subscribed very fully to the requirements of proper conduct and there at the moment I am perfectly happy to leave the matter.
– My objection is raised because the procedure usually followed when a Minister is given an opportunity to make a statement by leave has not been followed. In this case the House knows little or nothing of details whereas it should have an opportunity to discuss the matter with a full knowledge of the whole of the facts. That procedure, however, has not been followed this afternoon. The circumstances are not as has been suggested by the Minister directing negotiations for trade treaties (Sir Henry Gullett). In reply to the Opposition, he referred to certain action taken during the regime of the Scullin Government, but I remind the honorable gentleman that the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) was a member of that Government which took the action it did because we were importing into this country millions of pounds worth of goods, and immediate steps were necessary to correct the trade balance. Even the High Commissioner in London, Mr. Bruce, when Resident Minister there, agreed that it was the only course that could have been adopted. It is strange to find Ministers seeking to draw comparisons between the circumstances at that period and those with which we are faced to-day. Those honorable members opposite who snigger to-day must realize that the then Labour Government had no option but to do what it then did.
We are dealing with more than the matter of a tariff decision; it is a trade treaty in which many interests are involved, and all honorable members are entitled at least to an opportunity to discuss the Government’s policy. Otherwise, by a form of intimidation, as it is in this case, any foreign power could set out on a course which suited its interests, and force the Government to agree to a trade treaty behind the back of this Parliament. If we surrender to Belgium, we are merely offering an invitation to other powers to take similar action with regard to Australia, and the Parliament will be rubbed of its right to discuss these matters from all angles. Honorable members from different States may hold varying views about this treaty. Some may be interested very deeply in the barley industry, and may applaud the Government’s action, because it gives promise of some relief in districts where these primary producers are in a sore plight. I concede all that ; but let us remember that this treaty involves the interests of, not only the barley-growers in South Australia and other States, but also the glassworkers in the electorate of Cook and elsewhere. Honorable members who come from working class electorates should at least he permitted to make their contributions to the debate, even though their suggestions may not finally prove acceptable to the Government. If the views of all interests are voiced in this Parliament, and carefully considered, a more satisfactory trade treaty may be reached than by the means adopted by the Government. Honorable members on the ministerial bench should realize that t they are not possessed of all the brain capacity of the House. If a general discussion ensued, with a view to reaching the best possible treaty, we might be able to avoid hostile interjections across the chamber, such as we have heard this afternoon, and serve the best interests of Australia.
– The desire of the Government is to enable honorable members to have an oportunity to discuss this matter as early as possible, and that is why the Minister moved that the document be printed. I realize that honorable members would be at a disadvantage in discussing the treaty immediately, so I suggest that the printing of the document should be now agreed to formally. I give the House an undertaking that as soon as possible, having regard to other business requiring prompt attention, an opportunity will be afforded for the discussion of this treaty. I shall not now argue the merits of the Government’s action ; we accept responsibility for it. This action has been taken under powers that are inherent in the Minister for Trade and Customs, who, without consulting Parliament, could impose an embargo to-morrow, or could ration imports. At various times in the past, and for many months, action of this kind has been taken without Parliament being given an opportunity even to discuss the matter. I give an assurance that quite early-
– On what date?
– Within the next three sitting days, an opportunity to discuss the treaty will be given. Certain business must be disposed of to-day and tomorrow; but, within three sitting days, and possibly earlier, honorable members will be afforded an opportunity for a general discussion.
– We accept that assurance.
– If the formal motion for the printing of the document is agreed to, I shall provide means whereby honorable members may have a general discussion on the subject of the treaty.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– Regarding the statement of the Minister for Trade and Customs as to the benefit that would accrue to the frozen beef export trade of
Western Australia from the treaty recently concluded with Belgium, will the honorable gentleman indicate what part of that State will benefit mostly as a result of the treaty?
– The beef is a type not exported from the other States, and is not readily saleable in other parts. It has been sold in Belgium. It comes from the State Meat Works at Wyndham, whose exports in one year have amounted to as much as £200,000. Last year its exports however were practically negligible.
– Will the Minister for Commerce state what is the estimated value of barley exported to Belgium annually from South Australia ?
– I have not the figures with me, but I understand that last year £82,000 worth was exported.
– by leave - On the 15th November, the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) referred to the publication of statements in the press regarding the alleged possession by unauthorized organizations in the Commonwealth of rifles, machine guns, &c, and asked if there were any grounds for these statements. I replied to the honorable member to the effect that the Investigation Branch in Queensland was inquiring into the matter, and that I would later inform the House of the result. I have now received the following report from the Director of Investigation : -
Immediately the statement of Senator Collings was made in the Senate on the 14th instant, inquiries were instituted with a view to ascertaining whether there was any evidence available in support of the allegation. These inquiries are being continued, but up to the present no reliable evidence has been obtained, lt is known, however, that a body exists styled the Australian Legion, or the Australian Legion of ex-Service Clubs. This body is nonpolitical and non-sectarian, and is supported by returned soldiers. It was originally started in Sydney in 1923 as a break-off from the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, and the executive officers arc all men of high standing in the community
– - What does that mean?
– It also means that men like the honorable gentleman would not be admitted to it.
It is known also that a branch or similar organization was formed in Queensland, but its membership ia reported to be small.
With regard to the swastika badges referred to in the statement, this matter was investigated by our branch some months ago, when it was found that 1,000 badges had been manufactured by Messrs. Bishop & Son, of Brisbane, and ultimately delivered to a man named King at Townsville. King, who runs a “ Bingo “ table in Mackay, sells the badges to the public as lucky stars for 2s. each. He still has about 8S0 badges left.
Sales of surplus military arms and ammunition were made by the Defence Department to various people throughout the Commonwealth after inquiry, and these are used mostly for sporting purposes. The Ordnance Department will have a complete list of all recent sales.
It is submitted that in cases such as the one under notice alleging the existence of anticonstitutional bodies in the Commonwealth, every possible help should be made available by the informant to enable the responsible officers of the Government to clear the matter up. Informants can be sure that they will not be compromised in any way, and it is urged that in the interests of the Commonwealth it is not unreasonable to expect assistance from any citizen imbued with the ideals of national responsibility.
In addition to these inquiries made by the Director of Investigation, I also caused the matter to be investigated so far as the Defence Department was concerned, and I have ascertained that the statements contained in the press report relative to arms is very similar to rumours which have been current, especially in New South Wales, during the last three years. There is no doubt that individual members of organizations, such as the New Guard and similar bodies, and also communist bodies, such as the Workers Defence Corps, have weapons of various kinds. So long as the weapons are not concealable, i.e., revolvers and pistols, there is no law forbidding their possession by private persons. Frequent investigation, however, has shown that the proportion of persons possessing weapons is comparatively small.
The manufacture of small quantities of shirts of various hues has been brought to notice from time to time. The smallness of the quantities and the variety have not indicated anything of any moment.
Since the prohibition of the importation of arms and ammunition into Australia, the Defence Department has been selling arras and ammunition to the public under certain conditions approved by the Minister. These conditions are designed to ensure that the purchasers are reputable persons. .Firms who purchase for re-sale are required to keep a record of every sale for inspection by the department, whenever desired. I might point out that service rifles and ammunition are extensively used in kangaroo and buffalo hunting, and in killing, crocodiles. For the year ended the 30th June, 1934, the department sold throughout Australia 637 rifles and 1,040,758 rounds of small arms ammunition (exclusive of rifle clubs). These quantities incidentally are much below those imported into Australia before importation was stopped. The .310 rifles referred to are old stock for which there is no ammunition, a fact that makes their disposal very difficult.
The story of the machine gun in a building in Sydney has been told frequently in the last three years. It has always been found to be completely without foundation. Owing to the precautions which have been taken for the safe custody of Vickers machine guns and other weapons, there have been none lost by the Defence Department. There has never been any indication of possession by any organization of any automatic weapon.
No information is available concerning parts for assembling armoured cars by any Queensland organization. One Sydney organization was found to have the necessary mild steel plates to fit on twelve chassis. These passed into the possession of the Defence Department some twelve months ago.
– About two weeks ago I asked the right honorable the Prime Minister a series of questions dealing with the agreement entered into between the Commonwealth and the Anglo Persian Oil Company. “When might I expect a reply to those questions?
– The information sought by the honorable gentleman will be ready to-morrow.
– Last week the Minister for the Interior made a statement regarding the transfer of Commonwealth Government departments to Canberra. Oan he inform the House whether the Department of Commerce is one of the departments which it is proposed to transfer to Canberra?
– The transfer of the Department of Commerce along with that of other departments to Canberra is being considered.
– Will the Minister for Commerce inform the House whether he has yet received the second report from the royal commission on the wheat industry; if not, can he indicate when that report will be received by the Government? Will he also inform the House whether the statement appearing in to-day’s press, that he has already received the report and is drafting a bill on it, is correct?
– The second report of the royal commission on the wheat industry has not yet been received by the Government, but steps are being taken to expedite its presentation, and it is expected that it will be received very shortly. The newspaper report referred to by the honorable gentleman is not correct.
– Is the Assistant Treasurer in a position to give the House any information concerning the result of the recent Australian conversion loan in London?
– by leave- The Australian conversion loan in London for £14,602,000, applications for which closed on the 19 th instant, has been largely over subscribed. The number of applications for conversion was 9,186. Conversion applications, as is usual, have been allotted in full and cash applications have been allotted on a percentage basis. Allotment of the cash applications has been made as follows: - Up to £1,400, £100; from £1,400 upwards, approximately 9$ per cent.
Tie old issues covered conversion were -
by the recent
The new loan was issued at a rate of interest of 3J per cent., the price of issue being £99. It has a currency of 40 year.b with the option to the Government to redeem after 30 years. The interest yield to the investor is £3 6s. per cent, for the full period of 40 years. This rate compares with an interest yield of £3 13s. 8d. per cent, on the previous conversion loan issued in London in February, 1934. Savings in interest and exchange amount respectively to £100,000 and £25,000 per annum, a total of £125,000. The allocation of the saving on the conversion of the old securities is as follows: -
This conversion brings the total which has been carried out by the High Commissioner, Mr. Bruce, on behalf the Loan Council. to £124,500,000, all at progressively declining rates of interest.
– Has the Minister for Commerce seen in the press a statement that the Government -proposes to reimpo.se the tax on flour for the purpose of raising money with which to assist wheatfarmers? If so, will he state whether the statement was published with his authority, ot with that pf the Government?
– I have not noticed the statement, and it was not published with the authority of the Government.
Informal Votes : Invalid Postal Votes
– Will the Minister for the Interior obtain from the Chief Electoral Officer a report showing the principal causes of the large number <of informal votes cast at the last election for candidates to the House of Representatives and the Senate ?
– I believe that such a report would be valuable, and I shall obtain it.
– Will the Minister also have inquiries made regarding postal votes, not only those that are classed as informal, but also those which, for any other reason, are declared invalid? A large number of postal votes are sent in wrongly witnessed,, the witness failing to declare himself to be a justice of the peace or other authorized witness. Such rotes are invalid, but are not classified amongst the informal votes. In my electorate, 15 to 20 per cent, of the total number of postal votes were either informal or otherwise invalid.
– I shall consider the point raised by the honorable member, and, if it is practicable to obtain the information he desire3, I shall see that it is obtained.
– Has the Prime Minister a statement to make regarding the future sittings of the House ?
– At this stage I have not, but the matter will receive early consideration, and honorable members will be notified of the Government’s intention.
– Has the Minister representing the Postmaster-General any statement to make regarding the proposal to make Mascot the terminal point for the En gland- Australia air mail service?
– I shall make inquiries, and communicate with the honorable member later.
– Has the Government yet discussed with the visiting Ministers from New Zealand the embargo imposed by the New Zealand Government on the importation of Australian citrus fruits ?
– The negotiations with the Ministers from New Zealand will take place next week.
– Last week the Acting Leader of the House stated that, provided it could be shown that oil was being successfully produced from coal overseas or in Australia, consideration would be given to establishing and assisting a production unit in Australia. In view of the fact that the Lyon Brothers, of Wallsend, New South Wales, have demonstrated to the satisfaction of the State Government that- they can, by a low carbonization process, extract oil from coal, and have received assistance from that Government in their work, will the Commonwealth Government afford them financial assistance to enable them to carry on with a large-scale plant?
– As I understand the matter, the demonstration given by Lyon Brothers was successful to the extent that they actually produced fuel but it has yet to be demonstrated that they can produce it on a commercial basis.
– Their plant is not big enough.
– There are several processes by which oil oan be successfully extracted, and large sums are now being spent in Great Britain in order to demonstrate which process is commercially the best. If it can be shown that the process devolved by the Lyon Brothers is equally as good as the best of the processes being operated overseas, the Commonwealth Government is willing to assist the enterprise, but it is not prepared to spend money on purely experimental work. The Government is not concerned with any particular process, but sincerely wishes that a process will be evolved by which oil can be produced in commercial quantities, and which will enable employment to be found for our people.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the only successful company operating in Great Britain is producing oil by the low * temperature carbonization method from coal of a quality inferior to New South Wales coal?
– I am not an expert in this matter, and the honorable member may possess later information than I do.
– The Prime Minister would soon become an expert if he represented a coal-mining constituency.
– The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) should notbecome excited. All that he has done in regard to this matter up to date is to make a noise, but he has never yet put a practical proposal before the Government
– Hansard records show that I have done so on many occasions.
– The Development Branch has been concerning itself with this matter for months past, but so far it has not been possible to adopt any particular method. If a decision could be made, the Government would not hesitate to go ahead and co-operate in the production of oil as a means to providing employment. We must remember, however, that as a government we are responsible to the people of Australia, and while it is easy for honorable members to put forward the claims of this process or that - and I do not doubt their sincerity - the Government would not be justified in embarking on a scheme that had not a real prospect of success.
– Will the Minister administering the War Service Homes Department state when a branch of his department will commence operations in Adelaide?
– I have just completed arrangements with the Premier of South Australia for the establishment of a branch in Adelaide, and it will begin to operate immediately following upon the passage of certain necessary legislation which is now before the Legislative Assembly of South Australia.
– Is the Minister in a position to make a statement today as to the attitude of the department regarding the payment of municipal rates and taxes on war service homes now in the direct possession of the commission? If not, will the honorable gentleman, before the House rises, make a statement concerning this matter, which is of vital importance to local governing bodies ?
– I have not had an opportunity on behalf of the Crown to go carefully into all the phases of the question of the liability of defaulting purchasers and tenants of war service homes in respect of municipal, water, and other taxes of a local character. I can assure the honorable member, however, that satisfactory arrangements have been made so far as South Australia is concerned, and will be covered by legislation that is being introduced by the South Australian Government at the present time, so that local governing bodies in that State will not be prejudiced in any way.
– Is the Minister for Commerce in receipt of advices regarding the shipment of oranges from ‘New South Wales to Britain by the steamer Somerset? I am given to understand that these oranges left Australia in a disgraceful condition, and I am anxious to know what has happened to them.
– The examination of oranges for export has been under investigation by officers of the department, and I shall be able two or three weeks hence to supply the honorable member with the information he desires.
– Will the Minister for Defence inform the House when the new Australian cruiser is expected to arrive in Australian waters from Great Britain, and whether on its arrival it will be manned by an Australian crew?
– Speaking from memory I think the cruiser is due to arrive in Australian waters in August next. It will have an Australian crew.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).I have to inform the House that a reply has been received from the Belgian Government conveying the thanks of the
Government and people of Belgium for, and deeply appreciating, the expression of sympathy contained in the resolution which was passed by the House of Representatives in connexion with the death of King Albert of Belgium.
I have also to inform the House that I have received from Lady Gibson, widow of the late Sir Robert Gibson, a letter thanking the House of Representatives for its resolution of sympathy.
Formal Motion fob Adjournment.
– I have received from the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House this afternoon for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The need for immediate legislation to prevent the further exploitation of the people of Australia by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited.”
Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,
– In moving
That the House do now adjourn, in order to discuss the need for immediate legislation to prevent the further exploitation of the people of Australia by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, I propose to expose to the House a deliberate fraud perpetrated at the expense of the Australian people.
The Colonial Sugar Refining Company was established in 1855 by Sir Edward Knox, and has successfully evaded every attempt to probe its financial affairs. In recent years there have been three inquiries - the Piddington commission, which concerned itself entirely with the technical side of price fixation; the inquiry of the Public Accounts Committee in 1922; and the 1930 committee, of inquiry appointed by the then Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde). The most thorough was that of the Public Accounts Committee, which had many remarkable experiences in attempting to penetrate the veil which prevented them from obtaining the fullest particulars concerning the operations of the company.
The majority of the committtee refused to make any report, but Messrs. J. E. Penton, J. M. Fowler, J. G. Bayley, the late John West, and the present honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin), tabled a sensational report upon the affairs of the Sugar Control Board.
The committee reported that, in October, 1915, the then Prime Minister, Mr. W. M. Hughes, appointed Colonel Oldershaw as sugar dictator of Australia. He acted until October, 1920, dealing directly with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. As soon as the Public Accounts Committee commenced to probe the affairs of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, Mr. Hughes gave Colonel Oldershaw six months’ leave on full pay. He hurried away to London. Subsequently the Hughes Government gave Colonel Oldershaw an extension. The committee was unable to examine him on many sensational allegations.
Commenting in the Melbourne Herald of the 9th August, 1930, on the experience of the Public Accounts Committee in handling the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, the chairman, Mr. J. M. Fowler, made the following sensational statement . -
In the course of a lengthy inquisition into the tangled mazes of the subject, I came to certain definite conclusions. One of these was that the political influence of the wealthy sugar interests was so vast that relief was practically impossible; another, that the key to the whole situation was the extraordinarily rich company, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, which was able to throw a smoke’’ screen around all its dealings with such effect that the committee was not able to get at any facts on which to base a recommendation; lie third was that this difficulty was deliberately engineered, because the company dared not let its huge profits become known.
Those very specific allegations were made by a man who, I understand, had the respect of all parties in this House, and who had observed the demeanour of the representatives of the sugar interests in the witness-box. Continuing, Mr. Fowler stated -
As a result of the arrangement’ entered into by the Commonwealth Government, with interested parties and the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, Australia has paid, over and above a fair price for its sugar, the enormous tribute of £50,000,000.
Consideration of the embargo oh cheaper foreign sugar is not complete unless the position of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is taken into account. It dominates the planters, the millers, the workers - even the Parliaments of Queensland and the Commonwealth. Every household in Australia pays its tithes to it. Through ito influence, wielded with no fanfare of trumpets, it has been able to have it* monopoly renewed without giving the people’s representatives any opportunity of protesting against conscienceless exactions.
The sugar interests certainly operate silently and their power, not only politically, but also in finance and in determining the policy of the Sydney Morning Herald, the Government’s principal party organ in New South Wales, will he shown later.
The recent proposals that shocked the sugar consumers of Australia went, briefly, that the entire assets of .the Colonial Sugar Refining Company should be re-valued, and that bonus shares, amounting to £7,000,000, should be distributed to shareholders. Thus; in one operation, concealed assets amounting to £7,000,000, built up at the expense of the Australian sugar consumers, are disclosed, and. are to be parcelled out. It is the duty of the Government to determine what proportion of that £7,000,000 should rightly have gone to the Federal Taxation Department, as the Colonial Sugar Refining Company admits (hat it pays taxation at the rate of 4s. 6d. in the £1 on all dieclosed profits.
It must also be left to the Government to determine what proportion of the £7,000,000 should have been paid to revenue as excess wartime profits. The entire transaction reeks of financial gerrymandering.
On the 5th July, 1934, the Assistant Treasurer (Mr: Casey) introduced a bill to amend the Income Tax Assessment Act to deal with the federal system of taxation with regard to the method’ of taxing distributions of profits by companies. But when the bill was being considered in committee on the 27th July, the honorable gentleman moved an important amendment to his original bill, providing for the continuance of the present law in respect of bonus shares in the case of those distributed bv a company up to the 31st December, 1934. As the Assistant Treasurer said at the time, this meant that, instead of the new law coming into operation against bonus share distributions out of profits immediately the new provision was enacted, companies would have until the end of the present year to make such distributions. I refer honorable members to Hansard, No. 9, of 1934, page 849. As the Assistant- Treasurer himself admitted, this was one of the principal representations made to the Government since the amending bill had. been introduced. In view of the proposed distribution of £7,000,000 by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, it is not hard to guess the source of the representations mentioned by the Assistant Treasurer. It is very evident that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company managed to secure exemption until the 31st December, and therefore if the proposed distribution is authorized at next Wednesday’s meeting of the company, it will be “within the law “ by just a few days over a month. Apart from the loss of revenue, it is another glaring instance of the pressure the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is able to exert on governments. Had the amending bill become law without the alteration made at the behest of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, the £7,000,000 proposed to be distributed by that company would have been subject to a much higher rate of taxation than will now be the case.
This is not the first occasion that the Colonial Sugar -Refining Company has treated its shareholders to distributions of bonus shares. Are honorable members aware that not one penny of subscribed capital remains in the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and that the present 12$ per cent, dividends are being paid by the sugar consumers on watered capital? The figures speak for themselves. The actual paid-up capital of the company amounted to £2,425,000. In 1920 and 1923, cash distributions were made in the form of non-taxable war loan bonds and cash, amounting to £3,900,000. Actually, shareholders of the company have already had £1,475,000 more returned to them than they have subscribed, in addition to the huge dividends they have drawn without interruption. Not content with such generosity, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has already issued bonus scrip amounting to £7,325,000. When the new amount of £7,000,000 is issued, the total amount of watered capital authorized will amount to £14,000,000, not one penny of which has real substance in subscribed capital, but every penny of which has been subscribed by the Australian people in their sugar purchases. So anxious have speculators been to buy into the Colonial Sugar Refining Company that £20 shares have soared to new record height’s in recent weeks. In 1932, when the shares were quoted at £53 each, they were considered good investments; but following the announcement that £7,000,000 worth of bonus shares were to be distributed, the value of £20 shares climbed to £80. Time after time, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has watered its capital, and has been able to increase its profits in order to provide the customary 12£ per cent, dividend. Is the latest move temporarily to lower the dividend rate until public indignation dies down, and then to pay the old rate on the new inflated capital to prove successful?
The sugar interests will probably issue the usual barrage of propaganda and call upon its defenders to prove that they have never been found out in their exploitation of the public. But if honorable members will refer to the report of the Auditor-General, tabled in this House on 19th February, 1932, they will find the following scathing comments on the monopoly exercised by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company: -
In regard to the sugar industry in Australia, concerning which there are many debatable features, it is unquestionable that the arrangements made for financing it imposes on tha community an enormous additional cost, adding to the expense of the home of rich and poor alike. World prices of sugar to-day in Java and Cuba are about £0 a ton. Australian prices are about £30 a ton. On a local consumption of 300,000 tons and, after making various allowances, the cost of the industry upon the community is probably £7,000,000 a year.
The Auditor-General proceeds to point out that actually it would pay Australia to divert the employees into other industries, as they could be paid award wages without costing an additional penny. It is not my intention to debate that question, which is entirely divorced from the point at issue, other than to declare that we do not agree with it. Naturally, we believe in maintaining the sugar industry with white labour, but we do oppose this ideal being made an excuse and a protection for wicked bare-faced robbery. The Auditor-General continues -
It is difficult to refrain from comment on the great success achieved, by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, which, from a capital’ of £2,425,000 paid up in cash, has, out of profits, built up a business of paid-up capital pf £5,850,000, besides reserves, after allowing for depreciation, of £8,500,000.
During many years, large dividends have been paid, besides a return to the shareholders of £3,000,000 in cash out of capital provided by bonuses. Although profits have slightly declined, those disclosed are still ample to pay a dividend of 124 per cent, on the existing paidup capital, even in this time of depression, and when special arrangements have been made to raise the price of sugar artificially.
There can be no doubt that this company has attained its present prosperous and monopolistic position as the result of the high price which the consumers of Australia have paid, and are continuing to pay for sugar.
It is ‘interesting to note that the Auditor-General also advised the Government that the sugar agreement is not specially authorized by any legislation of the Commonwealth. Yet under it the price of sugar is fixed at 4d. per lb. until 81st August, 1936 - the price for internal consumption being fixed at £33 4s. a ton. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company is thus assured of a certain income from the 330,000 tons of sugar consumed in Australia for that period, and although wages may fall the company still receives the same rake-off as it did during the boom days of prosperity.
Before considering the nature of the rake-off, the holdings of the principal members of the sugar interests should be examined. First and foremost is the Knox family. Since the early blackbirding days, the members of the Knox family have been ia the sugar “ bowl “. A royal commissioner would certainly find plenty to occupy him in attempting to dissect the Knox holdings. With men of substance and dummies, the registered holdings of the group amount to 40,058 shares nominally valued at £801,160 - holdings which if the proposed distribution is effected will be automatically doubled - and of a present day value of £3,204,640. The chairman of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, Mr. Edward Knox, is the principal holder of this parcel of shares, and, in addition to multiple holdings, there is the tangled skein of number two accounts. Even more interesting is the appearance in the list of the Fairfax family, holding 3.341 shares with a face value of £66,820. and a market value of £9.«7.9,80. The Fairfax family also owns the Sydney
Morning Herald, and the family’s interests in sugar is reflected in the ready defence in’ the financial columns of that journal of the sugar combine and the new issue of the bonus shares.
When the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Mr. Fowler, referred to “ political influence of the wealthy sugar interests “ and the domination of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company over Parliaments, he was obviously referring to the Fairfax interests.
Then we have the Augustus Faithfull group with shares of present market value of £225,680, and the MacarthurOnslow with a holding of £192,080. Even the chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board, Sir Claude Reading, is found to have holdings in this “ prosperous and monopolistic “ concern, paying its 12 per cent, profits at the expense of the sugar consumers of Australia. All our so-called “ best people “ are living on the fruits of one of the most audacious pieces of financial bushranging in the history of Australia.
It is necessary to ascertain how the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has been able to make its exorbitant profits “ within the law “, with the approval of the various Australian Governments, under the cloak of the White Australia policy. This is the company which exploited the black labour of Fiji, importing coolies and Malays when the Fijians refused to accept any longer the slave conditions imposed by it. Also, during tha war, this company actually sold to the Federal Government sugar from its Fiji plantations, grown with black labour at ls. a day, for as much as £50 a ton. However, in the time at my disposal I can deal only with the operations of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company in Australia.
In the publicity on behalf of the sugar interests, in addition to sheltering behind the White Australia policy, it is pleaded that under the agreement its charges are fixed. When the 1930 royal commission investigated the position it was represented that the profits of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company were defined within strict limits in accordance with every ton of sugar handled. The refining was stated to be performed at actual cost, without profit to the company, at £2 13s. 6d. a ton. Marine insurance, use of sacks and railage absorbed 14s. a ton. The interest charged by the company for financing the purchase of raw sugar amounted to 7s. 5d. a ton, while it received, in addition, £1 a ton to cover depreciation and interest on plant, together with management costs.
If figures presented under these headings represented the actual position and costs of the company, the balance-sheet should reflect the actual position of the company. Considerable stress was placed by the ‘Colonial Sugar Refining Company on the fact that it did. Yet it is now proposed to capitalize £7,000,000 of hidden profits at one operation. At the same time the company admits that there are still ample reserves to assure the holders of the inflated capital of every security.
Not since the Hughes Government, in 1922, brushed aside the recommendation of the royal commission of £22 a ton and fixed the price of raw sugar at £30 6s. 8d. and that of refined sugar at £49 a ton - or 6d. a lb. to the consumers - has there been such an outcry as at this issue of £7,000,000 bonus shares.
When the Public Accounts Committee conducted its inquiry in 1922 it found that among the charges debited by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company to the Sugar Board was £248,076 as interest on the overdraft. Yet the management charge of £1 a ton was supposed to include those interest charges. The committee’s report stated -
The committee has not discovered any sufficient reason why the Colonial Sugar Refining Company was released from this responsibility without having to offset it accordingly. The only explanation offered by the company in evidence was that it was unable to finance the heavy purchases which have to be made.
Whatever the reason, the fact remains that the Commonwealth Bank was enabled to make £248,070 interest on the overdraft account, and tho amount was debited against the retail consumers of sugar to be worked off at the price of Od. a lb.
Commenting on the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s accounts, the Public Accounts Committee stated that neither the royal commission nor the committee had been allowed to see the actual costs. The report stated -
It is only reasonable to infer that if these costs, taken in relation to charges, showed only a fair profit, there would not be any difficulty In revealing them.
In addition to issuing this Christmas gift of £7,000,000 to its shareholders, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company proposes to increase its dividend next year to cover the extra amount of taxation to be paid on the bonus distribution. The meeting to confirm the distribution has been fixed for next Wednesday, 28th November. In the interests of the sugar consumers of Australia, who will be called on to pay tribute to this monopoly to enable it to maintain its dividends on its inflated capital,. I ask that the Government take appropriate steps to prevent the company from proceeding any further with its plans, and that legislation be introduced to prevent the company from further exploiting the people of Australia.
.- I support the motion but do not expect the Government to take the action indicated by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), because members of the Ministry, if not directly interested in such forms of high finance, are, at all events, indirectly interested as the representatives of that section of the people which is so closely identified with private concerns of this nature. In this plot, for such it may be described, to -increase fictitiously the capital of the company, the directors of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company have, in the interests of their shareholders, conspired to defraud the Australian public of many millions of pounds. The 292,500 shares in the company have a book value of £20, but an actual market value of approximately £77. Those who have endeavoured to secure information concerning the operations of this company must have been astounded at movements of the shares during the last few months. People possessing inside information have, by steady buying pressure, created a demand for the shares until, as I have stated, they have reached as high as £77. The honorable member for West Sydney has examined closely the history of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company and has shown that the amount actually invested in the undertaking was £2,425,000. As he has reminded the House, this is not the first occasion on which the Colonial Sugar Refining Compa.ny has handed to its shareholders considerable sums of money. In 1920 and 1923 cash distributions were made in the form of non-taxable war loan bonds and cash, amounting to £3,900,000, a sum much in excess of the capital invested. Shareholders have not been obliged to rely solely upon the half-yearly dividends for a return on their investment, because the directors have, overnight, as it were by the issue of bonus shares, increased the value of shareholders’ investments by £1.6,600,000.
Honorable members supporting the Government never tire of reminding Labour members that the Government, through the medium of the Commonwealth Bank, cannot create credit for necessary public works. Apparently the directors of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company have greater power than that enjoyed by the Commonwealth Government. This company, it should be noted, has a monopoly of the Australian market as the result of an agreement between the Commonwealth and the Queensland Governments, and is thus in a particularly favoured position. A few years ago, when negotiations were proceeding for a renewal of the agreement, the company approached the courts in Queensland with the object of securing a reduction of 12i per cent, of the basic wage, notwithstanding that it was already benefiting from many previous reductions of wages costs. Recently also it applied for a re-introduction of the 48-hour week in the industry. This is how the workers in the industry are being treated by a company that enjoys the protection given to it by this Parliament. I should not be surprised if, very shortly, we read of further applications by this concern to the various tribunals asking for still further reductions of wages. No doubt it will plead that the industry cannot afford to pay the present rates. This is the stock argument of all private concerns whose first consideration is a return in the form of dividends to shareholders. In the case of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, an attempt is now being made to ensure to shareholders a further rake-off in the form of dividends on bonus shares. If the company is to return to its shareholders the same rate of interest ,on the bonus shares as on the original share capital it will be necessary for it to earn in the next twelve months an additional £730,000. I ask honorable members: How do they expect this wealthy company to earn this additional amount ? I have heard the opinion universally .expressed that this is an efficient industry. That being the case, the additional return will not be secured by the introduction of improved methods of prod-action. Evidently, therefore, the intention is to obtain it at the expense of the workers in the industry. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company and other controllers of industry in Australia are the real government of the country. They are able, overnight, to increase their wealth, or to make it appear that they have done so - because the value of their assets is not increased - with impunity. Yet, whenever the proposition is placed before this Parliament that the wealth of the country should be utilized, for the benefit of the people generally, the retort is that no money is available. The latest action of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company cannot be described as other than robbery. Although the company may be protected by the law, it is nothing but a legalized robber, because it is taking millions of pounds out of the pockets of the public.
It has been said repeatedly in this House that the great bulk of the profits of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company are made, not in Australia, but in Fiji. Assuming that to be correct, why did the company commence operations in Fiji? Was its action not dictated by a desire to avoid taxation which had been imposed by the Commonwealth Government? It can no longer hide from the public the fact that it has hidden away millions of pounds in suspense accounts and reserves, and, the Government having belatedly decided to amend the lucerne Tax Assessment Act, it has decided once more to avoid Commonwealth taxation by a further issue of bonus shares. If honorable members believe that that should be permitted, let them answer for their action. As I have already said, the purpose of the motion of the honorable member for West Sydney is to induce the Government to bring forward preventive legislation. I have no hope of the Government doing, that, because I am satisfied that, just as in other walks of life, there are class alignments, there are in this Parliament some honorable members who represent the exploiters while others represent the exploited, and that consequently it is useleas for Labour members to hope for legislation that will affect adversely the interests of those to whom Government members owe their support. But it is possible for Labour members to expose the activities of this company. It has been said that three inquiries have been held into its operations. Much of the evidence taken at the last inquiry was given in cambra, the representatives of the company being unwilling to disclose to the public the exact amount of profits it was making. This attitude is adopted not only by the sugar monopoly, but ako by other activities. By glossing over their profits and placing them in reserves, by writing down their assets to a ridiculously low figure compared with market.values, they are able to hide from the public their fabulous earnings. The Labour party should state definitely that, if given the opportunity to do so, it will tackle this matter. These and other people who control private enterprise have been unduly exploiting the workers, and action should he taken to prevent them from continuing to do so.
.- I am glad that this matter has been raised by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), and that I am able, more or less, to cotoperate with him. The sugar monopoly is responsible for the gravest exploitation of the public that has ever existed iu Australia. That exploitation is the mora serious in that it has gone on under the eyes, and with the approval of, Parliament - not of one party alone, hut of whatever government happened to he in power for the time being - during a number of years.
The facts adduced to-day by the honorable member for West Sydney are not wholly new. Much of the same material was disclosed at the several inquiries that have been held into the sugar industry. For years enormous profits have been made, totalling in round figures £1,000,000 a year, including reserves. The facts are well known to the people of Australia, and have been clearly placed before Parliament; yet. this is the first occasion on which definite action has been taken not only to limit the profits that are made by the company, but also to give some protection to the consumers of sugar in Australia. The only point upon -which I differ from my friends opposite is that I should like some practical step to be taken. It is useless to request the Government to introduce legislation immediately to prevent the public from being exploited.
– That is all that we can do..
– If the Labour party were to take practical action I believe that it would receive from this side of the House sufficient support to have that action put into effect It is of no use simply to attack this company. It has made its profits within the law. I believe that the law is wrong. If the company has improperly evaded taxation the Commissioner is sufficiently astute to see that it pays what it should. “Robbery” is not the proper term to apply to what it has done. Its profits have been earned in accordance with legislation passed by this Parliament, and what we want is an alteration of the law. I should be very pleased to support a motion for the review of the agreement under which sugar is sold retail to the people of Australia at 4d. per lb. The profits disclosed are so large as to prove that the people of Australia are paying much more than a fair price for their sugar. That, in other words, is exploitation, the continuance of which it is the duty of Parliament to prevent. Hitherto, the Labour party, in common with the party of which I am a member, has supported the sugar monopoly. The establishment of that monopoly enabled good wages to be paid, with the result that the cooperation of unions of employees was secured, and with it the support of the Labour party as the representative of those unions. Combination along these lines is not confined to the sugar industry, but exists also in connexion with iron and steel, and practically every industry in Australia which en joys monopolistic conditions and is able to maintain excessive profits. I am glad that the members of the Labour party, representing as they do the consumers of Sydney and other large cities, are at last realizing that they are not advancing the best interests of their people when they maintain these monopolies. It is true that some workers in Queensland and some very prosperous people, who live mostly in Sydney, derive great advantages from the sugar industry. The consumers of Australia generally, however, contribute to the building up of the huge profits derived from the industry. Two methods may be adopted to deal with the position that confronts us. One is the temporary cancellation and the review of the agreement. There is a duty on sugar of £9 6s. 8d. a ton. That, together with primage and exchange, should afford ample protection to the industry - protection amounting to more than 100 per cent. Surely that is adequate for a commodity which is used by the whole of the community. If the embargo upon the importation of sugar into Australia were removed, the industry would be obliged to conduct its operations on a fair basis. There would still be ample margin for the payment of good wages and the making of fair profits. If the Labour party will make a practical suggestion for the review of the agreement, I feel sure that I can promise it sufficient support from this side of the House to have it carried into effect.
.- I support the purpose of the motion - that some action be taken by the Government with respect to this monopoly - but for a reason different from that given by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn). The honorable member advanced arguments which have been submitted before, in favour of the reduction of the protection given to an Australian industry against the black labour which is engaged in the sugar industry in other countries. Such a proposal I will not support. The sugar industry in Australia employs 25,000 men, and an additional 100,000 persons are indirectly dependent upon it. Australia is the only country in which cane is grown in the tropics under white-labour conditions. The Labour party stands for the maintenance of those conditions, and the industrial workers of this country are prepared to maintain them at the price which is asked. Therefore, I am not in favour of the suggestion that the embargo against the importation of sugar into Australia should be removed, nor even of the measure of protection suggested, because the result would be the importation of a large percentage of black-grown sugar. Nor do I think that that was the purpose of the mover of the motion. Again, I say that this is a great monopoly. It has exploited the people of various countries, but, so far as the consumption of sugar in Australia is concerned, it has been well tied up for many years under various governments. Before the sugar agreement was entered into and the embargo imposed, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, which has a monopoly of the refining of sugar in Australia, exploited, not only the consumers of sugar, but also the growers of cane in Australia and the workers in every branch of the industry.. It brought into and refined in this country black-grown sugar. It built up reserves totalling millions of pounds, which it invested in different parts of the world, where it is now making its profit of £1,000,000 a year.
All honorable members are, I am sure, deeply interested in the subject-matter of the motion submitted by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) because of the wide-spread ramifications of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. Some of the activities of that concern are beyond the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Parliament. This company has always resisted attempts to fix the price to be paid by Australian consumers for its product, and being largely interested in Fiji, where sugar is produced under black-labour conditions, it has desired complete freedom to dump its product from black-labour countries on the Australian market.
There are two aspects of the subject to which I think attention should be directed. One was touched upon by the honorable member for West Sydney, namely, the issue of bonus shares and the effect of this course upon revenue. The initial blunder was made by this Parliament when it enacted that bonus shares should be free from taxation. Although it may be true that bonus shares, representing undistributed profits, have already paid the company income tax, it should be borne in mind that the rate of taxation -on companies is lower than that payable by wealthy shareholders. During the war period, the rate was in-creased substantially, but in recent years, it has not been more than ls. or ls. 4d. in the £1, whereas the rate of income tax on individual shareholders may be as much as 4s. or even 6s. in the £1. No honorable member will deny that wealthy share- - holders of the ColonialSugar Refining Company receiving the bonus shares which are about to be issued, will have escaped a substantial amount of taxation by being required to pay only the company rate of tax. No portion of the £7,000,000 represented by bonus shares would be taxable after the 3lst December next, if it represented the accretion of capital. But a large proportion of the amount to be distributed by this company represents accumulated profits, and the company is taking advantage of the extension of time provided for in the amendment of the Income Tax Assessment Act last year. That amendment was approved by this Parliament because it was thought to be reasonable to allow companies an extension of time within which to distribute reserve profits in the normal way. I am, however, fully convinced that no member of this Parliament, not excepting members of the Ministry, contemplated that any company would take advantage of this provision in the act to issue bonus shares to the amount of £7,000,000, and thus escape such considerable liability under the income tax law.
– How many shareholders are there in the Colonial Sugar Refining Company?
– I do not know, but I do know that some very wealthy people control its operations, and that a not inconsiderable proportion of the company’s profits comes from subsidiary concerns outside Australia. Following action taken by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), when Prime Minister some years ago, the company’s activities in Australia have been fairly well controlled, and if complaint is made about the price which Australian consumers have to pay for sugar, we should remember that the article is produced under conditions ensuring fair wages to Australian workers and a reasonable return to growers. That is not where the trouble lies. It goes back to the time when the company, untrammelled by State or Commonwealth legislation, paid low wages and made enormous profits not only in Australia, but also in Fiji, from sugar grown by black labour. Having in mind what this company has done, the Government should review its income tax legislation in order to safeguard the revenue.
The immense profits which this company is making are derived from the sale, to other parts of the world, of sugar grown under black-labour conditions, and also by its investments in Australia and abroad of the accumulated profits of past years.
Under the sugar agreement, rigid control is exercised over the company, and the net profit which it makes from the allowance provided for in the agreement does not exceed l/12th of a penny per lb., which is, of course, apart from the interest upon money loaned to growers and millers to finance the crop, for which the company receives½percent less than the bank rate of interest.
An important aspect of the subject to which I would direct the attention of the Government is the disparity in the preference granted by Great Britain to sugar produced by black labour in Fiji, as compared with the preference given to sugar produced in Australia. The company produces in Fiji 140,000 tons a year, upon which it enjoys a preference in the British market of £6 15s. a ton, whereas the British preference to Australian sugar produced by white labour is only £3 15s. a ton. Representations should be made in the right quarter to have this anomalyrectified. The Australian sugar industry has to compete with those conditions and its surplus which is sold in the world’s markets is approximately one-half of its total Australian production. Honorable members who speak of the profits made by sugar-growers and millers, who obtain £23 a ton for raw sugar, forget that the average price is only £15 a ton, because on the surplus sold overseas they incur a loss. The Australian sugar industry has not been spoon-fed, and the figures quoted by the Auditor-General are a monstrous travesty of the facts. I earnestly ask the Government to direct attention to the matter of bonus shares in order to see how it is being deprived of revenue in a way which Parliament never intended, and also to see that sugar produced by black labour should not receive greater preference than Australian sugar on the British market.
– I am delighted to find myself viewing this subject from the same angle as the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), but I am astounded at the ignorance displayed by many honorable members of the circumstances surrounding the Australian sugar industry. We hear ad nauseam of the exploitation of the people, but those who say these things evidently are unaware that the policy in operation today is substantially that which was launched under the auspices of Labour nineteen years ago. Substantially the conditions under which the Australian sugar industry is operating to-day are those which were formulated in 1915. The justification for the policy of successive governments in relation to the sugar industry is to be found not in any political or economic circumstances, although it may be defended from either angle, hut in the national and geographical circumstances of Australia. But for the Australian sugar industry the position in Queensland would be untenable. There would be thrown upon the Australian people the responsibility - quite beyond its power - of defending a littoral of some 1,500 miles almost entirely unsettled, and which by its fertility and vulnerability invited attack. The prosperity of the sugar industry is essential to the safety of Australia.
The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) said that the Australian sugar consumers are exploited. What are the facts ? The Australian consumer pays 4d. per lb. for sugar. In England to-day it is 2½d. per lb. which, when expressed in terms of Australian currency, is 3id. per lb. Sugar is cheaper in London to-day than it is in any part of Europe, and I venture to say that upon a fair comparison the price of Australian sugar, produced by white labour, will compare favorably with that in any part of the world. The price in the United States of America is about the same as it is in London, and, expressed in terms of
Australian currency, is about 3^d. per lb. It is sold at that price because black-grown sugar from Hawaii and the Philippines is admitted free of duty. We cannot afford the luxury of permitting black-grown sugar from Fiji or elsewhere to come into -Australia. The sugar industry is an integral part of our national life. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) states that there is “ nee’d for immediate legislation to prevent the further exploitation of the people of Australia by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company”. I direct the attention of honorable members to the fact that the honorable member for West Sydney was himself a member of the Government which in 1931 was responsible for the appointment of a committee to inquire into the sugar industry. It is true that he resigned from the Ministry on the 4th March, before the agreement approved by that committee was tabled, but he was still a member of the House. He knew the terms of that agreement, which were substantially the same as in the present agreement, but he did not raise his voice against it. As the honorable member is not easily deterred from expressing hi, opinions, we can assume that he heartily endorsed the agreement. In fact the agreement passed on the voices and evoked no criticism; only three just men in the House raised their voices against it. The present agreement is, as I have stated, substantially the same as,that of 1931, and of every other agreement under which the industry has been operating since 1915. I say to the honorable member that whatever may be said of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company to-day - I am the last to act as its champion, as I have lead the cohort against it - could have been said at any time during the last nineteen years.
If it makes excessive profits, it does not make them out of its business in Australia. We have clipped its wings very thoroughly and the amount the company is paid for its services leaves no room for criticism. In any case, whatever they are to-day they were in 1931, yet the honorable member for West Sydney remained silent, when, by raising his voice, he could have saved the people from what he now calls exploitation. When he and his followers joined forces with honorable members on this side of the chamber the Scullin Government was defeated. Therefore upon him and his associates rests the whole responsibility for the renewal of the sugar agreement.
Mr.Scullin. - The honorable member for West Sydney is not attacking the agreement-
– For all practical purposes he is.
Mr.Scullin. - He is not attacking the Colonial Sugar Refining Company in its relation to the agreement.
– I am speaking of the alleged exploitation of the people by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.
Mr.Scullin. - The honorable member for West Sydney referred more particularly to the evasion of taxation.
– The conditions in 1931 were substantially the same as in 1917 and 1925 and at other subsequent renewals. If they evade taxation now, they evaded it then; if they make huge profits now, they made them then. But as I have pointed out they have not made excessive profits out of their Australian business since the firstsugar agreement in 1915. What is the position of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company under the agreement? The refining charge is £2 3s.9d a ton, which covers the cost of packages, time and refinery workers’ wages. Ten years ago the charge was £3 a ton, but eachyear, according to the actual costs certified by the Auditor-General for Queensland, that charge has been reviewed. The company has never received more than 20s. a ton which nets it 15s. 9d. a ton. After providing for depreciation, which is set down at 4s 3d., the company is left with an annual allowance of 15s. 9d. a ton and that is all it gets. That amounts to l-12d. per lb on refined sugar sold in Australia. Does the honorable member say that that is exploitation of the people? If the company were paid nothing the price of sugar would be 1-12d. per lb. less! The honorable member spoke of monopolies. Insofar as raw sugar is concerned, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is not a monopoly. It has only eight raw-sugar mills out of a total of 37 in New South Wales and Queensland. Insofar as its refining business is concerned, although it is by far the greatest operator, it has not a complete monopoly. In any case, however, its profits in Australia are limited to 15s. 9d. a ton. It is quite true, as the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, that it makes great profits, but it does not make them in Australia. We have not jurisdiction over the profits it makes outside Australia. It has been stated to me that at least half the profits of the company are made outside Australia altogether. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, these profits have been swollen in recent years, because of the £3 preference given by Great Britain on colonial sugar grown by black labour over dominion sugar grown by white labour. I have pointed out that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company gets 20s. a ton for refining which, after allowing for depreciation, leaves it worth 15s. 9d. net. The company makes a charge of 7s. 5d. a ton for interest on the funds provided by it to finance the purchase of the raw sugar crop of Australia. The position in 1931 was that the export surplus which then was 40 per cent. of the whole - though it is now nearer 50 per cent. - amounted to 350,000 tons. The company financed the whole of that, advancing the capital necessary to carry on the business. This involved the use of capital amounting to £1,500,000, while for the whole of the output of sugar, local and export, no less than £7,000,000 capital is involved. On this the company received, in 1931, 4½ per cent. for the use of its money. The charge of 7s. 5d. a ton covers the interest on the capital provided by the company to finance the purchase of the crop. If the company did not finance the crop in this way, we should have to finance it through the banks, and while the rate of interest paid to the company in 1931 was4½ per cent., the arrangement is that the rate of interest shall fall with the bank rates pari passu. The interest paid to the company is always½ per cent. less than the rate at which the money could be obtained from the banks. The industry is thus financed at lower rates than would otherwise be possible, the company’s profit is strictly limited, and the consumer gets sugar at a reasonable rate. The sugar industry is the only one in Australia which is completely stabilized; arrangements have been made to cover every phase of its operations. It ensures to the workers decent wages and conditions, and to the cane-growers reasonable prices for their cane, while the community is protected from exploitation.
– The company fights the workers every time a claim goes before the court.
– The honorable member does not know what he is talking about. He seems to assume that until he came upon the scene the interests of the workers were grossly neglected. May I remind him that there have been Labour governments in the past which have been at least as earnest and sincere on behalf of the workers as the honorable member is himself. One such Government pioneered this agreement and laid it on the solid and enduring foundations of decent wages and working conditions for white employees. The present agreement repeats substantially the terms of the 1915 agreement which laid down that the workers were to receive a wage fixed by the Arbitration Court, which wage was to remain constant during the period of the agreement. We have here a great primary industry which has been so encouraged that, whereas when the agreement was first entered into, Australia imported at least half of the sugar consumed here, we now produce all the sugar for our own requirements and export an almost similar quantity. The industry has flourished under the agreement. Now it is suggested that we should put the ax© to the root of it, because of something the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has been doing. Whatever the company is doing now, it has been doing for very nearly as long as the honorable member for West Sydney has been alive, yet this is the first time he has raised his voice against it. He sat silent when an agreement, which was substantially a replica of the present one, was laid on the table of the House by the Labour Government. We must assume that he approved of it, and the company was doing then precisely as it is doing now. Evidently the honorable member now finds himself haunted by the ghost of his own past misdeeds, and so he comes along and reads to us a document of interminable length which emanated probably from a discharged employee of the company or which was obtained surreptitiously from some other source. The fact is, however, that this is a great industry; and the Colonial Sugar Refining Company does not exploit the people of Australia. If it makes excessive profits it does not make them out of the Australian people. The people of Australia obtain their sugar at a reasonable price, and have the satisfaction of knowing that they are not living on the products of sweated labour as some people in this country and even in this House would like to see them doing. The sugar which we eat in Australia is a product of good honest white labour, and I am surprised that the honorable member should take the stand that he has taken. It is certain that the company is not exploiting the people of Australia, and the honorable member’s arguments therefore fall to the ground.
I shall leave to my colleague the task of dealing with the point raised by the Leader of the Opposition as to what reforms may be necessary in the way of taxation, but as far as exploiting tho people of Australia is concerned, I wish to make it clear that the company is receiving nothing more now in the way of remuneration than it received nineteen years ago, and has been receiving ever since.
.- The Minister for Health (Mr. Hughes) has not answered any of the points brought forward by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley). He has side-tracked the whole issue. He said that the honorable member for West Sydney had failed to raise any objection to the renewal of the agreement in 1931, but the honorable member had no knowledge at that time that the company was accumulating £7,000,000 of unrevealed reserves. As was pointed out by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn), what the company is doing amounts to legalized robbery, and the practice has been legalized by successive governments for years. We have nothing to say against the sugar-farmers, because we believe that the company is exploiting the farmers of Queensland and northern New South
Wales, just as it is exploiting the public as a whole. The fact remains, that a sum of £7,000,000 is to he distributed in the form of bonus shares, and vet the Minister says that there has been no exploitation. I can remember when the Minister would have been loud in condemnation of the company for such practices, but to-day it is a different story. He has been converted by the other side. We believe in the white labour policy, but the white labour employed on the sugar-fields in Australia has been robbed to enable the company to amass this sum of £7,000,000, and we raise our voices in protest against it. In 1913, the Minister for Health spoke in the strongest terms against the exploitation practised by the coal vend and the sugar monopoly, and said that something would have to be done about it. We on this side of the House desire to protect white labour, but we have also a duty to protect the people from exploitation. We believe that the process of refining sugar should be nationalized, because sugar is an important staple food, and the industry is one which lends itself to nationalization.
Let us consider who are some of the shareholders in this company. First there is the Knox family, which holds 40,000 shares of a nominal value of £800,000, but of a market value of £3,204,000. Then there is the Faithfull family, owning 11,000 shares of an initial value of £229,000, and of the market value of £889,000. The Stephen family group owns 3,500 shares, of which the issue price was £70,000, but of which the present market value is £280,000. The Fairfax family has 3,341 shares of a nominal value of £66,000, but the present market value is £267,000. Is it any wonder that the Fairfax family can, through ministerial process, get legislation passed that will protect such a company, by means of the amendment introduced by the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) ?
– I rise to a point of order. There is every inference in that statement that money passed to influence me iu regard to an amendment of the law.
– That is a gross misinterpretation of what was said.
-The honorable member oan make his own explanation.
– What I said was that this company took the opportunity, a month before this section of the act came into operation, to issue £7,000,000 worth of bonus shares.
– The honorable member did not mention that.
– It took advantage of an amendment moved by the Assistant Treasurer.
– May I have the Hansard record of what was said?
– Not now. The Minister must accept what the honorable member for Cook declares he said. Hia remarks are not unparliamentary.
– Is it any wonder that the Fairfaxes, who have a newspaper and publishing company, do not fail to use the influence and might of their journal to induce the legislative forces of this country to support the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, seeing that it is in their own interests to do so? Having such a deep interest in tha company, this family will do all in its power to enable this legalized robbery to continue. The Kater family group has about 3,000 shares, the value of which has been increased in similar proportion. The five families to which I have referred have a majority holding in shares of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and dominate its affairs. The total number of shares held between them is 60,000, the value of which was formerly £1,216,000, but now is £4,867,000. Is it any wonder that these families, with such power arrayed on their side, are able to got their mouthpieces on the other side of the chamber to put forward the policy that suits them?
The honorable member for West Sydney asked the Government to take legislative action to prevent the Colonial Sugar Refining Company from giving bonus shares to such an enormous amount as £7,000,000. He pointed out that when this is done the workers have to pay the penalty. They always have been the losers to enable dividends and bonus shares to be distributed. This is the only company in the world to-day - and I challenge the Assistant Treasurer to dispute my statement - that is issuing bonus shares to increase its capital. Every other company in every country is trying to cut down its share capital. Yet the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, in the midst of depression, when we have hundreds of thousands of men idle, but willing to work, is found to have £7,000,000 hidden in reserves, of which nobody had any knowledge even when the sugar agreement of 1931 was made. As the right honorable member for North Sydney remarked, nobody knew it. But to get out of it the company has made a magnificent gift to its shareholders, who are mainly composed of five families in New South Wales. The money with which that has been done was filched from the people of this country. The agreement has been beneficial, in a measure, to the growers, but we desire the Government to come to the aid of the people. The public of Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria are complaining of the toll which this company is taking from them.
– It is neither my purpose nor my duty to defend or attack this company. I propose to confine my remarks to that portion of the speech of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) which concerns principally myself, or, at any rate, refers to the share I had in introducing the amending Inrome Tax Assessment Bill towards the end of the last Parliament. The honorable member asked what proportion of the £7,000,000 now being capitalized has gone to the Federal Taxation Department, and whether any portion of it should have been taken by the department as excess war-time profits. He went on to refer to an amendment which I introduced after the introduction of the original amending hill, and he quoted some remarks of mine correctly. Perhaps I might be allowed to remind honorable members of the circumstances prevailing at that time. Before the amending bill was introduced, certain privileges were attachable to bonus shares, in that a company could make issues of such shares r.nd have some concessions in respect of those issues that were different and over and above concessions granted respecting dividends. Before the amending act was passed, these concessions provided that bonus shares issued out of funds arising from capital profits, non-assessable income from property, pre-1922 income and what is ku own as Section 21 profits should be free of taxation to shareholders.
The Royal Commission on Taxation sat for over eighteen months and produced three very valuable reports. The recommendations contained in the first two of these were largely implemented by the amending bill brought down towards the end of the last Parliament to simplify federal income tax assessments. The commission recommended that, in order to achieve simplification and consistency, bonus shares should be treated in all respects in the same manner as dividends. Further, the commission suggested that consideration might be given to the fixing of a time limit after which dividends paid from the sources spoken of might be taxable in the hands of the shareholders. When the royal commission submitted this recommendation it thought that it would be implemented in the form of an amending act before the end of 1933. But, owing to the pressure of more urgent government business, that was not possible, and the bill was not introduced until six months ago. Under the original bill it was set out that from the time when the measure became law bonus shares should be subject to the diminished privileges. After the second-reading speech and before the committee stage the Government allowed about three weeks to pass during which the measure remained on the table in the hands of honorable members and the public. During that period, I remind honorable members, the Government, and I in particular, received an enormous number of representations on almost every clause in the bill from all sections of the community and from all parts of Australia. All those requests were carefully considered with the help of the royal commission itself, and particularly Mr. E. V. Nixon, a member of the commission, to whom I now tender my thanks. He was the Government’s principal adviser in the matter, and his assistance was most valuable. All the representations submitted to the Government were rejected, except one or two. On the 27th July, when speaking in committee, I made reference to the amendment which was accepted in respect of bonus shares.
Instead of the law being made operative upon receiving the royal assent, we proposed to bring it into operation from the 31st December next. In introducing that amendment, I said -
Since the introduction of the bill, the Government has decided that, as the provisions of the law in regard to bonus shares are to bo considerably altered to bring their treatment, for all practical purposes, into line with the treatment of cash dividends, it is proper and only reasonable to allow to companies a limited time within which they may distribute profits by way of shares, and, for the purpose of ascertaining the liability of shareholders, have those shares treated in accordance with the- existing law.
We made no excuse for bringing down that amendment. It still seems reasonable that a limited time should be allowed to elapse before the new system should become operative.
– The Government did not contemplate such an immense distribution of capital.
– No. I think the size of the distribution has given surprise to all of us. Speaking in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, Mr. Bruxner said -
The chairman’s circular to shareholders indicates that a substantial portion of the new share issue is to be based upon a revaluation of real estate which has increased in market value above its original cost over a long period of years . . . The balance of the share issue is supported by accumulations of trade reserves.
It is said that a substantial portion of the new issue is capital profits. Insofar as it is a new issue based on capital profits, it would not be taxable even in the hands of shareholders after the 31st December. To that extent, the new issue could be made at any time, and still would be free of tax in the hands of the shareholders.
– Even after the 31st December ?
– It would be interesting to know what this substantial portion amounts to.
– I have no knowledge of the affairs of the company, and I have never had any direct or indirect interest in it. In regard to the balance - presumably section 21 profits - which, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) said, will have been taxed at the company rate in the hands of the company itself, the shareholders have been given a new issue prior to the 31st December which they would not have received without tax after that date. But the intention of the Government was that any company should have this extended but limited period in which to disembarrass itself of such old profits as this before the end of the year. In any case, the provisions of the amending bill were not to come into operation until the assessing period for the present tax; that is to say at the end of this calendar year, which is practically the same time as that when the bonus shares tax would apply.
So far as the honorable member foT West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) has gone, he has asked, in effect, for direct legislative control by this Parliament of this company’s activities ; but under the Constitution we have no general company law power. I believe that something like half of the earnings of this company are derived outside Australia ; over that portion, of course, we have no control, and those which arise within Australia are largely obtained under the sugar agreement which concerns the State of Queensland, the sugar-growers and the Commonwealth Parliament. That agreement has been operated for the past nineteen years under the aegis of the two governments concerned, and. it has survived an investigation bya royal commission. So far as the honorable member’s speech relates to taxation, I have to state that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company will not escape one penny of tax to which the department is legally entitled.
– On what basis does the Minister refer to half its profits being derived from outside Australia?
– The Melbourne stock exchange journal says that 41 per cent. of the dividends to resident shareholders, and 52 per cenf. of the dividends to absentee shareholders, are subject to rebate by reason of their having been earned outside Australia.
– A large proportion of the profits comes from investments.
– That may he, but, in a general way, apparently about half the profits are obtained outside Australia. I assure the honorable member for “West Sydney and others that I should be glad to hold some shares in any company .that can escape the fine toothed comb of the Federal Commissioner of Taxation.
.- While I cannot congratulate the right honorable the Minister for Health (Mr. Hughes) on his speech, he certainly can be congratulated by some on the passionate defence he made of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. The honorable gentleman went to some trouble to attack the credentials of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), who now represents a seat which the honorable gentleman at one time represented, but has not been game to go back to. In defending this company, the right honorable gentleman was possibly actuated by a feeling of thanks and gratification for favours received and, perhaps, with a lively anticipation of favours to come.
– The honorable member’s personal references are not relevant.
– The honorable gentleman reflected personally on the honorable member for West Sydney. The Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) may camouflage the issue now before us as much as he likes. I am not attributing any personal responsibility to him in this matter, but no matter how he may quote from the royal commission’s report in support of his case, the fact remains that after legislation was framed to make the tax on bonus shares applicable as from June, 1934, by an amendment moved by the honorable gentleman this period was extended to the 31st December, and during that extended period the shareholders of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company were allowed to make themselves a present of £7,000,000, free of taxation. No quotation by the honorable gentleman can alter that fact. I notice that the Assistant Treasurer did not read to the House the thousands of requests which he said were “made to the Government asking that the proposed taxation on bonus shares be modified. It would have been very interesting to hear those representa tions. Possibly the honorable gentleman’s reference to these matters is in line with his talk about the banks having vaults bursting with money. Representations on this matter, he said, came from interests all over the Commonwealth. He did not say that among these requests was one from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. But as it is the only company we know of to have received any advantage as a result of the postponement of the date from which this tax operated, one naturally comes to the conclusion that the major representation and influence exercised on the Government in this matter came from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, possibly in the shape of a threat, by the Sydney Morning Herald, that if the company’s request was not granted the usual support for the Government would not be forthcoming in the elections then approaching - there might be a falling off in the contributions to party funds. On the other hand, the company might have exercised direct influence with the Government as happened in connexion with the Coal Vend Case, in which the honorable gentleman, who was then member for West Sydney, figured as a stalwart advocate of the rights of the people, and in which the family most interested was the Knox family, so prominently associated with the Colonial Sugar Refining company.
To-day the right honorable member for North Sydney spoke of this “ poor “ company. This reminds us of the plea that other big companies put up some years ago during the hearing of cases in which they were interested in the Arbitration Court. They claimed that their profits were so small that they could not afford to pay higher wages. When they were compelled to produce their books in Court the President of the Court told every one of their representatives that they had committed perjury. No doubt the same judgment could be applied to the plea of poverty now being made on behalf of this company. The fact remains that it can issue bonus shares to the amount of £7,000,000 free of taxation. I contend that in its operations in Australia, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is still exploiting not only the public, but also the sugar-growers and the workers in the sugar industry; and it will con’.nue to do so while its shareholders retain their present absolute control of the whole of the industry, whether they own it directly or not. The commercial history of those interested in this company indicates a callous disregard, not only for ordinary business methods, but also for the ordinary rights of humanity. The company’s policy in that respect is rooted in its operations in the blackbirding days, when it sent out its pirates to take kanakas from the islands for employment on Australian sugar fields. Its operations at that time were such that the British Government was impelled to send a gunboat to Queensland to demand that this company give up one or two of its blackbirders, in order that these men might be tried away from Queensland in another British possession. It was mainly because of such exploitation of labour in this industry that the British Government was compelled to take that action. Yet when it did so the then Premier of Queensland defended the company and even went so far as to open a campaign throughout the colony, with the object of getting Queensland to break away from the British Empire and become a republic. All this because the British Government dared to send a gunboat to Queensland to demand that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company cease its exploitation of kanakas! That tendency, I say, was the root of the company’s policy of to-day. It has always been callously brutal even where the lives of others are concerned. On his own admission one of these blackbirders was responsible for the killing of 260 niggers through having flogged them himself or having directed that they be flogged. Yet it was such a man that this company endeavoured to screen when the British Government demanded his surrender for trial. That is how this company’s record started and so far as the company itself is concerned it would act in a similar manner to-morrow if it had the opportunity. It has no sense of decency in trade. Its directors and those who control it Will not subscribe to any decent conditions in industry. All the laws in the world would be useless in an endeavour to deal justly with a company which holds such a policy and whose operations and depredations have been conducted as a limited liability company which, in my opinion, is the final manifestation of the capitalist system. The only way to deal effectively with such a company is to wipe out altogether conditionsas they apply to trading companies to-day, and to substitute a proper system of control by the community such as some kind of national control.
– If that were done, sugar would be 8d. per lb.
– If that occurred wages and general economic conditions would rise uniformly. When the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) suggested that he had some proposals of which members generally might approve, I expected his suggestion would be worth while. But all his proposal amounted to was that Western Australian representatives, supported by the South Australian representatives, were in favour of the wiping out of the sugar agreement. In other words, they want black-grown sugar.
– Not all South Australians.
– We want cheap sugar.
– My party is not concerned at the moment with the price of sugar. The proposal made by the honorable member for Perth was really for lower wages and a worsening of conditions of control. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company stands in an impregnable position and no doubt is determined to see that its profits are not diminished or its power threatened. The same arguments apply to the sugar embargo. The main result of the lifting of the embargo would be to do away with white-grown sugar and to allow it to be supplanted by imported black-grown sugar.
– The honorable gentleman has exhausted his time.
Question - That the House do now adjourn - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Bank Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1934, Nos. 139, 140.
Defence Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1034, No. 144.
Maternity Allowance Act - Regulations amended-Statutory Rules 1934, No. 126.
Scat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Ordinance of 1934 - No. 24 - Building and Services.
Trade Marks Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1934, No. 133.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Casey) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to grant and apply out of the
Consolidated Revenue Fund a sum of £176,000 for the purpose of expenditure on certain works and services.
Standing Orders suspended.; report adopted.
That Mr. Casey and Mr. Paterson do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill brought up by Mr. Casey, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
In simple terms, the purpose of this bill is to appropriate £176,000 from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the carrying out of certain works within the Commonwealth between now and Christmas. The money is being appropriated from revenue and not from loan for two reasons; first, because the works lend themselves to this procedure, and are not loan works in the proper sense of the term, being, generally speaking, maintenance works and extensions ; and, secondly, because the revenue, at the moment, is reasonably buoyant, and can bear this call upon it. This amount of money will be additional to appropriations from revenue and loan already made in this financial year, totalling just over £4,250,000. The works have been recommended by the various Commonwealth departments as undertakings which should be put in hand in the near future, and are of the kind which will require labour rather than material. The greater proportion of this money will, therefore, go into the pockets of the men employed. The works are described under four headings, in the schedule of the bill, and can be put in hand practically as soon as the bill is passed by the two Houses of the Parliament and assented to. Extensive plans and specifications will not be necessary, and, the general arrangements for the undertakings are already well in hand. About £150,000 will be expended through the Commonwealth departments in the various States, as nearly as possible on a population basis. An amount of £12,000 is being provided for expenditure in the Federal Capital Territory, and £4,000 is being provided for the Northern Territory. An additional subsidy of £6,000 is set aside for the construction of dips for cattle tick control in New South Wales. Generally speaking, the Minister for the Interior will administer the expenditure. Instead of calling for tenders for the various works, which would occupy a good deal of time, the daylabour policy will be adopted. If tenders were called, as in the ordinary course, it would probably be nearly Christmas before the proper ones could be selected. The schedule is as sufficiently explanatory as it has been possible to make it within the time at our disposal. It covers many hundreds of small works - I say “ hundreds advisedly - relating to painting, maintenance, repairs, and small extensions to buildings here and there throughout Australia. It is not practicable in the time available to me to give details of each of these works since they would run to many tens of pages.
– What proportion of this amount is to be spent in the Federal Capital Territory?
– £12,000. This bill will provide, roughly speaking, about 50,000 men-weeks of work. Those who will be put on will be to as large an extent as possible men not already in the employ of the Commonwealth. In fact, it can be said that they will all be new men with the exception of a few supervisors already in the Commonwealth Service whom it will be necessary to use. By reason of the comparatively great activity in the building industry - and some of these works are connected with the building trade - the Department of the Interior anticipates that it will not be able to obtain from outside the Service all the men required for supervising. But so far as possible, that will be done. I do not know that there is anything very useful that I can add. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Paterson) will, no doubt, speak on other aspects of the bill as the debate proceeds. It is a simple measure, and it is hoped that the House will allow it to go through without a long discussion.
.- We are falling very far from the great heights to which we were raised by the election speeches of honorable members opposite on the question of finding work for the unemployed. The provision made in this measure is as the shaking of a few grains of pepper from a castor. We are given only a little sprinkling; but I suppose that the old saying, “For all small mercies let us be thankful “ will apply.
– This is not a mercy; it is an exasperation. It will disappoint many.
– It is certainly disappointing to find, after what we were led to expect as to the activity that would mark the conduct of the Government if returned, that this is all that is to be done for the unemployed ‘between now and Christmas. There are to be 50,000 menweeks, in other words, 10,000 men will have about five weeks employment at a wage of £3 a week.
– These works will be supplemented by the States.
– We are dealing with the Commonwealth’s obligation. This, then, is the “ generous gesture “ of the Commonwealth to the unemployed ! Ten thousand will get five weeks’ work, and all the rest of the men not employed by the States will still be without work. It is all very well to say that this will be supplemented by the. States, but, as a matter of fact, the States are already spending sums on sustenance work which are quite inadequate from the point of view of the unemployed. I understand that the States, between now and Christmas, are going to find a little extra work for sustenance workers, tout this is a wretchedly small mouthful for the great hungry army of unemployed.
– In approaching this bill, I can visualize what it3 effect will be upon the minds of thousands of men outside, who have been eagerly looking forward since the general election for something real in the direction of employment from the new Government. Honorable members on the Government side of the House are just as capable as I am of going into the homes of these people, pausing there for a moment, and thinking of the expectations of the women folk. I ask them to do so. For the last three weeks, I and others have been interviewed by large numbers of men both at our own homes and at the rooms where we have an opportunity to meet them and discuss this subject. In each instance, they have been buoyed up by the thought that something would be done for them by this Government, so that they would be able, at least, to purchase many little things that are usually provided round about Christmas time. Within the last few days, these men, in some instances, have reached what one might describe as a stage of desperation. For a long time, they have been associated with State schemes providing for one week in three weeks, or two in five. The Government must admit that this is a very paltry contribution to those who are dependent upon works of this kind to secure the necessities of life. One hundred and seventy-six thousand pounds, to be spread over the whole of Australia, is all the relief that the Commonwealth Government is prepared to give to those in need of assistance prior to Christmas. I do not like to say it, but it is an insult to the men, having regard to the circumstances in which they are placed. Every honorable member outside the Cabinet itself expected something more than this from the Government. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), in his policy speech, clearly said that he was satisfied that the responsibility of meeting unemployment could no longer be left to the States. He said that the Commonwealth would have to shoulder it, and that his Government had definite schemes to put into operation. Honorable members supporting the Government, many of whom secured a large parcel of votes because of that undertaking on the part of the Prime Minister, must be as disappointed as we are with this bill. I am trying to be as impartial as possible, and I cannot adequately express my feelings. Like many others, I represent an electorate where unemployment is so rife, and the position of the men so bad, that the requests made to us are, to say the least of it, very touching. I was under the impression that I should be able, at the end of the week, to go back to these men and say “Report immediately to the Works Director at the Customs House, and you will find something real provided for you by the Commonwealth”. When interviewed by men out of work, during the last two and a half or three
Ifr. fi mm lep. * years, we have had to say that the responsibility of finding employment was that of the States. We have had to dismiss our own constituents with a wave of a hand, so to speak, saying that nothing could be done for them by the Commonwealth, because the responsibility, it was said by the Government, did not belong to the Commonwealth. And now, after the declaration of the Prime Minister that the responsibility could no longer be left to the States, we have submitted to us a bill providing merely for the expenditure of £176,000, which is to cover the whole Commonwealth. There is no need for me to go into details. Every honorable member knows just how far that amount will go.
Passing on to the works set out in the schedule, I am anxious to know just how the labour that will be required is to be recruited. I had a little knowledge of the handling of moneys in this connexion when I was associated with another Government.
– Hear, hear!
– But I am not referring to an incident which probably has provoked the honorable member’s “ hear, hear “. That, for the moment, may be dismissed. The point I am dealing with is very important. I should like to be informed how the department is going to discriminate so that those who have had no work will actually get the employment for which this bill provides, and what form of registration is going to be set up.
Sitting suspended from 6.1 B to 8 p.m.
– In his secondreading speech the Assistant Treasurer, referring to the distribution of this money, said that it is proposed to expend £12,000 in the Federal Capital Territory, £4,000 in the Northern Territory and £6,000 in the northern parts of New South Wales for the provision of dips in connexion with the control of cattle tick. Honorable members are most anxious to know what other allocations of funds are to be made. Beyond the bare statement that the money will be distributed among the States according to their population honorable members have little to go on. After providing for the services mentioned very little will be left. But honorable members should be informed as to how the balance is to be expended. The next points upon which I desire to be reassured are the methods of recruiting labour and the conditions of employment of those who will benefit. Honorable members on this side are anxious that the conditions attaching to relief work shall not apply but that award rates and conditions shall prevail in respect of the employment to be given. I should also like to know from the Minister whether the work is to be controlled by the Department of the Interior or by the department for which the work is to be performed. Undoubtedly there will be some work done for the Postal Department, or for the Health Department - for instance, the improvement of quarantine stations - and honorable members should be informed as to which department will control the expenditure. In the past it has been customary for the Works Department to undertake work of this nature with labour recruited by the Works Directors in the capital cities. My colleagues representing country constituencies are anxious to ascertain if it is proposed to absorb the unemployed from outside the city areas. This information is necessary in order that these honorable members may advise their constituents, who are seeking employment, as to the steps they should take in order to participate in this relief.
.- Is it proposed to include in the schedule of works the clearing of landing grounds for aircraft? Only recently I received a letter from the residents of Bunbury, a very large town in Western Australia, stating that clearing had been commenced on the landing ground there, but owing to shortage of funds the work had not been proceeded with and the ground was reverting to its original condition. Much grubbing and clearing of trees is necessary to be done in order to make the landing ground safe. Is it proposed to include such work in the schedule of works to be undertaken under this measure?
– I am not bursting with enthusiasm for the plans which have been put forward by the Government for the relief of unemployment. When I visited Tasmania a week ago, I found the unemployment position very serious; but I gave the Government credit for sincerity in connexion with its promise to provide substantial relief. But the amount provided under this bill is so infinitesimal that it would be necessary to use a microscope to see what Tasmania is to get out of it. If the Minister expects to assist the unemployed in Tasmania and also the hundreds of thousands of persons who are out of work in other parts of Australia by the provision of only £170,000 for works, he does not know his job. The evil is of such magnitude that only the expenditure of millions of pounds could appreciably mitigate it. In Hobart alone, 900 men are on the dole. How much will be given to each of these unfortunates who have been promised a measure of Christmas relief? At most this miserable sum will provide only a week’s work. It is just as well that the unemployed cannot come to Canberra; if they were to do so they would quickly compel Ministers to display a little more enthusiasm and earnestness in tackling this great problem. On behalf of the people of Tasmania I enter an emphatic protest against the shoddy policy of the Commonwealth Government. If the Government submitted a reasonable scheme of relief the unemployed would appreciate that it was doing its best, but if this miserable pittance that is now offered is the best the Government can do, the sooner it makes way for an administration more capable, the better it will be for the unemployed and the community generally. The Minister speaks about looking after the ticks.
– Nothing personal is intended.
– What is to be done for the unemployed of Tasmania? Is it intended to give them tick ? Apparently the “ cockies “ are to get the benefit of some of this money by the building of cattle dips. I appeal to the Minister that, in the selection of workmen in connexion with the expenditure of this money, he should avail himself of the industrial machine which is in operation in Tasmania, and leave the supervision of the works to the State Government. In this way, a considerable saving may be effected. Will the Minister include in the schedule of works the cleaning and painting of the Hobart post office building which is now in a shocking state? All the capitalist institutions in Hobart have cleaned their buildings, and the Commonwealth Bank is building new premises there, but the Hobart post office remains a disgrace. If the renovation of the building were undertaken labourers and painters could participate in the work. When honorable members opposite go home for their Christmas dinners they will take with them not the praise of the unemployed for the wonderful achievements of this Coalition Government, but their curses because of its failure to provide for the unfortunate people on the dole. This measure is merely adding insult to injury. If I were a supporter of the Government responsible for its introduction I would vote against it as a protest against the insufficiency of the amount. One honorable member opposite said the other day that he was looking forward to the great proposals which the Government intended to introduce. I wonder what he will say when he reads this bill. Honorable members opposite won their seats by saying that they would come here to fight on behalf of the unemployed. It is a standing disgrace to the Parliament of this country, and to the electors generally that such a proposal as this should be put forward as an attempt to solve the unemployment problem. The small amount of money available under this measure will not even buy a bun for the Christmas dinner of each adult who out of work. The Government will never obtain my co-operation in a proposal of this kind. The Assistant Treasurer said this afternoon that the revenue had improved. Are these the best proposals that the Government can devise for the distribution of its surplus cash? An honorable member opposite has stated that the State governments should supplement the Commonwealth contributions on a £1 for £1 basis, but the State governments have reached their limit, and can do nothing more to cope with this difficulty.
– The States are giving hundreds of pounds for each £1 provided by the Commonwealth.
– The States have expended £27,000,000 on unemployment up to date, but this Government has expended nothing. If it can be shown that the Government’ has done anything for the unemployed I will resign my seat in this House.
– The Government has done nothing in three years. I am not like the Minister who is prepared to sacrifice his principles for position.
– I rise to a point of order. I ask that the honorable member’s remark be withdrawn.
– I withdraw it. Principle is not reckoned very highly by honorable members opposite who, at one moment, are abusing each other and at the next are in each other’s arms.
– Order! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the bill.
– I am connecting this criticism of the Government with its proposal to relieve 300,000 unemployed with a miserable grant of £176,000. On behalf of the unemployed in Tasmania I protest against the scandalously inadequate provision contained in the measure now before the House.
– At the outset, I assure the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Mahoney) that the Hobart Post Office will not be overlooked. That should satisfy the honorable member. The Government has decided to spend £176,000 out of revenue upon works to be immediately put in hand. It seems strange that this proposal to provide relief for the unemployed prior to the Christmas season should be received with a certain amount of lamentation on the part of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), and that, in an endeavour to outdo the right honorable gentleman, the Leader of the New South Wales Labour party (Mr. Beasley) should heap unmeasured condemnation upon it. One would think, after listening to all’ that has been said about the Government’s proposal, that it represented the programme of works for twelve months, and that the Commonwealth was the only government with any obligations in respect of unemployment in this country. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) said not very long ago that in dealing with the unemployed problem the Commonwealth would have to share responsibility with the States. He did not suggest that the Commonwealth should shoulder all responsibility. Surely the Premier of Tasmania acknowledges his and his Government’s obligations to do something for the unemployed in that State prior to Christmas. State governments are spending progressively increasing amounts on works. This should be taken into consideration by honorable members when discussing proposals brought forward by this Government. I remind them that the Commonwealth has already appropriated £4,273,000 for works expenditure for 1934-35. Of that amount £2,419,000 will be provided out of revenue, and £1,854,000 out of loan. Last week a loan bill for £5,000,000 was brought down by the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey). Some part of that amount undoubtedly will be utilized to provide employment iii some shape or form.
The leader of the New South Wales Labour party asked if the works to he put in hand under this bill would be carried out by contract or day labour. Obviously, in the limited time available, it is impossible for tenders to be prepared for much of the contemplated work. Therefore, although the policy of the Government is to have work done by contract, much of this work will necessarily have to be done by day labour, which will be supervised by officers of the works branch, with the exception that work in connexion with war service homes will be carried out by the War Service Homes Commission.
The Commonwealth Works Director will, at his discretion, utilize State labour bureaux for recruiting labour required. The Government is adopting this course because the various State governments have efficient machinery for this work and in most cases the bureaux are linked up with organizations dealing with unemployment relief and food relief.
– In New South Wales there are thousands of unemployed who are not registered with the State Labour Bureau.
– That being so, the Works Director will not be restricted to that avenue in obtaining the labour required. There is no doubt that the State machinery is thoroughly efficient.
– The Minister knows nothing about the State Labour Bureau in New South Wales.
– I know a good deal about the labour bureaux in some of the other States. They are quite efficient and provide adequate safeguards against imposition. If more money had been provided it would have been impossible to utilize the whole of it in the limited time available between now and Christmas. While a substantial proportion of the amount to be expended will be used for painting public buildings, a considerable sum will be set aside for work which will give employment to unskilled labourers, who are suffering more acutely than skilled artisans. For example, of the £12,000 to be expended in the Federal Capital Territory £10,000 will be for road construction, which requires mainly unskilled labour.
Reference was made by the leader of the New South Wales Labour party to the rates of pay. I remind him that the practice is to pay award rates prevailing at the time in the respective States.
– Can the Minister state the amounts to be expended in the various States ?
– The total expenditure contemplated in the various States is as follows: - New South Wales, £65,185; Victoria, £42,432; Queensland, £22,852; South Australia, £12,878; Western Australia, £10,702; Tasmania, £5,951; Federal Capital Territory, £12,000; Northern Territory, £4,000.
– How will it be possible to discriminate between labour provided by State labour exchanges in view of the fact that the amount to be made available is not sufficient to provide employment for anything like the number of men who will be offering?
– We shall have to leave that matter to the Works Director to decide in the various States. It is impossible to do as the honorable member suggests - to set up Commonwealth machinery to recruit labour in the States.
– In the Commonwealth Works Branch all the necessary machinery is in existence in every capital city.
– I am satisfied that if the Commonwealth attempted to set up machinery of its own to recruit labour for works to be carried out under this bill, there would be a great deal of overlapping. The sooner we pass this legislation, the sooner will it be possible for the works to be put in hand.
.- 1 am astounded at the Government’s lack of foresight. The provision contained in this bill for the relief of unemployment is totally inadequate to meet the present situation which is of the gravest urgency. The bill indicates the type of mind which the Ministry has brought to bear upon the solution of this all-important problem of unemployment. It is, however, in keeping with its parsimonious handling of the unemployed throughout the Commonwealth. At this time, when so many thousands of people are without work, at least £500,000 should have been provided for Christmas relief. There would be no difficulty whatever in spending £1,000,000 immediately upon essential works in different parts of the Commonwealth, thus providing tangible relief for the unemployed before Christmas. The proposals outlined in the bill are an insult to the intelligence of honorable members. The fact that under this measure and under the Loan Bill passed last week, the total provision for works does not exceed £376,000, is conclusive evidence that the Government is not seised of the gravity of the situation. The paltry amount to be provided under this bill will cause the unemployed to despair of this Government ever fulfilling its election pledges. Last week, when we were discussing the Loan Bill, we were assured that a substantial schedule of public works would be brought down later for our consideration, and that the proposals would be adequate to meet the situation. This measure is a bitter disappointment to honorable members on this side, and I should not be surprised if no further measure to cope with the evil were brought before the House until perhaps the middle of next year.
– The Minister cannot point to one particular work that is to be put in hand.
– The Government should be roundly condemned for presenting such a paltry works programme. I can mention sufficient urgent works in my own electorate to absorb, before Christmas, the whole of the money to be provided under this bill. The Government is not treating this House fairly by submitting proposals of such an inadequate nature, and I enter my emphatic protest against its indifference to the sufferings of the unemployed. The Ministry has no right to shelter behind the excuse that State governments have their responsibility with regard to unemployment. It surely is the duty of this Government to make a substantial monetary contribution towards proposals brought forward by State governments. The Government stands condemned in the eyes of the public for the inadequate provision contained in this bill. It is not displaying that earnestness which is essential in the consideration of the all-important problem of the relief of the unemployed. Let it always be remembered to the credit of a Labour Government that, in a time of grave financial difficulty, it was able to provide £1,000,000 immediately prior to the Christmas season to ameliorate to some extent the desperate condition of the unemployed at that particular time. We are told that conditions have taken a turn for the better, and that there are indications of improvement in the financial position of this country. Let the truth or otherwise of that assertion be demonstrated by the manner in which the Government treats those who have not so far participated in the betterment that is alleged to have been brought about. At least for the Christmas season something more than this scanty measure of relief should be provided. I emphatically protest against the failure of the Government to give the requisite Assist &ncc
.- I propose to support the appropriation from revenue of the sum of £176,000, but feel that a greater amount than £12,878 should have been allocated to South Australia. That is totally inadequate, and will do very little towards meeting the needs of the unemployed even between now and Christmas.
Honorable members interjecting,
Mp. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Whenever either a Minister or an honorable member on my right has been addressing the Chair, a few honorable members on my left have been responsible for a storm of interjections. Those honorable members must realize that others wish to listen to the debate, and that they cannot be permitted to interrupt the proceedings. I ask them to desist.
– One work in South Australia on which labour may be profitably engaged is the drain that runs through the Keswick military area, which has been responsible for severe flooding, causing damage to private property. This is an urgent work, and I ask the Minister to have it put in hand immediately.
.- The Assistant .Treasurer (Mr. Casey), or whoever is responsible for this measure, is the sorriest sample of a Santa Claus that I have ever seen or of whom I have ever heard. Old Scrooge, with his agonized visions of the tortures of his dead partner Marley, was only a circumstance in comparison with the author of this relief scheme. One could wish that the Minister would have similar nightmares every night of his life until he had reached a better frame of mind and had decided to make more substantial provision than is here proposed. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) practically won the election on his claim that unemployment was the greatest problem facing Australia, and would be the first to receive attention if he were returned to power. The right honorable gentleman further stated that the time had long passed when the problem could be considered the responsibility of the States only. Yet when it comes to doing something practical for the unemployed, the Government proposes to expend only £176,000, just as one would fling a bone to a hungry dog. That sum will not represent one penny apiece - the price of a lolly-stick - to those who are affected by unemployment. The . people are in distress. Christmas is approaching. As a drowning man clings to a straw, they are hoping for assistance from this Government. It is the last straw to which they could cling. But the very definite statement was made that the problem of unemployment had to be handled by this, the National Parliament; that it could no longer be considered only a State problem and left to the States alone to tackle. Yet the Minister has the effrontery to tell the House that there is not time before Christmas to spend more than is to be appropriated’ by this bill. The United Australia party section of the Government wasted as much time as it could before meeting the House, because it felt unsafe until it knew what attitude was to be adopted by certain of its opponents at the elections. Even after the composite government was formed the work of the country was not proceeded with, despite the contention of honorable members who sit in this corner that it should not be delayed because of celebrations that were being held in Victoria. It was even suggested that at the close of business to-night there should be an adjournment until next week. Yet the honorable gentleman says that if a larger amount were voted it could not be expended before Christmas! If the problem is as urgent as it was claimed to be, a relief measure ought to have been brought down immediately Parliament had met. Every honorable member who sits on this side would have assisted its passage in every way had a decent provision been proposed. Although £100,000,000 would not be too much, £5,000,000 might be considered reasonable.
– Will the honorable member indicate the works that might be undertaken?
– Let me tell the honorable gentleman and other honorable members opposite, who represent the wealth of this country, that in the final analysis the claims of humanity outweigh al] others. If they had any economic sense they would realize the value of maintaining humanity under proper conditions, because on that and that alone rests their own security. A comparison cannot be drawn between human and any other values. Let them not preach and prate about the 2,000 years of so-called Christian civilization; they are still red-raw pagans. The central idea, the corner stone, upon which paganism rested for thousands of years, wa3 that property and wealth were to be regarded as sacrosanct when they conflicted with human interests and wellbeing. That argument is being trotted out to-day after 2,000 years of so-called Christian civilization. This afternoon we’ discussed a matter involving the distribution in the form of bonus shares of an amount of £7,000,000, and all kinds of arguments were adduced in favour of the retention of that huge sum by a set of welshers, thieves, rogues and vagabonds; yet, when it comes to providing for the people who have enabled that £7,000,000 to be amassed, a paltry £276,000 is to be appropriated ! It is enough to cause the unemployed in this country to revolt in a more emphatic way than by carrying resolutions. Action of this sort will help to breed in the unemployed that spirit of revolt which Bishop Burgmann has diagnosed, and which he has expressed his pleasure at witnessing. This throwing of a sop, and professing that something is being done, is nothing but a . hollow mockery and a sham; it is hocus pocus from beginning to end. The expenditure of the appropriation is to be left to the State bureaux. The Minister has been advised that in New South Wales, at all events - and I suppose that the conditions are identical in the other States - tens of thousands of those who are unemployed are not, and cannot become, registered with the bureau. That may not matter a great deal, because the amount to be distributed under this bill is so small that the share of each will be infinitesimal; it will be like an apple to be divided among a thousand or more people.
Machinery is already in existence in Commonwealth departments for putting a works programme into operation. The honorable member for West Sydney said that while he was a member of the Scullin Government the Commonwealth supervised certain work in New South Wales with satisfactory results.
I should like the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Paterson) to tell us whether award rates will be paid on the works provided for in this bill.
– I have already said that the award rates operating in the various States will be paid for this work.
– That will mean that if a man obtains two or three days’ work under this scheme, he will become ineligible for the relief work provided by the State governments. The men themselves will thus be providing their own Christmas cheer. The whole £176,000 could be spent in the Werriwa electorate and the effect of the expenditure would be hardly noticed. Similar amounts could be expended in the other 73 electorates and in the Northern Territory ; yet the Government appears to be satisfied with this miserable programme.
We have been told that the money is to he expended through the labour bureaus of New South Wales. That means, in effect, that all of it will be spent in Sydney. Are the South Coast district of New South Wales and similar areas to receive no consideration? That area, together with the electorate represented by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) felt the first effects of the depression ; but if all this money is to be spent through the labour bureaux, they will be entirely disregarded.
– I did not say that all the money would be spent in Sydney.
– I know that Hobart has been mentioned, but apparently all the money is to be spent in the capital cities, notwithstanding that just as much distress per head of the population exists in some districts outside the metropolitan areas. In Port Kembla, for instance, it was stated only recently that the bread-winners who lived in 890 of the 900 houses there were unemployed. I am glad that conditions have improved somewhat since then, though I hasten to add that this Government is not responsible for the improvement. But there is still a great deal of distress among the people. Only to-day I received a letter from one mining centre which contained the statement that 500 or 600 people there had not done a tap of work for four years.
– This Government has done no work for four years.
– It seems that if it remained in office for 40 years it would do no work. The sum of £176,000 is not likely to go far towards meeting the distress of the hundreds of thousands of unemployed people in Australia.
– Has the honorable member ever heard of “ the five barley loaves and two small fishes “ ?
– I have, but we have no miracle workers among us. I doubt whether the Assistant Treasurer would use such miraculous powers if he had them. At any rate, he would think twice before doing so. The actions of the Government reflect discredit, if not disgrace, upon it in view of the boasting of government candidates during the election campaign about the extensive unemployment policy that had been prepared. Actually, government representatives have shown that they sought the suffrages of the people under false pretences. A former member for Warringah, Sir Granville Ryrie, frequently used the expression “sold a pup.” The people of Australia, through the return of this Government, have been sold a whole litter of pups. The Assistant Treasurer said that £4,000.000 had been provided for public works this financial year, but a former Parliament, of which I was a member, provided more than £20,000,000 in one year for unemployment relief. As a matter of fact, this Government is not providing £10 for every million pounds that it promised to make available. It received a mandate from the people to put into operation a comprehensive programme for the relief of unemployment, and, as it has failed to do so, it is definitely holding office under false pretences.
.- The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) has referred to the Minister for the Interior as a Santa Claus and a very Scotch one; but I do not know whether he is entitled to even that questionable compliment, for the money that is being provided will do practically nothing to bring cheer to the unemployed before Christmas. The Minister said that this bill would, if passed, provide a week’s work at 10s. a day for 50,000 men.
– I did not make that statement.
– But surely the Minister for the Interior stands by the statement of his colleague the Assistant Treasurer. The effect of providing this work will be that many of the men who accept it will lose their right to the relief work provided by the State Governments. That will certainly be the . case in Queensland where a married man with five children who is now entitled to four days work a week for £3 will be entitled to a similar period of work again before Christmas. When we were dealing with the loan bill last week,, the Assistant Treasurer said that it was only the forerunner of other measures to provide money for the relief of unemployment before Christmas. The Deputy Leader of the Government (Dr. Earle Page) and the Assistant Treasurer both stated in Sydney a few days ago that the Government was making provision to absorb a large number of unemployed men for several weeks before Christmas, but even at the time that statement was made we were only four and a half weeks from Christmas. The introduction of this bill bears out the statements made last week by honorable members of the Opposition.
We have been asked to expedite the passage of the measure, and we know that the Government is anxious to complete the business of the House early this week so that honorable members may attend certain functions in Sydney connected with the visit of His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester; but even if we passed the bill immediately it could not become law before next week because the Senate will not meet until Wednesday next. What care the members of that chamber for the unemployed? In view of the promises made by the members of the Government during the election campaign that a comprehensive scheme for the relief of unemployment would be submitted to Parliament without delay we may fairly accuse the Government of only tinkering with the problem. Some of the State governments have attempted to provide relief work for the unemployed but there are States in which single men are not considered in any degree. Within the last few days 143,000 children have sat for the leaving examination in New South Wales. Fifty thousand sat in Sydney alone. What is to happen to these young people when they leave school? They will be well educated and quite capable of going to work, and it will be necessary for their parents to find some occupation for them ; but the outlook for them is black indeed. A few weeks ago the Premiers and certain
Ministers of the State governments were summoned to Canberra to attend a conference on unemployment. But when they came here they found that the Commonwealth Government had no proposals to submit to them. The Queensland Premier and Minister of Works made a definite statement to that effect on their return to Brisbane and subsequently the Cabinet sub-committee issued the following bulletin on the subject: -
An outstanding feature of the Commonwealth Government’s proposals in this connexion at the recent Premiers conference was the absolute indefiniteness displayed by that Government. On that occasion, although all the Premiers and Ministers of Labour of the various States had been summoned to Canberra to discuss the Commonwealth Government’s projected Public Works programme, it was found that the Commonwealth Government itself had not any proposals to submit for discussion. No indication, even of how much finance will be available for such works or when it will be available was able to be elicited. Merely were the separate States requested to submit to the Commonwealth Government their respective proposals on this very important question. In other words, the separate States nave been asked to submit their different proposals and so frame a policy for the Commonwealth Government.
In all other countries where the federal system of Government obtains, the Central Government bears a large percentage of the cost of works for the relief of unemployment. Particularlyis this so in Canada and in the United States of America. The Commonwealth Government in Australia, however, has refused to lay down any principle as to the extent to which they are prepared to accept any such responsibility.
When the Scullin Government was in office the members of the Labour party informed the Acting Prime Minister and Treasurer (Mr. Fenton) that Parliament could not adjourn over the Christmas vacation until at least £500,000 had been made available to State Governments to assist the unemployed. It was stipulated that award rates and conditions were to apply, that the money was to be expended before Christmas, and that those who were to benefit should not lose their rights under the different State relief schemes then in operation. Although a good deal has been said about this Government’s big re-employment scheme, it now proposes to provide sufficient money to employ 50,000 persons for only one week. I receive on an average 100 applications weekly from men who have been out of work for two years. The whole of the amount which the Government proposes to make available could be used on the construction of a road from Mungana to the Palmer gold-fields, and such a reproductive work would absorb all the men in Queensland who are now out of work. The Government considers that by spending £176,000 it is rendering a service to the unemployed, but for the year 1934-35, the Queensland Government proposes to expend £6,300,000 from loan moneys. During the last financial year, it spent £5,521,438 to relieve unemployment, but fully 16 per cent. of the Queensland people are still out of work, and a large percentage is engaged on relief works. In that State single men are getting only one day’s work a week, but in Victoria and New South Wales they are tramping from town to town vainly seeking employment. When they become ashamed of depending on their parents for food and shelter they tramp for hundreds of miles; when they endeavour to obtain a free ride on the railways, they are treated as criminals and thrown into prison. These people have the right to work, and itis the duty of the Government to provide them with the means to obtain food and shelter. When a farmer turns his horse adrift after he has finished with his services he knows that nature will provide for the animal, but the unemployed man is not so fortunate; he must have work or starve. In 1926, an unemployed insurance scheme was established in Queensland, under which the employers, employees, and the State each contributed 3d. weekly. These contributions provided over £1,000,000 annually, and at the end of 1929, the Government made sufficient money available from that fund to finance works undertaken by local governing authorities, and in that way assisted considerably to relieve the depression. That is one reason why the unemployment position has not been so acute in Queensland as it has been in the other States. Had the contributions to the fund been doubled when the financial conditions were easier, the depression would not have been felt so severely, and men who lost their jobs could have been placed permanently in other employment.
Moreover, the Queensland Government used this fund to assist those anxious to engage in the production of tobacco. When the tobacco duties imposed by the Scullin Government became operative, the number of registered tobacco-growers increased from 900 to 6,000, but as a result of the tariff policy of anti-Labour governments, many of those men have not only lost their capital but also their employment. In my electorate, 850 growers, some of whom invested up to £1,500 in tobacco-growing, are now practically penniless as a result of the present tariff policy. Funds were also made available from the same source to assist in the production of bananas, but honorable members opposite now wish to remove the protection which those engaged in that industry have enjoyed for years.
– The honorable member is departing from the subject-matter of the bill.
– From time to time the Government has stated that it proposes to grapple with the unemployment problem, but now it is merely providing one week’s employment for 50,000 men. During the present financial year, the Queensland Government proposes to expend £6,330,000, but this Government can provide only £22,852.
– That shows the difference between the policies of the two governments.
– It does. We are told that 25 per cent. of our people are unemployed, but as 55,000 boys and 50,000 girls have left school during each of the past four or five years, and have not registered for employment, we are safe in assuming that nearly 35 per cent. of the Australian people are out of work. This Government, instead of shirking its duties and throwing the responsibility on the State governments, should grapple with unemployment; instead of relieving unemployment the Government should abolish it. We hear talk of the need for immigration. It would be a great advantage to Australia if we were able to find employment not only for our own people, but also for those who could be brought from other countries; but what is the use of lifting the immigration restrictions, when such a large percentage of our own people are out of work ? The primary producers are unable to dispose of their products at a profit because the reduced purchasing power of the people has restricted markets. I am pleased that £176,000 is to be made available, but I am sure that it will afford very little real relief to those who need it. It is a shameful effort on the part of a government which has relieved the wealthy of £10,000,000 of taxation to provide only one week’s work to those who have experienced real want for four or five years. This Government, which prates about prosperity and of saving our national honour, has little regard for the needs of over 300,000 starving people. There is so much dissatisfaction amongst the supporters of the Government, that I predict that before long there will be another reshuffle of portfolios, or the Government will have to make room for another government which will legislate in the interests of the whole community.
Mr.ROSEVEAR (Dalley) [9.15].- Like other members of the Opposition, I am disgusted at the manner in which the Government pretends to provide Christmas relief for the unemployed. It proposes to distribute £176,000 among the 250,000 men who are now without work. I presume that this sum is the first instalment of the £10,000,000 which the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) promised at the elections to make available for the solution of the unemployment problem. It has taken four months to decide on the expenditure of £176,000, and at that rate about fifteen years will elapse before the promised £10,000,000 will be spent. We are assured that the revenues are so buoyant that the Government is able to spare this £176,000. I am sure we are all pleased to hear that, because no doubt the unemployed would not accept money if they thought that the Government could not spare it ! As to its distribution, Ministers seem to have lost all sense of proportion. The sum of £150,000 is to be allocated among the works departments of the States; but we find that £12,000 is to be spent in Canberra where the unemployed number about 600, while only a similar amount is to be devoted to South Australia where 16,500 men are out of work. The Northern Territory is allotted £4,000, which works out at. about £2 for every person who has a vote there. No less than £6,000 is to be spent on cattle dips in northern New South Wales, practically all in the electorate of Cowper. As much is to be spent by the Government in that direction as is to be provided for the unemployed in the whole of Tasmania. Yet we are told that a fair and equitable distribution of the money is proposed. The Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) said that plans for this work are now in hand. I trust that the Government will show more expedition in the spending of this money than was displayed in November, 1931, when £69,600 or £4,000 more than on the present occasion, waa allocated to the Works Department in New South Wales; of that amount only £48,000 had been expended by February, 1932.
I am concerned as to the manner in whieh the present vote is to be distributed. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Paterson) said that the work would be given out through the Labour Bureau in each State. As was pointed out by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini), if that happens most of the money will be spent in metropolitan districts. It is of no use for the Government to pretend that it will be in a position to decide how the money is to be distributed. When similar votes were made in the past, the money was spent in accordance with the directions of the State authorities.
– We shall specify the works.
– The State authorities will lay down the conditions under which the work shall be done, but this Parliament has a right to say whether the slave-driving conditions imposed by the New South Wales Government should be permitted. There are thousands of unemployed in New South Wales, who, under the unemployment regulations, cannot register at the State Labour Bureau, and those who are not registered cannot receive food relief or work for the dole and will, therefore, be excluded from this appropriation.
– Every unemployed man oan register.
– There are thousands of men in New South Wales who will be unable to participate in this work. The Commonwealth authorities provided £24,000 for the building of the repatriation cottages at Callan Park, and the Works Department of the State erected the buildings. When the Minister for Repatriation sought to impose certain labour conditions, he was politely informed by the State Minister for Works that if the State department was to do the job, it would have to lay down the labour conditions. Although the Commonwealth Government provided the money, the State Government carried out the job under relief work conditions.
With the money voted to the Works Department in New South Wales on the last occasion, certain work was done at the Mascot aerodrome, where some thousands of pounds were spent in levelling the grounds. I discovered that the Commonwealth Works Department, which provided the labour for the joh, could give no indication as to the possibility of men securing work there. On questioning the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill), who was then Minister for the Interior, I found that all the labour had been drawn from the old South Sydney electorate, which was represented by a supporter of the Government. The next undertaking, that at Callan Park, happened to be in the Dalley electorate, and the Minister for Repatriation assured me that the same conditions regarding the call-up would apply to that job as to the work at Mascot. The first call-up was for bricklayers, from Burwood and Strathfield, which are at the extreme end of the electorate of the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Marr), and 10 miles away from the job. The second and third call-ups were in the same electorate, and not until all the men offering at the labour bureau in that electorate bad been called up could the unemployed in other electorates receive work on that job. This gives an idea of the way work has been distributed by the Government in the last two years. Now we find that £6,000 will be spent on cattle dips, and the vast majority, if not all of it, is to go to the electorate of the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page). If this is not political patronage, I should like to know what is. 1 hope that honorable members opposite, who sheltered behind the promises of the Prime Minister at the elections, will show on this occasion that they consider the present vote inadequate as a contribution towards the £10,000,000 which was promised for the relief of unemployment.
According to the latest figures available from the Statistician’s Department, there are 92,000 unemployed in Australia; but the Statistician admits that those figures represent only 53 per cent, of the trade unions. It would be safe to double that figure, and say that 184,000 trade unionists alone are unemployed in Australia to-day. Adding to that number the thousands of unorganized workers who are out of work, it may be said that at least 250,000 persons have no jobs. Any person who has two days’ work, or more, in any week is regarded by the Statistician as fully employed. Among those 250,000 men the Government will spend £176,000. It proposes an unfair distribution of the miserable sum that it is offering, and it has not given an adequate explanation as to the class of works, the localities in which they are to be done and the manner in which the men are to be called up. Unless a more definite and workable scheme is provided, much of this money may be filched from the unemployed by the Stevens Government in New South Wales.
.- Whilst it is a matter for regret that Australia has so many unemployed, I am afraid that a great deal of what has been said in this debate has been prompted, by a desire for political propaganda rather than by a genuine desire to help the workless. Glancing at the Estimates introduced this year, I notice that the federal authorities are spending on works £2,40.0,000 from revenue, and £1,650,000 from loan money. A further loan qf £200,000 was launched a few days ago, and, in addition to those sums, we have this further vote of £176,000, which means that a total of £4,400,000 is to be provided by the Government for public works.
– But all of that will not go to the unemployed.
– They will certainly be greatly benefited. I suppose no country has less evidence of poverty than has Australia, and in no part of the world has more been done by governmental authorities to relieve unemployment. I fully sympathize with those who are out of work’; I understand the hardships they suffer. But undoubtedly the Government has done admirable work in relieving the position. Questions have been asked to-night a3 to how the money is to be expended. I hope, at any rate, that this Government will not resort to a policy similar to that adopted by the Western Australian Labour Government which insisted that before a man could draw sustenance relief he must become a member of a recognized trade union; by their payment of fees to trade unions the unemployed were compelled to help in the political work of the Labour party.
– The Lang Government in New South Wales would not give any work to an unemployed man unless he joined a union.
– The position in this respect became so pronounced in Western Australia that the sustenance workers formed a union of their own. Even then, however, they were refused employment, unless they joined a recognized union, principally the Australian Workers Union. Australia is confronted with great economic difficulties, but when we consider the causes of unemployment we must recognize that the conditions from which we are suffering to-day have resulted from our own actions. This fact is demonstrated by a study of factory employment in Australia. In 1929 there were 450,482 persons employed in factories, whereas in 1932, in spite of all the promises of increased employment, and the assistance that was given to industry, that figure had dropped to 336,658, which represents a decrease of nearly 114,000.
– The honorable member is taking figures for years to suit himself. The falling off of factory employment is due to this Government sending so much money out of Australia for imports.
– I shall give the figures for the period from 1929 to 1932, during which time the embargo on imports designed, it was claimed, to create more employment in this country, was operating. The numbers of people employed in factories in Australia during those years were: 1927-28, 449,728; 1928- 29, 450,482; 1929-30, 419,194; 1930-31, 338,843; 1931-32, 336,658. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan ) referred to the reduction of the protection given to the banana industry. I remind the honorable member that if we do not trade with other countries they will not trade with us ; and if the sales of our primary produce decline, there is less demand in Australia for the output of our factories. A mistaken tariff policy is one of the main reasons for our unemployment position to-day. It is all very well to suggest the expenditure of £10,000,000 or £100,000,000 for the purpose of relieving unemployment; a similar scheme was tried in Germany and it failed. Unless we can trade with other peoples, and bring into the country wealth from abroad we cannot create employment. During the period I referred to immense duties were imposed, and when they failed, absolute embargoes were proclaimed. Can any honorable member advance any other reason why the number of unemployed in our factories decreased by nearly 114,000 during the period for which I have quoted figures? There can be only one reason: with a decrease in the value of our exports less credit is created in this country, with the result that our people have less purchasing power to keep the factories going. It is a pity that we have followed that policy in recent years, but vested interests are stronger than economic truths. Honorable members opposite are very critical of this bill, but T am of the opinion that the Government has made a very generous effort by providing a total of about £4,440,000 for direct unemployment relief, and public works which will absorb a large number of the unemployed. No honorable member desires to see extensive unemployment in this country. Of course, there will always be a certain percentage of unemployed no matter what the circumstances are. We know, however, that at the present time the percentage of unemployed is very great indeed; and I feel sure that it is the desire of all honorable members that something should be done to bring back to this country some of the prosperity it enjoyed in the old days. In the last three years the Government has made a big advance in dealing with this problem, and it should be given credit for its efforts in that direction. I am not slow to criticize the Government for its actions in other directions, but I have not the slightest doubt that since it assumed office there has been a decided change for the better, due to the restoration of confidence. Honorable members opposite may laugh, but the men engaged in the building trade appreciate the fact that increased work is available for them at good wages. One cannot fail to notice the increased activity in the building trade in Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, and other places.
.- In all my experience in connexion with unemployment, I have never been so disappointed as I have been to-night with the proposals put forward by the Government. This bill is to grant from the Consolidated Revenue the sum of £176,000 for expenditure on certain works and services. The intention behind the grant is good, but it is clear that neither this Government nor this House is prepared to face the problem of unemployment as Australia faced the cataclysm of war. War is murder, and the greatest curse of mankind. The second greatest curse is unemployment, but no government has yet faced the problem as it should be faced, namely, by recognizing the right of every man to work, and abolishing unemployment - an objective which could be achieved if we faced this problem as we would face the problem of war. I do not wish it to be said that I do nothing but criticize the Government, because I do not blame it entirely for our present difficulties ; I blame the whole of Parliament. There is a strong body of opinion in this House, the larger portion of which, perhaps, is on this side of the chamber, that we should be prepared to go to any extreme to remove this curse of humanity. It is all very well to provide two days’ work a week, or three days’ work a week. Good heavens, this world was not created for the workers to have two days’ employment a week. It was created that men and women might multiply, and enjoy the fruits of the soil. I defy any honorable member to show me that in Australia to-day there is not enough food produced for every, person in Australia to have a sufficient portion; yet we know that, at the present time, there are men, women, and little children in this country who are suffering from lack of food. The various medical departments of the States and the Commonwealth will confirm my statement that if a child is not properly fed in its earlier years it will never grow into a strong adult. I have two suggestions to make to the Government in this matter. First, why should we not ration the food of this country, following the example of England, which, during the war, provided every one of its citizens with food? Its people in that period certainly did not have luxuries, but every citizen was guaranteed sufficient food insofar as it was within the power of the Government to provide it. Sufficient food is produced in this country for the satisfaction of every man, woman, and child of our people, and even if that were not so we could produce more and more until that demand could be met. Have honorable gentlemen forgotten the appeal that was made throughout the length and breadth of Australia some years ago, “ Grow more wheat”. The farmers nobly responded to that appeal and produced more wheat, but what was the result? Many of them have since lost their farms because they have been unable to pay interest to the banks. Let us ration our food so that it will be made available to every human in this country in sufficient quantities. As a medical man, I know that it is essential that food should be supplied in adequate quantities, and at a fair value to every citizen. That is not being done to-day. Throughout my life, I have tried to cultivate happiness, but latterly my life has been rendered miserable by the many appeals which I have received, mostly from women, to help them secure employment for their children as they leave school. Similarly, I have received appeals from men whose hands are getting soft because such a long time has elapsed since they last worked. These men should have the right to work. Naturally, I have no time for the man who is able to work, and will not. I agree with the passage in the Bible, “ If any would not work, neither should he eat “. I am speaking for men who are willing to work. Let us ration Australia with the abundance of food that God, through nature, yields to us.
My second proposition to the Government is that it should take full advantage of silver currency. In England to-day, silver currency has been reduced more than at any time in the history of silver, except in the 37th year of the reign of Henry VIII. of anything but glorious memory. In the reign of King Edward, the half-crowns in circulation were almost of pure silver, the ratio of silver in those coins being 920 in every 1,000 parts. Our Australian silver to-day is minted practically in the same proportion - 925 parts out of 1,000. In England during the war, a fiduciary issue of £300,000,000 was circulated without any backing whatever. In that period the silver content of the coins was in the proportion of 500 parts in every 1,000. If we issued our silver on that basis this sum of £176,000 would make in absolute silver currency over £968,000. These figures are based on information supplied in this House in answer to questions and have been checked by officials in the Treasury and the statistical branch. Silver to the value of £176,000 will, if coined into florins, shillings, sixpences, &c, make £968,000. No working man or woman will refuse wages paid in silver. I appeal to the Government to issue an order to the Mint to go ahead with the minting of silver as fast as it can, and the banks should be compelled to advance silver for the payment of wages, &c. Of all the Premiers in Australia, only two were prepared to acknowledge the benefit of this proposal. One was Sir James Mitchell, Premier of Western Australia, who said to me that it was a very good idea, and .that I should ask the Government to adopt the proposal at once. The other was Mr. J ohn Lang, of Sydney, who said that if he had had the power he would commence minting silver immediately. England had shown us an example in this regard, and we should follow it. The members of this Parliament seem to be growing more and more lethargic as time goes on, but if they continue merely to tax the people out of their homes, and allow thousands to go hungry in the midst of plenty, they will be definitely failing in their duty, and I hope that some other party with more lofty ideals will arise, and sweep us into oblivion.
– I am disappointed that this grant is not larger. In my electorate there are men who have been unemployed practically since 1927, tuta, they were looking forward to some greater measure of assistance than can be provided for them out of this £176,000. New South Wales is to receive £65,000 which is not enough to relieve the needs of those who to-day are destitute. I have on previous occasions tried to explain to members of this House something of the conditions under which the unemployed are living. I have spoken of women and little children living in wretched hovels after they were thrown out of their homes by the landlord; sometimes the Commonwealth was the landlord for families who have been turned out of war service homes. Now it is proposed to hand over even this small grant to the State Labour Bureau”, which will probably use the money for the purpose of providing work for sustenance. In 1929, the Scullin Government granted a sum of money for Christmas relief for the unemployed, and the Bavin Government in New South Wales simply used that money instead of spending its own, so that the unemployed were no better off. The next grant made in the following year was distributed through the Commonwealth works branch in New South Wales, the expenditure being administered by Mr. Todd. On that occasion the total grant for Australia was £2,500,000 ; I forget how much was allocated to New South Wales. On the present occasion, the Commonwealth Government has laid down no conditions to the State Labour Bureau as to how the money shall be used, whether the work is i© be paid for at award rates, or whether Cae money shall be used to supplement the dole work scheme. At the present time men are working for sustenance in sewers and drains under deplorable conditions. In the Lake Macquarie shire a thousand men have recently been dismissed because they were said to be malingering. Meetings of protest have been held, and responsible persons are prepared to declare that the men were working harder than they had any right to do in view of the conditions prevailing.
– It is not in order for an honorable member to criticize a State administration while the present bill 13 under discussion.
– I think my remarks are quite in order, and can be connected with the bill. Seeing that the Commonwealth Government has not laid down conditions as to how the money shall be spent, it is quite possible that it may be used to employ single men at 99. 4£d. per week, and married men at 15s. 4d. per week, which is the wage paid to sustenance workers in New South Wales.
– The honorable member is out of order. The Minister has informed the House that the Commonwealth Government will lay down conditions.
– The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) said that some people were prepared to use the subject of unemployment for political propaganda. I do not think that that charge can be made against me, because I have always been sincere in my efforts to obtain permanent relief for the unemployed. The honorable member said that the provision of this grant was a magnificent effort on the part of the Government. I should like to hear what the unemployed think of it. At the last election, the Government promised the unemployed permanent work at good wages. They stuck placards all over the country asking the workers to vote for their party so as to secure good jobs for themselves. It was stated that, if the Government were returned to power, £20,000,000 would be found for works of a national character, such aa the provision of a uniform railway gauge, water conservation undertakings, &c. ; yet, now that Christmas is approaching, all tha* the unemployed of New South Wales are to get is a grant of £65,000. _ It is not enough, and it is hard to believe that a government which promised so much to the unemployed should now be asking them to accept one week’s work before Christmas.
– And probably have their relief work stopped for three or four weeks afterwards.
– That is possible, also. If the Government really wishes to make a gesture of goodwill to these unfortunate people, let it arrange that the grant be made directly to the women and children of the unemployed in order to provide clothing and other necessaries. Perhaps some honorable members have not mixed with the unemployed as I have. They do not know the deplorable conditions under which the unemployed live, or the pitiful efforts they make to help one another. It is always a case of the poor helping the poor. I have known of workers on intermittent employment imposing a levy on themselves in order to provide soup for little children attending the State schools. In some districts, there are committees, .the members of which go around begging the ingredients with which to make the soup, and also begging for left-off clothing. The conditions under which many of the unemployed are existing are a disgrace to civilization. On the Federal Government’s own property at the Adamstown rifle range families are living in miserable camps constructed of bags and pieces of tin. Children are born there, and mothers have to wash their babies in basins out in the open in the middle of winter. Yet the Government has the effrontery to ask the unemployed to vote for it, promising them good jobs at steady wages. Now it is proposed to make a grant of money, which is to be spent by a State administration that has never shown any consideration for the unemployed, but which, on the contrary, has stood over them like a slave driver, forcing them, when on relief work, to work the harder.
– I have already pointed out to the honorable member that he is not in order in criticizing the State administration.
– But it is proposed to hand this money over to the State Labour Bureau to spend.
– That is not so.
– The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Paterson) said so.
– The honorable member misunderstood the Minister. When speaking in reply, I shall explain how the money is to be spent.
– I am sorry if I misunderstood the honorable gentleman. I desire to know whether the works for which the bill makes provision are to be carried out directly by the Commonwealth through the works directors of the several States, as was done by the Scullin Government, and also whether several works that I have often advocated are to be undertaken? From time to time I have asked for a grant to assist in clearing a civil aviation landing-ground at Cessnock. Many international aviators have recommended it and have declared that a splendid emergency landingground would in that way be provided. Such a work could be directly undertaken by the Commonwealth Government. Then again why should not the Commonwealth itself build shelters for the unemployed on some of its own properties? There is an area at The Nobbies which is controlled by the Federal Government and on which at present what are little better than kennels are being occupied by the unemployed. As a matter of fact they are such wretched hovels that some people would not allow even their dogs to occupy them. Yet they are considered to be good enough for the unfortunate unemployed. The Government might also build shelters for them at the Rutherford military camp. In my electorate there are 7,000 unemployed miners alone; approximately 20,000 men of various callings in the north are out of work. What help will £65,000 afford these people, let alone the whole of the State of New South Wales? It will give no real relief to them. It is time the Government, which is ready to give consideration to other sections of the community, did something to carry out its election promises to those without work. Why should it not honour its promise to deal effectively with the unemployment problem? The position of the wheat-farmers undoubtedly is deplorable, but it is not so bad as that of the men who are out of work. Yet we find the Government prepared to raise millions for the relief of the wheat-farmer by means of a tax on the bread of the workless. A sum of £4,000,000 is to be raised in that way for the relief of the wheat-farmers, and supporters of the present Government also boast that taxation to the amount of £9,500,000 has been remitted. Were the people who paid that taxation as badly off as the unemployed! They were not. During the general election the Prime Minister said that unemployment was no longer a matter for the States alone but was the definite concern of the Commonwealth, and that his Government would co-operate with the States to relieve the situation. It was promised that committees would be set up in the several States and that a fully-fledged Commonwealth Minister would be placed in control of unemployment. It is time that the Government made a move in that direction. It promised that £20,000,000 would be raised for the relief of the unemployed. When is that promise to be redeemed? So far nothing has been done. Every effort should be made by the Government to fulfil these election promises. I, like many other honorable members, have had to contend against a steady agitation of the unemployed by men who claim that nothing can be accomplished by parliamentary action. Many people are beginning to believe that governments are powerless to do anything and that there is no hope of relief except by way of a short cut to revolution. Are the Government and their supporters going to close their eyes to the growth of communism, which is due to the fact that politicians, including Labour members in the past, have fooled the people from time to time, making promises they have never attempted to redeem? The day has past when that sort of thing can be done. If we are going to save th institution of parliamentary government, we must carry out our election promises. If the unemployed are to be made the football of politics - if promises given to them are not to be fulfilled - then we may expect a bloody revolution in this country. I make this statement in all sincerity, because I believe that many people are becoming desperate, and that unless effective relief measures are taken they will try to take the law into their own hands in the very near future. Throughout the election campaign I challenged Communists to show how they could accomplish by revolutionary methods the objective they have in view. I pointed out again and again that nothing was to be gained by leading the workers, with nothing more than their bare fists, into combat against the armed forces of the State. They would be shot down and slaughtered.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Q. J. Bell).Order !
– I cannot help speaking in this way, because I know that the minds of the people are being agitated to such an extent that they are beginning to think that parliamentary action is nothing more than a farce, a fraud, and a sham. It is time that the Government took into consideration the seriousness of the situation. Why make such a miserable grant as that for which this bill provides? It is not even sufficient to provide for a pair of boots and a pair of socks for the whole of -the unemployed. Why not make a direct grant to the women and children? The men can fend for themselves a little better than can the unfortunate women and children, for whom I am pleading, whose breadwinners, through no fault of their own, are unemployed. They are anxious and able to work, and work should be found for them. If a direct grant such as I have suggested were made, it would show on the part of this Government a genuine desire that these men should not be sweated, as they have been under the unemployment relief system which is operating in New South Wales and other States. Let us give them a goodwill grant - something that will provide Christmas cheer for the women and children of the unemployed of Australia.
.- In adding my protest to the many that have been made against the inadequacy of this grant, I desire to strike a new note. The Government in the last Parliament and again in this has sent more work outside Australia than any of its predecessors did. Take for instance the building of warships. Experts were brought out-
– The honorable member will not be in order in discussing that matter at this stage.
– The Government provided £6,000,000 for the construction of cruisers abroad. Those vessels should have been built here.
– Order ! I have already told the honorable member that he will not be in order in discussing that question on this bill.
– The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Stacey) protested the other day against the inadequacy of the Government’s action to relieve unemployment.
– And the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett) also said recently that it was time the Government did something definite for the relief of unemployment.
– Order !
– The amount for which this bill provides is so inadequate that it will not furnish a Christmas dinner for the unemployed, many of whom have not even a sheet of iron to shelter them in the bush.
.- For a number of years I have been closely associated with the problem of unemployment in New South Wales. In that State a man cannot register for sustenance if one member of the family is earning 15s. a week, and a married man with a child earning £1 a week is not entitled to receive sustenance or to be employed on relief work.
– Order ! The honorable member must dis01188 the question before the Chair.
– The Minister has stated that the work could be apportioned through the labour bureaux of the various States, and I am pointing out the position of many men registered at the bureau in New South Wales. Such people cannot obtain work or sustenance because some member of the family is employed and earns a certain amount. But thousands of persons are registered with the Commonwealth works branch in New South Wales and in other States and I suggest to the Minister for the Interior that, instead of this work being apportioned through the employment bureaux in the States, the Commonwealth department should allocate it. The Minister has suggested the possibility of “ double banking “ but “ double banking “ is impossible because a man can only work in one job at a time. Last week, when urging* the Government to honour its promise to provide £10,000,000 for the unemployed, we were told to keep quiet, because the Government intended to do something for the workless. But certain things have happened recently which have placed Government supporters in an awkward position. A coalition government has been formed, dominated by the weaker party, and members of the United Australia party are now pretesting because of the inclusion in the Ministry of certain persons who exercise a controlling power. It has been stated that the sum of £4,000,000 is to be provided to assist the wheat industry. We do not protest against anything being done for the farmers,- but it is a standing disgrace to this Government and to this Parliament that the paltry sum of £176,000 is provided for the unemployed. The situation is becoming so desperate that I am very much afraid that at any time there may be a revolt against the Government, and its supporters will then realize that the danger point has been reached. The unemployed to-day are in a quandary. They look to the Government for relief, and if nothing is done for them there will arise within their ranks a spirit of ferment, which nothing can stop, unless it be the loss of human life. It has been said that a great number of the unemployed are. unskilled workers, but among their number are thousands of skilled workers and professional men, including barristers and accountants, who are eager and willing to do anything. I am sure that every honorable member of the House is brought into contact with them. At the Commonwealth Bank buildings in Sydney hundreds of these men keep honorable members busy from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. We grant them interviews and endeavour to do what is possible for them. The Government, however, can only provide what it terms this first instalment of £176,000 for their relief. I ask it to go further. The Minister said that there were indications that the loan of £10,000,000 recently floated would be fully subscribed. I ask the Government to make available before Christmas the £20,0,000 which it is proposed to expend on postal works out of the £10,000,000 loan. The post office always undertakes a certain amount of extra work during the Christmas season, and. if the £200*000 were expended at that season, it would help largely to relieve the position. However, it seems useless for us to urge upon the Government the necessity for doing something immediately. It has the power and it has the majority in both Houses, but it does nothing. Honorable members opposite have said that they are dissatisfied; if that is so they have the power to insist on an expenditure, not of £200,000, but £500,000, for Christmas relief. They know that every honorable member in the House would vote with them, but they are not consistent or sincere.
– Order !
– The only test of their sincerity is their actions.
– Order !
– The honorable member must deliver his speech without saying anything.
– Order !
– It is true that an honorable member may not speak his mind.
– It is distinctly out of order to impute insincerity to any honorable member.
– Their sincerity is clearly demonstrated. Rather than do what they believe to be right, they leave the unemployed to starve. But the day of miracles is not past. Miracles are to be performed by this Government. Christ, by Divine power, performed the miracle of so multiplying five loaves and two fishes that 5,000 people were fed with them. Evidently this Government has the power of miracle-‘ working for it expects to feed hundreds and thousands of unemployed by an expenditure of £176,000. Last week, when honorable members sought to compel the Government to fulfil its promises to the unemployed, they were told to wait - that the Government had something up its sleeve. But the dissensions within the Government itself have been clearly demonstrated by the fact that a former Minister, who was prepared to put into practice a policy designed to relieve the unemployed, ‘‘has been relegated to a back bench because he objected to the unemployed being cast aside. Members of the Country party supporting the Government said, “As the price of our support we must have £4,000,000 for the wheat-growers,” and the only member of the Cabinet who demonstrated any interest in the unem-ployed, and had any policy for their betterment, was dropped from the Ministry, and is now so disgusted at this treatment that he proposes to take a trip to. the Old Country.
– Order ! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the bill.
– We are invited to make gifts of Australian lambs to the English people for their enjoyment at Christmas ; next year we shall be sending them a gift of Lyons and Hughes! While we give lambs to the unemployed in England, to our own people we will not give even the bare necessaries of life ; to them even bread and butter are luxuries. Although I am not permitted to say it in this House I shall elsewhere point out to the unemployed and to the working classes in this country that Parliament, as it operates at present, is a sham, a delusion, and a snare.
– The honorable member is out of order in reflecting on Parliament. I hope I shall not be required to call him to order again.
– Restricted as I am by the Standing Orders, I shall say outside this House what I am not permitted to say inside it. The more I listen to honorable members opposite expounding the Government’s policy for the relief of unemployment, the more I realize how farcical are its proposals. I repeat that to expect this Government to do anything for the unemployed is to anticipate a miracle. No difficulty is experienced by the Government in remitting taxes to wealthy people, but it finds extreme difficulty indeed in doing anything for the unemployed who, apparently, must be satisfied with the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. I hope, however, that Government supporters will insist upon more adequate provision being made for the workless. If any honorable members opposite submit a proposal that the amount for Christmas relief be increased to £500,000, it will be heartily supported by this side of the House.
.- I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without voicing my protest against the inadequacy of the proposals brought down by the Government. No mention is made of works to be carried out in country areas. I represent an electorate which is nearly one-half of New South Wales, and I regret to state that there is in it a very large number of unemployed. In the city of Broken Hill unemployment is almost the chronic condition of a considerable number of men, who, in the past, obtained work in the mining industry.
The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) discounted much of all that has been said about the severity of unemployment throughout the Commonwealth. I am afraid that the honorable gentleman has been going about the country, and perhaps in his own electorate, with his eyes shut; because I understand that the conditions in Western Australia are similar to those in the eastern States. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), who is in close touch with the people in his electorate, has told us of families living in one little room, or in tin humpies built out of kerosene tins, hessian and bags. In normal times all these people were accustomed to live in houses under decent conditions. It is common knowledge that in many districts throughout New South Wales people out of work are being forced to leave good houses and camp on river banks and in public reserves. Only a few months ago I happened to be in the cafeteria at the Central Bailway Station, Sydney, and saw there a number of little urchins without boots, rushing the tables and eating scraps of sausages and other meat from the plates after the diners had left them. Conditions like that should not be tolerated in any civilized community, especially in Australia, which boasts of its democracy and high standard of living.
I voice my protest on behalf of the unemployed, not only in my electorate, but also throughout the Commonwealth against the inadequacy of the provision made for Christmas unemployment relief. I have received telegrams from several organizations in my electorate, asking me to advise them of the amount to be made available and the channels through which it will be distributed. In reply I urged ‘ them to submit a list of public works of a federal character which, in their opinion, should be carried out immediately. Some proposals have been submitted by me, but I have discovered that the Ministry has already made up its mind and that there is no opportunity to have individual requests considered.
The amount of £176,000 provided in the bill, is totally inadequate. The Government should be ashamed to bring forward such a miserly scheme for the relief of unemployment. In this chamber this afternoon we experienced a mild earth tremor. I am wondering if this old earth was shaking with laughter or shuddering with horror at the mean character of the proposals for the relief of unemployment brought forward by this Government; but I can assure the Ministry that there will be similar violent rumblings of discontent amongst the unemployed throughout the Commonwealth when they realize that £176,000 is the best that this Government can do for them at this stage. This problem of unemployment is too vast to be tackled piecemeal. As our leader has pointed out, if the bulk of the workers are to be absorbed within a reasonable time, and thus have a chance again to become self-respecting citizens, vast sums of money must be provided for the carrying out, of public works. Nothing will put more heart into the community than schemes to ensure continuity of employment. We have no better instance of what can be accomplished in this regard than Broken Hill. This city, isolated as it is from other important country centres, depends entirely on the mining industry. If the mines were closed to-morrow the population would probably not exceed 500. The 3,500 miners who are employed in the mines there are carrying a population of 27,000. When men are employed constantly at decent wages they maintain a population of five or six times their number in other avenues of work. This is an aspect of the problem which should not be overlooked by the Government. I realize, however, that it has already made up its mind, and that any protest which I may make concerning the inadequacy of its proposal will be of little avail. I would, however, urge the Minister in charge of the bill to make available to honorable members details of proposed expenditure in the various electorates, bo that they may inform the people they represent how much money is to be expended in their districts, and what works are to be put in hand.
During the election campaign the Country party policy, as published in the Sydney Sun newspaper on the 15th September, was to provide more work for the people. “ Jobs is Aim “ was the heading given to the report of the policyspeech delivered by Dr. Earle Page. It was also announced in the press at that time, on behalf of this Government, that hitherto responsibility for the relief of unemployment had been allowed to rest with the States, but that the Ministry had decided that the Commonwealth should take a larger share of its responsibility and intended to increase its efforts to deal with the problem. The miserly proposal now before the House indicates the lengths to which this Government is prepared to go. An expenditure of £176,000 will not make any impression upon the vast army of unemployed throughout the Commonwealth. This is not the way in which the situation should be tackled. The Government should bring down a more substantial scheme to absorb the unemployed. Like Micawber they are always waiting for something to turn up, but they will not tolerate much longer the misery that they are now suffering. If this Government does not act reasonably in the very near future, it will be responsible for what happens. Honorable members must be astounded at the poverty which exists, and the patience with which it is borne. I ask the Government to withdraw this bill, and to introduce another increasing the appropriation to at least £500,000, which might afford an appreciable measure of relief over the Christmas period, during which all are expected to exhibit a spirit of goodwill. I hope that my protest will not go unheeded, and that the Minister will bring my remarks before other members of the Cabinet who have not been in the House while I have been speaking.
– I regret that my first speech in this House must be in condemnation and not in commendation of the proposals of the Government. During last week, I listened with interest to intimations from the Government benches that the programme of works, when brought down, would give satisfaction to all honorable members. The honorable members for Adelaide (Mr. Stacey), Boothby (Mr. Price) and Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson), as well as other honorable members on the opposite side of the House, did not hesitate to criticize the Government for its failure to deal adequately with the situation that confronts us. Their disappointment must have been greatly aggravated by the entirely inadequate proposals that we now have before us. The Minister in charge of the bill has been absent from the chamber for a considerable period while the debate has been in progress. I do not wonder at his having become tired of the criticism which has been expressed, and which no doubt he realized was inevitable. As a new member, making my first speech in this chamber, I should have liked to offer favorable comment, but there is nothing in the bill to warrant it. An analysis of the measure shows that the proposed appropriation represents approximately £2,000 for each electorate. What a dole that .is to hand out to those who have been waiting for the Government to fulfil the promises that it made on the hustings! A tremendous wave of disappointment must -be sweeping throughout Australia at this illustration of what the Government regards as reasonable relief between now and Christmas. Heavy defence wagons have brought to a very bad state the roads leading to the cordite and ammunition factories in my electorate, and the whole of the Victorian quota of £42,000 could be spent in Maribyrnong on that and other urgent work, but I hesitate to ask for more work to be undertaken there and elsewhere, because the granting of my request would reduce the average expenditure in other electorates to practically nothing.
The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) described as “ party propaganda “ the speeches that have been made by honorable members who sit on this side of the House. My reply is that the Government was returned to power by means of practically nothing but propaganda. It made all sorts of promises, which the unemployed must now find were a delusion and a snare. If the help that the Government proposes to give is to be administered in homeopathic doses’ it will do no good. Every honorable member would welcome proposals that would afford real relief. This Government has an obligation to the unemployed of Australia which cannot be ignored. It may be following the example set by the British Government, when it met its indebtedness abroad by a token payment. The proposed appropriation is nothing more than a token payment to the unemployed. I wish to emphasize that the £42,000 that it is proposed to spend in Victoria could be absorbed in my own electorate without giving anything like adequate relief. I do not know the character of the electorate of the honorable member for Swan, one of the few defenders of the Government. He could hardly have come into contact with the want and misery that exist in the majority of the electorates. Wherever one goes in the metropolitan areas, one cannot avoid coming into close contact with the privations of the people. I feel sure that the honorable member for Swan would not have uttered the sentiments that he expressed to-night had he first-hand knowledge of those conditions. The Government cannot have realized that the patience that is being displayed can be tried too far. But the people will refuse to remain silent much longer, and may break the law in order to direct attention to their plight. I sincerely hope that that will not occur. On the hustings I, and honorable members sitting behind the Government, expressed the belief that all difficulties could be overcome by parliamentary action. The Government is doing nothing to justify the contentions, not only of its own supporters, but also of honorable members on this side of the House. Its lack of appreciation of the real position is fostering a disbelief in the parliamentary system of government. The measure of relief that it is offering is merely an insult to those who require assistance. It is exhibiting a callous disregard for the sufferings of the people, and retribution is bound to overtake it unless it makes much greater provision in the hear future.
.- Like my colleagues, I protest against the inadequacy of this provision for the relief of unemployment. I was interested in the statement of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) that the conditions in Australia are very much better than in any other part of the world. If the inference to be drawn from his remark that £4,000,000 is being made available by the Government for public works, is that that sum is to be devoted to the relief of unemployment, he has grossly misrepresented the facts. As other honorable members have pointed out, the expenditure of £176,000 will not provide one day’s work for half of those who are unemployed to-day. Last week I listened with interest to the contribution which was made to the debate by several honorable members opposite. How can the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Stacey) lend his support to this proposal in view of his statement that it was necesary for the Government to make adequate provision for the unemployed? Even if the honorable member is satisfied with what the Government is doing, I am quite certain that his constituents will not be. The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson) said on Friday last that there was no greater danger to the United Australia party than the attitude which the Government is adopting in regard to unemployment. To use the honorable member’s own words-
– I remind the honorable member that it will not be in order for him to quote from Hansard a speech made in the current session.
– The honorable member for Macquarie said that of the several hundred thousand people unemployed in Australia at present between 100,000 and 150,000 would probably never be re-employed. It is apparent, therefore, that even honorable gentlemen opposite are not satisfied with what the Government is doing, and I also enter my emphatic protest against the inadequacy of these proposals. As an alderman of the City of Sydney I had some experience of unemployment relief work. For several years the Sydney City Council provided £3,000 annually for Christmas relief work. In comparison with what that one local body did, the proposals of this Government are deplorably paltry. In my electorate 10,000 to 12,000 men may be seen at work almost any day under conditions that are very little better than slavery. In spite of these facts, certain honorable gentlemen opposite suggest that the unemployment problem of Australia is not serious. I was surprised to hear the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) say that although he disagreed with the policy of the Government for providing Christmas unemployment relief he intended to vote for the bill. That surely is a poor sort of representation for his constituents to have in this chamber.
– Does the honorable member for Lang propose to vote against the bill?
– I enter my emphatic protest against the inadequate amount that the Government is providing for Christmas relief. If the honorable member for Fawkner thinks that sufficient is being done he should be prepared to say so, but I am sure that his humanitarian instincts would not allow him to say anything of the kind. All that I can do, in the circumstances, is to protest against the pitifully insufficient amount that .the Government is providing for this purpose.
.- It appears to me that the Government has an entirely chaotic outlook on the general problem of unemployment, and that this measure is to be considered as a concession to political pressure from its own supporters and not as part of a definite plan to deal with the unemployment problem. Even if we consider this measure as being related to some definite scheme of Christmas relief work it is entirely misconceived and must fail to achieve its purpose, for it will merely add a new element of exasperation to a situation already full of difficulty. The Minister for the Interior told us that the amount allocated to Western Australia i3 £10.702. Those precise figures suggest that a meticulous estimate has . been made in regard to specific works; but no information is available of the particular undertakings upon which the money is to be expended. The Government of Western Australia required for its ordinary loan programme last year £2,600,000, and it is making provision for the expenditure of a similar sum this year; but it is already making some additional provision for Christmas relief work. I am glad to say that this is being done on a systematic and orderly basis. A definite addition is being made to the length of time that the unemployed may be engaged upon relief work. For the last three years the various State governments have more or less systematized their activities in regard to unemployment relief, and have elaborated a system of rationing work. Consequently, the provision of this miserable sum of £176,000 will simply be obtruded into the mechanism of the States, and, being so infinitesimal, will not in any way add to their resources to meet the problem which faces them. It will simply relieve them of the obligation to spend some of the money that they already have available an’d would otherwise have spent.
– Oh, no!
– I submit that my statement of the position is correct, for the Minister for the Interior has told us that the Commonwealth Government proposes to ask the State labour bureaux to furnish the labour that will be required on the works to be put in hand. It would be definitely unfair for the States to permit, say, A to get the benefit of additional Commonwealth relief at Christmas time when on the books of the State there were B and C for whom no relief could be forthcoming. Because of the impossibility of spreading these amounts over all persons qualified to participate anomalies which would otherwise be avoided will be developed.
– Does the honorable member say that the Government is acting wrongly in providing employment?
– I do not. If this money were given to the States, to supplement the services which they are already rendering to the unemployed, it could be distributed amongst the present recipients of work or sustenance under the State schemes. Where the machinery is not quite so good as it is in Western Australia it may be possible to do what the Government proposes, but the provision is so small as to be incapable of being spread adequately without anomalies developing.
– This is to be expended upon our own Commonwealth works.
– Of course it is. It is true that the work to be provided is in respect of Commonwealth buildings and services, but the purpose of the expenditure is to provide some measure of relief to the unemployed, all of whom for the past three years have had to look solely to the States for employment of this nature, and who are registered under the State schemes. The Government proposes to spend £176,000 throughout the Commonwealth, £10,000 of which is to be spent in Western Australia, and in such a way that it will involve a dislocation of the rotation of employment in that State.
– The Minister may grunt if he so desires, but I submit with great respeot, and a desire to be helpful, that at one period there were about 90,000 in receipt of sustenance in Western Australia. That number has been steadily reduced by using loan funds, and in pursuance of the State’s policy of shifting persons out of employment from sustenance to some kind of work. The domestic responsibilities of the unemployed vary. A man who has a wife and five children to provide for is given a longer period of employment than a man who has a wife and three children, or one who has only a wife to maintain. In that way a very definite relationship between the obligations of the breadwinner and the resources of the State has been organized. The Government now proposes to employ certain persons for a limited period between now and Christmas upon certain Commonwealth works and services. The total amount proposed to be spent in Western Australia is £10,700, and I ask the Minister seriously to calculate how much will be left for distribution in the form of wages after materials have been purchased mainly from stocks. In the absence of any statement to the contrary, one is safe in assuming that, although the unemployed of Western Australia are distributed throughout the whole of the State, the bulk of the money will be spent in the City of Perth. It has been the policy of the State Government not to attract the unemployed to the metropolis, but to endeavour to provide them with work in country districts. In these circumstances, it would have been sensible and legitimate not to have used money in the way the Government proposes, but to have enabled the State governments to use it to supplement the assistance which they normally render at Christmas time. Not having been given detailed specifications of the works proposed to be undertaken in the various States one is justified in assuming that the money is- not being provided for specific work, but that the deputy directors of works in each of the States will be authorized to spend the amounts set out in the schedule to the bill. I venture to say, with great respect, that the greater portion of this money will he wasted.
– There is no evidence of that.
– There is no evidence to the contrary. The Minister cannot tell me on what works in Western Australia an expenditure of £10,702 is required. We ought to know how the money is to be spent.
– It could be spent on clearing an aerodrome at Bunbury.
– Such a work would involve the expenditure of more than £10,000.
– There is already a landing ground there.
– I was a member of the Public Works Committee which inquired into the establishment of an aerodrome at Western J unction in Tasmania, the estimated cost of which was considerably over £10,000. Does it not appear preposterous that this money is to be spent on giving some additional relief to those who are at present depending upon the ‘States for employment? It should be expended on lengthening the period of employment of men whose work is at present intermittent. To-day, men are employed for five, six, or seven weeks out of every nine, according to their circumstances. The best way to render further aid to the unemployed would be to hand the money over to the States so that they could give each man an extra week’s continuous employment, and thus reduce his period of enforced idleness. That would have been a sensible contribution, and would have minimized the difficulties which have been mentioned during the debate. A more comprehensive and detailed plan of public works, including the renovation of Commonwealth buildings, could later have been undertaken. The whole scheme is a hotchpotch. Last week, we authorized the raising of loan funds to the amount of £5,000,000, £200,000 of which was for the Commonwealth Postal Department, and we now propose to appropriate £176,000 from revenue, making a total of £376,000.
– The honorable member is neglecting about 99 per cent, of the facts.
– Not at all. Does the Assistant Treasurer say that in the schedule of the Loan Bill passed last week provision was made for the expenditure of more than £200,000 of the total amount to be raised?
– The world did not begin last week.
– No; and despite the excitement during this debate it will not end to-morrow. The problem of unemployment is a continuing one. The Government has made a mistake in not recognizing that the States have done magnificently by the unemployed during the past three years. It would have been a generous gesture at this juncture to give this money for Christmas relief to the States for the purpose of supplementing the assistance which they are now giving. The general character of the proposal for the Commonwealth authorities to take a larger share in the relief of unemployment might be left until the composite Government has had time to develop a composite mind regarding the matter.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Ward) adjourned.
House adjourned at 11.3 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
t asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he make provision for free transport from Tasmania to the mainland for members of the Tasmanian State Parliament, and thus place them on an equal footing with members of parliament in other States f
– The making of financial provision for the transport of members of the Parliament of a State does not come within the scope of the Commonwealth Government’s responsibilities.
t asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
r asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
r asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
Is the police agent recently employed by his department at Canberra identical with the person against whom allegations of perjury and other ‘serious offences were made in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales on the 14th May, 1031 1
Mr.Menzies. - Yes, hut I direct the attention of the honorable member (Mr. Gander) to the reply given to those allegations by the Colonial Secretary (Mr. Gosling). Mr. Gosling stated (New South Wales Hansard, 24th June, 1931) that the agent in question was reported “ to have given every satisfaction in carrying out his work, and is spoken of in the highest terms as a sober, trustworthy, and reliable agent “. Mr. Gosling concluded his statement by informing the House that “ from the reports obtained in this case it would seem that the honorable member was grossly misinformed as regards the facts .
y asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Mr.Casey. - The reply to the questions raised by the honorable- member is of such dimensions that it cannot readily be incorporated in Hansard. The reply is therefore being forwarded direct to the honorable member.
Sir John Cadman : Oil Agreement with Persian Government: Proposed Agreement with Commonwealth Government.
Dr.Maloney asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
e. - On the 16th November, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) asked the following questions, upon notice: -
The following information is now supplied : - 1. (a) Average price for greasy wool, at all centres - Period 1st July, 1934, to 31st October, 1934, 9.32d. per lb; for the same period of 1933, 13.44d. per lb.
Postal. Messengers: Dismissals: number Employed.
– On the 15th November, the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) asked the following questions, upon notice: -
I am now in a position to supply the right honorable member with the following information: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 November 1934, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1934/19341121_reps_14_145/>.