14th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 2;30 p.m., and read prayers.
The following papers were presented -
Norfolk Island - AnnualReport for year 1933-34.
Northern Territory Acceptance Act and Northern Territory (Administration) Act - Ordinance of 1934- No. 22 - Pearling.
Public Service Act - List of Permanent Officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department (excluding the Central Staff) as on 30th June, 1934.
Quarantine Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1934, No. 147.
BANKING AND MONETARY SYSTEM.
Mr. SCULLIN. - I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government intends to institute an inquiry into the Australian banking and monetary system, in fulfilment of the promise made at the last elections?
Mr. LYONS. - The promise that I made at the last elections was, that if Parliament itself expressed a desire for such an inquiry itwould be undertaken.
Mr.Forde. - The Country party has beenvery active in the matter.
Mr. LYONS.- Probably it will continue to display activity. The matter will receive consideration, and a statement in regard to it will be made at an early date.
WIRELESS EQUIPMENT ON COASTAL VESSELS.
Mr. E.F. HARRISON. - I ask the Prime Minister if the Government will consider the early amendment of the Navigation Act, so as to ensure that all merchant steamships trading on the Australian coast are fitted with adequate wireless equipment?
Dr. EARLE PAGE. - I take it that the honorable member’s question arises out of the loss of the SS. Coramba, and the statement that seamen are unwilling to go to sea. unless something along the lines suggested is done. Having received word regarding the position in both Sydney and Melbourne, I called for a full statement, which 1 have brought to the House because I felt sure that it would be of interest to honorable members. I ask leave to make it.
Dr. EARLE PAGE. - As recently as 1929, an International Conference was held in London to consider the adoption of uniform means of securing the safety of life at sea. This conference was attended by the representatives of no fewer than eighteen maritime countries, including Great Britain, Canada and Australia. The conference came to an agreement in the matter, and the result is embodied in the International Convention for the” Safety of Life at Sea, signed in London by the delegates, on behalf of their respective countries, on the 31st May, 1929.
Upon the subject of wireless as a means of securing help to vessels in distress, it was agreed that the provision of a wireless installation should be compulsory only in respect of - (a) ships carrying more than twelve passengers, irrespective of size; and (6) other ships of 1,600 tons gross registered tonnage -or upwards.
Power is given by the convention to the Government of the country to which the ship belongs, to exempt it from the necessity of carrying wireless - (a) in the case of a passenger ship which does not, in the course of its voyage, go more than twenty miles from the nearest land, or not more than 199 miles in the open sea between two consecutive ports of call ; (£>) in the case of other vessels which do not go more than 150 miles from land.
Australia has already given full effect to the requirements of the convention, and has applied them not only to ships engaged on international voyages - that is, from one country to another - but also to vessels trading-, along its coast. The only exemption permitted in respect of State vessels coming within federal control is that ships which do not trade beyond 100 nautical miles from the principal port of departure need not have wireless.
Following on the loss of the Christina Fraser, and the suggestion made by the
Court of Marine Inquiry, a small departmental committee of experts was appointed to go into the question of whether it was advisable and practicable to provide for wireless in ships under the minimum size - 1,600 tons gross - specified in the International Convention.
The committee duly made a report. Incidentally, it was pointed out that the great majority pf ships of less than 1600 tons traded exclusively within the limits of one or other of the States, and consequently came under State and not Federal jurisdiction’.
The matter was therefore taken up with the principal States concerned, and at the Premiers Conference held in February last a proposal was put forward that, in order that there might be uniformity in respect of such matters as surveys, wireless telegraphy, and other requirements affecting the safety of life al sea, the State parliaments should “ refer “ to the Commonwealth Parliament, under section 51 of the Constitution, power to legislate in respect of seagoing vessels trading within State boundaries. Certain of the State representatives intimated that their States were agreeable to transfer the control of their shipping to the Commonwealth, but when later their Governments were formally requested to implement the announcement they failed to do so.
Informal conversations were also carried out by the then Minister for Com merce (Mr. Stewart) with the responsible Minister in New South “Wales, with a view to uniform action in regard to wireless on small ships, but without result. Consequently, no progress has been made. The power of the Commonwealth to take action is limited to such of the small ships as trade “interstate. In the whole of the. Commonwealth there are somewhere about twenty small steamers of this class - between SOO and 1,600 tons - that might be dealt with.
The provisions of the Navigation Act relating to wireless installation are contained in section 231, which is based on the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, already referred to. It would not be possible, without an amendment of the act, to require that ships of less than 1,600 tons shall be provided with the ordinary wireless installation capable of two-way communication, and necessarily in charge of a skilled operator. I have, however, considered the possibility of a regulation, made under the provisions of the act relating to life-saving appliances, requiring that ships other than those covered by section 231 shall carry as part of their life-saving equipment an automatic apparatus for the despatch of wireless calls for assistance in times of distress. Apparatus capable of doing this was designed some time ago by Amalgamated Wireless, Australasia, Limited. It is a self-contained apparatus, installed in a cabinet similar in size and appearance to an ordinary wireless reception set. It contains a spring motor wound by handle after the manner of a gramophone. This rotates on a metal disc, on the periphery of which are serrations which, when the disc rotates, send out morse wireless signals on the wave-length of 600 metres reserved for shipping messages.
I am advised that it would be in order, by regulation made under section 215 of the Navigation Act relating to life-saving appliances, to require that ships of any class not covered by section 231 - relating to standard wireless installation - shall carry as part of their life-saving equipment an automatic apparatus of the nature described.
It would, of course, be possible for any vessel affected to substitute for the automatic apparatus a two-way wireless telephony set - five of the small vessels of the Adelaide Steamship Company are so equipped - or an ordinary standard wireless equipment. Automatic wireless apparatus would be, in effect, the minimum necessary.
Consideration is being given to the drafting of a regulation applicable to steamships of between 400 and 1,600 tons gross, engaged in interstate voyages, requiring the provision as part of their life-saving equipment, of an automatic wireless transmitter of approved type and capable of transmitting the necessary wireless signals to bring assistance in case of distress. Insofar as intra-state ships are concerned, the matter will again be taken up with the governments of the States to see if uniformity of action may be secured.
There is only one point that I wish still further to emphasize. I am informed that Amalgamated Wireless, Australasia, Limited would require three months to turn out the necessary automatic apparatus; consequently that period must elapse before it would be possible to apply the regulation completely.
Mr. BEASLEY. - In view of the information that it will require at least three months to manufacture the necessary wireless apparatus for ships trading on the coast, I ask the Minister for Commerce what action he proposes to take to induce the States to come to an immediate decision, particularly as Victorian seamen have refused to go to sea on ships in which wireless has not been installed ?
Dr. EARLE PAGE. - In my earlier statement I said the Government would immediately get into communication with each of the State governments to ascertain whether uniform action could at once be taken.
Mr. MARTENS.- -In the inquiries proposed to be made in connexion with wireless installation on coastal vessels, will the Minister consider the position of ships belonging to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, which trade interstate from Northern Queensland ports? Many of these ships carry large crews and heavy cargoes.
Dr. EARLE PAGE. - I shall make the necessary inquiries.
– Will the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Australian people,, express to the Government of the United States of America gratitude for its prompt and comprehensive search for the lost Australian airman, Charles T. Ulm, and his assistants? Will the right honorable gentleman also inform that government that it is the desire of this Parliament that the Commonwealth should be responsible for any expense incurred in the making of the search?
– The Government is very much concerned about the unfortunate mishap to Mr. Ulm, and is very grateful to the Governments of the United States and any other country whose ships are engaged in the search for him. I suggest, however, that it is yet somewhat premature to thank them. We are hopeful that their efforts will prove successful, and that we shall be able to congratulate as well as thank them. At the appropriate time we shall do that very promptly. I do not know that it is necessary to act on the further suggestion of the honorable member; if it were, the Commonwealth Government would have no hesitation in doing so.
– I lay on the table of the House the annual report of the Tariff Board for the financial year 1933-34. The report is complete, but there is an annexure which contains a schedule of the recommendations of the board, and, as some of these have not been dealt with by the Government, they have not been included in the report proper. The annexure is here, and may be read by honorable members. I move -
That the paper be printed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– Has the attention of the Minister in charge of Trade Treaties been drawn to a report in this morning’s Canberra Times that efforts are being made to enable Germany to become once more a purchaser of Australian wool? Is the report correct, and is the Minister, in view of the importance of the matter, both to the wool-growers and to Australia generally, in a position to make a statement regarding it?
– I have read the report referred to by the honorable member for Ballarat, and have to inform him that the Government has not yet progressed so far as the report indicates. I am sure that all honorable members, no matter to what party they belong, are deeply concerned over the partial withdrawal of German buyers from this season’s Australian wool sales. For the first three months of last year’s selling season, Germany bought 134,000 bales of wool, while for the first three months of this season, it bought only 15,000 bales. The consequent loss to the wool-growers is much greater even than the difference between the purchases of last year and this year, because the absence of German competition has had a depressing effect on prices generally. Theloss probably amounts to several millions of pounds. During the week, I had conversations with two German representatives, and we discussed the matter in a general way. I hope later to have more particulars before me which might form the basis of negotiations. Germany’s absence from the wool sales has, I think, nothing whatever to do with the proposed manufacture in that country of “ woolstra “ as a partial substitute for wool; rather is it due to Germany’s financial position, to its incapacity at present to establish in Australia credits against which it can buy up to its previous year’s capacity. Germany, I understand, seeks to establish credits here not by way of loans, but by the export of German goods to this country. It is not anticipated that Australia could import German goods of sufficient value to balance wool purchases by Germany on the scale of last year, but it is thought that there might be sufficient reciprocal trade to form the basis of credits which would enable Germany to operate freely on the wool market here. The difficulties in the way of Australia becoming suddenly a large importer of German goods are obvious. These difficulties are three in number: first, there is the need for maintaining Australia’s industries; secondly, the necessity for maintaining the Ottawa margins, which were never more essential than at the present time, when, apart from wool and wheat, practically all our surplus of primary products must find a market in Great Britain ; and, thirdly, any imports from Germany would have to be confined, for the most part, to articles of which it is almost exclusively the producer and exporter. If articles were chosen for trade which were exported by other great buyers of Australian wool, Germany would not benefit to the extent it would wish. I mention these matters only to call the attention of the honorable member who asked the question, and of honorable members generally, to the difficulties and dangers which attend ‘the marketing of our surplus products.
– Will the Assistant Treasurer inform honorable members whether negotiations are in progress between the various treasuries, Commonwealth and State, including the Treasurers themselves, following on the reports of the Royal Commission on Taxation, with the object of eliminating duplication, and generally simplifying taxation assessment and collection machinery?
– The negotiations are well advanced in the direction indicated by the honorable member, and it is hoped within the next, few months to hold a further conference of taxation officials, both State and Commonwealth, with a view to making final arrangements. Later, a conference of State and Commonwealth representatives, including Treasurers, will bc held, at which, it is hoped a large degree of uniformity will be achieved upon such aspects of ‘State and Commonwealth taxation as impinge on each other, and legislation will be introduced into Commonwealth and State Parliaments to enable uniformity to be effected before taxation assessments are issued for 1935.
– Is the AttorneyGeneral aware that neither the employers nor employees at Newcastle desire the appointment of a committee at that port to control waterfront industrial relations?
– I was not aware of the fact referred to by the honorable member, but I shall take what he has said into consideration.
– Will the Assistant Treasurer take steps to ensure that the next payments of invalid and old-age pensions will be made before Christmas?
– Old-age and invalid pensions are paid in advance and as payment will be made, in the ordinary course, five days before Christmas, it is not thought that any alteration is necessary.
– I ask the Minister for Health whether it is the intention of the Commonwealth Government to take over all meat inspection in Australia and, if so, whether he will give the House an assurance that only inspectors holding a certificate will be appointed.
-I will give the matter careful consideration. The honorable member perhaps will furnish me with some particulars so that I may do so more advantageously.
– Is the Assistant Treasurer aware that income tax assessments are being sent out at the present time and that in some cases payment is required to be made immediately before Christmas. Will the honorable gentleman consider the granting of an extension of time to taxpayers who are thus being incommoded in order that their digestion at Christmas-tide may not be impaired?
– In the last year or two the department has begun the issue of assessments either just before or after Christmas. As there is a considerable time between the receipt of an assessment and the date on which payment must be -made, it is not thought that the issue of these assessments now will be likely to disturb the digestive faculties of taxpayers during the Christmas season.
– In view of the fact that barbed wire is dearer in Australia to-day than it was three years ago, and that galvanized iron manufacturers in the Commonwealth have not passed on to users the advantage of reduced overhead costs due to mass production, the result of the monopoly of the Australian market given to them, will the Prime Minister have these two matters referred to the Tariff Board for early inquiry?
– I think that they have been very carefully considered by the Tariff Board in the past. I shall look into the matter, but will not at this stage give any undertaking in regard to it.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether the unification of railway gauges will be discussed at the forthcoming Premiers Conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers. If so, in the event of any of the States refusing to agree to a unification plan, will the Commonwealth proceed with the work in co-operation with the remaining States ?
– With one exception all the States will be represented at the forthcoming conference, arrangements for which are well in hand. As to the suggestion of the honorable member that, in the event of any State refusing to agree to the scheme, the Commonwealth should proceed with it in co-operation with the remaining States, I can only say that it would have to he considered after the result of the conference itself was known. The Commonwealth Government at all events is anxious that something should be done in this direction if it is at all practicable.
– I understand that Tasmania has not been invited to send a representative to the conference which will assemble next week to discuss the subject of the unification of railway gauges. I should like to know whether that State received an invitation and has refused to accept it, or whether it has been ignored in the matter. The unification of railway gauges is being considered with a view to providing employment, and Tasmania has a large number of unemployed.
– The conference will deal with a matter in which Tasmania is not directly affected; but, even if it be not represented at the conference, it will not be prevented from participating in the money to be made available by this Government for the relief of unemployment. I am not sure whether an invitation has been extended to Tasmania.; the State to which I particularly referred was Western Australia. The Acting Premier of that State notified the Government that he could not reach Canberra by next Thursday, but that a representative of that State would attend the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, which, it is hoped, will be held in January next, and at that gathering the Western Australian representative will be able to make known the views of his Government on the subject of the unification of railway gauges. I shall ascertain why Tasmania will not be represented at the conference to be held next Thursday.
– Has the Minister for the Interior given consideration to the suggestion I made in the House yesterday that extra payments should be made to divisional returning officers in return for the overtime worked by them at election periods?
– I have the greatest admiration for the tireless energy of electoral officers at election time, and for the tremendous volume of work they deal with on such occasions; but I remind the honorable member that it has always been the practice to regard senior officers as being above and beyond the payment of overtime. He will realize, for example, that senior officers in the Treasury, when engaged. in the preparation of the budget, must necessarily work fifteen and sixteen hours a day for some weeks prior to the budget being brought down. They are not paid overtime, and so with senior officers of the Customs Department, who work a great deal of overtime in the preparation of tariff schedules. I shall, however, give the honorable member’s suggestion consideration.
– It is reported in the press that some 50 or 60 Tariff Board reports have been completed and are ready for presentation to the House. Will the Minister for Trade and Customs state when they will be laid on the table?
– A tariff schedule which will interest the honorable member will be presented this afternoon; to-morrow, as well as on subsequent days, various Tariff Board reports will be tabled.
– Will the Minister for the Interior state whether a conclusion has been reached with regard to the redistribution, of boundaries of federal electorates in Victoria? If so, will he furnish the House with details of the proposed alterations?
– I think it was about a week or ten days ago that, in reply to a similar question, I was able to say I had been informed that the proposed redistribution plan for Victoria had been completed, but that it was not being sent on to me by the Chief Electoral Officer until the maps to accompany it were ready. It was said that their preparation would occupy about three weeks, so that I expect to receive the redistribution proposals some ten days hence.
Bill brought up by Mr. Casey and read a first time.
– In view of the announcement of .the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) that the Federal Cabinet had decided to make available to the United Australia party organization in Victoria- a B class wireless licence, will the Prime Minister take the necessary steps to see that a licence to conduct a B class wireless station i3 also made available to the United Country party organization in a centrally situated locality in order that that party may ha.ve equal facilities for placing its policy before the people?
– The matter is one to be dealt with by the Postmaster-General’s Department, in the light of all applications that are made, and I can assure the honorable member that his suggestion will be taken into consideration.
– The Prime Minister announced that the licence to the United Australia party was issued as -the result of a Cabinet decision.
– That is so, and the Cabinet will be free to deal with any other matter of the kind which is brought before it by the Postmaster-General.
– Some months ago I asked for information with a view to ensuring that the public would be able to purchase bread over the counter at a fair price, based upon the average cost of wheat during the previous month. I was referred to the royal commission on the wheat industry, which is now investigating the production and sale of flour, ;but so far I have been unable to get a reply. I now ask the Prime Minister if it will be possible to obtain from the commission the cost of a two-pound loaf over the counter, based on the cost of wheat during the previous month. The people would then know if they were being fleeced by the millers or the bakers.
– A further investigation by the commission is to take place into both milling and baking operations. The matter raised by the honorable member will surely come under the consideration of the commission, and will probably “be dealt with in its .final report.
– I desire to address a question to you, Mr. Speaker. In connection with the asking of questions the practice of the Chair was to give the call alternately to a supporter of the Government and a member of the Opposition. But since the fusion of the United Country party and the United Australia party it seems to have become the practice to call in turn a Government supporter, a member of the Opposition, and then one of the remnant of the Country party still sitting on this side of the House. Should not the former procedure be continued ? There are tiers and tiers of empty benches on the other side of the House, and I ask you, sir, if Government supporters who sit on this side of the House should be allowed to remain within earshot of the Opposition.
– The. method of giving the call in the House is as it has always been, so far as I am aware. The call is given alternately to the right and to the left of the Chair. There is, of course, more than one party on the left of the Chair, and, as far as practicable, the Chair gives the call to the left parties alternately. I realize that only a portion of the Country party sit on my left, and I would not give those members the call alternately with members of the official Opposition. Up to the present neither the members of the Opposition nor those of the New South Wales Labour party have suffered, because the Country party members sitting on the left have not risen frequently. The Chair would not be justified in directing any honorable members sitting on the left of the chamber to sit elsewhere, especially as there is no congestion on the Opposition side.
– What previous experience in hotel management did Messrs. Garrett and Bushby possess before being appointed in charge of the Commissariat section of the Department of the Interior which controls Canberra hotels?
– I am not aware’ of what previous experience theseofficers may have had; but I ‘believe that, they are capably discharging the duties, which they have been appointed to undertake.
– I wish to direct a question to you, Mr. Speaker. Often, members asking questions are requested by the Minister to place them, on the notice-paper. On a number of occasions I have given notice of a question which has been sub-divided into four or five interrogations dealing with the same subject. On the following day oneportion only of a question has been answered, the remainder beingleft unanswered. Is the Government entitled, in such circumstances,, to strike the remainder of the question from the notice-paper, or should not theunanswered portions remain on thenoticepaper until replies have been, furnished ?
– The matter is entirely one for the discretion of the PrimeMinister.
– I am not aware of any occasion on which the Government hasstruck questions off the notice-paper. Occasionally it happens that a Minister is unable to provide the information on theday on which the question appears on the notice-paper. An instance of this occurred to-day in connexion with a question asked by the honorable member forBourke (Mr. Blackburn). In this case the* information was supplied to me just as I came into the House. Ministers must look at the answers before authorizingthem to be distributed. No Minister has given any instruction for questions to bestruck off the notice-paper.
– If neither the Speaker nor Ministers strike them off, who does?”
– The matter is in the’ hands of the officers of the House and the same procedure has been followed for years past. So far as I am concerned, I do not regard it as within my province to strike any question off the notice-paper. I have either to answer the question or to give reasons why it should not be answered.
– I am not quite clear as to the practice, and I shall give further consideration to the matter.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
– I move -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to provide for financial assistance to the States in the provision of relief to wheat-growers, and for other purposes.
It will be necessary to consider, in conjunction with this measure, a bill dealing with another aspect of financial assistance to be given to the wheatgrowers, and I suggest that the necessary introductory motions be agreed to so that the two measures may be considered conjointly, as the proposals they contain could not well be debated separately.
– The members of my party offer no objection to the proposed procedure, provided we are given an opportunity to consider the bills before the final stages are reached. I hope that the debate will be adjourned over the week-end to enable us to discuss their contents with interested parties who are not members of this Parliament.
Mr.SCULLIN (Yarra) [3.15].- I understand that the Minister for Commerce merely desires that the two measures be discussed together, although, of course, it will be necessary for them to be passed separately; but he did not indicate whether both measures deal with the relief to be granted immediately to the wheat-growers, or to the general problem of rural rehabilitation. I take it that the debate on the second readings will be adjourned until next Tuesday.
. - Both measures are intimately concerned with the immediate payment to be made to the wheatgrowers, and have nothing whatever to do with rural rehabilitation generally.
Mr.Curtin. - Then why bring down two bills?
– The first has relation to one method of distributing the money, and the second provides for another. Two measures are necessary in order to conform to parliamentary practice. My intention is to proceed to the second-reading stage to-day, so that honorable members may have the Government’s proposals fully before them, and then to adjourn the debates. I shall endeavour to provide for as long an adjournment as the business of the House will permit.
Motion agreed to.
Standing Orders suspended; report adopted.
That Dr. Earle Page and Mr. Archdale Parkhill do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill brought up by Dr. Earle Page and read a first time.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) agreed to-
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue bo made for the purposes of a bill for anact to provide for the payment of a bounty on the production of wheat, and for other purposes.
Standing Orders suspended ; report adopted.
That Dr. Earle Page and Mr. Archdale Parkhill do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill brought up by Dr. Earle Page, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill and the Wheat Growers Relief Bill previously introduced, is to give effect to the Government’s policy for the assistance of the wheat-growing industry during the current year. These bills are based upon the interim reports which the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry has. presented to the Government during the last few months. When the final report of the commission has been made available the Government will take steps to formulate a scheme to deal with the industry on a permanent basis. It is desired that these bills granting assistance to the wheat-growers be passed before Christmas in order to facilitate the early payment by the State governments of a bounty to wheat-growers. The Commonwealth Government appointed the Wheat Commission to make its inquiries because it realized that the wheat-growing industry was of paramount importance in the national economy of the Commonwealth. It employs more labour than any other single industry in the Commonwealth, and is second in importance in the value of its production and the value of its exports only to the wool industry. It will be realized therefore that if an industry of this magnitude is in an unhealthy condition there must be serious reactions upon the body politic. Large areas of Australia are almost exclusively devoted to wheat production, and many towns of the Commonwealth are entirely dependent, for their prosperity upon this industry Consequently, I offer no excuse for the introduction of these bills. The wheat industry, in common with other primary industries, is in a difficult position to-day, not only in Australia, but in every country of the world. Its difficulties may be said to have their origin in the resultant of three factors: first, the fall in the price of wheat; second, the big increase of supplies in relation to consumption; and, third, the fall in the demand for wheat, in consequence of the reduced purchasing power of the people. It may be said, of course, that the serious effect of the first two factors has been offset, to some extent, by a stimulation of consumption due to the lower prices. In the dairying industry, for instance, the fall in prices has undoubtedly led to an increase in the total consumption of butter in both Australia and Great Britain; but, unfortunately, the lower prices for wheat have not helped the wheat industry to such a great extent. A careful examination of the facts discloses that the huge increase in the production of wheat throughout the world has been the principal factor in forcing prices down to their present low level. The increased production of wheat was due, in the first place, partly to the fact that the oppressed condition of other primary industries forced the people engaged in them to extend their activities to wheat-growing. The fall in the consumption of wheat has been brought about by the decreased purchasing power of the people, although this has been partly counterbalanced by the fact that the depression has made it impossible for many people to continue to purchase the more expensive fancy foods which they had been in the habit of buying, and has obliged them to revert to bread and wheat products. The increase of population during the last five years has also helped in a measure to cope with the increase of production, but despite this the huge increase of production throughout the world has been responsible for the fall in prices. Statistics show clearly that a marked increase of the production of wheat has occurred especially during the last eight or nine years. The greatest single factor in bringing about this increase was, of course, the good prices obtainable for wheat during the war years. While the war was being waged the man-power of Europe was diverted to war activities with a consequent decline in European production of wheat. This decline was in the nature of an invitation to the people of newer countries overseas to increase their area under wheat, and they did so. On the termination of the war the agricultural activities of European countries were revived with the result that there was a greater production of wheat there and, at the same time, the output from the newer countries also increased. In these circumstances it is not surprising that within a relatively short period the production of wheat far outstripped the consumption of it. Since 1925 a marked increase “has occurred each year in the annual carry-over of wheat. Previous to 1925 the surplus was about 660,000,000 bushels per annum. This carry-over gradually became embarrassing. The steady increase in the production of wheat culminated in the tremendous harvest of 1928 when the total crops of the world increased from about 3,000,000,000 bushels to 3,917,000,000 bushels, with the result that at the end of 192S the carryover of wheat was 970,000,000 bushels instead of 660,000,000 bushels as formerly.
– Do those figures include the wheat produced in Russia?
– No. The increased production of Europe meant, of course, that European imports of wheat from other countries diminished, but the four great wheat-producing countries of the world, the United States of America, Canada, Australia and Argentina, continued to grow wheat in large quantities, despite the fact that prices were low. Australia and Argentina also continued to export their usual quantities of grain, but the United States of America and Canada, on the other hand, stored vast quantities of their surplus, with the result that the greater part of the world’s excess of wheat was concentrated in North America. It is probable that this accumulation of wheat in the United States of America and Canada prevented the complete collapse of the wheat market years ago; but it cannot be denied that the existence of the present huge surplus stocks is the cause of the unsatisfactory price levels of to-day. On the 1st August last the world surplus stocks of wheat amounted to 1,125,000,000 bushels. In 1929 the price of Australian wheat in Great Britain was 5s. a bushel f.o.b. In the following year it had fallen to under 3s., and yesterday it was quoted in Melbourne at 2s. 5£d., and in Sydney at about 2s. 5d. f.o.b. Since 1928 world production of wheat has steadily declined, and although the total production has not since reached anything like the quantity produced in that record year, the reduction has not been sufficient to prevent a further increase of the quantities carried over. At the 1st August, last year, the stocks in existence had reached the estimated quantity of 1,125,000,000 bushels, or 460,000,000 bushels above normal. The maintenance of production of wheat throughout the world at such a level is primarily due to the adoption of protectionist policies by those European countries which used to be importers of wheat. This is clearly shown by European import figures during recent years. In 1927-28, European countries imported 656,000,000 bushels, whilst in each of the years 1932-33 and 1933-34 their requirements were approximately only 440,000,000 bushels. This position, -as is well known, has been brought, about by the policy of protection by tariffs and embargoes, which has been carried to such lengths that at the present time, because of the stimulus given to wheat production by the raising of the local price of bread, Germany, Italy, and France, which each used to import 100,000,000 bushels of wheat annually, .are now supplying their own people and dumping a surplus on the markets of the world, thus helping further to reduce the price. To overcome this position a conference of the principal exporting and importing countries was held in May, 1933, with the object of formulating measures to secure the removal of the existing huge surpluses of wheat and to prevent excessive accumulation of stocks in future. An agreement was reached at that meeting, but up to the present the decisions of the conference have not proved effective, because whilst the North American yield was low last year there was an unexpectedly heavy harvest in Argentina which exceeded its export quota under the agreement, and also because European countries reduced their imports as they had on hand surplus stocks which had not previously been disclosed. The International Wheat Advisory Committee, which has been reviewing this position now believes that it can see a way out of the present difficulties. In this respect it is appropriate to recall cable advices published in the newspapers to the effect that France is taking definite steps to get rid of its surplus stocks, and has given the assurance that it will soon become an importing country again. In the Melbourne Age of 4th December, appeared the following cablegram from London: -
According to the Paris correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, the French Government has issued details of bills dealing with the gluts of wheat and wine.
The former will cost £32,000,000, which will be raised as a loan. The Government will buy up the surplus, and either export or denature it. Afterwards a free market will be restored, and the further extension of wheat growing will be forbidden.
The Government will help the French winegrowers by buying 33,000,000 gallons of the poor varieties, which will be distilled. Similarly it will buy 220,000 gallons of alcohol distilled from cider, and enforce the reduction of the area under vines and the abandonment of hybrid varieties.
– It does not necessarily follow that that will assist us.
– It may prove detrimental to us.
– After this year it is considered that Prance will not have any surplus wheat for export. The question has arisen as to whether there should be an extension of the present international agreement for a further two years as suggested by the Internationa] “Wheat Advisory Committee. In this respect the Commonwealth has to consider what export quota will be .allowed to Australia this year. “Under the International Wheat Agreement it was provided that Australia could export 255,000,000 bushels over two years, 105,000.000 bushels being allowed for the first year, and 150,000,000 bushels for the second year. Under that arrangement Australia exported 88,000,000 bushels in the first year, leaving a surplus of 17,000,000 bushels to be carried over to the second year. Owing to the small crop expected this year, it is certain that Australia will not be able to export anything like 150,000,000 bushels apart from the carry-over as provided under this agreement. The Commonwealth has now to decide as to what steps it should take should the International Advisory Committee, when reviewing this matter, decide to reduce Australia’s export quota below 150^000,000 bushels. A conference, representing the wheat industry in all States, met in Canberra last Monday. The attitude of the Wheat. Advisory Committee and the Commonwealth Government, which is at present negotiating with the International Wheat Advisory Committee on this matter, will depend on whether the agreement is to be extended to 1937 or not. It is of no use having an international agreement unless some safe guards are provided to guarantee that all parties to the agreement will honour it. Safeguards must be provided, for instance, to ensure that exporting countrieswill not exceed their quotas under theterms of this agreement, and also that importing countries will not purchase from countries after they have reached their export quota. If something could be done in this direction, the interests of coun-tries which became parties to the agreement would be safeguarded, but without such provisions, it would be hopeless tocontinue under the agreement.
Reverting to the world supplies of wheat during next year, it must bepointed out that yields in countries in. the Northern Hemisphere have been heavily depleted, particularly in theUnited States of America and Canadaowing to adverse climatic conditions. It is still a little early to assess definitely thevolume of Australian and Argentina harvests, but it is clear that these Wil be below normal. The total world production for the year, therefore, will beheavily reduced. It is estimated that it will reach 3,158,000,000 bushels, a return which is so far below that of recent years that it is anticipated that the surplusstocks which I have mentioned will be1 heavily drawn upon; so much so, that by the time 1935 harvests are being garnered’, the carry-over stocks should not be veryfar above the normal figure of about 660,000,000 bushels. There appears to bereasonable ground for the hope, therefore, that during the early part of next year an improvement in prices will takeplace, and unless the 1935 world harvests are again excessive the industry should not again experience the low price levels which have prevailed during recent years. The state of the world market profoundly affects Australia as the fourth largest exporter of wheat in the world.
I now come to the Commonwealth’s, position. Since the fall of prices in 1930, the Commonwealth Government has had the trials and difficulties of the Australian wheat-farmer constantly before it, and for the last three seasons it has provided assistance annually to thegrowers. In 1931-32, nearly £3,500,000 was paid out by way of bounty on production, whilst in 1932-33, the sum of £2,000,000 was made available to the-
States for disbursement on an acreage basis, and in 1933-34, the subsidy was increased to £3,000,000. Reviewing the position of the industry at the end of last year, the Government decided that it could not go on year after year making heavy advances which at best could only fee expected to keep the grower afloat - and in many cases of which I am aware, barely afloat. Consequently, largely on the suggestion of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. McClelland), a royal commission was appointed to examine every phase of the industry, and to report to the Government as to tie best means of placing the industry permanently on a satisfactory footing. This commission which submitted its first report in August, and a supplementary report a few weeks ago, proposes to bring down a final report before the end of the calendar year on the general subject of wheatgrowing as distinct from the milling and baking phases of the industry. Apart from its general conclusions the commission advises that immediate assistance be given in respect of the 1934-35 harvest, and that an . amount of £4,000,000 should be made available and Toe disbursed in the following manner : -
It is not proposed at the present time to appropriate the particular sum necessary to meet special cases of hardship because to do that the Government would require to know exactly the conditions obtaining in every State. This matter will he the subject of a special recommendation from the royal commission following consultation with the representatives of the respective States. The Government has accepted the commission’s recommendations as to the amount of assistance to be given, and has approved of payments being made to the States to meet special cases of hardship.
– That will absorb the whole of the £4,000,000.
– Yes. The commission, in making its recommendations, sought a compromise between payment on a production basis and payment on an acreage basis. There are advantages and disadvantages associated with both systems, but the Government concurs in the view that a compromise between the two is the best course. Payment of a bounty of 3d. a bushel will absorb approximately £1,500,000, and payment of 3s. an acre on the area sown to wheat will require approximately £1,926,000. The commission also sought to provide help to those who had suffered severe losses from floods, drought and rust, and after consideration the Government decided to act on this recommendation also. It has therefore decided upon the following plan of disbursement: - A bounty of 3d. a bushel, £1,500,000; paymenton area sown to wheat, £1,926.750; compensation for extraordinary losses, £573,250. The bounty payment is based upon a saleable wheat harvest of 120,000.000 bushels, that is, a harvest of 133,000,000 bushels, less 13,000,000 bushels required for seed. The amount provided for the proportion payable on an acreage basis will be distributed among the States as follows: New South Wales, £585,300Victoria, £420,000; South Australia, £472,500; Western Australia, £408,000; Queensland, £37,500; Tasmania, £3,000; Federal Capital Territory, £450. The basis on which the balance of £573,250 will be distributed will be decided after the receipt of afurther recommendation from the commission, and a bill allocating the amount among the States will be introduced in the next session.
– Will the bounty be payable to a grower with an income from another source.
– There will be no restriction in that regard. The States will be free to distribute the bounty on production and acreage bases.
– That is a departure from the principle observed in previous legislation dealing with this subject.
– That is so.
– Does the Minister mean that the States may distribute the bounty on a bushel or acreage basis?
– Yes. The manner in which the money shall be raised has demanded the closest consideration of the Government. The royal commission suggested that a portion of the amount, approximately £1,250,000, should be raised by an excise on flour during the six months from January to June, 1935, of £5 a ton or a variable rate according to the price of wheat, flour or bread, to keep the price of flour at £12 a ton including tax. The commission pointed out, however, _ that that proposal would be tantamount to the raising of the home consumption price by means of a tax on flour, and in the course of its remarks it stated that it considered that the principle of a home consumption price should be applied to the wheat industry in order to bring it into line with other primary industries which had been stabilized by that means. The Government considered that the effect on the price of bread of a tax high enough to produce the requisite funds within six months, would be rather great, and thought that some modification of the proposal should be adopted. It has, therefore, decided that the tax on flour shall be spread over the full period of twelve months, and that the rate of tax necessary to raise the amount requiredroughly, £1,600,000- shall be SB 12s. 6d. a ton. The amount needed - approximately £2,400,000 - for the payment of a bounty on the proportion of the crop exported will be obtained from the general revenue, but the actual cost of the home consumption price will be met by the tax on flour. By this method the Australian consumer will not pay directly any portion of the subsidy on the surplus production, but he will be required to pay for bread a reasonable price, which will ensure a fair return to the farmer on that portion of the crop required for home consumption. The tax suggested will have exactly the same influence on the price of bread as would any other scheme which could be devised to return to wheat-growers a reasonable home consumption price. The peculiarities of the wheat industry are such that the principle of a home consumption price can only be introduced through the agency of a compulsory Australia-wide pool, a processing tax on wheat, or an excise duty on flour consumed in Australia. Obviously, it will be impossible to arrange for a compulsory pool for this season’s wheat crop. Its establishment would necessitate action by all the States as well as by the Commonwealth; and already many of the State parliaments have gone into recess. Moreover, some of the representatives of the States at the recent wheat conference held in Canberra said that their governments were opposed to a compulsory pool. At that conference, representatives of all the governments of Australia, with the exception of the Government of “Western Australia, agreed to a tax of £2 15s. a ton being placed on flour, in order to permit of a home consumption price being paid to the wheat-growers for the wheat actually consumed in Australia. They were of the opinion that employment would be stimulated in the cities as a result of the distribution of this money in the country, and that the added employment would offset the disadvantages.
– Did the representatives of the Tasmanian and Queensland governments support a flour tax?
– The conference recognized that there was no other way to bring about a home consumption price. The Government submits these proposals because it knows the deep-rooted nature of the troubles afflicting the wheatgrowers of Australia. It realizes that the proposed bounty will not do more than meet immediate needs, and it gives an assurance that, when the final report of the Royal Commission on Wheat has been received, it will give sympathetic consideration to proposals for the permanent rehabilitation of the wheat industry.
The Government would do more now for the wheat-growing community if finances permitted. The proposals before the House should commend themselves to all parties, because they provide for wellbalanced methods in regard to both the raising and the distribution of the necessary finance.
– We cannot agree with the methods proposed for raising the money.
– In this connexion, the Government has acted on the report of the royal commission.
As the two measures to deal with the wheat industry are cognate in character, I suggest that the second-reading debate on them be taken together.
I understand that the request of the Minister for Commerce, for which there is precedent, has the approval of the House, but it will, of course, be necessary for each bill to be passed separately.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Forde) adjourned.
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) proposed -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Forde) adjourned.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time. The purpose of this bill is to give effective expression to the Government’s intention with regard to the fixed exemption of £250 in respect of income which is assessable for the special property tax. At present there is a diminishing exemption of £250. in respect of ordinary income derived from both property and personal exertion, the exemption diminishing by £1 for every £2 of income above £250 until the deduction disappears. [Quorum formed.] In addition, there is a special property tax, in respect of which there is a fixed exemption of £250. The Financial Relief Act, No. 64 of 1932, correctly, and for the first time, expressed the intention of the Government in these two respects. When, in 1933, the Government decided to continue this fixed deduction of £250 in respect of the special property tax, it became necessary to express that intention in the Income Tax Assessment Act of that year. That was done in section 5 of the act of 1933, which was intended to re-enact section 6 of the Financial Relief Act of 1932 in this connexion. In lifting the provision from one act to another it became necessary, in order to state the purpose and intention of the Income Tax Assessment Act to alter the phraseology. In doing so the effect inadvertently produced was such that at present it might be held that the fixed deduction of £250, which is meant to apply only in respect of the special property tax on income, could be claimed by any taxpayer having an income from property, who sought the special deduction in respect of the property income assessable for ordinary income tax. That was not and is not the intention of the Government. The bill is to preserve what has been the clear intention of Parliament in the past by limiting the fixed deduction of £250 strictly to income assessable under the special property tax. It does not introduce any new principle into the taxation field, and is solely to correct, an error, which arose quite inadvertently. The measure also validates deductions in respect of the financial year 1933-34, which is the only year in respect of which there is likely to have been any misapprehension.
– I see nothing in the bill to prevent it from being passed without delay. [Quorum formed.] It gives effect to the intention of Parliament. If the flaw, in the act were taken advantage of a serious anomaly would be created because, as I see it, a person receiving income from property would be able to obtain a higher exemption than one whose income was solely from personal exertion, which was never intended. Under our taxation legislation it has always been the practice to impose heavier taxation on income from property than on income from personal exertion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
In committee: [Quorum formed.]
Bill reported from committee without amendment or debate.
Bill - by leave - read a third time. [Quorum formed.]
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The object of this measure is to make effective the machinery of the sales tax law, in accordance with the intention of Parliament and the understanding of the department and the taxpayers, since its inception in 1930. It brings together the whole of the machinery relating to the furnishing of returns, and proceedings by the department for the recovery of tax and the institution of penalties, so that the procedure followed since 1930 may legally be adopted in the future.
I remind the House that there are nine sales tax acts, and an equal number of sales tax assessment acts, each of which deals with a separate subject according to the origin of the goods affected. Acts Nos. 1 to 4 relate to goods manufactured in Australia; acts Nos. 5 to 8 deal with goods imported into Australia ; and act 9 is in respect of the hire purchase and lease of goods, whether of Australian origin or imported.
Up to the present it has always been assumed that in regard to returns by a taxpayer and proceedings by the department for the recovery of tax, the dissection of the transactions and the statement of the particular act under which the tax was payable or was being sued for, were unnecessary. This bill is the outcome of views submitted to the High Court of Australia in a case recently heard but not yet decided. Those views indicated weaknesses in the law to the extent that, according to a strict interpretation of it, the department should be asked to prove the act under which it was suing for the recovery of tax. So far as taxpayers are concerned, it may be explained that returns which show the total sales are now accepted without requiring any dissection setting out the amount of tax payable under individual acts. Under a strict interpretation of the law, separate returns under each of the acts would be required. That would impose on taxpayers the obligation to keep detailed accounts of goods taxable under each of the sales tax assessment acts. Such an obligation is considered unnecessarily burdensome on both taxpayers and the department. Up to the present, the department has successfully conductedactions for the recovery of tax, and prosecutions for evasions of the law, without having been required to prove the act under which it was suing. The obligation of having to prove the act or combination of acts under which it was proceeding could not be borne.
In general explanation of the bill, I would say that it imposes on taxpayers no obligation that does not now exist, nor does it seek to give to the department powers not already possessed. In a sense, it may actually be said to be in aid of taxpayers, to the extent that they will be relieved of the potential obligation to keep separate statements of accounts and of goods sold by them according to the act under which they are taxable. [Quorum formed.]
In conclusion, I may say that the bill deals with three aspects: (1) The furnishing of returns by taxpayers; (2) the form of proceedings for the recovery of tax; and (3) prosecutions for offences. It does not deal with assessments, nor with machinery that is otherwise incidental to the sales tax, such as the secrecy procedure, the liability of agents, trustees, and the like, and the numerous other items incidental to administration. It in no way affects the liability of taxpayers, and does not seek to deal with the subject of exemptions.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Blackburn) adjourned.
– I move- [Customs Tariff Amendment.]
[Customs Tariff (Exchange Adjustment) Amendment.]
[Excise Tariff Amendment.]
The resolutions provide for -
Before proceeding to explain the customs tariff resolution, I point out that, in the case of the Canadian Preference Act, amendments are necessary to certain items in order to maintain our obligations under the Canadian agreement.
The excise tariff proposals were introduced in August last, and were validated until the 28th February, 1935. They are not, therefore, now before the House, and in order that they may be discussed and enacted a new resolution must be introduced. The present resolution does not change in any way the position in regard to rates of duty.
The Customs tariff schedule gives effect to 63 reports of the Tariff Board. As “will be seen from the memorandum circulated, it provides for eleven increases under the British preferential tariff, and fifteen under the general tariff. There are 104 reductions under the British preferential tariff, and 101 reductions under the general tariff. Of the 104 reductions under the British preferential tariff nineteen relate to non-protective items. Of the remaining 85 items, 37 or 44 per cent, are duties which were increased by the Scullin Government and at the moment are, apart from exchange adjustment, at the Scullin Government tariff level. These items have not been reviewed since they were introduced by that Government. Honorable members will recall that these items were placed in a separate group, and it was promised that they would be considered by the Tariff Board. That, has been done.
An important departure is made in the schedule I have just introduced in making allowance from duties on account of the protective incidence of exchange. The present practice is to apply under the British-preferential tariff a deduction of one-quarter of the duty, or one-eighth of the value for duty, whichever is the less. In respect of most of the items under the British preferential tariff in the present schedule the Government has adopted the rates which the Tariff Board states are adequately protective under existing exchange conditions. Provision is also made for automatic increases of duties as Australia’s currency appreciates relative to sterling.
– Does that mean that no adjustment is now made for exchange?
– Yes. The duties printed in the schedule are- net duties.
With regard to the rates under the general tariff, the Government has adopted a rate which is generally intermediate between the Tariff Board’s (a) finding for present conditions, and the (b) finding, that is, the rate which the Tariff Board considers should be imposed under normal conditions. The Government will be in a position to negotiate with foreign countries in respect of those items, and its decision was based on the principle of having some thing to give to those who treat us well, and something to withhold from those who treat us badly.
In its general report on the protective incidence of exchange the Tariff Board stated -
Having made its recommendation for a general adjustment in relation to the schedule as a whole, the board in the future will proceed to recommend, in regard to each individual item under review, the duties that in its opinion will be adequate, ignoring the protective effect of the exchange.
The board, in the same report, also stated that it was not perturbed by suggestions that the adoption of its recommendation would result in the creation of a vicious circle of lowered duties, increased imports, and increased exchange rate, and the need for lowering duties again. In its opinion, it is essential to separate the problem of the amount of protection required for the establishment of industry from questions connected with the balance of payments. The external solvency of Australia is intimately associated with the maintenance and extension of its export industries. If excessive protection raised the general level of prices, exports would be checked. In determining the measure of protection required by individual industries, the board has in the past recommended rates which, in its opinion, are in the best interests of the community, and calculated to give the greatest amount of employment. It will not increase employment, nor assist the balance of trade to allow other conditions, such as primage and exchange, materially to increase the protective level.
In its annual report for the year 1933-34, which was tabled to-day, the Tariff Board offers the following comment on the exchange aspect:
The Customs Tariff (Exchange Adjustment) Act, 1933, was an important stop in the direction of correcting a position that might have been detrimental to the public interest. But the adjustment made under this legislation is merely a practicable general safe corrective applicable to duty rates fixed prior to the adverse exchange and as made clear in the report could not provide a sound solution for future conditions.
Necessarily during any Tariff Board inquiry all costs and prices submitted are those then obtaining and must include all effects of exchange at that time.
The Board, therefore, decided to change the basis of its recommendations and for the greater part of the year under review has shown its findings under three headings.
The Board conceives its duty to the public to be in finding the present facts and indicating what duties arc required to meet existing circumstances while at the same time suggesting adjustments which will obviate dislocation and hardship should exchange fall.
– When will Parliament have an opportunity to discuss the new schedule ?
– As the House will sit for only another week this year, I presume that the schedule will come up for discussion some time next year. Obviously, with the currency depreciated as it is, and with the primage duty operating also, many industries were enjoying a greater degree of protection than was necessary, as many manufacturers would be prepared to admit. There was general approval when the Exchange Adjustment Bill was brought down this year in which allowance was made for exchange. Now the Tariff Board has moved a step forward, and is taking full cognizance of the effect of exchange, even on raw materials. It is evident that exchange would effect the production costs of those industries which relied on outside sources for raw material to a greater extent than those whose raw materials were wholly of Australian origin.
At the time of the consideration of the Tariff Board’s reports by the Government the Tariff Board made the following statement to the Government: -
The Tariff Board desires it made clear that its (a) findings both in the British Preferential and General Tariffs were in each individual instance arrived at after considering the competition from that country from which the goods could be landed at the lowest price and are based on the provision of adequate and reasonable protection and by reference to exchange at the date of the report, to efficient and economic Australian industry.
– It depends on how these things are interpreted.
– The Tariff Board, which is the body most competent to judge, and which takes evidence from both sides, is certain that the rates now proposed will ensure adequate protection to efficient and economic Australian industries.
On the other hand, if duties reach prohibitive levels, they cease to be protective, they dry up revenue, reduce purchasing power, and cause unemployment.
In connexion with those items in the present schedule which are based on the (a) findings of the Tariff Board, I desire to make it clear that the general exchange deduction will not now apply to them.
If it can be shown that in any industry affected by the present changes in duties - apart from those industries which the Tariff Board has proved to be uneconomic - unemployment will be created that industry will again receive early attention by the Tariff Board. On this aspect, however, it is well known to many honorable members that some of our industries to-day can do without any tariff protection. These industries have arrived at such a stage of efficiency that they can carry on under the protection afforded by exchange. Notable instances are certain sections of the iron and steel industry.
Wire netting, for instance, is now being produced so efficiently that the Australian product can compete against the world without any protection.
– Due to the policy of the previous Government.
– The honorable member may claim that if he likes, but those are the facts. The Government’s policy of reasonable, .instead of unreasonable, protection ha3 been so far successful that 68,000 men have gone back to work in secondary industries.
Honorable members are no doubt interested in the Government’s decision with regard to the cotton duties. The present schedule does not amend the rates introduced into the House on the 1st August last, but it does provide for reversion to the old rates of duty applicable to drills, dungarees, jeans, canvas and duck for use in the manufacture of men’s and boys’ outwear weighing between 3 oz. and 6 oz. This class of material is not being manufactured to any great extent in Australia, and after consultation most of the Australian manufacturers* have expressed agreement to the exemption of these goods from the higher rates.
A clarification of the item has also been undertaken and sheetings, shirtings, and pocketings which were not intended to be dutiable at the protective rates, have been exempted.
I emphasize that many of the reductions contained in the schedule are made in the interests of consumers. In a number of instances the Tariff Board has reported that certain goods are not being manufactured in Australia ; in others that the industries are definitely uneconomic and in a number of eases that the prices charged are unduly high and should be lowered. The reduced duties in all these cases should afford relief to consumers and will stimulate competition in the sale of those goods where the prices were unduly high and lessen the scope for monopolies where they may exist.
– Are the reductions to become operative at once?
– The reductions will be operative from to-morrow morning. The right honorable gentleman will agree that if it is fair that increases should operate immediately it is equally fair that decreases should operate at once.
– How can that be done under the law?
– We have probed the matter and no alteration of the law is necessary.
– Existing duties which have been passed by the Parliament cannot be reduced without parliamentary sanction.
– This is a departure.
– It is a departure, but one of which honorable members should approve.
– Under what law can it be made?
– Under the Customs Tariff Act covering this schedule. The present Government and the previous Lyons administration have endeavoured to promote the maximum possible trade and employment by avoiding extremes in tariff-making. We have endeavoured to hold the balance evenly between the primary and secondary industries. The tariff policy of a country can do much to decide whether progress or poverty shall prevail. Rectification of an adverse trade balance by the imposition of heavy duties and prohibitions requires no statesmanship. That policy was tried by the Scullin Government and unemployment was the result. We realize that the introduction of a new tariff schedule is invariably attended by much criticism. At the introduction of each tariff schedule since the Scullin Government was in office, the Opposition has indulged in violent criticisms and forebodings of greater unemployment, but it has been shown again and again that the reverse has been the result. Throughout the period of tariff revision by the Lyons Government some 68,000 employees have been returned to employment in the secondary industries.
– In spite of the present Government there has been an increase in employment, because the duties imposed by the Scullin Government were sufficiently high to achieve that result.
– I do not wish to be hard on the honorable member, but we wellremember the announcement that he made with every schedule brought down by him that it would lead to more employment. In one case 10,000 men were to be found work. Next week work was to be found for another 20,000 men and so on, but the statistics went the other way. That is a bit of history over which I think we might very well draw a veil. It is no satisfaction to Australia in general and to the primary producers in particular for us to live in economic isolation-
– The Country party is now driving the Government.
– This was decided upon, as many honorable members know, before the coalition took place. I repeat that it is no satisfaction to Australia or to the primary producers in particular for us to live in economic isolation if the volume of our export trade so diminishes as to cause retrogression instead of progress. For a debtor nation an isolationist economic import policy is fraught with grave danger, and it is one that this Government is not prepared to follow. Finally, in the interests of the Australian public as a whole, I emphasize that the lowest duty which protects is the best spur to efficiency since it permits of competition, is a deterrent of monopoly and protects the consumer.
– I move -
That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable to establish a system of family allowances payable to widows with dependent children.
Some years ago the Commonwealth Government accorded me the privilege of membership of a royal commission to survey the problem of family allowances, wage standards and general conditions arising in the domestic life of the community from the working of our economic system. In the course of a very long consideration of that problem and the examination of witnesses - some of very high competence; others perhaps not so well qualified - I came to certain conclusions in regard to what was necessary for the welfare of the people of Australia as a whole. I found, however, that much more was desirable, and it became necessary not only to discuss how far any of these things were immediately practicable, but also to determine upon what basis it would be possible to make reasonable provision as a sort of starting-point for the general programme. I have felt, broadly speaking, that the nation has a responsibility for what we can describe as the ordinary hazards that the average citizen has to meet in the course of his life. At the International Labour Conference in connexion with the seventh session of the League of Nations in 1925 a resolution was carried in these terms -
A system of labour regulation, if true to the principle of social justice, must secure the effective protection of the workers against risks endangering their livelihood or that of their families.
For many years now many countries have recognized at least a partial obligation to furnish a degree of social protection for the risks of old-age, invalidity, unemployment, and service in warfare. That is to say, nations have long accepted in principle a responsibility for risks inherent in the service which citizens give to the nation. There is, of course, some disagreement as to what constitutes service: how in part at least that service can be regarded as a national partnership and what should be properly considered as the contribution that the nation should expect from the citizen. But, broadly stated, it is now generally conceded that the insecurity of the wage-earner’s situation is prejudicial to the well-being of the community. The mass of the people are wage-earners; the mass of the people constitute as it were the social heart of the nation. Anything, therefore, that is detrimental to the mass of the workers re-acts upon the efficiency and, indeed, the general economic health of the nation as a whole. It has been proved inadequate and unscientific, to leave the worker, and, indeed, the mass of the citizens, to make provision for these risks individually, by saving. In the last 30 years at least we have felt that mutual arrangements could be made by which what would be impossible for the individual to accomplish in the way of security might at least be provided ns a result of group activity. It can be provided by insurance schemes, in which those who contributed would have the averaging of their risks so spread that the individual burden would not be excessive, or by what I shall describe as a much larger group, namely, the responsibility which the nation itself would take. Two principles can be cited us having been invoked in this connexion. The first is contributory insurance. Various groups definitely enter into association with each other and assume an individual obligation to make a. specific contribution, either annually or at some other definite period. But that does not cover the ground. As a’ matter of fact, it covers it less and less. The second principle, which I shall describe as non -contributory pensions, has been largely invoked, not only in Australia, but also generally. The major examples of contributory insurance relate to unemployment risks; the major examples of non-contributory pensions have to do with invalid and old-age pensions, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, and also with what we can describe as the payments made to the hundreds of thousands of victims of the war - either pensions to disabled soldiers, to the widows of deceased soldiers, or to their dependent families. So I speak of the obligation of the nation to assume risks inherent to the citizens, and the failure to cover those risks involves a detriment to the community and an injustice to large sections of the community.
Looking at the world by and large, we can assume that there is a clear recognition of the . immense responsibilities which nations have in this connexion. The idea in essence is simple. It is easier for a group and easier still for a nation than for an individual to bear the risk. The risk does not mature at the same time in the case of every person; the risk is general, but its incidence is sporadic. That applies to all forms of insurance other than those connected with war. Theoretically, insurance of a contributory character has moral advantages over a system of State relief. That will be generally recognized. Its benefits are enjoyed only for a consideration, and cannot be gained gratuitously. Without some service, there can be no enjoyment of the benefits of an insurance scheme. But it involves as a reality for its foundation what we must now recognize as an impossible assumption, namely, that all the individuals concerned or affected have at least an equal minimum ability to contribute towards the funds requisite for their compensation. We know that it would be absurd to place insurance schemes for the victims of warfare upon a contributory plan. I think, too, that having regard to the widespread character of unemployment since the depression, any system of insurance against unemployment must actuarially break down. The premiums would be so high that the deduction they would involve from the ordinary income of the man who works and is paid wages would leave insufficient to maintain him from week to week. All insurance schemes, however theoretical, must in these matters rest upon the postulate that all who suffer these risks, whatever they may be, shall have an equal chance to contribute towards their maintenance. As that is impossible, contributory systems of insurance tend to become less and less a feature, of the aid that nations render to their citizens, and more and more direct payments, such as pensions and allowances, feature in the social legislation of the world. It is assumed that the contribution which the recipient makes to those payments is, in an indirect way, by taxation levied generally on the community, and the manner in which that taxation is collected by the nation.
– There are more contributory schemes than any other.
– In practice, noncontributory pension and insurance schemes exist side by side with, and in addition to, contributory schemes. Indeed, until the contributory schemes are general, and have full effect, it will be impossible to avoid payments of benefits to noncontributors during the transition period. Furthermore, if it were proposed to finance unemployment relief, or, indeed, old-age pensions on a contributory basis, it must be quite apparent that for many years we would still have to pay the equivalent of the pensions to a number of persons, even though they had not contributed towards such benefits. The transitional difficulties inherent in contributory schemes involve the acceptance by the State of. the equivalent of a pension payment. Non-contributory pension schemes operate side by side with contributory schemes in Great Britain, the Irish Free State, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. I regret that I have not sufficient time at my disposal to review the whole field of insurance, which is definitely related to widows’ pensions and allowances, because, in certain aspects, they should be covered by insurance. Whether the insurance of widows and orphans should be on a contributory or non-contributory basis is a matter for dialectical discussion rather than practical decision. If honorable members desire to gain a general conception of the position from recent surveys, they will find a very illuminating report prepared by the International Labour Office which was presented to the 16th Session of the Conference in 1932. I have come to the conclusion, from my oversight of the problem of the poor, that in Australia the first great class of sufferers .relieved by charitable assistance is that of the unemployed and their families. We know that so stupendous have been the difficulties in connexion with the securing of employment in recent years that the Australian States have had to devise measures of relief for the workless and their families. Prior to the depression, the State of Queensland had initiated a scheme of unemployment insurance, on a contributory basis, but has found it necessary to supplement that. system by relief works and compassionate allowances. Other States have not had a system of unemployment insurance as such, but disregarding the niceties of words, we can say that in most States at the present time the unemployed person has a claim against the State for some sort of aid; the State itself recognizes that claim, and, in fact, makes to that person some allowance which could be regarded as the equivalent of an insurance payment. It is probably true enough that the provision is entirely inadequate. The problem itself has to do with a phase of State policy, which might even be wiser than measures of relief ; it takes the form of organizing employment for those who are fit and able to work. Examined dispassionately, it is bad for the State to give able-bodied men payment for services which they have not rendered, which they are potentially capable of rendering, but which society does not give them the opportunity to render. Payment for idleness is a degradation, and it would be far wiser for the State to organize means by which the indigent but able-bodied might be usefully employed.
The second great class of sufferers under the social system, and one which is constantly knocking at the doors of charitable societies, is that which includes families with no male bread-winner. Only in New South “Wales has any Australian State statutorily accepted responsibility for assisting widows who have dependent children, and whose circumstances are such as to meet the conditions specified. The New South Wales Widows’ Pensions Act of 1925 provides for a payment of £1 a week for a widow who has dependent children, and 10s. a week for each child so dependent. From this amount there is deducted £1 per annum for each £1 per annum by which the widow’s income exceeds £78 per annum. The amount actually paid in rent not exceeding £78 per annum is deducted from the income of the widow. In the report submitted by Mrs. Mildred Muscio and myself, constituting the minority of the royal commission, to which I have referred, we stated -
These amounts do not provide adequate maintenance for families deprived of the male bread-winner, and need to be supplemented by the mother’s efforts, but they have made things much better for such family groups, and have often enabled the widow to keep her children with her, instead of having them boarded out elsewhere by the State.
In 1932, the New South Wales act was amended to provide for pensions to widows with dependent children and destitute widows over 50 years of .age, and provision is made that widows of any age, without dependent children, left unprovided for, may receive a pension for six months from the date of the husband’s death. An applicant must have been domiciled in New .South Wales at the husband’s death, and resident in that State for three years at the date of application. Owing to the operation of the Premiers plan, reductions have been made in the amounts paid, and rather severe restrictions have been imposed in regard to eligibility for the benefits of the act. The maximum pension is now 17s. 6d. a week with an additional 8s. 9d. for each child under fourteen years. Claims ave renewable annually. As I propose to ask the Parliament to apply over the whole field of the Commonwealth the present New South Wales act as a starting point, let me draw attention to what has occurred in that State. In 1933-34, there were 6,399 pensioners, and the pensions paid during that year imposed a charge on the budget of £529,764. The number of widows in New South Wales, as disclosed by the census of the 30th June, 1933, totalled 88,000, and the proportion of the total number of widows drawing widows’ pensions was 8.2 per cent. The number of widows in Australia, as disclosed by the 1933 census, totalled 230,000. The estimated number of those who would be eligible for pensions if the Commonwealth adopted a scheme similar to that in operation in New South Wales would be about 19,000. In 1933-34 the estimated cost of the average pension paid in New South Wales was £88.5. Using these figures, we arrive at an estimated total cost for the Commonwealth of £1,681,000. In 1928, when Mrs. Muscio and I reviewed the position, we came to the conclusion that the cost to the Commonwealth if the New South Wales system were applied, would be in the vicinity of £1,800,000. That figure was computed on a basis of payments of £1 to the widow and 10s. in respect of each child as against the present payments 01 17s. 6d. and 8s. 9d. respectively.
I desire now to examine more closely the character of the family life in Australia in order that we might really understand what happens in eases of men who marry at the average age of 29, and, who, unfortunately, have not effected any savings, or, unwisely, have not made provision for insurance. I find that in 1911 the average family of deceased married males of all ages in Australia was 5.42; in 1921, the average was 4.97; and in 1932, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the average was 4.39. Of deceased married males - and I regard these figures dealing with certain ages as much more relevant to my examination of the problem than the figures relating to all ages - the average issue at various ages was as follows : -
In every examination of the domesticunit before the Arbitration Court, despite Mr. Justice Higgins’ arbitrary statement that a living wage should provide for a man and his wife and three children, statistics have indicated that taking the average for all married workers in Australia, the number of children should be about two, and for all males in Australia about .9. Mr. Justice Dwyer, in Western Australia, after special inquiry, decided that the basic wage should be computed upon the basis of a man, wife and two children. Three years prior to that, Mr. Justice Heydon, who presided over the New South Wales State tribunal, fixed two dependent children as the component element. Normally, these two children arrive within the first five years of marriage. We perceive the importance of providing for widows with dependent children, because the average age of marriage for males is, as I have already indicated, 29 years; but that average i° arrived at only because a large number of males marry before they reach the age of 29 years. The latest year for which I could obtain statistics is 1932, and of a total of 43,634 males who were married in that year, 15,430 were under the age of 24 years, and 30,200 under 30 years.
Three-fourths of the total number of marriages of males effected in 1932 were of men under the age of 30 years. Ten per cent, of the total number of male deaths occur in the age group between 20 and 40 years, and, for the five-year period prior to 1932, 16,000 died each year within thi3 age group. The deaths which leave widows and children unprovided for are mainly in this group. li we examine the economic life of the ordinary male of Australia we will readily confess the utter impossibility of such a man making provision for his widow and dependent children.
– What is the average of deceased fathers leaving dependent children?
– Statistics in that regard are not compiled. The proportion of married men in the age group from 20 to 40 years rises in comparison with single men, who provide the majority of the total in the age group up to about 20 years. Then the married men exceed the number of bachelors up’ to the age of 30 years and beyond. Death then has to be considered in the examination of the problem.
My point, briefly, is that, normally, between the ages of 22 and 24 years, and up to 30 years, large numbers of young couples in Australia marry, and have children, and the first two or three years i)f their married life is spent in establishing their homes. Even if they are thrifty and provident, and take out insurance policies, the total amount of the insurance is necessarily small, and, in the event of death overtaking the male bread-winner - 10 per cent, of the males who die each year fall within that family group - the insurance effected will be only sufficient to clear the liability on the homes which it was hoped would be ultimately acquired. Thus, in the most favorable of cases, the widow is without any income, but with a home that has been paid for. In the majority of instances, however, she has neither home nor income. The widow is suddenly bereft of her male support, and so are her children, the average number being two. The widow endeavours to earn a livelihood at the occupation which she previously followed; but she is now from five to eight years older, and her economic capacity to compete with young girls has been greatly diminished. Furthermore, there is a prejudice against the employment of married women in industry, and the woman herself has undergone profound physiological changes as the result of motherhood. In addition, she has what is described generally as the maternal instinct. Thus she is driven between two clamant urges, one to earn a living for her children, and the other to provide nurture for them. The conflict between these two desires inevitably reacts upon her general wellbeing. Itmust be recognized also that, if she succeeds in becoming a bread-winner for her family, she does it by having to leave them without her company for long hours during the day, and at night she must undertake a second shift of work. Having laboured as hard as other women in the daytime, she has to commence a new day’s work in overtaking arrears of domestic duties such as the washing of clothing, the preparation of food, and those other tasks which are part and parcel of mothercraft. More often than not, she collapses under the conflict of these two pressures.
But let us assume that she can arrange to have her children cared for by a creche, orphanage, or some other institution. I have nothing to say against the general character of institutions of that kind. I spent a year studying the manner in which they carry on their work, and I have nothing but the highest praise for the self-sacrificing committees that are often responsible for their conduct; but the best institution is not so good for a child as even a second or third class home. Children, like adults, do not live by bread alone. They require the companionship of their parents, and if, unfortunately, they are deprived of their male bread-winner in the early years of their life, they doubly need the company of their mother. The system of boarding children out in private homes is preferable to having them brought up in institutions, however palatial they may be, and however well they may be staffed. My own observation leads me to the conclusion that the massing of children in large numbers in institutions, in which they sleep in dormitories, is not so favorable to the formation of character as allowing them to live with small families. They may be cared for in a somewhat lackadaisical way, and their faces may not be so clean fas they would be in an institution; but they would certainly be happy, and happiness is an important factor in the formation of the character of children. So I plead for the widows with children dependent upon them, on the ground that if they are provided with a Commonwealth allowance they will be able to devote themselves entirely to the nurture of their children, instead of having to act in lieu of their deceased husbands as breadwinners.
– How would the honorable member meet the New South “Wales position ?
– That State should be relieved of the obligation which it has accepted. Too long have the States been left with the task of providing these services, which are constantly growing, while the immense resources of tie Commonwealth have not been invoked for that purpose. I believe that the same principle which induced the Commonwealth Parliament to assume the responsibility for invalid and old-age pensions is applicable to pensions for widows and orphans. To have one State providing this service is to impose upon the citizens of that State a degree of taxation above the average for the rest of the Commonwealth. Its leadership in this work of social relief for those who have claims to it becomes a penalty which prejudices the competitive capacity of that State, as compared with others.
It is reasonable and proper that the Commonwealh Parliament should accept an obligation of this nature. There is nothing alarming in my proposal if we regard it as an investment by the nation in human life, and compare it with the assistance given in regard to wheat, flour or galvanized iron. One measure of the progress of civilization is the advance made in protecting classes of the community which, through circumstances such as sickness or misfortune, are unable to provide for themselves. The child is the most important of all those classes, for the childlren are the future citizens, and to the case of children the doctrines of independence and self-help cannot be applied. It is becoming more and more an accepted principle that every child has a right to an opportunity for full physical, mental and moral development. While the male breadwinner lives, he must bear the major responsibility for ensuring the well-being of his offspring, and the State should step in only when, through either incompetence or delinquency, he fails to discharge his duty; but he should not be permitted to escape his obligation if he is capable of discharging it. The first responsibility for the welfare of children is upon the parents, who should provide the means by which the children may be given the opportunities to which they are entitled. Yet, there is well-established precedent for the State supplementing the efforts of parents to obtain for their children opportunities for full development.
I have submitted this motion because, looking at the problem of family welfare in Australia, I have been impressed by not only the cases of hardship which I have encountered, such as a young married woman being bereft of her husband and left with several children to support, but also by the consequences that ultimately flow from inability to make economic provision for carrying on such a home. The best way for a widow with dependent children to meet her obligations is not by competing for work as a laundress, a seamstress, waitress, or charwoman, but by carrying on to the best of her ability in her home, and exercising that divine instinct of motherhood which originally led her to abandon her economic independence, in order to become the wife of a man and the mother of his children.
– Honorable members, irrespective of their party affiliations, must feel themselves indebted to the honorable member forFremantle (Mr. Curtin) for the restrained address that he has delivered on this subject of universal interest, not only because of the obvious research work that he has done, but also because of the way in which he has developed his case. At relatively short notice I have endeavoured to ascertain the extent to which the various State governments and the Commonwealth Government are now attempting to provide for widows and orphans. Statistics, unfortunately, do not lend themselves to ready analysis in order to determine the exact extent to which widows, destitute children, and children of widowed mothers are being assisted; but I can give honorable members some figures in relation to child-welfare activities which show the formidable nature of the problem. Most honorable members are aware of the extent to which the Government of New South Wales is dealing with this problem through its family endowment scheme, under which 72,000 families are at present receiving endowment at an estimated cost in this financial year of nearly £2,000,000 ; and through its widows’ pension scheme, under which 8,433 widows, with an average of two dependent children each, are receiving pensions at an average rate of 30s. per week, at a total estimated cost in this financial year of about £530,000. These two schemes, it will be seen, will involve the Government of New South Wales in an expenditure of £2,500,000 in this financial year. These are, of course, independent of other departmental attempts to cope with the subject of child welfare. In New South Wales the Child Welfare Department is granting relief to deserted wives and certain children entitled to maintenance, under the Child Welfare Act of 1923, at an estimated cost in this financial year of £377,339. Additional expenditure is being incurred year by year in connexion with child welfare institutions in New South Wales, which brings the expenditure of the Government of that State on family endowment, pensions to widows, payments to deserted wives, and maintenance of children, to nearly £3,000,000 a year.
– Is not the expenditure justified ?
– I am not in a position to speak as to the effectiveness of these various schemes; I am at the moment merely pointing out that a large sum of money is being expended annually in New South Wales in dealing with the problem. The expenditure of the other States on child welfare is as follows: -
I admit that all this expenditure is on children. It is difficult to obtain exact information concerning the activities of the various States in respect of widows; but substantial expenditure is being incurred in every State in connexion with the institutions for the care of women and the children of destitute women. It may be said definitely that, apart from the specific figures that I have given, hundreds of thousands of pounds are being spent in Australia annually by charitable and semi-public institutions partially maintained by State grants for the maintenance of widows without means of livelihood. In making this statement I leave out of account the expenditure of the Commonwealth Government on pensions for widows and dependent children of deceased soldiers. Our expenditure on war pensions is about £7,000,000 per annum.
– The expenditure of New South Wales, to which the Assistant Treasurer has referred, would, I take it, be exclusive of payments made to dependants of deceased soldiers.
– That is so. Probably from one-third to one-half of the amount being spent on war pensions by the Commonwealth, or, say, between £2,500,000 and £3,250,000, goes to the widows and dependent children of ex-soldiers. The children of soldiers, alive or deceased, whose parents or widowed mothers receive pensions number about 107,000, but I cannot say how many of these are the children of widowed mothers. I give these figures to indicate that, although the various schemes to which I have referred are not co-ordinated, and, although the Commonwealth Government has no scheme for the direct relief of widows and orphans, yet these unfortunate persons are by no means being neglected. Such activities as I have outlined, and almost innumerable other activities of private and semi-public charities, are designed to care for widows and women without other means of support, and also orphans and dependent children of widows. I admit that, obviously, the best method of coping with this responsibility, which is one of our many social problems, would be by a Commonwealth scheme operating on uniform lines throughout Australia. Such a scheme would relieve the State governments and private and semi-public charitable organizations of the obligations which I have endeavoured briefly to outline.
Honorable members will, of course, have some knowledge of the report of the Royal Commission on National Insurance, mentioned by the honorable member for Fremantle. I direct attention to the third progress report of that commission, _ which deals, in detail, with destitute allowances and other aspects of the subject discussed by the honorable member for Fremantle. That report, which was presented in March, 1927, was prepared on the assumption that the provision of pensions for widows and orphans is a social service which naturally falls within the ambit of national insurance. An examination of it will convince honorable members that the commission dealt with the subject sympathetically. The government of the day was advised by the commission to consider seriously the institution of a pensions scheme for widows and orphans after it had put into operation the general scheme for national insurance recommended in the commission’s earlier reports. Following upon the completion of the work of the royal commission on national insurance, the Bruce-Page Government drafted a bill for a comprehensive scheme to implement the recommendations of the commission. This was brought up to Parliament by the present Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page), and taken to the second-reading stage. It provided for a pension of £1 a week for widows, and an allowance of 5s. a week for orphan children under sixteen years of age. The widest interpretation was given to the word “ orphan “, which included exnuptial children. The bill was introduced shortly before the termination of that Parliament. For obvious reasons, the measure was not carried any further, the Bruce-Page Government coming to a sudden end in 1929; and for similar obvious reasons the Scullin Government was not able to proceed with it. In the budget speech for the financial year 1932-33, the then Treasurer (Mr. Lyons) stated that’ the Government would endeavour to devise a contributory scheme of old-age pensions. The problem has been examined since that time, but has been found to be extremely complex. The difficulties of introducing a scheme of national insurance in a period of depression such as we are now passing through are so great that the Government is ‘not prepared to give any definite undertaking that it can introduce such a scheme at present. It has, however, continued its investigations into the subject with the aid of a thoroughly qualified actuarial adviser; but the forecast of the probable cost of such a scheme, and the impossibility of its being introduced and satisfactorily continued under the economic and social conditions which exist at present, have made progress impossible. Although the Government is of the same intent to-day as it was two years ago, and of the same intent as the Bruce-Page Government of five years ago, the difficulties of introducing a comprehensive scheme of national insurance, or even a scheme which is of limited and not comprehensive import, are so tremendous, and the prospect of such a scheme maintaining itself in its initial years, even with a considerable measure of government assistance, are so meagre, that the Government cannot give any undertaking to take further action at present, much as it would like to do so. From the tone of his speech, the honorable member for Fremantle evidently realized the financial difficulty of undertaking such a scheme at a time when a considerable proportion of our people are unemployed. The burden of contribution to the scheme - for it will undoubtedly have to be a contributory scheme - and the inevitable increase of costs upon industry would be very great. The Government is, therefore, forced to the conclusion that, under existing conditions, it is impracticable to proceed with the proposal. When financial conditions improve, and the country’s economic .outlook generally is more satisfactory, the Government will be prepared to give favorable consideration to the possibility of inaugurating a scheme of national insurance in which provision will be made for widows, dependent children, and orphans.
– One could not listen to the very able and eloquent speech just delivered by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) without being impressed with the honorable gentleman’s sincerity in bringing forward this motion, and also with the extensive research and study he has given, apparently very effectively, to the subject. With the Assistant Treasurer I assure the honorable gentleman that members on this side of the House are able to accord a measure of support to his motion, and I feel sure that he will credit me and my colleagues on this side with that sincerity which, he himself displayed when speaking on this subject. The State of New South Wales pioneered the policy of payment of pensions to widows, and I as the representative of an electorate in which there is a higher percentage of widows in necessitous circumstances than in many other parts of tho State have a full appreciation of the value of the pension to many deserving women. However, one cannot do full justice to a subject of this character by restricting the debate to a consideration of the needs of widows and their children. To deal with it comprehensively, one must also consider the claims of deserted wives, who through no fault of their own have been left stranded. For all practical purposes, these women are in exactly the same position as the widows on whose behalf the honorable gentleman has made his appeal. Further, one must take into account the children of these deserted wives, and the large number of other children throughout the Commonwealth, who have lost one or both of their parents. Child endowment, another social service, pioneered by New South Wales, and the distress existing among fiamili.es of unemployed men are other matters which arise in a discussion of this nature. If this debate is to be really effective, regard must be had to all these other factors and our aim should be to -evolve a comprehensive scheme of relief. The problem which would then confront us. ae tile honorable member for Fremantle will be one of the first to admit, would be the financing of the very considerable liability involved. I find that to-day the various State governments are committed to an expenditure in the vicinity of £1,100,000 per annum in respect of child welfare which deals almost entirely with orphan children. In New South Wales, which I believe is the only State that provides regular pensions for widows, the coat to the Government under this head amounts to £530,000 per annum. Originally the pension was £1 a week, and 10s. for each child up to fourteen years of age, but in accordance with the Premiers plan, the payments were reduced to 17s. Gd. and Ss. 9d. respectively.
– The reduction was not made until after the Premiers plan was was put into effect.
– I may be in error in that respect ; if so I accept correction. There are 8,433 widows receiving this assistance, the payment for both widows and children averaging 30s. a week for each family. New South Wales has progressed to a far greater extent with legislation of this nature than any of the other States, and it has also made adequate provision under the heading of child endowment, which at the rate of 5s. a week for each child, excepting the first born in each family, totals £1,961,000 per annum. Thus in respect of payment to widows and payments under the child-endowment system, the New South Wales Government to-day is committed to an expenditure of nearly £2,500,000 per annum. I do not claim to approach the subject with as much knowledge of it as the honorable member for Fremantle, but if, on a rough estimate, relief under these two headings costs the Government of New South Wales £2,500,000 per annum, the adoption of a similar scheme throughout ‘Australia would cost this Parliament three times that amount, or about £7,500,000 per annum.
– Allowance would also have to be made for expenditure in providing free education for these particular children.
– That is so. [n comparison with other countries, New South Wales has certainly not lagged behind in providing social services of this character. If the Commonwealth Government, as the honorable member for Fremantle proposes, were to take over the present liability of New South Wales in respect of widows’ pensions and child endowment - it could not take over one without the other - and were to establish an Australia-wide scheme covering pensions to widows and deserted wives and children, child welfare, and child endow ment, it would have to find at least £7,500,000 per annum in addition to financing its present obligations of a similar character. I remind honorable gentlemen that the Commonwealth Government is already providing war pensions to the amount of £7,000,000 per annum and invalid and old-age pensions to the amount of about £12,000,000 per annum, whilst maternity allowances cost this Government £300,000 a year. Thus the Commonwealth Government is now expending approximately £20,000,000 per annum, in providing social services. If it has to find an additional £7,500,000 or £8,000,000 per annum to provide for widows, deserted wives and children, and orphans, where is the money to be obtained? The honorable member for Fremantle seemed to suggest that the coffers of the Commonwealth are overflowing with money which could be readily applied to put his proposal into operation, but it i3 obvious from the figures I have quoted that the Government would have to levy heavy extra taxation to find the money necessary to provide the relief proposed. That problem opens up the burning question as to the fields of taxation in which the Commonwealth and the States respectively should operate. This is a matter which might have the attention of the Assistant Treasurer. The adoption of the proposal advocated by the honorable member for Fremantle will be possible only if the Commonwealth can induce the States to vacate some portion of the field of taxation which they now occupy. But having in mind the numerous conferences and heated debates that have taken place in comparatively recent months, in the course of which the Commonwealth has been pressed 1$ surrender revenue to the States, we should realize the very real difficulty that exists, rendering it almost impossible to give effect to the scheme. The humanitarian principles underlying it have been eloquently expressed by the mover of the motion and they have my unqualified endorsement; but I am convinced that a great deal of exploratory work must be done before legislation can be introduced. The honorable gentleman stressed the need for the proposal; I should have been more pleased had he submitted some at least of the necessary details to enable us to attack with some hope of success this problem of providing for widows and their dependants. As the Assistant Treasurer has pointed out, it bristles with difficulties immeasurably greater than those which existed prior to 1930, when the full effects of the depression were beginning to be felt throughout Australia. The Minister referred to a national insurance scheme. His remarks under this head emphasized the very great need for individuals in the community to provide for themselves, and, to some extent, their dependants by taking out insurance policies with one or other of the companies carrying on this class of business in Australia. Every man who assumes family responsibilities should recognize the obligation resting upon him in this respect. Honorable members may recall that during the last Parliament a committee of Government supporters was appointed to investigate the possibility of introducing a national insurance scheme. That committee held a number of meetings at which the proposal was discussed with responsible Treasury officials and other departmental experts, and it reached the conclusion that the present state of Commonwealth finances would not permit of the introduction of comprehensive proposals on the lines then contemplated. Those who desire to see such a scheme inaugurated - I say in all sincerity that I am among them - must realize that all the details of such a proposal will have to stand- the strictest investigation if it is to be attended with any measure of success. Summed up, the proposal of the honorable member for Fremantle is a question of pounds, shilling, and pence - whether or not, in the existing economic position of the Commonwealth, it is a practical scheme. Pious hopes and sympathetic speeches may help to create a favorable atmosphere, but in the absence of workable suggestions the objective is not likely soon to be attained. If the honorable member for Fremantle had submitted a practical, instead of a somewhat nebulous, scheme, he would have earned the approbation of all sections of the community. I admit that although New South Wales has, to a limited extent, made pro- vision for widows and dependent children, in other States there has been apparent inaction, perhaps for very good reasons. I should like to have some enlightenment on this point from honorable members representing those States. I am inclined to believe that the reason is financial because, for the most part, the governments in those States have a high regard for the social well-being of their people. I repeat that if the Commonwealth undertakes this additional obligation further taxation will be necessary, and this will mean the invasion of certain fields of taxation at present occupied by the States. I hope, however, that at some of the conferences which we understand are to be held in the near future to deal with unemployment and rural rehabilitation earnest consideration will be given to the proposal brought forward and advocated so admirably by the honorable member for Fremantle.
.- The speeches of the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson) and of the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) have really supported the contention of the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin), although the remarks of the first-mentioned indicate that he has not given a great deal of thought to the subject of unemployment insurance. The honorable member seems to be unaware of what is being done in other countries’ and therefore I take this opportunity to inform him, and the House generally, that unemployment insurance is in operation in seventeen countries and covers nearly 42,000,000 workers. A compulsory system of unemployment insurance is in operation in Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Irish Free State, Italy, Poland and parts of Switzerland, as well as in Queensland, whilst in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Norway, Netherlands, Czechoslovakia and a portion of Switzerland a voluntary system operates.
– In times like the present it would be difficult to inaugurate a system of unemployment insurance.
– The difficulties may be great, but they are not insurmountable.
Dealing now with the subject of pensions for widows, I remind the House that a member of a previous Government once said that “ Australian babies are our best immigrants “. In normal times, the bread-winner provides for his family; but, as the honorable member for Fremantle pointed out, he cannot always do so in times of depression, in which case the responsibility of providing for “ Australia’s best immigrants “ devolves on others. Statistics published in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday indicate that the number of female bread-winners has increased considerably during recent years,’ proving that more widows than previously have to seek employment in order to provide for their children. The provision of pensions for these women is of national importance, and should therefore be undertaken by the Commonwealth rather than by’ the States. Some years ago, the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) introduced a bill to provide for a comprehensive scheme of national insurance. From his second-reading speech on that measure, which occupies about twenty pages of Hansard, I extract the following paragraphs: -
On behalf of the Government, I have the honour of bringing before Parliament, in the National Insurance Bill, the most comprehensive and progressive measure of social reform that has ever been brought forward in any Parliament in Australia.
The subject-matter of this bill is one of very great importance, not only to the whole community in this country, but also to the whole civilized world. In all directions it is being recognized that the beneficial principles and practice of insurance should be applied not only in respect of such casualties as death, fire, ship-wreck and accident, but also to those other more insidious, but no less serious, casualties of sickness, invalidity, and senility, which affect our social organization and, in the absence of duc provision, cause untold suffering …
Many people arc apt to say that such things should not be; and they appear to think that having said so much they have done all that could reasonably be expected of them. Their assertion may bc true to some extent, but in this practical world in which we live we have to deal very largely with what is, however much we may aspire for what should be.
With those admirable sentiments I agree.
The granting of pensions to widows has received consideration by various State governments from time to time.
– Honorable members opposite have stressed the point that the child endowment system in operation in New South Wales is a costly undertaking; but I remind them that when the payment of invalid and old-age pensions was first suggested it was said that the financial responsibility would be too great for the Commonwealth to shoulder. With the mechanization of industry and the introduction of improved scientific appliances altered conditions have been forced upon the people, and the time has arrived when the State cannot afford to neglect the children of widowed mothers or the aged and infirm. In Tasmania there is no system similar to that in operation in New South Wales. A widowed mother who cannot afford to maintain her children at home does not receive any financial assistance from the Government, but if she allows her children to be placed under the care of a foster mother the State contributes towards their support. However good a foster mother may be she will not give the same attention, consideration and care to the children as would be given by their natural mother. The Tasmanian Labour Government may amend the law, but at present the position is as I have stated. The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. J ohn Lawson) endeavoured to make a good deal out of the point that all married men should take out a life insurance policy, if only for a small amount, presumably with the object of making provision for their wives and families in the event of premature death. The census figures published yesterday show that, out of a total of 1,209,000 bread-winners in New South Wales during the year ended 30th June, J.933, 15.6 per cent, did not receive any income; 27.7 per cent, received less than 20s. a week; 17.8 per cent, between £1 and £2 a week; 11.6 per cent, between £2 and £3 a week; 9.7 between £3 and £4 a week; 7.6 between £4 and £5 a week; and 10.6 more than £5 per week. In view of those figures it would appear utterly impossible for the majority of the breadwinners in New South Wales to take out an insurance policy for a small amount even if they so desired; but assuming that they were willing and able to do so, how much protection would its proceeds afford to the mothers and children in the event of the premature death of the breadwinner? The time has arrived for the nation to undertake the responsibility of looking after the widows and their dependent children. In this connexion I am reminded of the words of Goldsmith - 111 fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.
That is true to-day. I do not suggest that honorable members opposite lack humanitarian instincts, but I believe that they are unduly influenced by the opinions of those who contribute funds in support of their political organizations. The right honorable member for Cowper, in moving the second reading of a national insurance bill in 1928, said -
I am appending to my address, as a guarantee of the soundness of the scheme presented, the report on the bill by three fully qualified actuaries, who have assisted in its preparation, for it must be recognized that in a matter of this sort the actuary necessarily plays as important a part as an architect in connexion with the erection of a house, a public building, or a monument, or an engineer in connexion with the construction of a bridge, a reservoir or a railway. These three experts have certified to the soundness of the scheme put forward.
All of these gentlemen have the highest actuarial qualification, the Fellowship of the Institute of Actuaries of Great Britain and Ireland. One of them, Mr. C. H. Wickens, is tho Commonwealth Statistician and Actuary; another, Mr. A. W. Sneddon, is a prominent actuary of lengthy and extensive experience in one of our leading life offices; and the third, Mr. S. Bennett, is the Government Statistician and Actuary of Western Australia, and is an expert in friendly society practice and finance.
The measure introduced in 1928 by the then Treasurer could have gone further. In concluding his speech the right honorable gentleman said -
I have outlined as briefly as possible the basis on which the Government’s proposals rest, the scope of the measure which we have brought down to put them into operation, the comprehensive benefits for which provision has been made, and the widespread nature of their application. Having done this, I feel that I can leave the matter with the House with every confidence that members will recognize and appreciate the honest effort of the Government to contribute a practical proposal for the banishment of that grim spectre of want and misery that has too long haunted our. sick and our aged.
Provision should be made for sick and aged, widowed mothers, and their children who need assistance. The scheme would not be as expensive as some suggest -if we take into consideration the amount now being expended in charitable relief, invalid and old-age pensions, war pensions, and multiplicity of forms in which social service is rendered. The cost of a national scheme such as that outlined would not be in addition to the cost of our present social services, because many of the systems now in operation would be absorbed by the more comprehensive scheme, administrative costs would be reduced, a considerable amount of overlapping dispensed with, and equitable and reasonable protection afforded to those most directly concerned. Why should there be a system of child endowment for the Commonwealth, so far as its employees are concerned, and for New South Wales and no such provision in Tasmania and some of the other States? What is needed is a comprehensive scheme embracing unemployment, child endowment and widows’ pensions, which would minimize the cost of the overlapping and incomplete systems now operating in the different States. Under such a scheme we would be able, as the right honorable member for Cowper suggested when introducing his bill in. 1928, to lead the world instead of perpetually following other nations. In this country, possessing, such as it does, enormous natural wealth and great possibilities, we should get out of the rut, and instead of continually slowing down until we almost reach a state of stagnation, do something of a truly national character in the interests of the Australian people.
.- A similar motion was moved by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) some years ago, but a definite decision was not reached. He has now re-introduced the subject, and in an able speech - I join with others in congratulating him - has asked the House to adopt a system of affording relief to widows with dependent children. During the debate various aspects of the subject have been discussed, but I propose to debate it from the view-point of widows with dependent children. Possibly through an ^oversight no mention : has been made of destitute children. I do not think that it is the intention of the honorable member for Fremantle that all widows with dependent children should be brought within the scope of the suggested measure.
The honorable member quoted from the report of the Royal Commission on National Insurance, of which I was a member, and the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey), who replied on behalf of the Government, quoted from its third progress report. One of the terms of reference to that commission dealt specifically with the particular aspect that we are considering to-day. Reference C reads -
The question of amending the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act 1008-1923 so as to provide for the payment of destitute allowances.
We considered that question from every angle. Although the statistics given in he report are to a certain extent out of date, the principles laid down in it apply to-day with at least equal force, and possibly to an even greater extent; because destitution has increased in Australia during the intervening period. The report of the commission was signed on the 15th December, 1926. The conditions in Australia in that year were totally dissimilar from what they are now. Evidence wa3 taken in all the States, and from everyone who was able to speak on the subject, and could assist us in arriving at conclusions. We found that there were indications of destitution even in those times, which may be regarded as normal, particularly in the cities, and occasionally, although not to the same extent, in the country districts. Everybody admits that the conditions at present are ab- normal. At least, we hope that they are, and that they will considerably improve. Consequently, how much greater must be the destitution to-day? I am sure that I do not spring a surprise on the House when I say that we found very definitely that the. greatest amount of destitution existed among women and children. Occasionally, that was due to circumstances beyond the control of the breadwinner, such as unemployment, casual sickness, and invalidity. But there were also cases of deserted wives, and of others whose husbands were in gaol. The real victims of destitution, however, were those who had been left unprovided for by the death of the breadwinner. In the majority of cases the widow and children had been either totally unprovided for, or left with a very small amount from an insurance policy after the payment of expenses consequent upon the death of the husband and father. Provision cannot always be made for dependants. The remarkable fact was disclosed that, of the persons born in Australia, one in every three of the males who reached the age of 65 years, and of the females who reached the age of 60 years, was an applicant for the old-age pension. Those figures proved that the breadwinner could not make, during his lifetime, proper provision for his dependants, particularly if he died when his children were of an age at which they were unable to augment the family income. There is no doubt that far too many widows are left unprovided for in such circumstances. At present the seriousness of that position is made even worse by the inability of children leaving school to obtain employment. That is a problem which this House will have to consider. In practically every case the parents of children of school-leaving age are at their wits’ end to know what to do with them. How much more difficult then, is it for a widow who has children of that age, to find work for them? The burden of providing her children with food, clothing, and education, is one which a widow is ill-equipped to bear.
Another case which demands consideration is that of unmarried mothers. Provision should be made for them in any scheme which is devised. Many of them are in a similar position to that of the widow. As the mover of the motion rightly pointed out, the physiological change which accompanies motherhood makes the outlook of such persons totally different from that of others who are not similarly situated.
The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) asked the honorable member for Frem’antle (Mr. Curtin) this afternoon if he had figures as to the number of widows with young families. The latest figures that I have been able to obtain are those which appear in the report of the royal commission. They show that, at the time of that inquiry, 13 per cent, of the total number of widows bad young families. Other figures are given in the report as to the actual number of children. A proportion of that 13 .per cent, undoubtedly were not in destitute circumstances, some provision having been made in cases in which the death of the husband had been caused by industrial accident or sickness. I am glad to be able to say that workmen’s compensation acts in the different States provide to some extent for those who lose the breadwinner in such circumstances. But even if the number of widows in those two classes be deducted, a large number still remains. Probably the figure of about 10 per cent, given by the honorable member for Fremantle would prove to be correct. The commission in its report strongly urged that provision be made, where necessary, for all widows with young children, in order to ensure the proper maintenance, upbringing, and education of the children. As to the number of children thereby affected, the commission said -
It is estimated that the number of children under the age of fifteen years, whose fathers are dead, total 101,000, being equivalent to 5.0° per cent, of the total number of children in Australia under that age. In addition, there are 90,000 children of ex-nuptial birth, making a total of 191,000 orphans and exnuptial children under fifteen years of age, many of whom require some form of assistance. I do not think that honorable members will disagree with that’ statement. Indeed,” if it errs at all, the estimate of those in need is too conservative. I should say .that most, and not merely some, of those enumerated are in need of assistance. It is true that certain friendly societies do much good work among these people, and some trade unions also used to make contributions. I do not know whether they do so at the present time, the distress among their own members being so great that all their funds may be fully employed in other directions. Various charitable organizations also assist, most of the work being done by people in an honorary capacity. The members of the commission found that there were many persons imbued with a sincere desire to help those less fortunately situated than themselves. It was suggested to the commission that if this form of assistance were brought too much under government control, the springs of self-sacrifice might tend to dry up, and the last condition would be worse than the first.
The commission, in the course of its report, stated -
From the evidence submitted we are of the opinion that the Government should seriously consider the institution of widows’ and orphans’ pensions after . the inception of the general scheme recommended in our previous reports. Your commissioners recommend -
That more effective provision can be made by a comprehensive national insurance scheme than by amending the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act so as to provide for the payment of destitute allowances.
That pending the institution of a national insurance scheme the Commissioner of Pensions be granted certain discretionary powers with respect to rejected claims for pensions in cases where the claimant is in destitute circumstances.
The second part of the recommendation has apparently been ignored by successive governments ever since the report was submitted. I urge that, pending the institution of a comprehensive scheme, Parliament should amend the Invalid, and Oldage Pensions Act to make it possible for the Commissioner of Pensions to act in the manner recommended.
As for the institution of a system of national insurance, although I hate to say it, I do not think that the present is an opportune time to embark upon the necessary expenditure. When I signed the report in 1926, I was prepared to have the scheme put into effect immediately, but times have changed since then. For instance, according to the calculations of the Commonwealth Statistician, a man would have to pay into the fund 3s. 2. 2d. a week to enable his wife to draw a pension of £1 a week if she were left a widow at the age of 30. Under present conditions so large a contribution would be out of the question for a great many workers.
– Does the honorable member . say that there is still need for action ?
– There definitely is need for action, but until the insurance scheme can be put into effect, let us give what relief we can through the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. I do not insist that the amount paid should be £1 a week; we might make it half that amount, but let us do something. As soon as it is possible to find the money to institute the insurance scheme, any proposal for making it operative will have my earnest support.
– If the Government is able to remit taxation to the extent of millions of pounds, surely it can find money to inaugurate a scheme of national insurance.
– I do not wish to bo drawn into side issues. I feel sure that all honorable members desire to do something more than is being done at present for the assistance of widows and their children, and the honorable member for Fremantle is deserving of commendation for providing us with an opportunity to discuss this subject.
.- I listened with interest to the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin), but I am sure there is no truth in the suggestion that honorable members on this side of the House are prevented by some outside financial power which dictates the policy of the Government from doing the right thing by widows and orphans. Australia to-dayleads the world in regard to the provision it makes for the relief of distress, and for the assistance of those who have fallen by the way in the battle of life. In 1932, the cost to Australia for social services was as follows: -
The total expended on social services is probably not less than £36,000,000 a year, without counting charitable contributions, or the cost of free education. In spite of the generous provision which governments make for the- relief of those in distress I am sure that every honorable member of this House would be prepared to do still more if the finances of the country permitted it. It is necessary now to evolve a scheme for the general relief of those in need, a scheme which will work smoothly, and which cannot be interfered with by any political party. During. an election campaign I am always shocked to observe that invalid and old-age pensioners are dragged into the struggle. It is a disgrace that they should be made the butt of - what shall I say?
– Of wasters like the honorable member who voted to take their property away from them !
– I have no objection to one like the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) calling me a waster-
– I did not hear the honorable member use that expression, but if he did he was distinctly out of order.
– He used it, and I ask that it be withdrawn.
– I withdraw it.
– Allowances to widows and their dependent children should be on a different basis from that of the invalid and old-age pension scheme, under which the amounts payable depend very largely on the rise and fall of the revenues of the Commonwealth. Some honorable members opposite in a spirit of self-righteousness, claim to be the real Simon Pures so far as any reduction in invalid and old-age pensions is concerned.
– The honorable member must discuss the motion.
– This motion affirms the desirableness of establishing a. system of family allowances payable to widows with dependent children. My desire is that the allowances should be made under a scheme that would make it impossible to place them in the political cockpit as invalid and old-age pensions are whenever an election takes place. That is one of the most disgraceful features of our political life. At every general election we find candidates who, anxious to secure a few votes, make extraordinary promises to invalid and old-age pensioners, and they would do the same with the widows with dependent children if the allowance proposed to he made them were on the same basis. At the last general election many of the electors were told that certain benefits had not been restored by the Lyons Government when in fact they had been.
– Order ! I again remind the honorable member that he is not discussing the motion before the Chair.
– I wish to refer to our existing social services in order to show what may happen unless the scheme now before us is put on a proper footing and freed from party politics. I am referring to the tactics adopted by Opposition candidates during the election campaign.
– The honorable member is not in order in doing so.
– I am in favour of the proposal to establish a system of family allowances payable to widows with dependent children, but I suggest that it should be part of a national scheme of insurance on a contributory basis. If that were done those dependent upon such allowances would not have to appeal to members of Parliament for help. They would have a statutory right to receive these allowances, and could not be deprived of them by political influence. I have always maintained that these and other social services must be provided for the community by means of a national insurance scheme on a contributory basis. In that way only can they be made effective. Whatever may be the system adopted, the money must come out of the pockets of the people, but under a scheme of national insurance the payments would not depend upon the caprice of any party in power. They should be made independent of politics. It should not be possible for a candidate at election time to say to widows, “ Vote for us and we will secure for you 5s. per week more than the other party’s candidate is prepared to vote you.” That is what is done from time to time in connexion with the invalid and old-age pension system. Such tactics bespeak a low mental and moral outlook. There are already in existence in Great Britain contributory schemes that should serve to guide us in formulating our proposals. We are a very young country, but when the depressionhas been overcome and the financial position of Australia has improved,, a scheme of this character might well be put into operation. A limited scheme of widows’ pensions is in operation in Great Britain under the Pensions Act of 1929. A large proportion of those who come under that scheme only receive the pension while between the ages of 55 and 60 years. When they reach the age of 70 they receive the oldage pension. Let me quote the following paragraph from The British System of Social Insurance, by Percy Cohen : -
By April, 1931, over 300,000 pensions had been awarded to widows in Great Britain under the act of 1929. At this date 343,427 widows’ pensions, 103,304 children’s allowances, and 8,430 orphans’ pensions were being paid in respect of qualifications based on the insurance or employment of persons who died before January, 1926, and governed by the two acts, 1925 and 1929.
The estimated number of insured persons under the Contributory Pensions Acts is 17,413,500. Voluntary contributors included in this total comprise 339,500 men and 51,900 women.
Great Britain has a huge population, whereas we have only a mere handful of 6,500,000 people. Difficulties are sure to be experienced in placing this scheme on a national insurance basis, but I see no reason why they should not be overcome. The present Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) was the first to submit such a scheme to this Parliament. In 1928, as a member of the Bruce-Page Government, he moved in this House the second reading of a bill to provide for national insurance.
– And that was the end of it.
– Yes. Shortly afterwards a Labour government took office and allowed the proposal to remain dormant. The widows and orphans of Australia can look with confidence to our party to do something practical for them. We have already restored the invalid and oldage pensions to the maximum of 17s. 6d. a week. There may be difficulties in the way of a national scheme of insurance such as I have suggested, but they are not insuperable: That which is difficult to-day may be overcome to-morrow. I am one of those who believe that there is scarcely a difficulty in the world that cannot be surmounted, and I am convinced that the obstacles in the way of a national scheme of insurance, whatever they may be, they can be overcome. I invite the Labour party to join with the United Australia party in putting through a scheme to provide pensions for widows with dependent children. Here is a golden opportunity for them to sink party differences and to join with us in doing something for those who are in distress. In Australia to-day there are many widows and children who are in great difficulty. I appeal to the Opposition to show that they can be actuated by the highest ideals and that they are prepared to put aside party differences and join with us in bringing about a scheme that will help these people. The only attempt to bring a national insurance scheme before Parliament was made by the United Australia party. Let honorable members opposite free themselves from class consciousness; let them divest themselves of party bias; let them take a broader vision and join wholeheartedly with honorable members on this side of the House in propounding a scheme that will be national in its scope and of enduring benefit to these people. I am deeply interested in this subject. Long before I entered this Parliament I devoted much of my time to national relief undertakings.
– Collecting time-payment debts.
– If the honorable member could show as good a record before entering Parliament as I am able to point to, he would be a very happy man. I have been greatly interested to read of the British system of social insurance, and I commend to honorable members Percy Cohen’s book on that subject from which I have already quoted. It sets out the facts very clearly, and can well be accepted as a guide to this Parliament. Let us examine the history of the national insurance scheme in Great Britain. The first act dealing with widows’ pensions was introduced into the House of Commons in 1925 by Mr. Neville Chamberlain. The act commenced to operate in 1926, and was brought into full and effective operation in 1928, when assimilation with health insurance brought about a combined scheme of health and pensions. In dealing with the history and development of contributory pensions in Great Britain, Mr. Cohen says -
The Government Actuary estimated that the total number of beneficiaries of every class in the first complete year would be 1,122,000, rising to 1,009,000 in 1935-36, and 2,537,000 in 19G5-66 . . . Extra contributions began to be paid as from 4th January, 1926, when the arrangements under the Health Insurance Act for the payment and collection of contributions applied automatically to the contributions under the pensions scheme.
In 1928 the act was amended to include widows’ pensions. In 1929 the act was again amended by what was termed the Socialist Government. It is significant that nearly all beneficial legislation is initiated by a Nationalist government. Dealing with the developments which took place in 1929, 1930 and 1931, Mr. Cohen goes on to say -
The act for which the Socialist Government was responsible did not affect the contributory scheme except in minor ways, but sweeping concessions were made to a large class of widows of men who died before the commencement of the original act . . . The amending act came into force on 2nd January, 1930, for the extension, in the first instance, of the pensions in the case of the “ prc-act “ widows with dependent children and, secondly, for the inclusion in the old-age pensions scheme of the wives between 65 and. 70 of the insured men over 70. On 1st July, the first batch of thi; new eligible class of widows received their pensions. They comprised widows aged 60, but under 70, at that date. Qualified widows over 70 at 1st July, .1930, received unrestricted old-age pensions under the acts 1908-24, instead of widows’ pensions. The official estimate was that 210,000 widows would become beneficiaries at this date. Qualified widows attaining 60 between 2nd July, 1930, and 1st January, 1931, received pensions as from their sixtieth birthday. The younger widows who remained were the widows between 55 and 60, who were due for their pensions on 1st January, 1931, or when they attained 55. Some S5,000 became entitled on 1st January, and thereafter, about 200,000 will get benefits on reaching 55.
It is almost impossible to draw a comparison between the Widows’ Pensions Act of New South Wales and the act passed in Great Britain, because in New South Wales the pension of the widow ceases when she reaches the age of about 50 years, unless she is destitute or in indigent circumstances. The law in New South Wales, however, is a most excellent measure which should be adopted universally throughout the States; otherwise a penalty is imposed upon the people of one State. They have to pay taxes to maintain this social service, -while citizens of other States escape the impost. I see no reason why a progressive State like Queensland which enjoys greater privileges than any other State in the Commonwealth, should not introduce a widows’ pension scheme. It has a monopoly in respect of sugar and contributes largely to the gold production of Australia. “With all this prosperity it should he able to join New South Wales in the provision of the benefits of widows’ pensions. To listen to some honorable members representing Queensland constituencies, one would imagine that there are no widows in the northern State. ThS1 less prosperous States of Western Australia and Tasmania cannot be expected to provide costly social services of this kind, but a very strong argument could be made out for Victoria and Queensland to adopt the New South Wales plan. If these three States were brought into line in this respect it would make much easier the task of the Commonwealth in designing a plan to embrace the whole of Australia.
But I see no reason why the Commonwealth Government should be asked to adopt a scheme of pensions which is really on© for the States, particularly in view of the large sums of money the Commonwealth has to pay annually to the States. Whenever a State experiences financial difficulties the Federal Government is asked to come to the rescue by making a grant from its revenues.
The insurance scheme which I suggest is one that honorable members from Queensland and Victoria should urge upon the State Governments. The scale of contributions in Great Britain is on the very low basis of ls. 6d. for male and ls. Id. for female employees, of which amounts the employers pay 9d. and 7d. respectively. Quite a number of people in Great Britain are exempt from contributing, because, as is the case in New South Wales, exemptions are granted to members of friendly societies. The British scheme makes provision for medical and surgical attention, and for widows’ and old-age pensions. It is in fact a comprehensive scheme that might well be copied in this country. The whole administration of our social service legislation could then be conducted by one central administration on an economical basis. One of Australia’s greatest disabilities to-day is the fact that division of administration multiplies its cost. A great deal of the money which is now wasted through duplication of services could well be devoted to the cause that has been advocated during this debate. Honorable members are indebted to the honorable member for Fremantle for having brought this matter before the House. The people look to this Government to strengthen its efforts in the direction of ameliorating the distress of those who suffer as the result of accidents or sickness. The honorable member will find, I am confident, that the Government is sympathetic with every movement designed to improve the lot of those on the lower rung of the ladder.
.- I congratulate the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) upon his comprehensive survey of the subject introduced by him. He must have gone to a good deal of trouble in order to place before us the valuable information which he has presented. I am not surprised at the attitude of honorable members opposite. They have no option but to express agreement with the policy advocated by the honorable member, because it is one of the planks of their party platform. But while they congratulate him upon the forceful manner in which he has submitted his proposal, they raise all kinds of obstacles to its adoption. They say, in effect, “ We should like to do it, but- “, and the “ buts “ are introduced on all occasions. The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson) made a speech which was liberal in one direction, but most conservative in another. He sought to show why the scheme advocated could not be given effect. He was heart and soul with the honorable member for Fremantle, he said, but he asked how the necessary £7,000,000 was to be raised. He tried to convince the House that the money could not be obtained, and that, therefore, the scheme could not be brought to fruition.
The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) made a comparison of the steps taken in Great Britain with Australia’s efforts to relieve the position of widows with dependent children. I have before me a record of the proceedings of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1925, when Mr. Lang, the greatest man, politically, that Australia has produced, secured the passage of a measure for the payment of widows’ pensions and child endowment. He was the first man in the world to bring down such legislation. It is true that in Great Britain, a contributory scheme for the provision of widows, orphans, and old-age pensions was introduced in 1925, and it was not brought into full and effective operation until 1928. Honorable members opposite, apparently, applaud the snail-like progress that Great Britain has made in this direction. Legislation such as that advocated by the honorable member for Fremantle should have been passed long ago, and the money required to give it effect should be provided from the consolidated revenue. I do not intend to indulge in a dissertation on the lines adopted by the honorable member, for he has dealt with the matter lucidly, and has left little more to be said upon it.
– He did not show how ohe money could be obtained.
– During the period 1914-18 we had no trouble in raising millions for the purpose of destroying life; and this proposal is submitted for the purpose of saving life.
– The sum of £2,000,000 has been provided for a cruiser.
– Yes. Members of the Opposition have no objection to the raising of £4,000,000 to assist the wheatgrowers, and we hear no questions as to how that money is to be raised. Just as we believe that the wheat-growers should be assisted, we contend that widows with dependent children should be cared for. Lip service is of no use; actions speak louder than words. For too long we have been “ sleeping on the job “. The members of all parties are blameworthy in this matter. We could raise £700,000,000 for the destruction of human life; but, when a request is made that £7,000,000 be provided for widows with dependent children, we are asked to believe that the money is not available. The credit resources of Australia, however, are so vast that there should be no difficulty in providing the necessary funds.
The honorable member for Barton urged that Australia should follow the example of Great Britain in regard to social services. Australia has always led the way in this direction, because bounteous Nature has been more generous to it than to Britain. When Labour candidates were returned at the last election for the London City Council, the first act of the new body, under the leadership of Herbert Morrison, was to expend £4,000,000 in pulling down wretched habitations Of workers in order to build new houses for them. Yet, with our great natural resources, Australia is advised to restrict its production of wheat, meat and butter. It is idle to suggest that we cannot raise sufficient money to provide for widows and their dependent children when this country is blessed with a superabundance of wealth.
The honorable member for Barton was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1925 when Mr. Lang introduced his proposal for the widows’ pension. He spoke in support of the scheme, but voted against it. He claims to be a humane man: yet his vote shows that he does not believe that widows should receive a pension. The proposal of the honorable member for Fremantle should be considered on non-party lines. At a meeting of the Nationalist party in 1928, on the motion of Miss Preston Stanley, supported by other members, this reform was incorporated as a plank of that party’s platform. Why should we not take a test vote on the matter tonight? The honorable member for Barton referred to a hill to provide for national insurance, which was introduced during the regime of the -Bruce-Page Government. It is true that the measure passed to the second-reading stage, but it was subsequently relegated to the waste paper basket.
– Why did not the succeeding government introduce similar legislation?
– I admit that both Labour and Nationalist Governments have made mistakes, but we now have an opportunity to rectify them in respect of the matter under consideration.
It was stated by the honorable member for Barton that Queensland had not provided a pension for widows with dependent children. I point out, however, that that State has a scheme for insurance against unemployment and also a children’s allowance. Its social legislation is on a high scale. In New South Wales, by a heavy sacrifice, the workers have contributed £7,000,000 a year to assist their comrades who are unemployed. The wage tax of1s. in the pound has involved great sacrifice on their part, and no squeal has come from them; but we find that the Stevens Government has put £4,000,000 of the £7,000,000 paid by the workers out of their hard-earned wages back into the Consolidated Revenue. We are opposed to that policy. The members of the Government parties have said that they are humanitarian in their outlook and they cry, “Come over . . . and help us, “ but we will do nothing to help them reduce invalid and old-age pensions. We will oppose, also, such actions as that of the Stevens Government in reducing the pensions of widows by 2s 6d. a week. We are totally at variance with the policy of the United Australia party and will resist it by every means in our power, not only in this House, but on every political platform of the country. So long as the United Australia party seeks to rob widows and orphans we shall fight it.
– The Lyons Government had to pay the widows’ pensions in New South Wales at one stage because Lang could not pay them.
– If the Minister for Defence (Mr. Parkhill) would tell the inside story of what happened at that time the honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall) would remain dumb on the subject for ever. The Lang Government was penalized in such a way that it was prevented from paying the pensions to widows and orphans of New South Wales.
– The honorable member for Cook (Mr. Garden) blackguarded Mr. Lang some time ago, and he seems to blackguard everybody in turn.
– These interjections are entirely out of order and must cease. The honorable member for Barton must cease interjecting. I ask the honorable member for Cook to confine his remarks to the motion.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker; but I have always endeavoured to give a Roland for an Oliver. In my opinion it is the bounden duty of this Government to give effect to the motion of the honorable member forFremantle (Mr. Curtin). I have criticized the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson) for his conservatism. God help the people of this country if the younger members of this Parliament become conservative in their outlook.
Honorable members interjecting,
– It seems that honorable gentlemen opposite do not like to hear facts.
– I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the motion before the Chair.
– Why is not the honorable member for Barton “ pulled up “ ? He always “ gets away with it “.
– The honorable member for Hunter must cease interjecting.
– Why not call the honorable member for Barton to order?
– The honorable member for Hunter is distinctly out of order and offensive to the Chair. I have ordered the honorable member for Barton to cease interjecting and I shall see that he obeys. I need no help from the honorable member for Hunter in that regard.
– The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) asked me how money could be provided for the payment of pensions to widows and orphans. My reply is that the policy of the Labour party is to use the credit of this country to supply the currency needs of the community. We have vast credit resources which could be tapped. A good many people seemto think that money, which is the present medium of exchange, is the basis of our credit. We, however, consider that our land and farm buildings, our factories and the machines in them, and the people who operate the machines, really represent the credit power of the nation. Our credit power should not be subject to manipulation for private profit by private persons and organizations; it should be utilized by the representatives of the people for the benefit of the people.
– If that were done, our credit power would not last for six months.
– From 1914 to 1918, the credit power of the country was used for the purposes of war.
– By borrowing.
– That is so; but it could be used to a far greater extent without borrowing.
– I rise to a point of order. I submit that the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Garden) is discussing the creation of credit during the war, and not the motion before the Chair.
– The honorable member for Cook is indicating, as I understand him, how money could be raised to give effect to the objects of the motion under discussion. His remarks, so far, are relevant.
– During the war years, £700,000,000 of loan money was raised on which we have to pay interest. I remind honorable members that in the first week of the war, the British Government, through the British Treasury, determined to use the credit power of the nation for the purpose of carrying on a war, and it issued what are now known the world over as “ Bradbury “ notes. But the practice was continued for only one week, for the private banking authorities of Great Britain made it very clear that they disapproved of that method of financing the war. That, of course, was after the position had been safeguarded by the Bank of England through the British Treasury.
-The honorable member’s remarks are now somewhat wide of the motion.
– I was illustrating how money could be raised for the payment of pensions to widows and orphans, by showing what was done during one week in Great Britain. Honorable members know well enough how the construction of our East-West railway was financed. The Labour party holds the view that pensions for widows and orphans could b’e provided by the adoption of similar financial methods. Money could also be provided by this means for rural rehabilitation and other important public needs. I strongly support the motion, and, if necessary, am prepared to test the feeling of the House upon it.
We consider that the United Australia party, the Country party, the State Labour party, and the Federal Labour party should all unite to evolve a comprehensive policy to relieve the distress of widows and orphans in the Commonwealth. If this motion were carried, it would be an instruction to the Government to take steps to co-ordinate the various relief measures that are being adopted in the Commonwealth, and’ to formulate a comprehensive policy to relieve the distress of widows and orphans.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Archdale Parkhill) adjourned.
.- I move-
That a referendum he taken to secure the approval of the people of Australia to the recommendations of the royal commission of 1927-28 for the amendment of the Constitution.
This motion is, in my opinion, one of the most important that has been submitted to Parliament for some time. Several years ago, a great deal was being said about the need for constitutional reform. It was, perhaps, the most keenly debated political subject in Australia. The decline in public and political interest in the subject has been due entirely to the depression, which has forced people to give attention to more intimate domestic questions involving their very bread and butter. These more pressing problems touch closely the private interests of the people; but a close examination of the situation in Australia to-day indicates clearly that the need for constitutional reform is more insistent than at any other time in our history. It is strange to me that the Labour party does not follow constitutional issues with the same zest as it did years ago, because proposals for the broadening of the Commonwealth Constitution offer great scope for propaganda and the popularizing of its ideals. Commonwealth activities are increasing almost every week. Slowly but surely all the activities of the State governments are being brought under review, and, to a certain extent, under regulation by the Commonwealth. I mention in particular rural rehabilitation, assistance for the wheat industry, the great problem of unemployment, and the marketing of our primary products, both locally and abroad. Those four questions have become definitely federal in character, although, when we get to grips with them, we find that it is impossible for the Commonwealth to deal with them except insofar as it provides money for the States to spend. I do not know for how long the Commonwealth Parliament is to.be content just to formulate big schemes dealing with vital domestic matters, such as unemployment, marketing, rural rehabilitation, and the wheat industry without ensuring that it has the power to control the schemes for which it provides money for the States. To-day the Commonwealth Government has not the authority to see that that money is spent in the manner intended by the Commonwealth Parliament. All that it can do is to meet the representatives of the States in conference, submit to them schemes which, of course, they must approve, because they have no alternative, and then set about finding the money. This is handed over to the States for the carrying out of these schemes, after which the Commonwealth Government’s interest in these gigantic proposals ceases altogether. I do not pose as a prophet of woe, but I make this prophecy with every confidence: that such a method of dealing with big questions like marketing, rural rehabilitation, the organization of the wheat industry, and unemployment schemes will land us in a gigantic muddle sooner or later unless the powers of this Parliament are strengthened under an amended Commonwealth Constitution. Thus, I think it is opportune that a motion of this nature should be brought before this House, and I hope my proposal will be fully discussed by members of all parties in a non-political spirit, and that this House will be given an opportunity to take a vote on it sooner or later. [Quorum formed.]. I ask the Minister under what constitutional system Australia is really governed to-day. Almost imperceptibly an additional constitutional Parliament has developed without the sanction of the people in what is known as the Premiers Conference. I am surprised that the Commonwealth Parliament has taken so little notice of the steady growth of the in fluence of the Premiers of the States in the national sphere. Although the Commonwealth Government provides the money for carrying out most of the big social, developmental and marketing schemes which the States operate, it is really the Premiers of the States who decide whether the Commonwealth shall make any move in these matters. The Premiers Conference is almost a continuous body to-day. Hardly any matter which is handled by the Commonwealth Parliament is put into legislative shape until a Premiers Conference has first been called to consider it. At these conferences the divergent interests of the States are evident, because the governments of the various States differ in political character - in fact, it is surprising, under present conditions, that so much good work has been done through the agency of the Commonwealth with the approval of the States, seeing that this conflict of political interests as between the State governments has first to be overcome - and, under such conditions, I feel that the Commonwealth is drifting into a political muddle. The position is not that the Commonwealth is encroaching upon the functions of the States, but that the States gradually are circumscribing the activities of the Commonwealth. As the result of these conditions, we find ourselves to-day with one job only - to provide money for the States to spend. It is time this Parliament gave serious consideration to the question whither this remarkable tendency is leading us. If we continue to disregard this problem, then we may find that the whole system of government in Australia will come to a stalemate. I think we have reached that position to-day.
This House has to decide whether it will take steps to formulate a series of constitutional questions to be submitted to the people in order that the present state of affairs may be rectified. I therefore commend to honorable members the report of the royal commission which in 1927-28 investigated the question of the Constitution. This report cost thousands of pounds to prepare. It was the work of some of our leading constitutional authorities, and resulted from an inquiry which attracted, as witnesses, all the leading constitutional lawyers and publicists of Australia. It is therefore a valuable document, and I regret that so far it has been pigeon-holed like so many other valuable reports of royal commissions. It is a reflection on this Parliament that this report and the recommendations embodied in it have been ignored for so long. [Quorum formed.]. This Parliament should consider the report not so much with the idea of adopting the recommendations of the majority of that commission, as with the idea of considering whether these recommendations could furnish any valuable material which might be embodied in proposals for amendment of the Constitution with a view to rectifying the disabilities which I have already mentioned.
– There was also a minority report submitted.
– Yes. Both the majority and the minority report should be studied. “We might get some very valuable ideas from them. I suggest that this Parliament, with the Government’s approval, should discuss the commission’s recommendations. They have not yet been discussed, although the promise has been oft repeated by various Commonwealth governments, including the present Government, which reiterated the promise at the last election, that proposals would be submitted to the people. It is the duty of this Parliament to see that that promise is fulfilled. There are a number of important questions developing in Australia on which it is the duty of this Parliament to come to early and definite decisions. Aviation, for instance, is assuming tremendous importance, and yet, to-day, the Commonwealth has not complete control in that sphere. “Wireless also. I draw attention to the behaviour of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) ; he is deliberately trying to obstruct me.
– Mr. Speaker, I draw your attention to the state of the House.
– Two minutes ago, I satisfied myself as to the state of the House.
– Mr. Speaker, I rise to a point of order. On what authority do you decide that because a quorum was present two minutes ago and no quorum is present now, the state of the House is satisfactory? I submit that there must be a quorum of members present before we can transact business.
– I shall use my discretion within the Standing Orders in that regard.
-I think it is a reflection on the intelligence of honorable members on the opposite side of the House that they cannot treat a matter like this seriously.
– It is quite apparent to the Chair that there is obstruction, and that is disorderly. The honorable member for New England must be heard in strict silence, and must not be obstructed.
– I ask that the statement of the honorable member for New England that the fact that I called for a quorum reflected on the intelligence of honorable members on this side of the House be withdrawn.
– The honorable gentleman did not say that.
– I was about to point out that wireless has developed to such an extent that it has become a vital factor in the life of the people of all countries, and that this is particularly so in Australia. For that reason, it is time that, the Commonwealth Government secured complete control over this development in order that the people might be given the best possible service. However, this Parliament to-day has no power to legislate to ensure that the broadcasting system in Australia shall be conducted in an efficient manner. Another question which arises from a constitution point of view is the power of the States to prevent the subdivision of their areas into smaller States, contrary to the wishes of large sections of communities in) the States concerned. New States agitations have been proceeding for many years in northern New South “Wales, the Riverina, Queensland, and Western Australia, and yet because the Commonwealth Parliament has not the power to initiate legislation to achieve these aims, any of the States concerned in this question can ignore these agitations for all time. As a result of their impotence to bring about reforms in this respect, many rural communities in Australia have grave grievances. It is my personal opinion that the secession movement in Western
Australia originated in the failure of the federal Constitution to provide remedies to meet such agitations as these. Large rural communities in the larger States are suffering identical grievances.
It is well known that our taxation laws are in a terrible muddle and that there is no power under the Constitution for the Commonwealth to remedy the position. There is also very grave doubt that power exists in the Commonwealth to ensure efficient free trade between the States. Many questions touching this issue have been determined by the High Court, but even now nobody is able to say definitely whether or not we have interstate free trade in the truest sense of the word. This doubt can only be resolved by taking the steps necessary to clarify the constitutional position.
Then there is the company law. The commercial community of Australia is very much inconvenienced because of the inability of the Commonwealth to pass a company law that will remove many of the difficulties at present existing. The Commonwealth Parliament has no power to deal with corporations, although it is well known that many combines have been and are being formed, and like the warriors that sprang from the dragon’s teeth, their influence for evil on the commercial community is daily becoming more apparent. It is time we took cognizance of the inability of the national parliament to control the operations of combines, many of which are detrimental to the interests of our people. It is not necessary that I should specifically mention any of these gigantic corporations because they are so well known to honorable members. It is sufficient for me to mention their existence and influence, and to say that, whereas the States are powerless to deal with them, the Commonwealth apparently is not interested because it has not the constitutional power. [Quorum formed.]
The royal commission made a careful investigation of the subjects remitted to it and presented majority and minority recommendations which, I think, should receive the consideration of this Parliament. The Letters Patent appointing the royal commission directed it to - inquire into and report upon the powers of the Commonwealth under the Constitution and the working of Constitution since Federation; to recommend Constitutional changes considered to be desirable; and, in particular, to examine and report upon the following subjects from the constitutional point of view: -
i ) Aviation.
Those ten references embrace virtually all the questions, political and constitutional that are at issue in Australia to-day.
Dealing with aviation the majority report recommended -
The Commonwealth Parliamenthas no express power under the Constitution to make laws with respect to aviation. It has power to deal with some aspects of aviation under its power to make laws with respect to trade and commerce with other countries and among the States.
The Commonwealth haspower under section 51(i) to safeguard the routes used by interstate traffic. It may, therefore, make provision for aerodromes, for emergency landing grounds and for lights. It may, by a law of regulation, override a State law or regulation forbidding aircraft to approach within a specified distance of a State electricity plant. But the Commonwealth may not have power to make uniform regulations relating to aircraft or airmen within a State, including standards of airworthiness and fitness or periodical examinations.
Dreadful aerial disasters are happening almostevery day. Only a few days ago two reports were presented to this Parliament relating to accidents which involved the loss of several lives. Commonwealth power with respect to civil aviation is circumscribed by a power which the States are unable to implement. For this reason we should take action without further delay to remedy the position because aviation gives every promise of becoming the most important factor in modern transportation. Last night the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Fairbairn) suggested that the names of railway stations should be painted on the roofs of station buildings as a guide to aviators. I doubt that the Commonwealth has power to give effect to that valuable proposal, which was approved by the Minister for Defence. It would be necessary to induce the State governments to pass legislation to compel the railways commissioners to do “what was suggested by the honorable gentleman. The national parliament should be empowered to compel the States to do whatever may be considered necessary to safeguard the lives of people who use the air.
The majority report of the commission was not in favour of a uniform company law, but the minority report favored this course. From this it would appear that even on this issue there is a possibility of Parliament being able to evolve a scheme that would be acceptable to the commercial community.
The position of the judiciary is another important issue. Recently the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Menzies) stated that’ the Government was considering the limitation of the tenure of our High Court judges who, under existing conditions, are appointed for life. The royal commission recommended that judges should be retired at the age of 72 years. That definite recommendation has never been considered by this Parliament.
– Does the honorable member generally accept the findings of the commission?
– No ; but I think the recommendations which it made should be considered by this Parliament. I do not suggest that any particular recommendation will meet any particular difficulty. My complaint is that the findings of the commission have been absolutely ignored.
– I agree with the honorable member.
– Legislation with regard to navigation and shipping is another vexed problem. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Frost) mentioned, a day or two ago, the disabilities which the people of Tasmania are suffering in this respect. The control of navigation and shipping has become a burning question among the States - it is one of the issues of secession in Western Australia - yet we are not making any attempt to deal with it.
– We should not have heard of this revolutionary movement in Western Australia if we had dealt intelligently with the Constitution.
– The majority of tho commission reported that the
Commonwealth should have full power over navigation and shipping, and action to give effect to this recommendation should be taken in the interests of the Australian people. The commission urged that the Constitution should be amended to give the Commonwealth that power.
The majority report recommended that double taxation should be abolished, and that the following new paragraph should be added to section 51 of the Constitution : -
Taxation try” two or more States of the same person or property so as to regulate or prevent double taxation.
Double taxation is most irritating, and we should take action to ascertain whether the people desire to end it.
The commission also f avoured the Commonwealth having the sole control of the cinematograph industry. Like aviation and wireless broadcasting, the cinematograph is a big factor in the lives of the people; yet the Commonwealth is powerless to control it. In the opinion of the commission, the control of cinematograph films cannot be satisfactory until the Commonwealth censors pictures made in Australia as well as those brought here from other countries. At present the State authorities deal with films produced locally. Recently a locallyproduced film, dealing with the activities of the Kelly gang, was approved by the Commonwealth censor, but rejected by certain States. This caused great loss to the producers. In my opinion, this question only needs to be submitted to the people for them to give a favorable decision in regard to it. It is absurd that we should willingly maintain a system which has proved unsatisfactory. In spite of the adverse decisions given by the people to all previous referendum proposals, with the exception of the two relating to State debts and financial agreements, I believe that the vision of the people has bo greatly broadened during recent years that if this Parliament were to submit a series of questions to the electors, seeking full power for the Commonwealth in these matters, they would give an affirmative decision. We should do well to make the list comprehensive, as suggested in the report of the royal commission, with a view to avoiding friction, duplication and needless expense in the future. The people of Australia are ready to make a number of constitutional changes, and they should be given the opportunity to make them. Many of us who came into this Parliament as young men are advancing in years, and yet we see nothing being done to effect necessary constitutional reforms One of the great problems confronting Australia to-day is the secession issue in Western Australia. To many people this movement seems a joke; but the advocates of secession have sent able men to London, where they are carrying out effective propaganda with the object of proving to the public of Great Britain that federation has been a failure. No one can tell what the ultimate effect of that mission will be upon the relations of Great Britain with the Commonwealth. I suggest that, if for no other purpose than to satisfy the so-called weaker States which claim that they have ‘been given <a raw deal by the powerful eastern States, we should take action to remove any cause for grievance by formulating a series of questions for submission to the people.
The recent Senate election resulted in the return to that chamber of representatives of one brand of politics. Several years ago, the royal commission, visualizing that state of affairs, suggested that the Constitution should be amended to provide for a system of proportional representation in the Senate for ten years. As it would be possible for the existing representation of parties in the Senate to be altered in a few years with a swing of the political pendulum, I agree with the commission that any experiment with proportional representation would be unsatisfactory unless the system were given an extended trial.
– The intention of the Constitution would be destroyed if proportional representation were introduced, because the Senate would then become a party House rather than a States House.
– Does the Minister for Defence (Mr. Parkhill) suggest that proportional representation would destroy the character of the Senate as the custodian of the rights of the States ?
– I do.
– I cannot agree with tb*> Minister, because there would still be representation of the several political parties in each State. The system of proportional representation has much to recommend it.
I gave evidence before the royal commission in relation to the life of the Parliament. When I was asked whether I thought that three years was a sufficient term, I replied that up to 1928, the average life of the House of Representatives had been two years and three months; it is now probably not much above two years. There is a good deal in the contention of the commission that the holding of elections at such frequent intervals destroys continuity of government, and reduces the faith of the people in the stability of the Commonwealth Parliament. Should the Government decide to submit to the people a number of questions relating to the Constitution, I hope that it will seek their views regarding an extension of the life of Parliament to four years as recommended by the commission. The Government would do well to examine both the majority and the minority reports with a view to avoiding the conflict of opinion which now exists between various authorities by formulating a series of questions for submission to the people. We should not be concerned with the number of proposals, because if a dozen, such as I have enumerated, were submitted to the Australian electors, I believe that a majority of them would be adopted. If we could secure general agreement between political parties on such subjects as an extension of the life of this Parliament, proportional representation for the Senate, enlarged powers over aviation, the control of wireless, and power to deal with corporations, I feel sure that the proposals would be accepted by electors. The Opposition could not make out a good case against their submission to the electors by means of a referendum. Some years ago, the party in opposition submitted to Parliament an entirely novel proposition to take from the people the power to amend the Constitution, and to vest that power in this Parliament. The measure embodying that proposal passed this House, but it was rejected by the Senate. I do not think that such a proposition is now regarded by that party as within the realm of practical politics, or that it would again propose to submit it to the people. In these circumstances, why should not honorable members opposite assist the parties supporting the Government to place a series of questions before the electors with the object of solving these outstanding problems, thus strengthening the constitutional position of the Commonwealth, and making it a more powerful instrument for giving effect to the national will. We know that there is a stronger national spirit in Australia than existed at the inception of federation, and, despite the dissension in and disabilities of certain States, I feel sure that, at heart, the Australian people do not wish the federation to be destroyed. Yet there is ample evidence to show that through sheer inertia and neglect of our obligations the Commonwealth is being “white-anted” by dissension in certain quarters. Dissension exists, not only between States, but also within States. Some honorable members think only of the States which they represent, but I can assure them that in New South Wales there is as much ill will and hostility amongst sections of the rural community towards the government of that State as there is in Western Australia as a whole against the Commonwealth as a whole. I venture to suggest that the larger States will break up through ‘their instability and weakness if the Commonwealth Parliament, which should be the guiding force in the political destiny of Australia, does not wake up to the changing circumstances and realize that it is losing its grip upon the power originally intended to be vested in it. The Commonwealth Parliament should submit concrete proposals together with explanatory notes which the electors could examine, and later vote upon. If we had the courage to submit some of these proposals to the people, we would be astonished at the majority which would record their votes in favour of increasing the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Archdale parkhill) adjourned.
Notice of motion in the name of Mr. Hunter relating to the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into the operation of the Australian banking and monetary systems - called on.
– The honorable member in whose name the motion appears not being present, the motion will, under Standing Order No. 102, be discharged from the notice-paper.
Bill brought up by Mr. Menzies, and read a first time.
House adjourned at 10.27 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
e asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
Will he lay upon the table of the Library the following documents: -
a copy of the affidavit by him tendered by the Commonwealth on the return of the order nisi (The King v. Carter, exparte Kisch) and withdrawn;
the original of the report and minute thereon which was an exhibit to such affidavit;
the original of the earlier report referred to in such exhibit?
– Until after the court proceedings in relation to the entry of Herr Kisch into the Commonwealth have been completed, it is not proposed to consider the question of tabling any of the documents referred to by the honorable member.
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Is it the intention of the Government to ratify the Statute of Westminster; if so, will he inform the House when it is proposed to take the necessary action?
– I would invite the honorable member’s attention to the statement made in the House of Representatives on the 8th December, 1933, by the former Attorney-General. The position remains as stated therein.
y asked the Minister for
Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Australian Coastline: Lighthouses, etc.
e. - The information is being obtained, and will be furnished as soon as possible in answer to a series of questions asked by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) regarding lighthouses, &c, on the coastline of Australia.
Invalid, Old-age and War Pensions.
– On the 28th November, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) asked me the following question without notice: -
Where the payments of invalid, old-age, and war pensions fall due within the last few days of December, will arrangements be made for payments to be effected prior to the Christmas holidays ?
I now desire to inform the honorable member that the last invalid and old-age pensions pay-day for the year falls on the 20th December, and, therefore, is not affected by his suggestion. War pensions are payable on the 27th December. I am advised that to make payment prior to Christmas in this case would seriously dislocate the work at post offices which will be working at high pressure owing to the Christmas rush of business. In the circumstances, it is regretted that it is not possible to adopt the honorable member’s suggestion in this connexion. I may add that, in the case of invalid and old-age pensions and war pensions, payments are already made fortnightly in advance.
s. - Yesterday the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) asked me the following questions, upon notice : -
A reply was furnished by me to part 1 of the honorable member’s questions, and I am now in a position to furnish the following reply to parts 2, 3 and 4 : -
The functions of the board are -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 6 December 1934, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1934/19341206_reps_14_145/>.