14th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
PRODUCTION OF OIL IN AUSTRALIA.
Mr. LYONS. - by leave- The honor able member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) asked me a question, without notice, on the 26th September, in regard to the production of oil from coal in Australia.
In reply, I informed him that I would make a full statement to the House on the subject of oil in this country. I now proceed to do this.
The transcendent importance of the production of oil in Australia is apparent to every one, and the present Government has taken practical steps in an endeavour to bring Australia some independence in this regard ; but before outlining what has already been done, I desire to inform the House that it has been decided to provide even greater incentive to production by exempting petrol derived from Australian coal or shale from excise duty for a period of five years.
Consideration has been given to representations made by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), and by interests on the northern coal-fields of New South Wales, on the question of the re-enactment of the Shale Oil Bounty Act, and an extension of the provisions of the act to embrace coal-oil. In the opinion of the Government the payment of a bounty would not lend itself to the attainment of efficiency of production, and might result in substantial loss of private capital and wastage of government funds. The method of assistance proposed should yield more satisfactory results.
The sources of production to which we have devoted our attention are flow or well oil, oil from shale, and oil from coal.
In regard to well oil, the Commonwealth has for some years maintained a technical staff to co-operate with the States, and to offer advice as occasion arises. This organization is under the control of Dr. W. G.Woolnough. Up to the 30th June last, approximately £200,000 had been expended from Commonwealth sources in the search for well oil.
Towards the end of last year opportunity was taken of the presence in Australia of Sir John Cadman, the chairman of directors of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, to consult him on this important subject. Sir John evinced an eagerness to help, and readily agreed to send out two leading oil geologists to work in Australia under the aegis of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited for the purpose of consulting with Commonwealth and State authorities, and private enterprise, in an endeavour to further the search for flow oil. These oil geologists have already covered a vast expanse of country by air, and by other means of transport, and are now prosecuting investigations in likely areas.
This work will probably involve a protracted period, but we ought to be able, when it is completed, to determine whether we should continue our investigations into flow oil or whether it would be better to concentrate on other sources of production.
In addition, the Commonwealth Government recently made available a sum of £2,500, subject to a similar provision by the Government of “Western Australia and the Freney Kimberley Oil Company, making a total of £7,500, for close investigation of likely oil-bearing areas in the Kimberley district of Western Australia.
In connexion with the search for oil within the States, it should be remembered that constitutional limitations preclude activity on the part of the Commonwealth except in co-operation with the States.
In connexion with oil from shale, early in 1933 the Governments of the Commonwealth and New South Wales established a technical committee, known as the Newnes Investigation Committee, for the purpose of investigating the shale oil industry. This committee devoted its attention to the Newnes-Capertee area of New South Wales, where substantial plant and machinery already existed, with a view to determining the economics of production in’ that area. It was the opinion of both governments that, if the industry were to be developed, this area should be the focal point of development, because of the special advantages which it enjoyed in the matter of plant, &c.
The committee made a report in 1934, and recommended, subject to certain conditions, that a company be formed with a capital of £600,000 for the purpose of producing oil in the Newnes-Capertee area. One of the conditions was that further tests should be carried out in America to obtain firm guarantees for cracking plants, and to determine costs, &c, associated with the refining of crude spirit. Mr. L. J. Sogers, the Commonwealth fuel Adviser, was sent abroad to conduct these tests, and returned to Australia in July last.
While the tests were being conducted, both the governments entered into discussions with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company -with a view to ascertaining whether that company would be prepared to operate Newnes. Sir John Cadman, chairman of the company, accordingly arranged for two of his leading shale oil experts, in the persons of Messrs, Crichton and Conacher, to visit Australia during February for the purpose of investigating the industry. The report of these gentlemen has just come to hand, and is receiving the consideration of both governments.
In the opinion of the Governments of the Commonwealth and of New South Wales, it is essential that, if the industry is to be developed on a sound and permanent basis, a company possessing high engineering and technical knowledge should be induced to undertake such development. Both governments have expressed their willingness to provide such a company with financial and other assistance.
There arc two processes for the extraction of oil from coal, one known as the low temperature carbonization process, and the other known as the hydrogenation process. The Commonwealth Fuel Adviser, Mr. L. J. Rogers, advises that the yields from the former process, per ton of Greta coal treated, would be: - Coke, 14 cwts. ; tar, 32 gallons; gas, 35 therms ; and petrol, 5 gallons. It will be apparent, therefore, that in order to obtain any important yield of petrol, very large quantities of coke, tar and gas would be produced for which a very limited market exists.
In this connexion it should be mentioned that a process known as the Lyon Brothers’ scheme, was investigated dur ing 1934 by a committee appointed by the Government of New South Wales for thi3 purpose. This committee reported, inter alia, “ that it was not in a position to subscribe to the cost-of-production figures set out by Messrs Lyon Brothers : that the* plant used was quite inadequate for proving commercial possibilities and went on to stress the necessity for finding markets for all the products if the proposition was to be a commercial success.
I have been informed by the chairman of directors of a company known as Coal-Petrol Proprietary Limited, Newcastle, that his company would be in a position to enter upon production by the low temperature carbonization process if I offered, on behalf of the Commonwealth Government, to extend sympathetic consideration towards this process. I am not able to add anything further to the statement of government policy which I have already announced, but if this company can demonstrate that its costs of production are reasonably economical, that its products are of satisfactory quality, and that a market can be found for them, any proposals that it makes will receive sympathetic consideration.
Towards the end of 1933 the Commonwealth Government approached Imperial Chemical Industries Limited with a view to ascertaining the terms and conditions under which that company would be prepared to erect and operate a plant in Australia for the production of oil from coal by the hydrogenation process with a capacity of about 40,000,000 gallons of petrol per annum. The yield from each ton of coal processed is about 200 gallons of petrol. In reply to these representations the company indicated that it was willing and anxious to give the fullest cooperation and assistance in establishing such a plant in Australia, but it was pointed out that it required six months’ experience of running its first English plant at Billingham-on-Tees before formulating any definite proposal. The company also said at that time that it was expected that the plant would commence operations during 1935.
Early in 1934 a technical committee was appointed by the Government comprising representatives of the Commonwealth, the States, Imperial Chemical Industries Limited, and the Defence Services, under the chairmanship of Sir David Rivett, for the purpose of investigating the possibilities of establishing a plant in Australia for the production of oil from coal by what is known as the hydrogenation process.
The committee was asked to report upon such matters as the most suitable location, the general economics of the proposal, when the plant should be erected, and what man power element would be involved.
The committee reported in September, 1934, that it would be premature to reply to its references until the results of the operations of the plant then being erected by Imperial Chemical Industries Limited, at Billingham-on-Tees, were known. The committee has been kept in existence for the purpose of keeping in close touch with progress in BillinghamonTees, but it is not yet in a position to furnish authoritative information.
In June of this year, .Mr. Rogers visited Billingham-on-Tees for the purpose of obtaining first-hand information as to the progress of production. He found that, up to date, the plant had been treating tar, and was only then being turned over to the treatment of raw coal.
This delay in production was not altogether unexpected; the plant is the first of its kind to be established within the British Empire, embodying features which are not incorporated in any other plant; and all sorts of difficulties of a minor and major character are likely to be encountered in the operation of such a plant during the initial stages.
Mr. Rogers now thinks that it will be about twelve months from now, oi probably longer, before sufficient is known about the production of petrol from coal by the hydrogenation process to determine whether it would be advisable to erect such a plant in Australia.
It would be folly for us to embark upon the huge expenditure pf somewhere about £10,000,000 until the process has been properly tried out. It well might be in the light of experience that this capital cost can be substantially reduced.
It will be clear to honorable members from the foregoing that the Government is doing everything in its power to obtain some independence for Australia in in the matter of oil supplies. The different processes are being examined step by step in a business-like way. It is our intention to profit by the best technical advice available, and to formulate plans for the future in the light of such technical advice.
Mr.FORDE. - I ask the Prime Minister when he expects to announce the personnel of the proposed royal commission on the banking and monetary system.
– I am not in a position to say exactly, but, as I have previously promised, I hope that it will be at an early date.
– In view of the fact that the mid-week air mail service between London and Singapore is already in operation, has the Minister for Defence arrived at a decision regarding the duplication of the Australian section of the England to Australia air mail service ?
– A report on this subject is in the Civil Aviation Department. I have perused it, but am awaiting further information from the Postmaster-General’s Department before finalizing the matter. The greatest expedition is being observed.
– Will the Minister for Defence state whether, when the Council of Defence was consulted in regard to the strategic necessity of the Red Hill to Port Augusta railway, its service members were asked to advise as to the relative strategic value of the line being built on the 5 ft. 3 in. gauge - which would make the rolling stock of South Australia and Victoria available in cases of military need - or the conversion of the existing 4 ft. 8 in. gauge to one of 3 ft. 6 in. so that the Commonwealth line would be of uniform gauge with the lines with which it connects at each end?
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.This question arose some time ago. My recollection is that, to the extent to which the Defence Department was consulted, it preferred the extension of the line from Broken Hill through Port Pirie, in preference to the Bed Hill to Port Augusta proposal.
– In view of the great importance of the subject, will the Prime Minister advise whether the statement in a section of the press is correct that the Government does not intend to proceed with the appointment of either a royal commission or a select committee to conduct an investigation into the practicability of reducing the hours of labour?
– I have previously informed this House that the Government has made no decision on this matter. When one is made the House will be immediately advised of it.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral state whether it is intended to take steps during the present period of the session for the re-establishment of the Interstate Commission?
– That is a matter of general policy which has not yet been determined by the Government.
– Is the Minister for Repatriation aware that, at the Prince of Wales Hospital,Randwick, there is no accommodation for the wives or mothers of soldiers who are called at night to the bedside of dying husbands or sons in the tuberculosis huts? Will the right honorable gentleman make accommodation available to these unfortunatepeople and thus give them some protection fromthe weather?
– The Deputy Commissioner for Repatriation, Sydney, has advised me that, although no special accommodation is available, everything is done to make the relatives of men who are dangerously ill as comfortable as possible. It is found that, in most cases, the relatives of an ex-soldier desire to be as close as possible to him. If at any time they wish to retire from the immediate bedside, the hospital authorities provide them with lounges on the verandah, and bed covering if required. They are also provided with meals. Usually it is found that the relatives are so distraught they do not worry about accommodation; consequently, no special accommodation has been set aside.
Representations have been madefrom time to time by various organizations for a centrally situated rest room, but owing to the wide area covered by the various huts this is an impossibility. Everything is done by the sisters in charge of the wards to see that the relatives are made as comfortable as possible.
In addition to other provisions, the Repatriation Commission allows up to £4 for fares and travelling expenses, in cases of this kind.
– Will the Minister for
Defence have a scientific investigation made to test the suitability of power alcohol for naval and military purposes, so that Australia may, if necessary, be independent of outside supplies of petrol?
– This matter comes under the control of the Minister in Charge of Development (Senator A. J. McLachlan). I shall pass the inquiry on to him, and obtain a reply for the honorable member.
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House why it is taking so long for the Government to prepare an answer to the first question on the notice-paper dealing with the appointment of a Governor-General?
– So far the Government has merely been advised that it is intended to appoint Sir Alexander Hore-Ruthven to the position of Governor-General. The actual appointment has not yet been made by the authorities in London.
– Is the appointment being made here or in London?
– The King will make the appointment.
– Who will countersign the document?
– That is a matter for consultation with the Crown, and I would rather not discuss it at this stage. The main point is that His Majesty makes the appointment on the representations of the Australian Government.
– Has any decision yet been reached as to the allocation of the Maternity Welfare Fund? What amount has been subscribed throughout Australia as a whole, and how much has been subscribed by each State?
– The amount donated by the Commonwealth to the fund has not yet been allocated, but when an allocation is made I shall immediately inform the House. Subscriptions to the fund throughout Australia have been as follow : -
– In view of the stringent conditions governing the construction and maintenance of country telephone services owing to the lack of funds, will the Minister representing the Postmaster-General consider the advantage of appropriating sufficient relief funds for carrying out work of this kind, instead of allocating money to the States to the detriment of Commonwealth instrumentalities ?
– The opinion of the Government is that the post office is being treated with considerable liberality in regard to funds for developmental purposes during the current year, and it is not thought necessary to adopt the honorable member’s suggestion.
– In view of the
Government’s proposal to establish fast air mail services between the capital cities, will the Minister for the Interior state whether consideration is being given by his department to the need for additional meteorological stations, and whether steps are being taken to train officers to man such stations ?
– A meteorological station has been established in Darwin for the purpose mentioned by the honorable member, and I shall have inquiries made as to whether the need for similar stations exists elsewhere.
– Has the Attorney-
General yet completed inquiries into the charges laid against the Federal Insurance Corporation Limited, a company registered in the Federal Capital Territory?
– I am expecting the report to be placed in my hands at any moment, and if it discloses anything which calls for action, such action will be taken at once.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral say whether he has given any consideration to the appointment of a Commonwealth Conciliation Commissioner in place of Mr. Coneybeer?
– The matter is under consideration, but a decision has not yet been reached.
– Will the Minister representing the Postmaster-General state whether the national news service inaugurated by the Australian Broadcasting Commission last night is to take the place of the usual night news service? If so, is the Australian Broadcasting Commission satisfied with the success of its initial effort? If it is proposed to continue the arrangement, will an attempt be made to effect a better balance between Australian and overseas news ?
– I shall bring the matter under the notice of the Minister representing the Postmaster-General.
– Is it intended to hold an examination this year for typists for entrance to the Public Service, and, if so, on what date will it be held?
– I have no information on the subject, but I shall have inquiries made.
– On Friday last the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), referring to the Italo-Abyssinian dispute, said he had pledged Australia up to the hilt to support the British Government so long as its attitude towards peace continued. Does that statement involve a pledge up to the hilt that the Commonwealth Government will support the imposition of sanctions on Italy, even if they lead to war? Does the declaration pledge Australia to participation in war, should war be the outcome of the imposition of sanctions ?
– I thought I made it quite clear to the House that the question of sanctions had nothing to do with the pledge I gave in London. Let me make the position a little clearer. The fact is that the Italo-Abyssinian dispute did not arise during the discussions in London in which I participated. What we had under consideration was the general European position. The British Government’s representatives took the opportunity to outline their policy, and indicate their aims with regard to the European situation. They made it clear that all their efforts would be bent in the direction of maintaining peace in Europe and throughout the world. In the light of that declaration of policy I gave to the British Government the assurance to which reference has been made.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).I have received from the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House this afternoon for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The desirability of appointing a select committee of this House to investigate the affairs of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited.”
Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn for the purpose of urging upon the Government the desirability of appointing a select committee for the following purposes : -
While the Australian Labour Party stands solidly for a high tariff, and the fostering of sound secondary industries, recent developments, brought about largely through the intrusion of overseas capital, have directed attention to the danger of the formation of trusts behind the tariff wall. One of the key industries upon which the entire industrial future of this country depends is the iron and steel industry, which provides the basis for the extension of manufacturing generally, and it is the duty of this Parliament to see that monopolists do not secure such a control as will enable them to exploit the Australian people by maintaining a rigid control of output and excessive prices, and by the freezing out of all competition. If vested interests are permitted to establish a monopoly over the iron and steel industry, every other section of Australian secondary and primary industries will experience considerable difficulty in paying tribute to an all-powerful steel trust. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has been rapidly extending its power over associated industries, until now it considers itself sufficiently powerful to come out into the open and form a steel trust embracing the whole of the Commonwealth. Its action is a challenge to this Government; its policy defies all accepted principles of tariff regulation, whilst its general policy demonstrates flagrant indifference to the welfare of other sections of industry providing it can maintain excessive dividends and still further extend its monopoly.
Let us examine the history of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, and let our first consideration be: What has the Australian public done for this company? During the present year the company very lavishly celebrated its jubilee. I have perused its publication, which gives a review of its activities from 1885 to 1935. The rich silver field of Broken Hill, away back in 1883, first gave life to this company. Then came the discovery of the rich deposits of iron ore at Iron Knob and Iron Monarch in South Australia. Whilst thousands of Australian workmen are unemployed, this company, on the occasion of its jubilee celebrations, had the audacity to announce that it proposed to call for tenders for the building in England of two steel steamers, each of 8,000 tons. That decision is so typical of the predatory policy adopted by this company that it becomes necessary for this Parliament to examine its financial ramifications, so that honorable members will be in a position to realize the jeopardy in which Australia will be placed if the establishment of a steel trust is tolerated. When originally floated, 50 years ago, to exploit the rich mineral resources of Broken Hill, the company had a capital of £320,000. By 1912 this had grown to a mere £600,000. Because of the richness of the company’s iron ore deposits it was decided on the 13th January, 1913, to launch another branch of its activities, namely, the steel works at Newcastle.
At this point we should consider the natural benefits which this country bestowed upon the company - Broken Hill with its silver and lead, and Iron Knob with its rich iron ore deposits. It is granted that the company developed them, but let it always be remembered that this generation is, by right, entitled to share in some form the natural wealth of this country, no matter what may have taken place during our predecessors’ time. Nature provided these rich resources in Australia, and certain vested interests took charge of them, but they did so only as trustees for the nation. The directors of this company must be made to realize this fact, that is, if their reported tendency to do otherwise is found to be correct.
Let us pass on to what the Australian public, through its various governments, has done for the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited and its steel works at Newcastle. When in power in New South Wales the Holman Government agreed to assist the company. A portion of the area upon which the works were to be erected consisted of mangrove swamp and mud flats, which were three feet under water at high tide, and the State Government agreed to dredge the river in front of the company’s property, and pump the mud on to the low-lying portions. This work was estimated to cost £30,000, on which sum the company agreed to pay interest. Apparently it was considered proper for the Australian taxpayer to find the capital for this work. The State Government further agreed to resume and hand over to the company the railway line which bisected the company’s property. It also agreed to grant the company a 99 years’ lease of an area of Crown land at the rear of the company’s property, and finally, as a start off, an order for 30,000 tons of steel rails was given.
With these concessions safely negotiated, the company was in a position to state its proposals to the public for the necessary finance to start the steel works industry. On the 6th July, 1914, the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited issued its prospectus, giving details of the proposal to offer £600,000 of 6 per cent, twenty-year debentures for public subscription. The issue to raise capital for completion of the steel works was part of an intended issue of £1.000,000. The Commonwealth Bank, by arranging for the underwriting of the amount, and receiving applications from the public, entered into a new phase of business. Sir, then Mr., Denison Miller, Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, was solemnly warned that this association with an industrial venture was a departure from the traditions of strict banking practice. However, the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited had its £1,000,000 provided within two hours. The magical effect of the Commonwealth Bank’s association with this venture upon the public mind will be observed. This institution, established by a Labour Minister, Mr. King O’Malley, in the days of Andrew Fisher, proved a bulwark to the launching of this enterprise. It was then “ the people’s bank “, and the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited took the fullest advantage of its service, and the wonderful influence it exercised on the community. I am sorry to have to say it is not now “ the people’s bank “, but “ the bankers’ bank “, and Sir Denison Miller, its first Governor, is no more-
– Order ! The honorable member is departing from his subject.
– I may say that were Sir Denison Miller with us to-day with his banking organization developed, as it would have developed normally, there would have been a very different story to tell to-day concerning the economic conditions affecting this great country and its people. In the chapter of events that occurred up to this period, there is abundant evidence of the gentle care, nursing, and other public and natural benefits that were provided for the people associated with this company.
The Newcastle works were officially opened on the 2nd June, 1915, by the then Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, who, in the course of his remarks, stated, “ The steel products of Newcastle will achieve world-wide reputation”. It was also declared that 98 per cent, of the steel workers were Australians, who, with their intelligence and enthusiasm, were readily acquiring operating skill. Well, it is correct that the products did achieve world-wide reputation, for not only did the company provide -transport in our own country, but also during the war it produced 16,000 tons of steel rails and 16,000 tons of munition steel for Western Front transport and the manufacture of shell bodies. During this period the plans of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited to invade the iron and steel industry proved so successful that its capital had been increased from £600,000 in 1912 to £3,000,000 in 1918. In July, 1918, the company issued 318,994 eight-shilling shares at a premium of 32s., and in March, 1919, it issued 1/500,000 twelve-shilling bonus shares, by capitalizing £900,000 of reserves, thus consolidating all eightshilling shares into one-pound shares. So, even at this stage, the shareholders were on a good wicket. But that was not all. In addition to celebrating the successful completion of the war for its shareholders, the company at the same time also issued an .additional 600,000 one-pound bonus shares by capitalizing a further £600,000 of reserves. Honorable members will see that this company prospered exceedingly while the people of Australia suffered the loss of 60,000 of the best of its young manhood and while a debt of £700,000,000 was piled up to provide the foundation of a future economic depression. Even after the company had thus distributed £1,500,000 in bonus shares requiring the payment of dividends from profits, it was able a year later to place 420,000 one-pound shares on the market at 45s. a share.
Let us now examine the personnel of the shareholders in this highly lucrative investment, and we might then get some idea whence this drive towards trustification is coming. Who are the people who benefit from the protection given by the existing tariff? Who are the people who will benefit by the generous jubilee distribution of an additional 1,500,000 shares at 30s. each when their market value is quoted at 703.? This distribution was decided upon at a meeting of the directors of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, held in Melbourne about four weeks ago, following the move to take over the iron and steel works at Port Kembla. In actual cash the distribution to these fortunate shareholders is equal to £3,000,000. Certainly the Australian people are entitled to know who are the lucky investors benefiting from the prosperity of this company that has bloated itself under the protection of the Australian tariff and now refuses to give Australian ship-builders an opportunity for employment in building the ships needed in its trade. First, let us examine the London register. This contains 571,970 shares, so that British investors will rake off a cool £1,000,000 from the new distribution. According to the register, among the people holding a direct interest in the results achieved by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited is none other than Sir Alexander Hore-Ruthven, Governor of New South Wales, the man who was chosen by this Government above all Australians to be the Governor-General Designate of the Commonwealth. He holds 800 shares. His jubilee gift will be £1,600.
Australia has had previous experience of vice-regal representatives returning overseas to take a direct interest in conservative politics and Anglo- Australian investments. We have been nauseated to see Lord Stonehaven go back to Britain to become immediately chairman of the British Conservative party, to see Lord Forster leave Australia to become a director of banks and financial concerns interested in the exploitation of Australian industry, and other similar cases; but, surely, this is the first occasion that a vice-regal representative, during his term of office, has been found to hold specific interests in a company benefiting from both a tariff and a bounty paid by the Australian people, and whose future depends so entirely upon the policy of the Government. It is a matter that demands an immediate explanation. It is disturbing and suspicious, and my party wants to know more about it.
The Earl of Dysart holds 5,880 shares in the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, so his share in the jubilee will be £11,760.
The ubiquitous Baillieu family, a financial dynasty that is sometimes called the “ House of Morgan of Australia and which has its roots in the London financial ring and operates from Collins House, Melbourne, in such a way that it boasts that it can even make and unmake Prime Ministers, has 7,800 shares on the London register, in addition to its Melbourne holdings of more than 10,000 shares. It is claimed that the Baillieus, through the Melbourne Herald, which they control, made Mr. Lyons Prime Minister of Australia. Have they also made Sir Alexander Hore-Ruthven GovernorGeneral of the Commonwealth?
– Order ! The honorable member is distinctly disorderly.
– Other London holdings include C. F. Courtenay, Regent’s Park, 10,500 shares; the National Bank of Scotland, 4,890; Sir W. Ryland, of. the Standard Trust Limited,1,000; Sulphite Corporation London, 6,500; C. F. Bamford, Pall Mall, London, 2.000; and many other interesting figures known to Lombard-street and Piccadilly Circus.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. Gander) proposed -
That thehonorable member have leave to continue his speech.
– I feel justified in directing the attention of the House to the fact that the time for such a debate as this is definitely limited. In granting any extensions of time the House should consider that aspect as extensions mightresult in other honorable members losing their opportunity to speak. It, however, is a matter for the House to decide.
Motion agreed to. [Leave to continue given.]
– Now let us turn to the Australian register. No doubt as soon as this criticism of the steel trust is published, the usual barrage will come from the tory press, claiming -that the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited is a benevolent firm employing Australian labour and creating assets for the country. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited is becoming a monopoly, and must be subject to adequate restraints. Instead of being merely a money-making machine exploiting the tariff protection, it should be compelled to invest its profits in providing work for Australian technicians in accordance with a labour convention specifying that its employees should share in the prosperity of the firm.
Probably the Sydney Morning Herald will rush to the defence of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, just as it did to that of the sugar combine! I want honorable members to know that Mr. J. H. F. Fairfax holds 1,500 shares in the company, while smaller parcels are also held by this all-powerful and predatory family.
In Melbourne, the Age, which is so virulently protectionist, but which was just as enthusiastic for the policy of reduced wages, also has its interest in the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. Mr. Geoffrey Syme holds 15,224 shares; Oswald Syme, 3,400, and another member of the family, 3,044. Doubtless the Age will say that we are injuring Australia in exposing this latest racket in Australian trustification !
Then the Baillieu family, which exercises such a despotic influence over the Melbourne Herald, a newspaper combine that has spread its tentacles till it controls leading newspapers in every State of the Commonwealth outside New South Wales, also appears on the Melbourne register.
– Order ! The honorable member’s motion does not provide for an investigation of the affairs of all institutions such as he is making now. His remarks amount to a departure from the terms of his motion.
– I am asking for the appointment of a select committee of this House to make certain investigations, and Mr. Speaker will appreciate-
– Does the glass industry come in anywhere?
– That is in my motion. I am endeavouring to demonstrate how wide the influence of this company has spread, and to show the ramifications with the newspapers. I desire also to prevent honorable members from being influenced in this matter by anything that the newspapers may publish.
– This debate, as far as it has gone, suggests an inquiry into the ramifications of quite a number of institutions and industries apart from the particular company with which the motion actually deals. I ask the honorable member to restrict his remarks to the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited.
- Mr. Speaker will appreciate that-
– I rise to a point of order. Is the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) entitled to read his speech? It appears to have been obtained from an outside source.
– Honorable members are allowed to make copious reference to notes. Accordingly, I cannot rule the honorable member for West Sydney out of order.
– I shall refer in future only to those persons or companies whose associations with the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited I can establish. I desire to emphasize, however, that the interests of the newspapers and some other institutions are so interwoven with those of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited that they will take all possible steps to prevent Parliament from agreeing to the appointment of the select committee for which I have asked. One of the persons who will use influence to prevent this inquiry is Sir Claude Reading, chairman of directors of the Commonwealth Bank. He holds 2,800 shares in the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. I have referred already to the part which the Commonwealth Bank played in the formation of the steel works at Newcastle. The Commonwealth Bank in 1914 backed the issue of debentures to the public for the purpose of raising the necessary funds for the establishment of those works.
– Sir Claude Reading was not on the board of the Commonwealth Bank when that assistance was given to the company.
– I am not saying that he was. All I am pointing out is that he is now associated not only with the Commonwealth Bank, but also with the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. The point I wish to make is that, if the Broken Hill Proprietary
Company Limited were in need of financial assistance at present, Sir Claude Reading would be in an invidious position, as the Commonwealth Bank still acts as the banker for the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited.
Then we come to Mr. T.G. Murray, M.L.C., who appears to have been an unofficial member of the Jubilee delegation, and who claims to be high in the councils of the United Australia party. His holdings in the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited amount to 1,250 shares.
– I hope that the honorable member will be fair. He knows that Mr. Murray was not a member of that delegation.
– Howard Smith Limited, the shipping firm and holding investment company in which theFairfax family is also interested, holds 16,400 shares. Other shareholders are -
These are the beneficiaries in the jubilee distribution of £3,000,000 by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. This octopus company is becoming the steel trust of Australia. In addition to its own iron and steel works, by a process of mergers it has already secured control of the following enterprises: -
Ryland Brothers (Australia) Limited, wire and wire products.
Lysaght Brothers, wire netting, nails and wi re.
Lysaght’s Newcastle Works Limited, galvanized iron.
Commonwealth Steel Company Limited (late Vickers-Commonwealth Steel Products Limited), railway and tramway supplies.
Stewarts and Lloyds Limited, pipe making.
One large and powerful firm remained outside the combine - Australian Iron and Steel Limited. Originally the iron and steel firm of Hoskins and Company,
Australian Iron and Steel Limited, was formed by the intrusion of British vested interests. Of its ordinary shares the Hoskins’ interest still hold 1,200,000 ; Howard Smith Limited hold800,000; Dorman, Long and Company Limited, London, hold 600,000; and Baldwin’s Limited, a concern in which the family of the Prime Minister of Great Britain is interested, hold 100,000. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited now proposes to acquire the whole of these ordinary shares. Mr. Darling, the chairman of the company, revealed, at the annual meeting held in Melbourne, on the 30th August, the real purpose of the merger when he stated -
The benefits of suchan arrangement would be mutual, as it would prevent unnecessary duplication of plant and effort and enable the industry to continue on non-wasteful lines, both in the amount of capital used, and in the costs of production.
In brief, as soon as this deal is concluded, the steel trust of Australia will be an accomplished fact. Honorable members will notice the stress placed upon the reduction of costs. This means that under the trust system of organization, an effort will be made to reduce wages still further ; to control the amount of employment provided by the industry; to maintain a monopolistic price structure; and to use the combined weight of the heavy industries involved to crush all competition. Such a plan demands immediate action by this Parliament. Time after time this Parliament has been promised by various governments that effective legislation would be introduced to protect Australia from ruthless trusts and combines, such as have blighted the industrial life of the United States of America, corrupted its politics, and ravaged its working-class population.
When the appropriate time arrives, I intend to place before this House amazing evidence of the operations of other overseas monopolies and trusts which have succeeded in establishing themselves behind the Australian tariff wall, as they are a national menace, and must be removed.
The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited and its subsidiaries have operated behind the tariff wall in the past. Bounties paid to them under the Iron and Steel Products Bounty Act since 1922 have been as follows: -
The total bounty paid, therefore, has amounted to £1,155,552. During 1915-16 an additional amount of £60,000 was paid on pig iron.
The effect of the tariff upon these industries is frankly admitted at page 126 of the jubilee issue B.H.P. Review. In dealing with the history of Lysaght Brothers and Company Limited, the Review stated -
After the lapse of a few years, just as the industry was becoming established, the duty was reduced and subsequently entirely abolished. This left the firm with a very uphill fight against the competition of the world, and the product of cheap labour, and the works were carried on at a very heavy loss for some time.
Then came protection, and since 1914 the sales of this firm alone have increased from £300,000 to £1,050,000 per annum.
As the result of the tariff protection fought for by Labour, the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has maintained a 10 per cent. dividend throughout the depression and, at its recent annual meeting, announced an increase of dividend to 121/2 per cent. In the last two years the company has more than doubled its profits. The company is now about to extend its activities in the coal-mining industry, and proposes to mechanize to a still further degree the extraction of coal by the introduction of additional labour-saving devices in its mines. These machines are being imported from overseas.
No honorable member can be unaware of the appalling condition of the New South Wales coal industry, and with an intimate knowledge of these circumstances uppermost in its mind, the Miners Board of Management has asked me to bring this matter prominently before the House, as it has found it necessary to launch a campaign in opposition to the methods by which the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited intends to decrease employment still further. The miners board rightly maintains that, as this company has been lavishly treated by the Australian taxpayers in regard to bounties, its whole efforts should be directed towards increasing employment. It certainly should not use its profits to accentuate unemployment.
Finally, I come to the proposal of the company to let contracts for the building of two steamers overseas. The Newcastle Herald of the 13th July last announced that the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited would build two steamers in England for its all-carrying fleet, and that the shipping manager of the company, Mr. J. R. Barter, and the company shipping superintendent, Mr. A. Dalziel, were engaged on the work, and had left for England.
Surely, never before has a company so obviously dependent upon Australian industry taken such an amazing step to take work out of the hands of the Australian people. This is not merely ingratitude ; it is a contemptuous disregard of the welfare of the Australian people, and an unpatriotic act of national desertion for which the ordinary soldier in battle would be shot.
A company that could spend £30,000 on jubilee junketing and banqueting should, at least, give some consideration to the idle operatives in the Australian ship-building industry, and to the dull hopeless outlook of men and women and the hungry mouths and aching stomachs of little children who live adjacent to the empty ship-yards of Balmain.
During the war the company was given special assistance by the Commonwealth Government, because it was stated that the supply of iron and steel and the production of munitions must have paramount consideration. As the result of that special treatment the company was able to distribute £1,500,000 in bonus shares after the cessation of hostilities. It was also able to buy four steamers at bargain rates from the Commonwealth Government. In this connexion the jubilee issue of the B.H.P. Review stated on page 47 -
It is interesting to note that these four steamers were constructed in Australia, and that a considerable quantity of the steel used was manufactured by the company at its Newcastle works. They have now been running for eleven years, standing up well to the heavy trade in which they are engaged without any sign of strain, thus reflecting great credit on the designers and. the workmen responsible for their building. It may be justly said that they compare very favorably with ships built in any part of the world.
That statement appears in a volume issued with the approval of the directors and with a foreword by the managing director, Mr. Essington Lewis. Yet, now that two more vessels are required, the company, instead of making a contract with an Australian firm, which would give employment to the admittedly skilled Australian artisans, has despatched two officers post-haste overseas in an effort, no doubt, to save a paltry few pounds on the contract price. Has this trust no sense of its obligation to the Australian people, who have sponsored its development, contributed heavily to it in its earlier days by means of bounties, and in 1914 even backed their faith in it to the tune of £1,000,000? Those subsidies have been paid out of taxation, to which every man and woman in the community has to contribute, either directly ot indirectly. The men and women whom I represent in this Parliament are particularly concerned in the ship-building industry. The time has arrived when this Government should adopt a strong attitude, as thousands of ship-builders are seeking employment in vain, while the profits made by this trust within Australia are used for the employment of ship-builders overseas. *[Leave to continue given. *
Once the Government permits the iron and steel industry to be controlled by one monopoly, the door will be open to industrial chaos. Already the steel magnates frankly declare that if labour costs were forced down to a sufficiently low level they would be able to compete against Japanese production. They want the benefits conferred by the Australian tariff, and yet seek to destroy the standard of living of our people. In the interests of Australia, the Government should agree to the appointment of a select committee of honorable members for the formulation of practicable proposals to prevent a steel trust from obtaining a grip of Australia, and also to ensure that no company which derives a benefit from the tariff shall be permitted to divert its profits overseas. Penal legislation to ensure that these anti-Australians will not be permitted to ride rough-shod over the true principles of a protective tariff, must be introduced without delay. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has furnished every reason why the iron and steel industry should not be allowed to remain in the control of a monopoly of this character, but should be nationalized. If Australia wishes to keep out of the clutches of the international armaments ring, it must be prepared to take vigorous action without delay. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has challenged the authority of the Commonwealth Government. It has turned its back on Australia in this country’s darkest hour, when employment is needed for skilled artisans. Its bluff must be called. I ask this Parliament to stand up to it.
Mr.LYONS (Wilmot- Prime Minister) [3.33]. - I have listened with patience to the honorable member’s attack upon a fine Australian company. The charge of being “ anti-Australian “, which he levelled at it in his closing remarks might, with justification, be laid against him and those who support him in this matter.
While overseas, I took every opportunityto commend the progress that Australia had made, not only in primary, but also in secondary, production. I was in the proud position of being able to say that there are industries of a secondary manufacturing character in this country which, for efficiency, are holding their own with similar industries in any part of the world. I was able to meet any challenge of that statement by pointing to the progress made by this particular industry, the credit for which is due to Australian brains, organization, efficiency and labour. If ever there was an Australian industry ofwhich our people should be proud, it is this one. The only interest that I have in it is that of an Australian who views with pride the progress of industry in this country. During my visit to Great Britain, I heard paid to the works of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited at Newcastle perhaps the highest compli ment that has been paid to any Australian industry. The controller of an industry in Great Britain who had visited Australia with the idea of convincing the people of this country that their interests would be best served by continuing” to import that which his concern manufactured, told me in Canberra that, having seen the efficiency of this big Australian industry, he had completely reversed his opinion. I reminded him of that admission when I met him in England, and he replied, “ Since I have come home, I have said publicly, and I am prepared to repeat, that this is one of the show works of the world “. I am proud of this industry, and of all other Australian industries that have made progress in their efficiency and in the provision of employment for our people.
In his concluding remarks, the honorable member forWest Sydney (Mr. Beasley) said that this company had deserted Australia in its darkest hour. I invite him and others who hold a similar view to consider the increasing amount of employment that has been made possible by its efficiency.
The honorable member suggested that the Government should institute a “ fishing “ inquiry to ascertain whether this company is likely to become a trust, and then proceeded to refer to it as a trust. Therefore, it is not necessary to hold an inquiry to satisfy him On that point. He further suggested that if an inquiry showed that anything was wrong with it, the Government should take steps to deal with it. Is this National Parliament to inquire into the affairs of all industries that make profits for their shareholders, provide employment for our people, and increase production? If that course were adopted, a precedent would be established that would cut right across the progress of industry in this country. What facts have been adduced that would justify such an inquiry? None, except the success which has been achieved by the company, and the investment of capital in it by certain individuals who were named. The honorable member said that a State Governor holds shares in the company. The other day certain honorable members opposite expressed the keenest anxiety for the appointment of an Australian Governor-General, yet to-day fault is found with a vice-regal representative who has such confidence in Australian industry that he invests his capital in it ! How could this industry be expected to provide employment without capital? If we were to cancel all its shares, what would happen to it? I cannot understand the attitude of honorable members. So far as I know, a monopoly does not exist; and under the policy of this Government - particularly its tariff policy - there will be no monopoly.
The honorable member said that the Labour party believes in high tariffs, yet when this Government brings forward a proposal designed to compel Australian companies so to increase their efficiency that they will be placed on a competitive basis with the manufacturers of other countries, it is condemned. Where is the consistency or the logic of that attitude?
The honorable member also said that this company had received great benefits from Australia. Other companies have also. From time to time the Commonwealth has had to assist industries in order that they might be enabled to make progress, thus promoting development and providing a greater measure of employment. The object is to confer a benefit, not upon any particular company, but upon the community as a whole.
The honorable member complained that this company intends to place an order overseas for the construction of two ships, and urged that such a course should be prevented by the Government. Is this Parliament to insist that any company which needs plant for the conduct of its operations shall not go outside Australia for it, no matter what additional cost might be involved in its purchase in this country? That would make more difficult the carrying on of industry
– The honorable member knows perfectly well that this Government believes in the adequate protection of Australian industries. But it will not dictate to a company in matters of this kind. As I understand the position, the company is calling tenders both in Australia and overseas. The Government has recently taken this very matter into consideration, and has discovered the existence of an anomaly due to the exemption from Customs duty of boats of 500 tons and over. Although the ship itself is exempt from duty, the parts which of necessity have to be imported for local construction - and they represent a substantial portion of a vessel - in many cases are subject to duty. In order that the Australian shipbuilder might not be placed at a disadvantage, the Government decided to exempt those parts from duty. That is as far as it can go in the direction of enabling local companies to sub mit competitive tenders.
The honorable member has merely shown that this Australian company has been successful and that certain individuals who have shares in it are interested in a profitable concern. Should we not be glad to know that there are companies of that character in Australia? The honorable member claims that the amalgamation of two companies warrants an inquiry. I submit that this Parliament would not be justified in interfering with the private affairs of any successful company in Australia, unless it could be demonstrated that real injury was being done to the Australian people.
– That is a matter of opinion.
– I agree with the honor able member.
– If the right honorable gentleman were to visit my district, he would know what opinion to express.
– I am perfectly well aware of the honorable member’s opinion. But because some honorable members hold a certain view and express it, is this Parliament called upon to waste time in an investigation?
– Our opinion is as good as that of the right honorable gentleman.
– Of course it is. The argument that I am putting to the House is that the mere holding of an opinion would not justify the institution of an inquiry. The Government is not prepared to have a “ fishing inquiry “ to attempt to justify the suspicions of some honorable members. In the circumstances, I must refuse to accept the suggestion of the honorable member.
.- The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) said that nothing had been adduced to show that the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited had done any injury to the community. A definite injury will be done to the community if the company be allowed, as it intends, to place an order for certain ships overseas. The Prime Minister also said that the company, by constantly improving its technical appliances, and developing its organization, was providing further employment. As a matter of fact the very opposite is the case. Recently it installed certain machinery for supplying fuel to the furnaces, with the result that six men are now doing what 200 men did before. The same sort of thing is going on in the coal mines, where the increasing mechanization of the industry is displacing workmen every day. No doubt honorable members opposite will say that we cannot stop progress by forbidding the mechanization of industry, but the employers do not hesitate to fly in the face of progress, even to the extent of destroying foodstuffs, when it suits them to do so. In view of the present economic situation we ask that something be done, through the tariff or otherwise, to prevent the further mechanization of industry which can only result in the creation of further unemployment. In my own district towns that were once prosperous have been ruined and almost depopulated as a result of this process of mechanization. The steel companies have received government bounties for so long that they are now practically in a position where they can afford to dispense with them if need be so long as they are permitted to carry on their campaign for depressing wages and working conditions. If the merger of which the honorable member for “West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) spoke takes place, the complete trustification of the iron and steel industry will have been brought about. If the Prime Minister thinks that these firms are carrying on as philanthropists let him work for one of them himself. The other day when I walked through one of the smelting works the heat was so intense that I thought my clothes would hurst into flame. This is the “ scabbiest “ industry in the country ; it is a veritable butcher’s shop ! The Australian Iron and Steel Company has even refused to install proper safety appliances, and when a public outcry has been raised over men falling into the furnaces, the employees have been taken one by one to the office and compelled, under threat of dismissal, to sign a declaration to the effect that they are working under safe conditions. Australia would be better off without an industry of this kind unless it be properly controlled. A complete inquiry should be conducted, not only into the finances and profits of the industry, but also into its treatment of the workers and its effect upon the community. We have been given to understand that we should be proud of the companies engaged in the iron and steel industry. For my part, I should be more proud of a gang of pirates. The Prime Minister should go himself and investigate conditions in the industry.
– I have been through the steel “works
– Then the right honorable gentleman should use his influence to see that employees get more than a miserable £3 a week.
– The honorable member knows that the workmen are paid more than that.
– Many of them are not, and if this proposed merger be brought about, they will get even less than £3 a week. The Australian Iron and Steel Company uses its power to browbeat its employees. It even tells them before an election that if an antiLabour government be returned they will be guaranteed at least six months’ work, but that if a Labour government be elected they will be sacked immediately.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member who has just resumed his seat, wai, I gather, during the more eloquent passage of his speech, referring to the Australian Iron and Steel Company. I do not propose to deal with heated but vague allegations regarding the conduct of that company, because that is not included in the terms of the motion.
– It is.
– I thought the terms of the motion were that the Government should, appoint a select committee to inquire into the affairs of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited.
– The two companies have amalgamated.
– I did not know thai.. E knew that certain steps had been taken, but I did not know that the amalgamation had been effected, and I have yet to be credibly informed that it is so. It is a queer sort of justice for any honorable member to be able to get up and read to the House a carefully prepared statement about some company or individual in circumstances which render it necessary for the answer to be made off-hand, but I admit that the matter is not so serious when we consider the nature of the allegations made. When any honorable member asks for the appointment of a select committee to investigate in a hostile way the doings of a company, he at least sustains the obligation of making some definite charge. A charge ought to be definite, and it ought to be formulated, but on the present occasion there is no charge at all. When we come to analyse this remarkable statement, what does it amount to? The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) devoted three-quarters of his valuable time and ours to telling us that certain “ disreputable “ people called Baillieu actually had the nerve to be shareholders in the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. When I listened to the history of the company as the honorable member read it, I was only sorry that I was not a shareholder myself, and if I understand the frame of mind of honorable members in the corner opposite, their chief regret is that they are not shareholders.
Evidently the worst crime that can be committed in the eyes of some people is the crime of succeeding. We hear not one word from honorable members opposite about those companies enjoying natural assets and advantages, as well as the protection of the Australian tariff, and even special Government assistance, which do not succeed. The honorable member for West Sydney forgets about the rights of the workmen employed by those companies, but when it comes to a company which, more than any other in the Commonwealth has succeeded, has been profitable and has given employment to Australians, his spleen cannot contain itself. He says, “ This company is successful; people are actually making money out of it!” and under the circumstances something ought to be done. If that implies anything it means that we must have a protective tariff in Australia, but we must take care that the companies which work under it are not successful or profitable. If they are, then, prima facie, they will be guilty of offences which ought to be probed by inquisitive persons on a select committee.
I venture to think that the honorable member has left out of consideration several factors that have contributed to the success of this, company. He has mentioned some that are common to many companies in Australia; but he has forgotten to say that the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has enjoyed the continued confidence of the investing public ; his own figures prove that. He also forgot to mention that, possibly more than any other company in this country, it has enjoyed the benefits of superb management, and, unlike some companies which have had the benefit of the tariff, has consistently aimed at getting rid of the need for protection by improving its efficiency, reducing its cost and prices and making itself no longer a charge on the Australian taxpayers. If there is any company in Australia which justifies our tariff policy, to which I am a wholehearted subscriber, it is this one, because, getting the benefit of high protection in its early stages, it has steadily improved its efficiency and reduced its prices. It affords a splendid example of adult industrial growth ; but, because it has achieved the full, size of manhood, and is prosperous, it at once incites the malice of those who resent prosperity.
– It takes its profits out of Australia.
– It takes them out of Australia, and it pays them into Australia. I like to see companies profitable; the more prosperous they are, the better.
– That is all the honorable gentleman understands.
– The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) does not agree with me. He has a passion, not for prosperity, but for despair, which is his political stock-in-trade.
– That is humbug!
– It is, exactly. I shall make only one further observation, merely because the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) devoted at least half his time to this aspect of the matter. From time to time we are entertained by having the names of shareholders in companies read to us–
– It is no entertainment for the honorable member.
– It is a great entertainment, because I hear so many names of my friends read out. But surely the high watermark of futility is reached when it is suggested that there is impropriety in a gentleman who has been Governor-General in Australia investing some of his money in the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited!
– That is questionable.
– If the honorable member suggests that this gentleman did not invest his money in the company, I should be grateful to know what he is implying. Is any charge being made here ? Is there any honorable member in the corner occupied by the Lang group who has the courage to formulate a charge? Of course not ; but the suggestion is that this gentleman, who has occupied high office in this country, should not invest his money in Australia. What should he do? Should he invest it, say, in Argentina? If, with full Scottish prudence, he puts it into a bank on fixed deposit, he will be accused by honorable members in the corner opposite of bolstering up the banking octopus. I should hate to be a Governor-General. The only thing to do would be to put one’s money in a sock, and then go away and die !
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– A great deal has been said in exposition of the history of the operations of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, and much of it appeared to me to be not strictly relevant to the matter immediately under the consideration of the House, which has called forth rejoinders from the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies). These replies, too, seemed to be somewhat wide of the subject which the House is asked to consider. For the moment I am not concerned about the history of this company. Unquestionably it has received the full benediction of this Parliament, and a great deal of definite aid, which public policy alone could invoke in order to make the company capable of withstanding world competition. It has had the assistance, as the AttorneyGeneral has said, of a very high tariff during years in which it could not have subsisted without that aid. In addition, it has had the advantage of subsidies in substantial measure, for, apart from the indirect benefit of national policy, it has received specific appropriations from the Consolidated Revenue. Thus this company, which excites the admiration of the Attorney-General, is efficient and commands the confidence of investors, not as the outcome of superb management alone, not entirely as the result of the wise administration of its directors, but first and foremost as the result of national policy and the public conscience, or - if the expression is preferred - statesmanship. In more recent years it has had the advantage of currency depreciation protecting it against world competition. Further, the reduction of wages has immensely assisted it to produce economically. I now understand that it has amassed very substantial profits - more, I submit, than is reasonable, having regard to the state of financial difficulty . under which the country is labouring.
This company, which has found a market in Australia in supplying raw material for other industries, and in providing capital equipment, for other industries which are of importance to this country, in order to maintain the confidence of investors, and to be able more effectively to withstand what it regards as the difficulties of competition, now contemplates getting a supply of its own capital equipment as cheaply as possible in the world’s markets. I should imagine that there would be a reasonable explanation, if a government advertised for ships both overseas and in Australia in order to ascertain to what extent it would be a charge on the general taxpayer to have them built in this country. But in matters in which the Parliament is asked to use its powers in order to protect certain interests at the expense of other interests, we have every right to ascertain just how much the protection given has cost the nation. Such an inquiry is not contemplated under this motion. Having regard to the fact that this company provides raw materials for other industries, and as the result of national policy those other industries cannot advertise overseas with any prospect of being able to purchase raw materials in alternative markets to that commanded by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, and. seeing that it has a monopoly, even allowing for its improved efficiency, I submit that it owes a duty to this Parliament, in bare gratitude, if nothing more, to require that the ships it needs shall be constructed in Australia.
– How many shipbuilders are there in Australia?
– The present Parliament has done nothing for the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited.
– Surely the honorable gentleman does not suggest that we should pay no regard to the acts of this Parliament before the present members were returned to it. I heard the remark that the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has a trusteeship to discharge to the people of Australia, and I consider that to be a just statement of the position. The company should not use its monopolistic power to exploit the public unjustly.
– In what respect does it exploit the people?
– I am submitting principles which I think this company should observe, seeing that it could not now exist but for the fact that national policy over a long period of years gave it nutriment during its infancy. Its adulthood, of which the Attorney-General boasts to-day, has been made possible only because this Parliament assisted it in the early stages of its history. I would say to this corporation that it ill becomes a man to despise those who contributed to his healthy growth during his childhood. My time is limited, and I shall not ask for an extension. I am considering this matter from the point of view of bare economic justice. The pastoral industry, and the primary-producing industries of Australia as a whole, as well as the manufacturing industries, all of which are of first class importance to the economic life of the community, are, because of the present circumstances, largely dependent upon the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited for essential raw materials. They have complained to various sections represented in this Parliament that additions to their costs have been imposed upon them because of this fact. This position has contributed to the difficulties of wheat-growers and all others who have had to pay more for products of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited than they would have had to pay had they been able to obtain supplies from other parts of the world under a free-trade policy. That being a justifiable statement of the facts, this company has no right to expect pastoralists, wheat-growers, and the operators of secondary industries to purchase their supplies in the Australian market under tariff protection, which has made it almost certain that they must buy from the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. This company must not expect a monopoly of the Australian market for the disposal of its own capital goods.
– It does not enjoy a monopoly. Miles of wire netting come from overseas.
– Yes; but the honorable gentleman knows that he has been pestered for months to ensure that the rabbit nuisance in Western Australia might be combated by relaxing the tariff policy.
– There is no duty on wire netting.
– The honorable member has exhausted his time.
.- Had I moved the motion now before the House to give honorable members an opportunity to consider the operation of this monopoly in Australia, my action would have been more consistent than that of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley). In the motion, and in the remarks made by honorable members who have addressed themselves to it, we see “ the tariff chickens coming home to roost “. I am surprised that the honorable member for West Sydney did not submit a drag-net motion to deal with all monopolies in Australia, because the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited is not the only monopoly which has been created in this country mainly because of our tariff policy. Whenever I have pointed out in this House that Australia’s present tariff policy is creating monopolies, honorable members opposite have replied that it is better to suffer an Australian monopoly than a foreign one. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited did not need high protection to enable it to establish its business in Australia. It would have been better for the steel industry had it been allowed to establish itself without such aid. If honorable members refer to the report of the proceedings at the ban.quet held to inaugurate the works of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited at Newcastle, they will find that one of the directors at that time, Mr. Delprat, stated that the company would not need protection to enable it to succeed.
– Was he sober?
– He was perfectly sober and his remarks were perfectly reasonable. The real trouble in this matter arises from the fact that because the honorable member for West Sydney and others have assisted in increasing protective duties, thereby intensifying the conditions which result from such a policy, the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited’s costs of production have risen. It is a great pity that this company was not allowed to develop on a really competitive basis. Had it succeeded on such a basis, it would to-day be a real asset to this country. I agree with some of the remarks made by the honorable member for West Sydney, particularly his assertion that protection has enabled this company to make inordinate profits. Recently the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Fairbairn) pointed out that shares in twenty companies listed on the Stock Exchange had considerably increased in value since the depression. Honorable members, however, will- fail to find in that list any companies associated with those industries which really form the backbone of this country. Interests in squatting and wheat-farming undertakings have not been enhanced since the depression. The companies named by the- honorable member for Flinders were monopolies sheltering behind the protectionist policy of this country, and the honorable member who moved this motion was among those who supported the Labour Government which gave these monopolies the highest tariff they have yet enjoyed. In view of these facts, the honorable gentleman cannot make any just complaint as to the effects of a high tariff, and, coming from him, the charges which he has made to-day do not lie. If the honorable member and his followers genuinely desire to penalize this company or to bring it down to earth from a business point of view and so prevent such things as the watering of its shares and the granting of jubilee bounties to its shareholders, they can achieve that end by reducing the tariff in so far as it affects this company. If that course be followed, honorable members will solve this problem at one shot. It is in the province of this chamber to take such a step, and before long honorable members opposite will have an opportunity to say whether or not they will follow such a course.
.- The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies) did not attempt to answer the charges made by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), but simply dwelt upon the efficiency of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. Apparently, the AttorneyGeneral’s only concern was that he was not a shareholder in the company, and he seemed to be most concerned above anything else that it was a profitable company. That is a callous attitude. Members of this Government should be moro concerned about human life than about the profits of companies.
I agree with the point made by the honorable member for We&t Sydney that this company has shown ingratitude by proposing to have two vessels, each of 8,000 tons, constructed abroad, in face of the fact that it was the assistance given by Australian governments in its infancy which enabled it to achieve the efficiency of which it boasts to the world to-day, and which enables it to extend its operations into new fields of manufacture and industry. I am particularly concerned with its proposals to introduce further mechanization processes in the coal-mining industry. As the mover of the motion has indicated, inquiries have already been held into such proposals. A glance at the special publication issued by the company to mark the celebration of the jubilee of its establishment will showthat the company has such proposals in mind. On this point, I refer honorable members to pages 118 and 119 of that publication. When I was actively engaged in it, the coal-mining industry had passed through two phases of mechanization - the cutting of coal mechanically, and the boring of coal mechanically. According to the publication, to which I have referred, it is proposed to proceed with what are called the third and fourth phases of mechanizing the industry, and this development will materially affect the employment of thousands of men. The installation of coal-loading machinery, which it is proposed to import from America, will take the place of nearly all of the miners working to-day at the coal face. The miners claim that, mainly owing to mechanization, coal production increased from 1,378,514 tone in 1931 to 1,965,441 tons in 1934’. Machinery of the latest kind is to be installed at the Lambton B. Colliery. In addition to coal-loading machines, the company intends to install in its collieries, a machine which will take the place of horses now used to draw the coal from the mine face to the shaft or pit top, where it is loaded into wagons. Those engaged in the mining industry are very much concerned over these proposals; in fact, the further mechanization, of the industry by the introduction of machines for the loading and wheeling of coal is proving a nightmare to the miners, because these machines must necessarily displace many men in the industry. Information disclosed at the American Mining Congress, held in 1932, shows that a cutting machine, equipped with a full complement of fifteen men, including machinemen, shot-firers, loaders, road-layers, and timbermen will produce 315 tons of coal in a day of eight hours. It is estimated that at the Lambton B. Colliery, which is owned by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, sixteen men will be able to keep up an output from 300 to 400 tons of coal for each day of eight hours.
One can thus understand the concern which the miners to-day are showing with regard to this matter. They are asking that something be done to protect their interests as employees in the industry. Their minds are wholly absorbed on this idea of mechanization; they regard the machine as an enemy. I believe that the machine as a labour-saving device is evidence of progress, but it should be accepted primarily as a means of eliminating arduous work in industry and not for profiteering at the expense of the worker. Australian coal-miners are in such a frame of mind to-day, however, that they fear the introduction of further machines in the coal-mining industry can result only in further unemployment and the Government as doing nothing to obviate this tragedy. To deal with this matter, they are meeting daily to formulate ways and means whereby they can avoid this result. Honorable members are familiar with the history of the machine in industry. When a machine was introduced to replace the old weaver of 100 years ago, the weavers sabotaged the new machine because they regarded it as an enemy. However, legislation enacted since the introduction of such machiery improved the position of workers who lost immediate employment through such a cause. I urge the Government to appoint a select committee to inquire, not only into the proposal of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited to have two vessels constructed overseas, but also into the company’s proposals to introduce further mechanization processes into the coal-mining industry. It is undeniable that the industry has suffered from many causes during recent years. Coal, to a large extent, has been superseded by other means of power development with the result that it is not used now to the same extent in its raw state. To-day, we find intense competition between the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited and the merger collieries, such as those of J. and A. Brown, and the Abermain Seaham Company, to secure the little trade that is offering. Oil and electrical power have superseded coal as a power-raising unit, and the introduction of new machines into the industry to cheapen costs is likely to be hastened in an indeavour to compete with oil. To offset the proposals of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, to further mechanize the industry, other companies are sending representatives overseas to secure similar machinery. The superintendent of the J. and A. Brown Collieries, Mr. Johnson, has already gone to America to acquire the latest labour-saving devices. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has now laid it down a3 part of its employment policy that a man of 40 years of age is too old to work in any of its collieries. I understand that this company has the additional benefit in competition of a 25 per cent, reduction of freights on the coal consumed at its various works which is transported over the government railways of New South Wales. I realize the impossibility of eliminating machinery from production, but an inquiry should be granted. A method could be evolved for reducing the hours of labour in coal-mining and other mechanized industries, otherwise unemployment with all its attendant misery will continue to grow.
.- The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Menzies) have thoroughly covered the subject-matter of the adjournment motion ; but I desire to make one or two observations, and to offer some statistics. I also wish to emphasize the fact that this motion for the adjournment of the House is entirely unnecessary. It passes my understanding why two parties, labelled Labour - one of them half-heartedly, I admit - should criticize a great employer, which in every aspect of its workings in the last few years has re-absorbed into industry hundreds of men. Indirectly it is a compliment to the financial, tariff, and commercial policies of the Government that this revival has taken place. I have wondered whether the basis for the adjournment motion concerns the two vessels that are to be built for the Broken
Hill Proprietary Company Limited, or whether the critics desire the nationalization of this industry. It has been stated in support of the adjournment motion that those vessels are to be built abroad. I have already informed this House, in answer to a question, that a certain firm made application for the admission, free of duty, of many proprietary and auxiliary parts which would be used in the construction of the two vessels. I also informed honorable members, I think, that the Government had favorably considered the request. Consequently, any Australian tenderer will be able to meet tenders from overseas shipbuilding firms with the benefit of dutyfree machinery and the benefit of exchange and .other concessions. As honorable members are aware, the Tariff Board made reports which had the effect, of removing the duty first on vessels exceeding 1,000 tons, and then on vessels exceeding 500 tons.
– What will be the remission of duty ?
– That information is not in my possession at the moment, but it is a very large figure. It is quite unfair for the Opposition to criticize the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited for placing orders abroad for those vessels before tenders have closed. It would be much better for honorable members to await the result of the company’s consideration of the tenders.
– It will be too late to protest then ; it is not too late now.
– The honorable member’s objections are premature.
The employment figures of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited and its subsidiary companies are illuminating. In 1933 the steel works at Newcastle employed 3,808 hands. Employees at those works at present number 4,671. The number of employees at its quarries in New South Wales has risen from 39 in 1933 to 57, and the collieries under the control of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited now employ 1,229 men, compared with 1,090 in 1933. It was astounding to hear two supporters of the State Labour party, who represent constituencies in the coal-mining district of New South Wales, flaying the management of the steel works at Port Kembla and Newcastle. I have made thorough inspections of both. If honorable members would follow my example, and witness these two most efficient companies in operation, they would not rise in this House and talk the twaddle they do. I again emphasize that the collieries have replaced in employment a great number of men. The figures I have quoted have parallels at the Iron Knob, at Whyalla, South Australia, and at the limestone quarries in Tasmania, The following employment statistics concerning the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited and its subsidiaries are indisputable evidence of how the development of the Australian iron and steel industry has lessened the seriousness of unemployment : -
– We do not dispute those figures.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) must have been in a quandary when he spoke. He dallied on primary producers and pastoralists in Western Australia. He was apparently unaware that there is no duty on British wire netting, and therefore no opportunity for the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited to exploit its users. In almost every instance the Australian article is sold at a price less than that asked for for the duty-free British equivalent.
The Scullin Government increased the duties on the following lines: -
When the Lyons Government assumed office in 1932 contact was made with the ironmasters in order to ascertain whether the increased duties imposed by the Scullin Government were necessary. The ironmasters indicated that they were not required, and at the same time reduced the prices of their products by about £1 a ton. The Lyons Government there fore did not reimpose the Scullin Government duties. I repeat that no duty exists on wire netting from Britain, although the foreign product is subject to tariff. A quantity of wire netting has been imported into Western Australia in the last six months. Pastoralists and men on the land generally are under no direct disability under the tariff of the present
Government. In fact, it has removed the primage duties and sales tax on practically all of his requirements. The attitude adopted by the Leader of the Opposition is to be contrasted with that of the Deputy Leader (Mr. Forde), who in speaking in this chamber said -
This industry, if established in Australia, will create a demand for the products of the great iron and steel works at Newcastle, which even the right honorable the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) admits should be regarded as a great national undertaking from a defence point of view. This further demand for its products will, no doubt, mean, eventually, lower production costs. The iron ore required for the various manufacturing processes at Newcastle comes from Iron Knob in South Australia, one of the most valuable deposits of iron ore in the world. It is transported to Newcastle in Australian steamers, manned by Australian seamen, and the Newcastle Steel Works give- employment to approximately 3,000 persons. If the development of that undertaking has been in any way hampered, it is because the demand for its products is not great enough to enable the management to bring down production costs sufficiently.
The honorable member for Capricornia believes in the iron and steel industry, and his leader should not be so emphatic in his criticisms. I suggest to honorable members that they read thoroughly the Jubilee Review issued by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. It shows that 4,500,000 tons of coke has been used, and that 4,500,000 tons of pig iron have been produced. The figures ate enormous. The weekly wage bill of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited amounts to £52,000, and that of allied companies to £11,000. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has inaugurated schemes of most munificent benefit for its employees, which have not impaired its high efficiency. The honorable member for Fremantle said that it was the tariff which had made that efficiency possible, but I can confirm the statement of the Prime Minister which was supported by one of the greatest of Britain’s steel manufacturers. That gentleman came here to criticize, but on his depature said that Australia possessed one of the most efficient steel works in the world, operating under one of the most efficient managements possible to conceive. The Tariff Board made the following comment on the efficiency of this industry: -
It in pleasing to be able to show that at the pi (Ment time this important Australian industry is selling the bulk of its products at prices which are below the duty-free cost of importations. This happy state of affairs has not been due to any one factor but to several. One important contributing cause has been the steady increase in the efficiency of local industry, until to-day it stands high in comparison with that of similar industries in other parts of the world.
That is a very definite pronouncement regarding the efficient working and management of the iron and steel industry, and it ill becomes honorable members who represent industrial electorates to offer the criticism of it that they have made to-day. I hope that the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) will circulate through his electorate his ridiculous statement that the men employed at the Port Kembla works receive between £2 and £3 a week. Their rates of wages are determined by State and Federal tribunals, and it is impossible for the men to be sweated even if it were the wish of the management that they should be.
The prosperity of Australia depends on diversified development of export trade. At present it mainly exports primary products, but there is already a large secondary export to New Zealand. Unless the secondary industries are encouraged, Australia will languish. I should like to hear the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) make his maiden speech on what the steel industry has meant to Newcastle. Again emphasizing the great efficiency achieved by this backbone of Newcastle’s prosperity, I point out that no duty whatever operates on a large number of the British equivalents to the products of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited’s works and only nominal rates on others. The policy of the Government for diversified development must be continued if we are to increase the prosperity of Australia.
This country is just about as prosperous as any other country in the world. Incidentally, the fact that the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has some 10,000 shareholders who show their good sense by investing in something that pays, is no reason why it should be subjected to unfair and unwarranted criticism.
.-Every member of the National Parliament should be a watchdog for the people. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) frequently wisely acts in that capacity. There are, however, times when even the best watchdogs make mistakes and bark at a friend. I venture to suggest that the honorable member’s outlook on the matter under review is ill advised and inconsistent, and is a case of biting the hand that feeds you. I do not believe that there is one_honorable member who would support a policy that would permit monopolies to exploit the people. It seems to me that the huge organization of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, which has been assisted during its existence by the operation of the Australian tariff policy, has become a national asset. It provides employment in iron and coal mines and other works for thousands of our people, and, in addition, it contributes a large amount of revenue in the form of taxation for the various governments. Furthermore, it is one of Australia’s few secondary industries with an export trade. Where would the City of Newcastle be to-day if it were not for the operations of the iron and steel industry? I join issue with the honorable member for West Sydney when he says that the policy of the Government prevents tariff regulation of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited’s operations. Australia is safe from exploitation while we have the Tariff Board in existence and a governmental policy which restricts the tariff to the minimum necessary for protection. But while I am prepared to admit that the price charged for a large proportion of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited’s products is comparable to that asked for imported commodities, that comparison does not spread over the whole range of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited’s manufactures. A recent example is to be found in galvanized iron - a product in which this company is interested. Recently, when permitted to enter free of duty, the best imported product was £1 a ton less than that of the Australian galvanized iron. Barbed wire is another instance where I consider an ex cessive price is charged for the Australian product. The Government has the power to reduce duties which are found to be excessive, and it can, therefore, compel the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited to reduce its charges to a reasonable limit if it should be found necessary, and thus save the people from exploitation. Complaints have been made concerning the calling of tenders for two vessels by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. It is an unwarranted presumption to declare that the inviting of tenders from overseas as well as in this country is an assurance that the vessels will be constructed overseas. If the ships were built in Australia the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited would supply the raw material, and it would allow for the profit on this when considering tenders that might be received from overseas. But if the cost of building the ships in Australia were so excessive that even considerations of turnover and the value of the rawmaterial the company manufactured in Australia were insufficient to bring the figures within reasonable comparison with the overseas tenders, the company would be justified in going beyond Australia for the vessels. To buy them here under such conditions would increase production costs, particularly in the transport of ore from the mine to the works at Newcastle. This, in turn, would limit the possibilities of profitable export, and so a reduction, and not an expansion of business and employment would be likely to follow. I am sure that the company will look at the subject from this angle.
A good deal has been said about certain names which appear on the list of shareholders of this company. The AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Menzies) suggested that these references by the Opposition had behind them a regret that the gentlemen who voiced them were not also shareholders. Is it a crime for individuals in this country to invest their money in a successful industry which is able to provide employment, and so make possible the expansion of other secondary industries? If people with money limit their investments to government bonds or lodge their surplus funds in banks they are accused of withholding money from industry. The case advanced by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) on this point seems quite inconsistent with his general views.
It has been alleged that excessive profits have been made by this company; but this Parliament is able, by the exercise of its customs power, to protect dependent Australian industries, and prevent the exploitation of the people. Various proposals which have been agreed to from time to time by those engaged in industry for the combination of manufacturing concerns in Australia, have resulted in a rationalization of industry designed to lower overhead expenses, and reduce the cost of production. That, of course, is to the advantage of Australia. Is it not wise forus to do everything possible to reduce the cost of the production of iron and steel products required by our secondary industries, and also of fencing wire and other iron and steel products required by our primary producers? Commonsense answers that it is desirable to pursue this course, which must, in the end; increase the use of our manufacfactured products. This demand automatically expands the amount of employment available and stimulates production generally.
.- I did not intend to participate in this debate, but-
Motion (by Mr. Ward) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority . ……. 14
Question so resolved in the negative.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Bank Act - Treasurer’s Statement of combined accounts of Commonwealth Bank and Commonwealth Savings Bank at 30th June, 1935, together with certificate of the Auditor-General.
Public Service Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1935, No. 94.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act -
Ordinance of 1935 - No. 14 - Companies. Regulations amended, &c., under-
Building and Services Ordinance (Canberra Electric Supply).
Fish Protection Ordinance.
Motor Traffic Ordinance -
Motor Hire Car.
Public Baths Ordinance.
Stock Diseases Ordinance.
Debate resumed from 1st October (vide page 375), on motion by Mr. Casey -
That the bill be now read a second time, upon which Mr. Curtin had moved, by way of amendment -
That all the words after “ That “ be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words : - “ the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide for such alterations as would, without increasing the appropriation, provide for the complete restoration of the reductions in invalid and old-age pensions which were effected in the principal act.
– I support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). I have carefully considered the policy Speech which the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) delivered at Deloraine, in Tasmania, and also in the Town Hall, Sydney, and can find in it no promise that the right honorable gentleman would take steps to restore the invalid and old-age pension to £1 a week. In fact, he was asked a definite question on that point at the meeting he held at Deloraine and he said that it was not the intention of the Government to make such a restoration. I, therefore, consider that we should do our utmost to oblige the Government to alter its view in this regard.
– What about the increase that the honorable member will receive if the bill is passed?
– I do not care anything about that. “Why should we benefit to the extent of some £20 a year while the most needy people in this community get no increase whatever?
– Although many of them have to use part of their pension to help their out-of-work relatives.
– That is so. These old people had to work hard in their younger days under most unreasonable conditions. They were not paid sufficient to allow them to feed and clothe their families and make provision for their old age. They served this country well and now they are being denied even the help that a pension of £1 a week would be to them. I consider that the pension should be restored to the full £1 a week before any restoration is made to civil servants who receive £2,000 a year, or, for that matter, to other people. Our pensioners should not have to wait until the cost of living increases to such a degree that the pension will be increased to £1 a week, for the benefit would then be cancelled by a reduced purchasing power. The Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) could very well afford to make the restoration that we are seeking. His problem does not rest with our pensioners, but with the many thousands of people who are able to work but cannot get work to do. All other sections of the community should forgo the restoration of their salaries and allowances until the pension has been restored to £1 a week. If a restoration of even 21/2 per cent, were made to pensioners, such as is to be made to certain other sections of the community, an expenditure of only £300,000 would be involved. Seeing that the Government will have a surplus of about £1,000,000-
– The surplus will not be so large as that.
– I know that on paper it will be about £700,000; but the Government has hidden reserves stowed away which could easily be used to bring the surplus up to £1,000,000. No attempt should be made to restore the salaries and allowances of well-paid public servants until the people living on an amount which gives them a mere existence have had their pensions restored to £1 a week. The Labour party declared in very definite terms during the election campaign that it favoured a complete restoration of the financial emergency reductions, and in asking now for the pension to be restored to £1 a week, we are acting in accordance with our pre-election promises. In the days gone by wealthy financial institutions and big business concerns prevented the people now drawing the old-age pension from making, during their working lives, adequate provision for their old age. Consequently, provision had to be made to compensate them for the services they had rendered. Surely these old people are entitled to at least £1 a week!
The Assistant Treasurer last night referred to the extent to which the Government is committed for the payment of pensions. Who makes possible that payment? It is not the idle rich, who travel in luxurious motor cars and enjoy social amenities, but the workers and producers. The reference of the honorable gentleman to the pensions paid in other countries is quite beside the point. Those countries have to work out their own destiny according to the economic circumstances in which they are placed. The wages and social services enjoyed in Australia are the result of the struggle of the people of this country for the betterment of their conditions. An inducement is held out to me to vote for a paltry increase of my allowance, and at the same time I am asked to withhold from invalid and old-age pensioners that to which they, are justly entitled. The Government is> not acting consistently. One of its supporters has contended that these old people live too long. Apparently its policy is .that they shall not do so. They are being sentenced to an early death from malnutrition.
.- I support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). It affords to honorable members on this side an opportunity to make a further protest against the Government’s con.tinued refusal to observe the solemn and definite obligation that was undertaken, not only by the Government of 1931 which was responsible for the reduction of pensions, but also by many honorable members opposite, that restoration of what had been taken would be made immediately that course was warranted by the financial position. It has been stated repeatedly that the pensions cut was an emergency measure designed to meet financial stress. That consideration cannot be urged at the present time.
Last night the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey), in a defence of the Government, claimed that it has clean hands in regard to its treatment of pensioners. Just what the honorable gentleman meant, I do not know. The implication is that any action taken by the Government against the interests of pensioners leaves it with dirty hands, and any action to the advantage of pensioners gives it clean hands. I should like the honorable gentleman to say whether the Government’s political conscience is clear in regard to its refusal to observe the obligation shouldered in 1931. The honorable gentleman’s claim that nothing has been done to the detriment of pensioners is discounted by the imposition of additional hardships upon them, and the tax remissions that have been made to certain wealthy interests. In 1931 the Scullin Government reduced the maternity allowance in the aggregate by £260,000. The
Assistant Treasurer will probably claim that, in consequence, that Government had dirty hands. One of the first acts of the present Government in 1932 was further to reduce the allowance by a total of £60,000. I admit that it restored this amount in 1934. But in 1932 it also proposed to make a further cut in pensions, amounting to £1,100,000, for the purpose of meeting an anticipated deficit of £1,467,000. It is believed that certain rebels in its ranks, who realized that their political existence depended upon the attitude that they adopted, exerted pressure, with the result that it was satisfied with £700,000. Within two months, a similar amount of land tax was remitted to wealthy land-owners, who had not been subjected to any emergency legislation. Although the land tax had been levied for over twenty years, the rate of tax had not been increased on account of financial difficulties. In that particular year the land tax yielded £2,865,000, of which £1,920,000 was paid by owners of city properties, and £945,000 by owners of country properties. Yet the remission was made on the plea that the burden of the primary producers was to be lightened ! Since then the Government has had a number of surpluses, which have been utilized, not in fulfilment of the promise made by the Scullin Government, but in the remission of taxes to wealthy interests. In 1932, the income tax was reduced, particularly in the case of companies, by an amount of £500,000. That particular source of revenue had not been subjected to any of the emergency legislation. Since the pledge was given to invalid and old-age pensioners, over £9,000,000 has been remitted to wealthy interests, but the pensioners have received nothing.
The Government also proposed in 1932 to seize the property of pensioners at their death to defray the cost of the pensions paid to them during their lifetime. Even the life insurance policies that had been taken out by pensioners were to be used for that purpose. The Government, figuratively speaking, went rummaging in the graveyards in order to recover some of the money it had paid to the unfortunate pensioners during their life-time, and it has boasted that, as the result of its efforts, over 12,000 persons sacrificed their pension in order to avoid giving the Government an ever-growing mortgage over the properties which they had struggled all their lives to obtain. It is on record that, as the result of the Government’s amending legislation, it did in fact extract over £40,000 from pensioners’ estates. The Government also interfered with pensions legislation in an attempt to force relatives of pensioners to contribute to their pension. It pried into the private affairs of the pensioners’ families, and after the inquisition had been in operation foi eighteen months, the net result was that £2,600 was collected. Still the Government claims that it has clean hands. There is not another Government in this or any other country that would have so degraded itself as to follow pensioners to their graves in order to recover the money paid to them - money which all decent people recognize to have been theirs by right and not by charity. Even when the Government struck out of the act the property provisions which it had inserted, it did so, not because of any concern for the pensioners, but because it feared to go before the electors with this burden on its conscience. The position of the old-age pensioners is not one whit better now than it was in 1931 after the cuts were first made. So many restrictions have been placed upon the granting of pensions, and so many conditions imposed, that pensioners are actually worse off now than they were four years ago. When the Government attacked the right of pensioners to possess property, and of their children to inherit it, it justified its action by saying that the Treasury was in urgent need of money, and that the budget had to be balanced. The Government has now balanced its budget more than once, and it was a party to the pledge made in 1931 that, immediately the financial position warranted it, pensions would be restored. It has failed to honour that undertaking although it would cost not more than £1,000,000 to do so,, but it has remitted taxation to the extent of £9,000,000 to those upon whom in many cases no emergency taxes were imposed - and yet the Assistant Treasurer claims that the Government has clean hands so far as pensioners are concerned. If the Government would have a clear conscience, if itis even concerned with its own political safety, it will accept the amendment that the bill be withdrawn and redrafted in order to make provision for the restoration of pensions and of other social services. I fully endorse that amendment, and I hope that honorable members opposite will also give it their support.
– We know that the Government has been subjected to strong pressure from various organizations alleged to represent taxpayers, with a view to securing remissions of taxation, but it should remember that the reduction of pensions in 1931 represented a special class tax to which the pensioners were subjected. At that time, it was stated that sacrifices would have to be made by all sections of the community, and the pensioners were called upon to pay a special tax amounting to 2s. 6d. a. week. It was quite clearly understood by those who were called upon to make this sacrifice that it was to be of a temporary character. Moreover, it was definitely understood that, when the finances of the country permitted it, relief from the special burdens imposed during the depression should first be granted to those most in need of it, and surely no one can deny that the old-age pensioners are included among that number. Far from doing that, however, the Government has actually remitted taxation which had not been imposed as an emergency measure at all, but which had been in operation long before the depression. It seems to me that the Government has taken’ advantage of what is generally termed the depression in order to reduce the standard of living of the pensioners to a lower level, and to keep it there even when it is no longer necessary or justifiable. Not to describe it more harshly, it is a very mean advantage to take of the pensioners. Honorable members are therefore justified in continually putting forward the claims of pensioners in this House because the pensioners have no other way in which to make their claims known. They do not exercise any great influence in the commercial life of the community, nor are they associated with those bodies which are able directly to influence the policy of the party- supporting the Government. Government supporters realize that, if they fail to do what is directed by. outside organizations there is a danger that the party nomination will be withdrawn and the pensioners condition does not trouble these people. Those who clamour for tax remissions are able to bring pressure to bear on governments of their own making. They do not need to have any one to plead their cases in Parliament, because they have been very successfully pleaded outside.
Asan excuse for not restoring pensions to their original level, the Government points out that the number of pensioners has greatly increased, and that the cost of a full restoration would be too great. There is no doubt that the increase of the number of pensioners is almost wholly due to causes arising out of the general dislocation of industry. In normal times, a large number of old people who were unable to support themselves were supported by their children, and therefore they made no claim upon the State. But owing totheravages of unemployment, it is not now possible for them to provide for their parents. On this account a large increase of the number of applicants has taken place. Even if we accept the statement by the Government that unemployment has been reduced the fact remains that relief work provides little more than an income of 25s. a week for a man and his wife and family. Under these conditions a workman is scarcely able to, maintain himself, let alone assist in providing for aged parents. My party believes that, owing to the procedure of the House, even if the amendment were carried it would not result in the restoration of the original purchasing power of the pension, but our purpose will be expressed in the form of a protest against the Government. We have taken this opportunity to express the views of a l arge section of the people who have suffered most, and, although lowest on the social ladder, have done more for the development of this country than have many of those who, at the hands of the partyopposite, have received remissions of taxesfrom time to time.
.- I support theamendment, and take exception to the tactics employed by the Government inclouding many issues that are raised in this chamber. Honorable mem bers opposite profess to be in sympathy with the invalid and old-age pensioners, but definite action is needed. They should record their votes in favour of proposals designed to give the aged folk practical assistance. The Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) has repeatedly made misleading statements in regard to the administration of his department, and the action of the Government with regard to pensions.
– I take exception to the remark that the Assistant Treasurer has repeatedly made misleading statements in this House.
– No reflection has been cast upon the honorable member.
– If the honorable member for East Sydney used those words, I ask that they be withdrawn, as they are offensive to me.
– The honorable member must withdraw the remark.
– I understand that a misleading statement is merely one that creates a false impression on its hearers. How far honorable members may be affected by it is another matter. Often misleading statements are made through an imperfect understanding of the true position, and I submit that we shall be much cramped in our style if the watchdogs of the House are constantly endeavouring to whittle down our rights in debate.
– The Standing Orders do not permit an honorable member to reflect upon a Minister or any other member of the House. The honorable member for East Sydney has made a remark which is regarded as offensive, and I ask that it be withdrawn.
– I withdraw it; but the Assistant Treasurer has repeatedly made statements in this chamber which have a tendency to mislead honorable members and the public in regard to the policy of the Government.
– That is not so.
– I shall prove my assertion to be true. I have a clear recollection of a statement made by him, which he later retracted, that invalid and old-age pensioners are permitted to have an income as a result of their own exertions. I shall prove, by producing correspondence from the Minister, that he misled the pensioners’ organizations.
– I adhere to everything I have said on the subject.
– During the speech of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), who mentioned that the Government had made certain claims upon the relatives of pensioners, and that these claims had since been withdrawn, the Assistant Treasurer said, “ That was done after the election.” The Minister knew full well when he made that statement that the provisions in the law under which these demands were made on pensioners’ relatives were merely suspended prior to the election. All that the Government did after Parliament met was to repeal the provisions of the act which had not been put into operation for some little time prior to the election.
– That is not so.
– The Minister knows that it is true. When he makes such statements honorable members can be led to no other conclusion than that his remarks have a tendency to mislead the Parliament and the public. We know also that the Government often introduces measures couched in honeyed terms which obscure the real intentions of Ministers. Last night we had an example of this, when the” Government secured the passage of a measure to increase Ministers’ salaries by £100 a year. Members of the Government refrained from mentioning that. Again in this bill provision is made for the partial restoration of the former salaries of members of Parliament and highly paid members of the Public Service. It is true that full restoration is to be made to those whose salaries do not exceed £485 a year. Some of the higher paid public servants receive salaries that they are not entitled to, and some of them who get £2,000 a year or more are paid much more than their services are worth, by comparison with the services rendered by many persons in much lower paid persons. The Government is pursuing a wrong course, and its policy will not be supported when it is referred to the people, the highest tribunal in the land. In order to make it appear that the object of the present measure is solely to give relief to deserving people, the Go vernment calls it a financial relief bill, but I claim that a person in receipt of over £485 a year, no matter how heavy his responsibilities may be, is in a much happier position than a pensioner who receives 18s. a week. The Government should devote its energies to providing relief for the most deserving sections of the people. We should first assist the unemployed who have no income whatever, and we should raise the income of the invalid and old-age pensioners. This Government is responsible for an attack upon the pensioners; and, as the honorable member for Dalley suggested, they will never be able to escape from the odium of it. The attack was so despicable that the Government was prepared, not only to reduce the pension, but also to place the responsibility for its action upon others. I recall that the Primo Minister (Mr. Lyons) has said that the control of pensions should not be political, but should be entirely removed from Parliament. Time after time, Parliament escapes its obligations to the public by delegating its powers to others. The present Government has shown by its actions that it represents only the wealthy sections ; those who buy government patronage by contributing to the ministerial party’s election expenses.
The Government has been responsible for an amendment of the law which allows the Commonwealth Statistician to determine the rate of pension to be paid, although the pension was not originally fixed on the basis of the cost of living. If that were a just basis, why should we not in the first place grant a pension which permits the aged and invalid members of the community to enjoy a decent standard of comfort? Some honorable members have discussed the history of the pension, and have tried to show that the recipients of it are better off to-day than they have been in the past, because of what is claimed to be a fall in the cost of living. I do not know whether any member of this House has ever tried to live on 18s. a week, but I venture to say that that sum would not pay some honorable members opposite for one “ shout “ in the parliamentary bar. Unfortunately, the pension is to be cut down to enable the Government to reduce the taxes of its wealthy supporters, and to give Ministers an extra £100 a year. We are assured that the finances are in such a low condition that it is impossible to grant an increase of 2s. a week to aged and invalid folk. The Assistant Treasurer said that last year the expenditure on pensions constituted a record, and that in the coming year an extra £1,000,000 will be required to foot the bill. On what does he base that contention? According to figures supplied by the Commonwealth Statistician, the rise of 6d. a week in the rate of pensions will mean a total annual expenditure of only £350,000. Of course, the Treasurer will probably then say that the balance of the increased expenditure of £1,000,000 which he has mentioned will be accounted for byallowing for an increase of the number of applicants for pensions. During the last financial year certain amendments were made to the Commonwealth pensions law. Prepared to chase the pensioners even to their graves in order to get its pound of flesh, this Government introduced certain restrictions to the payment of pensions, and as the result many pensioners entitled to continue claiming a pension, rather than undergo the indignity of applying for pensions and allowing the Government to place them under what might be termed a thirddegree examination, and rather than sacrifice their life savings and give the Government a chance to take these from their relatives after their own death, preferred to forgo their right to pensions. When the obnoxious “ property clauses “ in this legislation were repealed, mainly because of the pressure brought to bear on the Government by members of the Labour party, many of these people again applied for pensions. The big increase of new applicants for pensions during the last twelve months following the repeal of these provisions in the law is thus accounted for. If the Assistant Treasurer - by this time I understand he h Treasurer - would inform honorable members of the number of new applications for pensions received after the property provisions were removed from this legislation, it would probably be found that this increase would be far greater than any increase of applications which is likely to take place during the next twelve months. Further, it would probably be found that the Government would not require anything like £1,000,000 to provide for additional applications for pensions during the next twelve months. The additional expenditure would, I have no doubt, be very much less than the amount that the Assistant Treasurer has just informed us would be necessary to meet this contingency. I believe that the Government has mentioned this £1,000,000 in order to lead honorable members to believe that it is not possible further to increase the invalid and old-age pension. If that is the case, let us be consistent. Let us say that it is also impossible for the Government at this time to restore any of the reductions of salaries and wages of public servants and members of Parliament which were effected under the financial emergency legislation. . As a Labour representative in this Parliament, I claim that if there is one section of honorable members in this House who must pay most regard to their parliamentary income, it is members of the Labour party, because the majority of these honorable members have no other income, whereas the majority of ministerial members enjoy other sources of income, and more or less treat their parliamentary activities as a sort of side-line or hobby. Many of them are wheat-growers and graziers; others derive considerable income from investments. Admitting these facts, however, the member of Parliament on the present parliamentary salary is,, relatively speaking, much better off than invalid, old-age, or war pensioners, who were so ruthlessly treated by this Government under the financial emergency legislation. No doubt honorable members opposite will express their sincere sympathy with the pensioners, and will tell us that they have attended meetings at which the claims of pensioners have been discussed. I remind such honorable gentlemen that I will judge them, not by their words, but by their vote ; and they now have an opportunity to give practical expression to their expressed sympathy, by voting for the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition.
– It is hardly fair for any party or person in this House to claim an exclusive prerogative of sympathy with the pensioners. No matter how honorable members talk, the credit of providing pensions lies, not with them, but with the people of Australia, who have borne this expenditure during so many years without a murmur. The Government’s pension bill has been constantly growing. When the invalid and old-age pension was first instituted in 1909-10, the total amount paid by the Government under that heading was £1,433,585. Ten years later, in 1919, pension payments totalled £3,936,620, and by 1929 they had risen to £10,124,239. The corresponding figures for the . last three years were: 1932-33, £10,771,061; 1933-34, £10,963,090; and 1934-35, £11,762,030; whilst for the present financial year the estimated total expenditure for pensions is £12,770,000. If this expenditure is compared with similar expenditure made by the government of any other country, I doubt if it will be found that any other country treats this section of the community more generously than does Australia. Every penny of this expenditure is justified, because so many of the recipients of old-age pensions are the pioneers of this country. Honorable members of all parties, I believe, have true sympathy with these and other people who, in their declining days, find themselves in trouble and distress and should be succoured. As I have said on previous occasions, these people are entitled to a pension as a right and ‘not as charity.
Let us now examine the suggestion that this House is lacking in sympathy for the pensioners. I feel certain that every honorable member would like to give them more. I shall be happy to see the day when the pension is restored to the full amount. I am sure the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) holds a similar view, and would fully restore if it were possible to do so. However, he is charged with the responsibility of administering the Treasury. Already the expenditure on invalid and old-age pensions and on repatriation, including war services and war pensions, totals over £30,000,000 annually. Such is the huge sum which Australia is appropriating annually to be paid to those soldiers of war who are entitled to such aid, and those soldiers of civil life who have fought the battles of pioneers to develop Australia. Considering that our population is only about 6,700,000, this is indeed a wonderful achievement for Australia.
– ‘Will the honorable member place side by side with the amount he has just quoted the amount which this country pays in interest annually?
– Those figures cannot be fairly compared. We are paying interest upon loans made to Australia to enable it to build railways and public works, without which this country could not have been developed. Some of that interest also is being paid on loans contracted for war services. That money had to be borrowed, and we cannot fairly contrast pensions payments and our total interest bill. It is the humanitarian aspect of this matter which I am stressing. When one takes into consideration what the State governments are contributing for humanitarian services, and allows as well for this Government’s expenditure on social services, I submit that there are very few countries in the world which treat this section of the community more generously than does Australia. This is not e party matter, and discussions of this nature should not be used by honorable members to bid for political support outside. All of us would like to give the pensioners as much as possible, but existing economic conditions dictate what we can afford in that respect, and in those circumstances we can only do our best. Honorable members on both sides of this House have contributed towards this legislation. At the convention which gave the Commonwealth power to institute invalid and old-age pensions, there was not a Labour party representative present, and the clause which was inserted in the Constitution enabling the Commonwealth to pay pensions was so inserted at the instance of Mr. Howe, of South Australia. Furthermore, when the Federal Parliament first dealt with this question, all parties in the House at that time combined to make the legislation as favorable as possible to the pensioners. There was a general all-round support in that debate, and such should be the attitude adopted by honorable members of all parties towards this matter to-day. The first increase of the pension, which was made in 1916, was effected by a Labour government, but from that time until 1925, when other governments were in power in this Parliament, further increases were granted to the pensioners. I do not state these facts to claim any prestige for a particular party. It must be realized that increases of pensions can be made only when the economic conditions of the country enable the government to make them. This, I claim, is the proper test to be applied in this matter now. In later years, a Labour government, because of necessity, had to reduce the amount of the pension. It is not to be condemned for having done so. I feel sure that there was not a sadder man in Parliament when this reduction was made than the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), who was then Prime Minister, and, whose government had to accept the responsibility for that reduction. That government was entitled to sympathy and support for being so placed.
This year the rate of pension has been increased from 17s. 6d. to 18s., and the extra 6d. will cost the country £350,000 annually. If the pension were to be restored to £1, the additional expenditure involved would be, approximately, £1,400,000 over and above the £350,000 now proposed. To-day the Assistant Treasurer feels that the full restoration cannot be made, and, accordingly, he has presented certain proposals in this bill. The amount of £350,000 annually, arising from the increase of 6d. in each pension, does not include additional expenditure which will have to be met to pay pensions to fresh applicants. In view of those amounts, can it be justly said that the Australian people are ungenerous towards the pensioners?
The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition asks that this bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide for complete restoration of the reductions of invalid and old-age pensions without increasing the appropriation now provided. I ask honorable members opposite, what is the meaning of the words “without increasing the appropriation “ ? This bill was introduced by a message from the
Governor-General asking the House to provide a sum to cover certain restorations covered by the bill, and the House has approved of such an appropriation to enable the proposals contained in this bill to be carried out. The provision which the Government proposes to make in restorations of one kind and another was clearly indicated in the budget speech and in the bill under discussion, and the total amount involved was not anything like as large as the £1,400,000 that would be necessary to restore pensions to £1 a week. If honorable members will examine the terms of the amendment they will see that it would be impossible to give effect to them under the present appropriation. As a matter of fact, the amendment is meaningless, for it provides for certain things to be done “ without increasing the appropriation “. It would be impossible to do what the mover of the amendment desires without obtaining another message from the GovernorGeneral, covering a much larger amount than that covered by the message upon which this bill is based. I cannot, therefore, support the amendment. In view of all the financial circumstances of the country it cannot be said with justice that the Government has overlooked our pensioners.
Mr.Ward. - But Ministers are receiving a big increase.
– The total amount to be expended on an additional Minister will be only a very small sum. It is ludicrous to suggest that that amount could have any effect whatever in increasing the payments to tens ofthousands of pensioners. I sympathize with our pensioners.
– Sympathy is all they get from this Government.
– They have received a lot more than sympathy from the Government. Even if the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) were Treasurer, I do not think that he would be able, with a proper sense of his responsibilities, to make the restorations that he is requesting the Assistant Treasurer to make. I have sufficient faith in his sense of duty to believe that were he Treasurer he would take similar action to that now taken by the Assistant Treasurer and do what he thought was the right thing in respect of both taxpayers and pensioners.
I wish now for a moment to refer to the purchasing power of the pension in various years. I direct the attention of honorable members to the following table based on the price index figure of 1,000 for 1911, which shows the variations of the price index number for food and groceries in the years mentioned, together with the rate of pension and the amount which would be required to purchase the equivalent of 10s. in 1909 : -
The figures in that table are illuminating, and reveal clearly that our pensioner: have not been treated unjustly. I speak feelingly on this subject, for I have moved freely among invalid and old-age pensioners. Many pensioners have written to me expressing gratitude for what has been done for them. They have also said that the provision of the pension has afforded them considerable relief. I believe that the pensioners of this country are gratified at what has been done for them. Speaking in general terms, they realize that their relatives are taxpayers who have to help to provide the money out of which pensions are paid. We must all admit, I think, that although no compulsory contributions from relatives are required to a pensions fund in this country, the great body of relatives of pensioners stand 11 behind their people and do the best they can to help them. This is a good thing for Australia. It shows thai a fine sense of family feeling still prevails in the community, and that must be beneficial to our great Commonwealth.
.- Honorable members on this side of the House find no pleasure in the necessity to repeat continually the arguments that may be marshalled in support of their contention that a pension of £1 a week should be restored to our invalid and old-age pensioners, who are undoubtedly the most needy class in our community. It may reasonably be assumed also that honorable members of the Government parties do not derive pleasure from hearing these arguments repeated. But unfortunately it is still necessary to impress upon the Government the urgency of the case. The Minister in charge of this bill (Mr. Casey) concluded his defence of the Government upon a very high note and said that the Government had treated the invalid and old-age pensioners very fairly.
Incidentally, as the Ministers of State Bill has now been passed by another place, I take this opportunity to congratulate the honorable gentleman upon his recent elevation to full Cabinet rank.
It is pertinent, in view of all that has been said on this subject, that I should direct attention to the history of the activities of the Government’ m regard to pensions. Were it not for the political acumen and indisputable ability of the honorable member in charge of this bill, we should be tempted to think that he does not understand the meaning of certain simple English words. In fact, any unbiassed person who listened to the references of honorable members opposite to “ fair mindedness “, “ fair dealing “, and “ political honesty “, might almost be persuaded that these honorable members attributed a meaning to those words different from that given in our dictionaries, which most people concede is their proper meaning. That seems to be the only reason that can be adduced to justify the assertions that Government supporters continually make to the effect that the Ministry has acted fairly towards the poorest section of our people - the quarter of a million odd who draw the invalid and old-age pension. I propose to traverse the record of the Government since the Labour party went out of office four years ago.
But in view of certain confusion that appears to exist in the public mind, which honorable members opposite have done nothing whatever to dispel, I shall first outline the circumstances under which the payment of invalid and old-age pensions was originally approved by certain legislatures in this country. Honorable members opposite take every conceivable opportunity to claim full credit for their political party, and those parties which, under various names, preceded it, for the introduction of the original pensions legislation. It will be remembered, however, that towards the end of the last century the Labour party was the most powerful political unit in the Parliaments of three of the colonies, and in the first decade of this century it was in a position in the Commonwealth Parliament to compel the anti-Labour governments then in office to comply with its desires in certain respects. It was on this account solely that the original pensions legislation was introduced. In the ‘nineties of the last century there was considerable public discussion regarding the proposal to institute a scheme of paying invalid and old-age pensions. The political predecessors of honorable members opposite Contended that the introduction of such a scheme would undermine the moral fibre of the people and encourage them in spendthrift habits. That argument was also used in later years, when it was first proposed to provide a maternity allowance. Despite these arguments the Labour party placed tlie provision of pensions in the forefront of its political programme, and as it was in a position to force its antagonists to comply with its desires, several old-age pensions bills were passed before a Labour government assumed office. For example, in September, 1899, the Labour party placed the Lyne government in office in New South Wales instead of the Reid administration because Sir William Lyne promised that if he became Premier he would introduce a pensions scheme. In December, 1900, in compliance with that promise an old-age pensions act was placed on the statute-book of New South Wales. This was our first old-age pensions law. In November of that year Labour placed the Turner government in power in Victoria in succession to the McLean administration, because Sir Gorge Turner promised to introduce an old-age pension bill. In due course he did jo. That made the second State in which a pensions law was in operation. In February, 1908, the Labour party put
Mr. Kidston in office in Queensland in place of Sir Robert Philp, because Mr. Kidston undertook to introduce an oldage pensions bill. He also, in due course, did so. Three States then had an oldage pension law in operation at the direct behest of the Labour party. Had there been no Labour party there would have been no old-age pension law. Similarly, had there been no Labour party in the Commonwealth Parliament the introduction of a Commonwealth pensions bill would have been delayed for very many years. The Honorable Alfred Deakin obtained the support of the Labour party in 1905 because he promised to introduce a pensions bill. This support brought about the defeat of the Reid administration. Mr. Deakin wrote a letter, a copy of which may be seen in the archives of the Library, in which he undertook that if he became Prime Minister, he would introduce a pensions law. Constitutional difficulties prevented the fulfilment of that promise until 1908. It was said that as the Constitution provided that all surplus revenue must be paid to the States, it would be illegal to use such revenue for the purpose of paying pensions. The Labour party contended, however, that a trust fund could be created out of which pensions could be paid. Mr. Andrew Fisher, as the leader of the Labour party, advised Mr. Deakin that this course could be taken. He pointed out that he had obtained legal opinion to that effect. He also intimated that, unless immediate steps were taken to provide for the payment of pensions, the Labour party would withdraw its support from the Deakin administration. The Deakin Government thereupon introduced a bill for the establishment of a trust fund for the payment of oldage pensions.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– The party to which credit must be given for the institution of the Australian invalid and old-age pensions is the Australian Labour party.
– By proxy.
– It was the political power that the Labour party possessed that brought about the payment of these pensions. Labour had sufficient power in this House to place in office the party that would carry out its policy. The letter to which I referred previously from Mr. Deakin to Mr. Fisher is in the following terms : - 5th July, 1905.
Dear Mr. Watson, I am now able to inform you that the programme of business to be submitted to the present Parliament will include, in addition to the budget and other ordinary requirements of that kind, any necessary legislation upon the matters and lines embraced in the Ballarat platform, 1903, or since arising out of the action of the House. I may mention among the subjects that we hope to deal with - some of them being already advanced more than one stage - are the following - ( 1 ) White Australia; (2) iron bounty; (3) preferential trade; (4) rural development; (5) navigation; (6) high commissioner; (7) tariff commission report; (8) trade marks; (9) fraudulent marks; (10) Papua; (11) quarantine; (12) electoral requirements; (13) population; (14) old-age pensions; (15) West Australian railway surveys; (16) anti-trust bill; (17) defence; (18) State debts. We cannot hope to dispose of all these great problems, but may be enabled to secure further consideration for those upon which legislative action is not yet desirable.
Yours very truly,
That letter contained a promise to carry out eighteen items of the Labour party’s policy including the institution of pensions for the aged. That letter was submitted to the Labour party and the following resolution was agreed to: -
That this party, having been informed through Mr. Watson of the measures proposed to be submitted by Mr. Deakin, agrees to give his Ministry a generalsupport during this Parliament in the transaction of public business.
In consequence of Mr. Deakin’s promise the Labour party supported his Government, and the bill providing for the payment of old-age pensions was passed in 1908. That legislation provided that oldage pensions were to come into operation not later than on the 1st July, 1909. The Fisher Labour Government occupied the Treasury bench for six months in 1908- 1909, and it passed legislation enforcing the payment of old-age pensions as from the 15th April, 1909. No time was then fixed for the establishment of a system of pensions for invalids, but the second Fisher Government passed legislation which brought these pensions into operation as from the 11th November, 1910. I think that that should settle the argument as to which party placed invalid and oldage pensions on the statute-book. Lest doubt should remain, however, I desire to quote two or three tributes selected at random from members of Parliament who strongly opposed the Labour party. Senator Mulcahy (Tasmania), speaking on the question in the Senate on the 3rd June, 1908, left no doubt in the minds of any one as to who was actually responsible for the bringing into existence of the first Pensions Act. He said -
After a certain meeting of a certain party, it was made known that the Deakin Government would be allowed to remain in office for the time being provided that what was required of them was done. I am prepared to give the Labour party every credit in the matter, and I assert that if ascheme for the establishment of old-age pensions is approved this session, the whole of the credit for it will be due to the Labour party and not the Government.
The honorable senator who made that tribute was one of the most bitter opponents of the Labour party in the Commonwealth Parliament.
Senator Sayers (Queensland), also opposed to the Labour party, speaking on the same question stated -
Some people have been a little injudicious, and have divulged perhaps more than they intended., but it is well known that, but for pressure, the Government would never have proceeded with any other business this session when the tariff was finished.
Mr.W. Knox (Victoria), on the 3rd June, 1908, said -
Some time back the Leader of the Labour party took the business of the House out of the hands of the Government and moved a motion directing Ministers to bring in this bill. He now points out that within six weeks the SurplusRevenue Bill and this bill have been introduced to do what was demanded.
There can be no shadow of doubt that it was the pressure exerted by the political predecessors of the Australian Labour party as it is now constituted that the pension system was placed in operation. It has been argued that since that period, the only increases that have been granted in the rate of pensions have been made by anti-Labour governments, and the only decrease by the Labour Government led by Mr. Scullin. It is obvious that no increases could have been made by a Labour government, because since the conscription split in 1916, the Labour party has not yet obtained power in both Houses of Parliament. Certainly from 1929 to 1931, it had control over the House of Representatives, but not over another place, which had power to block any legislation brought forward. The Labour party on numerous occasions brought forward resolutions urging increases in the rate of pensions, but various anti-Labour governments refused to implement them. It is sufficient, I think, to answer the charge that the Scullin Government made the first cut in pensions by a recital of the events in 1929-1931. Supporters of the Government have no reason to pride . themselves on the part they played then. By actions in this Parliament, influence with financial institutions outside, and political power in another place, they used every possible force to prevent the Scullin Government from carrying out the financial policy which it had been elected to put into operation. Government supporters played the worst part in the events which led up to the pensions cut, and the Government should be the last to launch any criticism against the Scullin Government on that score.
– The honorable member is making heavy weather of it.
– The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) made heavy weather the other night when he said definitely that he did not promise that the first restoration to be made when conditions improved would be to the pensioners. Hansard records on page 3648 that on the 9th July, 1931, the right honorable gentleman said -
Not one member of this side of the House supports with pleasure the reduction of wages and pensions, and so far as we are concerned the reduction will not operate longer than is necessary for the restoration of financial stability.
The only reasonable interpretation to be placed on those words is that the intention was that any improvement of financial conditions would mean immediate benefit to the invalid and old-age pensioners. Added significance attaches to the Government’s failure to carry out that promise in view of the continual declarations on its behalf that conditions have so improved-
– Ministers say that Australia has turned the corner.
– The Government also is continually claiming that in consequence of its masterly activities in the last four years, this nation has at last risen from the depression. The actions of the Lyons Government now are very different from those it promised four years ago when it came into office with a surplus of £1,314,000 in the Treasury. The Scullin Government, which in the previous year Lad been faced with an estimated deficit of approximately £20,000,000, had left it. That Government was compelled to pass certain very severe measures to avoid that prospective deficit. The legacy which the Lyons Ministry received was the direct result of Mr. Scullin’s policy. Even in the dark days of 1930, the efforts of Labour to restore this country’s finances were largely successful. Despite promises, the first budget introduced by Mr. Lyons as Prime Minister and Treasurer provided for a reduction amounting to £60,000 in maternity allowances, £240,000 in public service salaries and wages, and £1,100,000 in invalid and old-age pensions. In the same budget tax remissions amounting to £1,250,000 were granted to the wealthy classes. The Government certainly had money with which it could play and no excuse whatever for failing to carry out its pledges. The manner in which it was proposed to mulct the pensioners of. £1,100,000 was by reducing every pension from 17s. 6d. to 15s. A revolt developed among its own supporters and, as a result, a slightly differentstand was adopted by the Government. It is only fair to point out. however, that those members of the Government party who revolted represented industrial constituencies which they had won by slender margins, and had little prospect of retaining at the following election if the budget policy were endorsed.
– Those honorable members did retain their seats.
– Some of them did because of the Government’s changed attitude. The 25 per cent, tax on the poorest classes was insisted upon, but it was decided that where pensioners received incomes of less than 2s. 6d. weekly, they would be given sufficient to make up the pension payment to 17s. 6d. a week. The fact remains that the Lyons Government cut the pensions to 15s. and allowed , additions to help those who had no income. It was estimated that the concession that the Government had given would reduce the saving it had intended to make from £1,100,000 to £700,000 a year. But the bill went much further than that; it alao proposed that in future pensions should be regarded merely as a loan, and that any property left by a pensioner at his death should become the property of the Government to an amount sufficient to defray the cost of the pension. Relatives of pensioners were to be called upon, if they were able, to contribute to the support of pensioners, not as an addition to the pension, but in part payment of it. Honorable members on this side opposed that legislation most vigorously, but the Government succeeded in passing it. We accused members of the party opposite of having deliberately underestimated the revenue by several millions of pounds per annum. We pointed out that the estimate of customs and excise receipts was £1,000,000 less than had been received during the previous twelve months, and that it was obvious that, as the result of the holes that were being made in the tariff wall, the receipts would be materially increased. The soundness of this argument was proved by the receipt of £1,000,000 more from income tax and £5,300,000 more from customs and excise, than had been estimated. In the first four months of the year the surplus was £2,700,000. Yet the Government had the effrontery to tell this Parliament that such inaccurate estimates showed the necessity for the proposed reductions of the amounts paid to those who were least able to bear an additional burden. Any decent government, upon becoming aware of a miscalculation, would have admitted the fact and restored what had been taken. Instead of doing that, however, the Government introduced a financial relief hill in November of the same year with the object of assisting the wheat-farmers, and of reducing the land tax and property tax by £700,000 and £500,000 respectively. As a matter of fact, that measure was introduced into this House before the further reductions of pensions, maternity allowance and public service salaries had become law. Forunately the right honorable gentleman who presented that budget has since relinquished the office of Treasurer. We were justified in hoping that the honorable gentleman who assumed the responsibilities of that office would take advantage of the opportunity to undo the harm that had been done by his predecessor; but instead of making any such endeavour he is simply following the same methods. During the period that this Government has been in power it has made reductions of taxes approximating £12,000,000 per annum. That means that in each and every year the tax levied is £12,000,000 less than it was formerly.
– Is not that a good thing?
– Let me make the position a little clearer. I assume that Ministers know what it is, but are attempting to mislead the public. In regard to direct taxation - income tax, property tax and land tax - reductions have been made approximating £12,000,000 per annum. Those taxes are levied upon persons with substantial incomes. On the other hand, indirect taxation, which is imposed by means of customs duties, and falls equally upon the rich and the poor, has been increased by millions of pounds. In the first year of this Government’s tenure of office the receipts from customs were nearly £5,500,000 greater than the estimate. Every man, woman and child contributed in equal degree to that revenue. In addition, this Government imposed a flour tax, which is a direct tax and falls most heavily on the poorer sections of the community. That was made necessary by the remissions given to the wealthy section. One company announced, in a report to its shareholders, that the remissions were worth to it £40,000 per annum. No one can convince me that honorable members opposite are sincere when they contend that the £12,000,000 is devoted to the provision of employment throughout Australia. Apart from moral considerations, if these have no appeal for the Government, the imposition of the flour tax and the reduction of pensions and the maternity allowance, was unwise, because the sum involved would have gone into circulation, and assisted to promote employment. Just as the Scullin Government was the most unfortunate in the history of Australia, so no government has been more fortunate than that which is in power at present, in having encountered fortuitous circumstances. The prices of “wheat, wool, butter and other commodities are rising. Yet honorable members sit back smugly, self-satisfied, and claim all the credit for what Providence has done in the direction of improving the position.
In regard to the property provisions of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, the Government eventually was forced into the position which honorable members on this side had foreseen; it did not dare to persist with its legislation. Meanwhile, however, it had saved hundreds of thousands of pounds, because many persons who did not wish their relatives to suffer surrendered their pensions. When this provision was introduced, the Prime Minister said that it was necessary because of the number of ineligible persons who were receiving pensions. When 12,000 or 13,000 persons had surrendered their pensions, the reason assigned by Government members was that they were not entitled to them; but, when the Government decided, after representations had been made from this side of the House, to repeal that provision, those honorable members claimed that the cost would be increased by hundreds of thousands of pounds because many of those who had voluntarily surrendered their pensions would again lodge claims for them, thus proving the incorrectness of their former statement that the reason for the surrenders was desentitlement. Yet that statement was broadcast throughout Australia by the press, and was not refuted by any member of the Government.
There is another statement upon which the Assistant Treasurer and I have clashed on more than one occasion. I should not mention it but for the fact that the honorable gentleman has complained bitterly of having been accused of a deliberate mis-statement. Upon one occasion he made the statement that only £6 had been received from relatives of pensioners. In reality, the receipts at the time of the repeal of that provision exceeded £6,000 per annum, and £2,500 had been received up to that date. A larger amount had not been received because the Government, obviously fearing political repercussions, had halted the department when it had just begun ti) claim contributions from relatives of pensioners who had drawn a pension prior to the amendment introduced at the end of 1932. Yet the statement was broadcast that the reason for the repeal was that the Government had found that very little was being obtained from relatives! In reality, the Government had discovered that so much harm was being done to it politically that the repeal was advisable in its own interests.
Lest any honorable member may be under an illusion in regard to the attitude of Government members, I quote the following statement, which, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, was made by Senator Pearce several years ago -
There are many who, because of their thriftlessness, and because they have never denied themselves any form of luxury and pleasure, by their own act brought themselves within the pension claim.
In other words, the right honorable senator contended that these persons had only themselves to blame for their need of a pension in their old age. Yet the statistics show that seven out of every ten persons in the community may expect to be in need of a pension upon reaching the age of 60 years in the ease of females, and 65 years in the case of males. 1 urge the Government not to take refuge behind technicalities as was done by the honorable member for Darling Downs (Sir Littleton Groom), who claimed that, this particular amendment did not. in itself provide for a complete restoration of pensions. I urge the Government to take a broader view of the matter than that. Seeing that the Commonwealth revenue this year amounts to nearly £78,000,000, which is £12,000,000 more than the revenue of a few years ago, despite the fact that large remissions of taxes have been made, the country can well afford to remit this tax of 2s. a week which the pensioners are paying out of their nominal allowance of £1 a week. If taxes are to be reduced, the first remission should surely apply to the old-age pensioners. We should not wait until the cost of living rises so that they will get an automatic increase. There seems very little prospect that, at any time in the near future, the cost of living will have risen sufficiently to entitle the pensioners to even another 6d. a week. Moreover, even if an increased pension became payable as the result of a rise in the cost of living, the pensioners would be no better off. When this Government inserted in the Pensions Act a section providing for an automatic variation of pensions in accordance with the cost of living index number, it was only pretending to be solicitous for the welfare of pensioners because, at that time, there did not seem to be the remotest prospect that the cost of living would rise within any measurable period. Moreover, I do not think it is fair to make pensions subject to the price index figure, because never at any time, until the advent of the Lyons Government, was the cost of living regarded as a factor in determining the rate of old-age pensions. I also suggest - though this matter is not so urgent as pensions - that a complete restoration of salaries and allowances be made to public servants, seeing that it will cost only an additional £60,000. I believe that a complete restoration should he made of pensions, Public Service salaries, maternity allowances, and allowances to members of Parliament; but if there is to be any discrimination, then the order should be, pensions, maternity allowances, public service salaries, and parliamentary allowances. Owing to the decline of the cost of living as compared with 1931, the Government is saving over a million pounds a year in Public Service salaries, so that the amount required to make a complete restoration of the statutory deduction i3 hardly worth considering. There is no reason why there should be any sectional taxation on pensioners, public servants, politicians or anybody else. Let us decide what these people are entitled to receive, mid pay them that amount.
.- No honorable member of this House can feel in his heart that the debate on this bill has been altogether edifying. The public of Australia cannot be convinced, T fear, that the question of whether or not allowances to members of Parliament should be raised or not should be made a matter for hours of bitter party propaganda. The debate must make many members of Parliament feel as I do - that this whole question of parliamentary allowances should be inquired into by an all-party committee. The method adopted by the Government of introducing into the budget a provision for the partial restoration of parliamentary allowances is, I believe, a proper one. Many arguments may be advanced in justification of restoring parliamentary allowances simultaneously with Public Service salaries, and I criticize the Government only in view cf the fact that, when (he payers of direct and indirect taxes are still struggling under a tremendous burden, members of Parliament might well have waited a little longer. [ mention the taxpayers particularly because there seems to be an impression among certain members of the House thai those who receive the benefits of social sei’ vices arc entitled to every possible consideration, but that those wlm provide the money out of which the- services are paid Cor are entitled to no consideration whatever. I do not want to set myself up as :. judge of whether parliamentary allowances are inadequate, adequate or excessive. I happen to be one of those members who live within fairly ea;v reach of the national capital, and therefore the reduced allowance is adequate in my case. As all honorable members of this House arc aware, although many members of the public: are not, the payment to members is termed an allowance rather than a salary, the idea being that no member of the community should be prevented, because of his financial position, from representing a constituency in Parliament, and that, I think, is right and proper. We should consider, however, whether it is right that those who live close to the capital city should receive the same allowance as those who live in the more isolated electorates. A case might be put up that for those who live in Sydney, Melbourne, and the more conveniently situated electorates of New South Wales and Victoria, the present allowance is more than sufficient; but the present allowance is definitely inadequate for many of those representing outlying electorates.
– Does the honorable member think he could live on his pa 111 amenta ry allowance ?
– I arn confident that any one residing near the national capital could live on his allowance, but those who have to keep up a home in, say, Western Australia or Queensland, and reside in Canberra almost continuously throughout the parliamentary session, would find the greatest difficulty in meeting all their expenses out of their parliamentary allowances. I am aware that many of those representing city or suburban electorates say that there is a continual drain on their parliamentary allowances, caused by the probably quite innocent blackmail levied on them by their constituents in the form of contributions to charities, social clubs and individual cases of hard luck. There is room for reform in that direction. In our Electoral Act we protect parliamentary condidates against extravagant election expenses, and something of the kind is overdue to protect members of Parliament from being “ blackmailed “ by their constituents in the way I have described. The introduction of reforms of this kind would make members of Parliament appreciably better off on their present allowance than would be the case if a restoration of deductions were made.
Consideration should also be given to the matter of travelling allowances. I do not like citing particular cases, but recently I travelled between 3,000 and 4,000 miles in Western Australia and, during the whole of that time, I was never out of the electorate of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green). Moreover, I was impressed by the fact that his gold pass on the railways was of little or no value in keeping him in touch with that vast electorate. Members of the Parliament of Great Britain, instead of being given passes over the railways, are provided with passes to travel to and from their electorates. Consideration might be given to a proposal to give federal members specific travelling allowances rather than gold passes. In some electorates railways are of little or no use to them. The railways provide inadequate means «f journeying to Canberra from various parts of Australia. I am not prepared to suggest that honorable members should be provided with free passages by air liners, for that would involve a tremendous increase of the transportation costs borne by the Government; but I suggest that honorable members should be given the alternative of allowances in place of gold railway passes. I am not submitting this proposal merely because I personally do not use the railways. I provide for my own transport because it enables me to give closer attention to the affairs of my electorate ; but if it suits honorable members to avail themselves of more modern methods of conveyance they should be encouraged to do so. The matter which I have raised should be considered on a non-party basis, free from the unedifying spectacle witnessed during this debate.
.- I support the amendment, because I contend that any legislation for the restoration of salaries or allowances, or for the relief of primary producers, should be opposed by me until the invalid and old-age pension has been restored. The honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Baker) pointed out that large sums have been paid to the primary producers, and that the wealthy sections have had their taxes reduced by an amount which would provide for the restoration of the pension ten times over. The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Fairbairn) has raised several points that deserve serious consideration, but not a word was said by him about the need for relieving the aged and invalid folk who have suffered at the hands of this Government. Amongst the recipients of the pension are thousands of ex-soldiers who contracted tuberculosis as a result of war injuries. Many of these have had to subsist on the invalid pension, and it should be fully restored before any taxes are remitted.
.- In supporting the amendment, I remind the House that many of the present members of the House were in this chamber when the Financial Emergency Bill was introduced on the 3rd July, 1931, and those who opposed that measure were accused of being traitors to Australia. It was said at the time that the bill was of a temporary nature, and so soon as the finances would permit, the invalid and old-age pension would be restored before any other claims were considered. Numbers of honorable members opposite supported the government of the day in its policy of reduced expenditure. In the 1931 budget, reductions of over £16,000,000 ‘ were provided for at the expense of the poorer sections of the community. Sales tax legislation wa3 passed for the raising of £4,000,000 a year, but it brought in revenue to the amount of about £8,000,000 a year. The reductions imposed as the result of the financial emergency legislation were as follow: -
lt will he recalled that during the discussion on the measure, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) spoke feelingly, and declared that he expressed the views of every supporter of the Government. Ho emphasized that the bill was of a temporary nature. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) suggested an amendment to limit the operation of the measure to a period of three or four years, but he did not submit that amendment, as the then Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) refused to accept it. Mr. Lyons said he was pleased Mr. Theodore was opposed to such an amendment, because no definite term should be fixed. He added that if the financial position became normal within three years, the first action of the Government should bo to restore to the poorer sections the income of which they were being deprived. Since that time, the Government led by Mr. Lyons has reduced the taxes of the wealthy classes to the amount of £20,000,000. Most of these classes have not suffered as a result of that legislation. When interest rates were reduced, the financial institutions balanced their loss by staff reductions. Tho right honorable member for North Sydney, then a member of the rank and file, said that throughout his life he had advocated increased wages and improved standards of living for the poorer section?, and when ho indicated that he desired to submit an amendment, he was taken to task by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson”!. The right honorable member for North Sydney said -
We Hie tike nien on a ship in mid-ocean, whoso supply of fresh water has nearly run out, whose distillation plant has partially broken down, and who arc compelled by circumstances to go on short allowance. They haie no alternative, nor have we. It is not :i question of what wo would or would not. or what we like or dislike.
The reduced ration was accepted by the invalid and old-age pensioner with good grace; but although there is now a plentiful supply in the reservoir, this section is asked to remain on short rations. The present Prime Minister, referring to the amendment suggested by the right honorable member for North Sydney, remarked -
I am glad that the Government will not accept the amendment suggested by the right honorable member for North Sydney. I think that it would be impossible to fix a date for tho termination of the operation of the plan.
– The honorable member wants it to stand for ever.
– No. I appeal to the right honorable member for North Sydney not to persist in his amendment, because lie has the assurance of tho Treasurer, on behalf of the Government, that this is merely an emergency measure. Every honorable member on the Opposition side has looked upon it in that light. I was one of the first to suggest the general reduction of expenditure, because I know that it was inevitable. Were it possible to avoid these cuts, I would certainly have done all in my power to prevent them. Not one member on this side of the chamber supports with pleasure the reduction of wages ami pensions, and, so far us we are concerned, the reduction will not operate longer than is necessary for tho restoration of financial stability.
That statement was made by the Prime Minister. who now says that the Government has made reductions of taxes amounting to £20,000,000. If we desire parliamentary institutions to stand unsullied, we must not break our word with any section of the community. No matter what government may -be in power, a promise given by this Parliament should be honoured. If the highest institution in the land does not honour its. promise, then one cannot expect people outside to have any respect for it. Despite the argument of honorable members opposite that the cost of living has decreased, and, therefore, pensioners are better off to-day than previously, I point out that the standard of living of the old people has always been too low. This Government appears to be determined to allow the pension rate to remain at 17s. 6d. a week, and it seems that, the only means by which pensioners will be able to regain the full pension of £1 is through an increase of the cost of living. However, should the pensioners receive the full rate of £1, and the cost of living then increase, the pension rate is not to be increased beyond £1. The old people of the community are entitled to some consideration from this point of view. They are soldiers of industry; there is not enough work to go around among the whole adult population. For this reason every nation makes provision for its aged and indigent, and that provision - particularly in the case of a country like Australia - should be made on generous lines. Even if the pensioners were given back the full rate of £1, they would not be able to live in luxury, as they have to live very economically at all times in order to subsist. Honorable gentlemen opposite do not now seem prepared to live up to their promise that they would not support the restoration of any of the reductions made under the financial emergency legislation until the full rate of pension had been restored. Reductions of the salaries of public servants in receipt of up to £485 per annum have been fully restored.
– Their salaries are still subject to a cost of living cut.
Mr.RIORDAN.- That is beside the point. A man on a salary of £400 can bear the cost of living, or any other, cut better than can the pensioner on 18s. a week. Surely the honorable member for Grey does not suggest that 36s. a week will enable an aged couple to live in luxury, or that these also should suffer the cost of living cut of £6 per annum. I am surprised that such a suggestion should come from the honorable member, who is himself in very comfortable circumstances, and represents in this House a vast country electorate where the generosity of the community is usually more pronounced than among people in more densely populated centres. I am surprised at such an interjection being made by the honorable member.
The amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition will give to the honorable members for New England (Mr. Thompson) andWide Bay (Mr. Corser) an opportunity to honour their promises in this matter. It will give a similar opportunity to many other honorable members who made similar promises when the financial emergency legislation was enacted. These gentlemen include yourself. Mr. Speaker, who, I am sure, would not commit a breach of your word given in good faith to any section of the community. According to a division list of the 8th July, 1931, honorable members who voted on the financial emergency legislation, and are still members of this House, include Messrs. S. L. Gardner, H. Gregory, H. S. Gullett, C. A. S. Hawker, J. A. Lyons, C. W. C. Marr, W. M. Nairn, Archdale Parkhill, T. Paterson, J. L. Price, J. H. Prowse, V. C Thompson, T. W. White, and J. A. J. Hunter, whilst the name of J. Francis is shown in the “ Ayes “ column in the pairs for that division. All of these gentlemen, I repeat, by their vote on the amendment now proposed will have an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves in the estimation of the people to whom they made the pledge to which I refer. The Assistant Treasurer has stated that a sum of £2,020,000 would be required to restore the full rate of pension. On this occasion he has budgeted for a surplus of £1,000,000.
– A million is near enough for the honorable member.
– To that surplus of £17,000 can be added the reductions of sales tax, and of tax on income from property, and other remissions of taxes which this Government has effected. Even then the amount will not be near enough for me; it may be for the honorable the Minister for Defence, because a thousand pounds or two is nothing to him. But1s. a week is something to an old-age pensioner. Members of the Government, who are enjoying life as the result of the generosity of the taxpayers of this country, can make still further sacrifices to enable portion of the reduction of the pension tobe restored.
The restoration of1s. of the pension reduction would require a sum of over £1,000,000. The object of the amendment is not merely to amend the bill before the House, but also to see that not only this measure, but the whole of the budget as well is re-drafted, to provide for the restoration of the payments filched from the invalid and old-age pensioners. Even if the Government is not prepared to go so far as that, let it make a start in that direction by restoring the full maternity allowance, an item which would involve an annual expenditure of £220,000. I remind honorable membersopposite that they have only to refer to their own speeches reported in Hansard to see where they should stand on this matter to-day. Those honorable members opposite who spoke in this House at the time the financial emergency legislation was passed would blush if they contrasted their attitude then with their attitude on this matter to-day. Despite the protestations made by the honorable member for Darling Downs (Sir Littleton Groom) one would believe that his heart bled for the pensioners when one listened to him speaking on the hustings in his electorate. On such occasions he invariably delves into ancient history, remarking upon the part ho has played in pension legislation, and promising wholeheartedly to see that the welfare of the old-age pensioners is safeguarded. If his heart bleeds for the pensioner, he has an opportunity now to be sincere in this matter by supporting the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition. The old people do not want lip service from their representatives in this House; they want to see that the Government honours the promise given in 1931, as it has already honoured it in respect of more favoured sections of the community. The only section of the community which is worse off than the pensioner is the unemployed. I hope the Minister will seriously consider the amendment, proposed by the Leader of the Opposition. This country is not so bankrupt, that this Parliament cannot honour the pledge it gave in 1931 to this section of the community who faced the economic crisis equally with other sections of the community. In addition to the reductions of pensions, many pensioners had to suffer further penalties because of their ownership of property. Such losses should also now be made good by this Government.
I repeat that the promises given by this Parliament to this section of the community must now be honoured. I ask the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), tlie right honorable the Minister for Health and Repatriation (Mr. Hughes), the honorable the Minister for Defence (Mr. Parkhill), and the
Minister assisting the Minister for Repatriation and the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Hunter), and the honorable members for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser) and New England (Mr. Thompson), to honour the promise given by them to tlie old-age pensioners on the 8th July, 1931, when among 40 members of this House they voted for the passage of the financial emergency measure, and were abused by certain other honorable members, who said that once such reductions had been made they would never be restored to the pensioners of this country.
– I assure the honorable member who has just, resumed his seat, that I am prepared to vote on this matter according to wy convictions. Whenever increases of the pension have been proposed, I. have supported such proposals a.s I have opposed all reductions of the pension. However, I made jio promise on iiic occasion on which the Government, of which the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) was a supporter passed the financial emergency legislation. To that extent I have no promise to fulfil on this occasion. The promise then made in this House that the pension would be fully restored as soon as the finances of the country permitted was made by leaders of the then Government, of which the honorable member for Kennedy was a supporter. My responsibilities in regard to the restoration of the pension have a risen since that date. On a matter of principle I have, at every opportunity, supported increases and opposed reductions of the pension. I propose to follow a similar course to-night, particularly as the measure now before this House proposes to return 2£ per cent, of the reduction of the allowance to members of this House, while it totally disregards the claims of the pensioners. For that reason alone I am determined by my vote to support the amendment. I emphasize that so far as I am personally concerned I will persistently vote for any amendment which the Opposition may move later against any proposal to increase the income of any members of this House until the full rate of the invalid and oldage pension has been restored. The amendment, however, does not reject the increase and should be moved in committee.
.- Every one is aware of the circumstances surrounding the passing of the financial emergency legislation, but 1 point out that further cuts under that measure were brought about by the first Lyons Government in 1932. Not satisfied with making such cuts, that Government levied toll upon the property of deceased pensioners. The pensioners have had a very raw deal from this Government.
The honorable member for Darling Downs (Sir Littleton Groom) complained that although the object of the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) was to increase the rate of pension, no provision was made in it for an increase of the appropriation. But he knows very well that private members may not move to increase the appropriation. When the Premiers plan was first introduced both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition of the clay promised that immediately the financial position improved, the rate ofpension would be restored to £1 a week. An extraordinary position developed when the Scullin Government introduced the original financial emergency legislation, for eighteen of its supporters refused to support the bill, which was passed only because the members of the then Opposition voted for it. That was a unique situation for a Labour government to have to face. Under those conditions, it is ridiculous for honorable members opposite to charge the Labour party with having reduced the pension. No reduction could have been made had they not themselves supported the government of the day. The references of the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) to the Hansard report of the speeches delivered by honorable members at that time have made it abundantly clear that the general view then was that, immediately the financial position improved, the pension and salary reductions would be restored. This Government, however, has seen fit to make tax remissions to certain wealthy interests in the community to the extent of many millions of pounds, without lifting, to any real extent, the burdens placed upon the people by the passage of the financial emergency legis lation. Speaking by and large, the taxpayers who have benefited under the Government’s taxation reduction measures were not called upon to contribute an extra penny to the revenue to meet the abnormal financial conditions which faced the country in 1930-31.
I earnestly appeal to the Government to reconsider its proposals with the object of restoring the pension rate of £1 a week. Reference has been made during this debate to the large increase of the pensions bill in the last two years. This has undoubtedly been due to the great number of unemployed people who, having reached the age of eligibility for the pension, have been forced, by economic circumstances, to apply for it, though they would rather work for their living if they could get work. As the Government is proposing a 2½ per cent. restoration of the allowance of members of Parliament and of the salary of public servants and others, it should, I submit, restore the pension to £1 a week. I therefore support the amendment.
.- I sup port the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). Before any restoration of salary is made to public servants and others in receipt of substantial emoluments, the small restoration of 2s. necessary to bring the pension back to £1 a week should be made. I can see no justification for the making of restorations to such public servants as the Director of Posts and Telegraphs, who is receiving £4,000 a year, the Secretary of the Department of Defence, and other heads of departments, who are receiving £2,000 a year, in view of the fact that the Government will not make a complete restoration of the pension rate to £1 a week. Two shillings is an inconsiderable amount to members of Parliament and many people in receipt of reasonable salaries, but it is of considerable consequence to pensioners in receipt of only 18s. a week. The members of the Labour party have received numerous appeals from pensioners’ associations throughout the Commonwealth to do everything possible to secure a complete restoration of the pension rate. As the financial situation is sufficiently buoyant, in the opinion of the Government, to justify the making of tax remissions amounting to £12,000,000 to the wealthy people of this community, we are reinforced in our determination to fight for a complete restoration of the pension.
I support the view expressed by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, that the property tax should be regarded as a kind of insurance against war. If necessary, the Government could spend the amount of money received from that source on defence works. It would then have available other revenue which it could use to increase the pension rate to £1 a week. I protest against any increase of the allowance of members of Parliament or of the salary of wellpaid public servants so long as the Government refuses to honour its promises to our pensioners.
– I shall oppose this bill. An extremely heavy burden of emergency taxation still rests upon the shoulders of many people, and we have no justification at’present for increasing salaries. Honorable members of the Opposition have, I am afraid, overlooked one serious aspect of our financial position. I refer to the inability of the State governments, which, with the Commonwealth Government, were parties to the Premiers plan, to make any restoration of salaries, or to make reductions of taxes commensurate with those already made by the Commonwealth Government. Although the tax remissions proposed in the present budget are not great, other substantial reductions should be made. The high rate of sales tax which is being continued is, in my opinion, a definite factor in maintaining both the high cost of production and the high cost of living. The special emergency tax of 5 per cent, on property income is doing more than anything else to keep up the high interest rates on mortgages. I cannot, therefore, support this bill.
Honorable members of the Opposition have, with considerable eloquence, pleaded that invalid and old-age pensioners should have restored to them the full pension of £1 a week. This bill proposes restorations of the financial emergency reductions which will place all public servants in receipt of a salary of £485 a year or less on the 1930 basis. I am not able to discover anything politically sacred in the scale of wages, salaries or pensions of that year. We should, I contend, consider all these matters in conjunction with the financial condition of the times. The ability of the Commonwealth to make payments of this description is determined by the financial and economic circumstances that prevail from time to time, and this Parliament would not be justified in fixing such payments without having regard to existing conditions. It is an indisputable fact that the restorations proposed in this bill will benefit certain classes of the community whose position is far better than that of certain other classes. I recognize that our public servants do their work well; but I am forced by the facts of the case to remind honorable members that several other classes of the community are in a much worse condition than any public servants. I refer, first, to the people in the worst of all conditions - those who cannot get employment. Then, I remember the pensioners. But another section of our people is as badly off as perhaps either the unemployed or the pensioners. I refer to the primary producers, who have lost practically everything they had in consequence of the disastrous decline in the price of wheat and other primary products in the last few years. This applies not only to the country areas, but also to the cities. Any honorable member who represents a metropolitan district, as I do in Barker, knows that in the last few months many men in business in a small way met with disaster. They were not able to avert it. While such conditions exist, and while large sections of the community are contributing vast sums to federal revenue, Parliament is not entitled to make restorations of salary. The Government would have been well advised if it had consulted the parties supporting H before introducing a budget feature of the type that we have been debating to-day.
.- I desire to support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). The questions have been thoroughly debated, and honorable members have made up their minds how they will vote. I have no doubt that Government supporters, when the vote is taken, will forget their pledges to use their influence with the Government to obtain justice for pensioners. At a later stage I shall read a letter I have received from the Invalid and Old-age Pensioners Association of New South Wales. That association was formed when the Government reduced pensions from 17s. 6d. to 15s. a week. When pensions were first reduced the pioneers were prepared to make sacrifices, as they had been led to believe that immediately conditions improved pensions would be restored to £1 a week. Their confidence in the integrity of politicians was shattered when the Lyons Government made the 25 per cent. cut in their pittance. Legislation having this purpose was introduced on a Wednesday night, and on the following Sunday a meeting of pensioners on Sydney domain formed the nucleus of the New South Wales Invalid and Oldage Pensioners Association. That meeting was attended by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and myself. We advised the pensioners to return to their suburbs and form branches of the association.
– Lang plan pensioners.
– After these branches were formed the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) visited them. He accompanied the honorable member for Hunter to a meeting at Hurstville, where he gave the pensioners an assurance that immediately the finances of the country permitted a restoration, he would use his influence with the Government to have it made. These associations have been in existence ever since. They are doing nothing drastic, but they are continually urging the redemption of the empty promises given by supporters of the Government. The Invalid and Old-age Pensioners Association is Australia-wide. An interstate conference of the organization, held recently in Sydney, was attended by delegates from Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. The honorable member for Barton declares that the associations comprised Lang-planners. Many of the members believe still that the promises made on behalf of the Government will be carried out, and remain staunch sup porters of the United Australia party. It is only fair that their implicit confidence in the trustworthiness of the Government should not be betrayed. Honorable members should not go on the hustings and make promises which they are not prepared to carry into effect when elected. The honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall) is another new supporter of the Government who promised to exercise his influence to have pensions restored to their former level. He has failed to redeem his promise.
It was due largely to the outcry raised by the Invalid and Old-age Pensioners Association that the harshness of the property sections of the Pensions Act was lessened. I have had experience of the harsh way in which they operated. This Government was prepared to follow a pensioner to his grave in order to get its pound of flesh. It could not follow the pensioner beyond the grave because I believe that no supporter of the Government will go where the pioneers have gone. A strong plea on behalf of the aged poor is made in the following letter from the New South Wales branch of the Invalid and Old-age Pensioners Association : -
The following resolution was passed at a meeting of the Executive Council of the Oldage and Invalid Pensioners Association of Australia, New South Wales Division, on the sixth day of September, 1935: -
That in view of the fact that the Federal Government is showing a sulplus, the time is opportune to remit the twelve and a half per cent. taxation which has been imposed on all invalid and old-age pensioners.
You are respectfully requested to support this resolution.
J. Lepherd, J.P., President.
John Hennessy, Secretary.
I leave the Question there, believing that the Government, even at this late stage, will do justice to the pioneers and accept the amendment.
Question - That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Curtin’s amendment) stand part of the question - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. j. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 14
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 (Short title and citation).
Message reported recommending appropriation for the purposes of an amendment to be moved by the Assistant Treasurer to the bill.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s Message) :
Motion (by Mr. Casey) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of an amendment to be moved by the Assistant Treasurer to a bill for an act to amend laws relating to financial emergency, and for other purposes.
Resolution reported and - by leave - adopted.
In committee (Consideration resumed) :
Clauses 1 to 10 agreed to.
Amendment (by Mr. Casey) agreed to-
That the following new clause be inserted : - “ 7a. Section four of the Ministers of State Act, 1935, is amended by omitting the words “ Thirteen thousand five hundred and sixty “ and inserting in their stead the words “ Thirteen thousand nine hundred and eighty-four.”
Schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
The following bills were returned from the Senate without requests or amendment : -
Supply Bill (No. 2) 1935-36.
Ministers of State Bill 1935.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until to-morrow at 11 a.m.
Sitting Days - Air Mail Disaster - Control of ReliefWork - Censorship of Books.
– In moving -
That the House do now adjourn.
I intimate to honorable members that the first business to-morrow will be the works proposals. If and when they are disposed of, the debate will be resumed on the Italo-Abyssinian dispute. It is intended to adjourn at 6.15 p.m. and that next week and subsequently the sitting days shall be Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
.- I understand from reports that have been received that a D.H.86 type of aeroplane of the Holyman Air Mail Service between Melbourne and Tasmania was lost this morning near the Furneaux group in Bass Strait. Has the Minister for Defence (Mr. Parkhill) any information to impart to the House upon the matter, particularly as to whether there has been loss of life?
– I regret to say that information has been received to the effect that one of Holyman’s aeroplanes, on tho trip from Melbourne to Hobart, was lost this morning, there being on board at the time three passengers and two pilots. The plane was of the D.H.86 type, but details to hand so far are meagre. It is reported that the machine was lost at a point between Wilson’s Promontory and Flinders Island, being actually within sight of Flinders Island at the time. The last advice received from the plane was that it was about to make a landing, and that the wireless aerial was being wound in for that purpose. The plane then suddenly disappeared. Information has been received that wreckage has been found floating near the island. The following message has been received from the Secretary of the Defence Department : -
The civil aviation representative at Launceston, reports that six inflated lifebelts found on beach two miles north of Long Point, midway between Chalky and Babbit Island. No wreckage other than lifebelts yet come ashore. Unsuccessful aerial search made locate possible survivors until dark. Police boat out searching vicinity. Search party being organized to patrol beach to-night.
.- 1 have received from one of my constituents a letter which throws considerable illumination upon the manner in which work is being carried out by public authorities with the aid of unemployment relief grants made by this Parliament. The letter is as follows : -
I am approaching you on behalf of the relief workers of Colo Vale, to notify you of the existing state of affairs as regards working conditions on the job which started to-day under tho federal grant marie the Nattai shire.
The men Iia ve been sent five miles out from the Vale to Colo, and have been denied camping equipment and camping allowance. Some of the nien have not any means of getting to the job only on foot, and some of them have seven and a half miles to travel ; and again some of the more unfortunate ones have no tents, and will have to sleep in the open. I strongly appeal to you to put the matter before the Federal House at your earliest opportunity.
If that is the way in which employment :is being provided, Australian workmen do not want much of it. The letter bears out the frequent statements by honorable members on this side of the House that some sort of check should be kept upon the expenditure of Commonwealth money by local authorities.
One of my constituents, Mr. Louden, of Wollongong, several months ago received a parcel of books from which one had been extracted by the customs authorities for examination. The parcel originally consisted of three volumes of the life of Lenin. The first and third volumes were delivered to him, but the second volume was retained by the department. Mr. Louden took the matter up with the Department of Trade and Customs, but was at first referred to the Postal Department. He has informed me that the books are sold freely in the bookshops of Melbourne and Sydney. Eventually it was established that the missing book was in the custody of the Customs Department, which has now been in possession of it for over seven months. Surely a decision could have been arrived at before the lapse of such a long period as that. I got into touch with the Comptroller of Customs to-day in connexion with the matter, but he was unable to give me a definite answer. T should like to know the reason for the delay.
.- I understand that next week Parliament will sit on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, which will enable members representing constituencies in South Australia and parts of Queensland to visit their homes. I suggest that, in order to meet the convenience of honorable members, Parliament might sit on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays during one week in four, while on the other three weeks, it could sit on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
– I admit that if the book referred to by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) has been detained by the Department of Trade and Customs for eight months, it is an unconscionable time, and I shall look into the matter. A book that is detained under section 25c of the Customs Act as being either indecent or seditious, is sent, in the first instance, to the voluntary board of censors for consideration, and in the second instance to the Attorney-General’s Department, so that a certain amount of time must elapse before a decision is reached. I heard to-day that the honorable member had been inquiring about this book, and I am in a position to say that it has now been released, after having been considered by the AttorneyGeneral’s Department.
– The Government is as interested as is the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) concerning the conditions under which federal money is being expended on works conducted by the Nattai shire, at Colo Vale. Inquiries will be made into the matter.
The House has met on other than the usual days during the last two weeks, owing to the urgent nature of the business to be transacted, and it is the desire of the Government to revert to Wednesday, Thursday and Friday sittings as soon as practicable. The Government desires to avoid confusion by altering the sitting days from time to time. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has asked me to state that the suggestion of the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) will be considered.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.12 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated : -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Were the letters patent for the appointment of Sir Alexander Hore-Ruthven as GovernorGeneral of the Commonwealth countersigned by a Minister of State of the Commonwealth of Australia or by a Minister of State of the Government of the United Kingdom?
– His Majesty’s approval of the appointment of Brigadier-General the Honorable Sir Alexander HoreRuthven to be the next Governor-General of the Commonwealth has been signified, but His Majesty’s commission of appointment has not yet been prepared.
y asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questionsare as follows : -
s asked the Minister for
Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) has supplied the following information : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 2 October 1935, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1935/19351002_reps_14_147/>.