14th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon.G. J. Bell) took thechair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government isprepared to reconsider the suggestion which originated with the Government of Queensland and,I understand, has the endorsement of at least one of the other State governments, that the proposed inquiry into hours of labour should be conducted bya memberofthe Commonwealth judiciary and a representative of each of the State industrial tribunals? May not such an inquiry be instituted, with a view to expediting the adoption of this very desirable principle?
– The honorable member’s suggestion will receive consideration. The whole matter is being considered at present, and I may be in a position to make a statement in regard to it next week; certainly not earlier.
– As building contractors are concerned lest the introduction of a 40-hour week will involve them in monetary loss, they having tendered on the basis of a week of 44 hours, will the Minister for the Interior consider the advisability of having a safeguarding provision inserted in future contracts?
– Will the Prime: Minister inform me whether he has yet. conferred with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr.Curtin) following the offer made to that honorable gentleman during the debate last week onthe 40-hour week with the object of facilitating an inquiry into the subject? If so, what has been the result of the conference?
– So far, the Leader of the Opposition and I have not conferred on this subject.
Accommodation for Personnel
– Is the Minis ter for Defence aware that a large number of the members of the Defence Force who are stationed at the Richmond aerodrome are at present obliged to maintain homes in suburbs of Sydney and in other places a considerable distance from Richmond, and that a good deal of uncertainty is felt by residents of the Hawkesbury River district and by other persons who would be prepared to build homes for the accommodation of these men within reasonable distance of the aerodrome were it not that they fear that their investments might be rendered abortive by the Government deciding to provide at the aerodrome itself all the accommodation that is needed? Will the honorable gentleman give some indication of the Government’s intentions in the matter ?
– It will be necessary to provide acertain number of residences at the Richmond aerodrome for officers, but I do not think that the Government would undertake to furnish all the accommodation that is needed. I shall, however, obtain a precise reply, and make a further statement later.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) - by leave - agreed to -
ThatStandingOrder No. 70 - 11 o’clock rule -be suspended until the end of thismonth.
.- I move-
That the House, at its rising,adjourn until 1 1 a.m.to-morrow.
The intention is to conclude the sitting at 6.15 p.m., and to resume on Wednesday of next week.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following paper was presented : -
Northern Territory Acceptance Act and Northern Territory (Administration) Aob - Aboriginals Ordinance - Regulations Amended.
– Has the Minister for Defence made any inquiry as to the merits of aluminous cement for use in connexion with the construction of fortifications, in the light of the report that the new French fortifications on the eastern frontier have been constructed of this material ? Has he referred the matter to the technical committee of the Department of Defence ? If so, has a reply been received concerning the soundness or otherwise of the claim as to its usefulness?
Mr.ARCHDALE PARKHILL. - In view of the facts referred to by the honorable member, I made inquiries into this matter some time ago. I am informed by the department that aluminous cement is a quick drying material, and for that reason would be of distinct value to the department under war conditions, when work such as gun emplacements might have to be completed and be ready for use within a fewhours. I have no knowledge as to whether it would be in great demand for other purposes.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs a statement to make to the House concerning thepresent deliberations of the League of Nations?
– No official statement has yet been received from overseas.
Nuffield Gift - Sister Kenny’s Treatment
– Can the Minister for Health state how the interest on the gift of £50,000 made by Lord Nuffield for the care of crippled children is being applied ?
– I shall forward to the honorable member two official publications in which he will find a somewhat detailed review of the policy which has been adopted’ in the distribution of the money which is available under the
Nuffield gift. Although it is not possible to direct the actual medical treatment, which must vary in each individual case, there has, nevertheless, been adopteda quite definite policy of concerted and uniform action, which was laid down by the Council of Advice, and has been followed in every State. The conference on crippled children held in Canberra last month has ensured a very gratifying degree of uniformity in the approach to this problem.
– During the last fortnight, the Minister for Health promised that he would make available to honorable members the department’s report on the efficacy of Sister Kenny’s treatment of crippled children. Can the right honorable gentleman state when that report will be made available?
– Unhappily, I am unable to say when it will be made available. I can only inform the honorable gentleman that I have been advised by the president of the Medical Commission that we may anticipate to receive it very shortly. . As soon as it comes to hand, I shall make it available.
– Has the Prime Minister made the investigations which last Friday he promised he would make, as to the authenticity of the statement widely published in last Thursday’s press to the effect that the High Commissioner for Australia in London, the Minister for Commerce, and the Attorney-General had approached the British Government, with a view to the immediate lifting of the sanctions imposed against Italy ? If such inquiries have been made, what is the result of them?
– I have been in telephonic communication with the Minister for Commerce. No such representations were made either by him or by the other two gentlemen mentioned.
– Will the Minister for Health state whether any resultwas achieved at the Health Conference in regard to the request from Western Australia, that the Commonwealth and States should combine for the purpose of providing better conditions for white lepers in Australia?
– In view of previous representations by the honorable member, I discussed this matter with the permanent head of the Department of Health, Dr. Cumpston. That gentleman is now taking it up with the health authorities ofWestern Australia, with a view to seeing what action may be taken. I personally amin entire sympathy with the desire to segregate white lepers and provide adequate and proper treatment for them. There is, doubtless, much to bo said for the view of the honorable member.
– Yesterday, the Minister representing the Postmaster-General promised the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) that he would ask the Postmaster-General to look into the matter of the carriage of overseas air mail from Narromine to Sydney. Will the honorable gentleman also urge consideration of an air mail service between Narromine, Broken Hill and Adelaide, thereby utilizing the existing services and substantially hastening the delivery of English mail in Adelaide?
– This matter comes under the administration of the Department of Civil Aviation. I shall be very glad to have inquiries made into the proposal of the honorable member.
Mr.FISKEN. - I ask the Minister for Defence whether he is yet in a position to say whether it is a fact that, although the British Government is endeavouring to persuade the Commonwealth Government to use flying-boats to cross land that will need to be traversed by the proposed British-Australian air mail service, the British Government itself is proposing to usemulti-engined land planes for the trans-Atlantic, crossings ?
– The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) asked me a question on this subject the other day, and I have since made inquiries in regard to it. The Director of Civil Aviation in Great Britain. Sir F. Shermerdine, in lecturing to the members of the Royal United Service Institute in March last, stated -
For the Atlantic crossing three types of aircraft were being developed, the Mayo composite aircraft and high speed land planes, of which two were on order, which would be capable of operating the service during the summer, and possibly even during the winter.
Sir Francis said that he had not even a drawing of these land planes to show his audience. It is obvious, therefore, that the British Government is contemplating the use of land planes for the Atlantic crossing.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he is still of the opinion he held when a member of the Labour party - that the death sentence should in no circumstances be carried out in this country? If so, will he convey this opinion to the Deputy Premier of New South Wales in a last-minute endeavour to save the life of the boy Hickey ?
– It is undesirable, and also in conflict with the Standing Orders, that the latter part of the honorable member’s question should be asked in this House, for it has nothing to do with anything over which this Parliament has any control. Any question or answer in this House that could be regarded as a reflection upon a decision arrived at in a State Parliament is not in order. The first part of the question may be answered by the Prime Minister.
– I do not think that the sniping which the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has indulged in for some time past will get him anywhere ; nor will it impress the people of this country, for it appears that he desires to make capital out of the condemned man.
– The Prime Minister is dodging the question.
– I am never likely to dodge anything put up by the honorable member. As you, Mr. Speaker, have ruled that I may answer the first part of the question, I inform the honorable member that, whatever was my view on this subject when I was a member of the Labour party, or whatever it may be now, would not influence me in dealing with the subject, as Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, in its constitutional aspect. I have said frequently in this Parliament that the Commonwealth Government has no constitutional right to interfere with the administration of a State government. My own personal opinion, however, has never changed. I am now, and always have been, opposed to capital punishment.
– Is the Minister for Trade and Customs aware that a shipment of 6,400 tons of British cement is approaching Fremantle, and is intended for distribution in Western Australia? The price at which this cement is invoiced is said to be £1 a ton f.o.b. Fremantle. Will the Minister investigate this matter with the object, if necessary, of applying a dumping duty to the cement immediately upon its arrival.
– I have received a telegram somewhat in the terms- of the honorable member’s question. Probably other honorable members have also been communicated with on the subject.
– I have a question on the notice-paper dealing with this matter.
– That is so. The full details in connexion with the subject are contained in my reply to the question of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). I may add that, of the order of 6,400 tons of cement due to arrive in Western Australia, 5,000 tons is intended for the Government of Western Australia. These supplies began to arrive last March. The reasons given by the Government of Western Australia for placing this cement contract overseas were that, owing to the shipping strike,
And also to the inability of the Western Australian cement manufacturer to supply the full government demand, supplies had to be imported from the United Kingdom. Failure on the part of the Government of Western Australia to obtain supplies would have resulted in the holding up of certain works, notably a big weir that is under construction. This would have necessitated the dismissal of a large number of employees. Regarding the price of the cement, I say emphatically that the original invoices furnished to the department in connexion with these importations, including the large quantity required by the Government of Western Australia, exceed the price which the Tariff Board laid down as a reasonable selling price which would enable Australian manufacturers to make a fair profit.
– In view of the fact that the governing body of the International Labour Office has been considering for some time the holding of regional conferences, including a conference of representatives of all nations with territory bordering the Pacific- - which, of course, would include Australia - will the Prime Minister, when he gets his questionnaire from the International Labour Office, consider the making of the suggestion that the Commonwealth Government would welcome the holding of such a conference in Australia?
– The Government will be glad to give consideration to the suggestion.
Protection AGAINST Gab Attacks.
– Is the Minister for Defence yet able to make a pronouncement regarding reports that have been published to the effect that plans are being prepared by the Commonwealth and State governments for the protection of Australia in the event of gas attacks being launched in this country ?
– As some reports on this subject have been published, it will clarify the position when I inform honorable members that it has been decided that arrangements shall be made to defend Australia from gas attacks in the remote possibility of them occurring. The plans being implemented by the Defence Department provide that, as the State governments control the principal facilities which would need to be utilized if such attacks were made, such, for instance, as the police force, the fire brigades, and the ambulance societies, they have been asked to make preliminary arrangements to organize these services. The Commonwealth Government has agreed to pay certain expenses which must inevitably be incurred in developing this organization. Generally the States have willingly and promptly accepted the responsibility which the Commonwealth wished to place upon them. The working out of such details as are necessary in connexion with the matter is now in hand.
– I ask the Acting Minister for Commerce whether he will endeavour to make a pronouncement before the end of this period of the session regarding the Government’s intentions in connexion with the continuance of the subsidy on fertilizers? It is undesirable that a change of policy should occur in the middle of a cropping period, but the current legislation on the subject will cease to have effect on the 30th June unless other action is taken.
– Very careful consideration has already been given to this subject by the Government, but no decision has yet been reached in regard to it. The matter will receive further attention next week.
– In view of the lavish amount of money that has been given to the farmers by way of subsidies on fertilizers, is the Minister not of the opinion that they should have been able to grow such bountiful crops and so substantially to increase their incomes as to be no longer in need of a. renewal of the subsidy?
– The principle behind the granting of a subsidy for the use of fertilizers for the purpose of growing crops other than wheat is to encourage the primary producers of Australia to use more fertilizers, and thus increase their production and enlarge our exports from Australia. This is considered to be a very sound business proposition from the point of view of the Commonwealth Government.
– In view of the fact that the Commonwealth Government has to pay bounties on primary production in order to make up the difference between the cost of production and selling prices, does the Acting Minister for Commerce consider it a safe business proposition to pay a subsidy on fertilizers to increase production when the farmers cannot sell their surplus production at a profit now?
– In reply to the honorable gentleman, I suggest that he is rather at sea in his question, because the bulk of the subsidy is paid on fertilizers that are used for the production of crops which are not receiving bounties, such as pasture improvement and production of hay, and crops other than those referred to by the honorable gentleman.
– Will the Minister representing the Postmaster-General inform me whether it is a fact that the Postal Mechanics Welfare Canteen has been instructed to dispose, before the 15 th instant, of the stock it holds at the premises it occupies in the telephone exchange building, Lonsdale-street, Melbourne? If so, is it practicable for the department to reconsider its intentionto evict this organization? If that isnot possible, will the Government extendthe time allowed to the organization todispose of its stock?
-I know from my own experience ofthe Postal Department that every sympathy is shown to these welfare organizations and I shall be glad to submit the over tures of the Leader of the Oppositionto the Postmaster-General, with theobject of doing the best that can be done in the circumstances.
– Has the attentionof the Minister directing negotiations for Trade Treaties been called tocables extracts from the report of the Bankof International Settlements, in which it i pointed out that gold and credits to value of nearly double that of the world’s annual gold production have beenexported to the United States ofAmerica recently, in order to correct adverse trade balances? In view of this serious drift of the world into debt to the United States of America, can the honorable gentleman do anything to speed up the action which he has promised to taketo rectify our own adverse trade balance with the United States of America?
– I have not seen the report referred to by the honorable member, but I give him my assurance that this subject is receiving the urgent consideration of the Government.
– Has the PrimeMinister any information to give the House concerning the result of inquiries from Burns Philp and Company Limited, regarding its action in having two vessels for the Australian trade built in China?
– The information sought by the honorable member has been supplied in reply to a question asked by the honorable member forWest Sydney (Mr. Beasley).
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been directed to a statement in the press that the Commonwealth Government proposes to resume borrowing overseas? Can the right honorable gentleman give an assurance to this House that this detrimental policy will not again be adopted?
– The question involves a matter of policy, but I can assure the honorable member that the Government at this stage has no intention whatever of resuming overseas borrowing.
– In view of the fact that if the Government so decided it could reintroduce compulsory military training by administrative action without the necessity to take legislative action, will the Minister for Defence give an assurance that he will not take such action until such time as he has consulted the wishes of Parliament?
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.This is a matter of policy on which the Government has stated quite clearly, and has reiterated time and again, that its policy is that which is being pursued at the present time under the militia arrangement. No suggestion for the introduction of any other kind of military training has ever been made.
Speech by Premier of Queensland.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to a report in the Scotsman of the 18th March last, of a speech made by the Premier of Queensland, Mr.Forgan Smith, relating to economic conditions at present operating in this country? Will the right honorable gentleman see that some publicityis given to the speech in Australia, because it contains matter of very great importance to Australia generally?
– I have seen the report referred to, but I have not scanned it very carefully. ‘ However, I will make a carefulpersual of it and see if it contains anything to which publicity should be given in this country.
– Is it a fact, as has been publicly alleged, that the Victorian Taxpayers’ Association has been outlawed in. the sense that the Treasurer has decided not to receive any more representations from it by way of deputation or otherwise?
– I have had considerable correspondence lately with the president of the body referred to, in which I had occasion to say that, while the present tactics of the association are maintained. I shall not receive any further deputations from it.
– What are the tactics referred to by the Minister which have caused a rift within the lute as between the Victorian Taxpayers’ Association and the Treasurer, and appear to stand in the way of that body obtaining necessary information in regard to taxation ?
– I do not know if the matter is of general interest to honorable members, but it has been the subject of correspondence between myself and the Taxpayers’ Association.
– Is it private?
– No, but I think that it would satisfy the entire lust of the honorable gentleman in this matter if he made representations to the President of the Victorian Taxpayers’ Association to have the whole of the correspondence made public.
– Can the Treasurer state whether the question of the standardization of the railway gauges of Australia is on the agenda for the next Loan Council ?
– The Loan Council, I am glad to say, is confined to matters within the ambit of the Financial Agreement, and the standardization of railway gauges, therefore, is not to be considered.
– Recently applications were called for cadets for the Royal Australian Air Force, and a large number of applicants were brought from the country at their own expense for medical examination. Some of them even did not go before the doctors. As further applicants are now asked to come to Sydney for examination, will the Minister for Defence provide free passes for them to attend at the Victoria Barracks for examination or arrange for medical examinations to be held in country centres?
– I am not prepared offhand to give the undertaking sought, but I wish to be fair and shall be glad to look into the matter and see what can be done.
– As an alternative to officers of the Department of the Treasury going through the unthankful task of deciding remissions of taxation to be given in the coming year, will the Treasurer apply to the Treasury the methods and policy adopted in regard to defence by making the payment of taxation an entirely voluntary matter for a while?
Mr.CASEY.- The matter will be driven consideration.
– In view of the enormous expenditure by municipal and shire councils in assisting to provide work for the unemployed, particularly in New South Wales, and the consequent immense, amount of indebtedness that has been incurred by them, is the Government prepared, in addition to providing a certain amount towards interest payments to the States for municipal purposes, to make ex gratia payments as does the Commonwealth Bank to those councils where the Commonwealth Government has large areas of land on which no municipal rates are paid?
– The intention to subsidize the States in the matter of interest contributions, has been decided only after careful consideration. In regard to the matter of an ex gratia payment in lieu of rates I cannot commit the Government to such an undertaking.
– Will the Acting Min ister for Commerce secure information from the Government’s legal officers as to whether it would be constitutionally possible for this Parliament to legislate to abolish the draft on wool? If the information obtained is negative, will he place the desirability of action before the Australian Agricultural Council at its next meeting?
– Exhaustive inquiries have already been carried out in regard to the matter referred to by the honorablemember, and I understand that it is to be brought before the Australian Agricultural Council at its meeting at the end of this month.
In Committee of Supply (Consideration of Governor-General’s message).
– The Supplementary Estimatesboth for the ordinary votes and for new works have been tabled, and I think are now in the possession of honorable members. The Supplementary Estimates include the items of expenditure in the financial year 1934-35 that were included in the vote for the Treasurer’s Advance. Parliamentary authority for this expenditure has already been given by the appropriation in the Estimates in chief of a lump sum under the designation of Treasurer’s Advance. This provision, which is normal, is the only one which enables the Treasurer to make advances to the various departments to meet expenditure unforeseen when the items were first presented, and for which, of course, there could be no provision in any ordinary way in the Estimates. In accordance with the usual practice, details of expenditure met in this way must be set out in the form of supplementary estimates, and these items are now submitted for covering appropriation. As copies of these estimates have been circulated among honorable members, I do not intend to refer to the items in detail. The vote for the Treasurer’s Advance for 1934-1935 was £2,000,000. It has been the usual practice in recent years to make provision for that sum. The expenditure from that vote was £689,625, made up of £672,112 for the ordinary departmental expenditure and war services payable from revenue, and £17,513 for additions, new works and buildings.
Full details of the expenditure now submitted for covering approval have already been furnished to the Parliament in the Estimates and budget papers for the current year. On the right hand side of each page of the general Estimatesare columns showing the amount voted and the amount expended in the immediately preceding year, and, in such cases where the expenditure is larger than the vote, the difference between the two is made good, after proper scrutiny in each case, from the Treasurer’s Advance. The difference between the amount actually-expended and the vote under each of the relevant items makes up the amount of the Supplementary Estimates now before the committee. Therefore, I can say with truth that these items have already been approved, in conjunction with the Estimates for this year. Details are also included in the Auditor-General’s report, and the Treasurer’s finance statement. In accordance with the provisions of the Audit Act, the Treasurer’s statement was sent to the Auditor-General on the 10th October, 1935, accompaniedby a statement of the amounts to be included in the Supplementary Estimates. It is the usual practice to await the report of the AuditorGeneral before submitting these estimates to Parliament. The report was tabled on the 14th November last. I move -
Supplementary Estimates, 1934-35
That the following further sums he granted to His Majesty to defray the charges for the year 1934-35, for the several services hereunder specified, viz.: -
Part1.- Departments and Services other than Business Undertakings and Territories of the Commonwealth.
supplementary estimatesfor additions. New Works, Buildings, etc., 1934-35.
That there be granted to His Majesty to the service of the year 1934-35 for the purposes of Additions, New Works, Buildings, &c.. a further sum not exceeding £17,513.
.- Broadly speaking, the explanation submitted by the Treasurer is in accordance with practice, but I contend that a large portion of the expenditure on Miscellaneous Services relates to items which have not been considered by the Parliament, even in connexion with the general. “Estimates. The expenditure on Miscellaneous Services, which accounts for £34S,000 of the total, includes payments which have not been authorized by Parliament, but which have been incurred because of administrative decisions of the Government. The reason, presumably, why the Auditor-General’s certificate is necessary before Supplementary Estimates are submitted to the committee, is merely to certify that the expenditure has been incurred; but it is for the committee to determine whether the expenditure is justified. Let u; assume that yesterday, or the day before the Government decided to appoint a royal commission to investigate a certain matter. A commission is issued to certain gentlemen, but the fees to be paid and the expenditure which they will be allowed to incur, are at that stage, matters entirely between the Government and the members of the commission. Members of this chamber hear for the first time about the expenditure incurred by the commission either upon addressing questions to Ministers, who sometimes do not furnish satisfactory replies, or when Supplementary Estimates are submitted to us.
The Treasurer (Mr. Casey) says that this expenditure relates to the last financial year. That is perfectly true. Several matters are referred to in the miscellaneous expenditure before us. It is probable that these expenditures relate to a long inquiry, and represent moneys paid out of the Treasurer’s Advance, simply because a royal commission co3t more than the Parliament expected it to cost. That is, presumably, what has happened in connexion with the Wheat Commission. The committee appointed to formulate the reply of the Commonwealth to the secession petition of Western Australia involved an expenditure of £15,000, but I do not remember that matter being submitted to Parliament for determination as to whether the Government was justified in authorizing that expenditure. This branch of the legislature is responsible for the control of the public purse, and the Government should not have a licence, willy-nilly, to set up commissions, or incur any expenditure on a large scale, without parliamentary approval.
Although these estimates relate to expenditure of last year, the Government has already set in action a royal commission to inquire into the monetary and banking system ; but what control has thi*; committee over expenditure by that body ? Only to-day, I received most astounding information, in reply to a question which I placed on the notice-paper, as to the fees paid to counsel assisting that commission. Various public bodies, I understand, requested the commission to be permitted to appoint counsel to represent them, so that their witnesses might be examined by him, for the purpose of bringing forth the evidence they desired to give. The commission stated that it is competent to do all that is required, yet it has engaged counsel to assist it. I suspect that the gentleman selected is a former unsuccessful anti-Labour candidate for parliamentary honours. He is to receive a reading fee of 100 guineas, and a daily fee of 15 guineas for each sitting day. of whatever length, while the commission sits in Melbourne. For sittings out of Melbourne, a fee of 20 guineas will be paid for each sitting, of whatever length it. may be. There is to be a fee of 10 guineas a day for Saturdays, when the sittings of the commission take place out of Melbourne. In the event of any adjournment, the daily fee of 10 guineas is to continue for a period of fourteen days after the adjournment. Counsel is to be at the disposal of the commission during such period. If counsel is out of Melbourne, and it is necessary for him to romain out of Melbourne beyond the fourteen days of adjournment, a fee of 15 guineas a day is to be paid. The clerk’s fees are to be at ordinary rates. Up to the present time, £918 7s. Cd. has been p’aid to the counsel appointed. This expenditure is being incurred in the current year, and is being met out, of the Treasurer’s Advance; but the estimates before us relate to expenditure met out of the Treasurer’s Advance last financial year.
Expenditure of the kind to which I have just referred has probably been incurred by the wheat commission. L do not know whether that body consulted Ministers as to what organization it should set up; but it engaged a large and expensive staff of advisers. I find that the total cost of the commission was over £40,000, but the fees paid to the commissioners did not amount to anything like that sum. Obviously, an expensive staff was recruited, and, probably, sumptuous offices were occupied. I desire to know what control the Government exercised over the activities of the commission in deciding to set up a lavish organization. I do not object to a commission doing this, provided the Government approves, and the Parliament is made cognizant of the scale of expenditure to be incurred.
How much is the RoyalCommission on the Banking and Monetary Systems expected to cost? We do not know for what period its inquiries will be continued. Apparently, no supervision is being exercised over its activities. I venture the opinion that a great deal of evidence which has been submitted orally to the commission could have been omitted if the members of the commission themselves had indulged in research into standard works on ‘the subject of their investigation. It is quite reasonable to suppose that the members of a commission of this nature would be persons whose previous knowledge of the matter under consideration enabled them to avoid the obligation of having to listen for hours, at great cost to the public, to statements on banking and monetary subjects which have been made by various authorities almost for the last 30 years.
The Supplementary Estimates relate to expenditure other than that authorized by the Parliament. Whilst it is true that, in respect of the ordinary administrative expenditure of the departments, the amounts now before us represent the difference between sums voted and amounts expended, broadly speaking, the difference is not very great, and, probably, in some instances, votes have not been drawn upon at all. Yet. by and large, these Estimates afford the only opportunity that honorable members have to express their opinion concerning the use of the £2,000,000 customarily voted as an advance to the Treasurer. If we do not draw attention to the position now, we can do nothing to prevent the use of the advance for governmental purposes without parliamentary authority. I shall not now discuss the schedule in detail, but in it are certain items which should not appear in it without a substantive statement justifying them. For instance, I note further expenditure in connexion with the inquiry made by the Petrol Commission. The amount, in round figures, is £2,500. Although this money has been paid, this is the first opportunity we have had to consider the expenditure. A great deal of moneyhas been expended on this inquiry, yet we do not know what conclusions the Government has reached in regard to the commission’s recommendations. I notice that the expenditure incurred by the Royal Commission on Taxation is not very large, and I am glad to see that there has been at least one royal commission which has done its work competently, and set a standard for others to follow. It did not go around the country inviting evidence from every Tom, Dick and Bill.
– One of the commissioners declined to accept any fee for his services.
– It was essentially a body of research workers, and their efforts resulted in the introduction into this Parliament of a bill designed to bring about uniform tax assessment methods as between the Commonwealth and the States, and Parliament has found the bill substantially satisfactory.
In some instances, items of expenditure covered by the Treasurer’s Advance are scattered in such a way as to make it difficult to see at a glance just how much has really been spent. For instance, there is an item of £112 under the Prime Minister’s Department to cover the cost of Australian representation at the International Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, while under the heading of the Attorney-General’s Department there is an item of £23 for the same thing. I have not had time to scan these estimates closely, but it is possible that there are similar examples occurring elsewhere.
I understand that several publicity officers have been engaged by various government departments, and expenditure incurred in connexion with the employment of these men may be included in these estimates, or it may not. I should like the Treasurer to say how many publicity officers the Government has appointed in the Prime Minister’s Department and in other departments, who they are, how mush they get, and what services they render.
.- These Supplementary Estimates provide money for certain urgent works, but the provision of a new general post office for Brisbane is an urgent work for which no provision has been made. For many years past, honorable members . have been urging in this House the provision of better postal facilities in Brisbane. As far back as 1924 the then Government agreed to have plans and specifications prepared for a new building, but, although this is now 1936, nothing further has been done. There is a fine post office in Brisbane, erected long before federation, but it is not large enough to meet the increased demands made upon it as the result of the growth of the department’s activities.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse).The item to which the honorable member is referring is not in the estimates before the chair.
– I know, and I am asking why it has not been included. People from the city of Brisbane and surrounding suburbs experience great difficulty in receiving attention at the General Post Office, although the staff are doing their very best. The Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs is constantly reorganizing the layout of the building in an endeavour to get the utmost possible use from the cramped quarters at his disposal. I ask the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to bring this matter under’ the notice of the Prime Minister and the PostmasterGeneral, so that it may be regarded as urgent when the works Estimates are being prepared for next year. The present position is deplorable, and it should not be allowed to continue. A post office worthy of the city of Brisbane should be regarded as an urgent work.
– The matter raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) regarding the payment of expenses to persons associated with the Royal Commission on Banking calls for an explanation from the Treasurer (Mr. Casey). Evidently these payments are made in such a way that no direct information is given regarding them during the discussion of the ordinary Estimates presented to Parliament, and the situation has developed into a public scandal.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse).The honorable member is not entitled to discuss a royal commission to which no reference is made in these Estimates. I allowed the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) to refer to the subject in passing, but it is not discussable under these items.
– The department which authorized these payments is under discussion, so that the payments it authorized should be discussable also. I desire to draw the attention of Parliament to the conduct of those officers who authorized the payments. This is the only opportunity I have to do so.
– The honorable member will have an opportunity to discuss these matters when the general Estimates arc next before Parliament.
– I am convinced that most honorable members desire that this attempt to loot the Treasury should be frustrated; in three or four months time it will be too late. I should like to be able to move that salary payments to the responsible officers shall not be made, as an intimation to them that Parliament disapproves of their conduct.
– The Supplementary Estimates now before the Chair have to do with the year1934-35, and no itemthat will appear only in future Estimates can now be discussed.
– I understand that, but I thought that I might be permitted to question the payments provided for in these Estimates to persons of whose conduct I do not approve.
– The honorable member could have discussed the matter on Supply.
– But we did not know about it then.
– A question would have elicited the information.
– It is only now that we have learned that there was any information to elicit. Moreover, we sometimes have to wait a considerable time before obtaining a reply to questions. I believe that those officers who were responsible for the payments questioned by the Leader of the Opposition and whose salaries are covered by these Supplementary Estimates should be dismissed from the Service. It is time that a public example was made of those who take advantage of their position to make payments of this kind when every one is crying out for reductions of taxation, and when men- and women are barely supplied with the necessaries of life. Under division No. 24, Patents, Trademarks and Designs, appears the item, “ Payment as an act of grace to dependant of deceased officer, £34,” I would like to know what were the special circumstances which warranted the payment of this sum, because there may be other cases of a similar character that might be regarded as equally deserving. Under the heading, “ Electoral Branch,” appears an item, “ Payments as acts of grace to officers transferred from State service of Tasmania, £360.” I am not able to say whether this has been provided to offset any loss which might arise in connexion with the superannuation benefits of the officers so transferred. In this case the payment might, for all I know, be quite a genuine one, but I think that honorable members should be informed why it was made. Similar provision is made under division No. 54,” Permanent Military Forces. In this case the amount provided is £1,025. It might also have been paid as compensation for the loss of superannuation benefits, but I want to know. Under division No. 60 - General Services - provision has been made for “ Honorarium to the Judge Advocate-General for special services I have never heard of that title before.
– It is a military title. The officer concerned is the chief legal adviser of the Defence Forces.
– It is rather a highsounding title, but the special services which the Advocate-General rendered were slight, as only £21 has been provided under this item.
– It might have been provided in connexion with services to a court martial.
– That is interesting. Under “Miscellaneous Services”, provision has been made for “ Commonwealth contribution to Albert Thomas Memorial, Geneva, £1 “. Surely it is nothing short. of an insult that Australia should provide such a paltry sum as a contribution to a memorial for a man who played a big part in industrial matters in an attempt to bring backward countries up to the standard of the more advanced countries, and to establish social security among the nations of the world.
– This is not the actual amount provided. It is the excess of expenditure over the vote which has already been authorized by the Parliament.
– Another item for which £788 has been provided, is “ Visit of the New Zealand Delegation to Australia”. I should like to know what New Zealand delegation visited Australia. Did the Commonwealth have to pay for the visit of Messrs. Forbes and Coates ?
– It may have been to cover expenditure for entertainment, rail fares, or the like.
– I understand that, under reciprocal arrangements between the railway authorities in the two dominions, no rail fares are paid by such persons in either dominion. Provision has also been made under the item, “ Visit of Overseas Commonwealth Ministerial Delegation for the payment of £12,913. So many delegations have goneoverseas that we have lost track of them. The Treasurer might inform us what particular Ministerial delegation this expenditure is supposed to cover. Another item is, “ Victorian Centenary - Expenses of Distinguished Visitors invited by Commonwealth Government, £1,122 “. ‘ We should like to know who they were. They may, in our opinion, have been distinguished or otherwise. A further item that has attracted my attention is - “Remission of Duty on materials imported for Naval construction “. I should like to know if that remission of duty was made to the people who are now controlling Cockatoo dockyard.
– Off-hand, I should think it refers to that firm.
– I suggest to the Treasurer that he should give a little more information to the committee in regard to these items.
– I rise merely to clear up any misapprehension that may exist in the minds of honorable members because of the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (“Mr. Curtin). Inferences might have been drawn by honorable members which ure not correct. There is nothing new at all in the Supplementary Estimates that has not already appeared in the ordinary Estimates for this financial year. The Leader of the Opposition referred to the expenditure incurred in connexion with the Western Australia secession case. That item, at any rate, is a typical example of a number mentioned by the honorable member, in that, whereas the vote under this heading, which is included under division 100 on page 75 of the general Estimates, was £750, the total expenditure was £16,586, covering mostly printing and distribution.
– The Treasurer will recognize that, whilst honorable members might consider £750 to be a reasonable provision, they might not be so inclined to view an expenditure exceeding £10,000.
– In the General Estimates presented to this Parliament and discussed in detail in, I think, September of last year, at page 75 appears an item: - “Expenditure in connexion with Western Australia Secession Case.” The amount of the vote for 1934-35 was £750. In the next column the actual expenditure was shown at £16,586. Those figures were considered by honorable members and discussed by them during the debate on the last Estimates. Now, in the Supplementary Estimates under consideration, under the same item heading, it is shown that the amount by which the expenditure exceeded the vote, was approximately £15,S00. I say this to show that there is nothing new in these Estimates at all. By law and under the Audit Act, it is necessary to bring all votes that have been exceeded or which have been met, in part, from Treasurer’s Advance, under the notice of Parliament, having previously brought them under the notice of the AuditorGeneral, in order to secure covering approval; because the amounts included in the Supplementary Estimates have already been given general approval by the accep tance by Parliament of the general Estimates.
– Are we to understand that the Western Australia secession case cost £16,500 in 1934-35, £2,610 in the Estimates for 1935-36, plus an additional £15,473?
– No; these supplementary estimates are brought forward merely to secure covering approval for the difference between the amount voted and the actual expenditure in 1934-35.
– Is the total £32,000?
– No, it is approximately £19,000. These’ are not new votes. In supplementary estimates, the Government merely asks Parliament to give covering approval for sums which have already been approved, and is acting in conformity with a practice which has been adopted since federation, by which opportunity is taken to bring to the notice of the Auditor-General, and to honorable members generally, the extent to which each vote in the general Estimates has been exceeded.
– Is the £2,610 to be added to the £16,000?
– Yes. But I am not dealing with that additional amount at the moment. I am discussing the figures for 1934-35.
.- The Treasurer speaks pleasantly of the fact, if it be a fact, that this matter came up for discussion in. connexion with the general Estimates. The payment of a sum of £16,000 is in respect of the secession movement, as it is grandiloquently called, which originated in Western Australia; but I think the honorable gentleman flatters himself and flatters this Parliament when he says that this Parliament had an opportunity to discuss it. What the honorable gentleman really illustrates, is the danger of having estimates forced through Parliament by the application of the guillotine, without honorable members having an opportunity adequately to discuss them. I am glad to take this opportunity to say now that if £16,000 was paid for such a purpose, it was money which should not have been paid, and was money wasted - ever;? penny of it - and this Parliament should never have sanctioned the payment of money which amounted to a subsidizing or condoning of the act of a group of disruptionists in a certain part of the Commonwealth, whose movement never had the slightest chance of success or approval in the minds of the people of Australia.
– On page 35, under the heading, “ Northern Territory, General Services,” the sum of £484 has been provided for scientific investigations in Arnheim Land. This provision has been made, I presume, to assist in carrying out the work of Dr. Donald Thompson. This morning honorable members were given an opportunity to see a film made by Dr. Thompson while he was in northern Australia. I am sure that every honorable member who viewed the film must have been greatly impressed by the very fine work that Dr. Thompson is doing. We have been told that he is returning to Arnheim Land almost immediately. I, for one, can only say that the anthropological research he is undertaking has been delayed far too long. It is not yet too late, however, for good work to be done. I have tremendous admiration for a man who is prepared to live with these unfortunate, simple people, for months on end, and is able to convince them that they need not fear the arrival of the white man. I should like the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to state whether the amount to which I have directed attention was expended upon the work carried on by Dr. Thompson.
– I am quite sure that that is so.
– From 1919 to 1931 it was ray privilege to represent the Division of Brisbane in the Parliament of the Commonwealth. In 1931, that electorate decided to make a change in its representation, and elected a very excellent member. During those years, I repeatedly brought before the Government a matter which I considered was of tremendous importance to the capital of the northern State. Since then, the honorable gentleman who now represents Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson), has raised the subject frequently, and on every occasion I have supported his representations. In 1925, the Government of the day completed plans for the erection of a General. Post Office, including a parrels office and a new telephone ex change. I believe that you, Mr. Prowse, were a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee which recommended the early erection of these buildings. The automatic exchange is the only por tion of the scheme which has sofar been carried out. The balance of the work is more urgent to-day than it has been in the past. This great city, with a population of 300,000, is carrying on with practically the same facilities, as far as space is concerned, as existed when the population was only 50,000. The original General Post Office stands like a pigmy amongst giants.
– Order ! The honorable member knows that I have already ruled that the matter of the Brisbane General Post Office is not referred to in the Estimates before the committee.
– I have no wish to transgress. I understood you to say, sir, that it was permissible to ask the Treasurer why the work had not been proceeded with, and to emphasize its urgency.
.- The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) has drawn attention to the fact that, over a period of years, the gentleman who is chairman of the Wheat Commission, has received by way of fees,, expenses and salary, no less a sum than £34,000. These Estimates make provision for an expenditure of £21,404 upon different royal commissions. It is time that this Parliament did the work which the people elected it, to do. Whenever the Government is faced with a political difficulty, it sets up a commission in order that that body may bear the brunt of any attack which may be made in connexion with the matter. There are widespread protests against this delegation of powers and duties to royal commissions. Surely the Parliament should appoint a committee of its members to discharge this function. We have not been given an opportunity to discuss the report of the Royal Commission on the Petrol Industry, for which body the sum of £2,546 is provided on these Estimates.
– What good purpose was served by the investigation of that com mission ?
– None. But a few political hangers-on were provided with good jobs. Considering the fees paid to them, it is no wonder that they extended their investigations over a period of two years. I am sure that they would not have been brought to completion within that time but for the protests repeatedly voiced in this Parliament against delay in the presentation of the report; and even when the report was submitted, it was not understandable.
– No decision was reached.
– The excuse offered was that the information required could not be obtained from the oil companies. The probability of that occurring was pointed out before the inquiry was commenced. Parliament should retain control over matters referred to commissions, by having them investigated by parliamentary committees, which would do practical work and present reports that honorable members could understand. A great deal of unnecessary expenditure would thus be saved.
The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has referred to the provision of £15,837 to defray expenses in connexion with the secession case of Western Australia. Much more effective results would have been obtained had that amount been devoted to the relief of unemployment.
.- I am of the opinion that the charges associated with the investigations of some royal commissions are extravagant,’ and that in future the Government should take the precaution to see that the public funds are not exploited as they have been on different occasions. The Petrol Commission was a most disappointing body, and cost this country altogether too much. The best work done by a commission was that of the commission which conducted an inquiry into the taxation laws of the Commonwealth and the States, and peculiarly enough, it has been the cheapest to the Commonwealth. The Government should take more advantage of the services of members of Parliament. Many honorable members are not only willing, but also competent to make the inquiries winch are referred to royal commissions. Even if there were no additional remuneration, I am sure that, they would be pleased to undertake the task. It is their duty to devotetheir time to public purposes.
I should like to be informed of the fate of the request which, on several occasions, has been made for the establishment of a post office at Maylands, Western Australia.
.- I protest against the useless expenditure of public money upon so-called royal commissions, which draw large fees and, generally speaking, ‘do not furnish worthwhile information. If the Government needs advice, and considers that honorable members are not competent to obtain it, qualified members of the Public Service could procure it more quickly and efficiently than royal commissions. Before the Petrol Commission was appointed, the present Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Sir John Latham, who was then Commonwealth Attorney-General, introduced amending legislation designed to compel the oil companies to furnish information which was desired, but nothing of importance was elicited.
– The information was obtained.
– It was of such a character that the public did not know what it meant. Counsel who investigated the affairs of the companies might have satisfied himself on certain subjects, but the actual results of his investigations were never disclosed to either the commission or the general public. I entirely disagree with the principle of placing such heavy responsibility on the shoulders of one individual. Information gathered in such circumstances should be made available to the royal commission concerned, and to the public generally. It is alarming that, since the consummation of Federation, an expenditure of more than £1,000,000 has been incurred on royal commissions of one kind and another. The Bruce-Page Government, and also this Government, have been particularly at fault in this regard. The report of the Petrol Commission was a glaring example of the unsatisfactory nature of investigations of this kind, for so many conflicting reports were submitted to the Government by different members of the commission, that the Government has declined to take any action on the ground that no satisfactory recommendation has been made to it. Members of the Public Service could be detailed to make inquiries of this kind, and they would do it much more satisfactorily than royal commissions. This Government, and also any future government, would be well advised to discontinue this method of shelving its responsibilities.
.- I also protest against the number of royal commissions appointed during recent years. Although I have read with interest the reports submitted by these various bodies, I must agree that the information contained in them could have been secured by other more effective, and less costly, means. T am particularly disappointed at the indefinite result of the investigations of the Petrol Commission, for I took a good deal of interest in this matter and pressed for a thorough investigation. More of this kind of work could be done by members of Parliament. The time is ripe for the re-appointment of the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Works Committee. Years ago these bodies performed invaluable service for the Commonwealth. It is impossible, as a general rule, for all the members of the Parliament to make specific inquiries into particular matters; but if they know that such inquiries are made by their own colleagues, they are more willing to accept the recommendations submitted . than would otherwise be the case. Instead of continuing the policy of appointing irresponsible royal commissions, the Government should call upon the services of members of the Parliament, who are directly responsible to the electors, for they could gather information on the various points at issue more satisfactorily and economically than cumbersome commissions.
.- It is high time that honorable members opposite protested against the expenditure of so much public money on royal commissions. The manner in which this policy has been pursued in recent years makes us wonder what is behind it all. Why should certain individuals draw thousands of pounds in fees annually, while so many of their fellows are obliged to subsist on the dole ? These supplementary estimates seek to validate the expenditure of more than £36,000 on royal commissions. One individual named Reynolds has been connected with royal commissions in one way and another since 1920, when he first became associated with the Driver case. It may be said that he has lived on briefs, for and against the Government, for the last sixteen years. The practice of the Government in guillotining the discussion of the Estimates year after year has prevented honorable members from effectively voicing their antagonism to a continuance of the policy of appointing royal commissions, which, generally speaking, perform no useful service whatever to the community. Of what use to the country was the Petrol Commission? 1 notice that an amount of £15,473 is being provided to meet the expenses of the Wheat Commission. What a “ rake-off “ Sir Herbert Gepp has been able to make by means of this commission and others, the reports of which have proved to be of very little use. It is time that Parliament took a hand to see that the interests of the general taxpayers are protected, for the Government itself appears to have little interest in the matter. The Treasurer (Mr. Casey) interjected while the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Garden) was speaking, to the effect that Sir Herbert Gepp’s income of £34,000 odd from royal commissions had been spread over ten years. But information supplied only to-day to the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) by the Treasurer reveals a very different state of affairs. The honorable member asked the Treasurer -
Will he supply details of the amounts of (a) the fees, (6) the expenses, and (c) the salary, paid by the Commonwealth Government to Sir Herbert Gepp, either as adviser; consultant, or member of an inquiry, committee, or royal commission, since ho was first engaged by the Commonwealth in any capacity.
The reply received was as follows: -
The salary shown was paid during the period the 9th August, 1920, to the 8th August, 1930.Fees have been payable since the later date.
These Estimates also seek to validate expenses amounting to £15,837 “ in connexion with the Western Australia secession case.’’ What beneficial result has that expenditure had for the general taxpayer? The issue appears to have been forgotten already in Western Australia. At any rate, very little is heard of it. I have no doubt that the Banking Commission will also prove expensive and useless to the nation.
Unless the Government calls a halt in expenditure of this nature, there can be no doubt that intensely serious results will follow. Apparently the membership of these various commissions is determined by club membership. Parliament should not allow such a ramp to continue. The whole thing is politically indecent, if not worse. Why should membership of this, that, or the other club in Sydney or Melbourne entitle an individual to appointment to a royal commission? A select committee of members of this House should be appointed to inquire into the whole subject. Such political racketeering and rampages should not be permitted to continue. Can the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) justify expenditure of this description ?
– So far as I am aware I have never attempted to do so.
– The whole thing savours of the scandals which have occurred in Paris recently, and have actually wrecked governments.
– That is so. We all remember the Stavisky scandals, which revealed bribery and corruption in the very worst form. The people of Australia should not allow the present procedure to continue any longer.
Mr. Francis interjecting,
– Does the honorable member for Moreton justify the heavy payments to Sir Herbert Gepp during the last three or four years?
– Order ! The honorable member for Kennedy must address the Chair.
– I was about to refer to the shockingly inadequate expenditure of £484 during the last financial vear on research work in connexion with the Australian aborigines. While Sir Herbert Gepp is paid large sums of money, the poor unfortunate Australian aborigines, who are fast dying out, often are left to starve. This Government has recently incurred an expenditure of £12,000 in respect of ministerial visits overseas. Does it not owe something to the aborigines of this country? We nave heard a good deal in this Parliament recently about the raid of Italy on Abyssinia, but that was no worse than the raids made in this country on the aborigines. Surely more than £484 could have been spent in research work in the interests of these unfortunate people.
– No one is suggesting that there was lavish expenditure in this regard.
– The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) seems to have constituted himself the apologist-in-chief for this Government. In his independent position he could do a good deal to ensure better treatment of these people. We should be spending more than we are spending in scientific research, and a great deal less on royal commissions. Speaking from memory, our general research vote for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research amounts to about £92,000 a year; yet a proposal is on foot that the taxpayers should be called upon to provide £100,000 to assist the wool industry. This also appears to me to be a political ramp. We should voice a protest against it. Indeed, it is time that a select committee of this House was appointed to inquire into the cost of commissions set up by this Government over the last few years. I am sure that if this were done many matters that this Government would not be capable of justifying would bo brought out.
Yesterday, certain references were made to the people who are seeking gold in the Northern Territory. An item of £31,605 for expenditure on the territories of the Commonwealth appears in these Estimates. What do people in the Northern Territory get out of that amount? Does the Government intend to make provision for the establishment of a crushing plant at Tennant’s Creek, or does it intend to allow those people to be forced back on the dole in the cities? These are questions which the Treasurer or some responsible Minister should answer. Yesterday the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Paterson) said that inquiries’ would be made into the position at Tennant’s Creek, and he also said that some reduction of ore treatment charges might be made. The crushing charges at the State-owned and co-operatively worked crushing plant at Kidston in northern Queensland are about 5s. 6d. a ton, whereas the cost of crushing and carting at the privately-owned batteries at Tennant’s Creek is £4 10s. a ton. This comparison shows the benefit that accrues to miners when they do their own crushing. The same comparison between the charges made by private enterprise and those of Government enterprise oan be extended to other commodities. For instance, fis the result of the establishment by the Queensland Government of a shed at Mareeba for the treatment of tobacco leaf, the growers were able to reduce the cost of selling by more than £6 a ton or by about 50 per cent. Success or failure of industry very often hinges on the charges levied for the treatment of the raw material. The exorbitant nature of the crushing fees demanded by the owners of the private batteries at Tennant’s Creek, is further shown by the fact that at the privately-owned battery at Batavia, in Cape York Peninsula, where the cost of commodities is greater than it is at Tennant’s Creek, and where the stone is much more difficult to treat and mine than it is at Tennant’s Greek, the charge for crushing is only £2 5s. a ton.
– Order ! The honorable member, when discussing this preliminary motion, is not entitled to discuss the matter to which he is now referring. There is nothing in the3e Supplementary Estimates relating to the mines at Tennant’s Creek.
– These Supplementary Estimates include an item of £31,605 for the Territories of the Commonwealth. I want to know whether that item included expenditure for the treatment of ore at Tennant’s Creek. This is a very burning question. In- fact, public meetings of protest at the Government’s inaction have been held, and, as the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) and I pointed out yesterday, there is a threatened invasion of Canberra by a delegation from Tennant’s Creek, led by men on camels. I do not know whether the camel corps is to be led by the manager of the privately-owned battery, Aga Khan, in order to enter his protest against government batteries. People want to know where this money is going, and also another £400 which has been set aside for scientific research on behalf of the aborigines. To put it bluntly, I should, like a definite statement from the Treasurer, the man who controls the purse, whether the Government proposes to take any action to relieve the position of the mining industry at Tennant’s Creek by the establishment of battery facilities to treat more than half a million tons of over 10 dwt. ore. If the Government proposes to take no action, the people will know what to do, that is, to walk off the field, and then the Government will have accomplished its purpose of handing over the claims of the Tennant’s Creek miners to the miners of Pitt-street, Sydney, and Queen and Little Collins streets, Melbourne.
.- I join with other honorable members in condemning the practice of all governments of the Commonwealth to indulge in the appointment of royal commissions. An issue is raised before the people and the people desire a settlement of that issue by this House ; but in order to avoid or postpone a settlement of that issue the Government of the day appoints a royal commission. The. matter is then investigated and is ultimately lost sight of. With the possible exception of the Royal Commission on Taxation, that is invariably what happens. What has been done with the reports of the Constitution Commission, the Family Endowment Commission, and the Petrol Commission ? And what will be done with the report of the Banking and Monetary Commission when it eventually arrives? This method of postponing the settlement of important issues cannot long continue. lt is very expensive. Worse than expensive, it is a method of postponing altogether action in regard to the matters investigated. It is the policy of a man who writes a promissory note for the payment of a debt and says “ Well, thank God, that is paid “, although, subsequently, the promissory note is not met. 1 want to refer now to what has been said about Mr. Reynolds. I have had some experience of the Royal Commission into the Basic Wage, on which the present Judge Foster represented the unions as counsel and was paid by the Commonwealth. I think that the fees paid then to bini were practically the same as are being paid to Mr. Reynolds to-day. Mr. Reynolds has been at the Bar for about twenty years. He has a very good practice and has a very good reputation. I think the hon.orable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) could corroborate that. I do not think that it is fair to say that he is making a living by assisting royal commissions.
– He is doing pretty well out of them.
– Yos, but the fee which he charges is not more than the fee he would demand for private work. For instance, if he were engaged on long private work he would expect the same daily fee.
Mr. Reynolds is a junior barrister of very good standing in Victoria. My acquaintance with him began about 22 years ago when he unsuccessfully opposed mc at an election. I do not think that it is fair to allow these things to be said without some check upon them.
I think that the money spent on the representation of the Commonwealth in the Western Australian secession case was largely wasted and the Commonwealth made a grave mistake in attempting to burke the issue as it did. It should have waived the preliminary objection to the hearing of the petition to the British Parliament and allowed the case to be dealt with on its merits. By taking up the stand that the matter should not be inquired into and that it was a matter entirely for Australia and for settlement by the Commonwealth Parliament, it created a very bad impression, not only in Britain, but also all over the world. It is regrettable that so much money was spent to get an inconclusive settlement.
Mr. ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) the answer to a question asked by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) is something which I think honorable members on this side of the House should not allow to pass in silence. I must profess my profound astonishment at the action of Cabinet in agreeing to what I believe to . be an absolutely unwarrantable expenditure. Some time ago I had the benefit, entirely at my own expense, of doing a fair bit of work in connexion with the Wheat Commission. There, again, what struck me most forcibly was the absolute superfluity of human beings who were touring Australia to get the essential facts regarding the Australian wheat industry. A qualified barrister was appearing to assist the commission - he was a member of the Commonwealth Public Service and was a very capable gentleman - but I was never able to discover why i t was necessary to have this gentleman asking all the questions which the commissioners could have asked themselves: I Was never able to discover what work was done by him other than to ask witnesses their views on different things; because, even after he finished, members of the commission usually fully availed themselves of the right to ask additional questions
In connexion wilh the Banking Commission, all honorable members must accept some responsibility for the expense of that commission. We cannot allow the Opposition to take the attitude that, as soon as anything unwelcome comes to light, as it has this afternoon, they can get away under a smoke screen by raising Cain about the expense of royal commissions generally. Immediately after the last election there was a great deal of activity on the part, of honorable gentlemen of the Opposition to secure the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into banking. But now it has been appointed, we have the astounding information given this afternoon. I candidly say that if a lawyer considers that he is worth five guineas a day travelling allowance for every day he is away from Melbourne, his ideas of the cost of living are altogether too expensive, for the people of Australia. The commission is presided over by a judge of the Supreme Court, and I should be interested to hear from a responsible
Minister why it becomes necessary for a nian with the legal qualifications of that gentleman to require the assistance of another lawyer to enable him to carry out his duties in connexion with the inquiry. I dislike discussing this matter, in view of the fact that the commission is now pursuing its investigations; but it is questionable whether such a commission should sit until every crank who has a. wild theory to advance-
– The honorable member may not discuss the work of the commission.
– I was merely about to ask whether the commission should sit indefinitely until every crank who has a theory in regard to banking has had an opportunity to present his views in person. I make no reflection whatever upon the commission. It was appointed to submit a report to this Parliament on the essential facts in connexion with banking.
– The operations of the commission may not be discussed in this debate.
Mi-. ARCHIE CAMERON.- I am merely drawing attention to the fact that our experience of the Wheat Commission should be a warning to us in regard to all commissions. Voluminous reports have been presented by this body, which has investigated every conceivable aspect of wheat /production and marketing. But one may search the reports from end to end, without being able to lay one’s finger upon any major recommendation worth naming. The things which should be put in black and white, so that he who runs may read, are so hidden in pages of verbiage that it is impossible to tell what the commission thought on a subject that has caused bitter controversy among those who have devoted much of their lives to an understanding of the economies, and, latterly, the difficulties of the wheat industry.
– Apparently, it was a wasteful expenditure?
– I do not say that. I am dealing with the manner in which the report was presented. As an historical record, it may be a handy document, but it is not of interest to the majority of the people. “What was required was two or three pages of straight-out recommendations, based on the opinions formed by the commission in the course of its inquiries. If the expenditure incurred has not been justified by the result, as was suggested by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), it is high time the Government realized that the cost of royal commissions is a sore point with the taxpayers.
that no good purpose would be served by appointing a barrister to assist a royal commission, because,, apparently, he asked the same questions as those which the commission could, and should, ask. We might go a step further, and inquire as to the necessity for a Crown Prosecutor in a criminal case, when he asks practically the same questions as the judge would put.
– A royal commission hardly falls within the same category as ‘a criminal court.
– An investigation by a royal commission is a quasi-judicial inquiry, and is closely analogous to a hearing before a court of law. The fact that many interested parties who have appeared before commissions have, of their own volition, briefed counsel to express their views and watch their interests, indicates that the value of the services of counsel is highly appreciated.
– I presume that the honorable member is referring to a commission that is not making an investigation at the present time.
– I was referring, generally, to the practice of briefing counsel to assist a royal commission. The Banking Commission has been specifically mentioned, and I shall confine my remarks to the gentleman now appearing to assist that body. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) remarked that Mr. Reynolds is a man of considerable standing in legal circles.
– The honorable member would not be in order in continuing on those lines. Another opportunity will be afforded to discuss the Banking Commission.
– The honorable member for Bourke was apparently held to be in order.
– As far as I am aware, that honorable member did not mention banking.
– He referred to Mr. Reynolds, the counsel briefed to assist the Banking Commission. I simply support the honorable member’s remarks as to Mr. Reynold’s high standing, and point out that the fees paid to him are such as would be considered reasonable if paid to a barrister of his standing engaged on a case in private practice. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) expressed the view that a travelling allowance of five guineas a day under the circumstances is unreasonable; but, in fixing that fee, allowance is made for the fact that the barrister is not available for work in connexion with his private practice while absent from Melbourne.
– The honorable member must not continue to discuss the position of a barrister assisting the commission that is now engaged in its inquiries.
– I should have no complaint regarding the cost of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry if the recommendations submitted by it had been properly acted upon. I do not claim to possess the inside knowledge of commissions that other honorable members who have spoken claim to possess, but immediately I read this report and recommendations, I saw the hand of the mathematician behind it. The simple but telling graphs published throughout the report gave it the stamp of a scientifically prepared document. It was clearly demonstrated by graphs how futile is the policy of permitting farmers to attempt to produce wheat on land suitable only for sheep raising. It was shown that wheat is being grown at a cost, in many cases, up to 4s. 6d. a bushel, and, in some instances, even up to 18s. 6d. a bushel. Surely, farmers trying to grow wheat on land beyond Goyder’s line of rainfall should be transferred to more suitable localities. If the commission’s report had cost even £60,000, and suitable action had been taken upon its recommendations, it would not have been too costly. Subsequently, when the chairman of the commission, Sir Herbert Gepp, visited Tennant’s Creek goldfield, I was disappointed over the small amount of information which he furnished regarding it, considering the fact that he has had a long experience of mining operations; all Sir Herbert Gepp could suggest was uneconomic haulage of ore to central batteries, but that would not solve tha problem there.
– The discussion of mining matters at Tennant’s Creek is irrelevant.
– These estimates refer to a scientific investigation carried out in Arnheim Land, and I have been wondering whether the expenditure mentioned covers the cost of the scientific work which I did in the area as a surveyor.
The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) has declared that the expenditure incurred in the investigation made by Sir Herbert Gepp at Tennant’s Greek is far too great, considering the services rendered, and I agree with him. Until recently, I was probably the only person who has endeavoured to render service to the settlers in that remote area. I realize now that I have a competitor, and I much appreciate the help being given to me in this matter by the honorable member for Kennedy. I have been unswerving in my support of the claims of the men at Tennant’s Creek, and in my maiden speech I mentioned the names of some of those prospectors who, following the track which Allan Davidson blazed in 1900, discovered the Tennant’s Creek gold-field. These men deserve the full reward of their efforts. “We all know how the small man has been squeezed out in New Guinea. I feel that I have convinced the Minister for the Interior of the justice of my case, and that he, in turn, will convince the Government that it should provide the necessary facilities at Tennant’s Creek, by providing a government battery.
– The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr.- Beasley) asked for further information regarding item 69, dealing with expenses incurred by the Commonwealth Government on the entertainment of distinguished visitors to the Victorian centenary celebrations. The item of £1,122 covers the expenses of Sir Maurice Hankey, Sir Alexander Godley, Mr. Masefield, and Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, who visited Australia at that time as the guests of the Commonwealth.
With regard to the Commonwealth’s contribution to the cost of a memorial to Albert Thomas, the position is that, since the Estimates were framed, a variation in the exchange rate between the Australian £1 and the Swiss franc has made it necessary to add an extra £1 to the £65 which represents the Commonwealth’s contribution.
Mention was also made of the payment of a sum of £34 to the widow of an officer of the Patents Department. This officer, who had been compulsorily transferred to Canberra, died within twelve months of his arrival here, and it was agreed to make his widow an ex gratia payment of £34, to enable her to remove her furniture and effects to Brisbane, her home town. Payments of this kind are scrutinized very carefully, and all applications come before me personally, before being granted.
– I approve of the payment.
– One honorable member inquired regarding the remission of duty on material for naval construction. This was in regard to material imported for the construction of two sloops at the Cockatoo Island Dockyard.
The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) and the honorable member for Lilley (Sir Donald Cameron) mentioned the need for a new post office building at Brisbane, and asked why provision had not been made for this work in the Supplementary Estimates now before us. In the time- available I have not been able to obtain an answer to their question which they would regard as satisfactory. ‘The chief officer of the department is not available on the telephone, but I assure the honorable members that the matter will be gone into, and I shall communicate with them later.
The scientific investigation work in Arnheim Land mentioned by the honorable member for Lilley is in connexion with the sojourn in that area of Dr. Donald Thompson. The amount shown in the Supplementary Estimates does not represent Dr. Thompson’s full remuneration, but will be added to the amount of £750 shown on the Estimates proper. The total amount will represent Dr. Thompson’s very moderate personal expenses, plus the cost .of equipping and maintaining himself in Arnheim Land. I am sure that all honorable members regard Dr. Thompson’s work with favour.
The honorable member for West Sydney drew attention to the item of £78S representing the expenses of a delegation from New Zealand to Australia. When my predecessor in office, Senator Sir Walter Massy-Greene, visited New Zealand on Government business, his expenses were met by the Government of New Zealand, from the, time he arrived in that country until he left. The Commonwealth Government paid the same courtesy to the delegation from New Zealand, which visited Australia on similar business during the last financial year.
– Did not the delegation include Mr. Forbes and his party, who were returning to New Zealand from Great Britain?
– I think they came to Australia at the specific invitation of the Government.
Several honorable members have spoken of the co3t of royal commissions. I do not defend any excessive expenditure under this heading, but I feel impelled to reply to the suggestion that royal commissions are altogether unnecessary, and that the work they perform could be performed by members of this Parliament, or by public servants. Any one who has been closely associated with public servants, particularly those in senior positions, knows that every minute of their time is taken up. When the Government wants specific information on such subjects as banking, taxation, &c, it must go to sources outside the Public Service, if for no other reason than that such, public servants as might reasonably be able to do the work, cannot devote the time to it. In the Treasury, at any rate, the senior officers are occupied every minute of every working day with their own duties, and some of them devote their week-ends to their work as well. Therefore, in certain circumstances, the appointment of a royal commission is the only way in which the Government can inform itself from unbiased sources upon complex matters. Most honorable members approve of the work done by the Royal Commission on Taxation, first, because it dealt with a technical and intricate subject, and, secondly, because the cost was relatively light. As I stated earlier, by way of interjection, one of the royal commissioners worked entirely without fee, thus saving the Commonwealth about £2,000 during the two years that he was engaged on the inquiry. He was in receipt of a moderate pension from a State government, and he believed that, on that account, it was his duty to give his time to the service of the Government without further reward.
– Who was that?
– Mr. Justice Ferguson. I believe that royal commissions are unavoidable, because it is the only way in which necessary information can be obtained with the assistance of persons possessing the necessary intellectual equipment. I do not say that, in the past, some royal commissions have not taken unduly long over their jobs, and I admit that their expenses have been very heavy ; but I still think that governments, no matter what their political complexion may be, will have to rely on people outside Parliament to obtain information upon certain subjects. In some countries, notably in France, Germany and Great Britain, permanent bodies, such as economic councils and the like, have been set up to advise and assist governments. Such bodies are almost super-parliaments, consisting of non-biased, technical experts, to whom certain problems are referred. It was actually suggested in 1929 that a body of that kind should be set up in Australia; but, owing to the change of government, it was not done. I admit that, for one reason or another, such bodies have usually been failures; but I think it is possible that we may yet have to resort to some such scheme.
– -Docs the Treasurer approve of what the Leader of the Opposition complained of in regard to Mr. Reynolds?
– That is a matter which should be closely investigated by the Government, and I assure the honorable member that it will be investigated. I desire to correct the impression, however, that Mr. Reynolds was previously employed by the Government as a royal commissioner.
– What qualification had he for appointment to the commission?
– No specific qualifications, so far as I know, other than his experience of the bar. I have just had put before me a note to the effect that the>. Government has received a letter from the chairman of the royal commission, saying that the commission felt that it no longer required the services of Mr. Reynolds, having regard to the course that the evidence was taking ; that the Crown Law authorities have apprised Mr. Reynolds of this fact, and that his engagement will terminate as from th« 23rd of this month.
.- I agree with the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) that the appointment of royal commissions may often be necessary, and that the work can be carried out by such a body much better than by members of Parliament who may be charged with bias. To some extent the same remarks apply to the appointment of departmental officers, who, it might be contended, may be biased because of the political convictions of their chiefs. It is best, therefore, that commissions should bc appointed to inquire into important matters. In view of the information which we have received as to the cost of commissions in the past, however, the budget authorizing the appointment of a royal commission should contain an estimate of the cost of the inquiry, and when the estimated amount has been expended no further provision of funds should be made until Parliament has given the necessary authority. The Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry was conducted at enormous cost, which I am sure was never contemplated by the Government, and in many other cases the cost of royal commissions has been far greater than was anticipated. We should put, an end to the practice of continuing to provide funds indiscriminately for what p royal commission considers to be essential for its purpose. In many cases the cost of inquiries has far exceeded, not only the estimated cost, but also the worth of the reports presented. I suggest that the Joint Committee on Public Accounts, not necessarily constituted on the old basis, but consisting of a smaller number of members, should be reappointed for the purpose of conducting examinations, in regard to expenditure, and reporting direct to Parliament. The reports of such a body would certainly compel the Treasury to be more careful in regard to applications for the provision of funds such as have been made by royal commissions in the past. The past reports of that committee have proved of value to this Parliament. As formerly constituted, the committee consisted of ten members. I regard that number as too many; 1 think three members of the House of Representatives and two Senators would form a suitable committee.
Provision appears in these Supplementary Estimates for the Royal Commission on the Petrol Industry. The appointment of some members of that inquiry did not meet with the general approval of the community. There was criticism at the time that certain persons were always appointed to positions of this sort. Public revelations at any rate showed that at least one member of the commission should not have been chosen. It was anticipated that an opportunity would be given to honorable members to discuss the report of the Petrol Commission, but so far no effort has been made by the Government to provide it.
Another item included in the Supplementary Estimates is in connexion with the petition of the Western Australian people to the British Parliament in regard to secession. A sum of £16,000has been expended by the Commonwealth Government in controverting the case established by the Western Australian people. I do not know how this enormous expenditure was incurred, but I do know that the Case for Union was prepared in Canberra and consisted mostly of matter prepared by the manufacturers of Australia. At any rate I have seen the same arguments advanced in the Manufacturers’ Journal. Tens of thousands of copies of the Case for Union were posted to persons throughout Australia. Possibly this may account for the huge expenditure involved. I commend to honorable members and to the Government the advice given by one of the Labour leaders, Mr.Forgan Smith, as published in the Scotsman. If it had been followed in the past we should never have heard a single complaint from Western Australia, and there would have been no need to incur this expenditure; the people of Western Australia would have been found to be as loyal to the Commonwealth as they were to the Old Country in its time of trial.
.- The Treasurer (Mr. Casey) evidently has received wrong information from his departmental officers regarding Mr. Reynolds. Does not the honorable gentleman recollect that Mr. Reynolds appeared for the War Service Homes Commission in the case Driver v. The War Service Homes Commissioner which was before the courts for four years, and that Driver subsequently got a verdict for £144,000? It appears to me that the departmental officers are endeavouring to put it over the Treasurer.
.- I have had several inquiries relating to the administration of bankrupt estates in New South Wales, which it is stated was for about 70 years undertaken by official receivers at no cost to the country or the taxpayers. Over twelve months ago, despite much opposition, particularly from Sydney itself, the Commonwealth took over the task, and a new office was created to administer estates in New South Wales. It is said that since the office was created salaries have amounted to over £4,000, in addition to expenditure incurred in connexion with office rent and sundries. No doubt there are reasons for the change. Could the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) state what fees have been received during the last twelve months, or for the period up to the 30th June last year, and what advantages have been gained by the creation of the new office?
– I shall endeavour to get the information asked for by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Jennings), and supply it at the earliest possible moment. In reply to the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) my statement was that Mr. Reynolds had not been previously engaged by the Commonwealth on a royal commission.
– The War Service Homes Commission is a commission.
– I am asking the departmental officers for further information in regard to this matter.. I think, however, that the honorable member is referringto a court case in which this gentleman may or may not have been engaged. Certainly he has never previously been employed on a federal royal commission.
Questions resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended; resolutions adopted.
Resolutions of Ways and Means founded on resolutions of Supply, reported and adopted.
That Mr. Casey and Mr. Paterson do prepare and bring in bills to carry out the foregoing resolutions.
Bill brought up by Mr. Casey, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
Bill brought up by Mr. Casey, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s Message) :
Motion (by Mr. Casey) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made forthe purposes of a bill for an act to grant and apply out of the ConsolidatedRevenue Fund sums for the purposes of financial assistance to theStates.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Casey and Mr. Hunter do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill brought up by Mr. Casey, and read a first time.
.- I move-
That the billbe now read a second time.
This bill sets out to implement the reference in the budget speech of September, 1935, to the subject of grants to the States in connexion with local government works, which reads as follows: - “ As a result of further investigation into means whereby the Commonwealth cam assist in the problem of relieving unemployment, it has been decided, subject to satisfactory arrangementswith the States; to make provision from revenue for anamount of £100,000 in 1935-36, to be used in the form of contributions towards interest and sinking funds on loans for the public works of local authorities.
It is known that many local governing bodies are debarred from proceeding with public utility schemes by reason of the consequent debt service being beyond their rateable capacity. It is hoped that, as a result of consultation withthe State governments, a scheme can be evolved under which, with joint help on the above lines from the Commonwealth and State governments, a number of such public utility proposals may be undertaken, with consequent amenity value to country districts, as well as absorption of men who are now unemployed.”
Following upon considerable correspondence and discussion with the State governments, the bill was drafted in its present form. The Premiers of the States have signified general agreement with its provisions.
The proposal originated in an endeavour by the Commonwealth Government to assist, still further, the employment position. Its desire to help the State governments in this most important aspect of affairs, by making capital grants to them from loan moneys, has yearly become more difficult, owing to the fact that such procedure means that the Commonwealth’s share of available loan moneys, for handing over to the States, reduces the amount of such moneys which is directly available to them for their own purposes. Such grants mean, in reality, little more than that the Commonwealth relieves the States of interest and sinking fund on the amount advanced. It, therefore, remained to attempt to develop some plan, whereby the Commonwealth could render further effective help to the States in respect of employment, in addition to what is already being done in other directions. Consequently, the Government has decided to make available to the States an annual amount of £100,000 for a period of ten years, beginning with the present year - 1933-36 - for the purpose of subsidizing interest and sinking funds on certain of the loans for public works purposes raised by local public authorities.
The terms “ public authorities “ and “ public works “ are liberally interpreted in the bill. The definition of “public works” is designed to include water and sewerage works, gas or electricity enterprises, public hospitals, and institutions for maternal or infant welfare.
The other principal provisions are as follows: -
The bill represents a new method of providing additional employment over what may well be a wide area. Normally”, local governing bodies outside the capital cities cannot offer as good security, and so cannot borrow on such good terms, as the great metropolitan local governing bodies. The provisions of the bill will put selected local governing bodies on a considerably improved basis. It will be possible for public works, such as water and sewerage, gas, electricity, public hospitals, &c, which could not otherwise be put in hand for years ahead, to be undertaken in the nearfuture. The bill will consequently make possible an appreciable degree of decentralization of public works expenditure, which hitherto has been largely concentrated in or about the capital cities.
Loans raised by local public bodies under the benefits of the bill will provide an attractive field of investment, with adequate provision for meeting the service of the debt for many years. Indeed, in a great number of cases, the whole of the lifeof the loans will be covered.
The annual amount of £100,000 provided for will be allocated to the States on the basis of relative population as at the 30th June, 1935, and will be as follows : -
That is a broad, if short, description of the bill. I commend it to honorable members.
– This will apply only to new loans?
– To loans for new works started in the current financial year.
.- The bill has just been circulated. It contains a number of very important provisions. I have every desire to assist the Government in the passage of legislation, but I suggest that some leisure should be afforded to honorable members to study it. I therefore ask that I be granted leave to continue my remarks at a later hour.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Casey) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund a sum for war pensions.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Casey and Mr. Hunter do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Billbrought up by Mr. Casey, and road a first time.
– I move-
That the hill be now read a second time.
This is a. formal measure which is brought before Parliament at regular intervals. It has been the practice to introduce a bill of this character, from time to time, to make a formal appropriation of £10,000,000 for payment into the relevant trust fund to meet the payment of war pensions at whatever rate Parliament has determined. I give honorable members my assurance that no alteration whatever is sought to be made under this measure in the rates and conditions applicable to war pensions.
-What year’s revenue is being voted?
– It is an appropriation. This formality is necessary to keep the accounts in order. At present almost £4,000,000 remains of the previous appropriation, but that amount will be entirely exhausted in the payment of war pensions before Parliament re-assembles after the coming recess. The authority of Parliament to appropriate this money from general revenue is necessary. The bill, if passed, will not come into effect in the current financial year, for the amount at present in the trust fund will meet all payments until some time in August; but it is necessary to obtain authority for the payment of further sums into the trust fund, so that pension accounts may be regularly met. I assure the House that the procedure being followed in this case is identical with that usually pursued.
– Is not this a formality to overcome the constitutional difficulty which requires the Commonwealth to pay its surplus revenue to the State Governments ?
– I would not say that it is anything so terrible as that. We are, in fact, following the usual practice.
– I should like a little more information on the exact procedure of the Government in this matter. The budget estimates the amount of money required each financial year for war pensions, in common with other tilings, and I have always understood that only that sum of money was voted for that purpose when the general Estimates were under consideration ;but it appears to me that if this bill is passed, we shall vote considerably more for war pensions than the budget Estimates. The Treasurer (Mr. Casey) has told us that the War Pensions Trust Fund is in credit at present to the extent of £4,000,000, but if this bill is agreed to it will be possible to pay an additional £10,000,000 into the fund. Moreover, a period greater than that covered by the Supply Bill passed last week will be covered. This may be the usual procedure of this Parliament in connexion with this matter, but it is an extraordinary procedure with which I entirelydisagree. A specific amount of money should be voted each year for this purpose. Unless that is done, the control of the public purse passes from Parliament. I ask the Treasurer to give a more specific explanation of the purpose of the bill.
– I also should like a little more information on this subject. It does not appear to me to be the usual practice followed by Parliament to enable the cost of social services to be met. Does the introduction of this bill mean that it is impracticable for even a fairly accurate calculation to be made of the expenditure likely to be incurred on war pensions within the coming calendar year ? I have always understood that the Estimates were intended to be as accurate as possible.
– That is so. The Estimates are prepared with the greatest nicety.
– Then why are we obliged to adopt a procedure of this description? Is this an indication that the fluctuations in the payment of war pensions are so great that our public officers are not competent to make an accurate estimate of what is likely to be needed in a given period?
.- I was under the impression that our repatriation expenditure amounted to between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000 a year. If that is so, why should the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) be seeking authority to appropriate £10,000,000 ? We have been led to believe that the expenditure on war pensums had passed its peak, and that the amount required would be reduced year by year in. consequence of the deaths of soldier pensioners.
.- 1 wish to know whether this procedure has been questioned by the Auditor-General? Reference is made in the AuditorGeneral’s report to the amount of money placed in trust funds from time to time, and it has been alleged that this practice prevents the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) from indicating the exact expenditure of the Government in any financial year. If this is so, it seems to me that Parliament is being misled.
.- This bill, as I understand the position, seeks to continue a practice initiated in the first decade of federation, when the proposal to pay federal invalid and oldage pensions was first adopted. It was’ contended for a long while by the State Governments that the Commonwealth Government was under consitutional obligation to pay to the States all its surplus or unexpended revenue. For this reason the people were told that it would be impracticable to provide for Commonwealth invalid and old-age pensions. The High Court, however, decided in the case New South Wales versus the Commonwealth, that the Commonwealth Government could appropriate money for trust funds for any purpose in respect of which it had power to legislate. The result of that decision was the establishment of a pensions trust fund from which Commonwealth pensions have ever since been paid. In other words, this is the method that was adopted to override the contention of the States that . the Commonwealth was under an obligation to refund to them all its surplus revenue. I think the honorable member for Darling Downs (Sir Littleton Groom) will agree with this view.
– That is so. Honorable members who have followed the history of the Commonwealth closely are aware that in the early days of federation, strong pressure was brought to bear on the Commonwealth Government to put into force a commonwealth-wide system of invalid and old-age pensions at the earliest possible date. The only way in which that could be done under the Constitution at the time was for this Parliament to appropriate moneys to a trust fund. The whole subject came before the High Court. I had the honour to argue the case on behalf of the Commonwealth. The Court held that this practice was valid and in accordance with the Constitution. It was, in fact, the only means that could be discovered by the officers of the Crown Law Department to introduce the invalid and old-age pension system so early in the history of federation. I believe that the procedure now being followed is proper and constitutionally sound. Notwithstanding the statements in the Auditor-General’s report, the Treasurer always shows definitely and clearly in his budget the figures for each financial year. I can see nothing whatever in this practice which in any way impairs Parliamentary control of the public purse.
.- This is not the only trust fund that the Treasury operates; there is a very great number of them, and with regard to many of them I have nothing to say. With regard to the trust funds, such as this one, and the one related to the invalid and old-age pensions, which are regularly coming before Parliament for replenishment, the suggestion I make to the department is that it should treat so much as a necessary reserve in the trust fund, say, £5,000,000, and then, at the end of the year, ask for a specific appropriation by Parliament for the amount of the actual expenditure. For example, if this had been the procedure in respect of the war pensions trust fund last year, this year, perhaps, the fund would have a balance of £5,000,000. This would not be sufficient to meet the expenditure on war pensions in the current year, but, if in the previous year £8,000,000 had been expended, I submit that it would be proper for the department to ask Parliament to appropriate £8,000,000 to meet the requirements for the following year. Then, if the expenditure exceeded the appropriation the reserve in the trust fund would enable all obligations to be met. In that way there would be some limit on the amount of money this Parliamentwould appropriate from revenue for trust account purposes.
If it had not been for the existence of trust accounts the Commonwealth Treasury would have experienced all sorts of difficulties. Furthermore, the States must realize that without trust accounts the Commonwealth Parliament itself would have been in great difficulty in framing a policy over a period of years in which expenditure was inescapable. The longterm defence policy is a case in point. In any long-range plan if Parliament voted a sum of money in one year it would be wasted if some similar or larger sum were not to be expended in the next year or in the third or fourth years. Therefore, the trust accounts enabling a long-term policy under theeyeof Parliament to be definitely envisaged are necessary. If the trust account device were not available, Parliament would be unable to budget for the expenditure of moneys except for each specific year, whereas most of the activities of this Parliament involve long-range policies. There is unemployment for example. Although the greater part of the expenditure for alleviation of the unemployment situation comes from loan funds, there should be some realization on the part of this Parliament that, in embarking on a programme designed to assist in the solution of the problem, it is not only incurring obligations for the current year, but it must also have in prospect expenditure in succeeding years. The action necessary to make provision for future expenditure is one of the things Parliament must keep in mind, and I do not object to the allocation of surplus funds for that purpose.
In the early days of the Commonwealth it was assumed that the States would have the whole of the surplus moneys credited to them in proportion to their contributions to the revenue.
– The Constitution provided for that.
– Yes, but the State Treasurers themselves have had to resort to trust funds in order to stabilize the relationship between the Treasury and the Government policy as a whole. It is, therefore, no exceptional provision on the part of the Commonwealth to institute trust funds. I frankly confess that I will object to an undue growth of Commonwealth trust funds, and I do think there should be some limit to the amount which is to be. retained in each specific trust account. The suggestion I have already made should approximately meet the point. I have in mind, particularly, the invalid and old-age pensions, and the war pensions trust accounts; but, as the Auditor-General’s report indicates, there are other trust accounts of great variety. What I want the country to know is that, as far as my study ofthat report enables me to form an opinion, and having regard to the obligations cast on Parliament, the greater part of the Auditor-General’s criticism of Parliament and of trust funds is entirely unjustified.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– In the relationship of the States to the Commonwealth there is an impression among those who stand for what I shall call “ the pre-war relationship of the Commonwealth and the States “, that the trust funds of the Commonwealth have been used in order to defraud the States of the right which they should have to share any surplus funds which the Commonwealth may possess.
– In which they did share for some years.
– They shared, in practice, until 1907 and, in theory, until 1910.
– The ruling given by the High Court had an important bearing on that aspect of the relationship between the Commonwealth and the States.
– Yes, the High Court decided that, if the Commonwealth appropriated from Consolidated Revenue money for expenditure in future years, the amount so appropriated was money expended inthe year in which it was appropriated, and, therefore, could not be included in surpluses available for distribution to the States. In the investigation of the Western Australian case before the Commonwealth Grants Commission, some considerable time was taken up in an examination of this phase, and the Commonwealth Treasury was asked to justify its use of trust funds. Broadly speaking, there is no other way in which this Parliament could provide for social services on any extensive scale, and even on a limited scale, than by this method of trust funds. As one who conceives increasing obligations on this Parliament in respect of social services, largely because the States are incapable of competently providing for them, and, furthermore, because they cannot provide for them without some of the States feeling the burden much more heavily than others, thereby accentuating existing inequalities between the States, I foresee that, in order to meet the increased pressure, there will have to be an increasing use of trust funds. There is support on the Government side for a scheme of social insurance. Without an extension of the powers of this Commonwealth, I doubt whether we could provide social insurance in respect of industry. We certainly could not provide it without the creation of a trust fund. The fact that this Parliament has had the system of trust funds in operation for many years may not be taken as complete justification for the course we are pursuing, but it must be clear to those who have inherited the procedure of the last 20 years - 30 years in respect of the invalid and old-age pensions - that the practice was not instituted without justification, and has not been continued without equal justification.
.- I should like the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to explain if this appropriation will be taken into consideration in the balance-sheet for the current year, and whether it will affect the surplus. Is it likely that this appropriation will wipe out the surplus altogether?
– Following the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), the question of trust funds is a recurring one in the public mind, apparently; but as the result of the Auditor-General’s last report, there seems to be a feeling that’ money, because it is placed into trust funds, so far as this Parliament is concerned, is never seen again. That is a mistake. All feedings-into and drawingsfrom trust funds are set out in the financial papers made available to this House and to the public from time to time. All details of receipts and expenditure in relation to trust funds are given in the budget in the same way as are all details of any other appropriation for expenditure from revenue or from loan funds. Anybody can see them; there is no attempt to hide the facts. Moreover, if some honorable members are not sufficiently familiar with the financial papers to examine them and find out the facts for themselves, they can always elicit by a question on the notice-paper information in relation to any or all of the trust accounts. Thus, in no way is this trust fund derogatory from the obligation on the Government to bring forward in the budget its financial proposals for dealing with war pensions. The budget papers will contain in full detail the expenditure from all trust funds.
In reply to the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock), the answer is “ No “. Only so much as is actually paid out in war pensions will be taken into account in this year’s expenditure. This is a formal appropriation, and it will have no effect whatever on the surplus which, it is generally anticipated, we shall have on the 30th J une next. The money already in the trust account will last until a month or even six weeks beyond the 30th June. Until the money now in the trust fund is expended, no advantage will be taken of this appropriation.
– Is the appropriation then merely theoretical, or have we the money to back it?
– No, we have not the money to back it at the present, but when the revenue becomes available we shall have authority to take it. The spending of it will also be provided for.
– Is this the trust fund referred toby the Auditor-General?
– Yes, this is one of the famous trust funds.There has been a great deal of misconception about trust funds which has not been entirely cleared up by what I have had to say either in this chamber or out of it. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, it appears to be a popular misconception in many quarters that if the Government had the will it could milk off a great deal of money which is not required in these trust funds. An amount of £8,000,000 has been stated to be the sum, which, if we were honest, we would repay into general revenues from trust accounts. It is impossible, to do so. The trust funds are there, and, until a trust fund is finally decided to have no services to perforin, we cannot transfer any surplus that may remain in it to the Consolidated Revenue. Nevertheless, from time to time as trustfunds go out of existence the Consolidated Revenue does benefit from such transfers of moneys. This should effectively dispose of statements that £8,000,000 or even £1,000,000 or anything like £3,000,000 could be milked by legal process from trust funds and given other application.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 lo S p.m.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Casey) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an art to grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund a sum for the purposes of the grant of financial assistance to the States.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Casey and Mr.- Parkhill do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill brought up by Mr. Casey, and read a first time.
Debate resumed (vide page 1622) on motion by Mr. Casey) -
That the bill bp now read a second time.
.- This bill arises out of a discussion between representatives of the Commonwealth and the States in regard, to the difficulties associated with the promotion of public works under the control of local authorities, in view of the fact that the rating powers of those authorities are limited by statute, and that they are naturally restricted by the economic situation, in that, beyond a given point, it is impossible for them effectively to carry any increase of obligations following upon an increase of capital expenditure. ‘The result has been that works which fall within the compass of local authorities have not been proceeded with, because these bodies cannot bear the debt charges. The bill is designed to make a Commonwealth contribution towards the interest and sinking funds obligations of the local authorities which raise loans for public works that have to be approved by the Government of the State in which the local authorities exist, with the proviso that the State government has to give an equal contribution to that which the Commonwealth Government makes. For a considerable time an increase has been occurring of the number of public works which the Commonwealth and the States have jointly promoted, mainly to relieve unemployment, and also because the works are, on the whole, desirable. It is necessary to point out that this bill, together with the complementary legislation which the States will have to pass, means that an expenditure of £200,000 a year will be contracted for by the Commonwealth and the States for the next ten years, and will be a recurring charge upon the budgets of the Commonwealth and those States which participate in this scheme. Foi- ten years the sum of £100,000 will appear in the federal budget as a contribution towards the interest payments of these local authorities in connexion with the works which they undertake. Although the bill provides that a State need not pay out the money immediately to the local authorities, but may hold it for a later occasion, we can anticipate that capital works costing about £5,000,000 will be embarked upon as the result of this legislation.
– Even if the works need not be put in hand immediately, we may say that, allowing for an average interest rate of 4’ per cent., a capital expenditure of about £5,000,000 should bo anticipated.
– There may be heavier contributions to the sinking fund.
Mr.CURTIN.- There is no reason for that in respect of loans contracted underthis scheme, in view of the certainty that the lenders will have that the interest and sinking fund obligations will be met by the Commonwealth and the States themselves. I should be astonished if the money market did not take cognisance of the additional security inherent in this proposal. One of the effects of the measure, I assume, will be to widen the ambit of public borrowing outside the limits set by the Financial Agreement. Theoretically, perhaps, that assertion could be disproved, but, in practice, it is a reasonable statement of the facts. The Financial Agreement Act compels the State governments to make certain financial provision in regard to sinking funds,&c., and further authorizes the Loan Council to ration out the amount of money which, it is assumed, the market will provide. This, no doubt, has had the effect of making it difficult for local authorities to raise money, or of causing the money which a State would pass on to a local authority to be deducted from the amount which it would directly expend itself on public works. The Treasurer (Mr. Casey) said that this difficulty was being met by the procedure which had been adopted, and that it was hoped the trouble which had previously been experienced would be overcome.
I find no fault with the definition in the bill of “public authority”. It embraces anyauthority constituted by or under the laws of a State; but I think that in the definition of “ public work “ there is undue restriction. The definition in the bill is as follows: - “ Public work “ includes anygas electricity, water supply, or sewerage undertaking, or the erection of any public hospital or of any public institution for maternal or infant welfare, where the work is constructed, controlled or maintained by a public authority.
I question the wisdom of making any definition beyond referring to public works as approved by the State governments. There is a large number of districts in Australia which naturally cannot provide gas or electricity supplies, and it is doubtful whether they will be involved in hospital construction.
– Under the definition, “ public work “ merely includes such undertakings.
– But it appears to place an undue restriction on the authority which a State government may give in regard to a. loan raised for works undertaken.
– The definition is not limited as suggested by the honorable member.
– It seems unnecessaryto specify the public: works mentioned in: the definition, which goes on to say,. “ where the work is constructed, controlled or maintained by a “public authority “. I presume that the public authority might not include an authority of a co-operative character. Cottage hospitals in the n a tu reofcommunity hospitals are established in various parts of Australia, but they donot necessarily operate under a statute. The essence of the bill is that the State: government shall select the loan works in regard to which the benefit of the measure will be given. The local authority will not have a free choice as to the work on which it may embark. The obligation is; imposed on the State to make a contribution to the interest and sinking fund’ charges and also in reduction of thecapital debt. I am not sure that the latteris necessary. It would appear to me to be sufficient for the State to pay a contribution towards the interest and sinkingfund charges, which, I presume, will be sufficient ultimately to extinguish thedebt.
– In how manyyears ?
– The Commonwealth Government guarantees interest on the loan for 10 years, and surely after that the local authority should be able to take over the responsibility because, by that time, the sinking fund contributions will have substantially reduced the capital indebtedness. I agree that it is right and proper that the- local authorities should bo under some obligation to make a contribution towards the solvency of th.ese undertakings; otherwise tho most weird -wild-cat schemes would be submitted to the State Governments for their consideration, and we owe it to the State Governments to protect them from that form of persecution.
During the last three years, the loan expenditure of the States on public works has been very considerable. Last year it amounted to nearly £18,000,000 while the estimate for this year is £25,600,000. In 1933-34 the amount expended was £14,600,000. In my Opinion, such internal economic recovery as has taken place in Australia is due’ very largely to this increased expenditure by State Governments on public works, in that it has improved the. purchasing power of the poorer sections of the community, those who are dependent upon their earnings as labourers. The wages which those labourers have brought home have been expended almost to the last shilling on the purchase of consumable goods. The loan expenditure of the States, which was only a little over £14,000,000 two years ago, will this year be over £2f>, 000,000, and this increasing expenditure has affected in a marked degree the economic condition of the country. Now there is n tendency to prune State Government expenditure on public works. Recent manuvrings? by the Commonwealth Bank Board and the private banks suggest that there is a wide-spread conviction in financial circles that there should be a reduction of this class of expenditure. I utter a warning that any reversal of the public works policy which has been pursued during the last, few years is bound to have most serious reactions upon employment, and even factory employment. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Trade and Customs have- told us about the improvement which has taken place in the volume of factory employment, due, they say, to tariff reductions. As a matter of fact, the improvement bears no relation whatever to the reductions, and has taken place in spite of ‘ them, and not because of their effect. Employment - has improved . because the increased loan expenditure of State Governments has stimulated the purchasing power of the Australian people. That purchasing power, employed in the purchase of the products of Australian factories, has in turn, stimulated trade and created employment. I urge honorable members not to countenance any action which will have the result of reversing this beneficial policy. More than 14 per cent, of the Australian people are still out of work, and private enterprise cannot provide employment for all of them. It will remain necessary to devise government employment of an economic character in order to take up the slack, and the devising of such undertakings should be regarded as a proper and necessary requirement of statesmanship. The Government should consider plans for the creation of a national employment council representative of the Commonwealth Government, the State governments, and local authorities, who are large employers of labour. Through this council the efforts of these various employing agencies should be co-ordinated, so that they might not be competitors in the same field either for labour or for money. Under a system of proper co-ordination the available money would be apportioned to those works which were regarded as most urgent. A State government, for instance, might, desire that work of a particular kind should be undertaken when, as a matter of fact, some other work under the control of a municipality might be of greater national importance. If a council of the kind I have mentioned were in existence it might be possible to bring to bear influence which would ensure that a proper selection of public works was made. We should remember that local authorities. State governments, and the Commonwealth Government are all agencies used by the people of Australia to carry out their will, and to the extent that it is possible to correlate the efforts of those various bodies, we should be more effectively serving the people.
The bill contains no provision for the protection of wage standards in regard to the works for which assistance is to be granted. We have been informed that in the allocation of this money, preference is to be given to works in country districts. My experience has been that, in country districts, it is notorious that the personnel of local authorities entertains an unreasoning hostility to industrial regulations. They are prone to carrying out of works by contract, and there is frequently introduced a vicious system of sub-contracting, with the result that the wage standard customary to the district is not observed.
– That is an unwarranted attack on local governments.
– It is not. What I have said is true of many country districts. Tenders aro> called for a certain undertaking, and the tenders contain no provision requiring that awards shall be observed. The successful tenderer lets sub-contracts, with the result that the work is not done by day labour, and the men actually engaged on the work cut the prices against one another. There is no effective way of checking this practice. The sub-contractor ‘fixes what he calls a fair rate, and there is no authority to whom an appeal can be made.
– That system does not operate in Victoria.
– It certainly does not exist in Western Australia.
– If no such evil exists in Australia, there ought to be no objection, when we reach the committee stage, to the insertion of a clause in the bill that the benefits of the measure will not be applied to any undertaking which is carried out under conditions that do not safeguard the labour standards prevailing in the district. I accept the challenge of the interjectors. I shall submit my amendment in the form I have indicated, and invite them to vote for it.
.- I congratulate the Government upon the introduction of this bill, which is in keeping with the policy it enunciated at the last general election. Under the terms of the bill, with Federal and State Governments co-operating, Australia will be empowered to borrow up to £5,000,000. and of this New South Wales will be able to borrow £2,000,000 free of interest for ten years. My only objection to the bill is that it is too narrow in its application. The Government no doubt intends that only reproductive schemes shall bs brought under the measure, but I have in mind certain works which, while they will not come within the definition laid down by the Government, would still be reproductive, and of great value to the community. I am thinking particularly of municipal improvement schemes, such as shark-proof enclosures and other beach works at places like Coogee and Maroubra, and the construction of scenic marine drives winch will pass through and adjoin Crown lands. Works of that kind would be reproductive. because they would improve the value of private lands, and would open up new suburban areas for settlement. I do not wish to appear parochial, and am not advocating that expenditure should be confined to the Sydney area. I know that in other parts of Australia, in places like Cottesloe, Glenelg, St. Kilda and Southport, foreshore improvement work could be carried out with advantage to the community generally, and would provide extended employment. I ask the Treasurer to take these facts into consideration, in order that these reproductive schemes might be put into operation under the terms of this bill.
.- In introducing this bill, the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) made great play on the fact that the moneys provided would be a substantial contribution towards the solution of the unemployment problem. In New South Wales at the present time, it is true that a good deal of relief work is being provided by municipal and shire councils, which are subsidized for the wages paid to the nien, but only in respect of a small portion of the materials used. Before we can make any estimate of the effect which this legislation will have on the possibilities of municipal councils accepting a greater share of responsibility for dealing with the unemployment problem, we should first consider their capacity to undertake any further loan works. For instance, in 1932-33, the latest figures shown in the Commonwealth Year-Booh, the total debt of municipal and shire councils in Australia amounted to £68,662,000, and in the
State of New South Wales alone, to £35,202,000. Furthermore, we must realize that all of this money was not borrowed cheaply. In the boom period, up to 1929, when they raised loans for carrying on ordinary municipal services, the councils had to pay exorbitant rates of interest. Unlike State and Commonwealth governments, municipal and shire councils, particularly in New South Wales, have no power to convert existing loans into loans bearing a lower rate of interest, and they have to continue to meet the burden of high interest payments until the loans are repaid. Most of the loans bore interest rates of from 5 to 6 per cent. Examining the position from an Australian point of view, and on the assumption that the average rate of interest on the municipal debt is 5 per cent., the municipal councils of Australia, besides financing their ordinary services, have to meet an annual interest bill of £3,400,000. In New South Wales the interest bill alone, without considering provision for sinking fund for the retirement of the loans, computed at 5 per cent. would amount to £1,750,000. Before we consider how the provision of the £100,000 over a period of ten years will affect loan money for new works, we must consider the capacity of the municipal and shire councils to continue their present services and, at the same time, meet interest charges on the total debt of £68,000,000 already contracted.
– If they could get it without interest, they would not mind.
– The point is not whether they can get it without interest, but whether they have any further borrowing capacity. If the honorable member will read the bill, he will find that the works must be of a new character, that the assistance to begranted is for the raising of new loans for the purpose of carrying out those works, with the further qualification that the municipal councils must first of all obtain the consent of the State Government before loans can be raised under this scheme. The honorable member knows that the Local Government Act of New South Wales provides - and this is another point which the Treasurer might consider - that no municipal council shall raise a loan over a certain amount without taking a plebiscite of the ratepayers if it is demanded. Power to raise loan money to create employment does not remain, as the Treasurer seems lightly to indicate, with the State governments or the municipal councils, because, after all, even if they are animated by the best of intentions, and are warranted in incurring the liability, every municipality in New South Wales is at the mercy of a handful of ratepayers, who can demand a plebiscite.
– Is there anything wrong with that?
– I do not question the rights or wrongs of that, but I point out the difficulty that will be experienced in raising loans. The Treasurer has said that the moneys to be provided under this bill will be a substantial contribution towards the solution ofthe unemployment problem in New South Wales, and that the provision of this money would open up new avenues of employment; but I point out to the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) that, whether we desire it or not, whether the State Government or local municipal councils desire it or not, in the last analysis, the decision as to whether the money shall be borrowed lies in the hands of a handful of ratepayers, who can delay and possibly deflectany proposal to adopt this scheme.
– In the hands of the majority of ratepayers.
– That might be so in South Australia, but it is certainly not so in New South Wales. After overcoming the barrier of debt that may prevent the councils from participating in the distribution of the moneys provided under this bill, if a council is in a financial position sound enough to warrant the contraction of further debt in order to take advantage of the scheme proposed in this bill, it will be necessary to overcomethe further barrier set up by the provision, which I have mentioned, in the Local Government Act in New South Wales.
– The real problem is that New South Wales generally is deeper in debt than any other State.
– I am concerned not about the amount of debt in New
South. Wales, compared with other States, but whether, assuming the councils in that State are able to overcome their financial difficulties in carrying on their prevailing services and meeting their already heavy interest burdens, they are in a position to say yea or nay to any plan designed to create work, without consultation with the ratepayers.
– The honorable member seems to be afraid that the ratepayers have more sense than the councillors.
– My experience of ratepayers generally is that, no matter what sort of services they receive, their sole consideration is how little they have to pay in rates. Not at any time will it be found that a majority of ratepayers are more concerned about providing loan works for the relief of unemployment than in keeping down expenditure which affects the rates they will be called upon to pay. My argument is that if this legislation is to have its fullest beneficial effect, so far as the relief of unemployment is concerned, representations should be made to the New South Wales Government, at all events, that the provision in the Local Government Act which I have mentioned he suspended.
– Loan works are being undertaken by local governing authorities in New South Wales to-day on a fairly wide scale.
– I admit that that is so, but not generally. In my electorate, for instance, there are four municipalities, two of which do not undertake relief works financed by the Government of New South Wales.
– Because, as I have already explained, their debts are so heavy at present, that they are not in a position to undertake any further loan works.
– This Government cannot cope with that situation.
– Though the Treasurer claims that this legislation is a substantial contribution towards the solution of the unemployment problem, by making provision for additional work, he has not taken into consideration the indebtedness of the municipal councils in New South Wales.
– This legislation was welcomed by the New South Wales Goverrrment.
– I do not question for one moment that the New South Wales Government has welcomed this scheme, because, to the extent that the councils are prepared to borrow money for the relief of unemployment, the New South Wales Government is relieved of that obligation. I do not wonder that the New South Wales Government should welcome this scheme.
– It has to find an amount equal to the amount provided by the Commonwealth.
– That is so, and it. is good business from their point of view, but if the Commonwealth did not bring forward this scheme, the State governments would have to find thewhole amount. Therefore, even if only one or two municipalities in New South Wales take advantage of the scheme, the State government stands to gain. The Government of New South Wales should also welcome this scheme because it has so altered the Wages Tax Act, that all receipts under it are treated as special income tax. All workers in industry are taxed at so much in the £1, allegedly for the purpose of providing work for the unemployed, but in reality, the money is paid into Consolidated Revenue. Therefore, the cost of widows’ pensions, child endowment, and other social services is defrayed out of moneys originally collected for the relief of unemployment. In three years, of the amount received from the wages tax in New South Wales, £10,000,000 has been diverted to other purposes.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Order ! The matter to which the honorable member now refers is outside the scope of the bill before the House.
– There is one clause which, I think, should not be permitted to remain in the bill. It provides that preference shall be given, as far as practicable, to loans for works in rural districts. I fail to see why the Government should pay particular attention to rural districts, in comparison with other centres. In the metropolitan area, the expenditure of the municipality is very much greater and the rates levied are higher than in country districts. If this measure is designed to provide work for the relief of unemployment, any preference should he enjoyed by those centres in which there is the greatest aggregation of unemployed. Unquestionably, these are to be found in the metropolitan areas and the larger towns of every State.
I support the contention of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) that, as far as we can reasonably do so, we should make sure that any shire or municipal council which undertakes works under this scheme is compelled to insert in all contracts a provision that the award wages and conditions prevailing in the district must be observed. From time to time, when making grants to the States for the purpose of providing work for the unemployed, this Government has stated that it would not interfere in this direction; but it has always expressed the pious hope that the States would see that award wages and conditions were observed. That policy has been adopted by the Commonwealth in connexion with its own relief works at Mascot and elsewhore. The municipalities themselves might not feel inclined to break the law, but contractors and sub-contractors would certainly take advantage of every loophole offered to them. When the Leader of the Opposition said that there had been breaches of award wages and conditions on relief works in certain country districts, the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. McEwen) said that they had not occurred in Victoria, and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) made a similar statement in regard to Western Australia. It would seem that breaches are not committed in any State; yet, strangely enough, the experience of men who depend for an existence upon relief works, is that they occur everywhere. Many sub-contractors abscond without paying any wages. We wish to guard against such contingencies. Since so much indignation has been expressed by Government members at the accusation of the Leader of the Opposition, and they emphatically affirm that these conditions do not prevail in their States, they should not be opposed to an amendment which will make the position secure.
.- I thank the Government for having introduced thi3 bill, although I consider that the proposed apportionment of the grant is hardly fair. The area of Western Australia is, roughly, one-third of the area of the whole continent, and, unfortunately, it is the least plentifully endowed of the States with natural resources, such as rivers and lakes. A strong effort is being made in that State to establish towns and villages, but considerable difficulty is experienced because of the lack of an adequate water supply. Extensive use is being made of the goldfields water scheme, one of the big undertakings of the world, but it cannot penetrate to every part of the State. I appeal to the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to see if it is not possible to make an apportionment that will be commensurate with the conditions, taking into consideration the natural disadvantages and the tremendous area of Western Australia. Other grants are made on an area-population basis, but this is to be made entirely on a population basis.
– Entirely on a Country party basis.
– That interjection is indicative of considerable ignorance. I am confident that due consideration would cause the Treasurer to feel that what is suggested is reasonable.
.- Clause 2 of the bill does not make provision for certain public works .for which I consider that provision should be made. It reads - “ Public work “ includes any gas, electricity, water supply, or sewerage undertaking, or the erection of any public hospital or of any public institution for maternal or infant welfare, where the work is constructed, controlled or maintained by a public authority.
I should like to be informed as to whetherswimming baths, parks and sports grounds provided by municipalities in country districts, are covered. Numerous country developmental works are not mentioned.
Country centres are particularly anxious that provision should be made with respect to interest charges ‘on works undertaken last year, and probably in 1934. If the measure is to be applied in a hard and fast manner only to the years 1935-1945, it may not be of material benefit to them.
There is a particular work concerning which I made representations to the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) while he was Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Employment. I refer to the Maitland sewerage scheme. Representations in regard to it were also made by the State Government, and it was agreed that the scheme should be included in the list of works approved of in consultation with the States. An expenditure of approximately £370,000 was involved, the State’s quota being £275,000 and that of the Commonwealth £92,500. The Commonwealth has contributed its quota, but so far the State Government has made no contribution towards the cost of the work. Prior to the last election, the promise was definitely made that award rates and conditions would be observed on the work. I remember distinctly the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) asserting in this House that the money was made available in an endeavour to hold a seat which at one time was held by a Labour member. That, of course, was denied. At the outset, award rates and conditions were observed. This was in accordance with a definite promise to the Maitland electors by the State government on the eve of the 1935 election, but the scheme has since been included in the category of emergency relief work. I maintain that the election promise of both the State and Federal Governments should be honoured. The State Government, however, having assumed control of the scheme, is expending Commonwealth funds on the miserable dole basis. The municipality, clergymen, business men, and others have protested, and have made representations by deputation to the State for the redemption of its promise. Apparently, the Commonwealth Government does not intend to use its influence to ensure that award rates are observed. This, incidentally, is in accordance with the Prime Minister’s policy speech. Paragraph / of clause 6 of this bill states that -
Whore the Government of a State directly controls a public work of a kind which, in any other State, is controlled by a public authority, the Government of that State may apply the whole or portion of the moneys towards payment of interest and sinking fund charges on loans for that public work, in the same manner and subject, mutatis mutandis, to the same conditions as if the public work were controlled by a public authority.
That suggests to me that, if a localgoverning authority exhausts the amount of money provided by the Commonwealth for a particular public work, and completes the undertaking on relief conditions with money which it has raised, it may still take advantage of this measure.
– That paragraph was inserted principally to meet the case of the Government of Western Australia, which carries out a good deal of the work that, in other States, is done by localgoverning authorities.
– But the Government of Western Australia will pay award rates. What I wish to know is whether instrumentalities which carry on certain public works under relief conditions may apply this money to the payment of their interest bill.
– Actually,- the Commonwealth Government is not concerning itself, in this measure, with the payment of award rates. It presumes that the State authorities will do the proper thing.
– The Commonwealth Government undertook to ensure that award rates would be paid on all public works constructed with money provided by the Commonwealth. I ask that that promise be fulfilled.
Although this measure provides that the money shall be allocated to the various States on a particular basis, we have no undertaking whatever that the State governments will, in turn, allocate the money made available to . them in accordance with the interest commitments of their various local-governing authorities. It is quite likely that discrimination will be shown, as has already been shown, in the Maitland district.
– Surely not by the present Government of New South Wales !
– The actions of the present Government of New South Wales would have put Ned Kelly to shame. Discrimination has been shown against the Cessnock municipality and Kearsley shire. I can see a strong likelihood of favoritism being shown to localgoverning bodies in the Barton electorate, for example, where a little preferential treatment might give the present representative of the electorate a possible chance of retaining his seat at the next election. I, personally, do not give the honorable gentleman much hope of retaining his seat, but no doubt everything possible will be done to create an atmosphere favorable to him.
Specific conditions should be laid down to govern the distribution of this money by the State governments to the various municipalities. I also ask that loans raised prior to 1935, even as far back as a year or two prior to the depression, should bc brought within the provisions of the bill. It is desirable, too, that more consideration’ be given to the commitments entered into in respect- of various hospitals. Hospitals were built in Cess-
Mock and Kurri Kurri, in my own electorate, largely by money raised through a levy of ls. a fortnight on the miners. Unfortunately, debts have since been incurred in making additions to these institutions. Although the State government subsidizes hospitals on a £1 for £1 basis in respect of money spent on extensions, some of the hospitals are in dire straits financially. The humane work which these institutions do entitles them to more consideration than they have been receiving.
Seeing that the Government placarded the country, prior to the last election, with promises that it would take steps to ensure that award rates were paid on ail works constructed by Commonwealth money, I ask the Treasurer for an assurance that this condition will be insisted upon in connexion with the disbursement of the money to be provided under this bill. Otherwise honorable members on this side of the chamber will be obliged at the committee stage of the bill to move amendments to achieve tha.t end.
One other point to which I direct attention has relation to the policy of preference to returned soldiers. Municipalities in Victoria are committed to the policy of preference to returned soldiers. This Government has, for many years past, adopted that policy in regard to its various public works, but to-day it is having a very damaging effect on the sons of returned soldiers who, though too young to go to the war, find themselves now, at the age of 30 or more, unable to obtain employment, because the preference principle is so rigidly adhered to. The situation has become so unsatisfactory that the secretary of the Kurri Kurri branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia has requested me to urge the Government to abandon this* policy. Preference to soldiers was a valuable principle in the years just after the war, when strong efforts were being made to repatriate our returned men, but it is regrettable that to-day the sons of deceased soldiers, who were too young to go to- the war, find the policy operating adversely to them. In the circumstances I urge the Government to reconsider the whole subject.
If reasonable consideration is given to the suggestions made during this debate by honorable members on this side of the chamber, it will not be necessary for us to delay the passage of the bill at the committee stage by moving amendments particularly relating to the observance of award rates and conditions.
.- The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) and some of his colleagues opposite seem to be very unhappy at the success of the United Australia party. For a long while they were content to rely upon the jibe that prosperity was “ just around the corner “, but now they realize that that catch cry is of little use to them for they, in common with their constituents and the community in general, are enjoying the prosperity which has resulted from the administration of this Government.
– The honorable member should visit my electorate before boasting about the return of prosperity.
– If the honorable member’s electorate had a representative like the Barton electorate has, prosperity would abound there. I noticed that the honorable member grudgingly conceded that there was a prospect that I mighteven hold the Barton seat at the next election. He and his colleagues assured me confidently before the last election, that I would be defeated, but here I am ; and I have no doubt that I shall be here after the next election.
I rise principally to ask why the Government so consistently introduces the issue of city versus country in measures of this description? Why should this bill contain clauses which discriminate against city local governing bodies? I realize that the Country party is strongly represented in this Parliament, but surely honorable gentlemen who belong to that party have twisted the neck of this Government long enough. I hear some honorable gentlemen laughing, but the truth must come out. Practically the whole of the concluding days of the last period of this session was devoted to the consideration of bills designed to confer benefits exclusively upon country people.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Order ! The honorable member must connect his remarks with the bill.
– I shall do so in one minute. I have complained previously of this issue being raised in the dying stages of the session. On the last occasion when a similar measure was before Parliament, I approached the Treasurer and asked that the metropolitan areas be allowed to participate in loans to municipalities and shires for the provision of water and sewerage. As a matter of fact, I interviewed members of the Metropolitan Water and Sewerage Board, Sydney, and asked if they could utilize some of this money to provide sewerage facilities for portion of the area containing about 70,000 people, where only half of the houses are sewered. This Government and the Government of New South Wales know that this is the case. The board assured me that there were two areas where it could immediately put men on sewerage work, and it informed this Government that it had already borrowed £2,000,000 in order to carry out works in the metropolitan area. Although I do not object to rural areas participating in benefits, because they include installation of electricity, water supplies, sewerage and other amenities to public hospitals) &c, I do think that the bill should be amended to include metropolitan areas in the proposed benefits. The metropolitan areas of this country arc. far behind those of other countries ia respect of the provision of sanitary arrangements. Surely this Government does not propose interminably to set aside sums of money for one section of the community and to divide this country by a. contest between country and city interests.
I regret that it is necessary to make these protests against ti government of which 1 am a supporter, but it seems that the “ powers that be “ are tempted to let go the reins when arranging the distribution of loan moneys of this kind. Why should not the Commonwealth Government use some of this money to provide sewerage to war service homes in the metropolitan areas. In my electorate, there are at least 1,300 war service homes, and 50 per cent, of them are not sewered. The Government should know the difficulties with which occupants of war service homes have to contend. A great many of them bought their homes when prices were high, and, when work became scarce, many of them had only intermittent employment. Consequently, their situation to-day is no better, if it is not worse, than when they first entered into possession. These men are applying continually to have their homes sewered. I raised the matter with the Minister in charge of War Service Homes some little time ago, and he said it was intended to extend the facilities when money became available. It is not to* the credit of the Commonwealth that so many war service homes which were erected about fifteen years ago should not have essential services, and the time has arrived when the Government, seeing that it has the money, should spend some of it on premises over which it has control. If it is not prepared to allocate some of the present funds for the purpose, it should take other steps. It should not fail to remember that these men are its direct responsibility, and before distributing money in the present proposed circumstances, it should look after them.
I claim that- this Government has acted wrongly in deciding upon the methods proposed in this bill for the allocation of the money. Honorable members have been talking about municipalities not taking some of it, but I do not agree with what the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) put forward. ‘ I believe that the municipalities will gladly take this money. I do not know of any public body cr municipality in Australia which would refuse an offer of the loan of ;». large sum of money free of interest for ten years, provided certain specified public works were carried out.
– The Balmain municipality would not accept it.
– I do not doubt it, because the honorable member is its representa.tive The Balmain Council is flogged to death with Labour aldermen, and it is difficult to get such men to view other than with suspicion an offer of anything by the United Australia party. I advise honorable members who represent .such districts to give their constituents a lesson in business principles. They need it, if, when they can get money’ for nothing, they will not take it.
– It is not for nothing.
– The conditions of the proposed loans are that they shall be free of interest from the governments concerned. If the moneys are availed of by the bodies to which it is offered, it will mean that between £4,000,000 and £5,000,000 of loan money will become available. For instance, the Common wealth Government and the Government of New South “Wales have agreed to subsidize moneys borrowed by municipalities on a pound for pound basis. I understand that if a public body borrows £50,000 free of interest, the State Government may say to it, “ Here is another £20,000 which can be borrowed but we shall charge a certain rate of interest, provided the loan money comes from outside the particular money borrowed under this scheme, and provided that certain public works are carried out.” I have advised the municipalities in my electorate to take advantage of the offer. While money is so cheap, municipalities which fail to borrow to make improvements are neglecting valuable opportunities. It would be ridiculous to say that for an unlimited period, we shall be able to have money at the rates of interest now prevailing. If there be any acumen among the municipal and shire councils, they will avail themselves of this money, and make improvements of vast benefit to the communities which they represent.
Honorable members opposite, in this bill, are seeking to place restrictions on the State governments. I do not think that State governments can be compelled to spend this money entirely in rural districts as I do not think it is within the province of the Commonwealth Go.vernment to tell the States, once they have got the loans, how the money is to be spent. Nevertheless, I do believe that the gentlemen’s agreement incorporated in this measure will be honoured by the States, and that the money will be spent in country areas unless we insert a clause which will bring in the metropolitan areas. I have not the slightest doubt that the Bruxner party in the New South Wales Government will feel itself bound to honour this gentlemen’s agreement in its entirety. Honorable members opposite, I believe, are trying to insert amendments in this bill for political purposes. In every measure that has come before this House, they have tried to insert the principle that award rates must be paid.
– Is the honorable member opposed to the payment of award rates ?
– The State governments cannot be bound in regard to the spending of this money and to the conditions of labour. Such restrictions cannot be imposed on. the governments and the honorable member knows it. But just for the sake of putting in the Labor Daily or some other paper blazing headlines to the effect that all other parties are against the award rates, the party of which he is a member is pursuing its present course. This is one of the tricks by which the ordinary working man is led astray. It was the same in the Barton electorate, until I came there and educated my constituents.
– The communists put the honorable member in.
– I always regret the mournful song that comes from my friend the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Gander) that the communists put me in. I remind him, however, that even the worst recognize a good man. If thu communists put me here, I cannot help it. But I remind the honorable gentleman that before I entered this Parliament the Labour party had a 20,000 majority in Barton. I cleaned that majority up at the first go. No true Labour man will ever believe that this Government has a right to force on a State government conditions as to the payment of wages and the observance of labour conditions. No self-respecting government could expect to be able to do it. The proposals now made by the Labour party represent mere political propaganda, .by which they lead astray certain men who, if told that a Chinaman was the endorsed Labour candidate, would vote for him.
– Order !
– I do not object to award rates. I have always advocated the payment of the highest wages possible to the workers. Honorable members opposite have said that unemployment’ relief schemes will never enable the workers to obtain award rates, but thousands of trade unionists have been placed back in employment at those rates. 1 am in favour of the policy of this Government, which has made possible the regular employment of thousands of trade unionists. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) has said, only 14 per cent, of the workers are now unemployed. This measure will be of great value to the community because it will enable public works costing from £4,000,000 to £5,000,000 to be put in hand.
– A sinking fund has to be provided.
– Even allowing for sinking fund charges, a capital expenditure of at least £4,000,000 will probably be incurred. The United Australia party lias definitely carried out the promise given to the people at the last election that all possible steps would be taken to counteract the evil effects of unemployment.
.- This measure is, in principle, one of the most meritorious that has been brought before this Parliament, because it shows that the Government recognizes the necessity for pursuing a national policy for the decentralization of the population. For many years, the need for action to that end has been urged, but, until recently, few measures calculated to bring about this reform have been introduced. The drift of population from the rural areas to the cities lias been due to two principal causes. The most important is the unprofitable nature of rural occupations and industries, and, consequently, of country businesses; and the second factor is the greatly improved amenities of life provided in metropolitan areas and provincial cities and towns during the last couple of decades, in comparison with the conditions existing on the farms and in small country towns. In these circumstances it is not strange that this drift has taken place. It is far cheaper to provide social amenities in large centres of population than in sparsely settled areas. “Water schemes, hospitals, and . the like can be provided at a lower cost per capita in cities than in rural areas.
This measure demonstrates that the present Government is country-minded, and is taking a most practical step in the direction of the decentralization of the population by providing for dwellers in rural areas some of the social amenities enjoyed in the large centres. For that reason I am particularly glad to see a clause in the bill indicating to the State governments that they should give preference to works undertaken in rural districts. Together with that direction is one providing that preference should also be given to works calculated to employ the greatest proportion of manual labour. The extent of the drift from country areas to the cities and large provincial towns is not realized by the average metropolitan resident. I find, on referring to the Commonwealth Year-Book, that the 1933 census discloses that in New South Wales 47^ per cent, of the total population lives in the metropolitan area. Excluding provincial cities and towns, only 30 per cent, of the population resides in rural areas. The following table shows the distribution of city and country people throughout Australia -
Taking Australia as a whole, 46.87 per cent, of the population resides in. six metropolitan areas, 16.97 per cent, in provincial cities and towns, and 35.91 per cent, in country districts. Any person giving serious consideration to the future of this country must realize that our destiny cannot be fulfilled when approximately one half of the population dwells in the six capital cities, and only 35 per cent, of the people reside on the land or in the small country towns. It should be the policy of any national government to give serious and constant consideration to the best means of securing the decentralization of the population.
Unfortunately, the only practicable course available to this Parliament, in the present circumstances, is to take measures such as the bill now before it. The division of governmental authority in Australia, and the fact that the State Governments deal directly with the local governing bodies, make it impossible for the Commonwealth Government to do other than make money available through the States for public works of this type. Whilst I support this bill, I again express regret that this Parliament lacks constitutional power to deal directly with pressing problems affecting the welfare of the people. I disapprove of the principle of the Commonwealth Government raising revenue through taxation, and handing the money over to subsidiary governments with only the most meagre directions from the central authority as to the way in which it shall be spent. Various estimates have been made as to the total amount of money likely to be expended under this scheme. The £100,000 per annum provided in this bill is to be supplemented by a like amount from the State governments. With the £200,000 thus available my calculation in round figures is tha.t, on the basis of providing interest and sinking fund at the rate of 5 per cent., a capital sum of £4,000,000 could be raised. However, these funds are to be used only to supplement the contributions of local authorities. The contributions by State azn.1 local authorities together should provide interest and amortization on a capital expenditure of between £6,000,000 and £S,000,000. I take it that the proportion of sinking fund payments found by the State governments will vary in accordance with the needs of the public authorities they will be assisting. In some instances, the governments may shoulder a large proportion of the liability ; but, in regard to the larger municipalities, a State government would properly insist that they should bear a considerable proportion of the cost. I agree that it is better that no definite proportion of the loan charges should be allocated to local authorities, but that this should be left to the individual State governments to determine. The local governing authorities, backed as they will be by State and Commonwealth governments, will be placed in a very sound position as borrowers. and will be entitled to raise money at the minimum rate of interest. First, they will pledge the rating capacity of their ratepayers for a certain proportion of interest and sinking fund on the money raised ; then they will have, as additional security, the contributions of the Commonwealth and State governments, so that they will be able to offer security only a little less sound than that of the governments themselves. I hope that, in the raising of their loans, the local bodies will not be left to anT,roach the loan brokers and underwriters. They should receive in their loan negotiations the assistance of some government, prefer1 ably the Commonwealth Government. I see no reason why it should not be possible for the Commonwealth Bank to underwrite all loans approved by the State government.
– I do not think there will be much need for underwriting, and the State governments are closer to the matter than we are.
– I appreciate that; but I also realize that the Commonwealth Government and the Commonwealth Bank are in close touch with the agencies through which money may be raised for public purposes.
It is presumed, that, during the period of ten years mentioned iu the bill, there will be a constant flow of applications to the State governments from public authorities seeking to raise funds. I assume that, in seven or eight years’ time, applications will still be coming in. Those local authorities who are able to take advantage of the scheme immediately will have the benefit of a ten-year period of assistance by the Commonwealth and State governments in regard to the money they raise, but those which seek to raise money eight or nine years hence will have a guarantee of assistance of only one or two years. If this measure is not followed up in a few years’ time with another to extend the period of the assistance, it will be of little value to local bodies seeking to raise money in the future. I suggest that whatever government is in office in, say, five years’ time, should introduce legislation extending the operation of this measure.
The bill provides that “ public works “ are to include, among other things, the erection of public hospitals. In my electorate, no new public hospitals are being built, but substantial additions are being made to existing public hospitals. Those public hospitals which were erected by public contribution have, in some cases, been declared base hospitals, and they are entitled to a certain amount of assistance from the State Government. If the definition of public works included in the bill is to be interpreted literally, no money can be made available under this scheme for additions to public hospitals. I suggest that the definition should be altered so as to include the erection of, or additions to, any public hospital. Public hospitals are not usually in a position to offer the same security for the raising of loans as are other public authorities. They have no rating power, and are not regarded by banks as satisfactory customers to whom to lend money on overdraft, for capital expenditure. Their income, for the most part, is dependent on charitable contributions from the public.
– In some States they derive revenue from lotteries.
– I am speaking now of the system that obtains in Victoria. I ask the Treasurer to consider a suggestion for amending the bill to permit hospitals to receive under this scheme capita] grants for necessary construction work, instead of having to raise loans. Again I ask that consideration be given to the inclusion of bush nursing hospitals with public hospitals.
– Are there any municipal hospitals in Victoria.
– No. Paragraph / of Clause 6 provides that, where a government of a State directly controls a public work, which, in any other State, « controlled by a public authority, the Government of that State may apply the whole or portion of the moneys towards payment of interest and sinking fund charges on loans for that public work in the same manner as if the public work were controlled by a public authority. That paragraph, I think, leaves it open for certain State Governments, if they so desire, to appropriate the whole of their share of this money to some of their particular undertakings to the entire exclusion of the class of works which this bill is designed to assist. For instance, in Victoria, the State Electricity Commission fulfills a function which, in some other States, is undertaken by public authorities. As a matter of fact about ten or fifteen years ago the supply of electricity in Victoria was undertaken by a public authority.
– Does not the honorable member regard the Electricity Commission as a public authority?
– Yes. I am pointing out that it is one of the instrumentalities which come within the provisions of this clause which would entitle the State to appropriate Commonwealth moneys for the purpose of paying interest on the moneys invested in that particular undertaking. I do not think that it is the intention of the Government, and I feel sure that it is not the wish of the House, that moneys voted under this bill should be appropriated by State governments for the purpose of paying interest and making contributions to sinking funds on any of their own undertakings. I ask the Treasurer to give consideration to that point before the bill is finally disposed of.
No provision seems to have been made that a State must approve of the spending of this money within a definite period. We must remember that, in the allocation of the money provided under this bill to a local spending authority, the State governments are under an obligation to find an equivalent amount. Last year we passed a States Grants Bill, providing for the granting of money to various State governments contingent upon them finding an equivalent amount themselves. To escape its obligation to provide an equivalent amount, Tasmania declined to take any
Commonwealth money. If Tasmania or any other State should decide to pursue the same line of action in connexion with the bill now before the House, it would be possible for such a State to take moneys voted under it, place them in a separate account, and refrain from allocating them to local government bodies. Although I do not think that there is any likelihood of that happening, I draw the attention of the Treasurer to the omission of any provision for a definite time limit within which the State must provide for the spending of the money to be granted. I conclude by again affirming that, in my opinion, this is one of the most meritorious bills that have come before this Parliament, and by expressing the hope that the same countrymindedness will continue to actuate the present Government. I hope that we shall see a continuance of legislation designed to make country industries moro profitable. I commend the Government for the introduction of this bill, which will increase the amenities of our rural industries and go a long way towards bringing about decentralization in Australia.
.- I commend the Government for the introduction of this bill, believing as I do that it will genuinely afford some relief to the unemployment position. A certain amount of criticism has been directed by honorable members opposite to the fact that the Government has not fulfilled its pre-election promise to include a Minister for employment in the Cabinet. . That has worried me very considerably, because, during the last election campaign, I made that a feature of my election appeal. Nevertheless, a measure such as this, and others, which, I understand, are to follow, constitute a definite indication to the House and the country generally that, although the Prime Minister has not been able to see his way clear, owing to the reconstruction of the Government, to appoint a Minister for employment, the Government is thoroughly alive to its responsibilities, and is endeavouring to take practical steps to alleviate the unemployment position. Turning to the intimate provisions of the bill now before tho House, the definition “ public work “ also worries me very considerably. “ Public work “ is deemed to include any gas, electricity, water supply or sewerage undertaking or the erection of any public hospital or of any public institution for maternal or infant welfare, where the work is constructed, controlled or maintained by a public authority. I ask the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) whether municipal councils carrying out road and bridge construction work are excluded from participation in this legislation?
– No. The definition is designed to be as wide as possible. The items specifically referred to were included at the instance of the States, which desired the definite inclusion of these various undertakings. The legal officers have informed me that this definition is as wide as possible.
– I am glad to have that assurance from the Treasurer, because I feel that if that were not the case municipal authorities throughout Australia, which do not engage in the activities specifically mentioned, would be excluded. It would have been grossly unfair if the money were to be provided only in respect of those works specifically mentioned in the definition clause.
– The works specified in the definition are those most worthy of encouragement, but other works are not excluded. The term “ public work “ is an all-embracing one.
– Additions would not be excluded ?
– No; the extension of a hospital would come under the provision.
– Now that the Treasurer has gone further in his explanation I am not quite so satisfied about it. There are many useful bridge and road works which could be undertaken, which would absorb a number of the unemployed, and if certain municipalities are excluded from the bill, the unemployed in those municipalities will also be excluded from the relief which this bill is designed to grant.
– The State government is the instrumentality which must determine whether a particular work is to receive the benefits provided under this bill.
– So long as I have the Treasurer’s assurance that ordinary municipal works will not be definitely excluded, I shall be satisfied.
– They are not excluded.
– Clause 3 provides that the sum of £100,000 is to be appropriated in each financial year commencing on the 1st July, 1935, and ending on the 30th June, 1945. Since my return from the war, I have been a member of a municipal council. On various occasions circulars have been received by the council from the State government asking it to send in a schedule of works which might be ‘ proceeded with under some such scheme as this. Invariably it takes a considerable time to decide what works might be carried out with the money to be made available, and there has always been a further delay on the part of the State government in deciding whether or not the works submitted by the council should be approved. I can visualize many works now being thought of by municipal authorities, which will not be put in hand for two or three years. I was wondering whether there was any possibility of continuing the provisions of this grant at a diminishing rate for some years after 1945 in order that municipalities should have the benefit of the assistance for the full ten years. As the clause is constituted at present, if works are held up for three years, they will obtain the benefit for only seven years.
– I shall deal with that matter when I reply.
– I think it is a wise provision that there should be some control by the State government of the claims put forward by the municipalities. As a councillor, I have seen my colleagues rush in with various schemes when they think easy money is available, schemes which often, on more mature consideration, would have been turned down by the council. The very fact that easy money is available leads the council to say, “ We will get as much as we can irrespective of whether the work is to be of the least benefit or not “. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) has raised the point that probably there are many municipalities unable to avail themselves of any further loan moneys because they have already borrowed up to the hilt. He cited a provision in the Local Government Act of New South Wales under- which a certain number of ratepayers can demand a poll of ratepayers before any loan can be floated. That provision is not peculiar to New .South Wales. It is embodied also in the local government legislation of the State of Victoria. Although in that State one or two municipalities cannot afford to borrow further, the vast majority of them will be able, and are entitled, to do so, if given assistance of this nature, which will be of immense benefit to them.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) has made a statement to which I, as the representative of a country constituency, take strong exception. I understood the honorable gentleman to suggest that some country muncipalities have the habit of evading the observance of wages board awards. He asserted that such observance should be made compulsory in this measure. I assure the honorable gentleman that, although the municipality of which I am a member is financially one of the poorest in Victoria, it has always paid award rates of wages to its employees. I have yet to learn that there is any municipality in Victoria which does not do so.
The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) in a characteristically delightful criticism of country districts, took exception to the provision that, as far as possible, the loan moneys which are to be subsidized should be expended in country municipalities. He was at great pains to show that rural industries and country people generally are unduly favoured by this Government and others. I assure him that in the present case, that provision is a wise one, because a very substantial proportion of the enormous amount of sustenance and unemployment relief money expended in Victoria recently has been spent in and around the City of Melbourne, on account of the preponderating number of unemployed in that area.
I commend the Government for the introduction of the bill, and hope that the House will <=ee fit. to pass it.
Mr. GARDEN (Cook) [10.201– When the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) stated that some municipalities do not observe award rates and conditions, the honorable members for Echuca (Mr. McEwen) and Wimmera (Mr. McClelland) retorted that that did not apply in Victoria. The honorable member foi Ballarat (Mr. Fisken) has now taken up the same attitude, while the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) has sought to exonerate Queensland from the charge. Yet, it is contended that the suggested amendment of the Leader of the Opposition to compel this observance would prove detrimental to municipalities! I point out to the honorable members for Ballarat, Wimmera and Echuca that the municipal councils of Victoria do not pay award rates of wages to relief workers, and that a regulation promulgated by the Government of that State permits them to pay a lower rate. The municipal employees at Coburg downed tools on that issue, and those of Brunswick and other municipalities demanded that relief workers should not be employed on municipal undertakings at less than award rates. I cannot speak of the conditions in Western Australia.
– The sustenance men in that State arc compelled to pay 25s. a year to a union before they can obtain employment.
– It is better to pay 25s. a year to a union if thereby they are able to obtain full rates of wages.
The honorable member for Echuca has referred to the drift of population to the cities. Is there any wonder that that should be so. When the reason is either that they are being paid low wages, or that they have no employment at all?
The New South Wales Industrial, Gazette of the 31st December, 1935, sets out the rates of wages paid on declared relief works by the Stevens Government to different groups of employees. Single men or widowers without dependants work 44 hours in each period of five weeks and receive £3 8s. 6d., which is equivalent to 14s. a week. A married man without dependants works 88 hours in each period of seven weeks and receives the equivalent of 19s. 6d. a week. A married man with two dependants under fourteen years of age works 88 hours in each period of five weeks, and is paid at the rate of £1 7s. a week. A married man with three dependants under fourteen years of age is employed for 132 hours in each period of seven weeks, and is paid at the rate of £1 9s. 6d. a week. A married man with five dependants under fourteen years of age works 88 hours in each period of four weeks, and receives £1. 15s. a week. A married man with seven dependants works 132 hours in each period of five weeks, and receives £2 6s. 9d. a week. A married man with over seven and under twelve dependants under fourteen years of age works 176 hours in each period of five weeks, and receives the magnificent sum of £2 13s. a week. Yet the honorable member for Barton claims that prosperity has at last arrived in that State! The Industrial Commission had laid it down that the lowest amount which should be fixed in respect of rent in the case of a married man with two children is 17s. 6d. a week. Therefore, a married man with two dependants would have only 9s. a week on which to feed and clothe four persons. Would any honorable member opposite care to live on that amount? Prior to the elections last May, members of, the Stevens Government said that if they were returned to power they would see that full award rates of pay and conditions were observed. That promise gained them one or two seats, but it will not avail them anything when the next appeal is made to the electors. It is possible to deceive the people once. The honorable member for Barton, and some other honorable members opposite realize that their political days are numbered.
While the honorable member for Dalley was referring to municipal debts in New South Wales and Victoria, the honorable member for Echuea interjected that Victoria was in a more satisfactory position than New South Wales. The Commonwealth Statistician, however, reports that, while the debts of municipal bodies in Victoria amount to £32,000,000, and those of New South Wales to £35,000,000, the debts of semigovernment bodies in Victoria total £37,000,000, while those of New South Wales total only £7,000.000, making the total aggregate debts of municipalities and local governing bodies £49,000,000 in Victoria, against £42,000,000 in New South Wales. The honorable member tried to make some capital out of the fact that certain municipalities in New South Wales are controlled by Labour; but I remind him that only six local governing bodies in New South Wales, out of 354, are under Labour control.- The remainder, like the municipalities and shire councils of Victoria, are under the control of persons connected with the
United Australia party or Country party. The honorable member should also bear in mind that, while the per capita debt of municipalities and semigovernment bodies in Victoria is £26 12s., that of New South Wales is £15 13s.
– ‘One honorable member of the Labour party said that the local governing bodies of New South Wales were insolvent. I simply wished to make it clear that that was not the case in Victoria.
– The honorable member laid it to the charge of the Labour party that local government affairs had been mismanaged in New South Wales. Statistics indicate worse mismanagement in Victoria, where the Labour party is not in power in any sense.
Honorable members opposite should be ashamed to suggest that the provision of £100,000 for the purposes of this bill is of any real value to the unemployed people of Australia. This Government has paid £36,000 to one individual in royal commission fees and expenses. Moreover, it expended a considerable amount of money to send the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) overseas to investigate the problems of unemployment. Yet it now finds itself incapable of tackling the problem in any statesmanlike way.
The Commonwealth Government is about to float an internal loan of £S,000,000, and we are told that it will be required to pay 3f per cent, for the money. How much are municipalities likely to have to pay for money that they borrow? I suggest that the interest rate, including discount, on any municipal loan is likely to be very close to 5 per cent. Allowing an additional 2 per cent, for sinking fund payments, municipalities or semi-government local bodies will be involved in interest and sinking fund commitments of 7 per cent, in respect of any loans they float. The honorable member for Echuca said that it should be possible, under the provisions of this bill, to raise about £8,000,000 for public works, but he would need to be a financial magician to achieve that result. In my opinion, very little more than £4,000,000, if even as much as that, will be raised.
The real trouble with municipalities is that, for some reason, they cannot take advantage of the money which the Commonwealth Government has already made available to them. I asked the Prime Minister a question on this subject recently, and was informed that the Government of New South Wales, and also other State governments, were entitled to more money from the Commonwealth than they had at that time applied for. Why have they not taken advantage of Commonwealth moneys already made available to them? The reason, of course, is that they cannot comply with the conditions imposed by the Commonwealth. Commonwealth money must be used to meet wages costs, but the local-governing authorities find it difficult to raise the necessary money to buy raw materials for the works they wish to put in hand. The members of the Country party who support this Government are jubilant, because the Government has made millions of pounds available to the primary producers, but they show no concern about the inadequate amounts provided for the relief of unemployment. How far is it expected that this £100,000 will go to meet the needs of the situation? It is deplorable beyond words that a man with a wife and twelve other dependants should,, in five weeks, working 176 hours, earn only £2 13s. a week. Do any farmers live under such conditions?
– Yes; many farmers have had to face worse circumstances than that.
– But they are not obliged to pay heavy rents. Does the honorable member for Barton, who said that prosperity had returned, regard as satisfactory the remuneration that relief workers are getting in New South Wales? The figures that . I have cited do not suggest that prosperity has returned.
– Mr. Forgan Smith has said that prosperity has returned.
– I am not responsible for what Mr. Forgan Smith says. The figures that I have cited speak for themselves. The honorable member for Echuca was a member of the Parliament of Victoria, which passed legislation obliging the local-governing bodies of Victoria to pay lower rates of wages, and fix longer working hours than those prescribed by the industrial tribunals of the State.
The Government is not acting with any generosity to the municipal and local governing bodies, for it requires these hard-pressed instrumentalities to subsidize on a £1 for £1 basis the money they may receive under this measure. A scheme of this kind, to be effective, should provide for the expenditure of at least £400,000.
.- Any one listening to the remarks of the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Garden) might assume that conditions in Australia are no better to-day than they were five years ago, but the most casual examination of our affairs would reveal to them instantly that the circumstances of the people are infinitely better than when this Government assumed office. This is particularly true of New South Wales, where a great many more people are employed to-day than were employed during the Lang regime. The honorable member for Cook cited certain figures to show that, relief workers were not being paid award rates in New South Wales. The work is undoubtedly rationed, but the honorable member failed to disclose that when the men are working they are paid award rates.
During a period of depression, governments should pursue a progressive and sound public works policy to make up for the lag in private enterprise, and since its inception this Government has not been lax in applying that principle. This bill is only another instalment of its public works policy. At first sight the amount of £100,000 mentioned in the measure seems rather small, but it should be realized that the money is being paid as a. contribution to interest and sinking fund payments. [Quorum formed.] The contribution of a further sum of £100,000 by the States will bring the amount to £200,000, which will be sufficient to pay interest at 5 per cent, on roughly £4,000,000 of public works. The provision by the governments of £200,000 will mean a total reduction of interest of 2 per cent, on £10,000,000. It will, therefore, be seen that the potentialities of the grant proposed in this bill are much greater than would seem at the first glance. The Commonwealth money is to be made available to the States for application to selected schemes, but it has been laid down that, in giving this assistance, the States must provide an amount equal to the amount provided by the Commonwealth, either by interest or sinking fund reduction, or by capital grants, or a little of each.
The bill fairly provides that preference is to be given to country municipalities. Over the last four or five years, the bulk of money spent in relief of unemployment has been spent in the cities, and it is desirable that the country municipalities should have greater opportunities of participation. The big city municipalities are able to borrow at lower rates of interest than the country municipalities can, and furthermore, the greater number of people in the metropolitan municipalities makes the sharing of the interest payments much lighter than it is in the country. The clause will have a tendency to decentralize population. [Quorum formed.] Men have been attracted to the country to work on certain schemes, and after their completion they have frequently been given employment in the locality and become permanent residents of it. I hope that the expenditure of this money will attract people from the crowded cities to take up permanent residence in the country. Another benefit that will result to country residents from the expenditure of large sums on electricity and sewerage works will be the provision of amenities which, so far, only cities have enjoyed. This should bc another means of attracting families to the rural districts.
A wise provision in the bill is the clause which gives preference in the allocation of money to schemes which are likely to create the greatest employment - water and sewerage works, for instance, which will provide -work, not only directly, but also indirectly. I hope that preference will also be given to works that have already been started in anticipation of these moneys. I have in mind particularly a work in my own electorate, which I think I can say definitely was started largely because of a promise of assistance from the Commonwealth Government. Dp to the present that promise has not been carried out, but the Victorian Government has provided assistance, and it is now necessary that some of the money provided for in this bill should be allocated for its completion. A letter written by the Premier of Victoria (Mr. Dunstan) informed a deputation which waited upon him in regard to the provision of funds for this work, that it was ‘ regretted that the request for an additional grant could not be acceded to. [Quorum formed.’]
Although honorable members opposite are continually calling for quorums, it is noticeable that, including their leader, only three or four of them are present. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Baker) both left the House after calling for quorums. Apparently, honorable members of the Opposition have no interest in a debate on the question of unemployment. Before I was interrupted, I was dealing with an unemployment relief scheme in my own electorate. In view of the inability of the Victorian Government to provide further assistance, I suggest that the Commonwealth Government should arrange that the sewerage scheme which I have been indicating should participate in the allocation of funds provided for in the bill before the House. The work was begun because of the understanding that certain help from this Government would be forthcoming.
I notice that mention is made in the bill of country hospitals. I am in agreement with the suggestion that extensions to country hospitals and bush nursing homes should be included among those public works that are to be assisted. I cannot agree with a remark made by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. McEwen) that this measure will not materially assist in the erection of country hospitals. These are not usually considered by the banks to be good securities, but, under the bill, the prospect of being able to build or extend them will be definitely improved. The main object of the measure is to stimulate schemes that will enable employment to be given at an early date. As the honorable member for
Ballarat (Mr. Fisken) has pointed out, authorities starting works three or four years hence will not derive the full advantage of the grant, seeing that they will be able to participate in the scheme only for six or seven years. I shall be interested to hear the remarks of the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) in regard to this matter.
I commend the Government upon the introduction of this bill. I agree with the principles of the measure, and am glad that the method of assisting the States, which was adopted earlier in the life of the present Government, has been abandoned in favour of the system provided for under the bill. I was a little dubious as to whether I could continue to support the principle in operation formerly, that of merely raising loans and handing over the proceeds as a gift to any authority which asked for a share of them. Such a principle could not be justified on sound financial lines, but the present scheme is perfectly sound from every aspect. The money is to be derived from revenue, and will be expended in a way that will result in the maximum amount of benefit being obtained.
.- The point raised by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. McEwen) regarding the construction of hospitals wa3 based, I think, upon the definition in the bill of “ public authority “ and “ public work “. As far as Victoria is concerned, it would be very difficult to have any of this money applied to the erection of public hospitals. There are no hospitals in that State which are constructed and maintained by a public authority, and, as the money is payable only to a public authority, it seems to me that it could not be paid out to a hospital committee. I should like the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to consider that point, and see if the definition can be so amended as to permit money made available under the bill being applied to the construction or extension of public hospitals. The best course,. I think, would be to widen the definition of “ public work “ so as to give a State a discretion to declare any class of work to be a public work. As the bill is now drawn, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for any money made available under the measure to be applied to the erection or extension of a public hospital, or any hospital at all in Victoria.
A good deal of discussion has taken place about the rate of wages paid by municipalities in Victoria. There are three classes of persons who carry out work for municipalities in that State, and, I suppose, in every other State. In “the first place, there are the men who are employed for the ordinary purposes of the municipality, and are paid a rate fixed under the Municipal Employees’ award. Then, at the other end of the polo, are the sustenance workers, who, by law, are compelled to work for their sustenance. They are called upon by the municipality to work for sustenance, and provision is made under Victorian legislation that they shall work out their sustenance at hourly. rates corresponding to award rates. If they receive £1 a week as sustenance, they can be called upon to work out that amount iu so many hours a week, at such times as the municipal authorities may call upon them, and the rate for each hour is determined by dividing the appropriate weekly wage by the number of hours constituting a week’s work. There are also the relief workers, who are employed on works approved by the Employment Council. These mcn arc engaged at an hourly rate arrived at by dividing the appropriate weekly rate by the. number of hours that constitute a full week’s work. Most relief workers in Victoria - at any rate those sent out of Melbourne - get a full week’s work. They are regarded as fortunate persons on the basic wage, whilst the sustenance workers receive only a few shillings a week. The position in Victoria has see-sawed for a good while. When the original unemployment relief scheme was brought in by the Hogan Government, it was urged that, although the State authorities could override the determinations of the wages boards in Victoria, they could not override the determinations of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, under which the majority of the workers were employed. It was contended that if persons were put to work for the municipalities, the Country Roads Board, the Forestry Commission, the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission, or any sewerage authority, they would have to be paid the wages fixed under the award to which they were respondents. In order to evade the position, it was suggested by the Opposition of that day that a new authority should do created which would be the employer of all relief workers, but would not be a respondent in regard to any existing award. The upshot of the whole matter was that when the Argyle Government was returned to office in 1932, it applied in the Arbitration Court to His Honour Judge Beeby, who, then and there, at the request of both Victoria and New South Wales varied all the existing awards, inasmuch as they applied to relief workers in either of those States. The provision which the court made in Victoria was that, as to the employment of relief workers, on any work approved by the Employment Council, out of moneys solely or partly supplied by the States, they should receive an hourly rate. That is to say, instead of receiving a weekly rate, and being employed by the week, they would receive an hourly rate, determined by dividing the number of hours constituting a full week’s work into the weekly wage. That is the position in Victoria, but, as most . persons employed on relief work are engaged in the country, it is considered by the State government to be impolitic to send men to the country on less than a week’s work. Therefore, the relief worker is in a much better position than the man on sustenance work. I do not agree with the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Hutchinson) that most of the relief work provided in Victoria is made available in the cities, because the public authorities, whom the Employment Council can use, are nearly all agencies operating in the country, such as the Forestry Commission, the Country Roads Board, and the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission.
I draw attention to the necessity to do something to help a class of workers who are not, and cannot be, covered by this measure, and have been left out of every employment scheme, as far as -I am aware. Certainly, in my State, they have been overlooked, except at” the very beginning of the period when relief measures were instituted. I refer to the position of single women or widows, Who have nobody to maintain them, and who receive no relief at all. It appears to me that their position is one of great hardship.
The sum provided under this bill does not justify the amount of talk that has been devoted to it. It is really only a small sum, and it must be obvious that this expenditure can bring no real relief to the unemployed. It will merely help to keep unemployed persons living in a state of semi-starvation. A class of unemployed exists, the members of which are always in expectation of getting work. Some of them get it from time to time, but that does not relieve unemployment generally; it merely assuages the pain, without removing its cause. I am satisfied that it would be in the interests of this Commonwealth to have everybody who is willing and able to work provided with it. The person who cannot find ordinary employment should be given work by the community. We are told that prosperity has returned. I doubt whether it has returned permanently, but if it has, it is a hopeless sort of prosperity; it is a prosperity of a much inferior quality to that we formerly knew. If we have got back to normality, it is upon an inferior basis, and upon a lower plane. If that is all we can look forward to, the prospers arc poor indeed. My view, as I stated recently, is that sooner or later - and the sooner the better- this matter will have to be dealt with by providing, on a large scale, work for all people who cannot be absorbed in industry to-day. Many young men fall within this category. They have left school and have received no industrial training, and, year by year, their capacity and will to work decreases. I believe that this country will have to provide employment of a useful character on a large scale for this class. Although their employment would not increase the volume of consumable goods, it would provide them with the means of purchasing consumable goods. The only way to do this in any country is by an expansion of credit, or by an increased issue of notes. The fear is expressed regarding every form of expansion of credit or of the note issue that it will lead to inflation, but expansion of credit is taking place every day. Every loan does that.’ Not only does it trans- fer a large sum of money from private pockets, but the person who lends his money receives a security which he can easily convert into credit, and which his bank will readily liquefy or remonetize for him. The fear of expansion of credit has been that it will be carried out by a government whose chief concern is to retain power at the next election. Where the expansion of credit isaffected by a bank, whose business it is to deal with money, it is regarded as having an interest in keeping the supply of money as low as possible. I agree that there is considerable danger of inflation when the expansion of credit is carried out by one .government or one parliament, but I believe that that danger is easily removable if the body which has charge of the expansion of credit represents not the Commonwealth Government only, but all the governments of Australia, and all the political parties. I believe that the Commonwealth Loan Council, or a Premiers Conference, which would be much the same thing,’ could be trusted to decide what expansion of the note issue is necessary, in order to put men now unemployed into useful work. There are many useful works which could be undertaken, works which would improve the amenities of the country, make it more productive and a better place to live in, and provide employment for the people. A government which does not provide employment for the masses of the people does not deserve to continue. What has overthrown democracy in Europe is that the prosperous people neglected all considerations but themselves, and that the unemployed have nothing to hope for from maintaining existing conditions, and everything to gain from change. As far as the bill is concerned, I commend it to the House., but it does not go very far. John Stuart Mill truly remarked that, in the case of desperate diseases, attempts to cure by ineffectual remedies only inflame and aggravate the condition.
.- In the main I am in accord with the principles of this measure, but there are a few points to which I desire to direct the attention of the Treasurer (Mr. Casey). My first complaint is regarding the long delay that has taken place since this proposal was first mentioned in the budget nine months ago, though I agree that the States must accept some responsibility for that because of the conflicting views they put forward and the difficulty in arriving at any agreement. The bill proposes to make available £100,000 each year for ten years, to be devoted towards the payment of interest and sinking fund on moneys raised to assist local authorities in carrying out approved public works. That amount is to be supplemented by contributions from the States on a £1 for £1 basis. Under this scheme approximately £5,000,000 should be made available to local authorities which have played an important part in meeting the unemployment problem. Many of them are in difficult circumstances to-day, because they yielded to the pressure to provide employment for as many men as possible. Some have raised loans until they can borrow no more, and have increased their rates until it is impossible to raise them any higher. In spite of their efforts there are still many persons unemployed, and many public works that should be carried out. Many local bodies employ special staffs, engineers, &c, and keep plant for which there is not full-time occupation because they lack funds, and in most local-governing areas there are works which could be undertaken if additional funds were made available.
I draw the attention of the chamber to the definition in clause 2 of “public work”, which is stated to include any gas, electricity, water supply or sewerage undertaking, or the erection of any public hospital or of any public institution for maternal or infant welfare, where the work is constructed, controlled or maintained by a public authority. I should like to know whether that definition will include all the general activities of municipal and local authorities.
– It will include such public works as the construction of roads, and bridges, &c, but will not include ordinary administrative expenditure.
– Will it include foreshore improvements and buildings required at seaside resorts?
– That might well be regarded as a public work.
– What about the draining of lands ?
– In suitable circumstances, I would include that also.
– I am glad to have that assurance. According to the bill, “ approved loans “ means loans the term3 of which have been approved by the Government of a State. I think the bill should state more definitely the terms upon which the moneys will be made available. The whole scheme will be a failure if the terms are made unduly harsh, and if a proper recognition is not shown of the peculiar circumstances in which many local authorities find themselves to-day. This measure should be administered in the light of the assurance given in the budget speech of last year which contained the following: -
As the result of further investigation into moana whereby the Commonwealth can assist in the problem of relieving unemployment, it lias been decided, subject to satisfactory arrangements with the States lo make pinvision from revenue for an amount of f 100.000 in 1035-30, to be used in the form of contributions towards interest and sinking funds on loans for the public works of local authorities.
It is known that many local governing bodies are debarred from proceeding with public utility schemes by reason of the consequent debt service being beyond their rateable capacity. It is hoped that as a result of consultation with the State governments, a scheme can be evolved under which, with joint help on the above lines from the Commonwealth and State Governments, a number ot such public utility proposals may be undertaken with consequent amenity value to country districts as well as absorption of men who are now unemployed.
I should like to receive an assurance that money will be made available under the scheme to assist hospitals. In the country districts of New South Wales, I understand, hospitals are controlled and administered by local authorities, but in Queensland we are reaching a position in which they are maintained, for the most part, out of funds raised by means of a lottery; they are not publicly controlled and owned in the sense of being administered by a local authority. I should like to know whether they will be entitled to benefit under the terms of this bill. The principle behind this measure is to provide employment, and with the sum of about £5,000,000 which may be raised it should be possible to do a good deal in this way, particularly in country districts. If that can be done, it will help still further towards bringing about economic recovery.
– I congratulate the Government upon the introduction of this measure. To me its most favorable feature is that it recognizes the principle of planning, in that it sets out to do something over a number of years. 1 feel, however, that honorable members are exaggerating the importance of the measure from the point of view of providing employment. The money to be made available is to be used to help local bodies meet interest payments on loans already raised, and on future loans. The bill provides for the appropriation of £100,000 by the Commonwealth for this purpose, and the money is to be distributed over six capital cities, as well as the leading provincial towns in each State. I have no doubt that claims will be numerous, and it seems to me that only a comparatively small sum can be made available to each claimant, certainly not enough to make much difference to the unemployment situation. This bill provides a very handsome grant to municipalities, State Governments, and public bodies which are carrying out relief works on loan moneys, and will be of material assistance in helping them meet their interest bill. Surely, however, it is not suggested that it will enable them to start new public works.
– On the contrary, clause 6 provides that the money shall be paid in respect of works commenced on or after the 1st of July, 1935.
– It may at least help to reduce the burden of interest payable in respect of public works which are commenced this year, and it certainly does apply to fresh loans raised during the next ten years. From that point of view the bill deserves the commendation of the House. But how can it be claimed that it will result in the absorption of large numbers of the unemployed? At most it will not provide many men with employment. Certainly the amount to be provided is not sufficient to finance the numerous works mentioned by the honorable members for Barton (Mr. Lane) and Moreton (Mr. Francis), or to enable any municipality, local governing authority or State Government to undertake any big public works. The amount to be provided will give employment only to about 100 men- for one year in each of the capital cities.
.- I commend the Government for the introduction of this measure. Any criticism I have to offer is directed not so much to what the bill contains, but rather to what it omits. It has been well drafted to cover the needs of the particular councils that come within its ambit; it will materially help them and assist in some degree to solve the unemployment problem of this country. Municipal councils in the past have had very many projected works which they have been anxious to put in hand, but they have been hampered because of their inability to secure the money necessary to finance them. This bill will enable many of those works to be put in hand, and for that reason it will be welcomed by the councils.
– Mr. Speaker, I direct your attention to the state of the House.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).It is but a few minutes since a quorum was formed. The honorable member for Boothby may continue.
– I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for frustrating these organized attempts at interruption.
– On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I regard the statement that I have attempted organized interruption as offensive to me, and I- ask that it be withdrawn.
– I do not think the honorable member for Boothby referred specifically to the honorable member for East Sydney.
– The bill makes it possible for certain councils, which otherwise would not be in a position to do so, to borrow money, and constitutes further evidence of the generosity of the Government. As a matter of fact, this is one of the most generous measures introduced into this Parliament for some considerable time. The bill will- be especially welcomed by public authorities in rural districts. Although I represent a metropolitan constituency, I have always done everything possible to help the country districts, realizing that the success of the cities depends on the prosperity of the country districts. Many municipal councils in the metropolitan areas would be very pleased to come under the provisions ofthis bill. I could refer to both district and municipal councils in my electorate whichwould benefit greatly if they were granted the assistance provided in this measure. I am wondering whether it is the intention of the Government to introduce, at a later stage, anotherbill extending to metropolitan areas the assistance granted in the bill now before the House. If that is not so, I ask the Treasurer to give the matter very serious consideration. If it is not intended, subsequently, to provide similar assistance to metropolitan councils, I suggest that the bill should be redrafted on the ground that it does not go far enough. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. McEwen) mentioned that 56 per cent. of the population of South Australia is resident in Adelaide. If the object of this bill is to relieve unemployment, some provision should have been made for the granting of assistance to metropolitan councils. [ Quorum formed.]
– I should like the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to state whether, if a State should agree to pay a proportion of the capital cost in order to assist a municipality in undertaking a public work, that would be regarded as a contribution towards the capital cost of apublic work specified in paragraph b (ii) of clause 6?
– It would come under the provisions of sub-paragraph ii of paragraph c.
– The benefit of the act would be obtained?
– Oh, yes.
.- I am not satisfied with the efforts of the Government to improve the position of unemployment. At the last elections, it led the people to believe that it was prepared to contribute substantially towards the reduction of unemployment. The provision of £100,000 for the purposes covered by this measure is a very small contribution. One of the reasons for this proposal is the difficulty which the Go vernment is experiencing in the raising of loan money in Australia. Early in this financial year, that difficulty caused the Loan Council to reduce the projected loan allocations, with the result that the governments of theStates have since shown a tendency to “ pass the buck “ on to municipal councils, which find that they are not in a position to shoulder the responsibility. Many of them have now only a small margin for borrowing, and the raising of a loan cannot be undertaken without a preliminary poll of their ratepayers. I have had experience as a member of a municipal council for a period of nine years, during three of which I occupied the mayoral chair. That council had considerable difficulty in raising loan money. The capacity of municipalities to borrow is very small in comparison with that of the Commonwealth and the States.
– I draw attention to the state of the House.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Several times to-night my attention has been called to the state of the House, and I have made frequent counts of it. I made a count only a few minutes ago. The absence of honorable members is probably due to the fact that they are partaking of refreshments, which have been provided for their comfort during the late sitting. To facilitate business, I presume, the sitting has not been suspended, but members have left the chamber in batches. In the circumstances, I ask honorable members not to cause annoyance by frequent calls for a quorum.
– I was proceeding to point out that earlier in the financial year, the Government proposed to make available to the States, certain amounts for the relief of unemployment. About £700,000 was granted to New South Wales. Considerable objection was offered by the States to the acceptance of the money for this purpose, because of the difficulty of raising a loan to finance deficits. The Commonwealth then agreed to its utilization for the funding of deficits, and its original purpose was consequently not fulfilled. I am familiar with the circumstances in New South Wales, and can say that this loan is something in the nature of an attractive bait, the object being to induce municipalities to raise loans on their own security and thereby remove from the Commonwealth and the States the responsibility that now rests upon them. I feel quite certain that that is the intention of the Government. Some 1 municipalities and shires accepted earlier loans and endeavoured to find employment in their districts, but because they were allowed only about 10 per cent, for supervision and materials, they had to cease these operations for the relief of unemployment. Under this measure these councils, which have already done a fair share of relief work, will be penalized, because their capacity to borrow is not equal to that of councils which did not take advantage of the facilities previously offered for the raising of money at current rates of interest.
Honorable members of the Opposition also object to the rates that are to be paid upon works undertaken by municipalities. Special provision for unemployment relief work has been made in New South “Wales, in which State less than the ruling trade rates is paid. The Industrial Gazette for February shows that 28,553 men were employed in that month on emergency relief work, under dole conditions, single men receiving about 13s. 6d. a week, and married men with three children under fourteen years of age only £1 9s. 6d. a week, compared with the basic wage of £3 8s. 6d. a week. Special rates have been gazetted for ordinary relief work, and the margins for skill have been eliminated. The number of men employed in this direction is 15,508. Previous speakers have claimed that there has been an improvement of the unemployment position, the figure for New South Wales now being only 13 per cent. In the town of Dubbo, in my electorate, there are 2,132 men, of whom 496 are registered with the labour exchange, while an additional 40 or 50 unemployed are not registered. These figures show that the unemployment in this town is 25 per cent. Last June, when the council interviewed the Minister for Works in an endeavour to obtain money for drainage works, it was officially stated that the unemployed in the town then numbered 387. There has thus been an increase of about 20 per cent, in the last eleven months. The Government could do much more for the unemployed if it felt so disposed. This measure does not go so far as it should, and I hope that before the end of the session greater provision will be made.
– in reply - The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) has forecast two amendments by means of which he seeks to extend -the definition of “public works “. As I have said by way of interjection, the Government has attempted, after consultation with the States, to make this definition as all-embracing as possible. The description “ public work “ is, of course, well known. Here it is defined as including certain undertakings. These were included at the express request of the governments of the States, to indicate, I think, that they were of the type which should be given more encouragement than others should receive. But the definition is not exclusive. I assure the Leader of the Opposition that the Government intends that the description shall be a3 wide as is proper. But if it is provided that the States may name any activity, the scope of the legislation might be extended immeasurably, and the money be so widely distributed that its principal purpose would not be achieved.
– Did all the State Governments give that indication?
– I cannot say that they did so individually. The bill has been built up piece by piece. It is rather peculiar that those honorable members who have complained that the definition in regard to hospitals is not sufficiently wide come from the two States, the Premiers of which particularly requested the Commonwealth to word it in this form. Admittedly, it will not embrace hospitals in country districts that are run by local committees. The bill has to stop somewhere, and I think it is proper that it should be confined to a hospital which is conducted by a publicly-instituted authority.
– It does not extend.. to additions.
– It quite definitely does if the other condition applies, because they are a public work.
– No hospitals in Victoria are conducted by public bodies.
– The Premier of Victoria asked that this particular provision be included. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) sought information regarding the terms and conditions underwhich this money would be made available. That matter is entirely in the hands of the State governments A State government may decide that a particular work shall benefit to the extent of 1 per cent. Commonwealth money and 1 per cent. State money, or the percentage may be fixed at some other figure. The object of the Government was to introduce a bill giving the maximum degree of flexibility. Clearly, in the early years of this scheme, the State governments will not be able to use all the money that goes into the trust fund. That leads me to make a suggestion, which, however, may not commend itself to some State governments, that particular consideration should be given to certain classes of public works which, in their early stages, may not be incomeearning. I have in mind a large public work which it has been difficult to put in hand, for the reason that its interest and sinking fund payments would be particularly heavy in its early years, before any substantial amount of income was being earned. A State government might reasonably provide, in connexion with such an undertaking, that a varying sinking fund payment shall apply. In the early years this might be at the rate of 5 per cent., but subsequently it might be dropped to 2 per cent., or even 1 per cent. That would enable a State government to get a work well started, and reduce its capital commitments in its early years. There is really no limit to the adaptability of the bill.
– Except the limit imposed in respect of rural works.
– That is so.
– Will this scheme be applicable to works that have already been put in hand?
– If they have been commenced this financialyear, yes. It will be quite competent for State governments to apportion some of the money to such works.
– Will the Treasurer agree to strike out the condition giving preference to rural works?
– One of the main objects of the bill is to effect a decentralization of public works. Such bodies as the Sydney Water and Sewerage Board, which have the authority of the State government behind them, can borrow on terms as good as those offered to the State government itself.
– Some local governing bodies in rural areas are also in that position.
– Preference is given to rural works because it is realized that local governing bodies in rural areas which have not the guarantee of the Government behind them are not able to borrow as advantageously as certain big instrumentalities in the city, which are guaranteed by the Government. I can think of no local governing body outside of the big cities of the Commonwealth which can borrow on terms comparable with those obtainable by governments. If we can effect a decentralization of public works it will be beneficial to the whole community.
– The local governing bodies that I have in mind must get the consent of the Government before they can borrow even from such financial institutions as the Australian Mutual Provident Society.
– But the consent of the Government does not enable them to borrow on better terms.
Mr.Rosevear. - Some municipal bodies in Sydney have borrowed so much money in recent years in order to put relief works in hand for the unemployed, that they have now exhausted their credit. Why should other local governing bodies which have not endeavoured to that extent to help the unemployed be put in an advantageous position ?
– No measure that this Parliament can pass can rectify such a position. Approximately £20,000,000 is being spent annually on public works in Australia at present. This bill will affect only a part of that vast programme. The hope of the Government is that this scheme will permit a relatively large number of comparatively small public works to be put in hand in country districts. The next year or two will indicate clearly whether this hope will be realized.
The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. McEwen) referred to the ten-year period of the loan. The Government gave serious consideration to this aspect of the subject, and decided that it would not be wise to legislate for annual payments covering a longer period than ten years. Well before the expiry of that period we shall have ascertained whether this plan has really promoted public works activities beyond the borders of the capital cities. If that result is realized, political pressure in this House would be sufficient to oblige any government to give the measure a new lease of life of five or more years, even if it were not willing voluntarily to do so.
– It is not fair to confine this scheme to rural districts for five years.
– If a State government can honestly declare that approved public works are not available in country districts, any money which it has at its disposal under this scheme may be spent on approved works within city areas.
The honorable member for Echuca also cited certain figures to show that population was drifting from the country to the pities. A sounder deduction from his figures would be that the population of both rural and city areas is increasing, but that the rate is faster in the cities than in the country. Recently I abstracted from the census returns of 1911, 1921 and 1933 certain figures dealing with this aspect of settlement in Australia. They can be summarized approximately as follows: -
In other words, nearly two-thirds of the population lives in cities and towns and a little over one-third in the country.
Several members have referred to standard wages. This matter has been referred to on other occasions when the Commonwealth Government has made grants of money from loan or revenue to the States. As one who has had a good deal of experience of negotiations with the State governments during recent years, I can only say that my personal view - which is also the view of the Government - is that when grants are made the Commonwealth should lay down the main purposes to which the grants shall be applied and not impose conditions which might detract from the sovereignty of the States.
– Should not the States be required to pay award rates?
– We must recognize that the States are sovereign bodies which know right from wrong. The Commonwealth should be content to lay down the main purpose, and not impose irritating conditions. This matter was discussed with the States - three Labour governments and three United Australia party governments - and they all asked that they should fix the conditions under which the work should be carried out. I believe that they will all do the proper thing. It would be humiliating to place in the bill a provision that the State government, or other authority, shall observe certain conditions in regard to labour.
– Other conditions are already contained in the bill.
– I hope that the Leader, of the Opposition will not persist with the amendment which he has foreshadowed. The Government honestly believes that the definition of “ public work “ in the bill is all that is necessary.
– Is provision made for schemes to commence in, say, three or four years’ time?
– I hope that if the scheme has proved successful the Government then in office will see fit to extend it.
– Is there anything in the bill to ensure that the money will be spent within a reasonable time?
– I do not think that any State government would desire to hold the money, and not spend it. But, in any case, I imagine that pressure of opinion in the State parliaments would ensure that that would not happen.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
In this act, unless the contrary intention appears - “ public work “ includes any gas, electricity, water supply or sewerage undertaking, or the erection of any public hospital or of any public institution for maternal or infant welfare, where the work is constructed, controlled or maintained by a public authority.
– Notwithstanding the arguments advanced by the Treasurer (Mr. Casey), I move -
That the words “ any gas, electricity, water supply or sewerage undertaking, or the erection of any public hospital or of any public institution lor maternal or infant welfare, where the work is constructed, controlled or maintained by a public authority” be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ in respect of any State, work declared by the Government of such State to be a public work “.
The Treasurer claims that the definition of “ public work “ in the bill is sufficiently wide to meet every reasonable contingency, but he has not answered the objections to the restriction contained in the final words of the clause, which prescribe that, in regard to public hospitals, no relief can be afforded under this bill unless the hospital is not only constructed, but is also controlled or maintained, by a public authority. In practice, no public authority maintains a hospital. The great majority of hospitals obtain revenue from a variety of sources, and whilst the management may be said to maintain a hospital out of its revenue, there is doubt as to whether the management can be described as a public authority within the meaning of the State statutes. State legislation does, however, deal with a public authority. I see no reason why my amendment should not be accepted. It provides that a State shall have the right to say that any work of which it approves may be regarded as a public work for the purpose of this legislation. As a matter of fact, later clauses provide that no work can share the Commonwealth’s contribution to interest and sinking fund unless the State has approved of it. Therefore it appears to me that the fact that a State has the right to veto the assistance which a public authority may expect, establishes clearly enough that, in substance, the States are given almost the entire responsibility for deciding whether or not the provisions of this legislation shall apply to a particular work. That being so, we may as well remove what appear to be restrictive words in the definition of “ public work “. I realize that the Treasurer has said that the bill provides for considerable flexibility. He also said that we should not place humiliating restrictions on the States by imposing conditions under which certain works shall be carried out. I do not accept that argument as conclusive in regard to the conditions under which Commonwealth revenue should be expended. This Parliament should be satisfied that money made available by it is expended under such conditions as it thinks proper.
– I support the amendment, and the views expressed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Fisken) is not satisfied that the ordinary work of municipal councils is covered by the definition of “ public work “. Although the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) has given an assurance that it is, we recall that, despite similar assurances in the past, amending bills have subsequently been found necessary to give effect to the intention of the legislature. We have been led to believe that a great majority of the work to be carried out under the scheme of the bill is work such as that usually done by municipal authorities. Most of them deal with roads and footpaths, and with drainage and bridge work, but none of these things are covered by the definition of “ public work.”
– But I think that they are implied.
– We are considering a bill for a new act, which deals with new principles. The municipalities throughout Australia do not control such undertakings as those specifically mentioned in the definition, but every municipality is concerned with roads and footpaths, and with drainage and bridge work. The various State authorities may differ as to the way in which this Parliament desires the money to be expended, and therefore, the definition should leave no doubt on the matter.
– The Government is willing to accept the amendment with a slight alteration, which would make the definition read - “ Public work “ includes “ in respect of any State, work declared by the Government of that State, and approved by the Treasurer to bea public work.”
If the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) will withdraw his amendment, I shall submit an amendment which I think will satisfy the Opposition.
– I am willing to withdraw my amendment and to support the amendment to be submitted by the Treasurer (Mr. Casey). As Commonwealth money is being raised under this scheme, some responsibility should devolve upon the Commonwealth Government in regard to the class of works which are to be the subject of assistance. Later, I hope to impose a measure of responsibility upon this Parliament in regard to the labour conditions to be observed in connexion with these works.
Amendment - by leave - withdrawn.
– The Opposition has always contended that when Commonwealth money is made available to the States for public works, this Parliament should exercise the right to specify the conditions under which the work shall be carried out.
Amendment (by Mr. Casey) agreed to.
That all words after the word “includes” be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words : “ in respect of any State, work declared by the Government of that State, and approved by the Treasurer, to be a public work”.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 3 to 5 agreed to.
Clause 6 -
Any moneys paid in any financial year to a State under this act (in this section referred toas “the moneys”) shall be paid upon the following conditions : -
The moneys shall, subject to this section, be paid by the Treasurer of the State to public authorities for the purpose of the payment of interest and sinking fund charges on approved loans for public works commenced, with the approval of the Government of the State, on or after the first day of July, One thousand nine hundred and thiry-five.
In selecting loans for the purposesof payments under paragraph (a) of this section preference shall, as a general rule, be given, as far as practicable, to loans for works in rural districts, and, as between works in different rural districts, to those affording the greatest opportunity for the employment of labour.
.- I move -
That paragraph (e) be omitted.
I do not think that this Parliament should seek to give a direction to State Governments of the kind proposed in this paragraph. Recently, I read that it was the boast of the Government of New South Wales that most of the money spent in that State on public works within the last few years had been allocated to country districts. I cannot understand why the Commonwealth Government should insert a provision of this kind in the bill. In the district I represent there is need for a most important work, namely, the extension of the sewerage system, but it cannot be undertaken because of lack of funds. This paragraph, if allowed to remain in the bill, will be a direction to the State government that no large works of that kind in the metropolitan area may participate in this scheme. The Rockdale municipality has done a great deal to meet the unemployment problem in its district. It has borrowed large sums of money, but there are still improvements which could be carried out if cheap money were made available as is proposed in the bill. In many respects the Rockdale municipality is as rural as some of the country towns which will benefit under the scheme. We have been told that, in many country towns, there are no more than half a dozen men on the unemployed list. The great bulk of unemployment is in the metropolitan area, so it is only logical that funds designed primarily for the relief of unemployment should be spent, partly at any rate, in the city. Surely the State governments can be trusted to allocate this money properly. Last year, under the loan scheme introduced at that time, I tried to obtain an assurance that some of the money would be made available for sewerage work in the district I represent. I interviewed the Treasurer and senior officials, but was informed that the Commonwealth Government could not give directions to the State governments in a matter of that kind. Now there is a provision in this bill giving specific directions to the State government that the money is to be allocated to rural areas. Surely we are not going to allow country interests wholly to dominate this Parliament !
– I do not know anything of the conditions prevailing in the electorate of the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane), but I point out that local governing bodies in metropolitan areas enjoy borrowing powers that extrametropolitan local governing bodies do not. Prior to the depression the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board was borrowing and spending, quite usefully, from £2,000,000 to £3,000,000 annually. During the depression it did not cease borrowing but reduced the annual amount to an average of £1,000,000 or. £2,000,000. Later the New South Wales Government passed a bill which provided that if the board borrowed £3,000,000, which was to be expended within the five subsequent years, it would destroy bonds, representing money owing by the board to the Government, to the value of £2,500,000. I am not complaining of its action, but merely directing attention to the borrowing powers of semi-governmental bodies in the capital cities.
– It has all been spent in the country.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse).Order !
– To the detriment of residents in the metropolitan area.
– Order !
– They have been starved.
– If the honorable member for Barton persists in disregarding the direction of the Chair, I shall name him.
– I do not mind if it is a question of country versus city interests.
– I name the honorable member for Barton.
– I appeal to the honorable member for Barton to recognize the status of the Chair.
– I withdraw my remark.
– As the honorable member for Barton has deliberately and repeatedly disregarded the authority of the Chair, I ask the Acting Leader of the House to take the necessary action.
– I move -
That the honorable member for Barton be suspended from the service of the committee.
Question - put. The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. Prowse.)
Majority . . 9
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
In the House:
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Order! The Chair has no alternative but to act upon the report from the committee.
Question - That the honorable member for Barton be suspended from the service of the House - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) thereupon withdrew from the chamber.
In committee (Consideration resumed) : Clause 6.
– Consequentially on the amendment to clause 2, Imove -
That the word “paid”, paragraph (a) be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ applied “ ; that the words “ to public authorities “ be omitted; and that at the end of the paragraph the words “and not directly controlled by the Government of the State “, be added.
– Is there not an amendment before the Chair, moved by the honorable member who has just been suspended ?
– That amendment was not stated from the Chair.
– The necessity for the alterations I propose is obvious, as it is essential to provide that theState government cannot merely apply these moneys to ordinary public works of the State.
.Would this clause, as it is proposed to amend it, apply to works that were commenced before the commencement of the current financial year, but were not completed in that year? I have in mind swimming baths which are being constructed in my electorate. This work, I take it, under the amendment, would come within the definition of public works of the State.
– If the State government saw fit to recommend that such work should be subsidized under this act, the point raised by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) would be met to his satisfaction-.
– Will the additions of the words proposed to be added to the end of paragraph a conflict with paragraphf of this clause?
– No; paragraph is still necessary to cover works which are normally carried out by local-governing bodies, but which are being carried out by the State Government. This provision applies particularly in the case of Western Australia, and, to a less extent, South Australia.
.Paragraph a limits the States to payments from these moneys expressly for interest and sinking fund purposes. Honorable members generally agree with that principle. It has been indicated in the definition of “public work”, however, that it is the intention of this Government that this money should be available for the assistance of public hospitals. If that assistance can only be given either by way of interest or sinking fund payments, then the postulation arises that a loan must first be raised. Speaking in respect of Victoria, I do not know of any case in which a public hospital has yet raised a loan for a definite period, and of a nature for which there could be planned repayments. The reason for this is obvious. Public hospitals in Victoria have no regular source of income; they are not able to tax any section of the community to provide a set income, but are maintained only by the spasmodic contributions of subscribers, supplemented by votes from the State Government when it feels inclined to make such votes. I cannot imagine circumstances in which any hospital in Victoria would be able to raise a loan of the nature contemplated in this bill, yet that is a necessary preliminary to its being able to derive the benefit of the privileges which the bill sets out to confer.
– There are one or two municipal hospitals.
– I exclude those from my remarks. I am dealing with the ordinary base hospital and country hospital in Victoria. I ask the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to permit the State, with the approval of the Commonwealth, to make capital grants year by year to these public hospitals, equivalent to what they would receive were they able to negotiate a loan inthe same manner as other local authorities.
– This measure was first evolved to deal with what are generally known as public works, such as roads, water supply and sewerage. Then, at the instance of the Premiers of Queensland and Victoria, hospitals were included. I personally did not quite see how they could be brought within the scope of a measure of this sort, but as there was no reason for resistance to their inclusion, no objection was offered to it. I am largely in agreement with the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. McEwen). I know of few hospitals which could be described in the manner provided.
-What would happen in the case of a public hospital, not controlled by a public authority, raising a loan from a State Government, of which it approved?
– The Commonwealth Government would have to be assured that it was not a private hospital.
– Would the building of a council chamber, or a similar work, come within the scope of the bill?
– Yes, if put forward by the State Government and approved by the Commonwealth Treasurer.
Amendment agreed to.
– Paragraph a provides that the moneys shall be paid for public works commenced on or after the 1stJuly, 1935. The clause goes on to make certain provision for cases where the government of a State has made a contribution in “ that financial year.” If a local governing authority which commenced a work subsequent to the 1st July, 1935, were given during that year a capital grant by the State Government which in normal circumstances would qualify the State government to make an allocation of Commonwealth money to that local authority, would it be necessary for the State government to give the approval during that financial year ? I submit that it will not be practicable in the case of Victoria, because the Parliament of that State will not have met until the end of this financial year.
– Surely the honorable member does not expect Commonwealth subventions? When a State government has made a grant towards the capital cost of works, the local authority has no interest obligations.
– It is to meet circumstances of that nature that this provision has been inserted in the bill. The measure provides that a State may, at its option, make interest contributions equal to the contributions by the Commonwealth, or, alternatively, make a capital grant equal to the amount which it would advance if it had elected to make an interest contribution.
– That would not be very much.
– The point which I wish the Treasurer to make clear is whether the local governing authority which I have in mind - there are three in Victoria - which commenced works since the 1st July, 1935, and in respect of which it has received capital grants from the State in anticipation of this legislation, must obtain the approval of the State government before the end of this financial year.
– Surely those authorities arranged their finances before this bill was introduced?
– They arranged their finances in anticipation of this legislation, which was forecast in the budget speech last year. On that occasion, the Treasurer explained the nature of the proposed legislation, and State governments felt that they could proceed with their programmes. Local authorities also were assured that they would be eligible to receive the benefits of this legislation.
– I think I apprehend the point which the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. McEwen) has made. He is referring to capital contributions made by State governments for the carrying out of certain public works in this financial year, and he now wishes to know if the local governing authorities concerned will be qualified for State assistance towards such works, thus enabling the State governments to make from Commonwealth funds a contribution equal to the State contribution. Speaking subject to correction as to the legal interpretation of the provision, I should say that the local governing authorities would require to obtain approval before the end of this financial year.
– They cannot do that, because the Victorian Parliament is not in session.
– If what the honorable member wants to happen can happen, I believe that approval will have to be obtained before the 30th June.
– Why has the Government inserted in paragraph (a) provision covering specific works which are excluded by a later paragraph?
– Why not give the local governing authorities another six months in which to obtain the approval of the State government?
– The honorable member for Echuca has raised a rather subtle point. I do not feel competent to alter the phraseology of the paragraph to effect what he has in mind, which, I think, is not unreasonable. But if the honorable member will allow the provision to stand, the Government will examine it, and, if necessary, will introduce a suitable amendment when the bill is in the Senate.
.I move -
That paragraph (e) be omitted.
There is no justification for discriminating between works carried out in urban and rural districts. Municipalities in the Sydney metropolitan area are just as much in need of financial assistance for public works as are municipalities and shires in country districts. The metropolitan municipalities have, for the most part, taxed their ratepayers up to the limit allowed by the Local Government Act, and are not in a position to borrow further moneys for necessary public works.
– Municipalities in the Sydney metropolitan area are not responsible for water supply and sewerage schemes.
– That is true, but they have heavy obligations in respect of other public works, and I imagine that comparatively few of the country municipalities will seek assistance in order to carry on sewerage works. I strongly object to the discrimination in this bill between local governing bodies in metropolitan and country districts. I am afraid, also, that money made available under this bill will, in some cases, be used for election purposes, with the result that many rural districts will, for the time being, become nationalist in their outlook. I have in mind an incident that occurred during the last election at Maitland. Early in the campaign, word went round that the Government intended to spend many thousands of pounds of Commonwealth and State money on water and sewerage schemes, the sum of £200,000 being mentioned. Actually, the State government has not spent the £90,000 which it received from the Commonwealth Government. That proposal was definitely used for electioneering purposes. The Treasurer has told us that the Government does not desire to place any local governing authority in a humiliating position. Yet the bill contains provisions, enabling the Government to determine what works shall qualify for the assistance proposed to be given. This means that the works programme must be in harmony with the policy of this Government.
– I cannot support the amendment of the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Garden), but the phraseology of paragraphe is capable of an interpretation which, if given to it, may defeat one of the objects of the bill, and inflict grave injustices on certain large country towns, such as Newcastle, certain towns in the electorate of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), Broken Hill,, and Lithgow in my own electorate, which cannot, in the true sense of the word, be described as rural, for they do not depend in any way on rural industries such as wheat production, dairying and the like. If the intention of the Government is to assist all local governing bodies outside the metropolitan area, the clause should be worded more clearly. I am cynical enough to believe that there may be some horse-sense in the remarks of the honorable member for Cook on this subject. I therefore ask that a definition of “rural districts “ be inserted in the bill.
– -All through the discussions between the representatives of the Commonwealth and State governments on this subject, the term “ rural districts “ has been given the significance of extra metropolitan districts, and the honorable member may rest assured that that interpretation will be given to these words.
– <Why not use the phrase “ extra metropolitan districts ?”
– If the committee considers that that would state the intention of the paragraph more clearly, I am quite willing to amend it in that way. I do not desire to repeat what I have said earlier this evening, but I emphasize that the purpose of the bill is to decentralize public works as much as possible, and to put the local governing bodies outside the big capital .cities in a better borrowing position than they are in to-day. If the amendment of the honorable member for Cook is rejected, I shall move to substitude the words “extra metropolitan districts “ for “ rural districts.”
.. - I welcome one of two principles of this clause of the bill, but oppose the other. I am entirely antagonistic to the suggested discrimination between the municipalities of the metropolitan area, and the local governing bodies of the .country districts. I have said frequently in this House, that the Commonwealth Government should determine the conditions under which money that it provides shall be spent. The Treasurer has told us that one .of the purposes of the bill is to decentralize public works ; but I remind him that all the municipalities and shires of Kew South Wales have had it within their capacity in the last two or thr.ee years to put relief works in hand under an arrangement by which the State government would provide all the money needed for wages and also a portion of the cost of materials. Some local governing bodies have done so much in this way that they have reached their limit, while others have done practically nothing. Only last week one municipality in my own electorate, which taxes its ratepayers to the full extent permitted by the law, and has taken full advantage of the relief works scheme of the .State government, was forced to ask the State government to relieve it of its responsibilities for onethird of the unemployed persons that it has been maintaining in relief work. Those men have been displaced and forced to accept the dole. If preference is to be given, it should be given to those municipalities which, for two or three years, have done their utmost to relieve unemployment. Those local authorities which have not accepted any responsibility for the care of the unemployed should not be given preference. The council to which I have referred is unable to enter the loan market and borrow more money on which interest would have to be paid, but it would welcome a grant of money free pf interest. At best it will be only second on the list, because .rural municipalities and shires, which probably have not done anything to relieve the unemployment situation, and in ordinary circumstances could borrow money at interest, will get first preference.
– This bill does not set out to cure all the ills of man. It does not cure the trouble referred to by the honorable member.
– It would appear that the Government has not considered all aspects of the situation in New South Wales, for if it had done so, it would have provided for preference being given to those local authorities which have played their part in trying to find work for the unemployed.
Does the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) think that rural municipalities and shires should be given preference merely because they are rural bodies? Even among rural local authorities there are some which have done their best for the unemployed, whilst others have not done anything in that direction. Yet the latter will participate in this grant while metropolitan bodies, which have impoverished themselves in trying to relieve unemployment, will not get a penny. Our aim should be not the improvement of the borrowing capacity of municipalities, but the proper distribution of the money, so that local authorities which have done their utmost to provide work forthe workless, and have borrowed to the full limit allowed by the act in order to do so, should be given first preference.
– The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) has submitted a good case. My district adjoins his, and I know that the position which he has placed before the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) iscorrect. It must be remembered that the workers living in municipalities which have borrowed money at high rates of interest have had their rentals increased as a result. Rates also are high in such municipalities, and, naturally, landlords have passed on the cost to their tenants. The Treasurer should agree to the deletion of this paragraph, because general supervision by the Treasurer is provided for elsewhere. The Minister referred to the Water Board, of Sydney, as a big employer of labour, but he should remember that that body can only touch the fringe of the unemployment problem in a city with a population of over 1,000,000. As a matter of fact workers who live in the city proper have been at a great disadvantage for a number of years, because the State government has, at times, provided work of. a relief nature for the unemployed living in the suburbs, and the labour was drawn exclusively from such suburbs, thus preventing those living in the city of Sydney from participating. Portion of my electorate is in the city proper, and many workers there have had; a particularly difficult time during the last four or five years, because the City Council of Sydney has confined its assistance to its ordinary employees, who have been paid from the ordinary revenues of the council. These workers have been in a much worse position than those living in the suburbs. The Water Board cannot possibly provide work for all the unemployed workers of the metropolitan area.
– The employees of the Sydney City Council live in various electorates.
– That interjection strengthens my case on behalf of the workers residing in places like Pyrmont and Ultimo.
– All the bridges needed in the honorable member’s electorate have been built.
– The honorable member’s interjection reminds me that the homes of a number of my constituents, who previously lived at Milson’s Point, were demolished in order that the Sydney Harbour Bridge might be constructed, but they were not given work either in the demolition of their homes or in the construction of the bridge. The workers for those jobs were drawn from all parts of the metropolitan area. City dwellers are carrying their share of the burden associated with the granting of assistance to primary producers, and therefore should not be penalized any further. Not only the workers, but also business people in the metropolitan area who depend on them will be affected by the preference given in this matter to rural districts. I ask the Minister to agree to the deletion of the clause.
– I am not impressed by the arguments of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), because I reflect that, whenever money is made available for public works in country districts, large numbers of men from city areas are engaged on those undertakings. Country municipalities and other bodies in country districts are very short of cash, and find it most difficult to raise the. money needed to enable them to carry out necessary works. Therefore, I prefer the clause as it stands.
Mr.RIORDAN (Kennedy) [1.51 a.m.]. - City municipal authorities have better opportunities to borrow for public works than have local governing authorities in the country. Therefore, I ‘maintain that preference should be given to rural- areas. I hope that, in future, workmen will be called up in the country first. If necessary, a further call-up can be made in the cities. Most of the cities are well developed, and, if they struck a municipal rate in accordance with the services provided, they would be able to pay for their own works without seeking government assistance. I trust that the country authorities will get the lion’s share of the money to be expended under the bill, because they stand in the. greatest need of help.
Amendment (by Mr. Archdale Parkhill,) proposed -
That the word” rural” twice occurring, paragraph (e), be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words, “ extrametropolitan “.
– Under the amendment suggested by the Treasurer (Mr. Casey), there is as much danger of injustice being done to rural districts as there would be if the proposed change were not made. “Extra-metropolitan” includes very large towns in the country, which are in a position analogous to that of a number of suburban municipalities. It would be advisable to leave the clause as it stands, for it would then give the government of a State some discretion as to whether a work proposed by a country municipality should have preference over that contemplated in a metropolitan area. “ Extra-metropolitan “ is a term rarely used in statutes, and I fear that it would cover large towns such as Bathurst, which, from a rating point of view, is larger than, say, the municipality of Cottesloe, situated midway between Perth and Fremantle. The clause does not state that only works in rural districts shall be brought within the scope of the bill; it merely provides that these works shall have priority over others.
– I am not particularly concerned as to where the contemplated public works will be carried out,but I am anxious to know the conditions of employment and the source from which the labour will be drawn. If there happened to be a shortage of labour in any particular part of the country in which work was being carried out, and it was necessary to engage city workers, I am not satisfied that they would be employed under acceptable conditions. No doubt these works will be carried out with sweated labour, and no provision will be made to cover the extra living expenses which a city worker incurs when he accepts a job in a country district. Therefore, members of the Opposition should weigh well any proposal involving the carrying out of works in an outlying part of a State. I hope that an assurance will be given that when labour is drawn from a city area, provision will be made to enable the employees to meet the additional expense which they will have to incur in living in the country while maintaining their homes in the city. The duration of work would not warrant the city worker taking his family to live in a country district. It would be necessary for him to maintain himself on the job, and keep his family in the city, and some assistance should be given to him to enable him to do this.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move -
That at the end of the clause the following paragraph be inserted: - “(i) It shall be a condition precedent to any payment to a State that the legislature of such State shall have provided for the observance by each public authority of such State of the terms of any award of the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration which may be applicable to the work carried out by such public authority.”.
I submit that, in view of what was said by some honorable members during the second-reading stage of the bill, no injustice can possibly be done to States by the inclusion of the provision which I have moved. The committee has accepted the principle that there shall rest upon the Commonwealth Treasurer the obligation to decide whether or not a particular work is of type for which Commonwealth money should be allocated, and it should also be made clear that Commonwealth money shall not be made available for the prosecution of any work unless the men actually engagedupon that work are employed at wages, and under conditions, laid down by Arbitration Court awards for the State. In Western Australia, some local governing bodies have not taken any precautions to ensure that workmen employed by contractors have received the prescribed rates of wages. Worse than that, there have been instances in which men employed by subcontractors have had the greatest difficulty in obtaining any payment at all. The sub-contractors were men of straw, and accepted work at rates which made it impossible for them to be able to pay men proper wages. The money which it is proposed to appropriate for this scheme is drawn from taxes which, in the main, are levied on the poorer section of the com.munity at the same heavy rate as on the wealthy sections. Workmen have to pay sales tax on the clothes they wear, and they pay all other forms of indirect taxation which together make up the bulk of Consolidated Revenue. Those sections of the community, therefore, which, more than any other, provide the money with which this scheme is to be financed, should be protected against exploitation.
– Is that not done now ?
– If it is, then my amendment will not impose any additional burden on the States.
– ‘What difference will the amendment make?
– It will guarantee that local bodies which take advantage of this measure, will be called upon to accept the obligations that should go with the receipt of Commonwealth funds for the prosecution of their works. If they accept Commonwealth money, it should be recognized that they place themselves under an obligation to ensure that the men employed are paid award rates of wages. That is reasonable, and I challenge the committee to resist the logic of my argument. The money to be expended should not be utilized to provide water supplies, sewerage, and other conveniences to members of the community possibly at the expense of exploited or under-paid labour. To ensure that labour will not be exploited, I invite the committee to support the amendment which I have moved. If the conditions will not be as I have stated, the amendment can be included as an additional safeguard; and if they are, it will ensure that proper working conditions will be observed and adequate wages will be paid to those who undertake the work.
.I support the amendment moved by the
Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). It is on the lines of one I forecast in my second-reading speech. In safeguarding the interest on borrowed money, we are also protecting those who loan money. If it is essential to protect the interest of money-lenders, surely it is reasonable to provide that the workers are paid award rates and are assured of reasonable living conditions. The Government should accept the amendment, because it is in accordance with the policy outlined by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) prior to the last general election, when he advocated a high standard of living, and an observance of Arbitration Court awards. When money is made available for this purpose, we have a right to ask that the Government will adhere to its policy. Moreover, State governments which believe in the’ payment of award rates should not object to the amendment. At Maitland, the Premier of New South Wales, the Minister for Industry, and the honorable member who won the seat from Labour at the previous election, definitely stated that the Government would pay award rates on the sewerage work then to be undertaken in the Maitland district. That promise was honoured immediately after the election, but later the work was carried on by men who received only sufficient to provide them with sustenance. The amendment, which embraces the. policy of this Government, the New South Wales Government and the Labour party, should be accepted.
– I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) will not think me discourteous if I do not argue this subject at this juncture, as I dealt with it at some length in replying to the debate on the second reading. This matter can safely be left with the States, as it has been on previous occasions. I regret that the Government cannot accept the amendment.
.I am surprised that the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) will not accept the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). This Government always contends that the laws of the country should be observed, but when we attempt to amend a measure to ensure that the workers shall derive the benefits provided in existing legislation it always refuses to assist. The Government has always insisted that it should not interfere with the awards of the Arbitration Courts, but when the workers are to benefit it says that their interests will be protected by some other authority. In this instance, it proposes to allow the States to do just as they like. The States, which are to comply with certain conditions, should also be compelled to ensure that reasonable wages are paid. In this instance, we are not suggesting something new, but are merely asking that the laws which already exist, shall be observed. If the Government believes in the arbitration system it should ensure that the workers receive award rates of pay. Manufacturers, primary producers, and other sections of the community are always protected, but the claims of the workers are completely ignored. When the Leader of the Labour party in New South Wales said that interest rates should be reduced, this Government and its supporters held up their hands in holy horror, and said that interest rates were sacrosanct. So are the interests of the workers. I trust that the Government will accept the amendment, and thus ensure the payment of adequate wages by those bodies which are to benefit from the expenditure of the money appropriated under this bill.
– The manner in which anti-Labour governments demonstrate their inconsistency is remarkable. This Government has always insisted that the workers should observe the conditions imposed by the Arbitration Court, yet when protecting certain sections of the community it definitely declines to prevent labour from being engaged at rates of pay lower than those awarded by the Arbitration Court. This amendment gives the Government an opportunity to demonstrate that it believes in the law being observed. This is not the only instance of unwillingness, on the part of the Government, to observe the law which it imposes on citizens. I, therefore, support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition, which provides that award rates and conditions shall be observed on all works carried out with money that is made available under this bill. The committee should take advantage of this opportunity to insist on the observance of this principle.No reasonable argument can be advanced by members of the Ministry or their supporters against the amendment.
– I move -
That the question be now put.
– I call attention to the state of the committee.
Ring the bells. [Quorum formed.]
Motion (by Mr. Thompson) put -
That the question be now put.
The committtee divided. (Chaibman - Mr. Prowse.)
Ayes . . . . . . 26
Noes . . . . . . 18
Majority . . . . 8
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question - That the paragraph proposed to be added (Mr. Curtin’s amendment) be so added - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. Prowse.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Motion (by Mr. Casey) proposed -
That the report be adopted.
– I object to the acceptance of this report, because the bill as it has emerged from the committee does not contain a provision to protect the interests of the workers. I do not wish to repeat the substance of the speech I delivered earlier, but I remind honorable members that several hours were devoted this evening to the discussion of the interests of country people. In fact, the interests of persons with money to lend and of all other parties concerned in the measure, with the significant exception of those of the workers, have received full attention. In common fairness, therefore, honorable members who desired to state the case for the workers should have been given reasonable time to do so. Probably the reason why the bill is being reported without a provision to protect the workers, is that honorable members were not given proper time to examine the subject from that aspect owing to the procedure adopted to terminate the discussion, notwithstanding that honorable gentlemen on this side of the chamber were anxious to continue it. After making the utmost allowance for the fact that the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) has had to sit at the table for such long hours during this protracted sitting to deal with the business before the chamber, I feel compelled to warn the Government that the consideration which has been shown to it hitherto will not be displayed in the future if, when I rise to discuss a matter of supreme importance to the welfare of the workers, a contemptuous disregard is shown of my right and that of other honorable members to state our views adequately. If the subject of my last amendment had been carefully considered, a different decision might have been reached. In case there is any misunderstanding, I exonerate the Treasurer from any charge of discourtesy in not speaking at greater length in reply to my speech. Probably the honorable gentleman said as much as it was possible to say in opposition to my proposal. I deeply regret that a bill, which is a notable contribution to the problem of providing employment in Australia, in that it envisages the co-operation of the Commonwealth and State governments, and marks a considerable step forward in public policy in the interests of industry generally, should have been dealt with in such a summary manner. It must be realized that industry generally depend.3 substantially in Australia at present upon the expenditure of public money on public works. It is deplorable, therefore, that the principles of a major measure of this description, which marks a considerable advance in governmental policy, should have been dealt with in this way. No justification can be advanced for the curtailment of the discussion of the vitally important subject that I introduced, and the failure of the Government to include in the bill a provision to protect the workers is inexcusable. Our endeavour was simply to ensure that the minimum standards fixed by the appropriate arbitration tribunals of Australia should be applied to the various works put in hand pursuant to this measure. It was a particularly culpable error to omit such a provision from a bill which was envisaged mainly to stimulate employment. It was pointed out during the discussion of the measure that certain municipalities which desired to put public works in hand were unable to provide the debt services incidental to the capital requisite to carry out the works. In such circumstances, surely the Commonwealth Government, with all its taxing resources, should have had sufficient regard for the welfare of the workers to protect their interests, for they, after all, will be obliged to provide a substantial proportion of the money needed to meet interest and sinking fund commitments on any loans that are raised. They pay heavy toll in excise duty on beer, and certain other commodities in common use, and it was not unreasonable to ask that their interests on the other side of the ledger should be considered. We ought to have insisted that the men engaged on the works should be guaranteed, not only payment of their wages, , but also a reasonable standard of wages. By that I mean, not necessarily the wages asked for by the trade unions, but those fixed by the Arbitration Court, and based on the merits of the claim. The absence of such a provision makes the bill inadequate, in that it does not treat the problem fairly. Much as I regret the absence of such a provision, I regret even more the procedure adopted in order to burk discussion.
Motion (by Mr. Thompson) put - That the question be now put. The House divided.
Ayes .. .. ..28
Noes .. .. ..18
Majority . . 10
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
House adjourned at 2.47 a.m. ( Thursday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. Yes. Mr. E. Reynolds, of counsel, was appointed to assist the commission.
e asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
What is the total number of telephones in each of the States - (a) within a 3-mile radius of telephone exchanges; and (6) outside a 3-milc radius of telephone exchanges?
– It would not he possible to supply the information required by the honorable member without a detailed investigation of the whole of the subscribers’ services, and, in view of the considerable work which would be entailed, it is hoped that the honorable member may not find it necessary to press for the supply of the particulars asked for.
n asked the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
r asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– These are matters of policy upon which, at the -proper .time, the Government will inform Parliament of its attitude.
e asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
In view of the impossibility of establishing a twelve-hour night flying service between Sydney and Perth, .owing to the lack. of nightflying facilities, will he advise what action the Defence Department intends to take in order to provide the necessary ground organization?
– My department is unaware of any concrete proposal to establish a twelve-hour night flying service between Sydney and Perth, and it is doubted whether such a service, necessitating the use of exceedingly fast and expensive aircraft, could he operated without substantial governmental assistance. The Government is, however, considering plans for the establishment of fast air services linking all the capitals of Australia, andthe intention is that the services in the eastern States should operate wholly or mainly at night. To this end action is now in hand to provide the necessary night flying facilities over the section Brisbane-Sydney-Melbourne, hut it is doubtful at this stage whether the section on to “Western Australia would be flown at night also. There has been for many years past a certain amount of night flying equipment on portion of the route between Adelaide and Perth, and this will be augmentedon varied as necessary to fit in with the time tables ultimately adopted for the inter-capital services planned by the Government.
y asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of the meeting of the Loan Council at Canberra in the very near future, will he consider the advisability of discussing with the States’ representatives the question of ratifyingthe 40-Hour Week Convention?
– It is not considered that the Loan Council is the appropriate body to deal with this matter, which, however, is now receiving the consideration of the Commonwealth Government.
Export of Meat from Queensland.
Mr.Riordan asked the Acting Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
y. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Will he supply details of the amounts of (a) the fees, (b) the expenses,and (c) the salary, paidby the Commonwealth Government to Sir Herbert Gepp, either us adviser, consultant, or member ofaninquiry.committee, or royal commission, since he was first engaged by the Commonwealth inany capacity?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : - (a)Fees, £11,811 7s. 6d. ; (b) expenses, £2,867 18s. 2d.; (c) salary, £19,413 13s. 4d. ; total, £34,092 19s. The salary shown was paid during the period from the9th August, 1926, to the 8th August, 1930. Fees have been payable since the latter date.
e. - On the 8th May, the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) asked the following questions, upon notice -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : - 1, 2 and 3. A consignment of 5,000 tons of cement was ordered by the Western Australian Government, and the initial supplies commenced to arrive in March last. The reasons given by the Western Australian Government for placing cement contracts overseas were that, owing to the shipping strike, and the fact that the Western Australian cement, manufacturer was unable to supply the full Government demand, supplies had to be imparted from the United Kingdom. Failure on the part of theWestern Australian Government to obtain supplies would have resulted in holding up certainworks construction programmes, and this would have necessitated the dismissal of a largenumberofemployees engaged on these works. An importer’s transactions with the department arc kept confidential,and the detailed information requested cannot be furnished. It can be said, however, that no shipment of cement imported up to the present could have been landed on a duty-free basis, but with 5 per cent. primage chargeable ata lower figure than that which theTariff Board stated would permit of profitable sale by efficiently-conducted factories in Australia.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice: -
-The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
A further instalment of £10,800 (Aust.)is payable in respect of the present financial year.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 13 May 1936, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1936/19360513_reps_14_150/>.