15th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mb. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Has the attention of the. Minister for the Army been drawn to a statement in the Brisbane Courier Mail of the 9th May, under the heading “Instruments wanted for new Australian Imperial Force band “, in which it was stated -
The northern command head-quarters wants to buy second-hand instruments to equip a band for the Seventh Australian Imperial’ Force Division, and have called tenders accordingly to close yesterday, Tuesday the 15th Instant.
If so, oan he say whether it is correct that his department in Brisbane has been authorized to purchase second-hand instruments while ample supplies of new instruments are obtainable there?
– I. have not seen the newspaper report referred to, but if new instruments are procurable in Brisbane, they will be purchased in preference to second-hand ones. If second-hand instruments have been asked for, I take it that it is thought that new ones are not available.
– Recently, the PostmasterGeneral announced that the complete programme of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s news would be broadcast throughout Australia. I am advised, that as regards Western Australia, the 11.45 p.m. broadcast from Sydney, which is equivalent to 9.15 p.m. in Perth, has been discontinued for the time being. Is the Minister aware of any such instructions having been issued, and, if so, will he take steps to have the broadcast restored ?
– I understand that the 11.15 p.m. broadcast of British Broadcasting Corporation’s news from stations in the eastern States has been discontinued, as it is thought that they interfere with other broadcasts more desired by the public of Western Australia at that hour, which is the equivalent of 9.15 p.m. in Western Australia. I point out to the honorable gentleman that at 9.50 o’clock each evening Western Australian time the British Broadcasting Corporation’s news is broadcast, that being regarded, as a more suitable time for it.
– Will the Minister for Supply and Development give to the House a full statement concerning the number of factories which are building aeroplanes in Australia; will ho state the names of the companies manufacturing them, and whether any such factories are owned by the Commonwealth Government?
– I shall see that the information is obtained and supplied to the honorable gentleman.
– In view of the statement appearing in a leader in yesterday’s Daily News, which is the official organ of the Australian Labour party in New South Wales, that the British Labour party’s participation in a national government is an act of treachery will the Prime Minister inform the House whether his offer to the Leader of the Opposition to join in the formation of a national ministry in Australia is still open, so that the Opposition may show that the formation of a national ministry is not regarded as an act of treachery?
– Shortly after the war broke out, I indicated thatI was prepared to participate in a national go vernment. My mind on the subject still remains the same. At that time, the Leader of the Opposition made a statement indicating his attitude towards the proposal.
– -Will the Prime Minister give favorable consideration to arranging the sittings of the House to provide for either alternate long week-ends, or an occasional intermission of one week, so that honorable members may visit their homes and electorates at intervals during the session?
– I anticipate making a statement to-morrow as to the future sittings of the House.
– Is the Prime Minister in the position to make a state-, ment to the House concerning the prospects of a settlement of the coal strike?
– As honorable members know, a resolution was passed last night by the executive of the combined mining unions. That resolution raised certain issues with which both the Commonwealth Government and the Governmemt of New South Wales are concerned. In order that these matters might be’ effectively and promptly discussed without the need for telephoning, the AttorneyGeneral and the Treasurer have to-day gone to Sydney in order to discuss them with the Government of New South Wales and the other relevant parties.
– Will the - Prime Minister inform the House, whether the regulations which were issued last night in regard to the acquisition ofcoal stocks will apply in the event of an early settlement of’ the dispute, and, if so, for how long?
– That is a matter which will be considered in the event of determination of the strike. No decision has yet been made in regard to it.
– Will the Prime Minister, in his capacity as Minister for Defence Co-ordination, arrange to coordinate the methods adopted in regard to recruiting for the Air Force and the Australian Imperial Force? In order that the right honorable gentleman may understand the purport of the question, I mention that the Mayor of Grafton told me last night that whilst the local recruiting committee may publicly farewell Air Force recruits and publish their names in the newspaper, and whilst Air Force recruits may march through the streets, thereby stimulating recruiting, the names of recruits for the Australian Imperial Force are never published, and that such men are merely given their rail warrants and’ allowed to leave the railway station without any public farewell. Would it not be possible for them both to be treated in the same way? There seems to be some doubt as to whether the censor is preventing the names of Australian Imperial Force recruits from being published. Moreover, will the right honorable gentleman arrange to make it’ possible for the medical officers for the Air Force and the Australian Imperial Force, who are stationed respectively at Grafton and lismore, which are 90 miles apart, to examine recruits for both the Air Force and the Australian Imperial Force? At present recruits have to travel to the respective town, except on occasions when the appropriate authority visits the other centre.
– I shall have both matters referred to by the right honorable gentleman considered promptly.
– In the absence »f the Treasurer, can the Prime Minister say whether friendly societies and other approved societies have been reimbursed their expenses in connexion with the inauguration of a scheme of national insurance? If not, does the Government intend to reimburse them?
– I shall have the honorable member’s question answered to-morrow.
– As complaints have been made by certain friendly societies that they have not been adequately compensated for the work they did in connexion with . the national insurance scheme, I ask the Minister for Social Services whether the taxing of the claims was left entirely to the officers of the National Insurance Commission or whether he reviewed the decisions that were made?
– No compensation of the kind referred to by the honorable member was made without my personal concurrence. Our policy was most generous. A maximum of 6s. was allowed for each recruit obtained by approved societies. That this was generous was shown by the fact that the amount provided waa more than sufficient to meet the claims of most societies. One or two approved societies, however, ran amok with their expenditure and still have some outstanding claims which are not likely to be acceded to.
– Can the Prime Minister say whether Mr. O’Dea, the secretary of the Shop Assistants Union, forwarded to him a banker’s certificate in relation ‘to a cheque sent by his union to the Australian Labour party office, Sydney, and if so will he indicate the nature of such certificate?
– I have no knowledge of the matter referred to, but I shall ascertain the facts and let the honorable gentleman have an answer to-morrow.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior able to say whether the report is true that, a number of artisans who have been regularly employed by the Depart1 ment of the Interior in Canberra are now out of employment, due, it is alleged, to a shortage of money? Is it a fact that these men have been told that no further employment will be available tor them until after the 1st July? Are these men married, and have they their homes in the Territory? Have they been resident in the Territory for some considerable time?
– I cannot answer the questions offhand, but I shall ascertain what information is available on the subject.
– In view of the serious war developments overseas and of the need for the wisest counsel in directing the Empire’s war effort, will the Prime Minister inform me whether any move has yet been made to obtain dominion representation on a body such as the Imperial War Council that functioned during the last war? If such a council should be established, will the Government give consideration to the appointment thereto of an Australian who is in closer touch with presentday Australian conditions than is the High Commissioner in London?
– In reply to the second part of the honorable member’s question, that point would naturally be considered. As to the first part of the question, it is not possible for me to make a statement at present. The possibility to which the honorable gentleman referred has naturally been under consideration.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce whether a decision has yet been made in regard to the proposal to permit additional firms in the Newcastle district to participate in the wool appraisement scheme?
– The Government will not permit any limitation of the number of firms which may participate in, nor of the amount of wool which may be brought within, the appraisement scheme.
– In connexion with the arrangements that have been made ;by the Australian Broadcasting Commission for broadcasting to the Australian troops in Palestine, I ask the Postmaster-General to say whether arrangements are also being made for the regular broadcasts to Australia from our forces in Palestine?
– Arrangements have been completed for broadcasts both ways.
– About four weeks (igo I asked the Minister for the Navy to take steps to rectify a ridiculous anomaly that existed in the Naval Reserves in respect of the salary the men were receiving in private life. It was provided that if another member of the family was in receipt of £2 a week a widowed mother was not entitled to a separation allowance. This restriction does not apply to the Air Force. I understand that on the 8th May the Minister issued instructions to remedy the anomaly in respect of eleven officers. I ask what is being done in respect of the ratings?
– The honorable gentleman may rest assured that the ratings will be given the same consideration as the officers.
– Has the Minister f or Commerce received an application from the Government of Victoria for an extension of the terminal wheat silos at Geelong? If so, having in mind that the Commonwealth i3 responsible for the storage of wheat, will the honorable gentleman give favorable consideration to the request ?
– I do not accept the proposition that the Commonwealth Government is solely responsible for the storage of wheat. I have no recollection of any recent communication from the Government of Victoria in connexion with this matter.
– by leave - Five weeks ago , the war entered on a new phase of activity with the ‘ German invasion of Denmark and Norway. For a short time it seemed that that event might develop into a campaign employing large resources on both sides and might possibly be decisive in the co’urse of the war for a considerable period. History is not wanting of instances of military commanders and governments persisting in military plans even after hope of success has passed. While we deplore the fact that the scrupulous observance by Norway of its neutrality, made possible the seizure of all key military ports and positions by the ruthless German invaders we may temper our disappointment at the Allied withdrawal by the realization that there was no attempt on the part of the Allied authorities to refuse or delay facing “the inevitableness of the situation. The way in. which the withdrawal was carried out without material loss compels admiration. Seen in perspective, the liberation of substantial forces from the Norwegian theatre for the gigantic struggle now in its sixth day in the Low Countries is a most important Factor. At the same time it should not be overlooked that the Allies have no intention of leaving Norway to its fate. The British Government has given an assurance to Norway that the events in Western Europe have not affected the Allied intention or determination to render to Norway all possible assistance in its struggle to regain its freedom. Allied naval, military and air forces are striking hard and persistent blows at the Germans in Northern Norway, as well as at their western bases.
There could be no clearer case of completely unscrupulous aggression and violation of neutral rights than the German invasion on the 10th May of Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg. This was an net in direct contravention of Germany’s repeatedly pledged word to respect tho independence and integrity of Belgium and Holland. In the case of Belgium especially, the German Government during the last three years has given frequent and explicit assurances against precisely what has now happened. Its propagandist explanation of the reasons for the invasion has not even the virtue that it states a blunt case of necessity, as was done by Imperial Germany in 19141. It is, on die contrary, a cynical distortion of facts which must bo known to the whole world outside Germany.
Both Belgium and Holland have, in the last eight months, made most anxious endeavours to preserve their neutrality and remain aloof from the war, so much so that, in the opinion of many people they erred on the side of leniency and compliance towards Germany. Alleged violations of their neutral status and rights from the Allied side were made the subject of strong protest, whilst deliberate and frequent breaches of the same neutrality on the side of Germany were allowed to pass almost unquestioned. This was an attitude which the Allies, of course, could not fail to understand with some sympathy. It can be said with certainty that Allied policy made every conceivable allowance for the apprehensions which these two countries had good reason to hold.
As an indication of the length to which Dutch and Belgian determination to maintain neutrality went, it is worth noting that both countries showed themselves consistently reluctant to embark on military staff conversations with the Allies, even when on more than one occasion the invasion that has now come about appeared imminent. Further, the Allies had no information that if Holland alone was attacked Belgium would go to its assistance or vice versa. Consequently, when the blow fell the Allies were handicapped to some degree by uncertainty as to the exact intentions of the Dutch and Belgian Governments. It, therefore, simplified matters that, when the German attack opened on Friday last, Holland and Belgium unhesitatingly declared their intention to resist. They appealed for help to Great Britain and France, and are now our allies dependent on the final victory of the Allied cause for the restoration of their national life and integrity.
In. anticipation of a German invasion of the Low Countries at almost any moment since the outbreak of the war, the Allied High Command had a plan of defence in readiness. This was set in motion on the day on which the German attack opened. Allied forces with a high degree of mobility moved without delay across the frontier into Belgium. These forces have already made close contact with the main Belgian forces. The significance of this will be appreciated, for the Allies from now on fight in co-. operation with 600,000 Belgian highlytrained troops. The move into Belgium also shortened substantially the previous Allied line, thus enabling a big saving of defensive troops.
Assistance on land has also been rendered without delay to the Dutch. French troops have advanced along the BelgianDutch frontier from its coastal extremity, and their presence in that area should do much to strengthen a possible weak point in the Belgian-Dutch defence system considered as a whole.
In the air, both countries received from the first hours of the invasion immediate and vital assistance. Over Belgian territory British and French aircraft have achieved great successes in. protecting Allied troop movements and concentrations from German air bombardment. In Holland, machines of the Royal Air Force, operating from bases both on the Continent and in Great Britain, have inflicted heavy losses on the enemy, particularly around Rotterdam and northwards along the coast. The Royal Air Force bombardment of Waalhaven aerodrome, near Rotterdam, on the 10th and 11th May, was perhaps the most spectacular air operation of the war. It is considered that a conservative estimate of German aircraft destroyed in action in the first tour days of the operations is about 300. The Allied air forces have sustained losses, but it is gratifying to learn that reports which were received earlier in the war of the superiority of Allied airmen and machines have undoubtedly been confirmed in the fighting in the last four days. German losses in the air can be authoritatively accepted as being at least twice those of the Allies. It must be admitted that the Allies are still operating under the grave disability of having ro face greatly superior numbers of all classes of German aircraft.
The British navy has also actively cooperated in the Dutch resistance and worked with Dutch forces off the Netherlands coast. Operations, however, were hampered by the laying of large quantities of magnetic mines along the Dutch coast. Allied forces were landed in Holland from the sea to assist the Dutch in their general resistance as well as to help them in their efforts to eliminate the scattered bodies of enemy troops landed over “Western Holland by parachute. This form of tactics which has so far been the most striking and sinister feature of the German invasion appears to have as its object the undermining of Dutch defences from within, partly by the seizure of important tactical points, such as aerodromes and bridges, and partly by the paralysing of Dutch administrative and main commercial centres, a3 was demonstrated at the Hague and at Rotterdam. The seizure of important aerodromes and the landing of German forces by means of troop-carrying plane, presented a most difficult problem for th« Dutch, and one unfortunately which they have not been able to surmount, for their main city, Rotterdam, and its environs appear, as the result of this form of attack, to be in the possession of tin; Germans. Moreover, they are now extending their operations from the firm foothold they have obtained in this the most vital centre of Holland. This attack in the rear of the main defence line must, unless it can be immediately and effectively dealt with, gravely prejudice the ability of Holland to hold the invader.
In general, the situation gravely deteriorated in the last two days. Other serious features of the German advance have been continued air landings near Rotterdam and the crossing of important bridges in front of the main defence line, thus linking up the German forces which advanced through Southern Holland with the aeroplane forces operating from thi roar.
The Dutch position thus appears desperate. Announcements have been mad this morning to the effect that the Dutch Government state that their CommanderinChief has issued a proclamation U> the Dutch army to cease resistance.
German armoured forces are attacking the French along the Dutch frontier and appear to have driven them back a certain distance.
Parachutists are reported to have landed in numbers south-east of Brussels and elsewhere. Liege fortress is believed to be still holding out. The bridges at Liege over the River Meuse have been blown up.
On the evening of the 12th May and the .morning of the 13th May, German aircraft t carried out heavy bombing attack:-, near Namur. . These attacks are now reported to be taking place hourly and as many as 4.0 aircraft have been observed in individual raids. Enemy aircraft wen generally active in supporting land operations and attacking round the columns.
German bombing aircraft have been active over France. On the 11th and 12th May, eleven aerodromes were bombed, but. no great damage appears to have been inflicted. Bombs were also dropped on eighteen towns in France.
The German advance along the BelgianDutch frontier appears to be aimed at outflanking the defensive line of the Albert Canal in the direction of Antwerp. The Albert Canal has been crossed in several places and the north-eastern area is in grave danger. The German forces advancing through Maastricht have advanced to the north and east of Liege, but Liege is holding out; the forces advancing on its north appear to be making a determined effort to approach Brussels.
Luxemburg was overrun on the first day of the invasion and the Germans have now advanced through the Belgian province of Luxembourg towards the River Meuse south of Namur. There has been fierce fighting in the Belgian Ardennes and the Germans now claim to have crossed the border into France at several points between Charleville and the Franco-German frontier. There are reports that Sedan, just within the French frontier, has been evacuated by the French. In Belgium as a whole the first phase of the advance of British and French troops has been successfully completed according to plan. The main Allied forces are not yet engaged, but advance troops have been in action. The French cavalry have had heavy fighting.
In estimating the events of the last five days as a whole it is still too early to define exactly the German plan. A significant feature which might suggest that other blows may fall and that we have not entered the vital phase of the struggle is that, as yet, the full strength of the German forces is not employed. The same consideration applies to the scale of the German air attack in relation to what is known to be the full German air strength, [t is possible, therefore, that the present attack is not the only contingency we may have to meet. Whether it is being held in reserve for a decisive effort to outflank the Maginot Line when the Allied defences in Belgium and Holland have been whittled down, or whether a new. attack will be launched at another point altogether, or whether the present offensive is to be developed into the major plan, is still obscure.
Whatever the scale of the German offensive, however, it represents already an immediate and formidable menace to the Allied position in the west. Five days of fighting have shown that the Germans have struck at selected points with the utmost vigour and with all of the striking power of modern weapons. They have also employed to the full new military tactics, based on mechanized assault columns and the co-operation of aircraft. It will be of the highest importance to the Allies, under the conditions in which the operations are being carried out, to maintain in the Low Countries and Northern France an offensive and a defensive air strength to counteract the German air arm.
There can be no doubt of the new spirit of resolution which this latest German blow has brought to the peoples and governments of the Allied countries. On the very day of the invasion of the Low Countries a new Government, representative of all political parties, was in process of formation in Great Britain. Any lessons that were to foe learnt from the failure of the Norwegian campaign, as to the need for swift decision and thorough preparation of plans to combat a ruthless and highly efficient enemy, have, we may be confident, been taken to heart in the Allied counsels. The Allied determination to face and overcome the present danger, and to be ready to meet possible new dangers from another quarter, is now manifest.
Turning to another aspect of the present situation, it would amount to a refusal to face facts if we were to ignore the possibility of Italian intervention in co-operation with its Axis partner. During the Norwegian campaign, inspired Italian sentiment ‘towards the Allies was markedly hostile. Since the invasion of the Low ‘Countries, Italian press comment and declarations of Fascist leaders, as well as organized Fascist demonstrations against Great Britain and France, have indicated a degree of antagonism to the Allied cause which cannot but be a matter of concern. I say frankly that this Italian attitude, which is referred to by their spokesmen by the term “ prebelligerency “, hears the signs of inspired direction.
The British Ambassador has been instructed to draw the attention of the Italian Government to the wide dissemination of anti-British posters, and to point out that these are calculated to lead to a deterioration of Anglo-Italian relations, in contravention of the agreement of 193S.
As was expected, the German invasion of the Netherlands has brought into great prominence in the last few days the question of the status of the Netherlands East Indies. The House will recall that, before the invasion took place, declarations were made on behalf of the Governments of the United Kingdom, Japan and the United States of America, all emphasizing the desire of these three countries that, in the event of Dutch participation in the war, there should be no disturbance of the status quo of the Netherlands East Indies. Since the 10th May these declarations have been repeated, and I wish to stress that nothing has taken place to provide any strong reason for apprehension that there will be interference with I he present position of the Netherlands East Indies. In an official statement issued in London on the 13th May, it was declared that the Government of the United Kingdom had previously expressed its interest in the maintenance of the status quo in -the Netherlands East Indies. This attitude, the statement added, had remained unchanged, and the Government of the United Kingdom had no intention whatever of intervening in the Netherlands East Indies, nor had any suggestion been made from any quarter that it should do so. Australia, as a Pacific nation, is naturally anxious that there should be no alteration of the status quo of the Netherlands East Indies, and the Commonwealth Government will play its part in avoiding any action that might affect the present position.
The Government’s information is that the Netherlands East Indies authorities are fully competent to deal with any potential risk to the internal security of the colony. I conclude this reference to the question by informing the House that n communication received by the Commonwealth Government from the Government of the Netherlands on the 13 th May stated, inter alia, that whatever might be the fate of the Netherlands in Europe, the Governor-General of the Netherlands East Indies is fully competent and able to continue the administration of these territories and to maintain public order externally and internally; consequently, all outside intervention would be rejected by the Netherlands Government.
I have no more to say than that to-day, as the facts show for themselves, we, in common with the rest of the British Empire, are facing a crucial test. The battle now opening on the fields of Belgium may well decide our own and the Empire’s destiny.
– Last week, in the absence of the Minister administering the censorship, I addressed to the Prime Minister a question relating to the excision of the whole of the matter in the publication known as Soviets To-day, and the right honorable gentleman promised to obtain an answer for me. As the matter is of some urgency, will the Minister be good enough to explain .why the whole of this matter, whether it relates to foreign affairs, to purely local and separated subjects, or to any other subject, is excised from the publication I have mentioned, while other publications - as, for example, Communist newspapers - are still in circulation?
– I understand that the Prime Minister has ‘ this matter under personal consideration, and will furnish a reply at a time convenient to him.
– I ask the Minister for the Army if it be a fact, as reported, that the manufacture of the machine guns required for our air effort, and of 4.5 in. shells, has been seriously impeded by the shortage of coal due to the coal strike? If this bc so, does the Government intend to allow such a state of affairs to continue while Britain and our Allies are fighting for our existence in Flanders?
– As this question relates to the Department of Supply and Development, I shall answer it. Until the last day or two, there was some danger of our activities at the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow being impeded by the shortage of coal, but happily that difficulty has been overcome.
– Will the Minister for Commerce supply full details of the Government’s scheme in connexion with the control of the export of sheepskins? What steps have been taken by the Government to conserve the interests of the Australian fellmongering industry?
– All necessary steps are being taken. In due course I shall be happy to’ allow the honorable gentleman to have a look at the Government’s scheme.
Reduction of Postage Rates - Standard of Physical Fitness - Enlistment Centres
-Will the PostmasterGeneral give consideration to the reduction of postage rates on air mail for members of the Australian Imperial Force abroad, if this may be done without contravening any international postal agreements?
– Certain concessions have already been provided for within Australia and additional concessions are under consideration. I shall give the honorable gentleman’s question further thought.
– Will the Minister for the Army state whether or not it is a fact that the height standard in respect of volunteers for the- Australian Imperial Force has been considerably lowered? Have any other standards of physical fitness been reduced?
– It is a fact that the height standard has been reduced, and that the age limit has been increased. In no other respect has the physical standard been reduced ; in fact, efforts to improve it have been intensified between the ages’ of 35 and 40 years.
– I have received from Laverton, 200 miles beyond Kalgoorlie, a letter expressing the desire that a recruiting officer should visit that centre and other centres in Western Australia which are remote from the main centres of recruiting. It is pointed out that if a man in such a place should desire to offer his services, he is obliged to visit Kalgoorlie, at a transport cost to himself of £10, and should his application for enlistment be rejected, dismissal from his- employment awaits him upon his return. Will the Minister for the Army go into the matter ?
– I shall go into the matter.
– In view of the serious position of many of the wheat-growers, will the Minister for Commerce consider the possibility of arranging with the Australian Wheat Board , to make advances to certain growers who are in financial difficulties?
– I do not intend to make funds available to the Wheat Board for that purpose;
– Will the Minister for Supply and Development state whether it is correct, as reported in the press during the week-end, that the major oil companies have reduced the price of petrol sold by them to the Federal Government? Is the Minister now satisfied with the position ?
– It is true that, following, allegations which . I made regarding the action of the companies in keeping up the price of petrol to Government departments, the major oil companies have reduced prices all over Australia by the substantial amount of l½d. a gallon. I am not yet satisfied that bedrock has been reached.
– Would it not be advisable to have a uniform price for petrol in city and country alike?
– That proposal has been touched upon many times, but I believe it to be essentially a matter for the oil companies, not one for intervention by the Government.
– In view of the fact that the hat manufacturers in Australia are much perturbed regarding the supply of rabbit skins, will the Minister for Supply and Development state whether action has’ been- taken- by the’ Prices Commissioner to fix the price of skins ?
– The matter is under consideration by the appropriate authorities, in consultation with the hat manufacturers. I shall find out what the position is, and advise the honorable member.
– Having regard to the great loss of merchant shipping due to enemy action, and the fear expressed last week that we might not be able to get sufficient tonnage to shift our primary produce, will the Acting Leader of the House’ state when the Government is likely to make up its mind to begin the building of ships in Australia ?
– When the Government is in a position to make a. statement on the matter it will do so, but I cannot prophesy when that will be.
– Will the Minister for the Army state whether it is true that, at a recent farewell to troops leaving Melbourne for service overseas, parents and friends of officers were allowed on the wharf before the ships left, but the parents and friends of privates were not allowed this privilege? Will the Minister give an. assurance that class distinction of this kind will be abolished, and will he have instructions issued that equal opportunities are to be accorded to all parents and friends of soldiers?
– I cannot say for certain whether the honorable member’s allegation is true or not, but I feel confident that, when the matter is investigated, it will be found that the position was not as he has suggested.
– I have received from the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The necessity, in view of the grave overseas developments, for the formation of a national government in Australia representative of all parties “.
I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
I desire to stress the urgent need, in view of the grave overseas developments, for the formation of a national government in Australia representative of all parties.
– Is the motion supported ?
Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,
– I make no apologies for moving this motion at this time. I feel more than ever, in view of the overseas developments of the last few days, that this Parliament, and the parties in the Parliament, should set an example of public spiritedness and unity to the people of Australia, that we should give that kind of leadership which the people have long been asking for. I, feel very keenly about this. Common sense suggests, nay demands, that this be done. At the outbreak of war, I stressed, as forcibly asI could, the need for complete unity among all parties in this Parliament for the full and vigorous prosecution of the war. Then, after hearing the speeches of representative members, I understood quite clearly that an all-party government could not be obtained. I shall not go into the reasons, except to say this : there was evident such a great divergence of policy at that time as to make a fully representative government an impossibility. From that time on, however, [ worked for what I considered to be the next best thing - to bring together the two parties which were in favour of a full-blooded war effort of full co-operation - always taking into consideration Australia’s own security - with the Allied “forces on land, sea and air. For seven long months I waited, and at last the union was effected. Already a better atmosphere is apparent, at least on this side of the chamber, and there is more stability and greater unity than before, so that our war effort can be developed with greater vigour and effectiveness than was previously possible. At the recent opening of Parliament, 1 again stressed the need for bringing all parties into the Government, but once again the manifest divergence of opinion seemed to make that impossible. Certain things have happened over the week-end, however, and the full significance of the situation is better realized to-day by honorable members, and by the people, than was the case heretofore. The real menace confronting us was emphasized in two statements published in Saturday morning’s newspapers - one by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and one by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). These statements are so much alike in text and meaning as to make one believe that they might have emanated from the same person. Here is the Prime Minister’s statement -
We are facing the greatest danger in our history. Australia is in it, and must give her lust ounce to the cause.
Here is the statement of the Leader of the Opposition -
Democratic countries were starkly face to face with a fight for their very existence. For those who had any doubts about the issues in tb is struggle the veil was now torn asunder. Free peoples and institutions of liberty destroyed by the Nazis in Germany as a prelude to their world expansion drive could now be maintained only if nazi-ism was defeated. The fact that Holland’s sovereignty is assailed affects Australia to a greater extent than may at first appear to be the case, lt sets up a situation fraught with the gravest potentialities of danger that Australia has yet faced.
Prior to those two announcements, which amount to a warning by the gentlemen mentioned, the Labour party arranged for a conference to be held in June to discuss matters relating, among other things, to the defence of Australia. The mere calling of that conference convinces me that some honorable members on the other side of the House are not satisfied with the present policy of the Labour party. I am the more convinced that that is so because of what T have heard honorable members opposite say when we have stood together in halls which have witnessed great historic events. I have stood with some of them in the hall of William Rufus at Westminster, and in the old Guild Halls, London, where many of our great institutions had their birth. I refuse to believe that there is not agreement .between those honorable gentlemen and myself as regards the need for a vigorous participation in the present war. I believe that the conference to which I have referred has been called in order to evolve something better than what has been termed “a somewhat anaemic policy”. I have no desire to embarrass any honorable member by my remarks this afternoon. What has happened during the last few days is only what some of us have feared would happen. Whether or not Holland has capitulated to Germany, the fact remains that Holland has been defeated, and therefore the future of the Dutch territory in the Netherlands East Indies becomes of transcendent importance to Australia. Surely, in the face of the menace which threatens not only our free institutions but also our very existence as an independent nation, it is not too much to ask that the highest degree of public spirit and unity should emanate from this House. Since the war began, members of all parties have, from public platforms, urged greater unity and a willingness to sacrifice, but should we not first set our own house in order? The people of this country can be led, but they cannot be driven. In what better way can we lead them than by setting them an example of unity? In this time of grave international emergency it is not too much to ask that we stand together. 1 refuse to believe that unity is impossible. I go so far as to prophesy that, ultimately, unity will be forced upon us by the sheer pressure pf events. Is it not better that we should lead such a movement in a way which will command the admiration and respect of the people than that we should achieve unity only when it is forced upon us? Our proper course is to act in such a way as will provide the best example to the people of Australia. I have moved this motion in order to try to intensify in Australia a public spirit which will demand unity; among its leaders and its people.
For a long time I have not been completely satisfied with Australia’s war effort. At times the Government has appeared to be a little hesitant and to lack punch. I may be wrong, but I believe that that hesitancy has been due, in some degree, to the somewhat unsettled political conditions in this country. An appeal to the electors is pending; and, no matter how we may desire to disguise the fact, it is true that all political parties trim their sails at such a time. I believe that a national government could carry through a vigorous war policy with a greater prospect of success than if the people are apt to be confused by different policies. Two weeks ago we had in this House the spectacle of members of the two political parties opposite airing their grievances. The revelations then made were of political advantage to the parties on this side of the chamber ; but this is not a time to seek party political advantage. Within a few weeks, or a few months, the several parties in this House will seek the suffrages df the people, and the young men of this country will be urged to enlist and to be willing to shed their Wood, if necessary. Is that a “time when political parties should be wrangling and fighting like Kilkenny cats, and participating in a campaign of bitterness, misrepresentation and personalities? Surely we can set an example to the people by presenting to them a common policy which will inspire them with courage. Before many weeks are over we may need all of the courage that we possess. The parties opposite represent a large body of public opinion in Australia. A lead by them would mean a great deal to the masses of the people. That being so, would not the formation of a national government make for national strength? Only this afternoon the Prime Minister said that he was still willing to participate in a national government.
With the nation at war, there is not the same opportunity as in normal times for Parliament to carry out its functions. Decisions have to be made quickly, and consequently it is not always possible to consult the Parliament beforehand. That means that government is largely in the hands of the Executive, so that, in the. absence of a national government, that large body of public opinion to which I have referred is not heard in the counsels of the nation, and the views of that section of the people may therefore not be embodied in regulations that are issued. In the peculiar circumstances occasioned by war conditions, every section of the community should be represented in the Executive. It is the duty of Labour to see that its representatives have a voice in the form of control forced on us by war conditions.
It is sometimes said that the formation, of a national government, in which all parties participate, tends to stifle discussion in Parliament, and to weaken the parliamentary machine. I disagree with that contention. I do not admit that those honorable members of the Opposition who might join in forming a national government would be denied the right of criticism. They would not be “ yes “ men ; but rather, being better informed, their criticism would carry more weight because it would be more enlightened. Probably Lt is for that reason that most of the criticism of the Government’s war effort has come from this side of the House rather than from the Opposition benches. While making for unity in a common cause the formation of a national government would not stifle the voices of those who desire to offer constructive criticism. It has also been said that the circumstances which led to the formation of a national government in England differ greatly from those in Australia. I do not agree with that view. Even if we admit that there is a wider divergence of opinion between parties in Australia than in England, I do not think that that gap will exist for much longer, at least among a large section of the people outside.
The Leader of the Opposition has said that our institutions of liberty could not be maintained unless the Nazi forces were defeated. I am sure that the honorable gentleman does not think that the Nazi forces will be defeated by words. I take it that the honorable gentleman meant to imply that Australia should share in the exertions and in the counsels of the Allies and should also take action appropriate to this end. [Leave to continue given.’)
I have another reason for bringing this subject before the House at this stage. During the week-end it was announced that the age limit for recruits for the Australian Imperial Force had been extended to 40 years. That makes me eligible for service overseas. I shall answer the call.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– I shall place my services at the disposal of the military authorities and -if I am required to go abroad, I shall go with a much more contented mind if I know that Australia is quite united on the home front. I believe that thousands of Australians will think as I do on this point. We need an example of public spiritedness. We need unity. Am I not right in demanding it at this stage? I think I am. Therefore I make no apology for having moved this motion.
We do not know from hour to hour what may happen. No one can foretell the turn that international events may take in the next few days. We must all realize that every valued institution in this country that has been established by the blood of our ancestors is in danger today. Christianity itself is in danger. Our very existence is in danger. That being so, I have a right to ask for an exhibition of the highest public spirit and the most complete degree of unity of which the nation is capable.
When Mr. Winston Churchill addressed the House of Commons for the first time as Prime Minister, he used words which might well be repeated in this chamber. Australia, we must all admit, needs at this moment of its history, the best brains available in all parties. We want our most able men in one block in order to give to Australia the vigour, the. enthusiasm, and the inspiration that are so vital to our war policy. I therefore, in conclusion, bring under the notice of honorable members the words of Mr. Winston Churchill : “ We have only one policy, and that is to wage war; we have only one aim, and that is victory”.
in submitting the motion, though I take leave to doubt whether a Parliamentary discussion of it at this stage is likely to advance the proposal. All I need to say to define my own position is that I have been, and am, ready to take part in the work of a national government on the broadest possible basis directed by all those in this Parliament who can agree upon a common policy, so that we may put forward our maximum effort and achieve the maximum degree of national unity. I do not think that my position on this subject has been ambiguous. If it has been, my statement to-day may remove the ambiguity. Quite plainly, the formation of a national government in Australia does not depend merely upon my will, or upon the will of honorablemembers who sit on this side of theHouse. It depends partly upon the will and view of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) and, even more importantly, as I am sure the Leader of the Opposition will agree, upon the point of view of those whom he leads in this Parliament.
I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition will not take any exception to my saying that, since this war began, and I have been sitting here as Prime Minister and he has been sitting opposite as Leader of the Opposition, we have frequently discussed with each other the progress of affairs in the war and the progress of Australia’s national war effort. There have been, and there still are, real differences between us as to methods ; but there has been complete unanimity as to the justice of this war and the justice of the cause for which the Allied forces are fighting. It is just to the Leader of the Opposition that I should say that, sub:ject to the limits which are imposed on him by the views which he holds and for which he has been prepared to fight within proper limits, he has displayed a sympathetic spirit and a co-operative attitude. His views as to the desirability or possibility of achieving a national government at this stage in our history, he will no doubt express for himself. I do not propose to say one word which could be represented as any attempt to make political capital out of the views that he will express. A national government which merely meant that some individuals would come into the Government would in actual fact mean very little.
– Hear hear!
– A national government which meant that there was an agreement on the part of the mass of the people that honorable gentlemen opposite represent in this Parliament on a common policy, together with a devout determination to apply that policy, would be” of supreme value to Australia, just as it is of supreme value in any country which is involved in difficulties like those which now confront us. An essential, however, is agreement on that common policy. I may say to the Leader of the Opposition, “‘Come into the Government and I may say the same thing to some honorable gentlemen who sit behind him, who may, for reasons which appeal to them, reply, “Very well, we shall come in “. But unless they brought in with them a real spirit of unity, and had behind them the approval of those people in Australia with whom they and their party are particularly identified, there would be a change in the personnel of the Government, but there would not be a truly national government. Consequently, the national effort to which the mover of the motion has referred and to which he very properly looks forward, would not be furthered in any way.
I believe that I have been criticized from time to time for being patient in respect of some problems which confront us, and for neglecting to fight in a bitter fashion those who sit opposite to me. I have been patient, and I have neglected opportunities for such a fight, but I have done so because I believe that before we are very much older we shall have such a common realization in Australia that the things for which we are fighting, and the forces against us are such that a national government will’ be realized on a proper and popular basis at the appropriate time. 1 say again that I do not propose, nor do I desire, to endeavour to make any political capital out of any refusal that the Leader of the Opposition may care to state at this time to the formation of a national government. I hope that I shall say nothing that will prevent the achievement of the maximum of unity in the national effort in Australia. I hope, too, that nothing will be said in the course of this debate which would make that very desirable consummation more difficult. I trust that we shall speak as much as we can in term3 of unity because, in solemn truth, it is only by a great effort of unity that we shall win this war. I said some things to the people of Australia last night over the air that I shall repeat in substance here. We are confronted by far the most powerful enemy that we have known in our history, an enemy that is flushed with a good deal of success. We have great resources of raw materials and man-power, and I believe that we have a spiritual quality in our cause which can never be claimed by our foe. But the best cause in the world cannot be brought to a successful issue unless every man and every woman over the whole British world says “ This is my business, I must do everything for it that I can, and I must do it soon “.
– I am very grateful for what the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has said. His speech will indicate to the Australian public that because this is a Parliament in which the representatives of the people are free to express their mind, not only in respect of the cause in which the country is engaged, but also in respect of the best way in which that cause can be maintained and our aim achieved, it is not necessary that every party shall be represented in the Government, or that every honorable member shall be a supporter of the Government. That, I say, is not necessary in order that the cause for which the nation stands may be vindicated, and have full justice done to it. The truth is that there are in this Parliament men, elected as the representatives of the Labour party, who find themselves in a minority in relation to their views as to the positive problem of how Australia shall be defended and also as to the form and degree of the contribution that Australia should make towards the common defence of the whole British Empire.
We have no illusions about how this war began, or what is involved in it. We believe that the trade unions and the Labour- organizations that are struggling for a better social order, the attainment of which may be set down as the main purpose for which Labour has representation in Parliament, will all go by the ‘board if the present German Government wins this war. We believe that the workers have more at stake in the ultimate of civilization in this struggle than even the wealthy classes have, because, frankly, wo believe that there is a greater spiritual alliance between the wealthy classes outside of
Germany and the philosophy of the German Government than there is between any alleged other alliance which at present may be talked about. But my purpose is to do what I believe is the duty that I owe, as leader of this party, to Australia and to express what the party believes to be its duty to Australia in what is the greatest period of crisis that Australia has ever known, and which, if we surmount it successfully, will I hope be the end to any recurrence of the possibility of such crises in the future.
What are the facts? The facts are that the Prime Minister was head of the Australian Government when the war started. I went to see him immediately. I say to the House and to the country that in no circumstances of political difficulty or inconvenience has the Prime Minister failed to give me of the utmost of his knowledge and consideration and a clear statement of what he believed ought to be done. I also say that I know of nothing that I could have done as a colleague of the right honorable gentleman that I have not done as Leader of the Opposition. That goes for his colleagues in the Ministry as well. I have refused systematically to manufacture political causes against the Government. Both -the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) and I have endeavoured, as far as practicable, to be helpful, in the critical sense) without in any way exposing what might be considered from some points of view to be weaknesses in our preparedness. I have given to the Ministry whatever opinions that I have had in a way which would not give too much advertisement to them. My contributions, whatever they have been worthy of, have been fairly and fully considered by Ministers ; I have no cause for dissatisfaction or for grievance against Ministers for the way in which they have dealt with opinions that I have expressed to them.
The Australian nation is better equipped now to meet any consequence of the war than was the case when the war started. That would be natural in any event, but T believe that that is the direct outcome of the sensible outlook of the Prime Minister on the problem of national unity itself. He has not been provocative: all the time he has been fairminded. I pay the highest compliment to him for the way in which he has acted in dealing with the coal strike ; but the motives and high considerations of patriotism that ani? mated him have been no greater than my own. I have endeavoured to do on my side all things that would contribute to a solution of that crucial problem, and r hope that by to-night the strike will have . ended. In all circumstances of national life but, more particularly, when it is . beset with increased gravity there is> need for the existence of a sincere and patriotic section of the Parliament free to criticize Government policy and administration.
– A national government would not stop criticism.
– I know that it would not, but what is the good of taking the Leader of the Opposition into the Ministry to-morrow, leaving it still necessary the day after for there to be an authorized spokesman for those in the Parliament who still have devolved upon them the responsibility of criticizing the Government in a way which would not advertise deficiencies or damage the nation, but by investigating, examining, and passing opinion on the plan of the Government, so that whatever may be weak in it, as the result of hasty Cabinet consideration, for Cabinet consideration will be hasty, is tested before being finally adopted by Parliament.
I do believe that the Prime Minister and two or three of his senior colleagues should be relieved of all administrative and departmental work. Free of, that, they would be able to act each day in the position of men having a general oversight of the major problem of national organization without having the almost insurmountable detail of it with which to” cope personally. That is the very position which I feel I have occupied in the last eight or nine months, when I have been available for consultation and to offer my own views. There is nothing that any member of that committee could do in association with the Prime Minister that I have not already done. There are points of fundamental difference as to how the war will be waged. We are opposed to conscription.
Ministerial MEMBERS - So are we.
– Then that point completely disappears. Very good. Let us make certain that it never arises. Without going into the disposition of our manpower, I submit that there can well be on the part of the Government a realization of my point of view, and on my part a ‘realization of the Government’s point of view, with neither of us being recreant to our responsibility. An attempt to amalgamate those points of view in Cabinet, where there would be long debates, would be far more mischievous from the aspect of delaying action than the expression of opinions pro and con in Parliament. Then the Cabinet, united not only on major questions of principle, but also on questions of policy, could give effect to its programme and justify it here in the open Parliament of the country. [Leave to continue given.]
I see no political or practical necessity for any change of Government at this stage. If there were a general election, I should ask the country for a mandate myself, but, as thing3 stand, the Prime Minister has a majority in this Parliament. There is no substantial section of his own party which is criticizing him, alleging that the Government’s policy is not adequate, or that the country is not doing all that it should to meet the situation. That was not the position in Great Britain in the last few weeks. It was the development of substantial political hostilities to the then constitution of the , British Government on the part of many . previous supporters of. that Government that led to. the necessity to re-arrange that Government That. is not the case here. I am surprised at the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) suggesting that be is dissatisfied with aspects of the Government’s programme. Except with regard to two or three fundamental points of view I am entirely satisfied with what the Government has been doing. We have supported the Government’s financial measures, giving to the Government all of the legislation that it has sought. We have criticized it and pointed out how abuses could arise and sought assurances that there would be safeguards against those abuses. By and large the Government cannot blame the Opposition for any deficiency in the war effort; nor can Government supporters claim that, if we were in the Government, the Government would do better than it has done.
One final word on national unity. National unity depends on the leaders of the parties representing the various sections of the national life making clear that the true national interest is being served by them in the way in which they are doing their work. There is an immense work that can be done to intensify and increase the economic resources and capacity of this country during the weeks that lie immediately ahead of us.
I hope that the coal strike will disappear to-night. There are one or two suggestions which I could put to Ministers on how to promote a greater degree of industrial peace in this Commonwealth. Making them and advertising them at this juncture would perhaps weaken the opportunity to give to them the earliest possible chance of adoption. We hope that our cause will not be imperilled by subversive action in this country or prejudiced by industrial disputation in Australia. lt is easy to say to the workers what they shall do in order to avoid industrial disputation, but there are some things which it is necessary that some one in this Parliament should say to the employers in order to avoid industrial disputation. I believe that those things can be said pro and con by representatives on both sides, and that when they are said there can be a spirit of goodwill on the part of representative leaders of sections, whether employed or employing, and that the national interests will be more effectively served by these discussions and interchanges of opinions and by the willingness pf each to lay its cards on the table and see what can be done to minimize friction and maximize the national capacity. I have nothing further to &ay other than that I regret that this matter has arisen at this juncture. I see no practical value in it, because I know of nothing that I could do as a member of the Government that I have not attempted to do as Leader of the Opposition.
.- I think that the speeches by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) have demonstrated to the public of Australia the feasibility at any rate of a national government being formed because of their attitude and outlook on national problems. I myself, for the last two years, as honorable members know, have urged the formation of a national government, because I believed that this fight in which, at that time, we were soon to engage was to be fought to the finish for everything that matters - for our material and spiritual lives. I was convinced that a national government was necessary to enable us to get ready to wage the war when it came upon us. It seems to me that a national government drawn from all parties would do three things. First, it would make available for use in that government the best men in the Parliament. Secondly, it would enable that government to make the widest possible appeal te every section of the community during the actual war effort. Lastly, it would enable a common definite national war policy to be arrived at by consultation in a way not possible in public that would make an appeal to practically the whole of Australia. For these three reasons, I have urged, in season. and out of season, that the formation of a national government should be taken into serious consideration. As honorable members are aware, I offered to vacate my seat in the Cabinet if that would help to bring about the formation of a national government, or to go out of politics altogether, if by so doing I could make way for an outsider who would be of greater assistance to the national effort and I am still willing to make that offer if it is thought that some one outside Parliament could weld the nation together. The present situation is so desperate that all personal considerations should be brushed aside and our destiny should be guided by absolutely the best brains in Australia. In England, which is in the closest contact with the actual fighting, which in fact is controlling the’ foreign policy and the international problems of the whole of the .Empire, it has been found necessary to bring, in to the National Government, just formed representative members, of every party, in order ‘ to ensure . that the maximum national, effort shall be made. I was very pleased to see the inclusion of Mr. Ernest Bevin, ‘ an outside representative of the
Labour organizations.. During the last war the Labour party of Great Britain joined in the National Government of the day, in the persons of Messrs. Barnes and Henderson, and the best of the outside business and organizing brains, such, as the two Geddes, devoted to the service of the nation their business experience and huge organizing capacity. Many of our problems cannot be discussed openly in the Parliament and must be determined by Cabinet, which should therefore include the best of the talent available in the nation at large.
The second point that I would make is that a national government representative of all parties would enable the widest and fullest appeal to be made to all sections of the people, or, if that be not possible,, to the .greatest number . of sections. . After all, . this is a people’s war, because those who ..take part in the actual fighting will be called upon to make the maximum . sacrifice. Nothing .by way of financial or personal sacrifice will be of .the same magnitude or character as that made by those who do the actual fighting; and. the fighters must .be drawn from the mass of the people, the great bulk of whom ..will be the workers. and producers of this. country;, as. was the. case-in the last war. A war-time government, by reason of the circumstances of the case, must be largely of the. character of a dictatorship, because Parliament cannot always be .in session, and frequently regulations must supersede legislation. It is necessary and wise that honorable members of the Labour party should have a voice in the promulgation of such regulations.- If it were known that they had inside knowledge of what was happening, and were helping to determine what information should be made public, their supporters would have complete faith in their judgment, and the national effort of every individual in respect of both civil and military duties would be stimulated. What is most important, we should then be able to propound a common and- definite war policy for. the nation. When we are fighting for our lives, all minor considerations must sink into insignificance, and that : can : be achieved only by having matters threshed out in Cabinet. As a : preliminary step towards the formation . of a national government, I urge that the leaders of the various parties and, if necessary, representative members of those parties, should make an endeavour to determine the highest common factor upon which agreement can be reached in respect of national war policy. Even if it be not possible to form a national government on the basis arrived at, the fact that a large measure of agreement could be reached in the effort to increase national unity would have extraordinary value. One must always remember that the functions of Australia in this war are threefold. We have first to provide food and raw materials for the Allies. Then, we must provide equipment for the Pacific and Eastern forces. Both of these are civil occupations. Lastly, we must find men to fight, wherever necessary, in conjunction with the Allies. It is essential that in all of these matters we should endeavour to achieve the maximum degree of agreement. I was interested the other day to hear the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) say that there are certain alterations of the industrial law which, if made, would, in his opinion, engender a much better feeling throughout the whole of industry in this country. I believe that, if the different leaders were to discuss the points of view of each of them, it would be found not merely practicable but even desirable to make certain concessions - such as the removal of monetary penalties for breaches of Arbitration Court awards which are unenforceable anyhow - which would tend to promote a better industrial feeling through’ out Australia. But it is most important that there should be a national government which would appeal to every section of the community, because we must have the most inspiring recruiting effort that has ever been made. During the last war, terrific efforts were made in this direction. This war will be determined according to the strength of the forces which the Allies can supply. The. Australians in the last war proved themselves magnificent fighters. The largest number we can spare should be available for military service at home or abroad. I believe that recruiting would be given a considerable stimulus if the people had before them an example of national unity in the Parliament of this country. Therefore, the. honorable member for Deakin (Mr.
Hutchinson) deserves the thanks of the nation for having raised this matter, not because there is any immediate prospect of effecting what he desires, but for the reason that the people will begin to consider what steps ought to be taken with a view to the formation, as early as possible, of a government which would have the support of practically every section throughout the length and breadth of Australia.
.- I had not intended to take part in this debate, but I am loath to see such a motion disposed of with apparently very little discussion, support or criticism from the back benches. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has expressed his view, and has been answered by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). Both speeches must have been listened to by honorable members with a good deal of interest and understanding. I am not in entire agreement with the statements of either gentleman. I realize, as does every honorable member of this House, that the Leader of the Opposition has done his utmost to assist the Government in a practical way. As he has just stated, he possibly could not have done more as a member of the Cabinet than he has been able to do as Leader of the Opposition. I point out, however, that what is desirable is unity, not so much inside this House as throughout the length and breadth of the Commonwealth. There are very many people who do not understand the vagaries of politics. They do not realize that men can be political opponents and, at the same time, personal friends. They are under the impression that any bitterness displayed in the Parliament is maintained outside, and unless it is . demonstrated that union does exist they feel that’ it is incumbent upon them to continue to . fight for their own particular political’ party. This is not the time for”, the maintenance of political parties for purposes of domestic discussion. The opinions of honorable members may differ in respect of matters of policy relating to industrial standards, taxation; and the extension of social services, but no difference of opinion exists in regard to the prosecution of the war and the necessity for victory ultimately to rest with the Allied forces, although it has, I admit, been demonstrated that there is a very serious difference of opinion as to the best method of prosecuting our war effort. I agree with the Prime Minister that it would not be in the interests of national unity if one or two honorable members of the Opposition were included in the Cabinet merely for the purpose of effecting a fictitious unity which did not exist outside. At the same time, I would point out to members of the Labour party that upon them, as upon honorable members who sit behind the Government, rests the tremendous responsibility of leading the people to the right mode of thinking in relation to our war effort. The Labour party of Great Britain differs from that of Australia; there the Labour criticism of the Government was based on lack of vigour in the prosecution of the war. Headed by Mr. Attlee, it from time to time expressed the view that the Government was not doing everything in its power to maintain the position of the British Empire. In Australia, the policy of the Labour party is diametrically opposed to that of the Government in regard to the best method of conducting the struggle. So long as that difference of opinion exists, it would not be in the best interests of singleness of purpose for men holding such views to be included in the Government, because that might weaken the strength of its hand. But, if the Allies are to continue to fight with their backs to the wall, as they are fighting at the moment, the time is not far distant when we shall have to sink all personal differences and unite on a common policy of national defence. That will be the time for the formation of a national government. I pay tribute to the assistance given to the Government in this time of crisis by the Leader of the Opposition and many front bench .Labour members. The hundreds of thousands of the masses of the people should understand that cooperation exists within the Government. They should not be led to believe that there is grave friction between the Opposition and the Government in relation to the conduct of the war. Therefore I pay tribute to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, who made it clear to the nation that Labour stands behind the Government in it’s policy for the vigorous prosecution of the war.
.- I made what I fear was a somewhat disrespectful interjection when the honorable member for Deakin (Mr; Hutchinson) intimated that he proposed to move this motion, suggesting that it was a waste of time. 1 meant; that it was a waste of time in the sense that it is not practical politics; that the formation of a national government does not come within the ambit of things possible or even thinkable, and that therefore it would be more advisable to direct our minds, during ibc sittings of this .Parliament, to more practical matters. I confess that I am in agreement with at least one sentence uttered by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). The right honorable gentleman said, in effect, that if he should issue an invitation to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) to join his Government and the invitation were accepted, it would be idle, unless the Leader of the Opposition brought with him a single purpose and a unanimity of thought on behalf of that vast body of the working classes of Australia who ordinarily express their industrial and political views in the name of Labour. J agree with that. It is one thing to make a demonstration or declaration of unity of thought in this House and another quite different thing to clothe such a declaration with reality. There are to-day, and there have been in the past, very important differences of opinion between the Opposition and this Government, not only in regard to its domestic policy > but also in regard to its international policy. I ask honorable members not to be moved by sudden floods of emotion or fear in this crisis. 1 see in the present grave . international situation natural consequences which have flowed from persisting causes. What is happening, though it occasions me great grief and apprehension, occasions me no surprise whatever. What we must remember, situated as we. are safely within the walls of this Parliament for the time being, is that’ there are some matters of principle at stake and- there are some things which we are prepared to do, and some things which, in any emergency whatsoever, we are not prepared to do. There are involved principles which men in this Parliament may, and should, be prepared to defend with their lives. In other words, death itself must have less terror for any conscientious man in this chamber to-day, knowing that wholesale death is raining on the world, than the abrogation of principle or the departure from those lines of con-* duct and expression which he may think right to express or to hold.
– Principle is very often prejudiced.
– The matter of motive is one for a man’3 conscience, and in the domain of conscience there is no room for the intrusion of an outsider. It may become necessary, sometimes, in the course of law, to judge a man’s motives by his acts ; hut in matters of the kind which we are discussing to-day, motive is interwoven with conscience, and no one can be the judge but the man who holds an opinion, expresses it, and is answerable, in the last resort, only to himself.
I would not, in. any circumstances, be associated with or become a member of the present Government, or place myself under the leadership of the present Prime Minister. I say that without the slightest desire to be personally offensive. I am not personally offensive… I say ‘no more than was said by the’ honorable gentleman who now sits beside the Prime Minister as Minister for Commerce and Minister for the Navy (Mr. Archie Cameron). I say no more than was said by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), who now supports both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Commerce. After the recent by-election for the Division ‘of Corio, the present Minister for Commerce said that the Prime Minister was a failure and that, in this critical time, the nation could not tolerate or ‘have patience with failures; also that the Prime Minister was unsuitable as “ a leader of the nation and that he must be removed from his office. I share ‘that view. The right honorable member for Cowper declared that the Prime Minister lacked certain qualities, which he named, and was therefore unsuitable as a national leader. Now the right honorable gentleman supports the Prime Minister ; but because he does, an.d .because the Minister for Commerce has accepted place and pay in this
Government, the opinions which both honorable gentlemen expressed previously of the Prime Minister are not rendered nugatory. Since I share those opinions, there is. no reason why I should be associated with any of those gentlemen in governing this country by methods of which I heartily disapprove.
My name was associated with the recent campaign in the Corio electorate. It was said then that the eyes of the world were on Corio, that Hitler would be well informed of the march of events there, and that his conduct would be inspired by the result of that election if it should so happen that the Government was defeated. As it happened, the Government was defeated. It stood condemned by an expression of popular will. But so far from retiring - its policy has never been endorsed by Parliament or by the people- -and making way for a party whose policy was endorsed at the election, the Government solidified its ranks by bringing together those who agreed and those who disagreed, those who condemned and those Who were the subject of condemnation, in order that it could retain control of the destinies of this nation. *[Leave to continue given.”]
I have been held up by some in this Parliament as one who espouses a policy deserving of wholehearted condemnation. During recent by-elections, in which Labour party candidates were victorious, I was named in a pamphlet issued by the Government as a shocking example. My opinions were directly opposed to those expressed by the head of the Government and his new associate and colleague, the Minister foiCommerce, and my assessment of. the qualities of those gentlemen was accepted by the electorate. We won and they lost. We have had other tests of the people’s wishes. We have had no vote in this -House, or plebiscite of the people as a whole confirming the Government in power; but we have had individual - plebiscites in quarters where Labour’s policy might in: normal circumstances be liable to rejection. Those wore very significant appeals to the people ; and in every ease; - in- Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria- -the Government stood condemned because it lacked the confidence of the people. The Prime Minister should long since have submitted to the will of the people and retired gracefully in favour of a party which has been successful at three separate elections, if he and his- supporters were not more interested in place, power, and, to use the Prime Minister’s favorite word, “ career “, than in upholding the spirit of democracy.
Because of the views I hold I would not be associated in the government of this country with the present Ministry. I was elected, to oppose the Government and I-, shall continue to do so. I repeat that I am opposed to its domestic legislation, or rather, its gross neglect of all domestic legislation which has regard for the claims of the poor, the invalid and the workless. I am opposed also to many vital parts of its international policy, and so is the Labour party as a whole. I have voiced my opinions on the floor of this chamber, and it is too late for me now to pretend, even if I wished to do so, that I have supported the Government. I, and the Opposition, opposed the National Registration Bill, which the Government said was vital; we opposed the National Security Bill, which the Government said was vital, although the people did not believe it; and we opposed the introduction of compulsory military training which the Government says is essential. We also opposed enlistment for overseas service. In all of these instances our attitude has been approved by the people. Not to-day or yesterday did we commence our fight against totalitarianism. Not to-day or yesterday did we begin our fight for the claims of small nations against the greed and oppression of stronger nations.
– All talk !
– Our struggle for those causes began before the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr.Rankin) thought of aspiring to membership of this Parliament. Whether in or out of this chamber, I have never heard of the honorable member raising his voice against totalitarianism, either local or international, or against any other kind of dictatorship. As a matter of fact I think he would make a model dictator. The honorable member may take- it from me that I do. notchallenge his motives. X give him credit for sincerity; I make no personal charge against him. I merely say that, speaking for myself,, and more particularly for the electors who sent me here,, and,, finally, speaking, as I believe I do, for the democracy of Australia, I will not be found associated with any government which includes the Postmaster-General (Mr. Thorby), the Minister for the Navy, the Prime Minister, or, as we may as well tell the whole truth, any other member of the present Government.
Question resolved in the negative,
Debate resumed from the 8th May, 1940 (vide page 622) on motion by MrSpender -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- . This is only a small measure, although there is a big principle involved. Its purpose is to provide that the interest on war savings certificates shall be free of Commonwealth taxation. Such interest is always free of State taxation. These war savings certificates are to be issued in bonds of £1, £5 and £10, purchasable at 16s., £4 and £8 respectively. The bonds will be redeemed at the end of seven years at their full face value, and the. interest will work out at about 3¼ per cent, compound interest. The maximum value that any person can hold in war saving bonds will be £250. This is a very attractive form of investment for small investors. They will receive interest 1 per cent, higher than savings bank rates, and the bonds can be cashed at any time at the Commonwealth Bank. The bonds are of small denomination, and furnish a ready means of saving. A great many people may’ draw sums of money from the savings banks with which to buy the bonds, and the Government will lose these funds for investment in war loans, but, of course, what it loses in one way it will make up in another.
There is one point in regard to the bill which I think the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) should consider before the measure goes to the Senate. The Treasurer (Mr. Spender) said inadvertently the other day that it was proposed to issue inscribed stock under this scheme. That is not correct. These are really bearer bonds, and would be easily transferable.
– That is so.
– Thus, while the Treasury or the banks would not issue more than £250 worth to any one person, there is nothing to prevent a person from getting scores of his friends to apply for bonds so that he could accumulate a large holding. There is no penalty provided, and as the income from these bonds is to be free of tax, whilst the income from ordinary war loan stock is taxable, there will be a big temptation for persons with considerable sums of money to invest it in war saving certificates rather than in war loans. It would be foolish, I think, to make these bonds inscribed stock, because of the difficulty of handling them in such small denominations. During the last war, certificates of this kind’ were issued free of taxation, but at that time ordinary war bonds were also tax free, so that there was no temptation for any one to accumulate large quantities of war savings certificates. This time, however, these certificates will represent the only form of war loan investment that will be free of Commonwealth tax. While the advantage to the small investor from not having to pay tax is very small, honorable members can easily understand that to the big investor, whose income might place him in the tax range in which he would have to pay 8s. in the £1, it would be very much worth his while to put his money into war pavings certificates rather than into ordinary war loan bonds. It would, in fact, make the effective interest rate, not 3¼ per cent., but as much as 6 per cent, or 7 per cent., so far as he was concerned. The point is made that, if these certificates were not tax free, at the end of seven years, when the bonds are cashed, the whole of the tax would be collected, because then the income from them would be received. The answer is that, if the interest is paid in one lump, the investor would have the money therewith which to pay the tax. Of course, if he cashed the bonds’ after one or two years, the amount of interest would be very small, and it would be difficult to assess the tax. This bill should have been brought before Parliament before any promise was made to the public that the income from the bonds would be tax-free. The concession should never have been granted without the consent of Parliament. If we reject the measure now, we should have to break faith with those persons who have already bought certificates. Therefore, I do not oppose the principle of the measure, but I think that the legal advisers of the Commonwealth ought to be able to devise an amendment providing a penalty to be imposed upon those who attempt to defeat the purpose of the scheme by purchasing more than the permissible amount of these bonds. As a matter of fact, I believe that no penalties have ever been provided in the Inscribed Stock Act, and that is strange.
.- I do not intend to oppose this measure, but I am opposed to the principle of issuing war loans free of federal income tax. I know that an enormous sum of money has been invested in Commonwealth stock, the interest from which is free of income tax. This applies to all of those Commonwealth loans which were the subject of the big conversion scheme of some years ago. This practice seems to be growing, and it tends to build up a privileged class. As I have said before. I favour the principle, in war-time, of forced loans at low rates of interest. During the last war, both in England and here, loans wore issued at very high rates of interest. No one knows how muchwe shall have to borrow before this war is over - it may be as much as £200,000,000 -and if the interest is to be free of taxation, the position will eventually become unbearable. I should prefer to pay another¼ per cent., if necessary, rather than make the loans tax-free, but it should not be necessary to do that. Rather should everybody be compelled to contribute to the war loans according to his income.
Some time ago, the Treasurer (Mr. Spender) said that he proposed to intro- duce an amendment to the Inscribed Stock Act so as to make it clear to the public just what powers inscribed stock holders enjoyed in regard to the Commonwealth Bank, although there was no justification for the outcry throughout the country that these holders were, by virtue of their holdings, in a position to assume control of the bank.
:- The point taken by the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) is a particularly good one, and the danger to which he refers must be guarded against, namely, the possibility of large investors availing themselves of the war savings certificates scheme in order to avoid the payment of income tax on the interest received. I shall look into the regulations and the act to see what can be done in the way of providing a penalty against those who acquire more than £250 worth of certificates. Our experience during the last war in the issue of these certificates shows that they were not availed of a great deal by those who might be expected to acquire certificates of the larger denominations.
– Because all Commonwealth war loans at that time were on the same basis, they were tax free.
– That is so. The larger investors were catered for in 1917 by the issue of certificates for £50, £100 and . £1,000 each, and the numbers issued were 13,690, 30,320 and 850 respectively. The numbers issued of the lower denominations were- £1, 731,891; £5, 63,650; and £10, 68,147. Judging by the experience gained at that time the Government was of the opinion that there would be little demand to-day for certificates of the higher denominations. But the circumstances are entirely different to-day. The rate of income tax is higher, and the comparable advantages are not the samp. Therefore, the gate referred to by the right honorable member for Yarra should be closed.I thank him for the point raised, and assure him that a penalty will be provided for any violation of the intention of the Government in respect of a maximum holding by one person of £250 worth of certificates.
The reference by the honorable member for Swan. (Mr. Gregory) to the tax- free nature of these certificates does not violate the general principle adopted by the Government with regard to loans. These certificates . have a particular significance and appeal to small wage- earners or men on small salaries, and the investment had to be made as attractive as possible in order to obtain their financial interest in the war effort, as far as they could possibly provide it out of their surplus cash. I speak on behalf of the Government when I say that this propo sal does not represent the insertion of the thin end of a wedge to make loans taxfree. I agree that the tax-free loan liability of the Government to-day is weighing very heavily upon it, and we should guard against the application of this principle in connexion with future loans. The honorable member referred to an amendment promised by the Treasurer of the Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act in order to allay any fear that inscribed stock owners might eventually get too much control of the Commonwealth Bank. The reference was to debenture holders, not inscribed stock holders. The bank was to be authorized’ to issue debentures for its mortgage operations and it was assumed by some people that debenture holders might be placed in such a position as to be able to obtain this control. It was in regard to that matter that the Treasurer promised to introduce amending legislation. I have taken a note of the point raised by the honorable member, and it will be investigated.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
SALES TAX BILLS (Nos. 1 to 9) 1940.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
Consideration resumed from the 2nd May (vide page 484), on motion by Mr.
That in lieu of the rate of tax imposed . . (videpage 481).
.- In view of the financial condition of Australia at the present time, and the great and growing demands for money for defence, the Opposition does not intend to oppose these measures. The Government proposes to increase the rate of the sales tax from 6 . per cent, to8 per cent… the latter rate being equivalent to1d. on every purchase to the extent of1s. This increase will provide an additional £5,000,000 per annum, and for the year 1940-41 the tax is expected to yield £18,000,000. Unfortunately, this impost has come to stay. In the initial stages it was subjected to a great deal of criticism, but no government has been able to point the way to the raising of such a large sum. of money by less irritating means. The tax was introduced during the depths of the depression when the Commonwealth Government was faced with a deficit of £10,000,000. First, it was H per cent., and then it was increased to 6 per cent. It was; reduced to 5 per cent, in 1933, and to 4’ per cent., in 1936. lt was increased to 5 per cent, in 1938, and, last year, it was increased to 6 per cent., the latest increase being to 8i per cent. The United Australia party Governments retained the sales tax, while at the same time they reduced the taxes of companies, land-owners, other property-owners and many rich individuals. Many members of. the parties supporting the Government severely criticized this form of taxation when it was introduced, and declared that, with a change of government, they would readily abolish the tax; but they found that to be quite impossible. From 1932-33 to 1938-39, the remissions in respect of land tax, property tax and company tax, including the taxes of life assurance and (hipping companies, amounted to no less than £35,000,000.
Undoubtedly, sales tax falls heavily on the masses of the people. Although many items are exempt, the general application of the tax still seriously affects the working people. During 1931-32, the amount collected in indirect tax was £36,800,000, and in 1938-39 it was £58,000,000, an increase of £22,000,000. That represents the pre-war period during which nationalist or composite governments held office. In 1931-32, the income tax provided £13,400,000, and, in 1938-39, £11,800,000, a decrease of £1,600,000. It will thus be seen that the Lyons and Lyons-Page Administrations, since 1932-33, notwithstanding all the criticism of the sales tax, found that they could not abolish it and, at the same time, finance the affairs of the Commonwealth. Those Governments increased indirect taxes by £22,000,000, and simultaneously made the reductions to which I have already referred. During the last nine years, the amounts collected by means of the sales tax have increased as. follows: -
The total collections for the nine-year period amounted to £73,286,000, showing what a remarkable revenue producer the sales tax has been for successive Commonwealth governments. Although there has been much criticism of this tax, nobody has been able to point out satisfactorily to the Government how else the amount of £9,30S,000, collected in the financial year 1938i-39, could be. raised at the present, time,, when the Government is searching for additional revenue to meet war commitments.
The Government is retaining the sales tax on flour, but I hope that it will take early steps to have this impost removed and have the necessary assistance provided for the wheat industry in some other way. Flour is one of the basic foods of the people, and to impose sales tax on it is most unjust, because the impost falls very heavily on the working man. with a larK(family, for whom bread is the staple article of diet. The average working man and his family eat more bread than doesthe average middle class or wealthy member of the community.
– -If we did that, would there not be a danger of interfering with the sugar agreement also?
– No. I maintain thai during the last war the sugar agreement saved the consumers of Australia £18,000,000, and, during the present war, there will be a further tremendous saving. That agreement does not impose any hardship on the people, and it can be justified up to the hilt. If every industry were as efficient and as. well managed as is the sugar industry, there would hi little exploitation in Australia, because no exploitation is practised by the sugargrowers of Queensland, or the cooperatively owned sugar mills. We should not confuse their operations with the profits made by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited out of. black-grown sugar from Fiji. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited owns, only 6 out of 33 sugar-mills in Australia and makes a net profit of 5 per cent, out of all transactions in Australia.
– But a principle is involved, and, if we destroyed it in one case, we might do so in another.
– I do not consider that any principle is involved. I wholeheartedly support assistance being given to wheat-growers from other sources but not from the proceeds of a bread tax. The means adopted by the Government to give financial assistance to the wheat-growers was iniquitous, and imposed an unfair burden upon the masses of the people, who eat more bread than do the middle and upper classes with their wider menu and greater variety of foods.’ ‘ A sales tax on flour is iniquitous, and is opposed strongly by honorable members on this side. The existing legislation providing for such a tax should be repealed as early as possible. This tax was one of the main issues in the “Wakefield by-election when it was rightly described asa bread tax. -I found that the wheat-growers in that district were opposed to it. For the reasons that I have mentioned, the Opposition . will not oppose the measure, but it hopes that the flour tax will be wiped out at an early date and that fuller assistance will be given to the wheat industry from another source.
.- I have received communications from the Independent Order of Rechabites in South Australia., which body has been responsible for placing refrigerators in several military camps, that exemption from sales tax previously paid in respect of such refrigerators be made retrospective. I understand that the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation in South Australia has intimated- that the exemption will be made retrospective to February of this year, and I now ask the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) whether provision therefor has been made in the sales tax proposals of the Government.
– I shall reply first to the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr; McHugh). The sales tax proposals of the Government do contemplate provision for the matter mentioned by the honorable member for Wakefield. The necessary measure will be put before the . committee at a later date.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) described the flour tax as iniquitous and urged that it be repealed and the ‘ revenue derived therefrom obtained by means of a sales tax. There is a basic difference between the sales tax and the flour tax; the former is purely a revenue tax designed to assist the general finances of the Commonwealth. The full amount to’ be obtained from it in the financial year 1940-41 has been taken into account in preparing plans for the fields to be covered and the rates to be imposed. If the sum required to assist wheat-growers were appropriated from sales- tax revenue, the rate of this, or some other, revenue tax would have to be correspondingly increased. The flour tax isnot:in any way a revenue tax; it is a tax on the product of a particular industry, designed with the sole object of stabilizing that industry by ensuring to the primary producers concerned, namely, : the wheat-growers, a payable price for their wheat.
Honorable members will remember that the flour tax was imposed by the Government in December, 1938, in response to a unanimous request by the State governments that the Federal Government should exercise its constitutional powers to make possible the establishment . of the wheat stabilization scheme to which. ‘.all of the States had agreed. The scheme provided that each State government should fix the price of flour, and of bread also, in some cases, for consumption in Australia, and that the Commonwealth Government should impose a tax on flour for home consumption at a rate equivalent to the difference between the price of flour appropriate to the. current market price of wheat and the price which the flour would be if the current price of wheat were 5s. 2d. a bushel. That scheme was adopted because prevailing world conditions which regulate the . price of wheat were such that the wheat-growers could not obtain a payable price for their wheat… It . was considered that, with the price of wheat for home consumption fixed at 5s- 2d. a bushel, the yield from the tax would be sufficient to ensure to the growers a payable average price for the wheat produced by them. The actual effect of the tax is to bring the price of flour for home consumption to precisely the figure at which it would be if world conditions changed to such a degree as would bring the price of wheat to 5s. 2d. a bushel. If those conditions should arise, the tax would automatically disappear, but the price of Hour would, of course, remain at its present level.
The flour tax is, in essence, a protective tariff which works inversely to the usual form of protective tariffs; that is to say, whilst ordinary protective tariff protect local manufacturers against imports from countries having lower standards of costs, the flour tax compensates the primary producer for having to export a considerable portion of his wheat in competition with wheat from other such countries. Like the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Government believes in a policy of protection for Australian industry; hence its enactment of the flour tax legislation.
Questions resolved in the affirmative.
Standing orders suspended; resolutions adopted.
That Mr. Fadden and Mr. Nock do prepare and bring in bills to carry out the foregoing resolutions.
Motion (by Mr. Fadden) - by leave - agreed to -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions in regard to the first and second readings, committee’s report stage and the third readings, being put in one motion covering several or all of the Sales Tax Bills New. 1 to 9 and the consideration of several or all of such bills together ina committee of the whole.
Bills (Nos. 1 to 9) brought up by Mr. Fadden, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
Consideration resumed from the 8th May (vide page 624) on motion by Mr. Spender- -
That in lieu of ratesof estate, duty imposed by the Estate Duty Act 1914 there be imposed estate duty . . . (vide page 623).
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Fadden and Mr. Nock do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill brought up by Mr. Fadden, and read a first time. ‘
Motion (by Mr. Fadden) proposed -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– We are now asked to debate the rates bill, which has not been circulated, although the assessment bill has been distributed. An assessment bill is usually passed before the rates bill is introduced in. order to give the House an opportunity to debate the general character and incidence of the taxes proposed. Although I shall not offer any objection to the procedure proposed in this instance I suggest that the assessment bill should have been debated before the rates bill was brought forward., .
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without, amendment or debate.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
Consideration resumed from the 8th
May (vide page 623) on motion by Mr. S pen der-
That- in lieu of the rates of tax imposed by the Land Tax Act 1910-1938, there be imposed land tax at the following rates …. (vide page622).
Debate resumed from the 8th May (vide page 598) on motion by Mr. Spender -
That the bill be now read a second time.
[b’.lj. - The Opposition is m general agreement with this measure under which it is expected to raise an additional £850,000 a year. The bill proposes to impose an estate duty of 3 per cent, on estates up to £10,000 in value, thereafter increasing the rate by 3/100ths of 1 per cent, for every £100 up to £20,000 on which the rate will be 6 per cent., and thereafter increasing by 3/200ths of 1 per cent, for every £100 up to £100,000 on which the rate would be IS per cent. Beyond that the rate will increase by l/200ths of 1 per cent, for every £100,000 up to £500,000, when the rate will reach the maximum of 20 per cent. For the next financial year the Treasurer (Mr. Spender) estimates that the increase of estate duties will yield approximately £500,000, and he has said that it is not practicable to get the full effect of the increase, in any financial year .because it is estimated that about one third of the duty payable on the estates of persons who die in any financial year will not be paid until the following financial year. The estates that come under the concession principles of the bill include those passing to widows and children or grandchildren, which have an exemption of £2,000 diminishing under a sliding scale until the concession disappears at £12,400. Other estates have an exemption of £1,000 which diminishes until it disappears at £10,000. No concessions are provided in respect of estates in excess of £12,400. The present act provides an exemption of £1,000 on which no duty is paid, but where the estate exceeds that amount, even by £1, duty is payable on the whole amount. The present act provides for an exemption in respect of estates of members of the Australian Imperial Force who died on active service in the last war or within one year of its termination. In this measure exemption will be granted to estates, which do not exceed £5,000, of members of the Australian Imperial Force or of those who have served with an ally of Great Britain in the present war, and die on active service or within one year after its termination. The amount of estate duty collected annually in recent years has averaged about £1,500,000, and it is esti mated that the increased tax will bring the yield to about £2,000,000 for the financial year 1940-41 and to £2,750,000 in the following year. The increase is very substantial, but it does not approach the rate imposed in Great Britain. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir John Simon, in presenting his budget speech in December last said, “I have not shown unwillingness greatly to burden the very rich “. There are 10,000 persons in Great Britain with an annual income of £10,000, whose aggregate incomes total £1S0,000,000. From that amount the British Government is collecting £120,000,000 in income tax and surtax, and it will therefore be seen that the requirements of the nation are contributed to very heavily by what we call the leisured class.
– Where did the Leader of the Opposition obtain those figures?
– They are in the documents tabled by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer in December last. Sir John Simon went on to say -
Moreover we take an additional £40.000,000 a year from this group in death duties, making a total of £100,000,000 a year.
It will be seen that death duties paid yearly by that -group amounted to 22 per cent, of the amount bequeathed. I realize that in quite a number of instances widows, children and grandchildren should not be deprived of some of the estate bequeathed to them, as that would greatly impair the provision which had been made for them. In those instances in which death duties are collected there is a reasonably large margin left, and it appears to be a sound principle to tax such estates’! It’.’is the obligation of every man to make some provision for his widow and dependent children. The Treasurer should be loath’ to interfere with any reasonable provision of that kind. But surely no earthly ‘ merit can be found in any man inheriting a large fortune in the earning of which he has had no participation. Such large estates should be called upon to contribute substantially, though not excessively, to the revenues, having regard to the present financial requirements of the country.
– There might be difficulty in cases where a number of children in a family are beneficiaries.
– The principle of child endowment comes in there. The provisions of the bill are not unreasonable, for estates of up to £2,000 will be exempt from any ‘Commonwealth impost. Having regard to the nature of the taxation which the Government feels obliged to impose generally under our existing circumstances, these proposals are fair. An estate of a dutiable value of £3,000 will be subject, under the. proposed Commonwealth law and the highest rate of tax of any State, to a tax of £183. An estate of £5,000 will be due to pay £424. An estate of £10,000 will be taxed £1,164. These imposts are to be made upon inherited accumulated wealth, which, I submit, must be regarded as quite different from incomes being earned week by week and year by year. Although for the first time the Commonwealth Government is making a substantial impost upon bequeathed property, even here the graduation principle, implicit in all Commonwealth taxing legislation, is being applied. In view of the general policy of the. Government, these imposts are justified.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or. debate.
Sitting suspended from 6.10 to . 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from the 7th December, 1939 (vide page 2497, vol. 162), on motion by Mr. Perkins -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- Although the Opposition concedes that it may be desirable to overhaul the whole of the electoral machinery, it does not like this. bill and, unless the House accepts an amendment, which I shall now move, it will oppose the second reading. I move -
That all the words after “ That “ be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words, “ the . bill be withdrawn pending the calling of a conference between the Governments of the Common wealth and- the States with -a’ -view to ensuring a uniform practice in respect to enrolment and voting for Commonwealth and Sta te elections “.
Vital changes of the methods of voting at Federal elections are proposed in this bill almost on the eve of a Federal election, and the people, if this bill becomes law, will not have an opportunity to familiarize themselves with those changes. The pur- pose of the Government in making these proposals at this’ stage must be to stampede the electors into wholesale informal voting, because it must know that to depart from the form of ballot-paper to which the people over many years have become accustomed must lead to hopeless confusion. Representation in the Senate has been a subject of discussion for many years, but during the whole of my political career I have never heard one suggestion that there is need to recast the ballot-paper. - The Labour party opposes most vigorously the proposal ‘ that the Senate ballot-papers should be changed in the direction intended in this ‘measure, inter alia, by placing the names of candidates horizontally instead of vertically on the cards. In the interests ‘ of democracy we : ‘should be bending our energies to simplifying the means by which democracy -expresses itself instead of confusing the people by drawing up a new method of voting. The talk that was going on before the last elections about the need for proportional representation in” the- Senate has died. No honorable gentleman opposite has made any proL posal or pronounced any conviction about that, the reason being the annihilation of the United Australia party and Country party forces in the Senate at the last election.
This bill is more suitable for discussion in committee than for debate on the second reading, but . I recommend to the Government that it seriously consider my amendment. . Uniform methods of enrolment for. the Commonwealth and the States are needed and the Commonwealth Government should take the initiative by calling a. conference on that subject. Elections for the State Lower and Upper Houses take place at different times..
– In South Australia the Lower House and. the Upper House are elected on the same day, and, for the Lower’ House, the Federal electorate roll is used. “
– The Federal electoral law is also used in New South Wales for. the elections for the Legislative Assembly. What the honorable gentleman says strengthens my argument rather than weakens it. If the Federal and State electoral laws were uniform, the administration of the electoral office would be simplified and there would be better enrolment. Some people who should be on the roll still wait for the police to come around and collect their names as used to be done. ; At this time when conditions are abnormal and the public mind is confused and disturbed, further confusion should not be created.
.- I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini). There are many reasons why State and Federal electoral rolls should be brought into conformity. I understand that it is the intention of the Government, in this measure, to simplify the voting system, but I contend that this bill will rather have a tendency to confuse the people. One matter which should be given, attention is the nomadic worker. Every facility seems to exist for the removal of the names of nomadic workers from the electoral roll, but there are few facilities for placing their names on the roll. It is permissible for any person to lodge objection to the .name of another person being on the roll. The electoral officer sends a notification addressed to the person whose name has been objected to, and if it is not replied to or delivered within a specified, time the electoral officer removes that person’s name from the roll. It may be that the person concerned is still a resident of the district, and . although he may desire to retain his enrolment for his present address on the roll he is working in another district. Frequently, when people are away from their own electorates they vote, as they think, as absent voters. They sign * the necessary declarations that they are enrolled in particular electorates and are given absent ballot-papers. When the ballotpaper comes to hand to be counted in his own particular subdivision, it is learned that his name does not appear on the roll, and the vote is disallowed. Many persons, at election after election, forward ballot-papers in this way, yet actually have no effective vote. I understand that letter carriers are paid a small fee for reporting changes of address. Frequently they are not acquainted with those who may be regarded as residents of a particular area, and include their names on the list of those who have left, with the result that they are removed from the roll. A seasonal worker might regard Dubbo as his home town, and yet work in Moree or some other part of New South Wales, or even in another State. If objection were lodged to his name appearing on the roll, it would be removed. It is quite impossible for such persons to keep their names on the roll under the existing regulations. Western Australia has made provision to overcome the difficulty. A nomadic worker in that State may sign a declaration to the returning officer that he is moving from place to place and wishes to have his name on the roll for a particular address which he regards as his home centre. If a uniform system were adopted by the Commonwealth and the different States it would be much fairer for everyone concerned. A democracy should strive to ensure that every citizen has a vote. In addition to the information furnished by letter carriers and political organizers in various centres, the proprietors of hotels, residentials and the heads of households are asked to furnish periodically a list of their guests. An. elector may be enrolled as a guest of a certain hotel, and may seek accommodation elsewhere some time later, with the result that he would be crossed off the list of guests by the proprietor of the hotel and in consequence his name would be removed from the roll.
The duplication of electoral systems causes disadvantages also in regard to postal voting. Those classes of persons’ whom the States accept as witnesses of applications for postal votes differ from those who are acceptable to the Federal authorities. The conditions in regard to postal voting should be uniform at both State and Federal elections. This is another strong reason why this bill should he delayed until a uniform system has been evolved between the State and Federal authorities. Then again, the actual counting of the ballot at State elections is conducted at the polling booth, and returns are issued therefrom, whereas at Federal elections a considerable time elapses before the primary figures are available, because the count has to be made according to subdivisions. In a far western electorate, such as that which I represent, many days may elapse before the subdivisional count is completed, because it cannot be begun until the whole of the ballot-boxes have been received. If there is to be reform of the electoral law, it should be made as simple as possible, because every person should be given the opportunity to vote. Throughout the Commonwealth, thousands of persons are disfranchised at every election. Unemployed persons in New South Wales who move from place to place receiving track rations, are not allowed to remain in any one town for more than a fortnight. To become entitled to enrolment, they must reside in a locality for a month. Being unable to fulfil that residential qualification they cannot become enrolled. Persons who are in such circumstances are more entitled -to a vote than are the majority of people, because they are living under deplorable conditions and probably are more anxious to effect a change of Government than are some others. They should not be, as they have been and still are, denied the right to a voice in the Government of the country.
.- I support the bill, and oppose the amendment which is obviously intended to shelve the bill. This is a machinery measure, the object of which is to overcome the rather absurd and perplexing position which exists in relation to elections for another place. At least one political party felt that, in order to obtain success at Senate elections, it was necessary to select f-a.ndidat.es whose surnames commenced with the letter A, so that they might be placed at the top of the ballot-paper. We find that four of the present representatives of New South Wales in the Senate have surnames which commence with that letter. They may be the best men, but the system is complicating. One is not impressed about altering the present system in regard to the House of Representatives. The same difficulties do not apply there. I feel quite sure that the proposed alteration in regard to the Senate will receive the support of the majority of the electors of Australia.
.- I. desire to mention one or two anomalies in connexion with electoral matters, which ought to be cleared up when the Government is making an alteration of the law. It has-been said that in some of the States the provisions in regard to enrolment are not uniform for State and Federal purposes. Such a position exists in Western Australia, and it is the duty of the Government to make a further effort to avoid the waste of expenditure which is caused by duplication. We are supposed to save every shilling for the furtherance of the struggle in which we are engaged abroad. In Western Australia, the Commonwealth Bank has complete control of savings bank administration, and no great difficulty should be experienced in obtaining uniformity in electoral matters. A most unsatisfactory position was disclosed at the last federal elections, in regard to the number of names that had been removed from the rolls. The State officers and candidates are always fairly active. In one federal division there are no fewer than seventeen State representatives, who act as agents in seeing that those who are qualified to do so become enrolled for State purposes. An elector who learns that his name appears on the State roll naturally concludes that he is enrolled for both’ State and Federal purposes. In this work-a-day world, the people have not the time to make themselves thoroughly conversant with the conditions, of enrolment, and consequently are ignorant of the fact that it is necessary for them to become enrolled for State, Federal and, in some cases, Legislative Council, purposes. The present system is costly and ineffective. It is a source of amazement and annoyance to those who believe that they are enrolled, to find that such is not the case. In many instances, they are haled before the Court and fined -because their names do not appear on the’ federal roll,, although the fault is not theirs.
In respect of the nomadic worker, the position in far outback places in Western Australia is very much as the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) has described it in. his electorate. There are parts of that State in which persons who are enrolled have never been able to have their votes recorded. In the Pilbarra subdivision I have met old prospectors who are very keen students of politics. Ilansard is their daily literature. Although their names appear on the roll, under our archaic and impossible system, they have to apply for a ballot-paper to the officer in charge of the Commonwealth Division of Kalgoorlie, at Kalgoorlie, about 1,000 miles distant. From the place that I have in mind, it takes three weeks for a letter to reach this officer. Immediately he receives the application, he forwards the ballot-paper, which reaches the elector in another three weeks. Then, a further three weeks elapse before the vote reaches Kalgoorlie. By that time, the election is over and the vote cannot be counted. A large number of electors are in that position. It is well known that letter carriers used ‘to be paid Jd. a name for supplying information that would lead to the taking of names off the roll. It often happened that an elector was away from home for a considerable time working in a mining district or in a pastoral area. Many men from Fremantle, Perth, and even Kalgoorlie, used to go to Wyndham during the season to work as slaughtermen in the meat works. A junior letter carrier, full of zeal, and anxious to supplement the bare pittance which he received from the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, would probably report that such persons had left their former places of residence, and their names would be struck off the roll. In the circumstances, can one wonder that the Labour party is not always in power. Under the State electoral law, there is a system of postal voting by which the mail man in a country district acts as postal vote officer. When the system of postal voting was first introduced for federal elections, it was said that it led to all kinds of abuses. I have never heard that charge made in regard to postal voting for State elections in remote subdivisions. It is true that the system places a serious responsibility on postal officers, but they are responsible persons, who take a serious view of their duties, and I have heard no complaints. I suggest that the Minister inquire into the position with a view to instituting in outback districts a system of postal voting similar to the State system of Western Australia. If that does not commend itself to the Government, let it, at any rate, provide some means by which the people in the outback may record their votes.
.- 1 cannot understand why the Government is bringing down a bill of this kind during this time of crisis. The Assistant Minister (Mr. Nock) did not convince anybody that a change was really necessary. I agree that a simpler method of voting might be evolved, and, in particular, that we should adopt measures to ensure that every vote is valid. In Belgium, I understand, there is an officer in each polling booth who checks every paper to see that it is valid before it is put into the ballot box. We should adopt that system here, so as to do away with informal voting altogether.
– That would destroy the secrecy of the ballot.
– Not necessarily. The officer would not know who the person was who voted, but if the elector cast an invalid vote he would be given another paper, and told to vote again. There are thousands of persons throughout Australia who are unable to cast a proper vote -without assistance. We should teach them how to vote. In Tasmania, we have three different rolls, one for the Legislative Council, one for the Federal Parliament, and another for municipal elections, and all of them are different. Under one system, votes are cast by putting numbers alongside the names of the candidates, while under another the electors are required to put marks in squares opposite the names. Between them all the people become confused. The electors are no more illiterate in Tasmania than anywhere else, and the percentage of informal votes is much the same in all States. As a matter of fact, I believe it i3 higher in South Australia than anywhere else in the Commonwealth. Under the system of postal voting, a vote has to be witnessed by a justice of the peace.or other authorized person. It ought to be sufficient for the vote to -be witnessed by any elector.
However, I believe that the bill should be postponed, and not brought before Parliament again until after, the war.
We would be better engaged in considering legislation designed to further our war effort.
It is proposed in this bill to alter the system whereby the names of candidates are placed upon the ballot-paper in alphabetical order. That proposal has not much to recommend it. It would be better, I think, to indicate on the ballot-paper the party to which the candidates belong. Let all the Labour candidates be listed on one part of the paper, and all the United Australia party candidates on another part. The elector should be asked, ‘” Do you want to vote Labour ? “, and, if he did, he should be given a Labour ticket. If he wanted to rote for the United Australia party, he should be given a United Australia party ticket.
– There would be much confusion, under that system with parties that are always changing their names.
– That might be. For instance, the party which supports the Government is always thinking up new names for .itself.
– Does not the honorable member think that there might also be confusion where there are two or three Labour parties?
– No, we are all one. We are absolutely united. There is not much to be said for the suggestion that the names of candidates should be drawn out of a hat to determine their place on the ballot-paper. I can see no reason why the present system should not be retained. A member of the Senate said the other day that he would stage a sitdown strike if the Electoral Act were not amended. I hope that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) will invoke against him the penal clauses of the National Security Regulations for hampering the Government in the prosecution of the war. The bill contains many proposals that may benefit the electors, but the Assistant Minister is not likely to gain much credit for guiding it through this chamber. The Government surely could have allowed the honorable gentleman to introduce some other bill which would have been more helpful to his political prestige. The arguments in favour of the measure have been ineffective.
When the - bill is being discussed in committee, I propose to move that provision be made for electors to witness postal votes. Under the existing system, when an illiterate voter goes to the polling booth, he must tell the presiding officer the name of the candidate for whom he wishes to vote. In that instance it is not specified that the witness must be a justice of the peace. That stipulation in respect of postal votes conflicts with the principles of democracy. I cannot see any reason why an ordinary elector should not be allowed to witness postal votes.
Uniformity of electoral rolls in all States and a uniform system of voting for both State and Commonwealth elections are badly needed. I think that even the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Archie Cameron) will agree with that.
– At the present time, I am much more concerned about uniforms than .uniformity of voting systems.
– Why has the Government introduced this bill, which is wasting the time of honorable members and the money of the taxpayers if that be the case ? The bill’ is not worth the paper on which it is printed. The Government is not consistent in its policy. It would stand much higher in the estimation of the people if it were. I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) and I hope that the’ Assistant Minister will give serious consideration to the points which I have raised. I have, made my protest so that the system of voting may be simplified, thus making it possible to secure 100 per cent, valid votes at all elections.
– This bill was the subject of lengthy discussion when it was introduced in the Senate. It was considered to be so important that most of the members of that chamber were impelled to make speeches, and honorable senators in opposition sought to institute an investigation into our voting system. To that end the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) moved the following amendment -
That all the words after “ That “ be left out with a view to. insert in lieu thereof the words “the bill be referred to a joint committee to inquire into and report upon such recommendations and amendments- -
Mr. SPEAKER (“Hon. G. J. Bell).Order! The honorable member is referring to a debate which took place in the Senate.
-I was under the impression, Mr. Speaker, that I would be in order so long as I confined my remarks to the amendment which was moved by the Leader of the Opposition in. the Senate in order to compare the amendments. I realize that I would not be in order if I quoted from speeches made in that chamber. I shall content myself by saying that the bill was the subject of a great deal of discussion elsewhere, and an attempt was made to have its proposals investigated by a committee. The amendment submitted by the honorable member for “Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) again seeks to have an investigation made by competent authorities with a view to introducing a clearly understandable and effective electoral law. The honorable member for Werriwa suggests that a conference of Commonwealth Government and State Government representatives be held in order to formulate uniform methods of enrolment and voting. I cannot understand why the Government and its supporters should oppose: such a suggestion which would ensure that the electors could readily record their votes by a recognized system that would not be changed from time to time. The Government if it honestly wished to improve the electoral law should welcome the suggestion.
The method of recording votes for the election of members of this chamber is becoming more complicated as the numbers of the voters in the different electorates continue to increase. When the Commonwealth was established, the average number of electors in each electorate was approximately 26,000. When the last elections were held, the average number was over 53,000.
– In some electorates it was 65,000.
– The honorable member is referring to particular electorates. I know that there are as many as 79,000 electors in some divisions. I was referring to the average number, which has almost doubled since the Commonwealth was established. Even under the system operating to-day it is difficult to keep track of all of the electors. I do not charge the electoral officers of the Commonwealth with neglect, but complaints are heard in every electorate from people whose names have been omitted from the electoral rolls. Perhaps these people have not been sufficiently interested to ensure that they were properly enrolled. I am not surprised at that, because changes are made frequently, and there are different methods of enrolment for the Commonwealthand the various States. As the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Mahoney) has said, people become confused by the complexities of the different systems and many of them lose interest.
The most important thing at an election is to obtain an intelligent record of the people’s wishes. This can be accomplished by introducing the most simple method possible for recording votes. Nobody could justly object to that, but the Government is hostile because it fears that it has lost favour with the people.
It has been suggested that the present method of balloting leads to the election of candidates whose names begin with the letter “A”. Our parliamentary system is deteriorating if that is true. It would be unfair for political parties to select candidates simply because their names begin with the letter “A”, and at the same time reject capable men whose names would not appear at the head of the ballotpaper. It does not always happen, however, that a candidate whose name begins with a letter near the beginning of the alphabet is placed first on the ballotpaper. My name begins with “ D “, but at the last election which I contested, two other names preceded mine on the ballotpaper. One of my opponents was named Amers and another Blake. The name ofa third was placed below mine. That shows that there is no certainty about obtaining first position on the ballot-paper, unless, perhaps, a candidate’sname begins with a double “A”.
At this time, when Australia is faced by what has . been described as the most critical situation in its history, the Government should not introduce a troublesome bill such as this. Far more important matters are awaiting attention.
Every member of this chamber recognizes that the bill has for its objective important changes of our electoral system; but important though they may be, they should not be undertaken at the present time, although I confess I should be obliged to oppose the measure, even if the country were not passing through a great crisis. The fact that the Government has introduced the bill at this stage suggests to me that it realizes that the pendulum of public opinion is swinging against it, and, therefore, it has decided to confuse the people in order that its supporters may have a better chance, at the next elections, of retaining the seats that they have already held too long. I do not wish to impute motives, but when the Government persists in pressing on with this measure in spite of what has been described by responsible observers as the greatest crisis in the history of Australia, and in view of the weighty opinions against such action, I am led to believe that it is merely seeking to gain a political advantage. Its supporters should discourage that sort of thing.
Balloting at the last Senate election was fairly close and consequently many electors failed to secure the representation they desired. Under a proper electoral system minorities would be given some representation. It is not really democratic to continue a system under which 48 per cent, or 49 per cent, of the voters whose candidates may not be returned have no representation, while the remaining 52 per cent, or 51 per cent, have the whole of the representation.
– Is the honorable member in favour of proportional representation?
– The principle of proportional representation is good. When the Government bring3 down a Vill which does not embody improvements of the kind I have suggested, it clearly does not believe in proportional representation or in having a proper electoral system. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), as a supporter of the Government, apparently concurs in that. The only objective of the Government and its conglomeration of parties is to secure political advantage at the next elections by making lastminute alterations of our electoral law.
This should not be done without holding a thorough inquiry in which the States could take part. The system of voting for Tasmanian elections is altogether different from that obtaining for Commonwealth elections. Separate rolls are used. A conference such as the honorable member for Werriwa has suggested, would enable the States and the Commonwealth to come to an agreement at least in regard to a common system of enrolment .and election. Honorable members supporting the Government, who believe that this is a democratic country, must also believe that the people should have the best representation possible in Parliament. The amendment moved by the honorable member for Werriwa provides an opportunity to ensure that that shall be brought about.
One honorable member has referred to the desirability of having the names of political parties represented by candidates printed on the ballot-paper. I agree with him. I do not regard the election of parliamentary representatives as a joke. It is a serious business and if we fail to take the opportunity that is now offering for an investigation of the existing unsatisfactory system, we 6hall be failing in our duty to the people. The electoral law should be clarified now so that every one can understand it. Another such opportunity may not occur again for many years and I trust that the amendment before the House will receive support. I do not know whether the Government has decided to make this matter an issue in this chamber but there are many more vital matters which it should be dealing with at the present time. Members of the Opposition can be relied upon to support what they believe to be a proposal for introducing valuable reforms after investigation in a way which will not be used to enhance the political prestige of any particular party.
Honorable members supporting the Government have accused the Labour movement of being divided. That is amusing to hear from supporters of composite governments, which for years have been dependent on coalitions to keep them in office. The Minister for Commerce (Mr. Archie Cameron) and the Postmaster-General (Mr. Thorby) have succeeded in battering down the defences of the Government and forcing their way into the Ministry during a period of war. By doing so, they have thrown other honorable gentlemen out of ministerial positions in order that they might, to some degree at least, dominate the policy of the Government.
– The honorable member is not referring to the matter now before the Chair.
– I shall not continue along those lines, but when interjections are made by supporters of the Government to the effect that the Labour party is divided, I find it hard to refrain from replying. Honorable members who are not tied to the Government’s policy in this matter should consider the arguments that have been advanced by the honorable member for Werriwa and others on this side, and agree to the setting up of a committee to simplify the electoral system and make it more democratic.
.- I welcome the amendments of the existing law which this bill proposes. It seems to me that it has three main purposes. First, it will do away with the advantage which has previously been gained, especially in connexion with Senate elections, by candidates or groups of candidates whose names begin with “A” or “B” or other letters early in the alphabet over those who rejoice, or perhaps despair, in the possession of names which begin with “ Y “ or “ W “ or some other letter towards the end of the alphabet. The second purpose of the bill is that Senate groups of candidates instead of being presented vertically to the voter - one group above another - will be placed horizontally on the ballot-paper. That is an improvement inasmuch as it will do something to reduce the tendency, on the part of voters who are bewildered by a long array of names, to begin at the top and go straight down. The third point that I see in the hill is that it will permit a vote to be accepted where the meaning of the voter is absolutely clear although one name has been left without any preference being placed against it. The bill provides that if all of the preferences, with the exception of one, are indicated on the ballot-paper, the vote shall be re garded as valid. That is reasonable, because in the event of there being, say, nine names on a Senate ballot-paper, and a voter places the figures from one to eight against eight of the candidates, it must be obvious that the name against which he has not placed any preference is his ninth choice.
The bill also contains some minor improvements which can be better dealt, with in the committee stage. Can we imagine as reasonable a state of affairs in which the essential qualification, particularly in pre-selection ballots for Senate candidates, is the possession of a name commencing with the letter “ A “ ?
– Does not the honorable member think that that advantage has been rather exaggerated?
– No. What has been done in New South Wales is the most conclusive’ proof of the recognition of the fact that a name, or group of names, beginning with “A” gives to those candidates a decided advantage.
– It took fifteen years for that fact to be recognized.
– It is better late than never. Should a political party do what a great party in New South Wales did a few years ago - choose candidates with names beginning with “A” - it deliberately reduces the scope of its choice to about 5 per cent, of the men offering; the other 95 per cent.- are disqualified . because their names do not happen to begin with that letter. Therecan be no doubt that a large proportion of voters who, although perhaps familiar with the name of the member for theLegislative Assembly district in the State parliament, and also with their representative in this House of the Federal Parliament, are absolutely bewildered when confronted with a list of nine, ten, or twelve names of candidates for the Senate who perhaps are totally unknown to them. 1 am. convinced that in a great many instances electors solve the problem by starting at the top of the ballot-paper and voting straight down, placing the figure “ 1 “ against the top name and continuing in numerical order to the bottom.
– Candidates at the top of the ballot-paper do not always win elections.
– Not always, but they have a tremendous initial advantage. There are approximately 4,000,000 voters hi this country. Let us suppose that only ‘one in ten of them starts at the top and works straight down. That means that the group at the top of the ballotpaper gets the advantage of 400,000 votes, so that anything which tends to remove the giving of any preference to a man solely because his name happens to begin with a certain letter of the alphabet is worthy of the attention of this Parliament.
The placing of groups of candidates for the Senate horizontally instead of vertically on the ballot-paper will undoubtedly reduce the tendency to vote straight down the ballot-paper. In fact it will make it impossible to do so. The habit of beginning at the left top corner when ‘writing a letter or other document will) I think, still give to the group in that position some slight advantage, but it will be very much less than under the existing system. The proposal that members of groups for the Senate may choose the, order in which their names will appear within each group is sound. If there is reason to believe that within each of the several parties there is one candidate whose qualities entitle him to the first choice of the party, it is only fair that the supporters of that party should have the right to put his name at the top of the group, irrespective of whether it .begins with a letter early or late in the alphabet.
The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mt. Drakeford) complained, as did others, that when the nation is facing a crisis legislation of this kind should not be introduced. I cannot believe that our chances of winning the war will be worsened by improving our electoral system. I join with the honorable member in expressing regret that the bill does not go further, because, for many years, I have advocated the system of proportional representation for Senate elections. That, however, would be a very much bigger change to adopt in a time of crisis than what is proposed in this bill, so that whatever argument may have been advanced in support of the contention of the honorable member that this is not a time to effect alterations of our voting system, could apply with more weight to the verything which he advocated. As the bill is one for attention in committee rather than on the second reading I shall reserve any further comments until the committee stage is reached.
.- The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Jennings) said that he would oppose the amendment. Naturally he would do so because anything suggested by the Opposition is anathema to him. He also said that he believed that a majority of the people of Australia would favour the proposals contained in the measure. I gladly support the amend-‘ ment for two reasons. First, it provides that the Commonwealth shall confer with the States with a view to arriving at uniformity in electoral matters. I have always believed that there should be one electoral roll for both Commonwealth and State elections. There are, however, differences in the legislation of the several States as to how that roll should be compiled and the methods which should be adopted to see that people are properly enrolled. At every election it is found that thousands of electors are not on the roll. That i3 largely because some people believe that when they fill in cards claiming enrolment, their names are automatically placed on both Federal and State rolls. The position becomes more confusing when we reflect that in some of the States there is .a joint, roll- for both Commonwealth and State elections. At the last Federal elections there were approximately 40,000 informal votes in Queensland. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) stated that he favoured proportional representation. In the early days of the Commonwealth Mr. W. G. Higgs moved a motion in favour of proportional representation, but the section of politics with which he was associated opposed it. It was held by many to be a good thing to have the Senate as a close preserve similar to the Upper Houses in the several States. I do not believe that any logical argument can be advanced that proportional representation is not fair, but this bill does not provide for that system of voting.
– The provisions of this bill are just.
– On that point the honorable member and I lock horns ; I do not agree with him. The bill makes contusion worse confounded. At the last Federal elections there were thirteen candidates for the Senate in Queensland. That meant that for a vote to be formal, a number had to appear in each square on the ballot-paper. In the event of four different political parties nominating candidates for the Senate, making a total of, say thirteen candidates, to fill three vacancies it should he sufficient if each voter places numbers opposite four groups in the order of his preference. If lie is required to place a number against each of the names on the ballot-paper he is likely to be confused. Although the present system has existed since 1922, there has been no complaint until recently.
– It would not be a properly transferable vote unless every space except one had a number in it.
– I believe in the Labour movement just as strongly as the honorable member for Gippsland is opposed to it. “Why should he be compelled to give me any preference? If I had my way, I would not give any preference to him. The honorable member, in his political associations, is the same to me as any other tory, no better and no worse. I may think more of him personally than I do of some other persons, but politically I am completely opposed to him.
If anything in this bill suggested that the informality of voting in Senate elections could be overcome there might be something to be said for it, but in my opinion the scheme which the Government is proposing will aggravate the position. The ballot-paper is to be horizontal, instead of vertical. That in itself will be confusing. If there are thirteen names on the ballot-paper an elector will still have to vote for twelve candidates in preferential order. Parliament should endeavour to make the voting system as simple as possible. I suggest that if four parties are contesting Senate seats it should be sufficient for the electors to indicate their preferences for the parties, for a loyal party man should vote for all the party candidates. “What is more important than anything else in our electoral system at present is the need for a uniform roll for all Commonwealth and State purposes. For that reason, I urge that a conference should be called of representatives of the Commonwealth and State Governments to consider that vital matter. It may be said that we shall not be able to get a uniform roll unless we are willing to alter our system or the States are willing to alter their systems, but at least the matter should be considered at a conference to see whether agreement could be reached.
Certain variations of the conditions applicable to postal voting are proposed in the bill. In my experience a good deal of abuse occurs in connexion with this system of voting. Personally, I favour the complete abolition of postal voting. It may be said that a postal vote must be witnessed -by a justice of the peace, but we all know that immediately an election becomes imminent a close canvass is made of patients in hospitals and all sorts of attempts are made to influence patients to vote in a certain direction. I am sure that the patients would be far better pleased if they were left alone. Their main business is to get well and they should not be worried about voting. I do not favour the proposed alteration of the existing provisions in relation to postal voting. At present postal votes must be in the hands of the returning officer for the division for which the votes have been recorded prior to 6 p.m. on the day of polling. It is now proposed that the votes shall be counted if they are recorded prior to the closing of the poll on the day of voting even though the ballot-paper may not reach the returning officer’s hands until two or three weeks later. I can see no reason for an alteration of that kind.
Like other honorable members, I believe that the bill is more appropriate for detailed discussion at the committee stage. It is a machinery measure, every provision of which should be carefully watched.
– Is the bill worth any serious consideration?
– -The Government appears to think so, and I suppose the measure will be passed whether we like it or not. According to the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Archie Cameron) the system set out in the bill will be very shortly tested under practical conditions. I object to the foisting upon the electors of a complicated system of voting of this description. I have no doubt that, unless the conditions were fully favorable to the Minister for Commerce, he would be willing for this Parliament to continue to sit until the 29 th January next year, which is the last day on which it may legally function. That is not my view. We should do the fair thing by the electors. For that reason I hope that the Government will withdraw the bill and call a conference of Commonwealth and State representatives to consider the possibility of arranging for a uniform roll for use throughout the Commonwealth.
.- Although certain amendments of our electoral law are necessary, I can see nothing in this bill that is really worthy of our consideration, for the points that should have been brought under notice have been ‘ ignored. I have in mind, for example, the necessity to tighten up the law in regard to absent voting. An elector may now vote as an absentee in a subdivision for which he is not enrolled, and I am given to understand that his vote is counted before it has been checked with the key roll, There is a good deal of malpractice in connexion with voting in that respect, and safeguards should be provided to prevent duplicate voting.
Another subject requiring attention relates to the expenses which a candidate may incur in his election campaign. The law now provides that a candidate must sign a declaration to . the effect that he has not expended more than £100 in his campaign. It will be remembered, however, that Mr. Hamlet, a candidate for Warringah at the last election, made a declaration to the effect that he had expended more than £1,000 in his campaign and he challenged the Government to prosecute him for a breach of the law.
– He declared that he had expended £2,000 I believe.
– At any rate the Government did not accept his challenge. Either the provision limiting the expenditure to £100 should be repealed or heavy penalties should be inflicted upon those who are found guilty of offences against it.
In my opinion this bill has been introduced purely for party political reasons. The Government apparently feels that the Labour party had an advantage in connexion with the last Senate elections. The Government parties could, however, do what the Labour party did if they thought than an advantage could be obtained thereby. As a matter of fact the Country party selected a candidate for the Senate named Abbott; another person named Captain Aarons was also nominated, while Mr. Lionel Courtney was actually elected. This shows that the Government parties have not overlooked any possible advantage that may be gained from the alphabetical arrangement of the ballot-paper.
I do not believe that the proposals set out in this bill will simplify matters for the electors. A good deal could be said in favour of the suggestion of the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) that electors should indicate their preference for parties rather than for persons by using the figures 1, 2, 3 and 4, opposite the names of the parties if there should be four parties. If an alteration is to be made in the shape of the ballot-paper I suggest a. circular arrangement in preference to the proposed horizontal form. Then no party would have an advantage. I hope that the amendment will be agreed to, but if the bill should reach the secondreading stage I shall urge the Minister to accept amendments in relation to the points to which I have referred.
.- 1 support the amendment that the bill should be withdrawn and that a conference of Commonwealth and State representatives be called to consider the possibility of providing a uniform^ roll throughout the Commonwealth. As things are now, there are in some States, in addition to the Commonwealth roll, a State roll for each of two Houses of Parliament and a municipal roll. That duplication should be abolished.
We have been told that the bill has been introduced mainly to deal with alleged difficulties mainly in connexion with the election of senators. That fact alone suggests the wisdom of calling a conference of Commonwealth and State representatives to consider the whole subject, for the Senate was specially designed to represent the point of view of the various States.
Z do not like calling into question the motives which actuate the Government in introducing legislation, but it appears to me, especially from the remarks of the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Jennings), that this bill has been drafted because a number of New South Wales candidates for the Senate at the last election happened to have names beginning with the letter “ A “. The Minister who introduced this bill in another place said that, had the result of the last Senate election been foreseen proposals of this kind would have been introduced many years ago. It .should be noted, however, that the existing method of electing the Senate was provided for in amendments of the Electoral Act introduced by an anti-Labour government, in 1922. No complaints were made about the method until after the 1937 election, when objection was taken by supporters of another anti-Labour Government to the continuance of the method which had been in force for so many years.
We have also been told . that the purpose of the bill is to overcome the confusion which electors feel in connexion with the Senate ballot-paper. In my opinion, the suggestions that have been made in that regard are insulting to the intelligence of the electors. In saying that the people cannot select their Senate representatives this Government maintains that they have not sufficient intelligence to cast an intelligent vote. This bill was introduced only because the Government Senate teams were beaten at the last election in every State except South Australia. I do not know whether the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) had been reading teacups or crystal gazing when he said that, ‘i0 per cent, of the electors in recording their votes start at the top of the list and work straight down. I do not know from what source he obtained his figures.
Other matters in addition to the proposed new method of electing senators are covered in this bill, but the main reason for the introduction of the measure was undoubtedly the setback that the Government parties received at the last elections.
From 1901 to 1922 the simple method of Senate elections gave every satisfaction, but because it did not react to the benefit of the anti-Labour Government of the day an act was passed which brought about the confusion this Government now seeks to remove. The confusion which exists to-day will be increased beyond recognition if this bill becomes law.
I, like the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) and the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Green), represent what might be termed an outback area. In the outback areas there are many men who are engaged in seasonal occupations in the pastoral industry and there are many similarly employed in the coastal areas and in the sugar industry. When their seasonal employment ends those men hump the bluey and go on the track looking for work, and as a result many of them have their names removed from the rolls. Prospectors, too, move from place to place in search of the ever elusive metal. Those men should not be deprived of their inherent right to elect a representative to this Parliament. If this bill becomes law, it provides for an extension of only ten days in which postal votes may be lodged. This period of ten days is useless in areas which have a monthly mail service. It should be increased.
.- The method of printing names on the ballotpaper in alphabetical order has prevailed ever since federation without any objection being raised to it for the reason that, up to the last election, the parties played the game. It must be recognized that there is an advantage in having the top position on the ballot-paper, but, when the parties did not seek to take advantage of that and selected their representatives on their merits and not according to their initials, the advantage went to one party on one occasion and to another party on another and things evened themselves out. At the last elections, however, a scheme was devised by the Labour party of New South Wales to nominate four Senate candidates whose names began with the letter “ A “, not because they had special claims, but in order to ensure that they would have the top position on the ballot-paper. The Labour party was prepared to sacrifice merit for that purpose. That party still wants to retain that privilege.
– What rot, the Labour party’s candidates were elected by thousands of voters.
– Merely because their names began with “A”.
– How does the honorable member know that that is so ?
– It was more than a coincidence that all four candidates had names beginning with the first letter of the alphabet. The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Mulcahy) honestly admitted the practice. He also said that the Country party had resorted to the same tactics. It is a most undesirable practice which says “that it is .better to win with a team of asses than to lose with a team of the best men.
– That is a gratuitous insult to the senators from New South Wales.
– I mean no insult. I am only referring to the fact that the Labour party’s team in New South Wales had names beginning with “ A “.
This measure has stirred up a good deal of opposition, but I have not heard one honorable gentleman opposite say that the method of taking a ballot for positions on the ballot-paper is unfair. Most honorable gentlemen know the Australian game of two-up.
– Honorable gentlemen opposite play it. with a double-headed penny.
– I should not say that. Two-up is the fairest of gambles; each player has an even chance. There is an advantage in being at the top of the ballot-paper, and it is impossible to devise any means by which that advantage can be eliminated; but we can make provision whereby ‘ every man has an equal chance of getting that top position, and we can do that by balloting for positions, lt is not fair that a man whose name begins with some other letter than the letter “ A “ should be fated for all time to have his name way down the list. He should be assured of an even chance of drawing the top position, and I am surprised that honorable gentlemen oppo?ite, who claim to be democrats, should dispute that. A good democrat is a good sport and a good sport always takes a chance.
I should like to see provision made in this ‘bill for the elimination of the limit of £100 on electoral expenditure by candidates. That provision in the electoral law has been responsible for a lot of false swearing. It is quite inapplicable to present-day conditions, and it is truly honoured more in the breach than in the observance.
– The honorable gentleman should speak for himself.
– I am speaking generally. In the majority of elections more than £100 is spent on behalf of candidates.
Another matter mentioned, I think by the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens), was the necessity for one roll for the Commonwealth and the States. In four States the Commonwealth does the work and the States reap the benefit, but in two States there has been insistence on the maintenance of the State forms. That adds to the- confusion, because a great many people on a State roll take it for granted that they are also on the Commonwealth roll and vice versa. The duplication is confusing, costly and unnecessary. Unfortunately, we cannot correct the position by any amendment of the Commonwealth Electoral Act; it can be done only in collaboration with the States. I do hope that something will be done. This bill represents an improvement of the electoral act and 1 hope that it will be passed.
.- This, apparently, is intended to be an amusing little bill, and I suppose that we should approach it in a thoroughly happy frame of mind. Possibly for that reason the Assistant Minister (Mr. Nock) has re-introduced it clad in the garniture of an expectant undertaker. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) made an impassioned address in support of the measure, from the point of view that his name begins with the letter “ P “. According to that line of reasoning, I should be equally passionate in opposition to it, on the ground that my name begins with the letter “ B “. In this time of tremendous national stress and anxiety, we, as members of the national Parliament, are asked to consider the relative importance of tie gambling possibilities of, on the one hand, one’s name being Aarons, and, on the other hand, of drawing the right envelope from the box in which the lottery of place is determined. Two games of chance are really in issue. They are: with what letter one’s name begins; and alternatively, what envelope is drawn out of the box. In these circumstances of great national emergency, the honorable members for Gippsland and Perth (Mr. Nairn) have waxed eloquent upon this proposed electoral amendment. How do we determine this matter? Look at the bill. My name begins with “ B “ ; my opponent’s name begins with “A”; we’ are nominated; we are all expectation and doubt; and the chief electoral officer in my constituency is required, there and then, to shake and rotate the ballot-box - and any other person who happens to be present may also shake and rotate the box - in order to settle this great national question of who shall be on top in the ballotpaper. There on the opposite side of the table has 3at for hours to-night the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Archie Cameron), for the purpose of determining this important question of whether it shall be two-up or pakapu. What an issue - shake or rotate the barrel; or, “roll out the barrel”. This proposed amendment of the Electoral Act should be treated as it deserves to be treated, and that is contemptuously. The electoral law of this country is a very serious matter.’ Some of the best brains of Australia have been directed to working out on principle a sane and fair method of voting. There is proportional representation ; there is a variety of other proposals for giving fair representation to minorities; and so on. What will those gentlemen think? Honorable members have been receiving a good deal of printed and written matter, which has emanated from thoughtful minds on the subject of electoral reform. The authors of this matter will find that this national Government, at this time and in these circumstances, when the enemy is at the gate, asks this assembly, which is representative of the whole of Australia, to “ roll out the barrel “, and decide between pakapu and two-up as a method for determining how the elections shall be conducted. That may suit the Government, but it does not suit me very well. I am prepared to take the risk between “ B “ and “ P “. I have sufficient confidence in the intelligence of the people who send me here to believe that they know the difference between Paterson and Brennan, and between this reactionary, complex Government and the Australian Labour party. I could be placed on the ballotpaper in the first, the second or the third position, and I should be perfectly satisfied that in due course the electors would place me first in their hearts and minds, as they have always done, with the single exception when the Communists supported the United Australia party.
– When the Communists came back, the honorable member came back.
– There speaks the great upholder of the rights of one whose name begins with “ P “, as against the chances of one whose name begins with “ B “. I invite the honorable member to come to Batman. I shall allow his name to be placed first on the ballot-paper, and shall meet him in the confident anticipation that my electors will distinguish intelligently between the two of us.
I decline to take this bill seriously. On the contrary, I support the amendment, because it is a serious proposal for dealing with a serious matter. It proposes that the bill be withdrawn pending the calling of a conference between the Governments of the Commonwealth and the States, with a view to ensuring a uniform practice in respect of enrolment and voting for Commonwealth and State elections. I would have gone farther than that. I should have liked to see the amendment cover a proposal for a wider and fuller investigation of the complex principles of representation. I should have liked this Parliament to gather in and make use of the researches of mcn who have directed their minds to the solution of the problems of representation. My mind goes back to the day’s when a professor at the Melbourne University, at which I was then a beginning student, devoted a good deal of time and thought to the examination of electoral problems. As I have already said, every one of us has had the advantage of having received from thoughtful men and women proposals for the reform of the electoral law upon some such sane lines as are proposed in the amendment.
I shall oppose the bill, because I regard it as being in its nature contemptuous, and because it clearly has no other object than to seek at the polls an advantage which will enable the party opposite to regain by accident that measure of popular esteem which it has lost by design. [ support the amendment as a serious proposition, not hoping that it will, but feeling that it ought to be, carried, and realizing - as you, Mr. Speaker, as a wide reader and a judge of poetic sentiment must have realized - that although it is not in mortals to command success, they can do more to deserve it.
– This is essentially a measure for the committee stage. It has been discussed from extraordinary points of view. Nobody should be surprised that the Government should have evolved some method designed to improve our electoral system. Some of the finest men in Australia are officers of the electoral department in the capital cities. At that particular class of work they are the equal of anybody in any other capital city of the world, and they could easily, if given the opportunity to do so, evolve a system which would be more dignified, more simple, and more uniform - a greater essential than any other factor. I have been waiting for years for the Government to do this, because as an Australian citizen I have felt that we ought to be more or less ashamed of ourselves when we see the hundreds of thousands of informal votes that are cast at every election, either through ignorance or from some other cause. That is not a very dignified position for Australia to occupy. I do not view with equanimity the examination of our methods, and the results which accrue therefrom, by visitors to Australia. We are supposed to have an education system which is more than equal to the average throughout the world. Because of that fact, there should be fewer electors who cast informal votes. We have been anxiously waiting for the Govern ment to make our law more uniform, more simple and more dignified. This measure does not do any of those three things. I should say that uniformity of electoral rolls in the State and Commonwealth spheres would help greatly to simplify : the situation. We should have a uniform ballot-paper, and the same method of placing the names on it in every case. If that were done, surely the number of electors who cast informal votes would bie reduced. Instead of that, however, the matter has been made even more complicated than it is. to-day. It seems - I do not suggest that it is so - that this bill is intended, not to overcome the difficulty but to make confusion worse confounded. We have had a committee working on this matter because we wish to make the electoral system as simple as possible.
– In what way does the proposal outlined in this bill make the Senate ballot-paper more difficult to understand ?
– Because it will change the system which has been in operation for years. Up to now the names have been placed one under the other down the length of the paper; now it is proposed to run them across the width of the paper. In addition, a system of balloting is to be introduced. The candidates are to draw for positions, the names being put into a barrel and drawn out for that purpose. In the State 1 come from, that would constitute an infringement of the gaming act. The whole thing is ridiculous. If this bill is introduced now as a time-filler in order to give the Cabinet an opportunity to do something more important, it is its only justification. We should endeavour to make the system so simple that there would be no possibility of confusion. We should educate the people 30 that they will vote for a candidate on his merits, no matter what his name may bc, or what letter it starts with. The amendment has been moved with the full support of the Opposition, because we want this job of reforming the electoral system to be done properly; and that can be done only by referring the matter to a committee representing State and Federal- electoral officers, se that they may evolve a simple plan that (;an be used all over Australia for State and Federal elections, and for all Houses of Parliament. Then the people will become used to the system, and the number of informal votes will be plain. I still hope that the Assistant Minister will inform us that he is prepared to withdraw the bill, so that the Government may confer with the Opposition. “We should be helping each other in a matter of this kind, instead of arguing about it.
– I cannot understand why the effort of the Government to amend the electoral system should be opposed by honorable members opposite. I admit that the reform is not complete. I had intended to move an amendment to the effect that the ballot-paper should show the party to which the candidate belongs, but the Government, I see, has already done that. I was surprised to hear honorable members representing northern Queensland constituencies saying that postal voting should be abolished. There are only two polling booths in my electorate, which comprises one-sixth of Australia, and if postal voting were abolished more than one-half of the electors would be disfranchised. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) convinced himself that this is a democratic proposal, but he went out of his way to indicate that he ‘ favored giving the powerful political interests in the cities the right to form a cave within their own party, and, by placing the names of candidates in the order that suited them, ensure for themselves the bulk of the representation.
– The bill gives the candidates themselves the right to agree upon the order.
– This was a glorious opportunity for the Government to introduce a totally different method of electing members of the Senate. The present system of electing six members en bloc for a State should have been done away with, and each State should have been divided into six separate electorates. This was advocated by Sir Isaac Isaacs at one of the conventions before the inauguration of federation, and I am sorry that it was not adopted. “We have now reached a stage when State parlia ments have outlived their usefulness, and it is openly suggested that they should be abolished, and the map of Australia redrawn. The continent should be divided into regional areas, and the new Senate electorates should be regions possessing common interests and common geographical features. On the eastern seaboard of Australia one notices the dominance of the coastal towns over the inland areas.
.- I support the amendment submitted by the honorable member for “Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini), This measure was foreshadowed in the Governor-General’s Speech in 1937, when the government of the day was “ knocked groggy “ by the result of the Senate elections. Prior to 1919, the method of voting for the Senate provided for an alphabetical arrangement of the names of the candidates, and since that year the present practice has been in operation. From 1919 to 1937 this suited the United Australia party, but the definite swing towards Labour in 1937 made the government of the day consider that an alteration was desirable. The system of representation of the States in the Senate is one of the most undemocratic in the world, because the small State of Tasmania, with a population of 250,000, has as much representation as has New South “Wales, where the population is over 2,000,000. In the New South “Wales electoral system several different methods of voting are employed. That used for Legislative Council elections is different from that employed in elections for the popular chamber. One powerful political organization in my State declares that it is agreeable to the adoption of any system of voting except that used for the Senate. The fact that voting is compulsory is the real cause of the large number of informal votes cast. Every person over the age of 21 years has the right to a vote, although he or she may be illiterate, blind, paralysed or a conscientious objector. The large number of informal votes recorded is not due to the system in operation, but to the fact that many electors try to hide their lack of knowledge of how to exercise the franchise. I claim that every elector should be permitted to witness a postal vote, just us he is entitled to witness the signature of a person desirous of having his name placed on an electoral roll.
.- Many arguments can be adduced as to why this House should vote in favour of the amendment. When the Commonwealth Constitution was drafted, it was contemplated by the pioneers of federation that the Senate should be representative of the States, and not of political parties. It seems to me that the suggestion by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) that the method of conducting Senate elections should be decided by the States themselves is fair and logical. I desire to correct one erroneous argument that has been advanced to-night, and on many other occasions since the last elections. It has been said that the four Labour senators for New South Wales, whose surnames begin with the letter “ A “, were hand-picked candidates at the last elections, but I point out that 20,000 people voted for their pre-selection.
– Was the choice of the “ A “ men purely a coincidence ?
– They are widelyknown members of the Labour party. Senator Amour was an alderman in the Bankstown City Council for about nine years, and he had been attending Labour conferences for about twelve years. Senator Ashley was an alderman in Lithgow, and had been Mayor of Lithgow. He was widely known because of his activities in connexion with the Labour party. Senator Armstrong came into the Labour movement as a young man, and rose to the position of an alderman in the Sydney City Council. Senator Arthur was an organizer for the Australian Workers Union for 20 years or more, and was chosen as Labour candidate for Nepean in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. He was also appointed a Conciliation Commissioner on the New South Wales Board of Trade. As the qualifications of those honorable senators compare more than favorably with those of the candidates of the United Australia party, the argument adduced concerning the advantage which they enjoyed by reason of the (act that their names commenced with the letter “ A “ is not of much value. I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini), because I believe that if the representatives of the States were consulted a more satisfactory system of voting for the Senate could be evolved, and possibly some recommendations could be made with respect to a uniform system of voting throughout the Commonwealth-. In New South Wales one roll is used for Commonwealth and State purposes.
– And also in Victoria.
– Yes. The roll used for the election of the House of Assembly in New South Wales is the same as that for the House of Representatives. Queensland has a Commonwealth roll for federal elections and another roll for State elections. An elector for the State House may indicate the candidate for whom he wishes to vote by putting a cross against the name of that candidate and the vote is valid; or he may cross out the names of three candidates, leaving only one name and that vote also is valid. Further, he is entitled to place the figure “ 1 “ before the name of the candidate and he has the right to continue his preferences, which also are treated as formal. I can not see that there is anything wrong with the Queensland system of voting, so long as the returning officer can determine the intention of the voter. Under the present system of electing the Senate, should an elector vote for only seven of, say, nine candidates his vote would be informal. In Tasmania elections arc conducted under the proportional representation system.
– That is the best of all the systems at present in operation.
– If that.is so, a representative of Tasmania should attend the conference proposed by the honorable member for Werriwa and convince the other representatives that the proportional system is preferable. For municipal elections in New South Wales there is a separate roll and a different franchise. The voter expresses his preference by placing a cross opposite the name of the candidate whom he favours, and as at times municipal elections follow Federal and State elections, and the numbers of candidates to be elected and the systems of voting vary, it is easy to understand why there are so many informal votes. The multiplicity of electoral systems is very confusing to voters. I trust that the House will support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Werriwa, because the representatives of Tasmania will then have an opportunity to explain the proportional representation system which the honorable member for Wentworth says is preferable to any other. If that can be proved, a recommendation to that effect can be made to the Commonwealth Government.
– After the impassioned speech of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Gander), I feel almost disposed to support the amendment, but I realize that it is only another expedient to delay the introduction of a reform which should have been introduced long ere this. Although this measure is only a small instalment of an improved electoral system, it deserves our support. The principal alteration of the existing law is in connexion with the grouping of names on the ballot-paper. It is now proposed that the names shall appear on the ballotpaper in accordance with a draw by the returning officer. As my name commences with the letter “A” I am not likely to complain of the present system. [ believe that when there are only two or three names on the ballot-paper those whose names commence with the letter “ A “ do not derive any benefit; but in connexion with Senate elections those whose names commence with the letter “ A “ have a definite advantage, and on that account the results of the elections may be affected. I believe that the system assisted the Labour party in obtaining increased representation in the Senate, although it might have obtained a similar majority in any case. In the Senate elections there was a definite swing towards Labour, but the returns for the House of Representatives did not disclose it to the same extent.
– The Senate result may have been due to a realization on the part of the electors that the Labour party was inadequately represented in that chamber.
– I do not think that that was the reason. The figures recorded in the electorate of Richmond indicate the very important part which the position of the names of candidates played in the Senate elections. In that electorate a Labour candidate named Fredericks - a man of very high repute - who put in weeks and weeks of campaigning and displayed considerable enthusiasm, secured 15,253 first preference votes whereas the Labour candidates for the Senate - Amour, Armstrong and Ashley - who. I do not think were well known in the electorate, and if they visited it at all, made only a hurried trip - polled 17,441 first preferences. That is prima facie evidence that in the Senate elections there is a great advantage in having candidates with names commencing with letters at the beginning of the alphabet. Generally, Senate candidates are not known personally to the majority of the electors, and consequently there is a tendency for the voter to mark his preferences in numerical order from top to bottom of the ballot-paper.
– It would have been unfortunate for the honorable member if, instead of being opposed by Mr. Fredericks, he had had an opponent whose name began with the letter “ A “.
– When there are only two, three or four names on the ballot-paper, and the candidates are known to the electors, the alphabetical advantage is not so great, because the electors are more likely to use their discretion. I am not complaining of the calibre of the men who were elected to the Senate by this method - the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Gander) spoke of their high qualifications - but Senate elections have come to be regarded as a test of the strength of the political parties in this country, and therefore the personal qualifications of candidates are regarded as of less importance than the claims of the party. Any man whose name is on the ticket of the party which is favoured by the electors receives their votes, irrespective of his personal qualifications. For that reason, it is most desirable that we should get a system which will enable the real will of the electors to be expressed. That cannot be done under the present system, where so many voters, rather than take the trouble to ascertain the merits of candidates, merely mark No. 1 against the first name on the ballot-paper and continue their preferences in numerical order from top to bottom.
I join with those honorable members who have expressed disappointment that nothing has been done to amend the provision of the act limiting the expenditure of candidates for the House of Representatives to £100. At the last election the present Treasurer (Mr. Spender) was opposed by a candidate who signed a statutory declaration that he had spent £2,500 and yet had lost the election; he claimed that the successful candidate must have expended a greater, amount. He challenged the Government to prosecute him under the Electoral Act, but his challenge was ignored. The existing provision is utterly ridiculous; it practically forces candidates to make false declarations.
– The honorable member should speak for himself.-
– I speak for all members. In a debate of this kind we should not endeavour to smother the truth. I do not know what the expenses of the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Mahoney) were, and I shall not inquire; but I do know that members of his party have said in this House that that provision in the Electoral Act should be amended. A somewhat similar provision applies in respect of Senate elections; I believe that the limit is £250. That is altogether inadequate to wage a campaign extending over a State so large as New South Wales. It means that no person who has not the support of a strong political party has any chance of election to the Senate. Now that the Government has ventured a little way in the direction of improvement of the Electoral Act, I hope that it will go further and introduce an amendment to deal with the expenses of candidates.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Curtin) adjourned.
The following papers were presented : -
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Defence purposes -
Swanbourne, Western Australia.
Meteorology Act - Regulations Amended -
Statutory Rules 1940. No. 36.
National Security Act -
National Security (Aliens Control)
Regulations - Orders -
Enemy alien to report.
Movement of aliens.
National Security (General) Regulations -
Power to obtain information.
Prohibited places (3).
Protected areas (2).
Taking possession of land, &c. (37).
Use of land (2).
Regulations - Statutory Rules 1940, No. 80.
Naval Defence Act - Regulations Amended -Statutory Rules l940, No. 81.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act andSeas of Government, (Administration) Act-
Ordinances of 1940 -
No. 6 - Meat.
No. 7 - Careless Use of Fire.
Public Health Ordinance - Regulations Amended.
House adjourned at 10.37 p.m.
The following answers to questions mere circulated: -
e asked the Minister for Air. upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
PIG Iron and Steel.
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice - =
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
e asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1.. Captain Norman Dean Carly on was appointed aide-de-camp to the General Officer Commanding, 1st Australian Corps, on the 22nd April, 1940. His appointment in the Australian Imperial Force is in the rank of captain only.
He was selected and recommended by the General Officer Commanding, 1st Australian Corps, for his special qualifications for the appointment and for his subsequent duties which he will be required to carry out. The appointment of. aide-de-camp is a personal appointment which involves duties in connexion with confidential and secret papers and it is the custom of the Service that the General Officer Commanding should select an officer for the appointment in whom he himself can place complete trust.
In Australian Staff Corps, sixteen years. Particulars of the average number of years’ service of Australian officers in the last war are not available without protracted search of the First Australian Imperial Force records.
y asked the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
n asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
h asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
Oil Distribution Costs.
n asked the Minister for
Supply and Development, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions, are as follows: -
n asked the Minister in charge of External Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked, the Minister representing the Minister, for the Interior, upon notice-
Will the Minister arrange that the Public Works Committee be given a term of reference to , examine the plans and expenditure in connexion with the new Darwin wharf? .
– The Minister for the Interior has supplied the following information : -
It is not proposed to refer- this project to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works. The Government has decided to proceed with this work as an urgent defends measure.
Land Resumption at Darwin.
n- asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Interior has supplied the following answers : -
d asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice - 1.. Is it a fact that military equipment that cannot he manufactured in Australia has been shipped out of Australia?
– It is not considered advisable in the public interest to make full replies -to these questions, but I shall discuss-‘ the matter- ‘-with the honorable member.
k. - On the 9th May, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) asked a question, without notice, regarding Commonwealth and State reports in relation to the iron ore deposits of Australia and mining for iron ore below the surface.
Since Dr. Woolnough commenced his investigations into the iron ore resources of Australia he has submitted a number of progress reports. These are of a con fidential nature and are not available. A report summarizing the general position in respect of iron ore in Australia was recently prepared by Dr. Woolnough and is at present being considered by the Government. The question of making this report available . to honorable members will be considered at a later date. There are no reports, dealing with mining for iron ore below the surface in other countries, in the possession of the Department of the Interior.
Oil Supplies at Darwin.
– On the 10th May, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Green) asked the following questions, upon notice -
The Minister for the Interior has now supplied the followinginformation, 1. (a) Fuel oil was supplied to Japanese pearling boats as under: -
There- have been nosales since November, 1939.
There is no record of sales to other Japanese shipping craft.
Housing Schemefor Darwin.
k. - On the 3rd ‘May, the” honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) asked whether a contractor carrying out government work in Darwin was sent to Canberra by the Administrator to discuss a bousing scheme or whether his visit was part of a deliberate attempt by him to undermine the work of senior officers in Darwin in devising such a scheme.
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that the contractor in question was not sent to Canberra by the Administrator. He made the visit of his own volition. While in Canberra he did not. discuss the housing scheme. He did discuss, however, the question of the provision of hutments for workmen temporarily resident in Darwin.
Government Building Programme.
k. - On the 8th May, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) asked the following question, without notice. : -
Some time ago the Government appointed an advisory committee to make recommendations in respect of its building programme. Will the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior state whether that committee has yet presented a report ? If ithas doneso, ‘ can the report be made available to honorable members?
It is assumed that the honorable member refers to the Defence Works Advisory Panel. This committee was appointed to advise on the most effective means of executing the defence works programme and to consider such matters relating to defence works as may be referred to it. The committee has met on a number of occasions and has submitted reports to the Minister for the Interior. The committee’s reports have been of great value to the Government in the carrying out of its huge defence programme. The reports are of a departmental nature, but there would be no objection to any member perusing them at the Department of the Interior.
Ingleburn . Camp Contracts.
k. - On the 9th May, the honorable member for the’ Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) asked .the following question, without notice : -
As rumours are in circulation that the practice of letting military contracts at Ingleburn camp on a percentage basis has been discontinued, will the responsible Minister inform me when it ceased and why?
The Minister for the Interior has supplied the following information: -
The letting of military contracts at Ingleburn camp on cost plus percentage basis was a temporary measure to meet an emergency situation, which has now passed, and no additional work is arranged on that basis.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 May 1940, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1940/19400515_reps_15_163/>.