16th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. M. Nairn) took tlie chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– It is with feelings of deepest regret that I refer to the death to-day of the Honorable John Christian Watson, a former Prime Minister of the Commonwealth. As honorable members are aware, Mr. Watson had been seriously ill for some weeks; his death, therefore, was not unexpected.
Born at Valparaiso in 1867, the late Mr. Watson went to New- Zealand as a (Mid, and later came to Australia. His parliamentary career commenced in 1894, when he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales as member for Young, which constituency he represented until June, 1901, when he retired from it after election to the first Federal Parliament for the division of Bland, New South Wales, at the general elections of 1901. He was re-elected for
I hat division in 1903, and at the general elections of 1906 was elected to represent the division of South Sydney. He retired from parliamentary life at the expiration of the third parliament in 1910. .
The late Mr. .Watson was the first leader of the Federal Labour party, and upon the defeat of the first Deakin Ministry on the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill was commissioned to form a Ministry. His Ministry held office from the 27th April, to the 17th August, 1904, when it, too, was defeated on an issue affecting the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was a member of the Watson Ministry, which was succeeded by the-Reid-McLean Ministry. After his retirement from the Commonwealth Parliament, Mr. Watson engaged in commercial activities. He was a director of several’ companies, and for many years was an executive officer of the National Roads: and Motorists Association of New South Wales. He also had wide sporting interests and rendered valuable service as a. trustee of the Sydney Cricket Ground.
I had the great honour to know the late Mr. Watson personally. Having been the first Labour Prime Minister of Australia, to him can be assigned, in the history of this Federation, the role of a great pioneer. On several occasions of sadness, references have been made in this House to the passing one by one of that historic band of men who assembled in Melbourne when the first Commonwealth Parliament met, and tributes have been paid to the distinguished services which they rendered to Australia. That can be said in general of all of them; but I believe that it has special application to those who were leaders of the political parties. The Australian. Labour party sent to that Parliament members from all of the States. At that period in the history of this country, although the colonies had engaged in a federation campaign, they were still somewhat detached from each other. The men who gathered together as representatives of the different political parties may have known each other by name, but could not be said to have had that intimate acquaintance with each other’s personality which has characterized the personnel of this Parliament in later years. But even without a knowledge of each other, which would have served them well, each was able to feel that he occupied a place in the Parliament by reason of the important position he had gained in his own colony; indeed, the names of the different leaders were household words in a much wider sphere than their own particular colonies. The late Mr. Watson was regarded as one of the most eminent of the band of prominent Labour men elected to the first Parliament and, as I have said, he was chosen as their leader. He essayed a very difficult task in the laying of the foundations upon which the Labour party has since built.
I have said that there arose in the Parliament, on an industrial measure, issues which led to the defeat of the second Commonwealth Government, led by the late Mr. Deakin, who was commissioned when the first Prime Minister, the late Sir Edmund Barton, was appointed to the Bench of the High Court of Australia. The late Mr. Watson, as leader of the Labour party, was then entrusted with the task of forming the first Federal Government composed of Labour men. This must ensure him a permanent place in the history of Australia, and most certainly in the annals of Labour in this Commonwealth. While holding the office of head of that Government, he moved from State to State, and was a counsellor not only to his colleagues in tho parliamentary Labour party, but also to the representative leaders of Labour in the trade union and political movements. He made friends wherever he went, was an influence for unity, and endeavoured at all times to make Labour a great and, indeed, a permanent force in the political system of this country. I am sure that I shall be forgiven if, in emphasizing the distinguished place which he held in the Parliament of thu country, I also, on behalf of the great mass, of people who support the Labour party, pay tribute to the valuable services that he rendered to the movement of Labour. He was a man of fine public spirit. He had been a compositor, and, like many other men in the printing trade, learned as he worked. Thus at his case he enriched his natural gifts, which, subsequently, he placed at the disposal of the Commonwealth. I move -
That this House expresses its profound regret at the death of the honorable John Christian Watson, a former member of the New South Wales and Commonwealth Parliaments, and Prime Minister and Treasurer of the Commonwealth from April to August, 1804, places on record its appreciation of hia distinguished public service, and tenders its deep sympathy to his widow and daughter in their bereavement.
– I desire to associate the Opposition with the expression of deep regret at the death of the Honorable J. C. Watson and the motion of sincere sympathy with his widow and daughter in their hour of sorrow. Death has removed one of the public men who blazed the trail for Labour and democracy and played a great part in shaping the destinies of the Commonwealth. My association with the late Mr. Watson stretches back through the years to the earliest days of the Labour movement. He was my friend, my colleague and my leader. We entered the New South Wales Parliament together in 1894, and we came into this Parliament at the first election after the establishment of the Commonwealth in 1901. As my friend, the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), has said, the late Mr. Watson was the first. Leader of the Federal Labour party, and in 1904 became Australia’s Prime Minister, and, as I believe, the head of the first Labour Government in the world. The Prime Minister has reminded us that the great responsibilities of his - high office were thrust upon him - he had not sought nor indeed anticipated a change of government that would put Labour on the treasury benches. But when, as the result of a decisive vote on an industrial issue he was called upon to form a government - although the prospects might well have deterred a less resolute man. although he was without experience, was the leader of a minority, and was without, sufficient backing to ensure that security of tenure which is desirable and indeed essential if a government is to give effect to its policy - he did not hesitate.
Many years have passed, hut the memories of those eventful days are ae vivid as if we had taken office only yesterday. There are many things that I could say about the late Mr. Watson, but I am overwhelmed by the blow caused by his death. He was a roan of fine character, high ideals, clear vision, sound judgment, and great tact, and was richly endowed with powers of lucid and direct speech. He was a man of the people - he spoke their language, he understood their wants. Above all, he was a man whom all men trusted; his word was bis bond.
He had great tenacity of purpose and great courage; never discouraged by reverses, he pressed on, never fearing to say what was in his mind. Of all of the men in public life whom I have known, he stands out in my memory as the very embodiment of steadfastness and loyalty. Upright and honorable himself, he judged all men by his own high standards. I never heard him speak ill of any man. He was a lovable man, one whose friendship other men sought eagerly. He made many friends, and he kept them through the changing years to the day of his death. The Prime Minister has referred to Mr. Watson’s relations with the industrial movement. They were most intimate, and were not limited to the narrow ambit of his own union. He was an active figure in the Australian Workers Union and remained on the closest terms of friendship with the executive of that body until his death. By his passing, the public life of this country has lost one of its foremost figures, and the people a steadfast and powerful friend. He is dead, but his name will live on, for it is woven into the history of the Commonwealth. I deeply mourn the loss of a dear friend, colleague, and leader, and extend my personal sympathy to his widow and daughter.
– I take this opportunity to pay respect to the memory of my father’s old friend, the late Honorable J. C. Watson. They were boys together, and later they worked side by side as compositors in the old days of hand-setting before the linotype revolutionized the printing trade. Both were members of the Typographical Society and they worked in close association as members of the executive of that body. My father had a great respect for Mr. Watson, whom he had helped in the latter’s early political days, and I know that that feeling was reciprocated. I was with my father and Mr. Watson on, I think, the 25th April, 1910, when the results of the extraordinary victory won by the late Andrew Fisher and his party introduced the first majority Labour Government into Australian politics. Present on that occasion also was the Right Honorable W. M. Hughes, who, perhaps, has forgotten my presence at the time ; I was a young man then. During recent years, the late Mr. Watson often spoke to me of his association with my father in the years that have passed. I am grateful for this opportunity not only to pay my respects to the memory of a good man who was one of Australia’s great sons, but also to express my sympathy with his widow and daughter in their loss.
Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable members standing in their places.
Mr.Curtin. - As a mark of respect to the memory of the deceased gentleman, I suggest that the sitting of the House be suspended until 8 p.m.
Sitting suspended from3.18 to 8 p.m.
– Can the Minister for Commerce say whether the SS. Nairana, belonging to Tasmanian Steamers Limited, has been tied up? If so, what is the reason ? Will the Minister take action to ensure that the Bass Strait shipping service, for which the Government is paying a subsidy of £52,000 a year, is maintained.
– The honorable member was good enough to inform me that he intended to ask this question. I have made inquiries, and have learned that the hold-up has been caused by a shortage of firemen. Everything possible is being done to get the ship back on the run as quickly as possible.
– Will the Prime Minister ascertain why the censorship authorities will not permit the fact of the hold-up in the Tasmania shipping service to be published ?
– I shall endeavour to ascertain the reason, and shall inform the honorable member.
– On the 13th November, the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) asked the following question which, he stated, arose out of the publication called Sparks, No. 34, for Friday, the 3rd October, 1941 : -
I ask the Minister for the Army whether Mr. Samuel John Brassington, a member of the Legislative Assembly of Queensland, for the division of Fortitude Valley, has ever been a member of the Field Security or any other section of the Military Intelligence Department?
I nave made inquiries, and I have been assured that. Mr. Brassington has never been employed at any time, or in any capacity, by the Military Intelligence or the Field Security Police, either in the Northern Command or elsewhere.
– Is the Minister for the Army able to say what progress has been made in respect of the initial order for 2,000 Owen guns which was given by the previous Administration ? Is it a fact that certain modifications of the gun ‘have been introduced by military officials with the result that production has been held, up on the ground that the modifications would result in inefficiency?
– Definite instructions were given by me about a fortnight ago to have the order proceeded with immediately for the construction of 2,000 Owen guns. The order was along the same lines as that previously given by the honorable member for Warringah (,Mr. Spender) when he was Minister for the Army, but I went, into greater detail, and was more specific in regard to the kind of ammunition which was to be manufactured for the gun.
– But it was the same order.
– ^1 am not trying to take away from the honorable member any credit due to him in regard to this matter. My only anxiety is to have the gim manufactured in large numbers as soon as possible. After the order for the manufacture of 2,000 guns had been given, the Ordnance Department suggested further alterations. The inventor objected on the grounds that they would spoil the gun. I ha,ve called the parties into conference with a view to settling the differences of opinion speedily, and having the manufacture of the gun put in hand.
Effect ox Tasmania.
– Did the .previous Government decide to appoint a committee to make a survey of the economic position of Tasmania in relation to Aus tralia’s war effort? If so, was anything done to give effect to that decision.? Will the Prime Minister state what is the present Government’s intention in regard to this matter?
– Several honorable members have intimated their intention to ask questions of this nature to-day. I have read in the Tasmanian newspapers a statement, to the effect that the Fadden Government, shortly before its defeat, had proposed ‘to appoint a committee to investigate the position of Tasmania in relation to Australia’s war effort. On the 27th May last, the Tasmanian Government requested that an inquiry on similar lines to thai made in relation to Western Australia should be conducted into the economicposition of Tasmania in relation to conditions arising out, of the war. On the 1st July, the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) asked the Prime Minister whether the request had been granted, and he was informed that the matter was being considered. On the 24th July, 1941, the Economic and Industrial Committee of Cabinet, recommended that the request be approved, and that a committee be set up consisting of a representative of the Commonwealth, a representative of Labour and an economist. On the 30th July, the Economic and Industrial Committee of Cabinet again considered this matter, and decided to recommend that the appointment of a committee on the lines previously recommended be held in abeyance for the time being. Up to the time the previous Government ‘left office there had been no further development. No specific reference has been made to me on the subject, but should one be made I shall give it my sympathetic and early consideration.
– Can the Minister for the Army inform me whether finality lias been reached in the negotiations for the removal of the Sandy Bay Rifle Range? If not, can he say what is causing the delay?
– The honorable member for Denison (Mr. Beck) called on me last Friday afternoon, and discussed the matter with me. I informed him that I would ascertain what stage hadbeen reached in the negotiations between the Commonwealth Government and the Tasmanian Government. The result of this investigation has not yet come before me, but when it does I shall make it available to the honorable member immediately.
– I lay on the table the following paper: -
Taxation on ex-Australian Incomes. - Report of Special Committee.
The recommendations were unanimous, and the Government has decided to adopt them.
Armoured Division - Equipment
– After dinner this evening a statement was broadcast, as coming from the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde), that an Australian armoured division would proceed overseas shortly, and that the army in the Middle East would be supplied with the latest British and American equipment, whilst certain other equipment would be left in Australia.Will the Minister for the Army say whether, in his opinion, the publication of statements of that kind is in the public interest? Is it not possible that such information may be extremely valuable to the enemy?
– I made full inquiries, and I am satisfied that the statement was in the public interest. It can be of no use to the enemy, and the information is more likely to be a deterrent than a help . to him.
– Is it a fact that the previous Government approved of the purchase by Mr. Essington Lewis of a drop hammer at an estimated cost of £110,000, but that, up to date, it has cost over £300,000? Was the hammer purchased on behalf of the Australian Aluminium Company Limited, which is an offshoot of the international aluminium combine? Have arrangements been made to lease or lend the hammer to the company? If so, what are the conditions?
– The purchase of the drop hammer by Mr. Essington Lewis as Director of Munitions was, no doubt, approved by the former Minister for Munitions. The hammer, which, I believe, is one of the largest in the world, was formerly destined for use in France. Upon the collapse of France last year, the Director of Munitions secured this most valuable piece of mechanism for certain work required to be done in this country. I shall have inquiries made and shall advise the honorable member as to the conditions under which the company is operating the hammer.
Shortage op Labour - Reference Boards.
– Is it a fact that, at the end of next month, a scheme providing for the retirement and pensioning of all miners over the age of 60’ years will come into operation in New South Wales? Is it also a fact that many youths were cavilled out of the mining industry during the depression years, and that, as most of them are undergoing compulsory military training, they are not available for re-employment in the mines? As the retirements and the callup of trainees will cause a serious shortage of labour in the coal-mining industry with a consequent reduction of the output of coal, will the Minister for the Army issue instructions that young mine employees who are in Militia camps or on the way to Darwin for garrison duty shall be exempted from service so that they may be available for re-employment in the mines in order to relieve the shortage of labour of that class in the coal-mining industry. I remind the Minister that coal-mining is a reserved occupation.
– I understand that elderly coal-miners will be retired and pensioned under the New South Wales miners’ pensions scheme as the honorable member has stated. As a member of the War Cabinet, I am conversant with the necessity for increasing the production of coal in Australia. Instructions have been given that no coal-miners are to be called up for military training. With regard to miners at present in Militia camps who can now be given employment in coal-mines, with a view to increasing the production of coal, sympathetic consideration will be given to any applications for discharge provided the applicant is an experienced coalminer.
– Did the Minister for Labour and National Service confer with representatives of the coal-miners on Saturday morning in accordance with his announcement to the House last week? If so, before he makes any amendments of the existing regulations governing the operations of the Coal Reference Boards, will he confer with the Chairman of the Central Reference Board who has administered those regulations since their first promulgation? Will he also provide an opportunity to the coal-owners to present their case to him?
Mr.WARD. - As is usual with me I kept my engagement with the coalminers’ representatives and met them last Saturday. I shall be only too pleased to receive representations from anybody who is interested in this industry. So far, however, I have received no request from the gentlemen mentioned by the honorable member.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that, in the Melbourne Age of the 31st October, the following statement appeared : -
Although no assurance can be given ‘ that the price of tea in Australia has reached its peak, there will be no further rise at present. This was stated by the Minister for Customs. Senator Keane, yesterday, in a review of a conference with the Prices Commissioner.
How does the honorable gentleman reconcile that assurance with the heading which appeared in yesterday’s Melbourne Age, “Tea up 2d. per lb. to-day”, followed by a statement by the Prices Commissioner that, from the opening of business yesterday, the price of tea would be further increased by 2d.?
- by leave- In. view of the widespread interest in the price of tea I have asked the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) to make available a report on the matter for the information of honorable mem bers. The Minister has supplied the following report from the Commonwealth Prices Commissioner: - “ The basis of determination of the price of tea in Australia is a careful consideration of the following factors : -
Prices are based on the value of stocks on hand at the end of each month averaged with the cost of tea in transit. The cost of tea imported by the leading merchants is carefully checked against invoices and customs entries, and also compared with the market quotations at the date of purchase.
The tea merchants are allowed a margin of profit on landed cost, but at no time this year has this margin been so high as that earned before the war. In fact, the merchants’ margins . have decreased steadily since June. At theend of October, the position was that for each penny money margin earned before the war, merchants received only 0.6 of a penny, while the average percentage gross margin on cost has been reduced to one-third of the pre-war figure.
The market price of tea in countries of production rose steadily throughout the first eight months of this year, until it, reached its peak at the end of August when the landed cost of the most representative Java standard was1s. 7d. above the pre-war cost. Ceylon teas frequently cost 4d. to 5d. more than Java teas of a similar standard.
At least two months usually elapse between the time tea is purchased in countries of production and the time it appears on the Australian market. Thus the effect of rises or falls in overseas prices is not reflected in Australian prices for at least two months. Even then, only major fluctuations affect retail prices. The averaging system irons out minor fluctuations and prevents retail prices from rising or falling to the same extent as overseas market prices.
This is demonstrated by the fact that during the rise in price from January last Australian retail prices lagged behind the overseas price until at the end of August Australian importers were frequently purchasing tea in Java and Ceylon at1s. 7d. per pound above pre-war rates, while the retail price in Australia was only11d. per lb. above pre-war prices.
Prices fell early in September, but rose again in October and at the end of the month were again over1s. 3d. per lb. above pre-war prices. All this means that the landed cost of tea now being consumed in Australia is still above the prewar cost by more than the increased price, even though this increased price is now 1s. 3d. retail and1s. 2½d. wholesale above the pre-war price.
These facts serve to show that there is no profiteering in tea, and that rigid control is being exercised over all prices.
Tea is not only an important article in the average Australian’s diet, but it is also an important ingredient in the regimen on which changes in the cost of living are measured. Any increase in the prices of tea will be reflected in increased wages. Whilst this gives the average consumer compensation for the rise in the price of tea, it has the effect of increasing costs in industry. There is, consequently, every reason to keep the price of tea down to the lowest possible level consistent with the landed cost into Australia and the cost of packing and distribution.
The reasons for the increase in overseas prices are briefly as follows : -
Indies, making a total of 470,000,000 lb. and leaving only 338,000,000 lb. of tea from the three chief producing countries available for export to the rest of the world. The United Kingdom contract is relatively large and is about 7 or 8 per cent, above normal requirements. This increase was necessitated by losses due to bombing of London warehouses, sinkings by enemy action and the increased demands by the fighting and auxiliary services which consume greatly increased quantities of tea.
This summary of causes may not be complete. It is certain, however, that a combination of circumstances such as those outlined above has definitely been responsible for the rise in overseas prices, which was not stemmed even by the increase in the export quota from 90 to 95 per cent., 100 per cent, and thence to 110 per cent, of standard exports, 1929-31. The quota now stands at 178,000,000 lb. in excess of the average export quota during the past six years, and is 15 per cent, above the highest quota previously fixed since control of exports front the chief producing countries, namely, India, Ceylon and the Netherlands East Indies, was introduced in 1933.
It is not possible to say ho~ soon the increased quota will affect supplies and prices, but as soon as Australian supplies are available at lower prices consumers will get relief.
To that I may add that, partly as the result of representations which the Commonwealth Government has made from time to time to the International Tea Committee, the quota for export was raised. Moreover, the Commonwealth recently arranged for the Australian Defence Forces to be supplied with tea purchased under British contract. Honorable members will realize that profiteering in such an important commodity as tea would be most reprehensible, and that the Government would not tolerate such a practice for a moment. The present increase of price is due to causes which are beyond the control of the Government; but once the tea is landed in Australia, the price is most rigorously controlled.
– I ask the Minister for the Army whether it is a fact, as alleged, that the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) is associated with, and, in his military capacityparticipates in, the censoring of literature, and the prevention of its circulation among a large section of the Australian public? If so, will the Minister take action to ensure that the honorable member for Barker, in his military capacity, shall be seconded to some unit where his pronounced anti-Russian bias will not prevent one section of the Australian public from reading literature which is to their pronounced taste?
– I am not aware that the honorable member for Barker plays any part in the censorship of books, but I shall obtain a report upon the matter and forward a reply to the honorable member to-morrow.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Labour and National Service been directed to a report in the Melbourne Argus of the 1st November of a statement by the Premier of Victoria (Mr. Dunstan) -
So far as this State is concerned I can see no need for the Commonwealth legislation for rent control. Regulations now in force in Victoria are working smoothly and effectively.
Has the Minister officially obtained Mr. Dunstan’s views on the proposals for controlling rents, and if so, do they agree with the reported statement? Will the Minister also inform the House of the views which have been expressed by each State Government regarding his plans ?
– The control of rents is at present receiving my attention, and I hope to be able to make an early statement of the Government’s proposals. When Cabinet has decided upon amendments of the existing regulations, the Commonwealth Government will ask each State Government to express its views upon the desirability of applying them to the State. Whilst I have not yet sought the advice of any State Premier upon the matter, I have received from many centres throughout the Commonwealth numerous complaints about rent racketeering, and evictions of workers from their homes. Upon taking office, the Commonwealth Labour Government immediately devoted its attention to the matter, and Ministers feel satisfied that the policy of Cabinet, when announced, will give general satisfaction throughout the length and breadth of Australia.
– The cost of sending tomatoes from Geraldton to Melbourne is 3s. 2d. a case by rail compared with 1s. 7d. a case by sea. As the heavy freight charges for transport by rail leave little profit, if any, for the grower, will the Minister for Commerce endeavour to arrange for their reduction in order that growers may obtain a reasonable return for their product?
– - I realize the importance of this matter, and its significance to tomato-growers in Western Australia, who are prevented, because of limited shipping space, from sending their product by sea to markets in the Eastern’ States. At the earliest possible moment, I shall ascertain whether the various railway authorities concerned can reduce their freight charges upon cases of tomatoes in order to relieve the position of Western Australian growers.
– Recently the Minister for the Army called for areport upon the full utilization of the services of women in order to assist our army organization. Has he yet received the report? If so, has he reached a decision upon the matter, and can he inform me of the scope of the proposals to allow Australian women to play their part in assisting the war effort?
– Certain officers have been appointed to the Australian Women’s Army Service, the rank and file of which are now being recruited. Approximately 250 will be enlisted in the near future, and they will undertake in the army those duties which are usually performed by women in civil life.
– Is the Minister for External Affairs in a position to make a statement as to whether there has been any new development in Japanese policy in relation to the war?
– Although I am in a position to make a statement on the Far Eastern situation I cannot do so at the present juncture. Before the end of the session, it may be possible for members to debate the subject.
Hail: Compensation fob Growers - Printing of Committee’s Report.
– Has the Minister for Commerce seen in to-day’s issue of the Sydney Morning Herald a statement by the chairman of the New South Wales Committee of the Apple and Pear Acquisition Board, Mr. H. V. Smith, that it is the duty of the Commonwealth Government to compensate those growers of apples and pears who lost 250,000 cases of fruit as the result of damage by hail last season? If so, will he give consideration, to Mr. Smith’s views upon the matter, and submit a recommendation to Cabinet?
– I have seen the article referred to by the honorable member. I shall give consideration to the matter, and, in due course, submit it to Cabinet.
– As this House ordered that the report of the Committee on the Apple and Pear Industry be printed, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether the Printing Committee has countermanded that order on the ground that the cost would be approximately £80? If so, is the Printing Committee aware of the fact that the apple and pear acquisition scheme last year cost approximately £1,500,000, that the inquiry conducted by the committee cost several hundreds of pounds, and that, if the acquisition scheme is to be continued, a sum of approximately £2,000,000 will be required to finance it?
– The House ordered that the report of the Committee on the Apple and Pear Industry be printed, but gave no direction as to the printing of the evidence taken by that body. The printing of the evidence will be considered by the Printing Committee in due course.
£100,000,000 CASH AND CONVERSION LOAN.
– by leave-I have much pleasure in announcing to the House that the £100,000,000 cash and conversion loan -which closed last Saturday has been fully subscribed.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– The Government desires to express its gratitude to the people of Australia for the manner in which they responded to the Government’s appeal to make this voluntary loan a success. I should like to give to the House details of the way in which the loan was subscribed. I draw special attention to the . number of individual subscriptions. In the short-dated portion of the loan, which carries interest at 2½ per cent, per annum and matures in 1945-46, there were 27,600 cash applications for £5,200,000, and 10,200 conversion applications for £5,300,000. Applications for the3¼ per cent, part of the loan maturing in 1950-57 were -
Cash - 52,400 applications for £28,800,000.
Conversion - 58,800 applications for £60,700,000.
The total cash applications amount to £34,000,000, as against the sum of £30,000,000 asked for. The total conversion applications amount to £66,000,000.
– In reply to a question in the House last Friday, the Minister for Commerce indicated that he did not consider himself bound by the previous Government’s decision to guarantee a price for eggs to the poultry farmers in Australia. Are we to interpret the Minister’s statement to mean that the Government does not feel bound to honour any of the obligations entered into by its predecessors with the primary producers, including the wheatgrowers? If this is not a correct interpretation of the Minister’s statement, will the honorable gentleman give an assurance that no discrimination will be shown against poultry farmers, and that the previous Government’s guarantee in respect of the price for eggs will be honoured ?
– My predecessor repudiated the undertaking which the honorable member states was given by the previous Government to the poultry farmers. A charge to that effect was made against him publicly by representatives of the industry. A deputation, representing the poultry-growers of New South Wales, which recently waited upon me, stressed that aspect of my predecessor’s decision. I have on my files a communication from representatives of the poultry industry of New South Wales accusing my predecessor, or his Government, of a breach of faith in this matter.
– How does the Minister for Commerce reconcile his statement that an agreement with the poultry farmers was repudiated by the previous Government with his statement last Thursday that he was compelled to alter the agreement owing to the fact that circumstances had changed since the Labour Government had taken office? Which statement are we to believe, the Minister’s own statement or the statement by the secretary of the poultry association which was published in the press some time ago ?
– I did not say that I would alter any decision that I had made. The previous Government was a party to a definite agreement in regard to the supply of cases to the poultry industry for the purpose of drying eggs. Owing to that Government’s delay, the poultry industry had to expend a considerable sum of money on procuring additional cases. . When the previous Government was asked to reimburse the industry for that expenditure, the agreement was repudiated. As the result, the Egg Board of New South Wales was compelled to reduce the price of eggs. That point was stressed by a deputation which waited upon me. I promised that deputation that I would go fully into the whole matter and give consideration to its request that the agreement entered into and repudiated by the previous Government be honoured.
SirCHARLES MARR.- I direct the attention of the Minister for Commerce to a statement in the Sydney Morning Herald to the effect that the executive council of the Poultry Farmers Association of New South Wales has decided to recommend the calling of a State-wide conference of egg producers to discuss the following motion: -
That the Federal Government be requested to set up a Federal Egg Supervision and Marketing Board to sponsor and supervise the operations of the various State organizations, and to fix egg prices, on a similar basis to that adopted for butter, the board to be established on the basis of producer control.
According to the same newspaper report the executive of the association has also decided to ask the Government of New South Wales-
To take action with the Federal Government to expedite the review qf the chaotic position in the industry brought about by the repudiation of a guarantee (regarding exports cost) given by the previous Commonwealth Government.
Will the honorable gentleman give consideration to these reports and make a statement on the subject at an early date?
– I have discussed with representatives of the Poultry Farmers Association of New South Wales various aspects of their industry. I assure the honorable member that it is my intention to investigate the position fully, with the object of finding, if possible, a solution for the difficulties of the industry.
Royalties on Patents.
– Has the AttorneyGeneral investigated the alleged wrongful payments in respect of patents used in connexion with war contracts to which I drew attention recently? If so, is he in a position to make a statement, on the matter to the House?
– Since the honorable member raised this matter two conferenceshave been held, and four or five cases have been investigated. I hope to be able to make a full report to the House later this week, or early next week. .
– In view of the statement made by the Prime Minister in this House, on Friday last that the price of all power alcohol blends of petrol in
New South Wales and Victoria would be reduced by id. per gallon and the price of standard grade petrol generally in all States would be increased by Id. a gallon, does the Minister for Supply and Development contemplate making power alcohol available for blending purposes in those States in which that spirit is not produced ? If this be not possible will he consider reducing the price of standard petrol in such States? Under the present scheme are not users of petrol in the southern States obliged to pay an increased price in order to permit of the reduction of the price of a higher grade petrol in New South Wales and Victoria ?
– The use of power alcohol generally is bound up in the proposal to erect distilleries for the production of power alcohol from wheat. At present power alcohol blends of petrol are distributed in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. The establishment of further power alcohol distilleries is under consideration. The reductions and increases of prices of petrols mentioned by the honorable member apply to the Commonwealth as a whole. We hope that Western Australia will share in any concession operating in respect of power alcohol when distilleries for the extraction of power alcohol from wheat are erected in that State.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs ascertain from him whether the Prices Commissioner has prevented the Sydney Daily Mirror from publishing the prices of basic food commodities? If the Prices Commissioner has done so, will the Minister take overriding action to ensure that that newspaper shall be allowed to publish food prices daily or weekly as it chooses ?
– I shall be pleased to place that matter before the Minister for Trade and Customs.
– In view of the fact that many non-official postmasters, who are Commonwealth employees, receive less than the basic wage, will the Minister representing the Postmaster-General immediately institute an inquiry into the amounts paid to them, and take the necessary steps to ensure that they shall be adequately compensated for the services which . they render, and that they shall receive not less than the basic wage?
– I am pleased to be able to tell the honorable member that an inquiry is now being held into the remuneration of persons conducting nonofficial post offices. It is hoped that after the inquiry has been completed, the remuneration fixed for them will be commensurate with the duties which they perform.
– Is the
Minister for Munitions aware that no improvement has taken place since he invited building contractors in Maryborough to apply direct to the departmental officers in Brisbane for the necessary iron and hardware for urgently necessary buildings? As building materials for necessary homes remain in the same category of priority as previously, and as an urgent appeal is now made for some assurance of supplies in order to enable the acceptance of housing contracts, will the Minister take early effective action?
Cables to Personnel
– Will the Minister for Air take actionto obviate the delays, sometimes of five or six weeks, in the delivery of cables to members of the Royal Australian Air Force in Great Brita in ?
– Will the Minister for Commerce make a personal inquiry into the difficulties experienced by citrusgrowers in certain parts of New South Wales intransporting their crop to the markets owing to the shortage of cases, which is said to be due partly to the difficulty of mills in securing logs and partly to the fact that the Apple and Pear Acquisition Board has commandeered all available second-hand cases? As it will be necessary to secure the release of a large quantity of nails if cases are to be made in time to enable the citrus fruits to be transported to the markets, will the Minister confer on this matter with the Minister for Munitions ?
– I shall be pleased to do as the honorable member has requested.
– Is the Minister for
Labour and National Service yet in a position to state the number of manhours lost in strikes prior to and subsequent to the present Government’s accession to office? Can the Minister state the position on the industrial front to-day?
– I expect to be able to make a statement to-morrow in regard to the number of man-hours lost. So far as we officially know through departmental channels, for the first time in the history of this country, there are no industrial stoppages. The tentacles of the Department of Labour and National Service are sensitively reaching out in all directions in order to prevent disputes before they can bring about a stoppage of production.
– In view of the an nouncement by the Minister for the Army that additional employment will be available for women in Army auxiliary services, I ask the Prime Minister whether before the end of the present sitting period he will give to the Minister for Munitions an opportunity to move, in accordance with the notice standing in his name on the business paper, that the Government should forthwith apply the principle of sex equality in all civil and defence departments by according equal wages, salaries and allowances to men and women employed on work of the same class.
– If, when the urgent Government business on the notice-paper has been disposed of, Cabinet has not already determined the issues raised in the notice of motion referred to by the honorable member, and if the honorable member who has given the notice has not discovered by then some other means of dealing with the subject more satisfactorily, he will be given an opportunity to submit his motion to the House.
Attendance before Joint Committee on War Expenditure.
– As the Joint Committee on War Expenditure, at its sitting last Wednesday, only commenced its inquiry into serious charges made by myself against Mr. W. J. Smith, I ask the Minister for Munitions whether it is the intention of the Government to allow Mr. Smith to proceed overseas on private business before the committee brings in its findings?
– I have not yet received any information from the Joint Committee on War Expenditure as to the nature of the evidence which it took last week, or of the length of time that is likely to elapse before it will be in a position to present a report on the subject. The question of the granting of leave to Mr. Smith, in order to permit him to go abroad, is at present under consideration.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce whether before a determination is made respecting any scheme for the stabilization of the wheat industry during the coming year the Government will consult the Government of Western Australia and also the wheat-growers’ organizations of that State on the subject ?
– The Government will lake into consideration all aspects of the industry throughout Australia, and, if” possible, will convene a conference of such interests, before determining its future policy.
Treatment at Australia House.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether any report, or any information, has been, submitted to him concerning a published statement that members of the Australian forces in England are being unsatisfactorily treated by officials at Australia House? If not, will the honorable gentleman take steps to inquire into complaints that have been published and, if necessary, have the causes of the complaints rectified?
– I have not received any complaint, or any report, of dissatisfaction by members of the Australian forces regarding their treatment in London, but I have had referred to me newspaper reports of statements, on the subject by the Agent-General for . South Australia. If those reports are brought before me authoritatively I shall have them investigated.
Debate resumed from 14th November (vide page 466), on motion by Mr.
That thebillbe now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (Amendment of First, Schedule).
– I move -
That, in sub-clause 1. paragraph h, the word “ and “ second occurring be omitted witha view to insert in lieu thereof the following paragraph : - “(ha.) by omitting from . Item 122, thewords and barbed wire’ and inserting in their stead the words, ‘ barbed wire and iron or steel wire of gauge6 to 14 ‘:and “.
The purpose of my amendment is to have plain fencing wire transferred from the Second Schedule, in which it is subject to a tax of 5 per cent., to the First Schedule, in which it, would be classed with wire-netting and barbedwire and be free of sales tax. I regard the present arrangement as anomalous, and this seems to me is a fitting opportunity to correct the anomaly. I assure the Government that I am not unappreciative of its indicated intention to allow plain wire to remain in the Second Schedule instead of removing it from that schedule, and so making it subject to a tax of 10 per cent. I do not wish the fact that I have moved this amendment to be construed as an indication of ingratitude on my part for what the Minister has already promised to do. However, it is absurd that whilst two of the three main constituents of a fence - barbed wire and wire netting - are in their proper place in theFirst Schedule, and, therefore, free of tax, plain wire, the third constituent, is taxable. It would cost the Treasury only a small amount of revenue to rectify this mistake, for the simple reason that very little wire of any kind is available at the present time. If the Government does as I suggest, a mistake will be rectified.- I admit frankly that plain wire was included in the 5 per cent, taxable class by another government. The error was overlooked at the time, but it has been noticed now and I appeal to this Government to put it right.
– The Government has examined the item very carefully. Plain wire, of 6 to 14 gauge, was brought into the sales tax list by another government on the 22nd November, 1940, and it is extraordinary that a supporter of that Government should now complain, of what was then done. The Government realizes that there is some merit in the proposal of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), and it is prepared to . allow the item to remain in the 5 per cent, taxable class, where it was placed by the Government of which the honorable gentleman was a supporter.
– I point out to the Treasurer (Mr.Chifley) that the position with regard to supplies of wire has altered substantially since plain wire was included in the 5 per cent, class by another government. At that time it was possible for farmers and others to obtain adequate supplies of barbed wire, which was free of sales tax. But to-day, barbed wire is not obtainable anywhere within the Commonwealth. Therefore, any concession in relation to it is of no value to the farmers. For this reason, the Government should grant the farmers a concession in regard to plain wire, which they must use in the absence of supplies of barbed wire. I ask the Treasurer to reconsider the matter in the light of the facts which I have stated, and agree to the proposal of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson).
– In the past, governments have had a tendency to exempt from sales tax goods, such as barbed wire, that are used exclusively in primary production. But to say that plain wire is used only in primary production is not to state the facts.
– Hardly anything is used exclusively in primary production.
– Many things, such as reapers and binders and ploughs, are used entirely in primary production. Plain wire is used by many people who are not primary producers. It is used in fences for suburban homes, and in a thousand different ways not connected with farming. Therefore, the Government considers that the item should remain subject to the 5 per cent, tax, which has been imposed upon it since the 22nd November. At a later stage, I shall move an amendment to that end.
– The position is not so clear as the Assistant Minister (Mr. Lazzarini) has suggested. Plain wire is the only fencing wire available to-day, and its price has increased far beyond the prewar level; yet this budget provides for a sales tax of 10 per cent, on plain wire. No tax is imposed on barbed wire, which is unprocurable. It seems that, while other people are being granted wage increases, the primary producers must pay greatly enhanced prices for everything that they require. They can obtain only plain wire for fencing, and No. 10 wire is the only gauge being manufactured at the present time. Farmers all over Australia are experiencing great difficulty in obtaining sufficient fencing wire to meet their needs. I disagree with the Minister’s statement that plain wire is used extensively for purposes other than primary production. Probably not more than . 01 per cent, of the plain wire sold in Australia is used for the fencing of suburban homes. The Government should review its decision in the light of the many problems which confront the primary producers. Farmer’s costs have increased unreasonably since the outbreak of war, and they are also faced with shortages of important materials. I hope that the Minister will not brush aside the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson). This iniquitous tax on primary producers is unjustified, and should be wiped out.
.- I join with other representatives of rural districts on this side of the chamber in asking the Assistant Minister (Mr. Lazzarini) to reconsider his decision. The circumstances of the primary producers to-day are greatly different from those which existed when plain wire was included in the 5 per cent, taxable class. I point out to the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard), who has attempted to interject, that none of the Governments supporters representing primary producing constituencies has spoken in support of the amendment. As the honorable member has endeavoured to interrupt, he must expect me to draw attention to this regrettable fact. I do not wish the Minister to take a lop-sided view of this proposal merely because there is apparently a lack of interest in it on the part of Government supporters. The Government should take cognizance of the fact that barbed wire is unobtainable to-day, and that plain wire is difficult to procure. The circumstances which exist now are so different from those which existed when the 5 per cent, sales tax was first applied to plain wire, that the item ought to be reviewed. Many primary producers are doing noble service on behalf of the nation to-day by engaging in new avenues of production in order to help the war effort. The Government has appealed to the cotton-growers to quadruple their production of cotton for war purposes. But in order to produce cotton in dairying districts, the farmers must have adequate stocks of wire to fence their properties and protect their crops from cattle.
.- I, too, appeal to the Government to leave plain wire untaxed. It is impossible, in these days, to obtain other than plain wire, and even that is available in only small quantities. I do not agree with the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Lazzarini) that plain wire is used to any extent for other than primary production. The amount of revenue likely to be raised by a 5 per cent, tax is negligible, in view of the extremely limited supplies available.
– Then why worry about it?
– I am worrying about it on account of the producer, not of the Government. I ask the Government to reconsider its decision.
.- In supporting the amendment of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), I remind the Minister in charge of the bill that this item passed unnoticed in the dying hours of the sitting which immediately preceded the last Christmas recess. I maintained at the time, and I now repeat, that it is anomalous. On behalf of the primary producers, I appeal to the Minister to accept the amendment, by placing it in the first schedule.
Question put -
That the paragraph proposed to be inserted be so inserted (Mr. Paterson’s amendment).
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. J. H. Prowse.)
Majority . . 4
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
The Second Schedule to the principal act is amended by omitting Divisions I., II., III., and IV., sub-items (1), (5), (8), (8), (10), (12), (14) and (15) of item 19, and Divisions VI., VIII. and IX.
– I move -
That all the words after “omitting” be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “DivisionI, sub-items (1), (2) and (3) of Item 3, Item 4, Divisions III. and IV., subitems (1), (5), (6), (8), (10), (12), (14) and (15) of Item 19, Divisions VI. and VTII. and Items 38. 39, 41, 42, 45, 46, 47 and 48.”.
The effect of the amendment is to retain in the 5 per cent, field the following items:- - Nets and netting for fishing, and materials for the repair thereof; lines, hooks, floats and sinkers for use in the fishing industry; axes and tomahawks; tool handles of wood; saddlery and harness; iron or steel wire of gauges 6 to 14. As I explained earlier, certain classes of fishing equipment have to be replaced frequently by fishermen, and consequently the Government has decided that such equipment should be taxed at only 5 per cent. The other goods referred to in the amendment are those which are for the most part used in primary production. It was proposed to lift them from the 5 per cent, group to the10 per cent, group, but, following representations by honorable members on both sides of the chamber, the Government decided to leave them in the 5 per cent, field. Agricultural machinery and implements are exempt from the tax. If other articles were used exclusively in primary production, they, too, would have a strong claim for exemption. They are, however, used extensively for domestic and other purposes and in these circumstances, it is considered that complete exemption of such goods is not justified. It is proposed, however, to give to them a measure of preference by allowing them to remain in the 5 per cent, field.
– I move -
That the proposed amendment be amended by omitting “ and IV.”
My purpose is to retain Division IV. in Schedule 2. Division IV. relates to foodstuffs and beverages, the most important of which, in my opinion, are canned meat; canned fish of Australian origin and canned fish imported; canned vegetables; cocoa, including sugar and milk powder; coffee, including milk essences substantially made of Australian fruit from which non-alcoholic beverages are made. It is not desirable that the tax on those items should be increased. Do we wish to increase the tax on tinned fish, upon which people living in the outback must rely if they are to have fish at all? They cannot obtain fresh fish. Do we wish to increase the tax on canned vegetables, which, in many places outback are the only kind the people are able to obtain? Do we wish to increase the tax on tinned meat at a time when we should be trying to encourage the consumption of meat, because of the difficulty of exporting the whole of our surplus of this commodity? The Government proposes to increase the tax on fruit juices at the very time that increasing difficulty is being experienced in finding a market for our apples and pears. There is an overwhelming case for the retention of Division IV. in Schedule 2. The effect of the Minister’s amendment would be to remove these foodstuffs from Schedule 2 of the Sales Tax Act. That is the schedule of items upon which sales tax is levied at the rate of 5 per cent, and articles removed from the schedule automatically go into the general field upon which the tax is 10 per cent. That is what I wish to avoid.
.- From one point of view it is strange that, when a proposal is brought down to increase the sales tax on foodstuffs, not one supporter of the Government rises to protest. We did not hear a word of objection even from the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) against the Government’s proposal to increase the tux on the farmers’ wire. We, on this side, might have expected some support from honorable members opposite who, from time to time, have proclaimed themselves the champions of those who protest against attempts to increase the price of foodstuffs. We are concerned at the Government’s proposal to increase the tax on food. We have reached a stage in Australia when we must consume more of the goods we produce. We cannot now export them. A vast surplus of butter, meat, cheese, fruit, eggs, poultry, &c, is piling up. The only way to ensure that these products will be consumed is to make it easy for the people to purchase them. One might have expected the Government to recognize this fact, because, if the commodities are not consumed, the Government will be called upon to compensate the producers for the loss of their markets.
– Are not these commodities widely consumed in outback areas?
– They are. The effect of the Government’s amendment will be to increase sales tax on these articles from 5 per cent, to 10 per cent. Included in this division are mutton birds. Where are the honorable members for Tasmania that they allow this increase? Another item is tinned fish of Australian origin. Should we not be encouraging the Australian fishing industry which, for many years, has not been able to compete against overseas imports? Now that imports of tinned fish have been stopped, we should encourage the use of Australian tinned fish, particularly by people in outback areas who never see a fish except in a tin. Other items upon which the tax is to be increased are vegetables, canned or bottled, soups, canned or powdered, and tomato paste. Only to-day, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson) drew attention the the difficulties of the tomato-growers at Geraldton. The raising of the tax on tomato paste is not likely to help them. It is. proposed to increase the tax on Australian cider, and this at a time when we are seeking fresh means of disposing of the surplus apple crop. Where is the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Breen) that he remains silent in the face of this threat? He has continually put himself forward as the champion of the apple-growers, yet he now declines to raise his voice in their support. I shall be interested to see how he votes on this amendment, and how the honorable member for Kalgoorlie will vote, having regard to the interests of the tomato-growers at Geraldton. I shall also note how the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) casts his vote. I hope that when I have finished speaking he will speak on these proposals; I am convinced, that he would have remained silent if I had not drawn attention to his silence. In the interests of the consumers, whom honorable members opposite claim to represent, they should give sympathetic support to the amendment of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson). I hope also that the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles), who has expressed great concern for the primary producers, will support the amendment. This is not the time to make it more difficult for people to purchase foodstuffs of which we have a surplus. If funds must be raised for the war effort - and I agree that they must - let the money be found in some way that will not reduce the demand for foodstuffs of which we have a surplus.
– The Government is unable to accept the amendment. The versatility of honorable members opposite, particularly the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), is astounding. During the budget debate, they screamed at the top of their voices of the necessity for curtailing consumption in this country-
– Not of foodstuffs.
– Honorable members opposite would have us take the purchasing power from the poorer section of the community in order to conserve consumption. Now, they are anxious to allow our supplies of tinned plate, which is so essential for our war industries, to be used for the manufacture of tins for canning foodstuffs. I point out to honorable members that the items included in this division are not basic foodstuffs. Honorable members opposite have attempted to convey the impression that milk and similar foods are taxed ; but the tax is imposed only on coffee and milk preparations and goods of that description. If the amendment were agreed to the loss of revenue involved would amount to £300,000.
– The Minister has changed his views in regard to the sales tax since his party has occupied- the treasury bench.
– I remind the honorable member that Australia is now passing through a crisis unprecedented in its history. I dislike the sales tax as much as I ever did; I hate war; but we are at war to-day and because of that we have to do many things that we would not do in times of peace. Perhaps the reason for the eloquence of honorable members opposite on this subject is to be found in the fact that they have always been the champions of vested interests and monopolies, and the proposed tax may affect the earnings of some of their wealthy supporters. Recently I visited the meatworks at Riverstone conducted by Vesteys Limited, one of the biggest combines in this country, where large quantities of lamb are being canned in order to keep up the price of fresh lamb. Much of that lamb should be sold to the people as fresh meat. Because the items in this division are not basic foodstuffs of the people, and because the acceptance of the amendment would result in the creation of too big a gap in the budgetary plans of the Government, I ask the committee to reject it.
.- It would appear from the statement which he has just made that the Minister assisting . the Treasurer (Mr. Lazzarini) has not taken the trouble to study the items in this division. In stating that they do not comprise some of the basic foodstuffs of the Australian people, the honorable gentleman is far from appreciating the facts of the situation. I have great pleasure in supporting the amendment because I consider that, in this matter, the Government has taken a retrograde step in that it has departed from the principle to which this Parliament, through the depression years and during periods of economic distress, has rigidly adhered, namely, that the basic foodstuffs of the people be preserved from the imposition of sales tax. I direct the attention of the committee to some of the items set out in the schedule, which the Minister has said do not comprise basic foodstuffs. In the first section honorable members will see references to pastry, scones, buns, cakes and cake mixtures. If we are not to confine ourselves to eating bread, surely it will be admitted that pastry and scones are included in the ordinary menus of the average Australian family. It is sheer nonsense for the honorable gentleman to say that these items do not form part of the basic requirements of the Australian people. The Minister attempted to justify the imposition of sales tax on these items on the ground that it would conserve our stocks of tinned plate. That may be a desirable objective, but surely this is a roundabout way of securing it. As a matter of fact, however, the items included in the division are not restricted to those contained in tins ; they include foods packed in glass jars or other forms of airtight containers. Once again we have an instance of a wrong approach in principle to the imposition of sales tax on such requirements as vegetables and meat, whether canned or bottled. No family seeks from, choice to eat canned food. In many instances families are compelled to resort to canned food because their domestic or geographical situation is such that they are not able to secure fresh supplies. Even the exigencies of the war should not make it necessary to tax basic foodstuffs which are urgently required in remote centres in Australia, and which constitute a portion of the normal domestic requirements of every Australian household however poor the financial circumstances of the family may be. People in areas remote from centres in which food, can be readily obtained have to rely upon canned foods as also do many men living in the outback where domestic help is not available. The Government cannot justify the proposed imposition of tax on basic foods on the ground that it will conserve supplies of tinned plate or that it will divert money to the war effort. Surely we should adhere to the principle adopted by this Parliament in past years that the basic needs of the Australian family shall not be loaded in this way with an unjustifiable burden.
.- The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) and his supporters have emphasized that, in this long list of commodities, such items as .tinned meat and tinned vegetables are used by settlers in outback districts.
– And tinned fish.
– So far as I can ascertain, those few items cannot be separated from this very long list of foods, which are sold principally by delicatessens. For that reason, the Government, has been obliged to include them in the schedule. According to the estimate of the department, the sale of tinned meat, tinned vegetables and similar delicacies is valued at £6,000,000 a year; and no honorable member would suggest that settlers in the outback districts are the biggest purchasers of these goods. In my opinion, as much as 98 per cent, is bought in the delicatessens ; these goods are luxury items of a household budget. To say that this proposal is an attack on basic foods is grossly to exaggerate the position.
The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt), who made a pathetic plea for what he called “ the basic foods of the family”, cited pastry, cakes and scones to support his contention. I remind the honorable member that the average housewife, for the average family, bakes those things, and that the basic ingredient is flour, which is taxed not under this schedule, but under a special act passed by a previous government of which he was a supporter. For that reason, his plea cannot be sustained.
In addition, the last government placed biscuits in the 10 per cent, schedule. The only biscuits which are not subject to tax, namely arrowroot and baby rice biscuits were specially exempted in the first sales tax. imposed because of a plea that they were food for infants. Subsequently, the fallacy of that contention was discovered. Admittedly, at one time arrowroot biscuits were a constituent of the diet for infants, but no doctor of repute would now recommend them as such. Baby rice biscuits are so called because of their size, There are large rice and small rice biscuits. “ Baby rice “ is simply a name.
I urge honorable members not to press for this amendment because after all, they have some responsibility in the conduct of the war. If this item, which involves £300,000 of revenue, be deleted, the budgetary balance will be upset. The honorable member for Gippsland criticized the imposition of sales tax upon tinned fish.
– Tinned fish of Australian origin.
– I remind the committee that tinned fish of Australian origin constitutes a very small proportion of the tinned fish which is consumed in Australia. The great bulk of the tinned fish is imported, and the previous Government placed it in the 10 per cent’, schedule. If the tears of members of the Opposition for the buyer of tinned fish be genuine, why did the Government which they supported include it in the schedule !
– The right honorable gentleman has overlooked the restrictions which have been imposed upon the importation of tinned fish. The bulk of the tinned fish which is now consumed in Australia, is of local origin.
– According to my information, the quantity of Australian tinned fish forms only a small percentage of the total consumption. When honorable members opposite speak of anomalies, can they suggest any greater anomaly than that which arises from placing one kind of tinned fish in the 10 per cent, schedule, and another kind in the 5 per cent, schedule? If Parliament sought to grant additional protection to Australian tinned fish, it would do so not through the medium of sales tax, but by means of the tariff, because there is some substance in the plea for the man outback, the Opposition desires to deprive the Government, which requires this money for war purposes, of revenue amounting to £300,000. They would also remove from the schedule items such as pickles, sauces and capers which cannot, by any .stretch of the imagination, be called basic foods. They come distinctly into the category, of luxuries. I appeal to the committee not to accept the amendment..
.- If, ;is the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) suggested, the sales tax is intended to cover many lines of goods which are sold by delicatessens, the bill has been badly drafted. I have yet to learn that the preponderance of these goods is sold in tins. The Minister (Mr. Lazzarini), as a reason for opposing the amendment, emphasized the necessity for conserving tinned-plate ; but I remind the honorable gentleman that these foods could be packed in glass jars.
– Glass jars cannot be obtained for the purpose.
– I have spent most of my life in the outback, and I have bought soup powders in cardboard containers. Many dehydrated vegetables are also packed in paper containers. This imposition strikes a serious blow at three new industries in Western Australia which for years we have fought to establish. I refer to the tinned meat industry, and to two factories which were erected less than six months ago, one for canning fish and the other for canning crayfish.
– Will not the producers pass on the sales tax to the consumer?
– As they are only new enterprises, they will be obliged to do so. For the information of the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan), I point out that the bulk of their produce is packed in glass jars.
The fishing industry will suffer, an additional hardship from the imposition of the tax on ice, which is carried hundreds of miles in order to keep the fish in a fresh condition. Whilst the Minister proposes to exclude from the schedule other items required by the fishing industry, he has not extended the exemption to ice, hundreds of tons of which ‘‘are used annually by the fishing industry in Western Australia. The schedule itself is very badly drafted. I disagree with the right honorable member for Yarra, because it includes practically every article which is sold in a tin or glass container, such as vegetables and mixtures of vegetables and meat. Such foodstuffs are indispensable to people resident in the outback. The right honorable gentleman’s statement that 90 per cent, of the people would not require these articles is certainly not true in respect of Western Australia. That State is one-third of the area of Australia, but has a population of only 400,000 people. Most of its people engaged in the fishing, gold-mining, timber and agricultural industries rely entirely for their vegetables on tinned and dehydrated products. This schedule should be withdrawn, and redrafted to exclude foodstuffs which are indispensable to residents in the outback.
– For three reasons I oppose the Government’s proposal to extract this exorbitant tax on tinned primary products. Most of our outback people are obliged to live on tinned vegetables. Further, this class of foodstuffs, such as canned and bottled vegetables, and mixtures of vegetables and meat, and soups, are included in practically every hamper which is sent by relatives and friends to our soldiers serving overseas.
– The Army feeds the soldiers. What their friends and relatives 3end them they regard as luxuries.
– Canned and bottled soups, juices, pastes, sauces, pickles, and other items are being sent to our soldiers in great quantities. The Government cannot justify this super tax on the foodstuffs of our people in the outback to whom conserved products are indispensable. My second objection is that this tax cannot fairly be placed on the primary producers, particularly at present when they are confronted with the war and severely adverse seasonal conditions. In view of the difficult time they are now experiencing, they should be enabled to obtain the greatest possible return for their products. Whilst the Government, intends to take a portion of the producers’ returns from these products, at the same time it refuses to place extra burdens on any other section. If our arbitration system fails to give to the worker what he claims to bo his full due, and for which he goes on strike, he immediately has the sympathy of a Minister who holds the view that arbitration fails if it does not grant what the strikers demand. However, this tax . on foodstuffs will directly reduce the returns which will be paid to the primary producers in respect of these products. The right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) said that if this proposal were not agreed to the Government would be deprived of an amount of £300,000 in revenue. That argument does not impress me, because whilst the Government is prepared to “ thieve “ this amount from the primary producers, it rejects the fairer method of meeting our war expenditure to call upon the whole of’the adult population to subscribe to forced loans. Instead of spreading the burden of war expenditure fairly over all sections of the community, as was proposed by the Fadden Government, it prefers to call only upon the primary producers to make a sacrifice of this kind. The foodstuffs listed in the schedule under consideration should be the last articles which should be taxed. Any additional value obtainable from the sales of locally produced foodstuffs at present should go to the growers of those products. Certainly they should not be taxed for revenue purposes when, at the same time, other sections of the community are not called upon to share the burden.
– I rise merely to inform the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser), who has told a wonderful story about large quantities of these foodstuffs being despatched in hampers to our soldiers overseas, that all goods exported, including goods sent to soldiers abroad, are exempt from sales tax.
.- Honorable members on this side of the chamber approach this matter in a way fundamentally different from that of honorable members opposite. The Minister assisting’ the Treasurer (Mr. Lazzarini) stated that all parties were joining in an appeal to the nation to avoid unnecessary spending. The purpose of tha t appeal, obviously, is to prevent people from buying certain goods in order to enable skilled. > labour and materials now devoted to their production to be diverted to the production of war materials. That, of course, is the fundamental principle of war economics. But the Government, in this proposal, approaches it in a wrong way. Sales of articles which are in abundant supply in this country should not be discouraged. Indeed the people should be encouraged to spend as much money as they wish on such commodities as wheat and its by-products, and meat and fruit, of which we have an abundant supply. We shall not assist our war effort in any way whatever by discouraging people from buying those commodities. We approach this problem in an entirely different way.
– From when the honorable member’s party was in office.
– As a Government our approach was courageous. We proposed to withdraw purchasing power from the community by means of direct taxes and compulsory loans, which, in my view, are the only honest methods. Let us examine some of the items on which sales tax is to be increased, ice, for example. The right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), to whom we always listen with great respect, said that the proposed increases of sales tax would have very little effect on the basic wage-earners, but the person who buys ice for a small icechest is the person who cannot afford to buy a refrigerator. By increasing the sales tax on ice, therefore, the Government is striking a direct blow at the people in the low income field. The catch of fishermen on the fax north coast of New South Wales has to be transferred to Sydney packed in ice, and to the fishermen ice is a considerable item. The Government proposes to add to the worries of fishermen by doubling the rate of sales tax on ice. I concede that in the list of items on which the rate of sales tax is to be increased to 10 per cent, there are some commodities on which a 10 per cent, sales tax is justified, but they are so few that it would be better to wipe out the whole list rather than do an injustice by increasing the tax on the larger number of items. The sales tax on essences being substantially the juice of Australian fruits such as oranges and lemons, for instance, is to be doubled. Few people who drink fruit drinks in Sydney shops are wealthy. The sales tax on vinegar is to be doubled. Vinegar is a commodity which is in daily use in all households, rich and poor alike. To-day, owing to lack of an overseas market for our wine, grapes, formerly converted to wine, are being used in the manufacture of vinegar. This proposed tax will discourage the continuance of that trend. The right honorable member for Yarra referred to cakes, pastry and buns as though they were luxuries which only the wealthy could afford to buy, but every baker’s or pastrycook’s shop in Australian industrial areas displays those goods for sale. Who but the poor residents of those areas buy them? I am surprised that so logical a man as the right honorable member for Yarra usually is should put forward a proposition that such goods are not freely purchased by those in receipt of small incomes. I suggest to the Minister assisting the Treasurer that, before making further attacks upon such concerns as Vesteys Limited, he should consult the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully), who would tell him that his department is experiencing enormous difficulties in finding a market for our surplus meat, and that the only chance to meet the situation, and thus avoid a demand for huge payments to assist the meat industry, is through Vesteys Limited and other large meat firms processing the surplus meat for export and for use in Australia. So far the only Government supporters who have taken part in this discussion are the right honorable member for Yarra, the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) and the Minister assisting the Treasurer. We on this side of the committee are consequently compelled to look after the interests of not only the farmers, who suffer when consumption of the commodities which they produce is reduced, but also the earners of small salaries and wages whom honorable gentlemen opposite profess to represent in this Parliament. I hope that the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) who has been restrained since this discussion started will be provoked into saying something on the subject.
– I do not like the sales tax or indirect taxation of any sort, but I am not unconscious of the fact that this Government has inherited from its predecessors a legacy of trials and tribulations. I am also aware that the times in which we live are unprecedented. But I sincerely hope that the longer we continue to govern the greater our effort should be to eliminate eventually all forms of indirect taxes. My friends opposite last week worked themselves into a frenzy of righteous indignation when telling us that people earning from £1,000 a year down to £150 a year were anxious to contribute to the revenues of this country. Yet, to-day, they shed crocodile tears because those people are to be required to pay a few extra shillings of tax a year. Opposition members have had a sudden change of heart if they feel deeply for the people from whom they proposed to take millions of pounds in extra taxes1 and from whom thu Government proposes to take only a few shillings. Last week, the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) challenged honorable members on this side of the chamber to say something in the interests of the farming community. This is the honorable gentleman who, notwithstanding that the Government of which he was a member gave a written pledge to the growers of. apples and pears that they would receive as a final payment the 25 per cent, of the money still owing to them, proposed in Cabinet, and said in this House, that only 15 per cent, should be paid. He therefore repudiated the promise of 25 per cent.
– How doe3 the honorable gentleman know that?
– I rise to order. I ask that the statement made by the honorable member for Ballarat be withdrawn.
– .There is no point of order. The honorable member will have an opportunity later to put right anything- that has been inaccurately submitted to the committee.
– If I have said anything which the honorable gentleman thinks has misrepresented his attitude, I am prepared to withdraw my statement, but I shall make another statement. The reply to a question which I asked the honorable gentleman in this House some time ago on this subject was most unsatisfactory. I asked, in effect, for an assurance from the Government of the day that it would honour the pledge that had been made to pay the 25 per cent, of money that was still owing to the growers of apples and pears. The honorable gentleman’s reply could not be regarded as satisfactory by any standard of judgment. In the circumstances, I submit this his present plea for the primary producers is humbug. He, and some of his colleagues, have had a good deal to say concerning the hardships of people outback. It has been said that the people there have to live on tinned vegetables and the like. The fact is that ever since the land of this country became unavailable to the wage-earners, the land-owning classes have employed Chinese or European gardeners to cultivate vegetable gardens and orchards and have been able to provide all the fresh vegetables and fruit that they have required for themselves and their employees. Tinned soup has been mentioned. We all know that when a land-owner wants soup and meat he kills a sheep, and provides himself with all he desires of that kind of food. The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) and also the honorable member for Richmond have not been in the outback for years under conditions which would enable them to form a reliable judgment on the trials and tribulations of the people who live there. A plea has been made by honorable gentlemen opposite in the interests, so it is said, of soldiers and soldiers’ dependants. It has been argued that the increase of the sales tax will prevent relatives at home from purchasing and sending tinned commodities to their soldiers abroad. If the proposals of the budget introduced by the Fadden Government had been agreed to, the soldiers’ dependants at home would not have had sufficient money to buy anything to send to their menfolk overseas. Because of the substantial increases of soldiers’ pay and allowances provided by the Curtin Government, it is not too much to say that relatives at home will now be able to spend about ten times as much in comforts to send overseas than they would have been able to spend had the previous Government’s budget been given legislative effect. It should be remembered by honorable gentlemen opposite that a serious shortage of tinned plate exists in Australia to-day. We are also suffering from a serious shipping shortage. Our people generally realize that goods to be sent overseas must be packed in the smallest possible space. For this reason perishable foodstuffs, such as meats, fruits and vegetables, have to be packed with the greatest economy. Most of the commodities of this nature which are exported are actually the property of the Government of the United Kingdom. In all the circumstances, there is ample justification for an increase of the sales tax on tinned goods required for home consumption. The Government is merely doing its best to discourage the undue purchases of tinned goods in Australia. The right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) pointed out clearly last week that the sales tax did not fall with undue harshness on the poorer sections of the community, for the commodities which they require are, speaking generally, either exempt from the tax or subject only to the lowest rates of tax. Recently, in the milk-producing areas of Victoria there was such a shortage of milk for the purposes of tinning to be sent overseas, that the State Government had practically to commandeer supplies on farms which, as a rule, were used for the production of butter fat. In all the circumstances, the policy of the Government in connexion with sales tax on tinned products is thoroughly justified.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) stated a few moments ago that I had proposed to Cabinet and had also stated publicly that a certain undertaking which, he said, had been given to the growers of apples and pears should be repudiated. That statement was a serious misrepresentation of my attitude. What I said to the honorable gentleman in reply to a question he asked in the House was that the matter of paying the 25 per cent, was under investigation, but if the payment of the outstanding 25 per cent., which was, after all, only an assessment, meant that the growers were to be paid for 110 per cent, or something more than 100 per cent. of their crop, they would not be so paid; they would be paid only that money to which they were justly entitled. If the honorable gentleman examines Hansard, he will be able to verify what I have just said.
– The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr Pollard) told us that he did not like indirect taxation. His speech emphasizes the difference between the two budgets that have been submitted to honorable members during the last six or seven weeks. The budget presented by the Fadden Government provided for no increase of indirect taxation. It is true that it included provision for the raising of a certain amount of money by loans which were to be repaid in the post-war period. The difference between the two budgets is typical of the difference in outlook of honorable members opposite and ourselves. Our policy provided for a straight-out and honest method of meeting the situation. “We told the peopleclearly that they must be prepared to pay their proportion of the cost of the war. The Chifley budget provides for the raising of money from the masses of the people by means of indirect taxation. If the honorable member for Ballarat will take the trouble to examine a proposal introduced by Mr. Theodore about ten years ago, when he was Treasurer in the Scullin Government, he will find that it provided for the raising of millions of pounds through the Commonwealth Bank, which would have had the effect of lowering the purchasing power of the people by indirect means.
– Order ! The honorable member is not entitled to make a second-reading speech at this stage of the bill.
– I do not intend to do so. The object of the increased tax on these items is to raise additional revenue. The poorer classes will thus be obliged to pay a higher price on everything that is canned. The wealthier classes do not purchase tinned goods to any extent; those goods go mostly into the homes of the people who live at such places as Richmond, in Victoria, Woolloomooloo, near .Sydney, and similar districts in other capital cities. The Government intends to raise by stealth from the lower income earners a good deal of the money that it requires, whilst assuring those people that taxation is not being levied on them. There are large quantities of primary products for which there is no market. The tinning of primary products would contribute largely to the solution of the problem; but that problem will be intensified if such goods are taxed and their price is thereby increased. This tax will fall not only on the primary producer, but also on the poorer classes of the community. Direct taxation is a better, fairer, and more honest means of obtaining money than are the proposals of the Government.
When the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan) said that it was intended to remove the flour tax, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) interjected : “ What are you going to do about sugar ? “ The underlying principle is the same in connexion with both of those commodities. The purpose of the tax on flour is to assure to the wheat-growers a stabilized, payable price, in order that they may have a standard of living comparable with that of other members of the community. The same principle is implicit in the sugar agreement. Yet the honorable member for Ballarat, and other Government members, view it differently; the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan), for the sole reason that he comes from Queensland. Thus we have parochial considerations affecting policy.
– The honorable member is not suggesting that I want the duty on sugar to be lifted?
– I am not suggesting that it be lifted. I agree that all primary producers are entitled to a living wage comparable with that received by other sections of the Australian public. The honorable member for Griffith is on unsound ground if he favours the removal of a tax that benefits one section of the primary producers, and at the same time supports a tax which operates to the benefit of another section.
The amendment of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) should be accepted by the committee. The result would be, not only to help the primary producers over a difficult period, but also to keep down the living costs of those lower income earners whom we regard as of great importance at the present juncture.
– I support the amendment of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson). If the Minister (Mr. Lazzarini) is not prepared to accept it in its entirety, I ask him to revert to the. 5 per cent, tax on certain items in the schedule. The principal objection that I have to the proposed alteration is that it will undoubtedly raise the cost of living .to the Australian people and strike with particular severity those who ‘are within the lower income groups. It is all very well for the Minister to snigger and jeer about those people. He may remember that only a year ago the people of Sydney were practically starving for vegetables. The reservoirs on the catchment areas were practically empty, and because of the shortage of water nothing could be grown. A drought raged in his own district on the south coast. The ‘Sydney market was denuded of vegetables, and prices were sky high. Had adequate supplies of canned vegetables, such as the beans that are now being canned in the northern districts of New South Wales, been available, perhaps the friends of the honorable gentleman would have been able to purchase them at a reasonable price, and he would not now be sniggering at their plight.
– Why were they not able to purchase canned vegetables when the Government to which the honorable member belonged was in office?
– The growers of die beans that are now being canned were not then in production; they are just reaching that stage. Droughts are not isolated occurrences in Australia; they occur frequently, and doubtless those who depend on the Sydney market for supplies of vegetables will suffer from further shortages in the future.
– Not many of them can afford to purchase tinned vegetables.
– I have seen large quantities of tinned salmon in retail stores. The imposition of heavy indirect taxation of this nature on the products of certain Australian industries, which are only beginning to come into production and to which we look to provide employment in the post-war reconstruction period is a very bad way of ensuring their future welfare. The aim throughout Australia to-day is to prevent the nocking of people to the cities, which are overpopulated, causing housing troubles and other difficulties of all kinds. Decentralization of industry throughout the rural areas and on the sea coast, is needed.
The first item is 10 (1) : “ Fish of Australian origin, including crayfish, prawns, crabs, and other marine animals “. Within the last couple of years the development of the salmon canning industry has been begun on the Australian coast, particularly at Narooma, on the south coast of New South Wales. This industry might develop into something big, and provide employment for many Australians; but taxation of this sort will smash it out of existence. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) accused honorable members on this side of having shed crocodile tears last week because the people were not taxed heavily enough, and of repeating the performance now because the cost of living is being raised. At least we have been honest with the people. We told them that it was necessary for them to bear taxation in order to damp down the production of certain consumption goods that we can do without. We did not approach the people in a mealy-mouthed way, say to them, “ We are not going to tax you “, and then by back-door methods tax them on vital food commodities. Our proposal was to impose direct taxation.
Then we come to “ vegetables, canned, bottled “, about which so much has been said. I submit that vegetable-growers should choose the time when the metropolitan markets are glutted to can and preserve their products for later periods of scarcity. That will tend to keep down the price of vegetables and the cost of production also. Last year, many Australian primary producers were encouraged to grow large quantities of beans and other vegetables with the object of canning them for the British Government as well as for the Australian trade. This sudden change of policy, which involves the taxing of the food of the people, may place them in a desperate position. I shall not say more about the sales tax on ice used in the fishing industry than that it seems hard that men engaged in one of the least remunerative occupations should be subjected to this tax. I suggest for the consideration of the Minister, that ice for the use of commercial fishermen be removed from the schedule, and made free from sales tax.
Item 14 refers to coffee, cocoa, and other liquid refreshments. We have beard to-night how the price of tea has risen and, according to the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) it appears likely that it will go much higher still. If that be so, there seems to be no need to marry tea to these other beverages and so raise their prices also. Why raise the price of coffee because the price of tea is raised ? Had coffee, and coffee mixed with milk and milk powder, been left out of the schedule, the working people of this country would have had an alternative beverage to tea. It appears that no consideration has been given to this aspect of the question.
Australian cider, and essences, being substantially juices of Australian fruits, from which non-alcoholic beverages are made, are also taxed. I suggest that the Minister should endeavour to persuade certain officers of the Commonwealth Public Service whom the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Spooner) referred to as ‘his Gestapo, to be more consistent in their policy. While some of the Government’s advisers are urging the people to consume more apples and pears, and the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) is taking aspirins in an endeavour to prevent bad headaches caused by the necessity to pay about £1,500,000 to assist the apple and. pear industries, others among his advisers are urging the imposition of an extra duty on Australian cider. It is merely another instance of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It may be that some additional revenue will be obtained by this means, but, even so, the Treasurer will have to pay it away in order to assist the apple and pear industries. As a means of encouraging a greater consumption of apples it would be well to leave Australian cider off the list of beverages subject to heavy sales tax. I urge the Minister to give favorable consideration to the amendment of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson).
– Two points appear to me to be important, one of them particularly so, in a time of war. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) reminded us that tea is one of the items which is taken into consideration in arriving at the Australian basic wage. If the price of tea were to rise sufficiently, there would be an automatic increase of the basic wage. In the aggregate, a sum of £6,000,000 is involved in these transactions. It stands to reason that if sales tax be added to the price of these commodities, the basic wage will be affected. There is danger that we shall again get into the position in which wages will chase the cost of living, and the effective value of a man’s wages will diminish in terms of the commodities that his money will buy. That is one of the first inflationary tendencies of the industrial and financial set-up of any community.
– Has not that been going on ever since the war started?
– I am not levelling any charge against the present Government in particular. It is not wise for us to get heated, as the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) did. His face became so red that it reminded me of a Rome Beauty apple. The honorable member was badly in need of a little ice.
The second point is one that was raised by the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Spooner) last week. It is something for which this Government is not responsible, as it was inherited from previous governments which failed to make a complete survey of the sales tax field. In my opinion, that is necessary. If some of the committees which have been established are to remain and are to justify their existence - and that is doubtful - they might do well to give consideration to the incidence of the sales tax and the classification of the different items which are subject to that tax. My view is that the Treasurer of the Commonwealth has no desire other than to obtain revenue by the best means possible. I do not think that the present Government and its advisers have set out to hit this section or that section of the community in particular. The discussion to-night has revealed a number of anomalies which should be taken into consideration. The Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) has agreed that fishing gear, fishing nets and other requisites of fishermen shall be included in the group of articles which are subject to the lowest sales tax, but as the bill stands at present, sales tax is to be imposed on fish canned in Australia. For as long as I can remember the fishing industry and its future has given concern to both Commonwealth and State Governments. Successive governments have endeavoured by various means, to establish factories for the canning and curing of fish in Australia, but without much success. It seems somewhat inconsistent that the Government should tax atthe lowest rate the things needed by fishermen, and at the same time should place a heavy rate of sales tax on the product before it reaches the consumer. The fishing industry will have an uphill struggle to maintain its ground against the competition of more experienced fishing industries overseas, and consequently anything that can be done to lighten the load on this industry ought to be done. I know that the industry had a pretty rough time last year because, at one fell swoop, I, as Minister for the Navy, took charge of one-third of the number of trawlers operating on the Australian coast, and there were complaints of a shortage of fish in the cities. A good case could be made out if we got down to arguments about how suburban people live as compared with those in the outback. I have lived all my life in the outback. For eighteen years I saw very little except the bush, and during that time I did my own cooking, washing, mending, &c. When I hear people say that it does not matter about tinned fish and tinned meats for the people in the outback areas, I say that if they had personal experience of that life for a few months it would cure them of their illusions. For the edification of the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan), the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark), and the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Baker), I could make out a case bearing upon the experiences of miners, drovers and station hands, but I do not propose to do so because this is not a time when we should try to create distinctions between city and country. I could also say a good deal about the fellow who marries a woman whose knowledge of cooking does not go beyond how to use a tin opener. If some of the wives knew less about the tin opener and more about their cookery books, it would be better for the health of the community. However, if there is a shortage of tinned plate - and I accept the word of the Treasurer for that - I do not think that increasing the sales tax is the right way out of the difficulty. What tinned plate is available should be allocated so that it can be used to national advantage. We should not try to achieve a desirable end by awkward, cumbersome and doubtful methods. I hope that, during the coming recess, the Government will see the wisdom of making an expert and detailed investigation into the classification of sales tax items, and the incidence of the sales tax, as was suggested by the honorable member for Robertson some days ago.
Question put -
That the amendment upon the proposed amendment (Mr. Paterson’s) be agreed to.
The committee divided. (TheChairman - Mr. J. H. Prowse.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original amendment agreed to.
.- I move -
That the following sub-clause be added to the clause: - “ (2.) The amendments effected by the last preceding sub-section, in so far as they omit Division III. of the Second Schedule to the principal act, shall not apply to any goods covered by that division which are for use in the construction of any irrigation, water supply, drainage or sewerage works carried out on behalf of any public authority charged with the construction of any such works, if the construction’ is in pursuance of a contract or agreement entered into prior to the thirtieth day of October, one thousand nine hundred and forty-one.”.
The object of this proviso is to condition the effect of the omission of Division III. from the Second Schedule That division includes pipes, taps, valves and fittings used in connexion with water and sewerage schemes and the like. It may be said that three different stages have been reached in the effort to bring country towns up to date by the provision of water and sewerage schemes. Some local governing authorities, with the help of the Commonwealth and State Governments, have finished the job. The bill now before us does not affect them. There are others which, in some instances at the request of the Commonwealth Government, have been in a position to draw back and which have deferred carrying out projected improvements until the war is over. It is obvious that works of that kind will pro vide much needed employment when we reach the transition stage from war-time to peace-time activities. If they be deferred now the money that would otherwise be expended on them may be invested in war loans and used directly for war purposes.For that reason we supported the general principle of the imposition of additional sales tax on these requirements. In many towns, however, the local governing authorities are actually engaged in carrying out sewerage schemes and are experiencing great difficulties. A sewerage scheme is always a big undertaking, particularly for a small country town with a limited population. The local governing authorities of many country towns have been assisted by this Parliament. Previous ‘Commonwealth governments provided £1,000,000 for this purpose to be expended at the rate of £100,000 a year for ten years in order to enable local authorities to pay the interest bill during the construction period before their ratesbring them in the wherewithal to meet the liability. The State governments also assisted them by making grants of various kinds. It seems to me to be extraordinary that, whilst Commonwealth and State governments have encouraged small country towns to engage in works of that kind, the present Government should propose to withdraw with one hand what has been given with the other by imposing a higher rate of sales tax on their requirements. Those local governing authorities whose loan proposals: for sewerage schemes have been approved by . the Treasury, will not be able to complete the job on the amounts which the instrumentalities of this Government have permitted them to borrow if this additional tax be imposed. An additional tax of 5 per cent, on pipes, taps, valves and fittings required to carry out works of this kind should not be levied upon authorities, or upon contractors working for authorities, whose schemes have been commenced. As a concrete instance, I may be permitted to mention the position of Traralgon, a town in my electorate which is typical of many towns throughout Australia, where the local governing authority is experiencing a great deal of difficulty in connexion with the carrying out of a sewerage scheme owing to the shortage of labour.
The contractor had estimated the time within which he expected to complete the job on the assumption that he would be able to employ continuously 140 men digging trenches and doing the necessary heavy work. Owing to the shortage of labour he can get only 40 men. I have sought the assistance of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) to secure additional labour so that the contractor may be able to complete the work within a reasonable period. Both the contractor and the local governing authority are losing money and the longer construction is delayed the longer the period which must elapse before rates can be imposed in order to meet the interest bill, lt would be harsh and unfair if Parliament, which has deliberately encouraged country towns by financial assistance to undertake works of this kind, now withdrew that assistance through the medium of this imposition.
The amendment which I have named differs to some degree in form from the amendment that I foreshadowed last Friday. I have restricted it so as to cover only specified contracts, in order to meet some of the objections that were apparently taken last week to the proposal on the ground that it was too wide, and that some local governing authorities would be undertaking work of this description almost indefinitely. Those objections now disappear, because the amendment is con-, fined to specific contracts. I urge the Committee to agree to it.
– The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) has requested that the increase of the rate of sales tax from 5 per cent, to 10 per cent, on pipes and pipe fittings SI,ould not apply to these goods if they are purchased by any public authority responsible for the construction of irrigation, water supply, drainage and sewerage works, and if those works were commenced, or the contract were entered into prior to the 30th October, 1941. The Government is unable to accept the amendment. The proposal is in conflict with the policy expressed in section 70a of the Sales Tax Assessment Act (No. 1) 1930-1940. That section provides that where any alteration of the sales tax law results in an increase of the cost of supplying goods under any contract entered into prior to that alteration, the supplier is empowered to increase the contract price so as to- pass on the added cost incurred by him, unless the contract contains specific provision to the contrary. The Government is unable to accept any amend ment which would have the effect of setting aside this provision as applying to sewerage or water supply works, whilst leaving it in full force regarding other contracts. To set aside the provision entirely, and to forfeit the additional tax in respect of all classes of goods supplied under all contracts entered into prior to the 30th October, 1941, would be to incur a very heavy loss of revenue as very- many contracts would be affected. The present policy of authorizing the passing on of tax in such cases is that which has been followed since the commencement of the sales tax in 1930. The Government regrets that it cannot accept the amendment.
– I am surprised that the Minister (Mr. Lazzarini) cannot accept the amendment. To justify his rejection of the proposal of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) he cited the ‘Sales Tax Assessment Act (No. 1) 1930-1940, which provides that if sales tax increases the cost of materials after a. contract has been let, the contract price may. to that degree, be increased. In my opinion, the amendment does not set aside that provision.
To illustrate my contentions, I shall briefly outline what occurs in Tasmania when a municipality decides to provide sewerage facilities or water supplies for a town. The council discusses the project, and perhaps some of the ratepayers sign a petition asking that the proposal be submitted to a meeting. The proposal is submitted to ratepayers for approval, and a majority may support it. Then arises the matter of finance. In nearly every case the money has to be borrowed. Before this is attempted, the State Treasurer is required to give his consent to the proposal. Then a rate is fixed to cover the charge, and the contract is let. If the imposition of sales tax later increases the cost of the materials, the budgetary calculations of the municipality are seriously upset. In my opinion, acceptance of the amendment will not cause a serious loss of revenue. The proposal relates only to works, the contracts for which have already been signed, and is simply an act of justice to the municipalities concerned. So far as the Government is concerned, the revenue involved would not be very great; but it would certainly represent a considerable saving to a small local governing authority which had borrowed money at a fixed rate to carry out the work at the request of the ratepayers. The imposition of this tax will increase the original estimate of such works and, consequently, the rates of the shires and municipalities affected must be increased accordingly. Honorable members will realize the inconvenience that will thereby be caused to many local governing authorities. I support the amendment. I ask the Treasurer to reconsider the matter in the light of its effect upon local governing bodies.
– Very careful consideration has been given to this proposal. Apart altogether from the aspect of revenue, which itself is of particular importance, I must oppose the amendment because it would be impossible to police exemptions granted in respect of contracts entered into by local governing bodies. Any honorable member who is familiar with the position realizes that it is impossible to estimate the loss of revenue involved in the amendment. At all events, it would be very considerable. I remind the honorable member for Darwin (Sir George Bell) that ever since the introduction of the sales tax, the principle has been maintained that the cost should be passed on. Some investigations have been made into what constitutes a contract. It is very difficult to determine what is a contract as distinct from an agreement. That is but one difficulty which would arise in policing the amendment. We know that some of these contracts will continue for years. How can the department be expected to police such exemptions? The plain fact is that it would be impossible to police the amendment.
– Would it not be practicable to limit the exemption to contracts which expire, say, within eighteen months ?
Mr.CHIFLEY. - Even in that case the difficulty of policing the amendment would remain, because we should have no way of checking up on the facts. We should simply have to rely on some one’s word. Further, if we grant this concession to semi-governmental bodies, a private contractor who finds himself in somewhat similar difficulties could, with equal justification, claim a similar concession.
– It does not affect contractors.
Mr.CHIFLEY.- I have received numerous requests from private contractors that the materials they use be exempt from sales tax. Why should not the private contractor have -the same right as municipal bodies in this matter? If it be recognized in one instance, it must be recognized in others. Consequently, we should not be able to police the tax effectively. The Government appreciates the difficulties which, arise from the imposition of this tax in respect of current contracts; but I repeat that because of loss of revenue, and the difficulties of administering and policing such exemptions, the Government cannot accept the amendment.
.- I support the amendment of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson). I regret that it is limited to current contracts or contracts let prior to the 30th October, 1941. All material required for the construction of public works of this character in country towns should be free of sales tax. If work of this kind is carried out by the Department of the Interior instead of by contract or by the local governing authority, all of the materials used would be exempt from sales tax, because goods purchased by government departments are exempt from this tax. Thus, because of the channel through which the work happens to be done this material is subject to sales tax in one case and free of tax in the other. I am not concerned with the interests of contractors, or local governing authorities. The latter are only administrative agencies for receiving and paying out certain revenue and controlling the works when they are completed. What I am concerned with is the cost of this tax to people in country towns. Municipal and shire councils, which have estimated the cost of current works and have arranged for financing them at that cost, in some cases through subsidies granted by this Parliament and State Parliaments, will be obliged to reframe their original estimate, and pass on the additional cost to the users of these services in country towns.
– Why only country towns?
– I refer to public works of any description. If these works were carried out by the Department of the Interior, or the Public Works Department of a State, the materials required would be exempt from sales tax. Why should we differentiate between works carried out by a government department and works which are carried out by local governing authorities with governmental financial assistance?-
– These works are not constructed only in country towns.
– The amendment covers irrigation, water supply, drainage, or sewerage works now being carried out, or for which contracts have been let, and this class of work is undertaken mostly in country towns. I recall the efforts which the present Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) and I made, when I was administering this class of work in New South Wales, to have sewerage works constructed at Bathurst and Lithgow, which are in the Treasurer’s electorate. I also recall the efforts which the Minister assisting the Treasurer (Mr. Lazzarini) and I made to arrange foi’ sewering Port Kembla and carrying the water services down the south coast. Of all honorable members the Treasurer and the Minister assisting the Treasurer should best appreciate the advantage derived by people resident in country towns when work of this character is undertaken at the lowest possible cost. The amendment does not deal with the problem in its entirety, but simply aims at preserving the original estimate of cost in respect of current contracts and contracts which have just been let. With great respect, I disagree with the Treasurer that it would be difficult to police exemptions in respect of works covered by the amendment. That could be very easily done. The amendment if agreed to would not involve a very great loss of revenue. I agree that if it were intended to cover all construction of this description the loss would be considerable. The Treasurer and the Minister assisting him understand the need to keep the costs of services to the people in country towns as low as possible, particularly at a time like this when the drift of man-power to the cities results in those left behind having to meet higher per capita charges. I urge the Treasurer even now to reverse his decision and accept the amendment which would make a considerable contribution to those living in country towns.
.- I support the amendment, in spite of the fact that we should discourage public works and works generally not connected with the war effort. The Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) has raised two objections to the amendment, first, that he needs the revenue, and, secondly, that he sees no reason why he should discriminate between contracts entered into by semigovernmental bodies and contracts entered into by private persons. Neither he nor I know how much revenue would be involved, but, having regard to the fact that not many contracts can be in process, not much revenue could be lost if the amendment were accepted. With regard to the Treasurer’s second objection, I point out that semi-governmental bodies work in the interests of the community as a whole and bring into effect schemes which are badly needed in municipalities and shires. It would be unjust if those bodies whose estimates have been made were saddled with the proposed increased cost, which would probably mean increased rates and considerable confusion. For that reason I ask the Treasurer to reconsider the decision which he has announced.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 5 -
The Third Schedule to the principal act is amended -
by adding after sub-item (11) of Item 10 the following sub-items: - ” (12) Tooth paste, dental pasie, dental powder and other preparations of a kind used for the cleansing, sterilizing, fixing or holding of teeth or dentures.
– I move -
That proposed sub-item 12 of item 10 be omitted from paragraph n.
I should have thought that our appeal last week would have had an effect upon the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley), because the arguments adduced were logical and well reasoned. Apparently, however, there is need for me to recapitulate those arguments. I again point out the anomaly in that there is no alteration of the sales tax on dental appliances used to protect teeth or repair them after decay, whereas provision is made for an increased tax on the articles set out in the proposed new sub-item. Owing to the degree to which the health of school children is affected by bad teeth the Government of New South Wales is subsidizing a dental service for State schools. Doctors and dentists alike have drawn attention to the fact that four-fifths of all disease is directly attributable to neglect of teeth in the early stages of life. It is acknowledged that a greater number of children arc born in working class families. Government supporters constantly repeat that fact; yet they are endeavouring to place this impost on the people whom they represent. The day of the family tooth brush has long since gone. In every household individual members of families have their own brushes and tooth paste. Honorable members opposite have said that the sales tax is imposed to discourage the use of certain commodities. The proposed increased tax on dental requirements will not discourage purchases by those in receipt of large incomes or by their families, but the poorer section of the community will be prevented from buying them. The Treasurer is endeavouring to throw us back to the archaic ages. In earlier amendments which we have considered, imposts were placed on certain tinned foods which are basic requirements of the people outback. Therefore, if sales tax is imposed to discourage the purchase of these commodities, it is apparent that the principle on which the Government has worked is that if the people eat less they will clean their teeth less. The honorable member for Cook (Mr. Sheehan) seemed to be labouring under a misapprehension in regard to the sales tax on tinned foods. Probably he also believes that sales tax is not payable on dentifrices purchased for despatch overseas. The honorable gentleman is, of course, in error in regard to tinned foods, for all such commodities purchased over the counter for despatch to members of the fighting services overseas are subject to sales tax and so, too, of course, are dentifrices. The Treasurer made confusion worse confounded by also telling us that these articles which are purchased for despatch to the troops are not subject to sales tax. The inescapable fact is, that every person who purchases tinned foods or dentifrices over a counter in a retail establishment, whether it be David Jones Limited, Sydney, or a co-operative store somewhere, must pay the sales tax. Do honorable gentlemen opposite suggest, that dentifrices art? luxuries which should not be sent to our men overseas ? If so, they exhibit a serious ignorance of the privations that our men are called upon to suffer.
– Are there not canteens overseas ?
– The parcels which admirers of the honorable member for Henty sent him when he was oversea? were purchased over the counter and were subject to sales tax.
– The parcels were not delivered to me overseas. In fact they were delivered to me in a chaff bag on my return. They did not catch up with me.
– The Treasurer’s statement that tinned foods and dentifrices purchased for despatch to our men overseas are not subject to sales tax is erroneous. Everybody knows that such purchases are taxable.
– Will the honorable gentleman say whether these items were subject to stiles tax while the previous Government was in office?
– Of course they were subject to sales tax. I do not object to that. “What I object to is that they are now being placed in the schedule covering luxury goods, whereas, in fact, they are not luxury goods, but goods which are necessary for general use in every home. Does the Government desire to see a reversion to the days of the family toothbrush ? It appears to me that its policy in this connexion is likely to nullify the good effect of the dental subsidy schemes of State governments and dental associations. The effect will probably be that the teeth of the children of the working class will suffer. If the Government insists on this provision, the State authorities may just as well discontinue their subsidies. I appeal to the Treasurer and. to the Minister assisting the Treasurer to review this proposal.
– The remarks of the honorable member for Wentwortb (Mr. Harrison) prompt me to make one or two observations. It would be quite easy to produce evidence from medical authorities to the effect that many dentifrices on the market to-day are of no use whatever for the purpose of teeth preservation. I remind the honorable member that the Government of which he was a member was responsible for placing toothbrushes in the classes of goods subject to 15 per cent. tax. Toothbrushes, of course, are most important in connexion with the cleaning of teeth. The arguments which the honorable gentleman has just advanced are, therefore, inconsistent with the policy applied by the Government of which he was a member.
– The basic facts in relation to this subject are simple. The item which we are considering affects, or should affect, every household in Australia. Unless the toothbrush is to be used consistently in the homes of our people, we may just as well eliminate the items relating to toothpaste, dentifrices and the like. There are some people who assert that the teeth of our people are as good as the teeth of the people of any other country, but the incontrovertible fact is that it is not so. I do not know whether the defective teeth of our people are due to the water that they use or to the fact that they eat too many sweets. Whatever be the reason, it is desirable that the closest attention should be given to the teeth of the people. For that reason, steps have been taken in various States to have regular examinations made of the teeth of children attending our schools. Any impartial examination of the position with which we are now confronted must reveal immediately a strange inconsistency on the part of the Government. These schedules are apparently based on conflicting principles. Provision is made in one schedule that “ toothpaste, dental paste, dental powder and other preparations of a kind used for the cleansing, sterilizing, fixing or holding of teeth or dentures “ shall be subject to an increased tax, whereas no alteration is proposed in the tax already payable on dental instruments and appliances, and materials of a kind exclusively or principally sold for use by dentists or dental mechanics in the making of dentures. That is ridiculous. It simply means that by keeping down the rate of tax the attempt is made to provide that the people shall have sound teeth, yet the rate is raised on articles that are needed to keep them in order. Either the one or the other must be wrong. One cannot blow hot and cold at the same time; yet that is what the schedule does. Consideration is shown in respect of the stopping of teeth and the supply of dentures, but is withheld in respect of articles needed for cleansing teeth and dentures and keeping them in order. I cordially support the remarks of the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison). Indeed, I feel that if what he desires does not come to pass there will be “ weeping and gnashing of teeth “.
Clause consequentially and verbally amended and, as amended, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
SALES TAX BILLS (Nos. 1 to 9) 1941.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
Consideration resumed from the 29th October (vide page 33), on motions by Mr. Chifley -
Questions resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended; resolutions adopted.
That Mr. Lazzarini and Mr. Chifley do prepare and bring in bills to carry out the foregoing resolutions.
Motion (by Mr. Lazzarini) - 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. Nos. 1 to 9, and the consideration of several or all of such bills together in a committee of the whole.
Bills (Nos. 1 to 9) brought up by Mr. Lazzarini, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
Wednesday, 19 November 1941
Motion (by Mr. Curtin) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I should not detain the House at this late hour except on a matter of great importance. To-day I received a letter from a constituent, who is a gentleman of good standing; the substance of which is as follows : -
A young farmer from this district went down some months ago, and with other lads, started work at an annexe. He signed a card applying to join the Federated Ironworkers Association. Later a strike occurred and he, with a number of mates, went on working. He was requested by letter to attend a meeting of the management committee on the 3rd September and answer a charge of acting contrary to the interests of the association. Some six weeks later he received a letter which read as follows: - “ Dear Comrade,
I am instructed to inform you that, after due consideration of your position, you have been “fined £10 by the Management Com mittee of the Union for acting contrary to the interests of the association as per the charge laid in a previous communication.”
– Did the honorable gentleman receive the letter from a constituent or from a solicitor ?
– It came to me from a constituent. All of the information which is in my possession I am prepared to give to the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin), but I do not propose to disclose to the House the name of the annexe or the type of munitions referred to. The Minister will learn those facts in due course. I have no other knowledge of the subject than what I have gathered from this letter, but from my knowledge of the writer and of his standing, integrity and general sense of responsibility, I am confident that he would not write in these terms unless he had first confirmed the facts. He has informed me that a young Australian left a country district to work in a Government-owned annexe for the production of munitions of war for the use of our troops in the field. He worked in that annexe under an arbitration award. After a time, the union of which he was a member called its members out on strike. This young man and some of his fellow Australians continued to work.
– He was a “ scab “.
– The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Falstein) interjects that this young man who continued to work for the production of munitions for the defence of his fellow Australians is a “ scab “.
– That is all the honorable member has been baiting for.
– That is an unjustified allegation.
– The honorable member was only baiting honorable members on this side.
– Order !
– If, in the cross-fire of interjections, I misunderstood the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost), I regret it. I thought that he confirmed the interjection by the honorable member for Watson.
– I did not.
– I accept the Minister’s explanation, and regret that I misunderstood his earlier . interjection.
However, I did hear clearly the interjection, of the honorable member for Watson. I had no intention to bait him. Honorable members know his views, and his interjection supports his views. Certain circumstances have been related to me, and I invite the Minister to investigate them in order to ascertain whether or not they are facts. From the facts which have been disclosed to me - and I speak believing them to be facts - it appears that a young Australian was engaged in the manufacture of essential munitions in a Governmentowned factory, that he continued to work under an arbitration award of this country, and that some outside authority took to itself the right to fine him what was probably two weeks’ wages for the offence of continuing to produce munitions of war at a time when such munitions were desperately needed. I invite the Government to make its position clear and to say whether this sort of thing is to be tolerated or not. Members of all political parties have laid stress upon the necessity for providing essential equipment to the members of our three fighting services.
– The honorable member referred to a previous letter. He said that the young man had been fined by the association on a charge set out in a previous letter. Has he the previous letter with him now?
-It is desirable that we should have that letter before us. I do not know what it contains.
– I invite the Minister for Munitions, or the Prime Minister (Mr. Cur tin) himself, if he cares to do so, to ascertain the facts. The letter in my possession came from a man whom I know personally, and I am confident that he first satisfied himself as to the facts.
– The honorable gentleman said that the young man had been fined £10 for continuing to work. There is nothing in the letter that he read that suggests that that is a fact.
– I shall refresh the Prime Minister’s mind by again reading a portion of the letter. The writer states -
A young farmer from this district went down some months ago and, with other lads, started work at an annexe.
– That is not a letter from the union.
– That letter is embodied in this one. The letter continues -
He signed a card applying to join the Federated Ironworkers Association. Later, a strike occurred and he, with a number of mates, went on working.
He was requested by letter to attend a meeting of the Management Committee on the 3rd September and answer a charge of acting contrary to the interests of the association. Some six weeks later, he received a letter which read as follows: -
I am instructed to inform you that, after due consideration of your position, you have been fined £10 by the Management Committee of the union for acting contrary to the interests of the association as per the charge laid in a previous communication.
I think that that is clear. If I am putting a wrong interpretation on the letter, I shall be glad to be corrected in due course, but I am confident that I am not doing so. I invite the Government to ascertain the facts.
– That is not the first time I have issued that invitation. I have already invited the Minister to investigate tie facts.
– The honorable gentleman should not prejudice the case until that has been done.
– I am more concerned with not prejudicing Australia’s fighting men, than, with not prejudicing some Union.
– The honorable gentleman had two years to do that, but he fell down on the job.
– That is an unjustified charge.
– It is not.
– Order !
– This young man was fined for acting in a way which was said to be contrary to the interests of a certain association, but I submit that he was acting in the interests of Australia, and particularly of the members of its fighting forces. No attempt to divert me from the matter which I am asking to be investigated will succeed. I regard it as something calling for prompt and full investigation.
Mr.Blackburn. -What are the dates of the letters from the union?
– This man was requested by letter, the date not being mentioned, to attend a meeting of the management committee on the 3rd September.
– Did he attend?
– Apparently he did not attend. Then there is embodied in my communication a copy of a letter received by the man six weeks later.
– The honorable member says that the man signed a card of membership of the union. Did he pay any contribution ?
– I cannot say. I have merely been informed that he signed a card applying to join the Federated Ironworkers Association. The Prime Minister, being much more familiar with industrial unionism than I am, would not expect that a man would be summoned to attend a management committee of a union if he had -notfirst been accepted as a member.
– All this occurred whilst the honorable member’s party was in office.
– The letter was written a long time after the event for the purpose of embarrassing the Labour Government.
– I am referring to information which reached me to-day in a letter dated the 13th November, which I am prepared to hand to the Minister for Munitions. If what has been related to me is borne out by investigation, the Government should take appropriate action to prevent a recurrence of what happened. . It calls for a regulation under the National Security Act to make it a punishable offence for any person or organization to purport to punish a man for continuing to work under an Arbitration Court Award in an annexe built at Government expense and engaged in the production of munitions of war for use by the fighting services.
– When the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) was speaking to-night, he made an allegation that the previous Government, and myself as Assistant Minister for Commerce, had repudiated an agreement entered into with the growers of apples and pears. By interjection he has repeatedly referred to the matter, and since it is apparent that he seeks to misrepresent the situation, and to make political capital out of it, I propose to quote from the record of questions and answers upon which he bases his allegations.
– I rise to a point of order.Is the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) in order in discussing on a motion for the adjournment of the House matters referred to in a debate which took place this evening?
– The point is a good one. The honorable member for Richmond is not in order in debating a subject which was discussed earlier in the day.
– in reply - The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) has been good enough to hand to me a copy of a letter which he received to-day. I find that the letter was sent to him, not by the person affected, but, by the principal of a firm of solicitors. The firm gives the name of the young man referred to. The solicitors informed the honorable member for Indi that they had sent a letter to the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin), and a copy of that letter was sent to the honorable member for Indi. Knowing that the Minister for Munitions had received a copy of the letter, the honorable member for Indi, without any endeavour to investigate the matter for himself, proceeded to make ex parte statements in this House founded on the. communication he received. If this is a copy, as it purports to be, of the letter received by the Minister for Munitions, it is clear that that letter does not give the name of the member of the association alleged to have been subjected to the treatment referred to by the honorable member. The letter to the Minister for Munitions states - 13th November, 1941.
The Honorable the Minister for Munitions.
Dea r sir,
We beg to submit the following factsfor your consideration.
A young farmer from this district,went down some months ago and with . otherEuro lads started certain work. He signed a card applying to join the Federated Ironworkers Association. Later a strike occurred, and he with a number of mates went on working. At the time Labour leaders and others were pointing out the imminence of the Japanese danger.
Our client was requested by letter to attend a meeting of the management committee on the 3rd of September and answer a charge of acting contrary to the interests of the association. Some six weeks later he received a letter which read as follows: - “Dear comrade,
I am instructed to inform you that after due consideration of your position you have been fined £10 by” the Management Committee of the Union for acting contrary to the interests of the association as per the charge laid in a previous communication.”
The letter then goes on as it was quoted by the honorable member. The Minister for Munitions could not investigate that case because he did not know the man’s name.
– I said thatI would supply the name:
Mr.CURTIN - The honorable member said so, but the letter to the Minister for Munitions does not disclose the name. If this matter has been properly dealt with, and it is one for action by a firm of solicitors, the honorable member has put me in this predicament : I have first to find out if legal proceedings have been instituted. If so, the matter is sub judice, and I can do nothing until the proceedings have been concluded.
– There is no suggestion of legal proceedings.
– Then what is the firm of solicitors doing in the matter? The letter contains the words “ our client If the matter be one in which the relationship between the constituent of the honorable member and the person referred to is that of a client to his legal adviser, does not that suggest that it is imperative that I should discover whether any legal proceedings are about to be instituted? If they are, that would make the matter sub judice and I would not interfere until such proceedings had been concluded. The honorable member, however, was in such a hurry to muck-rake this Government thathe, did not wait to ascertain the facts.
– I made not one word of allegation against the Government.
– I say that, facing the honorable member as I do, because, although I was not in the chamber several nights ago, I have read how the honorable member encouraged another honorable member to make an utterly unwarranted reflection upon me.
– I deny it.
– I have read it where there can be no possibility of doubt.
Mr.CURTIN.-In the official report of the debates in this chamber. The honorable member must have a very convenient memory. In conclusion I say to the workers and to the unions to-night what I have said repeatedly, namely, that it is the duty of this Government, as it was the duty of the previous Government, to provide the most efficient and workable system of conciliation and arbitration so that every worker who believes that he suffers an injustice may, without delay, have the right to have the matter determined impartially and fairly. Whilst that machinery is working no worker and no union has the right to stop the production of the munitions of war required for the purpose of carrying on the defence of this country and supplying the needs of the fighting Services. I say definitely to the Federated Ironworkers Association and to every other similar body that it is the duty of the Government to provide machinery for the quick settlement of industrial disputes, and that it is the duty of the unions to use that machinery so that there will be no interruption of the work of making this country as capable as it can be to produce the essentials of war so that we may wage the war to the utmost of our capacity. I say that frankly so that there may be no misapprehension concerning the position of the Government. I say also to the honorable gentleman that the best and most efficient way to secure the maximum cooperation of the people in this country -for the prosecution of the war is to bring before the Minister concerned such incidents which should not occur, but. are believed to be occurring, and not to make a public controversy about them until they have failed to get satisfaction from him.
– Is that practised by honorable members who support the Government ?
– Yes, and the honorable gentleman knows that I practised it systematically while I was in opposition. I set an example in that respect which the honorable gentleman has proved his incapacity to emulate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1941 -
No. 31 - Commonwealth Storemen and Packers’Union.
No. 32 - Australian Postal Electricians’ Union.
Defence Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1041, No. 260.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Defence purposes -
Auburn, South Australia.
Charters Towers, Queensland.
Cunderdin, Western Australia.
Port Pirie, South Australia.
National Security Act -
National Security (Prisoners of War)
Regulations - Rules - Trial of Prisoners of War.
Regulations - Statutory Rules 1941, Nos. 244, 251, 256.
House adjourned at 12.24 a.m. (Wednesday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
In view of the dissatisfaction felt by dairy farmers at the price paid for milk delivered to cheese factories, will he consider raising the price by at least1¼d. per gallon, instead of1d. per gallon now proposed, as compensation for the loss of skim milk to the farmer ?
– The price of milk delivered to cheese factories is a matter for arrangement between the suppliers and the factories concerned.
alwell asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
Is it now possible to state how many acts confer power on the Governor-General to make regulations ?
– There are at present in force 201 acts, passed from 1901 to this date, which confer power on the Governor-General to make regulations.
y. - Yesterday the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Breen) asked me a question, without notice, as to whether metal magnesium was being manufactured in Australia. If so, where and by whom, and what was the monthly rate of production? Also whether any undertaking had been given by any Minister of the past or present Governments that if certain interests would set up a plant for the recovery of magnesium in Australia, the Government would disregard the manufacture of aluminium from bauxite?
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that this matter is at present under control of the Minister of Munitions, who has supplied the following answer to the honorable member’s question : -
Metal magnesium is being manufactured at Newcastle by Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. The monthly production figures cannot be disclosed, but the production is designed to be sufficient for Australian war requirements. I am not aware of any proposal that the production of aluminium should be affected by the manufacture of magnesium.
Army Educational Journal.
Mr.Conelan asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
What is the proposed form of the Literary Digest which is to be issued to the Australian Imperial Force?
What is the total number of copies of each issue which it is intended to distribute? 3. (a) Is it the intention to have copies issued to all members of the Australian Imperial Force irrespective of whether they are on service at home or abroad; (6) if so, will it be issued gratis? 4. (a) Will the Government print the Digest at the Government Printing Office; (6) if not, (i) is it the intention of the Government to grant publication rights to private enterprise; (ii) have tender contracts been published throughout the Australian press; (iii) have- any tenders been accepted; if so, what is the full business name and address of the publishers whose tender contract has been accepted? 5. (a) Will the Digest carry advertising; (b) If so, who will control the advertising rights, the Government or the publisher; (c) if by the publisher, what is the basis on which the tender contract has been accepted; (d) what is the price to be paid by the Governvent; and («) is this price to be paid on a single-column inch basis, or so much per 1 ,000 copies per issue? If so, what is the basis arranged 1
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
In view of the recent public announcement of the Minister that he is considering the setting up of a prices board and appeals tribunal with a consumers’ representative thereon, will he also give favorable consideration to the appointment of a housewives’ representative?
– The discussions and investigations which are being conducted by the Minister for Trade and Customs in respect of prices control machinery are purely exploratory. If it be decided by the Government to establish an appeal tribunal, consideration will be given to the appointment of a housewives’ representative to such tribunal.
n asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
In view of the fact that signallers engaged on home defence have not yet been granted colour patches, will he give early and favorable consideration to the issue of same, in order to bring this unit into line with other units of the Home Defence forces?
– Colour patches have been approved for all personnel engaged on home defence for some considerable time. Consideration has been given to the revision of the scheme of colour patches of non-divisional units, and it is anticipated that special patches will be issued in the near future to signallers on fixed defences.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 18 November 1941, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1941/19411118_reps_16_169/>.