3rd Parliament · 3rd Session
The President took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I under stand that the Vice-President of the Executive Council intends to table to-day a copy of the answer to the despatches from the Secretary of State for the Colonies concerning the Navigation Bill, and I desire to know whether he will make the despatches themselves available to honorable senators. Of course they have been printed.
– The despatches have been printed; the reply to them will be laid upon the table to-day, and I shall move that it be printed.
Report (No. 1) presented by Senator
Henderson and read by the Clerk.
– Owing to the fact that honorable senators desire to have printed copies of some of these papers for immediate use, I beg to move, with concurrence -
That the report be adopted.
– I rise to move an amendment for the purpose of eliciting information. As regards the reports of Mr. Staniforth Smith on the development of Papua, I notice that no recommendation has been made by the Printing Committee. I do not know the nature of those particular reports, but I think that honorable senators will agree that Mr. Smith’s prior reports have been of considerable public interest ; in fact, if we wish to develop that territory, I think that it would have been a good thing to have had them circulated, because they furnish a large quantity of valuable information as to the possibility of acquiring land. If his recent reports are of the same tenor as the previous ones, I consider that they should be printed, and in order to elicit that information I move -
That the following words be added : - “ and that the progress reports by the Honorable Staniforth Smith on Papua, be also printed.”
– I may mention that this matter was discussed by the members of the Printing Committee this morning, all of whom felt that, as the reports referred to by Senator Pearce are merely progress reports, which are issued monthly, and which do not contain anything of a very special character, there was no occasion to incur expense in printing them.
– Will they be printed at the end of any particular term?
– I would point out to Senator Trenwith that the documents in question are available to honorable senators even after the report of the Printing Committee has been adopted. It is quite competent for any honorable senator to move that they be printed at any time should that course be deemed advisable.
.- I can understand the desire of Senator Pearce that documents of importance to the Commonwealth should be printed and made available to honorable senators who wish to peruse them. But there was perfect unanimity on the part of the Printing Committee this morning, that no good purpose would be served by printing the progress reports forwarded by Mr. Staniforth Smith.
– Have the Committee read them?
– I cannot speak for other members of the Printing Commite, but I have read some of the reports. These documents show what is being done in connexion with land cultivation and settlement in Papua, but the information which they contain is of little or no importance to the citizens of the Commonwealth. However, there is nothing to prevent a book from being compiled from the documents which are from time to time forwarded by the Director of Agriculture in the Possession. But to order such reports to be printed merely for the sake of having them printed, would be simply a waste of public money.
– Are the major facts set out in these reports summarized in the annual report of the same officer?
– His annual report is a summary of what is being done from time to time. It contains in brief all that is set out in these monthly reports.
– I think that when we have an officer who is prepared to furnish us with reports regularly - even though those reports may be called progress reports, and the chief facts in them may be summarized in the annual report - we ought to be very thankful to him.
– The honorable senator does not thank the Printing Committee for endeavouring to do that which is in the best interests of the Commonwealth.
– I do. But I say that an officer who is prepared to do his duty anywhere should be encouraged to continue to faithfully discharge it.
– One feature in connexion with the work of the Printing Committee impresses me more than does anything else. It is that the members of that Committee resent anything in the nature of criticism on the part of the Senate. Now I am sure that whilst every honorable senator is grateful to the
Printing Committee for the work that it does, not one of us abandons his right to criticise freely the recommendations of that body. I think it is extremely desirable that the progress reports of Mr. Staniforth Smith should be printed as they come to hand. In Papua we are carrying on an experiment in colonization - if I may put it in that way - which is of an extremely interesting character. The land settlement of that Dependency is of very great importance, and therefore I think the Senate ought to be kept fully informed of what is being done there by the Agricultural Department. .
– If Mr. Staniforth Smith did not give us the information which is contained in his progress reports he would be blamed for neglect.
– Exactly. But the forwarding of monthly reports by him is merely a waste of time if those reports are to be pigeon-holed upon their arrival in Melbourne.
– They will be pigeonholed in any case.
– Do we not appoint a Printing Committee to examine these papers and to determine whether or not it is advisable to print them? The honorable senator is arguing that it is advisable to print them without ever having seen them.
– One member of the Printing Committee has admitted that he has not read these reports. To my mind the essential point which we have to consider is that whatpossibly may not be of interest to members of the Printing Committee may be of great importance to other members of the Senate.
– That is an argument against the appointment of a Printing Committee. It is a reason why the honorable senator should be appointed to that body, and I am quite willing that he should take my place.
– I am not sure that the Printing Committee is doing useful work. I have never been sure upon that point, and I have not hesitated to express my opinion. If any document upon a matter of public importance is worth forwarding to the Government, I hold that it ought to be printed and circulated.
– Then why does the honorable senator desire a Printing Committee ?
– I am not supporting the appointment of a Printing Committee.
– The honorable senator attacked that body when it did not meet.
– I do not advocate its abolition, but I say that the last word in these matters lies with the Senate, and if one honorable senator desires a paper to be printed it ought to be printed.
– Can the honorable senator mention anything in these documents that is of public importance ?
– I have not seen them. I want to see them.
– The honorable senator has neglected his duty in failing to examine them.
– He merely wants to have a tilt at the Printing Committee.
– Why does the honorable senator not read the reports and then ask that they be printed?
– If I read them, I should not desire them to be printed. I do not read them for the information of others, but for my own information. I can barely do enough in that line for myself. I support Senator Pearce’s amendment, and hope that the Senate will order the paper to be printed.
– I take it that Senator Pearce does not now desire that the paper in question shall be printed.
– I have just seen the paper, and the very first page of it convinces me that it ought to be printed.
– Personally I think the Printing Committee does very good work. One of the greatest burdens thrown on members of Parliament is that of deciding in reference to the enormous bulk of papers with which they are presented which are of sufficient importance to keep and which may be destroyed. A Committee such as ours does good work in going through the papers before they are printed, and deciding upon their value. The remaining papers can always be seen by members of Parliament, and the Committee relieves us of the burden that would be involved in any increase of the number of papers sent to us every morning, some of which are entirely useless.
– When Senator Pearce’s amendment was first submitted, I felt disposed to vote against it. But since then I have had an opportunity of looking through some of Mr.
Staniforth Smith’s progress reports and for the reason which I shall advance directly, I shall support the amendment. I wish it to be understood - and the members of the Printing Committee will, I am sure, accept my assurance - that I in no sense find fault with their general work, or with the decisions at which they arrive. There may be some papers the importance of which ‘may escape their notice, though their contents might appeal to other honorable members. But the trouble seems to be in this case that Mr. Staniforth Smith makes monthly reports but not annual ones. In the very first monthly report which has been placed in my hands he is absolutely summarizing twelve months’ operations. It is to all intents and purposes an annual report. It commences “ I have the honour to forward the following report for the twelve months ending 30th June, 1908.” These words occur at the commencement of the monthly report.
– In all probability the information will be embodied in the annual report.
– The document sets out the operations in land, the area applied tor. the area under cultivation, and leases withdrawn for the whole twelve months. It seems to me, therefore,, that it is something more than a monthly report. I am not laying down any rule with regard to the printing of monthly reports, but I intend to support the amendment with regard to this one. I take the opportunity of suggesting to the Vice-President of the Executive Council, or to the Minister concerned with the administration of Papua, that it might be desirable to do in connexion with the Territory what is done by our large Departments on the mainland. I am aware that the Administrator makes a report on all matters connected with Papua. But it is quite a common practice to embody in such a report reports from the heads of branches. I think that it would be very convenient to honorable senators if the Administrator, in furnishing his annual report, attached to it a report from the gentleman responsible for the administration of lands as a separate document. We should then know exactly where to turn for such information. If that were done, these monthly reports would not need to be printed, and we should know for the future where to look for a report from the Director of Agriculture in relation to all matters with’ which he has to deal.
– I rise to support the amendment. I hope that the paper in question will be printed. We are responsible for the administration of Papua, and it is only right that the Senate should be informed on matters that take place there. It is quite easy for some honorable senators, in looking over a. document of this kind, to miss the importance of some points that might appeal to others as being of very great consequence indeed. The members of the Printing Committee should know that nothing but the best of feeling is entertained towards them bv the Senate, and they ought not to take it as a slur upon them if their treatment of any particular paper is criticised. That is not meant. No matter how useful their work may be, honorable senators may be allowed to differ from them without coming to loggerheads. I hope that there will be no real opposition to the amendment, and that at any time when any member of the Senate feels that a particular paper ought to be printed, which the Committee have not recommended for printing, his demand will not be regarded as hostile. A paper may very well mean a great deal to one senator and nothing at all to another.
– I think that the Senate will be desirous of supporting the Printing Committee, because we are aware of the value of its work in relation to the documents presented to us. I have not at any time known the Printing Committee to oppose the printing of any paper that gave the public information that could be regarded as useful.
– That is the honorable senator’s opinion.
– My honorable friend need not speak like that, because I am sure that every honorable senator will admit that what I have said is true. A large number of documents which are laid upon the table of the Senate are of a formal character, and we should not be justified in going to the expense of printing them. For instance, we should not think of printing a number of petitions. To lay it down as a rule that every paper shall be printed would be very unwise. In this case honorable senators will observe that the chairman of the Printing Committee is asking that certain documents may be printed because they are of an urgent character. I conclude from his statement that the Committee have not had a full opportunity of dealing with other documents laid before them, which were not equally urgent. If there is likely to be valuable matter in the reports to which Senator ‘Pearce has referred, I am sure that the Committee will be anxious to give further consideration to them, so that they may be ultimately printed. I am given to understand that all the documents which have been laid upon the table up to to-day have been printed. I suggest to Senator Pearce that, in view of the fact that the wishes of honorable senators have been conveyed to the chairman of the Committee, he might very well withdraw his amendment.
– I am going to ask leave to amend the amendment, to provide for the printing of Mr. Staniforth Smith’s report, dated July, because it is a summary for the year.
– If it is an annual summary, it is of a different character from what has been supposed, and the Committee will of course be glad to give it consideration. As a rule, I am sure that we are justified in supporting the Printing Committee, because they do give close attention to the documents submitted to the Senate, and certainly do not err on the side of restriction.
– I ask leave to amend my amendment, so as to make it apply only to the report of Mr. Staniforth Smith, for June, as that is a summary.
Leave granted; amendment amended accordingly.
Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON (South Australia) [3.0]. - I agree that the Printing Committee have gone carefully into a number of the papers submitted to them, as it was their duty to do, and we may fairly, as a rule, adopt their reports. I think it is a pity that, if it is the desire of any member of the Senate that a document of this kind should be printed, a motion to that effect should be made as an amendment upon the motion for the adoption of the Printing Committee’s report.
– The report should be referred back to the Committee.
– Of course. I point out, also, that the adoption of the report would not prevent any member of the Senate from subsequently moving for the printing of any particular document if, upon inspection, he thought it ought to be printed. If that course were followed, we should each have an opportunity of examining the paper and deciding whether, in our opinion, the expense of printing it should be incurred. I do not know whether thedocument which has been referred to is of such superlative public importance as to justify the expense of printing it, but I think we should act wisely at this stage in accepting the report of the Printing Committee, when we know that by doing so we shall not preclude any honorable senator from moving, at any future time, for the printing of any document which the Committee did not think of sufficient importance to print. I repeat that I think it a pity that we should take action by way of amendment upon the motion for the adoption of the report, as that has the appearance of a reflection upon the Printing Committee as though they had overlooked the importance of some document which it was their duty to examine.
– Senator Stewart makes a sad mistake if he dreams that the members of the Printing Committee are at any time antagonistic to criticism by himself or by any other member of the Senate. It may help the Committee if Senator Stewart, and honorable senators generally, will understand that there are members on the Printing Committee who read the papers which they are called upon to deal with. If honorable senators generally took a similar course, these papers would have been read before they came before the Committee. In that case, they would see at once that what the Committee does is to discriminate. When a paper comes before them containing facts which ought to be printed for public information, they decide to print it, but when they have to deal with a paper in which there may be an inch of space containing information, and half-a-mile of useless padding, they consider that in the interests of economy they should make no recommendation for the printing of such a paper. But, as Senator Symon has pointed out, any member of the Senate can move for the printing of the paper without carrying an amendment for the adoption of the Printing Committee’s report. Senator Pearce could have achieved what he desires by adopting the ordinary course which is open to any member of the Senate. I believe that if the honorable senator goes carefully into the particular papers which have been referred to, he will agree with the mem bers of the Printing Committee that, after all, they do not contain very much information.
– I have amended my amendment on that account.
– The members of the Printing Committee take into consideration all the facts in connexion with the papers brought before them. If they have to deal with a paper, the substantial facts of which will, they know, subsequently appear in some annual report, they make no recommendation that it should be printed, because to do so would be to secure the very thing which they have been appointed to avoid, namely, duplication and useless printing.
Question - That the words proposed tobe added (Senator Pearce’ s amendment as amended) be added - put. The Senate divided.
Majority … … 7
Question so resolved in the affirmative..
Amendment agreed to.
Question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.
– I desire to ask the Minister representing the Minister of Trade and Customs whether the Government will take into consideration the advisability of issuing a short synopsis of the bounties payable under the Bounties Act, and posting a copy of it at each Post Office throughout the Commonwealth ? I am certain that at present a large number of persons have no idea of the possibility of getting a bounty under the Act.
– I shall bring the suggestion under the notice of my honorable colleague.
– I beg to lay upon the table a copy of the replies to the despatches of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, dated 29th November and 1 8th December last, relating to the Navigation Bill, and to move -
That the document be printed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
-I desire to ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council if the paper which he has just tabled contains the Prime Minister’s memorandum to which the despatch was the reply?
– The document I have just laid upon the table is a copy of the Prime Minister’s reply, dated, I think, in June last, to the two despatches from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and the memoranda accompanying them, which, as my honorable friend knows, have already been printed.
– That is what I wanted to know.
asked the VicePresident of the Executive Council,upon notice -
Witha view to facilitate the debate on the Navigation Bill, will the Government lay on the table, as early as possible, tables showing -
The variation in clauses between the Bill and the Merchant Shipping Act, giving separately -
The variations in penalties.
Showing where misdemeanours in the English Act have been made indictable offences in the Bill?
The nationality of seamen engaged in Australian shipping (Inter-State shipping by itself if possible) ?
Number of passengers carried coastwise in as full detail as possible ?
The regulations to be used as far as ready.
– My honorable friend’s question is put in such a form that I do not think it would be possible to supply the desired information. I may mention, however, that in my two introductory speeches on the subject, I dealt with, I believe, nearly every departure from the British Merchant Shipping Act. In asking - where misdemeanours in the English Act have been made indictable offences in the Bill my honorable friend has used technical words without a full apprehension of their technical meaning. Many misdemeanours are in themselves indictable offences; they comprise a number of crimes and offences which do not come within the technical meaning of felony. Next, my honorable friend desires to know -
The nationality of seamen engaged in Australian shipping (Inter-State shipping by itself if possible).
We have not the information at our disposal, but if my honorable friend so desires, I shall apply to the States for it. His third inquiry is regarding -
Number of passengers carried coastwise in as full detail as possible.
We have not that information. It is true that the companies have the information, but I am not disposed to think that at the present time they are anxious to afford us too much information on the subject. Finally, my honorable friend wants “ the regulations to be used as far as ready.” No such regulations can be ready ; they cannot be prepared until we know what the Act is.
– I must certainly thank the honorable senator for nothing.
– Arising out of the answer, I desire to ask the Minister whether the Government have available any information showing the value of coastal cargo and freights?
– That does not arise out of the question which has been answered. Notice of a question of that character must be given.
asked the VicePresident of the Executive Council, upon notice - 1.Has it come to the knowledge of the Government -
That in the Sydney Morning Herald of 29th ultimo, a correspondent, whose name is given, writes as follows : - “ While on the subject I may add that the French Government remit half the duties on almost all the products from the New Hebrides grown by their own subjects only. A very characteristic remark was made to me by a prominent official with whom I was dining at Vila, ‘ We have cause to be very thankful,’ he said to your Commonwealth Government for imposing their Tariff on the products of their subjects in the New Hebrides, as it profits us not a little, especially so in the case of coffee ?’ “
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow : - 1. - (a) The Government have no exact information as to the respective numbers of British and French settlers, but the estimate given in the article is sure to be approximately correct.
asked the VicePresident of the Executive Council, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
Are the Government aware that much irregularity and delay exists in supplying Commonwealth papers and books to the Parliamentary Library of New South Wales, and will they take steps to alter this state of things?
– Inquiries are now being made into the matter.
asked the Vice-
President of the Executive Council, upon notice -
Accounts under the Surplus Revenue Act 1908 for the purposes of Old-age and Invalid Pensions and Coastal Defence Funds respectively during the months of July and August this year?
– I suggest to my honorable friend that as the Budget speech will be delivered, in every probability, within the next fortnight, he might be kind enough to postpone this question. The information he asks for will then be given by the Treasurer, and full details furnished as to the proposed transactions for the year.
– Arising out of the answer, I desire to know whether the Minister thinks that the disclosing of the information I desire to elicit by my question, would detract in any way from the importance of the Budget?
– I would point out to my honorable friend that at this time it is very unusual to ask for such information.
– It is unusual to refuse information as to matters of fact.
– My honorable friend must be aware that I do not refuse such information to the Senate, but in every possible way take careto see that it gets every informationwhich can be procured. I am drawing the attention of honorable senators to a well-recognised parliamentary practice, and that is, that when the delivery of the Budget statement is imminent, it is quite unusual, by dribs and drabs, to seek information which will practically form the subject-matter of that- statement. It is usual to extend to the Treasurer the courtesy of waiting until he delivers his Budget speech.
– The Government publish the Treasury returns every quarter, and so give the information in dribs and drabs.
– Undoubtedly, and if this inquiry were made at another period of the year there would be no difficulty. If, after the Budget speech is delivered, further information is sought, of course, I shall deem it my duty to obtain it. I do not suggest that t,he Senate is not entitled to the information, but I draw the attention of my honorable friend to what is the usual practice.
– If the same questions were asked in December next, what would be the reply, as to the Trust Funds ?
– Undoubtedly, I should give a reply at once, provided that the information had not already been given in the Budget.
– Arising out of the answer, can the Minister tell the Senate whether it is not a fact that at present no money is being kept back from the States? ‘ Is he prepared to make that statement in regard to the months of July and August?
– I ask my honorable friend to ,give notice of his question.
– And then the Minister would not answer it.
asked the VicePresident of the Executive Council, upon notice -
In respect to the sums amounting in the aggregate to over £600,000 to the credit of the various Trust Funds of the Commonwealth on 30th June, 1908, and leaving out of consideration the Naval Defence and Old-age Pensions Trust Funds, are the whole of the remaining amounts ear-marked for debts actually incurred or liabilities actually existing on 30th June, 1908?
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is as follows: -
The remaining amounts are held in trust bv. the Treasurer for the purposes of the respective accounts which are fully set forth on pages 1 177 to 1179 of the Yearly Statement published in the Government Gazette on 5th August.
The Treasurer is liable to be called upon to pay these amounts at any time.
– Arising out of that answer, I desire to know whether these amounts are in all cases liabilities actually in existence?
– To the best of my belief they relate to actually existing contracts, but I will get further information on this point for the honorable senator.
asked the Minister of Some Affairs, upon notice -
Tasmania. - Control ok Lighthouses.
With respect to the transfer of the control of the Tasmanian lighthouses to the Commonwealth, Dr. Wollaston lias submitted the following proposition to the Hobart Marine Board, which was agreed to : - That the Commonwealth shall take over such lights as the board desires from a date to be named, the present arrangement for stores and the general carrying on of the lighting to be continued, the Commonwealth recouping the board the expense incurred from the date of transfer ; the present permanent staffs to be transferred to the Commonwealth at existing salaries. In regard to payment for the transferred properties such will be regulated in the manner provided for in the constitution ?
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow : - 1, 2, and 3. I have seen the paragraph referred to, which, however, has evidently been written under a misapprehension, as no such agreement has been made.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
Has he received any further .information from the State Commandant in Western Australia as to the class of saddles supplied for military purposes in that State?
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is as follows : -
No further information has been received from the State Commandant in the matter.
The whole of the papers will be laid on the Library table for the information of honorable members.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
Whether the statement published in the press that the Postal Department does not intend to proceed with the establishment of wireless telegraphic communication between Victoria, King Island, and Tasmania, is correct?
-The answer to the honorable senator’s question is as follows : -
Tenders for the communication referred to do not close until 9th December, 1908. No statement can be made at present as to the action which will be taken with regard to them.
– I asked whether the statement in the newspaper - the Argus - was correct?
– The reply to my honorable friend’s question was furnished to me by the Postmaster-General, and I think that he has had sufficient public experience to know that he should not always be guided by paragraphs in newspapers.
Motion (by Senator W. Russell) agreed to-
That a return be prepared and laid upon the table of the Senate showing -
The number of meetings held by the various Senate Sessional Committees during the past session.
The attendances of the various senators at the meetings of such Committees.
Motion (by Senator Needham) agreed to-
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act to amend the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904.
Bill presented and read a first time.
Motion (by Senator Stewart) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to prescribe the Rate of Postage for Hansard.
Bill presented and read a first time.
Order of the Day read for the resump tion of the debate (adjourned from 24th September, vide page 263), on motion by Senator Best -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
– I must ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council to consent to a further adjournment of this debate. In making that request, I believe that I am supported by a large measure of opinion throughout the Chamber. I therefore move -
That the debate be now adjourned. .
– I am aware that there is a general feeling amongst honorable senators that further time should be afforded for the consideration of this Bill. I must confess at once that it is not a measure which can be mastered in a day or two. It is of very great complexity, and therefore as honorable senators intimate their desire to be granted a further opportunity to study its provisions, I cannot resist their request, provided, of course, that no honorable senator is prepared to continue the discussion this afternoon. If any honorable senator is ready to resume the debate, I am sure that Senator Millen will withdraw his motion.
Motion agreed to; debate adjourned.
– I was not aware that I should be called upon so early in the day to deal with this subject; but I have pleasure in moving -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
With the permission of the Senate, I shall avail myself of the liberty of reading from some notes, because the matter dealt with in the Bill is an intricate one from a business point of view. I shall at once proceed to point out the salient features of the measure, and at a later stage. I hope to satisfy the Senate that, if it becomes an Act, it will prove advantageous to the public as well as to the shareholders of the companies which decide to avail themselves of its provisions. The Bill is intended to have a wide application, namely to authorize any joint-stock company in the Commonwealth to put aside a sum from time to time out of its net profits for the express purpose of forming a special reserve fund to be under the control of trustees, to be constituted a body corporate, the said funds not to be employed in the business of the company. Many persons allege that bank reserve funds are not really proper reserves, because they are largely employed in the current business of the banks. The reserve fund is to go on accumulating until it represents an amount equal to the paid-up capital or the reserve liability of the shares of the company, according to circumstances, because, in some cases, the reserve liability equals the amount of the paid-up capital. There are many companies - as I shall show presently - which have a paid-up capital, but under their charters or deeds of settlement there is a further reserved liability in the event of their getting into difficulties. Admittedly, the Bill, if passed, will probably be more availed of by banks and other financial companies than by what may be called, for purposes of distinction,” trading companies.” I wish now to direct attention to clause 4, which reads -
Any company desiring to avail itself of the provisions of the Act must, under its common seal, appoint trustees for the proposed reserve funds, and the appointment must be notified in the Government Gazette, and thereafter the trustees shall be constituted a body corporate and shall have perpetual succession and a common seal.
– What does this mean - “It shall be lawful for any joint stock company to form a reserve fund for the purpose of protecting its shareholders against their liabilities”?
– I shall be able to explain that provision a little later. The reserve fund will be created by amounts voted at general meetings of the company out of profits, and, permissibly, out of premiums on the issue of new shares, the proceeds of forfeited shares, and such sums as represent the recovery of debts previously written off as bad. As I shall show presently, this reserve fund is very desirable.
– It would not get very fat on that.
– I do not know about that. I have known bank shares issued at a premium of 100 per cent.
– But the VicePresident of the Executive Council was referring to what had been regarded as bad debts, which were subsequently recovered.
– There are large banks at the present time which recovered hundreds of thousands of pounds, representing amounts that were written off before or during the financial crisis of 1893. One bank has increased its dividends from 5 to 14 per cent, to a considerable extent by this means.
– Why should not the shareholders get the benefit of that money ?
– The Bill provides that a reserve fund so formed with accumulated interest must be invested in Government stocks or Government securities until it amounts to the aggregate reserve liability on shares, or until the company is wound up, or until calls on the reserved liability on shares have to be made. Clause 9 provides that half-yearly reports of the trustees’ investments must be furnished to the company which has appointed the trustees, and doubtless these accounts will be duly audited. I feel very strongly upon this matter, because I have had it under consideration for the last fifteen years.
– Has this Bill received the approval of the associated banks of Australia?
– I have not consulted them ; but I have seen the directors of various banks, and they have approved of it.
– The honorable senator proposes to give the bank directors power to build up a reserve fund instead of leaving the matter in the hands of shareholders.
– The financial crisis of 1893 - unfortunately we have good cause to remember that occurrence, which has been called a banking crisis by many - is not yet forgotten. Ever since then - knowing that crises repeat themselves at longer or shorter intervals - the idea has been simmering in my mind whether it is not practicable to devise some means by which financial companies would be much better prepared than they, were in 1893 to withstand panics. Many of the banks and companies which succumbed in 1893 have been reconstructed, and have shown commendable caution in enlarging their capital and reserves; others that, fortunately, did not close their doors, have also largely augmented their capital and their reserve funds and keep a much larger percentage of liquid assets than they did formerly, and in the case of banks with considerably larger coin reserves. It still seems to me - following in the footsteps of the patriarch Joseph of Egypt - that we should take advantage of the years of prosperity to provide for the possible years of adversity. Shortly after the 1893 crisis, I wrote at some length to the late Mr. Thomas Buckland, at that time president of the Bank of New South Wales - a man who achieved a great reputation for his caution and intelligence, who came out here practically little better in social position than a farm employe, and who died worth £350,000, which he had made by his own hard work.
– Did he make it allby himself ?
– Yes. I suggested to Mr. Buckland a course of procedure on the lines of this Bill up to a certain point. He highly approved of the idea, but thought the time inopportune - as no doubt it was - and he looked forward to more prosperous times for its adoption. I think it must be admitted that we are now enjoying prosperous times, and it is for that reason that I am bringing this measure forward.
– So as to enable shareholders to relieve themselves of liability?
– By laying aside their own money to meet it. In the year 1893, following upon the failure of building societies in 1892, and the great slump in land values, bank after bank closed its doors, and many companies came to grief. Shareholders in the presumably stronger banks became alarmed. Shares were rushed on the markets, and fell precipitately, much under their true value. Depositors became uneasy, rushed the banks, and withdrew their deposits. Even the most powerful banks felt the pressure, and took all available steps to assuage the panic. One bank in Sydney, with a reserve fund as large as its paid-up capital, and with £25 shares selling at £121, had to close its doors.
– Not “had to.”
– Found that it paid to close its doors.
– The bank, finding its coin reserve continuously falling, closed its doors out of consideration for its more loyal depositors. The directors argued, “ Why allow these timid men to secure an advantage over the honorable men who are sticking to us”? So they closed their doors, thereby intensifying ‘the panic - unintentionally, of course. Another large bank found the price of its £20 shares falling from £65 to £20, owing to timid shareholders rushing shares on the market.
– Because they thought their liabilities would be called up.
– They were afraid of the reserve liability of £20 per share. It is difficult to say when the panic would have ceased had it not been for the statesmanlike action of the late Sir George Dibbs.
– State Socialism came to the rescue of private enterprise again !
- Sir George Dibbs gave the local banks practically the same advantage as the Bank of England possessed in England under the suspension of the Bank Act of 1844. That Bank Act has been suspended two or three times. Sir George Dibbs proclaimed bank notes legal tender for six months.
– Only the power of the State could make the notes valuable !
– There are at least three classes of financial companies which might not unreasonably be expected to avail themselves of the provisions of this Bill. First, there are banks and other companies whose shares are fully paid up, but whose charters or deeds of settlement entail a further reserve liability of pound for pound on shares in the event of necessity arising. In this class may be mentioned the Australian Gaslight Company of Sydney, which has fully paid-up shares with a liability to the same amount ; the Bank of Adelaide, the Bank of Australasia, the Bank of New South Wales, and the Western Australian Bank. These banks have fully paid-up shares, and under their charters, or deeds of settlement, their shareholders are liable, pound for pound, to the extent of their holding. Secondly, there are bank’s and other companies registered under Limited Liability Acts, but whose Articles of Association only authorize a limited amount on each share to be paid up unless liquidation should benecessitated, orshould require the calling up of the whole, or a portion of the remainder of the capital. In this class, I may mention the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, whose shares are nominally ,£25 each, but can only be called up to the extent of £12 10s., the balance constituting a reserved liability. The Union Bank of Australia belongs to the same class. Its shares are nominally ^75 each, but can only be called up to ^25 each, the balance also constituting a reserve liability. Thirdly, there are banks and other companies having limited liability, in some cases the shares only being partially paid up; others having preference shares, &c. It is, perhaps, scarcely necessary to mention that banks’ existing reserve funds, whilst in some cases materially strengthening a bank’s resources, do not free the shareholders from their legal liability in respect of uncalled capital, or other reserved liability on their shares; besides being largely, and in some cases wholly, employee! in the company’s business. As corroborating what I am saying, honorable senators have only to look at the advertisements of the banks, in which it is usually announced that the capital paid up is so much ; reserve fund so much; reserved liability on shares so much ; and then the three’ are added together. It will be found that almost every bank in Australia advertises its resources in that way.
– Do they call the total their capital ?
– They call the total their resources. I am glad to think that, as far as I know, we are without unlimited liability joint stock companies in Australia. It would not be difficult to cite many cases of families being ruined in Great Britain in days gone by through banks, which had unlimited liability, failing. Even now, in the Commonwealth, there are companies whose shares are only paid up to one-fortieth of the nominal share, capital - for example, z per cent, of ^5 shares, or 2J per cent, of £o shares ; the balance in the first case, £4 17s. 6d. per share, and in the other case, ^9 15s. per share, representing, and being considered, a substantial guarantee to trust estates that the company is a very strong one. The companies in my mind’s eye are both very carefully managed, and have influential boards. To me, personally, however, it would be anything but comforting to know that my reserve liability was thirty-nine times as large as the paidup capital upon which I was receiving a dividend. It is an enormous proportion. Briefly, some of the advantages to the creditors of a company taking advantage of this measure, and indirectly to the public - presuming the company has a growing reserve fund - would be the following : First, should a financial crisis take place, the company’s creditors will recognise that funds in the hands of trustees invested in Government securities are, as a realizable asset, much better than prospective calls on a general body of shareholders, which would take an indefinite time and much expense to collect ; and with a strong possibility that considerable numbers would simply be unable to meet their liability. It is. surely, a great advantage to have a fund for the purpose of meeting such liabilities. Secondly, an unlimited danger, through timid shareholders rushing their shares on a falling market, will be in a large degree obviated, as, when depositors see a bank’s shares tumbling down in price, they naturally get frightened, and, by suddenly withdrawing deposits, intensify the panic. Unfortunately, not a few of us have seen such things taking place.
– Does the honorable senator think that the effect of his Bill would be to lessen panics?
– Certainly. Thirdly, the establishment of reserved liability funds, and the appointment of trustees, will necessarily increase the local demand for Government securities for investment, and thus be beneficial to the Government when floating loans locally. Some of the advantages to shareholders arising from the establishment, will be the following : First, the company will have a fund invested safely outside its own business, and available in case of need for the liquidation of its shareholders reserved liability on shares. Secondly, shares will most probably command a higher and a less fluctuating price. Thirdly, testators will have increased confidence in naming such companies’ shares safe investments for family funds. Fourthly, after the fund amounts to the equivalent of the reserved liability, its annual net income, as provided by clause 6, will be available for dividends for the company.
– Will the honorable senator now enumerate the benefits to the public ?
– I thought that I had already done so. Is it not an advantage to prevent panics? Is it not an advantage to the public to establish reserve funds which, in time, will represent millions of pounds, and will necessarily increase the local demand for Government securities, and be beneficial to the Government when floating loans locally? I know that it will not be an easy matter to persuade a certain type of shareholders that, by refraining from demanding higher dividends, they will be really acting in their own ultimate best interests; such an apparently self-denying ordinance being against the grain. But shareholders who have confidence in the company’s directors, and who are permanent investors, and not merely speculators in shares, will, I hope, encourage the Boards of the companies to which they belong to lose as little time as possible, consistent with the maintenance of existing dividends, to avail themselves of this measure, and thus do something tangible to provide against the proverbial rainy day. I may remind honorable senators that in to-day’s newspaper we read that the Minister of Justice, in Denmark, has embezzled £830,000 belonging to farmers’ banks, many of whom will probably be ruined through this man’s forgeries. I hope that such a thing will never occur in Australia. But imagine such a loss as that coming upon one of our institutions. I remember that the Union Bank of London, in 1861, discovered one morning, through the illness of one of its officers, a mon named Pullinger, that he had robbed them of £250,000. It is not every banking institution that can stand a loss like that.
– They would not have any reserve liability if the amount were invested in Government stocks, as the honorable senator purposes.
– But its equivalent would be in the hands of trustees, and could be handed over if it was required. I think it is only fair to mention that, as I am not a lawyer, I did not draft the Bill myself. I went to my -friend, Mr. Donnelly Fisher, a well-known Sydney solicitor, who takes a great interest in matters of this sort, and he, and not I, drafted the measure. I believe that the drafting will be found to be quite up to the average. I think it is only fair to say that I feel greatly indebted to Mr. Fisher, and I believe that if the mea sure becomes law those who will avail themselves of its provisions will also feel indebted to him.
Debate (on motion by Senator Best) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Best) agreed to -
That the Senate at its rising adjourn until Wednesday next.
– - I move -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Might I be permitted to ask my honorable friends who desire to submit amendments to the Navigation Bill to be good enough to have them circulated as early as possible. It will be recognised that the measure is a very technical and difficult one, a.nd it is only fair that, in the consideration of any amendments proposed, I should be given an opportunity to secure the assistance of expert advice. There are members of the Senate who have had some marine experience, which qualifies them to deal with some of the more technical matters comprised in the Bill, but it is not to be expected that, without assistance, we should all be equally capable of dealing with such matters. In the circumstances, it will be admitted that I make a reasonable request in asking honorable senators to give notice, as early as possible, of any amendments they intend to propose.
– Will the Vice-President of the Executive Council promise that the despatch laid on the table, and ordered to be printed to-day, will be circulated the first thing to-morrow?
– The Senate has ordered that it be printed, and I am sure that the Clerk of the Senate will see that it is printed and distributed as early as possible.
– The matter is not now one for the consideration of the Government. The Senate has taken it in hand, a.nd it will be for the Clerk to see that the paper referred to is printed and circulated as early as possible.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 4 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 24 September 1908, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1908/19080924_senate_3_47/>.