6th Parliament · 1st Session
The President took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Act ing Prime Minister if he has seen the statement in this morning’s Argus about the price of meat in Perth and other parts of Western Australia, and also the statement of the State Minister of Agriculture, and whether something cannot be done to protect the people ? Is it the intention of the Federal Government to exercise their powers, if any, to protect the people from the ever-increasing toll levied on them by the food exploiters of Australia ?
– The matter has come under the notice of the Government. The advance in the price of meat, so far as Perth is concerned, is caused by the difficulty of getting cattle down from the north-west rather than by any scarcity of cattle.
- Mr. Johnston says the contrary.
– No. He has represented to this Government that they have plenty of cattle in the north-west, but that they cannot get them down to Perth, and arrangements have been made, as the result of an agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the Western Australian Government, to enable those cattle to be brought down. The question of fixing prices is one that is now engaging the consideration of the Commonwealth Government. I will not say more, at present, than that the Government are favorable to taking steps to prevent any undue increase in the price of foodstuffs, . and are considering how best that can be done.
Soldiers and Public Meetings - Steel Helmets for Soldiers
– Will the Government take steps to prevent soldiers from interrupting and disbanding meetings held by peaceful citizens on the Yarra Bank?
-Steps have already been taken to that end. The Provostmarshal has been instructed to arrest any soldier in uniform interfering with any meeting in any way.
– How long ago were these instructions issued ?
– Instructions have been issued for over a month, and have been emphasized as the result of further disturbances.
– Can the Minister of Defence inform the Senate whether the Australian troops now servingin France have been supplied with steel helmets similar to those used by the British and French forces in that country ?
– Some time ago the Commonwealth Government made representations to the British War Office, asking whether the War Office would supply these steel helmets to our troops, or whether we should. The War Office informed us definitely that they would undertake to supply our troops withthis form of protection.
– Is it convenient for the Acting Prime Minister to make a statement as to the business he contemplates asking this Senate to deal with?
– I understand that arrangements are being made in another place to sit late to-night and to-morrow, in an endeavour to finish the business of both Houses by Tuesday next. Matters, however, have not developed sufficiently to enable me to say anything more just now. The Government propose, after the present business has been disposed of, to ask the Senate to assemble again today at half-past 3 o’clock, when it is hoped we may be in a position to fix the time to which we shall adjourn. At present, it seems possible that we shall have to ask honorable senators to meet again on Monday or Tuesday of next week, as it is believed the Appropriation Bill will then have been received from another place, as well as two other measures, including the War Pensions Bill. We have had a pretty full business-paper before the Senate, and the measures we have passed are now waiting to be dealt with by the other House. The measures to come from the House of Representatives are money Bills, which the Constitution requires shall be introduced in that Chamber. At a later hour in the day we hope to be able to indicate definitely what arrangements have been agreed to.
-Can the Acting Prime Minister inform the Senate ifthe members of the Inter-State Commission are still drawing their salaries, and, if so, what are the duties they are performing ?
– The members of the Inter-State Commission are, of course, drawing their salaries, because these are provided for by the Act under which they hold their appointments. I can assure the Senate that each member of that Commission is fully occupied, if not with the work of the Commission, in assisting the Government in the administration of war legislation. For instance, Mr. Piddington is reporting to the Government on the question of the trade withthe Pacific Islands; Mr. Swinburne is assisting the Treasury in dealing with questions arising out of the flotation of companies and companies legislation generally; and Mr. Lockyer is assisting the Defence Department. He has complete control of the canteens throughout Australia.
– He is doing that in his holiday time, too.
– Yes; Mr. Lockyer as performing this work during the six months’ vacation to whichhe is entitled under the Public Service Act.
– I ask Senator Russell if he has yet received from Mr. Catts, the Chairman of the Prices Adjustment Board, the representations made to that Board by a delegation of Tasmanian farmers representing Tasmanian producers, which waited on the Board at Launceston recently with reference to the question of fixing the price of wheat in Tasmania. If he has not yet received those representations from Mr. Catts, will the Minister consider the advisability of fixing the price of wheat in that State.
– So far as I know, there is no power under the existing regulations to fix the price of wheat. I have received no report from the Board, but if it should come to hand it will be taken into consideration by the Government.
– I have received from Senator Lynch the following letter: -
I beg to give notice that it is my intention to move the adjournment of the Senate this day to discuss, a matter of urgent public importance, viz., “ The urgent necessity of a furtherpayment being made in respect to the wheat delivered under the operation of the wheat scheme, so as to strengthen the hands of the Government in its endeavour to make available another 6d. per bushel to the wheatgrowers of the Commonwealth.” I shall therefore move that the Senate adjourn until 10 a.m. to-morrow.
Four honorable senators having risen in their places,
.- I move-
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn until 10 a.m. to-morrow.
I move the motion with a two-fold purpose. In the first place, I move it to insure that faith be kept with a promise given by the Government, by the banks, or by both, to the wheat-growers of this country that an extra 6d. per bushel upon the harvest would be made available to them. This subject has been before the Senate on several occasions, and I am bringing it again under notice by means of the ad journment motion for the purpose of causing those who are responsible for the operation of the wheat scheme to move at once in the direction of paying a further instalment to our wheat-growers. I am not moving the motion in any spirit of antagonism to the Government at all. I acknowledge that but for the action taken by the Federal Government in conjunction with the Governments of the States the wheat-growers throughout Australia would not be in as good a position as they are in today; but I urge upon the Government that, as the producers are passing through a very crucial time just now, this extra payment should be made at once. The instalment, small though it seems, is urgently required by the farmers. I have heard it said in this chamber, and elsewhere, that the farmers have done very well out of this scheme; but I would point out that they have “ delivered the goods.” According to the statement made by the Minister, the farmers have delivered about 160,000,000 bushels of wheat to the Government or their agents, and the only payment made to date represents about 50 per cent. of its value.
– Will the honorable senator say what the extra 6d. amounts to?
– For a harvest of 160,000,000 bushels, an extra 6d. would represent about £4,000,000. I repeat that this payment is urgently needed if the people who are engaged in this particular industry are to carry on their operations to the fullest extent. Moreover, the promise was virtually made that they were to receive this extra 6d. at an early date, and if it is withheld there will be a corresponding reduction in employment when the war is over, or even during its progress. The Government should do something to provide the money in order that every available acre may go under cultivation. I know that thousands of farmers at present are held up for want of money to employ labour, to meet their obligations, and to put a larger area under cultivation.
– Surely the farmer would not accept money from the Government, seeing that heis such an antisocialist.
– I am not concerned with that aspect of the matter at all. I realize that if I depended on the farmers’ vote I would not be standing where I am to-day ; but that does not blind me to the fact that the prosperity of this country depends upon the prosperity of the farmer.
– You represent the farmers here as well as every other section of the community?
– Yes, I hope I do; and I have no wish to say anything about the farmer leaning on the Government in a matter of this sort. I take it that the Government when they entered into the wheat scheme were not acting in an altruistic spirit, but they felt that the farmer was entitled to consideration in a difficult situation. The scheme was a bargain, and a good bargain between society on the one hand and a section of producers, known as the farmers, on the other. The Government to-day, I presume, have not wanted to help the farmers because of their particular political belief, and for my part, if I considered only the political leanings of farmers, it might be presumed I would not be inclined to help them, because they have not helped me into this position. But in this matter, as in all others of primary importance, I have placed political considerations on one side, and I have in view the industrial advancement and progress of this country. We are depending in a large measure upon the prosperity of our primary producers, and I urge that this extra payment be made to the wheat farmers without delay.
They have delivered the wheat, and have received for it something in the neighbourhood of 2s. 6d. per bushel, although, according to the f.o.b. price ruling in London to-day, it is worth 5s. 3d., so that they have received a little less than half of its market value. In other words, the farmers are on half time, or are receiving only half their wages for the work they have done in making the soil of this country productive. I emphasize that this payment of 6d. needs to be made now if we are to look for an increase in the area being put under cultivation. I do not need to repeat that the wheat farmers are at a considerable disadvantage, because, unlike other primary producers of this country, they derive no benefit from any form of protection. The man engaged in growing sugar, fruit, or other primary products is given protection through the Customs. By the way, I should like to remind Senator
Ferricks, who recently said that the farmers to-day are taking no risks, that while it is quite true that the Queensland farmers take no risks, because they are paid every penny for what they produce, that, cannot be said of the farmers engaged in producing wheat.
– Let the honorable senator go to Queensland to grow sugar and see how he will get on.
– It is well to remember that the wheat farmers of Australia do have to take risks. Unlike the sugar farmers, they are not only without any protection/ but are up against the competition of the cheapest labour in the world. The Queensland sugar farmers enjoy the friendly shelter of a protective Tariff and special legislation. They take no risks in Queensland. But the wheat producers are up against the competition of the cheapest of European labour, of the coolie on the slopes of the Himalayas, of the Egyptian fellaheen - who bales water for his crops from the Nile in a leather bucket - and of every other form of cheap labour in every part of the world, and are holding their own. Yet we are told that the farmers to-day are taking no risks. The wheat farmers of Australia are employing more labour, and taking more risks, than is any other primary producer.
– Is it not a fact that before the institution of the wheat pool forward sales of wheat were made at as low as 2s. per bushel?
– I will concede to the honorable senator that some forward sales were made at 2s. 9d. per bushel. Eight down the centuries great trouble has arisen because of the general disposition of men to look upon things only from their own stand-point, and to take no thought of how the interests of others that require to be equally safeguarded are affected. The position of the wheat farmer to-day is such that, unless the Government and the banks take the action I advise, a considerable area throughout Australia will be allowed to remain fallow and unproductive.
In the Old Country and here, during the progress of the war, we have been told that it is a wise policy to refrain from buying anything but the bare necessaries of life, and it is equally wise to sell all the things we can in order to increase our resources. We cannot sell what we do not produce, and the policy I have referred to marks the urgency of the need for the advancement of this extra 6d. per bushel in order that our producers may be encouraged to extract more wealth from the soil of Australia that we may have all the more to sell. By that means a wider field of employment will be opened during the progress of the war and after its close. After all, is there any risk attached to this business of the wheat pool 1 I do not know what is exactly the connexion between the Commonwealth and the banks, as I have not been fully informed concerning it.
– We guarantee all loss.
– I think I am entitled to assume that the Commonwealth Government are guaranteeing the payment of whatever advances may be made by the banks. If that be so, where is the risk, especially in view of the fact that the goods have been delivered in good order? They are realizable, and could be sold to-morrow in the consuming centres of the world at their face value if shipping could be found for them. When the goods are there and only half paid for, it is not too much to ask that this further instalment, amounting to about £4,000,000, should be paid to the wheat producers at this particularly crucial time. I feel very strongly on this matter because of my knowledge of the men who have gone out into the interior to grow wheat, have there battled with insuperable odds, and have been my friends in the past.
– The honorable senator has said that the wheat farmers have been led to believe that they would receive the additional 6d. per bushel. Will he say what reasons have led to that belief 1
– A telegram appeared in the press in Western Australia to the effect that Senator Russell, representing the Commonwealth Government on the Wheat Board, went to Sydney for the purpose of conferring with the financial authorities there with a view to seeing whether another 6d. per bushel could not be given. A further telegram appeared stating that the extra 6d. per bushel had already been paid in the State of Victoria. When such information appeared in the press, it naturally created -a lively anticipation that the extra 6d. per bushel would be forthcoming.
– The honorable senator does not believe everything that appears in the press?
– It is not necessary that I should tell the honorable senator that I do not.
– It was stated in the press that I was not going to the Board meeting in Sydney.
– The statement was made in the press in Western Australia that the’ Minister visited Sydney in order to ascertain what might be done to secure the advance of the extra 6d. per bushel, and there was, further, a positive statement that the 6d. was being paid in the State of Victoria.
– Is it being paid here ?
– I do not know, but that is what appeared in the Western Australian press, and the wheat farmers have been justified in believing that the extra 6d. was going to be paid. If the Government propose to take any step in that direction, they should take it now. They must have had in mind the payment of the extra 6d., or otherwise the Assistant Minister would not have gone to Sydney to confer with the financial authorities there to see if the advance could be made. I urge that the advance should be made on the grounds I have already stated.
The Commonwealth Government have pledged the security of the country to the extent of £12,000,000, but, at 5s. per bushel, they have the goods representing a value of £40,000,000, less the sales effected. They have a sufficient margin of security in the wheat delivered to warrant them in saying to the banks, “ Pay this money and we shall increase our guarantee to you to the extent of the extra 6d. per bushel, which is, roughly, £4,000,000.” We want wheat production to prosper, we want our idle areas to be brought under cultivation, and’ we want work for our people. It is especially desirable that they should be induced to leave the crowded centres of population, to leave the “ festering sores of civilization,” as the big cities have been so well described by Thomas Jefferson. Unless the extra 6d. is given to-day it might as well be kept back for the next twelve months, so far as any increased production in the next twelve months is concerned. There is not an hour to spare.
If the advance is made now, it will be the means of getting an increased area under wheat, and of providing much needed employment for our people. It is unnecessary that I should labour the subject, because I feel that it must appeal to every member of the Senate. As I have my neck in the collar, Iknow exactly where the pinch comes, and I speak feelingly because of my knowledge of the conditions in my own particular locality and of the producers of other places with whom I have come in contact. I esteem and appreciate most highly the action of the State Governments in dealing with this matter, but I remind honorable senators that, up to date, the Commonwealth Government have lost no money in connexion with the wheat pool. They have simply pledged the credit, good faith, and reputation of the people of Australia as security for the money’ advanced by the banks, and what better securitycould they have? The Commonwealth Governmenthave lost nothing, and will lose nothing by making the further advance asked for, and they will have the consoling reflection that it will be the means of having idle lands brought under cultivation to a greater degree than will be possible if the advance is not made. If they do not make a move now, they need not move for another twelve months or two years. Having put their hand to the plough, and decided that it is a wise course to pledge the public credit of the country for the advances made, they can go this further step with safety, and see that the extra 6d. per bushel is paid.
Honorable senators know how much is dependent on the prosperity of the country. We have heard something about the coal industry being jeopardized, but let me remind honorable senators that the coal remains in the earth, and the value of our coal deposits is not reduced by a single penny, but when a season is allowed to pass without getting the utmost wheat yield from the ground the loss involved can never be recovered. You might as well try to drive the mill with the water that has passed. Whilst the Commonwealth Government have done well, I do not know that they have done more than has been done by the State Governments. Western Australia, which has a population of scarcely 400,000, or less than a third-rate town in Eng land, came forward with actual cash for the support of those engagedin primary production in the State to the extent of nearly £1,000,000. They gave seed, feed, groceries of all kinds, and machinery, and everything else throughout the wide range of the farmers’ requirements.
– They are riding for a fall.
– What intolerable nonsense !
– If the State Government of Western Australia did such a lot in comparison with what has been done by the Commonwealth Government, where did they get the money?
– I presume that they got it from loan money, but that is not what the Commonwealth Government have done.
– I think there hasbeen co-operation, and the State Government of Western Australia should not get all the credit.
– At all events, they showed their willingness to tap the resources of loan funds for the assistance of the primary producer.
– With the cooperation of the Commonwealth Government.
– I am referring to something that is apart from what the Commonwealth Government did. In. 1914 my brother and I planted 700 acres, and did not get as much crop as you could lift on a pencil. Thousands of others were in the same position, but the Labour Government of the State came forward, and said, “We must give assistance to these men and keep them on the land.”’ Their resolve was carried out to the letter, and they gave the utmost assistance in the way I have explained. They spent about £1,000,000 in this way, and with the happiest results. We had a good season this year, and land that had been bare and barren produced last year an average yield of between 13 and 14 bushels per acre. So far as the information given us by the Assistant Minister is concerned, the Commonwealth Government, in connexion with the wheat pool, have not yet expended a brass farthing. I have mentioned what the Western Australian Government have done, and I believe that the Governments of other States have done as well.
Honorable senators have travelled a good deal in Australia, and have not reached the .positions they now occupy without knowing something of the risks, hardships, and discomforts attending pioneering occupations in Australia. They know what the settler has had to do, and that many of them, with broken hearts and broken bodies, have lilting on in order to make the patch of land they call their own fertile and productive in their last endeavour. These men can be counted, not by the hundred, but by the thousand in Australia. It is for the sake of this courageous and brave «lenient in our population - the men who leave the cities behind them to make the inland wastes of the country habitable and bountiful - that I am raising my voice on the present occasion. I want action to be taken on their behalf, and I want it to be taken now. If these men are to be given help, it must be given at this vital time. Help given at the right time may mean all the difference between adversity and prosperity, between a grinding struggle and tolerable success.
What the banks have done in this matter deserves some consideration. I appreciate very highly what the Commonwealth Bank has done. It has taken on a giant’s share in the task of financing the wheat scheme. The work it has done is a monumental tribute to the party now occupying the Treasury benches in bringing it into existence. Have the other banks done likewise?
– The Bank of New South Wales has done remarkably well.
– I understand that that is so, but other banks could be named that have not stood up to their work in this matter. We have often heard that the banks represent a very material factor in developing the resources of the country, but what has happened in connexion with the wheat scheme shows that some of them are not entitled to make that claim.
– Has any bank in Australia refused one of the wheat certificates ?
– I do not see why they should. The cashing of one of these certificates is a very safe proposition for any bank . It would be like buying a gold brick. Some of the banks need to take care if they are not prepared to do something in connexion with this matter. I recognise the action of the banks that have ren dered assistance, because they have taken their part without regarding the scheme as a purely dividend-producing proposal, but from the better motive of desiring to assist in the development of the resources of the country and in keeping the people engaged in primary production. If the banks do not come forward this time, the Commonwealth Government have the power to see that they are amenable to reason, and do something to justify their claim to be an indispensable factor in developing the resources of Australia.
– The payment of the extra 6d. does not depend on the banks.
– Then it must depend on the Government?
– If so, my remarks will be directed just as unmercifully towards the Government. Perhaps I should be cautious, seeing that information comes from a source which, in a purely political sense, requires very close scrutiny. It reminds me of the story that when Daniel 0’ Connell was praised by the London Times he always made it a practice to examine his conscience.
– The honorable senator has exceeded the time-limit allowed him under the standing order.
– Senator Lynch has made a most pathetic appeal on behalf of the farmers, but I know no member of the Wheat Board 5 or of the Commonwealth Government, who are jointly operating the scheme, that does not feel just as much sympathy for the farmers as he does.
– Was there any truth in the report which Senator Lynch says appeared in the Western Australian press ?
– I believe a little misunderstanding has been caused through some irresponsible person making a statement in the press that 6d. would be paid, because, so far as I know, no person has been authorized to make a definite announcement to the farmers that they were to get an additional 6d.
– Did the Wheat Board contradict that statement?
– It has been contradicted several times to my knowledge. We all desire to pay the 6d., and we believe the security is good enough, but we have to get the 6d. before we can pay it.
When the scheme originated, it was anticipated that there would be a total of about 2,500,000 tons to export, but, owing to the prolific season, we find now that we have just on 3,750,000 tons to get away. The farmers, who are supposed to be antisocialistic, have been just about as keen to get their wheat on the stations and receive their 3s. as any one could possibly imagine. The Wheat Board, estimating that there would be a normal yield - and none of us anticipated the grand success that we did have last year - thought they would require about £7,000,000 of overdraft.
– That 3s. includes freight. It is not the net sum received by the farmer. He has got about 2s. 6d.
– I believe, in Western Australia, owing to a mistake in the administration, the farmers have received 3d. more than in any other State. That matter will be re-adjusted later, but we will not take the 3d. back.
– Is the advance 3s. or 2s. 6d.?
– It is 3s. on the average, less the expense of getting the wheat to a port, making the payment, roughly speaking, 2s. 6d. a bushel net all round as near as we can get it. At the time we estimated that an overdraft of £7,000,000 would be required it was impossible to get an accurate estimate of the amount of wheat being produced. Every week the State statisticians were putting the probable crop up by anything from 5 to 10 million bushels, until we were faced with the record harvest of Australia. Banks, like other business institutions, have to be run on business lines, and would require reasonable notice if within the course of a month they were asked to increase an overdraft from £7,000,000 to nearly £15,000,000, even when there was Government security behind it. As a matter of fact, we just reached £13,000,000, and at one time it was thought that we should go as high as £15,000,000. The present overdraft is £11,237,000. The banks were naturally a little fidgety at the suddenness of the jump, but in spite of this, they met us, on the whole, fairly and well. The Commonwealth Government had no hesitation in saying that they would meet the wheat on the station, and that not a bushel would be refused, nor was there ever any doubt about the farmer getting 3s. gross or 2s. 6d.. net.
We made it clear that none would be stopped, but it became purely a commercial transaction to arrange for the necessary amount when these various difficulties presented themselves. Having reduced the overdraft by £2,000,000- through sales, would it be fair to step in. to-morrow and increase it by £4,000,000, for that is the amount which the extra. 6d. would represent? It would practically re-open negotiations, although the» banks are not unsympathetic.
– Did not the banks, agree to £15,000,000 as the maximum, overdraft ?
– No, we agreed to> go on until we finished. We had no definite sum fixed at the finish, for the reason I have stated, but the Board, although they had to meet great difficultiesin the matter, were all delighted to seethe wheat keep coming in. The farmerhas done remarkably well this year, but. the difficulty arises out of what happened’ the year before. We have not got two seasons’ wheat crops or two seasons’” security; we have only the one. If the) banks could carry the farmers as they did the year before, it would be a different matter, but nearly all the money advanced by the Board has gone in thereduction of overdrafts, either to the State Governments or to the banks, and” the banks are therefore really in a betterposition to-day to do for the farmer what they did for him twelve months ago.. Why should they not do so if the security is so good collectively as Senator Lynch, points out ? Surely the security, combined with the character of the farmer, is betterthan it waa then. The banking figures show that the wheat scheme has done verylittle injury to the banks. In fact, in some cases, where it has simply been a transfer from the farmer to the Government, the banks, instead of having only the security of the individual farmer, who may collapse at any time, have now the security of the Government behind the loan. In most cases more than half the money has simply been used as a transferin the reduction of the farmers’ overdraft. I am sure that if Senator Lynch, who is a practical farmer, had been offered* 6s. a bushel at the start of the year for half the crop that he eventually got, he. would have thought himself in heaven, so far as this year was concerned. I knowany number of farmers in this State who, were willing and anxious to sell their- wheat for 3s. a bushel and get out altogether. In fact, we know of contracts that were made for less. Senator Lynch’ s suggestion, that the Wheat Board or the Government were in any way averse to the farmers, is not well founded, and as’ to his reference to what the States have done, I doubt whether the States would have been able to do it this year. At all events, the banks, which had financed these institutions in the past, were most anxious that the Commonwealth should take the whole pool in the event of anything happening. I am glad to say that this is only a nominal responsibility, because, in the first place, the States will meet any failure, which we do not anticipate, and, failing the States, the Commonwealth then comes in with a full guarantee to meet the loss. At the same- time, although our position is merely a nominal one, the power and security of the Commonwealth behind the scheme has enabled it to be the big success it is to-day. Whether the farmers are Socialists or anti-Socialists, it is a remarkable thing that whenever it is a case of touching the Government on the commercial side, everybody is most anxious to get into the deal. The States and the Commonwealth collectively have to see that we do not lose any money in managing the business of other people. The farmer, especially at country meetings, is very fond of criticising the lack of good management on the part of Governments generally, and I, for one, am not going to jeopardize my reputation by giving way to what, after all, may be only a clamour.
– The facts are there.
– If they are, and I believe they are, there is no reason why the private banks could not do the business. The States also could have helped the farmers to a great extent by suspending any payments due to themselves until the final payment was made for the wheat; but in some cases they have taken the debt due to them out of the first payment. That, of course, is purely their business; but there are lots of other ways of carrying on without making a bad transaction with the wheat pool. I recognise that this is the critical period, and that if we can grant any money it should be granted. . We can sell all the wheat we can get shipped abroad, so that there is no difficulty on that point, but the trouble is to get the shipping. It may be possible at an early date to an nounce definitely when an advance will be made, not necessarily paying the money over at once, but giving a clear intimation to farmers, traders, and bankers that it will be paid on a certain date.
– Now is the crucial time.
– I hope to get a meeting of the Board at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning to see what can be done.
– The planting season ends on 30th June, and unless you get the seed covered by that time you might as well save yourself the trouble.
– I have been through the wheat districts, and can assure honorable senators that the farmers are seeding well. There is no substance in the statement that the farmers are hanging back from putting in their crops. Crops are going in well all over Australia, wherever the conditions are suitable, and we as’ a Government will do anything we can to help the farmers in that direction. We have sold now overseas just about 1,000,000 tons, which we think is a very good result. That leaves a balance of about 2,500,000 tons to be handled yet.
– Has the amount sold been shipped?
– Either shipped or in course of shipping, but definitely dealt with so far as we are concerned. The only complaint I might have against the members of the Wheat Board is that the Ministers of Agriculture of the different States can see only the interests of the farmer. If the additional 6d. can be paid to the farmer, it will be a glorious personal triumph to every one of those Ministers, and Senator Lynch can rest assured that the farmer does not lack sympathizers on the Board. All the representations made during this debate will be brought under the notice of the Board to-morrow, and I assure the Senate that the Board will use its best endeavours to meet the farmers’ requests. Referring to the error in administration that occurred in Western Australia, if an additional advance of 6d. is made in that State, the matter will be adjusted by the farmers there receiving only 3d.
– What is the average price per bushel to the farmer of the 1,000,000 tons sold?
– It is inadvisable to discuss prices. An indiscreet utterance by me might prejudice the whole of the operation, in which we have had the valuable assistance of some of the most competent business men in Australia.
– The motion submitted by Senator Lynch conforms both to the spirit and letter of the standing order with regard to urgency, as the matter is undoubtedly urgent. In an ordinary year it would have been too late, but, as the present season is late, seeding can be done in a good many of the farming districts for the next six weeks or two months at the most. The question is : Will the Government be safe financially in granting the additional advance, or is it under any implied obligation to do so ? I asked Senator Lynch, by interjection, for the grounds on which he asserted that it was understood that the extra 6d. would be paid, and the Minister’s assurance that the unauthorized newspaper report which gave rise to the belief was contradicted by the authorities must dispose of the contention that there was some implied obligation on the part of the Government. On the other aspect, it is beyond argument that the Federal and State Governments, the Wheat Pool, and the members of this Chamber, would be only too glad, if they could, to give the farmers, or anybody else, every possible penny, especially when, as in this case, the Government have taken the wheat, leaving the farmer no option to dispose of it elsewhere. My difficulty is to ascertain what is the margin of safety on which the Wheat Board is working. Senator Lynch said there was norisk, but there must be a risk about a sporting chance. If the war ended in the next few months, and the Dardanelles were opened, what price would we realize for our wheat? If it does not end for the next twelve or eighteen months, what will be the value of this season’s crop then, seeing that we shall have another harvest on us before this one can be shipped, and that harvest may be as bountiful as the last?
– The wheat will be of no value unless we can get transports.
– Those, then, are big elements of risk which the Wheat Board cannot afford to ignore. They and the Government would be lacking in a sense of public duty if they accepted Senator
Lynch’s statement that there is absolutely no risk.
– With wheat at 3s. 6d. a bushel ?
– Three and sixpence would be below the normal rate in England for the last ten years.
– Unless history is falsified on this occasion, when this war ceases in Europe, there will be a considerable diminution in the purchasing power of the masses, which will mean that the price of commodities will fall. Only an optimist can declare that no matter whether the war continues or ends, our wheat will be worth 3s. 6d. I hope it is.
– The price is 3s. 6d. f.o.b.
– I quite realize that the farmer has received only about 2s. 6d., but that does not alter the fact that, to the Wheat Board and the Government, a strong element of risk presents itself. If the Board could determine that there was a fair margin of value on the wheat, it might serve a high national purpose if it were to recommend an increase in the advance already made. The Minister appeared to indorse the view taken by Senator Lynch, that there was no risk about the ultimate value of the wheat, but that the difficulty seemed to be rather one of finance. If in the end the wheat will be worth more than 3s. 6d., I see no difficulty in financing the Board to make the extra advance. Is it more - important that we should vote money to assist primary production, or expend it on bricks and mortar 1 If the making of an advance is a matter of financial difficulty with the Government, I suggest for the consideration of the Ministry that if the Board does recommend a further payment, the Government might review its expenditure on public works with the object of seeing whether or not something could be done to make available the money necessary for this further advance to farmers. The payment of this money would not diminish the trouble of employment; on the contrary, the employment given would be more continuous than employment resulting from expenditure on the erection of public buildings, which terminates the moment the buildings are completed. If there is merely a financial difficulty the
Government might bear in mind the possibility of providing some measure of relief to the producers by a careful revision of the public works expenditure.
– Senator Lynch is to be commended for having brought this matter before the Senate, and for the straightforward manner in which he has discussed the motion, which, as he pointed out, implies no blame of the Commonwealth Government, but will confer a considerable benefit upon the producers of Australia if effect can be given to its terms. I consider that when a’ citizen of Australia obtains a seat in this Senate he becomes a representative of every section of the community, and should not, and, indeed, does not, know one interest to the exclusion of any other. I indorse what Senator Lynch has said about the condition of the wheat-growing industry. The farmer has just as much right to take steps to safeguard his interests as any other class in our community. We know, however, that when this wheat pool was suggested, it was subjected to very severe criticism by the supposed friends of the farmers.
– By the farmers themselves.
– Yes; it was criticised by the farmers themselves, and by their representatives in the different Parliaments of Australia. It is reasonable to suppose, also, that some of these gentlemen have been criticising it for political purposes. They have been endeavouring to discount the scheme because it was suggested by a Labour Government in the Commonwealth, and by the various Labour Governments of the States. As a supporter of the Government, and a believer in the scheme, I am quite satisfied that many of its critics will ultimately have to find some excuse for their condemnation of it. Although the ‘ idea of the wheat pool is ‘ new, it is by no means new for State Governments to assist farmers. Senator Lynch has outlined what the Government of Western Australia have been doing, and I may remark that the Government of South Australia have, for many years, been assisting the farmers, the orchardists, the squatters, and every other section of primary producers in that State. Much assistance has been given to them. They have been provided with seed wheat, with wire netting to combat the vermin ; they have had provided for them an export depot, through which they can export any of their products, and this year, because there happened to be a glut in the apple market, the Government constituted themselves a medium of exchange for the disposal of the apple crop, with the result that any person to-day may order a case of apples from the depot, and have it delivered for 4s.
– Order ! I would point out to the honorable senator that the Standing Orders provide specifically that only the subject-matter ofthe motion for adjournment may be discussed.
– Very well, Mr. President. I will content myself with saying that the State Governments have always shown a practical sympathy with the primary producers, and that there are some special reason’s now why the farmer should be further assisted. The season before last, the wheat harvest of Australia was practically a failure. In very many parts of South Australia it was a complete failure, and farmers everywhere got heavily into debt, either with the Government for rates, with the storekeepers for goods, or with the banks for financial assistance. Last year, with an abundant crop, they were justified in expecting to realize as much as possible for the harvest, to clear themselves of their financial difficulties.For that reason the Commonwealth Government came to their assistance, and I am sure that, as the result of this discussion, the Government will feel more confident in extending greater assistance than has been given up to the present. Senator Lynch made a strong point of the fact that, unless the farmer gets the extra advance, he will be unable to put in a larger area of land for next season’s crop. I do not know whether the farmers of South Australia are putting in a reduced area or not, but I do know that they are talking about it, and we are bound to believe what the farmers themselves say. They say they cannot afford to crop a larger area, and I am sure every one will agree that it would be a calamity if, in the near future, the necessities of the Allies being as great as they are now, we had a very much restricted area under cultivation For that reason it is imperative that something should be done, and employment found as far as possible for our people, for if the farming industry is restricted, as the result of financial difficulties, employment will be reduced to a considerable extent. There is another aspect of this question to which I desire to draw attention. It is time that the Government of the Commonwealth took steps to see that the foodstuffs of the people were conserved by the establishment of storage reservoirs or silos, and in this connexion I am glad to notice that the Government of Victoria have decided to adopt the bulk-handling system, which will have an important bearing on the wheat-growing industry of this country. If the Commonwealth were to store wheat in these silos it could be kept free from vermin, and it would not deteriorate in value, whereas, at present it is exposed to weather and the ravages of vermin, and its value must suffer considerably. If action were taken as I suggest, the industry would be assisted materially, and the Government could have complete control over reserve stocks of our food supplies. I have no doubt whatever that the Government will take what has been said as an indication that the Senate is prepared to support them in taking further risks, if any, that may be involved by giving effect to the motion. And I am sure also the discussion will show the people of Australia that the Parliament of the Commonwealth is in sympathy with’ them, and will be prepared to indorse further expenditure if the Government decide to act in the manner indicated.
– I wish to record my objection to the suggestion ‘made by Senator Millen that the Government, iri order to find money with which to pay the additional instalment to the farmers, should see if the public works policy could be curtailed in some respects. Such a suggestion, in my opinion, ought not to be entertained by the Government for a moment. Probably, if a Government, representative of the other side, were in power, they would be prepared to adopt the suggestion in a very drastic fashion. I maintain that at the present time there is not anything1 approaching a full complement of men employed at either end of the eastwest railway.
– Order ! I must remind the honorable senator that he must not depart from the precise subjectmatter of the motion.
– I only desire to say that I am entirely opposed to the suggestion made by Senator Millen, to which no objection was raised at the time.
– Order ! The honorable senator is not entitled to reflect upon the ruling of the Chair. I would point out that Senator Millen alluded to that matter only as a means by which money could be made available. He did not say that there were too many or not enough men employed in any work, whereas the honorable senator appears now to be proceeding to discuss whether there are enough men employed on a particular railway. I call the honorable senator’s attention to the fact that the standing order provides specifically that when the adjournment is moved for the discussion of a matter of urgent public importance the debate shall be confined to the subject-matter of the motion. The honorable senator has no right, and will not be permitted, to reflect upon the ruling of the Chair.
– Very well, Mr. President, I shall not do so. I hope, however, that the suggestion made by Senator Millen will not be entertained by the Government. Public works were being carried out by the Commonwealth and the various State Labour Governments throughout Australia before any action with regard to the farmers was suggested. The action of those Governments gives the lie direct to the statement that Labour Ministers, either State or Federal, are opposed to the farming interests. The statement as regards the Government of New South Wales is absolutely untrue. I have never yet heard a genuine farmer complain of any action taken by Labour Governments of the States or of the Commonwealth. The men who da complain are the auctioneers, the wheat buyers and sellers, the men who live upon the farmer. I hope that the Government will comply with the request made by Senator Lynch. There is no industry of greater importance to the Commonwealth than is the farming industry, and we should be prepared to give it every possible support.
. -When last week I made an innocent interjection to the effect that in connexion with the operations of the wheat pool the wheat farmers took no risks, I had no idea that the aftermath would be the discharge of Senator Lynch’s artillery this morning. The honorable senator viewed the interjection as one made in a hostile and provincial spirit, but there was nothing of that kind in my mind when making it. As compared with the four wheatproducing States - New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia - Queensland produces comparatively little wheat, but her operations in that direction are extending. I repeat now the purport of my interjection that the wheat producers of the four States that have entered into the wheat pool have taken no risk. If any confirmation of the truth of that assertion were needed it has been supplied by the speech made by Senator Lynch, and the reply of the Assistant Minister. Senator Millen quite properly pointed out that there is an element of risk, and that is borne by the Wheat Board, behind which is the guarantee of the National Government. Senator Lynch was willing to concede to me that, prior to the formation of the wheat pool, sales of wheat for forward delivery had been made as low as 2s. 9d. per bushel. What I said, and repeat now, is that, according to press reports, forward sales were made as low as 2s. per bushel. The wheat farmers concerned in the pool to-day have certificates of the face value of 3s. per bushel, which is 50 per cent. more than the price for which they offered to sell their wheat before the formation of the pool. We can well imagine what would have been the position of the wheat producers of Australia had it not been for the action taken by the Federal Government. The proposal for the wheat pool when first announced was received with a howl of protest purporting to emanate from the producers themselves. In some cases it may have done so, but these protests were mainly from the middlemen - the wheat brokers. Their protests appeared in the daily press from time to time, and some persons went so far as to sign their names to statements pointing out what the brokers would lose as a result of the action taken by the Government. They complained that their occupation would be gone, and they considered the proposal altogether unfair. I should like to see the wheat producers given the extra 6d. per bushel which Senator Lynch has advocated, and I should like to see them receive the full value of their wheat as soon as possible. The position, in my opinion, was fairly put by the reply given by the Assistant Minister to a question asked by Senator Lynch yesterday. Senator Russell said that the Wheat Board, at the very earliest opportunity, would make the advance asked for.
– There was a proviso at the end of the Minister’s reply which robbed it of all its virtue.
– The Wheat Board has undertaken a big responsibility in connexion with this matter. It is a remarkable thing that when the scheme for the pooling of wheat was launched, people who were previously opposed to everything socialistic exhibited a great admiration for the proposal. It must have been palatable, because the lucerne producers came along later and asked for the extension of this measure of Socialism. It was mentioned also as advisable in connexion with the disposal of the abnormal apple crop, and it was advocated by different societies and institutions and in the columns of the press. It would appear that the people who are so fond ofrailing against Socialistic proposals are always prepared to give the Socialistic tiger a loving hug when he comes their way.
– Will they be prepared to continue the pool when the present crop is disposed of ? That will be the test.
– That is so. I am sufficiently broad-minded to endeavour to view the question of wheat production and the disposal of the wheat crop from the Australian stand-point. I realize fully that wheat production is of immense importance to Australia. I have no wish to put State against State or industry against industry, but I think that Senator Lynch’s references to the sugar industry in Queensland were unwarranted. No representative of Queensland has advanced in this chamber a proposition for the world’s price for sugar as Senator Lynch has advocated the world’s price for wheat. There will be another opportunity to go into this question; but let me assure Senator Lynch and the people of the southern States that the last thing about which they have any reason to complain is the price of sugar to the consumer to-day. I believe that in connexion with the establishment of the wheat pool the Labour policy of the control and distribution of primary products has received a great impetus. When the proposal was first made it was opposed, but as soon as it was successfully launched, and was being successfully carried on, to whom did the daily newspapers here give the credit? Not to the Wheat Board, the Federal Government, or the Assistant Minister representing that Government on the Wheat Board, but to Mr. Hagelthorn. We have been told that Mr. Hagelthorn did this and that because the wheat pool had been operated successfully. I can only assure Senator Lynch that I shall be very pleased when the wheat-growers get the full value of their product.
– In closing the debate, I have to express my thanks for the attitude taken up by the Assistant Minister. I hope that the Commonwealth Government, as influential partners in the Wheat Board, will recognise the gravity of the present situation. I speak from experience gained from personal contact with those engaged in wheat production in this country when I say that unless something is done, and done quickly, to afford them relief, it would be better that it should be withheld indefinitely. I know something of the liabilities of the wheatfarmers, and that in many cases there is nothing to stand between them and those liabilities but the relief to be gained from the advance of the extra 6d. per bushel for which I have pleaded. It is but a small measure of assistance, but at a crucial time it may mean all the difference between success and failure. As the representative of the Government on the Wheat Board, Senator Russell will need to press home the point that if something is not quickly done by the Board, they need not bother their heads about the matter as far as giving instant effective relief is concerned. I am pleased with the way in which the matter has been dealt with by honorable senators, as the discussion indicates on their part a live interest in a very vital issue. It has shown that the Senate is concerned about advancing to the utmost the country interests of the Commonwealth. A reference to the records will show that the primary industries of the countryside employ more people than do the secondary industries of Australia. Honorable senators recognise that we have unlimited areas awaiting development, and a congested population in the cities that needs to be transferred to those broad areas tobe given a chance to succeed there.
With reference to the remarks which have been made by Senator Ferricks, I may say that when I looked over the report of my remarks, supplied by the recording angels of this Chamber, I noticed the honorable senator’s interjection to the effect that the wheat-farmers had taken no risks. At the expense of being considered egotistical, I compared my lot with that of other honorable members of the Senate who could be mentioned, and who are not engaged in primary industries, and I still adhere to my statement that the wheat-farmers have taken a great deal more risk than have any of the other primary producers of the country.
– Have they done so by going into the wheat pool? That is the point.
– They have produced wheat, and supplied it, and it is only half paid for. As I previously said, the wheat-farmers are, in the circumstances, on half-time, whilst the producers in other lines of rural activity have received the full price, and, in some cases, double the usual price, for what they have produced.
– That does not apply to the orchardists.
– Or to the sugarfarmers.
– What about the butter-men ?
– Even with the fixing of prices for butter, those engaged in the dairying industry are getting a little more than the average price ruling for a number of years for their product, whereas the wheat-farmer is not in that position.
– Is it not a fact that they vote against their own salvation every time ?
– I am not dealing now with the political aspect of the question.
– Will the honorable senator say that the wheat-farmers took any risk in going into the wheat pool?
– They benefited by it; but I say they have had to take a risk in view of the fact that up to the present they have been compelled to accept half pay for their labour. If Senator Ferricks were compelled to accept half pay for his labours in the past, he would consider that he was taking a big risk. If he would think otherwise, then I have a very imperfect knowledge of him. Whatever credit is given to the primary producers of this country will he amply redeemed later on. I have in mind the case of a prominent business man in the West, who, when discussing with me the position of the farmers in that State, said he had on his books at one time £55,000, which he had out on credit to the farmers. He said that £51,000 of that amount had been recovered. At a subsequent date, in alluding to this particular matter, he said that the remaining £4,000 had been recovered, so that every penny of credit he had extended to the farmers was redeemed.
– I do not think that in any industry it is expected that the loss due to a disastrous year will be wholly recovered in the next year.
– No one is absurd enough to expect to recover frsm “a disastrous season in one year. The recovery may be the work of a number of years, and there may be no recovery. The pity is that honorable senators who offer their criticism so freely here do not get their own necks into the collars, so that they might be able to speak from experience, and not from hearsay. I am speaking especially on behalf of men with slender resources, men who have given up- wage earning occupations, and have tried their luck in the far interior under the most trying conditions in primary production. Instead of the lip sympathy that is sometimes lavished upon them, they are looking on the present occasion for practical sympathy. ‘ Let me again repeat that, although the Commonwealth Government have placed the credit of the country behind the money advanced by the banks, they have not so far lost a brass farthing as the result of what they have done.
– Why should they ?
– I do not desire that they should; but when we hear so much of what has been done, it is well that honorable senators should be reminded that a cash transaction is a vastly different proposition from a credit transaction. The Government are not entitled, to exhaustive praise in view of other and similar efforts, because, after all, the supreme motive is to advance the interests of the country, and to keep our people in employment on the countryside, and by that means provide a greater opportunity for general employment than could otherwise be provided. I hope that the discussion will be productive of some practical good. I noticed in one of the Melbourne newspapers that a slur was cast upon the debates of the Senate. It was only a Melbourne newspaper anyhow. I only wish that the editor of this paper could get out back into the country and do some useful work.
– What is the name of the newspaper?
– I forget the name for the present.
– Order ! I ask the honorable senator to confine himself to the terms of his notice of motion.
– I was concerned about resenting an attack upon the reputation and importance of the Senate.
– Order ! That question is not under review at present.
– I wish only to refer incidentally to the fact that the Senate can be engaged in very practical debate, notwithstanding the opinion gratuitously given by the Melbourne newspaper to which I refer. The proprietors of these newspapers stand behind them to make money out of them in just the same way as a man stands behind the counter in a huckster’s shop to sell his secondhand furniture. I wish that they had a wider experience of Australia than they have.
– Order !
– A reflection was cast on the character of the debates in the Senate.
– That has nothing to do with the subject of the honorable senator’s motion, which was clearly defined by the honorable senator himself “in the notice he handed to me this morning, and which was read to the Senate. The honorable senator must confine himself to the subject-matter of that notice.
– I was expressing the hope that this debate would have some practical result, and was incidentally drawn into making some remarks for which you have quite justifiably called me to order. I am sorry that I transgressed. I’ again express the hope that the debate will issue in something being done, and being done quickly and well, which will have the effect of providing work for our people, and making the countryside attractive to our city population. I ask leave to withdraw my motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers are - 1 and 2. The matter of additions and alterations to the General Post Office, Adelaide, has not been finally decided upon by the PostmasterGeneral, who hopes to visit Adelaide early and determine the question.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
What amount for fees or expenses (if any) has been paid to Mr. C. E. Oliver as Consulting Sanitary Engineer in connexion with the Canberra sewerage scheme?
– The information will be laid upon the table of the Senate when the matter has been finalized.
Motion (by Senator Russell) agreed to-
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act to authorize the transfer to, and the vesting in, any authority incorporated by any law of the Commonwealth of lands acquired by the Commonwealth under the Lands Acquisition Act 1906.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Motion (by Senator Barker) agreed to-
That the report from the Printing Committee presented to the Senate on 18th May, 1916, be adopted.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
It introduces no new features, but will amplify the provisions of the Trading with the Enemy Acts of 1914 by including in those Acts, with such modifications as are appropriate, certain Imperial legislation dealing with trading with the enemy. The English Acts upon which this Bill is mainly based are the Trading with the Enemy Amendment Act 1914, the Trading with the Enemy Amendment Act 1915, and also 56 Geo. V. c. 105. The main purpose of the Bill is to provide for the control of enemy property, and to appoint a person to act as custodian of such property. The person in whom the property is to be vested is to be known as the Public Trustee. He is to be a corporation sole with perpetual succession, and is to be capable of suing and being’ sued. He is to have the power of delegating the powers and functions, or any of them, with which he is clothed by virtue of this Bill, any delegation being revocable at will. The property with which this Bill more particularly deals is dividends, bonuses, or interest in respect of shares, stock, debentures, &c. ; interest in respect of loans to firms or persons for the purposes of business carried on by the firms or persons, and shares of profits in such business. The conditions under which, and the persons by whom, sums are tobe paid to the Public Trustee are dealt with in the Bill. Persons holding or managing real or personal property on behalf of an enemy are required to communicate with the Public Trustee supplying particulars as to the property. Companies having share transfer or share registration offices in Australia are to furnish information to the Public Trustee of shares, stock, or debentures held by or for the benefit of an enemy subject. If any firm has received money by way of loan from enemies, or if one or more of the partners thereof is an enemy, the partners of the firm are required, under this Bill, to supply to the Public Trustee information as to shares, profits, or interest due to enemies. Provision is made in the Bill by which, on the application of a person who is the creditor of an enemy or interested in any property belonging to or held for the benefit of an enemy, the High Court may make an order vesting the property in question in the Public Trustee, and conferring on him power to sell or otherwise deal with the property as it thinks proper. Property vested in the Public
Trustee by virtue of the provisions of the Bill is to be held by him until the termination of the war, and is then to be dealt with according to directions by the GovernorGeneral, but debts due by an enemy may be paid out of moneys held by the Public Trustee if the Court so orders. In order to prevent the object of the Bill being circumvented, assignments of debts, &c, by enemy subjects are, unless the assignee secures the consent of a Minister of State, rendered ineffective as giving a right against the debtor to discharge the obligation. Provision is made to prevent transfers and other dealings in common with shares and other securities by or on behalf of an enemy subject. The offence of “trading with’ the enemy “ is amplified to include an attempt, or offer, or proposal to trade with the enemy. It is proposed to vest in the Minister of Trade and Customs power to make an order winding up any business which he is satisfied is carried on wholly or mainly for the benefit or under the control of enemy subjects. The Minister is also given power to appoint a controller to conduct the winding up of any such business. Provision is made with regard to the disposition of property coming into the hands of a controller during the course of the winding up of any business. Lists of persons, firms, and companies, in respect of whose businesses orders for winding up have been made, are to be laid before Parliament. The Minister is also given power to vest in the Public Trustee any property belonging to, or held, or managed on behalf of an enemy subject, and to confer on the Public Trustee the right to sell or otherwise deal with the property. Any shares or stock being part of the capital of a company, or any securities of a company which have been vested in the Public Trustee by virtue of an order of the Minister may, with the consent of the Minister, be purchased by the company concerned, notwithstanding any law or regulation of the company to the contrary. The duty is cast upon enemy subjects to furnish to the Public Trustee within one month of being required to do so, particulars of stocks, shares, or other property belonging to him, or in which he is interested. If an application for a patent for the benefit of an enemy subject has been vested by order, in’ accordance with this Bill, in the Public Trustee, the patent may be granted in favour of the
Public Trustee, and the Bill provides necessary authority for the Commissioner of Patents to take the proper proceedings in that direction. The period during which restrictions on dealings with enemy property shall continue is not necessarily to be terminated at the end of the war, but may continue until the restrictions are removed by the Governor-General. Various other necessary provisions of this Bill deal with the validity of registration of transfers of stock, &c, by the Public Trustee without production of scrip or certificates; the validity of certain vesting orders made under this Bill; the winding up, by the Court, on petition by the Public Trustee, of companies believed to be carrying on business outside Australia, which, if done in Australia, would be an offence against the Act; the fees chargeable by the Public Trustee; the power to grant licences exempting transactions from the provisions of the Act. It is also proposed to provide for enemy property which has, under any State Act, been taken over by a State authority, being transferred, by arrangement between the Governments of the Commonwealth and the State concerned, to the Public Trustee. Any such property vests in the Public Trustee upon the notification of any arrangement between the different Governments beingpublished in the Gazette. This is rather difficult legislation, because in drafting Bills of this nature at the beginning, we had no precedents to guide us, and amendments naturally became necessary from time to time.
– Is there any limit to> the duration of the Bill?
– The operation of the original Act is limited to the war and a period of six months after; but I am not able to say at this stage whether that limitation will apply to this Bill.
– Does the new official cease to exist when the Act ceases toexist ?
– I am not sure ;-. but I take it that his business of managing enemy concerns, stocks, and shares,, will cease with the termination of the war, although it may be necessary to continue him in his position for a littlewhile longer to wind up affairs.
– Is there any provision directing what the Trustee shall do> with the property after having become possessed of it?
– Yes, that is what the Bill is really for.
– What is he to do with it?
– That is a question which could be more fittingly asked in Committee. He will handle the assets in the interests, first, of the people of the Commonwealth, and, secondly, of the enemy subjects themselves.
– That is very general.
– It is; and, of course, the powers are very general also. Each case will be dealt with on its merits.
– If the Trustee, in the exercise of his discretion, sells a parcel of shares held by an alien, what does he do with the proceeds?
– He may hold them until after the war, or, by order of the Court, pay debts owing by the person concerned.
– If there is a surplus, and the Trustee holds it, what is the alien going to live on in the meantime?
– He may possibly live in internment. This and the original Act are inroads on peace conditions; but every consideration has been given to enemy subjects, and the original Act, if I remember aright, provided that, from time to time, allotments and allowances should be given to aliens who are not dangerous to the community; and who are not interned. Under that Act, the person dealing with the matter was called a Receiver; under this Bill he will be called a Public Trustee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from Committee without amendment; report adopted.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.30 p.m.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The measure is an attempt to tighten up the provisions controlling the importation and exportation of patent medicines. It is hardly necessary to repeat what has been said so often with regard to the trans actions of some of those proprietary companies which handle patent medicines from year to year, and to the extent to which some of them are injurious to the health of the community. It is well known that some patent medicines imported into Australia are fraudulent. They are introduced under fancy names, advertised to cure almost any disease to which the human family is subject, and in many cases they are little better than coloured water. They are sold to a long-suffering public for, in some cases, perhaps 10s. per bottle, when, as a matter of fact, if the ingredients were analyzed, it would be hard for an analyst to determine where any value was represented. I could quote many illustrations of the coldblooded deception practised by these traders on suffering humanity, and I am quite sure that Parliament will show that it has no sympathy with that class of person. There is a keen desire, I believe, that the sale of patent medicines should be regulated, and that they should be so described that the purchaser of any may know exactly what he is receiving. Under the Bill it will be necessary for the importer to lodge with the Customs authorities the formula of each patent medicine. This information will be confidential, and obtained merely that the officers of the Department may know what is being imported and sold to the public of the Commonwealth. The labels of the packages will contain the formula, but not the proportions, so that no trade secrets will be given away. The proposed law is limited in application, because the “ Commonwealth Government have not the power to deal with articles manufactured locally, but in all directions where possible the provisions regulating the sale of patent medicines are being tightened up.
– No doubt a good deal can be said for the introduction of a measure of this character, but there is another aspect even to this particular question. The public, as Senator Russell has told us, are being taken down, but it is extraordinary how people continue to be taken down. Ever since I can remember, patent medicines have been freely bought by the people of Australia. A large section of our people prefer patent medicines to prescriptions made up on the order of regular members of the medical fraternity. I have heard an old saying, which, I suppose, is familiar to most honorable senators, that “ Imagination is as good for a fool as physic.” If people imagine that by taking certain patent medicines they receive benefit, is there any need for interference, unless it can be shown that some real injury is being inflicted on the public ? The Minister has not shown in what respect the medicines are bad. He has, it is true, made allegations concerning the injurious nature of some of them, but he has not presented us with any proof. No doubt, he could get any amount of such evidence from members of the medical fraternity, but I would point out that in this case there is a rivalry between two different sections of the same profession. The unqualified medical man is usually termed a “quack,” whatever that may mean, and the qualified medical man is licensed by the Government to prescribe for people who care to consult him. Then, on the question of patent medicines being a little better than coloured water, I am sure that if Senator Russell has been in the habit of consulting a medical practitioner he has often bought bottles of that same coloured water, for which he has probably paid 3s. 6d. in addition to the medical fee of £1 ls. for writing out the prescription in Latin. If Senator Russell has not a knowledge of the Latin language, it is possible that on certain occasions he has had prescribed for him, without his knowledge, preparations in which coloured water was a principal ingredient, and for which probably he paid an extortionate price. That being so, why does he not fire a shot at the medical profession now?
– Has he the power to do so?
– Of course, he has. He has just as much power to interfere with the medical profession as with the unlicensed practitioners.
– He cannot deal with prescriptions made up by any chemist in Australia. That matter is not within the jurisdiction of the Federal Government.
– I said that I regretted we had no power to deal with local manufacturers.
– This -appears to be a very wide subject, and one requiring some attention. An unfortunate feature about the matter is that the medical profession has apparently set its face against any remedy of this character, no matter how good it may be. Evidence that some of the patent medicines are beneficial is found in the fact that they have been before the public for a great number of years, and to-day are being bought in large quantities. Members of the medical profession are jealous of this sort of thing, and consider that it is interfering with their legitimate practice. I have no doubt, therefore, that the profession has brought some influence to bear on the Government in this matter.
– This Bill will protect the manufacturer of genuine patent medicines.
– Who is to decide whether they are genuine or otherwise ? That is the question. I presume a member of the medical profession or some chemist will be the judge.
– No. The analyst will let the public know what are’ tlie ingredients of a patent medicine. That will be stated in general terms, and the public will then decide.
– I think if the public are satisfied to purchase a particular medicine, and if it is shown thai it does not contain ingredients of a poisonous nature, they ought to be allowed to buy it.
– We shall not stop them. All we say is that they shall know what are the contents of each particular medicine.
– Now, with regard to the formula. We know that men have set themselves to discover remedies for particular diseases, and in this work they have spent many years of their lives. If at last they do hit upon some happy formula, will it be disclosed?
– Only in general terms. The proportion of any particular ingredient will certainly not be disclosed, but it will be registered at the Customs Department, where the information will be treated as confidential.
– Does any one imagine that information so disclosed canbe made confidential ? I do not believe a word of it. The moment a man registers his formula in the Customs Department or anywhere else, from that moment theformula is in danger of being disclosed. What inducement, therefore, will there befor discoveries of this kind in the future? This is a matter which” ought to be very carefully considered before any action is taken.
– The Bill is an attempt to contravene an old adage that “ you cannot make people honest by Act of Parliament.” Undoubtedly, the intention of the Bill is to prevent fraud, and it seems to me that the Minister has taken on a big contract, for I notice it is proposed to add to the “ trade description “ the “ action, effect, and use,” as well as the weight of goods. There are very few medicines that do not state on the label what is purported to be the effect of the particular preparation, and I understand the Minister will preclude the sellers from doing this in the future.
– No; the formula will be registered at the Customs House.
– I gather that, the formula being registered at the Customs House, the importers will be precluded from stating on the label of a bottle what is the proposed action of its contents.
– They will be able to state the general effect.
– Do not patent medicines purport to cure all diseases?
– That is the point I am coming to. It has to be borne in mind that patent medicines to-day serve a very good purpose; they are available in many far back country districts, where the physician is not to be found, and many old tried remedies are almost household necessaries to-day. It is possible that if the ingredients are stated on the label, the trust of many people iri patent medicines may be endangered, especially if it is shown that a particular medicine contains poison. It is well known that laudanum, strychnine, and other poisons enter into the composition of many patent medicines.
– They have to be indicated now under the Act.
– Yes; but there seems to be a necessity for some change, and I can see that the Bill will make matters difficult for many people. The orchardist, for instance, will not be able to state accurately what is the number of apples in a certain case, because apples vary in size. Then, again, he will not be able to state the weight of a case six weeks after it has left his hands. In the case of copper, zinc, and such products, the weight of a package may be determined accurately, but in the case of apples the weight will depend upon the length of time that has elapsed between the packing and the sale, and the shrinkage which has taken place in the fruit.
– It will be possible to state the weight approximately.
– You can pack apples so that many weeks will elapse before there is any variation in their weight.
– I disagree with the honorable senator. He will find that a change in temperature, when a case of apples is being sold, will make a difference in their weight. There is a recognised cubical capacity for a registered case. When we are considering questions of weight and measurement, honorable senators will recognise that, judging by measurement, a case containing large apples may weigh less than a similar case containing small apples.
– If you go into the auction markets in Western Australia you will find the weight marked on all cases of apples.
– That is not the practice in other States.
– Nor is it the practice in the Old Country. The difficulty is that by requiring so many particulars to describe the article exported we may hamper the exporters’ trade without in any way removing the difficulties of the consumer. It will be agreed that all trading affecting the public health should be safeguarded by such legislation as is here proposed, but its application, unless carefully considered, may be disadvantageous, rather than advantageous, to the public. I do not wish to impede the passage of the Bill, but I say that its provisions require looking into. I see that it is proposed to amend section 15 of the Principal Act by the insertion of a new paragraph, which reads -
Any other class or classes of goods’ which the Minister notifies by order published in the Gazette.
This is another instance of our old friend, legislation by regulation. We seem to have reached perpetual motion in legislation by the practice of putting it into the power of a Minister, or the head of a Department, to frame a regulation or a statutory rule which will have the effect of law without coming under the review of Parliament. I had occasion recently to protest against this practice, and it would be just as well that, as members of a legislative assembly, we should recognise what we are here for. It is not to give power to others to do our work, but to do it ourselves as it ought to be done. This power to make regulations leaves an open door to abuses and evils. In most Bills we find a closing clause giving power to make regulations; but in this Bill we have something in addition, and we are asked to give the Minister absolute power in dealing with imports and exports to put any class of goods on the rejected list, or to impose such conditions as might restrict the exportation of our products.
– Is it not the intention to make assurance doubly sure ?
– I am afraid that it is only another example of the tendency displayed by all Governments to take all the power they can.
– What evils does the honorable senator apprehend will arise under the provision to which he objects?
– If this provision is applicable in one case it is applicable in all, and by simply agreeing to a provision that the Governor-General in Council shall legislate as he pleases, we might disband both Houses of this Parliament, and its members would go home to rest. I shall not delay the second reading of the Bill, but I hope that attention will be given to the matters to which I have referred when it is under consideration in Committee.
.- I am glad to find the Government taking further steps to safeguard the interests of persons who are in the habit of using patent medicines. A very large number of the people of Australia, as of other parts of the world, have great faith in the efficacy of many patent medicines. I was sorry to hear the Assistant Minister say that the Bill would not apply to medicines made up in Australia, unless they are intended for export. I noticed in one of the newspapers the other day that a citizen of Victoria was trying to earn an honest living by selling bottles of cold tea at 4s. 6d . per bottle. The Government should certainly have some power to deal with individuals .guilty of conduct of that description. Some time ago I saw that by a regulation published in the Gazette, the further importation of a medicine or drug known as Count Mattei’s Cure was prohibited. This article is largely used in South Australia, and I received a letter from a friend whom I know very well, asking me to do what I could to have the embargo on it removed. Perhaps the Assistant Minister could tell us why the importation of this medicine has been prohibited. It looks the most harmless physic I have ever seen, as it is quite colourless. I know that many persons in South Australia swear that it has wrought a cure in their cases. I forwarded the letter sent to me concerning it to the Minister of Trade and Customs, but I have not yet had a reply to my communication. Prom time to time we have seen that the importation of certain instruments has been prohibited, but if they ought not to be imported, it is important to know whether they are being made in Australia. If we cannot control the manufacture of injurious instruments or medicines in Australia, of what use is it to prohibit their importation? The allembracing new paragraph proposed to be included in section 15 of the existing Act may cover a class of goods in which I am very much interested. Is it the object of the Government under this provision to require that whiskies, brandies, and other alcoholic spirits imported shall be true to label, so that the people who use them may know exactly what they are’ made of ? I believe that our teetotal friends take even greater risks than those who consume the spirituous liquors I have mentioned, and I am quite as anxious that they shall be protected in the matter of the liquors they consume, many of which I believe are very injurious. I hope that if he has not already the power, the Assistant Minister will take the power under this Bill to see that articles of this kind are true to label. Various mixtures are imported and sold for the use of invalids. I know nothing whatever of their composition, but I should be glad to know that their importation will be under control, and that people will be in a position to know what they contain. I know that the Government are doingtheir best to safeguard the community from the designs of unscrupulous manufacturers of medicines, who dispose of them under false labels. We know that hundreds of thousands of pounds are spent in advertising these things in the newspapers of Australia to induce people to purchase them. So far as I have given the Bill consideration, I may say that its provisions will have my support.
– There has been some misapprehension on the part of Senator Senior. This Bill will have no effect in the case of any genuine patent medicine that is sold. Its object is to prevent the sale of patent medicines that are really frauds, by letting the public know what they contain, so far as that is possible without disclosing any trade secrets. The honorable senator referred to difficulties which he apprehended in connexion with the export of apples. It is not intended that the labels required to be furnished in the export of apples should guarantee their delivery in good order six weeks after export, but it is intended to protect the purchaser against such practices as are common in our local markets, where honorable senators will see fine apples polished and glossy on the top of a case, and very inferior apples at the bottom of it. What is proposed is that the label shall give a reasonably accurate description of the contents of the case. Senator Stewart asked that I should specify instances of articles sold under false labels. I have sixty or seventy such examples here, but I think they are familiar to most honorable senators. No good purpose is served by giving specific names for the advertising or condemnation of particular patent medicines. Anyone who reads in these days must be aware of the reports on the subject which have been submitted to the House of Commons and to this Parliament, and must know that a very large percentage of the patent medicines on the market are pure and simple frauds, the sale of which should be prevented at the earliest moment. Senator Senior was somewhat worried about the power asked for in this Bill to make regulations, but the object really is that we should be able to keep pace with the production of these articles, the sale of which ought to be prohibited. If, for instance, a patent medicine were put on the market to-morrow, consisting of a little rose-water and colouring matter, we should be able to deal with that under a regulation, and it should not be necessary, in order to control its sale, to pass a special Act of Parliament. In answer to Senator Newland, I express my regret that we are unable to apply the powers of this legislation to local manufactures and their sale. We hope that that will be amongst the powers exercised by this Parliament some day. The honorable senator asked whether it was intended that whisky should be correctly labelled, and I may inform him that it is intended that the quantity of alcohol contained in the article shall be stated on the label. There will be less risk for our teetotal friends if they are in a position to know the quantity of alcohol they are putting down their throats if they consume these liquors.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
In Committee :
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (Power to require registration of medicines and foods, &c.).
The Governor-General may by regulation require that …. the owner shall …. supply to the Minister a written statement setting forth ….
.- I move-
That the following paragraph be inserted : - “ Prime cost of ingredients, cost of manufacture, Customs duties, wholesale profit, retail profit, selling price.”
– Are all those particulars to be on the bottle?
– Yes. It is of first importance that people purchasing patent medicines should be able to read in bold English type on the label particulars showing the value of the article. The prime cost of a patent medicine is generally only an infinitesimal percentage of the price to the purchaser, and a large proportion of patent medicines are sold simply because they are so persistently and widely advertised in the morning newspapers. The point as to the amount of Customs dutyis interesting, and on a subsequent occasion I shall move that the amount of Customs or Excise duty paid shall appear on all imported articles. Every one who has read Mr. Beale’s reports on secret remedies knows that the prices charged for patent medicines bear no proportion to their true value.
– The same thing applies to many articles, especially those under patent rights.
– That is all the more reason why these particulars should be specified on the label in large English type. I do not want diamond type for important information of that kind.
– I trust the Committee will give short shrift to the amendment. The object of the Bill is to protect the public, and it is no protectionto them to make them pay for an extensive printing bill, or to have to read a mass of information that would give a statistician a headache. The Committee have only to picture to themselves a farmer’s wife working out the meaning of “Cost of ingredients, .00013 of a penny,” on a packet of sulphur, to see the absurdity of the proposal. If we asked the general public to work out these problems, it would be our duty to supply them with patent medicines to cure their headaches. The amendment is impracticable.
– The wives of the farmers of Australia have just as much intelligence, and can read figures and statements just as readily, as can the Minister. Every one nowadays understands decimals and fractions. I hope the Committee will do something to protect those sick persons who are the main purchasers of patent medicines, seeing that to rob the sick and unfortunate is the meanest and most contemptible of all robberies, and it is people of that kind who are being robbed continuously, wholesale and retail, by vendors of patent medicines. If they persisted in allowing themselves to be victimized after reading the particulars which I suggest should be supplied, we could do no more for them.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 4 to 8 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended; report adopted, and Bill read a third time.
– I move -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn until 3 p.m. on Monday next.
It is hoped that we shall be able to conclude this part of the session on Tuesday, in time to allow honorable senators to catch their trains. Another place is sitting to-night and to-morrow in order that we may have the Appropriation Bill by Monday afternoon. I believe honorable senators generally agree that it is desirable to wind up the business as soon as possible. Ministers are carrying a very heavy load, with two of their num ber absent, one, the Prime Minister, who is the chief Minister of the Cabinet, and the other, the Acting Attorney-General. In the circumstances it is not desirable to continue the sittings of Parliament longer than is absolutely necessary to pass certain needed legislation, until the Prime Minister returns.
– When will that be?
– His present intention is to return to Australia on 24th July.
– I am sure the Senate will receive most sympathetically the Minister’s suggestion that the session should not be so prolonged as to throw additional burdens on Ministers, but I have heard no suggestion from either side to unduly prolong our sittings. Sitting on Monday will not shorten the time for which the Senate will meet. If we met on Monday and Tuesday it would be just the same as if we sat on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Monday sitting seems to be proposed not so much to meet the convenience of members of this House as to meet that of members of another place. Assuming, however, as I had a right to do, that the Senate would meet only on the usual days, I have made public engagements in Sydney for Monday next. In the circumstances it is unreasonable to ask me to break my word to meet the convenience of people to whom we are not allowed to refer. If the Minister had said that it would help the Government for the Senate to meet on Monday, it would have been another matter, but no statement of the kind has been made. It will not lessen the burdens on Ministers for us to meet on Monday and Tuesday, instead of Tuesday and Wednesday, because, in either case, two days’ sittings are involved.
– If the Appropriation Bill reaches us on Monday, a number of senators will be able to speak on it, and those who are unable to be present on Monday can say what they want to say on Tuesday. By that means we shall save a day. While I have made no engagements for Monday, I fully sympathize with Senator Millen in the position in which he finds himself placed, but I support the Government’s proposal with a view to the saving of time.
– Like the Leader of the Opposition I represent a distant State, and I shall certainly be unable to be here on Monday. If I go home this afternoon, I shall not be able to get back before Tuesday. I do not desire to miss any sitting of the Senate if possible, but if the Minister insists upon adjourning the Senate until Monday I shall not be able to attend. I would remind honorable senators that for the last week we have been here prepared to carry on our work, but there has been nothing for us to do.
– Yes there has; we have passed several Bills.
– If there was work for us to do we have done it expeditiously and adjourned. For that, instead of being commended, we are to be penalized. It does not seem to be with the object of meeting the convenience of the Ministers that we are asked to return on Monday, but because honorable members in another place have shown no hurry to dispose of the measures before them. I protest against the Senate being summoned, at this late hour on Friday, to meet on Monday, because all our engagements are already made, and many of us willhave to observe them.
– I congratulate the Government on their decision to meet on Monday, because we are here for the express purpose of carrying out the work put before us, and it should not inconvenience any honorable senators to work, not only on Monday, but, if necessary, on every day of the week. If we are to do our duty, we must be prepared to pay a great deal more attention to some matters which at present only partially engage our attention. It is unfair to the country that we should give such a slight amount of attention to the Defence Department, for instance.
– The honorable senator is speaking for himself, I hope.
– Yes; I am speaking for myself and also for other honorable senators. In my opinion the Government have done the right thing, for it is likely that when we meet on Monday we shall find so much work to do that we shall be kept busy every day of the week. That is what we are here for. I hope the Government will stick to their proposal.
Senator WATSON (New South Wales)
Whilst we have our duties here beyond all doubt, we have also other public duties to perform, and they are duties which cannot be overlooked. Knowing that it is the custom of the Senate to meet on certain days, we are perfectly justified, and within our right, in expecting to be able to meet the obligations which, as servants of the public, are cast upon us. Nothing has occurred to necessitate our meeting here on Monday, and it is not a right departure that we should be called upon, without any definite reason, to meet on an unusual day. I hope the Government will see their way clear to enable honorable senators to keep faith with their public engagements.
– I join with other honorable senators in taking exception to the action of the Government. When we left home last we did so in the expectation that the House would adjourn at the usual time, so that we would be able to return to our homes, and come back to Melbourne to transact our ordinary business as usual. I make it a point, as far as possible,to be present at every sitting of the Senate. Those who sent me here expect me to attend, but if I return home to-day - and it is necessary that I should, to meet engagements I have made - it will be impossible for me to be present on Monday next. I shall, therefore, be placed in a dilemma that will not be one of my own creation. It cannot be argued that the state of the notice-paper is such as to render it necessary for us to meet at an unusual time. If the notice-paper were loaded with business it would be our duty to attack it; but we are all well aware that at present there is only one measure to be considered, the Trading with the Enemy Bill. And, surely, one short measure does not justify a departure from the ordinary routine of the Senate. I hope, theref ore, that the Government will adjourn the Senate until Tuesday next, the usual time.
– There was another matter which I might have mentioned for the information of honorable senators. The adjournment till Monday will certainly meet the convenience of Ministers, because an Inter-State Conference is being held in Adelaide next week, when matters affecting both the State and Common wealth will be discussed. The State Governments have expressed a desire that the Treasurer and I should attend, after they have discussed matters of State concern, and take part in the deliberations on those matters in which the States and Commonwealth are jointly interested. To attend that Conference it will be necessary that the Treasurer and I should leave Melbourne on Wednesday next, in order to be in Adelaide for Thursday and Friday. Owing to the exigencies of the war, as honorable senators know, the financial affairs of both the States and Commonwealth have become interwoven. The States cannot borrow except through the Commonwealth. It is desirable, therefore, that we should meet representatives of the States and discuss these matters. It would be very inconvenient for the Government to have two Ministers away while Parliament is sitting, as we are already short of two Ministers. I trust, therefore, that honorable senators who may be inconvenienced will recognise this, and withdraw their opposition to the motion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 3.40 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 19 May 1916, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1916/19160519_senate_6_79/>.