7th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Will the Leader of the Senate lay on the table all reports in the hands of the Government on the Blythe River Iron Deposits?
– In reply to a question submitted, I think by Senator Pratten, a day or two ago, I intimated that the reports referred to would be tabled in the Senate. I shall endeavour to see that they are here next week.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs in a position to answer the question which I put last week on the subject of the increase in the prices of leather ?
– The honorable senator on 7th inst. asked me the following questions: -
Glace kid, from1s. 6d. to 3s.;
Box calf, from1s. 8d. to 2s. 4d.;
Tan willow, from1s. 5d. to 2s. 2d. ;
Box hide, from 1s. 3¼d. to1s.11d.;
Sole leather, from1s. 9d. to 2s. 5d.;
Sole leather, from 2s. 5d. to 3s. 6d.?
I am now in a position to furnish the following replies : - 1 and 2. I am not in a position tosay.
– Will the Leader of the Government in the Senate cause to be laid on the table a return answering the following questions : -
– I rise to a point of order. Is the honorable senator in order in asking a question worded in that manner?
– Senator Earle did not go sufficiently far with his question to enable me to form an accurate judgment, but it did seem to me that there was contained in his question an innuendo that a certain condition of things existed. It is a constant, and, I regret to say, growing practice for honorable senators to make statements by innuendo when asking questions. Senator Earle would be in order in asking for a return showing the increase in the cost of living in various countries, and that would not involve an innuendo as to what was occurring in those countries.
– I submit that what I am asking for is a statement from the Government in answer to certain questions. The first question I have submitted is: -
Is it a fact that the increased cost of the necessaries oflife during the years 1914-15 to 1918-19 was less in Australia than in any other country in the world?
Surely that is a proper question. If I am inorder the second question to which I desire a statement in reply is -
Is it a fact that such increased cost for the same articles for the same period was higher in Queensland than in any other State in Australia?
– I rise to a point of order.
– Order ! The honorable senator is not in order in asking his question in that form. He would be in order in asking for a return showing the increase in the cost of living in the various States or in various countries, and when that return was supplied it would answer the questions submitted. It is unnecessary to suggest a certain condition of things by innuendo in the question, because the return would make it clear whether what is suggested by the honorable senator’s question was or was not a fact.
– Then do I understand that my question in the form in which I have presented it is out of order?
– Yes, I think so. It might beput in the amended form I have indicated, or if the honorable senator gave notice of the question now, I would see that it was stated in proper form for submission to the Senate.
The following papers were presented : -
Defence Act 1903-1918. - Regulations amended. - Statutory Rules 1919, No. 196.
Trusts : Report of Committee appointed by Minister of Reconstruction. (Paper presented to British Parliament.)
Order of Australian Troops
– Will the Leader of the Government in the Senate make a statement as to the date on which the Cook Government offered a contingent of troops for service in August, 1914? What I want to get at is whether the offer was made before the declaration of war.
– I shall endeavour to secure the information for the honorable senator next week. I prefer not to answer his question from memory.
Assistance to Returned Munition Workers
SenatorFOLL. - Has the attention of the Minister for Repatriation been called to the fact that in Queensland at the present time there is a large number of returned munition workers who were overseas for some considerable time, and who are now practically on the verge of starvation, because under the Repatriation Act they are not eligible to participate in the benefits of the repatriation scheme? Will the Government consider the advisability of doing something to relieve these people, many of whom have rendered good service to their country, and have made considerable sacrifices in doing so?
– Order ! The honorable senator must not argue the matter.
– Will the Government consider the advisability of doing something for these men ?
– The Repatriation Act, as the honorable senator has indicated, does not include persons other than members of the Australian Imperial Force. In framing the measure it was not thought that munition workers, great as their services may have been, were entitled to the same benefits on return to Australia as men who took the risk of joining the combatant forces. The Government have intimated that it is their intention to amend the Act to enable munition workers to participate in the benefits provided for under the War Service Homes Act, and, further than that, they have communicated to the State Governments their willingness to make advances to munition workers settling on the land similar to those which are now made to soldiers settling on the land.
SenatorFOLL. - Arising out of the answer to my question, will the Government, in view of the special circumstances at present existing, and without making it a general practice, consider the possibility of giving some immediate relief to these men, owing to their distress due to the strike and other causes ?
– The Government have already participated with the State Governments in a measure of relief for persons affected by the strike. If Senator Foll will give me particulars of the position in Queensland, I shall be glad to look into the matter.
– Is the Leader of the Senate in a position to supply me with the information for which I asked the other day as to the total cost to Australia of the visit to England of the Prime Minister, the Minister for the Navy, the Minister for Defence, and the staffs associated with them? Senator Millen said that as soon as he had the information for which I asked he would supply it.
– I can only repeat what I said when the question was first submitted, and that is that when the Government are in possession of the information they will supply it to the honorable senator.
– Arising out of the answer to my question, I ask whether the rumour that the cost involved is £100,000 is anywhere near the mark?
– Really, I am too busy to speculate on rumours.
– Is the Leader of the Government in the Senate in a position to supply any information in reply to the question I asked last week as to whether he will lay on the table of the Senate the papers in connexion with the ten dismissals from the Public Service, made as the result of Mr. Barnet’s inquiry into the employment of aliens in the Service?
– I am not yet in a position to supply the papers. I have sent on the necessary inquiry to the Department, but no reply has yet come to hand.
– Has the attention of the Leader of the Senate been drawn to a cablegram from America to the effect that the President of the United States intends to compel the retailers of goods to put on each article the retail price and also the cost price? Have the Government the power under the Constitution to take similar action here?
– I have not seen the cablegram to which the honorable senator refers, and I hesitate to express the opinion which the honorable senator invites me to give. If he will enable me to see the cablegram I will bring it under the notice of the Attorney-General.
– Will the Government furnish a return showing - 1. The rise in the prices of meat, wheat, bread, butter, sugar, milk, potatoes, and fruit during the years of the war? 2. Will the Government also supply the wages and increase of wages during the war of men engaged in the production of these articles? 3. Will the Government furnish a return showing the wages and increases of wages during the war of all trades and callings the members of which have beenon strike during the same period ?
– I was a little doubtful as to whether my honorable friend was asking a question or not. I submit that it would be better if the honorable senator would move for a return giving the information he seeks.
– Very well, I shall do so.
– Is the Leader of the Senate aware of the fact that in one State, at any rate, in Australia a succession duty of 10 per cent. is being charged on the estates of deceased soldiers? Will the Government make such representations through the various State Governments as may prevent succession duty at so high a rate being charged upon these estates? The State to which I specially refer is South Australia, where the duty charged is 10 per cent.
– I am not aware of the rates of succession duty charged in the several States, nor am I quite certain that it would be entirely proper for the Commonwealth Government to make representations to the State Governments as to the form of taxation they should levy.
– Arising out of the answer given by Senator Millen, when he said that the Commonwealth would be exceeding its duty by making representations to the State Governments in regard to their methods of raising taxation, does he not consider it the duty of the Government to make provision to safeguard the estates of deceased soldiers?
– I am glad the honorable senator has put that question because when I was speaking previously, although the term “ succession duty “ was used, I did not on the spur of ‘the moment recognise its significance. I merely wish to add now that it is intended to make such representations as may seem proper in the circumstances.
– Is the Leader of the Government in the Senate in a position to reply to the questions I asked last week with respect to sugar and skin wool ?
– I regret that I am not yet in a position to supply the information which the honorable senator seeks. I shall try to hurry up the inquiry.
– I ask the Minister for Repatriation whether he is yet in a position to say whether Ministers have any objection to laying on the table of the Senate the correspondence relating to the Marconi lawsuit?
– The papers have already been laid on the table of the Library.
– I ask the Minister for Repatriation whether his attention has been directed to threats by returned soldiers to use force against certain residents in this country, and, if so, whether he realizes the necessity for action to .prevent the deportation of citizens by unauthorized bodies, and without recourse to law by the Government themselves ?
– I do not know that it is possible for me to answer the question in the limits of my reply. But I have every confidence that our returned soldiers will not become breakers of the law; in spite of attempts on the part of certain newspapers to give a sensational turn to every little incident that happens. I am also satisfied that the States themselves will preserve order.
– Is it the policy of the Government to deport people without recourse to the ordinary Courts of law?
– The Government’s policy in regard to deportation is well known to this House.
– I ask the Minister for Repatriation whether the Government, either through the powers conferred upon them by the War Precautions Act or in any other way, can prevent returned soldiers from forcibly taking possession of a man, and sending him by train from Perth to the coast with instructions that he is not to return? Has the Government any power to prevent such an interference with the liberty of the subject ?
– I suggest that the honorable senator should supply me with the particulars of the case to which he refers, and I will then inquire into it.
– I ask the Minister for Repatriation whether it is the intention of the Government to renew the practice that has existed since the inception of Federation of supplying honorable senators with the Government Gazette.
– I am not aware of what the practice was or is, nor do I think that the distribution of that publication comes under the Government control. If the honorable senatorwill afford me an opportunity of looking into the question, I undertake to supply him with the desired information.
– On the 8th August, Senator McDougall asked -
Whether it is a fact, as stated in the press, that the French Mission made a donation of £1,000 to be distributed amongst the widows and orphans of Australian soldiers. If so, has anything been done in the matter, and how has the money been distributed?
To that question I replied -
I know that it is a fact that the French Mission, on leaving Australia, did leave such a donation, and for the purpose indicated. I am not in a position to say what has been done in connexion with its distribution; but I shall endeavour to obtain the information for the honorable senator.
I am now in a position to supply the honorable senator with the following information : -
In December last, a sum of £1.000 was donated by the French Mission to be distributed in the most suitable way to widows and orphans of Australian soldiers. Subsequently, a proposal was put before General Pau by the Government, that it was considered the money could best be utilized in the establishment of a University scholarship, for which children of deceased soldiers would bc eligible, to be designated “ The General Pau Scholarship,” and in this suggestion General Pau concurred.
Vessels Ordered in England.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers are -
Remission of Fines - Retention of Rank on Transfer to Permanent Forces - Warrant and Noncommissioned Officers.
asked the Acting Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Has the Government come to any decision regarding the question of the remission of fines imposed upon members of the Australian Imperial Force?
– The Government have already approved of the remission of fines and forfeitures in respect of all Australian Imperial Force soldiers who die on service, provided that the proper beneficiary in the estate was either dependent, or is father, mother, wife, or child. This is the limit to which it is thought right to go, for the reason that the remission of fines and forfeitures duly awarded amounts to preferential treatment of those who have by their misconduct lessened their own services, and much hampered the efficiency of the Force.
asked the Acting Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers are -
Superannuation- - Pay for Work on Holidays - Evasions of Act.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– This question is receiving the consideration of the Government, but I am not in a position to make any statement in regard thereto at present.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– I shall endeavour to obtain the information desired by the honorable senator, and furnish him with a reply as soon as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he place upon the table of the Library the papers in connexion with each of the four cases cited as examples of “ Breaches or Evasions of the Act” on pages 13 and 14 of the report of the Acting Public Service Commissioner last presented to Parliament?
– It is not considered desirable to fake the action indicated.
Purchase of Oil - H.M.A.S. “Australia/’: Breaches of Discipline - Pay of Naval Police.
asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
– The answers are -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The answers are -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The answers are : -
Refusal to Ship Wool from Sydney.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– I shall endeavour to obtain the information desired by the honorable senator, and furnish him with a reply as soon as possible.
Consideration of report from Committee of the whole.
– I move -
That the report be adopted.
In view of the very long debate which we had the other day, I do not consider it necessary to support the motion by any observations at this stage.
.- I shall follow the example of the Leader of the Government by refraining from discussing at undue length the motion for the adoption of the report. It is quite true that, in Committee, the proposal of the Standing Orders Committee was debated at great length. In my opinion, a decided improvement was effected in that standing order as it originally came from the Standing Orders Committee. The proposal now before us is absolutely different from that which was put before the Senate by that Committee. But it still has my opposition, because I believe it to be an unwise, unnecessary, and injudicious interference with the liberty of honorable senators. Even at this late hour, and in view of the fact that this session will soon terminate the existence of some honorable senators, until after the next election, I ask the Government not to allow this standing order to be adopted and applied to the conduct of business in this Senate. That is a reasonable request, because with this standing order in force it will ibe impossible for honorable senators to discuss adequately some of the important measures that will come up for consideration. I refer particularly to the Commercial Activities Bill. No honorable senator who gives that measure the attention it will demand will be able to discuss intelligently all its provisions in the limited time provided by this new standing order. I say this as one who has tried to grapple with some of the problems to be included in that measure.
– May we not give the honorable senator an hour and a half ?
– I am not speaking for myself, because I shall not attempt to discuss the important matters contained in that Bill in the limited time allowed, as from experience I know that I would merely be gabbling over my points in order to compress my views within the time limit of this standing order. In addition to that Bill, there will be other important problems and measures for careful consideration. If the desire of the Government was, as expressed by Senators Bakhap, Poll, and de Largie, to prevent me from occupying the time of the Senate, the alteration of the new standing order from its original form will not achieve that purpose, because,’ if I were so evilly disposed as some honorable senators suggest, I could occupy more time in Committee with a great deal more comfort to myself, and certainly with more annoyance to honorable senators. I care not a snap of the fingers foi- those who have tried to hold me up as an awful example and as an illustration of the necessity for this new standing order. If anything gives me any lasting pleasure, it is the knowledge that what I have said here has been so effective as to embitter some honorable senators opposite against me personally to such an extent as to lead, to the introduction of this new standing order. In fact, I take it as the very best compliment I could expect from that particular type of mind which is so intolerant that, dressed in a little brief authority, it is prepared to alter the whole of our rules of debate.
– Our tolerance is great; but we want some of the time ourselves.
– I have referred to what the honorable senator said, because his remarks in open debate showed “what really was in the minds of the Government and their supporters. The honorable senator made an absolutely candid statement. I am not complaining of that, but I am pointing out that the new standing order, as amended in the
Committee of the Senate, will be futile so far as Committee work is concerned, as it leaves the business of the Senate in Committee absolutely at the mercy of an obstructor. I have previously emphasized the fact that the business of this Chamber can only be conducted by the good-will of its members. I have had nearly ten years’ experience in this Senate, and I never remember a session in which the Government were blocked from carrying out their proposals. But I remember that when honorable senators opposite - and particularly the present Leader of the Government (Senator Millen) - were in Opposition, they used our Standing Orders to the utmost extent of their powers to obstruct Government business for the time being, in order to give the people of the country an opportunity of knowing what was being done here. What is happening now? There is an attempt at break-neck speed in the matter of legislation; though I say that if ever there was a time when legislation should be enacted in a deliberate manner, that, time is now. There should be no attempt to pass hurriedly proposals of such great magnitude as those which will come before the Senate during the present session. Unfortunately, in recent years, it has been the custom for a Minister in charge of a Bill to move a contingent notice of motion suspending that portion of the Standing Orders which would prevent a measure from passing through all its stages without delay. Now, there are thirty-six members of this .Senate, as fairly representative of the people as could be obtained.
– Hear, heart Above the average.
– Emphasize that again.
– I will say it again, and accept even the addition of my political antagonist, Senator de Largie. I say it is impossible for the thirty-six members of this Senate, even with their great capacity to understand important issues, and their extensive knowledge, to appreciate immediately all that is contained in a Bill as soon as the second reading has been moved. Will any honorable senator say that it is a waste of time for matters of magnitude to be discussed at length? Outside of this Parliament, there are thousands of people who take an interest in our legislation, and it is advisable that we should be deliberate so that we may have the advantage of that wider field of wisdom, and in order that the people may realize the actual results of our labours. The tendency of Parliaments and Governments in recent years has been to hurry legislation through.
– I wish the honorable senator would try to ‘ ‘ get a move “ on.
– The honorable senator has had much experience in public life, but I hold different views from his upon this particular subject. I hold that the chief function of a Parliament is to discuss fully every question that comes before it, so that the people outside may have some information as to the character of the legislation under review, and some knowledge of its effect upon the general community; and) I am endeavouring to point out the dangers that may follow from this tendency to hustle in legislation. Our parliamentary institutions were not called into existence for that purpose. It is, of course, the most important function of a Parliament to maintain in omeo the best set of men to administer the affairs of the country. The majority has always done that. I admit this, even with regard to the pi 6- sent Government, but I merely use them as an illustration. The present Government could not very well be called a good set of men to be charged with the administration of our affairs, but I admit that they are the best set of men that the present majority have, and the best set of men representing the Nationalist electors; and in maintaining this Government in office, those constituting the present majority are discharging their duties to their constituents. But this attempt to curtail the rights - I will not say the privileges - of any honorable senator is an iniquitous use of the power exercisable by the Government, because our Constitution gives minorities the right of unlimited complaint against acts of omission or commission; and any restriction of criticism against the sheer incapacity of the Government will eventually drag this country down to a level from which it will be almost impossible to restore it. The present majority, it seems, have become so intolerant as toattempt to. curtail the few minutes that are occupied by any speaker: because, after all, honorable senators only occupy a few minutes in their speeches. I have heard it said that I spoke for ten hours upon a certain Bill. I did nothing of the kind. I spoke for twelve hours on a proposal to suspend the Standing Orders at 10 o’clock at night in order to get a certain measure through; but I did not interfere with the passage of the Bill itself, nor take from any other honorable senator his right of speaking on the second reading of that particular measure. I was making my earnest protest against what I thought was an inroad upon the privileges of this Chamber as provided in our Standing Orders.
– I thought I once heard the honorable senator admire the procedure of the House of Lords, which has no standing orders.
– I have admired the procedure of the House of Lords.
– Then, was not the honorable senator inconsistent in protesting against the suspension of our Standing Orders on that occasion ?
– I can quite understand how the honorable senator regards as inconsistent my attitude in admiring the procedure of the House of Lords, where business is conducted without standing orders, and my protest against the suspension of the Standing Orders in this democratic “ House of Lords,” which might equally well conduct its business without standing orders; but I take up the attitude that while we have Standing Orders, they shall be obeyed. I shall always endeavour to see that the Senate conducts its business in accordance with those Standing Orders. If we could reach that high plane of tolerance which would enable our business to be conducted without standing orders, I believe our legislative work would be conducted more effectively, and with much greater wisdom,, than at present. The proposed new standing order is an intolerant act of an intolerant section of this Chamber, who imagined, when three or four of them, members of the Standing Orders Committee, had devised a scheme for curtailing the rights of honorable senators in this Chamber, that they had accomplished their ends. I appeal to the good sense of the Government mot to place amongst our Standing Orders the mutilated proposal of the Standing Orders Committee. I ask the Government not to proceed any further in that direction, and to realize that it i3 futile to do what the Standing Orders Committee propose. The proposed standing order is absolutely useless, is calculated to annoy honorable senators, and to lead to unnecessary discussion. If honorable senators cannot enjoy full liberty in discussing measures to which they have given close attention, it is possible that they will occupy more time in dealing with legislation with which they are not fully acquainted. I am not saying that in the form of a threat. If the new standing order is carried, I will obey it, but I would not attempt to crowd into sixty mi,n,ute what would really take me 120 minutes. If the Senate decide that this restrictive standing order shall come into force, I shall accept that decision. I hope to divide the Senate to see who favour it and who oppose it. When honorable senators’ decisions have been recorded, we shall see that many who have supported the alteration will be the first to regret the change that has been made. I regret that it was ever introduced, and that this Senate ever contained members so intolerant of the views of others that they should have supported its passage. I regret that the people in the various States should have sent representatives here so unacquainted with the purposes of Parliament as to make this a place where measures cannot be discussed to the fullest degree. I appeal to the Government, at this late stage, not to press the matter, and to prevent the new standing order being included in the rules of this Chamber.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) [11.48].- On behalf , of the Standing Orders Committee I wish to say that the statement of Senator Gardiner, that the proposed new stand ing order originated with that Committee, and was brought before the Senateon its initiative, is not correct. It should be known to every honorable senator that the f raming of such a standing order was proposed by the Leader of the Government (Senator Millen) last year, and referred by the Senate to the Standing Orders Committee for consideration and report.
During the discussion in Committee of the whole of the report of the Standing Orders Committee, I explained that the latter had but a bare half -hour in which to consider the .proposal referred to it, and, therefore, could not do more than affirm the principle contained in the proposed new standing order, that it was desirable to put some limit on the length of speeches, and make a report to the Senate, which would enable the proposed standing order to be discussed by honorable senators generally more fully than it could be discussed by the members of the Committee.
I have studiously refrained from saying anything as to either the merits or demerits of the proposed standing order, nor have I in any way tried to influence honorable senators in favour of its adoption; I have merely stated the exact position of affairs, so that- the Standing Orders Committee might not be saddled with responsibility which could not properly be placed upon it.
– When this question comes to a vote, it is my intention to oppose it, because I do not feel , that- we are doing a wise thing. I wish to take a calm and dispassionate view of the whole proposal, to. see how it. will affect discussion in the Senate. We have to realize what a far-reaching effect it will have when dealing with the measures that are brought before us. We have also to consider that the Senate does not occupy nearly the same time as the other Chamber in discussing measures submitted to it. If the proposed new standing order be carried, it will mean that our time, which is already short, will be further limited. It will not give us the opportunities we should have for careful revision, nor will it give the Senate the standing it should have as a debating Chamber. It will create the impression outside that it is our desire to hurry through with the business in a few hours at the end of a session; and that is practically what we shall be doing. In all .probability, when the prorogation is approaching, we shall have some very important measures to consider - more important, in fact, than any that have yet been before this Parliament. Idi connexion with the State I represent, there is the question of constructing the North-South railway, and who can look upon the map of Australia without realizing that such a proposition must call for lengthy debate? Honorable senators who have a real interest in the States they represent cannot confine themselves to one hour in discussing important proposals. The only remedy will be for an honorable senator to ask for an extension of time.
– He should do so.
– Why should we have to ask others for something we should have the right to ? Why not limit a speaker to five minutes, and then let him ask for an extension? The principle is the same’. Can any honorable senator say that he is capable of measuring the capacity or ability of another honorable senator to deal with a Bill? Senator Reid may be a judge of his own ability or capacity, but I defy him to judge mine. To use a common simile, honorable senators would be using their own bushel to measure other honorable senators’ grain. The new standing order will have the effect of stultifying our intelligence, and the position the Senate should occupy as a legislative Chamber. In dealing with important national questions, business will be unnecessarily hurried, and, as the impression is already held outside that it is now so hurried, the new standing order will have the effect of confirming it. Frequently when our Acts come before the Courts, Judges remark that the intention of Parliament is not clear, and that shows clearly that proper care has not been exercised in their construction. Time and again we find short amending Bills introduced to overcome the defects in existing legislation, and this is frequently brought about by legislating in a hurry. Amending Bills lead to the reprinting of original Acts, or require an intricate process of comparison to see bow different sections have been amended. This all points to inefficient work in the first instance. It very often happens, during the second reading of a Bill, that honorable senators see, as by a reflected light, the views of others, but much of that will be lost if our time is to be restricted. This proposition does not deal with breaches of the law, but is being included in our Standing Orders to control the general business of the “Senate. If honorable senators are to be confined to sixty minutes on a second-reading speech, our deliverances, instead of being judged by quality, will be judged by the clock. Frequently, at the beginning of a session, the Senate” has to adjourn owing to lack of business, and at the end of the session we are deprived of the time which should have been ours at the beginning. Frequently measures are passed by exhaustion.
– ‘This will minimize that evil.
– That confirms the impression I had that the new standing order is brought in to minimize an evil that could be minimized by introducing’ measures earlier. With the exception of money Bills, the Senate enjoys equal rights with the other Chamber, and we should not be compelled to deal fully with important Bills at the close of a session, when sufficient time is not available. An employer does not keep a workman partially employed, and then indorse work done under great pressure as workman-like. We should have different methods of bringing business before the Senate, and we should always be given the fullest scope to discuss and reconsider measures in Committee until we have made them as perfect as possible.
– During the discussion of the proposed new standing order on Wednesday I was prevented from participating owing to my temporary occupancy of the chair. The division lists, however, will indicate my atti- tude towards it. I recorded my vote against the motion at every stage until I could see my way clear to vote in favour of the standing order as it was eventually amended. Between my own views and the limitations set out in the standing order to-day there is only one half-hour. It should be competent for an honorable senator who has an important subject to introduce to occupy, if necessary, two hours in doing so. I do not agree that every man can compress his comments on any subject within an hour or an hour and a-half. There are many matters which I, personally, would not attempt to handle in less than sixty minutes. It is possible that I shall be one of the earliest victims of the standing order, for a motion has been set down upon the notice-paper in my name, in the presentation of which I had expected to occupy certainly more than an hour and a-half. Wow, however, it will be necessary to considerably curtail my remarks. I intend to vote for the adoption of the standing order. I shall do so realizing that all honorable senators will be affected, whether we be in the habit of indulging in unduly long speeches or are generally to be found expressing ourselves briefly.
The amendments made in Committee have so improved the standing order, especially in regard to the limitation of speeches during Committee stages, that, although I do not wholly agree with it, the standing order should be considered generally acceptable. I admit that I have sometimes felt rather annoyed because of unnecessarily long speeches by certain honorable senators; and, had the standing order been under consideration while I was in that mood, it is not unlikely that I would have supported it as originally drafted. Upon reflection, and in calmer moments, however, I believe I would have taken the view that it might be regarded as an act of punishment in relation to one particular offender. Now we shall be punishing ourselves equally. This is largely a Chamber of compromise, and for that reason I am prepared to accept the standing order in its amended form. Although it may sometimes work to the detriment of honorable senators, I am of opinion that it will make for the more speedy transaction of business generally. It should have good effect; but if it be found that the Senate cannot carry on, or that the standing order causes harsh conditions, it will be quite within out powers to repeal it. I appreciate the objection taken by Senator Senior, and agree to some extent with his views. He is governed at all times by the spirit of compromise; he is not one who, unless he achieves his own purposes, will have nothing to do with a matter. I am convinced, though, that business will now be given greater despatch, and that the standing order will help to protect our rights and preserve our tempers.
– I desire to be consistent at all times, and I shall vote against the adoption of the report in order, if possible, to prevent the standing order from coming into operation. The information which you gave to the Senate a few minutes ago, Mr. President, justifies our objection to the standing order. You stated that the Standing Orders Committee had had but brief time in which to consider the matter, and you confessed that the fullest consideration had not been given it prior to its introduction to the Senate. I regret that you, the Standing Orders Committee, and the Government, should have seen fit to propose such a drastic addition to our Standing Orders, especially realizing that this Chamber is so differently constituted from “ another place.” Y’ou,. sir, have the power to shorten debate by the application of various standing orders dealing” with irrelevancy and reiteration. It is within the competency of honorable senators to move at any time, “ That the question Be now put.” The Senate is possessed of sufficient power ‘to prevent obstruction, and curtail unreasonably long speeches. The new standing order, however. goes to extremes. I do not agree with Senator Newland when he states that the amendment made in the standing order for the limitation of speeches in Committee to a quarter of an hour, while at the same time permitting an honorable senator to speak as frequently as he cares, improves the original. I do not consider that the standing order will permit the full performance of our duties in Committee. Its effect will frequently be to cut off remarks of an honorable senator which he deems to he of such importance that he is bound to take the earliest opportunity to continue and conclude them. Anything calculated to prevent our working in the spirit of the Constitution of this Chamber will draw increased criticism upon us, and can only strengthen the case of those honorable senators and their supporters who desire the abolition of this Chamber. If the Senate is not to be free to perform its fullest constitutional duties, it can have no excuse for existence simply as a recording Chamber for business done elsewhere. By adop’ting the new standing order, we shall be assisting the Senate to commit hari-kari. It was announced when the standing order first came before this Chamber that it was a matter for honorable senators personally to review and decide upon. It was made clear that it was not a Government proposition. We were given our freedom from any possible party shackle. I claim that freedom now, and, since I consider that we would be taking a retrograde step in agreeing to it, I shall oppose the adoption of the report.
– From the speeches which have been delivered by some honorable senators opposite, one would be led to imagine that the proposed new standing order would not seriously interfere with the right of honorable senators to discuss a Bill at reasonable length. But it should not be forgotten that at the present time there is no limitation whatever imposed upon the time which honorable senators may occupy in addressing themselves to any stage of a Bill. If the proposed new standing order is agreed to, no honorable senator will be allowed to speak, in certain cases, for more than an hour, and in other cases for more than an hour and a half, though onrare occasions an honorable senator may, with the consent of the majority, be given’ an extension of time for a limited period. Such an inroad upon the rights of honorable senators should not be countenanced for a moment. In view of some of the speeches made from the other side, it, perhaps, would not be fair to regard this as a party matter.
– Not at all.
– I think it is better that it should not be so regarded. It may be possible for some honorable senators to compress what they desire to say upon any subject into a speech lasting not more than an hour and a half.
– The honorable senator could not do so in speaking on the land tax.
– As the honorable senator remarks, it would be quite impossible for me to compress what I would desire to say on that question into so short a space of time. I feel sure that if Senator Senior were in good form, he also would find it impossible to compress his remarks on some subjects into a speech of not more than an hour and a half.
– He could not do so on the subject of insurance.
– And possibly on a number of other questions as well. I should like to impress upon the Government the fact that, perhaps, with the exception of the American Senate, there are very few legislative Chambers, the membership of which is so limited in number as is the membership of the Senate. There is, therefore, no necessity for us to divest ourselves of the rights and privileges in the matter of discussion which have been handed down to us by those who have preceded us in this Chamber. It is, no doubt, true that if at a later stage it is found that the proposed standing order is unworkable, it can be amended, but it is very much easier to prevent the adoption of a proposal of this kind than to amend it af ter it has been adopted. The far safer course for us to take, in the circumstances, is to reject the proposed standing order by refusing to adopt the report of the Committee.
Amendments have been carried on the proposed standing order as at first submitted, which will have the effect of giving honorable senators a fair degree of latitude in the consideration of a Bill in Committee. But that is not the stage of a measure at which honorable senators can speak at large upon the subject with which, it deals. In Committee an honorable senator is. confined strictly to remarks upon the particular clause under consideration at any time. In the case of a great number of Bills that have come before the Senate, it would have been impossible for honorable senators to do justice to themselves or their constituents in the limited time given for discussion under the proposed standing order. It will be equally impossible in the case of many Bills yet to come before the Senate. In fairness to ourselves and our constituents, we should retain the rights and privileges which have been handed down to us. We should refuse to adopt the report, and so defeat the adoption of the proposed new standing order.
– Naturally I intend to oppose the proposed new standing order at every stage. I shall not now detain honorable senators by repeating the reasons for my opposition to it. It is sufficient to say that I think it is quite unnecessary, as I said when the matter was previously under discussion. As, in view of the result of the divisions which have been taken upon it, the proposed standing order will very likely be adopted, I think I am entitled to say that the Opposition have, during the consideration of this matter, certainly justified their existence. Had it not been for the attitude taken up by honorable senators on this side, the proposed new standing order would very likely have been adopted in the form in which it was first submitted. It was attacked most vigorously by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, and his attack was joined in by practically every honorable senator on this side, and by several honorable senators on the other side.
– We did not regard it as a party question.
– It was not regarded as a party question by some honorable senators opposite, but it probably was so regarded by others who are regular Government supporters. The opposition to the proposed standing order, as at first submitted, resulted in vital alterations which, I have no doubt, will be found of considerable value. Had it been adopted in the form in which it was first presented’, it would have meant that criticism of financial measures would have been impossible. It is rightly said that finance is government, and criticism of the most important functions of government would have been actually stifled if the proposed standing order had been adopted as at first presented. It would have been possible for Ministers to stifle criticism of Government expenditure running into millions of pounds; if the standing order had been adopted as assented to by a majority of the Standing Orders Committee.
– No, it was not.
– Senator Guthrie, as a member of the Standing Orders Committee, says that the proposed standing order was not assented to by a majority of the members of that Committee. If that be so, I do not know how it came before the Senate. It was at least assented to by a majority of the members of the Standing Orders Committee present when it was agreed to by that Committee. Senator Guthrie has explained that he was not present on that occasion. On that account I appealed to the Government to refer the standing order back to the Standing Orders Committee for further consideration, so that at least it might be said that before its presentation to the Senate, it had received the approval of a majority of the members of that Committee. It must have received the approval of a majority, of those present when it was decided to recommend its adoption by the Senate.
– The casting vote of the Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee should never have been given in the way it was.
– The Government refused the request that the proposed standing order should be referred back to the Standing Orders Committee, and we now have it before us in an amended form. The value of the previous discussion of the matter is indicated by the amended form in which the pro.posed standing order is now before us.In its present form it will be possible, when discussing a Supply Bill, for honorable senators, if they so desire, to properly criticise every item included in it. The Government’s proposal was to do away with any criticism of any Government measure.
– It did not emanate from the Government.
– It emanated from the Standing Orders Committee. The proposed new standing order was brought down by the Government, and it certainly was the place of members of the Government in the Senate, if they did not think it a fair proposal, to oppose, and not to support, it. We know how Senator Millen pleaded for the adoption of the proposed standing order as at first submitted to the Senate. By the amendments which have been made in it, honorable senators will not be limited as to the number of times upon which they may speak in Committee upon a financial measure, though they may not speak for longer than a quarter of an hour at one time.
– Suppose a Supply Bill proposed a reduction in the grant for a Tasmanian mail service, would the honorable senator be able to deal with it in a quarter of an hour?
– Certainly not; but an honorable senator might do so in a number of speeches of a quarter of an hour each in length. As the proposed standing order was first presented, and recommended and supported by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, and honorable senators behind him, the Government would have been in a position to put financial measures through as they pleased, because, with the exception of the Minister in charge of such a measure, honorable senators would have been restricted in Committee to two speeches of a quarter of an hour each on any question. The whole of the schedule to a Supply Bill, or the total vote for a Government Department, might be put in one question, and if that course were adopted’, honorable senators would have been restricted to two speeches of a quarter of an hour each in their criticisms of the expenditure of a Government Department which might run into millions sterling. That absurd proposal was supported by Ministers and a number of Government supporters. Because, as a result of our previous consideration of the proposed standing order, amendments have been made which will prevent the stifling of criticism, I am entitled to claim that the Opposition in the Senate have justified their existence, if they had never done anything else. I shall at every stage oppose, by voice and vote, the proposed new standing order, but if we are to have it, I am glad that it willbe adopted in its present amended form.
Question put. The Senate divided.
Majority . . . . 7
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Senator RUSSELL (Victoria - VicePresident of the Executive Council and Acting Minister for Defence [12.33]. - In moving -
That this Bill be now read a second time,
I think honorable senators will recognise that it consists of quite a number of old friends with new faces. Its object is to enable us to carry to the stage of completion those contracts with which honorable senators are quite familiar, and which, were initiated during the period of the war.
– Because we have no contracts in connexion with leather; otherwise they would have been included. Evidently the honorable senator quite misunderstands the object of the Bill. As I have already remarked, it is merely designed to extend the period of the Government activities in connexion with contracts which were entered into during the progress of the war, so as to permit of those contracts being completed. Of course, it will still be possible to enter into other contracts at a later stage. But that is not the purpose of the measure. Its object is to enable contracts which have been entered into between the Australian wool-growers and this Government, with the British Government to be completed. These contracts will cover the next year’s wool clip. Everybody knows all about our wool contracts, and the Government merely desire to honour their engagements.
– Will the Minister please tell us specifically what the terms of the wool contract are?
– Yes. We contracted to sell the whole of the surplus wool of Australia to the British Government at an average rate of 15Jd. per M>. on a greasy basis, leaving us free to do as we liked with our own supplies.
– What were the terms in regard to reservation of wool for local industries?
– The British Government have purchased only the surplus. They have no control over our local supplies of wool. We are absolutely free in. regard to these, and can impose any conditions that we choose to impose. Whatever difference there may be on the question of collective bargaining by the State, there can be no doubt that many of those contracts were inevitable during the war period, and that they were decidedly beneficial to Australia as well as to our Allies. It is for the purpose of extending those contracts that it is proposed in this Bill practically to continue the War Precautions Act. I do not think there has ever been the slightest difference of opinion as to the principle embodied in this commercial trading. It seems to me that we were extremely fortunate to get out of the position in which we found ourselves on such excellent terms as we did. I repeat that the- contract in regard to wool will cover the next year’s clip. I could, if necessary, quote figures bearing on most of these propositions, but if I dealt with the matter at all fully, I should probably be occupied for three or four hours. At the same time, if any honorable senator desires to be supplied with facts or figures during the Committee stage, I shall *be delighted to furnish them. The figures in relation to the wool clip alone would fill about eight Saturday’s newspapers. T may add that the value of the wool handled by the Wool Committee has now reached the prodigious total of £122,000,000.
– Can the Minister give us the total value for each year?
– Yes, I will do so in Committee.
– You will have only a quarter of an hour in which to do it.
– I have no doubt that the honorable senator will be prepared to move that I be granted an extension of time. The Wool Committee has been, controlled by the wool-growers or’ Australia, nominally through the Prime Minister’s Department, I wish now to draw a distinction between the two classes of Pools. The Wheat Pool is practically a Government institution, which was run by the Government, and which had to be financed at one period to the extent of about £18,000,000. But the same remark does not apply to the Wool Pool. The Committees in connexion with the Wool Pool received no salaries. The whole of their work was done in a purely honorary capacity, with the exception of a small travelling allowance of 25s. per day when they are asked to undertake specific duty on behalf of the Board.
– Will the whole of the organizations which existed in war time in connexion with our wool business be maintained ?
– This measure does not deal with the future beyond making provision for the completion of existing contracts.
– Will the Constitution allow the Government to go farther than that?
– In certain respects: No. In regard to collective trading where a Customs embargo may be imposed, it may be possible to do almost anything. But whatever may be our individual views in regard to the continuation of these Pools after the existing contracts have been completed, it will be for Parliament to take action if that course be deemed necessary.
– Will the Central Wool Committee and all the different State Committees be maintained?
– Yes, to complete existing contracts. Thereafter, it will be for Australia to do anything she likes in regard to these matters by means of ordinary legislation.
– Are not the expenses to which the Minister has alluded paid out of the Pools themselves?
– Yes. In passing I think we may congratulate those who have accomplished such magnificent work in connexion with these Pools. All these persons are to be complimented upon the splendid spirit which they exhibited in our hour of danger. We have had a good object lesson of what can be accomplished in Australia by collective bargaining. Probably these experiments would never have been made but for the war. If in time of peace we would only exhibit a similar spirit, it seems to me that nothing would be impossible in this country. The wool clip has been controlled by the Central Committee and by State Committees, and all the members of these bodies have indeed done splendid work. Seeing that they had no previous experience in this direction, and that no man. either in this or any other country, had ever been called upon to handle such an immense quantity of wool, it does seem to me that they have rendered us magnificent service.
– And they are very anxious that this Bill should pass.
– In regard to wool the British Food Controller has himself pointed out that there were certain difficulties to be overcome in the early stages of the Pool, notably because our Allies needed to be educated in this matter. But now that the Wool Pool is in proper working condition those Allies are particularly anxious that no alteration should be made in it, lest confusion might occur. If some question of policy which this Parliament desired to alter were involved, I take it that it would be open for discussion, but the arrangements are now working as smoothly as some well-oiled machine.
I pass on now to deal with wool which has been commandeered. Sheepskins are on a different basis. In the 1916-17 Pool, an attempt was made to treat sheepskins upon the same basis as ordinary wool, but it was not successful; so Great Britain agreed to purchase all surplus skins, that is, all surplus after Australian requirements were met, on a value basis of 15£d. per lb. for greasy wool.
– Why is not the wool scoured in Australia ?
– The records show that wool scouring in Australia has increased to the extent of 75 per cent, over the 1914 operations. There never was a time when the factories were so actively engaged in this work, and when men were so fully employed.
– Then, why have they been closed up?
– I do not want to enter into the merits or demerits of theNew South Wales dispute which is now before the Court; -but I may point out that other establishments, working under later conditions, are operating most satisfactorily. Nobody regrets more than I do the unfortunate dispute which has arisen in New South Wales; but I do not want to go into the details of that trouble. I hope, in the interests of all concerned, that a satisfactory solution of it will soon be arrived at.
– Will these details, which the Minister refers to, be threshed out?
– Yes ; but it is not usual to discuss a question now before the Court.
– Still, the men are starving.
– There have been healthy developments in the wool-top industry in this State, and I believe, despite the dispute referred to, that the future of the industry is promising. The industry is one which ought to be encouraged to the fullest extent.
– Has any attempt been made to secure by-products from the residue in the wool-wash ?
– Yes; experiments have been made by officials of the Bureau of ‘Science and Industry, with, I am glad to say, satisfactory results. It has been demonstrated, I believe, that from 5 to 10 tons of material used in the manufacture of lanoline have been going down the Barwon River every day. This will now be available for the manufacture of soap and for other purposes. I believe that this bv-product is present in greatest quantities in the wool of the merino lamb, and, therefore, greater attention should be paid to grading in fellmongering establishments. Improved machinery, on the principle, I believe, of the cream separator, is now coming from America.
Referring to flax, I may point out that, prior to the war, 60 per cent, of the Empire’s requirements was obtained from Russia, the balance being produced in the north of France, in parts of Belgium, and in Ireland. With supplies from the Baltic provinces cut off, the position was a serious one during the war, and steps were taken to encourage the industry in Australia. Experiments made by the Bureau of Science and Industry show that no industry furnishes greater promise. We managed to get sufficient Australian seed for the cultivation of about 300. acres, and also secured some imported seed; but I regret to say that the latter proved a failure. I may also, add that, contrary to the experience in other countries, the Australian seed, which was acclimatized in the Gippsland dis’trict, produced both fibre and seed from the one plant;, so we have commandeered the whole of it, and hope this year- to cultivate about 1,000 acres, which should return the equivalent of about £50,000.
– Is that seed available to: all the States.?-
– Yes ; but, of course, we have only a limited quantity.
– For how long has it been acclimatized?
– I do not know where the original flax seed came from, but it appears to have become acclimatized at Drouin, in Gippsland. The British Government have agreed to take two years’ produce, at £170 per ton of fibre. The Commonwealth Government have guaranteed the growers £5 per ton of green flax for the first year, and £6 per ton for the second; but as we do not desire to make a profit out of the transaction, we believe we shally be able, by means of a bonus, to bring the return to about £7 per ton. As the production is nearly 2 tons per acre, the producer should get a return of about £12 per acre for a product which does not appear to be any more difficult to cultivate than an ordinary cereal crop.
– Did not the Minister say that an area of 1,000 acres would give a return of about £50,000?
– Yes; but some of the cultivation is only in the experimental stages.
– How does the Minister reconcile that statement with the return of £12 per acre to the grower?
– It is possible that in some districts the crop may be a partial failure. I will look again at the figures, so that I may confirm what I have said. I do not want now to deal in one speech with what are practically fiveBills.
– Shall we have fivehours each in Committee to discuss this measure?
– I desire now to deal with the agreement covering next year’s sugar crop.
– What is that agreement I
– I have- it here, a.nd, if the honorable senator desires. I shall be prepared in Committee- to read the whole of it..
-. - But Ave are entitled to know what the agreement is.
– Under the contract, we acquired from the Queensland Government, for £21 per ton, the whole of the sugar produced in Queensland.
– That has no connexion with our Imperial relationships?
– No. During the year in which the Commonwealth took control of the sugar industry, we had to import about 200,000 tons, owing to a shortage of production in Queensland, due to bad seasons. At that time local sugar was £14 per ton; but the import price, due, no doubt, to panic causedby the war in its early stages, was about £39 per ton. The Government decided to strike an average price for the whole of the Australian requirements, and this was done at a cost, to the consumer, of about½d. per lb. I regard the sugar question as a triumph of commercial dealing in Australia during the period of the war, because we were able to increase the price to the grower from about £14 to £21 per ton, and it has been possible to so increase the wages paid to the workmen as to place sugar-growing on a “ white man” basis of cultivation. What is to be the future of this industry, beyond the period of the Commonwealth contract, it will be for this Parliament and those interested to decide.
– Is there anything in the agreement prohibiting the importation of foreign-grown sugar?
– Yes; the agreement prohibits importation.
– Surely we ought to have the details of that agreement before we deal with this matter?
– The Government have power, under the Customs Act, to prohibit the importation of sugar.
– Let them use it, then. If they do, the people have power, at the ballot-box, to deal with them.
– In regard to the importation of foreign-grown sugar, I may point out that, as the Government took over control of all sugar locally grown, it was equally important that they should also control the imported commodity. In pre-war days, it was the practice for manufacturers to import cheap sugar, and subsequently secure a rebate.
– For export only?
-Yes. When, however, they were able to get Australian sugar for manufacturing purposes at, perhaps, £5 or £10 per ton less than had to be paid for the imported article, there was no suggestion of importation. I have followed the agitation for the importation of cheap foreign sugar for manufacturing purposes, and I have no hesitation in saying that, on the whole, the Australian manufacturers have been extremely lucky, because, on the average, sugar has been cheaper here than in any other part of the world, with the result that they have been able to compete successfully in outside markets.
– But do not forget that this question affects the fruit-grower as well as the manufacturer.
– I do not forget that ; but I still think that, on the whole, we have done better, in regard to sugar, than people in other countries. When sugar was being supplied to Australian manufacturers for American contracts at about £24 per ton, the outside price was very much higher. The manufacturers then did not agitate for permission to import outside sugar, because, happily, we were able to make available to them plenty of Australian sugar at a lower figure.
– After luncheon will the Minister give honorable senators the essential details of the agreement?
– If honorable senators desire it, I will read all the contracts.
– I do not want that; but I do want the essential details.
Sitting suspended from1 to 2.30 p.m.
– May I, in connexion with the query of Senator Ferricks relating to flax, correct a slight error I made? The correct statement is as follows : -
Through the Committee’s efforts the area under flax was increased from 300 acres in 1917 to 1,400 acres in 1918.This crop is now being treated at various mills in Victoria, to which State the first year’s efforts were necessarily confined owing to the lack of time and seed at the Committee’s disposal. To enable the Government to carry out the commitments under this guarantee, both in regard to the purchase and treatment of the flax, and to the disposal of the resultant products, it is necessary to provide for the continuance of the powers and functions of the Flax Industry Committee as at present held under War Precautions regulations. The area sown this year is between 2,000 and 3,000 acres, and the estimated value of the product that will be obtained from this crop is, with a normal season, about £50,000.
They have averaged nearly 2 tons of green flax per acre, and there has also been a quantity of “ scrutchings,” which are the short lengths. The finished product is sold at £170 per ton, the scrutchings realize £80 per ton, bringing the total probable return to £50,000.
Before the adjournment, I was dealing with the question of sugar. There are two contracts in existence, but they are too lengthy to read at this stage.
– The whole Bill hinges on those contracts.
– I will give honorable senators an opportunity of perusing them. One of the contracts provides that the State Government shall acquire the whole of the Queensland sugar, and sell it to the Commonwealth Government. On the other hand, there is a milling agreement with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, which undertakes the refining and distribution. The principal clause in this agreement is that the company shall act as agents in regard to the purchase of sugar overseas, when importation isneeded for Australian requirements, but the Commonwealth Government are to provide shipping. The Commonwealth Government allow a milling charge of 27s. 6d. per ton, and £1 per ton for certain work in connexion with the distribution and management, making a total of £2 7s. 6d. per ton. There is also an arrangement whereby the Commonwealth Government are liable for import duties.
– You purchase the sugar at£21 per ton, and it costs £2 7s. 6d. for expenses - is that the total cost?
– I will give a brief summary of the position. The price of raw sugar was fixed at £21 per ton for the 1917 crop. The agreement between the Colonial Sugar Refining Company
Limited and the Commonwealth with respect to foreign sugar provides -
The gross proceeds of all sales by the company of all products of the raw sugar will be collected by the company, and will be chargeable with the following costs, expenses, and charges, viz.: -
The f.o.b. price of the raw sugar which has been refined;
Insurance, freight, and. all other charges (other than export duties and import duties) payable under clause 5 hereof in respect of sugar which has been refined;
the refining charge provided for in clause8 hereof;
freight insurance, wharfage and cart age charges on and in respect of refined products shipped to Western Australia and between’ the refineries;
the actual cost of tinning and packing syrup and treacle;
the actual cost of packages in which refined sugar is contained;
the selling charge provided for in clause 9 hereof; and
the managing charge provided for in clause 10 hereof.
The balance of such proceeds (if any), after deduction of the said cost, expenses, and charges will bc paid by the company to the Minister on the completion of the work to be performed by the company for the Government or at such other time, and either in a lump sum or by instalments, as may be required by the Minister.
If honorable senators desire further information, I shall make a definite statement in regard to actual details when the Bill is in. Committee.
– We want to know what the sugar company is making out of the business.
– Under the new standing order the Senate hae just passed, the Minister’s time is limited, and I ask honorable senators not to interject.
– I shall endeavour to give the fullest details in the time at my disposal. This is virtually five Bills in one, and we have to remember that we have never previously handled commercial transactions of such magnitude as those with which we are now dealing. I am not going into the details of the whole five in a second-reading speech, but I shall be glad, on being notified, to give all the information when the Bill is in Committee.
Honorable senators are aware that the Butter Pool hae been in existence for two and a half years. When we were producing more “butter than was required for our Australian needs, a Pool was established for dealing with the surplus, because the demand overseas was so great, and the prices so high, that had there not been effective control, Australia would have been without butter. In view of those conditions, it was decided to establish a Pool first with the object of supplying the local requirements, and, secondly, to dispose of our surplus butter and cheese to the Imperial authorities. The British Government offered to accept our surplus stock of butter, and this was sold last year at 175s. per cwt., taking into consideration our naif of the profit made by the Imperial Government, and this year it is being sold at 175s. per cwt. straight out. The arrangement has been of considerable advantage to Australia, and whilst it enabled us to make the best bargains overseas, it also enabled us to have a fairly adequate supply for Australian requirements. During the spring, when butter is fairly plentiful, it is placed in cold storage, and when the winter season approaches, and supplies are restricted, we have the right to withdraw the quantity we require from cold, storage. This arrangement enables us to withdraw butter which has been placed in the cold stores when it is valued at 175s. during the plentiful season, and the only additional charges imposed are those for freezing and storage, as well as a email interest charge. This arrangement) Bias enabled us to maintain the local market, and at the same time to get the best return for our surplus stocks. The Butter Pool has been under the control of a Committee appointed under the War Precautions regulations, and it is intended that the Pool shall be continued until the end of next season.
– Were the butter producers satisfied?
– I do not know. If they were not, I do not know what they want. I have not heard any expressions of disapproval.
– There are plenty in New South Wales who are not satisfied.
– I have never heard a complaint from a single producer in Australia in connexion with the Butter Pool, but I have heard complaints from proprietary butter companies in regard to the commission and charges. Considering that we have been working under war conditions, I do not think that such complaints had any foundation.
– Have you had any complaints from the grocers ?
– Yes. But at present we are not dealing with the cost of distribution. The main point is to arrange for a continuation of the contract.
– Producers in New South Wales are very divided.
– I was in charge of the Butter Pool for a year and a half, and whilst I occupied that position, I do not remember having received a single complaint. I do not know what has happened during the last year, whilst it has been under the control of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Massy Greene).
– You were in charge until a year ago.
– Yes, until about that time. I do not want to say that the management is in any way different, but the producers are in a better position, because they are receiving a higher price. The total quantity of butter purchased was 1,226,000 cases, valued at £4,795,000, whilst the quantity of cheese was 51,000 cases, valued at £29S,000. There has been no direct expression of opinion on the part of the producers in this connexion, but as we have maintained the retail price, and an adequate supply, we can only feel that, under the circumstances, we assisted materially in bridging a very difficult period.
During my remarks on the sheepskin question, there were several interjections in regard to wool tops and fellmongering. I have figures showing that the number of sheep slaughtered in Australia during 1914-15 was 13,970,000, and that the number of sheepskins exported from Australia was 9,368,000. Therefore the number of skins available in Australia was 4,602,000. Over a period of three years to 1913, 25 per cent, of the skins were treated in Australia in 1913 ; 32 per cent, in 1914-15; and 73 per cent, in 1917- 18. The Commonwealth Statistician advises that the figures relating to the number of sheep slaughtered for the 1918- 19 season are not yet available. I have, however, a note from the Central Wool Committee, which states -
From the information collected in the office of the Central Wool Committee, it is not anticipated that the above percentages will he materially altered.
We are still treating 75 per cent, of the sheepskins in Australia as against 25 per cent, before the Wool and Skin Pool was established, and this is sufficient to show that the Pool has been very beneficial to Australian industries.
– How has that been affected by the embargo on the export of skins 1
– As a considerable number of fellmongering establishments have been erected in Australia since the. inception of the Pool, it is clear that it has been beneficial to. that industry.
There are not’ many clauses in the Bill dealing with the’ Wheat Pool, as the handling of our wheat is controlled principally by Acts passed in our State Parliaments, and certain Customs regulations. Owing to the States taking action to secure control of wheat for pooling purposes, all the contracts that were in existence were cancelled when the Pool was established. The Pool had power to conduct its operations under the War Precautions regulations. In addition, there had grown up a system - when the market was uncertain. - of encouraging the farmers to produce more wheat. Later the States and Commonwealth came together for the purpose of giving a joint guarantee, which, generally speaking, has been 4s. per bushel, plus railway freight, which actually meant 4s. 4d., with certain responsibilities attached to that guarantee. The States agreed to bear responsibility up to about 3s., and it was arranged that any loss should be borne proportionately between Commonwealth and States. I am not in a position to say who was the originator of the Wheat Pool scheme, but it was undoubtedly a stroke of genius, and vastly to the advantage of the Australian people. At the time there were contracts in existence, the prices in connexion with which were much below the cost of wheat production in Australia. Owing to the nature of the 1915-16 harvest, ruin stared wheat farmers in the face. With the shortage of freight it was recognised that competition between merchants, or even between various wheat ‘States, was bound to force oversea freights so high that to have gone into the open market to secure freights would have meant that it would not be possible to ship one bushel of wheat from Australia at a payable price. I may illustrate that point by mentioning that one State secured an offer of a boat to carry a shipment to Egypt, and that the freight amounted to £15 a ton. As the result of eliminating competition between the various States, we succeeded in securing the same boat for £7 10s. per ton. And that elimination of competition has enabled us to continue a good export business. Wheatwas not always a saleable article in Australia during 1916. We were not able to secure an offer for overseas sales at a higher price than 4s. per bushel. In that year we sold 400,000 tons to France at 4s. We looked on that contract, however - and it was a good one - as having been secured by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), largely by way of recognition on the part of France of Australia’s services in the war. It was that, rather than a purely commercial deal. Matters look more hopeful to-day. The situation, despite many mistakes, and the fact that the inauguration of the wheat scheme was an entirely new experience, and, also, that we have had to meet the competition of the world’s keenest interests, is decidedly brighter. Despite that we have an overdraft to-day of more than £17,000,000, I believe that the total proceeds of sales will more than cover our outstanding losses. Only this day a cablegram has been received to the effect that the British Government have exercised their option over an additional 500,000 tons of wheat.
– What does that mean - that the sales have more than covered our outstanding losses ?
– While we have not yet delivered the wheat, and have not received our money, we have made definite contracts, and portion of the amounts will be payable upon shipment. The present overdraft of the Board totals £17,200,000. As against that, the recent sale to the British Government of 1,000,000 tons will realize altogether £10,267,000. Other overseas sales effected, for which payment is to be made, including sales to New Zealand, Norway, Egypt, Greece, and Japan, will result in further receipts amounting to £3,279,000. In addition to those combined sums, there is the amount due to us in connexion with the option now exercised by the British Government over 500,000 tons. I heard of this acceptance only about ten minutes ago, and it appears likely that there will be further payments amounting to £5,133,000. Altogether, the Board expects to secure a return of £18,679,000, as against our overdraft of £17,200,000. In addition to that grand total, we have a surety of £500,000 to £550,000 a month in regard to local sales - involving a total amount of, approximately, £3,000,000 between now and Christmas as the outcome of business with millers; but I have not included that factor since we secure those orders from day to day, and receive our money correspondingly.
I have been asked to give an estimate of the stocks of wheat on hand to-day. The estimated quantity of unsold wheat still on hand is about 30,000,000 bushels. But I desire to make this point clear. Our wheat figures are based upon the receipt of the wheat at railway stations. It is a book entry. There are two factors which now make it difficult to estimate quantities in hand. First, wheat increases in weight a good deal, as a rule, by storage; secondly, the 1916-17 harvest suffered very severely by the mouse plague, which wrecked our stacks. Since then there has been a rather serious development of weevil. It is impossible, therefore, to determine how much of the wheat affected is in exportable or saleable condition. Generally speaking, however, the mouse and weevil infected wheat is turning out much better than we expected at the time when the plagues were being experienced. To publish a statement regarding the exact number of bags would be deceptive, for the reason that quite a large quantity cannot be deemed exportable until it has passed through the cleaners. In Victoria, in 1916-17, the whole of the stacks throughout our country districts were practically brought down to the ground. There was not, at the time, sufficient expert advice available to indicate the best course for coping with the trouble. In New South Wales, the authorities were told, “ We have had mice plagues before ; we do not bother. The mice will die out.” That was the general opinion, namely, that .the mice would disappear within a few weeks. Unfortunately such was not the case. In Victoria, it was decided to bag the wheat and the mice together. The outcome was really a triumph, for the wheat has turned out well. True, the bags are coming out from the cleaner at an average of at least 5 lb. per bag lighter than prior to the cleaning process. Altogether, to publish the number of bags would still leave us a long way short of actual facts. What with increased weight, due to storage, and the counterbalancing factor of mice plague and weevil outbreak, I do not think that the whole business, when it is wound up, will be found to have turned out anything like as badly as was expected at more than one stage in the history of the Pools.
– Is that the estimate upon the wheat at the ports, or upon the wheat taken in by the Pools?
– It is based upon wheat taken in, and having regard to the fact that as against losses due to mice and weevil, we must place the increase in weight during storage.
I have been criticised in the press and by many interested parties for not stating what total amount has passed through the Pool. Most of the letters which have appeared in the newspapers, however, may be taken to have been written by wheat-scrip investors. I have always carefully refrained from, advising regarding total quantities. Farmers have frequently sought to know whether they should hold on to their scrip, or on to part of it, or sell all. I have refused to make a guess at our total stocks, because
I do not think it is the business of the Board to try to assist speculators to arrive at a calculation for purposes of gambling on the market. I have declined to permit any officer of the Board to furnish an estimate of the total stocks in hand, for that same reason. I will say, however, that I hope the whole business will end very satisfactorily for the people of Australia. We have had to overcome considerable difficulties in regard to the shipment of wheat. While we have been holding stocks of 1916-17 wheat - the wheat affected by the mice plague, and which has not been exportable to the order of the British Government - we have had to deal with later crops, and to ship those stocks away, while still engaged in handling the earlier harvests. Operations of that character have involved the running of one Pool into another; but all accounts have been kept clear and distinct for and during each separate year. The British Government are now taking the wheat as fast as we can ship it; and while we still have a quantity of 1915-16 wheat on our hands, we are actually selling 1918-19 wheat. We have about ‘3,000,000 bushels of the 1915-16 wheat remaining. That quantity was stacked at Port Pirie, and it had not been shipped away for the reason that it was affected by weevil, and had to pass through a sterilizing process. The Imperial Government had the necessary sterilizers built. These were put into working condition some sixteen or seventeen months ago, and the task of making that wheat saleable and exportable is still in hand at Port Pirie.- We hope to have shipped the whole of the 3,000,000 bushels at an early date. We will then be in possession of facts respecting the amount of our sales of 1915-16 wheat, and there will be only one factor remaining to prevent us from finalizing the 1915-16 Pool. In our contract for the 3,000,000 bushels to the British Government at 4s. 9d. per bushel, the Imperial authorities agreed that if they sold any of that wheat to countries other than Italy, France, or Great Britain herself, we would participate to the extent of half the increased prices; that is to say, if the British Government sold at 5s. 3d. per bushel, instead of our receiving at the rate of 4s. 9d., we would get 5s.
We are still waiting on the British Government for those accounts to be settled.
– It seems that you dealt more harshly with the British Government than you did with Georgeson.
– I know nothing of that business. The Australian Wheat Board was not consulted, and it takes no responsibility. In any case, that is a matter which has not been settled, and I do not propose to refer to it.
In the columns of the press, during the past few days I have been able to give the fullest possible information within our knowledge. I am hopeful, from the present outlook, that we shall be able to make a very early clean-up of all the wheat, so that we may learn the outcome of the whole of the Pools. Those who have reviewed the situation will see the wisdom of the Government proposing to extend the period covered by the Pools to enable us to complete our contracts. I am quite satisfied that there is a large section of the community who would be glad to learn of an extension even beyond the time set out in this Bill.
– Are there ‘ any agreements or contracts which make it urgently necessary for the authorities to continue? Are there any agreements in regard to which the good faith of the Government is at stake?
– Yes, there is the effective control, management, and delivery of about 250,000 tons of the old 3,000,000-ton contract; there is the matter of the 1,000,000-ton sale by Mr. Hughes to the British authorities, and there is to-day’s acceptance by the British Government of the further option over 500,000 tons. Then, there must not be overlooked the quantities sold to New Zealand, Norway, Egypt, Greece, and Japan. We act also in the capacity of storage agent on behalf of the British Government for the wheat purchased by that authority, and still remaining in Australia. That is to say, if the Imperial authorities do not take delivery of the wheat before March of next year, we are to receive at the rate of id. per bushel per month. We are virtually trustees until the whole of that wheat has been delivered in fair quality at the ship’s side to the British Government.
– Are there any agreements or arrangements to pool the coming season’s wheat?
– It has been decided by the Government to pool next season’s crop. That was deemed necessary, and we had to arrive at an early decision in the matter. In the most hopeful circumstances, it was considered impossible to have two systems working side by side. While we still held large quantities of unsold wheat, it was unthinkable that we should allow the new harvest to come into the market in competition with the stocks held by the Pools. It was of no use for the Government to agree to permit freedom of private enterprise in relation to the incoming wheat unless private enterprise was free at the same time to enter into shipping arrangements. If we were to say to the merchants, “ You are free to buy and sell for yourselves, but the Lord help you if you try to get a boat V chaos would result. It would be absolutely fatal to the best commercial interests of Australia to permit competition in regard to the chartering of vessels until shipping generally had become normal. Those are the reasons which actuated the Government in extending the Wheat Pool for one year. What will be done later in this connexion will have to be determined by the Government and Parliament in the interests of the people.
– Have any agreements been entered into with regard to the control of next season’s Pool ?
– Can- the Minister give us any information about those’ agreements ?
– No, but the proposal was that we should extend the Pool for another year. I understand that all the State Governments have replied agreeing that the Pool should be continued for one more year, and that a guarantee should be given to the wheat farmers of 4s. 4d. a bushel, less railway freight, which would mean an average price of 4s. per bushel. When the Bill is under consideration in Committee, I shall be glad, if that is desired, to quote some of the correspondence between the Commonwealth Government and the State Governments in regard to the matter.
Taking all these matters collectively, I think I am entitled to say that good work has been done in Australia in connexion with most of these large commercial transactions. They were practically unique, as the world had not had much experience of such extensive collective handling of products. There might be occasion here and there for criticism in regard to the general management of these matters, but it should not be forgotten that no private persons have ever had to handle transactions so important and extensive. If persons are disposed to indulge in pin-prick criticism of the general management of these commercial activities, they should be reminded of the size of the job and of the very effective manner in which 99 per cent, of the work has been done.
Although I was associated with the control of the Wheat Pool, I will not pretend to say that nothing has been learned in connexion with it. We have learned a good deal during the last few years. If we had known earlier, as we know now, that mice could have been kept out of the wheat with a little sheet of galvanized iron, we might have dealt with the mice plague from the start in a way which would have saved this country a good deal. No private persons have ever had to contend with anything like the mice plagues which had to be faced by those in control of the Wheat Pool, and it was never before necessary for persons dealing in wheat to store and preserve so immense a quantity for four or five years. The lessons which have been learned in the handling of the Wheat Pool have been an education to the Australian people generally, and should result in benefit to the community at large.
Debate (on motion by Senator Gardiner) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Millen) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– There is a matter which I should like to bring under the notice of the Minister for Repatriation. I noted the ques- tien put to the Minister by Senator Foll this. morning, on the subject of” relief to returned munition workers, and the Minister’s reply thereto, but- 1 do not think that either the question or the reply covered the case which I wish to bring under notice. As his case is not singular, the gentleman who has mentioned the matter to me asked me to bring it before the Senate. Presumably he had. brought his case before the Department’ previously, because he said that if I applied to -the Department, the probability was that, under existing conditions, the application would be turned down. An amendment of the Repatriation Act will naturally take some time, and some of the applications made for assistance are urgent. The case to which I wish’ specially to refer is that ‘ of a man who enlisted in the Infantry. He -went into camp at Enoggera for training purposes,’ and, after being there for three months, he was discharged on the advice of the War Council because he was a man whose services were required as a chemist. He had taken the degree of Bachelor of Science at the Brisbane University, and because of his professional qualifications the War Council decided that he would be of more USe as a chemist than as a member of the Infantry Forces.- He subsequently went abroad, and occupied responsible positions at the Queensferry Munitions Factory, Chester. After two and a half years’ service abroad he returned to Queensland, and he now finds’ that ho cannot take advantage of the War Service Homes Act, as he would like to be able to do. He has recently been married, and he contends - and, I think, with some justification - that he should be regarded as a returned soldier within the meaning of that Act.
– So he is.
Senator- FERRICKS.- Then I am very pleased that I have mentioned the matter. Do I understand that if he makes’ application for assistance under the Act he will be so regarded ?
– I may mention that ho does not require any sustenance allowance. He has complained, further, that he is not deemed entitled to the Australian Imperial Force Returned Soldiers’ badge, which he values more highly than he does the Munition Workers’ badge. If, as the Minister -for Repatriation says, he is entitled to benefits under the War Service Homes Act, he should, I think, be entitled to the Australian Imperial Force’ Returned Soldiers’ badge, in addition to the Munition Workers? badge. I ask the Minister for Repatriation to bring this claim under the notice of the Defence Department. I have reason to believe that there are other persons similarly situated, men who enlisted as Infantry and were subsequently transferred, without consultation with them, to other departments of war service.
.- I ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council if on Wednesday next he will be prepared to supply honorable senators with figures showing the moneys paid to the agents, individually and collectively, of firms handling wheat and wooli
, - Senator O’Loghlin this morning, at my request, postponed the following questions which’ were on the businesspaper in his name: -
I am now’ in a position: to supply the following answers to those questions : - 1 and 2. No warrant or non-commissioned officers retained for service in Australia are being treated as returned soldiers.
I wish to take advantage of this opportunity to correct certain information which I gave to the members of the press with respect to the quantity of wheat received in the Wheat’ Pool. I mentioned that there were received 468,000,000 bushels, or 13,430,000 tons. I find that a typist’s error occurs in the notes supplied to me, and that the figure should have been 12,530,000 tons. I should be glad if the representatives of the press would make a note of the correction.
SenatorMILLEN (New Sonth WalesMinister for Repatriation) [3.8]. - Senator Ferrickshas put before me a case concerning the administration of the Repatriation Act. I always feel a certain amount of hesitancy in expressing an opinion on oases submitted without full details. For the information of the honorable senator, and honorable senators generally, I will say that any member of the Australian Imperial Force, with a good discharge, isentitled to the benefits of the Act.
– Even if he does not leave Australia as a member of the Australian Imperial Force? That is the case I mentioned.
– With a qualification as to the reason why he did not leave Australia as a member of the Australian Imperial Force -
– (Because his services were required as a chemist.
– I do not think that would be any bar to an application under the Act, but honorable senators will see why I hesitate to give a definite opinion upon any case the full particulars of which are not disclosed. I will say that, with very few exceptions, any member of the Australian Imperial Force having a good discharge is entitled to the benefits of the Act. If Senator Ferricks will furnish me with the particulars of the case to which he has referred, I will give him a definite reply in regard to that specific case.
As to the persons who are entitled to the Australian Imperial ForceReturned Soldiers’ badge, I will bring that matter under the notice of the proper authorities.
Senator Russell has asked me to say in reply to Senator Gardiner, that he will endeavour to have the information for which the honorable senator seeks in time for the resumption of the debate on the Commercial Activities Bill, on Wednesday next.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 3.10 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 15 August 1919, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1919/19190815_senate_7_89/>.