7th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I know nothing of the statement in question, but I believe it was made at a private meeting of military officers. The future policy of the Government with regard to the defence of the Commonwealth is under consideration.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate if he has noticed in to-day’s Argus the following statement by Mr. Lloyd George in a letter to his colleagues: -
The British Admiralty, in compliance with the Government’s order that the utmost economy shall be. observed, has suspended the construction of sixty light cruisers, destroyers, and submarines at twenty shipyards. An .per committee is now considering whether the ships will be broken up, or the hulls completed,* with -a view to conversion for mercantile purposes, for which many of the smaller craft would, be suitable. The suspension of naval construction work on the Clyde affects 10,000 workmen.
– Order! This is in the nature of a statement, and not a .question.
– I have nearly finished. The quotation proceeds -
The construction of the new super-airship has also been suspended.
That is one statement; the other is-
– The honorable . senator should know that the making of statements is not in order in asking questions.
– I cannot ask my question without repeating this statement.
– We are all in the same boat. The honorable senator will have to sit down.
– Not unless the President orders me to do so. The next statement is—
– Order I The honorable senator must not make a statement in asking a question.
– I am asking whether the Leader of the Government in the Senate has seen these statements, and I must quote the statements in order to base my question upon them.
– The honorable senator may not make a statement in putting a question.
– The other statement reported in the Argus is-
– Order! I have repeatedly told the honorable senator that he must not make a statement in putting his question, yet he goes on to say, “The other statement is.” That is not asking a question.
– I set out by asking the Minister, through you , sir, whether he had seen certain statements, and how can he identify them unless I read them out)
– It has been ruled by my predecessors and myself over and over again, and .the rule is well known, that in putting a question, all that an honorable senator may do is to ask for information; it is not in order to make statements of any kind whatever. It would be absolutely contradictory of that rule if a newspaper or any person o outside were permitted, by having their statements quoted., the exercise of a privilege which is denied to -an honorable senator in asking a question. I ask Senator Lynch to obey the ruling of the Chair.
– I respectfully submit that if I am not allowed to read a statement, that will be a violation of a right which previously existed.
Tho PRESIDENT.- The honorable senator must submit to my ruling, or move that it be dissented from. He must obey the Chair, or tak© the proper course to dispute the ruling.
– I do not wish to run counter to the Chair. I am asking a. question in the public interest, and if 1 am not allowed to put a question ou a matter which I feel deeply concerns the public interest I should like to know of what use it is to ask questions here at all.
– The honorable senator in putting a question should ask for information, and his question should not contain a statement or innuendo of any kind.
– I ask again, sir, how the Minister can identify the statements to which I refer unless I read them.
– The honorable senator can indicate the statements without reading them.
– I shall do so, if I can remember them. There is one statement affecting the British Naval policy.
– The honorable senator is again convicting himself by saying that he has referred to one statement. The rule is that statements must not be made in asking questions.
– What is the question?
– The question is based on statements which I cannot repeat. The question is whether the Government - well, there, I am bogged again. I will put it in this way: I ask whether the Government, having seen the rival policies of Great Britain and Japan, as published recently - on the one hand a suspension of naval construction, and on the other hand embarkation upon a vigorous naval policy, will say which of these policies most closely conforms to the covenants of the League of Nations, and which policy the Government proposes to adopt as their model in framing a naval policy for the Commonwealth? That is the question in a nut-shell, and it would have been asked long ago if honorable senators had left the Presidentalone.
– The honorable senator has said that he has put his question in a nut-shell, but if so, it must be a very capacious one. I have not seen the paragraphs to which the honorable senator has referred, but if he will favour me with a copy of them, I shall take advantage of the earliest opportunity to read them.
– I might be out of order in doing so.
– The honorable senator will not be out of order in handing me a copy of the statements to which he has referred. With regard to the latter part of the honorable senator’s question, which involves a matter of policy, I remind him that it is not usual for the Government to announce their policy in reply to questions submitted iu the Senate.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether he is aware that copies of the Times newspaper of Saturday, 28th June, 1919, containing the Peace Treaty in extenso, have arrived in Australia? Will the Government take into consideration the desirability of making the Peace Treaty available to the people at an early date in a handy form ?
– I anticipate that the formal documents connected with the Peace Treaty will be tabled in this Parliament in the course of a few days, and will necessarily then become available to honorable senators. If it should appear to be desirable to go beyond that, the Government will consider the suggestion which Senator Bakhap has made by means of his question.
Supplies of Material
– In the absence of Senator Barnes, and at his request, 1 shall be glad if the Vice-President of the Executive Council will give the information promised to Senator Barnes in reference to the supplies of material to the Sunnyside Woollen Mills?
– I am now able to furnish the following information in reply to Senator Barnes’ question: -
The following are the approximate quantities of clothing material which have been ordered from the Ballarat Woollen and Worsted Company Limited, Sunnyside, Ballarat, by the Department of Defence, since the beginning of the late war to the present date : -
Cord, woollen, 12 oz., 28 inches wide- 20,000 yards at 4s., 74,000 yards at 4s.1d., 371,200 yards at 4s. 6d., 2,420 yards at 4s. 4½d.
Whipcord, 24 oz., 56 inches wide - 4,560 yards at 8s.1¼d.
Cloth, khaki, 18 oz., 56 inches wide, for jackets-9,200 yards at 5s. 9d., 800 yards at 5s. 7d., 232,090 yards at 6s., 41,760 yards at 6s. 2d., 41,300 yards at 6s. 3d.
Cloth, civilian, 16 oz., 56 inches wide - 15,000 yards at 6s.
Flannel, 28 inches wide - 1,050 yards at 1s. 2½d., 495,000 yards at1s. 2d. (23/29), 13,950 yards at1s. 3d., 53,710 yards at 1s. 8d.
– Has the Leader of the Government any. information to give in answer to the question I put to him a week or two ago regarding sugar?
– I am not yet able to give the information, and I candidly admit that I do not know who is responsible for the delay in supplying it. I shall make a further effort to obtain it.
– On behalf of Senator Mulcahy, I ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister -
– The answers are as follow: -
The following papers were pre sented : -
Papers presented to British Parliament -
Industrial Conference: Report of Provisional Joint Committee presented to Meeting held at Central Hall, Westminster, 4th April, 1919.
National Expenditure - Select Committee : First Report.
Public Service Act 1902-1918-
Promotion of A. E. Whiteside and T. Pittman, Prime Minister’s Department.
asked the Acting Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers are -
Representation of Australia
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
If, in view of the diplomatic status accorded to the representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia at the Peace Conference and for other reasons, the Government does not think it necessary to provide that the present representation of Australia in the United States of America by a Trade Commissioner be amplified by the appointment of a High Commissioner accredited to the American Government at Washington ?
– The question of appointinga High Commissioner accredited to the Government of the United States is a matter of policy, in regard to. which it is not the practice to make statements in reply to questions on notice.
asked the Acting Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers are-
Those who were interned are subject to the same repatriation policy as other internees. All cases where an internee is married to an Australian woman, and deportation has been recommended, arc carefully reviewed in the Department, and subsequently, in the absence of very special circumstances, by the Release Commission.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill read a third time.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 27th August, vide page 11955) :
Clause 6 (Continuation of War Precautions (Wool) Regulations and War Precautions (Sheepskins) Regulations).
Uponwhich Senator O’Keefe had moved -
That the following sub-clause be added: - “ (4.) The Government of the Commonwealth shall pay to the employees of the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company Limited, and Whiddon Brothers Limited, twenty per cent. of the net earnings received from the said companies under agreements between the Government and the companies, the said twenty per cent. to be distributed amongst the employees in such sums and in such manner as a committee of ten persons appointed by the employees may decide.”
– I do not think it fair of the Minister to make a comparison between my amendment and the particular case he quoted yesterday. His principal object- tion to the amendment was that if the Government agreed to the amendment they would, to be consistent, have to make it up to other employees who were thrown out of employment. I do not think he was fair in putting the argument in that way, because he was evading the question at issue. My amendment seeks fair play for men who have lost their employment because of litigation between the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company and the Government - those two parties being partners. Onehalf of the profits accruing from the operations of that partnership will go to the Government when the whole business is settled, and the other half is to be retained by the company. The men concerned, while they are the employees of the company, are nominally, at any rate, the employees of the Government also, and those employees have lost their means of livelihood because of the litigation between the partners. Surely those workmen are morally entitled to some consideration. Senator Russell last night expressed the view that my amendment, if accepted, would establish an undesirable precedent. That ought to be no hindrance to its acceptance. There have been many important precedents established during the past five years. The Government should not hesitate to establish a precedent if it can be shown that a proposal is just. I ask the Minister not to confuse the case of the employees in this partnership affair with the other instances which he cited last evening. There can be no fair comparison along those lines.
– My opposition to the amendment was upon the ground that in principle it was impracticable and unsound. The business in which the Government, with the company concerned, were engaged was not an ordinary business. It was a monopoly created by special circumstances arising from the war. I reminded Senator O’Keefe that there was for a certain period a Rabbitskin Pool, and that as theoutcome of its operations we made £250,000. The time arrived when the Pool no longer existed, and its employees had to be dismissed. The paying off of one’s employees, when it becomes necessary, is never a pleasant duty. Are those employees who were dismissed when the Pool was wound up to be permitted to participate in the profits emanating from the business of the Pool? Senator
O’Keefe made one remark in support of his amendment which was really fatal to it. He stated that in the event of the Government winning the case against the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company it would be a fair thing to cut up the dividend. Is it not wiser to wait until the Government secures the money before we set out to cut it up ? I shall read, for the benefit of Senator O’Keefe, a statement concerning the conditions of the contract between the Commonwealth and the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company Limited. It is as follows : -
By clause 7 … it is provided that the company shall -
Hold one-half of the net earnings of the company at the disposal of the Commonwealth Government; 2.Retain the balance for its own purposes.
By clause8 … it is provided that if the earnings of the company shall become taxable under special war-time profits taxation, the Commonwealth shall refund to the company one-half of the amount paid or payable in respect of such taxation.
It is further provided that if, after such refund has been made, the amount of net earnings retained by the company for its own purposes (after payment of the war-time profits tax) shall be less than one- third of the total net earnings of the company, the Commonwealth will make a further refund to the company so as to make the total sum to be retained by the company for its own purposes equal to one-third of its total net earnings.
-Is not the ground for the litigation that the company does not think it should be called upon to pay the war-time profits tax, seeing that the Government is a partner ?
– The contract was entered into when wool tops were quoted at about 3s. 6d. Subsequently, the price rose as high as 102d. per lb. “ The reason for that was not because the wool tops were better, or because of any increase in the price of wool in Australia, but because of the Commonwealth having found itself in a peculiar position. There was a monopoly. This company had the only complete machinery plant in Australia. I have nothing to say against the firm; it is, indeed, a wonderful institu tion. But we are quite confident that, in regard to the present litigation, we are in the right. If some party enters into a dispute with the Government, that mere fact does not make that party’s case sound. Apart, however, from the merits or demerits of the dispute itself, I deny the right, or the reasonableness, of applying the principle contained in the amendment to an individual business. If it were only a question of giving assistance to a body of unemployed, the proposition would have my sympathy.
Senater O’Keefe. - Sympathy does not buy bread and butter.
– That is so, of course; and the honorable senator must be well aware that there is nothing in my record to indicate that I have ever desired to see any one out of work or starving. At the same time, the honorable senator must not forget that there are thousands of innocent workers in Victoria who find themselves to-day in the same position as the employees in the wool-top business. Through no fault of their own, they are out of employment. The Government are practically in the position of partners in the Colonial Ammunition Company, whose employees are idle to-day because of the lack of coal supplies. Are the Government called on to grant compensation to those employees for the mere reason that we are in some degree partners in the business, and to that extent responsible for their employment? Let me relate another circumstance. At Lithgow, large numbers of men were busily employed throughout the war in the manufacture of small arms.
– It has not been due to any action of the Government that the men at Lithgow have been put off ; it is because of the action of the Government that wool tops employees are “ out.”
– It was due to action by the Government that numbers of employees at Lithgow were thrown out of employment. With the cessation of hostilities, there was no longer the urgent demand for rifles for our soldiers, and it was necessary to order that the output be reduced by one-third. Thus, many men had to be dismissed.
– The Colonial Ammunition Company does not provide the Government with profits.
– In a sense, it does. There is a co-operative partnership agreement, and the Government have complete control ; the company turns over its manufactures to the Government, with an arrangement for limitation of profits.
– But does the Government secure any actual profits - any cash - out of its partnership with the Colonial Ammunition Company ?
– No; but in my Ministerial capacity I have power to limit the profits and to increase or decrease the output of that industry. I have in mind, also, the activities of the Customs Department. Enormous profits are made for the Government by that medium. Does any honorable senator suggest that portion of those profits be distributed among the employees?
– What about a company, in partnership with the Government, making a loss, instead of a profit? Are the employees to bear part of that loss ?
– I am not an enthusiastic advocate of profit-sharing. There is a lot of rubbish talked about that principle. If Senator O’Keefe succeeded in regard to this amendment, the principle would be applicable to every section of the community, and not merely to one set of employees. I regret exceedingly, that the men concerned are out of work owing to a dispute, which, I hope, will soon be settled. If the system which Senator O’Keefe desires to embody in this Bill meets with the favour of honorable senators generally, let us introduce it by means of a distinct and separate Act of Parliament. If the Government grant compensation to the employees of the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company, they must dp the same with respect to the men engaged by Whiddon Brothers, and to the employees of the YarraFalls Company.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 7 - (1.) Any person who, without the consent in writing of the Treasurer, sells, or offers for sale, at any time before the prescribed date, any sugar of the grade known as 1A, at a greater price per pound than the prescribed price, shall be guilty of an offence. (2.) The Governor- General may make regulations fixing the prescribed price at which sugar may be sold at any time before the prescribed date. (3.) Until any regulation is made in pursuance of this section, the prescribed price of sugar of the grade known as 1A shall be threepence half-penny per pound, plus such sum as represents the cost incurred by the vendor in respect of the delivery of the sugar to him.
– In connexion with this clause I have given notice of four amendments, two of which are consequential. In discussing the sugar question I should like to say it is common property that under the arrangement made by the Government, Australian sugar during the last year or two has been the cheapest in the world. Our consumershave been able to buy at 3½d. per lb., whereas consumers in other countries have been called upon to pay practically double that amount. Our manufacturers, too, on the whole, have been able to compete very advantageously in the markets of the world with products containing sugar. But there are two or three weak points in administration to which I desire to draw attention. I consider that the grocers are suffering a grave injustice, and that the manufacturers should have a free hand in purchasing sugar abroad for manufacture in bond, and re-exportation in jams and other products. So long ago as 5th June, 1918, Senator Russell, speaking on behalf of the Government, said -
We admit that the retailers of butter and Sugar are not getting sufficient inducement, but both these articles are now under consideration by the Prices Commissioner and the Minister in charge of the Department, and I hope that the grievance will be remedied immediately.
So far as the grocers are concerned, sugar has not yet been placed upon a payable basis.
SenatorRussell. - The honorable senator is quoting me with regard to contracts that are dead. The conditions have been altered since then.
– Then, perhaps, the Minister will indicate in what way the injustice the grocers weresuffering has been remedied. The complaint was that the retail distribution of sugar in small lots cost, approximately, 18.4 per cent., and that the gross profit allowed to the retailer of sugar was 12.3 per cent. We are all apt to talk about profiteering. It seems a fashionable phrase just now. I consider that, when the Government control the products . of Australia, they are under an obligation to see that everybody concerned gets a fair deal; and I want to voice the complaints of the grocers in this matter, because many hundreds of them have gone out of business in recent years. It is obvious that they cannot take upon themselves the responsibility of distributing sugar in small quantities at a loss. The other point I have mentioned refers to the price paid for imported sugar. In reply to my inquiry the other day about importations, the Minister said that the Commonwealth had imported so far for this season 57,500 tons of sugar at an average price of .about £19 or £20 per ton f.o.b. foreign ports. The charges for freight and insurance, £2 per ton, made the cost about £22 per ton c.i.f . Australian ports. This sugar has been imported to make up the deficiency in the Australian crop. The manufacture in Australia of preserved fruits and jams increased during the war period tenfold. Speaking from memory, I think that before the war broke out the average annual exportation of these commodities from the Commonwealth to foreign countries was worth about £150,000 per annum, and last yearit approximated £1,500,000 - a very satisfactory increase indeed, .and largely brought about, I admit, by the advantageous position our manufacturers occupied with regard to the purchase of cheap sugar.
There have been agitations on behalf of fruit-growers on the question of cheap sugar in order to give the greatest possible scope for the export trade in their interests, because the exportation of £1,500,000 worth of jams and preserved fruits means the purchase of probably, £400,000 or £500,000 of fresh fruits- a very important item indeed for our fruitgrowers. I- should like to direct the attention of the Minister, in all sincerity, to the amendment I have given notice of relating to the free importation of the world’s sugar in bond for the exclusive purpose of re-exportation in preserved fruits, jams, or any other commodity containing sugar. The development of this trade may be brought about at no cost to anybody, because it has been admitted in this chamber that no importations of foreign sugar will affect the canegrowers of Queensland so long as it is reexported. The manufacturers as a body think that they can buy their own sugar in foreign matrkets to better advantage than any Government official can.
– Government officials do not buy in the open market.
– I should like to add that, so far as I am personally con cerned, despite public rumours to the contrary, I’ am not now directly or indirectly interested in any jam or fruitpreserving works. I can, therefore, speak for the whole industry. I should like to point out, too, that evidently -the official advisers of the Government for the purchase of foreign sugar - I understand the Colonial Sugar Refining Company occupy this position - made a grave mistake, though in all good faith. On the information given to me by the Minister they most clearly missed the very low market that existed in Java nine or twelve months ago, when, to my own knowledge, sugar could have been bought there for about £10 or £12 per ton.
– The whole world missed it.
– Was any shipping available then?
– Honorable senators, as I’ observe, are following me pretty closely j and I may add that at no time has the Java-Australia shipping service been entirely suspended. I believe that, at the time of which I speak., or very shortly afterwards, freight . from Java could have been secured.. Consequently the manufacturers feel that they have reason to complain of the advice tendered to the Government in connexion with the purchase of foreign sugar. I hope that the. amendment I have suggested will be accepted by the Minister. It is admitted that its acceptance could “ot h”rt Australian sugar growers, but it would give manufacturers a freer hand in the conduct of their export business. It would, to some extent, remove the keen criticism of fruit-growers, and would, in my opinion, help all round. Even if during the continuance of the agreement manufacturers cannot import any foreign sugar cheaper than sugar is being sold in Australia, it will re-establish a principle which existed before the war and the introduction of the regulations concerning sugar. Anticipating that the Minister will accept the amendment to which I have referred, I move -
That after the word “ sugar,” line 4, the words “ produced in Australia “ be inserted.
– Senator Pratten is wasting a good deal of his time apologizing for those concerned in the sugar question from the point of view of the fruit-grower., which seems to be the matter chiefly in his mind. I have had some connexion with the business in regard to British and American contracts, and I can inform honorable senators that we went to particular pains to secure good contracts for the jam manufacturers, who, I believe, were very thankful for them. We went to considerable trouble to secure freight for them, which they could not otherwise have obtained. We approached the British Government and begged them to provide freight, and we did the same with the Government of the United States of America. Last, but not least, we scoured the world to secure tin plate for them when it was practically impossible for them to secure it for themselves. I therefore say that we have done very well for the manufacturers. Senator Pratten has referred to keen criticism of Government action by the fruit-growers, but I feel sure that nine-tenths of their grievances have been mouthed by the manufacturers, who have had the most profitable time in the history of their industry in Australia. If Senator Pratten’s complaints - suggest the kind of growlers that ‘we have in Australia, I can only say that I have no time to waste on them. They have been treated very well. The Government placed the whole of their organization behind their industry, and in some cases sacrificed the-, interests of other industries to help them and to secure tin plates for them.
In the first year that we undertook the control of sugar there was a shortage in the local supply of between 160,000 and 200,000 tons. The alternative offered us at that time was to permit sugar to be sold in Australia at 3d. per lb., and subsequently to be raised to 5½d. or 6d. per lb., or take control of the business. We decided that it would be better to utilize the whole of the local sugar > and put the average price of 3Jd. per’ lb. on the 160,000 tons of imported sugar necessary to make good the local shortage. We succeeded in this way in providing the people of Australia with sugar at a lower price than it was sold for in any other part of the world, with the exception of New Zealand, and honorable senators are aware that our sugar was grown under superior conditions to that which was sold in New Zealand.
– That was Fijian sugar.
– Yes, that is what I am referring to. This National Parliament decided some time ago that itwould be better for the Australian people to pay a little more for their sugar and have the industry conducted by white men. We hope to continue that .policy, which, I am sure, is indorsed by the people of Australia. It is true that at times it would have been possible, during very short periods, for manufacturers to obtain sugar from outside of Australia at a price lower than that charged for Australiangrown sugar; but I defy Senator Pratten or any one else, taking the whole period of the war, to contend that manufacturers in Australia could have bought sugar more cheaply elsewhere than in “the Commonwealth. Despite what Senator Pratten has said, no one has been more closely connected than I have been with the fruit industry of Australia, and I say that, during the period of the war, there never was a time when freight was freely available to meet the requirements of that industry. We had to beg round the world for freight to meet its requirements at any particular time.
The manufacturers apparently desire that the fixed price of 3£d. per lb. for Australian-grown sugar should be continued, whilst it should be made possible for them, should sufficient freight be available, to import cheap coloured sugar from other parts of the world at a price to undersell the Australian article. The sugar-growers of Australia have accepted the average fixed price; but, had they been allowed to act freely, there were times during the war when they might have obtained £60 per ton for sugar which they have sold at £29 peri ton. They made sacrifices during the period of the war, as other people in Australia did. The people here, because of their sacrifices, have at times been given an advantage of. between £10 and £12 per ton in the price paid for sugar, as compared with the world’s market ; and are we now, when the war is over, to say to the growers, who have made patriotic sacrifices, that we will throw them to the wolves, and permit importers of cheap black-grown sugar to undersell them in Australia? The fruit-growers of Australia, I am sure, do not desire that their industry shall be built up on cheap sugar grow by coloured labour. T am proud of what the jam manufacturers did, be- cause “we were able, through, their efforts, to fill big contracts for jam in competition against the rest of the world, and despite our limitations. After the completion of, perhaps, the largest contract in this line that Australia ever made, the British Government repeated their order, and, iu doing so, made the condition that the order was to be given to the same firms, and in the same proportions, as the first order. That was a testimony to the quality of the jam which was supplied to the men at the Front.
Does Senator Pratten wish to fix the price of Australian-grown sugar, and leave the importers of sugar grown by coloured labour in other countries free to charge what price they please for it? If not, why does not the honorable senator move for the repeal of the regulation fixing the price of sugar in Australia? He moves only for its repeal so far as it applies to imported sugar. That is against the national policy adopted by this Parliament. The honorable senator has said that private citizens could buy sugar better than can public officers; but he will permit me to say that no public officer has, so far, bought any sugar. I believe that the agent who has acted in this matter is the same as the agent who acted for most of the manufacturers, and that is the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. If Senator Pratten knows of any one more capable of buying sugar than is that company, the Government will consider the desirability of employing that person.
– There is a jam company in Sydney that could buy sugar better than can the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. .Senator RUSSELL. - Never mind that. 1 happen to know that Senator Pratten’s statement that he is not interested in any jam factory is quite true. Any suggestion to the contrary would be unworthy of the ‘Senate.
The price of Java sugar landed in Australia is £40 per ton, plus the duty, which makes it £46 per ton. I do not, personally, think that it would be possible to land Java sugar here at less than £50 per ton.
– Or £52 per ton.
– Senator Guthrie, as a shipping expert, suggests that it would possibly cost £52 per ton landed here. The jam manufacturers of Australia have been obtaining the sugar they required for £26 per ton.. ‘What Senator Pratten is evidently aiming at is that the jam manufacturers should be enabled, with a glut in the foreign market, to buy cheaply, and stock up with imported sugar.
– Why should they not do so, for export?”
– They must, in common with those carrying on other industries in Australia, base their industry upon Australian conditions.
– We hear all round that Australia will ‘be very short of sugar for the remainder of the term of the contract.
– Australia will never be allowed to go short of sugar, because we have an agreement with the Colonial .Sugar Refining Company that they must import sufficient sugar to meet any shortage in the local supply.
– At a price.
– At the best price for which it can be obtained. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company, under the contract, make recommendations to meet any anticipated shortage, and the Minister in charge of the Department has the right, I believe, within twenty-four hours, to veto any purchase of foreign sugar by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. “Nothing could be more effective than that.
– Is not the Australian crop insufficient for our own requirements ?
– That is so in some years, but not always.
– Is it sp this year?
– I believe that it will be so this year. The Government have been considering for a period of eight or nine months how the shortage anticipated * this season shall be made good. We do not wait until the shortage becomes evident before taking action. The Department is organized on a business basis, and tries to anticipate the national requirements. It turns out now that, owing to conditions of practical drought in the sugar districts of Queensland., the situation is developing more unfavorably than we anticipated. Having a special “ pull “ in securing freight, and the company possessing most knowledge of the industry working in co-operation with us, the
Government are in a better position to import sugar to make good the anticipated shortage than is any private person.
– Will the imported sugar carry Customs duties?
– Sugar imported by the Government will not pay Customs duty.
– Is not that what the jam manufacturers desire - to get imported sugar at a price less the amount of the duty?
– Senator Keating will recognise that there is a difference between the Government importing sugar duty free for the benefit of the citizens generally and the same privilege being granted to individual jam manufacturers. If every contract is considered and the conditions prevailing during the difficult period through which we have passed are taken into account, it will be admitted that we have been able to supply manufacturers and the people generally of Australia with sugar at a lower price than that at which it has been supplied in any other country in the world with the exception of New Zealand. In addition, we have helped to maintain a big national industry in which practically only white men are employed. Apart from the merits or demerits of Senator Pratten’s amendment I feel sure that honorable senators will not agree that sugar grown by black labour shall be imported and sold without any regulation as to the price, whilst the white-grown sugar of Australia shall be sold only at a fixed price.
. - As I understand the effect of the amendment submitted by Senator Pratten, it will not give any one the right to import sugar, but will enable any one who has imported sugar to charge more than 3½d. per lb. for it. The discussion so far has proceeded upon the second amendment, of which Senator Pratten has given notice, instead of on that which is before the Committee at the present moment. No matter what amendment may be made I doubt very much whether it will give any one the right to import sugar, since I understand that its importation has been prohibited under the Customs Act.
– That is so.
– With regard to the sugar market, I have a cable here which was published in the Brisbane Courier of the 25th of this month, which says -
The South African Sugar Journal announces that the British Government has purchased 175,000 tons of sugar from Mauritius at £51 per ton.
In view of that information I do not see how, if the Bill were amended as Senator Pratten proposes, any private firm could possibly import sugar at a lower price than that at which it is being sold to manufacturers in Australia at the present time, namely, £26 per ton. I do not know what the future prices are likely to be; but present rates are not likely to be maintained without loss. Whatever deficiency there may be in future importations, we can rest assured that we will be able to import only at high prices. We have also to remember that not only are prices high, but the rates of exchange are against us. In America, and also in Cuba, the rate of exchange has fluctuated to such an extent that a sovereign is worth approximately 17s.11d. That will affect the price of the product by several pounds sterling per ton. If Senator Pratten ‘s amendments are carried, the position cannot be altered, because no private firm will be able to import sugar at a lower price than they could obtain it from the Government. Under these circumstances, firms are not likely to import, even if they have the right to do so.
– I am not a worshipper of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, but I do not think it would miss the opportunity of importing sugar under the conditions Senator Pratten said were extant. I am sorry the Minister did not refer to the point I raised concerning the agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the Queensland Government prohibiting the latter from erecting or extending sugar mills. Senator Crawford has said that the Commonwealth Government have waived that prohibition, but I would have liked to have the information direct from the Minister. It is well known that there are sugar mills in Queensland which could with advantage be removed to other parts of the State, and production thereby increased. If that were done, it would assist in overcoming the shortage, and also the necessity of further importations. The prohibition in the agreement is not at all pertinent, and should be waived by the Government. I am not aware if the Queensland Government have any proposal in view, but I do not think the prohibition of an extension of such an industry should exist.
– I regret having overlooked the point raised by Senator Ferricks. At -the time the provision was introduced we were worried not with a shortage, but with a surplus. It was estimated at one time that we had a surplus of something like 150,000 tons, and it was said that there was; every possibility of there being an unusual supply. There was just a chance of the Commonwealth Government, which had acquired, - the whole of the crop, being landed with more sugar than was required. It would have been bad business for us to be landed with from 250,000 to 300,000 tons of sugar, and, at the same time, have to compete in the world’s markets without the prospect of a profit on the exported surplus. I regret that the sugar crops in Queensland over a period of years have not been as favorable as I anticipated, and I believe the Government will be able to waive the prohibition when a reasonable proposition is submitted. I understand that no additional mills can be erected without the consent of the Commonwealth Government, and, as one who has helped to impose that embargo, I regret that I was in error in so doing, because we are justified in having a “ carry-over “ of approximately 300,000 to 400,000 tons, as there is always a prospect of having poor seasons.
The contract has been entered into, and the difficulty can be met by sympathetic administration rather than by an amendment of the contract. I will bring the matter under the notice1 of the Government, and if any applications are made - in view of recent experience - I feel sure they will be treated sympathetically.
– The Minister in his reply has conveyed the idea that the knowledge of his advisers regarding the sugar markets, of the world and the impending shortage has not reached the high efficiency claimed.
– I admit that.
– That has thrown doubt on the minds of the Queensland people regarding the necessity of the prohibition to which I have rererred. Whilst clause 7 deals with the fixing of the . price of. sugar, it also has a relation to its production generally. I asked the Senate the other night to note the fact that the Queensland Government were prohibited by agreement from having any administrative control of its sugar policy. I referred specifically to the regulation of tha price of cane sugar, and Senator Crawford, speaking afterwards, in relation to the agreement governing the supply of sugar to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s mills, said the growers did not want legislative control. There .is no compulsion for any group of growers to avail themselves of the Cane Prices Board if they do not wish to do so.
– Twenty growers can bring it into operation.
– Yes ; and twenty growers who are not satisfied can make application, and the legislation may then be extended to them. But the facts mentioned show that the Act, so far as its application is concerned, .is not compulsory, and if that is the case the embargo should be removed. If the people who supply cane to the Colonial .Sugar Refining Company do not want this restriction, they cam do without it.
– Once it is brought into operation in connexion with any mill it must remain.
– But if growers do not want cane-price regulation, they need not ask for its application.
– They accepted it’ before they knew what it meant.
– I quoted the section of the. Act the other night tinder which the Board determines the price for the mill and the canegrower, and by the substitution! of “ any person” for “cane-grower” the application could be made general. It is a mistaken policy of the Government to have such embargo. The question of the importation of sugar into ‘ Australia, and also of supplies, was raised the other night. The charges imposed by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company for the refining of sugar were also mentioned, and I stated at the time that the 8s. lid. per ton paid for the refining of 96 net titre sugar, instead of 94 net titre, did not increase the responsibility of the refiners, because by securing a product of higher purity the company would incur less expense in refining it. The fact that an additional charge of 8s. 11d. per ton is being paid for raw sugar doesnot come into the question at all.
– It may be a weakness in the contract, but we have to pay it.
– The Colonial Sugar Refining Company are not put to the same expense in refining sugar of 96 net titre as they are in refining sugar of 94 net titre.
– Therefore their charges should be reduced.
– Yes, by that amount on thewhole calculation. The Minister gave usmore detailed information concerning the charges made than I have had for a considerable time. He stated that freight included marine insurance, harbor dues, exchange, sacks, wharfage, and landing charges. He also said that the refining charge of £1 7s. 6d. per ton included wages, coal, charcoal, water, delivery of refined sugar in towns, cartage, lighterage, and fire insurance. The cost of packages, he said, is11s. per ton. The selling charge of 7s. per ton included salaries and contributions to staff and wage-earners’ provident funds, office rent, rates, exchange on refined sugar, remittances and charges, as well as taxes. Outside of that wide range there does not appear to be much left. In addition to that the company is allowed a managing charge of £1 per ton on all sugar put through the refinery, out of which they make their profit, as Senator Crawford admitted the other night. By virtue ofhis position as president of the Sugar Producers Association, which embraces the refiners, millers, and some of the growers-
– Not the refiners.
– The refiners’ interests are represented in that association, and we are therefore entitled to take Senator Crawford’s statement regarding admission as being at least semi-official. It is interesting to look into the Australian production of sugar during the period of the war. Senator Crawford said that, during the last three years, the refineries had dealt with about 1,000,000 tons. I will give the Australian production for the war period. In 1915 production amounted to 245,876 tons; in 1916. 159,644 tons; in 1917, 193,037 tons; and in 1918, 327,589 tons. The total for those four years was 926,142 tons of Aus tralian production. In addition, the importations during the same four years were as follow : - 1915, 262,503 cwt.; 1916, 2,322,218 cwt.; 1917, 1,623,223 cwt.; 1918, 316,090 cwt. The total for the four years was 4,524,034 cwt., or 226,201 tons. That is to say, a grand total of 1..152,343 tons of sugar was handled by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company in the years from 1915 to 1918.
– Have you noted the 25,000 tons output of the Millaquin refinery ?
– That has not been forgotten.
– I think the Colonial Sugar Refining Company received only 7s. per ton on the imported sugar.
– In the agreement between the company and the Commonwealth Government it was arranged that itwas to receive £1 per ton upon imported refined sugar. No record is kept in the Customs Department of the importations of refined as against raw sugar; the totals are bulked. Senator Crawford said the management charge of £1 per ton was the profit of the company.
– It has to cover depreciation, also.
-That was a qualification which the honorable senator mentioned afterwards. I will deal first with his statement as he originally made it, and then will discuss it in the light of his qualification. During the past few years the company has handled about 1,000,000 tons of sugar. At a profit of £1 a ton, it has cleared £1,000,000 during the years from 1915 to 1918 inclusive.
– You must allow for depreciation. The company’s profit would not be more than 15s. out of the £1 managing charge.
– I will deal with that factor presently. Senator Crawford referred to the four refining establishments of the company in various parts of Australia. Exaggerated statements have been made from time to time with respect to the cost of establishing those refineries. It has even been asserted by people who presume to speak with authority that the cost of constructing a refinery runs into three or four millions sterling. When I was a member of the Queensland Parliament,I quoted a statement on the subject made by the late Mr. E. B. Forrest, who was at that time Queensland director of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. Speaking at the opening of a refinery at New Farm, Mr. Forrest remarked that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company had entered into a contract for the establishment of a large mill in the Childers district, which would run the company into an expenditure of about £80,000. He added that the cost of establishing the New Farm refinery amounted to a similar sum. Of course, that was not then such a big institution as it is to-day; but I have given these particulars to confirm the expressed opinion that a sugar mill and a refinery of equal capacity can be erected for about the same sum. When Senator Crawford set down the cost of the four refineries of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company as £1,400,000, I do not think he exaggerated. Those refineries established throughout the various States, no doubt, have run the company into that sum. Senator Crawford said the capital value shown on the company’s books was £1,100,000.
– That was in 1911 or 1912, when Mr. Knox gave evidence before the Sugar Commission.
– Order ! The honorable senator’s time allotted under the Standing Orders has expired.
– I was about to address myself to the Committee, but find that we have not yet reached the clause upon which I desired to speak.
– The operations of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company during the four years 1915 to 1918 inclusive have repaid the capital value of its four refineries. I desire now to refer to the qualification of Senator Crawford regarding the managing item of £1 per ton. He stated that only about 15s. goes to profit, and that the remaining 5s. in each £1 has to be earmarked for depreciation, and so forth. That amount represents a very liberal depreciation allowance. Assuming that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has operated upon only 1,000,000 tons of sugar during the four years under review, in the handling of that quantity depreciation of plant is claimed to the extent of £250,000.I do not think Senator Crawford will contend that there has actually been such depreciation. The company during four years has made profits out of its partnership with the Commonwealth Government, in the control of sugar production and importation, sufficient to pay for the four refineries at their capital value cost. And it must not be forgotten that that profit is apart altogether from the operations of the company’s six large mills in Queensland, and its other three mills in New South Wales. The profits made from the refining process are quite separate from those secured in the milling process. When Senator Crawford admits that the managing charge of £1 represents the company’s profits, and that the capital cost of its refineries is £1,100,000, I am justified in asking whether the company has not done exceedingly well out of its partnership with the Government. Even if we accepted Senator Crawford’s contention - which I do not - that one-fourth of the managing charge is applied to depreciation account, there would still be a sum of £750,000 profit in dealing with 1,000,000 tons of sugar. Surely that profit is extortionate !
– What percentage is that upon the company’s turnover?
– Sufficient to recoup the company the capital value of its four refineries during the four years.
During the four years of the war, many people travelled through the length and breadth of Australia, not merely appealing to men to go to the war, but threatening them if they did not undertake a journey of 12,000 miles, and risk their lives in the interests of Australia. I desire Senator Crawford to indicate what sacrifices the Colonial Sugar Refining Company made during the war, while he and other people were advocating that the men of Australia should sacrifice themselves, and that a policy of conscription should be entered upon.
– I do not think the question of conscription comes within the four corners of this Bill.
– The question of sacrifice is involved, sir, and I am interested to know what sacrifice the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has made while piling up its £1,000,000 profit. I understand that, during the past twelve or fifteen months - and, perhaps, for a still longer term - there has been no importation of refined sugar to Australia. I am anxious to learn the basis for the allowance of £1 as a management charge on refined sugar.
– The company gets £1 by way of management charge, including interest on its money. The company buys the sugar, and the Government reimburses it later.
– The charge for putting through the deal, then, amounts to £1 per ton. I look upon that allowance as totally unwarranted. The amount goes, of course, to swell the profits of this huge concern. I would like to see all the sugar which is consumed here produced in Australia; but if quantities have to be imported in the refined state, the company should not be placed in a position to make such profits out of the importations.
.- I hold no brief for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, but since I possess some knowledge of the industry, it is in the interests of sugar-growing generally, and of the country as well, that I should place certain facts before the Committee. I do not look upon the charge of 5s. a ton as more than a reasonable allowance for depreciation upon a plant which originally cost £1,400,000, and which was written down in 1912 to £1,100,000. Anybody with expert knowledge as to what should be written off a plant of this description for depreciation, will admit that 5 per cent. on capital cost is very reasonable, and that 5 per cent. on £1,100,000 amounts very nearly in five years to the sum mentioned by the honorable senator. With regard to the profit of 15s. per ton, or £750,000 in four years, it has to be remembered that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company have a great deal more money in the refining business than is represented by the cost of their refineries. I remember reading “a statement made by the chairman of the company, two years ago, to the effect that, at that time, they had no less a sum than £4,000,000 in sugar stocks. Surely the refiner has just as good a right as any other person in business to earn profit on capital invested, whether in stocks or in buildings and plant.
– Nobody objects to that profit, provided it is reasonable.
– Just so; but Senator Ferricks has. apparently been under the impression that the whole of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s capital is invested in refineries.
– I do not say that. I say that the capital represented in the four refineries was covered by the money made in. four years.
– The profit for four years, after allowing for depreciation, was £750,000, orsomething under £200,000 per annum, and I think it will be admitted that this is merely a fair return upon the total capital invested.
– What was the rate of profit?
– The company have been paying a dividend of 10 per cent. on the profits made as refiners, as raw sugar mill-owners, and as distillers. Their operations cover a very wide field indeed, and I say without hesitation that the management is the most efficient in Australia. If all the businesses in Australia were conducted as efficiently, we would be a great deal better off than we are to-day. The Minister said that no duty was being charged upon importations made by the Government. That is interesting news, and if it is really true, it indicates a change in policy.
– We do not pay on our own importations.
– But the public were charged prices which covered the duty in previous years, and I suppose it is reasonable to assume that the same policy will be followed in future. There must, of course, be further importations of sugar from foreign markets at high prices, and I should say that there must be an increase in the price of sugar in Australia very shortly.
.- I move-
That thefollowing proviso be added to subclause 2 : - “ Provided that the general policy to be observed shall be equality of treatment.”
I move the amendment in order to draw the attention of the Minister to the position of the grocers. There are no regulations in the Bill that cover the question of sugar in any other way, and in no other place could I bring this matter under notice so well as in the clause now under consideration. I should like to point out that the 2,500 or 3,000 shareholders in the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, although they got in the aggregate £760,000, received only a reasonable profit. True, the profit only averages over the four years about £80 or £90 per shareholder, but in the aggregate, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company get a fair profit out of sugar.
– So do the people.
– The people are getting a fair and reasonable deal. In fact, as has been pointed out time after time, we are getting sugar cheaper in Australia than in any other part of the world. The merchants also, I believe, are getting a reasonable profit, but the retail distributor is in an unsatisfactory position. I shall not repeat the arguments I have already advanced concerning the grocers’ position, but I again draw the attention of the Minister to his definite promise, made more than twelve months ago, that their position would be reviewed.
– And I repeat that new contracts have been entered into. I hope the honorable senator will not keep on repeating that statement, because in so quoting me he is acting unfairly.
– Then I shall content myself with moving the amendment, and, if necessary, pressing it to a division, unless the position occupied by the grocers twelve months ago has been relieved.
– I was puzzled for a time to know what the amendment really meant, because it is not very clear. So far as I can make out it will be utterly valueless, as the Minister in charge will be able to interpret it ashe pleases.
– Thenwhy set out a similar provision in other parts of the Bill?
– In the wool schedule.
– Let us come down to practical issues. The proviso, if adopted, will allow the Minister in charge to interpret the clause in his own way. I presume it is not suggested that the Minister would not act honestly; but if a Minister has not the confidence of Parliament, then it is time Parliament got a new Minister. The amendment is merely a pious aspiration, and in my opinion is meaningless.
– Does the new contract place the grocers in a better position? .
– I understand that the matter is now receiving the close attention of the Minister, who is also ‘the Minister for Price Fixing.
– But that is what you said twelve months ago.
– And I repeat that what I said then concerned a contract that is now dead. If I quoted Senator Pratten as having said something two years ago about a contract then in existence, but not now operative, I would feel that I was treating him unfairly. What I said then I honestly meant. I am not in the habit of making statements which I do not mean. I have never been in charge of the sugar business, and I am not in charge of it now, so I ask the honorable senator to be reasonable in his quotation of my statements. Anybody who knows the Minister in charge of the sugar business (Mr. Greene) will admit that if he has one quality it is that of fairness to all concerned.
– The grocers apparently do not think so.
– From my experience, the grocers - I refer particularly to their secretary - are most unsatisfactory people to deal with. I have never been able to comprehend what the secretary wanted in connexion with any requests, but I am satisfied that the Minister who controls this commodity will deal out justice.
– I was pleased to hear the Minister say that the Minister who has charge of this business (Mr. Greene) has the matter referred to under consideration. The grocers have shown, to the satisfaction of the Federal Prices Commissioner, that 20 per cent. on the turnover will just meet working expenses, and leave them without profit. I know nothing about the handling of sugar, but if it takes 25 per cent. to retail it, the position from their point of view is most unsatisfactory. Without going into the question as to the usefulness or otherwise of the middleman, we have to face the position that thousands of grocers are established throughout the Commonwealth, and that they are called upon to handle sugar, which is a weighty commodity, and is consumed in large quantities by the general public. Therefore, they are entitled to a fair return. I do not care whether the price is 4d. or 3½d. per lb.
If grocers were not wanted in the community they would not be established, and as they are serving a useful purpose they are entitled to be paid for their services. If they can show that they are making no profit on the distribution of sugar there is no reason why they should be victimized. They have every right to be compensated for the capital invested in their businesses and the time occupied in managing them. I feel sure that Senator Russell, who is usually so fair, will realize that the stupidity of the secretary cannot be allowed to prejudice the grocers’ position. I am not here pleading for the grocers, but I say that they have a right to be compensated for their services to the general public. If 3½d. per lb. for sugar is not enough, then the people of Australia should pay 3$d. or 4d. per lb.
– You must remember that 20 per cent, is not on the capital invested, but on the turnover, and they get a weekly turnover.
– They have shown to the satisfaction of the Federal Prices Commissioner that 20 per cent, on their turnover does not pay them for handling sugar. Sugar is not merely handed over the counter by grocers. They distribute it with their vans, and they have to pay drivers for this purpose.
– The 3£d. per lb. is tlie cash price over the counter.
– No; sugar is distributed by grocers to their customers at the same price. We know that there has been an increase in wages in nearly every industry in the Commonwealth. Grocers have to contend against the increase in th© price of fodder for their horses, the increase in the cost of repairs to their vehicles, and the increase in the wages of their employees. A great deal of sugar is no doubt sold over the counter at 3½d. per lb., but there are thousands of people who never go near a grocer’s shop, and are supplied with what they require at their own homes. I have no doubt that they would be willing to pay something extra for sugar supplied in that way, but the grocer is not allowed to make an additional charge for -sugar. I have referred to the documents supplied by the Grocers Association in Brisbane, because I promised them that, when the matter came up for consideration, I would state their case. It is satisfactory to learn that it will be considered by the Minister. The grocers have a right to be compensated for the services they render the public; and when the Federal Prices Commissioner expresses himself as satisfied that 20 per cent, on their turnover is not sufficient to pay them for handling sugar, I trust that the Minister will, in justice to the grocers, fix the price a,t 3fd. or 4d. per lb., and even then I think the people of Australia will be getting very cheap sugar.
.- I wish to indorse the remarks which have been made by Senator Reid. I went into this matter with the secretary of the .Brisbane Grocers Association, who pointed out to me, as Senator Reid has mentioned, that ever since the Government took control of the sugar industry, grocers have been losing in handling this commodity. Since the Government took control of the sale of butter and sugar, no grocer has made a penny piece out of his transactions in those articles,
– If they get ls. 2id per lb. for butter, surely that is a fair thing?
– Not if it has to be delivered to customers. The retail grocer buys his sugar in 70-lb. bags, and it has been pointed out to me that it is impossible for him to weigh out more than 68 lbs. of sugar from a 70-lb. bag, because of the little extra weighing -that is lost in the turning of the scales in weighing out small quantities. This loss of 2 or 3 lbs.* of sugar in handling a 70-lb. bag has not been taken into consideration by those who have considered what the grocers’ profits are.
– They must weigh their sugar very carelessly if they lose 2 or 3 lbs. in 70 lbs.
– It has been demonstrated to me tl at a number of small storekeepers cannot get 70 lbs. weight of sugar out of a 70-lb. bag.
– They should not lose as much as 3 lbs. in a 70-lb. bag.
– They reckon that the loss in handling a 70-lb. bag is from 2 to 3 lbs. of sugar. I do not desire that the retail price of sugar shall be increased if that can be avoided, because the price of all the necessaries of life are high enough at the present time, but I do hope that the Government, in entering into new contracts, will re-arrange prices in’ such a way as to enable retail grocers to make a fair profit in the handling of this commodity.
– There is onepointwhich has not been touched on by my colleagues in the representation of Queensland. The retailer of sugar may purchase a ton at a time, but he does not get the advantage of the discount system of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.
– He does not get the maximum discount.
– He does not get the discount of 5¾ per cent. The small retailer who feels the present pinch has to buy his sugar through the wholesale merchant, who does not bother about taking the sugar he sells into a store, but carts it from the refinery or from bonded stores. He gets a discount on his purchases, but the small grocers do not get the advantage of the 5¾ per cent. discount.
– They get 2½ per cent.
– The wholesale dealer in sugar gets the bulk of the discount, and I think there might be some better adjustment in that direction in any new arrangement the Government may make with respect to sugar. I feel sure that my colleagues from Queensland did not intend that there should be any arrangement to lower the price paid for raw sugar. My contention is that there is plenty of scope to allow the retailer of sugar a fair thing without altering the price for raw sugar or the price paid by the consumer.
The Minister stated the other night that whatever surplus might accrue to the Government in connexion with the control of sugar under the arrangement now operating would be used to make up any loss on imported sugar.
– I may point out that we are living on past profits just now, because at present we are losing 3d. per ton on sugar.
– The difference between the buying and selling price of sugar leaves the Government £2 per ton, and that, I understand, is to go to pay losses incurred on the importation of sugar. The crop for the present season may not be as good as was expected, and next season’s crop may not be very promising. But I impress on the Minister that there is scope, with the present price of raw sugar and the selling price of the refined article, to secure to the retailer better conditions than are given him at the present time.
– I am sure that the VicePresident of the Executive Council does not seriously intend, as the discussion of this Bill proceeds, to lecture every honorable senator upon the remarks he may feel called on to make.
– I did not do any lecturing, but I am very tired of Senator Pratten’s lecturing. It has reached the limit.
– Surely the Minister would not burke discussion.
– Senator Pratten takes exception to my lecturing. I did not lecture any one, but I have submitted to a good deal of lecturing.
– The first political lesson I have tried to learn is not to lose my temper. I want to say that, as I see it, the position is this : The Minister in charge of the Bill admitted fifteen or eighteen months ago that the position of the retail grocer was a hard one. So far as I can understand, it is exactly the same to-day as it was then. I pointed out that’ there were no regulations that touched sugar, and by my amendment I desired to bring prominently under the notice of the Government the fact that the retailer is not getting equal treatment with other persons distributing sugar. It has been admitted that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company are getting fair profits, and that the wholesalers are getting fair profits. It is admitted that the users of sugar in manufacturing are receiving fair profits, but, apparently, the grocer is at the end of the queue, and is being squeezed.
– Has the honorable senator compared the statement he has attributed to me with the Hansard report of what I said?
– Of course, the honorable senator has not done so.
– On several occasions during the last three years we have brought under the notice of the Minister the position of the grocer. I was not quoting Hansard as to the statement made by the honorablesenator, but from a communication that has been sent to me by the secretary of the Victorian Grocers Association, in which the statement I made is attributed to him. If he denies that statement attributed to him, he can make the denial publicly in this chamber. I do not wish to ,press my amendment to a division if the Minister will promise that the matter will be given reasonable consideration, and that the grocer will get a fair deal.
– I have already told the honorable senator that the matter is under consideration. It should not be necessary for me to repeat myself a dozen times.
– I move -
That the following proviso be added to the clause: - “Provided that nothing in this Act shall preclude the importation of sugar into the Commonwealth for the purpose of being used in the manufacture of goods exclusively for export beyond the Commonwealth.”
I feel sure that the Minister did not intend to be unfair when he suggested that I was endeavouring to secure the product of black labour for distribution throughout the Commonwealth ‘ in competition with sugar produced in Australia.
– I did not mean that. I said the amendment would have the effect of bringing sugar raised by black labour into competition with that produced in Australia.
– I beg the Minister’s pardon, and accept his explanation.
– I distinctly made the statement that I knew the honorable senator was not in any way interested in the sugar industry.
– The effect of my amendment could be misconstrued, and I am sure the Minister will accept my assurance that nothing is further from_ my mind than to encourage the importation of sugar produced by black labour to compete with Australian sugar.
The Minister also made further observations in connexion with the manufacture of jam, and I would not like them to go out to the public without comment. He suggested that the jam manufacturers were practically mendicants in getting orders from the Commonwealth, and that if it had not been for the nursing policy adopted by the Commonwealth they would have been, unable to exist. When this big export business started, during the first year of the war, it was controlled by the various States in the interests of their manufacturers, and there was some criticism by the State Agents-General in con nexion with the Commonwealth taking over the whole of the jam export of Australia. It has been said that the Commonwealth searched the world for tin plates in order to execute orders; but the contrary is the case, as the British Government allocated to the different producing centres in all parts of the world sufficient tin plates for the execution, of orders.
– Under pressure from the Commonwealth Government.
– I do not think ‘ there was any pressure. My information is that the South Wales-
– Order ! Does the honorable senator intend to connect his remarks with the clause under discussion ?
– I am dealing with tin plates used in the manufacture of jam containers, and in connexion with jam the question of sugar naturally arises. The South Wales tin plate manufacturers had influence enough to approach the British Government and ask them to request the Commonwealth Government to prohibit the importation of American tin plates so that they could not be used in connexion with Commonwealth contracts.
– Was not there a time when we could not obtain American tin plates?
– That was after the prohibition had been in force for some time. If that ill-considered prohibition had not operated when it did there would have been tens of thousands of cheap American tin plates imported into this country. I hope the Minister will accept the amendment I have moved, as it will help our export trade, which will otherwise probably be inoperative owing to the world’s price of sugar. It cannot do any harm, and it may help to some extent to facilitate the export of certain commodities.
Senator RUSSELL (Victoria- Vice-
President of the Executive Council and Acting Minister for Defence) [5.1]. - Permit me to remove from Senator Pratten’s mind the impression that I had any intention of suggesting that he favoured the introduction of sugar raised by coloured labour to compete with that manufactured in the Commonwealth. I have always endeavoured to keep the individual out of my mind, and I did not wish to connect his amendment in any way with a policy to which I know he is antagonistic. What I indicated would be quite possible in the event of a drop in the price of sugar before the completion of this contract, because manufacturers would naturally purchasein the cheapest market. The agreement has been made, and I think it will be generally admitted that it has been very beneficial to Australia. It has been stated that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has made a good deal of money, but the works were not requisitioned in the ordinary sense. A contract had to be entered into to carry us over a very difficult period, and we made the best arrangements we could under the circumstances. I hold no brief for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and have at times dealt it some heavy blows. If it could be proved that the fruit and jam industries were being ruined, there would be something in the objections raised, but in spite of the abnormal conditions prevailing, the jam manufacturers have done well. The cost of casing increased 70 per cent., of ordinary nails 200 per cent., and of tin plates80 to 100 per cent.
– They did not complain.
– No, because they realized the hopelessness of dealing with manufacturers overseas. I have no doubt that sugar here was from £4 to £5 per ton cheaper than elsewhere, and I believe it was possible, with the exception of one or two isolated cases, to sell additional quantities of jam owing to the cheap prices ruling. If we are going to allow open competition between sugar raised by coloured labour and that produced in Australia, the tendency will be to bring the white man down to the level of the coloured man. Parliament has placed a very heavy duty on sugar, and in normal times thousands of pounds sterling have been spent in maintaining the sugar industry. I am not saying that Queensland is getting an unfair deal, but the people have supported our policy.
– I am only asking the Government to revert to the conditions existing before the contract was entered into.
– We have arranged a compromise to cover a certain period. When we entered into this contract, conditions were very unsettled, and the arrangement is binding only until next year, when we may be able to revert to pre-war conditions. So long as a guarantee of £23 per ton is given, it is absolutely essential to see that we are not undercut in price. Some are quite anxious to see the contract extended for a considerable time, and I believe the Queensland people view it sympathetically. We realize that it is not a perfect instrument, but it was the best arrangement that could be made under the abnormal conditions prevailing.
– The amendment of Senator Pratten, if incorporated in the Bill, will not have any effect on the Australian sugar industry. The Australian consumption is about 280,000 tons. There was a carry-over from last year, and it is expected that between Queensland and New South Wales we shall have a production of, approximately, 200,000 tons. According to information given to the Senate, the Government have purchased from abroad 50,000 to 60,000 tons of sugar at an average price landed in Australia, in bond, of £22 per ton; so that most of our requirements for the current year have been supplied. The price is about half that at which sugar can be obtained in any part of the world, and it is clear that the manufacturers are able to do infinitely better by purchasing supplies from the Government than by purchasing in outside markets. Seeing that the Government have further purchases to make, we have to consider the effect the proposed amendment will have upon the price. If the effect of the amendment is to invite a number of sugar purchasers in Australia to become importers it is almost certain that inquiries by private firms will be made regarding sugar obtainable elsewhere, and that course of action will enhance the price to the Government, and, thus, to the people of Australia. The amendment contains the phrase, “ provided that nothing in this Act shall preclude the importation of sugar into the Commonwealth.” There is nothing in this measure which can preclude the importation of sugar. Importation is prohibited by a proclamation issued under the Customs Act. If the Committee accepts the amendment,its embodiment in the Bill will not disturb the process of prohibition under the Customs Act. Senator Pratten, therefore, would not achieve the end which he has in view.
– Would not the carrying of the amendment have a moral effect upon the Minister controlling the sugar industry?
– The honorable senator had better address his query to the Minister. Until the proclamation under the Customs Act is withdrawn it will be impossible for any one to. import sugar.
– If Parliament inserts a measure of prohibition within this Bill the Government will not be likely to exercise its other power of prohibition.
– The Minister admits, then, that the acceptance of this amendment would have a moral effect?
– It would have the effect of making us “ sit up and look.”
– Senator Pratten’s reasons for the proposed amendment will not bear much examination. When there is a shortage of sugar the Government wisely makes up the difference, and manufacturers who export their products are able to secure sufficient quantities to carry on. In the course of my remarks upon the second reading of this measure I made quotations from the balance-sheet of a jam manufacturing company. That concern indicated that it had refused a large Imperial contract because it was so busily supplying local requirements that it had not the facilities to undertake the Imperial order. That situation suggests that if there were greater sugar production in Australia other secondary industries would be able to expand their operations. What does Senator Pratten propose to gain by free importations of sugar?
– A reserve power, provided that the world’s sugar position changes. ‘
– It has not changed so far. We have very heavy burdens to bear as an outcome of the war. Australia needs population. ‘The people of Europe are turning their eyes towards this great country. Instead of going in for a policy of importing sugar we should seek to get our sugar lands settled by bringing in large additions to Australia’s population.
– You will have to secure the removal of- the restrictions which exist in Queensland to-day.
– Those restrictions have not operated to the detriment of the sugar lands.
– I think they have in the Nor.th.
– There are great tracts of sugar country which could be settled if the sugar industry were placed on a firmer foundation. Only upon three occasions has the Australian sugar industry been equal to the whole of the requirements of the population of the Commonwealth. There is room, therefore, for considerable expansion of that industry. Australian jam and biscuit manufacturers are able to secure cheaper sugar than is obtainable in any other part of the world except in New Zealand. Considering our heavy financial burdens, what Australia needs more than anything else is a large increase in the number of its people. There is sugar land still available in Queensland equal in quality to the sugar-producing territories of today. Instead of asking the Government to reduce the price of sugar, Senator Pratten would be doing greater service to our secondary industries if he vigorously advocated immigration. Not only would the jam-manufacturing industry be supplied with greater quantities of sugar, thus permitting it to extend its export business, but fruit-growers would receive further indirect encouragement. I am aware that the fruit grown in Australia could not be totally consumed but for the jam factories ; but it should not be forgotten that while the manufacturers are crying out against the price of sugar they have not treated fruit-growers quite as liberally as they have deserved.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 8 (Continuance of War Precautions (Flax) Regulations).
– In view of statements already made by the Minister, I do not propose to proceed with the amendment to this clause of which I had given notice.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 9 (Definition of “ The Scheme”).
Senator PRATTEN (New South Wales) T5.21]. - The Minister raised some doubt, in the course of the general discussion, whether . there was an agreement between the Commonwealth and the States in connexion with the next wheat harvest. Does an agreement exist with New South Wales respecting the forthcoming crop?
– An agreement has been entered into between the Commonwealth and the States concerned for the extension of the Wheat Pools in order to deal with the 1919-20 harvest. Three of the States have replied, in the matter of the guarantee of 4s. 4d., less rail freight. I understand that owing to an oversight the remaining State has not yet replied to the Commonwealth’s proposition, but that an acquiescing decision has been arrived at. Next season’s crop will be taken over under the ordinary pooling system, and the guarantee will be according to the terms I have just indicated.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 10 to 12 agreed to.
Clause 13 -
Penalty : One hundred pounds, or imprisonment for six months, or both……
.- I move-
That the words “ or imprisonment for six months, or both “ be left out.
The various pooling activities are largely administered by Government officials, and quite a number of offences which may be committed under this Act will be punishable by a term of six months’ imprisonment.
– The honorable senator must know that that is the maximum penalty.
– I only know what the Bill says, namely, that it will be an offence to make certain declarations, that may be false, in connexion with the Dairy Produce Pool; that it will be an offence if any person charges a higher price for butter than that for which it is to be offered for consumption within the Commonwealth under the regulations laid down; that it will be an offence to refuse or fail to comply with any direction of the Minister or the Committee in relation to butter and cheese; that it will be an offence to furnish a return that may be substantially wrong. I could go on reading page after page of the regulations to show how many different kinds of offences may be committed, but I will not weary the Committee with a recital of the scores of indictable offences which may be committed. The Committee should consider carefully where this will lead the community. Suppose vindictiveness be exhibited in connexion with the administration of these great Pools.
– You do not insinuate that, do you?
– Not on the part of a responsible Minister, but there might be vindictiveness on the part of those in whose hands the control of these Pools will be placed. The Committees should pause before it gives power to any person, practically, to make a criminal of some other person who may be innocent of any criminal intention. The clause does nut even go so far as the provision in the Income Tax Act which states that it shall be a just defence to any action that may be brought against a person if it can be proved that the offence was committed in ignorance or under a misapprehension. 1 appeal to the Minister to agree to some qualification of the clause.
– That is provided for in the Acts Interpretation Act.
– But we have this safeguard in black and white in the Income Tax Act. In connexion with the administration of these Pools, trade jealousies one day may be manifested, and if autocratic power is in the hands of any person, it is quite possible that a perfectly innocent man may be branded as a criminal.
– I should like to point out to Senator Pratten what is well known to other honorable senators who have had longer parliamentary experience, namely, that any penalty mentioned in Commonwealth Acts of Parliament is defined in the Acts Interpretation Act as being the maximum penalty. The reason for this is well known to other honorable senators. The object is to shorten the verbiage, and to make it perfectly clear that the penalty mentioned in any Act of Parliament is the maximum that may be inflicted. Therefore, before the honorable senator can establish a claim for the adoption of the amendment, he must show that under some circumstances imprisonment for six months would be too heavy a penalty.
Personally, I know of no offence which may be committed under this Bill for which six months’ imprisonment would be too great a penalty in the case of great corporations with big interests at stake. For minor offences, such as those to which the honorable senator has referred, this penalty cf six months’ imprisonment would not be inflicted. A magistrate might fine the parties £1 or £2, and reduce the penalty according to the nature of the offence. I do not think the honorable gentleman will say that imprisonment for six months is too serious a punishment for some offences.
– I do think imprisonment is too severe a punishment.
– I am rapidly reaching the belief that when dealing with big corporations a fine of £100 may not be effective. We are confronting a series of problems, not covered by this Bill, it is true, in regard to which punishment for offences against the law must be substantial if they are to be effective. I trust the Committee will maintain the clause in its entirety, thus leaving it to the magistrate’s discretionary power to say whether the maximum penalty shall be a fine or a term of imprisonment.
– I cannot support the amendment, because I realize that penalties must be inflicted for offences under the Act.
– But this provides for a fine and imprisonment.
– I have had some experience of the law regarding a penalty for non-payments of verdicts, and know that in one case, if there had not been a penalty, I would not have got the cash. The Attorney-General of the Commonwealth saw fit to prosecute me on one occasion, and I got £5 5s. out of the action, to be paid within a specified time or six months gaol. If that penalty had not been imposed, I would have been waiting for my money still, as some members of this House are still waiting for a verdict gained by them in one of our Law Courts. If six months’ gaol had been imposed in that case it would have made all the difference. The penalty provision in the clause now under consideration is merely a figure of speech, and I consider it necessary in this clause.
– I want to give a substantial illustration of how this matter may work out. The Prime Minister,_ in inaugurating the Wool Pool, said that no trade custom would be departed from ; yet there is a regulation in connexion with the Sheepskins Pool which says that a man shall not make tops directly from the wool taken from the skins. Consequently, if a man does that in the legitimate course of his business -
– It cannot be legitimate if the Act forbids it.
– But the Prime Minister said that no activities would be disturbed by the Wool Pool regulations, and this Bill now provides that they shall be disturbed. Consequently, if a man makes wool tops from sheepskins in defiance of regulations that have been promulgated subsequently, he will be regarded as a criminal, and liable to imprisonment for six months.
– That is not an argument against the penalty, but against the prohibition.
– In due course, then, I- shall move an amendment in connexion with the prohibition. I am sorry the Committee is not with me, because I feel that this matter is important, and that the clause confers too much power on some of those in control of our primary products. It is a pity that the procedure of the past two or three years has not been continued.
– This penalty has been operative all the time.
– During the past six months ?
– I was unaware of that when I gave notice of my amendment, and I say quite frankly that I regret having wasted the time of the Committee over the matter.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 14 -
The expiration of any of the regulations contained in any of the schedules to this Act, or of any regulation made in pursuance of this Act or of the War Precautions (Prices) Regulations, shall not - (<f) affect any right, privilege, obligation, or liability acquired, accrued, or incurred under any such regulation; or
affect any penalty, forfeiture, or punishment incurred in respect of any offence committed against any such regulation; or
affect any investigation, legal proceeding, or remedy in respect of any such right, privilege, obligation, liability, penalty, forfeiture, or punishment, as aforesaid; and any such investigation, legal proceeding, or remedy may be instituted, continued, or enforced, and any such penalty, forfeiture, or punishment may be imposed, as if the regulation had not expired.
Senator PRATTEN(New South
Wales) [5.36].- I move-
That the following words be added: - “if proceedings be commenced within six months after the expiry of the regulation.”
This also has reference to the penalties, and fixes a limitation upon the time in which the Minister, or those in control of the Pools, may be able to take action. I think six months is a reasonable time.
– I point out that section 2.1 of the Crimes Act 1914 provides -
A prosecution in respect of an offence against this or any other Act, or any regulation under any Act, may be commenced as follows : -
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause agreed to.
First Schedule -
The War Precautions (Dairy Produce Pool ) Regulations. (3). - (1) . . . There shall be a Commonwealth Dairy Produce Pool Committee . . . consisting of the Minister, who shall be the Chairman of the Committee, a Deputy Chairman to be appointed by the Minister, three nominees of the Commonwealth Government, two representatives for each of the States of New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland in respect of butter factories in those States.
The Committee may, subject to the approval of the Minister, appoint such officers as it deems necessary for the purposes of these regulations.
The representatives for the States elected as members of the first Committee created under these regulations shall cease to hold office on the thirtieth day of June, 1920, but shall be eligible for re-election. (13 ).- (1) It shall be the duty of the Committee -
to provide, as far as possible, butter and cheese for consumption in the Commonwealth; . . .
Notwithstanding anything in these regulations, the Minister may give such directions as he thinks fit with regard to any action taken or proposed to be taken by the Committee, and the action taken or proposed to be taken by the Committee shall thereupon be subject to those directions.
The accounts of the Committee shall be audited from time to time by the AuditorGreneral or a person appointed by him.
– We have now reached’ that part of the Bill which comprises complicated and long schedules. The first schedule, now under consideration, covers over five pages of small print, and I suggest that, instead of taking the regulations inglobo, they be taken in sections.
– The schedule must be taken as it stands in the Bill. If any honorable senator desires to move an amendment he may do so. Notice of several amendments has geen given by honorable senators.
– I move -
That after the word “ Government,” in regulation 3, the following words be inserted : -‘ three persons nominated by the Leader of the Opposition as representing the consumers of the Commonwealth.’’
I shall not occupy the time of the Committee any longer than will be absolutely necessary to enable me to offer a few reasons for submitting this amendment. It will be noticed upon a reference to the personnel of the Committee in charge of the Dairy Produce Pool that while the consumers are not directly represented on it, the producers of butter and cheese, who are directly concerned in keeping up the price of those commodities, are largely, and, in my opinion, too largely, represented. The Minister for Trade and Customs is, by virtue of his office, Chairman of the Committee. There is nothing personal intended when I say that the present Minister for Trade and Customs represents a butter and cheese producing district, and so he may be said to be a direct representative of the producers of those commodities, rather than of the consumers. I am willing to admit that his conception of his duties as Minister for Trade and Customs would probably prompt him to leave out of consideration the fact that he represents a butter and cheese producing district.
– Suppose a member of the Opposition were in the same position as the Minister, for Trade and Customs, would that be a disqualification for his appointment?
– Certainly not. If the Minister will permit me to give my reasons, he will understand why I have moved the amendment. I have purposely refrained from saying anything that might be considered as a reflection upon the present Minister for Trade and Customs.
– If -he were against the Government, would he be disqualified ?
– Certainly not. If the Vice-President of the Executive Council were in my position, and could use the argument which I have used, I have no doubt that he would use it. I have said that the Minister for Trade and Customs may be considered to be a direct representative of the butter producers.
– Yet under the honorable senator’s amendment, if he were a member of the Opposition, he would be accepted as a representative of the people.
– It is all very well for Senator Millen to try to draw me off the track, but he knows very well that what I am saying is a fact. On the Committee there are three nominees of the Government, two representatives of Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland, representing butter factories in those States, and one representative of butter factories for each of the States of SouthAustralia and Tasmania. Will any one say that that gives the consumers equal representation with the producers of butter, a commodity which enters largely into daily consumption by the people? These men are direct representatives of butter factories, and not of the consumers of butter. Then there is one representative each for Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland in respect of cheese factories in those States, and there is also the Commonwealth dairy expert. Where are the representatives of the consumers on this Committee? There are none.
– Does the honorable senator infer that the members of the Committee have not done justice?
– I am not asserting anything. I am giving the actual facts, and Senator Reid must put his. own construction upon them. ,In respect of butter, the Minister for Trade and Customs represents a large butter-producing district. Then there is Mr. Sinclair, vicechairman of the Committee, who, I understand, represents a constituency that is largely interested in the production of butter. The butter representatives for Victoria include Mr. P. J. Holdenson, of Holdenson and Neilson, and this gentleman represents a proprietary company which manufactures butter. There is also Mr. H. W. Osborne, of the Western District Co-operative Produce and Insurance Company Limited. No one will say that any of these gentlemen is not more directly interested in keeping up the price of butter than in seeing that the consumers obtain the article at a reasonable price. I find that the butter representatives for New- South Wales are Mr. Basche, of Basche and Lowney, of Sydney, of whom I know nothing except that he is a member of a big firm in Sydney, and there is Mr. C. J. McRae, who is chairman of the Primary Producers Association. The butter representatives of Queensland are Mr. W. T. Harris, of Toowoomba, and Mr. Plunkett, of the Logan and Albert Co-operative Dairying Company Limited. The representative for South Australia is Mr. Sandford, whose calling I do not know. The representative of Tasmania is Mr. O. G. Norton, who I know is a direct representative of the butter-producing industry in that State. As a matter of fact, he is a dairyman himself. Not one of these persons can be considered to be a representative of the consumers, whilst they are direct representatives of the producers of butter.
In respect to cheese, which is also included in the Bill, the representative members of the Committee are: - For New South Wales, Mr. J. Mackey, of Mackey and Company, of Sydney; for Victoria. Mr. .T. Rankin, of Colac; and for Queensland, the Rural Industries Limited, of Roma-street, Brisbane. The Government nominees on the Committee are Mr. C. E. D. Meares, of the Coastal Farmers Co-operative Society Limited, Sydney : Mr. A . W. Wilson, of the Ginns!and and Northern Co-operative Society and Insurance Company Limited, Melbourne: Mr. Purcell, of Greenmount, Queensland, and Common- - wealth Dairy Expert. Subject to correction, I may say that I am informed that the Gippsland and Northern Cooperative Society and Insurance Company Limited, of which Mr. A. W. Wilson is the representative on the Dairy Produce Committee, last year made a profit of £12,786 on a capital of £66,960, or 19 per cent.
The Government had an opportunity in appointing their nominees to look after the direct interests of the consumers. They might have appointed some persons who could be fairly considered to be direct representatives of the consumers). They have not done so; I do not know for what reason. In the circumstances, I think that the amendment I submit, which proposes that there shall be included in the Committee three person? nominated by the Leader of the Opposition, as representatives of the consumers of the Commonwealth, is a fair proposition to make. That would make the balance on the Committee fairly even.
– What will the amendment accomplish ?
– It will accomplish this much, that in all deliberations by the Committee the consumers’ interests will be voiced, and may be watched as they are not watched now. No one will say that those who directly represent the producers of butter are going to worry very much about what the consumer has to pay for the article.
– The Government representatives are not in that position.
– I have mentioned their names, and have shown the honorable senator that the Government representatives are in that position. They may be said to represent the’ producers rather than the consumers of butter and cheese. The Government would satisfy the people of Australia if they accepted my amendment, and included in this Committee three persons directly representative of the consumers.
– I do not know the basis of Senator O’Keefe’s amendment. What I am puzzled to understand is by what right he presumes to take it as an accepted fact that the Opposition alone represent the consumers. If we are to judge by the last Federal election, it seems to me quite possible that a majority of the consumers of the Commonwealth voted for the party on this side, though I admit that they did not vote on the question of the control of food supplies alone. It is absolutely unfair and incorrect to say that the members of the Opposition are the only representatives of the consumers in this Chamber. Mr. Massy Greene is a. direct representative of the producers, and I can accept his statements. But if he became a member of the Opposition he would he quite eligible, and would not be disqualified, from representing the producers’ interests. The members who receive the most votes are generally the representatives of the consumers, because they are elected by the majority, and every one is a consumer, irrespective of the position he occupies.
– He may be a producer and a consumer, but his producing interests may be greater than his consuming interests.
– The members of the Opposition are not the only representatives of the consumers, because they do not receive a majority of votes. The trade unionists really represent the producers, because they are engaged in production. If Senator O’Keefe assumes that the consumers’ interests are not being protected, it is a clear indication that he believes the prices charged to-day are altogether too high. I am not prepared to support that argument, because in the dairying industry the employees are more sweated than, perhaps, in any other. Not only do the adults engaged in the dairying industry have to carry out their arduous duties for a very small return, but their children are also called in to assist. I am sure that is a position that is not supported by any member of the Opposition.
– Have not large fortunes been made by butter agents who handle the produce of the dairymen ?
– Yes ; but the honorable senator must not look upon me as a friend of the agents.
– The Government should go further, and abolish the agents.
– I did abolish the agents in connexion with the Dairy Pool by appointing a manager and an Advisory Committee. It is cool presumption to refer to the members of- the Opposition as the consumers’ representatives. If they represent the consumers, well and good; but why should they claim to be their special representatives?
– Because the Government have not thought it proper to appoint consumers’ representatives.
SenatorRUSSELL. - Can Senator O’Keefe say who would be eligible?
– Representatives should be selected on a pro ratâ basis ; but the Minister’s statement has nothing to do with my amendment.
– But, surely I am justified in putting the position from my point of view!
– The Minister has to administer the Act in his official capacity, and not as a producer.
– Whether a Minister represents a mining or a rural constituency is not of any concern, because that does not affect his administration.
– Get on to the others!
– If it is a question whether the Opposition members should have representatives of its own, that is another matter, but to elect them solely as the direct representatives of the consumers - as if they have a monopoly of that representation - is absolutely ridiculous, and could not be supported by past experience. These committees consist of representatives of the people who produce the commodities, and if there is any abuse it must be remembered that their actions are subject to the control of Parliament. I was in control of the Butter Pool for a long period, and during that time 1 never consulted the producers of butter in regard to the price. I have taken independent evidence as to the prices, and presume similar conditions have applied while the Pool has been under the control of Mr. Massy Greene. In selecting a committee to control a Butter Pool, we would not appoint a man engaged in dairying, and in dealing with flax we would not have, as a member of the committee, one engaged in wheat-growing.
-Colonel O’LOGHLIN (South Australia) [6.1]. - The Minister has laboured the principles involved in this amendment. As to how a representative of the consumers should be appointed is a matter of mere detail so long as the consumers are represented. Every one will admit that the producers are the principal ones concerned, but will the Minister say that they are the only ones that should be represented?
– I am as eligible to represent the consumers as the honorable senator is.
– Will the Minister accept the principle?
-Colonel O’LOGHLIN. - It is not absolutely necessary that the consumers’ representatives should be appointed by the Opposition, but the consumers should have representation on the Committee. It does not follow that the price charged for butter is too high or too low.
– The Committee has nothing whatever to do with the fixing of the price.
Senator Lt.-Colonel O’LOGHLIN.But it would be satisfactory to the consumers if they were represented. The amendment moved by Senator O’Keefe is a reasonable one, and I am surprised at the Government opposing it.
– I am sorry the Minister has evaded the main point at issue, and has endeavoured to make it a personal matter.
– The amendment makes it a personal matter by disqualifying me and not the honorable senator.
– If the Minister had hinted that he believed in the principle, it would be an entirely different matter.
– In regard to the fixing of prices?
SenatorO’KEEFE. - The Minister did not even hint that he approved the principle.
– Not in regard to representation on this Committee, but in regard to the fixing of prices under certain conditions.
– He apparently does not believe in the principle, and in endeavouring to cover up his beliefs, has introduced extraneous matter, which has nothing whatever to do with the principle involved in my amendment. The Minister has not answered my statement that nearly all the members of the Committee are more directly interested as producers than as consumers.
– We are all consumers.
– They are producers more than consumers. A man may expend 3s. to 4s. per week in butter, and to that extent be a consumer, but he may also be a producer to the extent of many hundreds of pounds sterling.
– The Butter Pool does not fix the price.
– I am not saying that it does, but I am sure that if the people of Australia had an opportunity of expressing their opinion on this question,, the bulk of them would be behind the principle involved in my amendment. The consumers have a right to representation on the Committee, and whether such representatives are appointed by the Opposition or by the Government does not concern me very much. The Government nominees are generally producers also, and they have double representation.
– I move -
After the word “Government,” in regulation 3, the words “ two representatives of the employees for each of the States of New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland, and one representative of the employees for each of the States of Tasmania and South Australia; such representatives of employees to be nominated by the organization covering such industry “ be inserted.
During the debate the Minister referred to employees in the dairying industry being sweated, and I am moving this amendment with the idea of preventing that. It is generally accepted that .the Austalian Workers Union represents practically the whole of the rural workers in Australia, and that would be a suitable organization to nominate a representative of the employees on the Committee.
– It should not be overlooked that the various Pools are not producing agencies, but are, in effect, selling organizations. The only way to prevent sweating in the dairying industry, ‘if the Australian Workers Union is desirous of taking action, is for that body to urge an increase of the price of butter. I cannot imagine such an advocacy. Whatever profits are made by the Pool go to the producer, less about 2 per cent., representing a charge to meet costs. It might as well be argued that the Australian Workers Union has a right to be represented upon the Wool Pool. Any business which gave to its employees the right to co-operate in regard to the sale of its products would quickly end in disaster.
.- I move-
That the words “ subject to the approval of the Minister “, in regulation 6, be left out.
An important principle is involved here, on which I desire to test the feeling of the Committee. In view of the personnel of the committee of the Dairy Produce Pool it should not be necessary for the Minister to possess the power of veto in regard to the appointment of officers. The control of the affairs of the Pool should be in the hands of the producers’ representatives as far as possible.
– In the early days of the Dairy Produce Pool, when I was Minister in control, the officers were subject to the authority of the committee, and not of the Minister. Experience made it necessary to issue regulations to place those officials under the direct control of the Minister. The Government is responsible for the financing of the Pool. Sometimes a considerable sum is advanced upon a quantity of butter, which may not be shipped until months afterwards. In circumstances such as those, control should be with the Minister. I, personally, refused to accept the risk of officers handling large sums of money unless they , were placed under my authority.
– Following upon the Minister’s explanation, I do not propose to proceed with my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
.- I move-
That the words “ thirtieth day of June, 1020, but shall be eligible for re-election “, in regulation 10, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ expiry of the Act.”
The regulation provides for the reelection of members of the committee on the 30th day of June, 1920. The Act itself expires on the 31st August. The effect of my amendment will be to continue the members of the committee in office for the remaining two months.
– The point raised has already been investigated. It has been decided to issue a regulation which will provide for the committee to remain in office for the two months until the expiration of the Act.
– In the circumstances, I wish to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
– I move-
That the words “ as far as possible “, in regulation 13, be left out.
The omission of the phrase indicated will make it obligatory on the Pool to provide, before exporting any butter or cheese, for the whole of the requirements of the Commonwealth. I can conceive of circumstances in which produce may be exported out of all proportion to the amount which the Commonwealth can spare, as an outcome of which an unfortunate shortage might arise.
– I assure Senator Pratten that there is no need for his amendment. The provision of sufficient supplies of butter and cheese for local consumption is the first object of the Pool. Some time ago I permitted quantities of butter to be exported from Victoria and New South Wales, relying for adequate local supplies on a flush season in Queensland. A serious strike supervened, however, and while there were plentiful supplies of dairy produce at one end of Australia there was a shortage at the other end. The season turned out excellently in Queensland, but butter could not be despatched to Western Australia owing to strike difficulties. The Pool is very careful that only a clearly ascertained surplus shall be exported.
– In view of the explanation of the Minister, I shall not proceed with my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
.- I move -
That regulation 23 be left out.
This regulation reserves to the. Minister complete and autocratic control of the producers’ product, and that is what they object to. The provision is unnecessary, and if it remains in the Bill the producers will be justified in coming to the conclusion that, under certain circumstances, they will have to play second fiddle in regard to the disposal of their own goods.
– I move -
That as the safety and advancement of the Commonwealth demand the adoption of a spirited public policy that will aim at utilizing to the utmost its great advantages of climate, soil, and ample territory; and as the present baneful tendency of the time is to encourage and aggrandize urban life and urban activities at the expense of and injury to rural prosperity; and as a consequence the tide of population has steadily set towards the city to the abandonment of the countryside, and as the wheat industry, which stands out immeasurably over all industries, rural or urban, in providing homes and employment for the greatest number of people, shows signs of arrested development, if not actual decline; therefore the Senate is of opinion that -
Neither the vital needs of the nation nor the highest principles of social or industrial equality require that -
That parent industry should be any longer sweated for the benefit of other industries without countervailing advantage, nor
a vast number of people employed in itshould be condemned to a joyless existence of excessive hardships and ill-rewarded toil, nor
the industry itself should be called upon to contribute an undue share to the upkeep of the nation:
Wherefore in respect to these considerations the Senate is further of opinion that -
to insure a living wage for the wheat cultivators of the Commonwealth; and
to successfully reclaim the immense areas of light and semi-arid soils for which the wheat industry offers the only hope for their profitable utilization; and
to cause a permanent and prosperous peasantry to be rooted in the soil -
The Commonwealth Government should guarantee a fixed minimum of 5s. per bushel at ports of shipment on the exportable surplus for the next five years, with a corresponding value for the quantity required for home consumption ; and
Should the London parity be above or below such guaranteed minimum the National Treasury to be debited or credited to the extent of the difference in each year.
This motion may strike some honorable senators as being, perhaps, rather long; but I may allay any fears by stating that while there may be a few extra words in it, I find it impossible to drop out any, without taking from it some of its significance and weight. Stripped of its necessary preamble, the motion asks the Federal Government to guarantee to the wheat-growers of the Commonwealth for a stated period a certain sum per bushel for their produce; to standardize, or - if I may borrow a word that has been largely used during the war period - to stabilize that industry in this country. It is the chief rural industry, of which, hitherto, little notice has been taken. Since the inception of Federation, the Commonwealth Parliament has instituted inquiries into various industries, but for some reason or other that of wheatgrowing has been studiously passed by. Many activities have been helped by this Parliament and the Government which acts as its mouth-piece. Among those which may be mentioned arc those concerned in the production of coal, cotton, fruit, flax, iron, sugar; shipbuilding; and even the pearling industry, which engages the attention of only a few thousands of people. In connexion with all these activities, exhaustive inquiries have been instituted, but, as I have said, the chief rural industry of the Commonwealth has been overlooked - left to sink or swim as it may. So far as I am concerned, it is not going, to be passed over any longer.
I shall offer a word or two on its behalf to-night. I want honorable senators to understand that it does not appear as a mendicant for justice at the Treasury door, but as a section of our industrial activity which is entitled to get a little of its own back. I am going to ask that the case of the wheat-grower be impartially heard. If. after the most careful scrutiny ‘and impartial inquiry, it be found that the wheat-producer is not entitled to any consideration, then he must stand aside, and not ask for it. In addition to those industries which 1 have mentioned as having been inquired into, attention has also been given to hosts of others, from the making of brass tacks to steam engines, from pin cushions - if they are made in this country - to the manufacture of blankets, and right through the whole gamut of our industrial life. We have heard a lot about profiteering of late, and though much resource and ingenuity have been used in the employment of that word, I do not think that any of those who use it have, even in their wildest stretches of the imagination, dreamed of applying it to the farmer. The farmer, if I may coin a word, is the chief “ lossiteer “ in this country.
– A very good term !
– We have heard so much about the profiteer, that it comes almost as second nature to use the term in relation to many enterprises, and 1 am appearing now for that other genus of mankind - the “lossiteer” - the farmer who, in proportion to his expenditure of effort and anxiety of mind, has been losing more than any other citizen of the Commonwealth that I know of. I appear to-night on behalf of the ill-clad, illhoused, and in an overwhelming number of cases, ill-fed, overworked, underpaid wheat-farmer of the Commonwealth. It is my mission to appear on behalf of the “ lossiteer.” We know, of course, that the functions of government have been widened down the years. Governmentsdo not exist now merely for the purpose of preserving order. They are not merely the keepers of the ring, so to speak, to allow industries free-play within the territories controlled by them. Their function is to see that no industry is made a beast of burden for others, which, I contend, has been the case with that of wheat-growing up to date. The functions of government, therefore, may well be invoked to see that some belated measure of justice is extended to the growers of wheat within the Commonwealth. Any person who inquires into the position of this industry knows that two sets of conditions are pressing very severely upon the wheat-grower, who is in fact, between the upper and the nether mill-stones in our economic life. One mill-stone is the badly-adjusted economic conditions obtaining to-day, and the other, which is just as inexorable in its effect, and just as hard to contend with, is the climatic conditions to which he is more exposed than any other citizen of this country, coupled with the uncertain value which the product of his labour commands. The wheat farmer never knows where he stands and can never calculate his .position with any degree of certainty. He is the unfortunate victim who is between an economic maladjustment and a conspiracy of the forces of uncertain climate and equally uncertain overseas markets. He is pounded between the anvil of a pressure of combined influences working in the false name of progress and the doubtful name of patriotism, and the hammer blows of products of coolie and servile labour in the world’s markets. If patriotism and progress dictated the value of his wheat equally as they do the things he has to buy, then the balance would be fairly poised and the economic dice would not be loaded against him. Jammed as he is between these forces, he does not enjoy the happy conditions of prosperity which other citizens around him are enjoying.
I may be asked what is the proof of this, and it is supplied by the fact that over a series of years ending this year the area in this country under wheat has visibly diminished. The people of this country have a habit of following lines of occupation which yield the best profit. He is only a fool, or a man who does not know his business, who engages in any occupation from which he cannot derive an adequate return for his labour. Here is a business, the oldest known to man, namely, the cultivation of the soil, which, in this country, during recent years, although there are vast areas which have only to be cultivated to yield man’s principal requirements, instead of expanding, is on the decline. The figures in proof of this statement are as follows: -
The outstanding feature of these figures is that since 1915-16 wheat growing in this country, instead of being on the increase, has visibly and rapidly declined from an> acreage in 1915-16 of 12,400,000 to 7,900,000 last year. In other words, the acreage under wheat in Australia was about the same in 1918-19 as it was in 1911-12. These figures show that the fullest inquiry into the condition of this industry is warranted. Many people have given up wheat growing. in the last four years, and their holdings are going to ruin or have been abandoned altogether. These figures are a bulk test, of the prosperity of wheat growing in Australia.
To inform honorable senators of the findings of people who have inquired into the industry, I shall quote the opinions expressed in the reports of Royal Commissions that have dealt with the matter in different States. I shall not detain the Senate long in making these quotations, but if anything could warrant the detention of the Senate, it is surely a reference to an industry which, on the authority of the reports of Royal Commissions, is not in a position creditable to the Government of this country. A Royal Commission was appointed by the New South Wales Government in 1917-18 to inquire into the wheatgrowing industry, and the first quotation I make from its report is as to the profitableness of the industry. The Commission, in its report, sets out a number of figures, and then says - i
Though wheat-growing has been extended in its operations under such returns and prices as indicated, it does not necessarily mean that the operation of wheat-growing has been carried on profitably, lt probably means that farmers on their own holdings have pulled through because of other operations carried on in conjunction with wheat-growing, and by the increase which lias taken place in the value of their lands; and in the case of share-farmers, that they have been able to engage their plants and their labour, ov their labour only, in other forms of occupation in the off season.
The Commission makes a reference to an important phase of the subject, and that is share farming, in these words -
Conditions were better years ago because teams, and machinery, and everything employed in working a farm were cheaper, said one witness.
The report proceeds to quote with approval evidence given to the following effect : -
Share-farming has given a good many men a start in life where the landlords were reasonable, and when land was a lot cheaper than it is to-day. The present share-system conditions are no good. You can quite understand that in the early days very good inducements were offered to men to go on the share-system, but as time went on, and as every one was wanting land on the shares, conditions became worse for men who farmed the land. When I say that conditions are no good at present, I mean they are no good for the share-farmer.
The last quotation I make from this report is as follows : -
The evidence placed before the Commission indicates that share-farming, as at present carried on, does not offer a reasonably quick means of transition to permanent settlement. To reach this end, the way of the share-farmer will usually be found to be slow and arduous, with largely the luck clement, such as a run of . exceptionally good, seasons, to help. (See Mr. J. Thorn’s evidence, question 14575 ) . “ Average condition of share-farming little short of slavery.”
That is the statement that is made in respect of the condition of the industry in one of the chief wheat-growing States of the Commonwealth. I propose, further, to quote from the report of a Commission appointed to inquire into the industry in Western Australia, the latest State to take up wheat production. It backs up the opinion expressed by the New South Wales Commission. There is an old saying that “It is a dirty bird that fouls its own nest. “ That is very strong language, but very expressive, and when we find a New South ‘Wales Royal Commission describing wheat-growing in New South Wales in the terms I have read, we may be sure that the conditions that obtained in that State were quite as bad as they were painted. It is. not a nice thing to publish to the world that the foremost industry is so feeble and limp as to require propping up through the help of another enterprise. A New South Wales Commission would not have gone out of its way to hold up that State to the world as a country in which wheatgrowing is not attractive or profitable. In submitting evidence of this kind, it will be admitted that I am putting unwilling witnesses into the box to prove that in New South Wales this industry has not been helped in the past, and there is every reason why we should come to its assistance now if we can do so.
Prom the re,port of the Commission inquiring into the industry in the western State I make the following quotation: -
Share-farming offers a most useful means of stimulating production with the employment of very little capital, while skilled farm hands, who are now almost unprocurable, can readily find employment in the agricultural areas, at rates of pay which, if the whole truth must be confessed, are often greater than those earned by the average selector.
That is in regard to share-farming, but with respect to the general condition of wheat-growing the Western Australian Commission is more emphatic still. The report says -
While there are undoubtedly many instances where men- are apparently making wheatgrowing pay, it is generally found that in these cases those who are doing so are fortunately situated in regard to labour available from their own family, or are farming exceptionally good land in a thorough manner, and obtaining averages far in excess of those obtained by the majority of farmers.
This is the significant part of the report -
Notwithstanding this, evidence and figures in support thereof given by experienced farmers suggest that even in good districts, with a re- liable rainfall, cereal growing alone is not a profitable occupation, and to be successful must be carried on in conjunction with stock.
As to the social aspect of the calling, it is said -
Farmers’ wives frequently interviewed the Commission, pointing out the wretchedness of the homes in which they and their families lived.
On the question of the payable nature of the industry, honorable senators will expect me to support what I have said with cold figures, and here they are, taken from the report of the New South Wales Commission -
The evidence indicated a measure of agreement by a majority of witnesses on the following items comprised in the operation in producing an acre of wheat and of placing it on rail : -
In addition to that, the Commission tell us that rent, insurance, and depreciation of plant have to be taken into account. Rent for the average New South Wales wheat land amounts to about 7s. per acre. The average agricultural land in New South Wales for wheat-growing is worth about £6 per acre, and 5 per cent, on that gives the- figure I have mentioned for rent. The insurance charge should be at least 2s. per . acre, and it is stated that for a £500 plant for the ordinary farmer ten years’ depreciation should be allowed. If with that plant he can put in 250 acres of wheat per year, he will have done very well according to my experience, and the. probability is that the plant w,ill be exhausted in. value long before the ten years’ period is completed. It is reasonable to add to rent and insurance a charge of depreciation of 4s. per acre. I find that the total cost of working an acre of land for wheat in New South Wales, on the authority of the Royal Commission, is £1 16s. lid.
– They have not allowed for rates and taxes.
– No, and other incidental expenses are not allowed for.
– Have you allowed for a renewal of the working parts of the machinery?
– Yes,’ depreciation to the extent of 4s. per acre, covering plant worth £500.
Dealing with the other side of the ledger account, we are told by the Commission that for the last ten years the average in New South Wales was 11.4 bushels per acre, which, at an average rate, stated as having been received, of 3s. 4d. per bushel, equals £1 18s. 4d. per acre. If we deduct one from the other we’ get a clear profit of ls. 5d. per acre, which is all that is left to the poor unfortunate who has been working his farm from sunrise to sunset all the year round. If we multiply the ls. 5d. by 250 acres, which is a good maximum area for an industrious man to handle, we have the magnificent profit of £17 14s. 2d. for a full year’s work. That clearly proves that at least in New South Wales wheat’ farming has not been a profitable undertaking, standing in proportion to the energy expended and the mental worry borne by those engaged in the work. Extended over a period of ten years until 1917, the prospects have been most disappointing, and instead of talking of profiteers the time has come for us to speak of “ lossiteers,” and to ascertain how these toilers can eke out an existence under circumstances such as those I have quoted. Here is a statement by the Director of Agriculture in South Australia as recorded in the Journal of Agriculture for the month of February of this year -
A sudden drop in the total production of wheat of over 17,000,000 bushels is a staggering blow which- an unfavorable season might easily have dealt us.
– Is he speaking of a natural drop of 17,000,000 bushels?
– Yes, and it is not accounted for by the vagaries of the seasons but a sudden decline in cultivation.
– And that is the smallest percentage decline in any of the States.
– I believe so. Professor Perkins’ statement continues -
No purely agricultural State, such as our own, can afford, with impunity, the steady decline of its agricultural interests; and in South Australia the decline of wheat means the decline of agriculture. Hence, I shall not say that with us the wheat question has now become a national one, because it has never been anything else; but that, as we cannot do without wheat - nay, shall probably require it in greater and greater abundance in the years that are ahead of us - and as the farmer cannot be expected to continue wheat-growing at a probable loss to himself, it behoves the community not only to guarantee the farmer against such loss, but, in addition, to offer him special inducements towards progressively extending our agricultural territory.
– In what year did that decrease occur ?
– I am quoting from the Journal of Agriculture of February of this year, and I presume Professor Perkins was speaking of the 1917-18 season. During the limited time at my disposal I can touch only on the rim of my subject, but I produce a bulky report of a Western Australian Royal Commission which I invite honorable senators to peruse if they feel so inclined, and they will find in the first few pages that eight witnesses who were called to give evidence declared that wheat-growing in Western Australia has not been a payable proposition. Some are so emphatic as to say that it is utterly impossible to carry on wheat growing successfully unless it is done in conjunction with other work. Two hundred and fifty-six questions were asked as to the payable nature of wheat growing in Western Australia; and, as the result of a casual perusal, I lave come across eight witnesses, at random, whose experience ranges from five years to a life-time, who, in answer to questions, submitted, said that wheat-growing in Western Australia was not payable. They are keeping pace, and reconciling their opinions with those expressed by witnesses who appeared before the New South Wales Royal Commission. Their statements are also in accord with the opinion expressed by the Director of Agriculture in South Australia. We hear a lot about a six-hour and eighthour day, but what have been the hours of those who have been engaged in supplying the indispensable of life, without which where would we be?
Here are the statements of farmers in my own State, and- I presume they are in accord with those of farmers in our other wheatproducing States on the subject of the number pf hours a farmer works. Mr. Wilcock, who was the holder of 1,200 acres, and who had been farming for nine years, was questioned in the following manner : -
What would you say, from your experience, was the average period of daily work? - From sunrise to sunset all the year round.
Mr. O’Brien who had been farming for thirteen years on 500 acres, and who had previously been in South Australia, was questioned as under -
What hours do you work? - Sixteen or seventeen hours a day. Some farmers do a bit better than that.
A Mr. Pott, a farmer at Kellerberrin, who had been farming nine years, gave the following evidence: -
Are you satisfied to be on the land? - If .1 had known as much as I know now about farming I do not think I should have ever tackled it. I do not think you get a fair return for the capital put into it. The hours are very long. They are twelve or thirteen hours per day, and there is not much in it when all is said and done.
A Mr. Smith, another farmer of eight years’ experience, in answer to a question, stated -
I reckon the ordinary nian on a farm works on an average ten hours all the year round. He would not do it under ten hours. I know, when I was working myself, some time ago, I was working over twelve hours. That is not reckoning the time taken feeding horses, &c.
Here is the evidence of a Mr. Nicholls, who was born on a farm -
You think 0s. a day of fourteen hours is a fair allowance to make for wages? - No. It should be more like 15s. or 18s. a day; and if you compare the energy which a. farmer has to put in compared with a navvy it should” be more like £1 per day.
The industry cannot afford to pay more, and I am sure it would be prepared to if there was a sufficient margin of profit. There were 390 questions asked as to the hours worked in the wheat-growing industry of Western Australia, and I have culled at random evidence from the first six witnesses, which shows conclusively that the shortest day has been ten hours, exclusive of the time occupied in preparing teams. When these facts are considered it clearly proves that the condition of affairs in the wheat-growing industry is not satisfactory, and not in keeping with the present alleged prosperity of this great Commonwealth of ours. Let the fact le plainly stated. If the whea’t-grower received ls. an hour for his labour bread would be at least double the price. The troubles of the manufacturers and of the seamen have been referred to. I know something about the latter, be- cause I was employed in seafaring for about seven years, but I never felt more exhausted than when working on a farm.
References have been made to other industries, and Commissions have been appointed to’ inquire into protected industries, particularly the textile and iron industries. Investigations have been made from time to time into the conditions associated with our secondary production, but proper inquiry has never been made into the wheat-growing industry.
The Melbourne Age is one of the strongest advocates of Protection, but I . wonder what it has done to improve the position of the farmers in this country. Has it ever drawn attention to the fact that in three years no less than 4,500,000 acres have gone out of cultivation, and that saplings in our Mallee country are growing to a great height? If the Age were true to its traditions as an advocate of those industries that require assistance, it should realize that the farming industry is in a hopeless position at the present time.
– Do you not think that the large number of men who have left Australia during the last four years is responsible to some extent for the decreased area under cultivation I
– That may be a factor, but for the first few years of the war there was an increase. A special effort has been made to induce people to go in for wheat-growing, and I may remind honorable senators of the proposal made by the Government to guarantee a price for wheat to stimulate production.
– That was one of the objects of the Wheat Pool.
– Of course, it. was. While our secondary manufacturers have been on the increase the farming industry has declined. What has happened to those industries of which the Age - and I say so to its credit - was such a staunch advocate in the past? According to Knibbs, the estimated value of manufactures in 1914 was £62,000,000. In 1917, the total estimated value was £69,000,000. The output of manufacturing establishments was on the increase throughout the war years, they having received special encouragement through Tariff rates and bounty payments, whereas the industry which was given no encouragement at all showed a substantial decline. Secondary industries during the war made consider- able advances in point of value of production, whereas the farming industry is in a plight which should make any man pause and think.
X desired to present certain figures regarding the total number of people engaged in producing activities. Unfortunately, the method of census-taking in this country are altogether defective.
We are entirely at the mercy of the policies pursued by the various States. I cannot ascertain how many men are engaged in wheat-growing- throughout Australia, although I know that in Western Australia the particulars are supplied with care and accuracy each year. I am in a position to give the Senate the numbers employed in goldmining, and to present details with regard to various manufacturing interests ; but I am in the dark regarding the numbers employed in farming. The extent of my information is that there are 214,000 persons employed in cultivating; but Knibbs is careful to point out that Queensland statistics are not included in that total. Employees in factories throughout the Commonwealth number
The farmer has to bear his share of the expense of a protective policy. The standard parts of various implements which a farmer uses have been given four forms of encouragement. First, this Parliament agreed to provide a substantial bonus on the manufacture of pig- iron. A further bonus was given to the manufacturers of puddled iron extracted from pig-iron. A bonus was next granted with respect to steel; and, lastly, a substantial duty has been placed upon harvesters, ploughs, and other implements. By the time the farmer has ordered and taken delivery of his harvester, he is bearing a share of four forms of special encouragement given in respect to its components. What does he get for his wheat? Not a brass farthing by way of compensation’ for bearing his portion of all those forms of encouragement. His product is put on the world’s markets, where he has to withstand the blasts of competition from men of almost every colour and nationality in the world. So far, the Australian farmer has managed to hold his own, but it has been by stinting himself and his family, and by living under conditions which other men would not suffer for ten minutes without protestingly shaking the very pillars of heaven itself. The farmer has hung on almost beyond the point of human endurance. Latest reports to hand inform me than the Commonwealth collected, in the form of Customs revenue, about £13,000,000. There are 230,000 people in Australia engaged in cultivation who do not receive one penny as the result of the erection of Australia’s Customs barriers. Take away those barriers, and what would become of the 320,000 persons employed in manufacturing industries ? What would become of the men who have been hoarding big profits during the war ? Take away the Customs barriers, and there would be scarcely a chimney-stack in Australia that would not be sold for old bricks and iron. We must maintain our Tariff barriers in an equitable manner, but, at the same time, we must give a fair deal to the wheat grower.
The most baneful phase of settlement in Australia is the congregation of people in the big cities. With an extraprotective policy looming ahead, the already aggravated situation will become intolerable. The population is moving from the countryside. and the situation every year is’ becoming proportionately worse. The chief industry in this country is not the growing of wool, or the cultivation of wheat at a loss, or the running of our ships at sea on a six -hour day principle, or the growth of parasitic industries which are fattening employers and employed upon Australia’s primary products. The chief industry of the country to date has been the building up of bloated cities around our coast-line to form magnets which exert an unwholesome influence on our people in drawing them from rural pursuits, to the detriment of the interior lands. To-day Sydney holds 41 per cent, of the population of New South Wales; Melbourne houses 50 per cant. of Victoria’s people; Adelaide, 52 per cent, of the South Australian population; Brisbane, 25 per cent, of the people of Queensland ; Hobart, 19 per cent, of the Tasmanians; and Perth, 42 per cent, of the people of Western Australia. The six big cities contain 41^ ‘per cent, of the total population of the Commonwealth. We have heard talk concerning Germany’s industry of war-making. Our chief industry is the expansion of six unhealthy, unwholesome, bloated aggregations of men and women around our coast-line, to the unmeasured injury of the country generally.
– There is no healthier place in the world than Adelaide, with its neighbouring hills.
– There are not many farmers to be found enjoying themselves in that salubrious locality. I have not yet heard of that tenth wonder of the world, themillionaire farmer. Dickens tells us that there is one plot which the farmer needs to cultivate more assiduously than all others, and that that is the round plot lying within the ring fence of his own skull. With due respect to Dickens, I am of opinion that the farmers in this country, if they cultivated that plot over and over again until Doomsday and made it as profitic as that which was fastened upon the shoulders of Edison or Shakspeare, would never become millionaires, or even hold their own against adverse conditions at the present time in this country. In theYear-Book for 1900, I note thatthe six chief cities of the Commonwealth are recorded as housing only 36.3 per cent. of our population. Do we desire to continue this concentration up to a point where the six cities will be holding 60 per cent. and 70 per cent. of our people? The only alternative is to face the situation squarely, and to make the occupation of farming attractive enough to draw the people back upon the land.
I have been to the trouble of consulting the various Ministers of Agriculture throughout the Commonwealth regarding their views upon my motion. Mr. Oman, Minister of Agriculture in Victoria, says -
The effect of the proposal, if carried, would be to substantially increase production, possibly up to 50 per cent.; but at least an increase of 25 per cent. could be depended upon. The pressing necessity to-day is increased production. That can only be accomplished by making the whole of our primary production - especially wheat cultivation - attractive. Uptodate production has been maintained only by family labour, in many cases without reasonable remuneration for services rendered. Ample encouragement will have to be made if rural production is to be increased or oven maintained.
Mr. Grahame telegraphed from New South Wales ;
While not in complete agreement scheme set out your proposal, I feel that same leads right direction.
The South Australian Commissioner of Crown Lands wired -
In my opinion guarantee as suggested would stimulate production and largely increase wheat crops. Impossible give estimated percentage increase.
A final word in reference to the estimated cost of this scheme. I frankly confess that I do not know how much it would cost. But I would remind honorable senators that we are living in a time when the f.o.b. price of wheat is much more than 5s. per bushel. That price is bound to hold for some years. I could, if necessary, quote authorities to show that after every war of importance the price of wheat has not found its level for some time. During the Napoleonic wars the highest price paid for wheat was 15s.10d. per bushel, and it was seven years after the overthrow of Napoleon before the price sagged to 5s. 6d. per bushel, at which figure it had stood before the war began. During the Crimean war wheat touched 7s.10d. per bushel, and it was two years after the termination of that struggle before the price got back to its normal level. After the Russo-Turkish war, three years elapsed before the price of wheat returned to normal. Just as history shows that after these big wars some time passed before the price of wheat got back to its original level, so I believe that now the biggest war on record has been concluded, the price of 5s. per bushel will be maintained for some years in Australia.
– During the FrancoPrussian war the price of wheat was 9s. 3d. per bushel.
– Exactly. I believe that there will be a balance in favour of the Commonwealth Treasury during the next few years. To maintain the proposed guarantee, the Commonwealth may afterwards be involved in liability; but if the giving of that guarantee will add 100,000,000 bushels annually to the wheat yield of Australia, as I have been informed on high authority, upon a basis of 5s. per bushel, it would represent an additional ?25,000,000. Seeing that the expenditure which that guarantee would involve would represent only a sum in the neighbourhood of ?18,000,000, it must be manifest to honorable senators that an investment of the character proposed is one well worthy of adoption. It amounts to spending ?1, or perhaps a little more, for the sake of securing ?7 worth of latent wealth from the soil, inaddition to founding other subsidiary industries as a consequence. The proposal is, in effect, the extension of the country’s adopted policy of protection to Australia’s first industry.Finally, unless something be done to encourage the wheat industry, we shall have the plough receding from the - countryside, and our semi-arid lands laid waste to a far greater degree than they have been previously. Therefore, not merely for the sake of the farming industry, but for the sake of expanding the area under the cultivation of wheat, distributing the population in wholesome fashion, and of holding the scales of justice evenly between industries, I appeal to the Senate to agree to the motion.
– The motion which has been submitted by Senator Lynch outlines the importance of the wheat industry in a manner which must arrest the attention of everybody. It shows that the industry is not one of an ordinary type, but that from the stand-point of the wealth which it produces, and of the number of persons who are engaged in it, it is by far our greatest industry. In this connexion I cannot do better than quote the statement which was made some time ago by Sir Alexander Peacock, when he contrasted the importance of wheat growing with that of gold production in this great gold-producing State of Victoria. He put the matter very pointedly when in 1917 he’ said -
During the last two years we reaped from our wheat-fields more wealth than was ever dug out of the Victorian gold-fields during any two years of our history. The quantity of wheat produced during that period was 110,000,000 bushels, valued at £27,000,000.
These figures show that the importance of the industry has not been in any way exaggerated by Senator Lynch. The honorable senator has properly pointed out that this is the only industry for which the Commonwealth Parliament has done nothing. It is the one industry in Australia which has been neglected. With the exception of one inquiry by a Royal Con mission into the manufacture of agricultural implements, nothing has ever been done on” its behalf. Even on that occasion the aim of the Commission was directed chiefly to ascertaining the conditions which existed in a secondary industry. Senator Lynch has shown that during the past two years there has been a decline in the area of land under wheat cultivation aggregating, approximately, 3,000,000 acres. When we look at the figures relating to each State we cannot fail to note how great has been that decline. For instance, in New South Wales during the period mentioned there has been a decline of 15 per cent., in Victoria - the greatest wheat-producing State of the Commonwealth - of 14 per cent., in Queensland of 35 per cent., in South Australia of. 15 per cent., in Western Australia of 20 per cent., and in Tasmania of 16 per cent. If this decline continues we may reasonably ask ourselves how we are going to meet the great financial responsibilities which have been forced upon us during the past five years of war. During that period something like £400,000,000 has been spent on war alone. What our responsibilities will be in the future I cannot estimate. But we know that we have a large number of maimed men returning to our shores, and that it is an obligation on the nation to maintain them for the rest of their lives, and to look after their welfare. We know, too, that on account of the ravages . of war the number of our wealth producers has been materially reduced. Recognising these facts, the question arises, “ How are we go:ng to meet our responsibilities in the future?” We cannot export anything which is produced by our manufacturers. To compete on the world’s markets with the products of any of our secondary industries is quite impossible. We can look only to the wheat-grower, the gold-producer, and the timber-getter for articles which we can place on the markets of the world. How can we stimulate production in these commodities ? The cry must be for a larger production than we have ever known. Unless something is done by this Parliament to make our primary industries produce more than they have produced hitherto, we shall have a very unsatisfactory state of affairs in our public finances. Something must be done to lighten the load at present resting on the shoulders of the wheat-growers, if our expectations as to an increase in production are to be realized in the near future. If the industry declines, as indicated by Senator Lynch’s figures, the Commonwealth will be in for a bad time in a few years.
I should like to say a few words on the question of profiteering, which, we are told, is being practised by the shopkeeper, the merchant, and the warehouseman in Flinders-lane. I think that it is possible to find a fair amount of profiteering in. some of our big industries. Coal-mining representatives in another place have on several occasions lately suggested that the Government should stop the export of wheat, meat, and other commodities, so that the people they represent may be able to live a little cheaper than at present. But I remind the Senate that the principal industry in the constituency represented by these honorable members is profiteering to a greater extent than perhaps any other industry of the Commonwealth, so that the honorable members referred to should have been more careful before they talked about stopping exports in order to prevent profiteering. If, as I can prove profiteering is being indulged in in the i cal trade, and that this has been made possible by a combination of employers and employees, honorable senators will realize that a strange state has been reached in the affairs of Australia.
– I am afraid I cannot allow ihe honorable senator to proceed on those lines. I do not see a reference to the subject he is referring to in tha motion before the Senate.
– I intended, Mr. President, to refer to what is going on in the coal trade by way of illustration, and in order to show the necessity for lessening the load that at present rests upon the wheat-growing industry. Those who control the coal and iron trade produce articles that are required by the wheat-growers, and I maintain that I am in order if I can show that because of the position in those two industries an extra load is placed upon our wheat-growers. The enormous price being charged for coal in Australia is undoubtedly a load upon every other industry. It certainly is a load upon the wheat-growers. Coal is supplied at the ship’s side, Newcastle, at 18s. per ton ; that is altogether too much. The railways of Australia, all our manufacturing industries, in fact almost every activity in the land, is to some extent being bled for the benefit of that particular industry. A good deal of profiteering is undoubtedly going on in the coal trade, because we have had reports in the press from time to time of coal-miners averaging as much as £2 per man per day. Nothing like that wage can be earned in the wheatgrowing industry for a week’s work. The Arbitration Court scale of wages for boys at fourteen years is 5s. 2d. per day, and at twenty years the rate of 12s. lOd. is paid. Yet cheaper bread is demanded for these well-paid employees and the mineowners, who are fleecing all coal consumers in Australia.
If wheat-growing is to be made attractive and successful, we must either be prepared to pay a great deal more for our wheat in future, or cheap labour must be available. Unless the Government come »to the assistance of growers, either by paying a bounty or some other method, I cannot see how the industry can be continued. Precedents are not lacking for the payment of bounties. This form of encouragement has been applied to cotton-growing, seisal hemp, jute, linseed, rice, coffee, tobacco, dried fruits, pig iron, puddled bar iron, steel, galvanized sheet-iron, wire netting, iron’ and steel tubes, combed woollen tops, preserved fish, shale oil, and, some years ago, for sugar production. These are precedents which the Government might well follow in respect of wheat-growing. Unless some help is furnished to wheat-growers I entertain no hope of extending the industry. If, unfortunately, it declines, it will, undoubtedly, react unfavorably upon a large number of men who find fairly remunerative employment in the agricultural machinery industry, for, with the disappearance of the wheat-grower, there will be no work for them. The wheat lumper also secures profitable employment from wheat-growing, his minimum fixed wage being 2s. per hour for day work, although the farmer, who grows the wheat, may not get a return of ls. per hour. Men employed on our railways also receive good wages for the handling of wheat. The only men who get a miserable return are those who produce the wheat - the primary producer, but for whose efforts the others would not be required at all. If we are not prepared to pay a fair price for our. wheat, we must institute a state of affairs that was abolished some years ago in connexion with the sugar industry. If wheat production in this country is to he a sweated industry, so far as the primary producer is concerned, we should not expect it to be produced by white labour. There are plenty of kanakas in the South Seas, and there are plenty of Chinese, to he had. We ought to be honest with our wheat- growers and indicate that, if we expect them to produce wheat at a low price, coloured labour will be made available. We should not make slaves or serfs of our white fellow men. There has been a great deal of talk about putting soldiers on the land. What a poor compliment it would be to ask them to undertake the business of wheat production under present conditions!
Something should also be done in the Mother Country, where most of our wheat is marketed. Some years ago we gave preferential treatment to British manufacturers, and we expected then that there would be some reciprocity, but, so far, there has been no response in any shape or form. Any commodity produced here, and placed on the British market, has to compete with that from any other country in the world. For instance, our wheat reaches England at about the same time as grain from the Argentine Republic, which, during the late war, was not an Ally, but was one of the few neutral countries. We might reasonably ask British politicians whether there is to be any reciprocity in trade between Australia and the Old Land, or whether this idea of Empire is merely an empty phrase. If there is no friendship in our relations with the Old Land, the prospect of the future for the Empire ideal is not very favorable. In my opinion, it
Would be a reasonable request to make that the British Parliament should remove the handicap which our products have to bear because of the high cost of freight from Australia to the Old Country. We might say that we have no desire to impose a great burden upon the people of the Old Land, but seeing that we are children of the Empire, and that we sent 400,000 men to fight alongside the soldiers of the Motherland, she might respond by giving some preference to our products in her markets. She might at least make good the disadvantage under which our products suffer in her markets as compared . with the products of the Argentine or other neutral countries, which have such a great advantage over us in the matter of freight. From what I learned while I was in England, I honestly believe that the British Parliament would accede to such a request. I had an opportunity of meeting quite a number of prominent politicians in the Old Land, and they received such a proposal from me very favorably. When I pointed out that in the past Australian products in the markets of the Old Country were on the same basis as German products, they were horrified. When I asked that they should put the products of the overseas Dominions of the Empire in a better position as compared with the products of other countries, on every occasion I met with a favorable response from those to whom I spoke. I trust that the motion will be carried by a majority sufficient to indicate the sincerity behind it, and to give the Government encouragement to approach the Imperial authorities and ask them to do something in the direction I have indicated. In the meantime we must do something ourselves, and I commend the proposal to guarantee 5s. per bushel for wheatgrowers as the best solution of the problem.
– There can be no doubt that a discussion such as this is beneficial to ourselves. It will, I hope, be beneficial to the Ministry. Certainly it will be informative to the country, and ultimately will, I trust, be, as intended by the mover of the motion, beneficial to the farmer. Senator Lynch stated the position very ably and exhaustively. The real trouble of the farmer is that he is not getting an adequate return for the labour he puts into the production of his crop. That being so, we who are preaching increased production, and are aware that that only oan pull Australia out of the financial morass in which we now are, have only one course to follow, and that is to encourage production to the utmost . of our power.
Already a guarantee exists in connexion with wheat production that has been given by the Commonwealth Government and also by the New South Wales Government.
– Jointly by the Commonwealth and State Governments.
– It is a guarantee of only 4s. per bushel at country stations, or 4s. 4d. per bushel less freight. Senator Lynch has stated clearly that the average crop, in view of the higher cost of production to-day, cannot pay the farmer at the guaranteed rate of 4s. per bushel. Wheat-growing in Australia is declining, not so much through the absence of labour, and not so much because of the high prices which may be obtained for meat and wool, and because the industry as at present carried on is not payable.
Another point that has struck me in connexion with the debate is that of all our rural industries wheat-growing creates a yeomanry, and the greater the number of that yeomanry we can settle in Australia the greater will be the stability of our institutions. That is proved by the position in the United States of America to-day. In that country there are millions of producers on the land, and the stability of the United States of America is thereby assured. Speaking from memory, I think the average value of pro- duction in Australia is somewhere about £37 or £40 per head of the population, and as all wealth comes from the. land at the beginning, if we could increase that production 100,000 times or 200,000 times we could then keep another 100,000 or another 200,000 persons in addition to our present population. I consider that the proposal submitted by Senator Lynch is a practical one, and requires only a. little courage on the part of the Government to launch it. I believe that the present position of the world is such that the Commonwealth Government would run very little, if any, risk in giving effect to it. Senator Lynch has said that in Victoria, under such a proposal, wheat-growing would be stimulated to the extent of not less than 25 per cent.
– That is so.
– Without delaying the Senate too long, I say that, by carrying Senator Lynch’s proposal into effect, Australia has everything to gain and nothing to lose. I believe that every extra bushel of wheat, every extra ounce of gold, pound of wool, or carcass of mutton added to the total of our production must strengthen our position immeasurably, and be for the benefit of the community generally. It is the object of the motion to give help to a section of the community that is very hard hit. Senator de Largie has said that if we stimulate this industry we help each other; and I submit that there is no class in the community more worthy of the assistance which the carrying out of Senator Lynch’s motion will give them than the wheat-growers of Australia. There is not one of our primary or secondary industries more worthy of help than is the wheat industry. I support the motion heartily, because I believe that, if given effect, it will be for the benefit of the country. I hope that it will help the Government to make up their minds to face the position and grasp the nettle courageously. Shipping freights will rapidly come down, and with their diminution our wheat will be worth more per bushel f.o.b. Australian ports. I believe that the price of wheat in the centres of consumption in the Old World will not for a long time fall to the low rates of the past. In my opinion, the Commonwealth Government would not run very much, if any, financial risk if they guaranteed to the wheat farmers the price for their crop which Senator Lynch suggests, whilst the compensating advantages to the Commonwealth would be overwhelming.
Debate (on motion by Senator Russell) adjourned.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from page 12035) :
– I have moved that regulation 23 be left out. As it contains a very vital principle in connexion with the- control of the Dairy Pool, I should like to know what the Minister has to say about it.
– I trust that honorable senators will not agree to strike out regulation 23. There is a good deal of money, involved in connexion with this Pool. It is not like the Wool Pool, where the Government get the money as soon as the wool is sold. Butter is paid for only on shipment, and the Government have to stand out of the money for the benefit of the Pool from the time butter is put into the stores until it is shipped. With a large amount of money involved, running into some millions, the control of the Pool should be by a Minister responsible to this Parliament. The power given under the regulation has never been exercised. The Committee act in an advisory capacity only, and responsibility for transactions must rest with the Minister. The regulation is one which I introduced myself when in control of the Pool, because of its necessity.
– Is there any Government money at all involved in connexion with the Dairy Pool?
– Yes; we advance money on butter from ‘the time it goes into the stores until shipment.
– Do not the Government get the money from the British Government ?
– Not until shipment. The moment butter is put into the stores, and the grader’s certificate and other documents are handed in, the producer can go straight to the Commonwealth Bank and draw his money. The Government can only collect upon shipment to the order of the British Government. We stand out of the money for the benefit of the Pool for an average period of from two and a half to three months. I ask Parliament not to give away control of the Pool, but to have it under the direction of the Minister directly responsible for the actions of the Committee.
– A good deal has been said by representatives of the dairying industry about a permanent organization to control the industry by cooperative effort in the direction of eliminating a lot of the excrescences of the past. The butter producers agree with the principle, but they want as little Government interference as possible. These regulations practically make the Minister supreme over the work of the Pool under any circumstances, and the producers should be informed of the exact position. The regulations give the Minister supreme power whether the Government are financing the Pool or not.
– The Bill has nothing to do with any pools other than those controlled by the Government.
– I know the Minister will pardon me for suggesting that, after the Bill has expired, there is a probability of the regulations being taken as a basis for carrying on the dairying industry on co-operative lines.
– There may be, but they will die with the Bill.
– I am justified in putting the position before the Minister, because I am a representative of a
State largely interested in the dairying industry. I see the resolutions that are passed from time to time, and I have a right to make representations to the Government in connexion with a Pool of this character. The butter producers in New South Wales want as little Government control as possible, and the fullest possible co-operative control left to themselves.
– And if they get into trouble they immediately run to the Government.
– I do not think that is a fair observation to make, as they have not been in trouble during the past six years. The dairying industry on the north coast of New South Wales has been very prosperous. I moved my amendment, and consider I have done my duty by pointing out to the Government what I consider the true position. If the Minister will not agree to the suggested elimination, I ask leave to withdraw my amendment.
– The Butter Pool is unlike the Wool Pool, which consists of wool-growers who want little or no help, but who wish to derive the benefits of co-operation with the Government. The wool-growers’ product is sold, and they receive their money, but, in the case of the farmers, there is a long period during which the butter has to be stored, and the producers financed by the Government. The Butter Pool is organized and financed by the Government. On the completion of this contract, this Bill will cease to operate, and the future of the industry will be determined by the farmers. Mr. Massy Greene, the Minister in charge of the Butter Pool, has made proposals for greater co-operation amongst the farmers, but the form it will take will be largely determined by the producers. If they organize under cooperative principles of control and finance, the Government will not interfere if they wish to do their own work. But if they need financial assistance, the Government will not. agree unless their operations are directly under the control of a Minister of the Crown. Even if the poolingsystem is continued in Australia, it is more than likely that Great Britain, which is hastening back to normal conditions, will not be prepared to market collective purchases. We must not confuse any future pooling system with the provisions of this Bill, which is merely to carry out existing contracts.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
– I wish to draw the attention of the Committee to regulation 27, which provides that the accounts of the Committee shall be audited from time to timeby the Auditor-General, or a person appointed by him. Farther on, it will he found that a different system of auditing is provided in connexion with the Wool Pool.
Schedule agreed to.
Second schedule -
The War Precautions (Wool) Regulations. 3. ( 1 ) The Central Committee shall consist of a Chairman and of eight numbers. . . . 10. (1) No person shall sell any wool or tops except through or to or with the consent of the Central Wool Committee. . . .
The consent of the Central Wool Committee, under this Regulation, may be evidenced by a certificate . . .
SenatorLt. -Colonel O’LOGHLIN (South Australia) [9.48]. - I move -
That the word “eight” in regulation 3 be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ eleven.”
My object in moving the amendment is to increase the number of members of the Committee from eight to eleven to enable the employees to have representation. This principle has been tested on two or three occasions during the passage of the Bill through Committee, but there is a much stronger case for the proposal on this occasion. I am not under the delusion that the Committee has power to deal with the conditions and hours of labour, but the Committee is a large employer of labour, and has to settle such questions as the appraising of wool from the time it is forwarded to the Pool until it is in a marketable condition and disposed of. The Committee indirectly employs a number of men, and it seems only fair that thoseemployees should have representation. There is a similar Committee in London, known as the Wool Council, where labour is represented. In the wool letter inthe Age of 20th August, a referenceis made to a discussion before the Wool Council, wherein the Labour repre sentatives made important recommendations. They suggested that the auction system should be abandoned,and the control of the trade from the raw material to the finished product should be in the hands of the Government. They also advocated the Committee of Inquiry, and after debate the proposals of the employees’ representative were rejected only by a small majority. We all favour democratic legislation, and consider we have been in advance of older countries. If they give Labour representation, surely we should do something similar here. To show there has been need for the representation of Labour on the Committee - there have been some difficulties between theCommittee and its employees only recently - I may mention that in June last the Central Wool Committee stopped the supply of wool for sorting and scouring pending the settlement of the strike. A deputation of employees waited upon Sir John Higgins, who appears to be the whole Committee, and who absolutely refused to even hear them. If the Committee had had Labour representatives on it, I amsure the Chairman would not have acted in such an autocratic manner. The employees placed their case before the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt), and as a result of their representations the embargo was removed, and permission given for wool to be supplied to firms which could obtain power without using black coal.
– Did the Acting Prime Minister oppose Sir John Higgins?
.- It was as a result of an interview with the Acting Prime Minister that the embargo was removed, and some hundreds of men, including returned soldiers, who had been thrown out of employment, were reengaged. Surely that is a strong argument in favour of my amendment. The report of the Whitley Commission shows that in the Old Country the tendency is to give labour representation in connexion with these industries.
– It does not give them power to sell another man’s goods.
.- A Committee has also been appointedin connexion with the Victorian Railways Department, on which the employees are represented. My proposal is a fair one, and as a first step, I trust it will be adopted.
– As I have previously indicated, the Government are not prepared to accept an amendment of the regulations, because they are not new. They have been in existence for some time, and have had the special approval of the British Government, who have asked that, if possible, no alteration shall be made, because they are working satisfactorily, and are clearly understood at the other end.
-Colonel O’Loghlin. - Satisfactory to whom ?
– To the British purchasers, and to the Allies co-operating with them.
– Does the Minister say that the Director-General of Raw Materials has seen the regulations and approved of them?
– Yes. He has cabled asking the Wool Committee, if possible, not to make any alterations, seeing that the parties interested on the other side of the world now thoroughly understand the working arrangements.
– That request was based upon general principles, but not upon the details of the regulations themselves.
– Upon principles and on the regulations themselves. There i.3 no clause in the Whitley report which recommends that employees shall be placed upon any Committee having to do with the sale of an employer’s products. If honorable senators desire to abolish private ownership, let them do so in a straightforward manner, and not by way of an amendment to this Bill. An employee has no legal right to participate in the control or sale of his employer’s productions. It is true that there are workers’ representatives on the British Wool Committee; but there is a vital difference between that body and the Australian Committee. The Central Wool Committee of the Commonwealth is a selling organization. In England there is no representative of the workers upon the body which buys our wool. The English Committee has to do with the distribution of the wool.
I am not here to defend Sir John Higgins, but he has rendered magnificent service to Australia during the war, and in an honorary capacity. ‘Personally, I am of the opinion that he should be paid for his services. Every man is worthy of his hire. Sir John Higgins has been inspired by patriotic motives. It has been recalled this evening that a deputation of employees waited on Sir John Higgins, following upon a labour dispute; and ithas been said that he despotically turned them down. I congratulate him on his discretion in handling the situation. Ho made no attempt to accept the role of arbitrator in a labour dispute.
-Colonel O’Loghlin. - Those were his own employees.
– They were nob his own employees.
– The employees of the Committee.
– They were not even the employees of the Committee. Eventually those aggrieved employees found their way to the right source; they approached the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt), and he satisfactorily settled the trouble.
The principle underlying this amendment has already been discussed and rejected to-day. I appeal to Senator O’Loghlin, therefore, not to press his amendment.
.- The Minister has suggested that the sole function of the Wool Committee is to sell wool. Its functions have included storing, and erection of buildings, as well as the stealing of the people’s parks. A certain playground set apart for little children in one of the slum areas of Sydney was taken away by the Wool Board. Had there been representatives of Labour on the Committee, the poor people of the neighbourhood concerned would not have lost their children’s playground, which, in a’ crowded area, was sorely needed during the prevalence of the influenza epidemic which was raging a few months ago, and which swept away from there more lives than from any other locality. I do not say that Sir John Higgins ha3 failed to render yeoman service to Australia during the Avar, but he has taken to himself an autocratic power even above Government and Minister. The principle of representing employees upon bodies such as the Wool Committee is sound. The Government of New South Wale3 has adopted it in their Board of Trade. Two direct representatives of trade unions have seats on that Board, and when the Board to inquire into the cost of livingin farming districts was appointed, two representatives from the Australian Workers Union, and two from the farmers and settlers’ body were made members of it. The system of labour representation on Boards of this description has been adopted by Britain, America, France, and Italy. Yet Senator Russell describes the amendment as impertinent.
Senator Lt.-Colonel O’LOGHLIN (South Australia) [10.5]. - In his criticism of my statements, Senator Russell has indulged in hair-splitting. Does the Minister suggest that the Central Wool Committee has nothing to do with the preparation of wool for the market?
– It is concerned in the sale, storage, and transport of wool.
And its preparation for market.
– The Committee ap praises the wool, but it is handled on contract by the wool companies usually engaged in such work. The employees concerned are not under the control of Sir John Higgins.
Senator Lt.-Colonel O’LOGHLIN.Then why did they wait upon him ?
– I do not know. They certainly waited upon the wrong party.
The Committee indirectly employs numbers of men, and it is in the interests of these employees that I have moved my amendment.
.- Honorable senators opposite cannot justify their arguments. They are mixing the duties of industrial arbitration Boards with the functions of selling Committees. The Wool Committee employs only a few clerks. It represents the pastoralists as a whole. Those companies which have acted as representatives of pastoral interests in the past have their own staffs of employees engaged in appraising the wool, and all the handling and packing is done by the companies, as has always been the practice.
– They do the storing and handling, but the appraisers are the direct employees of the Central Wool Committee.
– The companies have their own appraisers, and the one set checks the work of the other. The Wool Committee employs no direct labour. The men who waited on Sir John Higgins made a mistake in believing that he could do something for them which he had no power to do.
– The Central Wool Committee employ the clerical staff that is necessary at their office, but not the whole of the clerks who are engaged upon work connected with the industry. The great bulk of the work is done by the wool houses, which were in existence prior to the establishment of the Committee. Those houses collect the wool, store it, and prepare it for appraising, just as they have always done. But instead of auction sales taking place as they did previously, appraisers now go round and appraise the wool. There are three representatives employed in this connexion, one representing the selling broker, and another representing the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth appraiser in all cases is the direct employee of the Central Wool Committee. The scouring and fellmongering work is done on commission by the British Government, but the employers and employees are quite independent of the Central Wool Committee. In regard to the conditions of labour, the Committee has no control over them in any shape or form. Senator McDougall has stated that the Central Wool Committee sold a public park. Personally, I would be no party to depriving the people of a park for any purpose whatever. I believe that a park was secured for the Central Wool Committee for the erection of a temporary shed to meet the war rush which occurred. But that park was not taken by the Committee, whose members have no power to acquire a single foot of land in opposition to the will of the people. I am not clear whether the Commonwealth exercised its powers under the Property for Public Purposes Acquisition Act, but certainly that Act does not permit, save in very exceptional cases, the acquisition of a public park.
– I asked for the production of the papers, but could not get them.
– In that case, the Government are responsible, and not the Central Wool Committee. The Committee has no powerto requisition a foot of land from anybody.
– That makes the matter all the worse. They took the land.
– If the Government took the park in question for the Central Wool Committee, it must accept responsibility for its action. But there is no power on the part of the Committee to acquire a foot of land from any individual except by the ordinary method of purchase. I hope I have made it quite clear that only the appraisers and the clerks in the Central Office are the direct employees of the Central Wool Commit tee.
– I desire to direct attention to regulations 2, 5, and 6. There are ako several other regulations which practically give the Prime Minister supreme control in connexion with the administration of the Central Wool Committee. The chairman of that body is subject to his orders, and consequently I take it that the Government are responsible for everything that the Central Wool Committee does.
Senator Lt.-Colonel O’LOGHLIN (South Australia) [10.16]. - I move -
That the following new sub-regulation be added to regulation 10 : - “ (3) The Central Wool Committee shall make arrangements to enable bona fide country wool buyers to purchase wool to an amount equal to the average of wool purchased by them during the three years prior to the war.”
Prior to the war, and the constitution of the Central Wool Committee, a number of wool merchants in country places established warehouses, and entered into contracts with the small wool-growers to buy their product. This was a great convenience to farmers with 400 or 500 sheep and a few bales of wool to eel], because it enabled them to get their ready money, and it possessed a further advantage in that it avoided the payment of the higher rate of commission, which is ordinarily charged on the sale of small lots of wool. Whereas the commission upon wool up to £200 value is 2J per cent., the rate upon larger amounts is only 1£ per cent. Upon small lots a classification charge of Ad. per lb. is also made. These charges fall entirely on the small grower-, and impose upon him disabilities to which he should not be subjected. My amendment contemplates, not that country buyers shall enter largely into the purchase of wool, and thus interfere with the operations of the Central Wool Committee, but that they shall have permission to buy to the same extent as they did during the three years immediately preceding the war. If the farmers could co-operate among themselv.es and pool their wool, that course might be preferable. But, as we all know, they are scattered throughout the country, and it is difficult for them to organize. Hitherto that difficulty has been met by these buyers in country places establishing warehouses in central positions and arranging with the small farmers to purchase their clips. I understand that there is a very strong agitation among the small wool-growers to be allowed to continue that system. Only this evening Senator Lynch submitted a motion in the interests of the farmers of the Commonwealth, and this amendment follows upon the same lines. I therefore commend it to the Committee for their acceptance.
Motion (by Senator Millen) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
.- The other day I complained of our postal service. I stated that a letter which I had addressed from this Parliament to Bathurst did not reach its destination for four days. However, I did not worry about that. But on Friday last I mentioned the hardship imposed on the parents of a dead soldier. On the 19th inst. .a letter, explaining the whole of the circumstances, was posted to me from the Technical College, Sydney, by Mr. Hibble. That letter has not yet reached me. I wired to Mr. Hibble to let him know that I had not received his communication. I have now received his reply, but not his previous letter. This matter should certainly be inquired into. Mr. Hibble wrote me the day after ho had had an interview with me in Sydney, and he now says that “Webster’* machine has gone astray again.” I told the Minister then that I would obtain full. particulars of this case. Those particulars are set out in the following letter from Mr.Hibble:-
Dear Senator McDougall,
Tremain has shown me your telegrams. I am sorry about the matter, but I wrote you the day after our interview in Sydney, and addressed the letter the same as this. Webster’s machine has gone astray again. I do hope you do not think me a worry over the matter, but I do like to get satisfaction. Full particulars over the leaf.
The facts are -
This lad was from England, and enlisted here. When going, he made a will at my suggestion, not to me but to my accountants, as I was too busy to attend to all the lads who wanted to do the same. He has paid the final sacrifice. I have settled up his estate and sent what money was coming to his old people in England. One of my boys, when there, called upon thorn’ at my suggestion, and found that they are all alone, practically pensioners upon a former employer. After sending the poor lad’s money and jewellery to his old people, I find he has a trunk and portmanteau full of things he has picked up in his journey round the world, and the sentimental value to his old parents cannot be estimated. 1 want them to got them, but do not feel disposed to pay myself. I asked the Military in Sydney, and they replied that they will only send such things as jewellery, Bible, &c., up to 11 lbs. This is no good, for I have sent these. What I want is to send the other things, which weigh about 2 cwt. Had this poor lad lived it would have cost a good sum to bring him back again, but when one asks for a few shillings’ expense such as I have theyobject. Surely the Federal Government will not expect the good name of Australia to be kept green if they cannot help in the way of sending this poor fellow’s things home to his parentsin one of the Federal Fleet.
They are the facts, and I hope the Minister will do something in this matter, because there are many other similar cases, and it would cost the Government practically nothing to do what is asked.
– Most regretfully, at this late hour, do I rise to put before the Senate some alleged facts which I think constitute a case for Ministerial consideration. Honorable senators know that it is not my habit to address them frequently on motions for the adjournment. I hope, therefore, they will bear with me for a few minutes. It was not until this evening that I had the remotest idea I would be called upon to ventilate the matters upon which I am about to speak. I understand that had Senator Fairbairn not been prevented by illness, he would have been in his place to-day, and would have addressed some inquiries to the Minister representing the Government in the matter, on the subject of one of the regrettable strikes which have been sofrequent in the industrial life of Australia of late - I refer to the strike of 1917. During that period of industrial unrest, an organization of loyalist workers came into being to assist in carrying on activities that were interrupted by that unfortunate strike. That organization was designated the Original Loyalists’ Organization of Australian Ship and Wharf Workers. So mutable are human affairs, that a little time ago a certain section - a small section, I understand - of the organization seceded, and in its turn claimed to be the inheritor and repository of the traditions of the original organization.I want honorable senators to understand that I am not making any charge against the Minister. I am simply putting what are alleged to be facts before the Senate. When I undertake to make any charge in respect of facts for which I am personally responsible, I venture to say that it will be found that what I allege to be facts will be sustained by the common sense of honorable senators. In this case, Ido not accept responsibility for the allegations which, nevertheless, I am called upon to make public. I think they should be ventilated. This morning I received a communication to the effect that Mr. Baker, secretary of that section - the largest section, I understand - of the loyalist organization, heard that a conference, presided over by the Minister, was to be held to-day, but his organization had received no intimation of this proposed conference, at which he thought it should be represented. This evening, Professor Rentoul and Mr. W. C. Harte (vice-president of the original loyalist organization), accompanied by Mr. E. S. Watts (president), made certain statements to me. It is beyond all doubt that Professor Rentoul has been busying himself recently in collecting very substantial sums of money to assist the original loyalists of 1917. who, like other members of the community, were in distress during the recent regrettable seamen’s strike. I believe that Professor Rentoul and those associated with him have already distributed several thousands of pounds which have been collected.
– Is that the Mr. Hart associated with the other organization?
– It appears there are two “ Hartes “ but they do not beat as one, and there are two souls but not souls with but a single thought. The Mr. Harte with whom Professor Rentoul is associated spells his name with a final “ e “, and Mr. Hart, who has seceded from the original loyalist organization spells his name without the final “e”. It is claimed for that section represented by Mr. Harte that they were deserving of representation at the conference, which, I understand, took place to-day. The statement made to me is that, although the seceding Mr. Hart, and Mr. A. E. Singleton, otherwise known as Nicholas (secretary), who is associated with him, were in truth members of the original loyalist association ; when they seceded they took with them not more- than seventy - it is claimed by some, 170 - members of the original body. Mr. Harte,- Mr. Watts, and Professor Rentoul assert tha*t the remaining association numbers at least 700 members, but that the seceding section, representing not more than 170, has been given official recognition at the conference.
– By whom ?
– By the Government. That is the statement boiled down. It appears that the Government, represented by the Minister, made a most laudable attempt to settle the dispute, and addressed certain questions, which assumed the form of suggestions, to the gentlemen who made the complaint to me to-day. These were as follow: -
– They admit having received those suggestions. Does that look as if they were being ignored ?
– No, but they claim that they were ignored in regard to to-day’s conference. The following were the replies to the suggestions placed before them by Mr. M. L. Shepherd, Secretary to the Prime Minister’s Department, on Friday, 8th August -
I was told by Mr. Watts this evening that the community, and particularly the people of Tasmania, are under a considerable debt of gratitude to members of their organization for the reason that more than 200 men have been engaged upon such work as was allowed to proceed at the waterside. They provided the firemen and trimmers for the Rotomahana and the Wainui, two vessels that were available to repatriate Tasmanian soldiers to the number of pretty well a battalion, who were stranded in Melbourne during the earlier weeks of the seamen’s strike. Whatever may be the internal cause of the quarrel between the two sections of the loyalists organization, it does seem strange on the face of it that the more numerous section should not have had official recognition at the conference. These people are looked down upon by a certain section of the community as industrial seceders from grace, but I am going to say that a very great deal of moral courage was exhibited by them when they came to the rescue of the community in a time of strife, just as they came to the rescue of the Tasmanian soldiers, who were thus enabled, two months ago, to return to their own State. I want the Minister to clearly understand that I do not make myself responsible for the accuracy of these representations. They were made to me by Professor Rentoul, by Mr. Watts, and by Mr. Harte, and I think they call for Ministerial explanation.
[10.401. - I have looked at the documents which Senator McDougall referred to, and will pass them along in order that the necessary inquiries may be made.
With regard to the matter which Senator Bakhap has brought under notice, while I take no exception to his bringing it forward, I do take exception to the action of those who prompted him.It seems to me an almost unpardonable thing for men who have a grievance against a Minister not to first make quite clear where they stand by bringing the matter under the notice of the Minister concerned. There is a growing tendency for men to immediately solicit the offices of a member of either House of this Parliament, and launch their grievance publicly, without bringing it before the Minister concerned, and discovering whether there may not have been some oversight on their part. They secure the services of some member of Parliament, and launch what is more or less a criticism or attack on a public Department.
I shall give the Senate as briefly as I can a few facts in connexion with this matter. The Government did not give any promise to any association; they gave a promise to individuals. They gave a promise to the men who responded to the invitation to come forward at a time when the country needed their help, and that promise the Government will endeavour to carry out. But they did not give a promise to those men who, after the trouble was over, came in and sought to reap where they had not sown by joining certain organizations.
– Is the honorable senator sure that the men in the association referred to by Senator Bakhap did not come forward at the critical period in 1917.
– Some of the men in that association joined up only after all the trouble was over. Those men are seeking to get the benefit of the undoubted services which other men rendered, but the Government acknowledged no obligation to them at all. The men who volunteered their services when their assistance was solicited did render service, and the Government acknowledged an obligationto them. In order to identify them, I will say that the men who were termed loyalists, and came forward to help at the critical time, obtained preference. In order to get the benefit of that preference other men afterwards joined the organization, and, in my view, they are not entitled to any consideration whatever.
– Has Mr. Dethridge made any statement in connexion with this matter?
– I prefer not to discuss Mr. Dethridge’s report until it is tabled. I am giving the result of my own personal investigations into the matter. So far as these two bodies are concerned, it is true that that represented by Mr. Baker is the more numerous of the two, but it does not contain the larger number of those who are genuine loyalists. Its membership has been swollen by men who came in afterwards. I cannot say how many men in Mr. Baker’s organization have any claim on the Government, but I do say that a large number of the members of that organization have no such claim.
– Has the honorable senator any exact knowledge of the cause of the secession of the less numerous body?
– There are dozens of thingsabout this matter that I cannot understand, and upon which no one apparently can give me any information.
– Perhaps Mr. Dethridge’s report deals with that.
– I have not bothered very much to go into it, because, as I have said, the Government promise was given to individuals, and not to organizations.
– One thing the pub lic can understand is that, if some people had had the trouble which the honorable senator has had during the last few weeks, they would not have got through it as well.
– It does not make any difference to the Government whether the man entitled to the benefit of their pledge is a member of the older or newer loyalist organization, or is not a member of any organization. He can still, if he seeks to avail himself of it, claim from the Government the redemption of the pledge given at the time. I mention that as showing that it has no effect upon the negotiations now being carried out whether a man belongs to the original or seceding body of loyalists.
Coming to the specific charge which Senator Bakhap has represented here at the instance of others, that the body for which Mr. Baker is chief spokesman has been ignored, Senator Bakhap must him- self recognise that he has furnished proof that that is not so.
– In connexion with the Conference that took place to-day-
– I am coming to that.
– The honorable senator understands that I do not make myself responsible for the case submitted through me.
– When the duty or responsibility of trying to find a way out of the difficulty came into my hands it was not very long before certain tentative proposals were evolved. They were submitted to the various bodies concerned, and, us Senator Bakhap has shown tonight, a copy of them was submitted to the organization on whose behalf he launched his complaint. That shows that thatbody wasnot overlooked. Senator Bakhap has read out their replies, so that there could not have been any ignoring of them in that connexion. Now, as to the Conference held to-day, it is said that they were not invited to attend it. They were not invited; and for the reason that, in carrying on negotiations with various bodies upon proposals that are purely tentative, and when an. effort is being made to understand the point of view of various organizations, those concerned are not all called together in one gathering. Atleast, that is not the course that I would pursue.I have interviewed these bodies separately to ascertain what is in their minds, and what they would regard as acceptable. In pursuance of that object I have seen the body represented by Hart and the shipowners. There are only twenty-four hours in my day, and if the representatives of the other body referred to had waited for an hour or two longer they would probably have been in receipt of an invitation from me. The Conference to-day was simply a meeting between myself and the representatives of one body, in the same way that I met the shipowners and put theproposals before them, to see whether they could accept them, and, if not, what modifications they desired. My purpose is to ascertain the various points of view in the hope of reaching some common agreement. Senator Bakhap will see that there was no intention on my part to do injustice to any one, and the course which I fol lowed must, I think, commend itself to the honorable senator and to other members of the Senate.
– The Minister, I hope, thoroughly understands that I did not make myself responsible for the statement submitted through me. I put it forward only as a case that appeared to me to require Ministerial explanation.
– I take it that, when an honorable senator has representations made to him, it is his duty to bring them under notice, but I do not hesitate to say that a gentleman of the reputation of Professor Rentoul might have ascertained from the Minister what the oversight was before taking the responsibility of putting the matter into the hands of a member of the Senate to launch an attack upon the Government here. The Government are not concerned in this matter with organizations,but with individuals, and only with those to whom they gave the pledge. In carrying out the negotiations which I have taken in hand the obligation of the Government is duly kept in mind, and if, while observing the promise given by the Government, I can bring about an agreement between the various organizations I shall endeavour to do so.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.48 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 28 August 1919, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1919/19190828_senate_7_89/>.