8th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate when a Bill will be introduced into Parliament to give effect to the promise made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) in his policy speech to provide for a superannuation fund for the Federal Public Service?
– Some time after the termination of the approaching adjournment.
Mobilization and Vehicle Stores
– I ask the Minister for Defence -
– It is not proposed that the erection of the stores should be undertaken without parliamentary authority.That authority is now being sought in the ordinary way. A resolution has been moved and carried in the House of
Representatives referring the proposed work to the Public Works Committee. That Committee is now investigating the proposal, and on receipt of its report Parliament will be asked to approve of it. The point raised in connexion with Broadmeadows has received the full consideration of the Defence Department, and will, no doubt, receive consideration from the Public Works Committee, and also from Parliament, if that Committee recommends that the proposed work be proceeded with.
– Is the VicePresident of the Executive Council yet in possession of information for which I asked last week, concerning the rates of exchange and the methods adopted by the Trade and Customs Department in assessing duties on imports?
– I shall give the honorable senator a reply to his question on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Motion (by Senator Millen) agreed to-
That bo much of the Standing and Sessional Orders bc suspended as would prevent the Bill being passed through all its stages without delay.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answer is- 1 and 2. To be eligible for leave or payment in lieu thereof under Australian Military Regulation 409, it is necessary that an applicant who has under twenty years’ continuous service should have attained the age for retirement on, or prior to, his discharge or retirement. Members of the Permanent Forces who have not attained the age for retirement on, or prior to, their discharge or retirement, are therefore not eligible underthe provisions of Australian Military Regulation 409.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers are -
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
Has the annual report of th’e Commissioner of Taxation for the year 1918-19yet been issued? If not, will the Acting Treasurer have a concise statement prepared showing during that year -
Will he also have prepared a similar statement in graduated steps of £1,000 in connexion with probate and succession duties received?
– The report is not yet complete. The Acting Treasurer has asked the Commissioner to hasten it as much as possible, and to try and give tha honorable member this information.
Hobart as a Fleet Bass.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, upon notice, -
In view of the recent extensive developments in the tonnage and draught of the larger vessels of war, will the Government consider the advantage and advisableness of including Hobart among the Fleet Bases of the Commonwealth?
– The matter will receive the consideration of the Government.
Notification of Day of Lodgment
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers are -
Transfers to and from South Australia.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– I lay on the table of the Senate the following statement giving the information desired by the honorable senator: -
Statement showing Number op Officers of the Commonwealth Public Service who have been Transferred from other States into South Australia during the years 1914-15 to 1919-20.
Statement showing Number of Officers of the Commonwealth Public Service who have been Transferred from South Australia to the other States during the years 1914-15 to 1919-20.
Motions (by Senator Millen) agreed to-
That until the 21st day of May, 1920, Government business, unless otherwise ordered, take precedence of all other business on the notice-paper, except questions and formal motions.
That standing order No.68 be suspended up to and including Friday, the 21st instant, for the purpose of enabling new business to be commenced after half-past ten o’clock at night.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 19th May, vide page 2228) :
Paragraph 7 -
For the purposes of this agreement the term “ indigenous oil “ shall mean crude mineral oil obtained in the Commonwealth of Australia or in any Territory of or under the authority of the Commonwealth, or in any place over which the Commonwealth has a mandate.
Upon which Senator Bakhap had moved -
That the word “ obtained “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ which has been produced from shale or any other source.”
– My intention and purpose having been sufficiently disclosed during the discussion in Committee last night, it is not necessary for me to give any further reasons for submitting this amendment. The agreement, as a whole, is to me valuable, and particularly so because I believe that it will provide an incentive to the development of known oil resources which, up to the present, exclusively consist of shale-oil deposits. The Commonwealth is under an obligation, if it considers the development of the Australian oil resources essential, to do everything in its power to substitute native oilfor the 200,000 tons of imported oil. To a very considerable extent this opportunity exists, and I submit the amendment for the purpose of defining the position, and not only because I recognise that the Commonwealth Government, if it fully comprehends its duty, will endeavour to substitute native oil, from whatever source, for imported oil. Despite any controversy there may be concerning the interpretation of the word “indigenous,” I desire to place it beyond all doubt that shale oil available in the Commonwealth must be refined in substitution for imported oil. One of the reasons that will cause criticism to be directed at this measure will be that its incidence may be considered to preclude the development of Australian shale-oil deposits, and, that being so, it is my duty to see that the essentialvalue of the Bill is demonstrated by properly securing that supplies of shale oil shall be offered to, and accepted by, the Refinery Company. If mineral oil produced from shale is unobjectionable, then my amendment is unobjectionable. If there is any technical difficulty in the way to prevent the development of Australian shale-oil deposits, that difficulty should be disclosed, because it will show that the Refinery Company, in its possible preference for imported oil, may seriously militate against the development of our shale-oil deposits. If there is no difficulty in the way, there can be no reason for not agreeing to my amendment. I have merely asked for the deletion of the word “ obtained,” with a view of inserting in lieu thereof the words “which has been produced from shale or any other source.” That determines conclusively the fact that shale oil, or oil produced from shale, if offered to the Refinery Cornpany must be refined with the assistance of its best technical knowledge. If the company is placed in a position to. say that shale oil is something quite out of the way, that it is not going to refine it, and we are to be put under an obligation, we should know exactly where we are. If there is anything in this agreement that has not been disclosed, and that will prevent the development of the shale-oil deposits in Australia, I want to know what it is. We should know that if, as a result of its operations, or the operations of different States, the company is offered 200,000 tons or less of Australian crude mineral shale oil, that oil must be taken in substitution for an equal quantity of imported oil. Honorable senators understand exactly what I mean, and without labouring the question I ask the Committee to agree to my amendment.
.- Senator Bakhap has argued that shale oil is excluded, and, as a matter of fact, it is excluded under that term, but is embodied in the term “ indigenous oil.” “We do not need to insert the proposed amendment, as it is quite unnecessary. I asked that progress be reported last night as, on the spur of the moment, I did not feel competent to express an opinion on a technical point. I was anxious to consult the Crown Law officers who were responsible for drafting the agreement, and also the representative of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. The representative of the company stated -
Shale oil is unquestionably mineral oil, and crude shale oil must therefore be crude mineral’ oil.
That opinion is confirmed by Sir Robert Garran, who has clearly stated that there is no necessity for including the amendment in the schedule.
– If there is any dispute, will it be interpreted by the representative of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, by Sir Robert Garran, or by a Judge?
– That will be determined by arbitrators, but I point out that the representative of the company has already conceded the point.
– It is not conceded in the agreement.
– I am making the statement with the full authority and consent of the representative of the company, and therefore the matter is placed beyond all doubt. I ask Senator Bakhap not to press his amendment, as I feel sure he does not desire to unnecessarily amend the measure, when it will have to be returned to another place.
– The word “ shale “ does not appear once in the schedule.
– Because “ mineral oil “ includes shale and all other kinds of oil secured by boring.
– Can the Minister quote an authority ?
– I have already quoted the. opinion of the SolicitorGeneral, who has satisfied himself on the point, and that opinion has been confirmed by the representative of the company. Surely that is sufficient.
– The amendment moved by Senator Bakhap may appear unnecessary, but we have been assured that there is a distinct difference between “ indigenous oil “ and “ crude mineral oil.” Are the Government objecting to the amendment merely because it will necessitate the addition of a few words and the holding up of the Bill for a few hours 1 In drafting this agreement, why are the words ‘ ‘ indigenous oil “ and “ crude mineral oil “ distinctly specified if they mean the same? It appears that they are not the same.
– There is a definition in the agreement.
– If the honorable senator will look at paragraph li, he will see where indigenous oil and crude mineral oil are to be supplied by the Commonwealth to the Refinery Company at a certain price. When, in the agreement itself, there is apparently a distinction between indigenous and crude oil, what is the objection to the amendment of Senator Bakhap, which is aimed to provide a clear definition ? I understand that one of the main reasons why the Commonwealth Oil Corporation, which commenced operations several years ago in the neighbourhood of Lithgow, lost a large sum of money in its unsuccessful enterprise was that the machinery which it had installed was not suitable for dealing with the rich shale existing in that locality. Is it not likely that the Anglo-Persian Company, when the refinery is i erected, may instal machinery quite suited to- the refining of crude oil from the Persian fields, but which may not be capable of dealing with the deposits that we hope to see discovered in Tasmania, New South Wales, and other parts of the Commonwealth ? Instead of aiming first to develop the oil resources of the Commonwealth, thi6 company may naturally prefer to erect machinery capable of dealing with the product of which it has complete knowledge, and it may not be so desirous of refining .any crude oil which may be obtained in the Commonwealth.
– I hope the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) will not resist the amendment, or that if he does, it will only be on the ground that he thinks the intention of Senator Bakhap can be better expressed. Honorable senators can all .agree with the Minister and with Sir Robert Garran, and anybody else, who may state that the oil referred to by Senator Bakhap is indigenous. There is no doubt that it is, in the ordinary acceptation of that term. It is mineral also. But we are not dealing with the ordinary acceptation - tha dictionary meaning - of the word “indigenous.” This is a paragraph having to do with the matter of definition, and we are saying, > for the purpose of this agreement, what the term “ indigenous “ shall mean. We are not relying on> the original meaning. We are giving a meaning to the term, and adopting that meaning, for the purposes of this agreement ; and Senator Bakhap rightly claims that we are limiting the meaning to crude mineral oil.
– Does the honorable senator say that shale oil is not crude mineral oil 1
- Senator Bakhap pointed out that shale oil is subject to, and the product of, certain processes.
– But the refinery will not refine anything but crude mineral oiland that will include shale oil in the crude state.
– It is open to grave doubt upon this definition. If there were no definition at all, there would be no necessity for the amendment of Senator Bakhap. Those who have advised the Minister are relying on the meaning of the word “indigenous” as it appears in the dictionary. It is for Parliament, however, to give it a special meaning for the specific purpose of this agreement. We have to put aside from consideration the original, or dictionary meaning.
– Is the shale oil to which the honorable senator refers indigenous ? Yes ! Is it mineral oil ? Yes !
– Does it come under this definition ?
– If there is any doubt concerning whether or not it comes under this definition, and if the Minister says it does, then he should accept the amendment and so remove all possible doubt. What is the use of referring honorable senators back to the dictionary meaning ? The statements of the authorities consulted by the Minister are, in effect, that this oil must be indigenous because of the dictionary meaning of the word and not because of the statutory definition which we are to insert. I strongly urge that no doubt shall be left about the matter.
– I cannot quite follow the arguments of Senator Keating. The statement of the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) is clear and definite. The only thing that is different from what is intended here as crude mineral oil is flowing oil; and if oil is extracted from shale it will then be exactly like flowing oil.
– But it may contain many constituents which ordinary natural crude oil has not.
– Ordinary crude mineral oil is not the same in its constituents in various parts of the world. Persian oil may differ materially in respect of many of its constituents from that which may be discovered as flowing oil in Australia.
– -Why, in a subsequent paragraph, are the terms “indigenous oil” and “crude mineral oil” employed separately?
– Indigenous oil is mentioned only for this purpose, namely, that it is indigenous to Australia. It is a product of the country in which the refinery is to be erected.
– That is all very well; but we want a statutory definition.
– While the motive of Senator Bakhap is undoubtedly good, I cannot see that it makes the matter any clearer or takes us one step further.
– But that one step will be on a solid foundation, if my amendment is accepted.
– The matter is perfectly clear. Oil is sometimes found in sand, and not in shale. If the amendment is agreed to, oil from sand, not being shale oil-
– But it would come under the words “ other source.” I have not forgotten the interests of the honorable senator’s State, any more than I have forgotten those of mine.
– The only difference between flowing oil and shale oil is that a process of natural distillation has taken place in the case of the former, which is found in cavities or reservoirs between two impervious strata. If the strata be permeable, the product is, of course, shale oil, and needs distillation. It appears to me, therefore, that the amendment will merely cloud the issue.
– The only possible objection that can be taken to the amendment is that it is redundant, and in connexion with legal matters* redundancy is not regarded as a fault. In paragraph 3 , of the agreement the letters of the alphabet have been levied upon, and Roman and Arabic numerals employed for the purpose of defining certain things. All I wish to do is to secure the exclusion of one word in paragraph 7 for the purpose of inserting less than a dozen words to make it quite clear that oil derived from shale, if made available to the Refinery Company in any quantity or volume up to 200,000 tons per annum, must be used in substitution for imported oil.
– At a reasonable price.
– The Commonwealth has ‘ a self-imposed obligation to substitute any indigenous oil for the imported product, and at present the only known Australian source is shale, which must be retorted to produce any volume of oil. I know that at times shale oil contains certain elements which may be regarded by the technical experts of the Refinery Company as objectionable in comparison with the imported liquid mineral oil, and I want to protect my own country. The British Enmire is a great deal to me, and so is the British company but over and above all I have a right to impress upon the minds of honorable senators, if I can, the necessity for protecting this industry for the production of oil from the only known source in Australia.
– The amendment is unnecessary.
– This agreement has never been before any judicial tribunal and as long as the company, in which the Commonwealth Government will be the predominant partner, works satisfactorily, the document is not likely to come before any arbitrating authority. But I know of no matter contained in the agreement that is more likely to call for review than this technical definition of crude mineral oil to be supplied to the refinery. It is my desire to protect the interests of my own country against any company, and I shall insist, to the best of my ability, on the insertion of the words.
– I do not wish this question to go to a vote without stating my position. Had the explanation not been given by the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), I should certainly have voted for the amendment, but after listening to the Minister’s remarks, I have come to the conclusion that the amendment is not necessary. I admire my honorable friends from Tasmania for the fight they are putting up for the protection of the shale oil industry of that State. I am aware that there are said to be very large shale deposits of great potential value to the Commonwealth in the Latrobe district of Tasmania. But in my own State the development of the shale oil industry has gone much further than in any other part of Australia. Large deposits are being successfully worked in the Lithgow valley, and recently a company started to resuscitate the industry at Murrurundi and Joadja Creek. In a report published yesterday of the Commonwealth Oil Company in Sydney it was stated that the net profits, including bounty, for the six months ending 3rd September was £26,000, and that during the period referred to the company retorted 18,000 tons of shale, from which 1,660,000 gallon’s of crude oil and naphtha was obtained. Yesterday we were told that the total consumption of the Commonwealth was 52,000,000 gallons per annum, and I think we have every reason to be pleased with the progress of the enterprise referred to; but I shall not vote for the amendment to compel the Refinery Company to accept shale oil at any price, because if we are going to erect a refinery for the purpose of bringing down the price of oil we must not think about raising the price artificially in order to keep the shale oil industry going. I feel quite satisfied with the Minister’s explanation. My view is that, if shale oil is available in sufficient quantities, and at a reasonable price, the Refinery Company will have to take it. Consequently the shale oil industry is fully protected.
– I confess that I am somewhat mystified by the argument presented by Senator Pratten. Notwithstanding the very clear explanation of the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), he evidently considers that shale oil will not be acceptable as a. substitute for crude imported oil.
– He did not say any such thing.
– He said that he did not think we should push the shaleoil industry.
– I think that the honorable senator misunderstood me.
– Then the honorable senator will have an opportunity of making his position clear. There is in the public mind a very great distinction between oil obtained from a well in a liquid form and oil obtained from a shale mine.
– Is there any doubt in the public mind that shale oil is a mineral oil?
– It is only right that we should make this matter so clear as to obviate all possibility of misunderstanding. When we speak of obtaining oil we mean something which is entirely different from extracting oil. I suggest that the paragraph should be made to read - “ For the purposes of this agreement the term ‘ indigenous oil* shall mean and include crude mineral oil obtained in the Commonwealth of Australia or extracted from shale in any Territory of the Commonwealth.” The position would then be absolutely clear. I fear that this agreement will strike a death-blow at the production of shale oil throughout Australia. I have been told on the very best authority that the production from the 200,000 tons of crude oil which will be imported by the Refinery Company for refining in the Commonwealth will amount to about 80,000 tons of fuel oil and about 60,0OU tons of petrol. In the latter case the quantity refined here will suffice for only one-half of our actual consumption, whilst in the former it will suffice for double our needs.
– Two refineries would be necessary to supply all our wants.
– Two refineries would be required to supply all our needs in respect of petrol and kerosene. But what are we to do in regard to our own fuel oil ? The shale industry in Tasmania depends very largely upon the demand in Australia for fuel oil.
– The gas companies will use a lot of it.
– The gas companies have been very short of coal lately, but I have not heard that they have used very much of our fuel oil. Certainly they have used a little of our shale. The shale-oil industry in New South Wales, and particularly in Tasmania, depends largely upon the possession of a home market for crude fuel oil. In New South Wales there are very extensive shale deposits. I have here a book containing a very full desicription of the shale-oil mines working in that State , up to the year 1901. It shows that in an area 200 miles long by 60 miles wide, extending from Murrurundi, in the north, to Clyde, in the south, there are about fifty localities in which torbanite yielding oil and other nitrogenous products very valuable to Australia have been found. Yet we find a professedly Protectionist Government putting before us a proposal which will jeopardize the future of one of the most important of our primary industries.
– By means of this agreement ?
– By the introduction of 200,000 tons annually of a commodity which we do not want, for the purpose of getting another commodity that we do want. I quite agree with the basic idea underlying this agreement, that, as we are large consumers of petrol and kerosene, we should transfer our trade to a, British company. We know that the two big Trusts which are in existence have penalized Australia. Their interests have been set above those of Australia, and we have a right to go to our own people with a view to obtaining from them more cheaply the commodity that werequire. But I submit we are going the wrong way to work. If we wish to obtain Persian petrol from a British company, why cannot the Common wealth buy it, and supply it to those who require it ? Why should we risk destroying what would otherwise become a very valuable industry here ? If we have a few more coal strikes we shall have to resort to some other form of fuel. By the introduction of 80,000 tons of fuel oil annually we are going to threaten with utter extinction the shale-oil industry of Australia.
– A most sickly industry it is, too.
– In dealing with a large and very astute company such as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which has behind it some of the biggest minds in the world, we need to have a very carefully drawn agreement, in which there shall be no possibility of ambiguity. Honorable senators may possibly recollect a remark which was made by the Chief J ustice of the High Court the other day, to the effect that obviously Parliament had forgotten to amend a certain Act. We do not want a similar remark to be made concerning this important agreement. Let us make the position perfectly clear, and that is all that Senator Bakhap, by his amendment, desires todo.
Question - That the word proposed to be left out be left out (Senator Bakhap’s amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . . . 10
Question so resolved in the negative.
Paragraph agreed to.
Paragraphs 8 to 10 agreed to.
Paragraph 11 -
The price payable by the Refinery Company to the Commonwealth and to the Oil Company respectively for indigenous oil and for crude mineral oil shall from time to time be fixed by agreement between the Commonwealth and the Oil Company, and shall be based upon the contents of the oil.
– During the discussion of this Bill I made several efforts to ascertain why the words “indigenous “ and “crude mineral oil “ are used in the paragraphs of this agreement. This paragraph appears to me to indicate that those who drafted the agreement had two distinctly different ideas in mind. I should be glad if, at this stage, the Minister would explain why both these descriptions are included in the paragraph.
– I should have thought that the reason was sufficiently obvious. In both cases crude mineral oil is referred to, but the two descriptions “indigenous” and “crude mineral oil “ are used to distinguish the crude mineral oil produced in Australia from that imported by the company.
Paragraph agreed to.
Paragraphs 12 and 13 agreed to.
Paragraph 13a -
The Refinery Company shall sell its oil products at such prices as are fair and reasonable.
.- When we were dealing with paragraph 3 of the schedule, I intimated my intention to move an amendment in order to give the Commonwealth power beyond all doubt to decide what would be a fair and reasonable price for the oil. I, therefore, move -
That the word “ as “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ which in the opinion of the Commonwealth.”
It has been contended by the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) that the Commonwealth has the power to define what are fair and reasonable prices. I have heard several honorable senators speak on this subject, but no one seems to be quite sure that it is really the Commonwealth that will have the power to decide this matter. If it is the desire of the Government and of the Committee to place in the hands of the Commonwealth the power to decide what are fair and reasonable prices to be charged for this oil, there can be no possible objection raised to my amendment.
– I do not think that it is necessary to make this amendment. The Commonwealth is a party to this agreement, and it is also the chief shareholder in the company. It possesses in that fact a very important reserve power to enforce its will in this regard. In the terms of the honorable senator’s- amendment the Commonwealth is not the partner in this company, but the Commonwealth Government. If the Commonwealth Government comes to the conclusion that the prices charged are not fair and reasonable it will call upon the company, of which it is itself the chief shareholder, to reduce the prices to what are fair and reasonable. But that is a question upon which, surely, the company should have some voice, and should be able to put its own case forward.. If there should continue to be a disagreement between the Commonwealth
Government and the company on the subject, each can agree to the appointment of an arbitrator to go into the matter and decide it.
– That is not provided for in the agreement.
– It is not, but there is a provision for arbitration in case of a deadlock, and should a deadlock occur in deciding what are fair .and reasonable prices, it is obvious that what I have suggested is the course that would be followed. I point out that the Commonwealth holds the “big stick” in hand.
– The amendment would give the Commonwealth two ‘ ‘ big sticks.”
– It would; but I ask honorable senators not. to carry an amendment of the schedule merely for the purpose of painting the lily. The Commonwealth will be in a strong position under this agreement, but it should be borne in mind that the company has some rights, and should have some voice to protect its interests, which, incidentally, will be the interests of the Commonwealth also. The agreement will . be powerfully opposed, but this Refinery Company will be subjected to powerful and continued opposition. Opposition may arise at a time when there may be a Commonwealth Government in power hostile to this company. That is* quite on the cards, and in that case a hostile Government could practically destroy this company by declaring that the prices proposed to be charged for the oil were unfair and unreasonable. There would then be no recourse for the company, as, under the amendment, the Commonwealth Government would be the absolute arbiter. On the other hand, the Commonwealth can never be placed in that position under the agreement, because, in the case of a deadlock, it can have recourse to an arbitrator, and may, by reason of its predominating share interest, excercise the control required in the interests of the community. It seems to me that the Committee might leave the paragraph as it stands.
– I have followed the reasoning- of the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), but I am unable to arrive at the same conclusion, because threesevenths of the directorate of the Refinery
Company will represent the Commonwealth and four-sevenths the Oil Company. The Commonwealth may have a controlling interest so far as the shares are concerned, but it is the directorate that will have the determination of the price of the oil.
– If the company charged an unfair ‘and unreasonable price, what would happen would be that the Standard Oil and other companies would secure the Australian market.
– I wish it to be clearly understood that I amnot opposed to the agreement. I am as desirous as is the Minister that this should be made a useful and perfect measure, but I realize the possibility of danger under this paragraph. If the fixing of the price of the oil were a matter dealt with by the whole company, the contention of the Minister would be right. But this is not a question to be submitted to the shareholders, but a question of administration determined by the director ate, in which the Oil Company will exercise a predominating influence. If they as directors determine that the price of the oil shall be so much, although we hold a majority of the shares, we may have a minority of control on the directorate. Where is the provision in the agreement that will bring a dispute to the position provided elsewhere that it shall be determined by arbitration? If the Minister for Defence can assure us that that point is covered we have a fair safeguard. It has been mentioned by the Minister that an adverse Government may be in power whose object might be to destroy the company by decreasing the price of oil until its production was unprofitable, in which case the Commonwealth Government would lose.
SenatorThomas.-But thegeneral public would gain.
– That point may be of interest to Senator Thomas, who is a keen advocate of Free Trade, but he must also remember that there is in the agreement an anti-dumping clause.
– The anti-dumping clause is not automatic.
– We shall come to that directly, and possibly it will be shown that just as the anti-dumping provisions are not automatic, so will it be shown that deadlocks are not automatic. It is necessary to provide some means by which deadlocks can be obviated on such an important matter. I do not see that the suggestion will do any harm, and unless the Minister for Defence is prepared to give the Committee further information I intend to support Senator Earle’s amendment.
. -I take it that this is an agreement between two contracting parties,, and that if Senator Earle’s amendment is adopted it will give complete power to the Government of the day to determine what is a fair and reasonable price. It does not require any stretch of imagination to say what would happen when the public was clamouring for a lowpriced commodity. The wishes of the public would outweigh the desire of the Government to pay a fair and reasonable price, and we would have a Government declaring that oil should be sold at a price which would not enable the company to carry on its operations profitably. The natural result would be that the work of the company would come to a standstill. If we desire this company to start at all, we cannot expect it to commence operations under such circumstances as the amendment suggests. If Senator Earle’s amendment is carried we may as well throw the whole agreement in the waste-paper basket, because no sensible business man would enter into such a contract, particularly when there is a strong desire on the part of the people for cheap commodities. I am certain that a concern such as the AngloPersian Oil Company would not work under such an agreement, particularly when the Government would have the power of fixing the price. Senator Senior said, in effect, that if the company did not declare a high price it would lose money, but how can we weigh that against the natural desire of the Government to meet the clamour for cheap oil? As the Minister for Defence has pointed out, if there is a dispute as to what is a fair and reasonable price the arbitration provision will operate, and the matter will be settled in a straightforward manner. The paragraph as it stands is just, and should have the support of the Committee.
– I am glad that Senator Fairbairn has drawn the attention of the
Committee to the fact that there is another party to be considered. Since I have been a member of this Chamber I have rarely experienced an occasion when I have heard so many detailed criticisms from candid friends outside in connexion with a matter on which we have been called to legislate. By telephone and by letter I have had communications from people, influenced, I suppose, by patriotic or other motives, criticising the Bill, and saying why it should not be passed. This measure is not to create a monopoly, but to break one, and we have to consider that there are two sides to the question. Every labourer is worthy of his hire, and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company has to receive a fair and reasonable profit. My belief is that, even though it does get a fair and reasonable profit, oil in Australia will be much cheaper, as the result of this agreement, and we are also safeguarded from the grasping monopoly that the people of the Commonwealth have been ;Suffering under so long. When once the refinery is operating, and our oil resources are developed, we shall be in a much better position than we are at present.
.- I am rather amused at the attitude adopted by Senator Fairbairn and’ Senator Pratten in their criticisms of my effort to make this provision practicable. If, as Senator ‘ Fairbairn stated, my amendment will ruin the whole agreement, what in the name of fortune is the use of the paragraph ? Is it camouflage, deceit, or a smoke screen in the interests of this company. The paragraph provides that the company must sell its products at a fair and reasonable price, and honorable senators object to the Government saying what is fair and reasonable. The Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) suggested that perhaps a hostile Government might he elected by the people, and that it would insist upon the company selling its pro.ducts at a price that will ultimately result in the company’s ruin. Can we imagine for a moment the people electing a Government that would ruin an industry ? If honorable senators are opposed to the amendment, and do not wish to protect the consumers of oil, let them strike the paragraph out altogether, and allow the company to charge what it likes. It has been said that we should not allow one party to the agreement to have any special control, and that all decisions should be mutually arrived at. But in paragraph 3 there are no less than five different proposals that can be decided only by the Government. Under those provisions the company trusts the Government to decide what is just, and why cannot it trust the Government to say what is a fair and reasonable price for its products ? I can quite understand that the Minister for Defence is anxious to pass the Bill in the form in which it left another place.
– It is not that; the agreement has been signed.
– But it has to be ratified by Parliament, and has to go back to the interested parties for their concurrence. I can quite understand the Minister’s attitude, and if I were in his position I would act similarly ; but I cannot understand honorable senator?, who are representatives of the people, taking a similar stand. If the paragraph is of any value, and is not here as a blind, there can be no objection to the insertion of the words I suggest in order that the representatives of the people shall have a right to say what is a fair and reasonable price.
– I disagree with the views expressed by Senator Earle concerning the attitude of the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce). Even if tie Minister were anxious to pass the Bill in its present form, that would not influence me in the least. If honorable senators thought that there was any benefit to be gained by amending the schedule, it would be stupid in the extreme to oppose the amendment. It would be unreasonable for the Government to submit a, paragraph to this Chamber, and tell us that all we have to do is to agree to it without an amendment. The Minister for Defence does not take up that attitude, and honorable senators would not, even if the Minister did, as we have the right to make whatever amendments we may consider necessary. What are we asked to do ? To give the Commonwealth Government - whatever Government it may be - the absolute right to fix the price of the product at any figure they desire. Would any intelligent man “come here and take the risk of spending a huge sum of money knowing that a Commonwealth Government might, some day, be prompted to lower the price of the product to any figure desired 1 Would any intelligent man conceive that, yielding to popular clamour, or for any other motive, the Federal Government might, at some future date, alter the price in such a manner? It is only a few weeks since another agreement was being considered by this Chamber. I refer to the sugar agreement. Does anyone think that, if the Government could have reduced the price of sugar it would have failed to do so, in face of the outcry which arose from all over the Commonwealth ? We are seeking to establish new industries in Australia. We are looking for more people, and for more work for the people whom we have here. We are seeking the cheapest fuel which can be secured to assist Australian industries. Here is a company prepared to operate in the Commonwealth under this agreement, or under the agreement as it may be reasonably amended. But no company would establish itself in this country if, in addition to the proportion of control held by the Commonwealth authority, the latter also had the power to fix the price, irrespective of what the company might desire. If honorable senators will examine paragraph 22 they will perceive that it makes specific reference to arbitration. By that means there can be settled any such dispute as may arise between the company and the Commonwealth. The Arbitration Act is specially referred to. I ask honorable senators, therefore, not to seek to make any such alterations in the agreement as will jeopardize this projected new Australian industry.
– The more one examines this schedule the more one becomes suspicious of its contents. The Refinery Company will be unable to go beyond the AngloPersian Oil Company for its crude supplies. The Anglo-Persian Company, in the first place, will have the right to supply oil, practically at its own figure, to theRefinery Company. The proposed amendment seeks to place some restriction upon the price which may be charged by the Refinery Company to consumers in Australia. It may be said that this agreement is calculated to break up the Standard Oil Trust and the Shell Company, so far as their activities in Australia are concerned. I fear that it will prove that we are merely creating another monopoly, and that, so far as the matter of pro viding cheap oil is concerned, we shall be entirely deceived. I have no hope that Australia will be supplied with cheap oil from this proposed source. If the Government itself were to establish a refinery. and were to import crude oil, the people of Australia might have a chance of securing cheap supplies. It is deplorable to be in the hands of one or two companies. The cost of oil has been shown to have increased fully 100 per cent. since 1914, and it is still increasing. That fact brings home to us the nature of the grip which these oil companies have, not only on Australia but on other countries also.
.I do not support the amendment. I do not see what good purpose it can serve. The schedule, as it stands, gives to the Commonwealth power to deal with the price of oil. Here is a venture in which the Government comes in practically as a majority shareholder. It has a majority of capital, and even although it is to have a minority of representation upon the directorate, that consideration is really small, seeing that the Government will wield the greater influence. The people of Australia should reasonably expect to make a good thing out of the agreement. But, if unnecessary obstacles are placed in the way of establishing the industry, then those honorable senators who are responsible will have to answer to the people, who are looking to be benefited. If the price is to be fixed, it must be fixed by the directorate. Who is the directorate? The Government, in conjunction with the company’s representatives. Is the Government likely to do anything to destroy the company in which it has tied up a large amount of capital on behalf of the people of Australia?
Paragraph agreed to.
Paragraph 14 -
In order to insure the full success and development of the oil-refining industry in Australia the Commonwealth will, so long as the prices charged by the Refinery Company for products of refining are considered by the Commonwealth fair and reasonable, but not further or otherwise -
exercise or cause to he exercised such statutory and administrative powers as it deems advisable to prevent dumping and unfair competition by importers of refined oil from other countries;
refund to the Refinery Company any Customs duty paid by the Refinery Company upon the importation into Australia of crude mineral oil purchased from the Oil Company and refined in Australia by the Refinery Company; and
cause to be introduced into the Par liament of the Commonwealth and supported as a Government measure a Bill providing for the imposition of Customs duties on crude mineral oil whenever, in its opinion, such action is necessary or advisable to prevent unfair competition with the products of crude oil refined in Australia by the Refinery Company.
– I did not speak upon the second reading of this Bill for the main reason that I am in hearty accord with it. But I oppose the whole of this paragraph. It is a blot on what otherwise may be regarded as a very good agreement. The paragraph may be termed the antidumping provision. If the Vacuum Oil Company; or the “ Shell “ Company, or any other firm, desired to smash a new rival - such as will be brought into being by this agreement - it might dump oil in Australia at a very cheap rate, and thus strangle the infant enterprise. But I cannot imagine that any private interest would attempt, by the process of dumping, to smash a company which is associated with the Commonwealth Government. Some ten years ago, when it was my duty to take a close interest in the matter of shipping, I heard evidence being given by the general manager of the Orient Line. It is known that shipping firms keep a considerable sum in hand with which to fight any new company that may be formed as a competitor. I asked this witness whether the shipping activities concerned in the Combine would be prepared to fight any new interest which might come along as a rival. The witness answered, “ Yes.” I then asked, “Would you be prepared to fight a Commonwealth steam-ship line?” and he said, “ That is quite another question.” And so it is.
– But it is not to-day.
– If the shipping companies are fighting the Commonwealth steamers to-day, it is by way of reducing freights.
SenatorNewland. - They are doing so by penalizing our customers.
– Suppose they are fighting the Commonwealth line of steamers, and are offering freight at a considerable reduction upon the Commonwealth charges. As we have only a few ships capable of dealing with, say, 10 per cent. of the freight offering, it follows that if 90 per cent. of the freight is carried by other ships at. a cheap rate, the people of the Commonwealth will be better off. If the Combine carried our goods for nothing, it would pay us to have the Commonwealth steamers laid up and being painted, until we were ready to start again, because, during the whole of that time, there would be no freight charges. If any other company wishes to fight the Anglo-Persian Company by sending cheap oil into this country, we ought not to complain. I listened very carefully to the debate, and I must confess that I am a little befogged. One honorable senator seemed to think that we would get cheap oil under this agreement. His trouble appeared to be that it might be so cheap as to interfere with the shale oil industry.
– Who expressed that sentiment?
– I understood the honorable senator did. He said that if this agreement is ratified, it will kill the shale oil industry in Australia.
– I said that most distinctly.
– Why? The only inference is that cheaper oil will be available: If there is any other way by which the industry is to be killed, I should like to know of it.
– It might be cheap oil until the Refinery Company’s business was destroyed, and much dearer for a long time afterwards.
– While Senator Mulcahy seems to think that we will get oil so cheaply as to kill the shale oil business, other honorable senators appear to be afraid that it will not be cheap enough. According to my view, the proper way to insure a plentiful supply of oil at a fair and reasonable price is to throw the trade open to the competition of the world. I should like to see this dumping clause eliminated. If outside competitors can furnish us with a cheaper and a better oil, the people of Australia would be justified in wanting to get it. With the support of the Government the Refinery Company ought to be able to carry on and do all that ie necessary without this anti-dumping safeguard. One reason why I am opposed to it is that I fear the Refinery Company might fall back upon it in the face of threatened competition, and be too ready to ask for it to be put into operation. I admit that my views on this question of dumping differ somewhat from those of some other honorable senators. If people send oil or any other goods to this country, they, of course, require something in return for it, either wool, corn, other products, or gold. The position taken up by those who favour the anti-dumping portion of the agreement is that if, say, the Standard or Vacuum Oil companies declared their intention of selling us so much oil for, say, one bale of wool, the supporters of this anti-dumping proposal would at once say, “ No; that would be dumping. You charge us two bales.” Or, again, some oil company might ‘say, “ We will send you so much oil in return for 1,000 sovereigns.” And, again, these anti-dumping advocates would reply, “ No; that would be dumping. It is too cheap. You charge us 2,000 sovereigns, and we will take it.” Of course, honorable senators who support this anti-dumping provision of the agreement would like to get cheap oil privately, but in an agreement of this kind they feel that they must take a “broad national outlook,” and must not allow the people of the country to have cheap oil. I have been supporting the Government on every division during this debate, and probably I shall support them to the end, with the. exception of this anti-dumping paragraph, which I should like to see eliminated.
– I feel sure that the Committee will not support Senator Thomas in his predatory designs upon this portion of the agreement. He could not have been more unfortunate than to make reference to the operations of the Shipping Combine. He is quite wrong when he says the Shipping Combine are attempting to get a stranglehold on the Commonwealth business by offering cheap freights. They are not. What they are doing is this : If Senator Thomas were a merchant in England and wished to send goods to Australia and there were no Commonwealth ships available, he would approach the Combine for freight.
They would reply - “Yes, we oan give you space. Our freight for that commodity is so much, and if all the produce you send to Australia during the next twelve months goes by our line you will get a rebate of so much. If, however, you dare to send a single parcel by a Commonwealth ship, you will lose all that rebate.”
– That is nothing new.
– If every ton of merchandise coming to Australia were carried in ships belonging to the Combine, we would not get freight a halfpenny cheaper. But when the Combine succeed in strangling the Commonwealth line - if ever they do - they will put up their freights, as they proposed to dobefore the Commonwealth ships intervened. Let me give another illustration. I remember the time when the Farmers* Co-operative Society of Western Australia commenced to buy fertilizers for its farmer members. During one season it supplied certain orders at a considerable reduction on prices charged by private traders. Next year, however, a private trader, having ascertained the price at which the co-operative society could import and sell, sent his representatives among members of the association soliciting orders at 6d. per cwt. below the cooperative society’s charges. This was, in effect, dumping, because nearly every farmer member of the society bought from the private trader. The following season the society, which was not strong financially, decided not to buy fertilizers, with the result that .the private trader put his prices up by about 50 per cent. Now, that is exactly what might happen in the case of oil if we are not prepared to protect this new enterprise against unfair competition. The Shipping Combine is bad enough, but compared with the Standard Oil Company it is as a tame tabby cat to a hungry Bengal tiger.
– Are there any antidumping clauses in the British agreement with the Anglo-Persian Company?
– I do not know; but I remind the honorable senator that the British Navy will be its best customer, and, so far as the Refinery Company is concerned, our naval requirements will not be anything like so large in proportion to the total requirements of the Commonwealth.
– I thought that our naval requirements had attained’ very fair proportions.
– They are very small compared with the total requirements of Australia. The Standard Oil Company and the Shell Group see in the proposed Refinery Company, not a monopoly, but a prospective competitor in the Australian market which will prevent them from continuing to do what they are doing to-day, namely, charging unfair prices. Senator Pratten has quoted the prices being charged for motor spirit to-day in New York and Australia, and he has stressed the difference which exists between those prices. “We are going to rob the companies I have mentioned of that difference - we are going to drive the tiger from his prey.
– And the Government cannot do it.
– The Government have only one means of protecting this company from the tiger, namely, the means provided in the agreement. As soon as the Refinery Company commences to produce oil in Australia the Standard Oil Company and the Shell Group will immediately bring down their prices.
SenatorThomas. - Could not the Government buy their oil at the cheaper prices ?
– Does the honorable senator suggest that we should continue to buy oil from the Standard Oil Company ?
– Does the Minister think that that company would sell it under cost price?
– I feel sure that Senator Thomasis arguing against his own conviction.
– The Minister himself is doing that because he knows better.
-We cannot leave this company open to the risk of that unfair competition. The only means we have of protecting it is by the power which will become exercisable only under two conditions, either because the AngloPersian Company charges an unreasonable price or because competition becomes unfair.
– Does the AngloPersian Company want this protection?
– Most certainly it does.
– I am surprised to hear the Minister say so.
– The protection will become operative only by statutory provision - in other words, by the will of Parliament. The Government have first to satisfy themselves that a good case has been made out, and then they have to satisfy Parliament on the point. It seems to me, therefore, that the Committee ought not to reject this paragraph.
– My very much respected colleague, Senator Thomas, has raised a question which has puzzled politicians in Australia almost from time immemorial. While I agree with him upon many matters affecting the great State which we represent, I cannot support him in his opposition to these anti-dumping provisions, and for several reasons. My first reason is that a company is to be established here, and is to put its money into an enterprise in order to help the Commonwealth to break up a monopoly which has existed in this country ever since it has been a Commonwealth. “We have to realize that in this vast continent embracing an area of 3,000,000 square miles we do not consume very much more than one five-hundredth part of the total oil consumption of the world. Consequently, to monopolies which probably supply 400 out of 500 parts of the world’s consumption of oil, it would not be difficult to stifle any infantile effort we might make to supply our own oil to our own people. To organizations which supply practically the whole of the world’s consumption of oil, it would not be difficult to kill an infant industry which was being established to provide only one five-hundredth part of the world’s consumption. I shall therefore support these anti-dumping provisions, because it is only fair to the Refinery Company that they should be embodied in the agreement. In regard to this paragraph, I invite the attention of the Minister to a suggestion which I have to make, namely, that the words “ and administrative,” which appear in subparagraph a, should be left out. This is a matter to which I referred when speaking upon the second reading of the Bill yesterday. To my mind’, the inclusion of those words will clothe the Government with mandatory, arbitrary, and, perhaps, unjust power to do by administrative act something which Parliament alone is entitled to do.
– I dealt with the point which the honorable senator is raising when replying to criticism upon the motion for the second reading of the Bill.
– Whether I divide the Committee on the amendment will depend largely upon the reply I receive from the Minister. In its present form this paragraph will give, not necessarily statutory, but most certainly administrative powers to the Minister controlling the Department which will deal with the oil refinery business, to do anything which in his opinion, it may seem desirable to do.
– Does the honorable senator hold that it will really extend his powers of administration?
– In effect it will give the Minister who is charged with adminstering this particular matter quite as large powers as he could be vested with under any War Precautions regulations. During the war we had to submit largely to government by administration, but I ask the Committee whether it is wise to give further powers to a Minister to administer Acts which Parliament alone is entitled to administer ?
– Parliament does not administer Acts.
– Sub-paragrapha of paragraph 14 reads - exercise or cause to be exercised such statu tory and administrative powers.
– What is the use of statutory powers unless the Minister administers the Act which he is charged with administering ?
-The paragraph does not say that we have to grant statutory powers. It says, and it means, that the Minister in lieu of statutory powers may by administrative act-
– No. It does not say that.
– So far as I can understand the position, in the absence of statutory powers it will give the Minister administrative powers which will in effect be statutory powers. Under this paragraph his administrative acts may be carried even to the extent of prohibiting the importation of oil into Australia, of fix ing the prices of the commodity, of preventing the sale of any other oil but that which comes from the proposed refinery, of regulating packages, and of prescribing how the Standard Oil Company’s oil shall be distributed. Under its provisions the Minister might impose trade shackles of all sorts.
– The honorable senator means that under this paragraph we shall be giving the Minister further statutory powers without saying so ?
– My amendment would make it obligatory for Parliament to confer statutory powers on the Minister before he could do anything. In its present form, however, the paragraph will empower the Minister by administrative acts to give effect to the anti-dumping provisions of the agreement. We shall thus be clothing whatever Minister may happen to be in office during the next fifteen years with administrative powers even in the absence of statutory powers. My desire is that Parliament alone shall determine how these anti-dumping provisions shall be given effect to. I beg to move -
That the words “ and administrative,’ in sub-paragraph a, be left out.
– I point out to Senator Pratten that the very fact that the word “statutory” appears in the paragraph indicates that in so far as the guarantee which is here given can be exercised by statutory means, it will be exercised. But that alone will not afford the Refinery Company the necessary protection. Every Act of Parliament requires administrative action. Ifthe honorable senator will look up the Australian Industries Preservation Act 1906-10 he will find that part 3 of that measure relates to the prevention of dumping. It contains a definition of “ dumping “ and also of “ unfair competition.” It requires the Minister to do quite a number of things. The Statute is really a dead letter until the Minister himself acts. Administrative acts must always follow statutory acts.
– The Customs Act also confers statutory powers upon the Minister.
– Yes. Consequently we have to say to the proposed Refinery Company, “ Not only will we assure you of statutory protection, but also of administrative protection . “ Whilst the War Precautions Act was in full operation it was possible for a Minister to do many things which he was not authorized to do either by the Australian Industries Preservation Act or by the Customs Act. But when the War Precautions Act disappears, the Minister will have no powers except those which are derived from Statute.
– Senator Pratten’s argument was that under this paragraph further statutory powers would be given to the Minister.
-That is not so. This paragraph will not clothe him with any statutory powers. This agreement does not give recourse to any statutory power other than that provided by the Australian Industries Preservation Act or the Customs Act. On reflection, I feel sure the honorable senator will see that if the agreement is to be made effective to prevent dumping, it will be necessary to have not only statutory power, but a guarantee of administrative action within that power.
– Because the Anglo-Persian Oil Company are going to put £249,999 into the proposed refinery, it is proposed by this Bill to do all that may be necessary to protect their interest, and make it certain that it will be a gilt-edged one. It will be exceedingly interesting, as the years go on, and the Government may desire to acquire the interests of the company in the refinery, to learn what this investment will be worth to the AngloPersian Oil Company. One would imagine that we are faced with a grave danger of the Standard Oil Company laying on to Australia a pipe 5 or 6 feet in diameter, with a pressure of many hundreds of pounds to the square inch behind it, to supply this country with an unlimited quantity of cheap oil, and that in this effort the Standard Oil Company will be backed up by the Shell Group, and other oil corporations. I am afraid that nothing of the kind is likely to occur. Oil companies are not built that way. It appears to me that under paragraph 14 the Oil Company will be placed unfairly in a most advantageous position, and that so long as it lasts Australian consumers will be debarred from any possibility of obtaining cheap oil. We are to have statutory powers, and administrative powers, to make it quite certain under this agreement that any duties imposed on crude oil imported from Persia shall be refunded to the AngloPersian Oil Company. It is a wonder to me that the Government do not propose to go farther, and insist that duties on oil supplied by the Anglo-Persian Company to any Australian refinery from any part of the world shall also be refunded. It should not be forgotten that the Anglo-Persian Oil Company will fix the price of oil brought here from Persia. The mere fact that it is to supply oil to the proposed refinery at the same price as that charged to the British Government does not provide any protection for the people of Australia. It may be necessary, under this paragraph, for the Government to immediately bring in a Bill for the protection of the company to impose duties on crude oil imported by other companies into Australia. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which we are invited to believe is prepared to invest its money in Australia for the protection of Australian consumers of oil, has taken very fine care to secure for itself a degree of protection which no other company operating in Australia has or can hope to obtain. I defy any honorable senator to demonstrate that we are likely in Australia to obtain oil any cheaper under this agreement than we are now paying for it. Some people are of the opinion that the Anglo-Persian Oil Company have no connexion whatever with the Standard Oil Company, or any other oil corporation; butI have very grave doubts on that point. I think there is evidence in this agreement of a well-laid scheme, which might possibly be discovered if the measure were referred for inquiry to a Royal Commission or a Select Committee, to exploit the oil consumers of Australia.
– They cannot be exploited to any greater extent than at present.
– They could quite easily be exploited to a greater extent than at present. They pay now only 3s. 6d. per gallon for refined oil, and there is no reason in the world why, if the Persian Oil Company and the other two groups put their heads together, the Australian consumer should not have the price considerably advanced, in view of the fact that in this country no oil is produced except what is distilled from shale.
– Let us get on with the Bill.
– I have no desire to unduly delay the passage of the Bill; but I protest against the inclusion of many of these paragraphs in the agreement, because, in my view, they will not to any extent whatever interfere with the operations of other oil companies, and will not secure cheap oil for Australian consumers.
– Although Senator Pratten does not agree with me on the question of dumping, I am prepared to support his amendment. The honorable senator is afraid that this paragraph may be put into force by the Government without the sanction of Parliament. Though he is not prepared to support me in trying to omit the whole of these paragraphs, I am prepared to support him in securing the omission of the words “ and administrative,” from the paragraph under consideration, if there is the slightest chance that their inclusion will enable. the Government without the sanction of Parliament to enforce the provisions of the paragraph. I think that we should all te satisfied if the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) could assure ns that no attempt will be made to give effect to these provisions without first obtaining the sanction of Parliament. I am rather sorry that he should have said that I was arguing against my conviction im what I said about preventing dumping. I should like the honorable senator to ascertain whether there are any antidumping provisions in the agreement between the British Government and the AngloPersian Company. The Minister said that he was unable to say whether therewere or not, but if it is possible for him to obtain the information, I should be ve-ry glad to have it.
– Supposing there are no such provisions, what then?
– If there are no such provisions in the agreement between the British Government and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, why should they be introduced here? The Minister in referring to dumping quoted a case of competition between private companies. I could quote stronger cases than he did of that kind, but it had no bearing upon the argument I used.
– The honorable senator apparently does not realize that the Anglo-Persian Oil Company has been operating in the United Kingdom for half a century, and that we are dealing here with an effort to commence business.
– Does the honorable senator say that the Anglo-Persian Oil Company has been operating in Great Britain for fifty years?
– That is news to me j but the Minister may be right. I suppose they had not the advantage of ‘ any anti-dumping clauses when they started business in England.
– Probably they had not. They are an old-established firm.
– Then I am afraid the honorable senator’s argument is not very strong. Fifty years ago the AngloPersian Company was not a longestablished firm in the United Kingdom.
– The Standard Oil Company was also a struggling concern then. The tiger had not grown up then.
– Am I to understand that the Minister is convinced that that is the reason why the British Government did not include any antidumping -provisions in their agreement with the Anglo-Persian Company?
– I was glad to hear the explanation of this paragraph by the Minister. I understood him to say that it is designed to operate in connexion with legislation already on the statute-book, and particularly the Australian Industries Preservation Act and the powers given to the Minister under the Customs Act. ,,
– I do not say only that legislation. It may be necessary to have additional legislation.
– The honorable senator rather anticipates what I was going to say. So far as present legislation is concerned, this paragraph refers only to the administration of legislation already on the statute-book. But it may be necessary to have further legislation, and the paragraph will cover administration of any further legislation passed by the Parliament to prevent dumping. I understand that it is not intended under this paragraph to exercise any power outside” either- present statutory law or future statutory law.’ Is that the position?
– That is the position.
– Then, by leave of the Committee, I will withdraw my amendment.
Senator PEARCE (“Western Australia-
Minister for Defence) [5.19]. - I should like to say, in answer to Senator Thomas, that I understand that there are no antidumping provisions in the agreement between the Anglo-Persian Company and the British Government.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Paragraph 14 agreed to.
Paragraphs 15 and 16 agreed to.
Paragraph 17 -
The Oil Company shall be appointed, and shall (so long as the Oil Company retains its full interest in the Refinery Company) act as marketing agent of the Refinery Company for the sale outside the Commonwealth and its territories of products of the Refinery Company and shall be paid by the Refinery Company a commission of ten per centum (10 per cent.) on the gross sales.
– Under certain circumstances, this provision would give a very handsome remuneration to the Oil Company as distinct from the Refining Company in which the Commonwealth have an interest. So far as I have been able to estimate, in view of the actual position, it is somewhat harmless and cannot be operative for some years, because it deals only with the sale of refined products outside of the Commonwealth. But I can quite understand that if we discovered oil in Papua, and ha’d two, three, or four refineries in operation in Australia, one half of the products of which would be sold outside the Commonwealth, a commission of 10 per cent, on the gross amount of sale3 would be a very profitable commission indeed. Had the position been somewhat different to what it is this afternoon, I would like to have seen the words “ not exceeding “ included, or the elimination of the words “ ten per centum on the gross sales,” and the substitution of the words “ fair and reasonable.” Should oil be discovered in Papua in commercial quantities, a commission of 10 per cent, may mean anything from £250,000 to £1,000,000 a year to the company, and would be money easily earned. I merely desire to record the fact that in my opinion 10 per cent, is too high a commission in .view of future contingencies, and I would like the Government to consider an amendment to include the words “not exceeding” before “ten per centum,” so that it would be understood that this Legislature looks upon 10 per cent, as a maximum and not a minimum. It may be that the Government may decide upon a lower percentage, or the substitution of the words “ fair and reasonable.” If it is right that this Parliament should include such words in the interests of the AngloPersian Oil Company, it is only just that such words should be included when the Commonwealth has to pay. It is clear that this provision will be inoperative until we have products from our refineries for sale abroad, but I am most strenuously opposed to a gross commission of 10 per cent, being paid to any person or company in connexion with extensive exportations of crude or refined oil.
– I think that Senator Pratten realizes that a tremendous amount of money is not likely to be paid under this agreement in the form of commission, because the company has to produce from its refinery 200,000 tons of oil, practically all of which will be consumed in the Commonwealth. There will be very little for sale abroad.
– It will not establish a precedent.
– No. Such a position as that indicated by Senator Prattenis not likely to arise under this agreement, and if it were possible later to dispose of oil in outside markets, the Government would ask for a revision of the paragraph.
Paragraph agreed to.
Paragraphs 18. to 22, and remainder of schedule, postponed clause 2, and title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a’ third time.
Assent to- the following Bills reported:
Invalid and Old-Age Pensions Appropriation Bill.
War Pensions Appropriation Bill.
Australian Soldiers Repatriation Bill.
Supplementary Appropriation Bill 1917-18.
Supplementary Appropriation Bill 1918-19.
Supplementary Appropriation (Works and Buildings) Bill 1917-18.
Supplementary Appropriation (Works and. Buildings Bill 1918-19.
Sugar Purchase Bill.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
When the principal measure was under discussion, the position of those men who were in camp in training for overseas service and who died in camp, and those who were totally or permanently incapacitated as a result of an accident in camp, was mentioned. The case on their behalf was submitted rather late, and it was promised that they would be given consideration under the provisions of an amending Bill. This measure is to assist such men, and I believe it will have the general support of the Senate. It also includes one or two technical amendments, and rectifies one or two omissions in the principal measure. I do not intend to occupy the time of the Senate in discussing it at length, as I feel sure that it will have general support.
– Are there many amendments ?
– No; they are only slight.
– It is not my intention to oppose the measure, because I heartily approve of all its provisions. Although the principal Act only received the assent of His Excellency the Governor-General on 30th
April, it has already been found necessary - as I indicated during the discussion on the principal Act - to amend it in several important respects. The men who went to New Guinea were excluded from the provisions of the principal Act, but I am glad to say that they are now included. It is also gratifying to see that the Imperial Reservists and their dependants are to benefit. At first the Government were not prepared to allow themto participate, but apparently they now recognise that they served their country as well as others who served overseas. It may be remembered that during the discussion onthe measure now being amended I protested rather strongly against the action of the Government in not including a provision covering those Australians who. on the declaration of war, were abroad, and who at first made an unsucessful effort to join some Australian unit in Great Britain, but who subsequently became members of the Force.
These men were excluded,but now they are to be allowed to participate in the benefits. Provision has also been made for certain members of the Naval Forces, and for further extending the number of exemptions in relation to the payment of income tax. These are provisions which are very necessary and acceptable. Will the Minister for Defence explain why the regulations to be framed under this measure specifically apply to the last two clauses? The Act as it stands to-day appears to provide the Government with ample power.
– I will give the honorable senator some information on that point in Committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 -
Section 4 of the principal Act is amended -
by adding, at the end of sub-section (2), the following proviso : - “ Provided that in the case of a person specified in paragraph (b) or (e) (ii) of that sub-section, who died while on service, the rate of war gratuity payable shall be one shilling and sixpence per diem.”
Section proposed to he amended:
– Honorable senators have been furnished with a series of proposed requests for the amendment of the Bill, the purpose of which is to include within the scope of the gratuity those who were totally and permanently incapacitated while on service in camp. I move -
That the House of Representatives be requested to amend the clause by inserting after the word “service” the following words: - “or who is totally and permanently incapacitated as a result of such service.”
Request agreed to.
Clause agreed to with a request.
Clause 5 agreed to with, requests for consequential amendments.
Clauses 6 and 7 agreed to.
Clause 8 (Regulations) -
Section 20 of the principal Act is amended by adding at the end thereof the following words : - “ and in particular -
for conferring upon the prescribed authority powers in relation to the summoning of witnesses, the taking of evidence on oath, and the production of documents, and
for providing penalties, not exceeding fifty pounds, for any failure to comply with any requirement made by a prescribed authority in the exercise of any such powers.”
– In reply to Senator Grant, I desire to say that since the Act was passed the prescribed authority has been appointed, and there has been time to examine the provisions made in connexion with that body. It has been found necessary that the additional provisions included in this clause shall be added in order to strengthen the Act.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with requests; report adopted.
Bill received from the House of Representatives, Standing and Sessional Orders suspended, and Bill read a first time.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
The measure is one which will incorporate in the existing Act a number of sections taken from the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act. They will give to the Accounts Committee power to summon witnesses and call evidence, which authority is at present enjoyed by the Public Works Committee. They will also provide for the payment of expenses incurred by members of the Committee while travelling to and attending meetings. They propose also to increase the number of members from nine to ten, the one additional member being appointed from the House of Representatives. That necessity has arisen from the appearance in the other branch of the Legislature of a third party, and from a desire to give to that party representation upon the Public Accounts Committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through ‘ its remaining stages without amendment.
Public Service: Mr. McLachlan’s Report : Inefficient Officers - Fashions in Dress - Commonwealth Taxation - Drought in New South Wales -Cost of Soldiers’ Homes - Conditions in Russia.
Motion (by Senator Millen) proposed -
That this Bill be now read a first time.
– Some time ago I inquired when honorable senators were likely to have placed before them a report prepared for the Government by Mr. McLachlan in connexion with the Public Service. The reply was of such a character that it appeared almost useless for honorable senators to spend time discussing the Estimates. We understand that the report deals generally with the Public Service. On a former occasion, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) told us that it was. no use having the report just then, because the money had practically all been spent. If that is so, it seems to be almost a waste of time to discuss the Estimates, because, apparently, it is futile to attempt to deal with the present or the past, and not necessary to deal with tie future. I differ from the Minister. This report is a very important document, and that there was some necessity for it is evident from the fact that the Government asked Mr. McLachlan to prepare it. Since I asked that question, one or two paragraphs have appeared in the press, and lately a more definite statement has appeared to the effect that the report suggests that the. Government ought to be in a position more easily to dismiss incompetent officers. Whether this recommendation is contained in the report, I cannot say ; but the press paragraphs indicate that it is, and if the press information is correct, the sooner we have that report in our hands the better. I understand great difficulty is experienced in dismissing incompetent officers from the Public Service, on account of the opportunities to approach the Appeal Board, which comprises three persons, one of whom must be an officer in the same grade as the appellant, another a member of the Public Service appointed by the Government, and the third an outsider if the Government so desires. In these circumstances, it is natural to assume that two members of the Appeal Board, being public servants themselves, will be sympathetic towards the appellant, especially as one member of the Board is elected by popular vote from the same grade as the appellant. I have in mind a case in which the Deputy Postmaster-General, Mr. Bright, an able and, I think, a tactful man, was concerned. Some years ago he declared! two officers, one a letter carrier and the other in the General Division, to be incompetent. They approached the Appeal Board in the ordinary course, and the Boarcf upheld the appeal, with the result that the men- were returned to the Department. Now, if Mr. McLachlan’s report deals with this matter, as stated by the press, it should be made available to honorable senators. The press paragraphs also suggest that the report indicates that ment does not receive due recognition in the Public Service; that seniority takes precedence. We cannot expect to have an efficient Public Service in such circumstances. I admit that if two officers of equal ability are candidates for promotion, the senior man, because of his longer experience, should receive the appointment; but we ought to provide that seniority shall not take precedence over merit. I have previously asked for the report, and in view of the statements appearing in the press, I shall be glad if the Government can see their way clear to make it available .as soon as possible.
– The present is an excellent opportunity to again bring under the notice of the Government the necessity for altering our present effete and unsatisfactory method of national taxation. A number of people in this country, very properly, I think, argue that Australian ideas should have full play ; that we should not slavishly follow Great Britain’s example in all things. In this free and semitropical country, for instance, we have the spectacle of men at any social gatherings dressed up in black suits, as if thev were in sackcloth and ashes. They cannot go to a dance unless they are rigged out in a- dress which is gradually being discarded in other parts of the world. I was pleased to read that the young men in New Zealand, during the visit of the Prince of Wales, disregarded these dress regulations at many of the functions and appeared in suits made from New Zealand tweed. I trust their excellent ex ample will be followed very largely in Australia while His Royal Highness the Prince is in the Commonwealth. This, however, is a small matter.
The question of national taxation is one which, I think, has not engaged the attention of this Government to any extent during the past few years. Just because Great Britain collects a large amount of revenue through the Customs and a substantial sum from income taxation, we are told that we should do the same. Some honorable senators think there is nothing like a high revenue Tariff - some of them call it a Protectionist Tariff, and say that the object is to exclude goods manufactured in low-wage countries. Erom their point of view, no doubt the scheme ‘ is a good one. The income’ tax is a much more objectionable impost. It is- an ancient device for raising revenue. I do not know how many millions sterling were collected in Great Britain last year by means of this tax, but when honorable senators are speaking they never fail to point out that the conditions in Great Britain are very much worse than in Australia, and from this I deduce that the income taxation is levied upon those who can pass it on to others who are not able to bear it. This system of raising revenue was introduced to Australia by a Labour Government, in an evil moment, and unfortunately it has been adhered to ever since, successive Governments being satisfied, apparently, so long as its Treasury is kept full.
– Do you think Mr. Storey will lift the income tax in New South Wales?
– I do not think it likely that he will, but he would do the right thing if he abolished it.
– I shall be quite satisfied if he does not increase it.
– I would not be surprised if the present Labour Government in New South Wales increased income taxation, and looked around in other directions for additional sources of income from taxation. They can hardly impose Customs duties, as that is the function of the Commonwealth Parliament. Just because Great Britain imposed an income tax, the same idea has been foisted upon this country.
– Other countries besides Great Britain impose income tax.
– I am aware of that, but nothing of a beneficial character ever flows from the adoption of this principle. Only last week I read an article in the official organ of the Labour party of New South Wales, which pointed out to Mr. Storey - perhaps very much to the annoyance of gentlemen like Senator Millen - that his Government ought not merely to increase the income tax, but to impose such a heavy rate upon high salaries as would render it unprofitable for their recipients to collect them.
– I think that he is going to deal gently with any person who is in receipt of less than £1,000 a year.
– They will not be dealt with too roughly. The mere fact that it is intended to continue a stiff income tax upon huge salaries suggests that those who are earning them will continue to do so.
– That is a good thing for the Treasurer.
– He is the only man to whom it is a good thing. It ought to be quite evident to Senator Senior that, if a person is in receipt of a large income year after year, and a substantial portion of it be taken from him for public requirements, he will still be in a position to extract that income from the general public.
– Do not the general public reap abenefit through the Treasury ?
– When once a person parts with his income tax, that is the end of it so far as he is concerned.
There is one provision in the Income Tax Act to which I wish specially to refer. Section 14 of that measure enables the Commissioner of Taxes to levy a tax upon the value of a man’s home and of the land upon which it stands. That is an exceedingly great blemish upon the statute. Of course, the Act itself is radically wrong from every stand-point. But the particular section to which I have referred directs the Commissioner to tax the industry of the taxpayer.
– Why does the honorable senator want to tax land so badly ?
– At present I am dealing with the taxation which is levied upon the value of a man’s home and of the land upon which it stands. Any tax upon industry is wrong, and the section of the Act to which I have referred is extremely objectionable.
May I also suggest that the time is opportune to review the Federal land tax. That impost is a very light one. Indeed, the tax is a purely nominal tax which does not produce more than £2,000,000 a year, whereas, about £10,000,000 is derived from the income tax. As time goes on, that amount will probably be increased.
– Would the honorable senator impose a heavier land tax upon drought-stricken New South Wales ?
– New South Wales is by no means drought-stricken.
– What ?
– There is an area in the western district of New South Wales, comprising some 80,000,000 acres, which is undoubtedly drought-stricken. But the Federal land tax operates there only in a very limited manner. Indeed, over the whole of the area, the State land tax produces only about £2,500 a year. It is quite true that the drought in New South Wales extends half-way across the central division of the State. But it does not extend to the eastern divison.
– If New South Wales as a State is not drought-stricken, why is the State Government proposing to borrow £2,000,000 for the purpose of assisting struggling farmers on account of drought?
– It is absurd to suggest that the south, or the north coast of New South Wales, is drought stricken, or that the eastern section of the central division is drought stricken. Senator Millen knows that. The normal condition of the western part of New South Wales is one of drought.
– How does the honorable senator account for the loss of 15,000,000 sheep in New South Wales?
– By the fact that a drought does exist in the western division, which is the pastoral division of that State. More than half of the central division, and the whole of the western division, have been for some time in the grip of a drought. But that is not the part of New South Wales in . which great land values are to be found. It is absurd to argue that large land values exist either in. the western division or the western part of the central division of New South Wales. The bulk of those values is to be found in the eastern division of that State along the seaboard. In Sydney alone, land is being sold at up to £1,000 per foot, and a similar price has been realized for land in Melbourne. Yet we are told that the persons who can afford to pay these prices are, in reality, too poor to pay anything. At the same time, anybody who dares to go to a picture show is required to pay a tax upon every shilling he expends there. Unless an individual purchases more than £5,000 worth of land-
– That would be only 5 feet in Sydney or Melbourne.
-But even 5 feet is a very substantial item in any of the main thoroughfares of those cities. I repeat that the conditions which obtain’ in parts of the eastern section of the central division of New South Wales, as well as in the eastern division of that State, are not those of drought. In my opinion, the people who own the country should paythe taxation of the country. The only way in which we can compel them to do that is by levying a tax upon the value of their land.
I have previously referred to cases in which men have gone overseas to fight for the broad acres of some honorable senators. When one of these men who had been in Egypt chasing the Arabs, in Mesopotamia, and in Damascus, returned to Australia, and desired to make a home for himself here, he was asked to part with the whole of his deferred pay to enable him to begin operations. Some time ago, I endeavoured to ascertain from the Government how much money the returned men had to pay for the right to live in Australia. Several months have elapsed since I asked that question, but, strange to say, no reply has yet been forthcoming. Probably the amount is so large that Ministers are ashamed to let it be known. If they had been anxious to obtain the information, it could have been supplied long ere this.
If the Government would levy a sufficiently heavy tax upon land, vast areas would soon be made available for settlement. It would not pay anybody to keep land idle if such a tax were imposed. They would be compelled either to use the land or to sell it. So long as present conditions continue, there is bound to be industrial discontent. We do not yet know precisely what has taken place in Russia during recent years, because of the censorship which has been in vogue. It has, however, leaked out that the working people of that country were so tired of the conditions which exist there that, almost with one accord, they declared all land titles to be non-existent. They refused absolutely to recognise the owners of land in Russia.
– They did more than that. They chopped off their heads.
– They chopped off a number of their heads. In former years, it was a frequent pastime of the Czar’s regime to chop off the heads of the moujiks, and it is not to be wondered at that when these people realized how badly they had been treated’ for so many years they dealt out such summary punishment to their oppressors. I do not suggest that the same thing will occur in Australia. The point I wish to make is that the Russian workers were so determined in the matter that they would not stop to impose land taxation. They decided that the land belonged to them, and so they passed out the rent extractors for ever.
– What are they doing with the land now?
– I have not the least doubt that they are working it.
– I suppose that is why millions of the Russian people are starving.
– I venture to say that no one in Australia can have any correct idea of what the true position in Russia is.
– Yet the honorable senator speaks as an authority.
– I do not profess to be an authority on the subject, but, so far as I have been able to secure information, despite the War Precautions Act and censors abroad, I understand that the Russian workers have passed out the landowners, and have taken possession of the land themselves. In Australia, just because it was the fashion in Great Britain and some other countries, we have continued the system of land tenure that obtained in those countries. The Russian people, so far as I know, have been the first who have been game and determined enough to pass out the land-owners. I do not know that the method they adopted is the best way to get rid of the landowners. It seems to me to be somewhat harsh. I would very much prefer to get rid of the land-owner by such a constitutional method as I suggest.
– I desire to inform honorable senators that arrangements have been made for presenting the resolutions of thanks, passed by both Houses of Parliament, to representatives of the Navy and the Army- in the Queen’s Hall this evening. I invite honorable senators to take part in that historic function. The arrangements will be that the representatives of the Navy and Army shall assemble at the lower end of the Queen’s Hall, and I invite honorable members of the Senate to assemble in orderly fashion on the south side of the Queen’s Hall. It is proposed that honorable members of another place shall assemble on the other side of the hall. After members of both Houses are assembled, at 7.30 p.m., Admiral Grant, General Chauvel and General Monash will be invited by Mr. Speaker and myself to come forward, when the resolutions will be presented to them and their replies will be received. In order to give sufficient time for the proper and orderly conduct of the function, I shall suspend the sitting until half-past 8 o’clock, when I will resume the chair.
Sitting suspended from 6.25 to 8.30 p.m.
– I have to inform the Senate that this evening, in the Queen’s Hall, I presented the resolution agreed to by the Senate on the 5th May, conveying a vote of thanks to the Sea, Land, and Air Forces, and the Voluntary Workers of the Commonwealth, and others, for their services in connexion with the Great War.
The resolution was received by Admiral Grant, General Sir Henry Chauvel, and General Sir John Monash, representing their respective (Services; and they in reply expressed their deep gratitude, and asked that their sincere appreciation be conveyed to the Senate for the resolution.
Unimproved Land Values Taxation - Cost of House Building - Drought in New South Wales - Memorials to Fallen Soldiers: Use of Australian Marble: Graves Commission - MILITARY Regulations: Long Service Leave - Sydney General Post Office - Wheat Stocks, and Wheat Export - Financial Position : Business Boards - Amalgamation of Taxing and Electoral Departments - Uniform Railway Gauge - Supplies of Railway Material - Control of Wool Sales - Rates of Exchange - Lighthouse Temporary Employees - Public Service : Amending Bill : Preference to Returned Soldiers: Promotions: Acting Officers: NoN.FILLING of vacancies.
Debate resumed on motion (by Senator Millen) -
That this Bill be now read a first time.
– It is quite evident that we cannot expect the State Governments to impose additional land taxation, that would result in good land being made available for settlement. Queensland is the only State that has moved in the matter, and even there the additional amount of taxation imposed has not been sufficient to make the land easily available, as they have an exemption of £300. It must be evident that when there is an. exemption from taxation that a part of the estate will be more costly to purchase even if it is taxed down to the last £1. With the exception of Queensland no effort has been made by the Australian States to make land available by these means. There is only a nominal tax in Victoria, practically none in New South Wales, and a small one in Tasmania, Western Australia, and South Australia. The most scientific Act is- in Queensland, “but even there its incidence is not sufficient to compel the owners of /vacant land to use it or to dispose of it, and while this condition continues it must be evident that the present exceedingly acute shortage of land for housing must continue. I know that the scarcity and the high cost of building material, as well as the scarcity of labour, has something to do with it, but the main difficulty is in securing suitable sites for homes- Most people desire to live near a large city, and in the vicinity of Melbourne or any other of the State capitals a person requiring land would need from £150 to £200 to purchase a block. It may be an easy matter for some who have ample money available, but it is a very difficult proposition for a man who is only receiving £4 or £5 per week. Even if such a person were able to find the necessary cash to pay a deposit he would be compelled to pay interest on the balance at 6 per cent. There is very little hope of the States making land available through the State Parliaments, and the municipal and district councils have very limited powers in this direction, although in some of the States they are doing something, notably in New South Wales and Queensland. But in Victoria if anyone dares to build a home in the suburban areas he is immediately taxed on the value of his improvements, and the same can be said of some of the other States, including Tasmania. The difficulty in that regard has been removed to some extent in South Australia, but even there I understand that in many cases improvements are taxed. If we consider the work that is being done by the State Parliaments and municipal or district councils, we cannot expect these authorities to assist to any extent in making land available at a reasonable price. I do not know how many hundreds of returned soldiers are waiting for land in the various States.
– Is the honorable senator referring to land for homes or for settlement?
– To both.
– There is no difficulty in securing land; it is in obtaining material and men to erect houses.
– There is considerable difficulty in securing land.
– We have more land than we can build on in two years.
– The Minister for Repatriation knows very well that it is a difficult matter to secure building sites at a reasonable price anywhere near the centres of population. The only way in which an improvement can be effected is by inducing the Government to amend the Federal Land Tax Act in such a way that owners of vacant blocks would be compelled to put their land to a proper use or sell it. It has to be remembered that in the near future additional taxation will be required, as we have to raise annually about £5,000,000 for old-age pensions, about £6,000,000 for war pensions, as well as meet an annual interest bill of £15,000,000. To that may be added another £15,000,000 for ‘ interest payments to be met by the various States. We are up against the problem of having to pay away £41,000,000 each year, and it would appear that there is no tangible result, as nothing is now ‘being produced in return for the expenditure. This is no doubt largely responsible for the high cost of commodities,, and there is no immediate prospect of any improvement. We have been informed that the Government were unable to pay the returned soldiers their war gratuity in cash.
). - The honorable senator must not discuss that question.
– I was merely pointing out that if our Federal Land Tax was increased, the Government would have been able to pay the gratuity in cash, but if you rule, sir, that I am out of order in discussing that question, I will not continue. Additional taxation must be imposed, and incomes have been taxed heavily enough. Estate duties are high, and the entertainments tax should no longer remain on the Statute Book. The people who own this country are the ones who should be called upon to pay in proportion to the value of the land they possess.
During the course of my remarks, I find that I was not quite accurate in describing the portions of New South Wales that are at present experiencing a drought. Probably drought conditions exist a little further to the east than I mentioned, and over the greater portion of the eastern part of the northern division. The eastern division, however, has not experienced a drought to any extent. I trust the Government will make a substantial increase in the land tax. as there appears to be little prospect of the States moving in the matter.
I wish to refer to the question of the erection of memorials ‘ to fallen soldiers. I understand that some time ago* a Graves Commission was appointed consisting of members appointed by the Imperial authorities, and I understand a representative of the Commonwealth. I believe it is the intention to erect imposing structures for specific purposes, and also separate memorials over the graves of fallen men. I have heard that it is intended to give Italy a contract for the supply and delivery of the necessary gravestones, and if such is the case, the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) should explain why this work is not being done in Australia, as we have large deposits of marble eminently suitable for work of this kind. There are extensive marble deposits in New South Wales and in some of the other States, and there are also deposits of granite in New South Wales equal to anything in the world.
– And in Queensland.
– Yes, and so far as I know, in all the other States. There are great deposits of the very best granite in New South Wales.
– What kind of granite ?
– Grey granite at Moruya, red granite at Gabo Island, and any amount of dark granite near Canberra. That material is practically imperishable, and is eminently suited for the purpose of constructing memorials. Instead of giving a contract to Italy, the work could be just as well, if not better, done in Australia, of Australian granite or marble. I trust that the Minister for Defence will acquaint the Senate with what has been done so far, and will say whether a contract has been let to Italy. A deputation representative of the stonemasons of Adelaide, and of Victoria and New South Wales, waited, upon me to-day, and urged that I should endeavour to secure the attention of the Government to this matter.
– Are there any idle stonemasons in the Commonwealth ?
– There are a few. As a matter of fact, there would not be very much hand work required in the preparation of head-stones. That, however, is a detail. The point is that the work should be executed, if possible, in Australia,, by Australians. The whole matter may involve an outlay of almost £1,000,000; and if the work can be done here, the money should be disbursed here.
Some little while ago, I brought forward the question of the suggested amendment of Military Regulation No. 409. It is a matter of sufficient importance to induce the Minister’s attention. It states, in effect, that a soldier who has served twenty years in the Military Forces of the Commonwealth is entitled to six months’ leave on full pay at the expiration of the twenty years, or at the retiring age. The trouble is that if an employee of the Department desires to retire before he has been employed for twenty years, he cannot receive consideration unless, meanwhile, he has reached the retiring age. With regard to men who have served for twelve to fourteen or fifteen years, this regulation should be reviewed, so that they should get leave or monetary return in proportion to the number of years of their service. -In an answer to a question, the Minister for Defence has indicated to me that men placed as I have just described have no redress whatever. I trust that that unfair position will be done away with.
I understand that the bulk of the money which the Senate is asked to vote to-night has been already expended, and that there is little hope of securing a review of any item of expenditure. There i3 just one matter, in conclusion, to which I call attention, and that, I think, comes within the scope of the Federal Government, under the Department of the Postmaster-General. There are six pedestals placed in front of the General Post Office, Sydney, in Martin-place. They have a hard stone base, which is surmounted by marble. This marble, I understand, we imported many years ago, either from Belgium or the Pyrenees, and it is now in a state of decay. It was never any good, and is getting worse every year. It is a disgrace to the neighbourhood; and I hope that the Government, if they have the power, will remove the eyesores which these pedestals have become.
Senator PRATTEN (New South Wales) [8.541. - It is with satisfaction that honorable senators must have listened to the remarks of Senator Grant - the sol© representative of the Opposition who has been here through this week, helping to carry on the business of the country. I rise, to-night particularly to draw the attention of the Minister in charge of the Wheat Pool (Senator Russell) to the very acute position regarding stocks of wheat, and concerning the obligations of the Commonwealth for shipment oversea. Yesterday, I asked a question following upon these lines. I in- tended it to thoroughly deal with present stocks; and I got a complete answer. It indicated to me that the opinion which I had formed”, namely, that the position is somewhat critical, may not be very far from correct. It is common knowledge that the position regarding wheat in New South Wales is acute. We practically have no stocks at all in that State; and, unfortunately, owing to the ravages of drought - which, by the way, Senator Grant has denied - our total crop last season was only about 4,500,000 bushels altogether. That is not above one-third of the total State food requirements for the year. The answer furnished by Senator Russell was to this effect: That, according to the books of the Wheat Board - that is, in accordance with paper figures only - there was a stock in the four wheat States, plus the stock in the mills, of 50.000,000 bushels of wheat; and that the obligation upon the Commonwealth for shipping wheat already sold to overseas markets amounted to 16,000,000 or 17,000,000 bushels. The Minister further stated that the book figures which he gave me did not provide for any stock adjustment in South Australia, and that other States had not advised that any further adjustments are necessary. The last figures given me were that seed requirements will be supplied from 1916-17 wheat, and that the estimated consumption for human food in Australia, till the 1st January next, is 19,500,000 bushels. I desire to analyze those figures of the Minister, first, on the basis of the figures actually supplied in reply to my questions, and, secondly, on the basis of other statistics which I shall submit.
– If the honorable senator will look at paragraph 4 of my reply, he will find that he was in error in referring to my statement about writing off. I said that in the matter of writing off wheat for the seasons 1917-18, 1918-19, and 1919-20, there, was no need to write off, because there was no wheat lost.’
– The Minister did not say that in his reply. His full reply, contained in paragraph 4, was that the milling wheat now held in the Commonwealth is mainly that of the seasons 1917-18, 19T8-19, 1919-20; that New South Wales is the only State which has made any adjustment on the wheat of any of these seasons, and that the other States have not advised that adjustments are necessary. I point out that they did not tell the Minister that there might not be some adjustments by the time the whole matter was cleared up. If the other States have not advised that adjustments are necessary, they have not yet advised that no adjustments will be necessary.
Referring to the figures submitted - and perhaps the most important matter for New South Wales to-day is that of stocks of wheat - Senator Russell states that the total book stocks of the Commonwealth amount approximately to 50,000,000 bushels; and that we have balances, due for export sales yet to ship, of 16,000,000 bushels, plus certain private flour contracts tobe executed. Suppose we call that 17,000,000 bushels in all; there will be a remainder of 33,000,000 bushels, according to the books of the Wheat Board. The figures which the Minister has given as the requirements for food for the whole of the people of the Commonwealth until the 1st January next - which is the earliest day that we must take into consideration -are 19,500,000 bushels. That, deducted from the 33,000,000 bushels, will give a book balance of 13,500,000 bushels. There have been no stock adjustments so far as South Australia is concerned, and, according to the statement made by the late Premier of South Australia, the losses there - I am speaking from memory -are admitted to be about 6,000,000 bushels. I think, therefore, that we must deduct this amount from the 13,500,000 bushels, leaving then a balance, according to the books of the Wheat Board, of only 7,500,000 bushels. I heard the other day - the Minister will correct me if I am wrong - that the Government of West Australia will not allow any more wheat to be exported from that State, so, if we deduct West Australia’s 5,000,000 bushels from the figures which I have been dealing with, the carry over, so far as the three principal wheat-producing States are concerned, will on the Minister’s own figures be only 2,500,000 bushels, without any allowance being made for the clean up, which will probably show, amongst other things, a large quantity of second class wheat, fit only for the manufacture of second-grade flour for export.
– The margin is just one-half bushel per capita.
– That is so. So far as I can understand the position, from the stocks held in Victoria at country stations, and estimated to be available at depôts, it is a very moot question whether, after adjustments have been made, the total in this State will reach the figure appearing on the books of the Wheat Board. It is obvious, also, that we cannot take into consideration any increase duo to the gain in weight because, in New South Wales, where the stocks are practically clear, no addition has been made on this account in respect of the A, C, D, and E crops.
– Has this increase in weight any real food value?
– Of course it has. If all the wheat had been shipped, or consumed during the year in which it was gathered, and had there been no mice or weevil plague, or other pests, it is estimated that the increase in weight on the A crop would have been equal to nearly 1 lb. per bushel, on the B crop nothing, owing to its pinched condition; on the C crop £ lb. per bushel, and on the D and E crops nearly 1 lb. per bushel, or a total of nearly 5,000,000 bushels extra.
– But, if increase in weight is due to moisture, how can it have any food value?
– It would have been a fair average quality increase, and, up to the outbreak of the war and at the beginning of this primitive storage system which the war forced upon us, this addition to weight was regarded as extra, profit for shipping agents.
I have dealt with the figures supplied by the Minister. I now wish to present the figures relating to the wheat position from my own stand-point, which is not quite so optimistic. I take the stock of wheat held in the Commonwealth as appearing on the books of the Wheat Board at 5.0,000,000 bushels, and from that I deduct 17,000,000 bushels representing contracts yet to be completed and flour yet to be shipped, giving a remainder of 33,000,000 bushels. But at this point I branch off from the calculation made in the answer supplied to the Minister, in connexion with the food and seed requirements of the Commonwealth. So far as I have been able to ascertain, our total requirements for seed, food, and manufacturing for export, are in the region of 45,000,000 bushels per year. Up to the middle of this month three-eighths of the year had gone by, and consequently, estimating on this basis, I have to take five-eighths of 45,000,000 bushels as our probable total needs for the remainder of the year, so that the figure will not be 19,500,000 bushels, but 28,000,000 bushels. And if this total be deducted from the 33,000,000 bushels above referred to, there will be only a balance of 5,000,000 bushels, without any adjust ment whatsoever having ‘been made in respect of South Australian stocks. As I have already pointed out, on the authority of the late Premier of South Australia, stock adjustments will have to be made in that State to the extent of 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 bushels, so that there will not be any wheat at all left in the Commonwealth, even if every bushel shown in the books of the Wheat Board is actually available. Then, if Western Australia will not allow any wheat to be exported, what will our position be? Instead of a surplus we shall be faced with an actual shortage, and be obliged to use up a certain amount of second quality wheat that is bound to be in the remainder of the stocks and which can only be made into second quality flour. The position in New South Wales is critical. We have no wheat there now, and if the position develops as I indicate, we shall possibly have to import from overseas to feed the people in New South Wales, and that wheat may cost us from 20s. to 25s. per bushel.
– Will not seme of the new crop be available before the end of the year?
– It will be quite the end of the year before any of the new crop is available, and I remind my honorable friend that there is no certainty whatever that it will meet all our requirements next year. I respectfully .submit that we are taking too many risks.
A paragraph in the London Times of 19th March stated that at a meeting of steam-ship companies engaged in the Eastern trade held to consider a statement of the Ship Comptroller that additional tonnage would be required to bring wheat from Australia during the months of April, May and June, it was reported that special provision had been made to lift 300,000 tons of Australian wheat during those months. In the statement supplied ‘by the Minister yesterday the total allowed for export, on account of the British contract, was 400,000 tons, and I repeat that we are taking a considerable amount’ of risk in supplying the whole of that contract. Even on the Wheat Board figures we have a very small margin, and I hold that, in view of the experience of New South Wales this year, we ought not to run the risk of allowing our stocks to become bare. We should have a few million bushels of wheat available in Australia on 1st January next, because it is quite conceivable that barely sufficient wheat will be grown in Australia next year to meet internal requirements. I therefore urge the Minister not to take too optimistic a view of the future, but to play for safety. I suggest that, as apparently we have oversold, the Government should endeavour to persuade the Imperial Government to cancel 100,000 tons, if not 200,000 tons, of the contract referred to, because it will be a calamity if we sell at 5s. 6d. per bushel and have to import at 20s. or 25s. per bushel, to supply the needs of New South Wales and possibly Queensland as well.
I have given the two sets of figures and analyzed them both, and on my own estimate there appears to be a distinct risk of shortage with the need for importation. According to the statement which I quoted from the London Times, ships will be available to lift 300,000 tons of the Australian wheat sold to the British Government.
– But 107 of those ships have been diverted to lift wool.
-Then the position is all the easier. It might suit the British Government not to take so much of our wheat. I am glad to have this information from the Minister, because I regard the export of wool as being infinitely more important than the export of wheat. We do not want to send our wheat away, but we do want to ship our wool. Consequently I suggest that the Minister give serious consideration to my suggestion at an early date, so that we may reserve a greater quantity of wheat for Commonwealth requirements. There will be plenty of wool to ship instead of wheat, and the sooner we get it away the better.
My remarks have nothing whatever to do with the price of wheat scrip. I am not going into that question either one way or another. But I have attempted to focus attention upon the position which we shall occupy if the figures submitted by the Minister ultimately prove to be wrong. We are facing a drought, and I ask the Minister, seriously and ‘sincerely, what he is going to do in this matter. T am sure that he will not place himself in the position of Micawber. In order to insure Australia against a possible wheat shortage, we should be wise to have 5,000,000 bushels of old wheat in stock on the 1st January next, That wheat will always be worth the 5s. 6d. per bushel which the British Government pay for it. . In view of the shortage of the last crop, the drought from which we are suffering, and of the net results reaped by our Australian farmers, surely the British Government will agree to the cancellation of a portion of their wheat contracts. We occupy an isolated position, and if we had to import wheat we should have to bring it over many thousands of miles of ocean. I rose merely to set against the figures supplied by the Minister, other figures which tell another story, and I believe that a full consideration of the matter on his part will induce him to arrive at the conclusion that it is his duty to play for safety.
– I appreciate the spirit in which Senator Pratten has approached this matter. But there are one or two points to which he referred, and to which I desire to take exception. In this connexion I may mention his reference to Micawber. I may tell him that the Australian Wheat Board not only recognised very early the danger he has emphasized, but took such steps as will guarantee this country against the disaster which he anticipates. New South Wales, the State that he represents, is alone responsible for her present position. She continued to export wheat long after the Australian Wheat Board had advised her to discontinue the practice, and, finally, the Board had practically to prevent her from doing so. Whilst New South Wales, therefore, is not entitled to whine in the hour of her disaster, the fact is that the other States have treated her most generously. Senator Pratten has said that Western Australia will not allow any wheat to go out of that country. His statement is not correct. The trouble of Western Australia is that she objects to selling wheat to New South Wales - which exported more than she ought to have exported - when she is obliged to refuse for it overseas a much higher price than she can obtain in the mother State. Some six months ago the Wheat Board deliberately investigated the stocks of wheat in Australia, and as the result of a conference advised the States that it had no power to hold wheat in the Commonwealth, with the result that every State, including New South Wales, to-day has* command of more than sufficient supplies of first-class wheat to last up till the 1st January next. The ‘trouble of New
South Wales is not that she is unable to get wheat, but that she has full contracts until January, when her new crop will come in. Her complaint is that she is not able to get from the other States the wheat for which she has contracted. Instead of the figures which I have submitted being of an optimistic character, they are extremely conservative, because although Senator Pratten has spoken of the quantity of wheat lost in South Australia and other States, more than 90 per cent. of the wheat in Australia to-day belongs to the crops harvested in three years during which we had neither mice nor weevils to contend with. This wheat has probably increased a little in weight. In respect of that wheat which belongs to the 1917-18, 1918-19, and 1919-20 crop, we do not anticipate any trouble. The figures show that, out of 49,000,000 we are obliged to supply, 33,750,000 bushels are not likely to be delivered before the end of January next, but if a real crisis should arise we can still retain some of that wheat. I would further point out that New Zealand will be able to get rid of all the wheat which she has contracted to deliver within the period I have mentioned. No less than 107 of the vessels referred to by Senator Pratten have already been diverted to the export of wool, which, I agree with him, is of more importance to Australia to-day than is the export of wheat.
– What quantity will they carry ?
– The vessels will average from 4,500 to 6,000 tons. After providing for our contracts, and for the supplies needed in Australia up to January next, we shall thus have a surplus of 14,250,000 bushels. Within the last few days there has been splendid rains in the Wimmera, there is a magnificent prospect of a good season in Western Australia, every inch of the wheat area in South Australia has participated in the bountiful rainfall - in short, there has not been a year since 1915 which has opened with such good prospects for the comingcr op. For every bushel of wheat which we now hold in Australia, the sale price of which is 7s. 8d. to-day, we could easily obtain 12s. 6d. overseas. Whilst, therefore, we should do everything that is necessary to insure that sufficient stocks shall be kept on hand for our own requirements, we should be exceedingly careful not to deprive the Australian farmer of the results of his hard work by keeping an unduly large quantity of wheat here.
– My differentiation was on the quantity required for home use until 1st January next.
– On the average yearly consumption of 45,000,000 bushels my figures are 9,000,000 bushels in excess of the Minister’s.
– We shall have a surplus, after allowing for our own requirements up till 1st January next, of 14,250,000 bushels. Only a few days ago, I was speaking to a miller in New South Wales, and I asked him if any trouble had been experienced in supplying bakers with flour. He informed me that every baker there, recognising that this difficulty was looming ahead, had built up stocks of flour, so that millers found it very hard indeed to place any quantity of that commodity with any baker in New South Wales to-day. We intend to make doubly secure the position in Australia, and we have, therefore, suggested that each State should take practically a census, in order to ascertain how many tons of wheat have been converted into flour which is now held by bakers in New South Wales. No serious crisis in flour or foodstuffs can arise in New South Wales for many months to come. That State would be very foolish to attempt to import wheat from other countries, seeing that it might cost her anything up to £1 per bushel, whereas she can obtain wheat from the other States for 7s. 8d. per bushel, provided that the necessary shipping is available. If it is not available, we are not likely to get shipping from oversea markets in which to bring wheat here. None of our contracts are likely to be completed this year, but I feel sure that if a real crisis should arise the British Government would release a portion of the wheat which they have purchased. Some time ago we approached them on this question, and also offered to repurchase a portion of our own wheat. The Imperial authorities, however, were not very enthusiastic over the proposal, because Australia was not able to prove that she was really short of wheat. I trust that we shall be able to complete our contracts, but none of them are likely to be completed before our next crop is available. Senator Pratten took advantage of about three months when he urged that January next would be the earliest period at which Australia would have the new crop. May I point out to him that in Western Australia wheat is harvested at the end of November?
– That is not a difference of three months but only one month.
– In Victoria the wheat commences to come in about the middle of December, and in the Riverina it is harvested even earlier than that.
– In the northern districts of South Australia we get” very early wheat.
– Everybody knows the enormous price of wheat overseas. We are missing that price to-day. Whilst we ought to insure the safety of Australia by providing amply for her requirements of wheat, it is consoling to reflect that after having made that provision up till 1st January next, we shall have a surplus on hand of 14,250,000 bushels. ‘ Next year I would not be surprised to see a record wheat production in Australia, especially if the present seasonal prospects continue. In the Riverina last week there were two good nights’ soaking rain, and a similar condition obtained in Victoria and South Australia. In conclusion, I may tell Senator Pratten that the position is being closely watched day by day by the officers connected with the administration of the Wheat Board, and if there should appear to be the slightest danger of any wheat shortage, or shortage of foodstuffs in the Commonwealth, we shall take whatever action is necessary to insure a sufficient margin of safety to carry us well into next year.
Senator FAIRBAIRN (Victoria) T9.301. - I must congratulate Senator Pratten upon having brought up this most important subject. It is of vital importance, particularly to> New South Wales, which State is suffering so severely from drought. I congratulate the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) also on the care which he has evidently taken to do what is necessary to protect the people of Australia from the possible calamity of having to import wheat from abroad at exceedingly, high prices.
– This is in advocacy of Government interference.
– Still it is to be hoped that we shall soon be done with the Pools. Whilst we have the Pools it is comforting to find that they have been attended to as we would expect Senator
Russell to look after business with which he is intrusted. I should like the honorable senator to say what part of the Riverina he visited.
– Albury and Culcairn.
– There might be a little patch about there which has been benefited by rains, but I was in the Riverina also last week near Deniliquin, and the prospects in that district of a good crop are not very bright.
– I was in the Riverina on Friday and Saturday night, and there was good rain on both those nights.
– I think the rainfall was very small, and not more than about twenty points.
– That would hardly lay the dust.
– The honorable senator is quite right. I hope that the Minister’s anticipations of the coming crop will be fully justified, because, with the splendid prices that are now being obtained, our farmers should derive considerable benefit. The worst of our position in the past has been that whilst high war rates have been ruling for our productions. the Australian producers have had no chance to reap the benefit of those high rates. Now, apparently, when we are just about to share in the high prices, Providence has imposed a most frightful drought upon the greater part of Australia. Senator Grant says about one-half “of New South Wales is suffering from drought) but I say that at least three-quarters of that State is suffering from one of the worst droughts we have ever experienced.
– I subsequently corrected my statement, and said that the drought applied to nearly the whole of the central division of New South Wales.
– The best part of New South Wales, including the whole of the central division, is suffering severely from drought. We must bear these things in mind when we are considering our financial position.
I have found’ the debate to-night most encouraging. In the rarefied atmosphere of the Senate we can discuss financial topics without exciting the party feeling which prevails in other spheres.
– I think the honorable senator may have overlooked the fact that whilst an inch or two of rain may not be of great use for pasture, it may make all the difference between a good and a bad crop of wheat.
– I agree with the Minister that, with a comparatively small rainfall at this time, our wheat crops may be assured. At any rate, the rain will bring about germination, but we can never tell until about October what is going to happen with the wheat crop, as a few hot winds may change the whole position.
The financial position of the Commonwealth requires our most careful consideration, and if the Treasurer were in the Senate we could discuss these financial matters with him. We have in the Leader of the Senate (Senator Millen) the representative of the Treasurer, who, I hope, will make a note of any suggestions that may be made. I see that there is to be a Conference of State Premiers next week, and I trust that when they come together they will do a little more thanthey did at their last meeting, when Mr. Holman returned to Sydney in so precipitate a manner. I hope that on this occasion the Conference will discuss the amalgamation of the Commonwealth and State taxing Departments. This is a hardy annual, and I have spoken about it so often that I am afraid that I may be placed in the same class with my honorable friend on the other side, who so continually refers to the land tax. It is quite time that the taxing Departments of the Commonwealth and States were amalgamated. Every candidate for election to Parliament puts this reform on the forefront of his platform, but we never seem to get any further. There is also to be considered the amalgamation of the electoral Departments of the Commonwealth and States. I believe a few steps have been taken to bring that reform about.
– There is something more important than either of those reforms which requires tobe attended to, and that is to have a uniform gauge for the railways of Australia.
– That means a huge expenditure of more money. That is the very last thing I would suggest at the present time. It would mean the expenditure of some £20,000,000, and we have not the money for that expenditure, and will not have it for many years. It is all very well to talk of the inconvenience of transhipping at Albury and Wallangarra–
– The honorable senator should not overlook the fact that, apart from the inconvenience to which he refers, the longer we delay the more it will cost to convert our railways to a uniform gauge.
– I understand, of course, that we are always building new railways; but there is another matter which the Minister for Repatriation might take into account, and that is that the present is perhaps the most expensive time that could be conceived forsecuring railway material. Before very long we may be able to obtain the material at a lower cost, and so be able to carry out the work more cheaply.
– And we do not know what new inventions may be discovered to assist us in the meantime.
– That is so. We may be able to overcome the difficulty by the use of a third rail.
The other matters to which I have referred are reforms right at our hand, and I hope that the able Leader of the Senate (Senator Millen) will bring them under the attention of the Premiers’ Conference. The Electoral Departments of the Commonwealth and States might very easily be amalgamated. Besides the expense of the present duplication, it is a very great inconvenience to electors to have to find out first of all whether they are on a State roll, and then whether they are on the Federal roll. If we had one Electoral Office carrying out this work for the Commonwealth and the States, it would be very much better in every way.
– If we were not to have elections so often, that might obviate the difficulty a little.
– They might be postponed, of course; but I am afraid that that is a reform which is beyond the control even of Ministers. The Minister for Repatriation might see that this matter is brought before the Premiers’ Conference and discussed, and, if he does, perhaps some definite steps will be taken to bring about the reform I suggest.
SenatorKeating. - The way is open for every State to come in with the Commonwealth.
– We have opened the door, but we cannot compel them to come in.
– Tasmania has come in, -and has been carrying on jointly with the Commonwealth for the last ten years.
– The little island State has often set the other States a .good example. Why cannot the other States fall into line with Tasmania in this matter? I understand that there is only a very little difficulty now in the way preventing Victoria from coming into line, and that difficulty t ought to be removed. We are under an obligation to conserve our limited means, and to do the people’s work as cheaply as we possibly can.
I wish to say a word or two on the subject of the wool control. I have said nothing about it so far, because, as the matter has not been definitely fixed, it has been difficult to criticise. I am afraid that to sell the whole of Australian wool in Australia will involve a limitation of the buying power of purchasing nations. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has pointed out that only Great Britain and the United States can afford to finance the buying of wool in Australia. When wool sales took place in London and in Antwerp, buyers came from France. Belgium, Holland, and other countries.
– France sent buyers to South Australia two or three years before the war.
– France has sent buyers of wool to Australia for the last thirty or forty years. Some of the French buyers made1 a lot of money, and no doubt, will come here again; but some will be unable to do so. It is a very different thing to finance the purchase of wool in London when the purchaser can obtain the wool within a week or ten days from the time it is knocked down to him, and to finance the purchase of wool in Sydney, Melbourne, or Adelaide, when it’ will take three or four months before the purchaser can secure possession of the wool and turn it into cloth. I am afraid that for this reason we shall not have anything like the buying here that would be possible in London. That is a most material consideration. The man who has to carry the financing of a transaction over four months is in a much worse position than the man who has to carry it only for a few days, and I am afraid that this consideration will tend to limit the buying power here. We ought to be very careful in the circumstances not to close the London sales altogether. We should allow shipments to the Old Country for sale there. I know that a great number of Australian woolgrowers want, to sell their wool here, as they have done in the past. I suppose that nearly 90 per cent, have sold their wool here in the past, and will do the same in the future. But when our financial position is so strained as it is, it would be very unwise, in my opinion, to shut off the London sales for any considerable time. I hope that the final settlement of this very difficult problem will be on the lines I have suggested. Australia wants the best possible market for her produce, not only in the interests of the wool-growers, but in the interests of the community generally. We must have as much cash as possible in the Commonwealth if we are to carry on with anything like comfort and convenience to the community.
– The honorable senator recognises that with sales in London the difficulty of financing is with the vendor, whereas with sales in Australia it is the purchaser who must bring his credits here.
– I agree with the honorable senator. I have thought the matter out very carefully. I think that a number of Australian wool-growers are in a better position to finance the gaps than are, say, the people of France and Belgium, who have had to put u,p with such calamitous times. Some of our people can ship wool, while some require the money here. Those who can ship it, I think, will do so, and get the money on the other side of the world.
We are there again met with the question of exchange, which is depleting Australian resources very seriously. Canada, India, and Australia are exporting more than they are receiving. In Canada the exchange has gone very much against Great Britain, as the pound sterling is worth only 16s. 5d. In India the exchange is tremendously against Great Britain; but the extraordinary part of it is that it is the other way so far as Australia is concerned. There is no reason, so far as I can see, why some arrangement could not bo made whereby Australia could be placed in as favorable a position as other parts of the Empire. It would appear that n battle is proceeding between the United States of America and Great Britain to see which country is to become the main money centre of the world. We all desire to help Great Britain maintain the strong position she previously held ; but, in doing so, .Australia alone should not be called upon to assist. Why should not Canada give a hand, as she has escaped a heavy war expenditure, whilst Australia has been heavily involved, and, owing to her isolation, has not been able to receive the world’s parity for her commodities? Notwithstanding our unfortunate position in this regard, the exchange position has also been against us, and we are losing millions of pounds sterling per year in consequence of the existing rates of exchange. This is a matter which requires very careful attention by a competent financial expert, as I believe some arrangement could be made to place our exchange on a more satisfactory basis. If this were done, we could materially assist the Mother Country in maintaining her proud position as the financial centre of the world, and at the same time enable our burdens to be shared by other parts of the Empire.
It is not my intention to critically analyze the mass of figures embodied in the schedule of the Appropriation Bill. I often wonder if any one has ever troubled to read the whole schedule.
– The honorable senator has had it long enough.
– I do not think I have.
– It was available months ago.
– This embodies the estimated receipts and expenditure for the year ending 30th June, 1920. The previous year’s Estimates have been placed by my bedside, and have been the means of inducing sleep on several occasions. If the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) is ever suffering from insomnia, he might try a close perusal of these figures as a remedy. There are one or two points which in all my political career I have been unable to master, and I trust the Minister for Repatriation will be able to throw some light on them. I have selected the Lighthouses Branch, the details of expenditure of which are set out on page 203. I have not selected this Department because I believe that any unnecessary expenditure has been incurred, but merely because it. illustrates my point. This Department has necessarily been in existence for many years, and, according to the figures before us, there is an amount of £17,600 for paying for 208 temporary assistants. It seems extraordinary that in such an old Department it is necessary to employ temporary men from year to year at such a heavy cost.
– Where does the honorable senator get that total?
– I totalled the figures from the different States. I do not know much about lighthouses, but I believe they are well maintained, and I have specifically referred to this Department because it is typical of many others.
– Temporary assistance is frequently required for the maintenance of buoys, and in some cases men have been temporarily employed to hold the positions for those who have been at the war.
– That may explain the position, to some extent.
I hope that before the next financial year has advanced we shall be supplied with a proper Treasurer’s statement, because we cannot carefully consider our financial position without such a document. Great Britain is actually reducing her war debt, but here it is increasing. We are shortly to be asked to sanction a loan for £20,000,000, but up to the present we have not heard for what purpose it is required. It is, however, another addition to our national debt, and I hope it will be possible to raise the necessary amount in the Commonwealth. The fact that we are to float an additional £20,000,000 in Australia makes it appear that the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) has been unable to raise .the money in London. I do not think I am disclosing any secrets, but that is my assumption. .
In dealing with public expenditure, I trust it will not be the policy of the Government to dispense with Business Boards, and revert to bureaucratic management. It was suggested in the Economies Commission’s report that there is no efficient control of expenditure, and it is very desirable that a Business Board, consisting of paid men, should be appointed, because reliable men cannot be expected to do the work gratuitously, ft would pay the Government to appoint a Business Board, with power to go into the different Government Departments, supervise expenditure, and exercise a continual oversight. Many of our departmental heads are able men, but they have not the close control exercised by men occupying similar positions in private businesses. I trust the Minister will’ give an assurance that action will be taken in this direction, so that the money will be judiciously expended. Our obligation in the matter of invalid and war pensions, and in other directions, are so heavy that it is imperative that there should be a keen oversight on all financial matters.
– I believe that this is the last opportunity during this financial year that honorable senators will have of addressing themselves to the matters that are included in an ordinary Appropriation Bill, and, of course, this is the last occasion that will be afforded honorable senators of talking at large. It is not my intention to deal with a number of subjects ; but there is one matter to which I have frequently referred, either on occasions similar to this, or by means of questions addressed to Ministers, and that is the Public Service. A great deal of the Commonwealth expenditure is occasioned by the reimbursements to the officers of the Public Service; and if honorable senators will peruse the schedule of the Appropriation Bill, they will see that much of the money we are appropriating under this measure is for the payment of the salaries of public officers. I have asked, more than once during this session and during the preceding Parliament, when the Government would be likely to introduce the long-promised Public Service Bill. Two reports of the Acting Public Service Commissioner emphasize the necessity of a very radical amendment of the present Act. I heard with pleasure from the lips of the GovernorGeneral, when declaring the policy of the Government this session, that it was intended to introduce a measure to deal with the Public Service of the Commonwealth. Our Public Service Act dates back to the very early days of Federation. We have now had nearly twenty years of actual experience of the workings of that Statute, with certain slight modifications introduced from time to time. The
Federal Public Service to-day is not as it should be. I am not going to say that it is in a chaotic condition, such as it has been described by others. Those charged with the administration of the Public Service of the Commonwealth have very heavy and involved responsibilities. Their responsibilities have been considerably augmented and complicated by events arising from the war.
Very properly, and with the approval of all honorable senators and of the members of the other branch of the Legislature, the Government adopted the policy that, other things being equal, preference should be given to returned soldiers in respect of public appointments. In the actual working of this .principle, however, results have been achieved such as were not contemplated by the originators of the policy. Some curious anomalies have occurred. It has been stated to-day, in answer to a question by an honorable senator, that, after the adjournment upon which the Legislature is now to enter, the Government will introduce a measure to deal with superannuation for the Public Service. I have been informed that the result of the policy of preference to returned soldiers has occasioned a paradoxical situation, in that certain of those who returned earliest - and who, thus, were the least engaged in the war - succeeded in getting the best jobs; while those who came home later, after having given greater length of war service, have had to content themselves with the leavings. The result now may be that, with the establishment of a superannuation system, those who returned among the first will’ have gained a considerable advantage over the men who came back later i
– There was a suspension in regard to making permanent appointments, in order to meet the very difficulty to which the honorable senator now refers.
– I understand that there was a suspension; but I have been assured that the facts are such as I, have described them. It was, of course, the good fortune of those men who were able to get home early in the war.
– It “was very often their bad fortune, in that they were sent back invalided.
Senator- KEATING.- I do not suggest that they returned to Australia for the purpose of getting the best appointments; but I point out the actual results, and suggest that they are not such as were contemplated by the originators of the policy.
I understand that in the Postal Service of Tasmania there is a number of returned men employed in the General Division. They have been afforded opportunities to qualify for promotion to the Clerical Division. They have undergone the necessary tests and examinations, and are now eligible for appointments to the other division. Yet months have gone by, and they have not received notification of appointments. Whether this may be due to the suspension order referred to by the Minister for Repatriation I cannot say.
– It may be due to the absence of vacancies.
– To one fact or the other, no doubt.
Another matter having to do with the Public Service, and concerning which I have heard complaints, is this: It is. stated that officers in the Public Service who are in- the central Departments are placed at great advantage compared with officers serving in the other States. Whether that be true or not, I cannot say.
– They are said to be nearer the throne.
– That is so. It is suggested that the position may be due to their opportunities for exercising influence. I think it is due rather to the fact that others have not an opportunity to demonstrate their capacity to those in authority. I received some assurance in that regard on the occasion of a recent visit to Tasmania, when officers in one of the Departments of the Commonwealth, both senior and junior, told me that certain officers who had been borrowed and sent to the Central Branch in. Melbourne had, in a matter of about sixteen months, considerably outstripped their seniors who had remained behind. These latter officers said, “ Good luck to them ; we have no objection to their rapid advancement, but we, apart from that, are entitled to be on the same level as they now are. We, however, are in outer darkness, and look with little confidence to our chance of progress, notwithstanding that we have fulfilled all necessary conditions entitling us to advancement.” The Government, during the adjournment, and before introducing the new measure, might well give this point full consideration. Nothing will insure an adequate and efficient Public Service if we cannot guarantee that salaries paid for work done shall be commensurate, and that opportunities for promotion - no matter where the service may be performed - shall be properly provided. ‘ If a man is employed at a scene distant from the Seat of Government, and does not come frequently under the notice of Ministers or heads of Departments or Public Service Inspectors or Commissioners, it is only natural that he should not hope to advance, and so will not go very fast. When the original Public Service Act was passed it was hoped that the Commonwealth would have one of the finest services in the world. But we must see that full and fair consideration is given to the rights of every public officer.
– That was the idea behind the present Act.
– But it has not worked out in that way. The Service has grown very rapidly.
– For the past five years there has been an Acting Secretary to an Acting Public Service Commissioner.
– In regard to that matter I have more than once asked when these acting positions are to be permanently filled. For example, I have given notice, and asked’ the question, as to how long the Acting Secretary to the Acting Public Service Commissioner is likely to be required to remain- in his acting capacity to this acting officer.
Reference’ was made by the Minister for Repatriation to the fact that it is quite possible that certain of the returned soldiers who have served in the General Division, and have qualified for the Clerical Division of a public Department have failed to receive promotion because there are no vacancies. I admit that possibility, but it reminds me of a further circumstance occurring in Victoria. I understand that in the Federal Taxation Department there have been for a considerable time either twenty-five or twenty-nine vacancies, and that the requisite number of nominees to fill those positions have been designated by the Acting Public Service Commissioner, but that no appointments have yet been made.
– When the honorable senator speaks of vacancies, does he refer to vacancies which previously existed, or to positions for which the Commissioner has designated nominees, but which proposed appointments have not been approved ?
– They are vacancies for the filling of which the Commissioner has actually made nominations.
– And there is no one doing the work at present?
– I only know that the positions have not been filled. The nominees themselves have done everything within their power to render themselves eligible, and the Acting Commissioner has done everything necessary on his part. Still those vacancies exist. Whether there are persons temporarily occupying them I do not know. I understand that reference has been made to this same matter in another place, and that the facts have been admitted. It is a situation which requires immediate attention.
– Were some of these returned soldiers?
– Among either twenty-five or twenty-nine such vacancies, fourteen or fifteen of the nominees were returned men. I emphasize that nominations have been properly made for the filling of actual existing and acknowledged vacancies.
– Although the debate has been brief, I think I can say it has been of a useful character, and, in replying, I do not propose to detain honorable senators for very long. I acknowledge Senator Grant’s periodical sermon upon the question of direct taxation; but I suggest that he is making a mistake in enunciating his principles in this chamber. He should endeavour to impress them upon the members of his own party, who are in occupation of the Treasury benches in New South Wales. If they take his words to heart, and set us an example, we shall then be able to see how his views work out in actual practice, and if they prove satisfactory, we may be encouraged to adopt them.
I turn now to the thoughtful speech delivered by SenatorFairbairn. Two or three of the points which he mentioned seemed to command the approval of honorable senators. With regard to the first -the amalgamation of the Commonwealth and State Taxation Departments and Electoral Departments - I remind him that the Commonwealth has gone about as far as it can in these matters. As to the electoral system, the position is as indicated by Senator Keating. In our Electoral Act there is a standing invitation to the States to come in. The State represented by Senator Keating has accepted the invitation, and is now working under the unified system.
SenatorFairbairn. - Can you not appeal to them again?
– We can, of course, ask them again; but whatever we do does not seem to have much effect. For some reason or other the States are jealous of their sovereign powers, and Senator Fairbairn, I know, is a staunch champion of State rights. We have shown what we are prepared to do in the matter of amalgamation, and have pointed out to the States how they may save money.
– And convenience the people, too.
– I cannot extend a great deal of sympathy to the elector, as depicted by Senator Fairbairn, who thinks it a tremendous inconvenience to see whether he is on the electoral Toll or not. If any one is blameworthy for remissness in connexion with the amalgamation of the Departments, it is not the Commonwealth, which has all along shown a willingness to work with the States, if only they will disclose a similar spirit. It is possible - I have not yet seen the agenda-paper - that this subject will be again considered at the approaching Conference of State Premiers.
Senator Fairbairn also mentioned wool contracts. He cannot expect me to enter into a discussion of that subject to-night, more particularly as negotiations are now proceeding; but I feel sorely tempted to express my opinion generally upon the attitude of the Government’s critics with regard to these various Government control activities. The Government has, with a considerable amount of success, handled several of these big problems; but it has received nothing but abuse, criticism, and misrepresentation from the very people whose interests have been conserved. The Government may have made mistakes. After all, we are but human, and, as honorable senators know, every business firm makes mistakes. Speaking for myself, I feel desperately tempted, whenever I hear criticism in connexion with these matters, to tell the people who rend the Government tooth and nail for mistakes, that for the future 1 will listen very carefully to all suggestions made, but will think twice about taking control. The Government has given up control of the coal position; and as we have seen, within twenty-four hours the Premier of this State made a pathetic appeal to the Government to continue a system for which we have been abused from one end of the country to the other. It is one thing to carry a heavy responsibility when those for whom the burden is being carried appreciate what is being done; but it is quite another thing to do this and at the same time keep in view the national interests, and receive nothing but abuse for our trouble.
Senator Fairbairn also raised the position of lighthouse temporary employees. I know nothing about that matter, but I have been informed that the apparently heavy charge incurred is due to the fact that it costs more to send relief to lighthouses than to relieve employees in the city, for not only has the temporary employee, appointed to relieve a lighthousekeeper, to be paid for the actual time worked, but frequently for two or three days is occupied in travelling. It costs more to relieve this branch of the Service than any other section.
SenatorFairbairn. - Are they temporary men or permanently temporary?
– They are temporary men. This is the explanation given to me by the officers.
– Does not the Minister think the sum rather large?
– I was rather struck by the fact that it represents about 20 per cent. of the total wage sheet; but. as I have said, that is the explanation furnished to me. Now that the honorable senator has raised the question, I shall bring it under the notice of the responsible Minister, and get him to look into it.
Senator Fairbairn also made reference to the need for economy, a term which is being rather extravagantly used of late. I speak of it thus because quite a large number of people preach the doctrine and interpret it to mean a cutting down of expenditure which somebody else may want, but a lavish expenditure in directions which they favour. I do not suggest that the honorable senator regards the matter in that light. I can only repeat the assurance given in the GovernorGeneral’s Opening Speech, that the Government proposes to bring in a Bill to give effect to the Economies Commission’s recommendations. When that measure is introduced, honorable senators will have a full opportunity of seeing whether it will really make for effective, and not a spurious, economy.
Senator Keating raised several matters in connexion with the Public Service, but I am sure he recognises the difficulty himself. In fact, his speech disclosed the fact that he fully appreciates the difficulties of handling the Public Service so as to secure opportunities for advancement without at the same time leaving the door open to some possible favoritism. I am hopeful that the new Bill which the Government will introduce at no very distant date will contain machinery enabling us to appreciably improve the present position. As to the grievances which the honorable senator voiced with regard to public servants in distant parts of the Commonwealth, I can assure him that nothing is done intentionally to place them at a disadvantage. My own experience suggests that the position is not quite so serious as it would appear to be, because responsible officers in distant States are themselves always looking for alert and smart men, and it is not long before their records reach headquarters; so, sooner or later, they get their chance. It is, however, a little curious that, whilst accusations are made that those nearest the “throne” get all the advantages, quite recently complaints have been made in the Defence Department that the principal positions nearest the “ throne “ have gone to Queenslanders.
– I think there is a good deal of misapprehension over that matter.
– Well, I am just giving honorable senators the facts. Senator Keating referred to certain vacancies which he thought should have been filled; and on this subject I speak with some reservation, because I have only obtained information from departmental officers. They inform me that some time ago it was decided to create a number of positions, and accordingly advertisements” were inserted in the press inviting applications. In the meantime, a doubt arose as to whether it would be necessary to make all the appointments ; and, under the circumstances, especially in view of the demand for economy it was thought desirable to suspend the making of the appointment for a little while, in order to ascertain how many, if any, would actually be required. Obviously, it would be unwise to appoint permanent officers if, in a few weeks or months, their appointments could not be justified. I think I have dealt with most of the matters mentioned during the second-reading debate; and, if desired, I shall be pleased to supply what other information I may have during the Committee stages of the Bill.
Questionresolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a first time.
Motion (by Senator Millen) put -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
– I should like to ask the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) whether he can give any particulars with regard to the-
– It is not permissible, during the second-reading debate, to ask questions of Ministers.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
In Committee :
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
First schedule agreed to.
– In speaking previously upon the subject of twenty-five vacancies in the Taxation Department, Central and Victorian, perhaps I failed to make the position quite clear. I find upon further reference to my notes that the positions a3vertised were really applications for pro motions, and that simultaneously applications were invited in connexion with corresponding promotions in the other States. All the action necessary to fill the positions by promotions was taken both in the other States and in Victoria. Strangely enough, those officials who had been nominated for the positions in Victoria by the Acting Public Service Commissioner have not yet been appointed, although the officers who were nominated for similar positions in the other States have received their appointments. In Victoria the appointment of the successful applicants has been held back for some reason or other, and their positions have thus been endangered. I quite recognise that the Minister may not be able to get full information in respect of this matter at a moment’s notice; but I should like an assurance from him that he will inquire into it with a view to seeing that those officers who have fulfilled all the necessary conditions for promotion are appointed to the positions for which they have been nominated so long.
– I will see that a proof of the honorable senator’s speech is forwarded to the Taxation Commissioner, with a request that he should supply a specific answer to the statements contained therein, and that answer I will forward to Senator Keating during the short parliamentary adjournment.
– Reference has recently been made in the Melbourne press to the congestion which prevails in the Law Court buildings of this city, and it has been suggested that the Commonwealth, or the State Government, or both, might utilize a site in the vicinity of those buildings for the erection of new Law Courts. I take it that if any such building is erected either by the Commonwealth or by the State, or by both, due regard will be paid to the housing of the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor, who now occupies a position somewhere in Queen-street. Is the Minister in a position to say what action is likely to be taken to relieve the congestion which obtains at present, and which equallv prejudices both the State and the Federal Courts? If he is. the information will be exceedingly welcome. In both the Arbitration Court and the High Court considerable inconvenience is occasioned by lack of accommodation, and the Judges of the State Supreme Court have frequently to make use of their own chambers as Courts for the time being owing to all the other Courts being occupied. If a new Law Court building is to be erected, will an opportunity be taken to reduce some of the rents which the Commonwealth is now paying by housing the Crown Solicitor and other Commonwealth officers there?
– I am informed that the new Law Court building to which Senator Keating has referred exists only in the imagination of the author of the paragraph which appeared in one of our newspapers.
– There is more than that in it, because I have seen Commonwealth officials inspecting the buildings.
– In view of the definite statement of the ‘honorable senator, I will most certainly have the matter cleared up. But my information at present is that there is no foundation whatever for the paragraphin question.
Schedule agreed to.
Preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported without request.
Motion (by Senator Millen) proposed -
That the report be adopted.
– When the Defence Department was under consideration I desired to obtain information in respect to one item, but I was prevented from doing so owing to the absence of the Minister from the chamber. Now that he has returned I would like to ask him-
– The action of the honorable senator is not a proper one at this stage. The question before the Chair is whether the report shall be adopted.
– Before the report is adopted I desire to get certain information from the Minister.
– What is the nature of the information ?
– I desire to know who are the authorities in charge of the Graves Commission, and who is the representative of the Commonwealth upon that body ?
– The Graves Commission is an Imperial Commission, and the Commonwealth is represented upon it by the High Commissioner.
Bill read a third time.
Bill received from House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Motion (by Senator Millen) proposed -
That this Bill be now read a first time.
– I take this opportunity to refer to the Post and Telegraph Department and the answer I received to a question I put recently with reference to the position of the telephone service in Sydney and its suburbs. The answer was from the Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), but it did not say that he had placed an adequate amount at the disposal of the Postmaster-General. If this parsimonious policy is to continue in connexion with a service that has fallen into a state almost of chaos, then we are going to have interminable trouble in Sydney and its suburbs in connexion with a most important public service. Speaking from memory, the Department made a profit from this service during the last year of between £40,000 and £50,000. I am one who does not believe, shall I say, in the mishandling of money by the exercise of a parsimonious policy of saving a. few thousand pounds on a service of great benefit to the public and expending it in less laudable directions. I direct the attention of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) to the fact that the Acting Treasurer has not said that he will allow an adequate amount of money to bring this service to a state of efficiency.
– What has he said?
– Something beautifully nebulous.
– So is the term “adequate.”
– I do not think so.
– Who is to be the judge of the adequacy.
– I should say the Postmaster-General, and the engineer for the telephone service to which I refer, who has said that the service has been starved for years, and that the present position is practically the fault of the Treasurer. I urge Senator Millen to make representations to his colleague that this is a matter which cannot be longer subjected to a cheese-paring policy. The service rates have been raised more than once, and the people are paying very stiff rates indeed for a telephone service that they do not get. We are playing the confidence trick with telephone subscribers in Sydney, since we are not giving them what they pay for. This is a serious matter, and, as a representative of New South Wales, I intend to pursue it until the position is rectified. I ask Senator Millen to make representations to the Acting Treasurer that nothing short of an adequate amount of money to buy the material necessary to bring the service up to a reasonable state of efficiency will be a fair thing, and that the present position cannot be allowed to continue without the strongest further protests.
– I do not profess to know what is the reason underlying the defective condition of the telephone service in Sydney, but I do know that the service available in Melbourne is better in every respect. There is something radicallywrong with the Sydney service. Surely the people of Sydney and its suburbs should be given a service equal to that supplied to the people of Melbourne and elsewhere. Complaints have been made of the Sydney service, to my knowledge, for the last fifteen months, and they should be brought to an end.
– Senator Pratten raises on this occasion a matter which he brought up recently, requiring more generous expenditure in connexion with the telephone service in Sydney.
– A less parsimonious expenditure.
– My honorable friend and I will not delay the Senate at this time with definitions. He wants more money spent. He asked a question the other day, and was given the answer that already considerable sums have been made available for this purpose.
– No figures were given.
– That is so. Now the honorable senator complains that the Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has not said that an adequate supply is made available, and the thing is delightfully vague and nebulous. I do not know that in that regard the reply given to the honorable senator could surpass his own statement, which I took down in these words, “That an adequate supply of money be provided to bring the service up to reasonable efficiency.” That is as vague as a statement could well be. The question is : What would be an adequate sum, and what would the honorable senator regard as a reasonable standard of efficiency ?
– I shall let the Minister know when we meet again.
– The honorable senator has had the assurance that now that the war is over, in the opinion of the Government enlarged expenditure on these services is justified, and the Government propose to make provision to that end.
– We cannot possibly have a good telephone service in Sydney until the Department gets into the new building.
– Senator Pratten said, generally, that the service has been started, and, with great particularity, he demands that an adequate sum of money shall be made available. The answer of the Government is that they recognise that now that the war is over they see their way to a more enlarged expenditure to overcome many difficulties, about which numbers of the people in Australia are complaining.That promise stands good, and Senator Pratten will be invited before long to help the Government to redeem it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a first time.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
This Supply Bill is necessary at this juncture in view of the forthcoming adjournment. It will make provision for the month of July, and includes provision for ordinary services for the full month, and for salaries payable on the 9th and 23rd July. The total of the Bill is £1,838,847, made up as follows : Ordinary Votes, £811,182; War’ Services payable from Revenue, £227,665; Refunds of Revenue, £50,000; and Treasurer’s Advance, £750,000. This Supply Bill is based on the Estimates for the year 1919-20, to which the Senate has only just assented. No new services are provided for, but it will be necessary to provide out of the Treasurer’s Advance for expenditure on new works, additions, &c., in July, as well as for unseen items, and this accounts for the inclusion of the comparatively large sum under that head. The total amount appropriated for the current financial year is £21,186,961. One-twelfth of that amount of £1,765,580, which is £73,267 less than the amount in this Supply Bill. This slight excess is due to the amounts included forRefunds of Revenue and Treasurer’s Advance.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
In Committee :
Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.
– I asked a question to-day concerning the annual report of the Chief Commissioner for Taxation. I was informed that the report is not yet published, but that the Acting Treasurer would expedite its publication, as it contained a dissection practically of the incomes of the people of Australia, and would be very valuable to honorable senators in the consideration of the forthcoming Budget. I should like to ask the Minister for Repatriation if the Income Taxation Commissioner’s report is not available at an early date, say, within a few weeks, to request the Acting Treasurer to have prepared the dissection I asked for in my question, so that it might be available, say, at the beginning of the new financial year. , The question of finance will loom very large when Parliament meets again, and we are faced with the consideration of how we are going to pay the many millions that we have voted away. The information for which I have asked will, I am sure, be of very great value to honorable senators.
– I appreciate the point which the honorable senator is endeavouring to impress upon the attention of the Committee, and will ask the Acting Treasurer to see if what he desires can possibly be done.
– It has been represented to me that in connection with the work of the Graves Commission; the Commonwealth will probably be involved in an expenditure of £750,000 to provide memorial headstones for soldiers who died at the Front. Ifthat be so; I think the Committee is entitled to some information as to what is being done in this matter. If the memorial headstones can be executed in Australia the work should be done here. 1 should like to know whether steps have not already been taken toplace the work in the hands of the Italian authorities, and, generally speaking, what has been done in the matter. I understand that each of the headstones is estimated to cost approximately £15. The Committee is entitled, if the Minister has the information, to know what is being done, and I should be glad if he will supply honorable senators with any information he has on the subject.
– I cannot give the information at the present juncture, because I am not familiar with the latest decision of the Graves Commission. I shall have inquiries made as to what has been decided, but I know the question of the utilization of Australian stone has been considered,’ and that the Government have made representations to the Commission.
– In connexion with the vote for the Department of Works and Railways, I desire to know whether the attention of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) has been drawn to a letter which appearedin the press under the signature of a well-known contractor, who wrote in opposition to the day-labour system. This gentleman referred to the excessive cost of the East-West railway, and inferred that it was due to the methods adopted. Every one knows that the cost of material advanced enormously during the period of construction, and it is grossly unfair to say that the expenditure was increased because the line was constructed under that system. It is true that wages advanced slightly, but the main cause, in my opinion, was the extra cost of material.I do not think that such a statement should be allowed to pass unchallenged. Has the Minister for Repatriation seen the report?
– A report by whom?
– It is a letter written by Mr. Teesdale Smith.
– If Mr. Teesdale Smith’s letter appeared in a Sydney newspaper, would it not be proper for the honorable senator to send his reply to the paper ?
– Not necessarily, because I think it is the duty of the Minister representing the Department to contradict the statement.
– If the honorable senator knew Mr. Teesdale Smith, he would not be concerned in the matter.
– In one case he asked for £100,000 for extras and received only £900. That should be sufficient.
– The letter appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, and Mr. Teesdale Smith’s statement should not be allowed to pass unchallenged, as it is absolutely incorrect.
In regard to the Treasurer’s Advance, in what way is the sum of £750,000 to be expended ? An item of this nature should be spread over the various Departments.
– I can quite understand Senator Grant’s natural disinclination to trust any one with £750,000. The honorable senator will remember that I have already explained that this amount is to be expended on public works now in progress. Certain additions have also to be made that will require a considerable portion of that amount, and every penny that is spent has to come before this Chamber for approval. It is not possible to bring in detailed estimates of the new works and buildings proposed for the whole year, but they will be presented later.; This amount is to meet current payments on works and buildings, and those miscellaneous works continually going on. There is nothing unusual in the item, and Senator Grant knows perfectly well that similar requests have been submitted to the Senate in the past.
Schedule agreed to.
Preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported without request; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 14th May, vide page 2107) :
Clause 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (Audit Department).
– I move -
That clause 3 be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following new clause: - “ 3. The principal Act is amended by inserting therein after section 10 the following sections: - 10a. The Audit Department of the Commonwealth shall be a separate Department, and the Auditor-General shall be the permanent head of the Department.’ 10b. Notwithstanding anything contained in the Commonwealth Public Service Act 1902-1918 or the regulations thereunder, the powers and functions by that Act and those regulations conferred upon the Commissioner, a permanent head and a chief officer shall, in relation to the officers of the Audit Department, be exercisable by the Auditor-General and any reference in that Act and those regulations to the Commissioner, a permanent head and a chief officer shall, in relation to the officers of that Department, be read as a reference to the Auditor-General.’ “
Clauses 3 to 5 were hastily inserted in anotherplace, are not in strictly correct form, and are in other respects unsatisfactory in their verbiage. It is, therefore, desired to substitute a new clause in lieu thereof. The effect of this clause is to make the Auditor-General’s Department a separate Department instead of being a branch of the Prime Minister’s Department, and to give the Auditor-General the powers of the Public Service Commissioner in regard to his staff. The Public Service Act will still apply to his officers, but the functions of the Public Service Commissioner will be discharged by the AuditorGeneral. This amendment has been recommended by the Royal Commission on Navy and Defence Administration. The following is an extract from their report : - “ That a separate Department be created for the Auditor-General, and that the staff thereof be exempted from the operations of the Commonwealth Public Service Act, and, further, that the Auditor-General be authorized to maintain a sufficient staff in the Defence Department to enable a continuous and effective audit to be conducted.”
– I understand that it is the intention to remove the Auditor-General’s Department from the Public Service and create another Department.
– To remove it from the control of the Public Service Commissioner.
– I am entirely opposed to that, and I hope the proposed new clause will not be embodied in the Bill. As I understand the position, the Auditor-General in future is not to go to the Public Service Commissioner or any of his officers in connexion with his Department, but is to have the right to choose his own men. It is not only the Auditor-General who is asking for this change, because there are heads of other
Departments asking for something similar. I am sure that if the Government Meteorologist, Mr. Hunt, were approached he would say he could do better work if he selected his own staff. The Secretary to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department and the Secretary to the Department of Trade and Customs would also express the same opinion. We are informed by the Minister for Repatriation that the position of Public Service Commissioner has not been permanently filled, because the Government contemplate introducing a Bill to amend the Public Service Act. If that is so, it appears that we might delay this matter until that measure is introduced, as we aro very seriously interfering with the Public Service. We are allowing the Auditor-General to deal with hia own men, and I can quite understand the Commission to which the Minister referred making such a suggestion, as it consisted’ of practical men who were not members of the Public Service. A business man considers that he cannot conduct his business satisfactorily unless he is allowed to select his own officers. He says, “I appoint whom I desire, dismiss whom I care to turn out, and select whom I wish; and unless I have that power I cannot run my business.” He brings the same principle to bear in respect of a Public Department, and asks ‘how the head of that Department can run affairs properly unless he possesses the same power. We cannot give the AuditorGeneral that power, however. Although he has the right to select his own officers, he may not dismiss them; indeed, he is actually restricted in his scope of selection, in that be must choose from among the officers of the Public Service. Even this new clause does not give the AuditorGeneral . the right to go outside the Service. If he could say that there was no one within the Public Service capable of doing the work required, he would be free to go’ outside and make his selection. The same applies to the Public Service Commissioner, who may choose _ from without the Federal or State Services if he cannot find a competent man inside it to fill a particular post. If we grant to the Auditor-General this proposed right, it will intensify the facts as related by Senator Keating this evening. The honorable senator has stated that the fur ther a civil servant is away from headquarters the less chance he has of being brought under the notice of those in authority and, thus, of securing promotion. In the Public Service Act an endeavour has been made to obviate that disability by the appointment of inspectors; but I understand that to-day there are still only the same number of inspectors as were appointed years ago, when the Service contained about onetenth of the total number of officers employed to-day. The original- idea was to appoint inspectors, who would ‘ travel throughout the length and breadth of each State, and report upon the work and’ capacity of public servants employed in distant parts. The Auditor-General, however, has no inspectorial staff travelling in the interests of his requirements. If he finds it necessary to select additional officers, he will almost inevitably choose them ‘ from among the comparatively few who come under his notice. The officers at present in the Auditor-General’s Department are not very keen on this new proposal unless their rights of securing advancement by selection to posts in other Departments are protected. The Auditor-General can make promotions from amongst the officers in his own Department, and can give increments under the Act without reference to the Public Service Commissioner; but the inspectors working under the latter official have nothing to do with the Auditor-General’s Department, and cannot know the nature of the work of the officers engaged therein when it comes to a matter of making selections to fill important vacancies iri any branch. Mr. Whitton was a member of the AuditorGeneral’s Department a number of years ago when an important vacancy arose in the Customs Department. He had had no knowledge of working in that Department, but the Public Service Commissioner nominated him for the post, and he was selected. If the’ Auditor-General’s Department is now to be removed from the purview of the Public Service Commissioner and his inspectors, the officers under the Auditor-General feel that the Commissioner will not be in a position to make himself acquainted with their capabilities when it comes to a matter of -filling important positions in other branches. One of the chief reasons for my objection to the’ clause- is that I am. still a strong believer in the general principles of the Public Service Act. Another objection is that the tendency will be to make the Department watertight, to the detriment of the officers under the Auditor-General.
– There is a good deal in the contention of Senator Thomas concerning the possible results arising from the adoption of the new system. The purpose of the clause, however, is very clear. The AuditorGeneral is clothed with grave responsibilities; and, in the circumstances, the Government has submitted the new proposal, believing that the Auditor-General should he especially entitled to select the officers with whom he is to work. I appreciate the force of the. arguments of the honorable senator, -but. can see no other way of giving the Auditor-General such complete and effective control over his staff as he. desires and should have.
– But every other Department is asking for the same right.
SenatorMILLEN. - I am not denying that ; but in view of the complaints of the Auditor-General concerning the impairment of the efficiency of his staff under the. present ‘ system, the Government feels that it is justified in trying this experiment. It is possible that experience may disclose such drawbacks -as Senator’ Thomas has suggested. At this stage, however; I urge the ‘ Committee to- accept the proposition.
– The arguments of the Minister can be applied to every Department. The Postmaster-General may say, for example, that the work of his Department is skilled, and that he- requires specially-trained officers, whom he should have the right to select, in order that the Department may be carried on economically and efficiently. In the proposal of the Government we see the introduction of a novel scheme as applied to the Civil Service, the effect of which’, I fear, will be to disintegrate the Service and make each Department a petty Civil Service of its own. The Auditor-General cannot succeed in his important duties unless he has men under him who have confidence in him and’ in whom he has confidence. But if a civil servant ‘finds himself so placed that hecannot avail himself, of . the public officer’s ordinary opportunities of advancement, he will, naturally, be discouraged. ‘
Senate adjourned at 11.29 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 20 May 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1920/19200520_senate_8_92/>.