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 whether he is yet in a position to make the statement which he promised on the Supply Bill dealing with the shipping activities of the Government.
– I ask the honorable senator to extend his wellknown patience to me a little longer. I anticipate that I will shortly be in a position to furnish him, and the Senate generally, the information he seeks.
Treatment by British Government.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers are- -
Salary of Administrator
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers are -
asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
– The answers are - 1 and 2. An announcement will, if circumstances require it, be made in due course.
Bill presented, and (on motion by Senator E. D. Millen), read a first time.
– I move -
That standing order 192 be suspended so as to enable the second reading of this Bill to be taken forthwith.
I submit this motion in order that during the adjournment over the week-end honorable senators may have a full opportunity to study the provisions of the Bill before its consideration is resumed next Wednesday.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
As its title indicates, this Bill proposes an amendment of the War Service Homes Act, with the main provisions of which honorable senators are familiar. As the main principle of the Act is in no way disturbed by this measure, it is unnecessary for me to do more than indicate the more important amendments sought to be effected. Briefly, there are four amendments of the existing law desired. It is .proposed to extend the benefits of the original measure to a class of beneficiaries, not previously entitled to become applicants under the law. It is proposed, further, to increase the limit of the amount which may be advanced, and which was originally fixed at £700, to £S00. This Bill will also provide further checks upon trafficking. The original measure sought to impose checks of that kind, but experience has shown that it is necessary to tighten up our legislation in that direction. There are some minor amendments which experience has shown to be necessary, and some of which are, perhaps, due to a little faulty draftsmanship of the original measure. I shall deal with these later on more in detail.
With respect to the first amendment, I will indicate the new classes of beneficiaries proposed to’ be- included. First of all, amongst those who will be entitled under this measure to become applicants will be the men who were in camp and discharged prior to leaving Australia. Many of these were discharged on the signing of the Armistice. In that regard the amendment will bring the War Service Homes Act into line with the main Repatriation Act. Another class of men who will be eligible under this Bill are members of the Young Men’s Christian Association who saw service abroad, and also seamen and wireless operators who served in the war zone. In addition, it is proposed to make eligible as applicants under the Act the wives of men mentally afflicted’. Under the original measure only the eligible person himself could apply, dr, in the event of his death, his widow or other dependant. In the case of the class of beneficiaries to whom I last referred, it is obvious that whilst the eligible person is still alive he is not capable of acting owing to his mental affliction. It is sought, therefore, to give the wife of such a man the right which in ordinary circumstances would attach to the man himself.
– Why not provide that any person who has served the country in war should be eligible - the men who served in the South African war, for instance ?
– The Bill does not propose to do that.- The question whether the repatriation proposals should be made available to those who served in previous wars has been- considered frequently and thoroughly, and so far as the Government are concerned they cannot see their way to include in the present proposal men, who however valuable their services may have been, did not operate in the last war.
– Why are not other organizations similar to the Young Men’s Christian Association included?
– There are other organizations included, such for instance, as war workers. It will always he possible to find some one coming along desiring to seek homes under easy conditions, and it must be understood that the measure is not applicable to- the whole community.
– If certain members of the Young Men’s Christian Association are to benefit, why not the representatives of the Salvation Army?’
– In view of the number of applicants, I do not think it can be denied that the efforts of the Government on behalf of returned men have been very generous. I think it can be said that the Government ‘ have gone as far as they possibly can, having due regard to the financial obligations of the country, and it must be admitted that a fair thing has been done to our returned men.
The increase of advances from £700 to £800 has been found necessary in view of the changed conditions. Since the original Act was passed, there has been an increase in. the cost of labour of approximately 25 per cent., material 25 per cent;, freight 10 per cent., and cartage 20 per cent. It is quite obvious, therefore,, that although £700 may have been a reasonable and fair amount at the time the Act was passed, it is impossible for the Commissioner to do to-day with £700 what could be done two years ago.- The increased advance is not offered unconditionally, as the Commissioner will have the right to grant the additional amount in such cases and under such circumstances as he thinks necessary and fair. It has further been provided that in the event of an applicant requiring the additional £100, he shall be required to find a deposit of 15 per cent, of that amount. Our experience shows that this is not at all a disability on the soldier, and I shall quote figures directly to show that a gratifyingly large percentage of men are making deposits. There is another reason why the payment of a deposit is thought to be wise, and that is, because without it quite a large number of men would apply for the largest house it was possible for them to get. But the Commissioner is bound to consider to what extent the applicant is able to meet the increased payment if the obligation is increased from £700 to £800. It has, therefore, been decided to ask the applicant to find some portion of the additional money himself: The applicant has not to pay a deposit on the full amount, but only on the last £100.
I now come to the proposed amendment which deals with checks on transfers. Under the Act the Commissioner has power - and he will still when this measure becomes law - to refuse to sanction a transfer; but it is found that something more is necessary.
I am sorry in one sense, but gratified in another, to know that there is a possibility of, and disposition to, traffic in war service homes. I regret it, because these homes were built for soldiers, and because they were not supposed to be a medium by which any member of the community could secure a home at a reasonable price; and I am gratified to know, on the other hand, that these houses are worth more than the amount for which they were constructed. Bearing in mind the purpose for which these homes were constructed, it is very desirable to limit trafficking in every way. Already we know of cases where efforts have been successfully made to defeat the provisions of the Act, which provides that the Commissioner’s approval has to be obtained before a transfer can be effected. But purchasers have sold their homes for cash, and have then gone to the Department with the full amount, and by discharging their obligations have defeated the purpose of the Act. Under these circumstances, houses that were constructed for returned soldiers are now in the possession of noneligible men, but this country has not been asked to find money to build homes for ordinary citizens. That, undoubtedly, is an undertaking worthy of consideration ; but it is not the intention of the Government or the Department to do work of this character a.t the present juncture. There are other forms in which trafficking has taken place, and in order to check it it is now proposed that the present restriction shall remain, and so that no injustice may be done to the soldier who wishes to sell for legitimate reasons, power is given under the Bill to the Commissioner to sanction the sale of a home when, for instance, the owner may desire to leave a district for good reasons. Under such circumstances, the Commissioner will have the power to repurchase the house and pay back all the money put into it by the soldier, including the cost of improvements. No injustice will be done to the soldier, ‘because he will receive back all he paid, and the house will then become the property of the Commissioner, who can sell it to another soldier applicant.
– And that man can apply for a home in another district, if necessary ?
– Yes ; if the conditions are satisfactory he will be eligible to apply for a home in a more suitable locality.
– Then we are not giving the soldiers houses.
– We never proposed to do so. It is only those who are not in positions of responsibility who can use language of that character.
– If the Commissioner is to have power to repurchase, why should he not give the present value?
– The Commissioner has been building for £700, but he may have to pay £S00.
– If the price has increased owing to the higher cost of material, why should not the Commissioner, pay the extra amount?
– If Senator Gardiner cares to talk in ‘ that way, I must beg to differ, and say that I can see no reason for following that line of argument. It is preposterous to say that the Commissioner should be under an obligationto pay more than the applicant has been called upon to pay. If Senator Gardiner desires to be logical, he should say that if it costs £700 to build a house, and it is worth £800, the soldier should be charged the higher amount, lt is the desire of the Government to give the soldier a home at the lowest possible price, and if he no longer requires it he can be paid back every penny that he has paid on it, including the cost of improvements.
– If the land has increased in value, say, by £1 per foot, why should the owner not receive the benefit ?
– The Commissioner does not desire to make one penny profit out of the scheme. We have to see that the soldier occupant is fairly treated, and receives the benefit to which he is justly entitled. I am rather surprised that Senator Gardiner, who is, as I am, a representative of the State of New. South Wales, and who. knows exactly what has happened there in connexion with land deals, should make the suggestion he has. In New South Wale.s it was like a man going in for a “ Tattersalls “ sweep, and not having to pay for the ticket. lt has been proved that unless we want to allow trafficking to go on, with the ultimate certainty that these houses will pass into the possession of non-eligible people, we must pass restrictions of this character.
There are two other amendments to which I would like to refer. Owing to some indefiniteness in drafting, it is not quite clear under the present measure that an applicant is limited to one home, and this Bill seeks to put that right. Another provision is also rendered necessary by an oversight in the present measure. There is a limitation on the freedom of the Commissioner in purchasing land. He can buy up to £5,000, but beyond that amount he has to seek Ministerial approval. No similar restriction was placed upon his operations in other directions, but it is now sought to make any purchase of material as well as land over £5,000 subject to the approval of the Minister. That is, briefly, the purpose of -the Bill.
Now, I propose to present a review of what has been done by the Commissioner, and also to make known the programme outlined for the next year or two. I would remind honorable senators that war homes have been going up under two authorities hitherto, namely, the Commissioner, and the Commonwealth Bank. When the agreement with’ the Commonwealth Bank was first entered into, the underlying factor was that we were ‘ confronted with an accumula tion of applications, and that these had to be dealt with at the earliest possible moment. We knew that, thousands of applicants wanted homes. It was recognised, moreover, that it would take some time before the Commissioner could get fairly into his stride and initiate steps to meet the demand. The arrangements with the Bank aimed at a division of labour. It was known that, among the applicants, there would be thousands of men who wanted particular - homes in particular’ spots, that is to say, individual homes. It was thought that it would expedite matters, therefore, if we handed over to the Bank the work of dealing with individual homes and kept the Commissioner free to concentrate his efforts in building in. a large way, in purchasing large areas, subdividing them, and putting up houses in groups in anticipation of applications rather than to meet the individual requirements of applicants; indeed, to fulfil the needs of those applicants who had no especial regard for the character of their desired home, or for its locality. The idea was in such fashion to divide the labour for the first year or two, with the hope that, as the Commissioner proceeded with his building activities, he would have houses waiting for applicants rather than that there should be applicants waiting for homes.
Of the applications received to. date, the total number is 24,992. Of these, 11,373 applications have been approved; 1,S16 have been refused; 4,337 withdrawn; and 7,4C6 are pending. I desire to make a further subdivision of those particulars. Among the applications, 44 per cent, were to build; 45 per cent. were for the purchase of already existing houses; and 11 per cent, were from applicants who desired that mortgages upon houses which they already held should be transferred from private mortgagees to the Commissioner. The applications approved to date involve an expenditure of £6,678,151. I should mention that although these applications have been approved, they are not yet all finalized; many of the buildings are in course of construction. But, of the total of more than six and a half millions sterling, the sum of £4,847,000 has been spent. With the expenditure of the difference between the two sums, will he achieved the completion of the houses now being built.
I have mentioned that the total expenditure so far undertaken amounts to £4,847,000. Honorable senators, no doubt, would like to learn the administrative cost involved in handling that sum.Up to 6th March, 1919 - from the inception of the scheme - the administrative cost has represented 2.20 per cent.; that is to say, about £2 4s. per £10.0. Coming to the 30th June last, the cost represents 2.18 per cent. That does not indicate a very great difference, but I am pleased to notice that the cost is slightly on the down grade.
– Very excellent figures, anyhow.
SenatorE. D. MILLEN.- I am not disappointed or ashamed of them. Here was a new organization, calling for the creation of a new staff which, to some extent, had to be tried out in the course of learning its job - and it was a rush job at that - and the fact that so large a sum of money should have been expended at so small an administrative cost, is surely not unsatisfactory.
Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear !
– The Act itself provides both for the purchase of existing houses and for the building of new homes. From the inception of the scheme, with so many applicants waiting, it was deemed wise to do what we could in order to meet the first great demand by the purchase of existing houses. From another standpoint, however, that policy did not, and does not, commend itself. It does not help to solve the housing difficulty; and, although it was then abundantly necessary that we should enter upon such a course of action, we are hoping now to do much less buying and much more building. By pursuing that policy not only shall we be doing something to make up the shortage of houses, but we are quite satisfied that in building homes we can give to applicants better value for their money than by purchasing already existing homes.
– While at the same time the community in general will also reap a benefit.
– - Just as I have pointed out. I would reiterate a warning which has already been given several times, butwithout much effect. We know of the eagerness of our re turned men to acquire homes for themselves, and we know that many soldiers have entered into contracts with private vendors - men generally associated with speculative builders. Instead of conferring first with the Commissioner and applying that the house desired to be purchased should be inspected - after which it would be for the Comimissioner to make the necessary advance - numbers of returned men have entered into private bargains with vendors and have paid deposits. Then, not infrequently, when the Commissioner’s representative has examined the house in question, the Commissioner has had to indicate that he is not prepared to make the amount of advance necessary to complete its purchase. Some very remarkable cases have been brought under my notice in this regard. Men have paid down from £50 to £100 by way of deposit, and have entered into an agreement to complete purchase on the assumption that the Commissioner would advance them £700 additional. However, when the Commissioner’s inspector has examined the house he has had to declare, quite frequently, that it is not worth two-thirds of the price charged; and, for some homes, the Commissioner has had to say that he would not agree to make an advance for purchase at any price. In. some instances, so convinced have the applicants become - when they have gone over the property in which they are interested with an official representing the Commissioner - that they have been prepared to forfeit the amount of their deposit rather than go on with the private transaction. In such instances we have endeavoured to get the vendors to release the would-be purchasers, and to “let up” on the deposit. In some cases we have succeeded.
– Could not a clause be inserted in this measure to compel vendors to return the deposits?
– MILLEN- I do not know that we can pass any law to protect a fool from the results of his folly, and the fact cannot be denied that numbers of our soldier boys, from want of knowledge and experience, have been foolish in this respect. The correct course of action - and here Senator Gardiner could render valuable assistance - is to give all nossible publicity to the warning, and so set returned men against the practice of entering into private contracts, while relying upon the
Commissioner for assistance, but without first consulting him.
Now I desire to revert to the work already accomplished. I have mentioned the number of applications so far received and the position in which they stand at this moment. To date, 1,042 houses have been built and completed. In respect of 73 others, the owners have been assisted to complete construction.. In. these cases the returned men concerned had proceeded to build, and found they were not quite financially strong enough to conclude the contract. They therefore availed themselves of the provisions of the Act and received assistance. So far, 5,745 houses have been purchased, so that 6,860 returned soldiers have already, as a result of the operations of the Act, been provided with and established in homes. There are now under construction - in addition to the homos just indicated - 2,678 houses. Of these, 1,278 have been constructed by contract and 1,400 by day labour. In addition to the number just mentioned as having been constructed, 302 further contracts have been let; and tenders are in hand for 712, which tenders have been examined and are to be finalized within the next few days. Altogether 1,353 mortgages have been lifted. Adding these to the 6,860 men who have been furnished either with new or purchased houses, 8,213 applications have been satisfied. That is approximately 45 per cent, of the actual applications, excluding those which have been rejected or withdrawn. Altogether 8,213 applicants have been satisfied out of a total of 18,000. The average cost to the occupants of the houses has been as follows : - £561 in the case of bought houses, £647 in the case of built houses, and £474 in the case of houses subject to mortgages.
Another matter to which I desire to direct attention is the price which the Commissioner is paying for land. The average price of the allotments which he is purchasing is 30s. per foot, and he is working, as far as possible, on the basis of a 50-ft. frontage. Bearing in mind land values generally, I submit that 30s. per foot is a cheap price for these men to pay for the land upon which to erect their homes, seeing that this land is situated in localities where sewerage, water,gas, and transport facilities exist or are being provided. Where the Commissioner acquires an area of land lacking these facilities, they are provided as the result of municipal effort under an arrangement with the Commissioner, and their cost is included in the prices which I have already quoted. The ability to get land at those prices - which are much less than the prices at which we could get it if we attempted to carry through a single transaction - is the result of the freedom which the Commissioner enjoys under the principal Act, which enables him to purchase broad areas and to subdivide them himself.
– It is the result of being able to get in on the ground floor.
– ‘Precisely. It is the result of the advantages which the Commissioner enjoys over the speculative builder. Of course, it is quite easy for the Government to spend money;but we are naturally concerned to know how that money is being repaid. In this connexion I have a very gratifying statement to make to the Senate. Up to the 30th June last, of the amount due by the soldier occupants of these houses, namely £116,144, all but £2,447 had been repaid. The arrears, therefore, appear to be quite small. I repeat that of the amount due by soldiers no less than £113,697 has been repaid. I doubt if any other business can show such a small percentage ofbad debts . But it must not be assumed that these arrears represent an irretrievable loss.
– There cannot be a loss if the valuations have been sound.
– I should regard it as very regrettable if the Commissioner were obliged to turn any of these men out of their homes. The figures which I have quoted indicate that there is going to be little need for drastic action of that character. Those figures, indeed, seem to be abundantly good;but, in order to check them, I have referred to the last report issued in connexion with Credit Foncier loans granted in the State of Victoria. I find that, in connexion with the Credit Foncier system there is outstanding the sum of £4,730,000, the arrears upon which total only £4,711, which represents 2s. per £100. The amount outstanding under the War Service Homes scheme is £4,847,0.0.0, or ‘£100,0.00 more than is outstanding in .connexion with the Credit Foncier branch of the Victorian State Savings Bank. For the purposes of comparison, let -us assume that the amounts a*e equal. What then is the position? Whereas of that amount there is outstanding in the books of the Credit Foncier branch of the State Savings Bank a sum of £4,700, there is outstanding oh the books of the War Service Homes Commissioner an amount of only £2,447. Both actually and by comparison, therefore, it is apparent that our soldier applicants for these homes are standing well, up to their obligations.
In another part of the principal Act it is provided that the Commissioner shall be his own insurance company, the idea being that as he himself was the builder of the homes he would be in a position to eliminate a lot of unnecessary expense if he carried his own fire and other risks. At the present time there are 2,059 poli’cies in existence, representing a sum of £2,133,000. There is a discrepancy, therefore, between the number of policies in existence and the number of properties over which .the .Commissioner has a mortgage. This is due to the fact .that many of the properties purchased carried prior fire policies. But as these fall due .they will not be renewed, and the properties will thus fall under the Commissioner’s scheme. The revenue received from insurance policies amounts to £3,115, and the liabilities to date to £1 19s. I wish to inform honorable senators of the rates which the Commissioner is charging on the advice of actuarial experts as compared with those which are being charged by private companies. For a £600 house the charge under the War Service Homes scheme is 7s., whilst that’ by private companies- is 13s. That charge is for :a house built of brick, .cement, and stone. For a wooden house of equal value th© charge by private companies is up to 40s., whereas that by the .Commissioner is 19s. There is a great discrepancy, therefore, between the rates which are being charged by ‘private companies and those Which a>re ‘being charged ‘by the Commissioner, and a doubt may a-rise in the minds of honorable senators as to whether the Commissioner’s charge rests upon a sound basis. After conferring with tie actuarial experts who were called in to determine this point, the Commissioner ,is satisfied that the work can be successfully undertaken for the charges which he is making. The great economy which is achieved under his scheme is due to the fact that he has no directors to pay, and that his own salary is not increased by reason of the inclusion of insurance as part of the provisions. Colonel Walker would not be paid anything less if there were no insurance attached to the War Service Homes scheme. In addition, a great saving is effected by the absence of the necessity for an inspection of these homes. An insurance “ company when asked to insure a property usually sends an officer to inspect it. The Commissioner having built these homes himself, knows what they are, and thus avoids that obligation. There is still another expense which I may mention - that in connexion with the preparation of a fire-insurance policy. Anybody who has seen the rather formidablelooking document known as a fireinsurance policy must recognise that its preparation costs something. It is not necessary for the Commissioner to issue such a policy. The issue of a mere receipt is all that is required. It is satisfactory, therefore, that the Commissioner can carry out his insurance scheme by charging the rates which I have mentioned. The benefits accruing from these lower rates do not go to the Commissioner, but to the soldiers themselves. Of applicants who have been satisfied 33 per cent, made some deposit or were owners of the land -on which the buildings were erected. That is a very gratifying state of affairs, and it seems to indicate that Australians are -not quite the thriftless people that some persons, would have us believe.
– The figure will be increased by the use of the war gratuity bonds.
– That is possible. The Commissioner is doing all tha-t he can to point out to applicants how much it would be in their interests .to lodge their .gratuity ‘bonds., ,and thus hasten the .time when their houses will be free of mortgage. So much for what has been accomplished in the -past.
For the immediate future- the next two years- the Commissioner .aims at the erection of 8,000 houses each year. In determining the number to be built it is necessary to take into account factors other than the mere number of applicants. ‘We can multiply applicants, but we cannot multiply labour or the supply of materials necessary to satisfy them. The Commissioner must have regard, not only to the number of applicants, but to the labour and material available, and to the possibilities of interruption by industrial troubles, of which he has already been in many respects somewhat of a victim. He has decided that a programme of 8,000 houses per year represents the maximum which with any degree of confidence he can set his hand to. He is building houses at that rate to-day. I do not wish to sound a note of pessimism, but bearing in mind that on two occasions memorable in the annals of this city building operations were thrown idle for some weeks, I cannot help thinking that it may not be possible for one reason or another for the Commissioner to complete the erection of 8,000 houses in the year. If there should be no interruption in the supply of material and labour in the various trades there can be no doubt that he will be able to cany out his programme; but it seems to be almost too much to hope that for twelve months we shall have entire freedom from industrial troubles of the kind I have referred to. Honorable senators will recognise that every day’s stoppage of work must decrease the annual output. Experience only can show whether there are grounds for my fears.
Even though the Commissioner should be able to build 8,000 houses each year for two years, it is quite clear, in view of the number of applicants, that some must wait. Only a certain amount of labour and material is available, and it is not possible to hold out any very great hopes to a number of the returned men. They cannot expect that their applications will be filled for some little time to come. Everything will be done to speed up the erection of soldiers’ homes, and if circumstances are especially favorable, and it is possible to exceed the 8,000 houses per year, the Commissioner will do so; but it would not he acting fairly to a number of men who may be expecting that houses will be available for them in a few months if we did not let them know that it might take much longer to satisfy them, because of the accumulation of applications to be dealt with.
The shortage of houses is not peculiar to Australia. I have been trying to gain some idea of the position in this respect in other parts of the Empire and the world. From all I can gather there is a general recognition of the shortage of house accommodation, and very considerable complaint in consequence. The shortage in Great Britain is estimated to be 500,000 houses. The Government there are not acting directly as we are doing here, but are seeking to act through local municipal and other bodies, and so far, it seems to me,, they have not achieved any very great results. According to the May number of the London Magazine, although the programme outlined was 500,000 houses to be built in three years, and the scheme had been in operation for some months, only 129 houses had been completed ready for occupation, and 5,392 were in process of erection. Comparing the figures for Great Britain with our own, we have actually made much greater progress; but if they are compared in relation to needs and population there is simply no comparison between the results achieved in Great Britain and those achieved in Australia, disappointing though the results achieved in Australia may be to some persons.
In Canada the same line of action as that adopted by the Imperial Government has been followed. The Dominion Government of Canada advances only to the Provinces for this purpose. The Governments of the Provinces in turn advance to local government bodies and other organizations. On the Estimates for Canada this year, I have noticed an item of £2,500,000 in satisfaction of these provincial loans. That amount puts in a very favorable light indeed the proposals of the Commonwealth Government. We are making available a very much larger sum. We have already spent £4,750,000, and the amount it is anticipated will be spent this year will be in the neighbourhood of £7,000,000. When we consider Canada’s £2,500,000 we need not fear a comparison with the Australian figures.
The United States of America Government are practically doing nothing. They did start to build a number of houses while the war was on for the purpose of housing munition workers, but the moment the Armistice was signed and there ceased to be any necessity for housing munition workers the Government did not transfer their activity to the erection of homes for returned men.
In South Africa, as in Great Britain, the Government make advances to local” government bodies if they are prepared to build for houseless people.
The conditions in New Zealand approach more nearly to our own. They have a system there under which they advance money for 25^ years “at 7 per cent. As honorable senators are aware, the rate charged in Australia is 6 per cent., covering both principal and interest. This is a hasty review of what has been done elsewhere.
– It is satisfactory to know that in Australia we are leading the world in this respect.
– I have said before, and do not mind repeating the statement, that Australia has nothing to fear from any fair comparison of what we are doing for our returned soldiers with what is being done in any other country in the world.
I have a word or two to say with regard to the agreement with the Commonwealth Bank. I do not hesitate to tell honorable senators that the working of that agreement has not proved at all satisfactory. I do not wish to say that any one was to blame for this. It soon became apparent in working the agreement that there were two authorities engaging in similar transactions. First of all, there was competition in the efforts to secure the labour and material available. That was a distinct disability. A more serious one to my mind arose from the fact that under the agreement, although the Commonwealth Bank claimed that it was merely an agent, it was yet impossible to control it. The Bank was an agent at one moment, and at another was claiming a free hand. There can be no responsibility without authority, and I came to the conclusion that the Commissioner or myself, being responsible for the working of this scheme, must have full authority to carry it into effect. It was consequently agreed that the Commonwealth Bank and the Commissioner, with the approval of the Government, should terminate the agreement, and it has been terminated now for some little time. All that the Bank is now doing is clearing up the work which it had in hand. In future its assistance will be limited to receiving repayments as they are made. The
Commonwealth Bank is a very proper institution for that, and it will save a certain amount of internal work. Repayments can be made direct to the Commonwealth Bank, and that- will mak-3 it unnecessary that they should first of all be made to the Commissioner, and should then be taken by him to the Bank. In future the Bank will be merely a receiving house for repayments.
I may be allowed to say a word or two as to the character and value of the houses that ara being constructed. A number of honorable senators have inspected some of the houses, and I am gratified to note that no member of this Parliament with whom I have come in contact who. has seen any of them speaks in any but the most flattering terms regarding the work done. I extend an invitation to honorable senators who have not yet seen them to do so. IF any of them will intimate a desire to inspect the houses in process of building or when completed the Commissioner will make an officer available for the purpose. I express my own opinion of them when I say I would consider that I made a remarkably good deal if I could take the whole of the houses off the Commissioner’s hands at an advance of anything from £50 to £100 over the prices which the soldiers are asked to pay for them. Two or three very gratifying certificates have been received. Some criticism of these houses appeared in one or two journals in this city. In answer to them’ the Returned Sailors and Soldiers League was invited to send a delegation to inspect the houses, and Captain Dyett, President of the League, having seen them, expressed his satisfaction with them in no measured terms: He was not only satisfied with the houses but was of the opinion that the soldiers were receiving them at £100 less than they would bring in the market. I attach considerable importance to the opinion expressed by another gentleman concerning these houses. I was engaged in opening a group of soldiers’ cottages in one. of the suburbs of Sydney. The Mayor of the suburb was a building contractor, and after the opening ceremony was completed he said that although he had viewed the experiment with the gravest doubt, and had predicted its failure, having seen the houses he said as a builder of thirty years standing that he must compliment the Commissioner upon what he had done, and that the cottages were a great acquisition to the municipality over which he presided. When a gentleman is frank enough to say that approaching an experiment with a feeling of scepticism he has to confess his satisfaction at the result it will be admitted that the Commissioner must have done his work thoroughly and well. I again invite honorable senators to make their own inspection of these houses, and I shall be very much surprised if they do not agree that thev justify the remarks I have made.
-BROCKMAN.-Are they t he same in each State ?
– They are of tha same type.
SenatorDrake-Brockman . - So that if we see one group we see all ?
– MILLEN.- Except that all the cottages are not alike. There are the same specifications and plans.
That there should be a great deal of criticism of the operations of the Department is only natural. In the first place the Australian regards it as his unchallengeable privilege to criticise the Government and any Government agency. I believe that if government were abolished he would be deprived of one of iiis chief occupations. The habit of criticism is firmly fixed in the mind of the average Australian. I am not complaining of that. There were special reasons why returned soldiers might perhaps be a little critical in connexion with this matter. They were very eager to get into these houses, and naturally became very vocal when they found that they could not do so , on short notice. I can quite understand their complaint. There is another class of complaints, however, to which I should like to direct attention. These are complaints that come from the representatives of vested interests. I am not hostile to any vested interests, whether of builders or architects, but I say that a duty was imposed uponme, and upon tha Commissioner, under the Act to build houses for re- turned soldiers faithfully and well, and as cheaply as possible, and if in order to carry that out it was necessary to disturb some vested interests the responsibility had still to be met. When we asked the Commissioner to build houses he was instructed to do so ascheaply as possible, with material of the right quality. In doing this, it is quite clear that the builders and con tractors were restricted in their field of operations. I am sorry for that, but I cannot help it, and I submit that the Commissioner, and the Minister, would be blamed if they ceased their operations out of regard for the private interests which may have been affected. The architects have complained that they are not getting a fair share of the work in connexion with the erection of war service homes. That is perfectly true; but I cannot see any hope for them. The Commissioner, by having standardized plans, is able to furnish plans and specifications at a much lower cost than any architect would be prepared to supply them to any individual, for a single building. Bearing in mind the purpose of the work, the Commissioner would be wrong, and I, as Minister, would be wrong, if we adopted a more expensive method simply to avoid interfering with the work of a number of deserving citizens. Honorable senators will be able to realize that, with standardized plans, the cost of the work can be considerably reduced, and that if the interests of the architects were studied, and the work of the Commissioner ceased, it is fair to assume that the charge to the soldier would be considerably higher than what it is at the present time.
Reference has been made from time to time to the delays that have been experienced in connexion with the construction of homes. I admit there has been delay. The applications are greatly in excess of the Commissioner’s ability to meet them. But if honorable senators will recollect that for many year’s building has been proceeding slowly, particularly during the war period, and that 260,000 men returned to Australia within a few mouths, they will be able to realize the difficulties confronting the Department. Many of the mau who all returned within a very short period would., but for the war, have married in steady ratio, whereas, because of the war there was an accumulation, and the Department, in providing homes, had to make up a leeway. Honorable senators will recognise that by nothing short of a miracle could we have built in a few months, or even years, sufficient houses to meet the exceptionally heavy demand. I want to ask this question : If theCommissioner isslowinmeetingthe requirements, is any one building houses at a more rapid rate? If inquiries are made in any suburb from those engaged in the business, it will be found that houses are not being built by contractors at a faster rate than they are being constructed by the Department. The dearth of labour and of material is responsible, and, as illustrating one of the difficulties, I may mention that no less than 182 working days of last year were lost in consequence of strikes of one sort or another. This proved a very serious inroad in the working time of the year, and the seamen’s and engineers’ disputes were to a large extent responsible for the delay.
– Is the principal shortage in connexion with labour or material ?
– Speaking offhand, I would be disposed to say there is a greater shortage of labour.
– Skilled labour is scarce everywhere.
– Of course, it is. As indicating how short supplies of material actually are, I may say that it is not unusual for contractors to approach the Commissioner for material which they require. While sympathizing with them, I desire to point out that the troubles they are encountering are also being experienced by the Commissioner. He has no large stocks on which he can call, and is meeting with many of the difficulties and disabilities experienced by private contractors. It is true that lie has taken steps , to procure large supplies, and owing tothe magnitude of his operations has been able to purchase his requirements to advantage. It is still true, however, that he is hampered by the difficulty in getting material, which, a few years ago, was available in abundance.
I desired to ascertain the shortage of houses throughout the Commonwealth, but was surprised to find that no definite statistics are available on this point, Knibbs has given some figures, but the number ofhouses in relation to the population are not shown. The Melbourne Herald a few weeks ago, in two very interesting articles, set down the shortage of houses in Victoria as 60,000, but I do not know on what that estimate was based. I am unable to give definite information,but I desire to present one or two sets of figures which may be indicative of the present position. I am taking the metropolitan areas of
Sydney and Melbourne in the comparison I propose to institute. I suppose one of the determining factors in creating a need for houses is the interesting ceremony known as marriage, as I suppose practically every marriage means a demand for a new home. In Sydneybetween the years 1910 to 1914 41,865 marriages were recorded in. the metropolitan area, and during the same period 39,311 houses were built, so that there were excess marriages to the extent of 2,554 over the houses built during the pre-war period. When we take the war period, 1915-20, the marriages were 47,611 and the houses built 40,221, am excess of marriages over homes built of over 7,000, as compared with 2,554 during the pre-war period. The figures concerning Melbourne are even more striking; as, in the metropolitan area, the excess of marriages over houses builtin the pre-war period was 4,197, and in the war period 19,092. It hasbeen suggested that the increased number of marriages was due to the proximity of Melbourne to the principal training camps in this State; but the same could be said to some extent concerning Sydney. There is another way in which I shall endeavour to show how the shortage of houses can be demonstrated. In Melbourne, between’ the years 1910-1914, the mean population was 628,000, during which period 27,795 houses were built, or an average of over one house for 22.6 of the population. In the war period, 1915-1919, the mean population was 711,000, when only 24,182 houses were constructed, so that, with a larger population, a fewer number of new houses were built. The average for the pre-war period was 22.5 persons per house, and for the war period 29.3 persons per house. If the old rate had been maintained, an additional 7,280 houses would have been built, and it is easy to realize that such a number would have eased the pressure that exists to a considerable extent. The mean population in Sydney for the years 1910-14 was 690,000, during which time 39,311 new houses were built, or an average of 17.5 persons per house. It is rather curious to see the difference between the averages between Melbourne and Sydney, as Melbourne built at the rate of a house for every twenty-two persons, and Sydney at the rate of a house per every seventeen persons.
– Did I understand the Minister for Repatriation to say that there were more marriages, in proportion, in Melbourne than in Sydney.
– More in proportion, but not actually.
– Proving, I suppose, that the Melbourne girls are more attractive.
– Or that the Melbourne men are more easily captured.
The figures I have given, if they can be said at all to indicate a measure of shortage, are quite insufficent upon which to enter a judgment. First of all, they deal only with new houses, and it does not mean that every new house is necessarily an additional home, as certain buildings have to be demolished and others constructed in their place. I have already stated that the Commissioner’s object is not merely to build houses, but to build them well and as cheaply as possible, and I am entirely in sympathy with his idea that when he builds a house it should be a tangible asset for many years to come. In order to build at a price which can be regarded as satisfactory, the Commissioner has been obliged to do certain things. When introducing the parent measure, I pointed out that by buying land and material in a wholesale manner the Commissioner would be able to effect considerable economy, and I trust the Senate will pardon me if I read an extract from my speech on that occasion, when I said -
It is obvious that, if he is authorized to make contracts, or to purchase building materials in large quantities, he will be placed in a position of great advantage. Suppose, for example, that instead of having to make arrangements for the immediate supply of a quantity of bricks from a brickyard, or of timber from a sawmiller, he is able to arrange for big lots of these materials to be supplied over a period of some months. Obviously he will be in a position to effect a saving - a saving, perhaps, of something like 10 per cent, per cottage. Honorable senators will agree that the exercise of economy is desirable at all times, and will recognise that a saving of £50 or £60 in the erection of one of these homes will represent a material help to the soldier. But there is now a special reason for seeking to effect economy. That reason is to be found in the fact that the cost of building material to-day is very high; and, although, sooner or later, it must approximate to its normal cost, it is quite clear that we are not justified in looking for any marked decline for some time to come. It will be seen, therefore, that if houses were built to-day with building materials at their present price it is quite conceivable that within two or three years, owing to a drop in the cost of those materials, a building may be worth less than it is now. If, by organizing, we can effect a saving at this juncture, it will constitute a very good set-off against any diminution in values later on.
In order to give effect to that, the Commissioner has proceeded on the lines I have indicated by making contracts for considerable quantities, thus allowinghim to secure better terms than an ordinary contractor who was purchasing material for, perhaps, only one cottage. In the first instance, the Commissioner has acquired land for 13,000 homes, including those already erected, at an average price of 30s. per foot.
– Does that include the country ?
– It includes country towns, and I am rather surprised to learn that in some country townships the value of the land is as high as it is in the suburbs of Melbourne or Sydney.
– There is a landvalue tax in operation in nearly all the municipalities around Sydney. That keeps down the price of vacant lots.
– I do not care to mention specific country towns which I have in mind; but, as to the interjection of the honorable senator, I could give instances of land values in certain country centres where the system of taxation to which he has referred is in operation, and side by side with them the valuations in other towns where a different system isin vogue; and, in respect of both places, I could indicate what appears to me to be a higher cost than rules in the suburbs of either Melbourne or Sydney. I have under consideration at present a proposal for the purchase of land in a certain Queensland town, and I have been surprised to learn that the value placed upon that land - and it is apparently a fair one, seeing that the circumstances have been closely investigatedis actually in excess of that being paid for land within reasonable distance of Melbourne. The Commissioner, in acquiring large areas for the purpose of erecting numbers of houses in groups - some of which are entitled to be called “ garden suburbs “ - hasbeen seized of the fact that the creation of aggregations of from 70 to 150 houses must call into existence numbers of little businesses.
Thus, when a big .subdivision is determined upon, the Commissioner sets aside certain allotments for business purposes. The idea is that, later on, when the soldiers’ homes have been built and occupied, these business blocks shall be offered to the public as. business sites; and, to the extent to which a profit is shown upon the sales of those blocks, the cost to the soldier himself will be reduced.
I have been very much angered, when the question of the acquisition of a block of land has come before me, to find very frequently that a great disparity exists between the owner’s price to the Department and the price to which he has certi fed before the Land Taxation Commissioner. I quite understand, of course, that circumstances alter cases ; nevertheless, I have been greatly perturbed, because the discrepancy between the two prices has often been beyond all reason. When I find that a man is asking three times the price for his land compared with the valuation on which he is paying his land tax, then it appears to me to be time to take some step to overcome such a state of affairs.
– It amounts to profiteering.
– No, it is not that. If we went into Court to secure a valuation, I have no doubt that the Court would concur, approximately, in the valuation asked by the owner himself. What is wrong, however, is that the owner is not paying a fair amount of land tax.
– And an owner is not likely to do so until he is compelled. It. is human nature. ‘
– At any rate, I should not like to think that Parliament is without resource in remedying such a state of affairs, and I feel seriously inclined to ask the Legislature to take steps with a view to overcoming this serious disability which confronts my Department.
With regard to the question of material, the Commissioner has endeavoured, by negotiation with suppliers, to enter into favorable contracts. He has proceeded generally to deal with the associations into which the individual suppliers are frequently grouped. I cannot say, however, that his efforts to secure satisfactory contracts have met with uni formly happy results. There appears to be a close brotherhood amongst these gentlemen ; and they are pretty hard to deal with occasionally, so that really decent contracts have not always been obtainable. I have, however, the particulars of one contract in respect of which the Commissioner is obtaining a certain class of timber at 34s. and 38s. respectively per 200 feet, as against the ordinary market rate of 4.8s. and 53s. This represents an actual saving of lis. 8d. and lis.. 6d. respectively per 100 feet. These are obviously very substantial reductions; and, on a contract of 6,000,000 feet of the class of timber which the Commissioner requires over a period of twelve months, and with regard to the needs of one State only, they involve a saving of £35,000. Every penny of this saving, of course, represents a direct gain to the soldier occupants of the homes under construction. If the Commissioner were to get his timber for nothing, he would not charge the soldier anything for it; so, the cheaper he secures his supplies the less the soldier is called upon to pay for his home.
I must say that I am disappointed that the Commissioner has not been able to secure more reasonable .terms for various lines of materials than has been the case. I quite recognise, of course, that supplies for the trade generally today are inadequate; and consequently vendors are not under very great temptation to sell to the Commissioner, seeing that they can readily dispose of their stocks at ordinary rates to private contractors.
– Are the vendors making undue profits ?
– I am not going to say anything in regard to that matter, but I think the Commissioner can secure his supplies much more cheaply by instituting another procedure altogether. Whereas in some cases he is able to get straight-out contracts by which he is able to make rather considerable savings, he has to accept concessions in respect of other contracts which work out merely to a point or two of discount better than is available to the trade generally, despite the fact that he is prepared to place big orders, running over many months. However, so long as the shortage of supplies continues, his difficulties are bound to remain. But by special arrangements with certain suppliers the Commissioner hopes to make substantial savings. The arrangements to which I am now alluding have involved, in certain instances, the making of advances to traders, in order to enable them to put in additional plant, the Commissioner taking a mortgage over the whole of the plant, and having alien upon its entire output, and the trader undertaking to repay the amount advanced by accepting a reduction of payment upon every load of material delivered. I would illustrate my statement by a reference to a contract having to do with hardwood. In respect of this material, the ordinary trade rate is 25s. l0d. The price to the Commissioner, under the system which I have just indicated, is working out at 15s. 9d. The ordinary price to contractors for lime is 5s. 6d. per bag; the Commissioner pays 3s. l1d. The cost of roofing tiles is £19 per 1,000; the Commissioner pays £10.
– Can the Minister place side by side with that comparison the price which the outside public is paying for these materials?
– These higher prices which I am quoting are the amounts that the general public are called upon to pay. If the honorable senator were to take a contract and he required tiles, he would be called upon to pay £19 per 1,000 - less the usual trade discount of2½ per cent. In order to secure such contracts as these the Commissioner has been compelled, in certain instances, to find money for the purchase of additional machinery to be placed in the works.- He has taken a mortgage over the whole concern and holds a lien upon its output; and, upon every load of tiles delivered to him, so much is deducted from the prices per 1,000 until the sum advanced to the factory owner is wiped off. In the matter of joinery the Commissioner secures a discount of 26½ per cent, off trade rates; and,for plaster,7½ per cent. off.
SenatorFoll. - To what State do these particulars apply?
– With one exception the whole of the instances I have quoted are in respect of Victoria. In. explanation of that, I would point out that this State contains the head-quarters of the Commissioner, and he is, therefore, inevitably in closer touch with trade conditions, and is able to , proceed more expeditiously here than in other States. 1 should add that the Commissioner does not want to enter into this method of financing concerns, but he realizes that if he cannot secure supplies at reasonable prices and in the ordinary way, in order to secure the cheapest possible homes for returned soldiers, he must adopt some other and effective course of action.
– And the sooner he extends his operations to the other States, the better.
– That is so. I do not propose at this stage to enter into specific details or to mention names, but I desire to mention that the Commissioner is on the eve of completing two deals of considerable magnitude for the purchase of timber lands and certain timber machinery. The completion of these negotiations will go a long way towards furnishing necessary requirements of material for two States. I beg to be excused from giving exact particulars, seeing that the negotiations have not yet been completed, but there is no reason why I should not say that I expect them to be finalized, as an outcome of which the Commissioner should be able to effect a saving upon the one item of timber such as will confer very material advantage upon our returned soldiers.
Just a word now regarding the much vexed question of day labour versus contract. I have previously informed the Senate that I am no believer in day labour, any more than is the Commissioner himself. However, when it was found that contractors would not tender at prices within the limits of the Act it was realized that it meant stopping work or looking for some other expedient. Thus, the Commissioner was forced into the acceptance of the day-labour system. Some time ago I gave to the Senate particulars of a number of tenders, and compared those prices with the costs of the Commissioner in the erection of specific homes. They were remarkable figures and afforded striking comparisons. I propose now to give further details concerning two tenders recently received, and which have been declined. Tenders were called Tor twenty-one houses - that is to say, for the labour only. Since the Commissioner had made arrangements to obtain material more cheaply than outside contractors could do, common’ sense compelled him to say, “ We, will supply the material, but we invite tenders in the matter of labour.” Now, in respect of these twenty-one houses, to be erected at Yarraville, the lowest tender - for labour only - amounted to £190 per house. The Commissioner’s estimate was £175. It was an item of only £15 per dwelling; but, for the construction of these twentyone buildings, it involved considerable saving to our returned men. In addition, of course, there was a guarantee respecting quality of work such as could not have been given under the contract system. The second illustration has to do with calling for tenders for eleven houses at Heidelberg. The lowest tender, again for labour only, amounted to £362 per dwelling. The Commissioner’s estimate was £290, thus involving a saving per building of £72.
– Is it not possible that the Commissioner’s estimates might be exceeded ?
– There is always . that possibility, of course; buthonorable senators will be interested to know that, in all the Commissioner’s experience of building homes for soldiers, the largest amount of excess revealed anywhere has been covered by a £5 note. A special costing system has been devised, and that system is justifying itself. I quite appreciate, of course, that, with his special facilities, the Commissioner has a peculiar advantage compared with an ordinary contractor. When the latter secures a contract for the erection of a group of houses, he has to draw his labour from various parts. He has not much scope for the development of organization in this respect. But when the Commissioner undertakes the construction of 100 or 200 homes at a time, he can do a good deal in this particular alone towards effecting economy. He can have one gang of men taking out the foundations of one building, and there proceeding to do the same for the next. Then, there follows a gang to lay the foundations of the one home and proceed to the next. Next, come the bricklayers and the carpenters, and all the other tradesmen; each group following upon the heels of the other from structure to structure. So far, experience is showing that the Commissioner is building his houses well within his estimates, and these . latter axe .considerably lower than the lowest outside tenders hitherto received. In order ‘to indicate that the Commissioner is not prejudiced any more than I am in the matter of day labour, I would remind honorable senators that, roughly, half the houses so far completed have been constructed by contract and the other half by day labour. If contractors were prepared to tender and to build upon the basis of the same prices as the Commissioner, they would be gladly given the contracts. So far, however, outside contractors have shown an inability, or a disinclination, to tender at prices at all commensurate with the estimates of the Department.
– If the Commissioner is able to get his material as cheaply as the Minister has indicated, that fact furnishes the answer. No contractor would be able to compete with him.
– But I again point out that the Commissioner, in the instances just quoted, called for tenders for labour only. His job - it must not be forgotten - is to build houses as cheaply as possible. That is the prime consideration. If the Commissioner, by accepting day labour, can reduce the cost of homes to our returned men, then he is in every way justified in refusing outside tenders, and he is entitled to ask for the support of this Chamber. I am not blaming the contractor, because, without the aid of the Commissioner, he can get plenty of work elsewhere, which is probably one of the reasons why his prices are so high.
There are two other matters with which I desire to deal, and then I shall have finished. I think that I am entitled to say a word or two in commendation of the labours of Colonel Walker and his staff. Having started the Repatriation Department, I know something of the tremendous difficulties which present themselves when one is suddenly called upon to organize a scratch team. The individual may he able enough, but, after all, there is something in team work, and still more in knowing one’s particular job. We may have excellent men, but frequently they are round men in square holes, and it takes time before things shake down ,so that it is possible to get an effective ‘ organization. The Commissioner had to face this .difficulty, and also an insistent demand for immediate action at a time when the market was short ibo.tib. of material and labour. He has not made the headway that he would like .to have made; hut, in view of all the circumstances, he is entitled to commendation for the progress which he has achieved.
L have already mentioned big figures representing an amount of £6,000,000, in connexion with this scheme, andthere is an expenditure of many more millions to follow. Naturally in these days, when there is so much talk of economy, and when money is -a . difficult commodity to secure, there is a certain amount of apprehension when one talks of committing the Commonwealth to a further expenditure aggregating some millions of pounds. “But the millions which we are providing to-day are being advanced by way of loan; and, so long as the war service houses are constructed faithfully and well, the security is good. Further as the men are discharging their obligations with such remarkable promptitude, the country cannot doubt the soundness of the investments which it is making in order to provide suitable homes for -the soldiers who fought so nobly for us in the late war.
Debate (on motion by Senator Gardiner) adjourned.
– In moving -
That this Bill be now read a second time, I desire briefly to make one or two points which relate more to the past than to the present or the future. I wish to make it perfectly clear that this measure is not intended to interfere with our Arbitration Court as it exists to-day. It is designed to provide supplementary legislation, and to create facilities for the holding of spceial Courts in time of industrial crisis, so as to deal effectually with any industrial dispute or threatened dispute. We sometimes question whether the system of arbitration in Australia has proved a success or otherwise. In my opinion, it has been instrumental in preventing a good deal of industrial trouble and direct action.
– It may be a question. After all, our arbitration legislation was largely in the nature of an experiment, but we have learnt a good deal as the result of that experiment. If a new country like Australia does not indulge in experiments, how can we expect the older countries- of the world to do so? I am perfectly satisfied that the establishment of our Arbitration Court averted many troubles of an industrial character, and certainly we obtained from it, particularly in the early years of its existence, many just decisions. But upon the outbreak of war it was inevitable that a tremendous increase in the cost of living would take place. The operation of the natural economic law was bound to produce that result. This rise in the price of commodities led to an enormous increase in industrial litigation, and the avenues by means of which the Court could be approached thus became congested with business. Nobody can fail to sympathize with the married men with large families in their struggle for a livelihood during the past few years. They have felt most keenly the increase in the cost of living. In all these circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that there are forty-two cases now pending before our Arbitration Court. Upon more than one occasion men have put their hands into their pockets in order to obtain a decision from that tribunal upon some matter involving an improvement of their industrial conditions. But by the time they succeeded in gaining an increase in their wages of perhaps 2g. or 3s. per day, the cost of living had advanced by more than that amount, so that their position after they had obtained an award in their favour was no better than it was previously. It is experiences of this character which are responsible for much of the bias which exists against the Arbitration Court to-day, and which have prompted quite a number of men to refuse to accept arbitration in connexion with industrial disputes! When, however, normal times have’ become re-established, I am firmly of opinion that arbitration, will again become popular.
Despite the abuse which is frequently hurled at Australia, it is gratifying to know that many British manufacturers speak in glowing terms of the work which is being done by
Australian workmen. Quite recently, I heard it stated, in connexion with the electrification of the suburban railway system of Victoria, that the work was one of the best and cheapest jobs which had been undertaken in any part of the world. It is extremely pleasant to hear such reports of the effectiveness of Australian labour when it is utilized to the best advantage. I am sure that the magnificent qualities which were exhibited by our men upon the battlefields ofFrance will be successfully employed for the development of Australia.
I repeat that this Bill is not intended to interfere with our present Arbitration Court. That tribunal will continue to do its work in the ordinary way. But we must not be blind to the fact that there are quite a number of industrial organizations, the members of which are not prepared to submit their grievances to that Court. Quite irrespective of the organizations to which these men belong, we must recollect that there are always two sides to any dispute. The Bill aims particularly at bringing the opposing parties together in the event of the failure of conciliatory methods for the adjustment of their differences. Under our Arbitration Act sufficient is not done to prevent industrial disputes arising. Instead we wait until they have developed. To my mind that is a mistake. Under our Constitution, our industrial powers of legislation are limited to disputes which extend beyond the boundaries of any one State. We have no power to interfere in other disputes. That constitutional limitation not only destroyed the effectiveness of our legislation, but compelled the workers to start a fight in one State with the deliberate intention of extending it to another State. In other words, industrial trouble was purposely created, and when once a fire has been started it is not always easy to extinguish it.
That the object of industrial legislation should not be to cure, but, as far as possible, to prevent trouble arising. When rival parties get together they usually discover that neither is as good as it imagines itself to be or as bad as it has . been pictured by the “ other fellow.” I am not one of those who cherishes the hope that this Bill will abolish strikes. I do not believe that that result will ever be achieved. I know that whenever I can get a higher salary than I am receiving to-day, I desire to be in a position to accept it.
-Profit sharing is the best cure.
SenatorRUSSELL. - I have seen that system operating successfully at Ballarat in connexion with a local industry. But its success there is due primarily to the honesty of the persons who are connected with that industry. The workers generally need to be protected against some of the men of the keen commercial type, who, unfortunately, disgrace our business community to-day. I am glad to know that these men do not represent more than 5 per cent. of those who are engaged in any particular form of enterprise. Unfortunately, it is usually the man who is permitted to pay low wages, to provide an insanitary factory for his employees, and to do all sorts of mean and petty things, who creates industrial trouble,because the good and conscientious employer cannot successfully compete with him. The Commonwealth. Council to be appointed under this Bill will have certain powers, and will not delay action until trouble has actually arisen. The atmosphere of industrial unTest is easily discernible, and the Council will be expected to watch developments, and to do what may appear to be desirable and necessary to prevent disputes. Honorable senators are aware of the fears which have recently been expressed in connexion with the coal industry.No one can at present say that we may not be faced with an industrial crisis before very long if something is not done to bring the two sides in this industry together and effect a settlement of the matters in dispute between them. The only other course to follow is to use force. That I do not think practical or desirable, and I further believe that the people of Australia generally are adverse to the use of force for the settlement of industrial disputes.
– A mistake might be made as to the side on which there was the greatest force.
– I think that the force is on the side of common sense in Australia.
SenatorRUSSELL. - I am disposedto agree with the honorable senator. I have known strikes to continue for months and months,. and many millions to be lost in consequence. I have noticed a tendency on the part of the women of Australia to-day to object to these long-drawn-out struggles between employers and employees, and not without good reason, because they are the greatest sufferers from them.
– The workers of Australia lost £7,000,000 in seven years through strikes.
– I believe that it would be found, upon investigation, that the increases in wages which the workers have secured as the result of the adoption of the peaceful methods of arbitration represent 50 to 1 as compared with the increases that they have secured by recourse to direct action and strikes. lt must, then, be borne in mind that in submitting a measure of this kind it is not the intention to penalize the worker in any way. The purpose is to dissuade him from direct action, and to encourage him to utilize the machinery provided for conciliation and arbitration.
I have to admit that, to a certain extent, the workers have lost confidence in the institutions we have set up for arbitration in connexion with industrial matters. This is due not to a belief that the machinery has been wrongly used, but to the delay and cost of this method for the settlement of disputes. Lawyers have had to be engaged, and I have known men to be receiving refreshers of fifty guineas a day in connexion with cases before the Arbitration Court. The workers of this country should be able to secure justice without being asked to pay any such fees ; but, should any legal point arise, there should be provision made for securing the best professional advice to decide it. I have known -of cases in which the late Sir George Reid appeared for one side and Mr., now Mr. Justice, Duffy for the other.. I do not say that these gentlemen received too much for their services-
– The honorable senator has a v.cry shrewd idea .on’ the subject.
– I have a very shrewd idea -that that kind of conciliation did not pay the worker. The Commonwealth Council will be asked to consider ‘these problems, . and .take the necessary steps, by conciliation, conference, or other similar methods, to prevent, if possible, any trouble arising from an industrial dispute. If the Council can bring about an agreement between those in dispute it will be registered, and, for the purpose of enforcement, will be considered equivalent to an award of the Arbitration Court. The Council may be able to bring about a partial agreement only. There may be one or two points outstanding requiring to be settled. In such .a case, provision is made for a Special Tribunal, which may be appointed on the recommendation of the Government, or of a majority of the Commonwealth Council, by the Minister, or by the Chairman of the Council. The Special Tribunal will have power to settle the outstanding differences, and its decision will be final.
Provision is made for the establishment of State Councils, as it is recognised that the Commonwealth Council cannot cover all the avenues of trade in Australia. Upon complaint arising in any State, the Council of Industrial Representatives can take action for the appointment of a State Board, .consisting of three or four members from either side, to make an inquiry and advise in regard to matters of a local character, but where there is some risk of the industrial trouble spreading throughout the Commonwealth.
These provisions are supplementary, and additional to the Arbitration Court. I believe that in normal .times .our people will take advantage of the constitutional and legal methods provided for the settlement .of differences, and will adopt the procedure .of the Arbitration Court. But if to-morrow there was a seamen’s strike, or a coal strike, likely to bring about industrial chaos, .all this legal machinery might have to be set on one side, in order that an effort might be made to get the disputing parties to come together at once for the settlement of the .difficulty. If they can he induced .to arrive at an agreement, it can he registered in the Arbitration Court, and will have the force and effect of an award of the Court.
A very democratic principle is embodied in this measure. .and one which should inspire confidence in the ‘Council proposed to be .established. Equal numbers from both sides ar.e ‘to have the right to select the Chairman of the Council. This has been tried in Victoria for a number of years in connexion with the Wages Board system, and has always been found to be successful. The worker must have confidence in the institution set up to decide what he is entitled to receive for his labour. I believe that there is quite a large number of men of independent minds, and of all classes, in Australia who will be prepared to help their country by occupying these positions. It would never do to have our Courts suspected of being biased. I know that in the early days of the Arbitration. Court many of the decisions of Mr. Justice Higgins appealed especially to the workers of this country. I introduced a Bill on one occasion on behalf of the Government to allow appeals to be heard before a magistrate in any of the States. The purpose of the measure was to do something to relieve the congestion in the Arbitration Court, but the workers were against the proposal, because they had learned to have confidence in Mr. Justice Higgins’ decisions, and did not care to take cases from him to a local magistrate. We have to realize that these Courts will have judicial functions. It is not a question of our preference for one Judge or another, but of the adoption of machinery that will afford facilities for the full consideration and final determination of industrial differences, and that will have the confidence of the community.
Power is given under the Bill to frame regulations dealing with many details. The Bill is limited to the Constitution. It is intended that a decision of the High Court declaring one or two clauses of the measure invalid shall not invalidate the whole Bill; but we have no desire by a subterfuge to do, by our legislation, anything which we are not empowered to do by the Constitution. We admit that this measure is limited in its scope; but if, under it, we can do something to bring about the immediate settlement of industrial disputes, and prevent such disputes in one State extending throughout the Commonwealth, we shall have done much for the benefit of the community.
– We shall have accomplished a great deal if we can do that;
SenatorRUSSELL. - We shall, indeed. It is of little use for us to pass legislation unless it has the confidence of the people. In my view, employers and employees have equal responsibilities in connexion with this matter, and should be equally desirous of arriving at decisions which will keep Australian industries going. 1 am not unreasonably optimistic. I do not say that this measure provides a cure for all industrial disputes; but, if its operation results in preventing a material percentage of them resulting in industrial trouble, the gain to this country will be very great, and we shall have received much assistance to meet the liabilities we incurred as a result of the war.
The Bill is essentially a Committee Bill, and it may be said that every clause of it is loaded. The Government do not treat it as a party measure, but have introduced it with a desire to secure the best machinery possible for the settlement of industrial disputes. I shall be pleased to give any information I can when the Bill is in Committee, and I shall welcome the fullest discussion of every clause of it. I shall be prepared to listen to any suggestions in reason made for the improvement of its provisions and intended to bring about industrial peace.
Debate (on motion by Senator J. D. Millen) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 18th August (vide page 3575), on motion by Senator Russell -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
– I have compared the Bill with the British Act, and I have also had the opportunity of perusing the secondreading speech delivered by the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell). A perusal of the Bill bears out fully what the Minister stated, that it embodies a spirit of humaneness. Its provisions are not so drastic as those contained in the original measure, and it makes allowances in many ways for a closer supervision than was possible under the original Act. Provision is also made for women who were British subjects before marriage, but, who, inconsequence of an alliance with a foreigner, became aliens, to again become British subjects on the death of their husband. Similar consideration also applies in the case of children, so that in many senses the Bill is a great advance on the original Act. When the different States had separate naturalization laws considerable complication resulted, but it is now provided that an alien who comes to Australia and becomes naturalized) can pass from one State to another without restriction, and be under the same law. The Bill is a great advance on previous legislation, and creates a system of Empire naturalization, because certificates issued in other Dominions are to be recognised in the Commonwealth. Under the proposed law a naturalization certificate issued in, say, Canada, will be recognised in Australia, whereas under the old law one issued in Western Australia, for instance, would not be of any use in any other State. To this extent, we are adopting a broader outlook in connexion with our naturalization laws than has been the case in the past, and the measure must commend itself to those who are desirous of seeing this question handled from the standpoint of Empire. I do not wish to retard the passage of the Bill, but when it is in Committee I shall ask the Minister for information on certain clauses which at present do not appear clear.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 5 agreed to.
Clause 6 (Definition of Natural-born British subject).
– Sub-clause 2 of this clause provides that a person born on board a foreign ship shall not be deemed to be a British subject by reason only that the ship was in British territorial waters at the time of his birth. Foreign vessels are often trading between British ports, and the question arises as to whether this clause will cover the case of a person born on a foreign ship trading between British ports. In the event of a birth occurring when a vessel is outside British territorial waters, the child would be an alien even if the parents were British. Does this clause cover such a ease?
– If this and other clauses are carefully perused, it will be seen that adequate provision has been made for dealing with such cases.- In the definition clause it is provided that a person is a British subject if he is born within a certain area. A German born on a British vessel might be naturalized against his will. In such cases the person concerned would wish to be naturalized as a German, and to became a subject of his own country, and he will be enabled to do so. Apart from those who do not wish to become British subjects and those whom we do not wish to become naturalized, every one born on a British ship within British territorial waters will be a British subject under the provisions of this Bill.
– I was referring to those born on alien ships trading between British ports.
– If they are of British parentage they will still be British subjects. There will be no difficulty in the way of any one who wishes to remain a British subject.
– Questions of dual nationality have also arisen, and instances may occur where an alien may retain the nationality of his country of origin even though he may be naturalized in Australia. I would like to know if provision has been made in the measure for dealing with such cases.
Senator RUSSELL (Victoria- VicePresident of the Executive Council [5.6]. - Shortly after the outbreak of war it was reported that, although many Germans in Australia had become naturalized British subjects they had been denaturalized under a German law. If that were now done, there is power in the Bill to refuse naturalization, and there will be no double dealing in that regard.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 7 to 13 agreed to.
Clause 14 (Effect of certificates granted by Governments of United Kingdom or British Possessions).
Senator RUSSELL (Victoria- VicePresidentof the Executive Council [5.7]. - I desire to draw the attention of the Senate to this clause, which is most important, and which reads -
A certificate of naturalization granted by the Secretary of State having charge of the administration of the British Act or by the Government of any British Possession shall, in the Commonwealth, have the same force and effect as a certificate of naturalization, granted in pursuance of this Act.
This is a new principle, and one which I mentioned in my second-reading speech.
At one time a naturalization certificate issued in New South Wales was not recognised in Victoria or any other State, and when once the holder of a naturalization certificate transferred his residence from one State to another he lost his nationality. That difficulty has now been overcome, and Part II. of this Bill, and Part III. of the British Act provides that a certificate issued in any Dominion shall be recognised in other Dominions, but not necessarily in all cases. A foreigner who has become naturalized in Canada, and who possesses a clean record in other ways, will be recognised here. On the other hand,if we issue a naturalization certificate in Australia, the certificate will be recognised in other Dominions provided the holder has been a good citizen and has a good record.
– Under the revocation clauses, could the Government revoke a naturalization paper coming from some other source?
– Yes ; and could also revoke a naturalization paper issued previously by any State; that is to say, if there were definite proof that the individual concerned had been guilty of some offence during the war.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 15 agreed to.
Clause 16 (Adoption of Part II. of British Act).
– Is sufficient power being taken to include in the working of this measure those Dominions which have not yet passed legislation to bring themselves under the British Act, but which may subsequently do so? I have in mind the position of South Africa. Would there be scope afforded to include that Dominion at some later stage, upon its passing similar legislation ?
– Yes; but the same does not apoly to every Possession within the Empire. Attempts have been made to secure uniformity by conferences, which have extended over numbers ‘ of years. Byadopting the schedules set forth at the end of the Bill, we shall be taking to ourselves power to enter upon mutual interchange of certificates.
– Senator Senior sought to secure information concerning whether naturalization papers could be accepted from Dominions which might nut have passed legislation adopting Part II. of the British Act, but which might do so at some subsequent period. Upon a Dominion later accepting the provisions of Part II., would the certificates issued from that Dominion be interchangeable?
– Yes. In Dominions where there are liable to be racial difficulties, it must be remembered that their local legislation may contain provisions and conditions with the details of which Australia could not fall into line. However, if a uniform law were adopted, the Commonwealth would naturally enter into mutual interchanges. This Bill preserves all the racial principles to which Australia subscribes. Let us suppose that a man secures a naturalization paper in South Africa, or some other Dominion, and seeks to enter Australia. If the Commonwealth authorities consider him an undesirable citizen, they can debar him. from entering this country. The necessary action would not be taken under this measure, however, but under the provisions of our immigration laws, and, probably, if a person were refused admission on the ground that he was deemed an undesirable immigrant, the GovernorGeneral - underhis specific powers - might see fit to take away his certificate.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 17 to 24 agreed to.
Clause 25 (Representations to Minister with regard to any person who has applied for naturalization).
– In connexion with advertising a person’s intention to apply for naturalization, care shouldbe taken to provide that such advertisements appear in newspapers which circulate in the neighbourhood in which the person in question is known.
– That is the common-sense practice to-day.
– I hope it will be safeguarded under this measure, for, otherwise, parties who might be inclined to take exception to an individual’s naturalization would not become aware of the fact that he proposed to seek naturalization.
SenatorRussell. - It may be taken for granted that the Department concerned would insure that the advertisements were inserted in newspapers circulating in the district in which the individual resided or was known.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 26 to35 and first schedule agreed to.
Second schedule (List of Dominions).
– Included in the Dominions I note that the Commonwealth embraces, for the purposes of this measure, the Territories of Papua and Norfolk Island. We are to be given mandates over other Pacific Possessions, and it is not unlikely that the question of the naturalization of various individuals there may arise. What provision is likely to be made for the granting of certificates, for. example, in respect of the island of Nauru?
SenatorRussell. - Exactly the same procedure as in the case of the Commonwealth itself will be followed there. Schedule agreed to.
Third schedule and title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 20th May, vide page 2326) :
Clause 3 -
The Audit Department of the Commonwealth shall be a separate Department, and the Auditor -General shall be the permanent head of the Department.
Upon which Senator E. D. Millen had moved -
That the clause be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following new clause: - “ The principal Act is amended by insert ing 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 CommonwealthPublic Serines 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 AuditorGeneral, and any reference in that Act and those regulations to the Commis- sioner, a permanent head and a chief officer shall, in relation to the officers of that Department, be read as a reference to the Auditor -deneral.
. - When this clause was previously before the Committee objection was taken to it by some honorable senators, and also to an amendment upon it which I submitted. During the interval which has since elapsed the Departments concerned have agreed that clauses 3, 4 and 5, which cover the same subject, may very well be deleted from the measure, and that they may more appropriately form a part of the main Public Service Bill which will be introduced at a later stage of the session. Consequently, I ask the Committee to negative these clauses.
– Does that mean that the Government intend abandoning the policy that is embodied in them ?
– Certainly not.
Clauses 4 and5 negatived.
Clauses 6 to 14 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
The following paper, was presented: -
Public. Service Act. - -Appointments of L. R.
Sundercombe and W. MacGowan, Department of Trade and Customs.
Senate adjourned at 5.34 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 19 August 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1920/19200819_senate_8_92/>.