8th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Australia’s Contribution to Expenses
– I ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister if his attention has been directed to a press cable published in Melbourne yesterday to the effect that an officer, or intended officer, of the League of Nations has announced that Australia is the only Dominion that has, so far, failed to subscribe its proportion towards the upkeep of the League. If the statement is not correct, is the Minister in a position to say what the exact position is?
– Whether the statement was correct when made,or not I am not in a position to say, as that might be affected by an hour or two, but I can inform the Senate that authority has been given to- pay the amount due by Australia.
– I ask the VicePresident of the Executive Council whether he has yet received a reply to questions I asked in July last, with respect to the number of telephone subscribers and applicants for the installation of telephone services.
– On the 21st July the honorable senator asked the following questions : -
I promised that the information would be obtained, and I am now in a position to furnish the following reply: -
The following papers were presented: -
Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers: Resumé of operations.
Census and Statistics Act. - Regulations. - Statutory Rules 1920, No. 127.
Norfolk Island. - Ordinance No. 1 of 1920. - Preserved Fish Bounties - together with Regulations thereunder.
Seat of Government. - Ordinance No. 1 of 1920. - Meat - together with Regulations thereunder.
War Service Homes Act. - Land acquired at-
Auburn, New South Wales.
Islington, Newcastle, New South Wales.
Newbottle, Waratah, New South Wales.
Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act. - Regulations amended. - Statutory Rules 1920, No. 141.
Customs Act. - Proclamation dated 11th August, 1920, revoking, so much of previous proclamation as relates to the exportation of Superphosphates,&c.
– I ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister whether he is yet in a position to give me the information with respect to the shipping activities of the Government for which I asked some time ago.
– I now lay on the table of the Senate the following statement dealing with the scope and operations of the Commonwealth Government line of steamers. With regard to the honorable senator’s inquiry respecting the mail contract with the Orient Company, I may say that this matter is now under the consideration of the Government.
COMMONWEALTH GOVERNMENT LINE OF STEAMERS.
Resume of Operations.
The fleet of fifteen cargo steamers purchased in 1916 by the Prime Minister formed the nucleus of the Commonwealth Government Line, which now controls thirty-nine vessels, of an aggregate gross tonnage of 161,068 tons. These comprise twenty-three Government owned vessels (including five wooden steamers built in America) and sixteen ex-enemy vessels.
The object in establishing the Line was to provide for the transportation of Australian produce to the markets of the world. The primary object was not profits, but rather to prevent Australia being isolated through the world’s shipping disruption, brought about by the war.
After operating for two years, the Line showed a net profit of £903,499, adequate provision having been made for depreciation and renewal reserve. In the year 1918-19 the net profits amounted to £1,160,034. The estimated net profits for the year 1919-20 are £220,000, the decrease being accounted for by the extended maritime strike on the Australian coast, which resulted in practically the whole of the Commonwealth fleet being laid up in Australia for periods varying from two to four months.
Another factor which has materially contributed to the decrease is that, owing to the congestion of shipping, which prevailed in the whole of the ports in the United Kingdom, vessels have taken abnormally long periods to discharge and load.
Supplemental to the establishment of the Commonwealth Line, the Government has undertaken an extensive shipbuilding scheme.
The benefits to the Australian people of the establishment of the Line cannot he measured by the direct profits of its operations. The following are amongst the outstanding benefits which have accrued to shippers since, and as a result of, the inauguration of the service: -
As showing the advantages which have been provided by the Line, it may be mentioned that Australian products, particularly wheat, were piling up in the stores, and were urgently required elsewhere for national purposes. The Government Line afforded material assistance in connexion with freights, which were at times very much below the world’s ruling rate. On general cargo the Commonwealth Line charged the same rates of freight as the ordinary lines, but have never exceeded £7 10s. per ton for wheat.
When the rate was fixed in February, 1918, at £7 10s., inquiries made by chartering agents in London indicated that the ruling rate for British vessels at that time might be calculated as being £11 10s. per ton. As a matter of fact, British vessels were quite unobtainable, even at that figure, and at this time neutrals refused £13 15s. per ton for the same work, i.e., full cargoes of wheat. Parcels of wheat were carried at in and around £7 10s. per ton by other lines,but the rates quoted refer, as mentioned, to full cargoes.
In addition to carrying cargo overseas, many of the vessels controlled by the Line have been utilized to relieve the congestion on the coast of Australia, whilst others have been used for the carriage of phosphates from the islands.
The following figures show the cargo carried by the Government-owned vessels from the inception of the Line to 30th June, 1920: -
The Commonwealth Line has had to face the strongest competition of the British Shipping Combine, which have threatened traders that, in the event of their shipping by the Commonwealth Line, space would not be available for them on any of the Conference boats. In some cases, this threat has been actually carried into effect. Furthermore, shippers by ‘the Commonwealth Line are liable to lose any rebates accruing to them from shipments made by them on Combine steamers. Notwithstanding this opposition, the Commonwealth has received a fair share of support, and recent advices from the officials of the Line indicate that for some time past there has been a steady weekly increase in the amount of privatelyowned cargo shipped by the Commonwealth vessels from the United Kingdom.
It is not the intention of the Commonwealth Government at the present time to undertake the carriage of mails between Australia and Great Britain, for the reason that the vessels which are at present owned and being built by the Commonwealth Government are essentially cargo steamers, and are unsuitable both as regards speed and accommodation for mail steamers.
Bill (on motion by Senator E. D. Millen) read a third time.
.- I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
For, I think, the last three years in succession we have adopted the practice of selling collectively to Great Britain the surplus of our exports. There was a general desire on the part of the Government, and, I think, also on the part of most of the dairymen of Australia, that this year, with respect to the surplus export of butter, there should be a free market. However, the British Government decided definitely to control the distribution of butter until the 31st March of next year. Honorable senators will recognise the position in which that places Australian producers. We produce more butter than is required to meet local consumption, and we naturally desire to export our surplus to the best market. With the exception of a normal trade with the East, there is not much prospect of a market for our surplus butter outside of Great Britain. This year the dairymen through their organizations, and not the Government as in previous years, have combined to deal collectively with the Imperial Government. The Federal Government are not interfering in the matter, but there is a risk that the price offering for butter in Great Britain may be so high that individual producers may be tempted to endeavour to secure an unduly high price for their butter, and in that case Australia might, be left without a sufficient supply to meet local requirements. The Bill is practically limited to one clause, giving to the Butter Pool, composed of people interested in the dairying industry, the control of the export of butter. Power is given to the Commonwealth Government in the circumstances to prevent the exportation of butter b,y individuals. In a possible extreme case the Government may exercise the power to temporarily impose an embargo on the export of butter to enable the local market to recover, and to secure that our own people shall be supplied. This is not quite normal trading, but that is due rather to conditions determined by Great Britain than to anything we have done ourselves. Still, it is a step towards that free market which all of us hope will very soon be established. A contract has been made between the producers of Australia and the British Government for the sale at 240s. per cwt. of all our surplus butter graded at 90, with a difference of ls. per cwt. per point, up or down.
– Does not the Minister think that the Bill will have to be amended, in view of the price of 270s. mentioned in this morning’s press?
– Parliament cannot be guided by newspaper rumours. I have made inquiries, and find that no official information has been received regarding the matter mentioned by the honorable senator. The British Government has entered into the contract and signed it, and it has been signed, also, by the representatives of the Australian butter producers. It is therefore not likely to be altered now.
– Is there any provision for a share of any extra profits to go to the producers!
– No; the Australian producers appealed to the British Government not to stipulate for any of those conditions. They wanted a straightout flat rate, and the British Government granted their request.
– In any event, the contract has been completed.
– Yes, definitely. I have cables here to that effect.
– Do the cooperative butter companies approve of this Bill?
– Yes. The representatives of the whole of the dairymen of Australia have met on at least halfadozen occasions. They themselves pub up the offer to the British Government, and I understand they have accepted the contract in its entirety. They ask us to pass this Bill to protect them, so as to enable the contract to be carried out. It is impossible to get every man into a Pool, and it is the Pool that has to take the responsibility of finding and delivering the goods. We may have a good season, and an exportable surplus of 50 per cent., which will mean that every factory will have to put. 50 per cent, aside for local requirements. The Commonwealth Government do not control the price, but they are not unmindful of the fact that there are in existence State Commissioners who may fix the price locally. If they fixed it at ls. less than the British Government offer, every dairyman would want to export the whole of hi9 butter with the result that Australia would be left without at a pinch. The object of this Bill is to distribute equally, not only the profits, but the responsibility, to each factory, so that one will not be exporting all its butter, and the other selling it in Australia.
– Then the butter factories approve of it?
– Yes. We give the Dairy Produce Pool Committee power to control supplies effectively and to organize the scheme scientifically. The whole control remains in the hands of the butter producers of Australia.
– I do not wish to oppose the Bill in any way, but, judging by information which has appeared from time to time in the daily press, butter, the product of the dairymen of Denmark end Canada, is already bringing a higher price on the. British market than the price fixed in this contract. In the press this morning, too, we saw that 270s. was mentioned as the price that was to be given ultimately by the British Government for the surplus butter of Australia. In view of these statements, and of the uncertainty of the position in Great Britain just now, I question to some extent the wisdom of selling straight out at a fixed price that may be decidedly, so far as comparison with the world’s markets is concerned, against the interests of the butter producers of Australia.
– The butter producers themselves have agreed to sell butter at this price.
– Probably the bulk of the butter producers of Australia have entered into this agreement, through their representatives, Mr. Sinclair and Mr. Osborne, in London, with their eyes open. A suggestion was made in another place to put the matter again to the whole of the dairymen concerned, but that, is, I think, wholly impracticable. I clearly see that if the world’s parity for butter is going, during the currency of this agreement, to be at a very high price, some reasonable arrangement will have to be made through Government intervention in order to safeguard supplies for the Home market, but what is going through my mind is that, during the last twelve, months, the world’s parity for butter has been rising instead of falling. If it is not too late, I should like to see some such clause incorporated in “this transaction as was put in the wool agreement by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), whereby if the British Government obtained a very much higher price from the consumers in Great Britain than they gave the Australian producer, then the Australian producer should at least get a part of the difference. There seems to me every indication that the world’s parity for butter is probably going higher than 240s., rather than lower, during the currency of this agreement. Consequently, if we could get something incorporated in the agreement to that effect, I believe it would be for the benefit of the producers, and if the agreement left them with a comparatively low world’s parity, there would not be anything like the same dissatisfaction at the end of the contract as there may be in view of the world’s butter market again soaring up, and Danish, Canadian, and Irish producers getting about 300s., while the Australian producer receives only 240s. I see the reason for the Bill, and the principles that rightly guide the Government with regard to controlling export while a contract such as this is current. I see also the great advantages to the producer, but I am sounding a note of warning in connexion with a possible low comparison, again to the disadvantage of the Australian producer, and suggesting also some way by which, even if they agree (now to the 240s., they will not be able to criticise so much if the world’s prices go against them.
– I have listened with interest to what Senator Pratten has had to say, especially in comparing the proposed arrangement with that in respect of wool, but the conditions under which this contract has been entered into are totally different from those which prevailed at the time of the wool contracts. Then we were undoubtedly in a period of war, and the Commonwealth Government had, and was exercising, powers which it does not purport to have or to exercise now in respect of this contract. The’ Commonwealth Government is not entering into this contract for the sale of butter at all. As a matter of fact, prior to the contract being entered into, the Government wa’s in communication with the Home authorities in the interests of the dairy producers of the Commonwealth in order to ascertain if it was likely that the Home authorities, through the Food Controller in Great Britain, would require for the coming year, as they required during the period of the war, the surplus products of the Commonwealth in butter, and, I think, also cheese. It was only after considerable correspondence that the Government was able to get any information from the Home authorities. The Government has recognised that it will not control butter as it controlled commodities during the war.
– But this Bill gives us a responsibility.
– No; if the honorable senator looks at the Bill, he will see that it does not. The dairy producers of the Commonwealth met and considered the circumstances. They were desirous that trade should be freed from the restrictions that prevailed during the war. They were prepared, through their own representatives, to negotiate direct with the British Government if the latter decided to continue the control of butter and cheese. As a matter of fact, cheese has been de-controlled. But the British.
Government have resolved to continue the control of butter until the 31st March of next year, and they were prepared, through the Food Controller or the authorities in the Old Country, to enter into a contract for the purchase of the surplus butter supplies of the Commonwealth. The Dairy Producers Association appointed representatives to negotiate directly with the British authorities for the sale to the latter of the surplus butter of Australia at 240s. per cwt.
– For how long has that price been fixed ?
– Until the 31st March of next year. Now, the British authorities naturally turn round and say to the producers, “How are you going to carry out this contract? Suppose that some members of your organization choose to send their butter to America, or to the East, or elsewhere, where they can obtain a better price for it, where shall we stand?” They, therefore, come to the Commonwealth Government, and say, “ Will you see that this contract is enforced?” In reply, the Government say, “ Our powers are limited, but we have an unlimited power over export, and we shall make provision by law that there shall be no export of butter from the Commonwealth except in conformity with the terms of the contract into which our producers have entered with you.” We are simply assisting the Imperial authorities
– And we are doing it at the wish of both parties.
– We are safeguarding the British authorities, and our dairy producers are quite willing that we should do so. If the price paid for Danish or Irish butter in Great Britain goes to 270s. or 280s. , per cwt., how can we say that the producers of the Commonwealth shall get a corresponding rise? Senator Pratten may take it for granted that the negotiations which led up to this contract did not entirely ignore considerations of that kind. Mr. Sinclair and the other representative of our dairy producers in London would undoubtedly advert to the possibility of fluctuations in the price of butler. But they have entered into a firm contract with the British Government, and the latter desire that that contract shall be fulfilled. All that the Commonwealth Government wish is that our producers shall adhere to the terms of that contract; As far as possible, we seek to insure that they shall do so, by regulating the export of butter. We are not a party to the contract in any way, but to some extent we are guaranteeing its performance, and giving an assurance to the Imperial authorities that its provisions will be respected.
– We are creating an authority to make the agreement effective.
– Exactly . The British authorities will recognise that the Commonwealth Government have done all that it is in their power to do when they restrict exportation to an extent that will insure the fulfilment of the contract which has been entered into by our producers.
– Does not the honorable senator see that this Bill is an indorsement of that contract?
– I am not going to quarrel about terms. If our dairy producers choose to sell their butter at 200s. per cwt., the Commonwealth is not going to question the wisdom of that policy. We are not concerned with the conditions of the contract. Our dairy producers have made their own arrangements with their eyes open, and, having done so, all that this Parliament can do is to see that they fulfil the contract.
– I see no objection to this Bill, but, if the whole of our exportable surplus of butter has been sold to the British Government, is it the intention of the Butter Pool to entirely cut out the Eastern trade? The markets in India, Batavia, Java, Hong Kong, and a number of other places have been worked up over a series of years.
– Under the contract our producers have retained all their regular markets, such as South Africa and the East.
– Then I see no objection to the measure.
– Most of the arguments which have been advanced upon the motion for the second reading of this Bill have been effectively answered by other speakers. Reference to the cable shows that the price obtained is’ 240s. per cwt. f.o.b. Our producers have conserved their right to export direct to South Africa and the Eastern markets which naturally belong to Australia. As Senator Keating has pointed out, the Government have nothing whatever to do with the terms of the contract. The butter producers of the Commonwealth sent two representatives Home to negotiate that contract - I refer to Mr. Hugh Sinclair, an exmember of the House of Representatives, and Mr. Osborne, one of the principal handlers of butter in this State. They have entered into this contract and we merely desire to assist them to give effect to it. Until recently we could have granted them the necessary assistance under the powers conferred upon us by the War Precautions Act. But, as that Act has ceased to operate, our powers are limited to those conferred by Customs legislation.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Power to prohibit export of butter, except on certain terms).
– This clause raises the question of the powers conferred upon us by the Customs Act 1901-16, to prohibit exports. I was under the impression that Parliament had power to prohibit the import or export of practically anything. As, however, the clause which we are now considering seeks to vest in the GovernorGeneral the power to prohibit the exportation of butter, I assume that the Government have been advised that, under our Customs legislation, there is not complete power to prohibit the export of butter.
– We have been advised by the Crown Law authorities that the power conferred by the Customs Act is not complete, and, as the War Precautions Act has ceased to operate, we cannot prohibit the export of butter, except in the way that is now proposed. The Customs power is not sufficiently wide, then, to cover the authority recently exercised in regard to exports and imports under the War Precautions Act, and the powers under the Customs Act of 1901-16 will in future be confined to such articles as can be prohibited under that Act. The prohibition, therefore, of the export of butter, wheat, wool, and general merchandise, and the importation of such commodities as sheep-dip or other material will have to be under special Acts.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 3 and 4, preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Debate resumed from 19th August (vide page 3636), on motion by Senator E. D. Millen -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
.- I desire to congratulate the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) on the work that has been so successfully accomplished by the Department. The Minister stated during the course of a very able and interesting second-reading speech that_he had received congratulations concerning the nature of .the work that is being performed from men engaged in the business. As one who has had some experience in connexion with the building trade, and having had an opportunity of inspecting some of the cottages that have been constructed by the Department, I desire to express my appreciation of the satisfactory manner in which the work has been carried out. It must be readily admitted by those who have inspected the buildings constructed by the Department that they contain many conveniences, and our soldiers doubtless feel grateful to the Department for providing such satisfactory homes when building material is expensive and labour scarce. I am glad that the Minister for Repatriation is taking steps to prevent trafficking in properties on the lines mentioned, because it would be unfair if others were allowed to become the owners of homes originally constructed for soldiers.
I desire to bring before the Senate certain information that has been supplied to me by the Builders’ Association in Brisbane. There is a feeling abroad in Queensland - I do not know if there is any justification for it, but it should be made public - that the buildings constructed by the Department are costing more than they would if erected by private contractors.
– I can give a definite and personal assurance that such is not the case.
– I am very pleased to have the Minister’s assurance. Certain members of the Builders’ Association in Brisbane whose sons went to the war wish it to be clearly understood that they are quite willing to do their best to help in erecting soldiers’ homes. I am personally acquainted with some of the builders who took contracts for the erection of homes, and who, owing to the increase in the price of material, lost money on houses . that were erected through the Commonwealth Bank. They are not finding fault, because they undertook the work at too low a cost, and they would have been quite satisfied if they could have completed their contracts without showing a profit. I should like the Minister for Repatriation to make it clear whether or not more homes in Queensland have been erected through the Commonwealth Bank than by the War Service Homes Department. It has been stated that soldiers are occupying many homes erected through the Commonwealth Bank, and that the number built by the War Service Homes Department is very small. The members of the Builders’ Association in Queensland also state that if the War Service Homes Department intends continuing erecting houses as at present in opposition to private contractors the Department should have to tender under the same conditions as the private contractors, in which case the contractors’ price would, they think, be lower. The Minister for Repatriation stated that, owing to the quantity of material the Department was able to purchase, it was able to do the work cheaper, and it must be admitted that under such circumstances the Department is in a satisfactory position. Notwithstanding this, the builders have said that if the Department had to tender under the same conditions as they have to observe, they believe that they could build them at a reduced cost. Whether that is so I do not know.
Another phase which I desire the Minister to explain clearly concerns the point that the Department is not free to engage labour how and where it likes. No person can be engaged on the building of war service homes without the Government Department first going cap-in-hand to the Trades Hall, from which source it has to take the first individual who may be sent along.
– To what part is the honorable senator referring?
– To Brisbane. I do not object to the Government approaching the Trades Hall if it can get the best men available by so doing. I understand, however, that the Department has no option; it is bound to go. If such is the case, it indicates a serious position, into which not only the Government, but many other people are drifting. The Department has handled the problem of material very well; but why should it be bound to the Trades Hall in the matter of securing labour? The situation introduces an associated question of considerable importance to the public. I refer to the opposition of the Trades Hall to the employment on war service home buildings of apprentices and improvers. Antagonism in this respect is so strong that the whole of the Government buildings are being erected without apprentices or improvers being taken on. The Minister must see the dangerous position which this is creating, and how the public, through private building activities, is becoming involved. Outside builders have been largely taking on returned soldiers as improvers, and have been doing their best to absorb them from instructional institutions. The practice is good, both for the returned man himself and for the community. But if in the work of building war service homes returned men may not be taken on as improvers, the matter is surely serious. It is “ up to “ the Government to take a stand and a lead in this matter, and not only to do this, but to see that fair and proper wages are paid to all men engaged. I repeat that I do not find fault personally in regard to the matters which I have brought forward, but merely give the various statements as they have been handed to me.
In conclusion, I again congratulate the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) on the character of the homes which have come under my personal notice, chiefly in Victoria. They are of a most useful type, and very compact, and are being constructed at exceedingly reasonable prices in view of the high cost of material.
Senator Sir THOMAS GLASGOW (Queensland) [3.45]. - I desire to add my congratulations to those expressed by the honorable senator who has just resumed his seat. I welcome this amending measure for the chief reason that it proposes to raise the amount which the Department can advance to a soldier from £700 to £800. This should enable a man whose application has been recently approved to secure a home similar, in the matter of value, to those which were obtained at the commencement of the operations of the Department. I have been pleased also to note that the Bill intends to make an effort to prevent trafficking. I am sure the Department is out to deal as best it can towards our returned men as a whole, and not to pick and choose individually. If those who have taken advantage of the provisions of the War Service Homes legislation at its earliest stage are now going to make an effort to acquire a bonus, and so prevent others from benefiting by the Act, the Government will be quite right in endeavouring to stop trafficking. There is one type of returned men, however, which has not been able to benefit under the Act. I Tefer to a class who went away and did extraordinarily good work at the Front, namely, Queensland miners. Land on the Queensland gold-fields is held, within a town boundary, on residence lease, and, outside the boundary, on gold-fields homestead lease. Under the War Service Homes legislation the Government will not make an advance for the acquirement of a home on land other than freehold. I realize the difficulties of the Department, but I would ask the Minister (Senator E. D. Millen) to give the Commissioner discretionary powers to enable him either to acquire a Some which has been already built on a miner’s homestead lease, or to advance money for building thereon. In Queensland some of the fields have been worked out, and have become dairying or farming centres. If homes were erected in those parts, the nature of the tenure would be quite as good as freehold. On fields likely to be worked out the security might decrease; but the Commissioner happens to have had personal business experience on a Queensland gold-field, and he knows the conditions. If he were given discretionary power, as I have indicated, the concession . would be appreciated by very many.
I again congratulate the Minister on> the good work of the War Service HomesDepartment, and, also, on the work of repatriation generally.
.I desire also to congratulate the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) and the Government upon their efforts to do justice to our returned soldiers. There are one or two points arising from the Bill which I would like to bring forward for consideration. Clause 10 provides for the granting of advances up to £800. For some time the amount of £700 has not been sufficient with which to pay for the erection of a suitable house, and the consequence has been that numbers of soldiers have privately raised sums of £100 or £200 additional, in order to make up the £800 or £900 required to build. I would like the Government to give consideration to such cases, and to be prepared to make an advance of another £100, which would be availed of, in very many cases, to relieve the financial straits to which men have been reduced owing to the original grant having been limited to £700. This applies particularly to a number of men who, although they were aware of the intention of the Government to increase the amount of the advance, were forced to obtain homes immediately. They have entered into contracts under which they have been called upon to deposit with the Deputy Commissioner sums amounting to £200 or £300, and in some cases they have had to make arrangements to borrow this money, often on hard terms. There is no reason why they should be debarred from the benefits of this Bill, and it would not be too much to ask that the decision to advance up to £800 should be made retrospective to at least the commencement of the present year. If that is not done, a returned soldier who has been compelled to make his arrangements to secure a home within the last few months will be placed at a disadvantage as compared with those who have been in a position to wait until the passage of this measure.- I trust that the Minister will agree to some amendment of the Bill which will meet such cases as those to which I have referred.
I notice further that when a person ceases to be eligible under the Bill tr<«i Commissioner may call up the money advanced to him.
– To what clause is the honorable senator referring?
– To clause 14. A person may apparently cease to be an eligible person, though I confess that I do not quite know how that can arise. It may be that where a widowed mother has received an advance, and dies, leaving the property to a daughter, the daughter may not be regarded as an eligible person under the Bill.
– There would be no interference in such a case.
-I do not quite see how otherwise any one can cease to be an eligible person under the Bill.
– The object of the Bill is to find a home for any eligible person. A person wants only one home, and if, for instance, two eligible persons married, one would cease to be eligible, because only one home would be required for both.
– It will be interesting to know which of the two in such a case would cease to be eligible. If a soldier is left a home by his father, and becomes the owner of land, will his money be called up?
– If the honorable senator will read the next sub-clause he will find that whilst it is legal for the Commissioner in such a case to call up the amount, the man is not bound to find the money. He may say, “ I will not do that; I prefer that you should pay me back my interest in the house.”
– That might not be just in every case. I should also like to see some provision made for disabled soldiers. I have heard of cases of men deprived of both legs and arms, and it should be possible for us to provide such men with homes during their lives. It would not be necessary that the homes provided for them should become their freehold property, but I do think that such men should be given a life interest in a home. If the objections I have urged are met by some amendment of the measure, this can be made an admirable Bill.
– I also congratulate the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) on the very excellent and informative speech he delivered in introducing this Bill. It is always a pleasure to listen to the honorable senator on this subject, because there can be no doubt that he has made himself master of the business of repatriation from the commencement. With other honorable senators, I congratulate the Minister on the fact that the promise to increase the advance for war service homes from £700 to £800 is redeemed in this measure. For a considerable time, it has been almost impossible for a returned soldier to secure anything like a decent home in any part of Australia for £700. The difficulty has been to some extent intensified by the statement of the intention of the Government to increase the advance. That has had the effect of inducing contractors to raise their prices. In the meantime, the cost of building material has gone up, and now in the metropolitan areas of any of the capital cities, it is practically impossible toget a home built for £700. A good many returned men have put their war gratuity bonds into these homes, and have raised money by other means to make up the extra cost of the homes provided for them.
I hope that the erection of soldiers’ homes will be proceeded with more rapidly in the future than has been the case in the past. Although the record furnished by the Minister is a splendid one, the War Service Homes Department is still a long way behind in meeting the demands of returned soldiers for homes. I am not quite sure whether the Minister in the figures he gave last week, included homes that are being built in South Australia.
– No; the figures I gave included only homes built under the authority of the Act.
– So I understood. I mention the matter, because if the figures for South Australia were included, they would add materially to the number of homes being erected for the Department. Whilst the Department is not erecting homes in South Australia, they are being erected there for returned soldiers, and apparently the Department is quite satisfied with the work that is being done in that State for returned men.
I recognise that it is not competent for honorable senators, in discussing this measure, to go beyond the scope of the amendments of the existing law which are proposed, but I very much desire to call attention to one or two matters which should be included at an early date in the general provisions for the benefit of returned soldiers. I take advantage of this opportunity to call “attention to some requests that have been submitted to me. I may mention that returned men suffering from tuberculosis have complained that they are not receiving by way of pension as much as they think they should receive, and some claim that they should be provided with an increased permanent pension. We know that many of our soldiers were afflicted in various ways with tuberculosis during the war, and whilst a fair number of those attacked by the disease have recovered under treatment, and a considerable number have been given very great relief, there are some who unquestionably have been sentenced to death, and must only struggle on until the end. Those men ask that they should receive permanent pensions.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon.
– I hope that if the Minister for Repatriation can see his way to do anything for returned men who are not being benefited under the provisions of this Bill, he will endeavour to do so in the direction I have indicated.
I am not quite sure whether, under the definition clause of this Bill, members of the Australian Naval Forces who were called up for home service, but did not get to the Front, are included amongst the beneficiaries under the measure. I refer to men employed on guard ships, in fortresses, in the protection of wireless stations, and so on. They have complained from time to time about their exclusion from the provisions of the War Service Homes Act. There was no question of their voluntary enlistment, they were called up and went willingly, wherever they were sent, and I direct the attention of the Minister to their case. The men of the Garrison Artillery, who were not permitted to go to the Front, but who rendered in Australia such service as they were called upon to perform, also think that they should be included. I should like to know whether these men will, under the definition clause, be included in the beneficiaries under the War Service Homes Act. If they are not, I hope that something will be done to bring them under the provisions of the law.
– I rise only to urge the Minister, now that the new war loan is making money more freely available to the Commonwealth Government for the purposes of this Bill, to expedite as far as he possibly can those cases of war service homes which are being purchased by the soldiers under this Bill and not being erected. I can quite understand that, owing to delays with regard to material and delays with regard to labour, and the many thousands of applications already before the Minister (Senator ED. Millen), the erection of war service homes must go on much more slowly than we would like, but there is no reason whatever now why the homes already built and ready for occupation should not be transferred to the soldiers more expeditiously. I know that, in cases of this sort, some delays have occurred in New South Wales, but I thought that was due to financial stress.
– There has been no dearth of money.
– Then the cause of the delays must be in the Department, and I should like the Minister to issue instructions that reasonable expedition is to be exercised, to enable soldiers to occupy houses which are already built, and which the Department approves. In the case of a soldier who buys a home for £1,000, and is willing to put down a deposit of £200 or £300 of his own money, and asks the Department for the loan of the remainder, I see no reason, once the valuation is through from the Department, and once it has been ascertained that the Department will have full and reasonable security for the £700 or £800 that it will advance, why the transaction should not be quickly completed. In all the circumstances, I feel that the Minister’s good work, as expressed in the figures he has’ given the Senate from time to time, will be added to if a little more expedition can be shown in this branch of the activities of the War Service Homes Commission.
– I am pleased that the Government have brought down this Bill to increase the amount to be lent to returned soldiers for the purchase of houses. I know that a good many returned soldiers found that the small amount of £700 allotted to them was not sufficient to obtain a home which was at all suitable for them, especially if they had children, in view of the prices, of material and labour and various other things. I am sure that this Bill will help to some extent those men who want better homes. I am rather sorry that the Government have not seen their way clear to go a little further with regard to the people that can have these homes. I see no reason why men who have served in the wars of the Empire should be debarred from coming under the Act. The men who fought in the South African war had no gratuity given to them when they returned. Some of them suffered very severely over there, and I would impress on the Minister the desirableness, if he possibly can, of making provision by which at least those men who served in South Africa may come under this legislation. I do not think that at this stage it would mean very many or make a great difference to the Government. As president of the Association in South Australia, which has about 300 members, I know that a few of them would like to come under the provisions of this Bill, and I wish the Minister could see his way clear* to open the door so as to allow them to enter.
– I am naturally not only gratified at the tone of the short speeches that have been made on this measure, but also encouraged, as I feel certain the Commissioner will be when he learns of them.
Senator Reid, frankly admitting that he voiced opinions expressed by building contractors, raised a doubt as to whether the Commissioner was constructing the houses within his own estimate. I interjected that the honorable senator could rest perfectly certain on that point. I have received, in response to definite and pointed inquiries, the -most positive assurances from the Commissioner that his Department is working to the figures with which he has supplied me. In saying that, I do not mean that in every case the estimate has not been exceeded by a pound or two, but I do say that, on the figures supplied to me, I am justified in stating that any increase over the estimate has been negligible, and” that, even when allowance is made for it, the Housing Commissioner is building at a substantial reduction on the prices at which tenders have been received. I re mind the Senate of the discrepancy between some of the tenders and the prices at which the Commissioner has built. There was one group of 150 houses for which tenders were called. The tenders received averaged £791 each, as the contractors’ price, without including the cost of the land. The Commissioner’s estimate was £597 each, to which has to be added the cost of the land, in order to obtain a fair comparison. Even when the price of the land is added, it will be seen that the Commissioner is not only keeping within the limit of the Act, which he would have . exceeded if he had accepted tenders, but is also obtaining houses for these soldiers at prices ranging from £50 to £70 less than the contractors offered to supply them for, and is, in addition, giving them the land practically for nothing, because the contractors made no allowance for that. The land was found for the contractors, yet they wanted £791 to build each house, whereas the Commissioner’s price was £597. In that case the Commissioner’s cost of building panned out at £605, confirming the statement I made just now that any little excess over the estimate was negligible. Even then, adding the price of the land, which would be somewhere about £50 or £60, the Commissioner provided the land and built the house for less than £700, and for £90 or £100 less ‘than it would have cost if he had let a contract.
In the case of another group at Sunshine, the tender price was £624, exclusive of land. The Commissioner’s estimate was £527. Adding the price of the land, the Commissioner is giving these boys the house and land for almost the price that the contractor wanted to build the house alone. I do not say that that arises altogether from any superiority in building capacity on the part of the Commissioner; but it does arise largely from the facts I gave the Senate the other day about the acquisition of material at a lower rate, and the ability of the Commissioner, through having a considerable amount of work in front of him, and organizing his men, to make savings, of which the benefit goes to the soldier.
Senator Reid also referred to the fact that some contractors had made a loss on some of - the buildings they completed. I think that is very probable. That is one of the risks which a contractor runs; but the honorable senator, apparently, was not informed that some of those who took contracts, foreseeing a loss, abandoned them, and threw upon the Commissioner the task of completing them. No one can take up an abandoned contract, upon which some advances have been made, and complete it with the same promise of doing it economically as if he had started the job in the first instance. Some contractors will abandon a contract, and others will see it through, and face the loss. These things are inevitable and incidental to all undertakings of any magnitude. We have to accept them, just as a private individual must.
– How does the Department come out over the contract with the Queensland Pine Company?
– I gave figures recently to show what a handsome reduction we were getting as the result of that contract.
– I thought you quoted only Victoria.
– No. I showed that by that contract we were getting a reduction of lis. 6d. and lis. Sd. per 100 feet below the market rate, after allowing for the discounts granted in the trade. I remember going on to say that on the year’s consumption that meant a saving of £36,000 in that one item alone.’ It is by means of contracts of that kind that the Commissioner is able to build houses at a lower cost than many ordinary contractors can.
Senator Reid also stated, again on the authority of building contractors, that there is a difference in the class of houses for which we call tenders, and those put up by the Commissioner by day labour. That is not so. The tenders are open to inspection by anybody. When they are called on certain specifications, the Commissioner builds on those specifications. I know of no reason for the suggestion which has been made, but it is not unfair to assume that when men in any line of business find that business being encroached on, they are not impartial judges of what is taking place. I have said here before that I regard human nature as one of the most universal of qualities, and I suppose it is spread as thickly to the square inch in the case of building contractors as in the case of any other people. I fear that in this case they are not disposed to hold the balance quite accurately. I assure the Senate that the statement made by Senator Reid, in all good faith, is without foundation.
The honorable senator .also raised a more serious point about the statement, which a little while ago was fully justified, that the War Service Homes Department in Brisbane was obtaining its men only through the Trades, Hall of that city. That did occur owing to the action of the local officer, but steps have been taken to correct it. We do not by any means reject a man who comes from the Trades Hall, but we do not allow the Trades Hall to have the sole right of selecting the men to work on these homes.
Another matter, which I view somewhat seriously, was the action of the bricklayers referred to by Senator Reid in declining to work with the vocational trainees. Some action, having a distinctly unpleasant appearance, has been taken by a section of the Bricklayers’ Union in New South Wales. I do not want to say anything which would be likely to add to the difficulty which has been created, but I would remind the Senate that the whole of our vocational scheme absolutely rests upon getting the men who have been trained to a certain degree of proficiency in the schools passed out as improvers into the ordinary callings for which they have been qualified. In order to secure, as we thought, a clear passage in giving effect to that scheme, a conference was held. with the representatives of the Trades Hall and of those larger unions, some of which are not directly connected with that institution. They agreed to a system under which they took no objection to our training these boys, up to certain numbers allotted to each trade. The idea of that was to see that the boys were fairly distributed, over all the trades. The unions had a. fear, the justification for which I readily admit, that if something of that sort was not done to distribute the boys,, the more attractive trades would draw a larger number of them, and thus become overcrowded. In order to guard against that, an undertaking waa entered into that boys should be trained for different trades only up to a certain number - the original number being one trainee to six workmen. I am not prepared to say that the unions who made that agreement have yet broken it. It is quite true that the Brickmakers’ Union and the Boilermakers’ Union in Sydney have passed resolutions declining to work with these trainees, but it is not yet apparent that the main organizations have indorsed their action. I hope’ that the good sense of unionists generally will recognise, first, that they are bound to redeem the agreement into which they entered with us; and, secondly, that even if by so doing they are, to some extent, stretching a recognised rule of their union, they are at least under an obligation to do so if they are sincere in their professed desire to assist in the restoration of our soldiers to civil life. However, negotiations are now in progress with a view to overcoming this difficulty. If it cannot be overcome, it may be necessary for me to again bring the matter under the notice of honorable senators.
Senator Glasgow has referred to a matter which has troubled me a great deal, namely, the leasehold tenures which obtain in some of the States. He specially mentioned Queensland, but similar conditions obtained elsewhere. He seems to think that it may with safety be left to the Commissioner to determine whether, upon mining leases, the prospects are sufficiently good to justify expenditure upon the erection of war service homes. May I point out that it is not the prospects, but the title to the land which we have to consider; and the Commonwealth cannot put itself in the position that it would occupy, if it built houses upon leasehold land, seeing that if the lease were forfeited the buildings upon it, which had been erected by the Commonwealth Government, would go to the State Government. Not one of us would invest our own money in a proposition of that kind. All these leases are subject to certain conditions. Those conditions may be more or less nominal, but, nevertheless, they are there, and if they are violated it is competent for the State to forfeit the lease. That is the position which we take tip, and I think that it i9 a very sound one. But seeing the difficulty which has arisen owing to the refusal of the Queensland Government to allow these leaseholds to be converted into freeholds, we have one of two courses open to us. At present, I am communicating with the Queensland and Victorian Governments with a view to ascertaining whether it is not possible to devise some scheme under which they will permit’ of these leaseholds being converted into freeholds. There is, of course, an extreme action which can be taken, but which I am reluctant to take unless it is found to be absolutely necessary. I do not think that the Commonwealth should exercise its power of resumption too readily in the case of lands owned by the States, and I am sure Senator Glasgow will appreciate the legal difficulty that is connected with this matter. I do not think it would be right to give the Commissioner power to build upon leaseholds which are liable to be forfeited at any time, seeing that in case of forfeiture, the whole of our asset would go to the State Government which had incurred no responsibility in the matter of providing the money for the buildings that had been erected upon them.
Senator Elliott referred to the fact that under this Bill men who obtained advances when the limit was £700 will not be eligible to come along and ask for an additional £ 100. That is perfectly true. But the object of the proposed increase in the amount of the advance is not to give the men of to-day a bigger house than the soldier has who obtained his advance last year, but to provide him with a home of the same size, seeing that building operations to-day cost more than they did then. Thus, the man who occupies the advantageous position, is not the individual who will obtain an advance of £800 under this measure - seeing that he will have to repay the whole amount - but the man who obtained a similar house twelve months ago for £700. Instead of the individual who secured his home for the lower sum being prejudiced, he is a fortunate one amongst his compatriots.
– Then, in spite of the big contracts which have been entered into, the Department is not able to build houses to-day as cheaply as it could build them twelve months ago?
– Probably not. During the past year material has increased in price by 25 per cent., labour by 10 per cent., and transport by 15 per cent. It is impossible, therefore, to build as economically to-day as we could build one or two years ago. But there is another factor in this matter which it is well to remember. Under the Bill it is not proposed that every house erected shall cost ?800, but merely that where the circumstances of the applicant seem to warrant a larger expenditure, the Commissioner shall be authorized to incur it. I do not know that it would be fair to compare the Commissioner’s building costs to-day with those of twelve months ago. Upon the one hand there have been increases in the cost of labour and material, whilst upon the other hand, the Commissioner is now developing his contracts for supplies in a much more satisfactory way than was previously possible. I cannot say whether the advantages accruing from this source will enable him to entirely wipe away the increase that has taken place in the cost of labour and material. I hardly anticipate that they will. Roughly speaking, a little while ago labour represented half the cost of a house, and if labour has since gone up 9/5 per cent, it will be very difficult to wipe out that increase, even by a liberal discount on the supplies of material which go into these war service homes. However, it will not be long before I shall be in. a position to give a more definite idea as to whether the conditions to which I have referred will counterbalance the increase which has taken place in the cost of labour and materials.
Senator Newland spoke of the delay which has occurred in the erection of these homes. I have admitted it. But in this connexion I would like to repeat a warning which I have previously uttered. It is not possible for the Commissioner, even if he does not lose a single day as the result of strikes, to immediately satisfy all the applicants who are waiting. There are 14,000 of these applicants, and his programme provides for the erection of 8,000 houses annually. He cannot obtain the labour with which to erect more. I sympathize with the men who are waiting, but it is idle to expect that they can get homes within a few months. They will have to wait their turn. It must not be assumed, because things are moving more rapidly now, that the whole of the 14,000 applicants who are waiting will be able to obtain houses within the course of a few months. Unless we can by some miracle largely add to supplies of labour and material, there must be a period of waiting for those who are low down on the list. When it is recollected that many of these applications had piled up before the Department was called into existence, it must be a source of satisfaction for us to know that already 40 per cent, of those applications have been satisfied.
Senator Newland also referred to the non inclusion in this Bill of the men of the Naval Reserve and the Garrison Artillery. Nobody wishes to decry the service which these men rendered, or its very great usefulness to Australia at a critical time. But a line had to be drawn somewhere. If everybody who rendered war service were eligible to receive the benefits conferred by our War Service Homes legislation, the list would have to include the women who knitted socks for our soldiers and the girls who raised funds in our public streets. The line, therefore, which was drawn was that which separates home service from foreign service. It is quite true that many men were refused permission to enlist. In spirit they rendered the sams service as did those who went abroad. But actually they did not render that service, nor did they incur the risks of those who went overseas. That is the reason why NavalReserve men and the members of the Garrison Artillery are not covered by the provisions of this measure. Senator Newland will also recognise that the more the list of eligibles is extended the greater will be the delay in providing them with homes.
Reference was made by Senator Pratten to the delay which has occurred in the purchase of houses for our soldiers. He stated that whilst he could understand delay in the erection of buildings, mere expedition might be exhibited in the purchase of houses. I am not disposed to disagree with him. But I wish to point to two or three things which to some extent, may modify any suspicion that there has been a general delay in this connexion.- When the Department was created. there was a tremendous accumulation of applications. But because of that accumulation it would not have been wise to create a huge staff in order that they might be disposed of within two or three months, at the end of which period the staff would have had to be disbanded. There are more certain factors which have contributed somewhat to the delay which has occurred in quite a small percentage of cases. Seeing that over 5,000 houses have been purchased, it cannot be urged that there has been any general delay. In many instances delay has resulted from circumstances which were regrettable but unavoidable. For example, I was surprised to find that in my own State considerable areas of land are still held under old titles. In such cases the Commonwealth had to resume the lands under its legal powers, and this course inevitably made for delay. So that it was not merely a question of getting a valuation of a property and of approving the requisite advance. Senator Pratten knows that there is such a thing as a survey in order to make sure that a building is upon a particular block of land. He is aware of cases in which persons have purchased buildings, portions of which have been found to be over the boundary line. It was not possible to dispose of such cases in a week. The honorable senator may dismiss from his mind the suspicion that any delay which has occurred has been due to a shortage of money. Although we have to be careful of the expenditure of every penny, the activities in any case of any branch of the Repatriation Department have not been delayed because of a lack of funds, because of the failure to find money.
– That impression has been abroad.
– I can give a definite assurance that whenever a request has been made for money the Department has never been compelled to wait five minutes for a requisition to replenish the Trust Funds.
Senator Rowell has again referred to the desirableness of including, under the provisions of this measure, the South African veterans, and as the honorable senator served both in the South African war and in the more recent conflict, one can naturally understand his sympathies leading in that direction. But I again desire to point out that we are not dealing with the whole of these men, but only those who served in- the recent war. I am not saying that the country entirely discharged its obligations to the men who fought in the South African war ; because I do not think it did. The proposition submitted to me is not covered by this Bill, or by the Repatriation Act, as they are not measures to discharge the undischarged obligations of the country to the men who have rendered service to Australia, but to those who assisted in the Great War which has just ended. It is in conformity with that idea that, the provisions of the Bill are limited to the members of the Australian Imperial Force. I desire to point out to Senator Rowell that this is another instance in which the beneficiaries could be increased in number, and if we were to include those mentioned by Senator Rowell, we would also have to provide for those mentioned by Senator Newland. There has to be some limit, and the Government think that they have done a fair thing. We have been called upon by the people of Australia to discharge this obligation, which is covered by the term “ Repatriation,” and we have declared that we would provide certain benefits, and render assistance to those men who were members of the Australian Imperial Force. I submit that the question of whether we should redeem some undischarged obligations to the men who fought in other waTS, or who rendered certain service in other directions, is not associated with this measure. We are dealing only with the members of the Australian Imperial Force, and in rendering them some service, the country has accepted a great responsibility, and is doing all it possibly can in performing the work it has been asked to carry out.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Definition).
.- Provision is made for the benefits of this measure to apply to members of the Young Men’s Christian Association, and it appears absolutely impossible for the Government to include members of that association unless they -also include members of the Salvation Army, who performed very creditable work in assisting the soldiers.
– Salvation Army chaplains will come under the Bill.
SenatorFOLL. - I am not referring to chaplains,because they are covered under the original Act.
– I do not think any members of the Salvation Army, apart from chaplains, were accepted for service with the Military Forces abroad.
– The fact remains that the work done by these men was identical, although they may not have been on the same basis.
– Generally it was of a superior character.
– I am not prepared to compare the work of the representatives of the two organizations; but I believe the services performed by the members of the Salvation Army were very useful, and that the men at the Front received as many benefits from that organization as from any other.
– Those accepted for service, and who served abroad, became liable to military discipline, the same as any other member of the Forces.
– I fail to see any reason why there should be a distinction between the representatives of the two organizations, and 1 ask the Minister for Repatriation if he cannot favorably consider the inclusion of the representatives of the Salvation Army.
– I am quite prepared to. admit that the representatives of the Salvation Army performed very good work ; but the chaplains of the Salvation Army are entitled to the benefits conferred by this Bill. The members of the Young Men’s Christian Association, who are to benefit, as the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) has stated, are those who were accepted, and who served abroad; and this, I think, includes those who served on transports with reinforcements, and who were liable to discipline the same as were the soldiers.
– I desire to ask the Minister whether the definition of “ Australian soldier “ does not cover members of the Australian Naval Forces who went to Neptune Island and Cape St. Albans and elsewhere? It seems that they were really Australian soldiers, although they did not go overseas.
– I desire, first, to reply to the point raised by Senator Foll, and to direct his attention to the wording of the clause, which does not cover every member of the Young Men’s Christian Association who served in France, but only those members of that organization who were accepted for service and who served abroad. The provision relates to the members of that organization to whom commissions were issued, and the only members of the Salvation Army to whom commissions were issued were the chaplains, and they are eligible. Under the original Act, the members of the Young Men’s Christian Association who did useful work behind the lines were not included; and, so far as I can see, the members of the Young Men’s Christian Association are on a parity with the members of the Salvation Army, whose good work every one who was at the Front is willing to bear witness to. I have quite recently pointed out that, under the original measure, a clear line of demarcation had to be drawn, and I do not feel that I can hold out any hope of departing from that principle. The sympathies of one are naturally aroused by cases that are quoted from time to time; but we have to draw the line somewhere, and wherever we drop the line we immediately hear of a case that is just outside. When once we depart from “service abroad,” it is almost impossible to stop, because the representatives of some organization will come along and say that they are in a position similar to that of others who have been included. I submit that we have gone as far as we can in extending benefits to those who rendered service in the recent war.
– It is a matter of regret that the time-honoured and unwritten custom of placing the amendments to the principal Act, as well as the Bill, before the Senate, has been departed from.
– They were issued with the Bill last Thursday.
– As it does not appear to be in my file I shall deal with that question later. When the original Act was before the Senate, I think the consensus of opinion was that no man should be eligible for the benefits of the war service homes provisions unless he had seen service outside Australia. The definition clause in the present measure seems to be too wide, as we practically include every member of the Australian Imperial Force, whether he went out of Australia or not. The Bill includes every munition worker who went abroad, whether he served or not, and also war workers that were attached to the Australian Imperial Force.
– This measure does not cover munition workers. They are eligible under the amending Act passed towards the end of last year, and this is a mere re-statement of the definition clause.
– I may be arguing on wrong premises, but whether I am or not, I am not inclined to open the door too wide. In effect, the building of war service homes is merely lending public money to those who are prepared to occupy the houses, and on which they pay interest and principal over a period of years. The only reason why I shall support the extended definition is on ac-‘ count of the scarcity of houses. I think it would be good policy if the Governments in the various States put their shoulders to the wheel in this connexion, because I believe that a good deal of the industrial unrest at present prevailing is due to the scarcity of housing accommodation throughout the Commonwealth.
If the members of the Young Men’s Christian Association are to be included we shall also have to include the representatives of the Red Cross, and the members of the Australian Comforts Fund, and all those unattached war workers who went abroad to help in some way to win the war. I think the definition clause will be found to be very much wider than it was in the original Act or in the amending Bill. I am not keen on affording the benefits of the War Service Homes and Repatriation legislation generally to every one who may have done some little - either in Australia or abroad - to help win the war. I have taken up the position, and have expressed it more than once in this chamber, that war service benefits should be, as far as possible, confined to those who were in the war zone - to those who actually went over the top. Many of the men who went abroad were never better off than during the war. As an honorable senator interjects, it is to the credit of Australia that this country treated them so well, and it should be widely known that such is the case. But I cannot support the various propositions for greatly expanding the scope of benefit. One honorable senator desires that those who went to the Boer war should be included, and another wished to bring in the members of the Salvation Army. Still another may want to have the benefits made available to those young women who were patriotically active, in this country, during the war period. I sympathize with the Minister (Senator E. D. Millen) in respect of all these attempted pulls upon his generosity ; they increase the difficulty of his position. If I had the power I would confine the benefits of all our repatriation legislation to those who took part in the actual fighting.
Senator SENIOR (South Australia) [4.531. - Last year Senator Pratten acquiesced in the inclusion of those very individuals about whom he is now raising objections. The Act which he assisted to place on the statute-book defines munition workers and war workers. The honorable senator is now approaching the matter as though it were something new. I feel it to be my duty to point out that he is labouring under a delusion.
.- In the course of his second-reading remarks the Minister (Senator E. D. Millen) said the reason why the Government proposed to increase the grant to £800 was not the desirability of building larger homes, but, particularly, the increase in the cost of building.
– Is that not rather a matter for discussion when the Committee is considering clause 10?
– I take it that, under a definition clause, an honorable senator would be in order in delivering, practically, a second-reading speech.
– The honorable senator cannot make a second -reading speech when addressing himself to the definition clause, nor during the Committee stage at all.
– Does not the definition clause cover the ambit of the Bill?
– It does not provide an opportunity for making a secondreading speech.
Senator E. D. MILLEN (New South - I desire to make clear what additional classes of beneficiaries are to be brought in by this amending Bill. War workers and munition workers were included, with the hearty co-operation of Senator Pratten, in last year’s amending Bill.
– I think the Minister is mistaken, and that he will find that I took up exactly the same attitude as I do now.
– If that should be the case, I will withdraw; but the reason why I assumed that the honorable senator did not object then was that, while I chanced to be absent from the Senate at the time, I saw no reference to his critical attitude in the course of my casual reading of the press.
– The trouble is that the press does not publish what I say.
– That may be the explanation. The two classes to be included by this measure are those who were in camp, but were discharged upon the signing of the armistice, and those who, for health reasons, were discharged from camp throughout the war period, and’ who, consequently, did not go abroad. In including these classes we are bringing the Bill into conformity with the principles of the Repatriation Act. It is, of course, a debatable view that the Government may have gone too far in the scope of its inclusions. But there are still other men whose claims Senator Pratten himself would, I feel sure, view favorably; men such as those attached to the mercantile marine, and who took all the risks . of serving within the war zone, and, in respect of whom the British Government have decided that they shall receive the war medal. The two classes which I have specifically mentioned, however, are the only additional classes to be made eligible by the passing of this measure.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 -
After section 14 of the principal Act the following section is inserted: - “ 14a. Before exercising any power under this Act which involves the expenditure of were than Five thousand pounds, the Commissioner shall submit his proposal for the approval of the Minister.”
– It is highly desirable that a provision of this nature should be inserted. I desire to draw the attention of the Minister (Senator E. D. Millen) to an article which appeared in a small newspaper in Brisbane regarding contracts entered into by the Commissioner. The article, which is dated 26th June, states : -
The Commission had not been going long before it was announced that the builders and contractors of this city had arranged not to give the soldiers fair play, but to put up prices.
– I have seen the paper.
– I would point out that clause 3 contains a distinct provision in regard to a specific amount to be approved by the Minister. I do not think it affords an opportunity for discussing the general question of the cost of homes.
– But I understand that the section of the Act which is involved is so framed that wide scope is afforded in regard to the point which I have raised. This Bill deals with the question of contracts generally.
– I cannot permit the honorable senator, at this stage, to discuss the general question of the cost of homes.
– I am not quite clear upon the intention of this clause. Does it mean that the Commissioner is to be free to spend only up to £5,000, as a general total, upon everything, above which sum he must secure the Minister’s sanction ? Or is it intended that, over and above the expenditure of £5,000 upon any one specific objective, the approval of the Minister must first be sought?
– That is so.
– But the clause does not actually say so. It is, to my mind, a dragnet. I think that if it were re-drafted the intention could be made more clear. The argument could now be raised that the Commissioner has no power to spend more than £5,000 upon the whole of the operations of ‘ his Department, unless and until he has secured Ministerial sanction; whereas, obviously, the intention is to restrict his powers of expenditure in regard to specific contracts.
– ‘The honorable senator will recall that, in the original Bill, there was a similar provision, limited, however, in respect of the acquisition of land. It was proved to have been a mistake that the Bill should have passed in that form. It gave to the Commissioner the right to buy land and materials; but, where he desired to purchase a parcel of land, exceeding in cost the sum of £5,000, Ministerial concurrence had first to be secured. It appeared, subsequently, that, whatever reason there may have been for requiring Ministerial sanction for expenditure concerning a land deal, was an equally good reason in the matter of a contract for the supply of material.
– But now you have omitted to make mention of anything specific.
– The purpose of this clause is that where the Commissioner seeks to purchase a parcel of land for £5,000, or upwards, he must first secure the Minister’s concurrence. Similarly, with regard to a contract for material involving £5,000 or over, that item also must be referred to the Minister.
– Which is quite right and proper.
– That is all that is required. It is not intended, nor would it be desirable, to require the sanction of the Minister, to an expenditure of £5,000 or over, in connexion with the building of a number of cottages costing together more than the sum mentioned. If Senator Pratten permits the clause to pass as it stands, I shall confer with the draftsman, and should it be found necessary in order to make the meaning more clear, I will bring it before the Committee again by way of re-committal.
.- I should like to know what is the necessity for a clause of this kind. Has the Commissioner been slipped up through entering into bad contracts, or have large contracts already been made without the knowledge of the Minister, and in connexion with which, because he has not been made aware of them, he has been unable to protect himself? Will the Minister say why it was necessary to insert such a provision?
SenatorE. D. MILLEN (New South Wales - Minister for Repatriation) [5.7]. - There is nothing to justify the suggestion of the honorable senator. I thought I had made the position clear. There is a prohibition under the existing Act against the Commissioner entering into a contract involving £5,000 or upwards for the purchase of land. That represents a sound or an unsound principle, and does not in any way imply a want of confidence in the Commissioner. We give the Commissioner large powers under this legislation, and the Government having to find the money, the Minister, perhaps later on, having to stand up in Parliament and defend the expenditure under the Bill, should be in a position to say whether or not he agrees to any proposal involving so large an expenditure. If that is a sound principle, and I submit that it is, it is as applicable to the purchase of material as it is to the purchase of land. Such a provision becomes more necessary if it is felt that the whole of the work under this Bill should be brought under Ministerial supervision. It is a sound proposition that, where large contracts are involved, the Minister should be informed of departmental proposals in order that we may veto them if, in his judgment, such action is called for.
– It has occurred to me that the proposed new section 14a will, under this clause, be inserted in the wrong place. Section 14 of the principal Act deals with the delegation of power-
– It is proposed to insert the proposed new section 14a after section 14.
– That is so; but there is no co-relation between the delegation of power and the determination as to the amount to be spent without the sanction of the Minister. I do not object to the proposed new section, but suggest that it is not being inserted in the proper place.
– The explanation of the matter is that the section dealing with the limitation of the Commissioner’s power under Part III. of the Act covered only the acquisition of land, and it is the intention under this Bill to cover both land and material. It has been found necessary, therefore, to delete the old provision from the part of the Act in which it appeared, and to insert here an entirely new section covering both land and material.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 4 -
Section 16 of the principal Act is amended by omitting sub-section (5) thereof.
Section proposed to be amended - 16. (5) Before exercising any power under this section which involves the expenditure of more than Five thousand pounds, the Commissioner shall submit his proposal for the approval of the Minister.
– This clause is a necessary corollary of clause 3. It proposes the omission of words from the principal Act that restricts the power of the Commissioner to acquire land. That omission will be made good by clause 3, to which the Committee has just agreed, and I mention the matter because it is another reason why the intention of clause 3 should be made very clear.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 5 -
After section 17 of the principal Act, the following section is inserted : - “ 17a. - (1.) The Commissioner may erect, complete or enlarge, for eligible persons, dwellinghouses on land owned by them or may enter into contracts for the erection, completion or enlargement of dwelling-houses on such land. (2.) Where the Commissioner erects, completes! or enlarges or enters into a contract for the erection, completion or enlargement of a dwelling-house in pursuance of this section, he may require the owner of the land to give such security as he thinks necessary for the repayment of the amount expended by him in the erection, completion or enlargement of the dwelling-house.”
– There has been some doubt expressed as to whether, under the wording of the existing Act. the Commissioner has power to erect a house on land owned by the applicant. This clause is inserted to make it quite clear that the Commissioner is to have that power.
– Under sub-clause 2 of the proposed new section 17a, where the Commissioner erects, completes or enlarges a dwellinghouse on land owned by the applicant, or enters into a contract to do so, he may require the owner of the land to give such security as he thinks necessary. I take it that before the Commissioner commences operations, the owner of the land will have to hand over his deeds. The Commissioner would not be likely to commence operations under this provision on land acquired by an applicant on the time-payment system, and upon which only one payment had been made, without some satisfactory security. The Minister for Repatriation has already mentioned that when a war service home is completed it is worth more than it has actually cost to build, and it would represent good security to the Commissioner. What other security is intended by the proposed new section now under consideration ?
– Where does the honorable senator find the words “ other security “ ?
– Well, what is the security ?
– Under the original Act, power was given to the Commissioner to advance money to any eligible person to erect, complete or enlarge a dwelling-house where the applicant was the owner of the land. What it is now proposed to do under clause 5 is not merely to give the Commissioner the power to advance money to the owner of the land to erect, complete or enlarge a dwelling-house, but also the power, if he thinks fit, to himself undertake the erection, completion, or enlargement; and, if he does so, he is entitled to security, and that security will be a mortgage over the property.
– Would not the Government take over the deeds in that case?
– That is the security asked for. Under this clause, the Commissioner, instead of advancing money to the applicant to carry out the work, may himself let a contract for carrying it out, or may carry it out by day labour, and the owner of the land is asked to give security.
– The Minister pointed out that in the case of 33 per cent. of the soldiers’ homes already erected, the applicants have supplied a certain sum of money, or have provided the land. Is it the policy of the Department to give any preference to men supplying their own land, or advancing their own money ? If that is the Government” policy, does that account for the percentage of homes erected for such persons being so high?
– There is no preference given other than priority of application. That is the only safe policy to adopt. Here and there, where a few applications have been received from the same locality, and another application is received a little later, for the purpose of inspection they are treated together, but the broad principle adopted is that priority of application determines priority of treatment.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 6 (Sale of dwelling houses).
Section proposed to be amended - 19. (1) Subject to this Act the Commissioner may sell to any eligible person who is not the owner of a dwelling house within Australia or elsewhere, a dwelling house acquired or erected in pursuance of the last preceding Part, together with the land on which it is erected.
– I notice in this clause an amendment which appears to me to make a very vital alteration in connexion with the administration of the War Service Homes Department. The omission is proposed of the words in the existing Act “ who is not the owner of a dwelling house within Australia or elsewhere.” That appears to me to open the door to permit of a returned soldier, the owner of a house in which he is living, going to the Commissioner and asking to be provided with another house.
– By clause 7 it is proposed, after section 19 of the principal Act, to insert a new section, which is really a redrafting of a provision having the same effect as that proposed by this clause to be deleted.
– I cannot quite see that, because paragraph a of the substituted provision says that -
Where a person is included in paragraphs (b) or (d) of the definition of “Australian soldier “ in section 4 of this Act, the Commissioner may sell to her either alone or jointly with other persons similarly eligible under this sub-section a building- and so on. I fail to see that the striking out of the words to which I have referred from suh-section 1 of section 19 will not open the door to returned soldiers getting more than one home, or getting a home where they already own one.
– Clause 7 is a special prohibition against that.
– Then I shall wait to deal further with the matter until we come to clause 7.
.- I should like to have some information with regard to the erection of a house for persons alone or jointly to be used for the purpose of a sanatorium or nursing home. I understand that if, for instance, three returned nurses desire to enter into a partnership, the intention is that they may receive an advance up to three times the £800.
– That is so. We are doing that in some cases now.
– I wish to remind Senator Pratten that paragraphs b and d of section 4 of the principal Act read -
The honorable senator will see that, in the circumstances, the proposed new section will not open the door as he feared it would, since it covers only the persons included in the definitions quoted. As the Minister has pointed out, the next clause completely closes the door, and there is no chance of getting through at all.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 7 (Sale of house only to person not already an owner).
– I clearly see what the Minister has provided for. Under this clause the words omitted in the previous clause become redundant. I am glad the Minister has provided for the sale of houses only to persons who do not already own them.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 8 agreed to.
Clause 9 (Advance for purposes of home only to person not already an owner) .
– Of course this cannot mean that no advance will be made for the building of a house to a person who owns the land. I take it that it refers to the paragraphs to which I have been speaking during the last few minutes, and is an amplification of the safeguards against persons who already own their own homes taking advantage of the Commissioner.
– That is quite correct.
.- It might -happen that a member of the Australian Imperial Force whose work keeps him in Sydney, and who, therefore, requires a home there, owns a bit of a “ humpy “ 500 miles away from the coast, which he cannot sell. What position is he in? Will the possession of that little place in the “never-never” prevent him from obtaining the benefits of this legislation ?
– That is the distinct intention. Although Senator Foll, with great adroitness, has drawn the extreme case of a man who owns a valueless “humpy” somewhere in the bush, I should like to sketch a class of case of quite another character. It is not intended under this Bill to find a house for” any man unless he is in need of a home. In all housing Acts of which I have any knowledge, and certainly in all those adopted by any State in Australia, it has always been made one of the conditions of eligibility that the applicant shall not be already possessed of a house. Most of those Acts stipulate for a house of a certain value, and, in addition, generally put a limit to the man’s income. Neither of those restrictions appears in our legislation, but the object of this Bill being to provide a residence, a man who already has a house, is not eligible. I suggest to Senator Foll that he should not press the little bush “ humpy “ too far, because if we once opened the door for that inoffensive structure, a good number of other men would . soon find means of ‘evading the purpose of this legislation.
Senator FOLL (Queensland) [5.271 - I am quite in accord with what the Minister has said. I only wished to know if a loop-hole could not be provided for what would be a very distressful case if it did occur.
Clause agreed to-
Clause 10 -
After section 28 of the principal Act the following section is inserted : - “ 28a. (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, the total cost to the Commissioner of any dwelling-house erected by him, or the amount of any advance made, in pursuance of this Act, may, if, in the opinion of the Commissioner, the circumstances of any case justify the excess, exceed £700 but shall not exceed £800. “(2). Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, where the Commissioner has erected a dwelling-house at a cost exceeding £700 or made an advance exceeding that amount, he shall require, in addition to any other deposit or security required under this Act or the regulations, from the person purchasing that dwelling-house or receiving that advance, a deposit or security to the extent of 15 per centum of the amount by which the cost or advance exceeds £700.”
.- This is, perhaps, the most important part of the Bill to those who want houses. It redeems the promise the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) gave some time ago to increase the amount which may be advanced by the Commissioner for the erection of a home from £700 to £800. It would be as well to have it clearly understood that it is not obligatory on the Department to spend £800, but that it is within the option of the Commissioner to advance up to that amount if, in his wisdom, he thinks the case justifies it. There is in this clause the further provision, which should be made widely known, that the extra £100 is not only restricted by the will of the Commissioner, but is subject also to the deposit by the applicant of 15 per cent, of the amount by which the cost or advance exceeds £700.
– That means that the advance is only £85.
– The honorable senator has put it in a nutshell. It means that there is an advance of only £85 in addition to the £700.
– Stated that way, it would be an advance of £85 on a security of £85 ; stated the way the Bill does, it is an advance of £85 on a security of £100.
– Quite so, but I do not ‘think we can stress too much the plain meaning of the clause. So far as applicants for war service homes are concerned, the essential part of this Bill is that they may in certain circumstances get an advance of £800 instead of £700, but it should be generally known that they cannot get that as a right. They can get it only with the acquiescence of the Commissioner, and then only by putting up a deposit of 15 per cent. on the extra advance. I congratulate the Minister on fulfilling the promise he made some time ago, and on keeping up, to a certain extent, with the great advance which has taken place in the cost of materials and labour since the original Act was passed. It appears to me that, if costs go on increasing at the same rate as at present, it may be that, in the end, even if the Commissioner acquiesces in an advance of £800 for every new war service home, applicants will not be able to get the same value as was obtained by those lucky persons who already have their homes completed. I hope no further increase will be necessary to give the soldiers a fair deal, but I am glad that this Bill has been brought forward, because it is admittedly much more difficult to-day to provide for the soldiers, for £700 each, the homes that we hope they will all get, than it was when the original Bill first came before Parliament.
– I was somewhat disappointed with the Minister’s statement in his speech in reply on the second reading, that the principal reason for the increase of the amount to £800 was not to give the applicants bigger houses. I had hoped that the extra £100 was being advanced in order to provide larger houses than those being found at present. With present costs, it is impossible to build for £700, or even £800, a house with anything like large rooms. It is simply marvellous, seeing the size of the houses that the Government are putting up, especially those built of brick, that they are able to keep the price down to what we are told they are costing, especially in comparison with the prices being asked for brick houses in different parts of Australia. AsI said, I hoped that the Minister would tell us that he was increasing the amount of the advance by £100, in order to build more roomy houses, or even to put on an additional room if required, and it was disappointing to me to learn that, in spite of the large contracts that have been entered into by the War Service Homes Commissioner, the increased cost of labour and material has practically kept pace with the savings made by that means, and that a house costing £800 to-day will contain no more accommodation than the original applicants obtained for £700.
– Is that not obvious, with the rise of prices and wages ?
– I am trying to point out that in the early stages of the operations of the War Service Homes Department building was carried on in a more or less piecemeal manner. One house was built here and another there, but today the work is being done on a much larger scale, and there is far more system in operation in the Department than there was twelve months ago. Houses’ are not being built in ones or twos, but in large groups, especially in the capital city areas in the various States. As the Minister pointed out, the men who lay the foundations when they finish one job go along to the next and start digging out. In view also of the large saving that the Commissioner has recently made by acquiring rights over certain industrial concerns, he is able to get his commodities at a far cheaper rate than before. It was for those reasons that I expected the Minister to tell us that homes were to be built on a larger scale than was the case twelve months ago.
– Does the honorable senator know the extent to which material has gone up in price?
– I know it has gone up, but I do not know the percentage.
– Twenty -five per cent.
– Is that in the last twelve months? On the figures the Minister quoted regarding contracts made by the Commissioner, more than 25 per cent. has been saved.
– Surely the honorable senator does not interpret what I said as meaning that there has been an all-round reduction at that rate? I mentioned some of the contracts as typical of those entered into, and gave the savings on them. There are many other things entering into the construction of a house on which the Commissioner is getting the ordinary trade discount only.
– The increase in the cost of effective labour would be about 50 per cent.
– I think the honorable senator’s statement is over the mark.
– Do not forget the word “ effective.”
– As I have remarked previously, the operations of the War Service Homes Department were not nearly upon such an extensive scale during the earlier stages of its existence as they are to-day. Everybody knows that the larger the output of any business concern the more economically it should be managed. Upon 2nd July last, the Sydney Evening News published an article dealing with the inadequate size of our war service homes, and because of complaints made in that connexion, I had hoped that the additional £100 which will be advanced under this Bill would be devoted to increasing their size. The article in question reads: -
Council to Sue Government
At last night’s meeting of- the Hurstville Council, the building inspector again reported that the war service homes being erected for returned soldiers by the Commonwealth Government on the Como Lakes Estate, Oatley, did not comply with the ordinances dealing with buildings. The kitchens -were absolutely too small, and sufficient air space was not provided. The Town Clerk said councils had no jurisdiction over the Commonwealth Government. Alderman Binder contended that they had the power, if they knew how to use it. On the motion of Aldermen Binder and Machen, it was unanimously decided to take legal action against the Commonwealth.
No doubt the Minister will have an effective reply to the criticism which I have quoted. But I am sorry to learn that the additional advance of £100 to be provided under this. Bill will not benefit our returned soldiers, but will be absorbed by those persons who supply labour and material for our war service homes.
– I am entirely opposed to subclause 2 of proposed new section 28a. I can see no necessity for it. The proposal of the Government will penalize the returned soldier who is desirous of obtaining a home for himself, without conferring any corresponding benefit upon the community generally. The sub-clause provides that where the Commissioner has erected a dwelling house at a cost exceeding £700, he shall require, “ in addition to any other deposit or security required under this Act or the regulations, from the person purchasing that dwelling house or receiving that advance, a deposit or security to the extent of 15 per centum of the amount by which the cost or advance exceeds £700.” The Government definitely told our returned soldiers that they recognised the inadequacy of an advance of £700 for these homes, and promised to increase it to £800. This Bill is an attempt on the part of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) to honour that promise. It appears to me, however, that it is to be more honoured in the breach than in the observance. The Minister has already pointed out that the cost of material has recently increased by 25 per cent., and that there has also been a substantial increase in the cost of labour. The Government were forced to recognise that tho original advance of £700 was quite inadequate, and accordingly they promised to increase it to £800. But the provision to which 1 have directed attention will net do that. The utmost to which it will increase the advance to any soldier is £7S5, because the soldier himself will be required to lodge a deposit of £15. Take the position of a returned man who is desirous of securing a home of his own. He is compelled to spend money § in the purchase, of furniture and to incur certain other incidental charges. Under this proposal the Government will demand from him a deposit of £15 before he can obtain the additional advance of £100. Now, a returned soldier may not possess that amount. The Government may very well see that the general security offered either in the case of a home which is to be built, or of one which is to be purchased, is sufficient to cover the whole advance of £800 without the necessity for the soldier himself lodging a deposit 0 £15. That amount may not seem much to some “of us, but to many of our returned soldiers it represents a considerable sum. We may very well dispense with sub-clause 2 of the proposed new section, seeing that provision ie already made that adequate security shall be forthcoming in the case of every advance which is made. The Commissioner will not advance a sum of £800 upon a home unless the value is there. Where, then, is the necessity for exacting from the soldier a deposit of £15, which may mean that he will be obliged to go short of furniture to that amount? The omission of this provision will not in any way endanger the Bill, or alter the degree of security which will be possessed by the Commonwealth.
– The amount is too small to interfere with the security.
– Of course it is, It is a small sum from the stand-point of the Government, but a large one from that of the individual soldier.
[5.421. - I think it is just possible that some remarks which I made earlier in the day may have created a wrong impression in the minds of Senator Foll and other honorable senators regarding tha extent to which the increased cost of labour and material, and the desire for a larger house, have influenced the decision of the Government to increase the advance from £700 to £800. In this connexion I would remind honorable senators of the statement which I made in this chamber during a previous session. I said -
The Commissioner is quite clear that he can continue to build the present four-roomed type at that money, provided that labour and material do not go up any further. But as it is quite evident also that a number of soldiers require a somewhat larger house - as men with two or three children naturally require more $room than newly-married couples - it has been decided by the Government to increase the limit to £800. The Commissioner thinks that with that increase, and by his present methods of organizing supplies and group construction, he can still build the very useful type of cottage he is building now, with an additional room, within the limit. I propose shortly to bring down to Parliament a Bill authorizing an increase of the present limit of £7.00 to £800.
At that time it was evident that upon the then value of material and labour the Commissioner could continue to build four-roomed cottages for £700 each, and that he was looking to the extra £100 to enable him to provide .an additional room. But one of the conditions which was laid down as essential if he was to continue doing that was that there was to be no further increase in the cost of labour and material.
– And in the cost of land, too.
– I do not know that there has been any great increase in the cost of land, but undoubtedly there has been some increase in the cost of labour and material. To the extent to which these things have increased in price during tha past six months they must eat into the additional £100. Offhand, I cannot say what the increase has been during that period. Of the £100 additional advance obviously a portion will be required as a set-off against the increase which has taken place during the past half-year, and the balance will be available for additional accommodation.
I come now to the point which has been’ raised by Senator Duncan. Certain of his arguments I can almost indorse, but there are one or two matters to which I desire to direct attention. First of all, it is not an unheard of principle that where a Government advances money to its citizens it advances smaller amounts upon more liberal terms than it does larger ones. That is the course which is adopted by our Agricultural Banks, and we are following the same system here. Surely a soldier who is asked to find a deposit of £15 upon a house which is valued at £800 is not being badly treated. The fact that the applicant comes along with £15 of his own is in itself evidence of his thriftiness, but it also means that when he gees into that home he puts down fifteen solid anchors, which will prove a material factor in increasing his desire to make it his own.
– That would have been a good argument to adduce when the amount of the advance was £700.
– Yes. But the idea was to extend to the man who received the minimum sum the best pos’sible terms. Consequently we allowed him to become the owner of a house worth £700 without calling upon him for any deposit. Should he desire a larger home, it is certainly not unfair to ask him to contribute a small sum towards its purchase. Senator Duncan spoke of a returned soldier who acquires a war service home being required to purchase furniture. That is perfectly true, but I would remind him that the Repatriation Department will loan soldier applicants a sum of £35 to assist them in making such purchases. Senator Duncan also stated that if we obtain sound valuations, the Commonwealth will possess a perfectly good asset, quite apart from the soldier’s deposit. That is perfectly true. But in such cases we have not any margin should the man fall into arrears or prove an unsatisfactory tenant. Under this Bill that is where the advantage will arise in the case of a man who is not making good in regard to the contract into which he has entered.
– The Government are making fish of one and flesh of another.
– No. All soldier applicants can obtain a home valued at £700 without any deposit whatever It is only when a man requires a house worth £800 that he is asked to make a small contribution towards it.
– But the man who desires a £800 house will frequently have a larger family than will the soldier who is content with a home that is worth only £700.
– That is so. But the Act lays it down that the Commissioner is bound to consider the possibility of an applicant meeting his obligations, and the larger a man’s family, the less chance he may have of meeting them. For instance, an applicant may be earning only £4 per week, and the Commissioner may say to him, “ I believe that you would be able to meet your obligations in respect of a house worth £700, but I doubt whether you would be able to do so in respect of a home costing £800.” This measure was not framed with the idea of giving soldiers homes for nothing, and the condition was that the Commissioner was to be satisfied that the asset was a good one, and included in that was the ability of the man to meet his repayments. A man out of work may have a very large family; but there may be no hope of him paying for a house. The Commissioner is bound to see if there is a chance of the applicant paying; and if a man says that he is out of work, it would be foolish to grant him a house. If he wanted assistance, it should be given in some other way, without providing him with a house when it was impossible for him to meet the repayments. The same conditions apply to an advance of £800; and all that is asked is that an applicant shall pay a deposit of £15, which will give him some margin should he fall into arrears. I am not at all certain that it would not be a good thing for all the applicants to pay a deposit either from their war gratuity bond or from some other source. I think there are very few who would not be able to pay a deposit, and returned soldiers generally would find it advantageous to invest their war gratuity bonds in acquiring a home.
– I believe every honorable senator will welcome the addition to the amount provided in the original Act for the erection of war service homes; but I think the time has arrived forthe Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) and the Commissioner to look into the question of the advisability of making some alteration in regard to the kind of houses now being built. Recently I had the opportunity of inspecting a number of war service homes.
-In which State?
– In New South Wales, and some in Victoria. The opinion I have formed that the space in our war service homes is too circumscribed will, I think, be indorsed by other honorable senators.
– Does the honorable senator refer to the number of rooms ?
– As to size. The Minister for Repatriation has said that, owing to the increased cost of material, it is now impossibleto build a fourroomed house for less than £700.
– That includes the land.
– Exactly. The Minister has stated that the cost of building has necessitated the increase in price, and I have been looking around to see if there is any possible way of providing more conveniences at a lower cost. I desire to draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that, not so much in Australia - as this is practically new work to us - but in other countries families are being housed in much smaller dwellings, with an equal degree of comfort as is enjoyed in Australia, by the adoption of the joint bed-sitting or joint beddining room. I inspected houses built in Sydney in which wall-beds were installed, and I was struck with the fact that war service homes could be built to give the necessary accommodation for an ordinary family under this system, and at the same time provide more room space at a reduced cost. I inspected one house of three living rooms, serving the same purpose as an ordinary five-roomed house, built by the Department, where two rooms were utilized as bed-sitting rooms, and the other as a bed-dining room.
– What about a bedkitchen room?
– It could be applied to the kitchen, because in one case I noticed the sleeping accommodation could be used either in the house or on the verandah, according to the construction of the panel which allowed the wall bed to be used either insi.de or outside the house. I also noticed that a number of the buildings are being constructed of brick. Every one knows that at present there is a great scarcity of skilled workers, particularly bricklayers, and this naturally increases the cost of the structures. Concrete houses are being erected with marked success in the different States, but not under the old style, with wooden boxing, but by means of an apparatus the patent of which has been submitted to the Department. Under this method buildings can be erected in one half the time occupied under the old system, thereby reducing the “cost. I would like the Minister for Repatriation to confer with the Commissioner as to the advisability of utilizing this improved method of concrete construction with a view to reducing the cost.
– But it is difficult to obtain material.
– Particularly cement.
– That scarcity is not always going to obtain. There is a scarcity of bricks and labour at present.
– According to the newspapers there is likely to be a surplus of cement in Australia before the end of the year.
– It is hoped that such will be the case.
– There is not much likelihood of a surplus of cement this year.
– We shall be building war service homes this year and next year, too, and these points are well worth considering, as our object should be to cheapen the cost of construction, and at the same time to provide the soldiers with’ good houses for the money we are expending. Senator Duncan referred to the additional allowance of £100, for which the applicant has to deposit £15.
– Why not mention weatherboard structures?
– It is my intention to do so later. In regard to the £85 additional advance mentioned by Senator Duncan, I understood when the principal Act was passed, that, if the circumstances warranted it, an additional £100 would be advanced ; but applicants are now asked to furnish a deposit of £15 to enable them to obtain possession of a building valued at £800. I cannot follow the Minister’s argument that it is absolutely essential for the well-being of the scheme for an applicant to furnish a deposit of £15. The Minister for Repatriation must realize that, on his own admission, the cost of building has increased considerably during the past twelve months, and that a building which now costs £800 could have been built twelve months ago for £700. It therefore follows that ‘the applicant of twelve months ago was furnished with a building equally as valuable and as serviceable at £700 as the soldier who applies to-day, but who has to pay £800. If that is so, those who are later in the field should have the same facilities and privileges as have been accorded to others.
– That would mean that the Department would only expect repayments on £700.
– Oh, no! I would not go that far, but I do not think the Minister’s contention is logical.
– I think it is logical.
– I do not think so. The Minister for Repatriation might as well argue that if the Department purchased land at £50 twelve months ago, and the soldier had to pay £75 for it today, he should be charged only £50.
– The country would have to carry the increased cost, and not the soldier.
– We are not giving the men homes, but providing them on the hire-purchase system, to enable them to obtain dwellings for themselves and their families. Last year an applicant could purchase a home up to the value of £700 ; but we are now informed that, owing to the increase in the cost of material and labour, it is necessary to ask Parliament to agree to increase the amount to £800, on the condition that the applicant must furnish a deposit of £15 to insure his application being accepted. In my opinion, every case should be dealt with on its merits, and the Commissioner should not agree to an application unless he is satisfied that the individual applying has a reasonable prospect of meeting his payments within the specified time. Under these circumstances, the Department would not be incurring any risk if the deposit were eliminated, and tlie applicant of to-day would then be in the same position as the applicant of twelve months ago, with the exception that the person applying to-day would have to pay a slightly higher amount as his quarterly Or half-yearly instalment. I trust the Minister for Repatriation will see his way clear to eliminate that provision.
I have not had an opportunity of inspecting the war service homes in Queensland; but I understand that in that State they are being built mainly of wood ; and that in Tasmania weatherboard structure* are being erected. Australian hardwood has proved its suitability for dwelling houses for a long period, and I know of dwellings in Tasmania, constructed of this material, which have been standing for at least thirty-five or forty years. These structures have been carefully maintained, and are now in as good a state of preservation as they were a few years after being erected. The hardwood dwelling has come to stay, particularly in those parts of Australia where it can be suitably utilized.
In giving further consideration to the suggestions that have been made, I tru.H the Minister will, at the earliest possible moment, confer with the Commissioner to see if it is not possible to provide greater accommodation at a reduced cost, because I believe it can be done by a proper utilization of the available space. I also trust that he will agree to the elimination of the £15 deposit, as provided in sub-clause 2.
Senator E. D. MILLEN (New South Wales - Minister for Repatriation) [6.4 J. - In reply to the points submitted by Senator Payne, I desire to say that the Commissioner is desirous’ of giving as much accommodation as is possible for the money expended. I would also like to say that I think we can challenge comparison, both as regards the value of the houses and the room space provided, with those dwellings constructed by private individuals. But when the honorable senator suggests that approval should be given to a combination bed and dining room home, I am afraid I cannot be sympathetic. The matter has been brought under my notice, and when I am next in Sydney, I shall, in company with the Commissioner, endeavour, to see what is going on there. I am open to conviction if the facts are against me; but I shall make an inspection with a prejudice against the idea of asking people to sleep in rooms that are used for dining.
– It is a matter of airspace and ventilation.
– I must be largely guided in these matters by the opinions expressed by housewives. 1 have taken the opportunity of conferring with ladies interested in these homes, and who have made useful suggestions concerning the fittings. I have not had the opportunity of speaking to more than two or three on the question of combined bed-dining rooms, but those to whom I have mentioned the matter have condemned the scheme, on the ground that there is not sufficient ventilation for the bed clothing when it is closeted up all day. I do not know whether that is a substantial objection or not; but it is one that appeals to women, who should know what is required in dwellings of this nature. They seem to regard it as an advantage to have the bedding properly aired.
– It could be.
– I am endeavouring to arrange an inspection of the properties to which Senator Payne has referred. I have explained the reasons which caused me to induce the Government to adopt that 15 per cent, provision. I still think that no hardship is implied, and that there is a measure of safety in it. Honorable senators are apt to picture hard cases. These make a bad basis for sound laws. The Department has had almost innumerable instances of men who have been in a position, personally, to find a substantial portion of the money required to build them a home; but they have said, “ The Government is offering 6 per cent, in respect of the Peace Loan and is lending us money at 5 per cent, for the building of homes for ourselves.” I have had actual cases of men in possession of £300 or £400 who have not been prepared to pay one penny by way of deposit. They have said, in effect, “ We prefer to borrow from the Government at 5 per cent, and to invest our own money at 6 per cent, or 7 per cent, or 8 per cent.” There are industrial securities to-day returning quite as much’ as I have indicated, and which are safe enough for my money.
– And there are a lot of industrial securities which many people would like to get out of.
– That sounds pathetic and personal, and I am sorry for the honorable senator; but the fact remains, and while honorable senators may be able to bring forward cases of individual soldiers who might be hurt by this provision, I can only answer by relating the experiences of the Commission and by submitting that no great harm can befall.
.- The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) has cited cases which have come under his notice where former soldiers have applied for homes and have paid no deposit, despite the fact that they nave been in possession of £300 or £400. If it is right that such circumstances should be provided against, the necessary provision should have been inserted in the original Act. The disability should not be introduced in respect of men desirous at this stage of taking advantage of the War Service Homes legislation. Senator Wilson stressed a most important fact, namely, that the man who is least able to pay a deposit, namely, a family man, with all the responsibilities entailed thereby, is the man who is most likely to require a home with an additional room.
A £700 house should be sufficient for a newly married man, but an £800 house is necessary in the case of a returned soldier who has a family to provide for, and who, to-day, on account of the high cost of living, is “up against it” from every angle. If we demand from a man with a family a deposit of £15 in order to get a house large enough for his necessities, and we let a man without children go scot-free, we will be acting unjustly. I move -
That proposed sub-section 2 be left out.
– I cannot see any reason for the 15 per cent. imposition. The matter appears to be altogether too small to warrant specific legislation. It would be unfair to place one man who had served for the full period of the war in a less fortunate position than another who had got back to Australia earlier, and so had been able to take advantage of the lower cost of building material. The figures which Senator E. D. Millen provided in respect of the matter of security were really astonishing. The public must have been astounded to learn that only £2,000 of the principal advanced has been unpaid. The commercial integrity of the returned soldier, as exhibited to date, should warrant honorable senators in adopting a liberal attitude with regard to the proposal contained in sub-clause 2. As for the suggestion that the Department might well look for cheaper houses, that would involve a false economy. I am not a believer in the cheap concrete house, and I may say that I have paid for my experience in this regard. I shall never again build cheap concrete houses. Upon the present price of concrete the outlay to-day amounts to an excess of 20 per cent. over the cost of building a stone and brick house. It has been conclusively proved that the cheapest, most comfortable, and best type of house is the brink and stone structure now being erected by the Department. It appears to me that the Minister is offering no great objection to the deletion of sub-clause 2; and, for that attitude, he has my commendation.
– In view of the fact that other honorable senators, who are unavoidably away, would doubtless like to express their views upon the proposed new section, I suggest that the further consideration of the clause be postponed.
– I have not been indifferent to the views expressed by honorable senators, whose judgments are likely to be as correct as my own. I have not remained unmoved by the arguments brought forward this afternoon, and, in order to fully consider the proposal to omit portion of the proposednew section, I am willing to deliberate further upon it at a later stage.
Senate adjourned at 6.17 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 25 August 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1920/19200825_senate_8_93/>.