8th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
. - (By leave). - I desire to inform the Senate -that up to last night the sum of £21,000,000 had been subscribed towards the Second Peace Loan. It is intended to extend the period within which applications may be received to Monday next, particularly with a view of giving pastoralists an opportunity to invest their recent wool dividends. Further, an additional extension will be granted to the end of the month to back-country districts of Queensland in order to enable residents of the more scattered portions of the con-, tinent to participate in the loan.
Purchaseof Saw Millsand Timber Areas in Queensland.
– I ask the Minister for Repatriation : 1. Is it a fact that a large purchase by the Government of saw-mills and timber areas in Queensland has taken place lately? 2.Will the Minister make a statement, giving all particulars! 3. “Was any authority beyond that of. the. Minister and the Commissioner sought to ascertain whether or not the transaction was a good one? 4. Will this timber be used for any other activities of the Commonwealth Government than for war service homes, such as shipbuilding, public works, &c. ? 5. Approximately how many feet of merchantable timber are available? 6. What is the total cost of the deal?
– (By leave). - I think I can best answer the honorable senator’s questions by making the following statement regarding the whole transaction referred to: -
In moving the second reading of the War Service Homes Bill in the Senate some fortnight ago, the Minister for Repatriation announced that the Housing Commissioner was on the eve of completing two deals of considerable magnitude for the purchase of certain timber properties, and that when completed the purchase would go a long way towards meeting certain of the Commissioner’s requirements. Although a few outstanding details yet remain to bc adjusted, matters are now sufficiently complete to permit of a definite announcement, and also an outline of the new policy which the Commissioner, with the approval of the Government, is being compelled to adopt owing to the difficulty, indeed, the impossibility, of otherwise obtaining supplies either in sufficient quantities or at satisfactory prices.
Under the War Service Homes Act, the Commissioner is- empowered to purchase building material, and shortly after assuming office he ondeavoured, in the several States, to make contracts in the ordinary trade channels for the purpose of obtaining not only supplies for immediate uac, but, by means of extended contracts, to make provision for some reasonable time ahead. The result of these efforts was by no means satisfactory. With one or two exceptions, the best terms that he could obtain represented only a trifle in advance of ordinary trade discounts, and even where arrangements were made with regard to price, contractors failed to deliver the quantities required. It became evident, therefore, that unless he was to be seriously hampered in his operations, or the cost of the soldiers’ homes was to be swollen, some other means of obtaining supplies would have to be discovered.
It was obvious that, great as the difficulty was in obtaining supplies at satisfactory figures, it1 would be intensified as he extended his operations unless additional supplies were brought on to the market. Without such additional supplies, the more . he purchased the more would be the likelihood of the market rising. . So long as he remained in the market us a competitor with other builders, the effect of his competition would be to harden the price and to reduce the limited supplies available to the building trade generally. Some relief might have been obtained by importations, but it was not deemed advisable to resort to such a course until other means had first been tested out.
After giving the matter full consideration, the Commissioner decided that the only effective way by which he could reduce the cost of his supplies, and consequently the cost of houses to soldiers, and at the same time insuring adequate supplies without seriously depleting the market, was by obtaining timber areas from which his wants could be directly supplied.
On 6th May, 1920, the Commissioner reported to the Minister for Repatriation upon this matter in the following terms : - “ It has been very evident for some time past that it is impossible to secure supplies of timber at anything like reasonable rates for the erection of War Service Homes. This is largely owing to the operations of Timber Combines, who control prices and who meet monthly, and each meeting for the . past six months has produced a further rise in the price of timber. The Government Departments in Queensland and Western Australia have not been any more reasonable than the merchants.
Owing to the enormous quantities of timber required (80,000,000 super, feet per annum), and to insure continuity of operations at reasonable cost all over Australia, and especially in New South Wales and Victoria, the only policy left to the War Service Homes Commission was to acquire saw-mills and forest areas to meet its own demands, thus insuring supplies at reasonable cost and allowing thereby the general public to have their original sources of supply for public requirements uninterfered with.
The’ scheme for timber supplies has been developed as the result of very careful and exhaustively conducted investigations in all States with timber merchants, timber merchants associations, and State Government Departments, over a period of several months, coupled with a careful investigation of the position in America and in the Old World.
Unless the requirements of the Commission arc protected at this stage in regard, to timber, I gravely doubt the success of the War Service Homes Commission.”
A submission to this end was presented- to Cabinet, and the policy was generally approved with the proviso that each separate, undertaking was to be subject to the approval of the Minister. The- Commissioner thereupon proceeded with certain preliminary negotiations, ond having obtained reports from his officers, supplemented by outside inquiries, he recommended the purchase of properties owned by Messrs. Lahey Brothers Limited and Mr. J. F. Brett, of Brisbane. Details of these pro- ‘ perties are given later.
In view of the magnitude and complexity of the venture, it was deemed both desirable and necessary to have the proposal checked from its business side, and to that end the services of Mr. A. E. Barton, F.C.P.A., the well-known consulting accountant, of Sydney, were obtained. That gentleman, after exhaustive investigation, recommended, with certain modifications in detail, the purchase of the properties in question.
The price at which Mr. Brett’s property wa3 placed under offer was £245,000, with the stipulation that the vendor was to be relieved of Federal and State income tax resulting from the transaction.
The price agreed to be paid is £220,000, half cash and half in war bonds, the vendor retaining the right to the tops on the two properties. The proviso regarding taxation exemption was deleted.
The Brett property consists of 10,057 acres freehold, and the timber rights over an additional area of 7,380 acres, and three sawmilling plants. These are situated at Killarney, Samford, Blackbutt, and Beaudesert.
It is estimated, conservatively, that on these areas there are 47,700,000 feet of pine, 54,000,000 feet of hardwood, and 21,700,000 feet of scrubwood.
The Lahey properties consist of 10,412 acres freehold, situated at Canungra, adjoining the Brett property,’ 6 3-7 acres at Beaudesert, upon which is a saw-milling plant, and 5½ acres at Brisbane, upon which are joinery’ works, timber-yard, and offices. The timber on the 10,412 acres is estimated at 50,000,000 feet of pine and 7,000,000 feet of scrubwood. This property includes, in addition to milling machinery, railway siding, tramway, locomotives and rolling-stock, traction engine, bullock teams, and waggons.
The price originally asked in the case of the Lahey property was £250,700, and the price agreed upon is £243,000, half cash and half war bonds.
The following is the estimate of yield, cost, and savings of both properties: -
Pine. - The pine on Brett’s and Lahey’s properties is 97,000,000 feet in the round. This, will produce 65,000,000 feet of sawn timber. On July market prices, after deducting 3 per cent, discount, this quantity of timber, partly dressed and partly rough, would cost the Commission £1,811,875.
The cost to the Commission of producing its own pine timber, allowing a sinking fund of 12s. 6d. per 100, will be £1,283,750. This will result in a saving of £528,125.
Hardwood and Scrubwoods. - These timbers total 83,000,000 feet in the round, which will produce 45,000,000 feet sawn.
On July market prices, after deducting 3 per cent, discount, this quantity would cost the Commission £1,005,000.
The cost to the Commission of producing its own hardwood and scrubwoods, after allowing for a sinking fund at the rate of 6s. per 100, will be £819,375-a saving of £185,625.
This shows a total saving of £713,750 over the working period.
The sinking fund has been worked out to cover not only the cost of timber, but the cost of land and plant. By the . time the timber is worked out, the properties will be written right out of the Commis-. sion/s books, although there will still remain assets of considerable value, such as 10,000 acres of freehold, various saw-mill plants, and a joinery plant.
Further, the scrubwoods, many of which are valuable timbers such as rosewood, silky oak, red and white cedar, beech, bolly-gum, &c, have been reckoned as worth no more than hardwood.
The question of the management of these properties has yet to be decided. Two courses are under consideration. The first, the direct control by the Commissioner working through a salaried manager; the other, a contract under which the contractor would undertake to deliver the timber at so much per ‘100 feet. Each of these methods has alike its advantages, and drawbacks, and they are being investigated. Whichever method is finally adopted, preference of employment to returned soldiers will be provided for.
The Commissioner anticipates obtaining from ‘the areas in question 6,000,000 feet of hardwood and 12,000,000 feet of pine per annum. The hardwood is being used solely in Queensland, the requirements of which State being 6,000,000 feet per annum will be met from these areas. In the matter of pine, the Commissioner’s annual requirements for New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria are 18,000,000 feet. It will therefore be seen that even with this new source of supply available, he will not be over-supplied.
In New South Wales and Victoria redwood imported from America is now “used for certain purposes. It is proposed to substitute Queensland pine for this timber. The market’ price of redwood in New South Wales is 97s. 6d. per 100 feet, and in Victoria 122s. By this substitution a saving of several thousands of pounds per annum will result, in addition to the savings already mentioned.
Particulars of other undertakings enabling the Commissioner to obtain certain supplies at greatly reduced prices are being prepared for presentation to Parliament.
The following papers were presented : -
Customs Act. - Regulations amended. - Statutory Rules 1920, No. 149.
Public Service Act. - Regulations amended. - Statutory Rules 1920, No. 142- No. 143.
War Service Homes Act. - Land acquired at -
Abermain, New South Wales.
Goulburn, New South Wales.
Tempe, New South Wales.
Weston, Ne’w South Wales.
Wollongong, New South Wales.
Proposed Parliamentary Visit
– I ask the. Leader of the Senate if he is aware (1) that the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes.) has stated it was all-important that a representative body of legislators should at an early date inspect the Territories over which Australia has received a Mandate; (2) that arrangements then in progress were frustrated by certain members in another place; and (3) will the Government provide facilities for honorable senators to perform their duty to Australia in this regard by enabling them to inspectthe Territories referred to, upon the condition that they paytheir own personal expenses ?
– The honorable gentleman’s suggestion is so startling in its novelty that I ask him to give notice.
– (By leave.) - I desire to make a statement and read a report in reference to the remarks made by Senator J. F. Guthrie on 4th August concerning the sale of khaki cloth bv the Commonwealth Government to the Defence Department, and the prices charged for- wool used in the manufacture of tweeds. I asked the manager of the Commonwealth Woollen Mills (Mr. Robertson) to read the statement and to supply me with a report thereon, in “so far as it affected the Commonwealth Woollen Factory. Mr. Robertson has supplied me with the following statement: -
Department of Defence,
Woollen Cloth Factory,
North Geelong, 7th Sept., 1920.
The Secretary, Department of Defence, Melb.
With reference to the statement made by Senator Guthrie re wool prices, and in which he criticises action of Defence Department in raising price of Defence tweeds, I beg to offer following remarks: -
Senator Guthrie is entirely wrong when he says that crossbred wools have not appreciated in price as far as Australian manufacturers are concerned. The prices issued by the Central Wool Committee for returns of wool unmanufactured at 30th June, and for ear-marked wool, show, in the case of the Commonwealth Government Mill at North Geelong, an appreciation of 33 per cent, to 120 per cent, over the appraised price. The average increase in price of wool used by this mill is 55 per cent., and in no case is it less than 33 per cent. The increase in the wool from which Defence tweed is manufactured is 60 per cent. Evidently Senator Guthrie is confusing his private estimate of the wool position with-* the recent action of the Central Wool Committee, who regulate prices in Aus tralia, and, unfortunately, the Australian manufacturer has to base his costs on the prices issued by the Central Wool Committee, and not on Senator Guthrie’s estimate. (Sgd.) James Robertson, Manager.
– Shall I be in order in making a few remarks concerning the statement just made by the Minister ?
– No. A statement made by leave cannot be debated.
asked the Minister in charge of shipping, upon notice -
– The answers are -
Senator PRATTEN (for Senator
Gardiner) asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
Has the price of gold been’ fixed by the Commonwealth Government?
What is the Axed price?
To what date is the price fixed?
Will the Minister state what is the intention of the Government in connexion with fixing the price of gold after the time expires, so that tradespeople may know where they stand?
– The answers are- -
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers are -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What were the imports of cinematograph films for the fiscal year ended 30th June, 1920 -
What was the amount of duty paid, and are any drawback arrangements in existence whereby any duty is refunded on the reexportation from Australia of imported films?
– The answers are - 1. (a) 15,420,068 feet.
– On the 5th
August, Senator Thomas asked the following questions: -
I then promised to have inquiries made into the matter. I am now in a position to furnish the honorable senator with the following reply: -
Bill received from the House of Representatives, and (on motion by Senator Russell) read a first time.
Suspension of Standing Order.
.- I move-
That standing order No. 192 be suspended, so as to enable the second reading of the Bill to be taken forthwith.
It is not intended to proceed with the second-reading debate to-day. I desire to suspend standing order No. 192 merely to enable me to move the second reading of the Bill, and then to grant an adjournment if the Senate so desires.
.- Throughout my political career I have always been in favour of adhering to our Standing’ Orders, but during the. war period it was found necessary to waive them from time to time when important measures were coming along which had to be expeditiously dealt with. Very often we incurred risks by hurriedly dealing with important Bills, and at times some honorable senators, who had not previously received notice of the business to be (transacted, had not a proper opportunity <of discussing them. The war period is now over, and the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) should either give some reasonable excuse for suspending the standing order in question, or allow the business of the Senate- to be conducted in the ordinary way. So far as I can see, there is on this occasion no particular reason why the standing order should be suspended. We appear to have got into this habit, as in connexion with nearly every Bill introduced into the Senate, the Standing Orders have been suspended to enable it to be dealt with at once. I think it is the general desire of honorable senators to get away from that habit, and to deal with the different measures according to our Standing Orders. I am not going to strenuously oppose the suspension of standing order 192 on this occasion; but I sincerely trust that it is not the intention of the Government to continue to follow the present procedure unless there is a good reason for so doing.
– I think Senator Earle has somewhat overlooked the reason for the motion submitted by my colleague (Senator Eussell). The motion has not been moved to curtail debate or with the idea <of hurrying the Bill through. We have no control over the other branch of the legislature, and, therefore, cannot say exactly at what time or at what rate they will send us Bills for consideration. The Government have, so far as possible, intimated to honorable senators what their intentions were, and on the motion for the adjournment last week the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) said that it was expected that this Bill would he introduced in the Senate this week. If we literally follow our Standing Orders, which, I submit, were framed for our protection and convenience, it will mean that the Senate will have to adjjourn at this stage, as we have no other business on the notice-paper. It’ is the intention of the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) to explain the purpose of the Bill, and after he has delivered his second-reading speech it will be open for >any honorable senator to ask for an adjournment of the debate to enable honorable senators to consider the Minister’s speech. It cannot be suggested that the Government are anxious to hurry the measure through, or that honorable senators will be deprived of an opportunity of discussing it. It is, indeed, giving honorable senators an extended opportunity, as honorable senators are not to be asked at this juncture to express themselves concerning its provisions or to record a vote. If the Senate does not favour the proposal, the Government will not be perturbed. Senator Earle is quite right in protesting against the suspension of our . Standing Orders, which have been adopted for the preservation of free debate and of the rights of honorable senators; but I submit that, in the present instance, not only will the opportunities afforded for full discussion not be withdrawn, but they will actually be enlarged by the adoption of the course which has been proposed for our acceptance.
..- I desire to say a word or two on behalf of representatives from the more distant States. The Senate has been called together this afternoon, although there is nothing upon the business-paper to engage its attention. Every consideration is extended to the representatives of New South Wales and South Australia, who are enabled to travel to and from their homes once a week; but no consideration whatever is extended to the representatives of Queensland and other distant States. They can visit their homes only at rare intervals when there is a long adjournment. The Government have scarcely treated them fairly by calling the Senate together when there is no business to occupy its attention. Nothing would have been lost had there been an adjournment over this week, and the representatives of distant States would then have been in a position to visit their constituencies.
– The ‘honorable senator may go home next week. .
– Surely honorable senators who hail from distant States are entitled to some measure of consideration. I ask the Government to reconsider the attitude which they . have recently adopted by affording us a fairly long adjournment, so that when we re-assemble there may be a reasonable amount of business awaiting our consideration.No undue delay would have occurred had the Senate adjourned until next Wednesday, and those of us who represent the more distant States would then have had an opportunity of visiting them.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– In moving -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
I am very much inclined to think that honorable senators will recognise in it an old friend. But, after all, I do not suppose there is to-day a more important question, either in the Commonwealth or in the wide world, than is the industrial one. Every country is at present engaged in a struggle to get back to industrial harmony, so that they may be able to produce more rapidly, more effectively, and more peacefully, with a view to meeting the big responsibilities which lie ahead of them. At the outset I must ask honorable senators to keep well in mind the fact that we already have in existence an Arbitration Act. The Industrial Peace Bill which was recently passed by this Parliament is not the foundation of our industrial legislation, but merely represents an addition to it, which is designed to meet the specially chaotic conditions of industry which have arisen out of the recent protracted war. My own opinion is that in Australia the great steadying’ factor in industry will eventually prove to be the force which will be exercised by the Arbitration Court. Under normal conditions I believe that the workers, as well as the employers, of this country will be better satisfied to see a steady, orderly progress made in this connexion than to witness the creation of particular tribunals in order to meet special conditions. It is true that we have recently been passing through an abnormal period with the result that abnormal conditions had to be specially dealt with. But for more than twenty years Australia has been attempting to grapple with this industrial question. Until recently, it has been perfectly obvious that the limited powers granted to> this Parliament under our Constitution made it impossible for us to have a workable Arbitration Act. Consequently there has been a tendency for the spirit underlying arbitration to become unpopular with the great majority of the workers of this country. But when we have regard to the fact that the alternative to arbitration is the weapon of the strike it becomes manifest that we must have a Tribunal which will provide the parties to industrial disputes with reasonably expeditious and just decisions.
This Bill does not deal with anynew principle. It merely represents an attempt to . simplify the existing machinery by enabling the Arbitration Court to give cheaper and quicker decisions in the cases which come before it. It is also intended to strengthen the powers of the President, of the Court by providing that when an award has been made it shall be obeyed in areasonablemanner. We cannot promise todo> certain things if the parties concerned are allowed to thwart the basic principle of the principal Act. Consequently it is “proposed to strengthen the hands of the President in regard to this matter. Most of the provisions of the Bill are more suitable? for discussion in Committee. But themeasure provides for a broadening of thedefinition of the terms” strike “ and “ lock-out.” Under the Arbitration Acta strike must be general before the Arbitration Court has any power to act. Under this Bill it is provided that if a strike is only a partial strike, but there is an obvious intention to extend it, it shall be deemed to be a strike within the meaning of the Act. Equally, where a few employers, for the sake of influencing the Court, organize a lock-out in any industry, which is not a complete lock-out, it shall be deemed to be ‘a lock-out within the meaning of the principal Act.
Personally, I believe that a good dealof the present industrial unrest is due to> the high cost of living, and I know that manyemployers have been quite willing to grant increased wages to their employees toex- able the latter to meet that condition. But the conscientious employer, who is obliged to compete with unscrupulous employers, is subject to limitations in this regard. If one man attempted, for sentimental reasons, in competition with his rivals who were not so thoughtful, to increase the wages paid to his employees by 10 or 20 per cent., he would find himself on the sure road to the Insolvency Court, which business men always try to avoid’. But even if employers and employees, by common consent, wanted to approach the Court, the machinery of the Court was so slow moving, because of technicalities, that it caused them practically to refrain from taking action at all. ‘ By the time people got through the technical procedure, the application for registration, and the formal process of approach to the Court, and obtained an award, they often found that the conditions had completely changed, and that the cost of living had gone up by 10, 15, or 20 per cent. That sort of delay created .a prejudice, but it was a prejudice against the process of arbitration, rather ‘than the spirit or principle of it.
In the case of a compulsory conference, which could be called by the President of the Court to avert a threatened strike, it was necessary for summonses to be personally delivered in each case before the parties could be brought together. We propose, by this Bill, to empower the President of the Court to summon any man by telegram to such a conference. That, I think, is only a fair and right provision, because it is the delay that is the real cause of most of the troubles that have occurred in connexion with the Arbitration Court.
– Was not the principal cause of delay the fact that so many Public Service cases were before the Court? Are they not being taken away from it?
– That is so. There are many other reasons, but even before the Public Service organizations were entitled to go to the Court there were still too long delays, some of which were caused by appeals to the High Court. The power of appeal to the High Court on many matters has now been taken away. The . congestion of the business of the Court has been due to a great extent to the tremendous increase in the cost of living, which caused- an all-round demand for increases of wages, and to the fact that the functions of the President were extended to cover Public Service cases.
Power has existed for some time to appoint a Deputy President, but under this Bill authority is given to appoint, not only one or two Deputies, but as many as six, if they are necessary to avoid delays in the hearing of arbitration cases. I think that provision will have a very great effect in doing away with a good deal of the prejudice that exists at present against the Arbitration Court. That prejudice, as I have tried to indicate, is not against the principle of arbitration, but is due to unnecessary and expensive delays, and the impossibility’ experienced by many workers of obtaining a decision.
Another important provision in the Bill relates to the question of the standard hours of labour, lt is an undoubted fact that throughout the world there has been for a number of years a growing tendency to reduce the hours of work, and we in Australia are rather proud of the fact that we practically led the world in that direction. Some people even thought we had struck the ideal number. At this period, recovering as we are from the effects of the war, any action we take to reduce the hours of work must be regarded as a very serious proposition. Every one who takes an interest in public matters must recognise that increased production is necessary to enable all those countries which were engaged in war for the last five years to get out of the financial chaos in which the world now finds itself. I am not dealing with the merits or demerits of any particular number of hours of work per week, but I am justified in pointing out the enormous effect of a reduction of one, two, or three hours per day, expressed in terms of the amount of wealth that this country produces. The same applies to other countries. For this reason the question should be approached scientifically, and should not be decided according to the whim of one or two individuals. Whatever is done should be the well-considered and wellinvestigated policy of some responsible body. For that reason we do not give the power to vary the standard hours of labour to the President of the Court alone, or to a Deputy-President, who in ordinary arbitration matters possesses all the powers that belong to the President. We provide instead that no decision to increase the hours of labour in any industry can be given by any individual Judge. It must come from a majority of a Bench of at least three Judges. The same provision applies to the reduction of hours. We ‘do not purpose interfering with any industry where eight hours is worked today, or with any in which forty-four hours per week is the standard, but we do say that the alteration of the standard of hours is such a serious proposition, particularly during the next few years, if not for even long after that, that it should receive the mature consideration of a body of men, whose majority decision should be final. The number of hours worked is going to be a very big question all over the world, and I believe will not be regulated by law, but it is as well to have in this measure a provision which practically says: “ Go steady, and give full consideration to a matter which is so important to this and other countries.” I do not want what I have said to be confused in this debate with the discussion of the merits of a six-hour day, or a forty, forty-four, or even fortyeight hour week. That ds not the question. All I contend is that when this biggest of all questions in the labour world comes on for hearing it must not be subject to the whim of perhaps one particular mind, or one particular man or to the conditions of one particular period, but must be fully and exhaustively considered and settled as part of the deliberate policy laid down in the decision of the Court.
– It must be, if we are to hold our own against the coloured races. “
– I am not dealing with the principle of longer or shorter hours of labour. I am not altogether sure, although we get a good- deal of it, that one-man rule in big questions is quite as democratic as we should like. I do not think that an increase in the number of counsellors in a matter of that sort is anything but the expression of a truly democratic principle, although it is not always workable in most of the affairs of life.
There was another trouble in the Arbitration world - and these are real troubles there - caused by the decision of the High Court, that if a body of employers and a body of employees obtained an award covering a. fixed period, that award could not be varied within that period, no matter what revolution took place in the conditions of the industry, or even if the cost of living went up by 200 per cent. We propose in this Bill to amend the law by providing that, where new conditions of an abnormal character arise, the Court should have. power to revise an award, because in some cases it would be a greater injustice to keep the award in operation than to alter it to meet the changed conditions. This is a very serious proposition, because when a contract is entered into between a body of employers and a body of employees, fixing wages and conditions of labour over a period of years, , it should be observed at all hazards, if possible. Once a contract is departed from, both side3 lose confidence in it, and it is not so likely to be a success. ‘ But there are extreme and abnormal cases which must be met, and we are now trying to meet them. We have been through an exceptional period, during which the cost of living has. gone up by an enormous percentage, and no man, woman, or child in Australia can be expected in 1920 to work for the wages which contented them in 1914. The machinery of the Court was not sufficiently mobile to enable people to get quick decisions to meet these constantly changing conditions. We propose by this Bill to alter that state of things.
There was very limited power in the principal Act for the President to appoint a Board of Reference. As a rule these Boards of Reference deal with petty questions arising in connexion with the conduct of different industries. The High Court has ruled that a Board of Reference has power only to deal with matters referred to in any award or agreement registered in the Court. Such a Board may be called upon to deal witha dozen little difficulties arising in a work-shop. It is. our desire to take the means of arbitration to the workers, in order, if possible, to prevent strikes.
Under this Bill power is given to the Arbitration Court to appoint Boards of Reference and to extend the scope of their operations, in order to enable them, if possible, to nip industrial disputes in the bud. An important matter which may be dealt with by a Board of Reference is the matter of demarcation in connexion with any industry. Any one who has any knowledge of the work of trade unions must be aware that the question of demarcation, especially in big industries, such as shipbuilding and coal mining, is a frequent source of quarrelling amongst the workers themselves; and this ©rings about conditions which have practically the same effect as a strike. It was quite a common thing’ in Great Britain, especially before the war, to have strikes amongst workers because of disputes amongst themselves, with which their employers and the community had nothing whatever to do. Those disputes arose because of differences of opinion on questions of demarcation. For instance, plumbers and engineers have quarrelled amongst themselves .as to the size of pipe which should be handled by either a plumber or an engineer. There is, I suppose, some border line setting bounds to the operations of particular craftsmen-
– The workers have asnt laid down those lines very clearly themselves yet.
– It is necessary that some authority should be placed in a position to draw lines of demarcation in different industries to prevent trouble arising because of differences of opinion amongst workers concerning them. It is hoped that the appointment of these Boards will enable us to bring about agreement between workers on these questions.
There are thirty-two “ clauses in the Bill, and they embody some apparently #mall amendments, which, however, have far-reaching effects.
– Some of them involve big principles.
– I think I have referred to all the big principles affected !by the Bill. Every line of the measure is important, because of its possible effect upon very large. industries.
– Why are clubs brought into the measure?
– There are a great many, and some very large clubs in Melbourne, Sydney, and other capital cities of the Commonwealth. I do not say that these clubs do not pay their employees decent wages. I believe that, in the majority of cases, they pay better wages than are paid to employees performing similar work for hotels and restaurants; but if any clubs do not pay fair wages, their employees should be given the protection of the Arbitration Court. I fail to see why a pantryman who works at Menzies’ Hotel should have a right to appeal to the Conciliation and Arbitration Court to secure fair wages and conditions, if a man working for the Commercial Travellers’ Club, for instance, is not given a similar right. I do not think that any of the clubs would expect to be given special privileges by being excluded from the operation of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. No decent employer who is prepared to treat his employees well has anything to fear from the operation of this measure. I hope that its various clauses will receive close consideration from honorable senators in Committee, because the measure is calculated to have a most important effect upon the conduct of industries in Australia.
Debate (on motion by Senator de Largie) adjourned.
The PRESIDENT announced the receipt of a message intimating that the House of Representatives had agreed to the amendments made by the Senate in this Bill.
The PRESIDENT announced the receipt of a message intimating that the House of Representatives had agreed to the amendments made by the Senate in this Bill.
Motion (by Senator Pearce) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I should like to take advantage of this opportunity to reply to some remarks made by the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) earlier in the afternoon, in reference to the increase in the price of tweeds manufactured by the Commonwealth Woollen Mills at Geelong, and purporting to disprove a statement I made last week in reference to the present prices of crossbred wools. The information given to the Minister by the manager of the Commonwealth Woollen Mills was correct in one respect, but, I think, somewhat misleading in the main.
Under the appraisement scheme the manufacturers of Australia obtained the whole of their supplies at the following prices:- In 1916-17, at 11.17d. per lb.; in 1917-18 at 12.59d.; in 1918-19, at 13.09d.; and in 1919-20, -when they took a higher grade of wool, at 15.36d. per lb. The average for all the wool taken by the manufacturers of Australia for three years and a half during the operation of the wool appraisement scheme was 14.23d. per lb.
Under the appraisement scheme the woollen manufacturers of Australia were given first choice of the wool in each catalogue in any part of Australia at the original appraised price; but since the close of the appraisement scheme, on the 30th J une last, the woollen manufacturers of Australia, including the Commonwealth Woollen Mills at Geelong, would have been able to get their crossbred supplies of wool at considerably below the flat rate of 15½d. per lb. ex warehouse at which it was sold to the British Government. The British Government paid, as a matter of fact, 16¼d. per lb., and manufacturers in other parts of the world paid from 100” to 400 per cent, more than the average rate of 14.23d. per lb. at which Australian manufacturers, including the Commonwealth Woollen Mills, were able to secure their wool supplies. .
As I have said on a previous occasion, the Commonwealth Woollen Mills are very well managed, so well managed, indeed, that, during the year ended 30th June, 1919, because they were getting their wool so very cheaply from Australian growers, whilst they were able to supply splendid tweeds at from 6s. 6d. to 7s. 6d. per yard, after writing down for depreciation on machinery the fullest amount allowed, and properly keeping their books, as is shown by their balancesheet, of which honorable senators received a copy the other day, they made a profit for the year, selling tweeds at’ the low price I have mentioned, amounting to no less than £22,689. We can imagine from this figure what sort of - a profit other manufacturers in Australia were making from the sale of tweeds, not at 6s. 6d. or 7s. 6d. per yard, but at double those prices.
With respect to the remarks made by the Minister for Defence in reference to present wool supplies, it should be remembered that the Central Wool Committee, knowing that the appraisement scheme was to be brought to a close on the 30th June, notified allmanufacturers,. including the Commonwealth Woollen Mills, that they’ would be able to secure their reasonable requirements up to that date at the appraised price, which, as-I have mentioned, averaged , 14.23d. per lb. , and, further, that any wool they might require to carry them on until the new clip became available, and it is available now, would have to be ear-marked by them, and they would be given an option over same at the world’s parity.
I presume that Sir Robert Goldfinch, who is at the head of the British Department now running the great wool purchase, cabled out to the Central Wool Committee here, telling the Committee what price they were, to charge for this ear-marked wool. Whilst the London market for wool, since the appraisement scheme -closed, is from 60 per cent, to 70 per cent, higher for fine wool than the appraisement prices, it is verymuch lower for coarse sorts of wool. The Australian manufacturers, including the Commonwealth Woollen Mills, thinking that prices are fictitiously high, are not taking the wools they were given the option to take, for the simple reason that they can buy in the open market at a very much lower price. There is any amount of wool available today to the woollen manufacturers of Australia, including the Commonwealth Woollen Mills, suitable for making the best tweeds, at from 10 per cent, to 15 percent, below appraisement prices.
– The honorable senator is wrong there.
– Perhaps I am ; but I am dealing with matters connected with the profession in which I was brought up, part ofmy experience being in Yorkshire, where they made the best tweeds produced in any part of the world”, and sold them to every part of the world.
– Can the honorable senator explain why the Australian manufacturers are not purchasing wools at theprices he mentions?
– They are purchasing them. . Wools are divided into different qualities, according to spinning counts. Wool-owners are selling, every day, 50’s to 40’s at from 10 per cent, to 20 per cent, below appraisement prices on the 30th June last, and are prepared to sell, thousands of bales at those prices. In the circumstances, I fail to see what justification the Government can plead for increasing the price of tweeds. Tweeds suitable for returned soldiers, and the very best tweeds, can be made out of fleece wools of 46’s and 50’s qualities. If the manufacturers cared to take a lower quality, they might make nearly as’ good a tweed, and obtain the wool practically at their own price.
We are facing a colossal difficulty in Australia at the present time. We have about 1,000,000 bales of wool’, for which it is particularly hard to obtain a market. The coming clip of Australian wool will amount to 1,600,000 bales and probably we shall be unable to obtain a satisfactory bid for 500,000 bales of that wool, simply because the stronger qualities of wool are not in favour, being temporarily out of fashion. Nevertheless, the Government made most of their tweeds out of 50’s from the Commonwealth Woollen Mills.
– If they made cheaper tweeds they would soon be in the fashion.
– On present prices for cross-bred wool, they could make tweeds at 5s. a yard, and it would pay them well, because they could come down’ one count to 447s, which is 20 to 25, per cent, below appraisement prices. Knowing these facts, I say that it is merely throwing so. much dust in the eyes of the public to state that manufacturers have to pay from 30 to 120 per cent, above- appraisement prices. If anybody wants the finest silky merino ear -marked wool for clothing, he will have to pay a great deal more; but our manufacturers are not taking those wools in any quantity. Growers are selling’ every day to the Australian manufacturers wool at considerably below appraisement prices, and are prepared to sell, probably, 500,000 bales at 20 per cent, under appraisement rates. In view of all these facts, I fail to see any justification for the increase in the price of tweeds from the Commonwealth Woollen Mills. There is no reason why the nubile of Australia should be called upon to pay exorbitant prices for their clothing.
– You are making out a very good case for an extension of the Anzac factory.
– I am glad to know that the Federal Government intend to double the output from the Geelong factory, and I urge them to make further inquiries as to wool supplies, before they increase the price of tweed by so much as one farthing.
– I am very glad this matter has cropped* up, because last week Senator J. F. Guthrie made several definite statements, which, if not contradicted, would have a very damaging effect upon the tweed manufacturing industry in Australia. In his references to this subject last week Senator Guthrie made this definite statement, which will be found in Hansard, page 4093 -
There is no justification for the rise in the price of clothing. The movement should be in the reverse direction. The excuse made by the manufacturers, and, I understand, by the Government, for the increased prices which they threaten to charge for tweeds, is that since the appraisement of wool ceased on 30th June last, the price of wool has gone higher. . . . I wish to point out reasons why the longsuffering public have claims to be represented on these tribunals. Whether there is or is not collusion between employers and employees when wages and prices are put up, there is no justification whatever for increasing the price, of clothing to-day.
In the course of my remarks during the debate last week I stated that Australian tweeds are not all made out of cross-bred wools, and Senator Guthrie interjected, “Yes, they are.”
I want now briefly to deal with this statement, and alao with the remarks made by Senator Guthrie- this afternoon. I do not say that Senator Guthrie has intentionally made any statement which he does not believe to be true, but I remind him that Geelong is not Australia, and that the whole’ of the Australian tweed manufacturing industry is not centred in that city.
– But the Commonwealth Woollen Mills are.
– Nevertheless Senator Guthrie’s statement is misleading and grossly inaccurate. It creates a false impression in the public mind as to the real position.
– I can prove what I-have said to be true.
– And I am going to prove one or two things before I sit down. I can, of course, speak only of the tweed manufacturing industry in my own State, but I can speak from firsthand knowledge of two large factories. One mill uses not less than 25 per cent, of the highest quality wool, and the other not less than 60 per cent, of the highest quality wool. Neither buys the cheapest sorts for the purpose of tweed manufacture.
– Wool is not necessarily inferior because it is coarse.
– I want further to give two concrete illustrations of the falsity of the premises upon which Senator Guthrie is arguing. On 30th June, as the honorable senator pointed out, Australian manufacturers with greasy or scoured wool in their possession had to furnish a return of that stock to the Central Wool Committee for reappraisement.
– Many of them refused to send it in.
– In addition, the big manufacturers had to consider the question of obtaining stocks to fill the hiatus in the supply of raw material in order to keep their factories going as from 30th June - assuming that they had not full stocks in their mills - until October, when the new clip would be available. I can give honorable senators concrete illustrations of what has actually occurredOne factory held stock which at the appraised price during the control period was valued at £5,684 19s.11d., but when it was re-appraised on the basis of the world’s parity, it was invoiced at £8,179 15s. 6d., an addition of £2,494 15s. 6d., representing an increase of over 40 per cent, all round upon the appraised price.
– Your statement confirms the figures which I quoted.
– In order to obtain further supplies to cover the period from 30th June till early in October, when the new clip would be available, woollen mills had an option, which I believe expired in the middle of August, to earmark any wool which they might want, and one large factory in New South Wales in this way bought earmarked wool from the
Central Wool Committee at prices averaging about 40d. per lb. Some of it ranged as low as11d., 10d., and even down to 9½d. per lb., but none was obtained at a lower rate. By far the largest proportion of the purchase was at 30d., 40d., 50d., and some even as high as 60d. per lb., the average being, as I have said, about 40d. per lb. A dissection of the long list of purchases by this firm shows that the prices they agreed to give for merino combings averaged 96 per cent, above appraised rates; for one line of crossbreds an increase of 40 per cent., another at 49 per cent., another at 61 per cent., and on still another 65 per cent, will be paid over the flat rate controlled price.
– Did you say crossbreds ?’
– Yes, definitely crossbreds.
– Can you give us the type of wool.
– I am not going to be led off the track by my honorable friend, whose profession compels him to keep in touch with all the technicalities of the wool trade. I want to place before the Senate a clear understandable statement of the real position, and I say that so far as this particular firm is concerned all the crossbred wool that they earmarked for use in their factory for the manufacture ‘of tweed, until the wool sales commence, has been priced to them by the Central Wool Committee at from 40 per cent, to 65 per cent, above the flat rate. I am prepared to stand by this statement. If 5s. per lb. is given for the best merino, it will only furnish a yield of 57 per cent, of wool, and this in its turn will only give 40 per cent, of tops.
– We have never had greasy wool sold at that price in Australia.
– I have proof of my statement, and I shall be glad to show it to the honorable senator. It can be proved in the ordinary way, and by information direct from the Central Wool Committee. It will be seen that if 5s. per lb. is given for merino wool, which! will produce only 40 per cent, of tops, which, after all, ispractically raw material for clothing, the wool for tops will cost 12s. 6d. per lb.
– But 5s. per lb. is an exceptional price, and it must be remembered that one swallow does not make a summer.
– Let me put it in another way. Supposing the average price paid for the wool used in the tweed factories is 4s., or even 3s., per lb.
– It is not onehalf of that.
– Then, if such is the case, all I say goes for nothing. I am prepared to stand by the definite statement I have made. In my opinion such loose and grossly inaccurate statements as that Australian tweed factories are using only the inferior and cheap wool is a libel on a coming industry.
– No one said that they were using only inferior wool.
– The honorable senator said that Australian tweed was being manufactured only from crossbred wool. I have already said that the minimum charge to the factories was 40 per cent., that the maximum was 65 per cent., more on crossbred, and that in the case of merino it went up to 96 per cent. more. In regard to profits, are there not others than the wool-growers who are entitled to make profits? Senator Guthrie thinks that the tweed manufacturers have done very well. The Inter-State Commission has pointed out tnat they have made 16 or 18 per cent, profit on their capital, but we must remember that they also have to pay income tax and a war-time profits tax out of that.
– It is only fair to say that the great bulk of the factories have been working for twenty-four hours per day.
– I thank the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) for the interjection, because if they have been working three shifts per. day they have been saving money in overhead expenses. I know the Minister for Defence will support me when I say that, as far as the Defence Department is concerned, the tweed manufacturers of Australia have acted in a patriotic and self-sacrificing manner.
– The price was fixed by an outside authority, and not by themselves.
- Senator J. F. Guthrie has also suggested that an extraordinary price was charged for the cloth. Some time ago I brought down, and laid on the table of the Senate, samples, to which prices were attached, of tweeds thatwere being distributed by factories in Australia. The lowest price, so far as my memory serves me, was 6s. 6d. per yard, and the highest price for the best colonial tweed manufactured was 12s. 6d. per yard. I do not think that the tweed factories of Australia, which, on the whole, aoted in a very fair manner during the war period, ‘should all be besmirched by reason of the fact that tailors, retailers, and wholesale merchants charge high prices; and it is only fair that we should place the facts before the people. As far as New South Wales is concerned, there is an increase of 28 per cent, in wages since January, as a result of the operation of the basic wage principle. There is an average increase of at least 40 per cent, in wool, and on one invoice there was an increase of more than 50 per cent, on ear-marked wool wanted before the sales commenced. The increase in price that the factory charged to the distributor was only 25. per cent. I have said sufficient to disprove two definite statements which have been made in this Chamber, The first is that Australian tweed was made from crossbred wool and nothing else, and the second that instead of the price of the cloth going up it ought to come down, owing to the wool being cheaper.
– Hear, hear !
– It is all very well for Senator Guthrie to say “ Hear, hear,” but I believe in fair play and in meeting facts as they really are. I have submitted definite statements, and I am prepared to stand by them. I have shown the Senate in two specific cases what Australian manufacturers have had to pay. In one instance they had to pay over -£2,000 more on a £5,000 stock, and in another an average increase of over 50 per cent, on the merino and crossbred wool ear-marked. I ask Senator Guthrie, who represents the wool-growing and grazing industry, to remember that the extra money being paid by the tweed manufacturers is going into the pockets of the wool-growers, and I do not begrudge the wool-growers securing the highest possible price they can for their commodity. I say, “ Good luck to them,” because it will be better for Australia. We have to remember, however, that there is no necessity to besmirch a very important Aus- tralian industry, and there is no occasion to make inaccurate statements which, if they go out to the public, will also be the means of creating unnecessary unrest and dissension.
.- The Government are primarily interested in this matter, because they decided some time ago to offer to every returned sailor, soldier, and nurse a suit length of tweed. The Government fixed theprice at practically the cost of production, including the overhead charges, and entered into an agreement with the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia to distribute suit lengths. As we were not controlling the price of wool, a condition was embodied in the agreement that if there was an increase in the price of wool the cost of the tweed would have to be correspondingly raised, and when an increase occurred, we notified the League accordingly. I was, therefore, concerned when Senator J. F. Guthrie made certain statements’ in the Senate, on 4th August, and [ called for a report from the manager, because it was obvious to me that if Senator Guthrie’s statements were correct we would not be justified in increasing the price. I could not understand why the manager submitted a request for an increased price if the statements made by Senator Guthrie were accurate. The manager’s report has now been submitted to the Senate, and it has not been brought forward to in any way shield other manufacturers if they have been charging too much. I do not wish to take ut> that attitude, and I recognise that Senator Guthrie, owing te the nature of his profession, has an intimate knowledge of the wool trade’. I would not pit my opinions against his, and I would hesitate to criticise anv of his statements on such a subject. This debate, at any rate, has shown that Senator Guthrie has revised some of the statements be made in this Chamber on the previous occasion. On 4th August he said -
Australian manufacturers have been getting the first pick of the beat wool in the world at originally-appraised prices, which have, not represented the average price of 151/3d. at which the wool is sold to the Imperial Government so seaboard warehouses on a greasy basis. The Australian manufacturers have been getting the whole of their requirements - and some or them have received more than- their requirements - at an average price of 12.’44d. per lb.
– The latest figures were only made available last week, and when I made that statement the aver; age price was 12.44d. per lb. My original statement was correct at that time, and was taken from the report of the Central Wool Committee.
– The latest figures Bhow a higher average, and it is only fair that that should be mentioned.
– I quoted from the revised figures to-day.
- Senator Guthrie, inadvertently I am sure, stated to-day that the profit made by the Commonwealth’ Woollen Mill had been on the basis upon which we are now supplying tweed to returned soldiers, but that is not correct. During the war the price of the tweed used for the manufacture of uniforms, flannels, and blankets was fixed in this way : . First of all, the Commonwealth Government took over the woollen mills, and then had to arrive at what would be a fair price, to pay for the products. A conference was held between the officials of the Defence Department and the woollen manufacturers, and Mr. Smail, who was the manager of the Commonwealth Woollen Mill, was asked to submit expert advice on the’ cost of manufacture as he would be guided by his own experience in that mill. The result of the investigation was taken to the Business Board, and the cost charged to the Department was adjusted by the Board from time to time on the fact3 submitted after allowing a reasonable profit. The Commonwealth Woollen Mill was credited with the same price per yard, according to the material produced, as other manufacturers were receiving, and a profit was made on that basis, and not on the basis of what we are now getting for the tweed we are selling to returned soldiers. It is correct to say that the manufacturers themselves did not fix the price at which they sold the products, and, furthermore, whilst the average profit on the capital invested appears large, it has to be remembered, as I interjected when Senator Pratten was speaking, that the mills were working for three shifts per day. When one takes that into consideration’ it is not an excessive profit.
– Did not some of them make 70 per cent. ?
– There were exceptional cases with exceptional lines; hut there is an explanation for that which has already been made public. I am not defending the amount of profit obtained, and no one can say that the Department paid an excessive price for the uniforms or for the cloth from which they were made. I desire to draw the attention of the Senate to a paragraph in the report of the manager of the Commonwealth Clothing Factory, which reads -
The prices issued by the Central Wool Committee for returns of wool unmanufactured at the 30th June, and for ear-marked wool, show in the case of the Commonwealth Government Mill at North Geelong an appreciation of 33 per cent, to 120 per cent, over the appraised price.
– Why do not they buy in the open market?
-What object could the manager have in deliberately purchasing wool at an increased price if he could produce. an article just as good by . getting other wool at a reduced price? He is not producing for profit.’
– Then somebody must have been getting in and making a profit.
– They may have been using merino wool for making blue serge for officers’ uniforms.
– They are not making blue serge for officers’ uniforms, but tweed for soldiers’ suit lengths. Whilst I bow to Senator Guthrie’s knowledge of ‘the wool trade, in regard to the manufacture of tweed,I prefer to accept the view which has been expressed by Mr. Robertson, the manager of the mill; and, after all, this. is a question of the manufacture, and not of the sale, of wool. Mr. Robertson can have no possible interest in increasing the cost of tweeds to the soldiers. By doing- so, he does not get any addition to his salary. Upon the other hand, he knows that there will be a little bit of opposition exhibited by our returned1 soldiers to any increase in the cost of those tweeds. Consequently, it is to his interest to purchase the cheaper wools of which Senator Guthrie has spoken, if, by its use, he can turn out an article of equal quality. But suppose . that he does what Senator Guthrie has suggested, can he assure us that we shall have no complaints as to the inferior quality of the tweed which we shall be supplying? We have undertaken to supply tweeds of a quality up to the samples which we have given to the League, and we must adhere to that condition. It is part of the contract. We have to supply this tweed at a given price, and the only increase which we can charge the League is the increased cost to us of the raw material. That is the position as it appears to me. I shall certainly refer Senator Guthrie’s further remarks to the manager of the mill, with a view to seeing if the scheme which he has outlined is a practical one. If we can get suitable wool at a cheaper price, why should we not do so?
– It may not be of as fine quality, but it is equally good.
– We must keep to our agreement, even if it costs us more to do so ; but if we can carry out that agreement, whilst purchasing cheaper wools, there is no reason why we should not do so. That is the only interest which I have in this debate. I do not wish the impression to go forth to our returned soldiers that in supplying them with these tweeds the Commonwealth is making a greater profit than that to which it is entitled. The only increase which it is permissible for us to charge them is the increase in the cost of our raw material, and, according to the statement of Mr. Robertson, that material has appreciated in price to the extent of 55 per cent.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 4.38 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 8 September 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1920/19200908_senate_8_93/>.