8th Parliament · 1st Session
ThePresident (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister for Defence (SenatorPearce) whether he is yet in a position to reply Co the question put to him by Senator Gardiner, in reference to soldiers’ homes, as far hack as the 17th September last?
– When the question was asked by Senator Gardiner, the reply given was that the desired information was being compiled. The statement is of a very lengthy character, and I shall, therefore, lay it upon the table of the Senate.
The following papers were presented : -
Defence Act. - Regulations amended. - Statutory Rules 1920, Nos. 178, 170, and 180.
Distillation Act. - Regulations amended. - Statutory Rules 1920, No. 184.
Excise Act. - Regulations amended. - Statutory Rules 1920, No. 183.
Houses built by War Service Homes “Commissioner up to 31st July, 1920 - Particulars re (in answer to question by Senator Gardiner) .
Public Service Act-
Appointment of A. Dunn, Department of the Treasury.
Promotion ofF. C. Lindsay, AttorneyGeneral’s Department.
Railways Act. - By-law No. 16.
– I have received from Senator Earle an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate in order to call attention to a matter of urgent public importance, and one involving the good name of Australia, viz., the pilfering which is alleged to be going on upon the wharfs of the Commonwealth.”
.- I move -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn until 9 a.m. to-morrow.
Four honorable senators having risen in their places in support of the motion,
– I have submitted this motion in order that a question which is of vital importance to the good name of Australia may be discussed, and, if possible, some effort made towards the maintenance of that good name, assuming that the statements which I am about to read should prove to be true. Those statements are contained in the Industrial Australian and Mining Standard of Tuesday, 28th October last. Before indulging in any comment, I propose to read a few extracts from two articles appearing in that publication, which will, I think, impress honorable senators with the necessity for taking some action in this connexion.
– Who wrote the articles ?
– One was written by the editor of the journal in, question, and the other article is unsigned, but was published with the authority of the paper. The first extract from the leading article to which I desire to direct attention reads -
The facts and statistics which we publish in another column indicate that the annual toll exacted by the water-front thieves exceeds £500,000. But this estimate is evidently far under the mark, for it takes no account of the immense number of petty pilferings which, although vast in aggregatebulk, are considered individually too small to warrant special claims on the shipping and insurance companies, and are suffered by the victims in silence. Were a strict census to be made of these larcenies, the yearly pillage would probably be found to amount to substantially upwards of £1,000,000.
– In Australia?
– Yes. Another extract reads -
That is to say, the thieves, in addition to their wages, earn in the neighbourhood of £1,000,000 per annum by barefaced robbery, by brazenly looting the goods committed to their charge.
Another extract says-
We prefer to state our opinion with stark- nesa and candour. Our deliberate opinion is that a large proportion of the men working on tho Australian water front is thoroughly corrupt.
These statements are indeed alarming. I come now to the special article to which I have previously referred, an extract from which reads -
An organized gang of thieves, banded together as a bunch of conspirators, is included amongst tho select and exclusive organization . of workers who operate on the wharfs of Commonwealth ports.
Still another extract reads -
If our water fronts are to be made the happy hunting grounds of gangs of the worst type of criminals, and if to clear our ships we must employ such creatures, then, indeed, it is time we considered whether a White Australia is worth while. We pride ourselves in the knowledge that Australia is white- skin deep - but a black soul is infinitely worse than a black skin. We challenge the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia to deny that it has in its membership lists men who, combined, comprise a gang of the worst type of thief. The Waterside Workers Federation, as far as we are able to ascertain, has taken no steps whatever to cull out the criminal from ite ranks. Conviction for pilfering is no bar to membership of this organization. A member caught redhanded taking that which is not his is regarded as unlucky - “ stiff “ as the “ wharfies “ term it: After being fined, or after serving a short term of imprisonment, he returns to the wharf, is “picked up,” and those who own the ships and the cargo the ships carry, dare not point the finger at him. If this convicted thief is refused work, the charge of victimization is hurled at the employer. Such is the condition of labour on the water front.
The article then proceeds to give a number of the claims made last year for compensation, either from shipping or insurance companies, for pillage from different ships. These claims number seventy-eight, and involve a loss of £5,127 17s. They run from a few shillings up to £900. Included among them are the Sussex, Philadelphia to Melbourne, £15 15s.; Ormonde, London to Melbourne, £9 13s. ; Demosthenes, London to Melbourne, £242; Demosthenes, London, to Melbourne, £108; Ceylon, Ceylon to Sydney, £29 14s. ; Waitemata, Sydney to Auckland, £34 8s. 8d. ; Euripides, London to Melbourne, £350; and the Marathon, London to Melbourne, £900. There are a few cases of pillage.
– Were not all these claims made on one insurance company?
– The article says: - “ The following claims in respect of missing goods are made on the company.” I am not sure about it, but the article would lead one to believe that those were. claims on one company only, because the aggregate amount for the year’s operations is £500,000, and the writer is of opinion that the total would be nearer £1,000,000 if the whole of the losses were taken into consideration. This statement is one of the most serious stigmas ever cast, not only on the men actually working on the water front, but on the good name of Australia. It behoves every one of us, whether we are private citizens, or members of the “Waterside Workers’ Federation, or members of the Federal Parliament, to do our utmost to ascertain whether these things are actually true, and, if true, remedied, or, if untrue, then thoroughly and effectively contradicted. If the statements are true, the newspaper deserves the very greatest credit for having exposed what is going on in this fearless manner. If they are untrue, then it is the duty of those interested in the welfare of Australia to see that the lie is, metaphorically speaking, rammed down the throat of the paper. I hold that there are three parties who ought to be active in the investigation of this wrong, and in either its eradication or the exoneration of those who are now under suspicion.
– How can you do it?
– That is what I want to know. Those three parties are the Federal Parliament and Government, who are the custodians of the good name of the Commonwealth; the State Governments, who are the custodians of the good name of the trading interests of the different States, and the waterside workers themselves, who are the custodians of the good name of their members. Those three bodies should act jointly, in order to sift this matter to the very foundation.
– Suppose the pilfering takes place on the other side of the world. How are you to get at it?
– That is what I also want to find out. If you remain silent and shut your eyes to the fact that these things are happening, hiding your head in the sand like an ostrich, and thinking that your enemies cannot see you because you cannot see them, you can accomplish nothing. If the thefts are taking place in some other part of the world, and our men are innocent, it is our duty to try to exonerate them, and remove from them the stigma now cast upon them.
There are other phases of this question which are also interesting to a very large number of the people of the Australian States. A good number, who claim to be losers by this system of wholesale robbery, make no “ bones “ about inferring that the police are in collusion with the thieves on the waterside front. They say that pianos, and cases of boots, could not be removed surreptitiously and unknown to the police. This is a thing which affects the honour of the police oi the different States as well as the waterside workers themselves. There is in th# minds of a large number of people very grave suspicion that a serious combination is operating in Australia, and extending beyond Australia, for the robbery of the people at the different ports. As an indication of that sort of thing, it is stated in the article that boots were favorite objects for pillage, and an exporter, in order to protect himself, shipped boots in sections - the left boots in one ship, and the right boots in another. According to the article, the cases arrived; but when they were assembled, two cases of left boots were missing from one ship, and two of right boots from the other. This clearly indicates that a world-wide organization is at work.
– They regulate things pretty well, then.
– Evidently. If that statement is true, the thieving is not going on solely at our ports, and a combination of very much greater magnitude must exist. It behoves us, therefore, to take steps to ascertain the truth of these assertions. If they are true, it is our duty to eradicate the evil, no matter what it costs. If they are false, it is our duty to exonerate those who are now accused. During the last five years Australia became better known throughout the world than it has been for generations past, in consequence of the work done by our boys at the war. They built up a great name for Australia, and it is our duty to do our utmost to retain it, and to resent a statement which brands us as a combination of thieves. If we do not resist the thefts, we must take the responsibility of being charged with them. I say that also candidly to the members of the Waterside Workers Federation. I know some members of that body in my own State, and am absolutely confident that individually they are honorable men; but I tell them that if they do not become active in resisting this system, or proving that it does not exist, then they become corrupt, although they may not be corrupt as individuals. They must take the responsibility of having associated themselves with those who are corrupt, unless they make an effort to purge their organization of that class of man.
There are many possibilities in connexion with this matter. Senator R. Storrie Guthrie suggested by interjection that the thefts might take place on the other side of the world.
SenatorWilson. - That cannot be so. The honorable senator has read a statement thatwhen men return to work after being convicted, a fuss is made of them.
– That is what the paper says. The statement is that they are not in any way penalized by the organization for having been convicted. The paper may be quite right in saying that they are hailed as unfortunates and excused for their crime, but they may have a different story to tell. We do not know. We cannot take that statement ex parte.
– We know there have been many convictions here.
– Yes; but we do not know to what extent the offenders have been punished. We want to know whether the organization does not value its good name, and whether it is prepared to co-operate with the Federal and State Governments in order to clear itself. If it will not its member? must be regarded as guilty by condoning the action of those with whom they are associated. There are many kinds of dishonest people, the actions of whom are brought under our notice from time to time. There are some who endeavour to defraud the public by selling goods not true to name, and I hold that a man who will sell footwear, consisting of wood, paper, and leather as a leather article is as great a thief as the one who deliberately steals boots from a case. It is quite possible, as suggested by Senator R. Storrie Guthrie, that some of the pillaging is done before the cargoes arrive here.
– Three rolls of silk were recently taken from a place on the wharf which had a double lock.
– If that is so, we want to know how such cases can occur. I have moved the motion in the hope that this matter will be taken up in other quarters, and that an agitation will be set on foot which will either prove the innocence or guilt of the men. If they are proved to be guilty of contaminating the goodname of Australia they should be placed in a position where they will not be able to carry on their nefarious occupation.
– How can we overcome the difficulty?
SenatorFoll. - By utilizing the Commonwealthpolice.
– The wharfs are under the control of the States, and the Customs under the control of the Commonwealth.
– The difficulty can be overcome by the Commonwealth deputing the whole of its authority, as far as criminal jurisdiction is concerned, to the States which control the police. It is surely the duty of the police to prevent pillaging, and although the wharfs are under the control of the States that is no reason why the law should not be satisfactorily administered.
– Pilfering is not an offence against the Customs Act.
– No; hut it is an offence against the common law of any State.
– Is not this wholly a State matter?
– Yes; but it is the duty of the Commonwealth to interfere if the States are not carrying out their duty. If wo find that the States are remiss in administering the law to prevent theft and robbery it is the duty of the Commonwealth, in maintaining and defending the good name of Australia, to take some action, even if it is necessary to appoint police of our own, as suggested by SenatorFoll.
– I did not suggest appointing Commonwealth police, but utilizing the services of those already appointed.
– There are no Commonwealth police at present.
– I know that. If it can be done in no other way the good name of Australia is of sufficient importance to warrant the Government in appointing special police to serve on all the wharfs throughout Australia if the laws are not being properly administered by the State police.
– What would the honorable senator suggest? iSenator EARLE - I suggest that the Commonwealth Government should confer with the State Governments to ascertain what they intend doing. In the first place, inquiries could be made to see if the statements are true, and, if they are, investigation should be made to ascertain how thefts can occur unknown to the police.
-brockman. - Strong boxes have been erected on the wharfs, and still the stuff gets away.
– Then there cannot be any police supervision.
-brockman. - There is supposed to be police supervision.
– Then it cannot be very rigid. It is difficult to understand how a strong box could be opened, or how a piano or cases of goods could be removed from the wharfs unknown to the police. I can only suggest that an effort’ be made to arouse public opinion, and that something be done to more effectively organize police supervision on the wharfs. It is certainly the duty of the State Governments to make a stronger effort to prevent the wholesale thieving which is going on at present.
.- I think Senator Earle has done right in directing the attention of the Senate and of the people generally to this alarming statement, because it is alarming if goods to the value of £500,000 are illicitly disappearing from the wharfs in different parts of the Commonwealth. Senator Earle has said that the circumstances set out in the article constitute a stigma upon the good name of Australia, and especially upon that section of Australian labour charged with the crime. I do not quite follow Senator Earle when he says that there are three parties directly concerned - namely, the Federal Government, the State Government, and the waterside workers’ organization. It seems to me quite clear that if the charges are true they constitute a challenge to the police control provided by the. States, and amount to a charge of ineptitude on the part of the police. It is clearly the duty of the State police to safeguard property and life, irrespective of whether the property happens to be on ships or on wharfs, and in that regard the good name of Australia is in the hands of the State Governments. The fact that we have a Federal Government doe3 not give us more authority to guard the good name of Australia than is contained in our Constitution, and the work is clearly that of the States. I think Senator Earle has been forced to that conclusion, and in the article he quoted there was a suggestion that in many instances pilfering could not have been carried out except by collusion with the police.
– I said that was the suspicion held by many people; the article does not infer that.
– Senator Earle seemed to think that because the Commonwealth took a certain degree of control through the Customs Department,^that fact, in some way or other, made the Commonwealth the guardian of property which was the subject of Customs duty. Such is not the case.. Customs control is for a definite purpose, namely, the collection of revenue. The Customs Department is not concerned to know whether an article under its control reaches its proper owner, but that it does not escape taxation. To that extent only is the Commonwealth, by its Customs control, concerned in this matter.
– The Customs authorities levy on an article whether it reaches its owner or not.
– They are responsible for seeing that the thief does not become also a smuggler.
– Once an article passes through the Customs, it becomes general property, and thus is subject to the control of the State.
– The inference contained in the article is that pilfering takes place before articles have passed through the Customs;’ that is, while they are actually in the ship.
– Under our SeaCarriage of Goods Act we have thrown a heavy responsibility on the ship-owner.
– We have. The control of the Customs is not a control against theft, but against smuggling. It is a responsibility of the Commonwealth to see that revenue is not affected; but it is the duty of the police to see that property is not stolen. Senator Earle has made the suggestion that the Commonwealth Government should endeavour to get into communication with theState authorities in order to bring about concerted action.
– If necessary.
– I shall take steps to bring his suggestion under the notice of the Government; but it appears strange, if the offence is as serious as is represented by the article, that the com- mercial community, with its well-known influence, has not been able to secure some inquiry by the State Governments. I have not noted any very energetic representations in that regard. Perhaps the commercial community fears reprisals of the nature indicated by Senator Earle.
– It often pays better to accept a loss rather than go to the expense of getting the Government to move.
– That may be so; but no self-respecting organization, whether of labour or of capital, would sit quiescent, I should think, under such charges as have been made. One would, at any rate, expect some reply, some form of denial, some attempt on the part of the organizations whose members are implicated to answer the allegations.
– The Tasmanian Chief Justice passed sentences of five years each upon a few of these thieves some weeks ago.
– The general tenor of the article quoted indicates that it is almost impossible to catch the culprits. I have heard that detectives have been placed on duty, but that their lives have been rather unsafe. If a detective happens to go down a hold, he may become endangered owing to a case of goods falling down. One can conceive the possibilities in such circumstances.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Assent to the following Bills reported : -
Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta Railway Lands Bill.
Income Tax Bill.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives with a message notifying that it did not insist on its amendment No. 9, disagreed to by the Senate,that it had agreed to the amendments made by the Senate in clause 23, and that it had agreed to the amendments made by the Senate to amendment No. 11 of the House of Representatives.
Bill received from House of Representatives, and (on motion by Senator Pearce) read a first time.
– In moving
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the Bill being passed through all its stages without delay.
I desire to intimate that it is not intended to exercise to the full the powers which I have just proposed. I intend to move the second reading at a later stage. The measure is a formal one, and I suggest that, following upon the motion for the second reading, the debate be adjourned until to-morrow.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill received from Hou3e of Representatives, and (on motion by Senator Pearce) read a first time.
– I move -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the Bill being passed through all its stages without delay.
I intend to ask the Senate to adopt the same procedure with this measure as with that preceding it. At a later stage I shall move the second reading, after which, I suggest that the debate be adjourned until to-morrow.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill received from the House of
Representatives, and (on motion by Senator Russell) read a first time.
Bill returned from the House of Repre sentatives with an amendment.
Senator PEARCE (Western Australia-
Minister for Defence) [3.42]. - In moving -
That this Bill be now read a second time,
I may point out that it amends, in a certain unimportant particular, the Act providing for the ratification of peace with Germany. When the Treaty of Peace Bill was passed, provision was not made extending it to the Territories of ‘ the Commonwealth, and it is necessary now that this should be expressly provided for, hence the introduction of this measure, which provides that the Treaty of Peace Act 1919 shall apply to the Territories under the control of the Commonwealth, including any Territory governed by the Commonwealth under a mandate. It will be seen, therefore, that the amendment is purely technical in character.
Debate (on motion by Senator de Largie) adjourned.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
The measure is of special interest to me, because on the 10th September,. 1919,. I had the honour of representing the Commonwealth at the signing of the Treaty of Peace with . Austria at Saint GermainEnLaye, in France. It was a most interesting ceremony, and one that I shall always remember, but it was of less significance to Australia than the signing of the Peace Treaty with Germany. Nevertheless, it is necessary that Australia, as one of the parties to the Treaty, should now ratify it. On the 27th November, 1919, the High Commissioner, as representing Australia, signed the Treaty of Peace with Bulgaria. Copies of these Treaties have been before honorable senators for some time, and I take it that they have had an opportunity of perusing them. It is now proposed, by this Bill, to make the necessary provision to carry into effect the terms of the Peace Treaty, by empowering the Governor-General to make regulations and to do such other things as may appear to be necessary. Power is also given in the Bill to impose penalties for breaches of these regulations. The omission in the German Peace Treaty Act has been overcome in this Bill, which provides that the measure shall extend to the Territories under the authority of the Commonwealth, including those over which we have a mandate.
Debate (on motion by Senator de Largie) adjourned.
– In moving -
That the Senate do now adjourn, it would, perhaps, be just as well if I gave some indication of the business the Senate will be called upon to consider. The Bills which I have submitted this afternoon are very largely technical in character, and will be proceeded with. My colleague (Senator Russell), the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, will move the second reading of the Customs Bill, which will be circulated now that it has been read a first time. I hope, also, to. have the draft of the Air Navigation Bill, and to move the first and possiblythe second readings to-morrow. I understand that this will about exhaust the business available to the Senate, owing to the fact that another place is not dealing with measures quiteas quickly as we do. A number of honorable senators will be absent next week, and in order that honorable
Senators may make their arrangements, I think it only right that I should intimate how that, probably, the Senate will not be meeting next week.
– I desire to draw the attention of the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) to the position with regard to the war gratuity bonds, which is causing a certain amount of dissatisfaction to a number of returned soldiers in my State, and, I doubt not, in other States as well. Honorable senators will remember that when the regulations dealing with the issue of war bonds were framed provision was made for the payment of cash in certain circumstances. In a number of cases soldiers who were not anxious at the time for cash, applied for bonds, feeling that they would be a better investment. Since then, owing to altered financial circumstances, they are now in need of cash, but unfortunately are precluded from obtaining it in return for their bonds, although, 1 understand, they came under the regulations entitling them originally to payment in cash. One very sad case hae come under my notice, and I have communicated with the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), but not having that gentleman’s permission I cannot quote it as an individual case. It appears to me to be rather unfair that, because a man did not originally ask for cash, although he was entitled to it, but decided, in the interests of his country to apply for bonds, he should now be unable to draw cash. I ask the Minister to bring this matter under the notice of the. Treasurer, to see what can be done.
– I take it the honorable senator has already brought this matter under the notice of the Treasurer.
– As an individual case, but not as a general principle.
– Of course, I am not entitled to speak for the Treasurer, but I am inclined to think that he will not be disposed to lay it down as a general principle that a returned soldier who applies for bonds and subsequently changes his mind shall be entitled to get cash now.
SenatorFoll. - I am referring to men who were entitled to cash originally.
– There may be a considerable number even of those cases. I will put the matter as it hasbeen represented by Senator Foll to the Treasurer. It seems to me, however, that it is a question of the submission of individual cases to the Treasurer rather than one of asking him to lay down a general rule such as that to which I have referred. I will obtain a reply from the Treasurer, which I will forward to the honorable senator.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 3.51 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 3 November 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1920/19201103_senate_8_94/>.