10th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator theHon. Sir John Newlands) took the chair at 3 p.m. and read prayers.
– I should like to know whether Dr. Tillyard, who has just been appointed as the Commonwealth entomological expert, will be subject to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
– Dr. Tillyard has been appointed entomologist under the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
– In the Senate last Friday the Leader of the Government in the Senate was asked whether the Senate would have a further opportunity to consider and discuss the proposed sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, and in reply he said “Yes.” . In another place, however, when the Prime Minister was asked a similar question bis reply was that as the motion of want of confidence had dealt with the whole question, no further opportunity would he given to the House of Representatives to discuss the proposed sale of the Line. I should like to know how the Leader of the Government in the Senate canreconcile his reply with that given by t he Prime Minister, and which reply we are to take as our guide in this all important matter?
– In answering this question one must first of all decide whether Senator Findley has correctly stated the reply given by the
Prime Minister. As I have not seen the Prime Minister’s reply I am not in a position to judge, but, of course, if there is any difference between it and the reply given by me, as it is the Prime Minister who announces the policy of the Government, his statement binds the Government.
Senator REID presented the report from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, together with minutes of evidence, relating to the pro posed establishment of an automatic telephone exchange at Box Hill, Victoria.
The following papers were presented : -
Northern Territory Acceptance Act and Nor thern Australia Act - Central Australia - Ordinance No. 14 of 1927- Crown Lands. North Australia - Ordinance No. 14 of 1927 - Crown Lands.
Papua Act - Ordinances of 1927
No. 1 - Oaths.
No. 2 - Administration of Justice.
No. 3 - Sale of Goods.
No. 4 - Factors.
No. 5- Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
No. 6 - Petroleum.
Customs Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1927, No. 121.
– I should like to ask the Leader of the Senate if his attention has been called to a paragraph in the press which indicates that nonnationalized steamers are carrying wool from SouthAfrica to Great Britain ford. per lb.?
– I have not seen the paragraph referred to by the honorable senator.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands). - I have received a communication from Senator Herbert Hays, intimating that he intends to move the adjournment of the Senate to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz., “ The present condition of the timber industry of the Commonwealth.”
Four honorable senators having risen in their places in support of the motion.
. - I move-
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till 1 1 a.m. to-morrow.
It seems to me that this is the best opportunity that presents itself to me to bring under the attention of the Government and the people of Australia, the condition of the timber industry of the Commonwealth. I feel sure that I shall be supported by honorable senators. During the last three or four years the position of the timber industry has frequently been brought before the Minister by members of this Parliament and of the Tasmanian Parliament. Since 1921, when, as the result of an inquiry by the Tariff Board, some assistance was given to the timber industry, no further relief has been granted. Last year, in reply to representations made to him, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten) said that sufficient evidence had not been produced to justify the matter being resubmitted to the Tariff Board. Previously that board had reported that, in its opinion, further protection was not necessary. About this time last year a further deputation waited on the Minister, who then stated that he was satisfied that a ca se had been made out for a further review of the matter by the Tariff Board. The Tariff Board instituted an . inquiry and, I understand, submitted its report early this year. We are now almost at the end of the year, yet nothing has been done, nor do we know the Government’s intentions. Unless something is done quickly, an important Australian industry will be lost. The timber industry is entitled to the same protection that is given to other Australian industries.
Its present unsatisfactory condition is largely the result of legislation passed by this Parliament. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act provides for the making of awards as to the rates of pay and other conditions which shall operate in various industries in Australia. Under that legislation, Australian seamen and waterside workers have been granted liberal rates of pay. In addition, the ^Navigation Act has conferred further benefits on Australian seamen and has governed the freights which may be charged by vessels plying in Australian waters. I do not say that the awards made on behalf of our sailors and waterside workers are inequitable; but the fact remains that, because of a lack of similar protection to sawmillers, the timber industry, which at one time was flourishing, is now in a parlous condition. Under our national policy of protection, almost the whole of the machinery and other equipment used by sawmillers is made in Australia, with the result that their cost has been increased by from 25 to 50 per cent. Had the same protection been given to the timber industry that has been granted to other industries it would not now be in a languishing condition.
– The mining companies have protested against increased duties on timber.
– Realizing the need for further development in Australia, the Government appointed a Development and Migration Commission to inquire as to the best means of developing our industries, and of making provision for migrants. Yet it has neglected an established industry. The production of Australian hardwoods is steadily decreasing, with the result that the number of mill-hands employed in the timber industry to-day is not more than half what it was in 1924. Probably one-half of our sawmills have ceased operating; yet the quantity of imported timbers imported each year has been steadily on the increase. Australia now imports about 500,000,000 feet of timber annually, whereas in 1921 we imported only 242,000,000 feet. Notwithstanding our increased population and the consequent further demand for timber, the Australian timber industry has not benefited. The increased demand has been met by further importations. The heavy freights on timber from Tasmania to the mainland has militated against the industry. It costs from 30 to 40 per cent, more to convey timber from Tasmania to Australian . mainland ports than to bring it from Baltic ports. Timber from Canada can be conveyed to Sydney for less than it takes to carry it from Tasmania to Sydney. The freight on timber conveyed from Cairns to Melbourne is Ss. 6d. per 100 feet compared Avith 3s. lOd. per 100 feet for timber brought from Baltic ports in sailing vessels, or 5s. if shipped by steamers. Timber in 20-ft. lengths can be conveyed from Hobart to Melbourne at from 5s. 3d. to 5s. 9d. per 100 feet. The rate for 40-ft. lengths of timber carried from Launceston to Melbourne is 7s. per 100 feet; from Sydney to Melbourne it is 4s. 9d. ; from Perth to Melbourne, 7s. 2d.; from Brisbane to Melbourne, 6s. 6d. Prom Canada to Port Adelaide the freight is 6s., and from Baltic ports to Port Adelaide, 3s. 10d. Prom Tasmania to Port Adelaide it is 8s.; and for 30-ft. lengths, 9s.; and 40-ft. lengths, lis. These figures show that the rates between Australian ports range from 25 per cent, to 50 per cent, above freights from Baltic ports to Australia.
– Might not that be accounted for by the difference in weight of hardwood and softwood?
– That might have some bearing on the discrepancy, but usually timber freight is determined by measurement. Recently the Minister for Trade and Commerce (Mr. Pratten) paid a visit to Great Britain and, on his return, indicated that the prospects of establishing new industries in Australia were particularly bright. The Government should also show some concern for the welfare of existing industrial concerns, . such as the timber industry. It is regrettable that the timber industry has practically been ruined as the result of legislation passed by this Parliament. If the protection given to other secondary industries had been extended to the sawmilling industry of Australia, it would have been in a flourishing condition to-day. “
SenatorFoll. - What legislationhas thehonorable senator in mind?
– Ihave already mentioned the effect on the business of the awards of the Arbitration Court, which of course have been determined by the Australian standard of living. The Navigation Act also has operated against the success of the timber industry, which is further handicapped by the increased cost of imported saw milling machinery due to high protective duties. A considerable amount of capital invested in the industry has been lost. To be consistent, Parliament should extend to it the same measure of protection that is given to other forms of secondary enterprises.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that the timber industry could flourish under sweating conditions ?
– No. What I am endeavouring to show is that if the standard of living observed in all industries had not been altered as the result of Arbitration Court awards the timber industry would have continued to prosper. Its position has been under consideration by the Tariff Board for a long time. The report of that body has been in the hands of the Minister for the last nine months, and yet we are not informed as to the nature of its recommendation.
– What has the honorable senator to say about the position of the mining companies?
– I have never suggested that softwoods should not be used, because I admit that, for certain mining work it may be advantageous to useoregon. But we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that timber imports are increasing very substantially and that in consequence, the hardwood timber industry in Australia is suffering. Even the barriers erected in front of this building on Armistice Day were made of oregon.
SenatorFoll. - Perhaps hardwoods are not suitable for that class of work.
– That may be so; but if the timber industry is not tor. enjoy the benefits of protection equally with other industries, then our fiscal policy is a very lopsided one. The timber industry means a great deal to Tasmania. Owing to intense overseas competition it is languishing not only in Tasmania, but also in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland. Just before the Senate adjourned in March of this year I asked if it would be possible for the Government to table . the report of the Tariff Board so that those engaged in the industry might know what was likely to happen. The honorary Minister then indicated, perhaps with some justification, that he had not had an opportunity to read the report, which consisted of 100 pages, but said that it would receive attention at the earliest opportunity. In reply to a question asked the other day by Senator J. B. Hayes, he said that the reports of the Tariff Board were not received until September, which to me seemed most extraordinary, as he had previously said that they had been received in March or at the latest, early in April. I have submitted these few facts in an endeavour to place the position fairly before the Senate, and I trust that other honorable senators will express their views on this subject which is of vital importance not only to the State of Tasmania, but to the whole Commonwealth.
– It is not my intention to discuss at length the subject of timber duties which has been introduced by Senator Herbert Hays. All I can say at this juncture is that the Tariff Board’s reports on the timber industry have been received by theGovernment, and are now receiving very careful consideration. Even if a decision had been reached upon this subject, I am sure honorable senators would not expect me to disclose it on a motion of this nature. I can assure honorable senators, however, that the matter is receiving the earnest and sympathetic consideration of the Government, and when a decision has been reached there will be no delay in bringing it before Parliament.
– I agree with the premises laid down by Senator Herbert Hays; but I do not agree with his conclusions as. to the remedy. The Honorary Minister (Senator Crawford)has, I understand made it. clear that he considers the only way out of the difficulty is to amend the tariff schedule. I do not think that that would be of any advantage. It would only mean increasing the artificiality of the position, and that could not possibly be of any benefit. The coastal provisions of the Navigation Act are the worst enemy which the timber industry in Tasmania and “Western Australia has ever had, and there is no doubt that a repeal of those provisions would result in great benefit to the timber industry. Western Australia has not felt the position as much as Tasmania, because, luckily, until a year ago, the timber industry in that State was extensively engaged in exporting to South Africa. Since the Navigation Act was proclaimed the trade in jarrah with the eastern States, which represented a large proportion of Western Australia’s timber exports, has languished on account of the excessive freights which the coastal provisions of the Navigation Act necessitate. Those provisions have also affected Tasmania’s interstate trade.
SenatorReid. - Do not the vessels of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers handle timber for interstate ports?
– The management of the Line refused to handle it.
– The Commonwealth Shipping Board has always been opposed to entering into or interfering with the interstate trade. Even if it had not, it is unlikely that any help could have been obtained from that source. Having once been associated with the timber trade of Western Australia, I know as an actual fact that the freights charged between Fremantle and any of the eastern States are absolutely ridiculous and untenable when compared with those charged between Portland Oregon, and Australia, or Scandinavia and Australia. Under these conditions I have again to saythat unless we come to our senses the Commonwealth will be foolishly building up a wall which will eventually isolate it from the rest of the civilized world. If we are to secure our share of the world’s trade we should not create such artificial barriers as we have in the coastal provisions of the Navigation Act. The Public Accounts Committee has found it necessary, in three of its reports, to protest against the coastal provisions of the Navigation Act, and I repeat that if these provisions are retained it will be impossible for Australia to compete on fair terms with the outer world. If the Navigation Act is to remain in operation in its present form., it would be better for the Government to pay the few Australian seamen employed in the coastal trade to remain idle in order that those engaged in commerce should have a fair chance of conducting their daily avocations without restrictions such as that act imposes. I agree with what has been said concerning the state of the timber industry in Australia, and in my opinion the only remedy is the one I have indicated.
.- Senator Herbert Hays deserves the thanks of not only those directly interested in timber production in Australia, but the whole of the Australian people for bringing this matter before the Senate. It must be recognized that a valuable asset such as our timber resources should be utilized to the fullest possible extent. I know a good deal concerning the forests of Australia and the saw-milling industry, particularly in Tasmania, and I have no hesitation in saying that during the last few years, Australia has lost millions of pounds owing to handicaps imposed upon the industry. After a tree reaches a certain age it ceases to become a useful commercial commodity. There are in Australia to-day hundreds of thousands of beautiful trees which have outlived their usefulness owing to the widening of the vicious circle referred to by Senator Kingsmill. The conditions imposed have deprived the industry of the opportunity to work in the interests of the community. It is a fact, as Senator Herbert Hays has observed, that more than 50 per cent. of the sawmills in Australia have closed clown. Every effort that was humanly possible was made twelve or eighteen months ago by those who are interested in the preservation of the industry and the welfare of the thousands of persons who are dependent upon its continuance to have a favourable decision arrived at by the Government so that it would be enabled to continue. Scores of mills within my own personal knowledge were at that time in such a position that the management had to receive a quick assurance of the necessary protection if they were to carry on. Since then many mills have closed, and large numbers of workmen have been added to the ranks of the unemployed.
– One hundred and two out of 17S mills iri Tasmania have been closed.
– I am pleased to have the assurance of the Minister that this matter will receive the very early attention of the Government. I endorse the contention of Senator Herbert Hays respecting the fairness of giving a primary industry of this character consideration equal to that which has been meted out to many of our secondary industries, which have been maintained by a liberal measure of protection. So far as I have been able to gather, it has received very much less protection. The future of Australia is dependent upon the maintenance of our primary rather than of our secondary industries. This, of all industries, is conducive to the welfare of the community. Our hardwoods are noted all over the world for their lasting qualities. That should convince our people of the advisability of using them wherever possible in preference to imported softwoods. At the present time, wherever one looks one finds that softwoods which have been imported from Scandinavia or the United States of America are used for purposes for which Australian hardwoods are much more suitable, if they could be produced and delivered on the spot at a price that will compete with importations. Why can they ‘not be deliveredat this price? Simply because the freight from Tasmania to the mainland is considerably in excess of that which is charged on timber from Scandinavia- or the United States of America and the absence of adequate protection. We have the assurance of those who are at the head of the industry that they are asking for additional protection not with the object of increasing the price, but in order that they may be able to compete with the timber which is imported from overseas, and continue the work on which they were engaged so successfully until a couple of years ago.
– As only softwoods are imported, where is the competition ?
– Many of the purposes to which the imported softwoods are applied could be better served by the use of Australian hardwoods. I hope the outcome of this discussion will be that the Government will take up the matter in all seriousness. We want to know whether the industry is to be saved for Australia, or abandoned. I agree with Senator Kingsmill that eventually it will be necessary to consider whether there should not be-some measure of relief in regard to freights. But we cannot afford to wait until Parliament has had the time to deal with that farreaching problem ; action must be taken before this part of the session closes, so that Ave may be assured of the revival of the industry in not only Tasmania but also the other States of the Commonwealth.
– The importance of this matter cannot be over-rated. I agree with Senator Herbert Hays that the onus, lies upon the Government to render every assistance that lies within its power to preserve and to assist the timber industry of Australia. I cannot, however, follow the honorable senator in this argument that the present parlous condition of the industry is the result of awards of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court.
– Without a correspondingly increased protection against imported timbers that are produced in cheap-labour countries.
– I cannot admit the correctness of the honorable senator’s contention, even with that qualification. For many years it has been the policy of Australia to make provision for the very best conditions for those who are engaged in its industries.
– I did not argue to the contrary.
– No action by any Government should tend to impair those conditions.
– If they cannot be provided by an industry, it should shut down.
- Senator Ogden has introduced another aspect. Surely he does not suggest that the worker should bear the whole of the responsibility for the continuance of an industry. Are we to countenance sweating so that an industry may continue?
– No one has suggested that there should be sweating.
– Senator Kingsmill has introduced a further feature. He has launched an attack on the coastal trading sections of the Navigation Act, and has pooh-poohed the idea that protection - no matter to what extent - would be of assistance to the timber industry. His argument appeared to me to be that no matter what protection was given, the existence of the coastal trading sections of the act would prevent the escape of the industry from its present parlous condition.
– The honorable senator does not agree with that.
– I do not. There are two vital points for consideration - first, the conditions under which men are employed in the timber industry; and, secondly, the conditions of the men employed on. the ships that convey the timber to the markets of the world. The coasting provisions of the Navigation Act have stood the test of time, and I hope that the day is far distant when this Parliament will repeal them. It is true that on one or two occasions the. present Government has interfered with them, and particularly for the benefit of Tasmania; but, in my opinion, their excision would make the conditions of the seamen on the Australian coast worse than those under which British seamen work. I hope, therefore, that whatever step the Government takes to give assistance to the timber industry in Australia it will not be in the direction of evading the awards of the Arbitration Court, which, no matter how much the Government might desire it, could scarcely be done; or in the direction of repealing the coasting provisions of the Navigation Act which afford protection to Australian seamen. With Senator Payne, I think that the real remedy lies between the two courses suggested during the course of the debate. My voice and my vote have always been given for a protective policy to foster and preserve Australian industries; but there is a middle course between the imposition of high protective duties and the course which we are to infer was suggested by Senator Herbert Hays in his reference to arbitration awards; or the other course suggested by Senator Kingsmill; the repeal of the coasting provisions of the Navigation Act. The middle course is, in my opinion, a greater display of patriotism by the people of Australia. Do the people of Australia afford to the timber industry the assistance they should give it? I venture to say that Australian hardwoods are equal to Oregon in any position underground or above ground. I think Senator Verran can bear me out that in mining, at any rate, they are equal to oregon underground. Senator Payne touched upon the vital point when he said that the people of Australia do not give sufficient preference to Australian timbers.
– But compare the difference in cost.
– Many Aus tralians - I do not refer to Senator Foll personally - would rather buyoregon if they could get it cheaper than hardwood than do anything for the preservation of an Australian industry.
– Workmen’s homes are mostly built of softwoods.
– I have no illusions about what it costs the Australian citizen to give preference to his own products. But if we have that true Australian patriotism and sentiment about which we boast, we ought to be prepared to pay a little more for the timber we use in building our homes, for the commodities we consume, or for the clothes we wear, in order to afford protection to Australian industries. Between the proposal relating to arbitration awards and that relating to the incidence of the tariff there is the factor of lack of patriotism to our own products.
– What does the honorable senator suggest?
– I think that we should do something along the lines suggested by the honorable senator - that the timber industry should receive fiscal protection along with other industries; but we must also remember that the people of Australia do not always give to their own products the encouragement they should. I could not for a moment entertain the other suggestion of Senator Herbert Hays.
– I rise to a point of order. The honorable senator on several occasions has tried to ascribe to me the remark that the only remedy for the timber industry is lower wages. I cannot allow the honorable senator to misrepresent me in that way. What I said distinctly was that, because the Arbitration Court had made certain awards, additional protective duties
– I have no desire to misrepresent the honorable senator. All I said was that the inference to be drawn from his remarks, standing by themselves, was that the only remedy was a reduction of wages in the timber industry. I cannot entertain for a moment the suggestion by Senator Kingsmill that the coasting provisions of the Navigation Act should be repealed. All I can say, in conclusion, is that I agree with Senator Herbert Hays that if the industry is in the condition he has described the only policy to pursue isto give it the mantle of protection accorded to other industries.
– I have a great deal of sympathy with the object which Senator Herbert Hays has in view, because Tasmania and Western Australia are not the only States in which a great many timber mills have been closed down as a result of the importation of foreign timber. In the New England, North Coast, and other districts of New South Wales hundreds of mills are closed down from the same cause. I feel, therefore, that I should say something on this matter, more particularly upon the suggested remedies. The Honorary Minister (Senator Crawford) seemed to suggest that the only remedy is to increase the’ tariff. But I see very grave danger in adopting that course.
– Senator Herbert Hays complained of the delay by the Government in considering the report of the Tariff Board on the timber industry, and I answered him. That was his only complaint against the Government.
– That was only one of his complaints. The only reason for increasing the duty on timber would be to make imported timber so much dearer that the people would buy Australian timber because it would be cheaper, or, at any rate, would cost no more than imported timber. In view of the fact that the Government contemplates a huge home-building scheme
– It has no intention of doing anything of the sort.
– If it pleases honorable senators I can put it in another way. In view of the fact that the Government, and the party behind it, in. spite of the Opposition, contemplate embarking upon a great scheme of home building throughout Australia, anything that would have the effect of increasing the cost of that scheme must have careful consideration. The average cost of a home under the Government scheme will be £1,000. I think it is a safe deduction to allow 25 per cent., . or £200 for the average cost of the land upon which the home is built. An increase of 5 per cent. in the cost of timber - it is not an exaggerated allowance to make - would mean adding, in round figures, £400,000 to the cost of a scheme estimated on present prices to involve an expenditure of £10,000,000.
– The honorable senator does not suggest that the houses to be built under the Commonwealth’s housing scheme will be built of softwoods ?
– A percentage of them may be built of softwoods.
– A big percentage of the interior work will be done in softwood.
– The fact that softwoods are competing with hardwoods has the effect of keeping prices down. If the prices of softwoods are increased the prices of hardwoods will automatically increase. An increase of £400,000 in the cost of carrying out the Commonwealth Government scheme would mean that between 700 and SOO less bornes could be built. In these circumstances, therefore, any suggestion to increase the duty on timber as a remedy for the present condition of the timber industry of Australia, should have very careful scrutiny before it is adopted. The other suggestion that the coasting provisions of the Navigation Act should be repealed so far as the carriage of timber is concerned, or generally, is much more feasible. It would enable the Australian producers of hardwoods to compete more successfully with imported timber. But there is another suggested remedy upon which I should like the opinion of Senator Herbert Hays, who knows more about the matter than I do. My knowledge of timber is culled from various sources and from information disclosed before the Tariff Board and other bodies. But the information I have is that the output per man in Australia, even under immensely increased wages costs, is to-day less than it was in years gone by when” production costs were not so high, and is very much less than the output per man in other countries. If that is true, it seems almost impossible for our timber to compete with the timber of other countries. Evidence has been given to show that the output per man is 1S3 super, feet in Australia, as compared with SOO super, feet in America. Of course, in one case the men are handling softwood, which is easy to work, and in the other case they are handling hardwood.
– Softwood is worked with a handsaw, and the millers can get 90 per cent, of the log. With hardwood the millers get only 50 per cent, of the log.
– I make every allowance for that; but I want the honorable senator to tell me if there is anything in the statement that is made- that the output of the Australian timber worker to-day, which is 1S3 super, feet per man, with the present high cost of wages, is not nearly , what the output per man was when wages were very much less, and the general conditions of labour were not nearly so expensive.
– Are those the figures for the whole of Australia, or only for Tasmania?
– They are for Australia as a whole. It would be interesting to have the figures for Tasmania. I do not like to charge the workers in the timber industry with not producing as much to-day as they did in earlier years.
– The honorable senator has made that charge to-day.
– That charge has been made by others. If there is nothing in the charge, it should be disproved ; but if it is well founded the matter should be thoroughly investigated.
– The honorable senator himself made that charge without waiting for the facts.
– I should like to know whether honorable senators representing timber producing States can supply the correct figures.
– Has the honorable senator the figures for New South Wales?
– No.’ New South Wales does not produce hardwood to the same extent as Tasmania and Western Australia do. The timber industry has reached that stage where those engaged in it must “ root, hog, or die.” Every one engaged in it - both proprietor and worker - should get right into the collar and do his best to save the industry. They should not continually approach Parliament or the Tariff Board for further protection, although they would probably be justified in seeking a modification of the Navigation Act. The repeal of certain sections of the act might have a beneficial effect on the industry. In its report the Tariff Board speaks of the “ abuse of protection,” meaning that protection causes further charges to be made for goods, resulting in further requests for higher wages, and so on. That policy will not help the timber industry, which I desire shall be placed in a sounder position than it occupies to-day, so that those engaged in it will not have to suffer further because of heavy importations of timber; but it would not be wise to increase the cost of timber so as to make it more difficult for persons to secure their own homes.
– If that policy were adopted in connexion with all industries, there would be something in the honorable senator’s contention; hut why confine it to the timber industry?
– I am not confining it to the timber industry. The question of rising costs in Australia should bc considered from every viewpoint. “We cannot for ever continue to increase import duties. I have every sympathy with the representations made, and should like to see something definite done in connexion with the timber industry. The importance of the matter raised by Senator Herbert Hays warrants the careful consideration of the Government. .
Senator FINDLEY (Victoria) [4.10 J. - The policy of the present administration is to “ go slow.” So far as the timber industry is concerned, that policy has been carried out to the letter. The timber industry is of such importance to Australia that it should be protected. The remarks of some honorable senators have been most indefinite. At one moment they say that the present parlous condition of the timber industry, is due to high wages; in the next they say that the Navigation Act is responsible. Senator Duncan says that both the employers and the workmen engaged in the industry should “get right into the collar.” I do not know whether he means that the employers should be satisfied with the present duties, or that the employees should be content with less wages.
– They should “ deliver the goods.”
– Senator Duncan first accuses the workers in the timber industry with having adopted “ go slow “ methods, and then he says that he would like- to know whether the charge that they have done so is correct. I have heard1 of “ Yes-No “ protectionists ; Senator Duncan’s speech was a masterpiece of ambiguity. The sawmillers of .Australia have presented an unanswerable case for further protective duties.
– That is the honorable senator’s panacea for all evils.
– I do not say that, but if I had to choose between the policy of free trade and that of protection,. I should unhesitatingly declare for protection. There are no half measures about me. I can respect honorable senators who believe in free trade: their attitude is at least logical; but I have no time for the revenue tariffist who wants revenue, but is not prepared to encourage the establishment of industries in Australia.
– That is the policy of the Government.
– To that policy I am opposed. The report of the Tariff Board states the reasons advanced by those engaged in the timber industry for a greater measure of protection. It says -
Owing to the wages and conditions of labour in Australia, it is necessary that adequate protection be given local industry and timber in particular, so that competition from countries with lower wages, longer hours, and coloured labour can be met. The problem of prescribing a protective tariff for this industry has never been given the mature consideration that an industry of such magnitude and of such great national importance justly demands.
I agree with that view, and so does every protectionist. The further reason was advanced by those engaged in the industry that -
In Australia our forests are largely overmatured, and require cutting, both in order to save further waste through decay, and also that the forester may assist nature to gradually replace those decadent forests with young and vigorous growth, to ensure a sustained yield of timber.
That the Government recognizes the truth of that statement is evidenced by its introduction of a bill to encourage forestry. The report goes on to say -
Forestry opens up the country and assists immigration; without forestry there will be no small farms. Next to food, wood is the article of which an abundant supply is essential to the nation. This industry under normal circumstances offers employment to 35,000 Australian workmen. Without reasonable protection, a large number are unemployed. On many of our railways ,84 per cent, to 93 per cent, of the revenue is from timber. Many of our main ports have been built up as a result of export wharfages on timber. If these ports were forced to close, the backbone of many of the farming districts would be gone.
The case as there set out before the Tariff Board is, in my opinion, unanswerable. The protection of the timber industry is a matter of vital importance to every one in Australia.
– The honorable senator would be the first to complain if increased costs resulted in higher rents.
– I was surprised to hear Senator Herbert Hays say that legislation passed by this Parliament had strangled the timber industry. He said that were it not for arbitration awards and wages boards determinations, the industry would to-day be in a flourishing condition. If I were advocating the claims of an industry, I should not say that those engaged in it were not entitled to the same measure of protection as were workers in other industries. For the timber industry to be established on a sound footing, adequate protection, both to proprietors andworkmen must be given. Otherwise, the proposals of the honorable senator are not worthy of our serious consideration. Are honorable senators aware of the industrial conditions that obtain in other countries from which Australia imports large quantities of timber? The lowest wage paid in Canada is 25s. a week for coloured labour. I understand that Asiatics constitute 26 per cent. of the employees in. the industry there, and that the United States of America also employs a considerable proportion of black labour. The lowest wage in that country is 40s.8d. a week. In Sweden the minimum wage for timber workers is 7s, 7d. per day. In Australia it is 83s. a week of 48 hours. Since we have declared in favour of protection we should doall we can to prevent this continuous flow of imported timber to Australia, particularly from those countries which employ black labour.We have given the highest measure of protection to the sugar industry, because we realize that without protection it. would be impossible for Australian sugargrowers to compete against the product of black labour countries. Having protected the sugar-growers we have also declared that the workmen engaged in the industry shall be given a fair deal. Tasmania is not the only state that is affected by this depression in the timber industry.
– It is affected more seriously than are the other States.
– I doubt that. The industry is a fairly important one in Victoria. I am familiar with many of the timber districts in that State, and I know how the progress of those areas is linked up with the prosperity of the timber industry. The report of the Tariff Board, from which I have just quoted, goes on to state -
Particulars were obtained from millers in Victoria, and it was ascertained that51 millers have in stock at their mills and sidings 5,500,000 super feet of timber. In normal times they would have 1,000,000 super, feet, and this 4,500,000 surplus is held despite the fact that of the 01 mills represented by the 51 millers, 28 have closed for varying periods, and only four are working with a full staff. Throughout Victoria there are 240 mills, and it can, therefore, be said that the timberheld and unsaleable, except at a loss, equals one-tenth of the annual output of sawn timber.
Returns were received from69 mills, and of these -
Thirty-two are closed;
Thirteen are working with less than half their staff;
Twenty are working with a depleted staff;
Four only with a full staff.
In ordinary times these mills employ 1,824. men. They now employ675. These figures are for69 mills, whereas there are 240 mills in Victoria.
Twenty millers have given figures of their sales. These are -
The PRESIDENT’ (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands). - Order! The honorable senator has exhausted his time
SenatorOGDEN (Tasmania) [4.25].- Whilst I agree with Senator Findley that the timber industry is an important one in many of the States, it is relatively more important to Tasmania. I am not a disciple of high protection. I am a low tariffist. Unlike Senator Findley and Senator Needham, I do not believe that high protection is a panacea for all our industrial evils. I know, of course, that it is a convenient doctrine for Labour to advocate, because high protection makes it possible for wages to be increased without regard to the source from whence the money conies. I am, as I said, a low tariffist, and whilst I am diffident about further increasing the cost of timber by raising the duties, I am forced, by the general tendency to impose high protective duties on other industries, to support the proposal in order that the timber industry may get its share of the plunder. What will be the effect of an increased duty on timber? Immediately the millers cut it, it will pass into the hands of the merchants, who will increase the price to the consumer. Although we may raise the duty another 5s. or 10s. per 100 super. feet, I question very much whether the millers will reap much advantage from the higher duty. I regret that we cannot discuss this issue apart from the party aspect. Senator Needham raised the question of wages. It is not necessary for me to defend Senator Herbert Hays, because I think he clearly indicated that there were other considerations. If we have not only Arbitration Court awards, higher costs, and other conditions of employment, which naturally increased the cost of production in an industry, and that industry is not given access to the Tariff Board and a higher duty, the awards of the Arbitration Court become an injustice to that industry according to our present day philosophy. That was, I think what Senator Herbert Hays intended to convey. But the awards of the court also had relation to other conditions. I know that in Tasmania timber workers had to get wet pay. If in the morning there appeared to be a prospect of a shower the men did not go to work, and yet they had to be paid.
– That is a good idea.
-Perhaps it is, in view of the fact that members of this Parl i am en t have nice comfortable seats and are paid, wet or dry. Another condition of the award had relation to sick pay. It was not necessary for a man to produce a medical certificate in order to qualify for sick pay. All that was necessary was for him to say that he was not feeling well, and he need not go to work. These were among the conditions that harassed employers in the industry,in Tasmania, where there is so much rain throughout the year; but the provision for payment, wet or dry, which operated for a considerable time has been wiped away. With all due regard to Senator Needham, I agree with Senator Kingsmill that the Navigation Act has seriously interfered with the timber industry in Tasmania.
– What does the honorable senator suggest should be done with the Navigation Act?
– The coastal provisions should be eliminated altogether. The act has had the effect of creating a shipping monopoly and a seamen’s monopoly, both of which are operating to the disadvantage of the industry in that State.
– The act has also had the effect of reducing the volume of shipping on the coast.
– That is so, and since the tonnage has been reduced there has been less employment.
– Does the honorable senator think that the wages of seamen are too high?
– Senator Grant cannot speak without raising that issue.I do not object to the wages the seamen are receiving; but I do object to the creation of a monopoly. The carrying trade between Australian ports is in the hands of Australian shipping companies, which are immune from outside competition. A couple of years ago we endeavoured to ship a small quantity of hardwood flooring boards from Tasmania to Western Australia. There was no vessel on the direct run, so it was necessary to arrange for transhipment from Melbourne, but the cost was so prohibitive that the order could not be sent. We approached the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Board and asked that body if it would kindly allow one of the ships of its Line, which we decided to abolish the other day, to carry the timber, but the board said - “No; we do not engage in the coastal trade; we leave that business to the local shipping companies “. Thisis one of the difficulties of Australian sea transport to-day. The provisions of the Navigation Act make it impossible for outside companies to compete in the interstate trade. I do notwish to be misunderstood. I know that the timber industry in Australia is languishing, but C am at a loss for a remedy. Some honorable senators declare that it is to be found in higher duties. I shall* therefore, support the move for higher duties in the hope that they will remedy the position; but I shall welcome the day when there will be some evidence of a new conscience in this country, and when we shall reconsider our fiscal policy as it affects not, only the timber industry, but all secondary industies. I hope we shall then get back to the good old days of lower costs of production, freer intercourse between the States, and & more natural state of affairs in industry generally. Is it fair to ask the sawmillers to pay the high rates they are compelled to pay for their machinery owing to the imposition of exhorbitant Customs duties without giving them some compensation in return? This is due to the vicious circle which we have commenced, and which apparently we have to continue. Effective wages are being obtained by imposing still higher duties; hut we can only secure effective wages and provide better conditions by bringing about a natural state of affairs, which will have the result of cheapening the cost of production. The present system is causing unemployment everywhere.
– The honorable senator has exhausted his time.
– In considering this question I should like to place on record two planks of the Labour party’s platform which have a bearing on this question. Under the heading of “Finance and Taxation Reform “ I find the following: -
That is clear and. definite. Senator Findley looks, I think, to higher and higher protective duties to overcome the difficulty. His attitude is quite logical. He’ does not believe that timber required for use in the Commonwealth should be imported, and favours the exclusive use of Australian-grown timbers. That is also the atitude of Senator Herbert Hays.
– That is not so. I made that clear to Senator Thompson.
– Sufficient timber is grown in the Commonwealth to meet nil om’ requirements. If we inspected the buildings recently erected at Canberra, we should find that the timber used in the wooden portions consists entirely of Australian-grown timbers, which has been well seasoned, and in connexion with which the workmanship is all that could be desired. Whilst that is so, it is an undeniable fact that Oregon is imported from America or Canada and landed at any port in Australia at a much cheaper rate than that at which the locally-grown timber can be obtained. It is also true that Baltic timbers are landed in Australia much cheaper than Australian softwoods can be shipped to any port in the Commonwealth. Scandinavia has a high protective policy, and ‘there timber grows extensively. This timber is easily obtained and handled, and can be shipped to Australia at very low rates, because the vessels carrying it expect to obtain rein.u iterative back loading. If Baltic timbers are to be excluded from the Commonwealth - which, I think, is desirable - we must supply a substitute. It is an outrage and a scandal that a person who purchases a home - most persons only buy one in a lifetime - should be compelled to use Baltic timber for flooring purposes, especially when there is no better timber in the world than our Australian hardwoods. Many persons who purchase small bungalows or cottages find that the floors consist; of Baltic timbers, which is a great mistake. For that reason alone it is desirable to entirely exclude such timber from the Commonwealth; but ‘that can be done only by an effective protective tariff. That, however, is a policy which the Government is not prepared to adopt. The Government needs Customs revenue in order to protect the landowners of this country from paying direct taxation. It is anxious to obtain large sums of revenue through the Customs House, and has little interest in the in- dustries of Tasmania or any other State. It is true that Oregon, is. the most suitable of all timbers for certain building purposes, as it does not shrink or warp, which is not a feature of Australian hardwoods.
– It is when it is well seasoned.
– Even well seasoned, stayed, and buttressed, joists in ceilings cause the plaster to crack.
– That is whyoregon is used.
– Oregon timberis suitable for ceiling joists.
– Even the timber in Nelson’s flagship has warped.
– Yes, and the timber in the Speaker’s chair in another place, which was presented by the Empire Parliamentary Association, is not superior to our Australian timbers. Australia is importing millions of feet of timber.
– Five hundred million feet were imported in twelve months.
– Yes, according to published information no less than 549,283,898 feet were imported into Australia during the last fourteen months.
– It is nonsense to suggest that we can do withoutoregon.
– If the importation of Oregon were prohibited the price of Australian hardwood would immediately advance. I can remember when Oregon could be purchased at from 10s. to11s. per 100 feet, and hardwood at about 9s. per 100 feet, but the price today is more than double that figure. The owners oflarge areas on which timber used for commercial purposes is grown substantially benefit by high protective duties, and if we continue imposing higher duties on Oregon and other softwoods those who own these areas will continue to benefit. Some honorable senators are strongly opposed to the retention of the coastal provisions of the Navigation Act under which seamen and others obtain a fair wage. These honorable senators believe that their timber should be carried in vessels on which low wages are paid, and that ships registered abroad should be allowed to engage in the Australian coastal trade. I do not think the Government is likely to repeal the coastal provisions of the Navigation Act. The unemployment in Tasmania is largely due to the stupid attitude of the Government of that State.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands). - Order! The honorable senator is not in order in reflecting upon any government.
– At any rate a person who builds a home in Tasmania is immediately pounced upon by the local authorities, and compelled to pay higher taxation just because he has constructed a home for himself. That is the kind of legislation that is causing unemployment in that State.
– That has nothing to do with the timber industry.
– It has, and is an important factor in causing unemployment in that State. Many active young men leave Tasmania to settle on the mainland because of the ridiculous restrictions imposed upon them. It is time the policy of taxing industry was abandoned, and the up-to-date methods of Sydney and Brisbane adopted. If that were done the authorities would find that the population would increase, and that there would be no need to ask for greater protection. I do not think that even this Government, with all its shortcomings, will consent to the repeal of the coastal provisions of the Navigation Act. Those honorable senators who have so many complaints to make concerning the position in which Tasmania is placed, should cease to support this Government, which has not the slightest interest in the timber or any other industry in that or any other State. If Senator Herbert Hays, Senator Ogden, and other supporters of the Government from Tasmania wish to see some reform, they should cease supporting an administration which refuses to afford the State they represent any relief. The timber trade in Tasmania is very important. It is important also to the other States. The Commonwealth Year-Book for 1926, page 6926, shows that the sawmill output of native timber in 1924-25 was, in New South Wales, 162,423,000 feet, and in Tasmania, only 50,799,000 feet.
– The honorable senator has exhausted his time.
– I wish to direct the attention of the Government to a phase of this question which has a bearing on the mining industry in Queensland. I questioned the mover of the motion, by interjection, but he only partly replied. He is probably not aware that hardwood, and not Oregon, is used in the Queensland mines.
– I thought that the honorable senator was referring to Broken Hill.
– I was referring to the Queensland mines; I am not conversant with the conditions that exist in the other States. Every mine in Queensland, but particularly the Mr Morgan mine, which has one of the finest square set systems of timbering in the world, uses hardwood. Queensland possesses remarkably fine hardwoods; it does not give place even to Tasmania in that respect. A celebrated Swedish scientist, after an. inspection of North Queeusland, informed me the other day that that portion of the State had a prodigality of decorative woods that were not equalled in any other part of the world.. The protection of the timber industry, but particularly its hardwood section, must have an immediate reaction upon the price of hardwood in Queensland, and render still more difficult the problem of those who are endeavouring to carry on mining operations. A year or two ago, when a. move along similar lines was- made to obtain protection for the timber industry, the Mr Morgan Gold- Mining. Company Limited voiced a strong protest against it, and stressed the effect which the suggested protection, if granted, would have upon that struggling mine. To-day, unhappily, the Mr Morgan mine, although still operating, is faced’ with the possibility of having to close down. Efforts are being; made to avoid that contingency, but they are not likely to be consummated if a further impost is placed- on timber, because it would be but another’ - and that the last - straw on the back of the camel. There is also a further aspect of this matter. The royalty which is charged by the Queensland Government; can be described as nothing less than outrageous. I have- the impression that if the price of timber is increased’ in consequence of the imposition of an additional duty, the rapacious State
Government in Queeusland will supplement it by a further royalty charge, and the benefit of the duty will then be very largely discounted. 1 trust that when the Government is considering, the report of the Tariff Board it will pay particular attention to the practical aspects that I have indicated.
– I was very pleased to hear the Minister, in reply to Senator Herbert Hays, say that this matter is receiving the sympathetic consideration of the Government. I had hoped that it would have arrived at a decision long since ; but in the circumstances I shall make a few observations in the hope that th’ey may lead to a favorable determination respecting the State that I assist to represent. I cordially agree with the remarks of Senators Ogden and Kingsmill regarding the harmful effect of the Navigation Act upon this industry. In passing, I may say tha.t two or three committees and. commissions have investigated the effect of that act, and a majority of their members have decided that the coastal trading sections ought to be repealed. I hope that, concurrently with its decision in relation to the timber industry, the Government will take steps to deal with that act in accordance with what I believe to be the desires of a majority of honorable senators. Sawmilling, in. Tasmania is an extremely valuable industry. The State is not very prosperous.. It does not possess many industries, and its wellbeing is dependent upon the retention of those it now has. It grows some of the finest timber in the world. Its hardwoods are suitable for the construction of the- roughest type of building- as. well as the finest, quality, of furniture. They are adapted to almost any purpose. I should not ask- for increased protection were; it not for the fact that certain, legislation which, this Parliament has enacted renders- it necessary for such assistance to be given as will enable us to market our timber. We have it on the authority of the Conservator of Forests in Tasmania that at the rate of cutting- which was in force, at the time that he made his statement1 - 50,000,000 super, feet per annum - the- supply was sufficient to last1 for 90 years; Because of the closing- down of the mills that quantity is not now being cut. During that period of 90 years new growth would replace what was cut. I believe that that rate could be doubled and maintained perpetually, on account of the rapidityof the growth. The other clay I asked an official of the Sawmillers’ Association to provide me with particulars of the total number of mills in Tasmania, and the number that had been closed down. He assured me that the total was 192, of which 132 had closed down. Many of the latter hold timber leases on which there is a quantity of timber sufficient to enable cutting to proceed for 30 or 40 years. These facts furnish conclusive proof that there is no scarcity of either timber or the mills to handle it. The wastage of timber in the Australian bush has frequently been deplored. That is what is going on in the Tasmanian bush. It is an absolute waste to allow the timber to remain there when it should be marketed.Wastage can be prevented only by cutting. I trust that the Government will take that aspect of the matter into consideration. Tasmanian timber can be used for practically every purpose for which imported timber is employed at the present time. In our cities one may see factories and other large buildings in which there is hardly a stick of Australian timber. That fact was brought strongly home to me in Sydney the other day. Those city folk who most insistently claim adequate protection for their own industries purchase, in the way of timber, the cheapest imported rubbish that they can obtain. That is neither right nor economically sound. I favour an increased duty, not with the idea of raising prices, but to assist the producers of timber. Recently we have heard a great deal regarding the desirability of assisting primary producers. No industry has a greater claim than the timber industry to the description “primary.” Sawmilling is not easy work. Experts have been brought out to direct the operations of the mills, and thousands of pounds have been spent on machinery which is lying idle and going to rust. I hope that action by the Government will not be much longer delayed, and that when it is taken it will be in the direction of giving protection to this highly deserving and long suffering industry.
SenatorFOLL (Queensland) [5.2].- Queensland is particularly interested in any legislation that relates to softwoods, because it is the largest producer of that commodity in Australia. The stage has been reached when it is the only State that has pine in any quantity. Before the duty on softwoods is largely increased consideration ought to be given to the position which Australia occupies in the softwood industry. A perusal of the Commonwealth Year-Book which was issued at the end of 1926, will show honorable senators that, relatively, Australia’s forest area is lower than that of any other country.For example, the forest land in relation to total area is - in Canada 26.78 per cent., in India 20 per cent., in Sweden 57 per cent., in the United States of America 24 per cent., and in Finland 55.80 per cent. Australia’s forest land is only 1.29 per cent. of her total area, and its scattered nature adds to the cost of production. But for the huge imports of softwoods in recent years we should have been in a very sorry plight. Unfortunately, the Government that has been in power in Queensland for the last twelve years has done nothing except to profiteer in the softwood industry at the expense of the home builder. Queensland home builders are situated differently from those in the other States, by reason of the fact that practically 99 per cent. of the homes in that State are, with the exception of a number of joists and stumps, constructed of softwoods. Consequently, anything which affects that industry must react seriously upon that State. Practically all the softwood forests of Queensland are on Crown lands. Every time additional protection has been given to the softwood industry of Australia, the Queensland Government has taken the opportunity to increase the royalties paid by the timber cutters in its pine country. The exorbitant price that now has to be paid for Queensland pine is due to the fact that the State. Government, not satisfied with increasing the royalties, has adopted the practice of throwing open only small areas of timber lands quite insufficient to meet the requirements of the people of the State, and submitting them to competition at auction. The Government notifies that on a certain date certain areas will be submitted to auction; an upset royalty is fixed, and the timber merchants compete with one another as to the amount of royalty they will pay. The result is that in many cases the royalties they offer are exceedingly high, and the cost of the timber is so high that a softwood house in Queensland costs practically as much as a brick house in the southern States.
– What is the average price of pine in Queensland?
– I think that the average price of Queensland pine ceiling boards in given lengths is about £3 per 100 feet.
– The price used to be from 13s. 6d. to 15s. 6d. per 100 feet.
– To-day the royalties paid on the timber amount to more than the price mentioned by the honorable senator. The figures that I shall now quote will give some idea of the way in which the Queensland Government has profiteered. In the year 1920-21 the Government received in royalties from its pine forests £145,S02. In the same year it spent in re-afforestation, and in the administration of the Forestry Department, only £72,718. In 1924-25 the royalties received amounted to £246,641, mad the amount spent in re-afforestation and administration was only £60,542. It is quite evident that the Queensland Government is using its pine forests for purely taxation purposes. Although Queensland is the greatest softwood-producing State in Australia, the only thing that has tended to keep softwoods at a reasonable price in that State is the fa<n that large quantities of Oregon and other softwoods are imported from overseas. Had it not been for this importation from overseas, many Queensland sawmills could not have kept going. In fact it was brought under my notice a little while ago that many sawmills were getting large quantities of Oregon in the log and sawing them into building lengths. If an additional duty is to be imposed on imported timbers I think it should be restricted to sawn timber. If the logs could come in without paying increased duties, a tremendous amount of work in sawing and dressing would be afforded ro Australian sawmills. In its report, ordered to be printed on 18th September, 1925, the Tariff Board said -
Now, having in mind the request from the Queensland authorities that a subsidy be paid to the State Governments for reafforestation purposes, when the Government placed into the Consolidated Revenue Fund the very large sums it receives from these very high royalty charges, spending little or nothing itself on re-afforestation: and, further, having in mind the fact that the ad valorem equivalents of the present duties amount to, on different sizes of Oregon timber, from 50 per cent, to 85 per cent.; on Baltic timber from 45 per cent, to 50 per cent.; and on certain furniture timbers from 12^ per cent, to 25 per cent. . . . the following utterance of Mr. Swain, Director of the Queensland Forest Service, at a Tariff Board Conference, 28th April, 1924, would be difficult to match for its amazing divergence from facts: - “If the tariff make a national resource of a country worthless, something should be done. That position seems to arise from the fact that, whereas protection is a general policy, timber has not been protected at all. I would like the board to do something to enable us to make this industry prosper.”
Further comment on such assertions is unnecessary. In the opinion of the Tariff Board any further increase in the tariff on timber used for structural purposes and for furniture would, as far as the State of Queensland is concerned, simply result in an increased cost of building construction and cabinet making as a result of the additional imposts which would be placed upon the saw-milling industry by the State Government acting through its Forestry Department, and in addition by these other factors already described by the Queensland Director of Forests as “ profiteers.”
Now let us turn to hardwoods.
– The honorable senator has exhausted his time.
– T have very little to say on this subject. A duty on timber will naturally increase the price on timber all round. Tasmania needs thousands of cases for the despatch of apples overseas. There has already been a heavy loss on the transport of apples from Tasmania, and any increase in the cost of the cases must tend to increase thai loss.
– There will bo no increase in the cost of cases.
– There must be, if the duty on timber is increased. When a duty on any article is increased, the cost of the article that comes into com.petiton with it is naturally increased. An increase in the duty on timber will increase the cost of fie houses to be built under the Commonwealth housing scheme, and if it should be found to be cheaper to build in brick or concrete, the demand for timber will be considerably less. An increase in the timber duties will increase the cost of furniture, and the cost of boxing our canned fruits for overseas markets. If we increase the price of timber we shall increase the price of commodities all round, and make it much harder to place Australian produce on overseas markets.
Senator HERBERT HAYS (Tasmania) [5.20). - Any doubt which I might have had as to the justification for the action I have taken this afternoon has been dispelled by the debate which has ensued. Twelve months ago 176 timber mills, employing 2,030 workmen, were operating in Tasmania. To-day only 1,145 men are engaged iii the timber industry in that State. In the other states the industry is in a similar Condition. I have never contended, as has been suggested during the debate, that increased duties have not resulted in increased prices for commodities. The accepted policy of Australia is one of protection. In furtherance of that policy most of our industries have been granted assistance. I claim that the timber industry is no less deserving than are those other industries which have been assisted. The Government, by appointing a Development and Migration Commission, is seeking to establish new industries in Australia; yet an industry of such great importance as is the timber industry has been allowed to languish.
– The declared policy of the Government is to encourage Australian industries.
– That is so. In pursuance of that policy the Government should have assisted the -timber industry. I desire to make it clear that I am not opposing the rates of wages ;and the conditions of employment now operating in the timber industry. I do not consider that that or any other industry should be conducted under conditions which amount to sweating. I have merely said that the conditions applying to the industry today have resulted in higher costs, which, an turn, have had their effect upon the industry. In the hope that the Government will give to the timber industry the same measure of protection that it has granted to other industries not nearly so important, I ask” leave to withdraw my motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands). - More than two hours have elapsed since the meeting of the Senate, and orders of the day should now be called on; but, in accordance with Standing Order 66a, two motions on the notice-paper under the heading “Business of the Senate,” have precedence. -They must therefore be dealt with before orders of the day are proceeded with. When the two notices of motion have been disposed of, it will be competent for the Minister to move that consideration of orders of the day, Government business, be postponed until after questions have been answered.
Motion (by Senator Foll) agreed to -
That Senator A’bbott be granted one month’s leave of absence on account of urgent public business.
Motion FOR Disallowance.
Senator ELLIOTT (Victoria) [5.27J.- I move -
That Statutory Rule, No. 109, of 1927- Regulations under Defence Act 1303-1927 - be disallowed.
There .are two reasons why the Senate should disallow these regulations. First, they introduce a new principle into eur defence legislation. Section 124 of the Defence Act 1903, which provides for the making of regulations, deals ‘ exclusively with matters of military training, such as the regulation and good government of the military college; the enrolment of persons liable to serve in the Citizen Forces in time of war, and the fixing of the rates of pay of members of the
Defence Force. In March last that act was amended to provide for -
The regulation, control, or prohobition, of the construction of buildings or other erections within areas proclaimed by the GovernorGeneral to be areas in which such regulation, control, or prohibition is necessary for the defence of the Commonwealth.
When the amending legislation was before us, I thought that it would not apply in time of peace, although some such provision might be necessary in time of war. The Government, however, has issued these regulations under* it in a time of peace. Regulation 4 provides -
Any person who, without the consent in writing of the Minister (proof whereof shall be upon that person) constructs in any defence area specified in Table B of the schedule any building or erection of a greater maximum height than 50 feet, shall be guilty of an offence.
Any person who, without the consent in writing of the Minister ( proof whereof shall be upon that person), constructs in such parts as are specified in Table C of the schedule of defence areas specified in Table B of the schedule, any building of a greater maximum height than 15 feet,” shall be guilty of an offence.
It may be said that with such a margin as that between 15 feet and 50 feet no hardship can be imposed on the owners of land ; but I am concerned with the principle underlying the regulation. If it is allowed to stand, the Governor-General will have the power to forbid the erection of any building within the area covered by the regulation and this without any obligation to pay the owner reasonable compensation. Regulation 9 (1) reads -
No person who is prevented by or under these Regulations from building in a defence area, shall have any action, claim or demand against the Commonwealth or any officer of the Commonwealth by reason of his being prevented from building.
When the amending legislation was before us earlier . in the year, no mention was made of any intention on the part of the Government to deprive of compensation a person who suffered injury because of the operations of its provisions. I can understand that in time of war it might be necessary to demolish a house; but even in those circumstances it has never previously been suggested that its owner should not be compensated. This regulation, however, would empower the Governor-Gene ral to destroy a man’s property, or, at least, to interfere with his right to use it as he chooses, without any compensation being made.
– No. Section 9 distinctly provides that the owner shall have no claim for compensation. If such a drastic alteration of the existing powers was thought necessary, the Government should have brought forward an amending bill, and thus given Parliament an opportunity to discuss the matter.
– Do the regulations apply to existing buildings, as well as to buildings which may be erected in the future ?
– The new regulation does not specifically say that a man may be compelled to remove a house already existing in the prescribed area ; but if this regulation is passed without comment another regulation to compel him to do so without any compensation being granted might be made.
– A man might erect a building on his property in ignorance of this regulation.
– I shall deal with that aspect of the matter presently. In operation this statutory rule may prevent an owner of land from using it as he intended originally, and he may have no redress. I doubt whether the act,” passed in May last, authorized the Government to go to this extent. That measure contains no provision empowering the Government to interfere without paying adequate compensation, and I question very much if Parliament intended that the private’ rights of persons in land should be so interfered with.
– It is not British fair play.
– Nevertheless, that is what this Government has taken upon itself to do in peace time. There is another serious objection that may be urged against the promulgation of these regulations. If we allow them to stand, the whole of our Torrens system of land registration will practically go by the board. The several States have built up a system of which they are justly proud. They regard the Torrens system of land registration as the best in the world. Under that law any purchaser of land may readily ascertain how the title stands. If there is any encumbrance on land, or if there is any restriction on it in any way, it is shown on the title. It is not even necessary for a man to employ a solicitor. All that he has to do is to obtain the particulars, apply to the Titles’ Office, and upon payment of a search fee examine the title for himself. If, by means of these statutory rules, Parliament authorizes the Governor-General to issue proclamations at large, so vitally affecting the enjoyment of land, as this statutory rule purports to do, the position will be a very serious one. Instead of an owner relying upon the title, he will be obliged to employ a solicitor, whose duty it will be to examine minutely all these statutory rules, sheaves of which are passed every year, and even then one might escape his notice, with the result that after having paid a high price for land an owner might be deprived of its full use.
– All such restrictions should be shown on the title.
– I agree with the honorable senator. Some method should be devised to show in every title any such encumbrance on land. It should be possible to make a satisfactory arrangement with the State governments, under which in every case where a proclamation affecting land has been promulgated such restrictions shall be shown on the title. Otherwise there will be endless confusion. A solicitor may in perfectly good faith advise his client that a title is a good one, and the owner of the land in question may erect buildings on it, only to discover later that the land has been affected by a Defence Act regulation.
SenatorAndrew. - The Victorian law makes provision with regard to minerals 50 feet below the surface.
– That is so. If there is any restriction in the Crown grant, or a provision as to minerals or the right to resume for railway purposes, it is set out in the title. It seems a great pity that this splendid system of land registration, which has been in operation in the various States for at least 50 years, should be impaired in this way. I hope, therefore, that the Senate will disallow the regulations.
– In the absence of the Minister for Defence (Senator Glasgow), I have some diffidence about replying to the comments of Senator Elliott in so far as they affect the Defence Department, though I am prepared to deal with the other matter. However, I shall be glad of an opportunity to peruse a proof of the honorable senator’s remarks in order that the subject may receive further consideration from both the departmental view and my own. I therefore ask leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Pearce) agreed to-
That orders of the day, Government business, be postponed until questions on notice have been answered and placing of business dealt with.
Names of Streets and Numbering of Houses
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The Minister for Home and Territories supplies the following answers : -
asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
Will he give an assurance to the Senate that, before any tender or tenders received for the purchase of the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers are finalized by the Government, the Senate will be given an opportunity to discuss same?
– The right honorable the Prime Minister has supplied the following answer to the honorable senator’s question : -
The Government does not consider it advisable that tenders should be submitted to Parliament for discussion before being finalized. Such a course would be resented by the business community, and would obviously restrict the field of possible purchasers and act detrimentally on the sale of the Line.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow: - 1, 2 and 3. Presumably the honorable senator refers to the Air Accidents Investigation Committee constituted in May last to report on accidents arising out of air navigation in Australia. A statement covering the findings of this committee on accidents investigated to date was issued to the press some weeks ago.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The right honorable the Prime Minister has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister -
What percentage of phosphate does the Nauru rock contain without the addition of sulphur or phosphate acid?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Eightysix per cent. tricalcic phosphate of lime.
asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
– The policy of the Government in this matter will be announced indue course.
Safeguardingpublic Interests - Boring in Papua.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
In the event of the discovery of a payable supply of oil in New Guinea or Papua, what precautions, if any will the Government take to safeguard the public interest by keeping such supply out of the hands of a monopoly?
– The honor able the Minister for Home and Territories has supplied the following answer to the honorable senator’s question: -
The laws relating to mineral oil in New Guinea and Papua provide -
that prospecting and mining for mineral oil in those territories may be conducted only by companies, two-thirds of whose shares are held by or on behalf of British subjects;
that a lessee must refine, or have refined, in the territory or in some approved part of Australia so much of the crude oil produced from the leased land as the Administrator or the Lieutenant-Governor, as the case may be, directs:
that a lessee must not ship or export any crude oil, in the case of New Guinea, to any place outside the territory, and in the case of Papua to any place other than Australia, without the consent of the Administrator or the Lieutenant-Governor;
that no company shall hold more than one licence to search for mineral oil, unless specially authorized thereto by the Administrator or the Lieutenant-Governor ;
that the holder of a licence to search for mineral oil who discovers payable oil shall have an exclusive right to one mineral oil reward lease of four square miles;
that the area of an ordinary mineral oil lease shall not exceed160 acres, and that an application for a mineral oil lease may be granted or refused at the discretion of the Administrator or the LieutenantGovernor ;
that a licence or a lease shall not be assigned or transferred without the consent of the Administrator or of the Lieutenant-Governor.
It is considered that the public interest is adequately safeguarded by these provisions.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon, notice -
What is the present position so far as oilboring operations at Popo, in Papua, are concerned ?
– The Minister for Home and Territories has supplied the following answer : -
Boring at the site now being tested at Popo, which is known as the No. 4 site, commenced in August last, and on the 18th October had been carried to a depth of 899 feet, when a breakage of casing occurred. Various devices have been resorted to with a view of overcoming the difficulty, but. at the date of the latest advice from the field, the defect had not been remedied. Mr. C. E. Clark, one of the principal drilling experts of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, who is being sent to Popo to study the problem of drilling though the flowing mud strata encountered in connexion with the earlier bores, is to leave Sydney for Papua this week, and will personally look into the existing difficulties.
In committee (Consideration resumed from 4th November, vide page 979) :
Clause 8 -
Section 35 of the principal act is repealed, and the following sections are inserted in its stead: - 35D. - 1. The savings bank may, with the the approval of the Treasurer, enter into an arrangement with the proper authority controlling any savings bank constituted under the laws of a State for the transfer to the savings bank, upon such terms and conditions as are agreed upon between the savings bank and the proper authority, of the whole or any part of the assets, liabilities, and business of that savings bank. “ 2. The following agreements relating to the transfer of State Government Savings Banks to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia shall be binding on the savings bank: -
The agreement of the twenty-second day of June, One thousand nine hundred and twenty, between the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and the State of Queensland.
The agreements between the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and the State of Tasmania of the nineteenth day of June, One thousand ninehundred and thirteen, the twentythird day of December. One thousand nine hundred and eighteen, and the fourth day of January, One thousand nine hundred and twenty-two.
to say if the States have been consulted, and, if so, what is the nature of the replies received ? It has been said that some of the States do not approve of the Government’s proposals in this connexion.
. - At present the two agreements referred to in paragraphs a and b of sub-section 2 are in operation, and we hare to ensure that these agreements and the liabilities attaching to them shall be taken over by the Commonwealth Savings Bank Commissioners. The provision does not relate to the matter mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham).
SenatorREID (Queensland) [5.55].- If any arrangement is to be entered into under which the Commonwealth Savings Bank will absorb the State Savings Banks, as has been done in Queensland! and Tasmania, will the Government see that’ the depositors in the Commonwealth Savings Bank are paid the same rate of interest as is paid by the State Savings Banks? Depositors in Queensland whose accounts were transferred from the State Savings Bank to the Commonwealth Savings Bank are receiving½ per cent. less in interest than is being received by depositors inNew South Wales. This is not likely to induce the State authorities to hand over the savings banks to the control of the Commonwealth. Is there any likelihood of the rate of interest being reviewed ? I understand that when Sir Denison Miller was Governor. of the Commonwealth Bank, he did not consider it good policy to enter into competition with the State institutions ; but even if that were the case the depositors in the Commonwealth Savings Bank should not be penalized to the extent of1/2 per cent.
– Is it possible to borrow money from the Commonwealth Savings Bank at a lower rate, of interest than is charged by a State Savings Bank?
SenatorREID. - I do not think so. We should be told why depositors in the savings banks in two States are receiving a lower rate of interest than is being received by depositors in State Savings Banks in other States.
– It is not a function of the Government to fix the rate of interest paid to depositors in the Commonwealth Savings Bank. The rate is at present fixed by the directors of the Commonwealth Bank. When this measure becomes law, the interest will be fixed by the Savings Bank Commissioners. The first sub-section of the proposed section relates to future acquisitions by the Commonwealth Savings Bank . Commissioners, and we cannot lay downany hard and fast rule by which they will be governed. Whilst it may be unfortunate that depositors in the Commonwealth Savings Bank receive a lower rate of interest than depositors in State savings banks, it is a matter which is at present beyond the power of Parliament to adjust.
.- if am glad that attention has been directed to the anomaly which exists between the rates of interest paid to depositors in the Commonwealth Savings Bank and. in State savings banks. It is desirable’ to inculcate thrift in the mind’s of the people who are advised to deposit their savings in a. bank.;but what possibility is there of the Commonwealth Savings Bank’ receiving its share of such savings if it pays a lower rate of interest than the State Savings Bank? Surely it is reasonable to suggest that the Commonwealth Savings Bank should pay small depositors the same rate of interest as is paid by State savings banks. There should be no differentiation between the rates as the depositors’ money is as valuable to the Commonwealth as it is to the States.
– If a higher rate of interest were paid, borrowed money might cost more.
Senator -PAYNE. - But the rates charged on borrowed money by both institutions are the same. The State savings bank pays1/2 per cent, interest more than the Commonwealth Savings Bank.
– The rates were the same, but the States raised their rate.
– They did not do so without justification. If the State institutions were justified in raising their rates, the Commonwealth should do the same.
– The States savings banks raised their rates in order to secure more business.
– They would not do so without some justification. They would not conduct their transactions at a loss.
.- Agreements have been entered into between the CommonwealthBank and the State savings banks of Tasmania and Queensland, in which it is provided, in the case of Queensland, that 70 per cent, of the increase in deposits in that State shall be expended within the State in the manner desired by the State Government. The Minister for Defence (Senator Glasgow) in moving the second reading, of the Commonwealth Housing Bill, said that 50 per cent, of the increase in deposits of the savings bank would be utilized in connexion with the proposed housing scheme. I should like to know how that proposal affects the agreements already in existence.
– The Minister for Defence meant 50 per cent, of the total increase for the Commonwealth.
– In effect, the Minister for Defence said that if the deposits increased from £50,000,000 to £60,000,000, one-half of the increased amount, £5,000,000, would he made avail able for the housing scheme.
– That is so.
– Not if Queensland is entitled to ‘70 per cent, of the increase in deposits.
– In that State.
– Therefore it cannot apply to the whole , Commonwealth, as the Minister (Senator Pearce) suggests, as Queensland and Tasmania must be exempt.
– But there are four other States.
– Therefore it applies to only four States. Tasmanian senators ought to be clear as to what the
Agreement really means.
– The proposed section 35d reads -
The savings bunk may, with the approval of the Treasurer, enter into an arrangement with the proper authority controlling any savings bank constituted under the laws of a State for the transfer to the savings bank, upon such terms and conditions as are agreed upon between the savings bank and the proper authority, of. the whole or any part of the assets, liabilities, and business of that savings bank. …
It would have been only reasonable if, before the measure was introduced to Parliament, the States concerned had been consulted. Independently of Queensland and Tasmania, the four States that have not an agreement with the Commonweatlh to have the business of the savings bank carried on jointly, ought to have been sounded to ascertain whether, in the event of the measure becoming law, they would fall into line. If they have not been so consulted, and should they not agree to transfer their savings bank business to the Commonwealth authority, are we to assume that they will not be allowed to par ticipate in the housing scheme ? I believe that in another place the question was asked whether the States had been consulted, and that a definite reply was not given. The Minister may say that it will be time enough to consult the States when the bill is law. I think that it will then be too late. The negotiations should have been carried on prior to the drafting of the bill. If the States have not been consulted they have not been treated fairly. If they have, what is their attitude? The scheme, to be effective, must embrace the whole of the States. If any benefits are derivable under the measure which is complimentary to this, every State should participate in them. I should like to be informed whether the Government of Western Australia views favorably or unfavorably the Commonwealth housing scheme. .They have a scheme of their own, and it is working well.
– The first portion of proposed section 35n contains an empowering provision which will enable the body that is to be created to take ov.er the business of every savings bank, subject to the parliamentary authority given, and the statutory limitations of the trustees, directors, or commissioners, as the case may be. A similar transaction has already taken place in a rather different form. The object here is to enable that to be done without further parliamentary authority. If some of the States that are not now co-operating with the Commonwealth in savings bank business, should in the future choose to join forces, this provision will enable that to be done. I again point out that subsection 2 makes provision for doing only what a person engaged in commerce would do. It is proposed, by act of Parliamentto transfer to the Commonwealth Savings Bank whatever liabilities have been incurred on its behalf by the Commonwealth Bank. That Bank is already bound in accordance with the obligations it has undertaken ; and the State instrumentalities are in turn bound to the Commonwealth Bank. The figures that were quoted by the Minister for Defence (Senator Glasgow) relate to increased deposits over the whole of Australia, not in any particular State.
– Has the Government consulted the States with respect to proposed section 35d.
– As the honorable senator has pointed out, there is no necessity to consult Queensland and Tasmania, because the Commonwealth Bank is already performing the work for those two States; and I have endeavoured to make it clear that, because sub-section 1 is an empowering provision, it is not necessary to consult the other States. Nothing will happen unless -the State instrumentality agrees to fall into line with the Commonwealth Savings Bank. Under the agreements referred to in the proposed section the Government possesses the right, if it should choose to exercise it, to receive 70 per cent, of the increases in deposits. I understand that that right has not always been exercised. It receives 50 per cent, of the increases in deposits over the whole of Australia.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to S p.m.
.- Earlier in the committee stage I said that the Minister who introduced the Housing Bill informed the Senate that 50 per cent, of the inc ‘ease in deposits in the Commonwealth Savings Bank was to be set aside, together with other moneys, for the Commonwealth housing scheme, and I drew attention to sub-section 2 of the proposed section :35d of this bill, the purpose of which is to ratify agreements between the Commonwealth Bank arid the Queensland and the Tasmanian Governments. By these agreements the Commonwealth Bank, some years ago, took over the deposits in the State Savings Banks of the two States. The reply which Senator McLachlan made to my remarks convinces me that lie does not understand the terms of the agreement with the Queensland Government. I understood him to say that 70 per cent, of the increases in deposits in the Queensland branch of the amalgamated savings bank would be at the disposal of the Commonwealth. In the agreement it is clearly laid down that 70 per cent, of the increases in deposits in Queensland are to be at the disposal of the Queensland Government, and the remaining 30 per cent, are to be disbursed as the State Treasurer desires. In the circumstances, therefore, not one penny of the increases in deposits in Queensland will be available for housing purposes in any other part of Australia. -I should say that the same applies to Tasmania. When the Minister says that certain increases in deposits will be made available for the Commonwealth housing scheme, are we to understand that only in those States where increases in deposits are available for the Commonwealth’s scheme can money be expended upon this scheme? I am positive that no State Government has been consulted about it.
– What does it matter whether they have been consulted or not.
– I thought that it was the desire of the Commonwealth Government to co-operate with the States in this matter. I understood, that the Commonwealth Government would not enter a State domain without the consent of the State. Am I to gather from the honorable senator’s interjection that, no matter what the States think of the Commonwealth Government’s proposals, the Commonwealth will go on with a scheme which makes it mandatory that 50 per cent, of the increases in deposits in the different States other than Queeusland and Tasmania, shall be available for carrying it out? I say that the scheme cannot operate without the approval of the governments in the four States concerned.
– The honorable gentleman is dealing with a matter that is covered by another bill.
– Under the agreement between the Commonwealth Bank and the Queensland Government not a single penny will be available in Queensland for the Commonwealth housing scheme.
– How does the honorable senator know that Queensland will need 70 per cent. It may not need more than 50 per cent. The State Government is not compelled to take the money.
– We cannot compel State Governments to do anything in the matter unless they approve of it, and I want to know if the State Governments have been consulted in regard to the provision of the Housing
Bill, and whether there have been negotiations between the Commonwealth Government and the Governments of Queensland and Tasmania about the Commonwealth housing scheme. I feel certain that under no circumstances would the Queensland Government agree to any alteration in the terms of the existing agreement relating to the disbursement of the increases in savings bank deposits in Queensland.
– I rise to a point of order. The paragraph, we are now considering provides for the ratification of agreements entered into by the Commonwealth Bank and the Governments of Queensland and Tasmania, under which the State Governments gave over their savings bank businesses to the Commonwealth. Is the honorable senator privileged to discuss the question he is now discussing?
The CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).Senator Findley is quite in order.
– I hope that honorable senators are as anxious as I am to get all the information it is possible to get. If we agree to proposed section 35d,under no circumstances can we expect anything for the Commonwealth housing scheme from savings bank deposits in Queensland or Tasmania. The Minister has not made the point clear. All that we are told is that 50 per cent, of the increases in deposits will be available for the housing scheme; but, as no increased deposits will be available from Queensland or Tasmania, the only States that can be expected to furnish savings bank money for the purpose of our housing scheme are the other four States, if they come into the scheme, which now conduct their savings bank business apart from the Commonwealth Bank.
– All that sub-section 2 of proposed section 35d does is to ratify and respect the arrangement already entered into between the Commonwealth Bank and the State Governments of Queensland and Tasmania. The angle from which Senator Findley is discussing the matter is not pertinent to the sub-section, but will arise’ at a later stage when the Senate proceeds to discuss the provisions of the Housing Bill. In that bill it is provided -
The housing fund shall consist of -
That connotes that the funds of the Commonwealth Savings Bank are not peculiar to South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland, or New South Wales; but are thefunds of the Commonwealth Bank as an Australian bank, and that whatever disability is brought about by the agreements with the State Governments they must be respected because they are solemn agreements entered into between the Commonwealth Bank and the respective Governments.
– The more I hear this section discussed, the more I am convinced; that Senator Findley is on the right track. When all the increases in deposits in. Queensland and Tasmania are earmarked for State purposes, where are we to get any money in those States for the alleged Commonwealth house-building scheme?’ As Senator Findley has already pointed out, 70 per cent, of the increases in deposits in Queensland are definitely earmarked for the use of that State, while the other 30 per cent, is to be spentas the Treasurer of the State determines. I believe that mention has been made of a board of advice, comprising the State Treasurer and the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank; but the practice- has been to adopt the suggestions of theState Treasurer in relation to the disbursement of the 30per cent. Therefore,. 100 per cent of the increases in deposits in Queensland are earmarked for expenditure in Queensland. The Minister cannot tell me that there is any difference between the agreement with the Queensland Government and that with the Tasmanian Government. There are thus two States out of the running, leaving only four to contribute towards the housing scheme. Honorable senators are trying to find out whether those four States have been consulted. The Minister tells us that there is no need to consult them, because section 35d is simply an empowering provision. That is so; but bow can it become effective without the consent of the States? If the States do not make the arrangements as suggested in 35D, where shall we get the money for the house-building scheme? The Minister has not told us whether the Commonwealth Treasurer has consulted the State Treasurer of Western Australia in regard to the Housing Bill. Western Australia has a very good house-building scheme of its own. T do not know that it desires to abandon its own housing scheme, or’ that the Government of Western Australia is prepared to transfer, the assets of its savings bank to the Commonwealth. The Government should inform the committee how far the negotiations with the Governments of the States have proceeded. Without the consent of the States, a Commonwealth house-building scheme will be impracticable and inoperative. 35e. The savings bank shall be managed by a commission composed of a chief commissioner and two other commissioners.
.- I move-
That all the words after “ a,” first occuring, be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ Superintendent under the direction of the Commonwealth Bank Board.”
In my second-reading speech I said that it would be a mistake to have a separate commission to control the savings bank. In my opinion, the business of the savings bank would be better conducted as a branch of the Commonwealth Bank under the management of a superintendent who would be subject to direction by the Commonwealth Bank Board. The proposed amendment which the Minister has circulated would perpetuate a system which I believe to be wrong. Originally, I was under the impression that the Commonwealth Bank Board had refused to have anything to do with the new housing scheme on the ground that the additional duties would impose too great a strain on its members. I thought then, as I do now, that they should be capable of undertaking the control of that work. All that is necessary is for a superintendent, or manager, of the savings bank branch to be appointed, and that he shall be subject to direction by the board as to policy. The principle of appointing a new commission is unsound, and should not be embodied in this legislation.
– The proposed amendment circulated by the Minister meets the position mentioned by the honorable senator.
– No. It leaves power for commissioners to be appointed by the Government at any time. My amendment provides definitely that the savings bank branch shall be a department of the Commonwealth Bank under the control of the main Bank Board. An institution conducted on those lines is a more businesslike proposition than that suggested in the proposed amendment that has been circulated. While I cannot hope for other than the usual stereotyped reply from the Minister, “I regret that I cannot accept the amendment,” I hope that this will receive the serious consideration of the committee.
. - I do not know whether I have cause to regret or to rejoice that I have not yet been long enough in the political arena to become stereotyped. The amendment moved by Senator Thompson would necessitate the re-drafting of this measure.
– Why not redraft it if the amendment would improve the bill?
– I think that the proposed amendment which I have circulated will meet the point raised by Senator Thompson. It reads -
Provided that, until the appointment of the commission -
That amendment provides that should the Commonwealth Bank Board at any time find that its duties ave too onerous, a separate commission may be appointed to control the savings bank; but that until it comes to that decision the business of the savings bank branch shall be conducted under its direction. An elastic provision- of that nature is better than the rigid provision suggested by Senator Thompson.As a result of a discussion to-day with the Commonwealth Bank Board, it has intimated to the Government that it is prepared to undertake the control of its housing scheme. Previously its members did not understand fully the intention of the Government in relation to its housing scheme. The amendment which I have circulated meets with the approval of the board. In the circumstances it is proposed that the Commonwealth Bank Board shall continue to manage the savings bank branch. Should it become necessary later to substitute a commission for the board, the proposed amendment wh ich I have circulated would meet the situation.
– If the Minister’s suggested amendment is agreed to, will there be any consequential amendments?
– The proposed section 35k refers to the appointment of commissioners; proposed section 35G deals with the duties of the Chief Commissioner; proposed section 35h fixes the remuneration of the commissioners, and, in terms of proposed section 35j, the commissioners shall hold office only during good behaviour. The remaining proposed new sections are of a machinery nature, and will be suspended so long as the Commonwealth Bank Board controls the savings bank branch. Seeing that my proposed amendment will meet the point raised by Senator Thompson, I suggest that he withdraw his amendment.
. - Time, and the opposition to this bill in another place, as well as in this chamber, are working Avonders. It is amazing to find Senator Thompson, who supported the second reading of this measure, the object of which is to divorce the savings bank department from the general banking business of the Commonwealth Bank, and who also voted against an amendment to refer the bill to a select committee, . now moving an amendment to provide that the Commonwealth Bank Board shall remain in control of the savings bank branch. The Minister has circulated a comprehensive amendment, which is a complete backdown by the Government. When the bill was introduced in another place it was stated emphatically that to carry out the Government’s housing proposals the savings bank branch must be separated from the general business of the Commonwealth Bank. When objection was taken to this course by the Opposition the Treasurer declared that he had been in consultation with the board of directors of the bank, and that the latter had intimated that they could not carry out the proposed housing scheme. We took the stand that the original proposition put to the board of directors was different from that contained in the bill; but honorable senators supporting the Government ridiculed the suggestion. We pointed out that the additional duties imposed upon the board by the adoption of the housing scheme would not materially add to its responsibilities, andcertainly did not justify the course then proposed by the Government. To test the feeling of the Senate we moved an amendment that the bill be referred to a select committee, the object being to give members of the board an opportunity to state their position. The Minister has just informed the Senate that the Government has had another consultation with the directors of the bank; and that they are now prepared to carry on with the scheme. The Government has completely backed down in the face of opposition in. this chamber and in another place. Let me say further that I believe that the Government has not the slightest intention of appointing the commission as proposed. The amendment is merely intended as a barrage, behind which the Ministry can retreat from a difficult position. It will be noted that paragraph (c) of the Minister’s proposed amendment provides that -
The CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).Order! The honorable senator may not, at this stage, refer to the amendment indicated by the Minister.
– I do. not wish to conflict with your ruling, Mr. Chairman, but I remind you that you allowed the Minister to read the whole of his proposed amendment, whereas I intended to refer only to the concluding paragraph.
– I allowed the Minister to refer to the amendment which he had circulated in order that he might explain to Senator Thompson the extent to which the Government was meeting the object which he sought to achieve by the amendment that he had moved.
– Very well, Mr. Chairman, I shall leave it at that. The object of the latter portion of Senator Thompson’s amendment is to excise certain provisions in the bill, and to make provision for the appointment of a superintendent to act under the direction of the board of directors. If that is carried there will still be the separation of the savings bank branch from the general business of the bank; but the amendment forecast by the Minister will obviate that objectionable course. I am glad that the Ministry has altered its viewpoint on this aspect of the proposal. It is obvious that the proposal placed originally before the board of directors was different altogether from that which is in the bill. I welcome the amendment indicated by the Minister, and repeat that ir, is the outcome of opposition in this chamber and in another place to the proposed separation of the savings bank branch from the general business of the ba nk.
– The amendment submitted by Senator Thompson, and that indicated by the Minister (Senator McLachlan) are worthy of the most careful consideration, because both touch an issue which was debated at length at the second reading stage of the bill. I cannot permit the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Need- ham) to take all the credit for having objected to the Government’s proposal to divorce the savings bank branch from the general business of the bank.
– We received no support from the honorable senator during the second reading-debate.
-Senator Thompson made his position perfectly . clear.
– How did he vote?
– He had no opportunity to vote on this issue. The amendment submitted by the Leader of the Opposition during the second reading debate sought to refer the bill to a select committee. Senator Thompson and other honorable senators on this side were perfectly justified in voting against it. It had nothing to do with the proposal to appoint a superintendent of the savings bank branch under the control of the Commonwealth Bank Board. We may assume that the Government was advised, in the first place by the board of directors, that in order to give effect to the Government’s housing proposals, it would be desirable to separate the savings bank branch from the general business of the bank. Equally we are entitled to assume that the directors, upon further consideration, believed that they would be able to carry out the work satisfactorily without making the change, and advised the Government accordingly. I shall vote against Senator Thompson’s amendment, because the position is met by the amendment indicated by the Minister, though in a different way. No matter by what name he may be designated, it is obvious that it will be necessary to have a superintendent of the savings bank branch. The Minister’s amendment has come as a surprise, but I have no doubt that my assumption as to the reason for this alteration is the correct one, because, with other honorable senators, I was much impressed during the second-reading debate by the earnestness of the Government in seeking to bring about a separation of the two branches of the bank’s business.
– I move -
That at the end of proposed new section 35e the following proviso be added: - “Provided that, until the appointment of. the commission -
the savings bank shall be managed by the board of the bank; and
for the purposes of this Part, and of the Commonwealth Housing Act 1927, the Governor shall haveall the powers and functions of the Chief Commissioner, and the board shall have all the powers and functions of the commission; and
all references in this Part (excepting in sections 35f to 35.v inclusive) and in the Commonwealth Housing
Act 1927 to the Chief Commissioner or to the commission shall be read as references to the Governor or the board as the case may be.”
In regard to the Commonwealth Savings Bank Bill and the Commonwealth Housing Bill, the Government this morning have had an interview with the chairman, the Governor, and two other directors of the Commonwealth Bank. They have reported to the Government that although, as the Treasurer stated in another place, during the debate on the second reading, he freely consulted with them on the principles of those measures, they did not appreciate the exact intentions of the legislation as to the carrying’ out of the housing function, and that, on further consideration, they are now of the opinion that under the provisions of the measures, the board could carry out its administration. To enable the board to do this, an amendment is to be made in the Senate to provide that until the commission is appointed, the board will carry on the functions under the two bills. Should it become necessary, at a later stage, for any good reasons to establish the separation by the appointment of the commission, that course could be adopted. This action is being taken with the cordial approval of the board.
– Prior to the last election the Government announced its intention of introducing a measure to provide for a housing scheme. For a period of thirteen months, in which Parliament sat for only three weeks, the Government had ample opportunity to formulate its policy and to prepare its programme for the present session. It had every opportunity to consult and interview those entrusted with the responsibility of controlling the Commonwealth Bank; but it was not until the Commonwealth Bank Savings Bank Bill and the Commonwealth Housing Bill were vigorously discussed in another place, and the former seriously debated in this chamber, that the Government showed any disposition to amend the measure. We pointed out as strongly as possible that, there was no necessity whatever to separate the savings bank from the general bank. We also said that as far as the Government activities were concerned its proposals would not bring into existence a solitary tenement. We- said that it was an insult to the intelligence and the capacity of the members of the board to suggest that their duties were so heavy that they could not hand over to certain specified authorities money which was to be made available under the housing scheme. I am disposed to think that the directors of the Commonwealth Bank were not consulted upon this proposition until to-day. It was rumoured some time ago that the directors were consulted as to whether they would or would not be able to give effect to the Government’s housing scheme, and that they said it was not a function of a banking institution to undertake housing. That is about the only consultation that occurred. I have heard it said that some of the directors of the Commonwealth Bank hinted that they would resign their positions if they were forced to control the housing proposals which were foreshadowed. It now seems an extraordinary- development that a Government supposed to consist of business men should even give way in the slightest degree, and that we should now be informed that an entirely different policy is to be adopted. I understand that the directors of the Commonwealth Bank were summoned to Canberra. An interview between them and the Government took place here this morning, and after this eleventh-hour consultation they have said that they did not appreciate the full extent of the Government’s proposition. Does the Minister expect the members of the committee to seriously believe that these astute commercial men, whose business it is to understand propositions of this kind, were not aware of the actual position. They understood the provisions of the bill as did every member of the Government, and there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the directors told the members of the Government to mind their own business and not to separate the general bank from the savings bank. The directors, no doubt, told the Government not to appoint commissioners, who would merely hand over money to certain State authorities when the necessary State legislation had been passed. Apparently the directors also informed- the Government that, their duties were not too heavy to prevent them performing this task, and that they .are able to do the work. I am satisfied ‘that they were willing and able to do it before this legislation was introduced. Let me repeat and !emphasize that what was expected of them in this respect was merely that they should hand over .money to the State .authorities for the purposes of the housing scheme. Under the changed conditions . I am satisfied that a commission will not be appointed. What does the amendment provide? That until commissioners are appointed the directors will do the work. That is what the members of the Opposition urged from the first that they were able to do, and would do, to the satisfaction of the people of Australia and in the best interests of the Commonwealth Bank. This change of front on the part of the Government is proof of our contention, and the Government now recognizes that our attitude was a correct one. I am glad the Government has seen the error of its ways, and has awakened to a sense of its responsibilities. I am glad that public attention has been focussed on its action. The people of Australia are becoming sick unto death of this Government’s activities in the direction of appointing boards and commissions to undertake that which could be easily handled by the Government itself or institutions under the control of responsible officers. I am as certain as that night follows day that Savings Bank Commissioners will not be appointed, and that the mischief which the Government attempted to do will not be done. This is due wholly and solely to the efforts of the Labour party in this chamber and in another place. I am satisfied that the directors of the Commonwealth Bank will effectively carry on the work which the Go.vernment said they were unable to do because of their heavy responsibilities.
– There is some consolation when one, although beaten on a question, gets something near to one’s desire. That is the position in which I now find myself. The Minister’s amendment gives effect to the principle for which I am contending, but it retains the power to appoint the commissioners, when considered desirable. That is my objection to it, and
I trust that the ‘Government will never make such appointments. With that reservation, I support the amendment moved by the Minister.
– There are occasions, happily few, .when honorable members in opposition in this and in other Parliaments are able, so to speak, to flap their wings and crow. This is one of those occasions. But, honorable senators on the Government side of the chamber find themselves in a rather difficult position. When the second reading of this bill was under consideration the members of the Opposition spoke very strongly against the Government’s proposal to place the control of the Commonwealth Savings Bank under a board of commissioners. I feel that some explanation is due to me, to the Senate, and to those who sent me here, because honorable senators on this side of the chamber, including myself, out of loyalty to the Government and in the full belief that it was a well-considered proposition, supported the proposal for the appointment of a board of commissioners. In the speech I delivered I went to a good deal of trouble to justify, so far as possible, the appointment of such a board, and with others I ridiculed the suggestions of honorable senators opposite that such a scheme could be submitted without proper consultation between the Government and the directors of the Commonwealth Bank. I did not believe there was anything in such an assertion. I had been assured that there was nothing whatever in it. On my return to Sydney, however, I found that there was good reason to believe that there was a considerable amount of truth in the statement, and that instead of the directors of the Commonwealth Bank being anxious to be relieved of ‘ the responsibility of controlling the Commonwealth’ Savings Bank, to put it mildly, they were not in favour of the appointment of a board of commissioners to control that institution. What is our position? It is straining .the loyalty of consistent supporters of the Government to ask them within two or three days to reverse their decision, and to vote in opposition to ‘the views they expressed in support of the measure, as introduced, which we were assured by the Government had been well considered and had the Aveight of reliable opinion behind it. Those views are recorded in Hansard. We are now asked to say by our votes that what we then said was not justified.
– Is it not. better to be broadminded than pigheaded?
– I am endeavouring to be broadminded. If the honorable senator wishes to adopt the other attitude he may do so. Although I am now just as desirous of assisting the Government as I was when I addressed myself to the motion for the second-reading of the bill, when I justified the proposal that was then made, some explanation is due to my constituents if I support this amendment.
– The main principle is not affected.
– What does the Government mean ? Is it intended that the directors of the Commonwealth Bank shall continue to control the operations of the savings bank for only a few weeks or months? I cannot imagine the appointment of commissioners for, at any rate, some considerable time. I believe that very good grounds exist for the appointment of a commission, and that eventually the Government will be compelled, to take that action. Why should it camouflage the proposal in this way? Would it not have been better and more in accordance with the facts that are now known to the Government to have said straight out, “ The savings bank shall be managed by the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank,” and to have left it at that? Next year, or the year after, when the work had grown so enormously as to render it necessary to withdraw the management from the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank, and to place it under a commission, it would have been an easy matter to bring down an amending bill for that purpose and to justify it. Under the clause, even as proposed to be amended, it will be open to this or any other Government, at any time, to transfer the control of the savings bank from the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank to a commission, without consulting Parliament. It would have been infinitely better for the Government to have said at once that a mistake had been made, and that for some considerable time the savings bank ought to be under the control of the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank. To an extent that would have obviated the difficulty in which the Government has involved both itself and its supporters. Whilst this may be a convenient method to adopt, it is always better to be quite honest.
– I find myself in agreement with a great deal that has been said by Senator Duncan. If, after further consultation with the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank, the Government considers it necessary to make such” a fundamental alteratiton in the bill as is now proposed, it should agree to add to proposed section 35f. which authorizes the Governor-General to appoint a commission, the further provision that such an appointment shall be made only on the advice and with the concurrence of the Board of Management of the Commonwealth Bank. It must be admitted that the amendment, if agreed to, will entirely alter many of the main principles of the measure. Unless my suggestion is accepted, the appointment of the commission can be effected as an executive act without consulting either Parliament or the management of the bank.
– The honorable senator’s proposal would give the board greater power than the executive.
– Honorable senators are being asked to reverse a decision that they gave only a few days ago. If the decision of the Government has been come to on the advice of the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank, it is reasonable to ask that those directors shall be consulted before an alteration is made.
[9.10]. - We have it on the authority of Senator Duncan himself that in this matter he has spoken as a supporter of the Government. I venture to say that if a stranger from Mars had been in the chamber during his speech, he would have had some difficulty in believing such an avowal.
– It is sometimes very hard to know what the Government means.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.I suggest that the honorable senator does the Government, of which he claims to be a supporter, very little credit when he makes a statement that is a direct contradiction of one that was made on the motion for the second reading of the bill, and repeated by the Minister in charge to-night. I refer to the statement that the board of directors of the Commonwealth Bank had been consulted continuously from the time that this bill was first considered by the Government after its return from the elections. Senator Duncan, avowedly a Government supporter, makes the assertion on his own authority that the board was not consulted, despite the affirmation of the Government that it has been consulted continuously. He has informed us that upon his return to Sydney he was told by some members of the board-
– I did not say that.
– No; he said he had good reason to believe.
– The honorable senator said that he had learned from members of the board-
-i did not say that.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The honorable senator attempted to convey to the committee the impression that he had learned of an opinion of the board that was hostile to this legislation. He certainly used the term “the board.”
– He said he was led to believe.
– I did not refer to the board as my informant.
– Although it has been stated to-night and on previous occasions that the opinions of the board were sought and obtained, the honorable senator says that the board was not consulted. Those may be the expressions of a supporter of the Government who has friendly intentions towards it, but they do not appeal to me in that way. On the contrary, they appear to me to have been made with the intention to damage the prestige and the good name of this’ Government. “Whether or not that is . the intention, they can have no other effect. If the honorable senator had any doubt as to their effect, he had only to study the faces of honorable senators opposite to see with what pleasure they were received in that quarter. I do not propose to discuss the amendment further. The Minister in charge of the bill has made a statement on behalf of the Government. I ask honorable senators to accept that statement. If they are not prepared to do so, they should not continue to keep this Government in office, but should endeavour to secure another Government whose statements they will, be prepared to accept.
– I was rather pleased to hear the squealing of Senator Duncan, and the squeaking of Senator Herbert Hays. This is one of the- punishments that are meted out to those who find themselves obliged to support a government through thick and thin. On occasions we all have to swallow our convictions, and do as we are told. I rather enjoy the spectacle of honorable senators opposite in that position. The Government, however, is not treating the Senate fairly. Honorable senators, who sit on this side, regarded the proposal to appoint a commission as an indication of the intention of the Government . to separate almost completely the control of the savings bank and the general bank. Honorable senators of the Opposition were opposed to that idea, because, in their opinion, it would suggest that the positionof the bank was weakened, and because they thought that the very small portion of work the commission would be required to undertake could easily be done by the present Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank. I expressed the opinion that the commission would not meet more than once a month, and that I thought it would be a fair thing to pay them £50 for each sitting. On the other hand, Senator Duncan and others thought that the board would meet more frequently. So far as I could see, all that the commissioners would have to do was to allocate, the amount of money to be placed at the disposal of the various authorities in the States. That, in my opinion, was not sufficient to justify the appointment of an additional Board of Commissioners. If the Government has the power, as it will have, to appoint a commission immediately after this bill is passed and becomes an act, it might as well appoint it straight away. It is my belief that it intends to appoint a commission; but, if it is not the intention of the Government to do so, why cannot it do the decent, straightforward thing and delete from the bill all reference to the commission? I shall not vote against the amendment, because it improves the bill slightly and may delay the appointment of the commission for a day or two.
.- Senator Pearce, for the Government has tried to reply to my few remarks on this amendment by deliberately misrepresenting what I said. I say “ deliberately,” becausealthough I corrected the right honorable gentleman, and other honorable senators also sought to put him right, he continued to maintain the attitude he had taken up. I did not make use of the words he attributed to me. I am quite prepared to accept his assurance that the Government did consult the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank. What I thought I had said and what I certainly meant to say was that, if consultations had been held, there was evidently no agreement between the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank and the Government. The assurance given to Parliament when the bill was before us at the second-reading stage was that there was an agreement between the Government and the Board of Directors on this point. We are now assured that the Board of Directors has had time to think over the matter, and time to examine more carefully the arguments that have been used - presumably by the Opposition and by Senator Thompson - against the Government’s proposal, and has changed its opinion; it has told the Government so, and has also changed the opinionof the Government. That is about the strangest change of front in record time that I have ever heard of, and I have a little doubt as to whether it is exactly a correct statement of the facts. There is plenty of room for reason able doubt in the circumstances. I accept, however, the assurance of the Leader of the Government in the Senate that the Government now knows what it wants, and is prepared to do it, and that there will be no other change of front. For the sake of the supporters of the Government, and for the sake of the Commonwealth Bank, I hope that the Government now does know what it wants and is prepared to go ahead and do it. Despite all the sneers of the right honorable gentleman about my support of the Government, I claim to be a supporter of the Government, and one who is always ready to step into the breach to aid the Government. I am pleased now to be able to support it even though, in doing so, I have to eat the words I spoke only last week. If the Government has good grounds for making this change of front - we are assured that it has, although I cannot see that it has given us good reasons for it-seeing that it has to accept the responsibility for the step it has taken, it is up to us to support it and leave it to accept the responsibility for everything it has done in connexion with the Commonwealth Bank.
.- I am pleased that the Government has brought forward this amendment.
– That is not in keeping with what the honorable senator said last week.
SenatorREID. - I did not say anything last week, nor have I said anything at any time about the bill since it has been before the Senate. I was strongly opposed to the idea of separating the savings bank from the general trading bank, and the proposal to create another board of commissioners; but I preferred to reserve my opinion until we reached the committee stage. I had made up my mind to vote against the proposal to appoint a commission; and many honorable senators heard me make that statement privately. Therefore, I am pleased that circumstances have allowed the Government to bring down the amendment.
– Circumstances have compelled the Government to bring down the amendment.
– I do not see that there was any compulsion about it. I do not doubt the word of the Government that the board of directors of the Commonwealth Bank thought that they already had too much work to do. I do not think that any ‘Minister would deliberately misrepresent the attitude of the board by telling us that the Government had consulted the directors and that they thought that it was best for them not to handle the savings bank business. I could quite understand the directors of the bank taking the attitude ascribed to them. For that reason, I said nothing on the second reading of the bill, because I thought that some value might be attached to the views of - the directors on the point, although my own opinion was that they did not have so much work to do that they could not handle the housing scheme. I can also quite understand them discussing the matter and changing their minds. Why should they not seek to strengthen their position, and also strengthen the bank, from their point of view”? Of course, honorable senators opposite would naturally be expected to make the most of the opportunity now presented to them. When Senator Needham rose to speak, I asked him to speak out, because I knew that he had a very juicy apple to chew, and would make the most of it, It was a delight to us to see him getting through the business so speedily. I was equally pleased to see Senator Findley start the ball rolling. It was the first time I had heard him leading the Opposition in challenging the Government. He did it well ; I congratulate him. I can quite see what is in the minds of honorable senators opposite. They profess to believe that they have convinced the Government of the need for bringing in this amendment, and they will boast about it when they are before the electors. I do not care from what quarter this amendment comes. I have not the slightest doubt that the present directors of the Commonwealth Bank will find that they can handle the housing scheme; but if they find, later on, that the task does not suit them, they can make representations to the Government. There will certainly be a great deal of worry entailed in seeing how the States spend the money that is advanced to them. We all know what trouble the Commonwealth has experienced in regard to the way in which the States have expended the road grants. If, later on, the board of directors of the Commonwealth Bank comes to the conclusion that the task of controlling the savings bank is too much for them, the bill makes provision’ for relieving them of the responsibility. I hope that that will not happen, but any one who knows the work entailed in dealing with housing schemes will realize that the directors of the Commonwealth Bank may find the task more difficult than they think. I have no grudge against the Government, and I am pleased that I can vote for an amendment which will make the bill what I think it should be
– A few days ago the Governmeut had one settled view as to the control of the Commonwealth Savings Bank. Today it holds an entirely different view. No one will challenge its right to change its opinion ; but I hope that it will allow the same liberty to its followers should they at any time feel that circumstances warrant a change. I understand that the change of front on the part of the Government is due to the Commonwealth Bank Board having stated that it is prepared to control the new housing scheme. The Government at first gave us clearly to- understand that it stood for a separate control, of the new institution proposed to be established. From that position it has now receded. I agree with the Government that the Commonwealth Bank Board should be entrusted with the control of the new housing scheme, and, seeing that it is willing to undertake the work, there is no reason why a separate commission should be constituted. I am prepared to accept the frank acknowledgement of the board that at first it was unable to understand the Government’s housing scheme. It does not matter whether that was the fault pf the board or of the Government. The members of the Commonwealth Bank Board occupy theirpresent positions because of special aptitude for the work with which they are entruste’d. In spite of competition they have been successful in their several walks of life. Nevertheless, they may not be the best men to undertake an entirely new enterprise - that of building homes. I am, however, prepared to take the risk, and to allow them to control the Government’s housing scheme. The suggestion of Senator Herbert Hays that the form of control of the savings bank should not be altered except with the concurrence of the Commonwealth Bank Board is a good one. No body of men should he better able to advise the Government in that matter than the men in charge of the institution. The Government’s housing scheme will be subjected to the closest scrutiny, and those in control of it will need at all times to be careful how they act. The venture ou which they will embark, while new to them, is not new to Australia, for already four or five housing schemes are in operation in the States. Persons desirous of acquiring homes will scrutinize carefully the Government’s scheme and the manner in which it is controlled. The board will be required to “ deliver the goods.” The Government would do well to give serious attention to the honorable senator’s suggestion. .We are all desirous that this new enterprise shall be successful, and for that reason that it shall be placed under the most capable management. Should the management not be right, the enterprise cannot but fail: I have no doubt that the board will be able to do the work. That it will be possible to compare its work with that done by the States will prove a valuable corrective. The position is amply safeguarded under the proposals of the Minister.
– When I said that I concurred in the views expressed by Senator Duncan I was referring to his views in relation to this clause. Senator Duncan’s remarks concerning the Government are a matter between himself and the Government.
– I only referred to the Government in connexion with this clause.
– At a later stage I propose to move that the control of the Savings Bank shall be altered only with the concurrence of the Commonwealth Bank Board.
Amendment agreed to. 35F. (1) The Chief Commissioner and the two other commissioners shall be appointed by the Governor-General, and shall hold office for a period not exceeding seven years, and shall be eligible for re-appointment.
– I move -
That after the words “ Governor-General,” sub-section 1, the words “on the advice and with the concurrence of the Board of Management “ bo inserted.
– The words “ and with the approval of Parliament “ should also be added.
– There is no need for that. If the change had to be sanctioned by Parliament, inquiry could be made to ascertain whether the Commonwealth Bank Board had been consulted.
– What is the reason for the amendment?
– As the result of a consultation with the Commonwealth Bank Board, the Government has reversed its decision of a few days ago. Instead of a commission, it now proposes that the Commonwealth Bank Board shall control the savings bank business. The Government may again change its opinion, and, without consulting that board, transfer the business to a commission. It is only right that the concurrence of the board should be obtained before the business under its control is transferred to another body.
– At first sight the amendment may appear to be attractive, but if honorable senators will examine it closely they will see that its effect will be to place in the hands of the board of directors of the Commonwealth Bank a power that should properly be exercised by the Government. A difference of opinion might arise between the board and the Government. The Ministry might be of the opinion that the provisions of the housing scheme would be better served by the appointment of commissioners, whereas the board might hold the contrary view. If the amendment is carried the Government will he powerless to take action pending a further amendment of the act. It is the duty of any administration to consult with so important a body as the board of directors of the Commonwealth Bank in regard to an important matter of policy affecting it. It is equally the duty of any government to take full responsibility for its actions. If it does wrong it is answerable to Parliament. This is the only control which should be exercised over it. The amendment cuts at the root of our system of parliamentary government.
Senator NEEDHAM (“Western Australia) [9.52J. - I believe that if the Government had really intended to appoint the commissioners Ave should not have had the amendment which has just been agreed to. It changes entirely the whole structure of the measure. There was only one principle in the bill, and that was the separation of the savings bank branch from the general business of the bank. It would be much better now to delete the proposed new sub-sections 35p to 35w inclusive. We should then know that the business of the bank would be carried, on by the board of directors as at present. If at any future time the Government thought it desirable to appoint the commission, the act could be amended. In its present form the bill gives the Government carte blanche to appoint the commission, but I feel confident that that will not be done. For these reasons I ask the committee to vote against this proposed section.
– I hope that the proposed section will be deefated. If, however, the committee agrees to it, I shall submit an amendment to leave out all the words after “ Governor-General.” “With Senator Needham I believe that it is not the intention of the Government to appoint the commissioners.
– Then why worry about this provision?
– One never knows what may happen from day to day. This is evidenced by the change of front on the part of the Government and its supporters in the present case. What in the opinion of the Government was absolutely imperative yesterday, figuratively speaking, is considered unnecessary to-day.
– The honorable senator is only wasting time, and he knows it.
– I should consider my time well spent if I succeeded in amending this bill in every possible direction. I take it that most members of the committee are wise men. We know that a number of honorable senators are not in favour of the bill either as introduced or with the amendment which has just been carried. In the circumstances, would it not be as well to give the committee an opportunity to have a full-dress debate on this proposal at a later stage. That would be possible if the committee agreed to strike out the words I have mentioned, because before the commissioners could’ be appointed the Government would have to inform Parliament that it was its intention to make such appointments. In doing so it would announce the period for which they were to be appointed and the remuneration they were to be paid. I hold very democratic views in regard to the period of such appointments, which in this case is altogether too long. What will their duties consist of if they are ever called upon to undertake any work? All they will have to do, if certain State legislation is passed, will be to hand over borrowed money to State authorities, who will control the housing scheme. It is ridiculous to suggest that commissioners who will have very little work to do should be appointed for several years. Victoria is proud of its railways, which are controlled by three commissioners appointed, not for seven years as is proposed in this instance, but for only three years. Would any one suggest that the duties of the Victorian Railways Commissioners are not in every sense more responsible than are those which these commissioners will be required to undertake. I believe that any three members of the Senate could perform the* work these commissioners will be expected to do as easily as falling off a log. They will be called upon to undertake any intricate work in connexion with the housing scheme, lt is a wonder that the Government does not propose to appoint them for life ! The members of another place, whose work is infinitely more important, are elected for three years - unfortunately for them they are in some instances not required to serve for the full term - and honorable senators, whose duties are as important as honorable members in another place, are elected for a period of six years. Does any one suggest that the duties which these commissioners will undertake will be more important than is the framing of the legislation under which the people of this great Commonwealth live? I believe that a great majority of the committee will support my amendment; I know it is possible to convert some honorable senators opposite. The longer we disccuss this provision, and the more we comprehend its importance and significance, the more will it be considered necessary to achieve the objective I have in view. The discussion that has taken place has been beneficial, and has, I believe, strengthened the opposition to the proposed section. I could refer again to the period for which the commissioners are to be appointed without being guilty of tedious repetition. I know that you, sir, with your extensive knowledge of the Standing Orders, and of the procedure in committee, would not accuse me of so transgressing if I employed different language in a further reference to the subject.
-I ask the honorable senator not to indulge in somewhat doubtful flattery of myself, but to confine his remarks to the question before the Chair.
– It is most unlikely that I should wish to transgress the Standing Orders. I shall assist the Leader of the Opposition in testing the committee on the question whether these words should remain in the bill, and after that has been determined, I shall possibly divide the committee on the period for which the commissioners are to be appointed.
– I do not intend to support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham). It can easily be seen that it is the desire of honorable senators opposite to delay discussion, and, if possible, to destroy the bill. Their attitude to-night is due to the fact that they have not been able to attend a caucus meeting to discuss an important amendment, moved by the Honorary Minister (Senator McLachlan), and, consequently, they do not know where they stand. Their tactics are not new to me. In acting in this way they are not only wasting time, but endeavouring to wreck a measure which contains some very useful provisions.
– That is not so.
– I have had longer parliamentary experience than the honorable senator, and know the dirty game that is being played. Caucus has not had an opportunity to discuss the new situation which has arisen, and consequently the Leader of the Opposition and his supporters are. merely dancing round the maypole. Possibly the Government has made a mistake in this instance, but no government can expect to carry on its responsible work without making mistakes. In this instance, possibly, it is preferable that the savings bank should be under the control of the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank rather than three commissioners. There are already too many commissioners, the members of which are receiving high salaries. The age in which we live is one of talk. I hope that its successor will be one of action. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) wishes to negative proposed section 35f. I have read that wise men sometimes change their minds, but fools never do. It is quite possible that the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank foresaw the difficulties that might be created if control of the savings bank was taken from them, and placed their views before the Government.
Question - That the proposed section 35f be agreed to - put. The committee divided.
Majority . . . . 13
Question so resolved . in the affirmative. 35H. (1.) The Chief Commissioner shall be entitled to remuneration by way of salary at such rate as is fixed by the Governor-General. (2.) Each Commissioner, other than the Chief Commissioner, shall be entitled to remuneration by way of salary at the rate of five hundred pounds per annum.
Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia [10.22].- I move-
That all the words after the word “salary,” sub-section 1, be left out.
The salary of the Chief Commissioner should be named in the bill, as are the salaries of the two Commissioners. The duties of each of the Commissioners will not be important. If the committee is competent to place a value upon their work it surely is competent to place a value also upon the work of the Chief Commissioner. I have never yet, to my knowledge, supported a clause that proposed the appointment of men to responsible positions, but gave the GovernorGeneral the power to fix their salaries. On the original Commonwealth Bank Bill and the High Commissioner Bill I claim that the salary should be stated. Therefore, my present attitude is not a new one. My opposition would not have been so pronounced if each of the Commissioners had been treated alike. The duties of the commission will be extremely light. It will simply be the medium for the transference of certain sums of money from one authority to another. It will not even have the responsibility of securing repayment. But be the duties light or onerous, we should state the salaries that are to be paid.
Senator McLACHLAN (South Austra this measure we follow the lines adopted in the bill which authorized the appointment of the Governor and the Deputy Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. The salaries of those officers were not stated in that measure. The reason for refraining from mentioning the salary in this instance is that the Government will have to seek out persons who will be qualified to discharge duties of considerable importance. I ask the committee to reject the amendment.
Question- That the words proposed to be left out, be left out (SenatorNeedham’s amendment) - put. The committee divided.
Majority . . . . . 14
Question so resolved in the negative. 35w. - (1.) The Savings Bank may invest any moneys held by it … .
.- I move-
That after paragraph (d) sub-section1, the following paragraph be inserted: - “(dd) in advancing money for the purpose of encouraging gold mining in the Commonwealth.”
There is a whole host of primary industries to which savings bank money is intended to be devoted; industries such as wool, grain, butter, cheese, meat, fish, fruit, hops, cotton and sugar, and others which may be “prescribed.” But the gold-mining industry is omitted, unless later on it may be prescribed. I want it to be prescribed in the bill itself.
Motion (by Senator Sir George Pearce) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– A few days ago I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories a question relative to unprotected electric wires in certain houses in the Federal Capital Territory. I understand that he is now in a position to supply an answer.
– The honorable senator’s questions were - .
I am now in a position to furnish him with the following replies: -
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.43 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 16 November 1927, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1927/19271116_senate_10_116/>.