12th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. W. Kingsmill) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs aware that one of the largest firms in Adelaide has notified at least one of its clients as follows : -
Asthe Federal Government has recently increased the customs duties on cornsacks from 2½ per cent. to 4 per cent, we have to advise that, under the authority of the Customs Act, we will be obliged to pass this additional duty on to you. Will you, therefore, please note that your contract with us for the supply of cornsacks this season will be at the contract price, plus the additional duty, which is1½d. per dozen.
Will the Minister have inquiries made?
– Realizing the urgency of the matter, I shall endeavour to obtain an answer to the honorable senator’s question before the Senate adjourns.
– I should like to ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate the following questions, without notice -
– The Government having decided to reduce the Duntroon establishment, had to take cognizance of the fact that the military cadets undergoing training were part and parcel of the Public Service. I shall, however, consult’ the Minister for’ Defence . (Mr. A. Green) and explain the whole position before the Senate adjourns.
-I should like to ask the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs the following questions, without notice -
– The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the Government, are doing all that is humanly possible to make the way of the pastoralist easier from the stand-point of the menace of both the buffalo fly and the blowfly. I shall submit the honorable senator’s suggestion to the authorities concerned, and see if something cannot be done to minimize the risk of the danger referred to by him.
– What steps does the Government propose to take to help wheat-growers who, because they have had a bad season, or for any other cause, will not be benefited to any extent worth mentioning under the Wheat Advances Bill? Will the Government take into serious consideration the necessity for providing them with seed wheat and superphosphates in order that they may be in a position to put in next year’s crop?
– I ask the honorable senator to allow the matter to stand over until the Assistant Minister has moved the second reading of the Wheat Advances Bill.
asked the Vice-President of the Executive Council, upon notice -
– I shall endeavour to give the honorable senator a reply to his question on the adjournment.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– I shall endeavour to have a reply available before the Senate adjourns to-day.
asked the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made, and a reply will be furnished to the honorable senator as soon as possible.
Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to honorable senator’s questions are as follow : -
The following papers were presented : -
Customs Act and Commerce (Trade Descrip tions) Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1930, No. 132.
Dairy Produce Export Charges Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1930, No.
Dairy Produce Export Control Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1930, No. 131- No. 133.
Papua - Annual Report for year 1928-29.
Science and Industry Research Act - Fourth Annual Report of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, for year ended 30th June, 1930.
Taxation Acts - Thirteenth Report of the Commissioner, vears 1920-27, 1927-28, 1928-29, and 1929-30.
Sitting suspended from 11.11 a.m. to. 12.36 p.m.
Assent to the following bills reported : -
Income Tax Assessment Bill (No. 2).
Income Tax Bill (No. 2) 1930.
Sales Tax Assessment Bills (Nos. 1a to 9a).
Sales Tax Bill (No. 1a) 1930.
National Debt Sinking Fund Bill.
Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill.
Gold Bounty Bill.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended and bill (on motion by Senator Barnes) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time
This measure ia intimately associated with a large and very important section of the community, one with which we could not do without and which is entitled to the utmost consideration by Parliament. Our primary producers, who receive such frequent eulogy from members of all political parties, are the vertebral column that literally enables the country to stand upon its feet. Recognizing the importance of these people to Australia, and appreciative of the sacrifices that they make and the hardships they endure because of variable seasons and capricious markets, the Government proposes to extend a helping hand to them in their present dire necessity.
The importance and necessity for a minimum advance of 3s. per bushel on wheat rests on a much broader ground than that of the difficulties which beset the wheat-grower of Australia. Inextricably interwoven with his solvency is the solvency of his creditors, whose failure would, in its turn, involve in grave financial trouble the wholesale houses, and, finally, the banks. The menace of such serious injury to the commercial fabric of our country cannot be ignored. The wheat producer must be given at least sufficient assistance to enable him to carry on.
Apart from the considerations thatI have just mentioned there is the moral and equitable claim of the farmer for relief from burdens which he has incurred in putting large areas under cultivation in accordance with the request made by the Prime . Minister for a bumper harvest, to assist Australia to correct the adverse balance of trade. As is known to honorable senators, this matter has engaged the attention of the Government for a considerable time. Fully representative conferences of the interests concerned have been convened and their suggestions have been investigated. One proposal, that of a sales tax on flour, has received not a little publicity, and, although it appears on paper to be one way out of the difficulties, it was considered impracticable on examination by the Government.
I invite particular attention to the words of clause 2 of the bill, “ The Minister may arrange with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for the making, by that bank … to growers of wheal . . of advances “. This measure merely gives the Minister the necessary power to enter into a binding guarantee of repayment to the bank of prescribed advances.. Without such statutory authority any agreement entered into bv the Government would be invalid. The particular form in which the provision? relating to advances have been cast is due to the fact that there is no uniform system of marketing. In some instances pools operate ; in other cases . the transactions are effected by merchants. The bill is not a form of dictation to theCommonwealth Bank. It creates no duties or liabilities to be performed or met by that institution. The passing of the measure may have some influencton the deliberations of the board, but it is only’ fitting that an expression of opinion, both by another place and this Senate, should receive the most careful consideration.
It is estimated, using the conditions at present obtaining as a basis, that advances contemplated by the bill would result in a Commonwealth liability to the bank amounting to, approximately, ?4,000,000.
Sitting suspended from 12. 45 p.m. to 2 p.m.
– If the rate of exchange is allowed to operate in favour of the wheat-grower the amount mem.tioned would be almost halved in the c-ase of a rise of ,10 per cent. Every rise of Id. per bushel in the price of wheat would reduce the liability of the Common wealth by approximately £600,000. The burden proposed, to be assumed by the Commonwealth is admittedly a heavy one, especially under present conditions, but, in assuming it, we shall mete out a measure of justice to the farmers of Australia and to those who are carrying them by the credits they have given. The very material benefits which will accrue from sustaining the wheatgrower, and thus preventing a sudden and widespread dislocation of commerce a rid finance, are not easy to assess, but. this aspect should be visualized by honorable senators when weighing the merits of the bill.
There is little need for me to elaborate the provisions of the bill, because during the past few months honorable senators have been made well acquainted with the position of the wheat industry. The Government believes that in granting this measure of assistance to the farmers of Australia it is incurring no great risk, lt believes that conditions in the industry will right “ themselves to such an extent that the loss, if any, will be small. Most honorable senators have had experience of the farming industry and know the troubles associated with farming, particularly in those parts of the country where the rainfall is uncertain, and there is a constant risk of drought or fi re destroying the crops. Some months ugo a bill was introduced to provide for a guarantee of 4s. a bushel on all wheat sold; but, as honorable senators know, it was rejected. Since that time the price of wheat has dropped considerably below what the Government, and the Commonwealth Bank then thought was a reasonable guarantee. The present proposal should commend itself to the Senate as a means of rescuing the wheat industry from its present chaotic condition. The responsibility of protecting the wheat industry is not one for the Government alone; it is the responsibility of the people. Honorable senators must face the position. The position to-day is grave; but not so serious as that which confronted us some years ago when all sections of the community united in the interests of the nation. I feel sure that honorable senators will give this important matter their careful and, I hope, generous consideration. I remind them that the bill is in the interests not only of the growers of wheat, but also of the financial institutions of the country and the workers. The price now being offered for wheat is so low that it will not pay farmers to harvest ‘ their crops; but if we can make the crop profitable to the farmers, we can also assist that large army of unemployed who are now wandering up and down the country in search of work. As the bill will assist every section of the community I commend it to the Senate.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (“Western Australia) [2.7]. - I shall not occupy the time of the Senate in enlarging on the seriousness of the position confronting the wheat-farmers of Australia. All honorable senators are aware of it, and are desirous of doing something to help the farming community.
My first criticism of the bill is that it does not adequately or fairly meet the situation in Australia to-day. All farmers are not in necessitous circumstances. In some districts the farmers have reaped good crops for years, and have received good prices for their wheat. To the established farmers in those districts the drop in the price of wheat this year is the equivalent of a bad harvest. They are not, or at. least they ought not to be, in necessitous circumstances. There are other farmers, however, who have had a succession of bad harvests. In the mallee districts of Victoria, in the north and west of South Australia, and on the outer fringe of the Western Australian wheat-belt, there has been a succession of lean harvests. The farmers in those districts have not shared in the good prices that have been realized for wheat in recent years. Their condition is desperate indeed. This year the crops in those districts, taken as a whole, are again a failure. The farmers there have little or no wheat to sell, and, therefore, this bill will not. help them at all, notwithstanding that they are most in need of assistance, The bill helps those who do not need help, and it offers no assistance to those who require it most.
Recentlyan extraordinary and disastrous hailstorm destroyed 6,000 acres of wheat in one district in Western Australia, in which stripping had commenced. Crops which promised to yield an average of 35 bushels to the acre were destroyed. The farmers there will not benefit to the extent of1d. from this legislation; they have no wheat to sell. Again both in New South Wales and Victoria, crops have suffered from the recent torrential, unseasonal rains. In many parts of the country the crops will return nothing to those who sowed them. In the lower mallee districts of Victoria, there have been four successive bad seasons. This bill will not helpthe farmers there.
A better plan would have been for Parliament to make up its mind how much money was needed and should be made available to assist necessitous farmers. An effort should then have been made to raise the £3,000,000, £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 necessary to keep them on their farms and provide them with seed wheat and super to put in their next crop. The money could have been raised by means of a sales tax on flour or by the floating of a loan. In view of the success which has attended the floating of the recent conversion loan, I feel confident that had an appeal been made to the people of Australia to subscribe £5,000,000 for farm relief, the money would have been oversubscribed. That would have been an honest and efficacious way of meeting the difficulty.
The bill is open to the suspicion that it is intended to dictate to the Commonwealth Bank Board. I shall refer later to what the Minister had to say in that connexion. If that was intended it is most unfair. Indeed, I go further, and say that it is dangerous, for it will injure the very class which the Government desires to assist. If the Government has introduced this bill in order to achieve an inflation of the currency, then it will have a boomerang effect, for it will injurethe farmers to an extent greater than the £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 which they will receive by means of this guarantee.
The bill also makes an unfair, and, in my opinion, an unwise, differentiation between the voluntary wheat pools and the wheat merchants. I stand now, as I have always stood, to the belief that, in the interests of the farmers themselves, it is desirable that there shall be competition between the buyers of wheat. Competition results in the farmer getting the best price for his wheat; it also leads to efficiency and economy in the handling of his product. The bill, as I read it, will cut out the wheat merchants altogether, for no wheat merchant would dare to undertake the buying of wheat under its provisions. Victoria and Western Australia have in operation pools which have been handling 50 per cent. of the wheat crop. They will now be called upon to improvise an organization to deal with the whole crop. In New South Wales, where there is no pool, an organization will have to be established. What can be the result of the establishment, in the middle of the harvest, of pools to handle a nation’s wheat crop? It will result in inefficiency and loss which will come back on the farmer, because this is one of the costs to be deducted from the price he is to receive. That will be brought about by this differentiation which has not been explained or in any way defended. As this chamber has been engaged in the consideration of other legislation, honorable senators have not had time to carefully study the bill. Moreover, these proposals were launched only yesterday ; this is not the measure which the Government introduced into another place last week. The original proposals have been vitally amended because of the faults and fallacies to which attention has been directed by members of the Opposition in another place. This is practically a new bill which was introduced into this chamber only a couple of hours ago, but honorable senators are expected to understand it without having had time to carefully study its provisions.
I understand that no provision has been made in the measure for the payment of the guaranteed price for wheat that has already been sold. Large parcels of Western Australian wheat have already been disposed of, and considerable quantities have already been shipped.
So far as I know the measure does not cover such sales. It is understood - such understanding can be gained only by inference - that the price of wheat for local consumption is to be 4s. a bushel. How is that to be enforced? As the clauses dealing with that phase of the Government’s proposals are to come into force by proclamation, it suggests that what the Government is now doing is to he supplemented by State legislation. As a layman it seems to me that clause 13, which is an attempt to regulate prices, is unconstitutional. There is nothing in the bill to indicate how the very difficult operation of correctly keeping accounts is to be undertaken. Parcels of wheat of varying qualities and values will be delivered to the merchants, who are to receive the difference between what the wheat realizes and the price of 3s., f.o.b. As wheat of varying values from different sources will eventually be shipped overseas in one parcel, how is the public revenue to be protected and the Government to ascertain the difference between the price received and a price of 3s., f.o.b.? There is no doubt that out of this hasty legislation will arise a muddle that will bring curses upon this Government, particularly from those whom it is supposed to benefit. What is their remedy? They have absolutely none. The Minister is to be an absolute autocrat; no appeal is provided for. Although the wheat is the property of the farmer, the Minister’s word is final. The wheat-grower has no right of appeal to the courts of the land.
Further, I do not know what is to be done with respect to the wheat sold to millers in Australia for gristing into flour for export. As I read the bill that wheat will not be subject to its provisions. As to whether a wheat merchant, who is a prescribed person, has to pay the full 3s. or 3s. per bushel, less charges, I do not know. That is a point which the Government apparently has not considered.
There is also the question of seed wheat. The necessitious farmers to whom I have referred will require seed wheat next season, and it would be interesting to know what the Government is to do for them. A guaranteed price is of no use to them as they have no wheat to sell, but ifa price of 4s. a bushel is fixed for local consumption, they will be compelled to pay that price for their seed wheat.
– Is not the supply of seed wheat a function of the State Governments ?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.It is all very well to try to get out of the difficulty in that way. The Government says that it is going to help the farmers who are on the verge of ruin; but this is not the way to do it. So hurriedly was the bill drafted, that, as first circulated, it provided not for payment, but for a loan to the farmers.
– And I think it still does.
– Possibly that is so. The best assistance we can render to the farmers is to remove some of the burdens which they are now carrying in the form of prohibitive tariffs, primage duties, sales taxation, arbitration awards and excessive costs of government.
I wish now to direct the attention of the Senate to a statement made by the Assistant Minister in introducing the bill. He said -
The bill is not a form of dictation to the Commonwealth Bank. It creates no duties or liabilities to be performed or met by that institution.
I invite the special attention of honorable senators to the following : -
The passing of the bill may have some influence on the deliberations of the Board; but it is only fitting that an expression of opinion both by another place and in this Senate, should receive the most careful consideration :
Speaking for myself, I desire to say that my vote on this bill is not to be regarded as any direction whatsoever to the Commonwealth Bank. I have no authority to give any such direction. The Commonwealth Bank still is, and was always intended to be, independent of political control.
– The Government it aware of that.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The Government had no right to go to the bank and say that because of a certain vote given in the Senate it must do certain things. The Commonwealth Bank Board is free and independent of political control by the Parliament or the Government, and no vote of mine should be construed as an expression of opinion that the bank should act in accordance with the decision of the Senate. I wish to make that point absolutely clear. I trust we shall be able in committee to amend some of the provisions in the bill. In my opinion the Government has done the right thing in the wrong way, and is therefore not assisting those wheat-growers who are in necessitous circumstances, and many of whom are facing ruin to-day.
– As the position of the wheatgrowers had already been discussed from time to time in this chamber, it was not my intention to speak on the second reading of this bill; but I feel that the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) should not be allowed to pass without comment. In the first place, this Government and all State Labour Governments have always placed the welfare of the farmer first. In past years State Labour Governments have, during periods of drought, made seed wheat available to farmers, and have also granted them financial assistance through the rural banks in the various States and particularly in New South Wales. Unfortunately through acts of God many farmers have lost their crops, as in the case mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition. The Government has made every endeavour to assist wheat-growers by prodding for a guaranteed price, and if any difficulties should arise in connexion with the supply of seed wheat to farmers who are unfortunate enough not to have any crops to reap, they should be met by the State authorities. If there are any farmers, who, through torrential rains or hail storms, have been deprived of any return from their crops, assistance will, I am sure, be given if proper claims are lodged. The Commonwealth Bank, to which the Leader . of the Opposition referred, is functioning as the bank of the nation with the credit of the Commonwealth and the protection of Parliament behind it. Some weeks ago, the Government introduced a Wheat Marketing Bill into this chamber, in which the provision was made for a guaranteed price of 4s. a bushel. That bill was rejected by the Opposition. In consequence of the falling market since then, the guarantee price has been reduced to 3s. a bushel. Under the present system of marketing, in which private enterprise predominates, many wheat merchants have paid farmers only1s.10d. a bushel at country sidings, and as low as1s. 4d. a bushel for stored wheat. Numerous conferences, at which all political parties, wheat-growers, and wheatmerchants were represented, have been held in an endeavour to formulate a workable scheme, for the assistance of wheatproducers. The Government has now introduced a bill providing for a guaranteed price of 3s. a bushel f.o.b. or 2s. 6d. a bushel at country railway sidings, which has caused the Leader of the Opposition to indulge in a good bit of political slangwhanging. Speaking for myself, and not on behalf of the Government or of my colleagues, I say unhesitatingly that the sooner private enterprise is dispensed with, in the matter of wheat-buying, the better it will be for the farmers. The wheat-growers have always been at the mercy of the wheat-merchants, who have gambled with the products of the farmers for their own benefit. What do the wheatspeculators in Winnipeg, Chicago or Liverpool care for the struggling wheatgrowers in theRiverina, the Mallee or any other part of the Australian Commonwealth? The Labour party favours a system of pools, under which the farmer has the right to say how, and at what price, his wheat shall be sold. This Government’s tariff policy for the last twelve months has been framed in the interests of all sections of the community. But I do not propose, at this stage, to labour that point. I rose to express my pleasure, as a representative of New South Wales in this chamber, at the action of the Government in bringing forward this measure to assist the wheatgrowers, not only in my own State, but also throughout the Commonwealth.
– I intend, at this stage of the discussion, to deal only with the general principles of the bill. When the measure is in committee, I shall give close attention to its details, but probably I shall not have much to say then. In my opinion, the bill will be a tremendous help to our wheat-farmers. For that reason, I intend to support it. My only regret is that the Government has not gone a little further in the direction indicated by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce), so as to make provision for the assistance of those farmers who, this year, will not harvest a crop at all. The position in South Australia has, to some extent, improved of late. All through the Murray mallee, where, for a number of seasons, there has been practically no production in wheat, some farmers this year will harvest good crops. Throughout the State, the crops will be fair, except on the far west coast and in the far north. The position in these places, where a number of men have been growing wheat on dry areas, is causing the State Government some concern. Men have been settled on thousand-acre farms in poor country, which should not be cropped more than once in five years, but they have been obliged to crop it every other year, with the result that the land has been worked out. Those farmers should be placed on larger areas.
I do not agree with the Leader of the Opposition that the bill can be regarded as being, in any sense, a dictation to the Commonwealth Bank Board.
– It is merely an attempt to use moral suasion.
– If the board feels that it cannot meet the wishes of Parliament as expressed in this bill, Parliament has no authority to bring any pressure to bear on the board. Certainly, I shall not be one to attempt to do that. Senator Pearce also stated that the people of Australia would readily raise a loan of £5,000,000 for the purpose of giving immediate assistance to our wheat- growers, and Senator Barnes stated that, if the exchange were freed, the amount to be made good would not be anything like £4,000,000. I do not think that the people will be required to come to the assistance of the bank to the extent of £4,000,000. I understand that, at the committee stage, Senator Carroll intends to submit an amendment to authorize other institutions to assist in financing the scheme. I sincerely hope that the Government will accept such a proposal. Then we have to consider also the position of the wheat merchants. I do not wish to hurt them more than is necessary. Their representatives are now in Canberra placing their views before the Government. I do not blame them for taking action which they consider to be necessary in their own interests. Mr. Darling, the principal wheat merchant in South Australia, stated recently that his firm had ample funds at its disposal to finance the wheat. I do not for a moment believe that, if the bill passes in its present form, the merchants will cease buying wheat. That statement has, I believe, been circulated more or less for political purposes. Their tactics in the past may be taken as an indication of their present action. When the proposal for ending the compulsory pool was under consideration in South Australia, they took an active part in organizing opposition to it. Farmers’ committees were established throughout the States to advocate its abolition. Mr. F. S. Alford, a brother of Mr. Alford, manager for Dreyfus and Company in South Australia, was secretary pro tern of the movement, which included also Mr. Anthony, a Liberal member of the Parliament of South Australia, Mr. McEwan and Mr. Webb, a grain-buyer. Subsequently, an advertisement appeared in the Melbourne Argus and Age inviting wheat-farmers in Victoriato meet in Melbourne to urge the abolition of the Victorian pool. Messrs. Anthony, McEwan and Webb attended that meeting, which was held at Scott’s Hotel, the rendezvous of the struggling Mallee farmers, where they can get a suite and meals for about £2 a day!
Senator Sir Hal Colebatch. Rubbish!
– It was reported in the press that nothing was done at the meeting beyond appointing Mr. Berrett, of Quambatook, secretary pro tern. Subsequent inquiries disclosed that Mr. Berrett is the Quambatook agent for Dreyfus and Company. Although it was stated thatno business was transacted at the meeting, two days afterwards there appeard in the Argus and Age the manifesto of the Victorian farmers’ committee. Mr. Anthony next appeared fighting the proposed three years’ contract of the South Australia voluntary pool and advised farmers not to shackle themselves but to retain their “ freedom “. He also attended the inaugural meeting of the Farmers Freedom League in South Australia, . which, through its president, fought hand in glove with the wheat merchants in Canberra against the Wheat Marketing Bill, introduced by this Government a few months ago. The wheat merchants are again in Canberra, and we are told that, if this bill is passed in its present form, they will cease to buy wheat. I ask honorable senators to accept such a statement as that with a good deal of reserve.
– Does the honorable senator fear that this bill will be defeated ?
– In the Adelaide Advertiser of the 13th December there appeared an article, a column and a half in length, summarizing resolutions passed by the farmers’ organizations at the different centres, demanding that something be done to relieve them. I do not wish to weary honorable senators, so, with the permission of the Senate, I will have the resolutions incorporated in Hansard.
– Is it the pleasure of the Senate that the paragraphs alluded to by the honorable senator be incorporated in Hansard?
– No; I object on the score of expense.
-Then the only course open to me is to read them.
– I shall have to be satisfied that they are relevant to the discussion on this bill.
– I have received a number of telegrams from farmers’ organizations in all parts of the State, making urgent appeals for action to be taken to assist them. They are in a most precarious position. Thousands of wheatgrowers, as well as hundreds of country storekeepers and wholesale business firms in the City of Adelaide, are facing ruin. If they fail, thousands of men will be thrown out of employment. One of the telegrams which I have received is from the secretary of the farmers’ organization at Mount Bryan. It reads as follows: -
Meeting held Mount Bryan 11th, resolution passed unanimously in favour of bounty1s. 9d. per bushel on wheat, also unpegging of exchange.
I have, on other occasions, discussed the exchangeposition, andI again wish to emphasize the urgent need for action in this direction. A well-attended meeting of farmers and others interested was held at Red Hill to discuss ways and means of obtaining, for the primary producers, some immediate relief. Mr. Lyons, M.P. for the district, who addressed the meeting, comprehensively outlining possible proposals for the consideration of those present, said that a bounty on wheat was only a palliative. Mr. Coffey urged the removal of tariff duties upon agricultural machinery, and Mr. Lange pointed out that unless something was done for the farmers without delay many of them would be forced off their holdings, and would become an encumbrance to the State. He said that, rather than allow such a position to come about, immediate steps should be taken to afford the farmers some assistance in this critical time.
– No one is disputing those facts.
– I do not propose to speak at length in committee. I shall say what I have to say now. If assistance is not given to the farmers, disaster will fall upon them immediately, and if something is not done in the direction of reducing the cost of production, the primary producers will need further and greater assistance next year. My opinion in that regard is supported by Professor Brigden and theother economists who a few years ago inquired into the effects of the Australian tariff. I read the following from their report: -
On page 54, they said -
The first effects of increased costs will be apparently an unprofitable market price. This will at first,be attributed to the vagaries of the season, especially for such products as fruit and potatoes, which have a very variable yield.
From the chapter in which they dealt with “What industries bear passed-on costs “,I quote the following : -
The total excess costs of protected products are made up of two parts -
The amount required to meet the specific disability or comparative disadvantage in each industry.
The amount required to meet the extra cost due to the excess prices of protected goods generally.
The first of these is the amount of excess costs which will fall on the export industries and fixed incomes; the second is the amount which will not.
Costs are thus passed on and on until the farmer is broken, and it is necessary to give him immediate relief. On page 63 of their report, the economists said -
The total increase in general prices, excluding protected luxuries, is therefore made up of an increase in protected goods of £29,000,000, and an increase in sheltered goods (and services) of £25,000,000, making a total of £54,000,000 increase in prices falling on a total income of £545,000,000.
The economists have shown that costs are mostly passed on to the primary industries resulting in such a decrease of land values that it has practically led to the ruin of many who are mortgaged.
The strongest argument advanced for assistance to the wheat-growers has been furnished by the Sydney Chamber of Commerce. The Tariff Sectional Committee of that body has reported on the present situation as follows: -
The products of primary origin represent no less than65 per cent. of the productivity of Australia, and 95 per cent. of the exports from the Commonwealth. It is of the most vital importance that they be maintained and expanded.
Unless this grant is given, there will be a great deal less production next year. Production will not be expanded; on the contrary, it will be decreased. The report continues -
Yet these industries are now being carried on at a loss principally because of the tariff. This has so increased the cost of living and the cost of production, besides its direct imposition on the producer, that primary production is no longer profitable, and can no longer be relied upon to finance themselves or the country.
In another portion of this report occurs the following : -
The exports of these primary products are the key of Australian financial stability, for the very plain reason that out of the credits received for them abroad have to be paid the financial obligations of Australia overseas. The burden of these obligations may be judged from the statement in Mr. Scullin’s budget speech in June last that, for interest alone, Australia has to find credits in London amounting to £27,530,000 per annum. It is the wool, wheat, dairy produce, minerals, canned fruits, and other primary products shipped and sold abroad which pays the service of the national debt overseas.
The payment of our debt overseas has to be borne mostly by the primary products of this country. If we allow these to go down, what will be the position of Australia overseas? I could speak on that subject for another hour, but I shall content myself by a final reference to another direction in which the farmers can got immediate relief. I refer to the unpegging of the exchange, for which the farmers, at various meetings, have asked. With the unpegging of the exchange the liability of the Government would be immediately reduced.
– I do not think that the bill deals with exchange.
– No ; but we are told that it will result in a deficit of £4,000,000, which will have to be made up by the people of Australia.
– I do not see that in the bill.
– The Minister, when moving the second reading, explained that that would be the result. If the exchange were unpegged there wouldbe practically no liability on the people of Australia. It is, therefore, a matter of such vital interest that it should be taken into consideration when we are dealing with this bill. The Mail financial writer, dealing with the subject, says -
What exactly does this term “ unpegged exchange “ mean and how would it affect Australia?
First of all let us analyse exchange. Literally speaking, the rate of exchange between one country and another is the premium or discount, as the case may be, at which the currency of one country is changed into the currency of the other.
The chief factor which induces the exchange of one country’s currency to that of another country is trade between the two countries.’
To understand the position of exchange, suppose that “ A “ in Australia sells to “ B “ in England £100 worth of wheat, and that “ C “ in London sells manufactured goods worth £100 to “D” in Australia. “B” (England) would owe “A” (Australia) £100. andD”(Australia) would owe “C” (England) u similar amount. Therefore, if U” (Australia) paid £100 to “A” (Australia) and “ B “ (England) paid £100 to “C”’ (England) all partie.s would be satisfied^ and no money w0111 Cl pass between the two countries.
If these transactions were a true indication of the state of trade between the two countries no ‘ money would pass and exchange rates would be at par.
When the balance of trade between the two countries is not so equally divided, something must be done to make up the difference.
If Australia had to pay England £101 for every £99 that England had to pay Australia, then the banks would charge the Australian importer, who wished to remit funds to England, £101, and they would pay out £100 to the English manufacturer.
On the other hand, the British importer would pay £99 into the bank in London, and £100 would be paid to the Australian exporter here.
This charge for exchange would tend to discourage tlie Australian importer, and encourage the Australian exporter.
If 1 per cent, did not right the position, then the rate would have to be increased. Assuming that gold circulated freely in each country, the rate of exchange could not go higher than the cost of shipping gold from this country to England, for obviously, the Australian importer would not pay the banks more than it would cost him to settle his debt himself by remitting the gold.
Gold for export is unprocurable in Australia, so this automatic check on the exchange rate is absent.
Therefore, the only apparent way to rectify an adverse trade balance is to raise the cost of Bonding money from Australia to England and likewise increase the premium on moneys remitted from England to Australia.
– I do not think the honorable senator is in order in reading general dissertations on exchange, which have no relation to the present bill. He must cease doing so.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. President. I am pleased that I have already had an opportunity to deal with the matter at some length.
– As brevity is evidently the essence of popularity this afternoon, I shall content myself with one or two remarks upon this belated and hurried measure that has come before us in the dying hours of Parliament, because of what the Government feels, no doubt, ia a. moral obligation on its part after the expressed wish by the Prime Minister that the wheat-growers of Australia should grow more wheat. Ministers have so dallied and delayed over the measure that it has not been brought for ward at a time when it can be considered properly ‘‘and drafted into perfect form, and it has been introduced in a form that may bring disaster in its train. I agreewith the Leader of the Opposition that some of the money to be provided for thepurpose of this bill should be ear-marked for the ‘ assistance of necessitous farmersin various States. Otherwise, there will beno possible help for such people, because of the parlous condition in which theState Governments find themselves to-day. While I desire to see the fullest measure of help extended to the primary producing industries of Australia, and particularly to the wheat industry, I refuse to be a party to legislative pressure being brought to bear on any financial institution in the country to achieve that purpose. Our financial institutions must be left free and untrammelled in their deliberations, otherwise the natural outcome can only be inflation, with all its attendant evils, and the ruin of the community in general. It is important, therefore, that every honorable senator who supports the measure should make it plain that he does not subscribe even to moral suasion being brought to bear on our financial institutions in connexion with this project. It would be most improper to bring financial pressure to bear on the Commonwealth Bank. That institution is already doing its utmost to assist to keep the Commonwealth and the States going, and in the best interests of the country and of this Parliament we must dissociate ourselves from any intention to bring pressure to bear on that body.
– The honorable senator should be aware that this Government cannot intimidate any bank.
– I trust that.’ it never will do so. I repeat, I want it to be plainly understood that in voting for the measure I do not give my consent to pressure being brought to bear on any financial institution in the country in relation to this matter. The Minister in charge of the bill has given an assurance that the Government does not intend to exert any such pressure, but it is regrettable that the measure lends itself to that suggestion.
What emerges from an examination of the ‘bill is that’ there are two sources of supply to’ which the Government is look- ing in order to finance the proposals’ embodied in the bill. One is provided in clause 2, that it may arrange with the Commonwealth Bank to make advances to growers, either direct or through any prescribed co-operative organization. A subsequent clause states that where merchants provide capital for the financing of wheat marketing, they can come into the. ring themselves. If the merchants come in the call on the Commonwealth Bank will be limited to that extent. It is all-important for this nation, for the success of the measure, and for the fanners, that the merchants should come in. The instant that they decline to do. so an added strain will be thrown on the already overloaded resources of the Commonwealth Bank. I gather from something that waa said by the Minister in charge of the bill in another place that there is every prospect of the merchants operating in this scheme. From a perusal of this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald I gather that they may bc waiting to see what will be the final provisions of this measure before they take action. The curious position is that in neither of the clauses to which I have referred is there any provision for the bank, the cooperative organizations, or the merchants who employ their money in the venture, to make any profit thereby. It is hardly likely, therefore, that any of them will embrace the project with any enthusiasm. The merchants know more about the wheat industry than does anybody else in Australia,, and if they refrain from assisting to finance the scheme it is hardly likely that the Commonwealth Bank is going to embark upon a gamble which would involve the use of the resources of the people of the country. It is imperative that both parties should work side by side in the matter. The Minister may be able to point out a provision in the measure which provides some remuneration for the efforts of the cooperative organizations and merchants. Personally, with a fixed price, I cannot see how such remuneration can be offered, or even that those concerned can earn interest on the capital outlaid. lt would be a colossal undertaking for the Commonwealth Bank to finance the operations connected with an Australian . wheat, season, and I doubt very much whether it is within the capacity of thai institution at the moment to shoulder, such a burden.
I join with Senator Chapman in his. remarks upon exchange, and should like to hear the Minister’s reply as to the Government’s intentions in that respect. It seems to me that the Government is caught, whichever way it turns. I realize the difficulties of the position. If the exchange is freed here, it might result in producing an additional 6d. per bushel for our wheat, which would make the price 3s.. and absolve the Government from all liability under its guarantee; but, on the other hand, it would, probably, be saddled with an extra amount of exchange, in respect of its overseas transactions. It seems to me that the most honest way, and I am not using that term offensively, is to follow the natural course of events. If the Government has to pay elsewhere, let the cost, be met by the general taxpayers, and the primary producers be allowed the full benefit of the existing rate of exchange. That would free the Government from all of the entangling legalisms which are bound up in the measure that has been presented to us.
The bill, as it stands, seems to satisfy nobody. I realize that it is impossible to satisfy all. There is the class to which Senator Pearce has referred, and the other section to which I give my support, which favours a direct levy on the people to meet the obligations of the Commonwealth in this matter. There is another section which thinks that the bill does not go far enough in its efforts to help the farmers. One is inundated with sheaves of telegrams on the subject, which is a particularly perplexing one. In order that it may make progress, I shall content myself with those few general observations.
– I recognize that the imminence of the Christmas season demands that we should be brief in our remarks on the bill. That is most unfortunate, because if ever there was a measure presented to the Senate that demanded full and free discussion, it is this one. The bill is likely to involve the Commonwealth in an expenditure of some millions of money, which we do not possess at the moment. At the same time. I realize that we must make whatever efforts are necessary to assist the primary producers in their existing distress. We are justified in going to almost any length to afford relief to an industry of such vital importance to the Commonwealth and to the general political and industrial future of the nation. I use the word “ political “ in its very broadest sense. If the farmers are ruined, our manufacturers and business men, generally, will be ruined, and then what becomes of the Commonwealth? If it is necessary that a price should be paid to ensure that our farmers may continue to carry on, we must pay it. But it is just as well that we should know approximately what will be the price demanded of us. The Assistant Minister, when introducing the bill, gave some indication of that obligation. It is estimated that the crop will realize 2s. 6d. per bushel f.o.b., so that, with a guaranteed price of 3s., the loss to the Government will be in the vicinity of £4,125,000.
– That is far too high an estimate.
– I hope that it may be found that the estimate is too high. It is impossible for us to forecast accurately the future of the wheat market. From what one can gather there will be a fall instead of a rise in the price of wheat. The estimated carry-over at the end of the season is 500,000,000 bushels, a tremendous figure. When the great wheat-producing countries market their new season’s crop it will be found that the supply of wheat will greatly exceed the demand. The present price obtaining in Australia is based upon the supply, at present visible. If that anticipated supply is exceeded, and the demand is not in conformity with the increase, the probability is that there will be a fall in the price of the grain. That will involve the Commonwealth in an even greater payment than is at present contemplated. Instead of there being a loss of 6d. a bushel, it may amount to 9d. a bushel, which, on an exportable surplus of 180,000,000 bushels, represents £6,937,500, or, in round figures, £7,000,000.
– What would be the loss to the country if 50,000 farmers were compelled to walk off their holdings?
– I have already stated that whatever may be the price thatwehave to pay it must be met, in order to save our farmers. I am merely directing attention to the probable cost of providing the salvation of our wheatfarmers through this bill.
– The salvation of our country.
– I admit that. If our farmers go, the Commonwealth goes, and the whole of the great national structure that we have reared with such infinite care and pains will come tumbling about our ears.
– I do not know how the honorable senator arrives at his estimated loss of £7,000,000.
– I have explained that, by assuming an exportable surplus of 180,000,000 bushels, and a loss of 9d. a bushel on the guaranteed price. I admit that it is impossible to forecast accurately what the result will be. I have already said that I fear that the Government has underestimated the total yield for the year. That is not unusual. I hope that I am wrong in the prediction that I have made; but I think it only proper that we should regard this matter from its worst aspect. It is better to be prepared for the worst than to be too optimistic and then find ourselves faced with facts which overwhelm us. We must make up our minds to face a serious situation. How are the payments authorized by this measure to be made? Where shall we get the money to make them? It is clear that we cannot get it by imposing further taxation, and I do not know whether it can be raised by means ofa loan. We must do something to relieve the burden now bearing on the farmers of this country; and we must act immediately in the case of those who have only small crops, or no crops at all. As these men will gain nothing from this measure their case demands special consideration. I mention these points to show the magnitude of the task confronting us and the responsibilities we are to assume. We should know what liability we are accepting when we agree to this measure. The Government has expressed its willingness to accept the responsibility for it. I believe that the Senate is prepared to accept a share of that responsibility. But it will be incumbent on the Government to devise ways and means of meeting our obligations under this bill. I hope that when those proposals are before us they will Be considered iu that same spirit of cooperation which has characterised the discussion of this measure. Because of my Scottish forbears, perhaps, I hae ma doots about the whole matter*, but above everything else stands the necessity for assisting, the farmers of the country to the utmost of our ability. Whatever it costs us, wherever it leads ns, and whatever other sections of the community are affected, we cannot allow our farmers to go down, because if they go down the nation falls. I support the second reading.
– I support this proposal to give some little recognition to the wheat farmers of Australia, most, if not all, of whom urgently require encouragement. The bill before us is a somewhat belated attempt to help the wheat industry.
– The Government took action some time ago; but its proposals were rejected.
– Although the proposal before us is only half a loaf it is better than nothing.
– The honorable senator knows that the present Government in this chamber must always be content with half a loaf.
– I am glad that there has been an awakening in parliamentary circles to the importance of our primary industries. In supporting the wheat, industry we have the satisfaction of knowing that we are supporting an efficient industry. During the last twenty years, owing to the application of science to wheat-growing, Australian wheatgrowers have doubled the productivity of their land per acre, and, incidentally, have produced wheat which, because of its high quality, is in demand in all the countries of the world for seed purposes, and brings in Liverpool 2s. a quartermore than the wheat of any other country. It is well that honorable senators are now. recognizing that Australia lives on its primary industries. Of our total exports primary products represent between 9<3 and 98 per cent. They also comprise 75 per cent, of our wealth. Un-fortunately, past legislators, both ‘Federal’ and State have not realized the importance of our primary industries, with the result that the legislation on the statute-book has driven the people into the cities. To-day, in a country of 3,000,000 square miles, half the population is to be found in the capital cities on the seaboard. Victoria presents the worst example of the curse of centralization ; 54 per cent of the population of that State lives within 20 miles of the Melbourne General Post Office. That is the result of legislating in favour of city industries5 and city dwellers and against the interests of the primary producers in the country who, after all, produce its wealth. Only with a collapse in the prices for wool and wheat do the people realize the importance of our primary industries. Australia, however, is. a wonderfully productive country. It produces in tremendous quantities the best, wheat and wool in the world. If in future we legislate to encourage our primary industries, we shall rapidly again become a prosperous people.
It is well that we should devote our best energies to increasing our production of wool, whea’t, meat, butter, metals, and other primary products ; but we must not lose sight of the fact that, after all,’ the most essential thing is that we shall produce them at such a cost that they will find a ready sale in the markets of the world against the competition of the products of other nations. The great essential is a reduction in the cost of production. Production costs have more than doubled since pre-war days.
I am sorry that Senator Dunn saw fit to make slighting references to the wheat merchants of this country. They have rendered a great service to Australia and to the wheat-growers of this country, of whom I am one. In my opinion, it would be a great mistake to drive them out of competition.
The eleventh-hour enthusiasm of some honorable senators for the wheat industry is amusing when one remembers that hitherto they have been ready to hamper the industry by piling up tariffs and’ embargoes to the detriment of the farmers. In this belated enthusiasm honorable senators on the Government side of the chamber have described the wheat-growing industry as Australia’s greatest industry. That is not so. The< wheat-growing industry is, indeed, a great industry; but it must take second place to the sheep and wool industry.
-I ask the honorable senator to confine his remarks to the bill, which deals with wheat advances.
– It is claimed that there are 62,000 wheat-growers in Australia. That is a considerable proportion of the population; but I remind the Senate that there are 80,000 woolgrowers in this country. The bill provides that the wheat-farmers of Australia will be paid 3s. a bushel for f.a.q. wheat, f.o.b., less costs. Is the Senate aware that it will cost more than 6d. a bushel to place their wheat on shipboard? It costs 6d. a bushel to truck it to the capital cities. In reality, the assistance now proposed to be given to the farmers of Australia is a guarantee of from 2s. 4d. to 2s. 6d. a bushel gross at the nearest railway station, the price varying according to the distance from the seaboard.
– That will not lessen the total liability.
– The figures quoted by Senator Duncan are absolutely absurd. The suggestion to pay the farmers from 2s. 4d. to 2s. 6d. a bushel for their wheat at the nearest railway station is equivalent to granting them, say, 5d. or 6d. a bushel, above to-day’s open market price. It falls far short of the promises made at the last federal election by certain Labour candidates, at least one of whom said that a Labour government would guarantee the farmers 6s. 6d. a bushel for their wheat, and of the 7s. 6d. a bushel promised by Mr. Lang during the recent election campaign in New South Wales.
Senator Duncan spoke of an exportable surplus of 180.000,000 bushels of wheat. The proportion of this year’s crop which will be available for export will not be so great as that. The latest estimate of the wheat yield this season is 180,000,000 bushels. This decreased estimate is due to the recent succession of rain and hail storms throughout the principal wheat belts of Australia. From this quantity, 18,000,000 bushels must be deducted to meet seed requirements, for which no provision appears to be made in the bill.
Those who have had crops will retain sufficient seed wheat to meet their requirements, but the quantity will have to be deducted from the liability of £4,000,000 which it is said will accrue. Further, the quantity of wheat used for local consumption has also to be deducted. This, apparently, Senator Duncan overlooked. For some years past the quantity of wheat consumed locally has averaged about 31,547,950 bushels, which, when manufactured into flour, represents 657,249 tons. It is estimated that the quantity of wheat required in Australia for gristing purposes during the coming year will be 32,000,000 bushels, which is slightly greater than that of last year, owing to the increased population and the fact that the price of bread is slightly lower than it has been. With a revised estimate of a 180,000,000 bushels harvest, less 18,000,000 bushels for seed purposes, and 32,000,000 bushels for gristing into flour, there remains 130,000,000 bushels to be affected by this measure. If in selling that quantity overseas a loss of 6d. a bushel is incurred, £3,250,000 will be involved. But if it could be arranged, as is being attempted, to fix the price of the 32,000,000 bushels used for local consumption at 4s. a bushel, a profit of1s. over and above the guaranteed f.o.b. price, would reduce the liability under this bill to £1,650,000, or almost exactly5s. per head of the total population. Surely a payment of 5s. a head is not too greata recompense for the wheat-growers of this country, who are providing so much national wealth and also cheap food for the masses of the people. I know it is said there will be difficulty in fixing the price at 4s. for local consumption, but I. sincerely hope that the Government will be able to do so. I notice that the bill contains a proviso to the effect that there shall be no interchange of wheat for local consumption between the States at a price less than 4s. a bushel, which, if definitely arranged, will reduce the liability of the Commonwealth to very much less than £2,000,000 instead of the £7,000,000 which Senator Duncan mentioned. The Premier of Victoria (Mr. Hogan) is proposing to fix the price of wheat for local consumptionat 5s. a bushel, and if that policy is adopted the liability of the Com- monwealth Government will be further reduced. I should have preferred some definite provision for raising the money to reimburse the Treasury the loss which seems certain, and which will amount to £2,000,000 or more, according to the world’s market price for wheat. To-day the price is lower than it has been for 37 years, so that there should be every possibility of the price increasing rather than decreasing. Had the Government imposed a sales tax of £6 a ton on flour, it would have provided an extra 6d. a bushel above world’s parity for our wheatgrowers. The imposition of such a tax should not increase the cost of living. The price of wool has no effect on the price of a suit of clothes, and the price of wheat has very little to do with the price of bread. It would have been better to impose a sales tax on flour than attempt to coerce the Commonwealth Bank to finance this scheme, which must place a very heavy strain upon it. I am strongly opposed to any attempt being made by the Government or Parliament to influence the Commonwealth Bank Board. The imposition of a sales tax on flour would not have increased the cost of living. Recently my share-farmers in New South Wales, who have been forced to selltheir wheat ex New South Wales silos at1s. 7d. a bushel, have been compelled to pay1s. for a 4-lb. loaf, which I understand is the price at present charged in Canberra. Although the price of wheat is lower than it has been for 37 years,1s. is still being charged in many parts of the Commonwealth for a 4-lb. loaf, while in others the price is 9d. and11d. I have seen contracts at 6d. a 4-lb. loaf which have been made by men who are not making bread for the fun of it. The price of bread in Australia with wheat at 2s. at country sidings and 2s. 6d. seaboard is as high as when it was 7s. a bushel, and is therefore quite out of proportion to the present price of wheat. In Great Britain, where from 40 per cent. to 50 per cent. more is being paid for wheat than is being paid by the millers in Australia, a 4-lb. loaf of bread is sold at 8d.
– This Parliament has no power to control prices.
– The honorable member is straying from the subjectmatter of the bill.
– I am contending that it would have been better to impose a sales tax on flour, rather than provide for a guarantee as is proposed in this bill, which the Commonwealth Bank is expected to finance. It is fairly evident that the wheat merchants will not take any hand in financing the scheme as they have in the past. In New Zealand, the price of wheat is 6s. to 6s. 2d. at country sidings, sacks extra, which is equivalent to 6s. 3d. to 6s. 4d. a bushel. Although the New Zealand farmers are receiving more than 300 per cent. more than the Australian farmers for their wheat, the price of a 4-lb. loaf of bread is not any higher than it is in Australia. A heavy duty is imposed by New Zealand upon wheat importations. It is absolutely absurd that the people of Australia should be exploited asthey are and charged the same price for bread as when wheat was 7s. a bushel. In New Zealand, where wheat is 6s. 3d. to 6s. 4d., the charge is11d., and in Great Britain where wheat is bought at 50 per cent. more than is charged here, the price is 8d. This is an anomaly which will have to be removed. The primary producers and the consumers are not getting a fair deal. The primary producers, in particular, are being slaughtered as the result of the legislation of this Government.It is exceedingly difficult for them to carry on and sell their products in the markets of the world. Although the prices of wheat, wool, meat, and other primary products have beenenormously reduced, the consumers are not getting the benefit.
– This Government has no power to fix prices.
– I realize that; but I understand it is making a very definite attempt to control the price of wheat sold to millers which is to be fixed at 4s. a bushel. I again wish to emphasize the unfairness of bakers who are selling bread at1s. a 4-lb. loaf, as they are in Canberra, when the price of wheat is abnormally low. On the 8th October, of this year, when millers could buy wheat at 3s. a bushel, flour was quoted at £9 15s. a ton and pollard at £5 15s. a ton. Forty-eight bushels of wheat at 3s. represents £7 4s., less. 880 lb. of offal at £5 15s. a ton, which is equal to £2 10s. 7d., leaves £4 13s. 5d. For . 2,000 lb. of flour, the farmer receives £4 13s.5d., equal to 1.65d. per loaf.
– The honorable senator is departing from the subjectmatter of the bill.
– I submit that my remarks are relevant. I am endeavouring to show that, although the bill requires the Commonwealth Bank to provide several millions of pounds to finance the Government’s scheme, if the farmer is to get the equivalent of 3s. per bushel f.o.b., the actual price to be received by the grower for wheat delivered in bags at country railway stations will be from 2s. 4d. to 2s. 5d. per bushel ; further, that while this is so, theprice in Canberra is 4s. 6d. per bushel, and the 4-lb, loaf of bread costs1s. At present prices for wheat, a farmer has to sell three bags of wheat to buy 1 lb. of tobacco.
– The honorable gentleman mentioned that fact before.
– No, Mr. President; nor did I mention that it takes one bushel of wheat to buy one bottle of beer, or that while a70-lb. bag of sugar costs 29s. 2d., the wheat-grower has to sell 60 lb. of wheat for 2s. Although the Government’s proposal will mean an increased return to the wheat-grower, it is a poor recompense for his labour and outlay. It is absurd to think that, for the quantity of wheat necessary to produce 2,000 lb, of flour, the farmer gets only £4 13s. 5d., or the equivalent of 1.65d. per loaf, while the miller gets £51s. 7d., or the equivalent of 1.80d. per loaf. Despite the fact that he gets such a small return, the farmer has to provide interest on the capital cost of his land, pay instalments on his machinery, purchase his superphosphate and seed wheat, pay for his labour and wait for eighteen months before he can get a return from fallowed land.
Although this measure is imperfect in many respects, it is an indication that, at last, this Government recognizes that the wheat-farmer is of some value to the community. But even under this scheme all that the farmer can expect’ is to be in a position to pay something to his storekeeper, and something off the cost of his tractor, farm machinery, harness and fertilizer account. Anything that we can do, directly or indirectly, to help our primary producers, who have carried the burden of high costs for so long, and who are now facing ruin, will be of benefit to the nation. I approve of the Government’s proposal, but I would prefer to see action taken in another way. All that the farmer can hope to get is 2s. 4d. or 2s. 5d. per bushel, and everybody knows that the average cost of production is at least 3s. 6d. per bushel. The farmers, early in the present year, were exhorted by the Prime Minister and the Premiers of the various States to grow more wheat in order to save Australia. They responded to the appeal. They made up their minds to work longer hours so as to produce a record harvest and save the finances of the Commonwealth. But the provision now being made for them is quite inadequate and out of all proportion to the expenditure which they have incurred. They are, however, lion-hearted men. However difficult may be the situation, they always stand up to their job, which is to produce more and more wheat, and increase the national wealth. The bill offers them a poor reward for their effort, but since half a loaf is better than no bread, I intend to support it.
.- I appreciate the action of the Government in bringing forward this measure which is designed to afford relief to a very worthy section of our people. Senator Barnes described our primary producers as the backbone of the country. His remarks deserve to be written in letters of gold and posted at every vantage point throughout the country. For the first time in the history of the Commonwealth, our wheat-farmers are appealing for assistance. No one now doubts the urgent need for this financial aid. The bill is a step in the right direction, but unfortunately it does not go far enough. In a financial sense our wheat-farmers lately have given evidence of spinal paralysis, and their condition demands immediate attention at the hands of this Government. As for the bill itself, I presume that its leading principle is that every person who produces a bushel of wheat in the season 1930-31, shall receive 3s. per bushel f.o.b. less freight, handling and other charges.
If any growers receive less they will certainly suffer a. manifest injustice.
Having said so much, I turn now to what I regard as a few blots in the bill. In the first place, I regret that the operations of private wheat merchants are to be discouraged. The bill provides that they are to be given what is described as a guarantee with the Commonwealth Bank, whereas co-operative pools are to receive an advance. There is a marked distinction between the two methods of finance. A guarantee at the Commonwealth Bank means that the money may be placed to the credit of the persons interested at some future date. Consequently private buyers of wheat will be under a disadvantage because finance may not be immediately available to them, whereas if my reading of the bill is correct, the management of cooperative pools will receive an advance against all wheat handled. Wheat-growers in the different States recently decided very emphatically against the establishment of compulsory pools. They took the view that voluntary pools should work side by side with free selling agencies. It follows, therefore, that the same proposals as regards finance should apply to both wheat merchants and voluntary pools. In my own State, the voluntary pool handles about 70 per cent. of the wheat grow. It has also been responsible for the introduction of about £200,000 of capital from the Mother Country. Some portion of this amount is being used to finance growers to harvest their crops, and some portion to finance the sale of wheat now in transit to overseas markets. The Prime Minister, I repeat, made an urgent appeal to our primary producers to grow more wheat, not only to provide finance overseas, but also to relieve the unemployment problem. He did not appeal to State Governments because he knew that the amount of labour which government works could absorb would be microscopical compared with the volume of employment thatwould follow the garnering of a bumper harvest. And the Government, also through its mouthpiece, made a special appeal to private enterprise to employ labour. The same principle, I contend, should be adopted in regard to the disposal of our wheat crop. Private enterprise should not be penalized. I have always been in favour of a free market. Anhonorable senator onthe Government side would regard it as tyranny if he were compelled to do his shopping in one particular shop. He would want to choose his own shop for his purchases. Why should not the farmer be allowed to carry on as he has in the past? Why should he be forced into one avenue for the disposal of his wheat any more than an honorable senator would care to be forced to make his purchases in one prescribed shop? At any rate, until the wheat-growers reverse their decision of the past and say that they no longer want private buyers, the freedom they now enjoy to dispose of their wheat where they choose should be maintained. I have often said in Western Australia that it will be a bad day for this country when competition is wiped out. The individual always puts forth his best efforts in the face of competition. In the athletic field a man runs best when he is pitted against a competitor, and the same is true in the case of people engaged in commerce.
There are other blots on the bill. I want to know what will happen to those who have already sold their wheat. Some of it is already on the Indian Ocean in transit to Great Britain. Are they to be given consideration under thisbill?
– Yes. I propose to submit an amendment to make provision for them.
– It is provided an sub-clause 2 of clause 2 that, in addition to voluntary organizations, certain persons may be prescribed as buyers. It is possible that people have already sold to buyers who may refuse to be prescribed. They may have done so quite innocently and, in my opinion, they, should enjoy to the full the benefits given by the bill.
– Buyers cannot refuse to be prescribed. They will be prescribed without their consent.
– I am mostly concerned in ensuring that the person who innocently sells in such a way as to put himself outside the scope of the bill, will not be deprived of the benefits it confers. For instance, if a wheat-grower sells at 1s. 10d., will the responsibility be his because he has made a foolish deal on a low market? Will the Government make up to him the difference between ls. lOd. and 2s., or will the buyer get the benefit of the 2d. ? There are buyers and buyers. One buyer, who made it a habit to parade his piety - a type which experience has taught me to beware of - came on to my field, plunged his ‘tester into a bag of wheat and said : “ You sold at 3s. 4d.” The market price had dropped below 3s. 4d. My brother said : “ Yes.” He said : “ Has it been condemned for smut or anything?” and my brother replied, “Would you condemn it?” He pulled in his horns immediately, and hurriedly said “ Oh, no !” ; but his words revealed one of the tricks of the trade. When the price drops after purchase buyers are inclined to resort to the device of cutting the price by condemning the quality of the grain, although there may be no warrant for doing so. Such a practice is pure, unadulterated robbery. When the price rises after purchase, there is no talk of the quality of the wheat having depreciated. The buyer who came. to my farm was operating for one of the leading agencies. I am merely narrating this incident to show the intent there may be if the occasion arises to rob the farmers of their just dues. In any case, wheatbuyers are like any other section of men ; some of them are honest; others are not above suspicion. The point I wish to put before the Government is that a buyer who bought wheat on, say, the 30th of November, at ls. 10d., may declare that he bought at 2s. In those circumstances would the grower or the buyer get the extra 2d.?
I think that a calculation should be made in every capital city of the Commonwealth and every important wheat centre, showing the parity value of wheat on each day of delivery. The farmer could then compare that price with the price given to him by the buyer. In the absence of an authoritative statement of that kind, he has nothing to show that he is not being done out of some trifle in the transaction. On a big tonnage, id. a bushel means a lot. As things are now, the farmer has to accept the word of the wheat-buyer, which I would not take unless it could be tested by a standard in the shape of a daily parity price in each capital city or importer t wheat centre, compared with the world’s parity.
I hope that the minor blots to which I have drawn attention will receive consideration. I think the Government should have said: “We have a wheat crop, a portion of which is required for local food and seed purposes. We shall give a bounty of so much no matter whether the wheat is grown near the sea coast or far away from it.” That would have, avoided a lot of the trouble which will be entailed in the working of this bill. But, as it has not been done, we must make the best of the bill before us. I trust that the Ministry will extend its sympathy to the men who, owing to the visitation of unfortunate circumstances, have a poor crop or none at all. There will be men in the four wheat-producing States of Australia who will reap no benefit from their crops. That section should receive sympathetic consideration. How will they stand with regard to next, year’s crop? .The Government should evolve some scheme of differentiation by which it can provide such people with seed and superphosphate next year, in order that they may be enabled to keep going.
I congratulate the Government for bringing down this bill even though it ho at the eleventh hour.
– The measure would not have been necessary had the Senate passed the Wheat Marketing Bill.
– I suggest thai Senator Daly should let that sleeping dog lie. If honorable senators opposite were to express their inmost thoughts they would say, “ Thank God for a wise Opposition in the Senate. They have saved us much trouble “. The Government is faced with trouble” enough, without having to meet a guarantee of 4s. a bushel for wheat. Let us draw the veil of forgetfulness over the past, and endeavour to wipe out some of the blots that at present disfigure the bill before the Senate. I desire to see provision made for. private agencies. They may be the devil himself, which 1 do not believe to be the case, but even the devil must have his due. They are an integral part of the wheat industry, so why should they be penalized, as is proposed by the bill ? I hope, too, that the bill will provide that every producer of wheat will receive 3s. a bushel for his grain this year, less the expenses incurred in putting it aboard ship. If that is not ensured, an injustice will be done to many growers.
Motion (by Senator Rae) - That the Senate do now divide - put. The Senate divided. (President - Senator the Hon. W. Kingsmill.).
Majority …… . 7
Question so resolved in the negative.
. - This is the second bill that the Government has introduced, during its existence, to cope with the problem of marketing our wheat crop. It is certainly an agreeable fact that it has this time incorporated in the measure principles which, had they previously appeared, would have ensured the passage of the Wheat Marketing Bill. Ever since the defeat of that measure we have heard supporters of the Labour party, particularly in Western Australia, telling the farmers that had that bill been passed the wheat-farmers of Australia would have received 4s. a bushel for their wheat, which amount would have been advanced by the Federal Government. That is absolutely incorrect. Had this Government accepted in that measure the responsibility of paying 4s. a bushel to the farmer for his wheat it would have passed this chamber.
– That bill would have given the farmers aguarantee of 4s. a bushel.
– The Federal Government refused to give such a guarantee unless the States acceptedan equal share of the liability. This Government was anxious to appear generous in the eyes of the wheat-growers of Australia, at the expense of the State Governments, which were to be dragged into the scheme on a very unequal basis.
-The wheat-farmers lost an opportunity to obtain 4s. a bushel for their crop.
– The Western Australian farmers certainly did not do so. Their State, with a depleted Treasury, a small population and a high production of wheat per head, could not possibly enter into such a guarantee. The six senators who represent Western Australia voted against the measure in order to protect the interests of that State and its wheat-growers.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that the federalfinances were then sounder than were the finances of the States.
-I contend that it was the duty of the Federal Government to assist the industry on the basis that is now proposed by taking full liability in the matter.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Plain). - I ask the honorable senator to deal with the bill that is now before the Senate.
– I am endeavouring to point out that there are principles in this bill which, had they been incorporated in the other, would have ensured its acceptance. Sir James Mitchell, the Premier of Western Australia, sent a telegram to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth which certainly indicated that he opposed the former bill on grounds which have been removed from the present measure. The message was dated the 7th May, 1930, and reads -
The farmers will be encouraged to increase production by the guarantee proposed under your Marketing of Wheat Act. This State has one-sixteenth of Australia’s population and will produce one-fourth of Australia’s wheat. Our revenue shows a deficit. Our loans are regulated under financial agreement. Short of money for urgent needs, we could not meet any considerable loss, and your bill provides State pay half losses under guarantee. Urge that you guarantee and also meet total loss, which should fall equally upon Australian people. Object to some provisions of bill, but strongly to clause16.
I am very pleased that this measure incorporates the wishes that were then submitted to the Fedora] Government by
Sir James Mitchell, just as it carries out to a limited extent the recommendations made by Western Australian senators to the Government. Had the Government accepted Sir James Mitchell’s request and guaranteed the whole loss, the Wheat Marketing Bill would have passed the Senate. There was direct opposition to it from the farmers of Western Australia, through their political organizations. The measure was also entirely unconstitutional.
– I rise to a point of order. I do not think that Senator Johnston is in order in discussing the constitutionality ofa measure that was at some previous time before the Senate.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- I again remind Senator Johnston that he is entirely out of order, and insist that he confines his attention to the bill before the Senate.
-I express pleasure that this bill eliminates some of the objectionable sections contained in the previous measure. Although the assistance to be granted to the farmers is limited in scope it is on an allAustralian basis, which makes it acceptable to Western Australia.
– The honorable senator has full absolution for his past misdeeds.
– I admit no past misdeeds. I am doing my utmost on behalf of the people of Western Australia. This bill does not give what the farmers of the Commonwealth are asking for. During the six months that have elapsed since the defeat of the Wheat Marketing Bill, members of Parliament and wheat-growers throughout Australia have urged the Government to render assistance to the wheat-growing industry by carrying out the promise made by the Prime Minister when the appeal to “ Grow more wheat “ was made by the Federal Government. They have asked that the farmers be paid the full sum of 4s. a bushel at railway sidings offered as a bait to them when that campaign was launched. Alternatively, they have asked for a bounty of at least1s. a bushel to the wheat-growers of Australia upon the whole of their wheat production this year. They have not asked that the promise of the honorable member for Calare in another place (Mr. Gibbons) of 6s. 6d. a bushel, or that Mr. Lang’s offer of 7s. 6d. a bushel should be ful filled. But they have properly demanded a great deal more than is provided in this measure. WhileI intend to accept what this bill offers, in the absence of anything better, I regret exceedingly that the Government has not given a fuller measureof consideration to the case of the wheat-growers, who complied with its request to grow more wheat.
As in the case of a previous measure, the bill before us gives no certainty that provision has been made for the payment of the amount proposed to be guaranteed to the farmers.
– How does the honorable senator suggest that that could be done?
SenatorE. B. JOHNSTON. - There was a definite proposal for a sales tax on flour. In ordinary business, no person offers a guarantee unless he has received an assurance from some financial institution that it will be honoured.
– The Government has confidence in the wheat-farmers of this country.
– I should like to have an assurance that some reputable financial institution intends to pay the full amount of 3s. offered to the farmers in this bill.
– The honorable senator will admit that it will be difficult for the Commonwealth Bank to refuse to do so.
– Probably that is the object of the Government in bringing forward this legislation.
– The Commonwealth Bank may find it difficult to make the payment.
– If it does not do it, then deflation will certainly run rife.
– On the 12th November last the Government convened a conference of representatives of wheat-growers and others engaged in the wheat business, and asked for suggestions. It is true that on the previous day the Ministers of Agriculture from the different States had a meeting with the Acting Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Forde) who limited to some extent the scope of the conference. But after consideration the conference asked the Federal Government to consider a number of proposals, the first of which was -
That the proposal put forward by South Australia for a sales tax of £7 4s. a ton on all flour sold by millers for local purposes for a period of twelve months ending the 31st December, 193], be adopted, the proceeds to be distributed among wheat-growers in the various States on a pro “rata basis.
If that proposal - the main and best recommendation of the conference - had been accepted, the wheat-growers of this country could have been paid 7d. a bushel as a bounty without the general taxpayers being affected at all, and probably without more than a very small increase in the price of bread.
– Has the honorable senator considered the cost of collecting that tax?
– The cost would not be great, seeing that machinery has been .set up to collect other sales taxes. The second request put. before the Government was -
That the Government guarantees 3s. a bushel for wheat at country railway stations, and asks the Commonwealth Bank to advance that amount, and, failing that, the amount to be paid as the wheat is sold - the difference between export and the 3s. to be made up by fixing a price for home consumption - scrip to the amount of 3s. to be made transferable.
The proposal was for a guarantee of 3s. a bushel at country sidings, not 3s. a bushel f.o.b., as is proposed in this measure. The Acting Minister told the conference that the Commonwealth Bani could not pay a first advance of more than ls. 6d. a bushel to farmers, notwithstanding any guarantees that might be given by Commonwealth and State Governments. He said that a first advance of SO per cent, of the market value was the usual practice, and that the bank could not depart from it. He explained that SO per cent, of the then market price for wheat was ls. 6d. a bushel. The State Ministers for Agriculture, with whom he had conferred the previous day, had agreed to the proposal to postpone the payment of the liabilities of wheatgrowers when necessary. The report, of the conference contains the following paragraph: - “ I suggested to the bank,” said the Minister, “ u first payment of . 2s., but the bank definitely stated that after considering the present market value and the future prospects, together with the finances of the country, it was. not prepared to give, a higher advance than 80 per cent.”
Mr. Forde added
The board pointed out that all available resources were required for.’ the financing of ordinary governmental activities.
That was the statement of a responsible Minister on . the 12th November last. To-day, in spite of that statement, the Senate is being asked by the Government to approve - and I hope that it will approve - of an advance of 3s.’ a bushel f.o.b. Two days after the Acting Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Forde) made that statement and promised to submit the recommendations of’ the conference to Cabinet, he announced the refusal of Cabinet to guarantee 3s. a bushel at railway sidings. The official statement of Cabinet on the sales tax read -
The discussion at the conference showed tha’t ‘ a sales tax on flour sufficient to return the amount to the ‘grower suggested in the South Australian scheme, would increase the price of bread to the consumer by anything from a farthing to a halfpenny per lb., that is from Id. to 2d. the 4-lb. loaf. The Government is not prepared to support this additional impost on the people at the present time, with large numbers out of employment, and the general reduction of incomes. Further, the collection of the sales tax and its distribution amongst the many thousands of farmers throughout Australia would be -very costly, and extremely difficult to -administer. Another objection to the scheme wds that . the price of Hour for home consumption would be increased from 40 per cent, to 80 ‘per ‘cent, above export parity. This, .it was. -.believed, would probably lead to the imposition of anti-dumping duties on’ Australian wheat and flour in oversea countries.
The wheat-growers of Australia were not satisfied with that reply. The Senate was desirous that the wheat-growers should be given the full measure of assistance which they had been led to expect- when the “ Grow More Wheat “ campaign was launched, and consequently it passed the resolution urging the Government, to assist the wheat-growers out of their difficulties. In answer to repeated questions in both Houses of Parliament, Ministers declared on the 4th December- the Commonwealth Bank waff unable to advance more than 2s. a bushel f.o.b. The Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Daly) then declared -
As the Government lias no funds, and cannot (sei the necessary finance from the Commonwealth Bank to pay a guaranteed price, it regrets that it is unable at present to grant any monetary assistance to the wheat industry. . The present financial stringency prevents any monetary ‘ assistance being granted.
I am pleased that, in spite of the pessimistic view of the financial position taken by the Government so recently as the 4th December, it. has now brought forward a bill to provide for the payment of 3s. a bushel f.o.b. to farmers.I support the bill because it imposes no liability on the State Governments, as did a previous measure which was rejected by the Senate. I accept it on the principle that half a loaf is better than no bread. But I regret exceedingly that during the past few months the wheat industry has been made the plaything of party politics. I only hope that the Government is sure of its steps in this matter, and that the small measure of assistance provided by this bill will, in fact, be given to the farmers without delay; it should be available without pressure having to be brought to boar on any financial institution in this country. I accept this small measure of help under protest, because nothing better is obtainable from this Government. The measure before us certainly does not meet the wishes of the farmers of Western Australia, who were ledto expect that much more would be done for them if they increased their wheat yield. In Western Australia the appeal of the Government was answered to such an extent that this year a record crop of 50,000,000 bushels is likely to be reaped. There has been great concern among the farmers of Western Australia as to whether they would receive any assistance from the Federal Government. Within the last few days a mass meeting of farmers held at Perth under the auspices of the Primary Producers Association, which was attended by over 400 farmers from all parts of Western Australia, carried the following resolution: -
That thisconference views with alarm serious position of wheat-growers partly due to abnormal fall in world’sprices which threatens very existence of industry and whilst bonuses to other industries and high tariffs pertain demands Federal Government to pay bonus equivalent to 4s. per bushel at siding on all wheat marketed for 1930-31 season thereby enabling farmers to carry on their occupation.
I urge the Government, even at this late hour, to comply with the requests of that representative meeting of wheatgrowers, and to amend the bill so as to provide for the payment of 4s. a bushel at country railway sidings as was promised by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Markets and Transport when the Wheat Marketing Bill was introducedand not.1s. 7d. or1s. 8d. a bushel less, which the amount of 3s. f.o.b. proposed under this measure will mean after freight and other charges have been deducted. The Government should honour its original promise in this matter, or give a straight-out bounty of1s. a bushel on all wheat produced, leaving the marketing and handling of the product to co-operative pools, or to whoever it may decide. This measure falls a long way short of what is necessary to assist the farmers at present. It will give a very small measure of assistance to those who have good crops, but, unfortunately, provides no help for those who have poor crops or no crops at all. No assistance is provided for the man who needs helpto obtain supplies of superphosphates or sustenance to enable him to put in a crop for the coming season.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [5.47]. - I give place to no member of this Senate or of this Parliament in my desire to do all that can be done for the wheat-growers of Australia. As Senator E. B. Johnston has pointed out, Western Australia has only one-fifteenth of the population of the Commonwealth, and therefore will bear only one-fifteenth of the cost. Western Australia produces at least one-fourth of the Australian wheat crop, so that if any State is to get any benefit under this measure it will be Western Australia. Speaking personally, and as a representative of that State in this Senate, I may say that my sympathies are with those engaged in the wheat-growing districts of Western Australia. Practically all my friends are interested in that industry. But that does not relieve me of the duty of inquiring whether this measure is really going to assist the wheat-growers.
I regret that the Vice-President of the Executive Council and Acting AttorneyGeneral (Senator Daly) is temporarily absent from the chamber, because there is a question which I should like to put to him. I am sure that the Assistant Minister (Senator Barnes), who introduced the measure, will realize that it is one which should more appropriately be put to the Acting Attorney-General than to himself. I should like Senator Daly to tell the Senate what power there is under the Constitution to appropriate money for making advances on wheat? The power to appropriate money for the payment ofbounties is obvious. It is contained in section 51 of the Constitution and is unquestionable. The power to impose a sales tax is provided for in the Constitution, and is also unquestionable. But I have searched the Constitution in vain for any power vesting this Parliament with authority to appropriate money for making advances on wheat. I remind the Senate that this bill does not purport to provide for the payment of a bounty. As the title shows, it is a bill for an act relating to advances on, wheat and for other purposes. I repeat that I know of no provision in the Constitution under which this Parliament can appropriate money for the purpose of making advances on wheat. In connexion with the Wheat Marketing Bill, which was introduced for a similar purpose a few months ago, the Government was so diffident as to i t s constitutional powers in regard to the making ofadvances on wheat, that in another placea clause was inserted providing that if any portion of the measure was found to be unconstitutional - clearly meaning that part relating to the making of advances - the remainder of the bill should remain operative. There is no similar provision in this bill ; but that does not alter the fact that no intimation has been given to the Senate under what provision of the Constitution we are able to appropriate money for this purpose.
A good deal has been said as tothe probable cost which the passage of this measure will involve. To my mind, it is quite futile to argue on those lines. There are two elements whch we can not calculate, one, the price of wheat at the time it is sold, and the other the actual quantity to be harvested. If the benefit to the farmer,as the result of the passage of this measure, is to be great, then the loss to the Commonwealth Treasury must alsobe great. On the other hand, if the loss to the Commonwealth Treasury is trifling, then the benefit to thefarmer must also be too trifling to justify the complete holding up of the whole of our wheat marketing arrangements.Therefore, we can confine ourselves to a discussion of the principles of the bill, and disregard whether theamount involved is large or small. If it is large the Commonwealth will be hit very hard, and if it is small, it will be of little benefit to the wheat-grower.
Senator Sir George Pearce quoted a statement of the Assistant Minister (Senator Barnes) in moving the second reading of the bill to the effect that whilst it was not intended to coerce or unduly influence the Commonwealth Bank, it was hoped that the passage of the bill would indicate to the Bank Board the wishes of Parliament or something of that kind. By way of interjection, the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Daly) said thatit would be a sort of moral suasion. It is an utterly immoral suasion. While, apparently, there is a majority in favour of the bill, I wish to say that I shall not be a party to its passage unless some amendment is made in clause 2 which will make it quite clear that it is not intended to coerce, intimate, or to influence the directors of the Commonwealth Bank Board. I understand that there is a suggestion to strike out all reference to the Commonwealth Bank, and to give the Ministry an open hand to arrange finance with any one it can. If that can be done, well and good, but unless it can,I cannot support the bill.
-The honorable senator knows that the Government cannot intimidate the Commonwealth Bank Board.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH I know that the Assistant Minister said that the bill was intended to influence the directors of the Commonwealth Bank and the Leader of the House said that it was intended as a form of moral suasion on the directors of that bank. I am not going to be a party to anything of the kind. If the directors of the Commonwealth Bank, or any similar institution, can see their way clear to undertake the necessary finance, well and good. If it is the intention of the members of the Government not to close their eyes to the resolutions carried by a majority of that body which guides the action, of this Government, and to take ohe first step towards an inflation of the currency, the farmers will curse this Government for what it has done.
– An absolutely limited inflation.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.I refer, the honorable senator to a very short ‘article which appeared in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald headed “The Start”; I commend it to the consideration of the honorable senator. Supposing this measure is carried and- then in a few weeks’ the Government comes down with a bill calling upon the Commonwealth Bank to provide £3,000,000 -or £4,000,000 for the relief of unemployment and later by the issue of notes to finance the deficits of the Commonwealth and the States. I remind the Senate that within the last few weeks nearly 100,000 of the people of this country put their money into a Commonwealth loan on the positive assurance of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fenton) and the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Lyons) that there would be no inflation of currency. I am not going to be a party to applying suasion, moral or otherwise, to the directors of the Commonwealth Bank, to induce them to embark on a policy of inflation.
– Will the honorable senator explain whether we -shall not have deflation if this is not done. If 50,000 farmers arc compelled to leave their holdings what will bo the value of our equity ?
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.If that happened the responsibility would lie with the Government, for not having done this thing in a way which would not involve an inflation of the currency. Whatever mandate this Government received, from the people, it did not receive a mandate to inflate the currency. On the contrary it had a mandate to protect the wage standard of the workers. There is no means by which the Government could so quickly and completely destroy the wage standard of Australian workmen than by an inflation of the currency. I am glad that the Leader of the Government in the Senate is now present, and at the risk of. wearying honorable .senators I repeat a question which I submitted in his absence.
I should like him to indicate under what provision of the Constitution it is competent for this Parliament to appropriate money for making advances on wheat, bearing in mind the fact that the bill does not purport to be a bounty bill ? ‘ It is a measure for granting advances on wheat and for other purposes. Under what section of the Constitution is this Parliament empowered to appropriate money for such a purpose?
I should now like to come to the details of the measure. Clauses 13, 14 and 15, which apparently were inserted in committee in another place, contemplate that the Governments of the States will impose a minimum price for the purchase of wheat for local consumption. There are two phases of this question. The first is that clauses 13, 14 and 15 certainly offend against section 92 of the Constitution which reads -
On the imposition of uniform duties ul customs, trade, commerce, and intercourse among the States, whether by means of interna! carriage or ocean navigation, shall lie absolutely free.
I am quite aware that in one case the High Court gave a decision, the effect of which was that section 92 of the Constitution is a prohibition only against the States, and does not prohibit the Commonwealth from interfering with respect to interstate trade. But other decisions have shown a weakening on the part of the High Court in connexion with that point, and it is by no means sure that it. will take the same view in future. Apart from that, is there any probability that any State Parliament will put up the price of wheat against its own consumers merely to relieve the Commonwealth Government of the loss it will incur under this bill? Does the Minister think that the Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Lang, notwithstanding his great friendliness to the Loan Council, and the Commonwealth generally, would introduce into the New South Wales Parliament a bill to increase the’ price of. bread to consumers in that. State, not for the benefit of the New South Wales farmers, or of the New South Wales Treasury, but merely in order to reduce the loss of theCommonwealth under this bill ?
– Is ,, it so intended ?
– 1 do not know. It is quite clear that the intention is that some relief from the loss which the Commonwealth will incur is to be obtained by increasing the price of wheat for local consumption. That is the intention of the three clauses I have mentioned, otherwise they are quite meaningless.
– If it became necessary, die Premier of New South Wales would be most likely to do as the honorable senaio r suggests.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.The States are in as great a difficulty as is the Commonwealth and are taxing the people to the fullest possible extent. Is it. at all likely that the States would impose more taxation upon their people for the object of relieving the Commonwealth of a liability? I do not think that such a course is at all likely, and we can dismiss from our minds the idea that any relief will bo obtained under those clauses. The two main clauses, dealing with the guaranteeing of advances, appear to me to be vicious in principle and destructive of all incentive to observe business principles. It will be immaterial to a voluntary pool or a wheat merchant acquiring wheat, whether it realizes only 2s. 6d., 2s. 8d., 2s. 9d., or 2s. lOd. per bushel, because the difference will be made up by the Commonwealth Bank. That, I suggest to the Minister,, is a dangerous position in which to place the Commonwealth. As the bill stands, those responsible for the operation of voluntary pools may acquire wheat and, despite market indications, hold on to it indefinitely, secure in the knowledge that, if prices fall subsequently, the Commonwealth will have to make good the difference between the price realized and the amount of 3s. to be guaranteed under this bill. It is an entirely wrong principle to adopt, and, in view of the abuse that has been levelled in certain quarters at private wheat-buyers, it seems to me extraordinary that the Government should, in this bill, be willing to give them what is equivalent to a blank cheque on the Commonwealth Bank. It is clear that, under the bill as it stands, they may buy wheat for what they like, sell it for what they like, and call upon the Commonwealth Bank to pay the difference between the price realized and the amount of the guarantee.
– The selling of the wheat is the most dangerous point in the transaction.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.Yes. I do .not’ know that it is necessary for me to say anything more, except, perhaps, to repeat that I shall not be a party to the passing of the bill if it contains any provision which may be construed as suasion, or any other form of influence, on the Commonwealth Bank Board to make advances in opposition to its own views as to the soundness or otherwise of the scheme. I remind the Senate that the directors of the Commonwealth Bank hold office for a certain period, but only during good behaviour. I remind the Senate, further, that the Government is the judge of that good behaviour, and I shall not, by my vote on this bill, place the directors of the bank in such a position that the Government will be able to say that they are defying, not only the Government, but also the wishes of Parliament itself as expressed in this measure.
– Surely the honorable senator admits that every appropriation bill is a form of moral suasion on the Commonwealth Bank to find the money required by the Government.
– 1 do not admit that. The Commonwealth Bank is not the property of the Commonwealth Government. The first duty of the board is to protect the interests of the people who put their money in the bank. Even now the bank is doing its utmost in very difficult circumstances to find money which this Government is asking it to provide.
– Of course it is.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH This being so, I take the view that the bill should be so amended as to require the Government itself to find the money to finance this scheme. It should not be understood that Parliament desires the Commonwealth Bank to finance it if the directors say that it cannot be done by the bank without an unjustifiable inflation of the currency. Unless an amendment to this effect is inserted in the bill during the committee stage, I shall vote against its third reading.
– I endorse the remarks of Senator Colebatch, who has stated my objections to the bill much more effectively than I could hope to do myself. I wish most emphatically to dissociate myself from any suggestion that, if the Senate passes this bill, it is to be regarded as a direction to the Commonwealth Bank to finance a scheme which it may consider to be financially unsound. I understand that already the board has declined to do this. As Senator Colebatch has pointed out, the first duty of the directors of the Commonwealth Bank is to safeguard the interests of its depositors. If any pressure is brought upon– the board to take action which it considers unsafe, my advice to the depositors will be to get their money out of the bank as quickly as possible.
The worst feature about the bill is the temptation it offers .to honorable senators to forget every principle which, on other occasions, they have advocated. It is said that Blucher’s only thought, when passing through London, after Waterloo, was “What a wonderful city to loot.” Many honorable senators who aru supporting this bill appear to have forgotten the anti-socialist principles for which they stand. They seem to think that the Commonwealth Bank has a vast store of gold and notes which can be looted for the purpose of providing a guaranteed price for wheat. Other speakers have pointed out that the bill will not be of material assistance to those farmers who are in really necessitous circumstances, because the majority of them have disposed of their wheat. But it will benefit many growers who are in a sound financial position. I was on the land at a time when the position of the farmers was much worse than it is to-day. Many were living on boiled wheat and some had no boots to wear.
– Was the honorable senator a “cocky”?
– I was, but my father, who was a farmer, strongly advised me not to follow in his footsteps. I took his advice. The bill has many imperfections, and I am afraid that it. will not be of much genuine assistance to those farmers who stand most in need of it. But I do not intend to labour this point. Unless radical amendments are made to the bill in committee I shall vote against the third reading.
– I should not have taken part in the debate but for the fact that Senator Colebatch questioned the constitutional power of the Government to introduce this bill.
– In its present form.
– Measures of this kind must be looked at as much from the point of view of the spirit as the letter of the legislation. There is no doubt that the bill could be defended upon its constitutionality and from the point of view of its bounty provisions.
– Is it; u bounty bill?
– I should say that, ii could be brought within the definition of a bounty, because wheat, before it can be marketed, must be reaped. It is still in course of production until it is actually harvested. The Commonwealth certainly has power to grant a bounty to encourage the primary producer to reap his wheat.
– No onedoubts that.
– If the Government had not introduced this bill to provide for some form of assistance to outprimary producers, tens of thousands of acres would not have been reaped this year.
– Why did not the Government provide assistance in the form of a bounty? Obviously, then the proposal would have been constitutional.
– As the honorable senator knows, many conferences have been held during the last few months between representatives of the primary producers and the Government to consider the form of assistance to be given, and motions for the adjournment have been moved by members of the Country party in another place, to discuss the desperate plight of our wheat-growers. I admit candidly that it is a pity that the bill was introduced in the dying hours of the session. We were unable to devote the time which, otherwise, would have been given to its preparation.
– The title is rather unfortunate. It looks like a financial measure.
– I candidly admit that the title might have been more happily worded.
– But the bill follows the wording of the title. All through its provisions there is refer- ence to finance.
– I agree that if it had to be argued before a hyper-technical legal tribunal, some exception might be taken to the title.
– Does not the Leader of the Senate realize that it may come before such a tribunal?
– Unless it is passed expeditiously there will be no need to worry about the bill on that score; but I have no fear that, in its present form, the bill could be successfully defended before any tribunal.
– The High Court is the only tribunal that might be called upon to deal with it.
– It might even go higher than that. But it could safely be defended in the High Court, because the Dried Fruits Act, which is similar legislation, came before that tribunal and stood the test.
– It was in a somewhat different form.
– I invite honorable senators to continue this interesting legal discussion when we are in committee. We can then decide how far, and to what extent, the provisions of this bill differ from existing legislation.
– It is not usual to discuss the details of a measure on the motion for the second reading. I must ask honorable senators to confine their remarks to the general principles of the bill.
– I shall be glad to do that, Mr. President, but I considered it advisable to speak to the points raised by Senator Colebatch, in order to ensure the passage of the second reading. The provisions are almost a facsimile of those to be found in other similar legislation in which money is appropriated by Parliament. The only difference in this measure is that the Minister may arrange with the Commonwealth Bank to finance the scheme. If the Minister cannot arrange with the bank, he cannot take the money out of the Consolidated Revenue. If Parliament passes legislation, the effect of which is to increase the Commonwealth overdraft, clearly there is an implied moral suasion on the directors of the bank to find the money.
– But the banker always has the last word on that point.
– I admit that in regard to this bill, but I am prepared to defend it on the ground that it is a gesture from this Parliament that the institution in charge of the credits of the Commonwealthshould explore every avenue to make it possible for the Government to prevent deflation from running rife.
– Or inflation.
– No. The honorable senator and his friends may talk a good deal about inflation, but what would be the position of Australia if the farmers could not reap their crops ? Is there anything worse than uncontrolled deflation? The present proposal is part and parcel of the Government’s policy to prevent deflation from going any further than it has gone.
– The Government is falling into the error made by Mr. Wickens and forgetting that there is an outside parity.
– I have heard Mr. Wickens quoted with approval by honorable senators opposite, but as soon as he sees a particular danger, which has not been seen by honorable senators opposite, he is immediately regarded with disapproval. No honorable senator can deny that if the crops cannot be reaped Australia will lose more than the £6,000,000 referred to by Senator Duncan.
– Will the honorable member say that the low price of wheat is caused by anything in Australia ?
– No. But I suggest that,unless it can be made possible for the primary producers to reap their crops and market them at whatever price they can secure, we shall bring about a system of deflation in this country which will do a great deal more than anything else to rob the savings bank depositors referred to by Senator H. E. Elliott.
– Is not the Minister fighting shadows?
– No; I am replying to Senator Colebatch, who warned honorable senators that this bill was a proposal to bring about inflation. I throw the statement back in his teeth and say that the bill is a considered effort on the part of the Government to prevent further deflation. We have heard a great deal of talk about credits and about the Government being out to destroy the value of our currency, and repudiate, but I say advisedly that this bill is consistent with the policy which has been adopted by the present Government from the start, that of preventing deflation from running rife. I think that honorable senators will appreciate the fact, that, in its effects, uncontrolled deflation can be worse than uncontrolled inflation. It is necessary to control inflation, and it is equally necessary to control deflation. This country, however, will have absolutely uncontrolled deflation unless some relief is given to the primary producers. L hope that the second reading will be carried, and that in committee the policy of the Government will be accepted so that during the recess something may be done to relieve a most deserving section of the community.
– A few months ago, I gave the Government an assurance that if it would bring down a bill proposing to pay a bounty on the production of wheat, and would accept full financial responsibility for its proposal without asking the States to share in any liability, I* would support the measure. That promise still holds good, although the bill before us to-day contains some provisions that do not altogether meet with my approval. In clause 2, mention is made of the Commonwealth Bank. In Western Australia we have a very fine co-operative wheat-handling organization known as the Voluntary Pool, which, for some years past, has been financed by the British Wholesale Co-operative Society. At the outset, it was the desire of the pool to get its financial assistance from the Commonwealth Bank, but it was met by an absolute refusal. The bill now proposes to cut out the assistance which the Western Australian voluntary pool has been able to secure from overseas, although I happen to know that arrangements have already been made with this British organization for financing this season’s operations. It is an arrangement which should receive the heartiest support of the Government, because it relieves the strain on the country’s finances, and I trust that some means may be devised by which overseas assistance may be retained. In committee I shall submit an amendment to achieve that object.
.- A few weeks ago I supported a measure similar to this, and I support ‘the present proposal for several reasons. When an appeal was made by the Government to the farmers to grow more wheat, they were promised 4s. a bushel for all wheat grown. That promise made by this Parliament, has been repudiated. Possibly the man in the street may not regard it as repudiation, but the farmers do. At any rate, they regard the failure to pay them the full amount promised as gross injustice.
I am approaching this matter from the angle of the nation, and not that of the individual. We have a colossal national debt of £1,120,000,000, requiring the annual payment of £60,000,000 in interest. How is it possible to liquidate that debt unless the pledges made to primary producers are fulfilled?
– We shall never liquidate it. We are mad to attempt it.
– I do not agree with the honorable senator. We shall meet that debt honorably and honestly.
– I do not suggest that . we should do otherwise.
– But we must also be honorable towards the primary producers. Having made them a promise, we have a right to fulfil it or offer very sound reasons for not doing so. Much has been said about inflation. I fear it as much as any honorable member does, but I equally fear deflation as a consequence of the repudiation of our promises to the farmers. I am content to leave the matter to the Chairman of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank. Being a Scotchman, he is ‘capable of holding the balance safely in the interests of the country; we can rest assured that there will be no inflation, or if he can prevent it, any further deflation. There is no body of men in the world more worthy of considerationthan the farmers of Australia. Their conditions are worse than those which apply in the wheat competing countries of Russia, where the farm labourers are practically slaves today, and the Argentine, where cheap Indian labour is available. Honorable senators have made reference to the exchange position. I remind them that although Argentine owes Great Britain about as much as Australia does - I doubt if her assets compare with ours - the Argentine farmers get the full benefit of the exchange position to-day. I congratulate the Government on having brought forward this bill.
– Do not praise the Government over much.
– I must give it praise for having introduced this bill. I am honest with Ministers. When they brought down their 4s. proposal I believed that they were honestly endeavouring to fulfil the promise that they had made to the farmers. It must be remembered that at the time that promise was made wheat was 5s. a bushel, so that Ministers could not be accused of having been rash. I express regret that that bill did not go into committee when we could probably have made the guarantee 2s. 6d. per bushel at railway sidings, or any other figure, and so have coped with our troubles long ago. I support the second reading of this measure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 (Short title).
– I draw the attention of the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Daly) to a matter that I mentioned during the second-reading debate. If we are to make this measure watertight, we should give the Government the benefit of any advice that we have to, offer upon it. If we wish to rush itthrough and risk the consequences, the responsibility must rest with the supporters of such a procedure. This is “ a bill for an act relating to advances on wheat and for other purposes.” It may be, as was mentioned by the Minister in reply to Senator Colebatch’s suggestion, that it is, in effect, a bounty.
– I did not say that it is essentially a bounty.
– I submit that in a measure of so much importance to the primary producers, we should leave no room for doubt. If the Minister would make some provision for an amendment to clause 6 the position would, no doubt, be cleared.
– I direct the attention of honorable senators to the similarity between the phraseology used for the title of this measure and that of the Dried Fruits Advance Act 1924. That act, as Senator McLachlan knows, related to the subject of the test in James’s case. It provides for the payment of advances to growers of dried fruits and its title was “ A bill for an act providing for the payment of advances to the growers of dried fruits.” The title of this bill is, “ An act relating to advances on wheat and for other purposes.” I remind honorable senators that that title has stood the test of time.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 2 -
– This clause, as now drafted, would interfere with the operations of that very fine co-operative handling organization in Western Australia known as the voluntary pool, which as I mentioned in my second-reading speech, has for some years been financed by the Wholesale Co-operative Association of Great Britain. In order to overcome the difficulty, I move -
That the words “ the Commonwealth Bank of Australia “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words, “any prescribed authority.”
– The objection raised by the honorable senator can be met by a reference to a subsequent clause. It will be seen that sub-clause 2 of clause 2 provides for the appropriation of the amounts which may be necessary to repay to the bank any amount due to it under this guarantee. Obviously, a further appropriation is necessary if amounts are to be repaid to other corporations. Appropriations, as honorable senators are aware, must be introduced in another place, by a message from His Excellency the GovernorGeneral. And as the Acting GovernorGeneral is now on his way to Melbourne, that procedure is, for the moment, impossible. I mention that, not as the sole reason why the amendment should be rejected, but to point out that if honorable senators felt that these words should be inserted, it would be impracticable to incorporate them in the measure if it is to be passed before the Christmas vacation.
– Because the amendment involves an appropriation.
– No more than the bill now does.
– The introduction of words which would involve an appropriation of money to some other authority would be a new appropriation in law. I had the advantage of consulting with the ActingSolicitor-General on the matter and his considered opinion is that the only way that the amendment could be inserted would be by adopting the procedure that I have outlined.
– Is the message limited to the Commonwealth Bank?
– It is.
– That is a most unfortunate way in which to bring in a message.
– It may be, but there is no practical advantage to be gained by insisting on the amendment, as I shall demonstrate to honorable senators. It is obvious that Senator Carroll desires to cover the Western Australian and South Australian pools. Under clause 4 of this measure, we can cite the Western Australian pool as a “prescribed person.” The pool would then have the benefit of the guarantee and accordingly would be able to make the necessary financial arrangements which overcomes Senator Carroll’s objection.
– By making the Western Australian pool come under clause 4?
– Yes, as a prescribed authority.
– Thank you for nothing.
– The pool could not obtain any money then.
– Oh, yes, it could. There is to be an advance of 2s. a bushel, the remaining1s. being covered by subclause 3 of clause 4. In prescribing payments, an allowance will be made for merchants’ profits, and the usual trading charges. There is sufficient machinery in the bill to meet those contingencies.
– It is a matter of want of power, rather than of machinery.
– I quite appreciati ve honorable senator’s point, but I cannot understand the objection to the Government trying to safeguard the growers by providing that the benefit of this relief shall be guaranteed to them. If a grower chooses to safeguard his interests by co-operating with others in a pool, that pool, under clause 4, can be made a “ prescribed person “, and collect and disburse money.
– Are such bodies not bound to obtain their finances from the Commonwealth Bank ?
– This bill limits the power of the Government to find the necessary finance from the Commonwealth Bank to carry this measure into effect. The Minister may arrange for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia to guarantee to give to the growers of wheat or to any prescribed person, on behalf of the growers, the finance that is specified in the measure. It does not permit him to make the finances available through any other trading bank. With that exception there is no difference between the suggestion of Senator Carroll and the provisions of the bill. Unquestionably,, on the advice that I have received, the bill will have to be held up if the amendment is insisted upon.
– Is it not a fact that the Western Australian and South Australian pools were unable to obtain finances from the Commonwealth Bank in previous years, and were forced to fall back on the Wholesale Cooperative Association of Great Britain?
– I am not aware of the incident that the honorable senator has- in mind. This legislation clearly and unequivocally sets out that the Minister may arrange with the Commonwealth Bank to make payments, cither directly to the grower, or to any organization which the grower has joined. Whatever may have been done under previous schemes, under this measure the Commonwealth Government can go to the ‘Commonwealth Bank and tell it what money it desires advanced, and the persons to whom the money is to be advanced
– Provided it were able to make the advances, all would be well and good.
– -The defence of non possumus was not raised by Senator Carroll. The honorable senator’s question was whether, under this scheme, organizations such as the Western Australian and South Australian pools would be debarred from the benefits of this legislation.
– I ask the honorable senator, as the Leader of the Government in. the Senate, to say whether r.hat is so.
– My contention is - and I give this advice to the Senate after consultation with the highest legal authorities in the Commonwealth - that it will not. exclude the Western Australian pool; that the Commonwealth can arrange for money to be paid to that and the South Australian pool so that it can be distributed to the growers of wheat.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (West eni Australia) [5.44] .-First of all, in dealing with the point that arrangements could be made for the Western Australian pool to” be declared a “ prescribed per son 1 interjected “ thank you for nothing “. That would merely place the Western Australian pool on the same footing as the ordinary wheat merchants. During my second-reading speech I pointed out the probability of the wheat merchants not operating under this bill. The difference between their position end that of the pool is that the pools get their money as the transactions go on. whereas the wheat merchants have to wait until the end of the year. In the meantime they have to operate on their own capital. Under the proposals of the Government, the Western Australian pool would, in that connexion, bc in the same position as are the wheat merchants; it would be at a disadvantage as compared with the other pools. The Western Australian pool will not welcome such a Disposal. Nor is it necessary.
I come now to the objection of I heLeader of the. Senate (Senator Daly) to the moving of this amendment. The bon- orable gentleman says that it will necessitate a Governor-General’s message in another place. I hesitate to set my knowledge as a bush lawyer against, thai of the legal gentleman who has advised the Minister; but I venture the opinion that the advice offered to the Minister is based on one set of circumstance?, whereas we are dealing with another fct of circumstances. Had the amendment been moved in another place it might have required an appropriation and, consequently, a message from the GovernorGeneral. But it has not been moved in another place. The powers of the Senate in this respect have been tested long ago, and practice has established the Senate’s position. The Senate may not amend any proposed law so as to increase any proposed charge or burden on the people. An amendment in another place, which would increase the burden on the people, does require a GovernorGeneral’ message; but long ago ir was decided that, although the Senate may not amend any proposed law so as to increase the burden on the people, it may request an amendment of the law. Tm Senate has the power either to amend or to make a request. When it requests an amendment, another place can make thai amendment without a message from the Governor-General. That practice has been followed in many instances.
– If that view is sound, I havenoobjection to the course proposed.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.There is another point. As a Minister I never experienced any difficulty in obtaining a message from the GovernorGeneral of the day. He may have been in the wilds of Australia, but by some mysterious means a message was received from him when required. I have a suspicion that message forms were sometimes signed by him, and that all that was required to obtain one was to call up his office on the telephone. In these higher circles there seems to be some such thing as telepathy, which enables these things to be done. I am sure that the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Daly) will have no difficulty in this matter either as to time or as to the point raised. If a Governor-General’s message is necessary to give effect to a request of the Senate, it can be obtained at short notice. It is not desirable that the Western Australian pool should be placed at a disadvantage compared with other pools.
– How would any alteration place the Western Australian pool in a better position?
– All we ask is that it be put on the same footing as the other pools.
– Where would it get finance?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.It would get it from an institution which we hope the Government will prescribe as an institution under this bill. We do not desire to confine the granting of finance to the Commonwealth Bank. We desire that the British Wholesale Cooperative be proclaimed an institution.
– I cannot understand the arguments advanced by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce). The necessity for the proposed amendment might have existed under the old conditions, when either the Western Australian or the South Australian pool tried but failed to make arrangements with the Commonwealth Bank; but under this proposal all the States will be treated alike.The Minister may make an arrangement with the Commonwealth Bank.
– He might not be able to do so.
– There seems to be some misapprehension on the part of those who support the amendment. The clause provides that the Minister may arrange with the Commonwealth Bank to make advances to the growers of wheat, either directly or through any prescribed organization. Without going to clause 4. and putting the pool on the same level as the wheat merchants, the Minister may, under clause 2, arrange with the Commonwealth Bank to make advances either to growers directly or through any prescribed organization.
– The Commonwealth Bank would not be likely to make advances to British Wholesale Cooperative.
– Advances would be made to the Western Australian pool. The mover of the amendment said that the people of Western Australia had to go to the organization mentioned, because they could not get accommodation through the Commonwealth Bank.
– The position is that they have made arrangements for this year’s crop.
– There is nothing to prevent the Government from arranging with the Commonwealth Bank that this business shall be done through British Wholesale Co-operative.
– Why not makefile position perfectly clear, so that we might add to the strength of the Commonwealth Bank that of British Wholesale Co-operative?
– The proposed amendment is to strike out all reference to the Commonwealth Bank.
– No; only to enlarge the provision.
– The desire of the Government is that advances shall be made through the Commonwealth Bank. If it is desired to operate through any other organization to meet the special case of South Australia or Western Australia, we should add appropriate words to the clause, not exclude all reference to the Commonwealth Bank.
– The position would be that either the Commonwealth Bank or any other institution could be prescribed.
– The Government has in mind the Commonwealth Bank, and that institution shouldbe named in the bill.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [5.53]. - The Leader of the Senate (Senator Daly) invited us to compare this bill with the Dried Fruits Advances Act. So far as time has permitted, I have done so. I now invite attention to that act, not only in regard to its title, but also in respect of its principal clause. That act provides that “ the Minister may arrange with any banking corporation carrying on business in the Commonwealth . . . “ It may be necessary in this instance to give the term “ banking corporation “ a wider meaning than in the act mentioned. I suggest that “ any prescribed corporation “ would meet the case. That act also provides -
I point out, also, that the bill makes no provision whatever for the payment of interest. I do not know whether it is intended that the Commonwealth Bank shall find the money and charge no interest for it. If that is the intention, then it will not be long before the bank will be ruined. No bank can carry on without charging interest on the advances it makes.
– It is not intended that money shall be advanced without interest.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.The bill only guarantees a return of the money advanced; it makes no provision whatever for the payment of interest.
– If the note issue is inflated there will be no need to pay interest.
– It would be better to adopt the wording of the Dried Fruits Advances Act, and give the Government power to make arrangements with any institution which might help, instead of confining the clause to the Commonwealth Bank. If that were done, the whole banking system of Aus tralia would be behind the scheme. We shall not have sound finance unless the payment of interest is provided for.
SenatorDALY (South Australia - Vice-President of the Executive Council) [5.56]. -I am concerned only that the Senate shall not act unconstitutionally. I have in my hand the Record of the Votes and Proceedings and Special Papers of the House of Representatives for 1922, volume I., which contains an opinion signed by the Solicitor-General in support of his contention that, if these words are eliminated, a GovernorGeneral’s message will be necessary.
– Was the opinion of the Solicitor-General in respect of a request from the Senate, or did it relate to an amendment which originated in another place?
– Supposing that the right honorable gentleman is correct, and we send this bill back to the House with a request; before another place can do anything it will be necessary to obtain a Governor-General’s message. That is the advice of men who have been advising Ministers of the Crown for years.
– A message from the Governor-General could he obtained in a very few minutes.
– I admit that I do not know how one can be obtained. I have had to send to the Governor-General for every message required, and he has signed it. He has left no blank messages with me.
– Why did not the Government follow the wording of the Dried Fruits Advances Act?
– This bill was introduced in another place before I saw it.
– I do not wonder that the honorable senator disowns it.
– I am not disowning it. I have so much confidence in the Commonwealth Bank that I am convinced that it can advance the amount necessary without seeking the assistance of other financial institutions.
– Has the bank given an assurance to that effect?
– The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fenton) has beenin consultation withthe directors of the bank. and, acting on the assumption that Parliament will pass this bill, he is at present in consultation with them.
– Has (he bank given, the assurance that- 1 have mentioned?
– I have received no instructions that the bank has given any assurance in connexion with this matter. Whatever my opinion of the directors of the bank, I have sufficient confidence in their business acumen to believe that they know that, unless they come to the assistance of the primary producers, and lift them out of their present predicament, the finances of the Commonwealth Bank will be in a. worse position than they are now. My personal opinion is that if the wheatgrowers are compelled to walk off their farms the equity of the Commonwealth will depreciate to such an extent that the Government will be advised by the Commonwealth Bank, not that the amount of its deposits has increased, but that it has considerably decreased. 1. believe that the directors of the Commonwealth Bank are prepared to finance the scheme. After hearing the speeches of honorable senators, I. believe that a majority of the committee think that this is a perfectly sound financial policy, and that the only difference between the committee and the Government is as to whether the private banks should be allowed to assist. If the proposal is uneconomic, and there is no possibility of the Commonwealth Bankgranting the necessary financial- assistance, what is the use of amending “the clause by inserting a provision to enable the private banks to assist?
– Why not relieve the strain upon the Commonwealth Bank if there is an opportunity to do so?
– When the amendment was moved by Senator Carroll, I interviewed the Minister on the matter, and, as a result of our conversation, I was prepared to insert the words “ and any other prescribed authority “. I ascertained, however, that the GovernorGeneral ‘had left for Melbourne, and that it would be impracticable to obtain his signature to the necessary appropriation message. Personally, I do not think the amendment really means anything. If the majority of the committee is of the opinion that such an amendment- is essential,, an amending measure could bc passed when Parliament assembles shortly: after Christmas. I am not opposing the amendment on principle, and have said that the Government would have accepted - an amendment on the lines indicated but for the reason given.
– Could not the Governor-General sign a telegraphed message?
– The committee would have to take the responsibility. Personally, I feel that the position is properly safeguarded, and I am prepared to ask’ my colleagues, to vote for the clause in its present form. If the committee wishes to insert the words I have mentioned, it will involve an appropriation message for which I cannot be held responsible. The Government is anxious to expedite the passage of the bill and is prepared to compromise to the extent 1 have mentioned, but I do not think the amendment means very much.
– Would it not help both the Commonwealth Bank and Australia if outside credit were available in the event of credit stringency?
– Quite frankly J” admit that banking finance completely muddles me. I feel that our national bank is competent to do what is required of it. Senator H. E. Elliott, who quibble* about inflation, should know that when every wheat crop is harvested and marketed the currency is inflated. During the trade rush at every Christmas season there is a certain amount of inflation by the Commonwealth Bank.
– That is not inflation in the ordinary sense.
– It is no more inflation .than this would be; but if this is inflation then the financing of the wheat crop by the Commonwealth Bank every year, and the financing of the Christmas trade is inflation, too.
– We are trying to get the maximum amount of credit for Australia.
– We can obtain the maximum amount of credit for the wheat crop from the Commonwealth Bank
– Why exclude any of the banks?
– Because I am anxious to get the measure through without involving the necessity of obtaining the Governor-General’s message.
– I suggest that the Minister postpone the clause so that inquiries can be made to ascertain whether the necessary authority can be obtained.
– I understand it is impossible to obtain the message in time, and although I think that the committee should pass the clause in its present form. I shall not oppose its postponement.
Clause 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 - (1.) - Notwithstanding anything contained in the two preceding sections where wheat is marketed . . . (2.) In respect of wheat which is marketed . . . (3.) Any guarantee given under an arrangement made inpursuance of the last preceding sub-section shall be subject to a first payment by the prescribed person to the grower of the wheat of the sum of two shillings per bushel upon delivery of the wheat at a railway station or other usual place of delivery to such other payments by that person to the grower, and to such other conditions as are prescribed.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [6.8]. - I ask the Minister why any differentiation is made between the wheat pools and the merchants with respect to the manner in which repayments are to be made. Broadly speaking, the pools will not use their own capital, as they will be obtaining repayments from the bank; but the wheat merchants will not obtain the difference between the guaranteed price of 3s. and that which the wheat realizes until the whole position is cleared up, which may take some months. It is obvious that if the clause is passed in its present form the wheat merchants will be completely cut out, which will not be an advantage to the farmers.
– And it will increase the difficulties of finance.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Yes, very greatly. Although these firms have a certain amount of capital it is hardly fair to expect them to wait for nine months and then to run the risk of being repaid in depreciated currency. For their own protection they wish to be in the business. There should not be any differentiation.
– It has always been recognized that the wheat merchants are, in a sense, financial institutions, and as long as there is a guarantee from the Government they will continue to finance their clients.
– There is no inducement for them to go into the business at all.
– Self-preservation is the first law of nature, and they will endeavour to protect their businesses.
– Why cannot they be dealt with in the same way as the pools?
– Pools consist of organizations of growers, and, in effect, the Government is making payments direct to the growers.
– The merchants provide useful machinery for handling the wheat crop.
– That is debatable. The Government wishes to provide a maximum amount of assistance to the growers. The pools have no capital of their own if they wish to extend their benefits beyond their ordinary limits, and if the wheat merchants desire to compete in this business, they should have the capital to do so. The Government has extended this provision as far as it possibly can. It is the policy of the Government to give the maximum amount of assistance to the growers, which will help the pools, but it cannot see its way clear to assist in financing the wheat merchants, to in turn finance the growers. The object of the provision is to relieve the Commonwealth Bank of the. tremendous amount of money involved, but if the merchants are placed on the same basis, and they disperse £1,000,000, it must come from the bank. It seems that there is very little difference in substance between the operations of the bank and the merchants. If the money is taken from the bank by the merchants the bank will not have it.
– The merchants bring their money from London.
– And immediately that is done it limits the resources of Australia, which haveto be tapped.
– That is not so.
– That is what we are told by the Commonwealth Bank Board. We are told if, say, £5,000,000 is taken from the London market the resources of Australia are affected to that extent.
– Does the Minister suggest that when private merchants bring money from London the financial resources of the Commonwealth are decreased.
– The resources of the Commonwealth and other banks which are drawn upon are affected. It does not actually result in a decrease because the money goes from one institution to another. The Government is anxious to give the maximum amount of relief to the growers, and in an endeavour to do so has embodied this provision in the bill. The Government, however, is not prepared to extend the same consideration to the wheat merchants. Naturally the merchant will buy wheat if he can get money from London. If, however, he cannot obtain finance from that quarter, the Commonwealth will have to secure the money.
– Sales of wheat under this bill will be of two classes, namely, sales made through a co-operative organization and sales to private wheat merchants. Again I direct attention to the differentiation in the method of finance. In the case of wheat marketed through a co-operative organization an advance will be made, whereas, in the case of sales to wheat merchants, the buyers will have to be satisfied with a guarantee by the Commonwealth Bank, which is not quite the same thing. A guarantee means that the money will be available at some future date. This will penalize those wheatgrowers -who decide to dispose of their product to a private selling agency.
– The wheat merchants are not complaining.
– Does not the Minister see that if, in the matter of finance private buyers are not placed on the same level as co-operative selling agencies, those growers who sell to wheat merchants will be penalized?
– The wheat merchants have advised us that they do not require finance. They say that they have £20,0tj6,000 available for their transac tions in connexion with this year’s harvest, and they will be satisfied with a guarantee.
– In view of the Minister’s statement, all I can say is that, apparently, human nature has changed very much in the course of the afternoon. Earlier in the debate on this bill we were informed that, because of this differentiation in treatment, they did not intend, to buy wheat this .season.
– Is the honorable senator speaking for the wheat-growers or the wheat merchants?
– I am speaking on behalf of those wheat-growers who prefer to market their produce through private selling agencies, and [ am endeavouring to show that this differentiation in the financial arrangement? will penalize them.
– They can market their wheat through the pool if they can get a better return through that organization.
– Now the cat is out of the bag. The Government wishes to compel all wheat-growers to market their produce through the pool, notwithstanding that recently they decided that voluntary pools and private selling agencies should operate side by side. This Government wishes to eliminate the competition, in spite of the fact that the wheat-growers wish to enjoy all the advantages which existing private selling agencies offer to them. m I suggest that clause 2 be reconsidered, and so amended as to provide for advances to be made to wheat merchants as well as to cooperative organizations. These private selling agencies should be given a chance to live.
Amendment (by Senator Barnes) proposed -
That after the word “ is “ sub-clause 1, the words “ or has, prior to the commencement of this act, been,” be inserted.
– By this amendment, the committee is now applying its mind to the fresh problem of the man who has already sold his wheat to a merchant and accepted, say, ls. 5d. a bushel for it. The person who gets the guarantee is the prescribed authority, the wheat merchant, and I should like to know how the money is to get into the pocket of the grower. Is a closed transaction to be re-opened? Incidentally, I should like to see provision made for the payment of interest to the merchants, because if the bank is entitled to earn interest on the money it advances, surely the merchants are equally entitled to earn it.
– The merchant will get his profit.
– In future there will be no private trading in wheat. The grower will take the guaranteed price offered, and the only operation to be performed will be the handling by the prescribed authority or cooperative organization. Only when the price of wheat increases beyond 3s. will there be opportunity for the speculative element to come into the arena again.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [6.36]. - I should like to known how it is contemplated that a prescribed person buying wheat in a township is to get a guarantee of 2s. 4½d., if he intends to send the wheat to the seaboard for export, and of 2s.11d. if the wheat is to be delivered at a local flour mill.
– The position of the man who has sold his wheat prior to the commencement of the act will be met by an amendment I propose to move to insert the words after “delivery” in subclause 3, “ or in the case of wheat so delivered prior to the commencement of this act within 60 days after the commencement “.
– I do not wish, nor do I believe the Government wishes, to see the merchant cut out. The pools will have to get their money from the Commonwealth Bank or co-operative societies, but they will not get it free of interest. In that respect, their position will be exactly that of a merchant. If the latter makes a payment of 2s. under the provisions of this bill, and is in a position to sell a ship-load at 2s. 6d. a bushel - already wheat has been sold at that price - the extra 6d. he gets will about cover the cost of putting the wheat on board the vessel. Where then does the “ tremendous finance “ come in ? I do not see that the merchants will have to provide such a tremendous amount of money.
. - I am wondering whether honorable senators opposite want the bill. The job the Government is undertaking in introducing this measure is to provide money for the wheat-grower. The Government is not concerned about interest being paid to anybody. The primary object of the measure is to provide a certain payment to wheat-growers for their crops. The Commonwealth Government is to make arrangements with the Commonwealth Bank, both for the advance and the repayment of the money. The arrangements will necessarily include whatever interest payments would be incurred in ordinary circumstances. Honorable senators opposite are unduly alarmed about their pet clients, the boodlers or merchants. We have witnessed Senator Lynch, in the words of the great dramatist, “ Tear a passion to tatters, to very rags,” over the “ fearful “ plight of the merchants. The. Minister has already informed the Senate that the merchants are quite satisfied with the guarantee, and do not want any cash payments. Why should the Government go out of its way to provide them with facilities which they already have in ample measure? Senator Lynch professes a belief in competition. Incidentally, I may say that competition has brought the world to a sorry pass. He asks the Government to bestow upon the growers a blessing in the shape of - competition with themselves! Obviously, if the pool is well and efficiently managed they reap the advantage. If it is not, it is their own fault. It is surely unnecessary for the Government to provide an alternative for the growers. It would appear that honorable senators opposite desire to kill the measure by the repetition of useless debate. If I were the Government I should say, “ Take it, or leave it. Here is something that you have declared that you want. Now that it is given to you, you cavil over every trifling matter, instead of taking what the gods have granted you.”
– I think that the point raised by Senator McLachlan is a very important one. There should be a provision in the bill that the bounty on wheat purchased by a merchant prior to the commencementof theact should be passed on to the farmer. It would be most improper to allowmerchants to withhold the bounty on that wheat.
– The measure covers such contingencies. So far as the other point is concerned, I have conferred with the secretary to the Minister for Markets (Mr. Mulvany), who informs me that the merchants definitely told the Minister that they would be. satisfied with the guarantee, and could finance themselves. There is no need for the Senate to worry about putting them on the same plane as the wheat pool. The wheat pools did not have the same finances at its disposal as have the merchants, so the Government has endeavoured to place them on the same plane.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [6.53].- Will the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Daly) clear my mind, if possible, on the point that I raised a moment ago?
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.Something will have to be done about that. I refer to another matter. There is to be finance to the extent of 3s. a bushel, less certain charges. In the case of wheat exported, those charges may be 5d. to 7d. a bushel, or even more. Paragraph b of clause 4 refers to the guarantee and charges incurred in connexion with “ the delivery of wheat for home consumption to a miller or other user.” In a great many cases mills may be situated in the country and the charges incurred in delivering the wheat to them possibly only1d. a bushel, or even less. As the bill stands it looks as though a person delivering wheat to a mill would be entitled to the 3s., less1d., whereas another grower whose wheat was exported would receive the 3s., less 7d. Can any provision be made by regulation to adjust the discrepancy in the two cases? It is obviously unfair that one man should receive 3d. or 4d. a bushel from the Government and the other10d. a bushel.
– Sub-clause 3 of clause 4 reads -
Any guarantee given under an arrangement made in pursuance of the last preceding sub-section shall be subject to a first payment by the prescribed person to the grower of the wheat of the sum of two shillings per bushel upon delivery of the wheat at a railway station or other usual place of delivery to such other payments by that person to the grower, and to such other conditions as are prescribed.
I understand from Mr. Mulvany that certain adjustments will be made to meet the points raised by the honorable senator.
– Is the Minister satisfied that the matter can be adjusted without offending against the wording of the bill?
– I am attending only to the legal side of the measure. I an) instructed by Mr. Mulvany that there are no practical difficulties in the way of providing the necessary legal legislation to give effect to these proposals.
– It is the legal point with which I am concerned, because the regulations must be in accordance with the measure.
– That is so. I think that what Mr. Mulvany has in mind is that a condition precedent to a benefit under this measure may be circumscribed by certain conditions.
– Regarding the point raised by Senator Colebatch, the man near the seaboard would have the benefit of his location as against the man far removed from the coast. The grower in the neighbourhood of a mill, or any person engaged in milling, would possess that advantage; whether the bill were passed or not. If I understand the position aright it is that if we persist with this amendment we may jeopardize the passing of the bill. I shall not risk losing the bill for the sake of a further amendment, as suggested, necessary though I consider it to be. The bill provides for a guarantee to the growers of wheat of 3s. a bushel f.o.b. in any part of the Commonwealth. I am content to leave it as it is and not press for any amendment, if, in the event of the guarantee being found defective, the Government will introduce the necessary legislation to ensure that the principle shall be adhered to.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Senator Barnes) agreed to -
That after the word “ is “, sub-clause 2, the words “ or has, prior to the commencement of this act, been “ be inserted.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [7.3]. - I suggest to the Minister that the words “ Commonwealth Bank of Australia “ be deleted, although at this stage I do not propose to move an amendment to that effect seeing that the position is contingent on our decision in connexion with clause 2. The intention is to give a guarantee of 3s. a bushel, less the cost of conveying the wheat from the farm to the ship. Why cannot we provide for a guarantee of 3s. a bushel, less freight, insurance, and the other handling charges incurred in placing the wheat on board ship at the port of export, or, in the case of wheat delivered for home consumption to a miller, an amount equivalent to what would be the f.o.b. value? That would get over the difficulty and meet the spirit of the bill.
– It would take some time to draft an amendment to give effect to the honorable senator’s proposal. I can assure him that the administration of this legislation will be such that no one will suffer any injustice. If the honorable senator desires to assist the farmers, I ask him not to press his proposal.
– It would take, probably, five minutes to draft the necessary amendment. The Minister must accept the responsibility of the months of trouble which will result from rejecting the proposal made to him.
– I now move -
That after the word “ delivery “, first occurring, sub-clause 3, the words “ or, in the case of wheat so delivered prior to the commencement of this act, within sixty days after such commencement” be inserted.
That would meet the position referred to by Senator Colebatch and ensure that persons who deliver their wheat at a point near their farm would receive 2s. a bushel.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 5 -
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [7.10]. - I submit that in this clause the point I raised in connexion with clause 4 is made even more clear. What is the meaning of the words “ The rate of advance “ ? If it means 3s. a bushel f.o.b., why not say so definitely? If it does not mean that in every case, why not provide for a guarantee of 3s. a bushel f.o.b., or 3s. a bushel, less the cost of delivery to a miller? The intention of the bill is that the advance shall be the equivalent of 3s. a bushel f.o.b. In the case of wheat delivered to a miller the cost of delivery may be only 1d., or even½d., a bushel. Unless the Minister is prepared to accept an amendment which will ensure uniformity, he is welcome to the confusion that will arise.
– I think that the honorable senator is unnecessarily troubled about this matter. Clause 4 (3) makes provision along the lines suggested by him. A person who delivers his wheat to a railway station, and a person who delivers it to a miller, will each receive the same amount.
– Clause 5 provides that, in the case of wheat delivered to a miller, only the cost incurred in delivering it shall be deducted.
– Possibly, the honorable senator is right. We can deal with the matter when postponed clause 2 is again before us. I now move -
That after the word “ delivery “, sub-clause 2, the words “ or in the case of wheatso delivered prior to the commencement of this act, within sixty days after such commence ment “ be inserted.
That would bring the clause into line with the previous clause, as amended.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 6 and 7 agreed to.
Clause 8 (Security).
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [7.15]. - When provision was made for the repayment of advances there had to be some security for the persons by whom advances were made, otherwise the advance might not be repaid. As that provision with respect to repayments has been deleted, this clause should not be necessary.
.- The security of the person making an advance will be a wheat certificate. If the banks provide the finance such a certificate will be the security.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 9 to 13 agreed to.
Clause 14 (Interstate trade in wheat).
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [7.17]. - Is the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Senator Daly) satisfied that this provision is notcontrary to the Constitution, particularly section 92, which provides for interstate freetrade?
– This provision is similar to that embodied in the DriedFruits Advances Act.
– Has it been tested?
– It was passed consequent upon the High. Court’s decision in the James case.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 15 to 17 agreed to.
Postponed clause 2 -
The Minister may arrange with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for the making by that bank … of advances in accordance with this act, and may guarantee to that bank the repayment of any advance made by the bank in pursuance of the arrangement.
Upon which Senator Carroll had moved by way of an amendment -
That the words “ the Commonwealth Bank of Australia “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof, the words “ any prescribed authority.”
– I have made inquiries to see whether it is possible for the committee to insert this amendment. If the committee insists upon it, it will necessitate a Governor-General’s message, which I am informed cannot be obtained by telegraph, and that even if such a message were obtained Mr. Speaker would have to be satisfied with its authenticity.
– Such a telegraphic message could have been obtained during the last hour.
– It would be a departure from precedent and the Crown Law authorities are not certain that such a message would be accepted by another place.
Question - That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Carroll’s amendment) be left out - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Senator Plain.)
Majority . . . . 6
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Senator Carroll) proposed -
That the word “bank” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof, the word “ authority “.
Question put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Senator Plain.)
Majority . . . . 7
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause further consequentially amended, and, as amended, agreed to.
Preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Motion (by Senator Barnes) proposed -
That the report be adopted.
Amendment (by Senator Daly) agreed to-
That the bill bo recommitted for the reconsideration of clauses 4 and 5.
In committee (Recommittal) :
Clause 4 -
Notwithstanding anything contained in the two preceding sections, where wheat is marketed through any prescribed person, advances inrespect of that wheat shall not be made under those sections.
In respect of wheat which is marketed through any prescribed person, the Minister may arrange with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for a guarantee to be given by that bank to that person of 3s. per bushel, less freight, insurance and other handling charges incurred -
in placing wheat for export on board a ship at the port of export; or
in the delivery of wheat for home consumption to a miller or other user.
Amendment (by Senator Carroll) agreed to -
That the words “ Commonwealth Bank of Australia”, sub-clause 2, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words, “ prescribed authority “.
– I move-
That all the words from and including the words “ freight insurance “ to and including the words “ or other user “, sub-clause 2, be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words - ” (a) freight, insurance and other handling charges incurred in placing wheat for export on board a ship at the port of export, or
in the case of wheat delivered for home consumption to a miller or other user, a sum equivalent to the amount which would be deductible under paragraph a of this subsection if the wheat were placed for export on board ship at the nearest port for export of that wheat.”
This amendment is inserted to meet the objections raised by Senator Colebatch.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause further consequentially amended, and, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 5 consequentially amended, and, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with further amendments.
Motion(by Senator Barnes) proposed -
That the reports be adopted.
Amendment(by Senator Carroll) agreed to -
That the bill be recommitted for the reconsideration of clause 12.
In committee (Recommittal) :
Clause 12 consequentially amended and, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with a further amendment; reports adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Appointment of Managers.
Bill returned from the House ofRepresentatives with the following message: -
The House of Representatives returns to the Senate the bill “intituled “ A bill for an act to amend the ‘Northern Territory (Administration) Act 1910-1926’ to repeal the’Northern Australia Act 1926’, and for other purposes,” and acquaints the Senate that the House of Representatives insists on disagreeing to the amendments insisted upon by the Senate, and requests the Senate to grant a conference on the amendments. In the event of a conference being agreed to, the House of Representatives will be represented at the conference by five managers.
Motion (by Senator Daly) proposed-
That the desire of the House of Representatives for a conference on the bill for “An act to amend the ‘Northern Territory (Administration) Act 1910-1926 ‘, to repeal the Northern Australia Act 1926 ‘, and for other purposes “, communicated in message No. 134 of the House, be complied with, and that the following senators be appointed managers of the conference, viz.: - Senators Daly, Barnes, Dunn, Sir George Pearce, and Sir William Glasgow.
– I do not know whether it is competent for me to ask honorable senators whether we have reached a stage in which the Senate can dictate who shall be elected by another place to represent it at a conference.
– We are not dictating to another place. We are simply declining to act on the conference.
– If the Leader of the Government speaks now he closes the debate.
-I have no wish to do so.
– Under Standing
Order 344, the managers to represent the Senate at a conference requested by the House of Representatives shall consist of the same number of members as those of the House of Representatives. If the Leader of the Opposition and Senator Glasgow decline to act on a conference, and I do not think there is any means of compelling any honorable senator to do so, they will have to be replaced by others.
– I feel inclined to withdraw my motion, because I recognize that a make-believe conference with managers appointed by another place would be useless. I have heard of a certain move that has been made in another place, but of course the actions of honorable gentlemen in another place are no concern of the Senate. Things have come to a sorry pass if the Senate can seek to dictate to another place who shall represent it at a conference, more particularly when the member of that other place to whose presence at the conference objection has been taken has no opportunity to defend his honour or his good name in this chamber.
– That is a subject which has not been introduced by the withdrawal of honorable senators from participation in the proposed conference.
– The reason which is actuating them is that a certain gentleman has been appointed by another place to act at that conference. The only course open to me is to let the motion go.
– I have already pointed out an alternative.
– It is useless for me to nominate any honorable senator opposite to fill the places of Senator Pearce and Senator Glasgow, and it is therefore useless for me to persist with the motion. Accordingly I ask leave to withdraw it.
– MayI suggest that the honorable senator ask for leave to withdraw the motion temporarily. That would allow him to put it on the notice-paper.
– I thank you for your suggestion, Mr. President, and ask leave accordingly.
Motion - by leave - temporarily withdrawn.
– I move-
That the consideration of the message be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.
I hope that by that time an opportunity will have been given to this gentleman to defend his honour.
Motion agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 8.2 p.m. to 12.44 a.m., Thursday.
Thursday18, December 1930.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives with amessage intimating that it had agreed to certain of the amendments made by the Senate, and to other amendments, subject to further amendments.
In committee (Consideration of House of Representatives message) :
No. 1. Senate’s amendment. - Clause 2. Leave out “ the Commonwealth Bank of Australia “, insert “ any prescribed authority “.
House of Representatives message - Amendment agreed to subject to the following amendment : -
Omit “ any “ insert “ theCommonwealth Bank of Australia or a”.
Motion (by Senator Barnes) proposed -
That the amendment made by the House of Representatives he agreed to.
– The difference between the Senate and another place is that the Senate desired to strike out all reference to the Commonwealth Bank, whereas another place desires to retain the words, “ The Commonwealth Bank of Australia “, and to add the words, “ or a prescribed authority “. That meets the objection of the Senate.
Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW (Queensland) [12.49]. - I hope that the Senate will not agree to the amendment of the House of Representatives. Another place has agreed to the words “ or any prescribed authority” being inserted; but it has also definitely prescribed the Commonwealth Bank. The intention of the Senate was that the number of institutions which might make advances should be increased. Another place has accepted that principle, but it has also specifically mentioned the Commonwealth Bank in its amendment. When introducing the bill the Minister said that it was intended to exercise moral suasion in order to force the Commonwealth Bank to make advances.
– The honorable senator is wrong. I did not say so.
– The Minister said that if both Houses passed the bill’ it would be an instruction to the Commonwealth Bank to .provide the advances, irrespective of whether or not it would be prudent to do so.
– The honorable senator knows that the Government cannot instruct the Commonwealth Bank to do anything.
-The Minister said that the passing of the bill by both Houses would have an influence on the Commonwealth Bank. I object to the Commonwealth Bank being coerced into doing anything which it would not do otherwise.
– Would the honorable senator object to Parliament exerting a good influence on the Commonwealth Bank?
Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW.In my opinion, we shall not exert a good influence on the bank by accepting the amendment of another place.’
– I do not believe in exerting any influence on the Commonwealth Bank.
Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW.The bank is controlled by a board and a general manager, who should be left to decide ‘ what security should be provided for any advances made by the bank.
– The board would still have the final say.
Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW.That may be so; but I do not think that a clause of this nature should be inserted in the bill. It might have the effect of coercing the bank, or of influencing it against its better judgment. For that reason I hope that the Senate will not agree to the amendment.
– If it does not, it will kill the bill.
Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW.I shall not be influenced by any threat which the honorable senator might make. We should do nothing which might in any way influence the bank against its better judgment.
– This is not coercion.
Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW.If the Leader of the Senate will read the speech of the Minister who introduced the bill he will find that he said that the passing of this measure by both Houses of Parliament would have an influence on. the bank in granting advances.
– Moral suasion is not coercion.
Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW.Advances should not be made against security which is not full value for the advances.
– That would be not moral, but immoral, suasion.
Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW.We should not do anything to influence the bank to make advances against which there is not a proper cover. I ask the Senate not to agree to the amendment.
– I think that Senator Glasgow is wrong. If he reads my speech made when introducing this bill, he will find that I did not use the words referred to by him. The purpose of the amendment of the House of Representatives is to include other prescribed authorities as well as the Commonwealth Bank in order that wheat-growers in Western Australia may be enabled to take advantage of the Government’s proposals. We are all aware of the power that the Commonwealth Bank Board possesses, and the Government would not be stupid enough to approach the board with, as it were, a pick handle in its hand, and tell it that it must do certain things in order to meet the wishes of the Government. The Government is now endeavouring to assist a most important section of the community which is in trouble, and because of that it does not wish any unnecessary restrictions to be placed upon it. To overcome a difficulty which exists in Western Australia, the Government is agreeable to accept the Senate’s amendment as amended by another place, which provides that the Commonwealth Bank, or “ any other prescribed authority “, shall have the rightto operate under this measure. The Government has no desire to penalize any State which wishes to take advantage of the assistance which this bill provides. The House of Representatives’ amendment of the amendment provides that the services of the Commonwealth Bank or any other prescribed authority shall be at the disposal of the wheat-growers. I cannot imagine why any opposition should be offered; the wheat-growers in every part of Australia will welcome the bill with the amendment which I have suggested.
– I assure the committee that there is no ground for the fear expressed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Glasgow) that the Government has a desire to coerce the Commonwealth Bank Board. The Government will, of course, on all occasions, stand four-square to the laws of this country, and so long as the people, through their representatives, desire that the control of the Commonwealth Bank shall be as it is to-day, this Government will observe the law. On a previous occasion I referred to moral suasion. I remind honorable senators that, in connexion with every bill which this Government brings forward, it is known that unless the expenditure involved can be met out of revenue - there are many instances in which it cannot be met in that way - it has to be met by an overdraft from the Commonwealth Bank. Is that not moral suasion or an indirect expression of the desire of this Parliament to a national banking institution without in any way attempting to bind the bank as to the course it should adopt? This bill does not in any way demand that the Commonwealth Bank shall do anything. It merely contains an expression of opinion by this Parliament that, unless something is done for the ruralproducers of this country, our credit will be undermined. The suggestion is made to the Commonwealth Bank that, if possible, it should make available sufficient credit to the Governmentof the country to carry out this scheme. As the. Assistant Minister(SenatorBarnes) has pointed out, there should be no objection to the insertion of these words, and I trust that the committee will agree to the amendment of the amendment made in another place, ‘which provides for the acceptance of the Senate’s amendment in an amended form.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [1.2 a.m]. - The Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Daly) saidthat every appropriation measure passed by this Parliament involving the expenditure of money, which cannot be met out of revenue, necessitates the Commonwealth obtaining an overdraft, which has to be provided by the Commonwealth Bank. I invite the Minister to quote a single instance in which an appropriation bill has contained any reference to the Commonwealth Bank. This is the first instance in which anything of the sort has been attempted.
– It is a clear example of absolute honesty; it shows what is intended.
Under the Dried Fruits Advances Act it is provided that the Minister may arrange with any banking corporation, which means any bank it likes. The object of the Senate in making this amendment was twofold. . In the first place it was to give the Government the widest possible opportunity to arrange its finance, and, secondly, so that it could not be thought that any attempt was being made to influence the Commonwealth Bank. When Senator Glasgow was speaking the Minister (Senator Daly) asked by interjection whether honorable senators on this side objected to good influence being brought to bear on the Commonwealth Bank Board. We object to this or any other government bringing any influence whatever to bear upon the Commonwealth Bank Board. I warn the Minister and those who support him that it willbe an unfortunate day when the Commonwealth Bank comes under party political influence of any kind.
– That would not be good influence.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.But the Minister referred to influence.
– I said good influence.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.Who is to determine whether the influence is good or bad ?
– Does the honorable senator overlook the fact that on one occasion the private banks refused to finance the wool clip of Australia, and the Commonwealth Bank had to intervene ?
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.I am not offering any objection to that. At the end of the present financial year the Government will find that the Commonwealth Bank will be asked to finance a heavy Commonwealth deficit.
– It may not.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.In all probability it will. If on top of that, this obligation and others of the same sort are cast upon them, what will be the position ? There is no way in which advances can be made other than by money or notes and the issue of notes is perilously close to the legal maximum amount they are allowed to issue-
– They will get closer if we do not reap this crop.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.That is so; but greater relief might have been given the farmer without this bill.
– £6,000,000 could not be spent in a better way.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH I quite agree with the Minister, but the Government cannot spend an amount which it does not possess without getting this country into trouble. This money could have been raised by a sales tax on flour, and the money spent after it had been received. This is a proposal to spend money which is not at present available. If the Commonwealth Bank is prepared to do it, well and good, but I intend to support the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
– The Commonwealth Bank will do its duty.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.I have sufficient confidence in the Commonwealth Bank to realize that it will do its duty, particularly as in doing so it will be supported by a majority in an important branch of this legislature. .
– As the mover of the amendment, which has been further amended- in another place, I aim naturally disappointed that wc are npt getting all _ we asked for, but, in view of the fact that the Government has met us half way, I am prepared to accept it. I hope that the warning uttered by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Glasgow) and by Senator .Colebatch will not fall on deaf ears, and that the Government will not bring undue pressure to bear upon, the Commonwealth Bank.
– I can say definitely that it will not exert any such pressure on the institution mentioned.
– I am pleased to have the Minister’s assurance on the point, because it has been causing me some concern. Having received . . an assurance from the Minister that .the Government will not bring pressure to bear on the bank, I am prepared to accept the amendment of my amendment made by another place.
– I have not much enthusiasm for the House of Representatives’ amendment, and very little for the bill. The Senate’s amendment was much to be preferred to the proposal now under discussion, because . it authorized the Minister to negotiate with all banking institutions operating in or outside the Commonwealth to assist in financing the scheme. It was stated, as recently as the 4th December last, that the Commonwealth Bank was not prepared to advance more than 2s. per bushel ‘f.o.b. I understood the Assistant Minister (Senator Barnes) to indicate that, unless we accepted this amendment, there would be some risk of losing the bill altogether.
– I think the honorable senator has misunderstood what I said.
– For the last six months we ha ve. been told, time after time, of the Government’s intention to assist the wheat-farmers. Now that we have its proposal in concrete form, I hope that it will be passed so that the growers will be able to see the extent to “which the Government is prepared to help them.
– The honorable senator apparently has repented of his action over the Wheat Marketing Bill.
– Certainly not. That bill was rejected by the Senate because the Government sought to compel the States to bear one-half of any loss that might be incurred through the operations of the proposed pool. As a representative of a State with the smallest population and the largest wheat production per head, I could not support it. It is to be regretted that the assistance to be given to the wheat-growers under this measure is so meagre. I have neglected no opportunity, during the last six months, to urge that the amount originally offered by the Prime Minister, namely 4s. per bushel at country railway stations, should be paid by this Government as a purely Commonwealth responsibility. Now the farmers must be content with 3s. f.o.b. But I wish the Government to realize that we accept this only because nothing better is obtainable. I hope that the amendment will be accepted, but I am disappointed that our wheatgrowers will not receive a larger measure of assistance.
– During the last three months we have heard from the Opposition a great deal about the need for financial assistance being given to the man on the land, who is described as the backbone of the country. Senator Colebatch has had much to say on this point. The people have been led to believe that, simply because a Labour Government was in charge of the affairs of the Commonwealth, the interests of the farmer would be neglected. In view of the opinions expressed by honorable senators opposite concerning the policy of this Government, it is extraordinary that they should now be offering so many objections to its proposals to assist our wheat-growers. If their main purpose is to harass the Government, the sooner we have a “showdown “ the better for all concerned. The right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr.
Scullin), early in the present year, urged the farmers to grow more wheat, and subsequently the Government brought down a bill to ensure the payment of 4s. per bushel at country railway stations. That measure was rejected by this chamber. Now, when the Government is endeavouring to secure the passage of another proposal to ensure the payment of a lesser amount, the so-called friends of the farmers are raising objections. All that the Government is concerned about is that the farmers shall get a fair deal in the marketing of their produce. Are honorable senators opposite annoyed because private enterprise is not getting, under this bill, the terrific rake-off it has got in years gone by? As for their assertion that Labour is trying to make the Commonwealth Bank a political bank, the record of the party in its relations with the institution speaks for itself. What is their own record? Is it not a fact that an ex-Prime Minister appointed to the board of the bank quite a number of his political friends and gentlemen with Nationalist instincts? I do not say that those gentlemen are using the bank to suit their own party ends. On the contrary, I acknowledge that they are managing it as a banking institution only. But the present Government has every right to say that the Commonwealth Bank should be in the forefront in financing the wheat advance.
– Like Senator Carroll, who moved the amendment to this clause, I hoped that the Government would accept it. I say at once that I do not regard the provisions of the bill as having been designed to exercise any coercive influence on the Commonwealth Bank. Ministers have clearly admitted that the bank can refuse to do whatever the Government desires. I should be found opposing any proposal to compel it to adopt any other attitude. When the wheat crop is harvested, £4,000,000 will be required to finance it. If the exchange rate is raised less will be required.
I ask the honorable senator to confine his remarks to the amendment.
– The proposal in the amendment is to allow institutions other than the Commonwealth Bank to find some of the money required to finance the wheat crop, and thus ease the strain on the Commonwealth Bank.
– In other words, the Government has met the Senate’s objection.
– To a certain extent only; but I am prepared to accept the amendment made by another place to the Senate’s amendment. I should like the farmers to get a greater advance, but I am aware of the country’s financial stringency, and I realize that if the bill is lost it means financial disaster to farmers, storekeepers, warehousemen and others, greater unemployment and chaos generally.
– I feel bound to say that the criticism which has been directed by honorable senators opposite to the amendment made by another place convinces me that they have far greater solicitude for the private bankers and the rake-off they expected to get out of this bill than for the farmers.
– Where is the rake-off when no bank - not even the Commonwealth Bank - is allowed to charge interest?
– The honorable senator must know that he is absolutely mistaken. The arrangements that will have to made include the conditions which the Commonwealth Bank will find it necessary to lay down in regard to advances.
– Only sufficient money is being appropriated to repay the banks ; no provision is being made to pay interest.
– The bill provides for arrangements being made by the Government to obtain money from the Commonwealth Bank, and I contend that that necessarily means the inclusion of provisions for paying the bank charges. The bill provides in another part for refunds of money obtained. I cannot see the strength of the honorable senator’s objection. Honorable senators who made such a determined effort to strike out from the bill all reference to the Commonwealth Bank are very much chagrined because another place has seen fit to restore the reference. A lot of humbug has been talked upon this bill. If honorable senators opposite stated their real feelings they would say they are angry because private enterprise has not got a cut or a big rake-off out of this legislation.
– There is no justification for that statement. It is utterly false so far as I am concerned, and from what I know so far as others are concerned.
– According to parliamentary etiquette, I accept the honorable senator’s assurance; but my opinion is not in the least shaken.
– I do not accept that as a withdrawal.
– Is Senator Rae in order in imputing motives to honorable senators who happen to disagree with him?
THE CHAIRMAN. - No ; butI understood that Senator Rae had withdrawn his remark.
– I am not imputing motives. I am indicating the sentiments that honorable senators opposite have expressed in a more or less veiled fashion. I am not accusing them of having done these things any further than their own statements can accuse them, and I do not propose to apologize for their own statements.
– I ask the honorable senator to confine himself to the amendment.
– I am doing so. Senator Johnston has accused the Government of giving by this measure only a grudging kind of support to the farmers. In fact, the Government was directly charged by him with having tried to perpetuate an injustice on the farmers by bringing down the Wheat Marketing Bill, which guaranteed the payment of 4s. a bushel.
– I said that the Government was generous with other people’s money, inasmuch as the States had to guarantee half of any loss.
– Order ! I again ask Senator Rae to confine his remarks to the amendment.
– I am endeavouring to do so, but when statements are made impugning the honesty of the Government, its supporters have a right to point out their inaccuracy. The Commonwealth may have asked the States to associate themselves with it in giving a guarantee of 4s. a bushel, but in the last analysis it was the Commonwealth that gave the guarantee.
– The Commonwealth was generous at the expense of the States.
– I absolutely deny that statement. Honorable senators of the Opposition, for party reasons, slaughtered the Wheat Marketing Bill, and they will have to take the risk of slaughtering this bill or accept the amendment made by another place.
– If the honorable senator continues in this strain for another five minutes he will be running the risk of the bill being rejected.
– Honorable senators of the Opposition may reject it if they dare. If they do so I shall be prepared to canvass their States and beat them on their own ground. The Government has consented to amendments which give the widest possible scope for operation to those institutions which it thinks should be associated with it in relieving the position of the farmers. Honorable senators of the Opposition have sought to narrow the operation of the bill by deliberately striking out all reference to the Commonwealth Bank. Why should we be hypocritical? Was not that bank established by the political action of this party, in the face of the most strenuous opposition on the part of the party opposite and their supporters? Is it not a fact that they condemned the Commonwealth Bank most persistently and maliciously, and fought it in. every conceivable way ? Now that it has proved a success, the party opposite tries to capture it to further its own ignoble ends. The real reason for the opposition to the proposal of the Government is that this bank will be able to finance the suggested scheme, and’ so save for the country interest which would otherwise go to the private banks. That interest will remain the property of the nation, as do all profits earned by the Commonwealth Bank. This proposal will still further strengthen the institution that was originated by this party, thereby improving the financial position of the people of Australia.
– I should not have risen to speak at this stage had it not been for the remarks of Senator Rae. For a man of the honorable senator’s reputation to speak as he has done to-night, possessing as he does-
– My reputation is as good as that of the honorable senator.
– Only recently Senator Lynch explained it very precisely.
– I rise to a point of order. The subject before the committee is this amendment, and an attack by one honorable senator on another is entirely irrelevant. I take this point of order because I do not desire, in my position as Leader of the Government in the Senate, to witness a scene similar to that which was recently enacted in this chamber.
The CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).I do not know what Senator Cooper intended to say, but I remind him that an attack upon the reputation of another honorable senator is entirely out of order. The honorable senator must confine himself to the amendment.
– It was not my intention to attack the reputation of another honorable senator, although he may have attacked the reputation of an honorable senator who is not at present in the chamber. As I have been prevented from saying what I intended to, I shall refrain from further comment.
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Senator Plain.)
Majority . . . . 6
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
No. 2, Senate’s amendment. - Clause 2. Leave out “ bank “ insert “ authority “.
House of Representatives’ message. - Amendment agreed to, subject to the following amendment -
Insert before “ authority “ the words “bank or”.
Motion (by Senator Barnes) agreed to.
That the amendment made by the House of Representatives be agreed to.
Consequential amendments to Senate’s amendments Nos. 3, 4, 7, 8, 11, 12, 15, 16, and 17 agreed to.
Resolutions reported; report adopted.
Motion (by Senator Daly) - by leave - agreed to.
That leave of absence be granted to every member of the Senate from the termination of the sitting this day to the day on which the Senate next meets.
Motion (by Senator Daly) agreed to -
That the Senate at its rising adjourn till a day and hour to he fixed by the President, which time of meeting shall be notified to each senator by telegram or letter.
– In moving -
That the Senate do now adjourn, may I permitted to reiterate the sentiments I expressed some weeks ago when I conveyed to you, sir, the Chairman of Committees, the members of the Hansard staff, and the other parliamentary officers my best wishes for the approaching Christmas season and the coming New Year.
Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW (Queensland) [1.46 a.m.]. - I desire to associate myself with the remarks of the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Daly), and to express the hope that you, Mr. President, the Chairman of Committees, the members of the Hansard staff and the other officers of the Senate will have a happy Christmas and prosperous New Year. Normally, in adjourning at the end of the year, we have been able to look forward to the Christmas vacation with a certain sense of cheerfulness; but, unfortunately, on this occasion we shall find, on returning to our electorates, that the conditions of many of those with whom we are associated are not as prosperous as they have been in other years. Nevertheless, I am sure that we all hope that the new year now approaching will be much brighter for every one. On behalf of honorable senators on this side I should like to convey to honorable senators generally our good wishes, and an appreciation of the way in which you,sir, and the Chairman of Committees, have conducted your responsible duties. I particularly wish to thank the Hansard staff for the way in which speeches in this chamber have been reported.
– A few months ago I was nominated, with other honorable senators, to act as a member of a select committee to inquire into the Central Reserve Bank Bill; but, for reasonswhich are well known to honorable senators, I refused to act as a member of that committee. Last evening when it was proposed to appoint managers to confer with representatives of another place with respect to certain amendments which the Senate had made to the Northern Territory Administration Bill, the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) and Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Glasgow), for some reason then unknown, to me, declined to be nominated as members of the committee. As a result of inquiries which I made during the dinner adjournment, I ascertained that they declined to act because the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) had also been appointed as a representative of another place. I cannot understand why those honorable senators should object to workin conjunction with that gentleman, who a few months ago was big and brave enough to clearly state his case before hiscolleagues in connexion with the findings of a royal commission appointed by the Queensland Government. Honorable senators will remember that, at the time the inquiry was being conducted, Mr. Theodore was busily engaged in the preparation of the budget, and therefore did not have an opportunity to defend himself. As one of the chief executive officers of the Commonwealth Government, he had a very difficult task to perform, and, in view of all the circumstances, I consider that it is the duty of this Government, if it has the necessary power, to appoint a royal commission to fully inquire into the allegations then made. I feel sure that the honorable member has a good defence to offer. During the time I have been a member of the Senate, I have heard frequent references to British justice, and I cannot understand why that British justice, for which I fought for five years, can be denied this man. I trust that the Government, if it has the power, will appoint a federal royal commission in order that Mr. Theodore may receive the treatment to which he is justly entitled.
Senator RAE (New South Wales) 1 1.52 a.m.]. - In connexion with the subject raised by Senator Dunn, I may say that it is supposed to be an axiom that a man is innocent until he has been proved guilty. Without expressing any opinion upon this gentleman’s guilt or innocence, it seems to me that, until there is an opportunity for an accused person to appear before a tribunal where he might clear himself, we should assume that he is innocent. Until that opportunity is provided, he should not be debarred from taking part in the ordinary work of Parliament, and honorable members in this chamber should not, in the circumstances, refuse to work with him. The action of certain honorable senators of the Opposition can be regarded only as a deliberate insult to the members of this Parliament and to the members of the party of which he is a member. We should know where honorable senators opposite stand in matters of this kind. The gentleman in question should not be subjected to the humiliation sought to be put upon him in this instance. Do they suggest that they are so pure and so holy that they cannot associate with an honorable member who has not yet been given an opportunity to clear himself ?
– I regret that it should be necessary to utter any discordant note at the conclusion of the present sittings of this chamber; but I can quite understand the feelings of my colleagues in this matter. I sincerely trust that the action taken by certain members of the Opposition will have some influence upon another government in bringing about a speedy trial on this particular issue. As a colleague who sat in the Cabinet with this gentleman, I naturally felt the position very keenly when certain honorable senators opposite refused to be nominated on a committee on which Mr. Theodore was nominated. In my capacity as Acting AttorneyGeneral, I was instructed by Cabinet to interview the Premier of Queensland. I was told then that this issue would be brought to finality within a very few weeks. As a lawyer I remind the Senate that there is more in the words uttered by Senator Dunn than appears on the surface. One of the finest traditions of British justice is that every man is innocent until his guilt has been established. The action of honorable senators opposite this afternoon amounted to an abrogation of that well-recognized principle. They adjudged Mr. Theodore guilty of a particular act before he had actually had an opportunity to face his accusers and a jury. I regret that a distinguished member of the legal profession in another place - one who knows only too well that it is an abuse of power for a royal commission to usurp the functions of a criminal court - should try to bolster up a finding which was delivered under such circumstances. I sincerely hope that honorable senators in opposition will reconsider their attitude, and that, until such time as Mr. Theodore is given a fair trial, before an impartial jury and according to the time-honored principles of British justice, they will not take the stand, which they took this afternoon, of refusing to sit on a committee with him.
– Before putting the motion, I may, perhaps, be allowed to return the expressions of goodwill which marked the opening of this debate. I am glad that I have the opportunity to do so, because possibly honorable senators may be persuaded to take leave of one another with more kindly feelings than if the proceedings of the Senate were allowed to close on the discordant note which has just been sounded. Of course, everything is liable to change- even debates. If any expressions which I may offer have the effect of changing the tone of the debate, and the feelings of some honorable senators, I shall be very happy. I thank the Leader of the Senate (Senator Daly) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Glasgow) for their kind expressions of goodwill towards myself, and, if I may be allowed to do so, I thank them also on behalf of the staff, which has been called upon to do a considerable amount of arduous work during the session now closing. As for members of the Hansard staff, I have for many years felt that we all owe to them a debt of gratitude for the manner in which they prepare, from what is sometimes very raw material at their disposal, such appetising dishes as are served up to delighted electors in those places to which the records of these debates penetrate. I wish the Leader of the Senate, the Assistant Minister, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition; and all honorable senators a very happy Christmas and a prosperous .New Year. I trust, also, that our country will soon emerge from the shadow of the cloud which is now passing over it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.-
Senate adjourned at 1.59 a.m. (Thursday) till a day and hour to be fixed by the
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 17 December 1930, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1930/19301217_senate_12_127/>.