12th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. W. Kingsmill) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to ask yon, Mr. President, if it has come under your notice that the
Speaker of the House of Representatives has decided to forbid Mr. J. A. Alexander, a representative of the Melbourne Herald, access to the precincts of the House, and whether that prohibition extends to the precincts of the Senate. If so, I should like to know whether you were consulted in the matter, or gave your consent to such prohibition?
– In answer to the honorable senator’s question, which has been submitted without notice, I have to - say that, so far as I know at present, without consulting authorities, which I should like to have consulted, each chamber acts independently. I have no official knowledge of the exclusion of any pressman from the precincts, not of Parliament, but of the House of Representatives, nor have I been consulted in the matter. I do not know the circumstances, nor what has given rise to the action taken by the Speaker. I have . merely seen a short statement in the press which conveyed very little information as to where the offence occurred, or as to how Parliament became implicated. So far as I am concerned, there is no embargo in force which would prevent any member of the press from entering the precincts of the Senate.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Public Service - Particulars with regard to salaries, number and types of officers in First, Second, Third and Fourth Divisions.
Export Guarantee Act - Return showing assistance granted - To 31st March, 1931.
Public Works Committee Act - Sixteenth General Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works.
Wine Overseas Marketing Act - Regulations amended -
Statutory Rules 1931,Nos. 37, 38.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act-
Ordinance No. 5 of 1931 - Rates.
War Service Homes Act -Particulars of an amendment of an agreement between the War Service Homes Commissioner and the Government of the State of Tasmania, dated7th March, 1924, relating to the purchase of land, erection of dwellinghouses, &c, in that State.
– On the 19th
March Senator Hoare asked the Minister, representing the Prime Minister, the following questions, upon notice -
In reply, I indicated that information regarding parts 1 to 4 and 7 to 10 was being prepared by the Public Service Board. I am now in a position to furnish the following reply: -
Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow : -
Correspondence Between Government and the Commonwealth Bank.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Was there any correspondence between the Commonwealth Bank and the Government with regard to the financing of the proposed compulsory wheat pool, and the suggested guarantee of 4s. per bushel by the State and Federal Governments, under the Wheat Marketing Bill?
– I wouldrefer the honorable senator to the statement made by the Prime Minister in reply to a ques- . tion in another place on the 16th July (Hansard, page 4173) on this subject.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Is the Minister in a position to reply to several questions asked by Senator E. B. Johnston on the 17th December last, concerning the Australian flag?
– I am now in a position to inform the honorable senator that an investigation has been made into the matter. The records available indicate that the origin, of the printed diagram in question dates back to 1908, when the then Prime Minister approved of the issue of instructions regarding the Australian flag on lines suggested by Mr. Wilson Dobbs, of Toorak, Melbourne. The papers on the subject contain a copy of a letter to Mr. Wilson Dobbs, dated the 12th June, 1908, signed by Mr. Atlee Hunt, Secretary, Department of External Affairs, to that effect. In order that the diagram may be revised, where necessary, to conform exactly to the approved design, it has been found necessary to communicate with the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, London, with a view to detailed . measurements being obtained. In the meantime, the printed information concerning the flag, for which there has been little demand, will be withheld from issue.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The honorable the Treasurer has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions : -
Has the geophysical research, under Mr. Broughton Edge, been completed; and, if so, aire any reports available for the information of honorable senators?
– The geophysical research conducted by Mr.’ Broughton Edge has been completed, and the report has been prepared by Mr. Edge after consultation with the Geophysical Committee of the British Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. Recent advices from England indicated that the report was in the hands of the printer.
asked the Minister representing . the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
With reference to the answer given to Senator Dunn on the loth April, 1931 (Hansard, No. fi, page 804), in regard to the pro.posal to scrap H.M.A.S. Sydney, H.M.A.S. Encounter, and six river-class destroyers, will the Minister state the estimated cost of this work, and if it is in excess of £25,000, whether inquiry will be made as to the advisability of embarking on this work, before it is commenced ?
– The honorable the Minister has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions : -
The vessels mentioned were transferred to Cockatoo Island, some in January, 1929, others in October, 1929. No expense was incurred by the Defence Department, but the chairman of the Shipping Board advises that the cost of dismantling the vessels was £56,550, and that the proceeds from the disposal were £56,940. There is no market for scrap steel, and the work is completed with the exception ofthe final disposal of the hulks.
Order of the day, for the resumption of debate from the 4th December, 1930 (vide page 972), read and discharged.
Bill received from the House of Representatives, and (on motion by Senator Barnes), read a first time.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
– I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
As this is largely a technical measure, I shall confine my brief statement to the actual facts. While honorable senators will, I feel sure, deplore the circumstances which have compelled the introduction of this measure, I am confident that they will approve the principle that our assets shall always be made available for the payment of our obligations. The position is as follows: - At the end of this financial year the Commonwealth has to meet commitments in London amounting to £5,000,000. The Governmenthas been advised that it cannot get accommodation for this amount. Accordingly, payment has to be made in gold. The alternative, to default, is unthinkable. The proposed new section 7e authorizes the Commonwealth Bank to make available the necessary gold from the gold reserve held.’ by tha t institution. It is true that there will be a serious depletion of the gold reserve on which our currency is based. I do not propose to discuss that aspect ‘of the matter. To my mind, such a discussion would !be futile. It were otherwise if we had not this ‘compelling obligation which we have only one means of meeting.
I turn now to the clauses which are consequential on the one to which 1 have just referred. Clause ‘6 fixes a limit of £60,000,000 as a maximum note issue. That is, in round figures, the amount for which notes could be issued on. our present gold ‘holding. With a diminution of £5,000,000 in our present gold reserve it would, under the existing provisions of the act, be necessary to reduce the existing note issue of £46,000,000 to £40,000,000. If, in the future, we were compelled to send abroad another £5,000,000 worth of gold, the note issue would have to be curtailed by another £20,000,000. Therefore, it is necessary to amend the act in this respect or suffer a disastrous deflation. The other clause to which I desire to refer is clause 4, which, in effect, prohibits stipulations in contracts that the obligations payable under the contracts shall be calculated with reference to the rate of exchange ruling at the time of payment. Provisions of this nature have received considerable attention of late as witness the recent articles in the Australian Law Journal of the 15th February, 15th March, and 15th April, setting out suitable forms and precedents. I direct attention to those articles in order that honorable senators may have an opportunity of studying them ‘before the debate on this bill is resumed. Such clauses in contracts are really a device to defeat the provision of the act that Australian notes shall be legal tender, and would, if sufficiently wide spread be- a menace to our currency. Apart from the fact that the clause is necessary to protect the currency, it is, in my opinion, generally beneficial. The debtor is always in an adverse position in arranging accommodation, and he should have reasonable protection. Provision can be made to meet definite obligations, but a state of affairs in which all debts were indefinite in amount and unascertainable prior to the date of payment, would tend towards astate of chaos in commercial life. The remaining clauses provide for amendments consequential upon the alterations already outlined. In conclusion, I refer honorable senators to the second interim report of the Gold Delegation of the League of Nations. They will find it stated there that shipments of . gold from one country to another are not desirable - that. short term accommodation is preferable - but that in the last resource, when accommodation is not obtainable, gold from the. gold reserve of the central bank must be sent abroad, and that the purpose of the gold is not for use as -internal currency but for theadjustment of external obligations.
I commend the measure to the earnest consideration of honorable senators who, I know, realize the serious state of this country’s finances. I feel confident that no honorable senator desires to embarrass the Government to such an extent as to cause it to make default. In the interval that will elapse before the resumption of the debate on this measure, I trust that honorable senators will consider its effect on the finances and the honour of this country. I confidently leave the measure in their hands.
Debate (on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce) adjourned.
Conference : Appointment of Managers.
Consideration of House of Representatives’ message.
– I move-
That Senator Daly be discharged from duty as a manager at the conference on the Northern Territory (Administration) Bill, and that SenatorHoare be appointed in his stead.
I do so because Senator Daly will be absent from Canberra for the next few days, and theGovernment is desirous of having this matter dealt with this week.
Motion agreed to.
Motion (by Senator Barnes) proposed -
That the conference meet in the Senate committee room, main floor, at the hour of 8 p.m. to-day.
– I rise to a point of order. Is it competent under our Standing Orders for a conference to take place excepting during a suspension of the sittings of the Senate ? The Standing Orders provide that the business of the Senate must be suspended during the time that a conference is sitting. I take it that that connotes that the Senate must be in session while the conference is taking place. The position is somewhat anomalous. I do not wish to embarrass the Government; but we ought to be in order in the procedure we adopt.
– The honorable senator is not so likely to embarrass the Government as the President.
– That, if I may say so, would be difficult.
– It is unusual for a conference - and I have seen many - to sit when the Senate has adjourned, but I do not think that there is anything in the Standing Orders to forbid it, or even to imply, that a conference may not take place when the Senate has adjourned. The difference between a suspension of a sitting of the Senate and an adjournment of the Senate is so slight that, in interpreting the Standing Orders as I think they ought to be interpreted, namely, that the underlying principle is that they shall express common sense, there cannot be any objection to the course proposed. I admit that the course outlined by Senator McLachlan is the one usually followed, the reason being that conferences generally occur towards the end of the session, and are frequently accompanied by late sittings. In cases of that kind, when time is the essence of the contract, the invariable practice is for both Houses to suspend their sittings while the conference proceeds. Following the conference, a report is made, generally somewhat hurriedly, to each House, and an agreement or a disagreement arrived at. There will be no difficulty in conforming even with the letter of the Standing Order, let alone the spirit of it, if the motion is adopted in as much as the Senatemay meet at 8 o’clock and then suspend its sittings until the report of the conference is to hand. I do not think that the motion is out of order.
– I take it, sir, that you have considered Standing Order 349, which seems to contemplate that immediately the conference has concluded its labours its managers will report to their respective Houses.
– That, of course, would be necessary.
– Last year, in connexion with a bill to amend the arbitration laws, a conference of managers was held and at its conclusion the Senate re-assembled to receive the report of its managers. Although we are here to-day, others will be in our places in days to come, and consequently, precedents are important, even in matters of procedure.
– The honorable senator has raised another point of order. The suggestion which I have made meets it. I suggest that in the event of the Senate concluding its business before 8 o’clock to-night, I shall then leave the chair until 8 o’clock, at which hour the Senate may then formally meet, and the conference managers depart. It will, however, be necessary for honorable senators to be prepared to re-assemble when the managers are in a position to report to the Senate. There is no need to question further the correctness or otherwise of the procedure, because it will be quite regular if the suggestion I have made is carried out.
Motion agreed to.
Motion (by Senator BARNES) agreed to-
That a message be sent to the House of Representatives acquainting such House that the Senate has appointed Senators Barnes, Dooley, Hoare, McLachlan and Carroll as managers to confer with the managers appointed by the House on the bill for an act to amend the Northern Territory (Administration) Act 1910-102G, to repeal the Northern Australia Act 192,6, and for other purposes, and has appointed the Senate Committee Boom, main floor, as the place and the hour of 8 p.m. to-day as the time of meeting of such conference.
Debate resumed from 15th April (vide page 802), on motion by Senator Barnes -
That the paper be printed.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [3.34]. - I am glad to have the opportunity to say a few words on this important subject, which affects not only the sugar industry but also the consumers of sugar throughout Australia. I do not intend to deal in detail with the two reports of the commission, but I wish first of all to direct attention to the peculiar character of the commission itself. I think it was almost unique in its composition in that with, I think, one or possibly two exceptions, every member cf the commission was personally interested in one aspect or another of the industry. From that viewpoint it certainly could not be said that it was an impartial inquiry into the sugar industry. From this commission have emerged two reports. I have read both, hut cannot say that I have derived very much comfort from either. It seems to me that from the viewpoint of the consumer it is a matter of choosing whether to be boiled or fried. Consumers can derive very little comfort from either report. What strikes me particularly is that neither of the reports seems to have got to the kernel of the position; neither appears to have got down to that centre of the problem which has vexed every Parliament that has dealt with the sugar industry. I shall show presently what I mean by that assertion.
The sugar embargo has a history concerning which, I suppose, I know as much as do most honorable senators. First of all, it has to be remembered that it was a war measure. It was originally imposed during the war and for war purposes. It may seem rather a fanciful idea that an embargo on importations of sugar was imposed for war purposes, but when one considers the ramifications of modern warfare, the extent to which it affects the whole structure of society, and that extraordinary steps have to be taken in uniting a nation’s war activities, one realizes that the action then taken was justified. Many curious embargoes were imposed at that time and some of them, when viewed to-day appear to have been almost ridiculous. It may be interesting to honorable senators to recall that during the war period an embargo was placed on the use of kerosene tins. Future historians will wonder whether this was because we had the Chinese idea of carrying on war by kicking up a terrible row and wanted to use kerosene tins for that purpose. The real reason was that kerosene tins were found to he the most useful containers for food supplies to he sent overseas. At that time, the Government therefore, commandeered all the kerosene tins in the country and prevented their export in order to use them for packing oatmeal, tallow and various other commodities for shipment overseas. It has also to be remembered that as a result of the sugar embargo during the war years Australian consumers obtained the cheapest sugar in the world. Of all the countries engaged in the war Australia alone was able to obtain sugar at an extremely low price. When the price of that commodity in European countries and in the United States of America soared to a very high figure, sugar, as a result of the embargo and the conditions imposed, was sold in Australia at prewar prices.
I now come to the position following the termination of the war. This is one of the war embargoes - I believe it is the only one now in operation - which fettered the liberty of the subject and interfered with the life of the people. Every other such embargo has been repealed; this alone remains operative. Why has it continued? I venture to suggest that there is a political and possibly an economic reason. The sugar agreement has been renewed on, two or three occasions since the war. As I was a member of a Government which renewed the sugar embargo, I must, as a member of the Cabinet, which took that action take my share of the responsibility. I am not going to endeavour to offer an excuse for my participation in the action then taken. Honorable senators are aware of the principles under which Cabinets carry on their work. Every member of a Cabinet is personally responsible for every action . taken by Cabinet irrespective of his individual opinion. In the disturbed state in which Australia found itself after the termination of the war several war measures were re-enacted for a time to assist economic rehabilitation. So much for the political side of the question.
Let us now consider the matter from the economic aspect. The sugar industry of Queensland has come to be associated with the White Australia policy. Here is an industry that is carried on by white men under tropical conditions. One result of that undoubtedly has been to enable a population of white people to be maintained in an area where but for the existence of the industry, such a population probably would not have settled. It is doubtful whether there is any other industry that would be able to maintain itself there under existing conditions. That has been the economic reason for the meting out of especial treatment to the sugar industry.
It is interesting to remember that it was this question which, in the early years of federation, caused perhaps the greatest amount of fighting in both
Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament, resulting in splits in the ranks of all political parties, and causing practically a re-alignment of members of the two Houses. I remember the time when the bill for the repatriation of the South Sea Island natives, who had been brought to Queensland to work in the sugar industry, was introduced in the first Commonwealth Parliament, together with a bill to impose a duty on imported sugar, and to pay a bounty on that which was produced in Australia, so as to enable the industry to pass from the stage at which it was carried on largely by cheap, coloured labour, to the stage at which it was to be carried on by white labour. Those two measures caused perhaps more perturbation among political parties than any other measure introduced in those early years, and very nearly caused the defeat of the Government which sponsored them; but they found a place on our statute-book.
The essential point which I consider has been ignored in both the majority and minority reports of the sugar commission is that there has been an entire change in our economic circumstances. The commission has investigated and reported upon this industry as though our circumstances to-day were identical with those that existed three years ago. No allowance has been made in either report for the complete change that has taken place.
What is the economic position to-day compared with what it was three years ago? There has been a tremendous fall in Australia’s national income. One factor that differentiates the sugar industry from any of our other industries, and certainly from all of our primary industries, is that, in a sense, it is a parasitic industry because it lives entirely upon the wealth that it derives from other industries in Australia.
It can be argued, and to an extent successfully, that it may be profitable to pay a certain price to maintain an industry for the purposes of national defence. It could be argued, I believe successfully, that it would be in the interests of Australia to pay a certain price to maintain this garrison of white people in the northern part of Australia.
But the question that -we have to consider is, what price are we to pay? Are we being called, upon to pay too much? Granting that it is essential or advisable from the point of view of defence and of keeping inviolable our White Australia policy, surely we must have regard to the extent of the income from which the payment is to be made. Three years ago, when the national income of Australia was £120,000,000 more than it is to-day, we were prepared to pay a certain price for the: maintenance of this industry. Surely it is obvious to the meanest intellect that when your income has fallen by £120,000,000, you cannot afford to pay the price that was paid when your income was that much greater. If that argument is sound, this inquiry ought to have been directed towards ascertaining the reduction that should be made in the industry, having regard to the fall that has taken place in our national income, and the advisability of retaining the industry for defence purposes, and the maintenance of our White Australia policy. It is begging the question merely to take the status quo and to proceed to ascertain the minimum price at which sugar can be sold retail on the assumption that the grower is to receive so much, the refiner so much, the manufacturer so much, and the retailer and wholesaler so much. The real question is, what price can Australia afford to pay? Having arrived at such a price, all other factors in the industry must be made to conform to it. Had that been done, it appears to me that the inquiry would have. been worth while. The whole of the community, as a result of the fall that has taken place in our national income, has willy-nilly had to accept a general reduction of profits, wages and salaries. What inalienable right has this industry to say “ Although the consumers upon whom we live have had to accept a reduction, our income must remain the same? They have had to come down from the level of 1929 to that of 1931; but we, the sugar producers of Australia, are to be maintained at the 1929 level for another five years “ ?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Tha’t is one of the luxuries they enjoy. No man engaged in the dairying industry oan make enough in five months to keep him for twelve months. The standard enjoyed by the cane-cutters is very much higher than that of the workers 30 or 40 miles away on the Atherton Tableland. The whole position is economically unsound and unfair. By putting the sugar industry on the basis of the other primary industries a reduction, not of id. a pound, hut of something like 15 per cent, or 20 per cent, would be brought about in production costs.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The honorable senator would have as much chance of raising a tub in which he was sitting as a man engaged in the dairying industry would have of improving the standard of Australian dairymen who are obliged to sell their products in the markets of the world.
It is argued by those who are anxious to continue the embargo that no protective duty would be workable because of the violent fluctuations in the world’s price of sugar; but that difficulty could be overcome by following the example of other countries and fixing the duty on a sliding scale according to the rise or fall of world’s prices. I am prepared to accept such a duty provided the sugar industry comes down to the standard to which other primary industries in Australia have had to come down.
Another serious objection I take to this proposal is that the agreement is to be perpetuated for a further term of five years. I am against the ratification of the agreement at all in the terms suggested, but if it is to be renewed it should not be renewed for a longer term than three years. The system of embargoes which operates under our customs tariff is perhaps the worst example we have of the failure of Parliament to control the legislation of the country. If a duty is imposed, Parliament retains some control, and in cases in which the Minister for Trade and Customs may act by regulation, Parliament retains some control; but in the case of embargoes, Parliament has parted with its control absolutely. No embargo comes before us for ratification, and this particular embargo only happens to be before us because it is associated with an agreement. I understand that the High Court has laid it down that the Government cannot enter into an agreement on behalf of the Commonwealth unless it is ratified by Parliament.
I am not going into the ramifications of the reports submitted by the committee. It seems to me that they have missed the kernel of the question. It seems to me also that opportunity should be taken, at this stage, to bring the industry into line with others, and take away any suggestion that it is a privileged industry. Those who are engaged in it should be compelled to conform to the conditions of all other industries in the community on whom they depend for their existence. I am prepared to support any motion to register my opinion on the two points - that the time has arrived when this embargo should cease, and the sugar industry should be dealt with by means of a protective tariff on lines applied to every other industry; and that if the embargo is to remain it should not remain for a greater period than three years.
Debate (on motion by Senator Sir Hal Colebatch) . - adjourned.
Conference of Managers.
Message from the House of Representatives received intimating that it had agreed to the time and place appointed by the Senate for holding the conference of managers on the amendments insisted upon by the Senate in this bill.
– I shall now leave the chair in order that the conference may sit. When it has concluded its labours and is in a position to report to the Senate, honorable senators will be warned by the ringing of the bells of the reassembling of the Senate.
Sitting suspended from 8.2 to 10.15 p.m.
Report of Conference.
. - I bring up the report from the conference of the managers appointed by the Senate, and the managers for the House of Representatives on the Northern Territory (Administration) Bill, as follows : -
The Senate managers have met the managers for the House of Representatives on the subject-matter of the amendments made, and insisted on by the Senate in the Northern Territory (Administration) Bill, and with which the House has disagreed. The managers of the respective Houses have, after conferring, mutually agreed to deal with such amendments as follows: -
That Amendments Nos. 1., 3, 4 and 5 made by the Senate be not agreed to;
That Amendment No. 2 made by the Senate be not agreed to, but that certain amendments be made in proposed sections 4b, 4k and 4l.
Motion (by Senator Barnes) proposed -
That the report be adopted, and taken into consideration in conjunction with message 134 of the House of Representatives in committee on the next day of sitting.
– I take it that the adoption of the report will not necessarily bind the Senate to the proposals of the conference, seeing that they are to come up for consideration in committee.
– It will not.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill received from the House of Representatives and (on motion by Senator Dooley) read a first time.
Wheat Pool: Correspondence with Commonwealth Bank - Absence of the Treasurer from Canberra.
Motion (by Senator Barnes) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I desire to direct attention to the very unsatisfactory and evasive reply that was given to me to-day in answer to a question I asked about wheat. For some reason, which it is difficult to fathom, the Government will not give a clear or straightforward answer to any question about wheat, and particularly about the proposed guarantees. The question I asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister was this -
Was there any correspondence between the Commonwealth Bank and the Government with regard to the financing of the proposed compulsory wheat pool and the suggested guarantee of 4s. perbushel by the State and Federal Governments under the Wheat Marketing Bill ?
The reply givenwas -
I would refer the honorable senator to the statement made by thePrime Minister in reply to a question in another place on the 16th July (Hansard, page 4173) on this subject.
Before asking my question, I had carefully perusedHansard. I had gone through the index items relating to wheat and the Wheat Marketing Bill, and had also looked at questions in the name of Mr. Hawker who, from memory, I thought had asked this particular question. I had read the reply to which I am now referred, but because I regarded it as absolutely evasive, I submitted the simple question to-day asking whether there was, or was not, any correspondence on the point between the Government and the Commonwealth Bank. The reply given by the Prime Minister was to a question asked by Mr. Latham, the Leader of the Opposition in another place, on the same lines as mine. I need not read the whole of it. It concluded as follows : -
Will the Prime Minister state what those arrangements were, and make available to honorable members any correspondence relating to them that has passed between the Government and the authorities of the Commonwealth Bank?
Like myself, Mr. Latham wished to know whether or not there was any such correspondence, and the reply to which I am to-day referred was given in answer to that simple and direct question. Surely, on a subject of such great importance to the wheat-farmers of Australia, it is not too much to ask that the people should be told whether there was correspondence on the matter, or whether the whole transaction was arranged by word of mouth. That is all that I wish to know. At any rate, the reply given by Mr. Scullin, to which I have been referred, was as follows : -
Representations were made personally by me to the Chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board, Sir Robert Gibson, in Melbourne. The Bank Board subsequently met and agreed that, in conjunction with the other banks, it was able and willing to finance the wheat pool. to the extent of 4s. a bushel payable upon delivery at railway sidings. The details were to be drawn up later in a formal agreement between the central authority of the Wheat Board and the Commonwealth Bank.
That reply absolutely evaded Mr. Latham’s question whether there was any correspondence in existence, and, if so, whether it would be made available. Yet I am referred to it when I ask in simple terms if any such correspondence exists. After hearing Mr. Scullin’s reply, I should like Senator Barnes to tell me now whether there is any such correspondence in existence or not. I should like him also to tell us what reason the Government has for evading so simple a question. From the manner in which the issue has been continually evaded, both in the past and now, it seems to me that the Government must have something to conceal. I am justified in assuming that there was correspondence which, I suggest, would prove that the Commonwealth Bank had made no definite promise. I deduce this from this statement of the Prime Minister himself -
The Bank Board subsequently met and agreed that, in conjunction with the other banks, it was able and willing to finance the Wheat Pool to the extent of- 4s. a bushel.
As the other banks had to be consulted, SirRobert Gibson -would not decide the matter offhand. It is probable, also, that if he did give the Prime Minister a verbal promise, certain conditions wore attached to it.
– If there were not conditions, it would have been a most casual way of undertaking a big deal.
– Of course it would have been, because the amount involved was about £20,000,000. The conditions would have to be approved by the banks, and also by the six State Governments of Australia, because the Wheat Marketing Bill provided that the wheat-growing States should be called upon to bear one-half of any loss that might be incurred by reason of the guarantee. I take it, therefore, that before accepting any such obligation, the State Governments would have to be advised more fully than was possible at the conference. My point is that the Commonwealth Bank would not, without some understanding with the other banks, undertake the responsibility of financing the pool, and the State Governments concerned would have to be quite satisfied as to the details of the proposal before their . guarantee could be given or accepted. The bill required heavy payments from Western Australia, which has a big wheat production per head of population, but practically no payment from the rich State of Queensland, which has been so much favoured in other ways by Commonwealth legislation. “We are justified in believing that certain conditions were attached to any promise that might have been given by Sir Robert Gibson, because later, when the Government passed a bill, under . which farmers were to be paid 3s. a bushel for their wheat, the act was not put into operation, the Commonwealth Bank not being prepared to finance the scheme. . In all the circumstances, I am convinced that the evasive replies given in this chamber arc simply part of a gigantic bluff which the Labour party has been endeavouring to put over the wheat-farmers of Australia, with regard to the Government’s unfulfilled promises to pay them a guaranteed price.
SenatorFOLL (Queensland) [10.27]. - I should like the Leader of the Senate (Senator Barnes) to inform us why the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) at this critical time in the history of the Commonwealth, is able to absent himself from bis department and Parliament, in order to deliver electioneering speeches in certain of the States, ‘ Arc we to assume that this Government has so effectively emptied the treasury that there is now no work for the Treasurer to do? It is extraordinary that while Parliament is sitting, and while so many urgent financial problems call for attention, the Treasurer should be delivering partisan speeches in different parts of the country, with the object of stirring up feeling and class-bitterness at a time when every effort should be made to encourage the closest co-operation between all sections of the community. I protest against the action of the Treasurer in absenting himself from the Seat of Government and from his office at this critical period in our history.
– I have no personal knowledge of the circumstances relating to the reply which was given to Senator Johnston this afternoon, but I assume that the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) in another place, to which the honorable senator was referred, was a fairly conclusive one. However, if it will be any comfort to the honorable gentleman, I shall have further inquiries made, and see if it is possible to furnish him with further information. With regard to the protest made by Senator Foll against the action of the Treasurer, I know that Mr. Theodore has, all his lifetime, been opposed to monopolies in any shape or form. I am also aware that, at this juncture, the leaders of many parties are making electioneering speeches in the different States. I, therefore, assume that the Treasurer who, as I have said, objects to all forms of monopoly, feels that he, too, is justified in visiting certain of the States, to combat the statements of these people who are monopolizing public platforms everywhere and making serious allegations - against the Government.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.32 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 29 April 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1931/19310429_senate_12_129/>.