12th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. W. Kingsmill) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Has the attention of the Leader of the Senate been drawn to the reply given by the Commonwealth Treasurer, Mr. Theodore; to a question asked at Ballarat the night before last as to what would happen when the £18,000,000 fiduciary notes issue had been, expended. Reports of the meeting state that Mr. Theodore replied that if world prices had not recovered within twelve months, and the depression continued for another year, we must go on with tha same procedure. Will the Leader of the Government see that adequate publicity is given to that statement, in order that the public may understand thoroughly what the Government, contemplates doing in the future?
– I have not seen the report of the statement alleged to have been made by the Treasurer at Ballarat ; but as there are up-to-date newspapers in that city, I have no doubt that any such statement if made by him would receive wide publicity. I see no necessity for any effort on my part to give it greater publicity. We can trust the honorable senator and his colleagues to do that.
Senator Hoare brought up a report of the Printing Committee.
ls it a fact that the Chief Protector of Aboriginals in the Northern Territory lias fixed the wages to bc paid to aboriginals employed as drovers at £3 a week whilst droving, and fi 10s. a week whilst travelling with plant only?
If sp, does this rate represent an increase of 30 per cent, over’ the rate obtaining last year ?
Is this rate about double that recommended by the Chief Protector of Aboriginals in Queensland ? ‘
Was there any conference with representatives of the Northern Territory Pastoral Lessees Association before this or any rate was fixed ?
Under what authority does the Chief Protector of Aboriginalsfix such wages.
Is there any appeal from his decisions?
Is the purpose of his decisions to benefit the aboriginals or to prevent their employment?
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Is it a fact that Major-General Bennett is in receipt of a retainer of £250 per annum, qualifying him as a Divisional Commander of the Australian Military Forces; if so, is it the intention of the Minister for Defence to recommend to the Prime Minister of Australia that Major-Genera] Bennett should be placed on the retired list of Australian generals, in view of his association with an organization known as the “New Guard”?
– Major-General H. Gordon Bennett, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., V.D., is a Citizen Force officer at present in command of the 2nd Division of the Citizen Military Forces, for which he receives pay at the rate of £250 per annum in accordance with the Military Financial Regulations for the pay of the Citizen Military Forces. On enrolment in the Citizen Forces a member does not surrender any of his political rights as a citizen, and as far as is known in the Defence Department, Major-General Bennett is not associated with any organization other than that of a political character.
Wearing of Badges by Staff.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained and will be furnished as soon as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made and a reply will be furnished to the honorable senator as soon as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow : -
Motion (by Senator Dunn) agreed to -
That fourweeks’ leave of absence be granted to Senator Rae on account of’ urgent private business.
.- I move-
That the Senate approves of the accession on the part of the Commonwealth of Australia to Chapters I., II., III., and IV. of the General Act for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, subject to the following conditions : -
That the following disputes are excluded from the procedure described in the General Act, including the procedure of conciliation*: -
Act shall he suspended in respect of any dispute Which has been submitted to and is under consideration by the Council of the League of Nations, provided notice to suspend isgiven after the disputehas been submitted to the Council and is given within ten days of notification of the initiation of the procedure, and provided also that such suspension shall bo limited to a period of twelve months or, such longer period as may be agreed by the parties to the dispute or determined by a decision of all members of the Council other than the parties to the dispute. 3. (i) That, in case of a dispute, not being a dispute mentioned in Article XVII. of the General Act, which is brought before the Council of the League of Nations in accordance with the provisions of the Covenant, the pro cedure described in Chapter I. of the General Act shall not be applied, and, if already commenced, shall be suspended, unless the Council determines that the said procedure shall be adopted.
Australia, as an original party, signed the Treaty for the Renunciation of War, generally referred to as the Kellogg Pact, on the 27th August, 1928. Consequent on the Pact, there was need for machinery to settle disputes. The Permanent Court of International Justice can’ fulfil that requirement, so far as justiciable disputes are concerned, and last year the Commonwealth’s accession to the optional clause of Article 36 of the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice was ratified. By that ratification Australia, in common with the other members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, agreed to accept the jurisdiction of the Permanent Court over certain disputes with another party, subject to certain reservations. Disputes within the ambit of the optional clause are those concerning (a) the interpretation of a treaty; (i) questions of international law; (c) the existence of a fact, which, if established, would constitute a breach of an international obligation; and (d) the nature and extent of the reparation to be made for a breach of an international obligation. The present motion relates to the provision which has been made for the peaceful settlement ofall other disputes.
The General Act for the Pacific Settlement of Disputes was approved by the 9th Assembly of the League of Nations, in 1928. It provided three methods for the settlement of disputes between the parties, namely, conciliation, judicial settlement and arbitration. The act provides that all disputes, other than those referred to in the optional clause, which ure referred to the Permanent Court, could bo submitted, to conciliation by both parties in agreement, or by only one party. The Conciliation Commission’s decision could be given by a majority vote, but it was not necessarily binding. If it were not agreed to by both parties, they were bound to submit the matter to arbitration unless it was covered by a reservation to which I shall refer presently.
The arbitration tribunal is to consist of five members, one to be nominated by each party to the dispute, and three, by agreement, from the nationals of other States not interested in the dispute. The chairman is to be appointed by agreement. If no agreement is reached the matter is left to a third State agreed on by the parties or to the Permanent Court. If the parties fail to agree on the terms of submission, one party may take the dispute to arbitration.
All the members of the British Commonwealth have agreed to accept the General Act, but subject to the reservations made in the acceptance of the optional clauses and some additional reservations. The most important of the reservations has relation to disputes between the Governments of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Such disputes are not to be dealt’ with by any of those tribunals. The need for some means for the pacific settlement of all disputes is apparent to everybody. A general act is infinitely preferable to a series of bilateral treaties for- conciliation and arbitration between various countries.
One of the additional reservations is designed to prevent the Permanent Court from hearing a legal case that has previously been submitted to, and is under the consideration of, the Council of the League of Nations. In other words, a ‘case with which the League is dealing may not, at the same time, be submitted to the Permanent Court. It would be regarded as sub judice. Another of these reservations is designed to prevent political disputes from’ being submitted to the conciliation committees unless the parties agree, or the Coun- cil of the League unanimously decides that they shall be so submitted. Still another of the reservations is designed to prevent arbitration tribunals from dealing with a dispute unless the council fails to effect a settlement within twelve months, or within a further period to be fixed by it; The terms of our acceptance of the General Act will be such that it will only apply to disputes with other parties to the act who are also members of the League of Nations. At the last Imperial Conference the attitude of the various governments to the General Act was discussed, and the general principles underlying it approved. All the governments represented at the conference, with the exception of that of South Africa, intimated that they proposed to commend the act to their respective parliaments. The present parties to the act are Sweden, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, and Spain. Prance, Greece and Czecho-Slovakia have signified their intention of acceding. The act will remain in force until 1934, after which it may be denounced upon the giving of six months’ notice. As we have renounced war w.e must provide a peaceful means for the settlement of international disputes.
Honorable senators readily understand that this is not a subject which the average person unfamiliar with international relationships can discuss with any degree of confidence in his knowledge. But, as a layman, the motion makes a strong appeal to my commonsense. No one will deny that it is infinitely preferable for nations to settle their disputes by the humane methods indicated in this proposal and. without resorting to war. All civilized nations have, I believe, set their faces against the arbitrament of war and will insist upon round-table conferences or some such procedure for the settlement of their disputes. It is unthinkable that merely to settle disagreements between the governments of two different nations the youth of those countries should be marshalled for the purpose of mutual destruction. I commend the motion to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce) adjourned.
In committee: Consideration of House of Representatives’ message and report of conference managers:
No. 1 (Clause 4)-
Section three of the Principal Act is amended by inserting before the definition of” the Territory”, the following definitions: - “‘the Council’ means the Advisory Council constituted under this Act; “.
Senate’s amendment. - Leave out “ ‘the Council ‘ means the Advisory Council constituted under tills Act “.
House of Representatives’ message. - Amendment disagreed to for the following reason: - “ Because it is the policy of the Government to give representation to the people of the Northern Territory and the amendments made by the Senate will prevent the carrying out of that policy.”
Conference report. - That the amendment made by the Senate be not agreed to.
– I move -
That amendments Nos. 1,. 3, 4 and 5, made by the Senate be not further insisted upon.
– I rise to a point of order. It is not . customary, I understand, when considering the report of managers to a conference, to deal with the amendments in a group. The motion relates to several amendments which,-, I suggest, should be put separately.
– Amendments 3, 1 and 5 are consequential upon amendment No. 1. That is the reason for their submission in a group.
– Since objection has been taken to the grouping of the amendments, they must be considered separately.
– The first, amendment refers to the. acceptance of the words “ the council “, in the definition clause.
– But it raises the issue whether there is to be one or two advisory councils. We can debate the report of the Conference on that point-
– The decision of the committee with regard to amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5, will depend upon the acceptance or rejection of amendment No 1. In view of your ruling, Mr. Chairman, I now move -
That amendment No. 1 be not further insisted upon.
As honorable senators are well aware, this involves no new principle. The acceptance of the words “ the council “ in the definition clause, is important, as it commits us to the creation of a council. It is axiomatic of our race that every British community is entitled to the fullest measure of self-government commensurate with its, development. Our presence here to-day in this sovereign Parliament bears witness to that principle. To deny to the Northern Territory even a modicum of self-government is therefore a denial of an admittedly fundamental right.
SenatorFoll.. - If the principle of selfgovernment were granted would the Government abolish the seat now held by the honorable member for the Northern Territory ?
– That questionis not involved in thisinstance.
– That course was followed in the case of Ireland.
– That is a subject which would have tobe dealt with separately on its merits. This principle relates not only to State and territories, but is extended by our local government acts under which self-governing municipal bodies are established. As there is a Darwin Town Council, it would be a contradiction to have local government for Darwin, but no such form of government for the territory of which Darwin is a part. That in itself seems to me to be most inconsistent. A refusal to establish an advisory council for the whole of the Northern Territory is logically indefensible. The powers, functions, and necessary safeguards are details to consider at a later stage. I urge the committee to accept the principle of giving the people of the Northern. Territory the right to govern themselves. That is all that is asked for in this amendment. There are safeguards in the bill to ensure that no persons with extreme ideas, or wild men as some may term them, shall control the council. As the people of Darwin have a voice in determining the conditions under which they shall live, I do not see anything wrong with this proposal. All that the committee is asked to agree to is the principle of a measure ofself-government for the
Northern Territory, and I do not think it should hesitate to accept the recommendation submitted by the managers.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [11.32]. - This is not a question of self-government at all, but of whether there shall be one or two local governing bodies in Northern Australia. I remind the Assistant Minister (Senator Dooley), who said that no British community had been denied the right of selfgovernment, that the government of which he 13 a member is at present controlling the following British communities: - Papua, New Guinea, Norfolk Island, and the Federal Capital Territory. Those territories have no form of local government at all, so what is the use of talking all this rubbish about no British community being refused the right of selfgovernment? The point at issue is this: The Senate agreed to allow the North Australia Commission to be abolished, but objected to one advisory council being set up ‘ for the whole of the Northern Territory, and asked that the system of two councils should be retained. That is the issue. What has been done is this: The whole of the contentions of the Government have been agreed to by the conference. There are essential differences between the bill as first introduced, and the act now in operation, with respect to advisory councils. The bill provides for four elected members, and the act for two elected members, and two nominated members of the council. In the act provision is made for one advisory council for Central Australia, and another advisory council for North Australia. The bill provides for one council for the whole of the territory and gives power to any two. members of the council to call meetings and to arrange when meetings shall be held. I understand that the Government proposes to give members the right to determine when meetings shall be called, and where they shall be held, although the act gives no such power. The act provides for a minimum number of meetings, but it does not give the members the right to call meetings. There is a very significant reason why they should not have the power. The bill provides that travelling expenses shall be paid to the members of the advisory council. I ask the committee to seriously consider what that means. At least one of these members would be elected to represent Alice Springs, and another to represent Darwin. The members of the council will have power to determine the place of meeting, which may be at Darwin or at Alice Springs. Whichever place is decided upon will necessitate some members travelling between these two points, a distance of 1,000 miles. Honorable senators will see that this would involve a heavy cost, which would have to be met’ out of public funds. The other day I saw an advertisement concerning a tour of North Australia in which the return fare from Darwin to Alice Springs, which included accommodation, was £70. With two councils in existence no travelling expense is involved, and consequently there is no necessity for travelling expenses to be paid. Under the bill the council is to have the power not to recommend ordinances, but to promulgate them ; but under the act the council has power only to make recommendations with respect to ordinances. There are the essential differences between the existing act, and the proposal now before the committee which the conference recommended should be adopted. So- far as I am concerned, I am not going to support it. I shall be quite frank in this matter. The genesis of this proposal came from the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson), who brought duress upon the Government, with the result that it made certain amendments which were not acceptable to the Senate.
– And which were not in the measure as it was originally introduced.
– No. Why have these amendments been made ? If they are adopted, the organizer of the honorable member for the Northern Territory, who will be the nominee of the Australian Workers Union, and is certain to be elected for Darwin, will be able to travel from one end of the territory, to the other at the expense of the country. As a member of the council such an organizer could arrange for meetings to be held at Alice Springs, and thus travel on other business at the country’s expense. I refer honorable senators to the replies given to a question submitted by Senator Colebatch to-day concerning the wages to be paid to aboriginal drovers. It was stated that they are to be £3 a week, or double the rate paid in Queensland, certainly under less adverse conditions. What is the object of this? Merely to prevent the employment of aboriginals. Senator Colebatch asked -
Is it a fact that the Chief Protector of Aboriginals in the Northern Territory has fixed the wages to be paid to aboriginals employed as drovers at £3a week whilst travelling, and £1 10s. a week whilst travelling with plant only?
The answer was, “ Yes I have here a communication from the Pastoralists Association, in which they state -
The information volunteered by Senator Dooley that the same rates as those lately prescribed in North Australia are being paid to aboriginal drovers in Queensland is incorrect. I would refer you to the Queensland (GovernmentGazette, dated 11th October, 1930, which gives the rates applicable to aboriginal drovers in Queensland, viz.: - (a) Drovers in charge - £2. (b) Drovers - others - when on road with stock - 30s.
Drovers - others - when on road with plant only - 20s.
Under an ordinance £3 a week has to be paid to aboriginal drovers whilst droving in Worth Australia.. The Senate recently disallowed certain regulations which the Government endeavoured to pass with respect to the accommodation to be provided inNorth Australia. The object of establishing such a council as the Government proposes is to give it the power to appoint any one it likes to the position of protector cf aboriginals. Under the regulations that were disallowed, a union organizer could have been appointed an inspector of aboriginals, and in that capacity could travel around the territory harassing those unfortunate people who are trying to make a living there. I. resent all this fudge concerning self-government, and contend that the present system should be allowed to continue. Self-government originates in the first place by establishing a partly-elected and a partlynominated council, and that system should be allowed to continue for the present. Under the present policy travelling expenses are not paid, and on those grounds, as well as for the other reasons mentioned, I am opposed to this amendment.
Why should this community be charged with the expense of organizers operating in the interests of the honorable member for the Northern Territory? We should not allow ourselves to be a party to such a proposal, and I invite the Senate to oppose the motion.
– The contentions of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce ), which are doubtless based on a vivid imagination, are entirely wrong. The evidence submitted to the managers at the conference was to the effect that in all probability a member of the. Australian Workers Union would represent Darwin, which is the industrial centre, on the council. The other portions of the territory would, in all probability, be represented by pastoralists, so that it is reasonable to assume that such a council would consist of one industrialist and three non-industrialists.
– On one station which I visited there were four or five industrialists, and the manager was the only non-industrialist.
– In such circumstances those people would elect the person most likely to represent their interests. According to the information submitted to the conference, I do not think that industrialists would be elected in the non-industrial areas; but even if they were, no objection should be raised. The will of the majority should prevail I cannot find any grounds for the fear that has been expressed by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) that organizers of the Australian Workers Union will be able to travel all over the territory at the expense of the country. Only one organizer is engaged in the Northern Territory, and that gentleman is paid, not by the Australian Workers Union, but by another organization. I would not blame that organization if it instructed its representative to employ in its interests, if the opportunity presented itself, the time occupied in travelling from Darwin to Alice ‘ Springs when the council proposed, at the request of three of its members, to hold a meeting there.
– Whom does he organize?
– It would be his function to do the work of the council, not to organize unless that were incidental, as it might be. Those who have had experience of industrial organizations know that an organizer i,s never idle.
– Hays. - But what has lie to organize for?
– I am not altogether conversant with. the matter; but I assume that he would organize for the Australian Workers Union. It does not necessarily follow, however, that an organizer would be the person elected.
– It could not be otherwise.
– That might, and probably would, be the case. But even if it were so, what would be wrong with it, so long as it was the will of the people for whom the work was being done? Can any honorable senator dispute the right of the people of the Northern Territory to elect whom they like, just as they elect a representative to look after their interests in another place? They are the people concerned, and that is the result of their deliberate consideration of the circumstances under which they live and of the qualifications of the candidates who submit themselves for election.
– Under the other scheme he could be elected to the council for the north or the south.
– This is a sane scheme. How can we, who live under altogether different conditions so far away from the Northern Territory, decide who is *most suitable to represent it? Surely the residents of the territory are best qualified to make that choice! It does not matter whether the person elected be an industrial organizer, a cattleman, a sheepman, or a miner, so long as he is approved by those to whom he has submitted his name for selection.
– That is not involved. They can elect him to the north or the south council; but we- do not want him to be travelling all over the territory at the country’s expense.
– I assume that meetings will be held about twice a year. According to the right honorable senator’s own figures, it costs £70 to travel from Darwin to Alice Springs and back.
Would it’ impose a huge burden upon Australia to pay a person £70 to do the work of the territory and to advise the Government as to the nature of the requirements of the people who live there?
– What i3 the function, of the honorable member for the Northern Territory? He. should advise the Government.
– He is assisting to legislate for the whole of Australia, according to the views of those whom he represents. It would be impossible for him to do the local advisory work that will be done by this council.
– - I cannot see why both are needed.
– There are selfgoverning bodies in Queensland, representative of different localities, and administering those districts in a local sense. The honorable senator is not .expected to shoulder the responsibility of the local government of the City of Brisbane ; he i.s elected by the people of Queensland to look after the interests of the whole State. This matter was discussed by the managers dispassionately, and in. the friendliest spirit imaginable, in the light of the advice of those who are more familiar than I am with the conditions prevailing in the Northern Territory. Their desire was, if possible, to give the people of the territory the best advisory facilities. There was no dispute, recrimination or argument. The recommendation has been made unanimously by the conference of managers from this chamber and from another place.
– If these amendments rested on the principle that some measure of responsible government was to be given to the Northern Territory, I should he very loud in my denunciation of them. I invite honorable senators - although it is somewhat difficult on account of the limited nature of the matter that we have to discuss^ - to consider the point.0 that were taken when the measure wa? originally before this chamber. We have subscribed to the proposal of the Government that the commission shall be abolished ; therefore, that point needs’ no further discussion. The real issue is, are there to he two councils to govern - or to attempt to govern - this territory? In my opinion, it has not been governed since it was handed over to. the Commonwealth, but has been merely a sink for the wasteful expenditure of public money.
The proposal under the bill was to establish one advisory council to control the whole of the territory, the underlying idea probably being that of economy. The’ great fear that I had - and it was a fear which was expressed, and discussed fairly generally- was that the territory would be so divided that there would be a predominance on the council of what is known as the industrial section. That fear has been allayed by the suggested amendment. The debate centered round the proposed new section 4b. Honorable senators will remember that, as the section stood, the Minister hud in his absolute control the fixing of the four districts from which the representatives to the advisory council should be drawn. T.t was pointed out that, having regard to the well known fact that Darwin contains a majority of the people of the Northern Territory, he could practically cut up the territory in such a way that the representation would fall into the hands of the industrialists. “We were assured by the Minister that that was not his intention. In .fact, he gave us an outline of the plan that he proposed to adopt in the subdivision, of the territory. One long strip was to take in Darwin and include a number of small cattlemen, in addition to the industrial population. That, I take it, .is the centre to which the Leader of the Senate (Senator Barnes) referred a few moments, ago. The remainder would be cut up in such a way as to give representation to the lessees who, it was definitely stated during the course of the conference, were agreeable to this legislation. In order to safeguard the position from the first point upon which I attacked the measure, the conference was persuaded to delete from the proposed new section 4b the words “ specified by the Minister by notice in the Gazette”, and to substitute the word “ prescribed “, in order that this chamber and another place might always have control of the matter by being able to disallow any provision if the proposed boundary did not satisfy us. After considerable discussion the Minister agreed to the substitution of the word “ prescribed “.
The next point to which some discus sion was devoted was the provision in the proposed new section 4k (2) empowering the administrator to call a meeting of the council upon application in writing by not less than two members of the council. It was pointed out that one member of the council at least would be an industrialist, who might desire meetings to be held at frequent intervals. It, was determined by the conference that a meeting should not be called unless the request for it was made by three members of the council.
Reference has been made to travelling expenses. I may say en passant that we were informed that it was contemplated that meetings would be held only during the dry season, when it would be possible to travel between the head of the line at Alice Springs and Darwin in five days. The expenses are to be at rates which are prescribed; there.fore, this chamber and another place will be able to exercise control over them from time to time. And if these gentlemen are paid expenses in respect to other matters than their official duties the Senate still retains a measure of control over them.
– How can the Senate exercise that control; how can it check the number of days for which expenses are to be paid?
– If the rate is a daily one and is allowed in respect to travelling on some other purpose than attendance at a meeting of the Advisory Council, the Senate can immediately check it. The Minister will prescribe the rate per diem for travelling expenses to attend meetings. If he prescribes anything beyond that, we can deal with it by our power of disallowance. Reference was made at the conference to the ordinancemaking power of the Advisory Council, to which objection had been taken in this chamber. This power amounts to nothing. The measure of local autonomy which the Minister says that he is giving to the Advisory Council is merely eyewash. What does it amount to? Proposed section 21 reads -
Until the Parliament makes other provision for the Government of the Territory the Council may. subject to .this section, make ordinances having the force of law in and in relation to the Territory.
This is the first limitation -
An ordinance, the object or effect of which is to dispose of, or create any charge upon, the Consolidated RevenueFund or upon any revenue of the Territory, shall not be proposed in or madeby the council.
Then again we have the further limitation - 2.Every ordinance made under this section shall bc inoperative until it has been approved by the Governor-General.
That gives a general control over every ordinance.
– Remember some of the ordinances that have already been approved.
– There may have been remissness in the framing of ordinances in the past, but this bill would give the Senate and another place control over every ordinance. Then the following provisions are made : -
To give the council the power to suggest ordinances would be absurd. As the bill is framed, more control would be exercised by this Parliament over ordinances than is possible at the present time. At the conference I succeeded in convincing the Minister, that proposed section 17 would leave certain officers unfairly treated. He expressed a desire to consult the Crown law authorities, and wrote to me yesterday admitting the point I had made, and intimating that he would make further investigations with a view to ascertaining what officers have rights and thathe would recommend to the Government a suitable amendment in order to preserve those rights. A number of officers appointed under the North Australian Act have certain rights which are not covered by section 17. I have no love for this bill; I abhor it as much as I have abhorred previous attempts to misgovern the Northern Territory, but it represents the Government’s policy, and I can see no disadvantage from my point of view in having one Advisory Council instead of two. The Senate will retain control over the prescribed boundaries. There was a suggestion at the conference that the Minister could gerrymander the district boundaries to suit the candidates of his own political party. But the point is that if he could do that where there was only one council, he could do it also where there were two such bodies.
– The honorable senator has exhausted his time.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [12.8]. - Whatever little doubt I had as to how I should vote has been entirely removed by Senator McLachlan’s remarks, particularly his reference to ordinances which showed that this bill takes away from the Senate even the powers which are ordinarily given to it under the Acts Interpretation Act. That act provides that regulations, ordinances and such like must be laid before both Houses of Parliament within 30 days of the making thereof or, if Parliament is not then sitting, within 30 days of the meeting of Parliament. In that way, we are always sure of getting them within a month. But this bill provides that these ordinances may be laid before each House within 30 sitting days. Assuming that the Senate sits three days a week continuously, there will be no obligation on the part of the Government to lay ordinances upon the table of this chamber until ten weeks after they have been in operation. In normal times I doubt if we sit 30 days in three months. We may not sit 30 days during a whole session.
– That applies to other regulations tabled in this chamber.
– Under the Acts Interpretation Act, the Government is obliged to table regulations and ordinances within 30 days of their making, but if they apply to the Northern Territory they can, under this precious bill, be tabled within 30 sitting days; that is to say, any time within three months, if we are in constant session, or within six months if we are not sitting very frequently. In those circumstances, how can Senator McLachlan say that the Senate is preserving its power over these ordinances? We know perfectly well from bitter experience that if it suits the Government to delay the tabling of ordinances or regulations to’ the last moment it will do so. Otherwise why does it now insist on having them submitted to Parliament for approval within an indefinite period which may even extend over the whole of a session? Let us be guided by our experience in regard to Northern Territory ordinances. One ordinance, relating to the employment of aboriginals, was operating for ten years before it was discovered that it had not been tabled. Under that ordinance, which the Senate had no opportunity to criticize, the Government framed regulations for the employment of half-castes, and we were deprived of the opportunity to review those regulations, although there is not the slightest doubt they would have been disallowed.
– I rise to a point of order. Sub-section 4 of the proposed section 21 to which Senator Colebatch is now referring has already been agreed to by the Senate and was not one of the matters discussed at the conference of managers. I regret our omission to amend it, but the fault, if any, rests on the Senate.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Senator Colebatch is quite in order in referring to sub-section 4 in order to illustrate his argument.
– 11 regret that Senator McLachlan did not discover the danger of sub-section 4 before quoting it as a reason for the acceptance of the present proposals of the Government. The responsibility for introducing matter which may not be relevant rests upon the honorable senator and not upon, myself. The honorable senator quoted sub-section 4 as a reason why the Senate would be perfectly safe in doing what the Government wants it to do. But my point is that itis this particular sub-section, whether we have overlooked it in the past or not, which makes it unsafe and impossible for us to do what the Government wishes. To-day I asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate a. question in regard to a regulation dealing with aboriginals, and his reply was that the wages of aboriginal drovers had been increased by 50 per cent, over last year’s rates and that the present rate is double what was recommended by the Protector of
Aboriginals in Queensland. When I asked the honorable senator under what authority this had been done, he quoted section 15 of the Northern Territory Aboriginals Ordinance. I have had too long an experience in public life to say anything against an official without having the strongest possible reason for doing so, but, in this case, I have no hesitation in saying that one official has . committed a most monstrous abuse of his powers. Under section 15 of the Aboriginals Ordinance he is entitled to demand recognizances from any person who wants to transfer an aboriginal from one district to another. That is the beginning and end of his power, yet upon that limited authority he has published a notice in the Gazette saying that he will not give a permit to any person to employ an aboriginal as a drover unless that person agrees to pay the aboriginal £3 a week.
– I should say that the regulation is ultra vires.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.It is a monstrous abuse of his power. He has the power to give, or to withhold, a licence. He now says that he will not give a licence unless the employer pays the drover £3 a week. Under the ordinance he has no more power to fix wages than I have. The trouble is that the Northern Territory, in which lessees are struggling under very adverse circumstances to keep alive industries of enormous importance to this country, is being mis-governed at the direction of a certain section of the people - and that the least responsible section. That misgovernment is making it almost impossible for the industries in the territory to be carried on at all. Those which remain there are making no profit. - they are fighting a losing battle. At every turn they are being hampered by the section to which I have referred. When a man occupying the position of Protector of Aboriginals so abuses his office as to ref use to issue a permit to remove an aborigine from one place to another unless the employer undertakes to pay him a certain wage, knowing all the time that he has no power to make that stipulation, it is time for something to be done.
– What is the commission doing in the matter?
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.It has no power. In the face of these things we are now asked to set up a new body with power to make ordinances which the Government may submit to this House at any time, say within six or twelve months.
– The rejection of the bill will not improve matters.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.Its ^.ejection would get lis back to the Acts Interpretation Act, which requires the tabling of ordinances within 30 days. That is more important than the setting up of an advisory council. In any case, I understand that the commission’s term expires in August.
– I cannot understand what the Senate managers were thinking about when they interpreted the decision of the Senate, as expressed when the bill wa3 under discussion, in the manner they have indicated in their report. Senator McLachlan said that he understood that the lessees consented to this arrangement.
– The Minister assured us that that was the case.
– I gave the Sen-, ate definite information that the lessees did not agree to it. The Le.ad.er of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) did the same. The lessees have good reasons for not agreeing to it. Honorable senators know that the lessees in the Northern Territory comprise a comparatively small body of men. They are carrying all the -burden’; they have invested their money there. I venture to say that if they were offered half the money they have put into the Northern Territory they would willingly accept it to get out.
– That applies throughout Australia.
– The Northern Territory is in a worse position than is any other part of Australia. The lessees there require every possible assistance and encouragement in view of the adverse conditions under which they labour. Not one of them has made any profit for years. On the contrary, they are losing money. They are hanging on by the skin of their teeth ; yet, in spite of their difficulties, regulations are imposed to embarrass them still further. This year the Wyndham Meat Works is paying £3 5s. per head ibr bullocks of 700 lb., while the wages of aboriginal drovers have ‘been raised from 30s. to £3 a week. Whatever its political views, I cannot understand why the Government should desire to sacrifice the remnants of the cattle industry in this way.
– The honorable senator knows that aborigines have been employed without pay when white men should have been employed and paid, wages.
– The Minister, by interjection, has explained the action that has been taken. It is clear that .the Government wants to force the lessees in the Northern. Territory to employ white men instead of aborigines. It has deliberately set itself to kill what remains of the cattle industry.
– The industry should not remain if it cannot employ white men.
– II that is the Government’s attitude, all I can say is that before long the Northern Territory will be entirely depopulated of white people.
I had intended to refer somewhat critically to certain answers supplied by the Minister to some .questions which I asked last week, but in fairness to the Minister, I now desire to say that I received a letter from him this morning admitting that the replies given last week were not correct, and that he proposes to correct them later. At the time the answers were given. I knew that they were not correct. I asked whether the wages set down for aboriginal drovers in the Northern Territory did npt exceed those paid to white drovers in Queensland. The Minister replied that they did not. It is, however, a fact that white men employed as drovers in Queensland receive less than the wages set down for aboriginal drovers in the Northern Territory.
Senator McLachlan said that he could not see how it would be possible for the council to be of only one political complexion. He failed to see how it would be possible for the Minister so to “ rig “ the electorates that the representation would be of only one kind. In whatever way the electorates are arranged, the representation must necessarily be of one political complexion.
– Is that the position to-day.?
–That the lessees in the Northern Territory have -no possible chance’ of being properly represented is shown by the figures for the last federal election. There are three electoral districts in the Northern Territory, .with centres at Alice Springs, Batchelor and Darwin, The candidate w.ho represented the pastoralists at the last election was Mr. Love; the other candidates were Mr. Nelson and Mr. “Watts. At Alice Springs - the .district in which Senator McLachlan said it was impossible to go wrong - Mr. “Love polled 23 votes as against 113 cast in favour of Mr. “Nelson. At Batchelor the respective numbers were 54 and 361.
– Batchelor includes the Barkly Tableland and the Victoria River district - the cattle country of the Northern Territory.
– At Darwin 96 votes were cast for Mr. Love as against 428 for Mr. Nelson. In the light of those figures I ask Senator McLachlan how it is possible for the lessees to have any representation at all. They number considerably less than the men they employ, and, as under the Electoral Act every adult is given the franchise, it is obvious that they will be out-voted every time.
– What is the best thing for us to do with the Territory?
– :une .thing that we ought .not to do .with it is to create a council on which. the lessees will have no hope of being represented. These men, who have put their money .into the Northern Territory, are trying, in the face of adverse circumstances,, to do something for Australia. The only way to develop the Northern Territory is to exploi t its resources by private enterprise. The lessees there must be given better conditions; otherwise we shall never have any considerable tenancy there. I .shall vote against the acceptance of the recommendation of the managers, because -I believe that it is entirely wrong. I hope that the Senate will decline to agree to.it.
.- The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) has urged that there should be two councils instead of one -as now -pro posed, and t’hat the Northern Territory should be divided .into two parts, instead of four. I remind -the Eight honorable, gentleman that, already North Australia and Central Australia have been combined and that, consequently, there is only one territory. The second objection of the right honorable gentleman is that the lessees will not have representation on the council. He considers that a more equal representation would be .given if .the area were, divided into two sections instead of four.
– Under the old system the lessees had the right to nominate .members to the council. That gaye them a chance to have their views ,put before the council.
– I take it that the right honorable .gentleman prefers the nominee system.
– .The lessees in Central Australia unanimously agreed to the Government’s proposal in relation to the council.
Senator (B amines. - .The Pastoralists Association .agreed to the Government’s proposal.
– No, it holds . the opposite view.
– As I have said, the ‘lessees in -Central Australia were unanimously in favour of the Government’s proposal. In North Australia there are two sections of lessees. They might be described as the major and the minor sections. The minor lessees, who are on a similar footing to those in Central Australia, have unanimously agreed to .the principle of election proposed by -the Government. Some honorable senators opposite seem to be afraid that the workers will get .all the representation, and the lessees none at all ; but the .fact remains that -the division of the territory into four sections will provide the lessees .with greater representation than if it were divided into only two sections.
– Can the honorable senator indicate any district in t,be Northern Territory where -the lessees would be able to secure representation by election?
– J am not prepared, off-hand to say; but I am informed that the Government’s proposal is acceptable to them. I, therefore, assume that they believe they will have adequate representation under it. The figures quoted by Senator Greene, with reference to the large number of votes polled by the Labour candidates in the last election, may not have any bearing upon this point. Possibly, the views of the opposing candidate did not commend him to the lessees. We may take it that the people who are actually engaged in the development of the Northern Territory are the persons best fitted to’ say who shall’ manage their affairs, and 1 am convinced that they are fair-minded enough to see that all sections have adequate representation. The fear that the Australian Workers Union will secure the appointment of four organizers, who will devote their time to organizing while travelling to and from the meetings of the council, is hardly worthy of consideration. It would take four or five days to travel from Alice Springs to Port Darwin. If they remained there for three days to attend a meeting, and if it took them five days to return, making a total of thirteen days, obviously, there could be not more than one meeting a month and then only during the dry period, so that not more than eight meetings a year could be held. I emphasize also that it would not be possible for the council to do anything except under the authority of this Parliament.
– I thought that Senator Colebatch had pretty effectively disclosed the fallacy of that argument.
– I am not sure that he did. There is adequate provision to safeguard the interests of all concerned in connexion with the making of ordinances.
– We agree with the Minister on- that point, but not as regards the cancellation of ordinances.
– Evidently, the right honorable senator fears that there may be an abuse of the power to make ordinances. I remind him that if there were the council would withhold its approval of an ordinance, and I do not think that the right honorable gentleman need have any misgivings on the point.
I believe that, under this bill, the Northern Territory will be governed by the people of the Territory as well as Australia is governed by the people of Australia generally.
– Did the honorable senator say that it can be governed “ as well as “ Australia is governed ?
– In the same way, yes. I am not suggesting, of course, that Australia is being governed by this administration as well as the honorable gentleman thinks it should be governed.
– I was not referring to this Government. [ merely wished to ascertain if the Minister thinks that Australia has been well governed in the last 30 years.
– I am inclined to believe that it has been over-governed, and we intend to make an effort to improve the position in that respect. But that h.<u no bearing on the bill. I hope that honorable senators will see the wisdom of accepting the recommendations of the conference managers, and I feel sure that if they study the measure closely they will see that there is no foundation for their fears.
. -The argument advanced by the Minister (Senator Dooley) in support of the motion was rather weak. As oric who has had long experience of the pastoral industry in Queensland, I know that this question of representation is of the first importance. In the early history of Queensland development there was much dissatisfaction among the settlers owing to the absence of representation. Finally, the government of the day was obliged to define certain areas to be governed, by shire councils upon which ratepayers had representation. All attempts to administer the affairs of that great colony from a small number of distant centres failed, because the governing authority got out of touch with the needs of the people. Similarly, any attempt to govern the Northern Territory from Darwin is doomed to failure. From my experience in Queensland, I strongly favour the appointment of two councils for the Northern Territory. Consider the absurdity of attempting to govern the whole of the northern portion of Queensland from Townsville, Central and Western Queensland from Rockhampton, or the entire south-western portion of the State from Brisbane. Under such an arrangement as that, the requirements of the people in Capricornia, and over towards the border of the Northern Territory, would be entirely neglected. Similarly, in Central Queensland it would ho impossible for the governing authorities at Rockhampton to be conversant with the needs of settlers out towards the South Australian border. When the bill was under discussion I approved of the appointment of two councils, and I now see no reason to change my views. One of the most preposterous proposals I have ever heard of is the regulation under which station-owners will be obliged to pay £3 a week to aboriginal drovers. Droving under the supervision of a white man is one of the occupations for which the aboriginals are especially suited. These men are valuable employees on all cattle stations, and the regulation requiring pastoralists to pay them £3 aweek when on droving duty will have the effect of throwing them out of employment. The Protector of Aboriginals in Queensland is a man for whom I have the greatest respect. I knew him in th e department before he was appointed to his present position. He has always taken an active interest in the welfare of the aborigines, and he knows better perhaps than any other man in Australia how valuable they are as employees on cattle stations. He is keenly interested in their welfare, and makes it his duty to see that the wages due to them are paid into a special fund for their benefit. The regulation to which attention has been directed in this debate shows to what length certain extremists will go in order to further their pet schemes. Because of the strength of the organized industrial vote, the pastoralists in Queensland are, for the most part, represented in the Queensland Parliament by Labour candidates. The position is somewhat different in the case of the local governing bodies. There the pastoralists are able to secure some representation, and to that extent have some control over local affairs.’
– Does not the honors able senator think that there might be overlapping if two councils were exercising legislative power in the Northern Territory ?
– There need be no confusion if their functions are confined to well-defined areas. A council for Central Australia would be called upon to deal with problems widely different from those with which the people of Darwin might be concerned. Darwin ha? a settled population, which, being more highly organized, would be able to outvote the settlers in the interior. I entirely disapprove of the Government’s proposal. Therefore I cannot support the motion.
Sitting suspended from 12.44 to 2.15 p.m.
– I move -
That the billbe now read a second time.
This bill is designed to rectify an omission from the principal act which was passed in 1930. The act provides that the Solar Observatory Fund shall be vested in trustees and distributed bythem. Under this amendment it is provided that the trustees shall, at the end of each quarter, deposit to the credit of the director, in an account to be opened in the Commonwealth Savings Bank, the net income accruing from the investments of money constituting the fund, and that the director may expend for the purposes of the Observatory any money standing to his credit in that account. This provision will facilitate the working of the trust.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (West, ern Australia) [2.16]. - The trust to which this bill relates is really a private fund established by the late. Dr. Duffield with moneys collected by him for a definite purpose. This measure is merely to correct an omission in the principal act. I support the bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Expenditure of income from investments).
.- As I lander-stand that - the ‘Common wealth Savings Bank -pays interest on only a limited amount, I should like to know whether the. sum likely to he deposited with that institution will be so large as to prevent interest being paid on the full amount.
– I understand that the amounts are small.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Debate resumed from the 29th April (vide page 1360), on motion by Senator Barnes -
That the bill be now read ti second time.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [2.22]. - I move -
That the Chairman of the Board of the Commonwealth Bank (Sir Robert Gibson) bc called to the bar of the Senate on Wednesday, the o’th May, to give evidence to the Senate in relation to such bill.
Parliament has .placed our currency and gold reserve under the control of the Commonwealth Bank Board, hut under this bill that control is to be removed. I admit that the Government and the Commonwealth Bank Board must have .a better knowledge of the present and future financial position of Australia than members of Parliament can possibly possess. We have heard the Minister’s statement of -the position as the Government; sees it, but before we are asked to pass a bill of such an extraordinary character, we should have an expression of opinion from -the Commonwealth Bank Board, through its Chairman, Sir Robert G ibson. .1 consider .that the Senate .would be acting .unwisely if it were either to pass ‘ot reject this measure .without first hearing the views of the .Commonwealth Bank Board on its provisions.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCEIt is the trustee of (Parliament. -That is my object an tasking that the chairman of the board be called to the bar of the
Senate. The ‘Government contends that the passage Ul this measure is necessary. The Government is a political body controlling the finances of -the Commonwealth, but it’ has no control over, our currency or .gold reserves. The board is the authority that should be heard in connexion with such a drastic change as is now proposed. We should not merely hear the viewpoint of the Government on public finance, but also that of the board. While the Government is concerned only with public finance, the board is concerned with both public and private finance. The Government contends that its proposal will have a certain effect upon public finance, but we desire to ask the board, through its chairman, what effect this measure, if enacted, would have upon both public and private finance. We are also anxious to ascertain its effect on currency, exchange, and our financial position overseas. We understand that the proposal is to ship £9,000,000 worth of gold overseas to meet a debt to the Westminster Bank, falling due on the 30th June. Surely we are entitled to ask -the board whether it considers that the method proposed by the Government is the best to adopt, or whether some other course should be followed. We also would like to know whether, in the opinion of the board, there is any danger in sending this gold out of the country. The Commonwealth Bank Board, which is in close association with the private banking institutions, knows their position much more intimately than does the Government. While (it is our duty, as a Parliament, to shave regard to public finance, we -must, not disregard the effect of anything we do upon private finance, which keeps the business of the country going. We desire to ask the board,, with its knowledge of its own resources, and those of the other .banks, not only here but in London - rail our banks have resources on London - if there is not some other way in which the , position. can be met. The Common wealth -Bark has always been, more particularly during recent years, in intimate association with the Bank of England. There ‘has. been a -constant and .growing exchange of opinions-and …… . between the Board of the Commonwealth Bank and the Bank of
England, which places it in a reliable position to ascertain our actual position, both overseas and in Australia. No other body in the Commonwealth is in a similar position. I do not know what the Government proposes to do, but I hope itwill not oppose this motion, which is not a reflection on the . Government. As Parliament deliberately placed the control of our currency and gold reserve under the control of the Commonwealth Bank Board, surely it is entitled to ascertain its views on the action proposed to be taken. We might ask the chairman of the board whether he could suggest any other course by which our admittedly serious financial position could be met. That is the only object which I have in moving the motion, and I hope that the Government will not oppose it. It is not in any sense a hostile motion or a reflection upon the Government, but has been moved because of the unique position of the board in relation to this very important subject.
– I cannot see that any good purpose would be served by bringing the chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board to the bar of the Senate, as proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce). The Prime Minister and the Treasurer have had a conference with the chairman of the Bank Board.
– Does the Minister expect us to believe what the Treasurer says ?
– Surely that remark is uncalled for. I do not think that the Treasurer has said anything which we cannot accept as accurate. I am not asking honorable senators to accept the statement of the Treasurer, but to consider a letter sent by the chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, the contents of which I propose to give the Senate. Consequent upon discussions that took place between the. Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board, and the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, the Treasurer received a letter dated the 6th
March, from the Chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board, which roads as follows : - “ Referring to the discussion which the Governor and I had with the Prime Minister and yourself on the 24th February, when the position in regard to London obligations of the Government was referred to, and I pointed out the inability of the bank to assist the Government in respect of these obligations in view of certain eventualities referred to hereafter. This matter has been the subject of discussion -with the Bank Board at the meeting which has just closed, and it is desired that I place on record the position, as discussed with you. “ You are aware that the board shipped to London, some six months ago, £5,000,000 of gold for the purpose of holding there a reserve against contingencies which might arise in respect of government needs, owing to unfavorable market conditions preventing the Government from acquiring temporary loans on the London market. As you are aware, this reserve was used to meet a position which- arose in connexion with treasurybills amounting to £5,000,000, which fell due on the 31st December last. Subsequently the bank was able to negotiate treasury-bills for the same amount on the London market, and thereby replaced the bank funds which had been used temporarily. Again, a similar position arose in connexion with the bills due on the 2nd March, of the same amount, and the bank reserve was again used to meet the situation and pay off these bills. At present the probability of disposing of treasury-bills to replace this fund is distinctly unfavorable, and the board is quite unable to forecast, if and when, it might be possible, to discount bills on the London market. It follows, therefore, that the bank is no longer in possession of funds in London which might be required, either’ to meet the claims of the Westminster Bank Limited of £5,000,000, which is due for settlement at the end of the month, or the further sum of £5,000,000 to meet the treasury-bills falling due on the 30th June, and which might not be again renewed. “ As pointed out to you at the interview referred to, the gold reserve now held by the hank is not more than sufficient to maintain the statutory reserve required under the Commonwealth Bank Act, and allow for a bare margin for fluctuations of note issue. The board, therefore, deems it its duty to point out the position to your Government, so that it may give consideration to the question and take such steps as it deems necessary to meet the position. My board desires me to say that it is possible that a position may arise in London in the near future which the bank would be powerless to meet.”
It will be noted that the position has been fully traversed in this letter. The Government has no reason to believe that the position in London is now more favorable. It seems to me futile to bring Sir Robert Gibson here to repeat the statements contained in the above letter.
– That letter was published weeks ago.
– The position has not since altered in any way. What useful purpose could be served by bringing Sir Robert Gibson to the bar of the Senate to repeat what he has already Stated in that letter; I cannot see why he should be put to the trouble, the expense, and the inconvenience involved, for that purpose alone.
– What is the objection to doing so?
– There is no need to bring Sir Robert Gibson here, when lie has already stated the facts. Honorable senators know that we have not a market for our goods, and that if we do not ship gold overseas to meet our obligations we must default. No honorable senator would agree to our defaulting. The making of necessary arrangements to meet the note issue is another matter.
– It is a very important one.
– I agree that it is a very important one. This, too, should be regarded, as sufficiently important to induce the Senate to consent to the proposal of the Government to ship gold overseas, seeing that the only alternative is to default. Why bring the chairman of the Bank Board to the bar of the Senate to say that there is no alternative but the export of gold?
– He does not say so.
– He has said that a way out must be found. Not having a market for our goods, what are we to do?
– If the Government behaved itself, it would be given an extension of its overdraft.
– In what way has the Government misbehaved itself? It has tried to do the right thing for the people of this country, and will continue to do so until the end. If it is thought to be a disgrace for the Government to try to maintain in Australia a standard of living worthy of the people of this country,, then I can only say that we prefer to go down rather than to make the sacrifices which the honorable senator has in mind. What, I ask honorable senators, is the alternative? There is none other than that proposed by the Government. I challenge the Opposition to show that there is any other alternative.
– Honorable senators must remember that the question before the Senate is, not the behaviour or misbehaviour of the Government, but the calling of Sir Robert Gibson to the bar of the Senate. I ask the honorable senator, and other honorable senators who follow him, to confine their remarks to that point alone.
– I bow to your ruling, sir. The Government proposes to overcome the difficulty which confronts it, by sending gold abroad.
– What does the Government propose to do when other obligations fall due in London?
– Let us deal with the present situation.
– That is what the Government has been doing all the time.
– The Government has many difficulties to face, and obstacles to surmount. Honorable senators opposite are sufficiently well acquainted with the situation to make it unnecessary to bring Sir Robert Gibson into the picture. I am confident that they realize the seriousness of the position, and are keenly desirious of overcoming the difficulty which faces us. If Sir Robert Gibson were brought to the. bar of the Senate he could not offer, nor would he attempt to offer, any suggestion as to what steps should be taken. The Senate should agree to go straight ahead with the measure and to deal with it on its merits. If it does so, I believe that it will consent to the proposal of the Government.
– I am not very much concerned as to whether Sir Robert Gibson is, or is not, brought to the bar of the Senate. I should welcome the appearance of that eminent gentleman here, provided that I was given the right to move that the Premier of New South Wales (Mr. J. T. Lang), be allowed to appear at the bar of the Senate to place before us the position, so far as the people of New South Wales are concerned.
– We do not want to be contaminated.
– It is all very well for Senator Foll to make that remark. Some of us may consider that we shall be contaminated by the presence of Sir Robert Gibson. I shall not insult that gentleman by making such a suggestion. If the Leader of’ the Opposition (Senator Pearce) is permitted to secure the attendance of Sir Robert Gibson I, as a senator from New South Wales, can logically ask that the Premier of New South Wales be brought here also. I do not agree with the remarks of the Assistant Minister (Senator Dooley). If honorable senators opposite think it right to invite Sir Robert Gibson to attend at the bar of the Senate, I shall place a contingent notice of motion on the business paper, asking that Mr. Lang, the Premier of New South Wales, be called to the bar of the Senate.
– No One can prevent the honorable senator from doing so. I think we should like to see Mr. Lang at the bar.
– Then I trust the honorable senator will support me when I submit the motion. Sir Robert Gibson can only give the Senate a banker’s ideology. Senator Dooley has said that we have no desire to default, yet the great financial joss of the Scullin Government, the Honorable Edward Granville Theodore, has just been to South Australia where he has said that if things do not adjust themselves quickly, Australia will default to the ex tent of £5,000,000 - that whether we like it or not, Australia will be forced to default. I am not rash enough to set up my opinion against that of honorable senators opposite who include among their numbers ex-Ministers, and ex-bankers; but they must all agree with me that Australia’s position is that of every other country in the civilized world to-day, and that it has been brought about by the drop in world prices. All that Sir Robert Gibson can tell us will not alter the position until we get right off our perches and tackle the interest bill which is killing us. Will Sir Robert Gibson tell us about the £27,595,701 of interest which Australia has to pay each year to bondholders overseas, or about the £27,769,748 payable each year to Australian bondholders ? Or will he speak of the 300,000 Australian citizens ‘who are not engaged in production? I have no desire to become heated on this matter, but I appeal to Senator Dooley to get on to the basis of economic facts. If he is unable to do so, I advise him to spend some time in the library .and acquaint himself with those facts.
Senator Sir HAI COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [2.48]. - I was rather surprised at the action of the Minister in quoting in support of this bill a letter which has been public property for the last couple of months, as if it were something entirely new, and in support of the action the Government is now taking. It has no reference to such action. If we are to accept the opinion of the Commonwealth Bank, I refer the honorable senator to an earlier letter from the bank in which the following statement is made: -
My board is of opinion that the last resort which should be adopted would be any course which might even mean a temporary departure from the operation of the gold standard on the part of Australia. Such a measure would reflect most adversely against Australia in respect of overseas credit and . incidentally have a most serious effect upon our ability to raise 10aus abroad.
That is the deliberate opinion of the Com-, mon wealth Bank Board which is in complete hostility to this bill. We have not, at the present time, the slightest evidence that the ‘Commonwealth Bank Board has altered its opinion in this regard. The letter from which I have quoted is dated October, 1929, eighteen months ago.
Foi’ the moment, I do not propose to discuss the hill. It has been suggested to us” that default is the alternative to the export of this gold. The question we have to consider is whether we shall default now, or follow a course advised by the Government which; inevitably, means default later on; or whether we shall seek an alternative which will prevent either of these defaults. It is quite true that the exporting of this gold would obviate immediate default, but it would be the action of the fraudulent bankrupt, who, in order to stave off an immediate pressing creditor, sacrifices his liquid assets without any regard to the interests of his creditors as a whole. It is a practice that cannot be followed- without leading to default later on. The position which the Senate is in honour hound to take up is not that we are prepared to take action to prevent immediate default, when we know that that action in itself must bring about default later on, but that we should search every possible avenue for an alternative that will save default in any case. I again remind the Senate of the cablegram which appeared iu yesterday morning’s newspapers expressing the feeling in London that Australia may be able to find other means to avoid default than that of exporting its gold. We have to seek for those other means. If I thought Mr. Lang could help us, I should support the motion that Senator Dunn proposes to move; but because I believe very firmly that the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank can help us, that he can give us information which will, be of value, and show us a way to prevent both immediate and ultimate default, I intend to support the motion.
– I certainly support the motion moved by Senator Pearce. I feel satisfied that if we have the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank here he can give us information which, as Senator Colebatch has said, will open to us avenues by which we can avoid having to abandon the gold standard, and be enabled to meet our obligations not only in the immediate present, but also in the indefinite future.
– How long has the gold standard been operating in Australia ?
– We are, nominally, still on the gold standard, although I admit that, in practice, we are off it; but what I want to prevent is Australia having permanently to abandon the gold standard. One of the reasons why I should like Sir Robert Gibson to come to the bar of the Senate is that we may ask him what are the progressive steps which have led the Government to the decision that there is ‘ no other course open to it but to abandon the gold standard. The bill upon which the motion has been moved is only part of a policy; it is one cog in a wheel; it is the natural outcome of other steps which the Government proposes to take. It is, however, a step which, once taken, will be extremely difficult to retrace. The Treasurer has made no secret of his intention that Australia should abandon the gold standard. He says quite openly that there is no need for a gold standard. He is prepared to turn down the banking experience of the world, and set himself up as a financial authority . to press on Australia a new monetary policy. If Australia is to abandon the gold standard, I think the Senate should have an opportunity to ask the Chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board what is his opinion of the whole policy of’ which this bill forms part. We should have an opportunity to ask him what has been the nature of the correspondence that has passed between the board and the Government during the last few months dealing with the whole of the Government’s policy, and what has been the advice the bank has tendered to the Government from time to time right from the time of the Gibbons resolution, which was the foundation of the policy of which this bill is a part. The fact that we are faced with this proposal by the Government is the direct and natural outcome of a deliberate policy adopted by the Government, and I can only hope that the. Chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board, if he comes here, will be in a position to give us the whole of the information which I, at any rate, require to know and have before I can consent to this ‘bill. I think that we ought to be able to question Sir Robert Gibson upon the progressive steps which have led the Government to this point, and .upon the advice -which the bank has tendered to the Government from (time .to time, so that we may be in a position to judge whether or not we should take the final plunge .over the precipice which I really believe this billinvolves.
– One can scarcely understand the reluctance of the Government to consent to the motion moved’ by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Sir George Pearce). No more momentous proposal has ever’ been made to the Commonwealth Parliament than that on which we are asking Sir Robert Gibson to give .us his advice. The directors of the Commonwealth Bank con- > trol our currency, manage our loans, and finance the Government. They are; therefore, financial experts, whom we should consult before we are asked to abandon the gold standard, or give power to the Treasurer to demand from the Commonwealth Bank every sovereign in its possession. To discuss the matter from the angle that it means only the withdrawal of £5,000,000 for despatch to London is really ;to belittle the importance of this bill. What we are asked to do is to depart from the settled policy of the Commonwealth for many years pastthe control by the Commonwealth Bank of the, currency and the retention of a percentage of gold. We are asked to empower the executive, as it . were, to commandeer, this gold on notice. But once we agree to the despatch of £5,000,000 in gold overseas, we may subsequently be required to despatch the balance of the gold, and then we shall be obliged to take the step for which provision is made in the bill. One of its clauses provides for the issue of notes to the extent of £60,000,000. What is the repercussion of this measure? It lias opened up the larger aspects referred to by Senator Greene - the whole fiduciary policy of the Government. I shall never cast my vote to’ empower the executive of this country to deprive the people of the only pro. lection they now have against the machinations of politicians in regard to the currency. Having regard to the. importance of the measure, I cannot understand why .the Minister should take any exception whatever to getting the expert advice of Sir Robert Gibson, or of any other expert, at the bar of the Senate. The reasons that have been advanced are set out in the letter dated the 6th of March, with which Senator Colebatch has already dealt. Much water has passed under the bridge since then.. I point out that there is not one word in that letter, nor has one word been said either in the Senate or in another place to indicate the opinion of the expert advisers of the Commonwealth as to the necessity for, or the wisdom of, this measure, or whether other steps than the disastrous step contemplated in this legislation could be taken. I feel that we are indebted to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) for having moved this motion. For my own part, I should feel humiliated were I to cast a vote in favour of the measure on the scrappy information that has been supplied to us. We are entitled to have from the trustees of the people’s money the best information they can give us concerning the step proposed by the Government. I approach this subject in a spirit of optimism, rather than one of pessimism; I believe that there is jio necessity for this measure at all. Before I take a step which violates all the principles for which we have stood, or do anything which would rob the bank of the control of the currency, I want to bc in’ possession of the .best advice possible. Even then, I doubt whether I should be willing, to give the control of these things to the Treasurer in the way outlined in the measure.
– The Government has no objection to the motion other than that it, thinks that it is quite unnecessary. During the whole of my parliamentary experience, I have never known an instance of any person having been called as a witness to the bar of the Senate. Indeed, I am wondering where the bar of the Senate is, And what will happen if Sir Robert Gibson is called there to give evidence. In introducing this measure to the Seriate, I portrayed, the serious ‘ situation confronting Australia; so that it appears to me that there is no necessity to call Sir Robert
Gibson. Should he appear before the bar of the Senate, I can imagine that he will be subject to a severe crossexamination by some honorable gentlemen on the other side arid, possibly, some on this side of the chamber also. The object of bringing a witness before the Senate can be only to search him and to obtain from him all the evidence thought necessary by the jury which, in this case, I suppose would be the Senate, Should Sir Robert Gibson be placed under crossexamination, the Senate, as the jury, will no doubt observe his demeanour, and judge from his hearing as well as his words the value of his evidence. I can imagine Sir Robert Gibson wondering why he should bc brought from Melbourne and forced to- submit, to cross-examination by men, most of whom have never been bankers, or financiers, especially when the whole story has been placed before them in the bill. That story is that Australia’ has no other means than that proposed in the bill to meet its commitments in London at the end of June.
– There are other means.
– -If by bringing Sir Robert Gibson to Canberra to give evidence at the bar of the Senate, those other means will be made known, his coming may be of service to the country, and the expenditure involved warranted. I am, however, doubtful whether that will be the result of his coming, because the Government has sought every means of meeting the difficulties with which it is confronted. The gold standard has been mentioned. It has been a tradition that we must have a certain percentage of gold as a backing to our note issue. “ The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. W. Kingsmill). - I realize that there are many avenues along which the thoughts of honorable senators may travel; but I ask the Minister to confine his remarks to the subject before the Chair.
– The situation appears to me to be so simple that there is no escape from the position which I set out in my second-reading’ speech. That it is also serious there is no question. Similarly, the solution is both simple and serious. Australia has certain commitments which must be met; it has a contract to fulfil on the 30th
June next; the only means of fulfilling that contract are those suggested in the bill.
– Another government could find a way out.
– The honorable senator, no doubt, suggests a government comprised of the men who placed Australia in her present position. Even if Sir Robert Gibson - a very busy man who is no doubt already sufficiently worried with financial problems - is brought to the bar of the Senate, the last word will not rest with him, because, not being a member of this Parliament, he can take no direct part in the making of the laws of the country.
– He takes care of the people’s money which is very important.
– My only objection to bringing Sir Robert Gibson here i3 that it will increase his worries and involve the country in additional expense.
– Surely the importance of the matter justifies both the expense and the trouble?
– I fail to see that that is so; but, apparently, honorable senators opposite, with their Argus eyes, can see more than I can. All the information which .Sir Robert Gibson will be able to give at the bar of the Senate could be obtained in writing over his signature. Why, therefore, drag him from Melbourne and stand him at the bar of the Senate, wherever that is, and subject him to cross-examination? I do not know where the bar of this House is situated, and perhaps it would be an education to other honorable senators, as it would be to me, to be enlightened on that matter. Sir Robert Gibson, if called to the bar of the Senate will, no doubt, be asked many questions. I wonder whether any honorable senator will ask him a hospitable question? I do not know whether honorable senators who support the motion have considered that Sir Robert Gibson might regard it as somewhat humiliating to be called upon to give evidence at the bar of the Senate. If he is to be subjected to the kind of examination to which men in tha dock are sometimes subjected by members of the legal profession, he will regard it as a humiliating experience. That is my only concern. I desire to save one of the first citizens of Australia from humiliation and inconvenience. Apart from that, I have no objection, nor has the Government, to the motion being carried.
Motion agreed to.
Motion (by Senator Sir George Pearce) - by leave - agreed to -
That the calling to the bar of the Senate of Sir Robert Gibson be fixed for 3.15 o’clock p.m. on Wednesday next, and be made an order of the day for such day.
-Forthe information of honorable senators, I point out that the two motions with which the Senate has just dealt have interrupted the debate on the motion for the second reading of the bill.
Debate (second reading) (on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce) adjourned.
Statements by the Treasurer - Price of Petrol.
Motion (by Senator Barnes) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
.- I direct attention to certain statements attributed to the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) in a speech at Port Adelaide on Monday night last. In the Melbourne Herald of the 27 th April, there appeared the following report : -
Speaking at the Port Adelaide Town Hall he (Mr. Theodore) made another bitter attack on the Senate and upon the banks. He said that Nationalism, with its Senate majority, still determined the legislative action of the Commonwealth. The Senate consists mainly of unconscionable tories - puppets of vested interests. Until we get control of the Senate we cannot effect the will of the people.
– Why advertise him?
– I am not giving the Treasurer an advertisement. My purpose is to tell him, through the press of Australia, that I, as one member of this Senate, strongly resent his action in descending so low as to make an attack upon the members in this branch of the legislature, who have been elected, not by one section, but by the majority of the people in the States which they represent. The Treasurer would have the public believe that he and his party have a mandate from the people to do just what they like in this Parliament.
– But is it not a fact that the honorable gentleman and his friends represent those interests ? .
– We represent the majority of the people in the States from which we come, and our mandate is just as definite as the Treasurer and his party may consider theirs to be, todo what we believe is in the best interests of the Commonwealth. I also remind Mr. Theodore that, although he was Premier of Queensland for many years and was never tired of talking about his mandate from the people, during the whole of that time Queensland always returned senators opposed to his policy.
– It may be mentioned also that his government never had a majority of the electors behind it.
– Exactly. The position is entirely different in this chamber. Honorable senators are elected by a majority of the electors in each State, and when we remember that in the case of the Senate it is not possible to jerrymander the electoral boundaries, since each State is polled as one electorate, we should be proud of the fact. Another point to be remembered is that it is our duty to legislate in the interests of the Commonwealth as a whole. In view of these facts it is deplorable that at a time like this a Minister occupying such a prominent position in this Government should go out of his way to indulge in purely electioneering speeches.
– What is the use of advertising him?
– I am not advertising the Treasurer. In any case if the honorable senator is prepared to take lying down anything that Mr. Theodore says, I am not. It is about time that his statements were challenged. I deemed it necessary to bring this matter under the notice of the Senate, and wish again to express resentment that Mr. Theodore should have so little regard for the status of his office as Treasurer of the Commonwealth as to indulge in utterances of this kind.
.- This morning I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs if his attention had been directed to press statements to the effect that first grade petrol can be purchased in America nt 3d. per imperial gallon f.o.b. American ports, and, if so, would he ascertain why the same grade of petrol was being sold in Australia at over 2s. a gallon. In his reply the Minister stated that press statements had been published that petrol was being sold in America at about the price mentioned, but probably it referred to the price per American gallon, and the quality of the petrol was not known. The statements to which I refer clearly indicate that first-grade petrol can be purchased f.o.b. American ports at 3d. per imperial gallon,, whereas , the lowest price charged to the Australian consumers is over 2s. per gallon. In some of the more remote centres of the Commonwealth the price is as high as 3s. per gallon. The difference between the American and Australian prices is so great that I suggest that the Government should have investigations made, and if it is ascertained that the people of Australia are not being treated fairly by the petrol companies, it might consider the wisdom of doing what Mr.. Bruce threatened to do when he was Prime Minister, namely, utilize the machinery of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries to import and distribute petrol at a reasonable price to Australian consumers.
– Why is the Com-, monwealth Oil Refineries charging the same price as the major oil companies?
– The Commonwealth Oil Refineries is confining its operations to the refining of crude oil, and I .understand that it is not making much money at the present time. I think the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce), who was a member of the Bruce-Page Government, will bear me out when I say that some years ago, when the- major oil companies metaphorically held a pistol at the head of the Government in connexion with its taxation proposals, the Prime Minister threatened to import and distribute petrol in competition with those companies. Obviously some such action is. called for at the present time, because petrol represents the life blood of many Australian primary and secondary industries, and it should be made available at a more reasonable price.
– Has the honorable senator any proof that the prices which he mentions are being charged?
– I base my statements on reports that have appeared in the public press, that, as the result of a petrol war overseas, petrol is being sold in the United States of America at 5d. per American gallon, which is equivalent to about 3d. per imperial gallon. In the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited we have the necessary machinery for the importation and distribution of petrol, and I suggest that the Government might very well utilize it so that petrol consumers in Australia may obtain their requirements at a fair price.
– This morning, in the course of the debate on the Northern Territory (Administration) Bill, Senator Greene directed attention to certain replies which had been furnished to Senator Colebatch, relating to the wages paid to aboriginals in the Northern Territory. I have to state that, according to the information in the department, the replies given werecorrect. The Northern Territory Pastoral Lessees Association has represented to the Minister that the replies are not strictly correct, owing principally to the suspension of awards in Queensland. The Minister has instituted inquiries as to- the new conditions, and honorable senators will be advised later. In fairness to the Minister for Home Affairs, I wish to State that he immediately advised the honorable senator of the position.
– That is what I said this morning. The last thing I wish to do is to be unfair to the Minister.
– I think that is understood.
Senator Payne appears to be giving very close attention to the movements of the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), and the speeches made by that honorable gentleman. I understand that the Treasurer is now visiting Tasmania.
– And beating the di:um.
– Possibly. Why is the honorable senator so much concerned about the absence of the Treasurer from Parliament? Quite a number of other distinguished gentlemen are also perambulating the country for the purpose of spreading their political gospel. Why then should Senator Payne object if the Treasurer is on a similar mission?
– I object because he is drawing a ministerial salary and should be in his place in Parliament.
– Why is there all this uneasiness because one lone man is doing what a number of eminent gentlemen are doing in various parts of Australia to-day? I can, of course, understand the concern of the honorable senator at the presence in his State of so able and talented a man as the Treasurer who, in all’ probability, will awaken the people of “ Sleepy Hollow,” as it has been termed, to en appreciation of the problems that confront us.
Tn reply to Senator Poll, I do not know what can be done to give relief to consumers of petrol in Australia, but I shall bring under the notice of my colleagues the question which he has raised this afternoon and ascertain if it is possible to take action. If we can bring about a reduction in the price of petrol it will, I am sure, be much appreciated by the users of that spirit in Australia. Personally, as I do not own a motor car, it ‘does not concern me except that, because of the higher prices charged in Australia for petrol, I expect I have to pay higher fees to taxi-drivers.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 3.20 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 1 May 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1931/19310501_senate_12_129/>.