15th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– by leave - I desire to inform the Senate that in future the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) will represent the Department of Supply and Development in this chamber.
Motion (by Senator McLeay) - by leave - agreed to -
That Senator P. A. M. McBride be discharged from further attendance on the Printing Committee.
Motion (bySenator.McLeay) - by leave - agreed to -
That Senator H. B. Collett be discharged from further attendance on the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances.
SenatorFOLL. - On the 18th May, Senator Amour asked the following question, upon notice; -
Is it a fact that Captain Gregory, of Darwin, chief of the Australian pearl industry, bought a cattle station at Adelaide River.?
It has now been ascertained from the Administrator of the Northern Territory that Captain A. C. Gregory and William Wyatt, in partnership, purchased Mount Bundy Station on the Adelaide River in January, 1938, and are still the holders of the property.
– On the 18th May, Senator Cooper asked the Minister representing the Minister for . Defence the following questions, upon notice: -
The Minister for Defence has supplied the following answers ‘ to the honorable senator’s questions: -
– On the 17 th May, Senator Brand asked the following questions, upon notice : -
The Postmaster-General has supplied the following answers : -
– On the 18th May, Senator Keane asked the following, questions, upon notice: -
The Postmaster-Oeneral has supplied the following answers: -
– On the 17th May, Senator Brand asked the following question,upon notice: -
Will the Postmaster-General take steps to ensure that the broadcasting of the location of ammunition reserve dumps throughout the Commonwealth is discontinued?
The Postm aster-General has supplied the following answer: -
Apart from anything of a general character which may appear in the newspapers, and which would thus be included’ as a broadcast news item. I am not aware of any other broadcasts referring to the location of ammunition reserve dumps. I am having further inquiries made with regard to the matters complained of, and I shall issue instructions that the dissemination of such matters of vital importance be discontinued.
– On the 18th May, Senator Cameron asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence the following questions, upon notice : -
The Minister for Defence has supplied the following answers : -
– On the 18th May, Senator Clothier asked the following questions, upon notice: -
I am now in a position to supply the following information : -
– On the 18th May last, Senator Keane asked me a question relating to the industries receiving protection by Commonwealth inspection, and the amounts recovered in each industry arising out of such inspection.
I am now in a position to inform the honorable senator that five industries working under Commonwealth awards and all private employees working under determinations of theIndustrial Board of the Australian Capital Territory receive protection by Commonwealth inspection. The total number of employees coveredby this inspection is approximately 19,000. Particulars of each industry and the amounts recovered as the result of Commonwealth inspection are as follows : -
.- On the 17th May last, Senator Collings asked the Minister representing the Treasurer the following questions, upon, notice : -
Whathas been the total cost to date, since the passing of the bill by Parliament, of the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act, showing Government administration costs, including - (a.) Printing of official stationery and documents, explanatory memoranda issued to the public and all other propaganda material ;
The Treasurer has now supplied the following answers : -
– In view of the exposure by public men, and in the columns of the Brisbane Truth and the Brisbane Telegraph, of the fact that Queensland is practically unprotected from the point of view of national defence, will the Minister representing the Minister for Defence state whether the Government is taking any action to overcome Queensland’s disability in this regard?
Senator FOLL. - The Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence, and every other member of the Cabinet has, on numerous occasions, set out the policy of the Government with regard to the defence of the whole of Australia.
.- Will the Minister for Commerce state whether it is a fact that, if lighthouse keepers appeal to members of Parliament, or to any organized body, for improvement of their working conditions, they are instantly dismissed? Is it also a fact that these keepers are on duty for as many as 70 hours a week, and that they sometimes work from 6.30 a.m. to 11 p.m. without overtime pay ? If this be correct, does the Minister consider that they can render proper service when called upon to remain on duty for such long hours?
Senator McLEAY. - The reply to the first part of the honorable senator’s question is in the negative. As to the concluding portion of the question, I think that the disabilities of lighthouse keepers are not so great as has been suggested; but I am prepared to obtain information on the matter, or, if the honorable senator prefers it, he may give notice of the question.
– What type of building did Mr.Thorby favour?
– A building with a sandstone facing. What happened then ? The Minister for the Interior either overlooked or overrode Mr. Thorby’s decision. He must have had some reason for so doing. I am not imputing motives or suggesting reasons, but I want to know the facts so that the honour of Parliament may be cleared and the faith of the people in our parliamentary institutions be unshaken.
.- No doubt Senator Gibson, who has had some experience as Postmaster-General, would like to tell my story, but I propose to tell it in my own way. I am merely stating the facts. The approval given by the then Minister for Works has since been overridden or overlooked, and another tender of . £410,776, submitted by H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited, in which provision is made for terra-cotta facings, has been accepted. The story is a long one, and,if necessary, others can follow from where I leave off. There is a difference of only £1,451 between the two tenders, which in itself is somewhat sinister. Moreover, at least one contractor - I am not in a position to say whether there were more - complained that certain influences have been at work outside the jurisdiction of the departmental officers, which, in the language of the street, suggests wire-pulling or underground engineering. These charges are always made against those who accept the responsibility of government, and the surest way in which to prevent such charges, which have been made quite seriously by a member of the Government party in the House of Representatives, is to probe them to their foundations. That is all that I wish to do. Tenders were called in the Government Gazette, and by advertisement in the public press; that, I understand, is the usual procedure in order to save time. I want to know definitely whether the department responsible for any given work negotiates direct with private employers in order to ensure a reasonable number of tenders being lodged, or whether they leave this matter to private employers in the hope that they may see an invitation for tenders in the columns of the public press to the effect that certain Commonwealth public works are to be put in hand. If it is the practice of the heads of the departments concerned to interview certain contractors I want the names of the departmental officers and also the names of the firms interviewed. They may not have done this, but I cannot believe that a Commonwealthcontract costing approximately £500,000 is merely advertised in the public press and that the department interested simply depends on private contractors to see the advertisement in some obscure corner of a more or less prominent newspaper. I want to know exactly what the department does in order to call attention to these jobs?
But there is another and, I consider, a very sinister phase of the whole business. In the House of Representatives last week the former Postmaster-General (Mr.
Archie Cameron), in the discussion of a similar motion in that chamber said - . . alter tenders had been received, and after the responsible Minister had signified the acceptance of a particular offer for the erection of the proposed new building, one tenderer was given the right to amend his terms in some particulars.
If that statement is true the whole business is suspect and I demand that the work be hung up pending a thorough investigation.
.- The Minister will have the right to reply when I resume my seat. If what he has said by way of interjection is true, that assurance should have been given in the House ‘of Representatives at the time.
– While the debate was proceeding in the House of Representatives, a prominent Minister - and this I suggest is the sinister aspect of the whole business - told the House that it had been discovered that terra cotta could be produced more cheaply than had been anticipated, and that the Government had been assured by the contractor in question that it would get the benefit of any reduction of the price for that material. If that is true, all I can say is that it is an entirely new phase of contract practice. I am by no means a suspicious person, but I suggest that it is the easiest thing in the world for a contractor to submit a tender with the proviso that if, later, he can discover some way by which he can reduce his price, the department will get the benefit of the reduction. But has the Government never heard of extras in connexion with large buildings? It is safe to say that in a contract involving the expenditure of £400,000, the amount charged for extras will be stupendous. And does the Minister for the Interior believe that if under the conditions mentioned, a successful tenderer gives with one hand, he will not with the other hand, take back, with considerable addition? I have never been a contractor and have not had practical experence, but I would not be so silly as to be caught with that kind of chaff, nor do I believe that, up to the present, the department has been caught. However, I do know that these were the excuses - they could not by any stretch of the imagination be termed the reasons - for the rejection, by the present Minister for the Interior, of a contract formally accepted by his predecessor, in favour of the tenderer whose terms, we understand, have nowbeen accepted.
We cannot afford to treat this matter lightly; it will be to our everlasting discredit if we do. Nor must this unsavoury business be glossed over by silence, or a hush-hush attitude on the part of the departments concerned. Thehonour of this chamber and of every indi- vidual member of it is involved. This is particularly true at the present stage in Australian affairs. Practically every newspaper is demanding publication of the reason why this thing should not be thoroughly investigated. No member of this Parliament, regardless of party affiliations, should allow this matter to rest until he is quite satisfied that nothing dishonourable has been done in connexion with it. Whatever means may have to be taken, however far we may have to go, and whatever delay may be involved in the carrying out of the work, nothing should be allowed to stand in the way until we have put in their proper position the men who have had the handling of this contract from the commencement of the negotiations. I demand to know what is happening, and what has been done in connexion with this business.
In the Sydney Morning Herald of to-day’s date there appears a report of a meeting of the Council of Brick Manufacturers, held in Sydney yesterday. It records that the State Government which, so far from being sympathetic with Labour ideals, is the supporter of combines and all the trickery which private enterprise knows so well how to put over the consuming public, is divided on the question of taking legal proceedings against the brick manufacturers’ combine in order to prevent further exploitation of the people of New South Wales.
– I cannot credit the Assistant Minister with being so ingenuous as he would like to appear. He has said that apparently the New South Wales Government is not a supporter of the combine. Does not the honorable gentleman know that the State Government would not have moved hand or foot but for the pressure of public opinion in New South Wales, due to the agitation by Labour members of this and the State Parliament against the excessively high price charged for bricks ? He must know that that Government has never been brought to heel except by pressure exerted from outside its ranks and for which the Australian Labour party has been responsible. The Sydney Morning Herald, which helps to keep this Government and State Ministers in their jobs, and represents the financial interests which provide their election funds, reports that the master builders have admitted that the whole position is serious.
The Minister for the Interior, to whom this matter was referred last night in Sydney, said that the Government had no knowledge of the prices quoted by sub-contractors to contractors in connexion with the work. The Minister knows as well as I do -that in the case of a contract costing £400,000, contractors and sub-contractors get together and decide the prices for each section of the work. These people are complaining. One firm alleged that Lt had not received quotations from sub-contractors for the supply of sandstone until 40 minutes before the closing time for tenders. Of course it did not, because Wunderlich Proprietary Limited and the terra cotta combine were on the job.
.- Since Senator Dein appears to know a good deal about this business, I should like to ask how does he know? I confess that I do not know, but I am determined to find out, if that is humanly possible.
– I am particularly anxious to know bow many hands there are in this pie, -whose hands are clean, and whose hands are unclean? No one can accuse me of having a finger in it, because in spite of the fact that inspired statements have been appearing in the press for the last week or so that I was going to move the adjournment of the Senate this afternoon, I did not myself know until yesterday. The Canberra Times on Monday had something to say about this matter -
A prominent United Australia party member who, being a builder, should be qualified to speak, expressed the opinion that there was a ring controlling the manufacture of roofing tiles and making a charge which was unduly high, thus adversely affecting building operations. He stated that since 1934 there had been successive increases till now the cost of tiles was 00 per cent, higher - 60s. per square instead of 37s. 6d. Additional allegations were made by the same and other speakers, to the effect that the prices of many essential articles were higher than they should be, the consumer suffering from the unprincipled methods of firms concerned only with the making of excessive profits.
We must know the truth about this business. If what I suggest is true, there exists an unholy combination which is preventing public works and private building operations from being done in the most economical way. That is why I want to know all about it. If some one by nefarious means is getting a rake-off - I go further and say that if some one is getting a rake-off within the law - I want to know, in order that action may be taken to stop it once and for all. We all know that more homes for the .people are urgently needed everywhere. Even in this capital city of Canberra, there is a waiting list of over 400 people. Most of these homeless citizens are in good jobs and are willing to rent houses in order to play their part in the development of this city. They cannot do this because home-building schemes are being delayed or held up owing to the cruel depredations of private contracting firms. But there is a greater evil; I refer to the existence of slum conditions in Canberra and elsewhere. We cannot expect to eliminate these slums by adopting a comprehensive building scheme, owing to the operations of thieving private enterprise companies and racketeers. My final appeal is that the Senate should insist on probing this unsavoury business to the bottom. If we do not act now, if the contract is finalized, we may, after the building is finished, he charged with being accessories after the crime.
– AH in good time.
– The occasion of his speech would have been a good time.
– The Works Department is in the position of a business firm carrying out work for clients. After the Postmaster-General had decided on a newbuilding, and the Government had approved of its erection, the Works Department was asked to prepare plans and specifications. In due course they were submitted to the Postmaster-General’s Department for approval. The subsequent letting of the contract was largely a formal matter. As there has been a good deal of misunderstanding in regard to the contract for extensions to the General Post Office, Sydney, I propose to make a full statement in relation to the letting of that contract to H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited. The building was originally designed on the assumption that terra co’tta would be used for the upper portion of the Pittstreet frontage.
– As some doubt existed as to the relative cost of terra, cotta and stone facings, it was decided to invite alternative tenders. Had the price of terra cotta been considered too high, the acceptance of a tender providing for stone could then have been recommended. It turned out, however, that the difference between the cost of terra cotta and the cost of sandstone was small, and consequently a building to be faced with terra cotta was recommended by the Director-General of Works. Tenders were also invited for a building without any facing at all, but the tenders for such a building were relatively so high as to be not worthy of serious consideration. This proposed work was first brought under my notice by the Director-General of Works a few days after I was appointed Minister for the Interior. He referred to a protest by the present Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) against the decision of my predecessor, Mr. Thorby, to adopt a stone facing for the upper storeys of the building instead of the terra-cotta finish recommended by the Director-General of Works.
I looked into the matter, and advised the Postmaster-General that I agreed with the view of my predecessor that stone should be used. This brought, further strong representations from my colleague, the Postmaster-General. On the receipt of these representations I discussed the . matter again with the Director-General of Works, and examined all phases of the problem carefully. Subsequently, I wrote the following decision to the Director-General : -
Confirming our interview to-day - when you asked me for an opinion on the J st May as to whether sandstone or terra cotta should be used in the facing of the new General Post Office in Sydney,” I was not then fully acquainted of the” strong representations made by the Postmaster-General’s Department and experts that terra cotta should be used, and not sandstone.
After representations being made to me by the Postmaster-General - by whose department the building will be occupied - and in view ot the fact that you, as Director-General of Works definitely recommended on the 20th March, 1039. that the tender of H. G. Whittle & Sons Proprietary Limited for £410,776 for the building with a granite and terra-cotta face be accepted, I now approve of the lowest tender being accepted on the basis of your recommendation.
During my consideration of the problem as to whether terra cotta or sandstone should be U3ed, I had not been approached by any contractor or by any one on behalf of any contractor. I made my decision after I had read again the original recommendation of the Director-General of Works, and, in the light of it, I considered the further strong representations of the Postmaster-General as well as the fact that the difference, in cost was only £1,451 on a contract amounting to £410,000, where the sum allowed by the department for contingencies and unforeseen costs amounted to £15,000. One cleaning of astone-faced building would cost as much as the difference. I emphasize that in all my discussions of this work with the Director-General of Works; I did not know the name of any of the contractors or the prices submitted. When I subsequently looked into the amounts submitted by the tenderers I found that the lowest tender for terra cotta was that of H. G. Whittle & Sons Proprietary Limited, and for stone, that” of John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited. For the sandstone finish the tender of John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited was lower than that of H. G. Whittle & Sons Proprietary Limited by only £111. In respect of a terra-cotta finish the quotation of H. G. Whittle& Sons Proprietary Limited is the lower by £755: The tenders of these two firms are very close indeed. All of the other tenders were much higher.
On considering the matter subsequently, 1 was glad that when I made my decision in favour of terra cotta, I did so without any knowledge of its effect on any contractor, but purely in the light of the information placed before me. After all, it does not matter to me which contractor gets the work, provided he is qualified in every way to be entrusted with a work of such magnitude. In this case, both the tenderers mentioned, and indeed all the other tenderers, are well qualified.
Unless the basic principle of contracts by public tender is to be departed from, the Government must give the contract to the tenderer who quotes the lowest amount for the work described in the plans, specifications and quantities, provided only that the lowest tenderer is satisfactory and competent to do the work.
– Originally the plans provided for a building with a terra-cotta facing, but alternative tenders were invited in case terra cotta should prove to be too expensive in comparison.
– In this case the tender of H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited is the lowest received by the department for a building faced with terra cotta, and to that company the contract must be given following the decision to use terra cotta. Accordingly, the company has been advised that its tender has been accepted.
In discussions in the House of Representatives there have been suggestions that a contractor has been allowed to alter his tender. That is not so ; no alteration of any tenderhas been made. It has also been suggested that fresh tenders should be called. There is no need to call for fresh tenders, and indeed it would be unfair to do so, now that the amounts tendered by some contractors have been published.
I remarked that I had not been approached by any tenderer or on behalf of any tenderer, but it has come under my notice since I made my decision that, both H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited and John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited have complained to Ministers that they were not satisfied that they had been equitably treated by suppliers on whom they depended for quotations to enable them to complete their tenders. Mr. Grant complained that he was not equitably treated by the suppliers of terra cotta, whilst Mr. Whittle stated that he was not satisfied that the stone suppliers gave to him a fair deal. From information supplied to me it appears that John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited, one of the tenderers, has virtually a monopoly of sandstone in the Sydney district, and that that company placed other tenderers at a disadvantage through not supplying them with quotations for sandstone until a few hours before tenders closed. Tenders were called on a lump sum price basis, and the lowest tender was accepted on that basis. The fact that individual subcontractors may have quoted varying prices to different contractors is no concern of the Government. It may be that the suppliers of girders,plumbing work, electrical wiring and many other materials varied their prices, but the Government is interested only in the total sum submitted by thecontractor. Any dispute between tenderers as to relative prices quoted to them by sub-contractors is a matter for the tenderers themselves.
Even if these complaints could be shown to be justified, it would still not be established that loaded quotations had been used by those who received them, in making up their tenders. In any case, the department is concerned only with the lump sum tendered.
I have touched on these matters only because they have been mentioned in discussion. They had no influence whatever on my decision to use terra cotta, which, as stated before,was made as the result of the original recommendation of the department and the subsequent representations of the Postmaster-General’s Department. I am satisfied that I acted on just grounds and in a proper way in approving of the acceptance of the lowest tender for a terra-cotta faced building.
– I do not think that the signatures have been placed on the contract, but H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited has been notified of the acceptance of its tender. Honorable senators will understand that certain formalities have to be observed before the contract is actually signed. The position is that I have approved of the acceptance of the tender of H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited for a building faced with terra cotta. The Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs, Sir Harry Brown, has authorized his Minister, and me, as his representative in this chamber, to say that at no time did he agree with the former Postmaster-General (Mr. Archie Cameron) that sandstone should be substituted for terra cotta.
SenatorBrown. - Why?
– The reason is that the upkeep of a terra ootta building is much less than for a building of sand- stone. I desire to make the position clear as regards the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs.
– Yes, but alternative tenders were invited for a building faced with sandstone, the reason being, as I have already stated, that it was thought well to have prices for an alternative material in case terra cotta should prove to be very much more expensive. Further alternative tenders were invited for a building with no facing at all. The two tenders for such a building were so high that they were not considered when the final decision was being made. ‘ That decision lay between terra cotta and sandstone, the difference between the lowest tenders being only £1,451. I have all along felt justified in accepting the recommendation of the Director-General of Works for a building faced with terra cotta.
– My predecessor, Mr. Thorby, notified the thenPostmasterGeneral of his decision in favour of a sandstone building.
– No. No intimation was sent to any tenderer of the acceptance of his tender. As Minister for Works, Mr. Thorby notified the then PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Archie Cameron) that he proposed to adopt a sandstone facing instead of terra. cotta; but with the change in the personnel of the Ministry, the new Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) in no uncertain terms indicated to the Works Department his opinion that the building should be faced with terra cotta. No notification has been sent out to any tenderer other than to H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited whose tender was the lowest received for terra-cotta facing.
– There can be no claim for compensation. That firm was not notified of the acceptance of its tender, which therefore, does not come into this matter.
an. - Has the contract been signed?
SenatorFOLL. - If the contract has not yet been signed it has been finalized by the department. As the responsible Minister, I have instructed the Works Department to notify H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited that its tender has been accepted.
. -Does the honorable senator say that he would refuse to accept a tender because he does not like the tenderer?
– I would refuse to accept the tender of any person who did not observe award conditions. As certain proceedings may be pending against the individual to whom I have referred, I have no desire to say anything more regarding him. I content myself by saying that, generally, this Government should see, when letting contracts, that the industrial conditions are properly policed by departmental officers.
– I say this Government should see that, in respect of all tenders accepted, award rates of wages and prescribed conditions in the area concerned should be observed.
.- This debate has afforded me an excellent opportunity at least to deal with one individual who, up to the present, has had a very fair run. I am not suggesting dishonesty against any Minister in connexion with this matter. It is only fair to recognize that with any change of government some muddling and misunderstandings may occur between Ministers and permanent heads. I am prepared to say that some misunderstanding may have occurred in this case. But doubts have arisen, and I suggest an inquiry into the matter would not be a very long job. I feel sure that such an investigation would result in general satisfaction not only to members of the Parliament, but also to the people outside. I repeat that this motion has become necessary, particularly as in the House of Representatives the Government acted unwisely in placing a motion on the subject at the bottom of the notice-paper. I believe that doubts have been cast on some of our officers or Ministers, and these doubts should be cleared up. I trust that the Government will consider the matter further.
– I asked if the departmental officers had given information to tenderers.
– Throughout the honorable senator’s speech nasty implications were made by using the words “ if “ and “ but “. Vague references were made to outside influences. The honorable senator drew inferences without any knowledge of the subject. To me it was a case of putting the cart before the horse. The honorable senator had no information other than that gathered from what are perhaps doubtful sources. By the use of the words “ if “ and “ but “ he cast many nasty aspersions on the manner in which tenders had been handled by various Ministers and departmental officers. I suggest that the honour of Parliament would best be preserved by honorable senators making sure of their facts before making any allegations in this chamber.
Let us examine the position as it was. I admit that my opportunity of knowing the facts is no greater than that of other honorable senators, including those opposite. We were not supplied with Hansard reports in Sydney of the questions relating to this matter asked in the House of Representatives last week. The Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) has made a statement which clearly sets out the facts in relation to this matter. From that statement, I gathered that specifications were prepared by the departmental officers in accordance with the requirements of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, which will pay for, and occupy, the premises when completed. The departmental officers who prepared the specification preferred a building with terra-cotta facing.
– Nothing of the kind!
– The then Minister for Works approved of the tender of John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited. I admit that he conferred with the PostmasterGeneral. When the matter went to the then. Minister for Works in March, he decided, on his own initiative, and, in my opinion, quite wrongly, that the tenders had been wrongly dealt with by the authorities handling them, and that sandstone should be used for the facing of the building.
Then there was a change of government, and a re-allotment of portfolios. I am stating the facts as I understand them, in accordance with what has been said in this chamber this afternoon. The departmental officers then brought under the notice of the present Postmaster-General the recommendation of its experts in favour of terra cotta, and he, rightly or wrongly, approved of their recommendation. I take it that the Minister responsible for the work - the Minister for the Interior - agreed with the Postmaster-General, with the result, that there was unanimity of opinion on the part of the Ministers and the experts.
SenatorFoll. - The PostmasterGeneral wrote to me, strongly urging the use of terracotta.
– We found that the departmental officers, the PostmasterGeneral and the Minister for the Interiorall agreed that terra cotta was preferable to sandstone.
SenatorCollings. - That is not true.
– The Leader of the Opposition makes many rash statements, and he apparently cannot conceive of another member of this chamber statins the plain facts. The whole of the handling of the tenders shows that terra cotta was favoured because the extra cost was negligible. The tender submitted by John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited for a building with a terra-cotta facing was £750 in excess of a similar tender by H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited.
– But the Government did not know that. No doubt either firm could have carried out the contract satisfactorily, but, as the tender of H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited was £750 lower, it was rightly accepted. I see nothing improper in the action taken by either the Postmaster-General or the present Minister for the Interior. The Postal Department should, in the main, decide the kind of building to be erected, and the facing to be used. Without being unkind to any former Minister or to the present Ministers concerned, I venture the opinion that they are not competent to say which type of building is most suitable for the requirements of the Sydney General Post Office. The experts in the department - the officers who prepared the specifications - are those who should have the deciding voice. Both the Postmaster-General and the Minister for the Interior should have been guided by their advice. I regard it as wrong for a Minister, however good his intentions may be, to approve of work not recommended by his departmental experts.
– By whom was the honorable senator approached?
– I shall tell my story in my own way. It was suggested to me that all was not quite as it should be. I was asked by a certain person to make inquiries into the matter, and I remarked that it would be best to enlist the services of a Sydney member for the purpose. I approached a member of the House of Representatives, and asked him to make certain inquiries. He informed me later that he had been unable to find out much about .the matter, but that the tender for a building with terra-cotta facing had been accepted. In these circumstances it seems to me that an inquiry would be justified. I make no charge against H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited or any other firm. What has been said by Senator Keane has been reported to me also. Viewing the position in the light of all the circumstances as I know them, either the former Minister for Works or the Minister for the Interior is in the wrong. When there is a doubt in the public mind, and when private persons are making statements which reflect adversely upon a public department, an inquiry should be held. A large expenditure of public money is involved, and these charges should not remain unanswered. If they were brought forward by irresponsible persons we could afford to ignore them, but, since they are made by men occupying responsible positions in the House of Representatives and outside this Parliament, they are worthy of notice. I suggest that Senator Foll himself would have everything to gain and nothing to lose by an inquiry.
– If no inquiry be held the charges will be strengthened in the public mind.
– Corrupt practices have been suggested.
-It is implied that one Minister or another, or the principal departmental officers, are involved.
– I am asking that the whole matter be investigated. A tender was about to be accepted–
– And immediately there was a protest. Then it appears that the tender that was to be accepted in the first place was rejected, and the. terra cotta tender was accepted.
– I am stating the facts as I know them. I say that persons occupying prominent positions are making accusations which reflect on the Parliament. If no notice be taken of the charges, the people will be quite justified in making their own deductions as to what actually took place. I am impressed by the statement made by Senator Foll. It seems that he would have everything to gain and nothing to lose by an inquiry, for it would strengthen his position and clear the air.
.- I was about to suggest that perhaps time could be saved by refraining from discussing this motion further, and debating the whole subject to-morrow on the motion to be moved by the Leader of the
Opposition. Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition will amend the motion we are now discussing-
The PRESIDENT.- The motion now before the Chair is in specific terms.
Senator ALLAN MacDONALD.Apparently the Leader of the Opposition has taken an entirely wrong course in submitting this motion to-day. Even if it be carried no useful purpose will be served. The Minister for the Interior .(Senator Poll) has nothing to lose and everything to gain by the fullest possible inquiry into the whole circumstances surrounding the approval of a certain tender.
– The honorable senator is not entitled to anticipate a motion of which I have given notice.
– ‘ That motion should have been moved to-day. We are only beating the air in discussing a motion to adjourn the Senate.
The PRESIDENT. - I again remind the honorable senator that he is not entitled to discuss a motion which will appear on to-morrow’s notice-paper.
.- The honorable senator must confine his remarks to the motion before the Chair.
Senator ALLAN MacDONALD.Something definite should be done to allay suspicion in the minda of the public. I am not making any charges, because I do not think a charge could be substantiated, but some doubt has arisen owing to a statement made by a former Minister in the House of Representatives that a tender had been altered. I heard the Minister’6 statement in the other chamber, and I was under the impression that some alteration had been made. The Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) now states most definitely that no such alteration has been made, and I accept his assurance.
– My explanation should do that.
an. - That is not so. The Treasury put up a great fight.
– It is easy to spend £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 in Melbourne or Sydney, but approval for the erection of post offices in country districts cannot be obtained. We have to go on our hands and knees to gat essential requirements. I again protest against the policy of centralization, which has” been intensified since the regrettable withdrawal of the Country party from the Government.
ON.- I am looking forward to the future with even greater misgivings.
ON. - I am amazed to find that the expenditure of such huge sums is governed by ministerial responsibility or prerogative, because in most of the States tenders of the magnitude of this one are submitted to tender boards consisting of responsible officers. When a State Minister signifies formal acceptance of a tender, it is usually on the recommendation of expert advisers, and the Government would probably have knowledge of whether, as in this case, a facing of terra cotta or sandstone was the more desirable. The Government, or a tender board, should have decided the nature of the construction before inviting tenders. There is no reason why a Commonwealth Government should call for alternative tenders. A house builder whose financial resources are not unlimited may call for alternative tenders in order to enable him to determine what type of construction he can afford, but a Commonwealth Government need not quibble over a mere £1,400. The department should make up its mind asto the form of construction before tenders are invited.
ON.- Had the Government adopted that course a lot of trouble would have been averted.
ON. - The Government, in which the Country party Ministers, who did their job very well, were represented. I previously understood that Commonwealth Ministers have very little voice in the acceptance or nonacceptance of tenders even in connexion with their own departments.
ON.- I shall quote high ministerial authority for the statement. When Senator A. J. McLachlan resigned his portfolio as Postmaster-General he delivered a moving speech on the acceptance of tenders in that department. If care is taken in the Postal Department to protect Ministers from the responsibility of accepting tenders, greater foresight could have been displayed in this instance. On the 3rd November last when Senator A. J. McLachlan forwarded his resignation to the Prime Minister, he said -
The supply of materials for post office requirements is arranged by inviting public tenders which, in addition to being publicly advertised in theCommonwealthGazette, are also brought under the notice of the firms from whom it has been customary to receive tenders.
On receipt of tenders, the details are scheduled and analysed from the point of view of determining those which will provide the most economical supply of the material needed to meet the department’s requirements. They are then examined by a tender board-
Why were not these tenders also examined by a tender board?
ON.- But we have not been told what was the recommendation.
ON.- That is not the practice followed in connexion with requirements of the Postal Department, according to the letter written by Senator A. J. McLachlan when tendering his resignation as Postmaster-General. The honorable senator stated -
They are then examined by a tender board consisting of three of the most highly-placed officers of the department, who submit a recommendation with the necessary details supporting their views to the Director-General.
ON.- Why is not this procedure followed in connexion with tenders for the erection of postal buildings? Senator A. J. McLachlan stated further -
The Director-General reviews the basis of the recommendations, and the extent of the orders to be placed, and issues the necessary instructions to the Chief Inspector of Stores, who then executes the contract with the successful tenderer-
It would appear, from this statement of procedure, that the matter does not come before the Minister at all.
ON.- At all events, the former Postmaster-General stated the contrary view, thus -
It is not the practice to bring these matters under the notice of the Postmaster-General, excepting in unusual circumstances such as, for instance, the placing of substantial orders with foreign firms. I have never been consulted in regard to the placing of contracts for pipes or ducts with firms with whom I may be associated, or with any others, nor have I any departmental or personal knowledge of such contracts.
I understood from this statement of procedure, that the responsibility for recommendations, at all events, rested on the senior officers of the department concerned. Apparently this it not so. From what has happened lately, it would seem that much depends upon who happens to be the responsible Minister, or what government is in power. In this case, if the Lyons Government had. lasted a little longer, the contract for the erection of tho Sydney General Post Office would, no doubt, have been finalized by the PostmasterGeneral immediately preceding the present holder of that portfolio. To my mind, there is something wrong with the system under which a contract for work involving the expenditure of over £400,000 depends upon who is the responsible Minister at the time.
ON.-I do not think that it is. In all British communities continuity of government policy in respect of some matters is expected, notwithstanding changes that may take place in the personnel of the ministry. There has not been this continuity ofpolicy in connexion with the Sydney building, although ten members of the Lyon3 Ministry are in the present Government. I believe that it would be in the interests of the Government, of contractors, and of the public generally if the procedure outlined by Senator A. J. McLachlan were applied to all requirements of the Commonwealth departments, including postal buildings. It is not fair to expect a Minister of his own knowledge to be able to determine whether a building should be faced with terra cotta or sandstone. I admit that if the decision had rested with me, a layman possessing ordinary knowledge of everyday affairs, my choice would have been for sandstone in order to ensure conformity with the existing building. I would emphasize that after the closing date for tenders Mr. Thorby, who was then Minister for Works, definitely approved of the acceptance of a tender of John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited for a building faced with sandstone at a cost of £409,325, that tender being the lowest received.
– The honorable senator has exhausted his time.
on. - I said that there was something wrong with the system under which tenders are accepted.
– This squabble would not have occurred if full inquiries by a properly constituted body had been made into the conditions of tendering for this building. I am aware, of course, that I shall not be allowed to say anything about the Brisbane Post Office. Such a reference would bring me into conflict with the Chair, and I do not wish to run into trouble, because to-morrow I wish to take part in the discussion of another motion relating to these matters. If there were full inquiry into the procedure in relation to public tendering, private contractors would not be able to do as they please; they would be forced to play the game especially in respect of their treatment of employees. On this point I thoroughly endorse the remarks made by Senator Keane. I have had considerable experience as a labour organizer, and I know how many contractors, in order to increase their own bank balances, take advantage of the economic disabilities of workers.
The discussion this afternoon has shown that there should be the fullest inquiry, not merely into this contract for additions to the Sydney General Post Office, but also into the way in which contractors for Commonwealth works treat their employees. I was pleased to hear the Minister for the Interior ‘ (.Senator Foll) say that there had been nothing venal about this contract. I would not say that there has been anything wrong, but I should like to know what is behind all this trouble. Are we to understand that Sir Harry Brown, the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs, has a strong preference for terra-cotta facing for the Sydney building, and are we to understand further that Sir Harry is to get his own way? I understand that Mr. Thorby, the former Minister for
Works, was in favour of sandstone facing, one reason being that it would give employment to a large number of workers, whilst making the new structure more in conformity with the existing building. But Sir Harry Brown - I would not for the world say anything against that brilliant gentleman - wanted terra, cotta.
– We have been told that he does, or at all events, that the Postal Department prefers terra cotta, and we know that Sir Harry Brown is the Postal Department in such matters. He wanted terra cotta.
– Senator Dein argued that if the department preferred terra-cotta facing for the building, terra cotta it should be. Clearly the trouble is not about the amount involved, because the difference between the prices is, I understand, only £1,451. The fact is that the department wanted terra cotta,’ but Mr. Thorby preferred sandstone. With the change of government, Mr. Harrison became Postmaster-General and said “ terra cotta “. I do not know whether that honorable gentleman is using terracotta facing for the new and beautiful home which he is building on a site overlooking Sydney Harbour. I understand that Senator Foll declared for sandstone, but, being an impartial gentleman, he responded to pressure which was brought to bear upon him in the way of representations with regard to the respective merits of sandstone and terra cotta, and finally he declared in favour of the United Australia party and terra cotta as opposed to the Country party and sandstone. Thus we have had all this storm because the Country party broke with the United Australia party. This dispute and the disclosure of details in connexion with the contract show the length to which profitmongers among private contractors will go to secure their ends. If the workers did what these contractors do almost every day of the week, they would probably be arraigned before a court and charged with some misdemeanour. Perhaps they would be made subject to the “ dog-collar “ act. But the contractors and their friends can do all .those things with impunity.
This dog fight between the contractors is interesting to the workers. It has brought out the fact that one contractor has a monopoly of certain materials. We have been told - I believe by Senator Dein - that Mr. John Grant, the principal of John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited, one of the tenderers, has a monopoly of sandstone and can make it extremely difficult for other tenderers to compete with him. Other tenderers were thousands of pounds above the offer of this firm. The disclosures arising from the quarrel between the contractors provide the workers with evidence of what goes on. Apparently, terra cotta is a monopoly of Wunderlich Limited. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the organ of what Mr. King O’Malley once described as the “guilt spurred roosters “, the makers of terra cotta showed a certain amount of favoritism. Mr. Grant is reported to have said - “ The terra cotta,”he said, “ can be supplied only by Wunderlich Limited, and is the monopoly of that firm. The price quoted by that firm to John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited for the supply of the terra cotta was £13,150, whilst for the same quality and quantity of material the price to H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited was £10,522, a difference of £2,632 against John Grant and Sons.”
.- The answer of Wunderlich Limited to that charge is most interesting and enlightening. The manager of that highly moral firm stated thatthe firm made a discrimination in quotations to building contractors who were sandstone merchants and those who were not - “ The price quoted to the firms of John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited, and Beat Brothers Limited, both of whom have controlling interests in sandstone quarries, was £13,150,” Mr. Taylor said, “the price quoted to ten other contractors, who are not interested in stone quarries, including H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited, was identical at £10,522. The difference in these quotations was admittedly to secure the contract for terra cotta instead of sandstone.”
In that statement we have evidence of a struggle between monopolists in order to obtain a certain contract. I do not know whether the Commonwealth Government supports monopolies, but my leader has pointed out that the present government in New South Wales does. We have here an example of the way in which monopolies work. There is a deliberate discrimination by one monopoly against certain contractors who erect buildings of sandstone, and similar discrimination by a competitor against the users of terra cotta. This most interesting situation should be studied by every worker in Australia.
– Because the worker is the one who, in the last analysis, is swindled by the “ boodleiers.”
– Senator Keane pointed out to-day how some contractors override awards, and deliberately rob their employees. Senator Herbert Hays knows that under the capitalistic system these things occur; in the struggle to beat the other fellow, contractors sometimes sink to low depths.
– I hope that every honorable senator in this chamber fought cleanlyand was not guilty of underpaying those who worked for him. It cannot be said that candidates in Senate elections attempt to under-cut one another, for all who are elected are paid at the samerate. I hope that we all earn whatwe receive, although when I look at some honorable senators opposite I have some doubt on that point. It is true, however, that we do not submit tenders,or offer to do the work for less than the recognized amount. Senator Herbert Hays has a keen sense of humour, but I shall not be side-tracked by it, although I appreciate it. It is indeedwell that in this august assembly there are some honorable senators gifted with a sense of humour. On this occasion, however, the honorable senator’s humour is misplaced. I shall not say more to-day. because another motion will be before the Senate to-morrow, when, possibly, I shall avail myself of the opportunity to express myself at greater length.
– Members of the honorable senator’s party in the House of Be present a ti ves made similar accusations.
– I am not concerned about that. Even if other people do wrong, that is no reason why we in this chamber should also do wrong.
.- The action of the Leader of the Opposition in bringing this matter forward was commendable, but the manner in which he approached the subject was despicable. The sting was in the tail of his remarks. Senator Cameron said that charges of corrupt practice had been made against one Minister or another. That is a statement that he would not dare to make on a public platform.
– There can be only two, or, at the most, three, Ministers involved. If the dignity and honour of this chamber are to be preserved, honorable senators must exercise self restraint. They have the great privilege of being able to say whatever they like within these walls, and yet be completely immune from attack in the courts of the land. That privilege must he closely guarded. No honorable senator should make charges against Ministers without producing evidence in support of those charges.
.- There is no evidence to support the charges made by Senator Cameron.
.- The Minister for the Interior has said that he would welcome a full inquiry. In effect, he has said “ Here is the file ; study it for yourself “. He has made a carte blanche offer.
.- The honorable senator does not want an inquiry; he merely wishes to make political capital out of this transaction, and to sling mud at one Minister or another. He believes that if enough mud is slung, some of it will stick.
– And the party which Senator Wilson supports said so.
– The Leader of the Opposition spoke of private interests conflicting with the public interest. What, did he mean except that in regard to this transaction the private interests of one or more Ministers conflicted with the public interests ? He has no evidence to support such a charge. I say that it is wrong for an honorable senator to make such accusations without bringing forward evidence in support of them. The honorable gentleman said that terra cotta is the product of one monopoly. What has that to do with the matter, unless it be that ho suggests that one or more Ministers are connected with that monopoly ?
SenatorCollings. -i shall tell the Senate to-morrow.
– Why does not the honorable senator tell us to-day?
– I ask the Leader of the Opposition to show common decency, and not to abuse the great privilege which he, as a member of this Parliament, enjoys.
SenatorCollings. - The honorable senator used the word “ despicable “ in respect of a member of the Opposition.
– I say that the abuse of a privilege, by indulging in slanderous statements without giving evidence in support of them, is a cowardly action, and totally unworthy of a. member of the Senate.
– I believe that the actions of public men must not only be correct but also that they must appear to he correct in the eyes of the people. Whenever the public thinks that there is something wrong, an inquiry should be held.
– In this instance, the Minister has given a complete answer, and has made the file available to honorable senators.
.- Who are they?
an. - A trade quarrel!
– Are members of the Opposition so incompetent that they do not think themselves capable of examining the file which the Minister has offered to place at their disposal? Do they have to refer the matter to somebody else? Surely they are able to sift the pros and cons of this thing. I am perfectly satisfied with the explanation given by the Minister. If further facts are brought to notice which would justify the holding of an inquiry of any sort, I shall support a motion that such an inquiry be instituted. Nothing has yet emerged during this debate which would justify the reference of this matter to the Public Works Committee.
SenatorFRASER (Western Australia) [5.37]. - I would not have spoken during this debate had not Senator Wilson seen fit to deliver a lecture on parliamentary ethics. The honorable senator has said that because nothing has been said to controvert them, the statements made by the Minister this afternoon are correct. That is tantamount to saying that the decision made by the former Minister (Mr. Thorby) was entirely wrong.
– I have not had an opportunity to peruse it. My remarks are directed to the explanation given by the Minister to-day, which conflicts with that given in the House of Representatives by the former Minister, Mr. Thorby. Which am I to accept as correct? I have heard itsaid that contracts were altered. That has been denied by the Minister this afternoon. Like his colleague, Senator Dein, I have no doubt that, if he held ministerial office, Senator Wilson would acquiesce in everything submitted to him by departmental heads. I feel sure that if Senator Dein ever reaches the exalted office of Minister of the Crown, the departmental heads will welcome him. The Parliamentary Standing Committee was established to inquire into matters such as this. Why was not this alteration of the proposed plans for the facing of the building referred to that body? Honorable senators are not able to decide what are the facts. Senator Allan MacDonald, who says that no member of this chamber is competent to give a decision as to whether the building should be faced with terra cotta or sandstone, does not know which side he stands on. We know that the former Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby) made a certain decision in regard to it after considering the representations made by departmental officials. I have no doubt that he took fully into consideration the extra cost of maintenancethat the use of sandstone would entail. I make no insinuation against the present Minister for the Interior when I saythat, in my opinion, the question of the cost of maintenance was an afterthought, and that the real conflict of opinion was in regard to the tenders submitted. My only interest in this matter is to preserve the honour of this Parliament. I believe that if SenatorWilson’s criticism of the Leader of the Opposition was inspired by motives of fairness, he should vote for this motion in order that the whole facts might be disclosed. Senator Dein stated his views very emphatically, and I am just as much entitled to accept them as those of the Minister. He said that if he were a Minister of the Crown he would approve of the recommendations of his expert officers. On the contrary, Senator Allan MacDonald says that no honorable senator is competent to express an opinion regarding the relative merits of sandstone and terra cotta. When such conflict of opinion exists among honorable senators opposite, what reason is there for opposition to the proposal that the whole matter be referred to the Public Works Committee, a body composed of members of both Houses of Parliament, for inquiry and report? I admit that I am not conversant with what actually took place when Mr. Thorby madehis decision, nor am I conversant with the recommendations of the expert officers; but I should like to know the real reason for altering a decision already arrived at. The Minister for the Interior has said that the original decision was reversed because of the excessive cost of maintenance of a sandstone facing.
– It is obvious that alternative tenders for sandstone facing and terra-cotta facing were called in order to ascertain the difference in cost between the two facings. The Minister said this afternoon that the sandstone facing was rejected because of the greater cost of maintenance.
– I am glad to have the admission from the Minister that maintenance costs did affect the decision. I should like to know if that aspect of the matter was discussed with Mr. Thorby before he arrived at his decision to have the building faced with sandstone.
– That is one of the issues which an inquiry would clear up. I have no desire to cast any reflection upon either Mr. Thorby or Senator Foll, but I am of the opinion that the extra cost of maintaining sandstone was not represented to Mr. Thorby prior to his decision being arrived at. If the Minister for the Interior has nothing to hide - I make no suggestion to the contrary - I see no reason why the Government should oppose this motion which would, I feel sure, vindicate his actions and those of his predecessor.
Senator Keane referred to the desirability of policing public contracts, and drew attention to the way in which some contractors avoid their obligation to observe award conditions. I regret that that matter has been introduced into this debate. In my opinion it is the duty of the Government to police all Government contracts, particularly for the supply of defence materials, and not to leave it entirely to the unions concerned to see that award conditions are observed.
.- I have had occasion to discuss this aspect of public contracts with the Works Director in Perth. At present certain contract work is being carried out for the Government at Carnarvon by an Afghan who was formerly on the dole. The fulfilment of even a small contract requires a certain amount of capital. The Government should inquire how this man, who was formerly on the dole, was able to finance his contract. There are many ways of evading the law. On occasions I have had to impress upon the Works Director in Perth that, as a responsible officer of the Commonwealth, he has an obligation to see that the clauses of contracts relating to the observance of award conditions are complied with. If Senator Wilson is so concerned about the reputation of this Parliament, what possible objection can he have to the holding of an inquiry into this matter?
– This is a wrangle not between past and present Ministers but between contractors.
– Yes, and between the former Postmaster-General and the former Minister for Works on the one side, and the present PostmasterGeneral and the Minister for the Interior on the other side.
.- I know that the Minister, who is a peace-loving man, would do anything rather than quarrel; but as others are quarrelling with the Minister he has now to defend the good name of the Government. A way in which his good name can be cleared is now offered.
– I did not make a charge against the Minister. 1 did not even charge the Ministry, although I could have done so.
– I did not hear the remark to which the Minister has taken exception, but if he regards it as offensive it must be withdrawn.
– I cannot withdraw a remark which I did not make, but if the Minister considers any words I used offensive I withdraw them. Statements have been made concerning the action of the Government in changing the material with which the building is to be faced.
– A feeling of suspicion is abroad concerning the way in which this business has been handled.. Is that not a matter in which this Parliament is interested? It concerns the honour not only of Parliament but also of every member whose duty is to see that the right thing is done.
– We are not concerned with what is done in the House of Representatives.
.- Have we all of the explanation ? Have we to accept the Minister’s statement that he has supplied all the information on the files? The Minister may not have disclosed all the features associated with this trans- action.
.- Even if I were permitted to peruse the file the public would not be satisfied; but if an investigation were conducted by the public Works Committee suspicion would be removed.
SenatorFoll. - I have said that as far as I am personally concerned, honorable senators opposite may have any investigation they require.
Senator CUNNING HAM. - If the Minister supports the proposal that the whole matter be referred to the Public Works Committee, I have nothing further to say.
.- The honorable senator is always ready to support, the statements made by Ministers without engaging in research on his own account.
SenatorFoll. - Does the honorable senator doubt any of my statements?
– I do not rely on the statements of others. A little investigation might produce good results.
– If an investigation were made by the committee mentioned, the public would be satisfied that there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding the transaction. The report of such a body would be more acceptable to the people than the assurance of any individual member of this Parliament. I am as anxious as is the Minister to clear up the whole matter.
– Not at all; I wish to help the Minister, and to clear the name of the Government, of which he is a member.
Senator COLLINGS (QueenslandLeader of the Opposition) [6.14 - in reply). - The purpose I had in view in moving the adjournment of the Senate having been accomplished, I ask leave to withdraw the motion. My reply will be reserved until to-morrow when another motion, on which I trust a vote will be taken, will be before the Senate.
Motion - by leave - withdrawn.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
SenatorFOLL. - On the 18th May last, Senator Cunningham asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence the following questions, upon notice : -
What have been the total purchases by the Department of Defence from the Albany Woollen Mills, Western Australia, for the last ten months, showing -
Quantity and variety of materials ;
The total value of contracts now entered into with the Albany Mills?
The Minister for Defence has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions : -
Formal Motion for Adjournment.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes). - I have received from the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ the necessity for suspending further action in connexion with the acceptance of a tender for the erection of the new building for the General Post Office in Sydney, until after the matter lias been fully discussed by Parliament “.
Four honorable senators having risen mi support of the motion,
– I move -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till 10.30 a.m. to-morrow.
I have submitted this motion because I deem the matter with which I shall deal to be of very great importance, involving as it does the expenditure of £1,000,000 of public money. Half of that sum has already been disbursed in connexion with the purchase of a building site, and the balance is proposed to be used for the erection of a new building to form a part of the Sydney General Post Office. This expenditure at the present juncture seems rather remarkable, in view of the fact that every other kind of public expenditure, however vitally necessary in the interests of the people, and particularly if it refers to any sort of social service, is being avoided, the only explanation offered being that the defence needs of the country are paramount and must have priority. It is also remarkable, in view of the fact that for a quarter of a century there has been a strong demand for a new general post office in Brisbane. That necessary work has been struck off the list because of alleged defence needs. T should like to make it clear that I a in not raising any objection to the construction of new postal buildings. It would delight me if two new post offices were constructed in Sydney, provided they were necessary, and a new general post office were built iti Brisbane, and wherever buildings are required for the efficient carrying on of the public service of this country, because of such undertakings a large amount of money is placed in circulation, and there is greater prosperity for those in the community whom honorable senators on this side of the. chamber represent. I do not wish it to be said that I am objecting to the expenditure of public money, because I am not, particularly when such expenditure provides the country with a national asset for many years to come. But the honour of this Parliament is now involved, and the negotiations leading up to this contract are qf vital interest. We are informed almost continually that democracy is on its trial; but one of the surest ways in which to destroy the faith of the people of the Commonwealth in om1 democratic institutions is to allow the honour of Parliament to be assailed without thoroughly inquiring into every charge made. I do not. think that I can be regarded as a scandaImonger. I hold that we should not belie to too readily those things which ought not to be true. Questions have been asked in this chamber, and in the House of Representatives, as to the position which Ministers of the Crown occupy in connexion with public companies and their shareholdings in such companies. I have before me a very instructive document - I do not propose to read from it this afternoon, because I have not the time - - entitled Who owns Australia. I find, however, that prominent Ministers of the Crown in this National Parliament hold a pretty considerable slice of Australia, but I shall have more to say on that point on some other occasion. Certain facts are in the public mind, and the negotiations associated with this contract must be probed to the bottom, regardless of those who may suffer. I shall Fie overjoyed if no one suffers; if it can be shown that nothing dishonorable has been done, and that no member of the Government has placed himself in a position where there is a conflict of interests. I am anxious only to elicit the facts. In connexion with the erection of additions to the Sydney General Post Office, alternative tenders were called for a building with a. granite facing on the lower portion, and terra-cotta facing on the upper floors, and for granite facing on the lower portion and sandstone facing on the upper floors. We all know what granite and sandstone facings are, but I arn not sure that all honorable senators know what terra, cotta actually is. lt is not the ordinary product, of the brickyard. It is an exclusive production of one Australian firm which is, definitely, a dangerous monopoly. “I am bound to say, in justice to the ex-Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby) that he did his joi) in this connexion thoroughly. I do not agree with all that that gentleman has done, but I am certain that at least he never errs on the side of lack of thoroughness in anything that he undertakes, and he did not err oh this occasion. He consulted the Director-General of Works and carefully examined all the tenders, of which Ibelieve there were about a dozen. A sub-committee of Cabinet was then formed, consisting of the then PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Archie Cameron), the then Assistant Minister, now the Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison), and the then Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby). That sub-committee studied the tenders very carefully, and Mr. Thorby, as Minister for Works, recommended the acceptance of the tender of John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited for £409,325. The present Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) later arrived on the scene. Meanwhile, certain things had happened - certain changes had occurred - which had nothing to do with the tenders, but which have a great deal to do with the politicalmanoeuvrings which had been going on in the interim.
– Such a contract cannot be accepted without the approval of the Postmaster-General. Where did he come in?
– I say definitely that no contractor was allowed to alter his tender in any respect.
– It certainly should.
– Apparently the New South Wales Government does not support the combine.
– Wunderlich does not handle sandstone.
– I shall tell the honorable senator later.
’. - At the outset, I would remind the Senate that the references by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) to the Brisbane Post Office were entirely beside the point. That issue is not before us in connexion with the motion submitted by the honorable gentleman. The Leader of the Opposition, by innuendo, suggested that Ministers held shares in certain concerns associated with these tenders. He should not stop there, but should say clearly what he means.
– I have still the right of reply.
– That was the wish of the post office authorities.
– Why were alternative tenders invited?
– The Post Office authorities wanted a building faced with terra cotta.
– Has the contract yet been signed?
– Were tenders called for a terra cotta building?
– One point still remains unanswered. The Leader of the Opposition indicated that John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited was notified of the acceptance of its tender for a sandstone building Is that so? .
– Was the contractor notified?
– Is there likely to be a claim for compensation by John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited ?
– The approval of the Posm aster-General had not been obtained for the variation.
SenatorFOLL. - That is not so; the
Postmaster-General of the day (Mr. Archie Cameron) agreed that the building should be faced with sandstone; but the matter had not reached the stage at which the contractor was notified that his tender had been accepted.
.- I support the request of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) for an “investigation of this matter. The desire of the Opposition in the House of Representatives to have this matter thoroughly discussed was evaded bv the Government placing a motion relevant to the contract well down on the business paper. Therefore, some action in this chamber has become absolutely imperative. An inquiry would clear the air. Whatever comes out of this motion in this Senate or a similar one in the House of Representatives, a stigma will rest on some members of the Government. I agree with my leader that we should be careful to prevent a repetition of such a happening as that which we are now discussing. After all, we look to responsible members to do things in a proper way. It may be that some misunderstanding has taken place, or some wrong direction has been given, but it is due to the electors of the Commonwealth that the whole matter shall be cleared up. I see no reason why the Government did not agree to the reference of this matter to the Parliamentiary Standing Committee on Public Works. I suggest that the inquiry should go further than has been suggested by my leader. It is not only a case of settling the dispute between John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited and H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited. I want to know why the Government did not know that an individual connected with H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited is a well-known breaker of industrial conditions in the Australian Capital Terri tory, and that his operations here havebeen the subject of complaint bv four of the leading unions in Canberra, and have been brought prominently under notice by the Trades Hall Council. I wish it to be known that this man is one of those who undercut other contractors by reason of the fact that he is the sort of man who prevents his employees from getting their holidays and enjoying the leave conditions granted by the award. I have no desire to say anything which may injure him. I merely wish to draw attention to the fact that his methods have been brought under notice. He has been granted large contracts by the Government, one of the biggest being the construction of the Canberra High School. The departmental officials should know - if they do not they are not worthy of their jobs - that this contractor is accused of seeking in every despicable way to evade the awards which operate in this Territory. If the inquiry suggested by the Leader of the Opposition be undertaken, these activities of H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited should be considered. This Government stands, as does the party to which I belong, for arbitration and the observance of the award conditions. If this contract for the extension of the’ General Post Office buildings in Sydney is given to this man, the industrial conditions will be easier to police there; but I do not believe that even there he can be prevented from doing the sort of things he has been able to get away with in Canberra.
– What is the use of calling tenders if you refuse to accept the tender of those people whom you do not like?
– A clause to that effect is inserted in every contract.
– I should not have spoken in this debate had Lt not been for some of the remarkable statements made by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pollings). I admit that the honorable senator spoke without knowledge, and that in stating his case he had an exceedingly difficult task to fulfil. In his opening remarks he mentioned that the honour of the Parliament was involved as the result of the way in which tenders had been handled. He went on to say that, if departmental officers gave certain tips by way of information to contractors that was entirely wrong. With that we all agree; but the honorable senator did not even say that suggestions of that kind had been made. His whole speech was punctuated by “ ifs “ and “ buts “.
– That I deny.
SenatorDEIN.- The fact that the Leader of the Opposition denies that statement does not necessarily prove its inaccuracy. However, as the cost of terracotta facing might have proved prohibitive, alternative tenders were called for a similar building with sandstone facing on the Pitt-street frontage. When tenders were received, the difference amounted to £1,451, and, when the departmental officers saw such a slight difference, they were, I presume, pleased, and immediately decided in favour of a building faced with terra cotta. Unfortunately, the then Minister for Works, on his own initiative, decided that the departmental officers were wrong, and that their recommendation should not be accepted. Accordingly, he approved of a sandstone facing.
– He conferred with the Postmaster-General.
– John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited had to pay more for the terra cotta.
– I was approached about the 2nd May last by certain individuals in connexion with this matter, and was told that the tender for sandstone had been accepted.
– Any inquiry that honorable senators desire may ‘be held, so far as I am concerned.
– The charges are made between contractor and contractor.
– Who made that suggestion ?
– Who made such charges ?
– It was never accepted.
– Is the honorable senator making a charge against one or other of the Ministers concerned?
– Before debating this matter further I suggest that we should hesitate and do a little clear thinking. How many members of this chamber are in a position to know exactly which would be the better contract to sign - that forsandstone or that for terra-cotta facing? The point that has been exercising my mind is the suspicion that has been created in the minds of the public by the fact that the first decision in favour of one tenderer was later reversed in favour of another tenderer. The position should be clarified. There is no reason why the Government should not accept the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) and allow the matter to be fully investigated by the Public Works Committee. I have not the slightest doubt that there is no justification for any suspicion against Ministers or heads of departments. If, as I believe, everything is perfectly clear and above board, why should there be any disinclination on the part of the Government to permit that committee to investigate the tenders and report to Parliament?
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. J. B. HAYES). - I remind the honorable senator that he is not entitled to anticipate a motion which will appear on the notice-paper to-morrow.
– Parliament can have the fullest information; there is nothing to hide.
Senator ALLAN MacDONALD.Then why should there be any opposition to the investigation desired? The suggestion has been made, due largely to what I believe was a mis-statement by a former Minister in the House of Representatives, that there has been an alteration of one of the tenders. It would be easy for the Public Works Committee to peruse the tenders and to note the dates on which they were submitted.
– I rise to a point of order. The motion referred to by the honorable senator could “not be moved to-day, because notice had first to be given. Under the Standing Orders the honorable senator is not entitled to debate a motion to appear on the noticepaper to-morrow.
– Any honorable senator who so desires may see all of the tenders.
Senator ALLAN MacDONALD.When the Postmaster General (Mr. Harrison) was speaking on this subject in the House of Representatives, he gave me the impression that he did not have a high regard for the Senate; he seemed to imply that all the important portfolios should be held by Ministers in that chamber. I also believe that he regretted the fact that the member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) is not now the Minister for the Interior. That may have been due to the fact that he still thinks a coalition between the two anti-Labour parties is desirable. Every effort should be made to allay public suspicion.
– In following the debate on this motion I have been struck most forcibly with the light and easy manner in which over ?400,000 can be obtained to make additions to the Sydney General Post Office, when, for ten years, . the erection of post offices in country districts has been deferred owing to an alleged shortage of funds. Apparently, there is no difficulty in acquiring an expensive site to increase the accommodation at the Sydney General Post Office, and to make available over ?400,000 for a new building. There is no difficulty whatever in accepting tenders involving huge amounts, or even in changing the contractor, when there is a change of ministry. The action of the Government amazes me, particularly when I recall the brokendown, ant-eaten wooden buildings serving as post offices in many of the important out-back centres. Hardly a newpost office has been built in any country district in Western Australia for the last ten years. When we ask for a new building we are told that money is needed for defence purposes, but it is easy for the Government to provide a huge sum of money to increase the accommodation in a general post office in the capital city of an eastern State. Tenders are even approved by the Minister before the Government has received the authority of the Treasury.
– This proposal was agreed to when the Country party was associated with the Government.
– Members of the Country party were in the Ministry when this proposal was agreed to.
– It did; it decided on terra-cotta facing.
– Which Government?
– That is nonsense.
– These tenders were examined by the Tender Board.
– The head of the branch makes the recommendation.
– That is immaterial.
– Yes it does.
– Is not that inevitable?
– The debate this afternoon has been extremely entertaining, and I feel sure that the remarks of honorable senators will be read with interest by a large number of people who support the Labour movement. I refer, of course, to the workers. According to Senator Dein, all this trouble in connexion with the proposed additions to the General Post Office in Sydney would have been averted if a certain Cabinet Minister had been a rubber stamp. On the other hand, Senator Johnston has told us that the trouble would not have occurred if there had not been a split in the Tory parties supporting the Government; that is to say, if the Country party had continued itsassociation with the Ministry the proposed building would have been faced with sandstone and not terra cotta. Because of this split in the - parties supporting the Government, sandstone went by the board and terra cotta has been accepted.
– No he did not.
– The honorable senator is wrong.
– The other contractor maybe a shareholder.
– Why by every worker?
– The worker has access to the arbitration courts.
– Honorable senators get elected to this chamber by fighting the other fellow.
– I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) has brought” this matter before the House. He has stated that the honour of the Parliament is involved. I think that any accusation, or suggestion, of impropriety on the part of a Minister, is a matter which properly should be brought before Parliament. I agree with the honorable gentleman’ that this matter must not be glossed over. Obviously, Parliament is the proper place in which to ventilate a matter of this kind.” I agree with Senator Cameron that the charges which have been made should not remain unanswered. However, the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) has not only given a complete explanation of the facts in relation to this transaction, but also has offered to every honorable senator an opportunity to inspect the documents relating to it. He could not have been more open that he has been. There is no necessity to appoint a select committee. Any honorable senator who thinks that there is something wrong in connexion with this undertaking has a duty and responsibility to himself and to the people; he should investigate personally anything which, in his opinion, might affect the honour of Parliament or of any Minister of the Crown. I very much regret, however, that the Leader of the Opposition, and particularly Senator Cameron, should have made accusations under the cloak of privilege, without one tittle of evidence to support them.
– This matter calls for an inquiry.
– I would make it any day of the week.’
– The honorable senator is attempting to suppress the evidence, but he will find that he cannot do so.
– The successful tenderer would welcome an inquiry.
– We want an inquiry.
– I merely said that the charges should be inquired into.
– I wanted to get the honorable senator on his feet to try to cloak this matter up.
– If the honorable senator be not careful, he will run out of adjectives.
– That is all that we want.
– There are other people who have something to say.
– The principals of the companies involved.
– All of the facts are contained in the official file.
– That is not so. I made it quite clear that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department was insistent that the building should be faced with terra cotta, and that the Works Department conceded to the Postmaster-General’s Department the right to decide which type offacing should be used, provided that the difference in cost between the two facings was not too great.
– Although that had some effect on the decision made, the principal reason why terra-cotta facing was preferred, was that the building was originally intended to be faced with terra cotta. After, all, the cost of facing is only small in comparison with the total cost of a building.
– I do not know.
– I am advised that every contract let by the Commonwealth Government contains a clause requiring the contractor to observe award rates and conditions.
– I join with other honorable senators in complimenting the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) upon having brought this matter before the chamber, because I feel that, if there is a doubt in the minds of members of the Parliament or of the public with regard to departmental tenders, the fullest publicity is desirable. But the Leader of the Opposition, in submitting his motion, did not long continue on that high plane. He could not resist the opportunity to introduce matters quite irrelevant to that for the discussion of which this motion was submitted. Almost at the outset he referred to social services, which have nothing whatever to do with the letting of tenders for public works. From the subject of social services he went on to that of the Brisbane General Post Office, which can hardly be linked up with the letting of tenders for additions to the Sydney General Post Office. In his speeches the honorable gentleman cleverly contrives to cover a good deal more ground than should be traversed under the terms of the motion before the Chair, but we may expect these little digressions by the Leader of the Opposition, who, no doubt, feels called upon to oppose the majority of the actions of the present Government. It seems to me that the real object of the Opposition in not confining its remarks to the particular matter under discussion was shown by the speech of ihe Deputy Leader (Senator Keane), who immediately went on to speak of the wages and other industrial conditions likely to prevail in connexion with the contract. He expressed fear that the successful tenderer would not observe the award conditions. I point out that clause 21 of the form upon which all such contracts are let contains all necessary provision for the protection of the workmen employed. I give to the industrial officers of the various organizations credit for their work in policing the awards of the courts. At least one inspector was appointed by a government of the same political colour as that now in office to police the awards of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and I suggest, with great regret, that breaches of the industrial laws are not confined to any one section.
In the discussion of the tenders for the additions to the Sydney General Post Office, it was stated that Wunderlich’s Limited had a monopoly of the terra cotta industry. This is quite true. It was also stated that John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited has a monopoly of sandstone, which is also correct. We then heard a statement that had been published in the Sydney Morning Herald, read by Senator Brown, who set out to expose the nefarious operations of monopolies. Prior to that, a most astounding accusation was made by the Leader of the Opposition, who charged this Government, and ministries of a similar political colour, with being the supporters of monopolies and the exploiters of the public. When, by interjection, it was pointed out that action against mono.polies had been taken in New South Wales by a government of the same political shade as that in office in the Commonwealth, the Leader of the Opposition had the temerity to say that that Government’s action was due entirely to the pressure of public opinion. It would be difficult to show that the opposition party had made any substantial contribution to the control of monopolies. I direct “ attention to the fact that on three successive occasions when the people have expressed -their opinion through the ballotbox, they have shown in no uncertain manner that they have confidence in the ability of the parties now in office to protect their interests. The Opposition has no cause for exultation over the result of the two latest by-elections.
The suggestion has been made that the decision in regard to the contract for the additions to the Sydney General Post Office was reversed because of certain ulterior influences. Honorable senators opposite have said that the accusations are not directed against anybody on the Government side of the chamber; yet the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) was responsible for the reversal of the decision of an earlier Minister for Works. I agree with Senator Wilson that the desire of honorable senators opposite to elicit information is entirely praiseworthy, but it seems to me that they are also anxious to indulge in party propaganda. They want an inquiry to be held, so that they may be able to pose before the electors as the upholders of the rights of the people. My party is just as sincere as that of honorable senators opposite in its desire to preserve the rights of the public in connexion with contracts for public works and all other administrative acts.
– The real issue is not whether the new building should be faced with terra cotta or sandstone, but whether there has ‘been any irregularity in connexion with the letting of the contract. Suspicion has been aroused because newlyappointed Ministers interfered with and vetoed the decision of their immediate predecessors. In consequence of statements published in the press, justifiable doubt has been engendered in the minds of the people’s representatives in this Parliament and of the public throughout Australia. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) has proposed a way in which to remove all suspicion. We arc not concerned with the wranglings between past and present Ministers.
– I am not wrangling with any one.
– I rise to a point of order. I take exception to the statement by Senator Cunningham that a course has been suggested by which my good name can be cleared. My good name is not in question, and I ask that the remark which is offensive to me be withdrawn.
– And substituting a material produced by a company in which its members are interested.
– That is what ‘has been done.
– The honorable senator is not even concerned with a satisfactory explanation.
– The honorable senator may see the file at any time.
– Why should the honorable senator shirk his responsibility?
– The honorable senator wishes to shirk his responsibility by getting some one else to make an investigation.
– The honorable senator is anxious to do some mud slinging.
Assent to the following bills reported : -
Customs Tariff 1939.
Customs Tariff ( Exchange Adjustment) Bill 1939.
Special Annuities Bill 1939.
Defence (Visiting Forces) Bill 1938.
asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice-
Willhe investigate the reported non-payment of wages to five carpenters employed on the construction of a building for officers’ barracks near Victoria Barracks, Sydney, by Cody and Willis, contractors, and their subcontractor, Sid. Banbury; the names of the persons concerned, their addresses, and the amounts due being -
Senator FOLL. - It has been ascertained that S. Banbury was employed by Messrs. Cody and Willis as a subcontractor in connexion with their contract at the Engineers Depot, Moore Park, Sydney, and that he left the work owing the wages mentioned. Messrs. Cody and Willis have advised that they have not been approached by the Carpenters’ Union regarding the non-payment of wages and that the union is endeavouring to find Mr. Banbury. If these wages are not received from Banbury, steps will be taken by the department to obtain payment from Messrs. Cody and Willis.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Senator FOLL. - The Minister for Defence has supplied the following answers : -
The foregoing are the only purchases of any appreciable value. Other direct purchases of a minor nature may have been made in the individual States, but information regarding any such purchases is not held at headquarters, and to obtain it would involve inquiry and a review of the records of the District Contracts Offices in each State of the Commonwealth.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence,” upon notice -
Will he make a public announcement that there is no work available at the Munitions Works at Maribyrnong, Victoria?
Senator FOLL. - The Minister for Defence has supplied the following answer : -
Employment at the Maribyrnong Munitions Works is dependent upon the orders received and the progress of the orders on hand. As these vary from time to time, it is impracticable to make a statement) other than that the factories are satisfactorily staffed at present, and no substantial increases are immediately contemplated.
Senator FRASER asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Senator FOLL. - The Minister for Defence has supplied the following answers : -
Senator BROWN asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Senator FOLL.- -The Minister for Defence has supplied the following answers-: -
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Senator McBRIDE . - The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
Senator . McLEAY. - The Treasurer has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
Senator McBRIDE- The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following answers : -
.- The honorable senator must not accuse the Minister of deliberate evasion.
– Then I shall say that it is another ordinary evasion. I asked another pertinent question relating to the national income -
That question also was replied to evasively. I was told that the Government was not prepared to instruct the manager of the Commonwealth Bank to issue credit. The reply did. not recognize that my question contained the words “ for the adequate defence of Australia “. That reply was either a mistake or an evasion. “When I asked why the Government would not find the money I was told that it did not believe in the political control of the bank. In its report the Royal Commission on Banking and Monetary Reform said that, in the event of there being any difference of opinion at any time between the policy of the Commonwealth Bank and the policy of the Government, a free and frank discussion of the situation should take place. It went on to say that, should they fail to come to an agreement, the duty of the Government would be to tell the bank what it must do and that the Government would take the responsibility. That power is vested in the Government by an act of Parliament, but nothing has been done. Whenever I try to get information from the Minister on financial subjects, it is not supplied. That is most unfair.
.- That question is similar to one which I was asked some time ago, when an honorable senator inquired why I did not start a bank, seeing that banks were such profit-making institutions.
Senator McLEAY.-Could the honorable senator rely on his colleagues on the other side of the chamber becoming depositors ?
– The first plank of the Labour party’s platform relates to the Commonwealth control of credit. Arising out of my question is the fact that of the £4,875,000 subscribed, £3,650,000 was hank credit money. The loan was underwritten to that degree. It was not called bank credit money, but that was only another evasion. When a similar question was asked earlier, the Government answered that, by arrangement with the bank, it could not disclose the information. Some years ago, when the late Prime Minister, Mr. Lyons, visited Western Australia to try to persuade the people not to vote for secession, he told them of the great losses that would accrue to that State if it seceded from the Commonwealth. Their greatest loss, he said, would be the loss of the Commonwealth Bank. He went on to say that, had it not been for the Commonwealth Bank and the national credit behind it, the private banks would have had to close their doors.- That was perfectly true. A few weeks later at a dinner in connexion with the Royal Show at Sydney he said that he stood foursquare for orthodox methods of finance in relation to the defence of this country. Both statements were true, but what of the Government which has to go cap in hand to get a few pounds for the relief of unemployment or to carry on the business of the State? The banking commission went all round Australia for twelve months in order to gain sufficient information to enable it to present a report. During its inquiries it examined over 200 witnesses, held over 100 sittings, and incurred a total expenditure of £27,000.
.- It did not. I have never mentioned Douglas Credit in this chamber. I am not going to allow anybody to put labels on me. Community control of credit would give us interestfree money for the defence of Australia. Over and over again Mr. Lyons, when Prime Minister, said, “ We will not have any unorthodox method of finance regarding loan expenditure for defence”.
– What sum did the commission say could be borrowed free of interest?
– An unlimited amount. When I speak of lending money free of interest, 1 refer to loans made against the credit of Australia. It would be possible, if necessary, to make £100,000,000 available free of interest in this way; but the Government has determined not to use this system of raising money. Sooner than adopt what it calls an unorthodox system the Government raises money at 3$ per cent, and taxes the people in perpetuity to meet the debt ; but it cannot continue to do so for all time. Only last year income tax rates were increased by 15 per cent, and sales tax by 25 per cent.
– I mean the total assets of Australia which are estimated to be worth £6,000,000,000. We see no reference to national assets in the budget statement.
– I agree that a great proportion of those assets are mortgaged. As a matter of fact the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry found that the wheat lands of Australia were mortgaged to the banks and financial institutions of this country to the tune of £161,000,000. Even the great wool-growing industry, about which the honorable senator knows so much, is in the hands of the banks, and the woolgrowers have had to ask the Government for a bounty of Id. per lb. in order to keep solvent. Honorable senators will recall that when wool was sold at lid. a lb., two years ago, lOd. a lb. of the grower’s money was paid away in interest on mortgages. The wool production of Australia for that year was valued at £161,000,000 and nearly all of that money was utilized to meet interest charges. Interest is one of the greatest curses of the world. Of the municipal rates collected in Sydney about 12s. in the pound is paid out in interest.
– No; I am complaining that we are paying about £1,000,000 a week in interest on that debt. The national debt of the British Empire prior to 1914 was only £600,000,000, about one-half of the national debt of Australia to-day. Our debt “s being constantly added to by the continuation of the present system of borrowing money. It is a fundamental principle of banking that the banks do not lend deposit? at all. They are not instituted for that purpose. The last report of the Commonwealth Bank Board discloses that the whole of the eight big banks in Australia had between them only £17,000,000 wo.-th of notes; the rest of their money was in silver and copper.
.- Yes. The honorable senator will recall that a fewyears ago they made such an arrangement with the Commonwealth Bank Board when they applied for increased credit amounting to £20,000,000. On that arrangement being made they had the right to draw up to that amount. When the notes were printed, not one bank made application for these notes. If they had taken up any of that credit they would have had to pay 3 per cent, for it. The only occasion on which they would be likely to need the money would be in the event of a run on the bar.ks. But they have been able to lend money against that credit. It is now proposed to issue £3,000,000 worth of treasurybills. Those bills will be taken np by the banks, and in their statements will be reckoned as cash. Everybody knows that the banks will be able to’ lend eight or nine times the value of the treasurybills they take up. In this way they monetarize the real wealth of Australia. The banks have issued credit np to £500,000,090, but everybody knows that there has never been more than £57,000,000 of real money in Australia. Senator Dein some time ago asked me if I would explain how the banks are enabled to do this. I spent one and a half hours in explaining this matter to the honorable senator. The next day when this chamber was asked to vote an appropriation of £10,000,000,I showed how £10,000,000 worth of credit could be issued free of interest. Yet the honorable senator, in spite of my explanation, voted with the Government to pay 37/8 per cent. for that money. That results from the Senate having degenerated into a party House. It was not intended to be so; its function should be to review what comes before it from the House of Representatives. There is no obligation on any honorable senator to vote for any government which happens to be in power at the moment. Unfortunately, as it now operates, this Senate is a purely party House. If a man goes into a bank to purchase Commonwealth bonds to the amount of £100, the money he pays to the bank never reaches the Treasury; but the bank is able with the cash it receives to buy between £700 and £800worth of” bonds for itself. That is low the banks have been able to underwrite the £3,650,000 not subscribed by the public in the loan to which I referred earlier. This is all bankcreated money. In support of that statement I quote as my authority a former secretary of the British Treasury, who, in an article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, says, “Banks are institutions for the creation of credit which they create out of nothing”. The whole of the national debt of Australia is due to the banks, and bank-created credit is only an entry in a ledger. Sir Reginald McKenna, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, said in 1924, when addressing the directors and shareholders of the Midland Bank, of which he was then chairman of directors, that every Joan creates a deposit and every repayment of a loan cancels a deposit. The banks not only create money, but also cancel it. The banks are not the intermediary between the lenders, who are the depositors with the banks, and the borrowers. They have created the £3,650,000 worth of money with which they have underwritten this loan. If honorable senators will read down the financial statements of the Bank of New South Wales they will find an item “ Deposits, £54,000,000.” I asked a man in Hobart who had had fifteen years experience of banking what that item meant. He said that it represented deposits. I told him that there is only £57,000,000 of real money in Australia, of which there was always about £37,000,000 in the pockets of the people and asked how, if that was so, he could account for one bank having £54,000,000 of deposits.
.- They would advance ten times as much. That is why people owe them £500,000,000.
.- The balancesheets of the banks tell us nothing. During the course of the inquiries by the Monetary and Banking Commission, Mr. Chifley, a member of the commission, asked Sir Alfred Davidson if he would tell the commission what amount of money was placed to the secret reserves of the Bank of New South Wales. Sir Alfred replied that he hoped that the question would not be pressed, as he could not answer it without the consent of the London directors, and that he had been instructed that the question was outside the scope of the inquiry. The commission, which made no comment on that reply, included amongst its members a lawyer and a judge of the Supreme Court.
– Ultimately the information had to be given. By hiding its reserves, the Bank of New South Wales is able to keep its dividends down. How can any one tell from a balancesheet how much is being placed in secret reserves? Even as much as £100,000 could be placed in secret reserves and the balance-sheet would show nothing of it. That practice is being adopted to-day almost uniformly by big business.
I object to the evasive answers which have been given to my questions. In reply to question No. 2, the Minister stated that the Royal Commission on Monetary and Banking Reform made no finding that the Commonwealth Bank should lend money free of interest. I did not say that ; I said that the commission had said that the hank could. That is merely another -way of evading the question.
In August, 1914, two days before the declaration of war, when it appeared inevitable that Britain would be involved, there was a run on the Bank of England, and £10,000,000 was paid out in gold in two days. No banking system could stand that. Mr. Lloyd George stated in his memoirs of that eventful week that the Governor and directors of the Bank of England went to the Government of Great Britain wringing their hands and asking for assistance. They said that without some help from the Government every bank in England would be obliged to close. Fortunately for the people of England, war was declared on a Saturday, which was a bank holiday. Every bank was closed by proclamation until the following Thursday, and in the meantime legislation was passed authorizing the Chancellor of the Exchequer to issue fiduciary notes to an unlimited amount. Eventually notes to the amount of £320,000,000 were issued. The “ Bradburys “ remained in circulation for ten years and met all the requirements of trade and commerce. Of course, when a country issues notes without a gold backing, it goes off the gold standard. In 1924 the Government of Great Britain was asked to appoint a commission to inquire whether the time was opportune to return to the gold standard, and the reply by that body was in the affirmative. Britain took this advice, but could not remain on the gold standard, because industry was being ruined.
A tremendous expenditure is being incurred in connexion with national defence, and the Commonwealth Bank could, without doubt, issue to the Government, free of interest, almost as much money as it liked. Australia’s heavy interest bill, which amounts to £1,000,000 a week, is strangling it. The security of Australia depends on the finance it can raise for the purposes of defence. The report of the Monetary and Banking’ Commission states, at page 196, paragraph 504, that the Commonwealth Bank can issue interestfree money to the Government.’ When the Scullin Government assumed office, prior to Sir Otto Niemeyer’s visit to Australia, it found that, after ten years of administration by nationalist governments, the Treasury was empty, and that Australia had an adverse trade balance of £30,000,000. The London loan markets were closed to us. Had Mr. Scullin realized his powers under the Constitution, he could have ignored Sir Otto Niemeyer, and instructed the Commonwealth Bank to issue interest-free money. Without legislation, he could have told the bank to issue that credit, but he did not know that that power could have been exercised.
– No new legislation has been passed in this regard, yet a Supreme Court judge, who surely understands constitutional law, has declared that, should there be any difference of opinion between the Government and the bank as to its policy, they should freely and frankly discuss the situation, and. if they could not come to an agreement, the Government should assume the responsibility in the matter, and tell the bank what it should do. What could have stopped Mr. Scullin from doing that? Honorable senators opposite know why they are in trouble over the plight of the wheat industry. It is because they will not vote for a change of financial policy in the direction that I have indicated. When the next bill is brought down for an appropriation for defence purposes they will probably vote against me, as they did a fortnight ago.
The answer to my question was very incomplete, and not what it should have been. I was informed that the- amount of underwriting subscriptions totalled £3,650,000. That is merely bank-created credit because the money remains in the bank as deposits. Eighty per cent, of any loan raised by the Government is bank-created money. That is why we are paying interest to the amount £1,000,000 a week for money that never existed. The resources of Australia are such that we could create credit next week to the extent of £100,000,000, and thus finance all our defence needs.
– The commission did not mention the amount of credit that could be issued. Our borrowing powers through the Commonwealth bank are limited only by the national assets, which are estimated to be at least £6,000,000,000. I protest against the way in which the Government evades its responsibility in regard to .this matter of great national importance.
– Wait till next week.
– Anticipation of what may occur later is responsible for my present remarks. I refer to the reported statement by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that it was expected that both Houses would adjourn on the 9th June. While I am here, I hope that nobody outside the ranks of elected senators will ever decide when this chamber is to adjourn, or what time it is to have for its deliberations on important measures. We have passed two bills since we met for this period, but the most important bill of the session is still in the House of Representatives. When I asked a Minister to-day how the Government was progressing with its legislation in the House of Representatives, he replied, “ The best I can say is that we are holding our own. We are not in reverse gear “. I cannot see any merit in the proposal of the Government to terminate this period of the present session on the 9 th June. Honorable senators are aware that the measures on the notice-paper in the House of Representatives yet to be discussed include the Supply and Development Bill, the National Registration Bill, the Commonwealth Bank Bill - in which provision is made for the establishment of .a mortgage branch which will be of benefit to primary producers and others - ; and a motion to appoint a committee to determine the best method of electing the Senate. I do not know whether the Government intends to go into recess on the date mentioned, but I trust that sufficient time will be given to the Senate to give adequate consideration to all the measures which are passed by the House of Representatives instead of asking us to rush them through within a day or two. There is no valid reason why the Senate should not adopt the practice of the upper chambers in the State Parliaments although the National Parliament should not have to look to the State legislatures to guide it in the conduct of its business. Honorable senators should be prepared to remain in session for two or three weeks after the House of Representatives adjourns in order to give proper consideration to legislation which the House of Representatives has had ample time to discuss.
Senator CAMERON (Victoria) [9.3 J. - I congratulate Senator Brand upon the earnest appeal be has made on behalf of the unemployed. In view of the limited opportunities afforded to. honorable senators, I feel that I am justified in referring to this subject at this juncture. Tit is not a mere coincidence, but appears to he a part of a deliberate plan to bring this chamber into disrepute as much as is possible, and to pave the way for the establishment of a governing institution similar to those established in other countries.
.- The Labour party stands for the improvement of the present parliamentary system. Honorable senators opposite favour the abolition of Parliament and the establishment of a dictatorship as was suggested by Mr. Bruce when Prime Minister, and more recently by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) who said that the affairs of this country could be conducted satisfactorily by half a dozen astute business men. As winter is now approaching, the position of the unemployed is becoming more acute every day. Men possessing aspirations and obligations similar to our own are starving in the midst of plenty, due, primarily, to the indifference or ignorance of the Government. Senator Brand said that unemployment is a national matter; it is a vital national matter. There is no scarcity of material resources in this country with which to provide a standard of living for the unemployed equal to th,.t which the basic wage provides. There is no scarcity of land, timber, or other materials, and if these were used as they should be the unemployed could live in reasonable comfort. What should be done? Honorable senators opposite and the members of the same party in the House of Representatives contend that the problem of unemployment is not the responsibility of this Government; therefore nothing is done. Sympathy is offered, but no practical help is given. On Thursday last a deputation of over 200 men and women representative of educationalists, political parties, municipal councillors, business men, the Chamber of Manufactures, the Employers Federation, and the Trades Hall waited on the Premier of Victoria. At. that gathering, the Premier said that it was appalling to see thousands of young men walking aimlessly through the streets every day vainly seeking work. Surely that is a reflection upon those charged with the responsibility of governing this country ! Are governments too incompetent or too indifferent to solve this problem? We are faced with the progressive deterioration of the virile young men of this country, . on whom we have to depend for the production of wealth and for the defence of Australia. After years of experience amongst the unemployed, I can say without hesitation that a deliberate attempt is being made to capitalize unemployment by using the unemployed to keep wages down to the lowest possible level and to raise profits to the highest degree.
-It is true. Any honorable senator opposite who goes into the question as thoroughly and as sincerely as has Senator Brand must admit the accuracy of my statement. Thousands of returned soldiers to whom credit is given for defending Australia overseas during the Great War are living under conditions of semi-starvation, while those who have never suffered or sacrificed are drawing thousands of pounds annually in interest. I am thinking more particularly of young men who are on sustenance, and who are pleading for employment because they wish to become responsible citizens. “ Senator Keane, Senator Sheehan and I are interviewed in the Federal Members Rooms in Melbourne daily by hundreds of young ‘men seeking work. Although we give them letters in the hope of assisting them, we tell them what the position actually is. As a representative of the working class, I would be lacking in my duty if 1 did not demand that the Government depart from its policy of indifference and start works on which these mcn can be employed. I would give to the Government some credit if it made an effort to relievo the situation of these unfortunate men who are being treated as lepers, outlaws, or refugees in their own country. There are over. 40,000 men in Victoria out of work, and I believe that in the whole of Australia there must be over 100,000 who, owing to governmental incompetence, are living in a state of semistarvation. If there were a drought or scarcity of food, something could be said in support of the Government’s inactivity, but we have sufficient material resources to enable every man to earn a decent living. If honorable senators opposite felt as these poor people feel, they would become Communists or revolt. I trust that the Government will take up this matter very seriously in the endeavour to afford some assistance to those who deserve help more than ony other section of the community. It is easy for some honorable senators to smile, but they do not know what it is to be without food and the ordinary comforts of life. Their life is congenial and they have nothing to worry them. Had they to experience what these unfortunate men and women have had to experience, the unemployed problem would soon be only a memory of the past.
– There is a Labour Government in office an Tasmania;
– But this is a matter for the -Commonwealth Government. The Leader of the Senate knows, as well as I do, that the administration of the Repatriation Act is a Commonwealth responsibility.
.- I am speaking particularly of the hardships endured by several returned soldiers, because they cannot get work, and because they are unemployable. In some instances, ex-soldiers making application for “a pension are subjected to third-degree methods, and their wives have to suffer the same indignities. Some of the commissioners even had the audacity to ask one woman where she got the dress which she was wearing.
.- It is not. I am telling the facts as related to me. Returned soldiers who were wounded or gassed in the last war, and who did not make application for a pension immediately upon their return, are now expected to find the men who were beside them when they were wounded or gassed, in order to substantiate their claims. It is almost impossible to do this, because men who were beside them in the war may be dead. Certainly they cannot always be located. This treatment is not calculated to encourage the younger generation to respond to the appeal made by the Government for volunteers for the militia, in order to ensure the defence of this country. I am astonished that exsoldier senators supporting the Government have not protested more forcefully about the treatment meted out to returned soldiers.
– That question is raised on every occasion when the Estimates are under discussion.
– If it is, I am surprised that ex-soldier senators have not been able to bring sufficient pressure on the Government to compel a liberalization of the act, so that returned soldiers, who may now be in need of repatriation benefits, may get a better deal. By his interjection, Senator Brand has admitted tha t my statement of the position is accurate. If it were an exaggeration, there would not be these complaints from day to day.
.- I have in mind the different treatment meted out to two brothers who served four years at the front. One, an unmarried man, was wounded. Upon his return, he made application for and was granted a pension. His brother, a married man, was twice gassed, and to-day is a confirmed invalid. Unfortunately for him, he did not make application on his return to Australia for repatriation benefits. Now he is. unable to do any work and has been refused a pension. His wife sometimes finds him in a state of collapse in the garden. He has made repeated applications for a pension but without success. As a result, his wife has become the breadwinner for the family and she has even been denied assistance in the form of books for the education of her son. The brother, who was unmarried when he enlisted, has since married and has reared a family in what, by contrast with his brother’s economic condition, is a state of luxury. The time is now coming when the son of this married returned soldier, the man who has been denied repatriation benefits, may be called upon to fight for this country, and incidentally, to ensure the security of the children of his father’s brother. The Government should take heed of all these complaints. They come before me every week, and I feel sure that other honorable senators must also be inundated with similar requests for assistance from returned soldiers who are either unemployed or unemployable.
.- I have inquired into several, and I assure the honorable gentleman that I have not overstated the position. Although the commissioners may not have said so in so many words, a common-sense interpretation of their replies to representations on behalf of some returned soldiers who are now seeking repatriation benefits is that these men must find some one who was with them during the war to support their applications. Of what use will be the Government’s physical fitness campaign if children of returned soldiers are not ensured a reasonable standard of living? This will be impossible if their parents have not sufficient income to provide the necessaries of life. The condition of seme returned soldiers is deplorable. Their claims should have earnest and sympathetic consideration.
– Will the honorable senator support a movement to reduce the working hours?
– I have said many times what I believe is the right thing to do, although on this matter I may not be in agreement with some honorable members on my side. I resent Senator Cameron’s statement that Ministers and their supporters were rather gratified at the increase of the number of unemployed, because it made possible a lower ing of the standard of living which, according to the honorable gentleman, would lead to an increase of profits in industry. No doubt Senator Cameron can “get away” with a statement of that nature on the Yarra Bank, but he has no right to make it here and expect not to be challenged. It is totally unjustified., and I feel sure that the honorable senator himself does not believe it. We are all much distressed when cases of unemployment are brought to our notice. We are as much concerned as are honorable senators opposite, but we . do not make a show of it. We give a sympathetic hearing to all representations and do what we can. I yield to no one in my sympathy for the working classes. We are all vitally interested in the problems of unemployment. Sympathy for the workers is not the monopoly of Labour senators. I hold that although the Government has done much, it has not done enough and it should not cease its efforts until employment has been found for all those who are willing and able to work. I am grateful to Senator Brand for having brought this matter up to-night, because I had intended to raise my voice in protest, and to urge that the Government should do a good deal more than it has done. The latest figures available show that in New South Wales 36,000 men are unemployed, whilst another 1S,000 are engaged on relief work. That the position is better than it was is cause for some satisfaction, but the fact remains that there are still 54,000 bread-winners seeking jobs. It is our duty to do as much as lies in our power to find jobs for them. I should appreciate any suggestions from Senator Cameron and his colleagues for a solution of this problem.
– A few months ago honorable senators opposite disclaimed responsibility in this connexion, and said that it rested on the Government. I say that every one both inside and outside of Parliament has a part to play in finding a solution. I admit that the problem is difficult, but I am prepared to do my part. Should any honorable senator opposite offer a suggestion which I believe to be practicable, I should have no hesitation in giving it ray support.
– When I was a member of the House of Representatives, the late Prime Minister suggested that inquiry be made into the working of a 40- hour week, but the Labour party and the unions with which Senator Cameron is associated resisted the proposal with all their power.
– When ever honorable senators opposite are given an opportunity to play their part, instead of doing so, they invariably cry “ the thing is loaded “. On the occasion to which I have referred, the Labour members of the Parliament, and the trade unions, resisted the appointment of a body to undertake the inquiry. Shame on them! I fought for that inquiry in the hope that something beneficial would result, but the Labour party would not help me. Now, as then, it says, “ The dice are loaded against us”. We never hear practical suggestions from the other side of the chamber, but only that empty talk which we associate with certain public places where speakers tickle the ears of their hearers. I repeat that if any member of the Opposition brings forward a proposal which appears to offer a solution of this problem, I. shall give to it my earnest consideration, and will support it if it be practicable.
on. - Victoria has the best Government that it has ever had.
– That may ,be; I am emphasizing that the responsibility for dealing with unemployment rests primarily on the State governments. Senator Cameron knows that, but it does not suit him politically to admit it. The honorable senator also
Knows that there is much seasonal employment in Australia. The work of cane-cutting, fruit-picking, shearing and harvesting operations generally is seasonal. At certain period* of the year work is plentiful ; at other times, the- demand for -workers is low. The honorable senator should be fair enough to admit that throughout the depression years the Commonwealth Government rendered all the assistance that it constitutionally could render to the unfortunate people in our midst who could not get work. Instead of blaming the Commonwealth Government, the honorable senator might have suggested the holding of a conference of Commonwealth and State authorities with a view to solving thi-, problem.
– Reference has been made to the Statistician’s figures relating to unemployment throughout Australia. It is well known that these statistics are, to some extent, based on figures supplied by employers of labour who keep records of the applications they receive from men wanting work. As many such applicants are registered in the books of several employers, statistics based on such returns are obviously unreliable.
The most tragic aspect of unemployment is the inability of many youths between the ages of eighteen and 22 years to obtain work. In my opinion, they are deserving of our special consideration. These lads are men in the making. On the one hand, they are too old to be employed as apprentices, and, on the other hand, they are not sufficiently trained to command adults’ wages. A definite effort should be made to find employment for them. I am confident that if an earnest attempt were made in that direction by the Commonwealth Government, in conjunction with the State governments, this problem could be solved. Honorable senators know the evil results which frequently follow long periods of unemployment. The Commonwealth Government has a responsibility in this matter, notwithstanding that its constitutional powers are limited. The primary responsibility rests on the States, but the Commonwealth should co-operate with them in an earnest attempt to solve this problem.
– Can the honorable senator do. a bit for Queensland while he is on the job?
– The honorable senator will remember that several contracts have been let to Queensland tenderers. Contracts for work in. Darwin, involving an expenditure of between £60,000. and £70,000 have ‘been let to Queensland ironworking firms. Furthermore, the successful tenderer for the Darwin water reticulation scheme was a Brisbane man, and although the pipes will he supplied by the Australian Iron and Steel Company, the whole of the labour employed on the work will be drawn from Queensland.
– If ever the time comes when the honorable senator can see the slightest virtue in anything that I do I shall really be grateful.
– I assure honorable senators that the Government is pushing onwith the work at the new Amberley aerodrome in Queensland. Some resumptions have yet to be completed, but where we have the permission of the owners to go ahead we are putting on men to start clearing. The contract for the erection of the hangar at Amberley has only recently been let. I was informed by the Director-General of Works only to-day that the department is speeding up the calling of tenders for various buildings associated with the new air squadron to be established -at Amberley. It is anticipated that an expenditure of approximately £120,000 will be incurred for that purpose. I am also -urging the Defence Department to put in hand as quickly as possible the construction of oil storage tanks at Brisbane. I assure honorable senators that the Government is fully aware of the valuable contribution towards the solution of the unemployment problemprovided ‘by public works. The Works Department is doing everything possible to put day labour and contract work in hand in order that unemployment may be relieved by Commonwealth action.
– I understand that the apprenticeship laws passed at the request of the trade unions are responsible for many of these young men being unable to secure employment. As the honorable senator knows, large sums of money have been made available by the Commonwealth Government to the various State governments in order to assist in youth employment throughout Australia. Some oftheStates have not taken up their allocations.
– They were not exaggerated.
– I do not think, that they were in keeping with the high tone which usually characterizes debates in tbe Senate. The making of exaggerated statements for political capital is unwarranted. If tbe honorable senator will bring to my notice, or to the notice of the responsible Minister, a particular case of injustice to a returned soldier, he will find that it will receive due consideration. The honorable senator will, I am sure, recognize that the Government is doing everything possible to see that justice is done to returned soldiers. If he makes a comparison with what is done for returned soldiers elsewhere, he will see that in this respect Australia is more liberal than any other country. I suggest to Senator Cameron that he should adhere to principles, and not indulge in personalities by suggesting that honorable senators on this side are doing nothing to assist the unemployed. He went so far as to insinuate that we desire unemployment to continue, so that capitalists may fatten in consequence of the misfortunes of the workers. That is not the position, and it is regrettable that an honorable senator should make a long and dreary speech in an effort to make political capital out of such a discussion. He would be well advised to concentrate on constructive remarks, so that something useful might be done for the benefit of the unemployed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Commonwealth Government Printing - Unemployment - Business of the Senate - Commonwealth Loans and Monetary Policy - Defence Contractor: Non-payment of Wages - War Pensions - Imports of Artificial Fibres.
Motion (by Senator McLeay) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– Since the suspension of the sitting I have had placed in my hands a document the cover of which reads as follows -
M.P., Minister for Defence, on The First Report. by Lieutenant-General
I enter my most emphatic protest against this further intention of a dastardly attempt by this Government to sabotage Canberra on every possible occasion. This document relates to this Parliament and to this Parliament only, yet it is printed in Melbourne instead of by the Commonwealth Government Printer in Canberra. I shall have more to say later during this session about the way in which Government business is being conducted, and about departments not being transferred to Canberra. This document is the latest and worst insult that could be offered to this Parliament. I ask the Leader of the Senate to convey to the Prime Minister what I have said about it to-night. Surely the Commonwealth Government printing office in Canberra can carry out this class of work. There was ho need to send it to Melbourne to be done.
.- A fortnight ago I asked “upon notice a question concerning unemployment. I wished to direct the attention of the Government to the increase in Victoria since 1st January last, notwithstanding that hundreds of men had been absorbed under the Defence programme. I desired to know if the Government had any long-range plan, corresponding to that of the British Government, for coping, in co-operation with State Governments, with the undoubted increase of the unemployed when its defence programme was finished. The answer to my question was not satisfactory. I expected the Minister to say that the Government was aware of the increase of unemployment, and that the Prime Minister, in spite of the Government’s limited powers under the Commonwealth Constitution, would meet State Premiers in conference, in order to come to some workable arrangement for dealing successfully with this vital problem. Instead, I was supplied with statistical percentages over a period of given quarters. The figure, 9.8 per cent., for the last quarter, was slightly higher than that for any quarter in 1938. No doubt that increase was due to the severe drought which Victoria had recently experienced, and the low overseas price for wheat. These official figures are certainly a guide, but not a true indication, of the number of unemployed. They record only the number of trade unionists registered for employment; they do not take into account the number of trade unionists who have drifted into other avenues of temporary or seasonal employment, the thousands of young fellows who never had the opportunity to qualify for admission to a trade union, and hundreds of returned soldiers not on pension who are capable of doing a good day’s work. If, to the official figures, be added, roughly, 38,000, a truer picture will be presented. If that number be reduced by, say, 7,000 persons who are unemployable, due to physical disability or “ work-shyness “, it would still be far -too high. What will the position be three or four years hence, when the defence programme is completed, and hundreds are thrown back on to the skilled and unskilled labour market ?
During the last recess I had brought forcefully home to me the great number of men who are out of work. Over 400, the majority of whom are returned soldiers, sought my assistance in getting employment at the munitions establishments at Footscray and Maribyrnong. I did what I could for them. How many were placed I have no means of knowing. No doubt other Victorian senators were similarly approached, and probably had to listen, as I did, to men in desperate straits, wives pleading for t e husbands, and young men asking for a chance to earn their keep. What is to be done about this problem? Senators opposite claim with all sincerity that a 40-hour week or less is the remedy. Senators of this side, equally sincere and capable of expressing an opinion, hold the view that a shorter all-round working week would only intensify the trouble, and lead the country into greater difficulty.
Successive federal governments since the depression eight years ago are to be commended for having placed the nation on a sound footing. Tariffs and world prices of wool and lesser export commodities have, of course, contributed to the country’s stability. The official percentages of registered trade unionists out of employment have gradually dropped since 1931 from 32 per cent, to 9 per cent. Numbers of new factories have been established and many big employing enterprises launched. The value of production has increased year by year, yet the latest figures show that in Victoria - a great secondary industry State - about 38,000 men are out of work. The majority are on sustenance. The dole it is termed, but “dope” is a more correct word. Young men are losing the will to work. This Government is doing its part by helping State governments with grants of money to train youths in technical colleges, but the unskilled hundreds - heads of families - are the people about whom I am. concerned. The Commonwealth Government, unlike the British and other Dominion Governments, has not full constitutional powers to tackle this problem single-handed. The finding of employment is primarily the concern of the State governments, yet, in the broad sense, it is a national responsibility. Surely, there is some way of getting round the Constitution, if technicalities bar the way ! There are some big national works which could be undertaken, thereby giving a few months’ continuous employment at award rates. The reply will be “no money; all wanted for defence”. Two million or three million pounds off the Defence Vote might easily be allocated for defence against drought and floods. Water conservation and afforestation would absorb the majority of the unskilled unemployed. Somewhere in departmental pigeon holes in Melbourne or Canberra is the late Sir John Monash’s scheme, prepared in 1920, for the conservation of water in the eastern States. Another national work of a semi-defence nature that might be undertaken is the renovation and extension of the Williamstown dock, which is 70 years old, and is the only dock on the southern coastline of Australia. In time of war, when enemy submarines are active, such a modern dock would be invaluable to any coastal vessel limping into port. Sydney is too far .away for a merchant ship disabled by a hostile submarine in southern waters.
I have dealt with this problem of unemployment because it is a national question, not merely a State matter. It certainly is not a party matter. The Senate is less of a party House than is the House of Representatives. We should demand that the Commonwealth Government and State governments cooperate to do something big to stem the tide of increasing unemployment. I hope that Ministers in this chamber will induce their colleagues in the Cabinet to take some action.
.- I wish to refer to the Continued absence of business from the notice-paper of the Senate. Although honorable senators were called together again to-day, after an adjournment extending over a period of nearly two weeks, had it not been for the action of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) in moving the adjournment of the Senate to discuss a matter of urgent public importance, it is probable that this chamber would have adjourned within a very short time of its assembling. The Leader of the Senate (Senator McLeay) has an excellent opportunity to rehabilitate the Senate as the senior House of the federal legislature by insisting that more legislation be initiated in this chamber. I have here a list of Orders of the Day for the House of Representatives. Will any honorable senator suggest that it would be impossible to initiate in this chamber the discussion of electoral law and procedure in relation to the election of senators, or of the long awaited Commonwealth Bank Bill, or of the policy to be pursued in connexion with the development of Northern Australia, or of the annual report of the Tariff Board ? Another outstanding item relates to unemployment insurance and a 40-hour working week. Those subjects could be dealt with, in this chamber. As mentioned by Senator Allan MacDonald, the attitude of some honorable members of the House of Representatives towards the Senate was indicated a few days ago when a Minister said that he regretted that the Minister holding a certain portfolio was not in that chamber. Surely the Government has sufficient organizing ability so to arrange the business of the Parliament that one chamber is not congested with business while the other has practically nothing to do. Every honorable senator wishes to get on with the job which he was elected to perform, and I, for one, am annoyed when I find that we in this place have constantly to await the arrival from the other branch of the legislature of measures which could as easily be dealt with first in this chamber. I realize that it is difficult for the Leader of the Senate to say when certain measures will reach this chamber from the House of Representatives. I sympathize with him in his difficulty, but I suggest that he could improve conditions generally by initiating more business in this chamber. I go so far as to say that honorable senators are more Qualified than are most members of another place to deal with some of these subjects. The position into which we have drifted is deplorable. Apart from the motion of which the Leader of the Opposition has given notice, I do not know what business there will be before the Senate tomorrow. I do not say that the Leader of the Senate is incompetent, but I think that he is too soft in dealing with his colleagues in the Cabinet. He should in?sist that the rights of the Senate shall not be ignored. After all, the Senate is the senior chamber of the federal legislature. Certain persons have had their way for such a long period in this chamber that honorable senators generally have become accustomed to accepting whatever is done. We on this side wish to see the business of the country attended to properly. We claim that since our numbers have been augmented, we have assisted in the transaction of the business placed before us. Our complaint is that we are not getting sufficient business to get our teeth into. In order to help the Government members have asked numerous questions, without notice, or have moved the adjournment of the Senate. We have done our best to let the electors know that the Senate exists. The way in which the business is conducted is such that it is not to be wondered at that members become somewhat disgruntled and critical at times. I am not disgruntled, nor am I unduly critical, but I am concerned for the dignity of this chamber. I suggest that the Leader of the Senate should see the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) with a view to making it possible to have a roster of work for the Senate along the lines followed in the other branch of the legislature.
– I draw the attention of the Senate to the evasive and unsatisfactory replies given to questions, which I asked, upon notice. This is not the first occasion on which the Government has not given straight answers to straight questions. I was informed to-day that subscriptions to the £8,500,000 loan of February, 1939, totalled £4,875,000, whilst the amount of underwriting subscriptions totalled £3,650,000. If that £4,875,000 had been real money subscribed by the public, the Commonwealth Bank, following the usual practice of banks, could have advanced to the Commonwealth at least £35,000,000 in credit. I was also informed that because of an arrangement with the bank the Government could not give certain information for which I had asked. The Senate is not allowed to know how much real money is subscribed by the public, and how much bank money is subscribed by the banks. Why should not that information be given to us? In reply to my second question, the Minister said -
The Royal Commission on Banking made no finding that the Commonwealth Bank should lend money free of interest to the Government.
I did not say that it had done so. That is another deliberate evasion.
– Why does the honorable senator seek information when he claims to know all about finance?
– And it condemned social credit.
– Yet orthodox methods have failed miserably.
– Will the honorable senator say what he means by the credit of Australia?
– Some of the assets are already mortgaged.
– Is not the honorable senator overlooking the fact that the total national debt of Australia is- about £1,200,000,000?
– ‘Could they not ger more money if they wanted it?
– What amount would the banks advance against deposits of £54,000,000?
– I suggest that the honorable senator should look at the balancesheets issued by the banks.
– That information was supplied to the commission later. Why does not the honorable senator tell the whole of the facts?
– He knows all about the Constitution.
– Did the banking commission say that?
– I direct attention to the answer which I received to a question asked by me to-day regarding the reported nonpayment of wages to five carpenters employed on the construction of a building for officers’ barracks near Victoria Barracks, Sydney, by Cody and Willis and their sub-contractor, S. Banbury. The answer supplied to me was that it had been ascertained that Banbury was employed by Cody and Willis as a subcontractor, and left the work owing the wages mentioned. The answer continued -
Messrs. Cody and Willis have advised that they have not been approached by the Carpenters’ Union regarding the non-payment of wages and that the union is endeavouring to find Mr. Banbury.
I approached the Carpenters Union before I submitted this question, and was referred to the State Department of Labour and Industry, but that department would have nothing to do with the matter. I now discover that the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) referred it .to the Carpenters Union. The reply concluded -
If these wages are not received from Banbury, steps will be taken by the department to obtain payment from Messrs. Cody and Willis.
When is the money likely to be obtained for these employees? Some of them are married men with families. If the Department of Defence lets work to contractors who engage sub-contractors who cannot- be found, it is most unsatisfactory to be told that the union is endeavouring to find a defaulting subcontractor. If an unfortunate person owed the Government 10s. for income tax, the investigation branch would think nothing of spending several pounds in stamps in an effort to bring him to book. I suggest that Cody and Willis should be forbidden from participating in any further Commonwealth Government contracts. A contractor, who engages as a subcontractor a person who will not pay the wages earned by his men, - should be indicted as a scheming rogue and thief. I hope that the Minister will do all in his power to see that these men receive the wages due to them..
– I agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Keane) that, when the Senate is called together, it should have more business to transact than has been placed before it during the period of over four weeks that has elapsed since it was summoned to meet on the 1st May last. I admit that unfortunate circumstances necessitated the first adjournment, but, during the remainder of the period, this chamber has averaged only one sitting a week. I congratulate the Leader of the Senate (Senator McLeay) on the f actthat during his leadership the prestige of this chamber has been considerably restored. Unlike his predecessor, he has never asked this Senate to pass 21 bills without notice in one day. Thi; chamber is no longer the parliamentary sausage-machine that it was a couple of years ago.
– The Labour party’s’ platform provides for the abolition of the Senate.
– That is absurd.
– I direct the attention of the Government to the urgent necessity to liberalize war pensions and thus enable many returned soldiers to receive better treatment than they are getting to-day. During the short time I have been a member of this chamber, I have been amazed at the pitiful stories told to me by ‘returned soldiers. I do not say that everything I am told is true, but as I knew many of the men before they went to the war and since their return, I feel assured that most of the information given cannot be successfully challenged. As many who are unable to work cannot get a war ‘pension, their wives are compelled to work to keepthemselves and to help to maintain their husbands and their children.
– Unemployment is also a responsibility of the States.
– That statement is an exaggeration.
– Can the honorable senator say what percentage of returned soldiers is receiving the treatment which he alleges from the department?
– How many cases did the honorable senator investigate?
– If the conditions generally were as stated by Senator Aylett, we should have good reason to feel distressed. But I have some knowledge of the administration of the Repatriation Act, and I assure the honorable gentleman that the cases mentioned by him are covered by that, and alleviation is possible. The honorable senator may have in mind a small minority of hard cases which it may be difficult to cover in the general policy. It is not even fair on bis part to mention particular cases which he has not properly investigated. He stated, for instance, that the commissioners had taken up a critical attitude when approached by wives of ex-soldiers seeking a repatriation benefit. Obviously,, the honorable gentleman could have had in mind only one deputy commissioner - the official in his State; yet he recklessly made a wholesale charge against the commissioners, entrustedwith the administration of the act. If the honorable senator will bring the caseshe has in mind to the notice of the Minister for Repatriation or myself, they will be examined closely and justice will be doneIt is not right for the honorable senator to assume that he is speaking here on behalf of ex-soldiers as a whole, because he is not. He does not know them.
.- I am glad that Senator Brand mentioned the subject of unemployment, for, although I do not agree with all that the honorable senator said, I endorse to the full his remarks about the hardship resulting to a great number of people from unemployment. I also agree with Senator Cameron that, notwithstanding what it has done directly and indirectly to get tens of thousands of Australians back into employment, the Commonwealth Government will still not have done enough until all who are willing and able to work are in employment. No effort should be spared by either the Common wealth or State governments to see that these men are again employed. Senator Brand went on to say that honorable senators opposite thought that the solution for unemployment was to be found in a reduction of the working week to 40 hours, and that Government supporters were of the opinion that a shorter working week would intensify unemployment difficulties. I differ from the honorable gentleman. I expressed my views on this subject when I was a member of the House of Representatives and have reiterated them on several occasions since I entered this chamber. I believe that a reduction of hours will partially help solve the unemployment problem.
– I have given a solution of it.
– Would the honorable senator support a motion for the appointment of a commission to inquire into the position, and make recommendations?
– The honorable senator knows that the dice were loaded against us.
– Probably more time has been devoted in this chamber to the discussion of unemployment than of any other subject. Having listened carefully to Senator Cameron, I formed the opinion that the honorable senator believes that the sole responsibility for caring for the unemployed throughout Australia rests on the Commonwealth Government. He also gave the impression that, in his opinion, honorable senators on this side are callous and indifferent to the plight of men who are unable to find work. He even went so far as to suggest that we on this side enjoy seeing the unemployed suffer. I do not say that this Parliament has no responsibility in relation to this national problem, but no honorable senator is justified in exploiting the sufferings of the unemployed for party political purposes. Senator Cameron comes from Victoria, a State in which the Government is kept in office by the Labour party. The honorable senator knows that, although the responsibility for dealing with unemployment rests primarily on the State governments, the Commonwealth Government has always been willing to co-operate with, the States in finding a solution of the problem. I remind honorable senators that in Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia, Labour governments are in office, and that in Victoria the Government is controlled by the Labour party.
– The Loan Council has rejected the proposals emanating from such conferences.
.- On the 18th May, 1939, Senator Cooper asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs the following questions, upon notice: -
I am now able to furnish the honorable senator with the following information in reply to his questions: -
In reply to the point raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) in regard to the iprinting of the statement by the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) on the first report by Lieutenant-General Squires, I understand that the statement was originally published in a newspaper and that, as it was thought to be of some value, copies were printed by the acting-Government Printer, Melbourne, and made available to honorable senators and others interested in the subject. I shall bring to the notice of the Minister for Defence the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition in regard to the advisability of having documents such as this printed in Canberra. I think that in this case the printing was done hurriedly in the Government Printing Office, Melbourne, and that the contract was small.
Senator Arthur has raised the matter of wages due to’ carpenters employed by sub-contractors. I recognize that it is unfair that the money should be withheld, and shall give instructions to theWorks Branch to expedite the collection of the wages for these men.
Several honorable senators have mentioned the matter of unemployment. About a fortnight ago, a deputation was introduced to me in Sydney by Mr.. Beasley, composed of representatives of ironworkers, moulders and various other people engaged in the heavy industries. The members of the deputation complained that because urgent defence works received priority, ordinary works were being held up. As the Minister responsible for the administration of the Works Branch,I was urged to speed up as far as possible the various works which the Government has in hand or in prospect. I conferred with the Director-General of Works immediately after my return to Canberra, and urged a general speeding up of the letting of contracts and the calling of tenders, not only in relation to defence, but also in respect of other works for which money had been voted, in order that the unemployment situation might be relieved. The letting of a big contract in Sydney was hurried along, because I recognized that thatjob and others would provide a large amount of work for unemployed men. I also discussed the matter with the Acting Director of Works in Melbourne two or three days ago, and I was informed that all works in Victoria are being hurried along, including the new building for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the aeronautical laboratory. The department is engaging the services of additional draftsmen so that all approved works may be speeded up as much as possible in order to provide work for the unemployed. I have concentrated my efforts very largely on the works section of my department, because I realize the degree to which public works assist in the solution of the unemployment problem. We know that, unfortunately, owing to slackness in certain trades, unemployment has been growing in some industries.
– The value of contracts let. to Queenslanders does not nearly approach the amount to be expended on the additions to the. Sydney General Post Office.
– And I shall be surprised.
—What provision is being made for unemployed youths between the ages of18 and 22 years to get a share of this public work? Thousands of them are not wanted by private employers.
– in reply - ‘Senator Keane has complained of the lack of work for the Senate to perform. I expected that important bills would have been passed by the House of Representatives in time to enable the Senate to discuss them to-day. Circumstances over which I have no control have prevented that. The honorable senator also said that several bills with which the Senate has not yet dealt could have been originated in this chamber. I remind the honorable senator that of the bills which appear on the notice-paper of the House of Representatives, six have already been passed by the Senate, and that several ministerial statements appearing on the notice-paper of the House of Representatives have already been disposed of by this chamber. It is customary for the Minister in charge of important bills to introduce them in the chamber of which be is a member. I assure honorable senators that I will do everything I oan to meet their convenience in this regard.
The matter raised by Senator Johnston will be brought before the Cabinet. An effort will lbc made to ensure that- there shall be no unnecessary speeding up at the close of this period of the session.
T propose to add very little to what has been said regarding unemployment.
I remind honorable senators that the Government has made substantial contributions to tbe States in order to assist them in the training of youths who, during the depression, were unable to secure the training necessary for them to become skilled tradesmen. Unfortunately, circumstances over which we have no control, such as have been brought about by drought conditions, have increased unemployment, and the position has been made more acute, particularly in rural industries, by the low prices which we have received for our export commodities. I assure honorable senators that the Government is pushing on with development and defence as quickly as possible. When the Statistician’s figures are made available at the end of June it will bc seen that the new industries established, and the number of persons employed in factories, will constitute a record for Australia. Nevertheless, the unemployment problem is still a serious one, and I assure honorable senators’ opposite that tbe Government is just as anxious as they are to overcome it.
Senator Darcey has expressed dissatisfaction with the replies made to certain questions which he has asked. All I can say is that the Treasury officers have done their very best to supply him with adequate answers. I am afraid, however, that the financial theories of the honorable senator are such that he will never be satisfied.
I take this opportunity to make a brief reference to the exaggerated statements made by Senator Aylett.
The following papers were pre sented : -
International Labour Organization of the League of Nations - Twenty-fourth Session, held at Geneva, 2nd to 22nd June, 1938 - Reports of Australian Delegates, together with Draft Convention adopted at Conference.
Ordered to be printed.
Arbitration (Public Service Act) - Determination by the Arbitrator, &c. - No. 11 of 1939 - Fourth Division Officers’ Association of the Trade and Customs Department.
Income Tax Assessment Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1939, No. 42.
Superannuation Act - Sixteenth Annual Report of the Superannuation Board for the year ended 30th June, 1938.
Wool Publicity and Research Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1939, No. 38.
Air Force Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1939, No. 40.
Customs Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1939, No. 37.
Excise Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1939. No. 39.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired at Attunga, New South Wales - For Postal purposes.
Northern Territory Acceptance Act and Northern Territory (Administration) Act - Ordinances of 1939 -
No.6 - Justices.
No. 7 - Dairies Supervision.
No. 8 - Darwin Administration.
Air Navigation. Act - Regulations amended -
Statutory Rules 1939, No. 2.
Post and Telegraph Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1939, No. 34.
Senate adjourned at 10.2 p.m..
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 30 May 1939, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1939/19390530_senate_15_159/>.