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Thursday, 28 June 1906

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - There are one or two matters which I desire to bring under the notice of the Acting Postmaster-General. A few days ago I asked the Minister some questions concerning what I regarded as a case of sweating in the General Post Office, Sydney, and he promised to make some inquiries. I have heard nothing about the matter since, and I should like to know whether he has yet received any report, and, if so, what action he proposes to take with reference to the minute issued by the central administration requiring some of the employes in the Post Office, Sydney, to work until 9 or to p.m. before they would be permitted to enjoy the great luxury of tea money.

Mr Ewing - I gave instructions to the Secretary to the Post and Telegraph Department to make full inquiries, and I have not yet received a reply.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I also wish to refer to the general question of overtime, particularly as it relates to one of the branches of the Sydney Post Office. The Minister, a day or two ago, furnished me with a reply which was not at all satisfactory. It indicated that nothing unusual was taking place, but I take leave to say that something is radically wrong when men are brought back to work four nights a week, and are allowed nothing for overtime, although they are sent into branches of the service other than, those in which they are usually employed, in order to bring up work that has fallen in arrear.

Mr Watkins - To what branch does the honorable member refer?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The moneyorder branch. I understand that in one of the sub-branches the work has fallen very greatly into arrear owing to lack of assistance, and that the authorities are actually compelling men in other branches, after having discharged their own duties, to work in the money -order branch until 9 or no o'clock at night, without giving them any consideration except tea money. The authorities argue, very broadly and very sweetly, that the whole Department is one, and that if the work in one branch falls into arrear officers in other branches must give their assistance in bringing it up-to-date.

Mr Mahon - Would the honorable member introduce outsiders to do the work ?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not know. I am not aware whether that is required. I would, however, pay those who have to do the work. What I am complaining of is that officers who 'have brought their own work up-to-date are sent into an entirely different branch to help in wiping off arrears.

Mr Watkins - In other words, they are being punished for the industry they have displayed in their own Department. 816 Supply [REPRESENTATIVES.] (Formal).

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Apparently, and they are being shown no consideration in the shape of overtime. I understand that these men have endeavoured to. have their case laid before the authorities, but have not succeeded. Sccialistic control is all very well until it is put into practice. These men have been quite unable to get past their intermediate officers.

Mr Mahon - They have evidently managed to reach the honorable member.


Mr Mahon - They are quite entitled to go to the honorable member.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I remember that they used to go to the honorable member at one time, but lately he has been dumb about postal matters.

Mr Mahon - Oh, no; I have two or three matters to bring forward.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I unfortunately find that I have to come here with these grievances. No one used to be more industrious than the honorable member with regard to Western Australian postal complaints, and why he should be chirping at me because I am ventilating a grievance I do not know. Perhaps he resents my interference in a matter of justice. Perhaps he thinks he should have a monopoly in that respect.

Mr Mahon - I admit that it is something new.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member need admit nothing of the kind, for 'he knows better. I am just as much against sweating and unjust conditions as he is, and I know of no honorable member on this side of the House who is not. Something ought to be done so that these employes of the Government may either be permitted to go home when their own work is finished, or, if they are called upon to do extra work, and have to come back at night to do it, they ought in common honesty to be paid for it. Above all. I ask that these men should be allowed to put their case before the final tribunal ; and that at present it appears to be impossible for them to do. All that I can get from the Minister is what the central officials tell him, that there is nothing unusual in what is being done. If it is not unusual it is very reprehensible, and ought not to be permitted to obtain for one moment longer under any Government. If it is usual the whole matter requires investigation from top to bottom. The honorable member for Illawarra has referred to a question which he addressed to the Minister of Trade and Customs some time ago, with reference to butter grading. The Minister has promised that the regulations will be published to-morrow. But he does not say what the nature of those regulations will be. About a week ago he published in one of the daily newspapers a statement pur porting to give the regulations which were to be gazetted at an early date. He tells us to-day that those regulations are to be gazetted at once, but he does not tell us whether they are the same regulations. If they are, they seem to me to be an impossible set of regulations. I do not see, and thebest authorities from whom I have made inquiries agree with me, how the butter business is to be conducted satisfactorily under them. The honorable member for Cowper knows a great deal more about this matter than I do, and I believe that he will later on address some observations to the House upon it. But it is supremely important that the Minister should do nothing to hinder a successful co-operative enterprise, which is already taking the butter from New South Wales, and placing it satisfactorily and remuneratively on the London market. The Minister should be careful how he interposes regulations which may prevent these people from carrying on their business in the profitable and satisfactory way in which they are now doing it. They are on tenter hooks, so to speak. They do not know what the Minister is contemplating in regard to them. They do know that Ministers have made a series of contradictory statements concerning the whole question of grading. We have been told by the Attorney-General and by the Minister of Trade and Customs that no such thing as the grading of qualities was intended. If that be so, why cannot the Minister say now that qualities are not to be graded, and branded upon the butter boxes. All this attention from the Minister will, I am told, count for verylittle when the butter gets to London, because all that will require to be done there is what I understand is done now in some cases, simply to remove the brands from the boxes, and to sell the butter without them. That seems to be a very simple way of circumventing regulations' of this kind. One wonders at the credulity of people in Government action, which may be, and probably is, in some cases, easily manipulated. We all remember another attempt which the Minister made under the Com- merce Act, to regulate the quality of foodstuffs made in Australia. He has charge of them, it is true, at the time of arrival. But after they have left his hands, any adulterator could take away these foodstuffs, and serve them up to the people who use them in any way he cared to do. And so it mav be with other products, such as butter and cheese. The brands may be removed, and the purchasers may imprint their own brands in their stead. The Minister has no charge over butter when it leaves this country. Before it gets into the hands of the consumers, the brands may be removed from both inside and outside the boxes. What I think the Minister ought to do - and it is all the case requires, it seems to me - is to certify, if he cares to do so, that the butter is of a certain standard, that it is pure, that it is not some other product masquerading under the name of butter, that it is not a deleterious compound. No one wants goods to be exported which are a cheat and a fraud upon the public. What is complained of in connexion with the proposed' grading and branding is that the Government, in the first place, is not competent to do it accurately. Indeed, it is questionable whether the Government can possibly do it accurately at this end, because butter may change its nature and its flavour on the voyage to the market. We seem to be living in a time when the Government is controlling all the industrial operations of the country, and submitting the whole of the industrial occupations of the people to every kind of new regulative experience ; and so it seems that the Government must take a hand in regard to butter, which is not for our own consumption, but is intended for export. Of- course, we are familiar with the argument which is usually put forward in support of this policy, that this kind of thing has been done with advantage in other parts of the world. The instance of New Zealand is quoted. It is said' that the quality of the butter from that country has improved because of the branding and grading. The facts, on investigation, prove that such is not the case ; for, while New Zealand butter is very good, and while it is true that it is branded, vet New Zealand mutton is also better than most mutton that goes Home, and that is not branded, and is not examined, perhaps, except as to its wholesomeness. Nevertheless, New Zealand mutton has just the same prominence as New Zea land butter, for the simple reason that the natural conditions of the country favour the production of the best possible quality ; and it only requires ordinary care and attention to secure that the best product shall be put upon the market. What is asked here is that the system which has worked satisfactorily throughout the State of New South Wales shall at any rate be allowed to continue, and that the Government shall not arbitrarily step in and take the control of this butter industry, as to its quality, out of the hands of those who are best able to manage it. I remember a case some time ago, of which I was reminded to-day, by seeing that two shipments of fruit sent from Victoria turned out to be failures. When I first went to the Agricultural Department of New South Wales, I found that arrangements had been made for shipping oranges to London from Sydney. I found' that the Government undertook to bear the cost of shipping the oranges Home, the growers undertaking to provide the fruit. It was an experimental shipment. What happened was this. Instead of the Government going to some experienced grower, to pick the oranges that were to be carried to London, the Government inspector insisted upon picking them himself. I know of one orchard in particular to which he went. The owner of the orchard was also interested in the shipment of oranges. I think he lost about ^150 over it. He told me that he had selected some oranges which he considered were best fitted to be exported. But the Government inspector chose a totally different orange, and one, as it turned out, that did not carry to London at all. How is it possible for a Government inspector to teach a man who is at this business every day of his life, which product is of the best quality ? Yet that is what we are going to do in connexion with butter by setting up all these regulations. If the Government were necessarily perfect in its capacity to judge these things, one would not say much about it. One would be glad indeed that the Government brand should be used. But that cannot be said. All the experience that we have had goes to show that Government officials are ordinary human individuals, possessed of ordina ry every-day judgment, and not expert beyond others in the business. Certainly they have not had the same length of experience and knowledge as is possessed by those who are actively interested in the industries concerned, and whose livelihood depends upon their success. There cannot be the same minute and intimate knowledge of the qualities of products inherent in any Government Department, however well organized, as is possessed by the great bulk of the people who market these things for themselves, and who depend upon their sale. Therefore, the argument on the part of these producers is that the Government should content itself with conserving the purity of the goods exported, and that the classification may more properly be left to the individuals ,who send the butter Home, and have to take the consequences whether good or bad. That seems to me to be a very fair ground to take. The Government may have the right, broadly and mainly, on grounds of health, to take care of the purity of the products of the country. I do not deny that. But what is objected to is that the Government should so interfere in the ordinary operations of trade as to seem to dictate to people as to the quality of the products they produce, and as to which they have had a life- long experience. To compel a man to put upon boxes of butter a brand which he who has produced the article, and knows most about it, will himself declare not to be a true gauge of its quality at all, is absurd. I think the Minister might very well content himself with talking up the attitude that he did when the Act was going through Parliament. Over and over again the Attorney-General and the Minister of Trade and Customs declared that the Bill was intended not to grade qualities at all, and! yet, according to the forecast of the regulations published the other day - and I assume that it is pretty accurate - that is exactly what the Minister now is arrogating to himself the power to do. It may be that he has the power under the Act, but I urge 'him in the interests of those who are most deeply concerned not to push this matter of interference too far, but to allow them to look after their own product, to grade it and to mark it for what it is and what it is worth; he, on the other hand, taking care that the qualities which they brand subscribe to a given standard of purity. When that is done, the least he might do is to leave the rest to private enterprise, and to those concerned.

Sir William Lyne - To do what?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have been, urging that the Government should not exceed the function of setting up a standard as to the purity of the export, and should leave the exporter to look after the quality of the article and the marking of it.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member would recommend that the Government stamp be put upon their marking?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not wish the honorable member to put the Government stamp upon the article at all, except as to its purity if he wishes.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member may be quite sure that the Government are going to do so.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is the whole complaint. It is1 impossible, of course, to get the honorable gentleman toopen his mind to anything which is said from this side. He seems to regard it ashis first Ministerial duty to shut his mind entirely to anything which may be said to him except on his own particular side of the Chamber. He is peculiar in that respect.

Sir William Lyne - - Oh, no.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable gentleman gets through with his proposal, but I venture to say that very often he gets through with it to the detriment of the people of Australia. Here is another instance of it: When we put a proposition to him to-day, all we can get out of him is, " You may be quite sure that I will not listen to anything of the kind." All I know is that I am speaking now for hundreds of men who have devoted their lifetime to this industry, .and whose livelihood! depends upon it. I think that they are entitled to have their views put before the Minister by those who represent them here. If thisis the only answer that they can get from him, I venture to think that it is treating them with scant courtesy, because what is discourteous to their representatives here can only be regarded as direct discourtesy to them also, we are only their mouthpieces here. The point which I put now, and which the Minister sweeps aside in a peremptory way, is just the point which he insisted that he would respect when the Bill was going through the Chamber. The Attorney-General said it was not intended to grade qualities. The Minister followed his honorable and learned colleague, and, after specifying the grades as i, 2, 3, and 4, he said, " We are going

Stiffly[28 June, 1906.] (Formal). 819 to do nothing of the kind." But when we ask him to carry out the statement which he made to the House and upon the faith of which he got the Bill put through, he says that we can make up our mind that he is not going to keep his word.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member is misquoting me altogether.


Sir William Lyne - The honorable member is misquoting what I interjected just now. I said that we were going to put the Government brand upon these exports. That was all I said. I have already said that the word "grading" is never used in any respect in the regulations.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I know that, but what is the difference?

Sir William Lyne - I propose to carry out what was recommended by the conference in Sydney, and what was recommended by the very gentlemen whom the honorable member is supporting here, and that is to deal with the matter in a certifi- cate


Sir William Lyne - Yes ; it will not be branded upon the box.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is an answer, but why could not the honorable gentleman say that before?

Mr Kennedy - The honorable member has been chasing a shadow again?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is no shadow. The Minister said that I could make up my mind that the Government were going to put their brand upon the box ; but in what way is it to be done ?

Sir William Lyne - We are not going to put 1, 2, and 3 upon the box.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is the whole point I have been putting.

Sir William Lyne - I hope the honorable member is satisfied.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why does not the Minister be a little frank? We try to treat him frankly and fairly.

Sir William Lyne - This is the first time I have said it publicly. I was going to Jet the regulations speak for themselves, but as the honorable member was so anxious, I have stated what it is proposed to do.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What made me anxious was the appearance of the regulations in the newspapers. I am glad to hear now that the Minister has modified the regulations as first published.

Sir William Lyne - I am always most reasonable.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not as a rule ; it takes a lot to get the honorable member to that point of reasonableness. However, I shall be very glad if now we have got him to that point with regard to the export of butter. I desire to refer to the Royal Commissions which are reporting on various matters to the Government, and particularly to a statement in the press this morning concerning the Shipping Commission. I make the reference, first, for the purpose of pointing out the difference in the methods adopted by some of the Royal Commissions. Take, for instance, the Tariff Commission. When we want a little information here about their procedure it cannot be obtained unless the Chairman can be got to come here, and when a special question is addressed to him, he can only speak with authority concerning a matter of pure formality as to their proceedings. When I opened my newspaper this morning, I found that the Chairman of the Shipping Commission had stated that a report has been circulated among its members. He tells us the finding which he thinks will be adopted before the presentation of the report to the GovernorGeneral. He tells us, in fact, that an agreement has been reached by the Socialists composing the Royal Commission.

Mr Mahon - Who are they?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member, for instance, is one of them.

Mr Mahon - Yes, but who are the others ?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Chairman - all the names are given in the newspapers this morning.

Mr Mahon - Is the honorable member for Riverina a Socialist?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No; I was going to say that the recognised Socialists of the Chamber, plus two other members who always vote with them, and whom the honorable member can put in the classification if he thinks proper-

Mr Mahon - The honorable member ought to have put it right in the beginning.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) -I think that is the proper way to put it. There are professed Socialists ; the others who vote Socialism every time.

Mr Hutchison - And the honorable member is sorry that they have not reported in an anti-socialistic fashion.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No; and that is not my point just now. I am pointing out that evidently these honorable members have agreed to recommend the nationalization of the shipping industry, as far as the carriage of mails is concerned. Anybody could tell from the composition of the Royal Commission how they would report. It was a foregone conclusion,. The chairman declared here that he only wanted the Select Committee appointed in order to try to make out a case for nationalizing the shipping industry.

Mr Spence - Does not the honorable member think that the Labour Party can be honest?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Who is impugning their honesty?

Mr Spence - The honorable member said that it was a foregone conclusion.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am judging the honorable member for Barrier out of his own mouth. He said that he only wanted a Select Committee appointed in order to f he could make out a case for nationalization., and that unless he could do that he would not trouble about an inquiry.

Mr Hutchison - But the chairman could not influence the report against the other members.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No; but I raised an objection to the appointment of the Committee at the time, and so did other honorable members. After the declaration of the chairman as to his socialistic purpose we protested against the composition of the Committee.

Mr Mahon - I rise to a point of order. I ask you, sir, whether the honorable Member is in order in discussing the report of a Royal Commission which is not yet in the hands of the Government, and which will be discussed here later on, or in referring to the terms of the Royal Commission when in ignorance of its real purport. I submit, sir, that he is not in order in anticipating that discussion.

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