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Thursday, 16 August 1906

Mr SPENCE (DARLING, NEW SOUTH WALES) .- Most honorable members who have spoken during this debate have congratulated the Treasurer upon the optimistic note that he has considered himself justified in sounding with regard to the public finances and the general prosperity of the country. I do not complain of the Treasurer's optimism, because, perhaps, it is rather a good thing to be sanguine than otherwise. The proposal to introduce the penny postage system, and to make a free gift of a large sum of money to a limited section of the community, is rather startling. I hardly think that, at the present stage of our history, we can afford to incur the loss of revenue that would be involved. I am rather surprised that the Treasurer did not go the whole hog, and propose to introduce free postage. It would have been a matter of only a few hundreds of thousands of pounds, and it would have placed the citizens of the Commonwealth in a position of advantage over all the rest of the world. As a member of the Labour Party, I rejoice to notice that the Government are prepared to make a distinct step in the direction of Socialism by becoming national ship-owners. It is intended to embark upon the fishing industry by fitting out a trawler, with the object of ascertaining the extent of our fisheries. The idea is a very good one, and I am glad that the honorable member for Parramatta has so far divested himself of his old-time prejudices that he is able to express his approval of such an extremely socialistic enterprise. The honorable member, who is practically the leader of the Opposition in the House - there ought to be one leader of the party in the House and another outside of the Houses-seemed to be carried away by the optimism of the Treasurer. He said -

Looking at both sides of this Budget expenditure and revenue, it occurs to me that the revenues of the Commonwealth at the present moment furnish an unanswerable reply to the extreme protectionists of Australia on the one hand, and to the Socialists on the other.

At a later stage he remarked -

Listening to the recital of these interesting facts by the Treasurer, it would seemas though the' blue skies of Australia laughed in derision at those who are making such a fuss about nothing to-day, and for purely political purposes.

It seems to me that when the public finances are flourishing, we are apt to lose sight of the fact that much distress and suffering may exist in the community. Sir Stafford Henry Northcote, in his Twenty Years of Financial Policy, says -

It is difficult to understand how, in a system like our own, great financial prosperity can co-exist with national distress, and it may safely be affirmed that such a conjunction for any length of time is impossible. Yet the speech of Sir Charles Wood in opening the Budget of 1847-8' presents a contrast of this description, which is well worth the while of every statesman to examine.

I mention that because I wish to direct the attention of honorable members to some of the conditions which exist amongst us today, and which present a vivid contrast to the buoyancy of the revenue. In Great Britain, at the time referred to by Sir Stafford" Northcote, the famine in Ireland was then causing very great distress, whilst the revenue was never more buoyant. The Treasurer was able to present to us some evidences of the prosperity of the general community, and, almost at the same moment that he was speaking, representations were being made by members of the Victorian Parliament with regard to the existence of dire distress, amongst certain sections of the community in Melbourne. It was stated, upon the authority of the Unemployed Committee, that 140 houses situated in one block in Collingwood, contained twenty-six adult males, or 1.9 per cent, of the whole of the adult male residents in that area, who could not find employment. It was said that the same percentage of unemployed was to be found in the greater portion of the city of Collingwood, and that men had in many cases been idle for seven months out of the twelve. In Carlton, 314 houses were visited, and 73 adult males, or 24 per cent, of the workmen residing in the tenements in question, were found to be out of work. In Fitzroy, from 18 per cent, to 24 per cent, of the adult males were unable to find employment, and one out of every four of the working men in North Melbourne were out of work. Mr. Watt, a member of the Victorian Assembly, spoke of cases of which he had personal knowledge, in which one family of seven and another of. three, had nothing to eat from 1 ' o'clock on Saturday afternoon until Monday morning. Therefore, in this great city, much distress exists, and it is gratifying to notice that, the State Government .propose to spend £250,000 upon public works with a view to affording some relief. In Sydney, a Committee appointed by the Trade and Labour Council have been making very, careful investigations, and have summarized the results of their inquiries. They say -

The evidence brought forward most unmistakably shows that sweating of a pronounced character obtains in this city in" factories, warehouses, fashionable millinery and drapery establishments, other shops of less pretensions, highpriced luncheon and tea rooms and similar resorts largely frequented by the moneyed and leisured classes, hotels and restaurants, laundries, and even in large mercantile and banking institutions.

We regret also that the Government service, which should be an example to the community, is not wholly free from blame in this regard, as it is within our knowledge that faithful employes of long, service, entitled by merit to promotion, have had to stand aside in order to make room for those able to manipulate influence, and this in view of the fact that the Public Service Hoard was especially appointed to deal with all promotions on lines of justice and equity.

Beyond the confines of the city our search extended, and disclosed heartless conditions in connexion with the dairying, industry, where shamefully long hours of labour are requited with a pittance that only in derision can be called wages. Soap and candle works and boilingdown establishments loudly proclaim the presence of the sweater. Jam, biscuit, lolly, and pickle factories are dens under his direction ; and in the fruit-canning industry, the waggon from the chemical works - another underpaid concern - deposits in the early morning its load of drugs for purposes not disclosed. Potteries and kindred industries claim their toll ; and though but a little distance penetrated, your Committee is appalled at the deep-dyed sweating that flourishes in various abhorrent forms and at the grinding savagery rampant in our midst.

Many of the cases investigated by the Committee, especially those instances in which children are the victimized slaves, disclose such a hideous system of brutality as to almost justify a denial of our boasted civilization, while the term Christian allied to a city where employers thrive on downright slave-dealing' is an awful misnomer.

They go on to speak of the slavery and degradation that exist in. the city. I think that if we can do anything in the direction of affording profitable employment for the labour that is now idle, we shall be taking an important step in advance. The late Mr. Seddon estimated the value of the work of an adult male at ,£300 per annum. One of the greatest authorities in the United States upon, physical economics, Dr. Hope, recently made an interesting statement before the American Medical Association. He was striving to arrive at the economic value of a human being, and in this connexion he* said that, upon a 3 J per cent, discount basis, at . ten years of age a boy was worth: ,£529, at fifteen years of age he was worth £852, and at twentyfive years of age he was worth ,£1,087. From whatever stand-point we regard this matter we must recognise that it does not pay any country to have its population idle. The Age newspaper of 7th instant contained a paragraph which commented, upon the terrible condition of the women workers of London. It stated that these women were being worked excessively long hours, and under very bad conditions, for the munificent wage of one penny per hour. The same issue of that journal contained a report of a deputation of employers which waited upon the Chief Secretary of South Australia, whose members were only willing to pay a wage of a penny per hour to our Australian girls. Surely we ought to be ashamed to countenance in the Commonwealth) a condition of affairs which' we so strongly denounce in the old country. One of the signs of the times, perhaps, is the statement by Mr. Swinburne, the Minister of Water Supply and Agriculture in Victoria, who says -

If a man is willing to work, and cannot find employment, then the State should either have to find him work, or give him sufficient money to enable his wife and children to live. That sounds like revolution, I know, but if you think it out carefully I would like to know what Christian argument you can bring against it.

I think that statement is worth recording, because it constitutes such a radical departure from the attitude which is .usually taken up by politicians, who decline to accept responsibility for conditions which everybody must deplore. The cure for this state of things is, perhaps, not easy to find. In Australia there ought to be avenues in which every person who honestly desires it can obtain employment. Some of the remedies which have been suggested are, to my mind, extremely amusing. I admit that some good will probably result from preaching the doctrine which is being advocated during the luncheon hour at establishments all round Melbourne by worthy gentlemen who urge that Australians should be sufficiently patriotic to support local "industries. But in this connexion I was somewhat amused to read a newspaper report of an address which was delivered by Mr.. Charles Atkins, who, I believe, is an aspirant for Federal Parliamentary honours. That gentleman visited the Scotch College, and, after telling the boys that they should try to out-British the British in their patriotism, he said -

Their patriotism should, however, also have a practical, as well as a sentimental, side, and they should create as much work as possible by increasing the consumption of goods manufactured in Australia. His coat was made in Hobart, his suit in Geelong, his boots in Kingstreet, his socks - -(laughter - in South Yarra, and his hat in Collingwood - (loud laughter). It had been said that local goods were poor in Quality, but by increasing the consuming they would not only improve the quality, but also cheapen the price. He wanted them to believe in Australia, for as soon_as they began to travel, the need would quickly come home to them, and they should not be afraid to do a little bit of " skiting." For instance, they might tell people that the annual amount of production in Australia reached to ^121,000,000, which indeed was something to boast of. He was sure every boy in the College was ready to do something for his country.

I repeat that I was rather amused when I lead that report, because I recollected that I had seen certain bill-heads, which announced that the firm of Charles Atkins and Company were sole agents for the Standard Varnish, New York, for the Heath and Milligan Company's Paints, Chicago, for H. Rosenthal and Brothers' brushware, New York, and the Water Paint Company of America, New York. It seems to me that if we could extend the boycott which Mr. Atkins desires to put into operation against all the imported articles which I have enumerated, conditions would be very much improved. In my opinion the real question which we have to face is that of immigration. It is a perfect farce to talk about inviting persons to settle in Australia when conditions exist such as those to which I have alluded. Upon the subject of immigration I would remind the Prime Minister that Mr. Coghlan recently made a report to the New South Wales Government which contains some very interesting statements. At the present time that State is paying 6s. per head for the privilege of securing from the old country single "young men who come there chiefly with a view to obtain work upon farms. I maintain that we already have quite sufficient men of that class who are in receipt of starvation wages. Mr. Coghlan points out that the agents of the shipping companies in the old country receive £1 per head from the Canadian Government for the immigrants whom they induce to settle in theDominion. The shipping companies which are interested in the Australian trade are giving their agents 14s. per head for the immigrants whom they induce to settle in New South Wales, and the Government of that State are contributing the balance of 6s. per head. I have, no doubt, that the Treasurer observed in the Age of yesterday the following paragraph: -

The New Zealand Times, commenting on the immigration system initiated by the late Mr. Seddon, but since stopped, says: - "The scheme was condemned from the outset, yet each steamer brought its quota of men more or less unfit for pioneering work in virgin country. In winter time further men were sent out without a single penny. The Labour department had to supply the poor wretches with blankets as some sort of stay against the rigor of midwinter. Thegreatest mistake of all was sanctioning the immigration of penniless married couples with families of young children, all having been primed' with an exactly reverse idea of the conditionsthey had to face. Five married couples, without a single shilling, and all with children, arrived the other day by the Morayshire, and" were duly supplied with' blankets and deported! to Ohakune."

In the light of the foregoing statements, we require - in any expenditure that we may incur to advertise Australia - to make a radical departure from the methods which have hitherto been adopted. Personally, I do not see how we can do anything effective in that direction until we have appointed a High Commissioner. The class of immigrants whom we desire to attract are those who are possessed of capital, and who are willing to settle immediately upon the land. I believe that they should be able to select their holdings before they leave the old world. In this connexion we must recollect that every land-holder employs at least two, if not three men. The real problem that we have to face is very well stated in the 9th chapter of Sutherland's History of Australia. It is so complete that I think it is worth putting upon our official records. The writer says -

In 1829 a small book was published in London which attracted a great deal of attention, not only by reason of its manner, but also on account of the complete originality of the ideas it contained. It purported to be a letter written from Sydney, and described the annoyances to be endured by a man of taste and fortune, if he emigrated to Australia. He could have no intellectual society ; he could not enjoy the pleasures of his library, or of his picture gallery ; he could hope for none of the delights of easy retirement, seeing that he had to go forth on his land, and with his own hands labour for his daily food. For, said Mr. Wakefield, the author of this little book, you cannot long have free servants in this country ; if a free man arrives in the colony, though he may for a short time work for you as a servant, yet he is sure to save a little money, and as land is here so excessively cheap he soon becomes a landed proprietor. He settles down on his farm, and though he may have a year or two of heavy toil, yet he is almost certain to become both happy and prosperous. Thus, the colony is an excellent place for a poor man, but it is a wretched abode for a man of means and culture. Wakefield, therefore, proposed to found in Australia another colony, which should be better adapted to those who had fortunes sufficient to maintain them, and yet desired to emigrate to a new country. His scheme for effecting this purpose was to charge a high price for the land, and so to prevent the poorer people from purchasing it ; the money received from the sale of land he proposed to employ in bringing out young men and women as servants and farm labourers, for the service of the wealthier colonists. Now, said Wakefield, on account of the immense natural resources of these colonies, their splendid soil, their magnificent pasture lands, their vast wealth in minerals, and their widespread forests of valuable timber, which stands ready .for the axe. a gentleman possessed of only £20,000 will obtain as large an income from it as could be procured from £100,000 in England ; yet he will be able to enjoy his learned and cultured leisure, just as he does at home, because all the work will be done for him by the servants he employs.

As a matter of fact, South Australia was first settled upon the conditions advocated bv Mr. Wakefield as. far back as 1829. The South Australian Association acted upon his suggestion, ' and at the outset sold land at not less than 12s. per acre, and subsequently at £1 per acre. The system adopted by all the States of selling at £1 per acre land worth, in somecases, ^3 or £4 an acre, and in others only 15s. per acre, had its origin in Mr. Wakefield's suggestion. To-day the poor man cannot get on the land ; the Crown lands of the States, and particularly of Victoria, have been so alienated that there is no opening for him. The honorable member for Grampians pointed out that he knew of men who, having only limited means, had gone on- the land and done well. If we had cheap land available for settlement those having a knowledge of farming would be able, even if their means were limited, to make comfortable homes for themselves in the course of a few years. But the door has practically been closed to such men. In Victoria to-day only 13,828 acres of first class land remain unalienated. So far as this State is concerned, therefore, it would appear that the door has been closed to agricultural immigrants, unless we can find some means of placing them on the land. According to Mr. Coghlan, the value of property in New South Wales is ^368,778,000. Nine hundred and eighty-seven persons, or companies, own 35 per cent, of this property; 2,086 own 45 per cent, of it; and 50 per cent, of it is held by some 3,000 persons, or companies. I have here some interesting figures, showing how,, under the conditional purchase system,, which was designed to allow the poor man to obtain land on easy terms, the number of large estates in New South Wales has increased. Since 1882, 44,352,613 acres of conditional purchase lands have been transferred, and only 18,481,880 acres have been applied for. At present, 22,830,261 acres in New South Wales are held by 722 persons, or companies, whose holdings average an area of 31,621 acres each, and the total area alienated comprises 48,081,314 acres. In South Australia, 304 persons, or companies, own 3,545,000 acres, whilst 1,269,704 acres are held by 30. The following table gives the names of the thirty largest land-owners in South Australia, together with their area and the unimproved value of their holdings: -


In many parts of South Australia one may travel all day by train without seeing more than a few individuals, the scanty population of many districts being due to the fact that the land has been alienated, and not put to proper use. One big land-owner in that State some time ago cut up a portion of his estate into orchard blocks, and the railway returns relating to that district - in which fruit is now being grown - are in striking contrast to those relating to the woolgrowing districts. There is a large area of land in South Australia which ought to be available for settlement, and until it is thrown open it will be idle for us to talk of encouraging immigration.

Sir John Forrest - There is still plenty of room for immigrants in some of the States.

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