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Tuesday, 18 May 1920

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) .- I approach this subject with diffidence, because of the attitude I have always adopted towards great Trusts or Combines. I regret that we are not sufficiently advanced in our ideas of Democracy to follow the example of Japan, and deal with these corporations as effectively as has the Government of that country. Last year the people of Australia paid £6,500,000 for the petroleum used in this country, and when we remember that the total cost of production, including mining, casing, and refining, was only about £500,000, and freight absorbed another £500,000 at the outside, we find there was a clear profit of £5,500,000 for the oil companies. I have no great regard for the Standard 'Oil or Vacuum companies, because, in my opinion, they are all joined together against the interests of Democracy. Their only god is pelf, and their only desire is to secure dividends. Let us look at this proposal in a common-sense way. It seems to me that its only effect will be to prevent the development of our oil deposits in Australia or Papua, and to encourage the crude oil products of Persia in the refineries to be erected in Australia. Therefore, I earnestly urge honorable members to follow the lead set by Japan and support the motion for a thorough investigation into the agreement. Lord Inchcape is at the head of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. I only mention his name as a reminder to honorable members of the difficulties we have experienced of late years in connexion with the Shipping Trust.

I have had many differences of opinion with the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), but in connexion with this Trust evil I should like to quote briefly from The Uprising of the Many, by Russell, who, by the way, gives a good deal of credit to the Minister for Defence for action which he took some years ago fighting Trusts that were threatening Australia. A former Premier of South Australia, the late Mr. Thomas Price, had trouble with the Shipping Trusts of Australia. This is what happened -

The Trust got a verdict of 500 dollars. Mr. Price owned his cottage, the result of years of toiling at his trade, and beyond that he had not a dollar. So the great Shipping Trust, which annually gouged millions from the people of Australia, purposed to seize the 900- dollar cottage to punish him for telling the truth.

Then an agent tried to tempt Mr. Price by offering to advance him the money, and it is related by one eye-witness that a somewhat portly gentleman was seen rushing out of a house with an infuriated member of Parliament behind him. This agent, we are told, was finally kicked like a bundle of rags into the gutter. The writer also has something to say about George Ryland, who was eliminated from the Northern Territory by that man who, in my judgment, ought to be in gaol for his administration there. George Ryland was black-listed for five years. This is bow Mr. Andrew Fisher, who enjoyed the unique distinction of being regarded as an honest politician, was treated -

Andrew Fisher, .a locomotive and mining engineer, and afterwards in the Labour administration, the best Minister for Customs that Australia ever had, went up and down the colony looking in vain for employment. He made a study of mines; no man knew them better; but no employer would have him on liny terms. Finally a miner, who was an old friend, and to whom he had made a rather pleading application, said to him, " Fisher, I should like to have you here, for I know your ability, but it is impossible. You know what would happen to me if I employed you. In six months we would both be looking for jobs."

I have referred to these incidents in order to bring home to honorable members the evils that confront us in connexion with these Combines. I may also relate my own experience of Standard Oil methods. A gentleman who, I understand, enjoyed a salary of £16,000 a year, and commission, boasted, I believe, at a meeting in South Africa, that, if necessary, he would buy the Commonwealth Parliament iri order to advance the interests of his company. I was introduced to him a few years ago by Mr. Alcock, of Messrs. James Service and Company. He at once commenced to speak about Standard oil, which, as honorable members know, is not a pleasant subject with me. I said to him, I do not care to talk about Standard oil. Let us talk about something else." In the course of our conversation I was interrupted by a constituent, and upon my return he again started to talk Standard oil. Another interruption in the conversation occurred, and for the third time he introduced the subject of Standard oil. I then said to him, " I will eat with you, drink with you, or smoke with you, but I will not talk Standard oil with you." He at once replied, "But, doctor, you must know that we give the public a better article at a cheaper price than any other company, and we pay better wages." It then flashed across my mind that he was the man from South Africa, and I said to him, " I believe you are the man who boasted he could buy the Commonwealth Parliament. Let me tell you that your Standard Oil Trust may be rich enough to buy anything, but, by the Living God, you will not buy the Australian people, who have the adult franchise." At that moment my friend, Mr. Alcock, joined in and asked the reason for my display of temper, and the Standard Oil- Company's representative at once replied, " The doctor is not to blame; h© gave me three warnings." I then remarked that I would like to fling the Standard Oil Company " down below.*' He replied, "It would make a mighty fine blaze." Mr. Alcock was pacified, and there the matter ended. The man, however, attained his object. "We were trying to bring about the importation of oil in bulk, so that it might be tinned and cased in Australia, and thus give employment to tinsmiths and carpenters. In that effort we were defeated by two votes, and I believe that those two votes were had." The two men who were suspected have long since been relegated to oblivion.

Mr SPEAKER (Hon W Elliot Johnson - The honorable member is now going somewhat beyond the scope of the question immediately before the Chair.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - I have mentioned1 this incident in support of my contention that the Government should allow, this agreement to be inquired into by a Select Committee. If we had the power of the people of Switzerland we could alter matters.

Mr Jowett - But Switzerland has no Trusts.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! If the honorable member for Grampians cannot refrain from interrupting I may have to ask him to retire from the chamber, or take another course.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - There are no Trusts in Switzerland. Under the Constitution of that country a law may be altered or amended at any time. If the referendum, the initiative and recall were in operation here the position would be very different. As it is I view with some degree of trepidation the proposal to bind the Commonwealth in this way for fifteen years. Why should Australia be delivered into the hands of this wealthy Combine, with Lord Inchcape at its head, for such a period? The time fixed for the operation of the agreement is too long. In the words of one of the brightest Englishmen that ever lived, no generation has a right to make laws that future generations must obey. No King or Parliament should impress upon future generations laws which are thought suitable for the control of the people in their day. This Parliament has no right to impress upon future Parliaments any agreement made between the Government or a Trust or Combine that may be found to be detrimental to Australia. In The Uprising of the Many, honorable members will find further arguments in support of the view I have put forward. That book shows how japan settled the question.

The Standard Oil Company was nominally dispersed, but in dealing with some results of the anti-trust laws in America that brilliant graduate of the Melbourne University, Mr. H. L. Wilkinson, in his work entitled The Trust Movement in Australia, writes, at page 186 -

In the case of the dissolution of the Standard Oil Company there are, or were, 6,000 stock or shareholders tobe dealt with. They were called upon to surrender the scrip, and in exchange received shares pro rata in the forty other subsidiary companies which have constituted the Trust. At first sight this return to original conditions would appear to he destructive of the combination against which action had been taken. . But although the

Standard Oil Company had 6,000 shareholders the majority of the stock was possessed by about a dozen men, who will continue to control the majority of the shares in the forty companies. It may, therefore, be expected that the forty companies will continue the policy of the Standard Oil Company, and in that case the public will be no better off, the only result being that the administrative expenses will be greater.

Nominally the Standard Oil Company was dissolved, but actually it was not, and it controls many of the State Legislatures of the United States of America as only great Trusts and Combines could.

I am proud that my Leader (Mr. Tudor) has come forward with ah amendment to refer the agreement to a Select Committee. Such a Committee would make a thorough investigation. I am not the friend of any corporation, but I believe that the wages and working conditions of the company engaged in the Australian shale oil industry, which has spent between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000, principally in New South Wales, could be controlled by us. On the other hand, what power should we have to control the wages of those employed by this company in Persia? People work there under conditions of semi-slavery. What power should we have over them? None whatever. Honorable members will find in The Mineral Industry During 1917, which was quoted by the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine), a very strong argument in favour of the reference of this question to a Select Committee. The Bill was introduced and read a first time on 4th May. Honorable members then saw it for the first time, and no man, no matter what his ability, could in the meantime have made a thorough study of the issues involved. We are to have next week a visit from a very high and cultured individual - a Prince of the Royal House, of England - and we are to adjourn for something like a month. During that time the Select Committee could make full inquiries, so that there would be very little delay in dealing with the agreement if the amendment were adopted. I shall vote for the appointment of a Select Committee, and I regret very much that the Government has not seen fit to accept our proposal.

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