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Wednesday, 14 July 1920

Mr BRENNAN - Sit down. This is not a point of order.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! If honorable members continue to interject and interrupt I cannot hear the point "raised by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Robert Cook). I request that he be given an opportunity to state his point of order.

Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) - I would not have interjected-

Mr BRENNAN - Sit down. This is obviously not a point of order.

Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) - I have the greatest sympathy-

Mr Riley - Sit down; you are out of order.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! Honorable members must keep silence while a point of order is being stated.

Mr Mathews - He has not raised a point of order.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member for Melbourne Ports is out of order, and will please cease from interjecting.

Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) - The point I wish to raise is with regard to my interjections.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! That is not a legitimate point of order. I would remind the honorable member that, since interjections themselves are disorderly, he will not be in order in endeavouring, to raise a point of order for the purpose of justifying- an interjection which, in itself, was a breach of order. I again appeal to honorable members not to interrupt the debate by disorderly conduct.

Mr TUDOR - I have taken trouble to secure my information. I do not suppose that any one will say that Mr. Knibbs, in compiling his details, is likely to lean either to one side or to the other. He gave me these facts regarding average consumption per head per week, and I have managed, so far, to state them in relation to bread, sugar, butter, and meat. The increases are not my calculations, but are the figures of Mr. Knibbs and his staff, and the particulars upon which they were based were obtained direct from retail shops by the Statistician's officers. On the basis of consumption of 5 lbs. of bread per head per week - the increase being 3d. per 2-lb. loaf - it means an average individual increase of 7£d. for bread alone in the bills of an ordinary family of five. On an average family consumption of 2 lbs. of sugar per week, the cost has gone up 6½d. Butter has increased more than ls. per lb., and meat has increased at least Gd. per lb., so that on the 4 lbs. allowed to each individual per week there is a definite increase of 2s. per head. This means for the average family a total increase of over £1 per week on these items alone, apart altogether from house rent and clothing. Again, Knibbs, referring to groceries and food, states that what could have been bought for 22s. lid. in 1913 costs to-day 37s. 7d. These are facts which cannot be controverted, and every honorable member will admit that Knibbs' figures are never over the mark. In regard to house rents, he states that a house which could have been rented for 22s. 4d. in 1913 is worth 25s. 8d. to-day, an increase of only about 15 per cent. But all honorable members know that house rents have gone up 50 per cent, in some cases, and the difficulty in many localities is in getting any house. Every honorable member who represents a metropolitan division, as I do, must be aware of the position. The Inter-State Commission inquired into this problem some time ago, and arrived at the conclusion that we were 25,000 houses short in the Eastern States. What has been done with that report? Nothing.

Mr Jowett - The honorable member knows that the housing difficulty in the metropolitan area is largely due to the drift of population.

Mr TUDOR - The position is much the same in many country towns.

Mr Jowett - That may be because houses are being pulled down and carted away.

Mr TUDOR - Where would they be carted to? If they were brought to the metropolitan areas, the difficulty here in obtaining houses accommodation would not be so acute.

Mr Jowett - Oh, yes it would, because population is increasing.

Mr TUDOR - The evidence given before the Inter-State Commission showed that house rents had definitely increased substantially.

Mr Jowett - In the big cities, because people are being crushed out of the country districts.

Mr TUDOR - Why should they be crashed out of the country?

Mr Jowett - Because of the indifferent treatment which the primary producers are receiving.

Mr TUDOR - I have always done my best to improve the conditions of the working classes, and I may say that no industrial organization has ever obtained any benefit without fighting for it, as gas employees are to-day. I have never heard of an employer in any part of Australia saying to the members of an industrial organization, "You are getting a minimum wage of £3 10s. per week; we will give you £4." Nor have I known any employer to say to his employees, " You are working forty-eight hours per week; we will make it forty-four."

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In many country towns employers are offering more than the minimum wage.

Mr TUDOR - I am very glad to hear that, and I hope that is the position generally throughout the Commonwealth, because if it is so many of our workers will go back to the country. Mr. Lister. - One large firm in this city has voluntarily reduced the hours of working by closing at 6 o'clock on Friday nights instead of 9.30.

Mr Jackson - And what about Pelaco?

Mr TUDOR - I am friendly with the proprietors of Pelaco Limited, and I believe that they treat their employees well. But I want to refer particularly to -the profiteering methods of Flinders-lane houses, as disclosed in the evidence of the Fair Profits Commission. Mr. J. H. Martin, manager of the dress and silk department of Richard Allen and Sons Proprietary Limited, warehousemen, of Flinders-lane, when giving evidence, was asked by the chairman, "What percentage of your stock have you ' marked up ' during the present season ? " The Age report of 20th March states that witness wrote down his answer and handed it to the chairman, who said -

In the opinion of this Commission this particular fact should not be treated as confidential. You bought Marrackville tweed at 6s. 6d.. and you sold at 13s. 6d.- a profit of more than 100 per cent. We think that quite unreasonable. The Commission proposes to bring the principal of your firm before it. Under section 8 of the Necessary Commodities Aci we shall declare your prices to be unreasonable, and will consider what action shall be taken.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - What was the outcome of that incident ?

Mr TUDOR - Speaking from memory, I believe the manager was brought before the Commission, and told that he had to sell the tweed at a cheaper rate.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Was it done?

Mr TUDOR - I do not know.

Sir Robert Best - The tweed was put up at auction, and brought a much greater sum than that which the firm was charging.

Mr TUDOR - In any case, the Fair Profits Commission has been able to achieve something, for it is reported in to-day's Age that in regard to transactions in bran and pollard a certain firm has had to return £450 overcharged to customers.

Mr Jowett - The honorable member will admit that the Fair Prices Commission has been doing a great deal of good in checking- profiteering.

Mr TUDOR - I hope they have; but, unfortunately, the Commission has not much power. In this respect it is very much like the Basic Wage Commission, and it will shortly cease to exist. Originally its term expired on the 30th June, but there has been an extension until the end of the year.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Surely there can be a further extension.

Mr TUDOR - I understand, the Victorian Government will not take kindly to any such proposal. At any rate, the Commission is only there for a limited time.

Another fact was brought before the Commission, and was thus dealt with in the Age of ten days or a fortnight ago : -

A most .glaring instance of profiteering during the demand caused by the strike for emergency illuminants was exposed before the Fair Profits Commission yesterday. The instance is the more remarkable in that it embraced several transactions in the one line of goods on the one day - some within ten minutes of each other; that three middlemen as well as the importer and the retailer handled the goods before the consumer was offered them; and that between importer and consumer a difference between the landed cost (4s. 4d. each) and retail price (15s.) of 10s. 8d. had occurred. The transactions centred round a line of Windsor hurricane lamps imported from New York at invoice cost f.o.b. of 31s. 6d. per doz. (2s. 7id. each) and lauded cost of 52s. 8d. (4s. 4d. each) by the Vacuum Oil Company. Evidence regarding the subsequent transactions was given before the Commission yesterday by representatives of the various firms named, who had been summoned as witnesses, lt was deposed that S. R. O. Allen, importer, Williamstreet, bought from the Vacuum Oil Company on 14th June seventy-two dozen of the lamps at 58s. 6d. per doz. The same morning Mr. Allen sold ten cases to George Russell Proprietary Limited, Flinders-street, at 77s. 6d. per dozen ; also twenty cases to James McEwan and Company at 80s. per dozen ten minutes later; thirty-one cases to Brandt Brothers at 80s. ten minutes later again; and ten cases to James Walker, Little Collins-street at 80s. George Russell Proprietary Limited the same day sold four dozen to C. J. Langford, Elizabethstreet at lOSs. per dozen. C. J. Langford sold two dozen to J. and A. Boyes, Elizabeth-street, the same afternoon at 150s. per dozen. J. and A. Boyes sold to a member of the public at the rate of 180s. per dozen (15s. each). C. J. Langford and J. A. Boyes were in the same building, and no delivery charges were involved in the transaction. Most of the purchasers took the risk of breakages.

That is the position, not only in regard to lamps and tweeds, but also in respect to many other commodities.

Mr Hill - What is wanted is a Cooperative Distributing Society.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Such a society would be of no use if there were no more lamps.

Mr TUDOR - There was at one time a Co-operative Distributing Society in Melbourne, and many attempts have been made in this city to form such societies. The result was, however, that cooperative societies in the country declined to sell goods to the co-operative society here unless the goods went through a middleman.

Mr Hill - The goods should be bought direct from the primary producer on the land.

Mr TUDOR - I am referring to the Civil Service Co-operative Society, which was unable to purchase goods from cooperative societies in the country unless those goods went through middlemen.

Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) - Could you give us the names of those societies?

Mr TUDOR - I cannot, at the moment. I do know, however, that the wholesalers killed the Co-operative Bakery which was in existence here for a number of years. I will try to get the particulars of those country societies from the ex-secretary of the Civil Service Cooperative Society, Mr. Burke. About a fortnight ago, a letter appeared in the Age, referring to dealings in other commodities, and containing the following: -

We hear it remarked everywhere that the cost of living has advanced 50 per cent., but the fact is that the cost of living has advanced somewhere approaching 200 per cent. In support of that assertion/ let us examine a few items qf necessaries, omitting luxuries and fancy items, many of which have advanced 500 per cent, or 600 per cent.: -


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Those are Italian hats.

Mr TUDOR - Yes ;,but I do not think the figures are correct in regard to these Borsalino hats. Given the material, workmen in Australia, whether trained here or overseas, can make hats as good as any produced in;, other parts of the world.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Does the honorable member suggest that there is profiteering in regard to bread and milk, and other similar commodities?

Mr TUDOR - I say that, in many cases, there are excessive handlings. It was shown before the Inter-State Commission that there are certain firms in Melbourne, known as the "Holy Seven," who absolutely control the wholesale grocery trade here. According to the evidence given, these firms refuse to sapply any goods to traders who have dealings with outside firms. Many firms have tried to get into this inner ring, but have been prevented. It is preserved in the same way as the United Shoe Machinery Trust is preserved. This latter Trust controls certain machinery in Australia and other parts of the world, and will have no dealings with any firms who venture to use other machinery. For instance, if a shoe manufacturer has one of their machines for sewing welts, he must also use one of their machines for doing' the eyeletting. This " Holy Seven " has absolute control in the same way of the wholesale grocery business; and I have no doubt that in this regard the Inter-State Commissioners referred to the necessity for the Government taking some action. The Government did take some action in regard to meat, but the Ministry were frightened by a demonstration of the producers concerned, who chartered seven special trains to bring a deputation to town. I am pleased to say that those composing that deputation hooted my name when it was mentioned.

Mr Jowett - They did not. I was there.

Mr TUDOR - The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) was also present, and he assures me that my name was hooted.

Mr Mahony - My word it was - vigorously !

Mr Jowett - I am sure that the name of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) was not hooted; country people are always very polite.

Mr TUDOR - I do not mind them hooting my name, I consider it was a compliment to me, for the action which I took ; for I am out to get a fair deal for " the consumer.

Mr Hill - The only result of the price fixing was that the producer got considerably less, while the consumer paid considerably more.

Mr TUDOR - Yes ; the middlemen came in just as they are doing to-day, when they are buying frozen meat at a cheap rate, and selling it as fresh.

Mr Bell - It is good meat; why not use it?

Mr TUDOR - I believe that many are using it, believing it to be fresh, and are paying fresh meat prices for it. To continue the comparison of the prices paid in 1913 and to-day. Men's cashmere, all-wool half-hose could be purchased in 1913 for ls. 6d. per pair, whereas to-day their price is 7s. 6d. per pair. Children's three-quarter cashmere, all-wool half-hose, which cost ls. per pair in 1913, cannot now be purchased for less than 2s. lid. Ladies' three-quarter allwool half-hose, which could be bought in 1913 for ls. lid. per pair, to-day cost 5s. 6d. Men's suits to measure, which in 1913 cost 35s., to-day cost £4 10s. Men's Harvard shirts, which could be purchased for 2s. 9d. each, to-day cost 7s. 6d. Men's cotton tweed trousers in 1913 cost 3s. lid. per pair; to-day their purchase price is 9s. 6d. Linoleum, which in 1913 could be bought for 4s. lid. per yard, to-day cost 18s. 6d. There are hundreds of lines showing similar percentages of increase. Those given by Mr. Arthur Williams work out at 170 per cent.; so, to put it mildly, it must cost each man, woman, and child at least an. additional £10 per annum to live.

In regard to the question of sugar supplies, the Government have exhibited their utter incapacity. As far back as September of last year, Ministers knew, within 10,000 tons, what would be the yield of the Queensland crop. As a matter of fact, while I was discussing this very question, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) interjected that the Government knew to within 5,000 tons what that crop would be. If they knew that the Australian production would amount only to 186,000 tons, they must have known that we should require to import about an additional 100,000 tons. But instead of importing that quantity, they imported only 70,100 tons. Some time ago I asked a series of questions in this chamber, with a view to Eliciting exactly how much that sugar cost, because I say deliberately that the retail price of sugar should not be what it is to-day. The people are paying an unduly high price for that commodity owing to the incompetency of the Government. According to the Minister for Trade and Customs, the Government landed 60,000 tons of sugar from Java for £22 per ton f.o.b., they imported an additional 6,000 tons from there at a cost of £23 per ton, and a further 4,100 tons from Fiji at £25 per ton. In reply to inquiries regarding the freight which was paid upon these importations, I was informed that it was 35s. per ton from Java, and 27s. 6d. per ton from Fiji. Insurance upon the 66,000 tons of Java sugar varied from 9s. 9d. per cent, to 10s. lid. per' cent. ; say, from 2s. to 2s. 4d. per ton extra under that head. The insurance upon the Fiji shipment was at the rate of 8s. per cent. The exchange in connexion with the Java purchases was 15s. per cent, and 17s. 6d. per cent., and from Fiji, nil. The whole of the 70,100 tons of sugar imported, was landed at less than 3d. per lb. I repeat that in September last the Government knew that they would require to import at least 100,000 tons of sugar, and that they should have made their arrangements accordingly. I blame them for putting into the sugar agreement a condition which prevented the Queensland Government from increasing the capacity of the mills there.

Mr Corser - That had no effect at all.

Mr TUDOR - I am informed by representatives from Queensland that it did have an 'effect.

Mr Corser - It had not the slightest effect.

Mr TUDOR - If it had not, why did the Government insert that condition in the agreement; and, if the course they adopted was the right one, why did they afterwards take that condition out of the agreement? The Government have admitted that they made a mistake in regard to the matter.

I come now to the question of industrial unrest. Upon the 10th April, 1918, the present Minister for the Navy ' (Sir Joseph Cook), whilst acting for the Prime Minister, read a statement of Ministerial policy which had been read in another place by Senator Millen the previous day. I recollect the occasion so well because the censor prohibited the publication of the statement in the press until after it had been read in this Chamber. In that statement, as will be seen by reference to Hansard of 1918, page 3726, Sir Joseph Cook stated -

To establish and maintain better interests between capital and labour, it is proposed that the Attorney-General shall also be Minister for Labour; and an Advisory Council, representing employers and employees, will be appointed to keep touch between the Department and the industrial interests affected.

Two years later, we were assured, in the Governor-General's Speech, which is set out upon page 7 of Hansard of the 26th February last -

My Ministers will introduce a Bill to amend the law relating to the prevention and for the settlement, of those industrial disputes which come within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth, and to give effect to the principle of a basic wage.

Nothing was done for two years, and nothing has yet been done in that direction. Only last Friday we were told that the Government intend to bring forward a Bill dealing with certain questions which are not being dealt with by the Arbitration Court at the present time. We had submitted to us a list showing the number of cases before that Court on the 23rd April last. In speaking upon that question, I pointed out that there are nine cases which for months have been awaiting a hearing before that tribunal, cases involving industries the cessation of which would paralyze the Commonwealth. The Judges have stated that certain amendments are necessary in the Arbitration Act to facilitate its better working. It is well known that when a plaint is filed before the Court, even though the cost of living has increased in the case of an average family, to the extent of £1 2s. 6d. per week upon only four articles, it is difficult to get it heard with reasonable expedition. Who knew three years ago what would be' the increase in the cost of living to-day? Who knows what it will be three years hence?

Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) - If we have a drought, we cannot tell what it wilT be.

Mr TUDOR - We have had droughts before in Australia, but there has never previously been such increases in prices as those with which we are confronted to-day. I gather from the June number of the Victorian Agricultural Journal that the number of sheep in Australia to-day is 84,000,000 odd. From another Government publication - I think it was the New South Wales Agricultural Journal - I learn that before the war, in 1912, when there were 92,000,000 sheep in Australia, the wool clip- was worth £22,000,000. Since then, in 1916 or 1917, the number of sheep has diminished by about 18,000,000, and yet the wool clip is worth double what it was previously. I believe that I am right in saying that the value of the clip in 1912, when we had more sheep than we have to-day, was only about half that of the present clip.

On Friday last the Prime Minister told us that he had had to advise the organization with which he was connected to strike because they could not get to the Arbitration Court in any other way, and we know that the seamen and the marine engineers have recently taken the same course. When they find that employers refuse to meet them in conference the organizations cannot be blamed for taking the matter into their own hands. In May last, when I was dealing with this subject of the projected conference of employers and employees, I pointed out that on the 10th April of this year Mr. Justice Powers had made the following statement: -

There are three complaints, at least, against the Court for which the Court is not responsible. The first is that the Judges appointed to do the work cannot keep pace with the many claims brought before them, and serious delays are sometimes caused in settling industrial disputes. Parliament can, if it thinks fit, rectify that. The second is that the Court cannot, because of section 28 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, settle industrial disputes arising during the term of an award, however serious the dispute may be, or however much the cost of living has increased since the award was made. Parliament can, if it thinks fit, rectify that also. The third is that proceedings in the Court are expensive. The unions can rectify that by avoiding the expense of plaints, as is frequently done, limiting their claims to what they really intend to insist upon (if section 28 is amended), and by not calling witnesses to prove what the employers admit.

As Mr. Justice Powers points out in regard to two of the complaints, Parliament itself can rectify them, and, im my opinion, should do so at the earliest possible moment. I believe that the Justices of the High Court are unanimously of opinion that this Parliament has power to clothe the Arbitration Court with authority to settle an industrial dispute arising during the term of an award. Speaking on this subject in May last, I quoted the case of the gas employees, who could not have their plaint amended because they had asked for 13s. a day. They are now submitting a plaint for £1 a day, thus making sure that they will have ample margin to come and go upon during the three years currency of their award. However, 'Parliament has the opportunity to rectify this matter. On the 13th April, a few days after Mr. Justice Powers "had made these remarks, Senator Fairbairn, the President of the Employers' Federation of Australia, wrote to the1 Argus as follows : -

Mr. JusticePowers' statement " in reply to criticisms " is most interesting and instructive. He suggests three ways in which the

Arbitration Court could be improved, as follows : -

1.   Greater expedition in dealing with cases brought before the Court.

2.   That power be given to the Court to deal with an industrial dispute arising during the currency of an award.

3.   The reduction of the expense of the Court proceedings.

Mr. JusticePowers suggests remedies to No. 3, but feels, I suppose, that it is outside his province as a Judge to indicate legislative alterations. I therefore make the following suggestions, which I think have the support of all employers, and I hope most of the employees : -

1.   Greater expedition in dealing with cases could be obtained (a) by appointing at least three Judges; (6) by giving the Court the power to delegate to a Board appointed by it the authority to decide a dispute when requested to do so by one' of the parties to the dispute ; (c) by a clear definition of what are Federal and what are State disputes. Much of the Courts' time at present is taken up in deciding whether the dispute is Federal or State, and no sooner is a case settled in the Federal Court than it is brought before the State Court, or vice versa, and the state of unrest so hurtful to industry is prolonged.

2.   The chief, cause of industrial disputes at present is the ever-changing cost of living, and power should be granted to the Court to make awards contingent upon the rise or fall of the cost of living.

The Prime Minister has promised early amendments of the Arbitration Court Act, and it must be apparent to all that they are urgently required. Mr. Hughes has had for some time before him the carefully considered views of the employers on what changes are required, and he has also consulted the employees on this matter. Before the Government brings forward its amendments I think it might help matters if he would call a conference of representatives of employers and employees to see if harmony cannot be achieved, as there are many other amendments besides those dealt with by Mr. Justice Powers that would benefit the Act. - Yours, &c,

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