Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 23 November 1927

Mr J FRANCIS (MORETON, QUEENSLAND) .- I congratulate the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) upon having had the distinction and honor of bringing down the first budget in the National Parliament at the new Scat of Government. I also compliment him upon having introduced five successive national budgets. Before proceeding to deal Avith the subject before the committee, I congratulate the Prime Minister, also, upon his clear and able exposition yesterday of the national finances. I am sure that his statement brushed aside all criticism, and that the result Will be that the Government will be appreciated by the people more fully than ever before.

A careful examination of the budget shows that the criticism levelled against it has been only superficial; the main features have not been dealt Avith. It is desirable to draw attention to the outstanding aspects that make this budget one of special importance. I refer particularly to the solution of. the difficulties between the States and the Commonwealth with regard to their financial relations. The position now is that the States, in conference, have, accepted the proposals of the Government, and minor deails only await adjustment, although the problem had remained unsolved since 1910. The Government's action in abolishing the per capita payments is now shown to have been -fully justified. Critics who hoped to break the Government on this issue have been confounded. The new scheme is based upon equity and .sound finance, and it has been accepted by all the States and the Commonwealth. It is calculated to benefit the people materially, immediately and for many years to come. Its benefits from the point of view of systematic debt reduction and co-ordinated management of borrowing should be acknowledged by honorable members on both sides of the chamber, and it should be wholeheartedly appreciated by the people. It was made possible only by the desire of the Commonwealth to give the States adequate financial assistance. Commonwealth payments on behalf of States will exceed those of last year- by £1,050,000. In addition, the scheme gives the States financial security that they have never previously enjoyed. The position, prior to the adoption of the new arrangement, was that if a Commonwealth Government found itself handicapped financially owing to the carrying into effect of some of its reckless proposals, the per capita payments could have been withheld from the States and the money devoted to the prosecution of its pet schemes. A number of trade and labour councils, particularly in Victoria, characterized the payments as a nest-egg that they proposed to use in. the event of their party securing office.

The second notable feature of the budget is the reduction of taxation, accompanied by the removal of anomalies and the simplification of procedure. Direct relief in income tax and land tax amounts approximately to £2,000,000, and that relief is additional to that given in earlier years, since the present Government has been in power. It is important to note that this relief has been afforded, notwithstanding the provision of over £1,000,000 for the redemption ofState debts and interest under the financial agreement. The _ , budget puts no further burdens on the States, but affords them practical relief. This relief is really taxation relief, because otherwise the States would have been forced to increase taxation in order to provide for debt redemption as demanded by oversea money markets. This visible relief will subsequently be augmented by savings in interest owing to the enhancement of Australian credit abroad.

Notwithstanding the reduction of tax.ation adequate developmental projects are provided for in the budget. The Government's proposal to continue the policy of developing a system of national roads will meet with universal approval. Other special provisions in the budget cover migration, scientific and industrial research, the organization of marketing in order to improve the oversea sales of primary products, and a programme of sound developmental works, including £4,076,000 for telegraphs, telephones and post offices. While remitting taxation the Government is making £9,400,000 available this year for invalid and old-age pensions on the more generous scale adopted in 1922 and 1925; soldiers' pensions are being increased, repatriation conditions are being liberalized, with special regard to maimed and limbless soldiers ; provision is made for the education of soldiers' children, and the War Service Homes scheme is being developed. A substantial sum is set aside for naval construction, and the five-year defence programme is being maintained. Notwithstanding these heavy commitments, the Commonwealth debt was never on a sounder basis than it occupies today; £6,000,0000 was made available for debt redemption last year, and the war debt is now £36,000,000 less than it was five years ago. New flotations for developmental works approximately equal the amount of war debt that has been redeemed. The result is that the Commonwealth debt remains practically stationary, but the general position is improved, because the dead-weight debt is being replaced by one backed by substantial assets which are essential for development.

The Leader of the Opposition seemed to derive much satisfaction from a' statement in the Melbourne Age that the budget contained many verbal bouquets for those who had framed it and that the Government was obviously on good terms with itself. That very half-hearted criticism was apparently all that the Leader of the Opposition and his followers could find. Honorable members opposite never lose an opportunity to quote in this chamber press and public criticisms of the Government, and if they could have discovered in any quarter a stronger indictment of the budget they would certainly have produced it. As an offset to that mild criticism of the Age, I propose to cite a few extracts from unbiased and reputable journals in Australia and overseas. The London Financial News of tho 29th September wrote - lt is appropriate that Australia should inaugurate her budgets in her new capital with the encouraging statement of which we print a report elsewhere. After appropriating the 1920-27 surplus to causes with which it would be impossible to quarrel, the estimates for 1027-2$, after allowing for larger payments in fulfilment of the financial agreement that was entered into between thu Status, and which it is expected will be ratified, for (.nui st such a marked increase in revenue that it has been possible to lower both the income tax and the land tax by 10 percent. In addition, a number of alterations are to be made in the laws referring to the. two taxes. These should undoubtedly encourage thu rapid development of the country. Another small change which it is thought will Iia ve a disproportionate effect is the removal of the inspection charges on certain types of exports.

Migration, it is satisfactory to see, is well to the fore in the minds of the Commonwealth, a provision for the raising of £.'(,750.000 for loans to the Status to assist migration projects being one of the features of the Loan Budget. This, indeed, brings one back to what is after all the main tendency of thu whole budget - the determination to take every step that can bc wisely advocated to encourage; the rapid development of thu Continent. This is thu end that all dominion statesmen should keep foremost in their minds, and they should lie on the watch for opportunities to mould their financial policies along lines most likely to advance it. lt may perhaps entail departures into new regions of financial policy, paths which the rest of us having other immediate aims have not trodden. But novelty alone must not deter. Where needs are different, means must also differ.

The following extract is from the London- Times of the 29th September: -

The Commonwealth Budget once again shows a surplus, and the uses to which that surplus is to be put are an excellent object-lesson in the growth of thu responsibilities which arc still accumulating upon the shoulders' of thu Ministry. The Navy. civil aviation, education, thu subsidizing of research, all make, their indefeasible claims; yet the Government are so fortunate as to lie able at the same time to reduce both the income tax and the land tax. If the budget is u lesson in Commonwealth responsibilities, it is at all events a lesson without tears.

The Melbourne Argun of the 30th September, published this cable message -

The Times, after describing the budget and the shipping announcements as both cheering and important, seizes thu occasion to review at length Commonwealth affairs.

In a comment of the Commonwealth Budget, described us Dr. .Earle Page's " Encouraging Statement," the Financial Net/: 9 expresses the opinion that the lowering of the income and land, taxes, and thu alterations to the laws referring thereto, should undoubtedly encourage the rapid development of the country. It commends the careful policy revealed in the under-spending of loan money.

Referring to the budget, the Melbourne Herald of 29th September, said -

Gratifying also is the evidence of better cooperation by the Commonwealth with the Status, and of thu gradual breaking down of those antagonisms which made Australia a house divided against itself. Continuance of the present policy will eventually wipe out all disputes and create a harmony in which development will proceed at a maximum ratu.

Altogether the budget may be regarded as a. reasonable statement revealing a sounder condition of federal finance and forecasting better budgets in the future. It augurs well for the new capital that a condition so prophetic of the future homogeneity and solidarity of the country should be revealed at the first Canberra session. We may venture to hope that Canberra has ushered in a new era in which that sounder administration and progressive unity for which the people of Australia have always striven and have not always attained, is about to be realized.

Those references are proof of the enthusiastic manner in which the budget has been received throughout the Empire.

The provision of £200,000 to form the nucleus of a fund for a scheme of national insurance, and the statement by the Government that a. bill relating to this matter will be brought down this session is greatly appreciated by honorable members on this side of the 'chamber, and by all wage-earners throughout Australia. The greatest and most constant anxiety of the wage-earner is the possibility that he and his dependants will be placed in serious financial difficulties as a result of sickness, accident, invalidity, or old age. National insurance will provide a remedy for this, ohe of the greatest evils in the community. The fundamental doctrine underlying the whole fabric of national insurance appears to be that all sections pf the community should be protected by the strength of the community as a whole against the incidents of misfortune that befall a section or an individual. It is now recognized in the old world that in order to advance the prosperity of a nation as a whole, and conserve its vital forces, it is better that a misfortune befalling an individual shall be distributed and borne lightly by the whole community, than that the individual should be crushed by the weight of his own trouble. The royal commission's reports proved that national insurance has long since passed the experimental stage, and has become an integral part of the social system in most important countries of the world. In this regard Australia is far behind the times. Legislation on this subject was enacted by Austria and Hungary in 1854, Belguim in 1868, Germany in 1SS3, Prance in 1S94, Luxemburg in 1901, Norway and Iceland in 1909, Italy in 1910, United Kingdom in 1911, Roumania and Russia in 1912, Holland .and Sweden in 1913, Bulgaria in 191S, Czecho-Slovakia, Portugal and Spain in 1919, Poland in 1920, Denmark in 1921, Esthonia, Japan, Latvia and Jugo-Slavia in 1922, and the Irish Free State and Argentine in 1923. In most of those countries the original schemes have since been considerably extended, and ar6 continually being made more comprehensive. In not one instance has there been any suggestion to abandon national insurance, and return to the less satisfactory pre-insurance methods. Those who were amongst the most bitter critics of the schemes at their inception subsequently became their strongest supporters. My experience on the National Insurance Commission has convinced me that the need for such a scheme in Australia has been proved beyond all doubt. Many wage-earners are unable to provide unaided for circumstances that may arise from incapacity to work. The worker" is unable to provide for the whole of his life from the wages received during his effective years His greatest and most constant anxiety is that should he be unable to continue at his employment, he and his dependants will be involved in serious financial difficulties. Through sickness each worker loses on the average ten days employment per annum; one-third of" the unemployment in Australia is due to sick-* ness or accident suffered by the workers engaged in industry; and 6 per cent of the workers are injured annually. Many are permanently incapacitated, and more than 3 per cent, of " all wage-earners in Australia are drawing the Commonwealth invalid pension. Many more persons are invalids, but because it cannot be proved that they are totally and permanently incapacitated, they are not able. to secure the assistance they so greatly need. National insurance will give them the necessary relief. Quite 16 per cent, of our native-born are applicants for the old-age pension. The whole community suffers as the result of the wage-earners' incapacity to work. Wages to the amount, of £S,412,000 are lost each year on account of sickness, and the noncirculation of this money is serious to the worker and to trade. The resultant loss in production is estimated at four times this amount, whilst the social and- economic burden created is enormous, and is most inequitably distributed. Existing systems of mutual and other assistance in Australia have been of great advantage. They have served a national need, but they have failed to help adequately the majority of wage-earners to make provision for the difficult circumstances in which they may be placed as the result of sickness, accident, invalidity or old age. They represent a stage in the evolution, of national insurance. The majority operate mainly in the more heavily populated areas and lack suitable machinery for the less populated areas. They have certain restrictions which debar many wage-earners from availing themselves' of the benefits offered, and the smallness of the contributions prevents them from giving adequate assistance to the person insured. However,, in regard to friendly societies, the commission recommended -

That wherever practical, the administrative machinery of existing mutual benefit associations be availed of in the administration of each district.

I hope this recommendation will be carried out by the Government.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

Mr J FRANCIS (MORETON, QUEENSLAND) - I atn, indeed, glad that the Government has at last provided a nucleus vote on which to build up a system of' national insurance. In this connexion advantage should be taken of the organization of the friendly societies' movement. .To ensure the success of the scheme it is essential that this be done. I urge the Government to do this. The Royal Commission on National Insurance recommended that in cases of sickness, the insured person should receive 30s. per week for six months, and for invalidity during his period of incapacity, 20s. per week. In maternity cases it recommended a payment of 20s. a week for six weeks - two weeks pre-natal and four weeks post-natal. Superannuation payments at the rate of :20s. per week after the age of 65 years in the case of males, and 60 years in the case of females, were also recommended. V child allowance at the rate of 5s.' per week in the case of each dependent child under the age of 16 years of the incapacitated worker was also included in the commission's recommendation. I point out that those rates were the minimum rates recommended by the Commission to apply at the inception of the scheme. They arc equal to the amounts now paid under the Workers' Compensation Act.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) -What will be the annual cost of thi! scheme?

Mr. J.FRANCIS. The cost will depend on the nature of the scheme which is adopted. After the scheme has been in operation for some time it may be possible to extend the benefits -mentioned; .but even those benefits are greater than those now available in Australia, and much greater than those payable under any scheme in operation outside Australia. The commission's scheme, if adopted, will remove many of the anomalies as to property and income which are associated with the existing scheme.

Mr West - Does the honorable member think that the Government will ever introduce the scheme?

Mr J FRANCIS (MORETON, QUEENSLAND) - There is every indication that before the next election effect will be given to the Government's policy as enunciated by the Prime Minister. Most of the Government's programme as placed before the people last election has already been placed on the statute-book. No great imagination is required to visualize the probabilities of such a scheme as national insurance. It would ensure a more contented wageearner, with increased efficiency and greater production, and create better relations between employer and employee. It would ensure a more effective review of social and economic problems, and provide a fuller application of statistical data to the life of the people. The indifferent would be compelled to adopt habits' of thrift, while the wageearner would be able to maintain himself during any period of incapacitation. Before the scheme is introduced, however, the Government should give careful consideration to the defects that have been revealed in connexion with various schemes of national insurance in other countries. Particularly should it study the recent report of the British Royal Commission on National Insurance. That commission, after hearing a lot of evidence, submitted a voluminous report, in which the pitfalls of the British scheme were revealed. It made it clear, however, that notwithstanding its defects, the British scheme was an undoubted success. Nevertheless the Government would be wise to take precautions to avoid similar defects in any scheme of national insurance which it introduces. The existing friendly societies and other mutual benefit associations have expressed the fear that a scheme of national insurance will destroy their voluntary organization. The experience in Great Britain, however, has proved the opposite; the* voluntary organizations there are stronger to-Hay, both numerically and financially, than prior to the inception of the scheme of national insurance. The membership of the British organizations has increased from 6,000,000 to 7,000,000 persons since the scheme was inaugurated, and in addition, their accumulated funds have increased from £50,000,000 to £70,000,000. The friendly societies should realize that a scheme of national insurance is but an extension of the principles which they have advocated for years, and consequently they should render the Government all the assistance in their power to make the new scheme a success. A triparty contributory scheme of national insurance, such as that recommended by the royal commission, will confer greater benefit on the people at' a lower cost than is the case to-day. The friendly societies claim that free medical treatment is the greatest benefit they confer on their members. The scheme recommended by the commission does not destroy that benefit. The only duplication is in respect of sickness benefits, which at present are inadequate. Benefits in connexion with superannuation, invalidity, and maternity are to-day the sole function of the Commonwealth Government; they are not provided by the friendly societies. It is obvious that a proper scheme of national insurance will confer advantages on the members of the existing friendly societies. Sufficient data has been obtained on which to establish a sound scheme of national insurance. Experience has shown that a period of several months should elapse' between the inception of a scheme of national insurance and the granting of benefits. Time is necessary to perfect tho organization throughout a country of such dimensions as Australia. Further, a period should be provided to enable insured persons to establish their eligibility for benefits. I congratulate the Government on having provided the sum of £200,000 towards the establishment of this scheme, and I hope that soon the Government will give effect to the Prime Minister's promise by introducing a bill to provide for a definite scheme of national insurance.

I propose now to deal briefly with the necessity for uniform customs laws throughout Australia. For a considerable time various chambers of commerce, traders and importers, throughout Australia have been agitating for a change in the system under which customs taxation is levied. They have represented that the duty payable at the time a vessel reaches its first port of call in Australia should be the duty payable in respect of the whole of its cargo, no matter at which port it eventually discharged. Queensland has been a heavy sufferer in this respect.

Mr Jackson - So has Tasmania.

Mr J FRANCIS (MORETON, QUEENSLAND) - When the customs tariff has* been altered, it has almost invariably been in the direction of provid ing for increased duties. Should a vessel have discharged a portion of its cargo at one or more Australian ports before the duty is increased, merchants in the ports at which the vessel subsequently calls have to pay higher duties than their competitors who received their goods when the old duties were in operation. In the few instances in which there is a reduction of tariff, the higher duty is collected until Parliament passes the new tariff. Moreover, no refund of duties is ever made. Realizing that Queensland traders were at a distinctdisadvantage because of the comparatively few vessels which make Queensland ports their first port of call in Aus- tralia, I recently addressed the followingquestion to the Minister for Trade and. Customs (Mr. Pratten) : -

What number of vessels trading to Australia had, as their first port of. call, any port (a.) in Queensland, or (l>) in the other Statesof Australia?

The Minister replied that of 1,666 vessels; only 292 called first at Queensland ports. That shows the great disadvantage under which Queensland traders operate. It frequently happens that in all thesouthern States traders have received shipments of goods on which lower dutieshave been paid than have been charged to Queensland traders for goods conveyed by the same vessel. The inequity of thepresent system has been pointed out on many occasions. The present system isa contravention of the Constitution which provides that uniform duties of customs shall be imposed throughout the Commonwealth. On the occasion of the last alteration of the tariff one firm of machinery importers in Brisbane paid £152 more in duty than was paid by Sydney merchants for the same articles. In another instance a Queensland merchant, who imported a small consignment of whisky, paid as duty £2S0 more than was paid by a Sydney importer for a similar consignment. On other occasions as much as £700, and even £900, more than the amount collected from firms in the southern States has been demanded by the customs authorities from Queensland merchants. The extra duty paid by Queensland merchants because of this practice amounts to many thousands of pounds. I nsk whether this differentiation is in accord with either the letter or the spirit of the Constitution? The act should be amended so that uniform duties of existtoms shall apply throughout the Commonwealth. The duty in force when a vessel reaches its first port of call iu Australia should bc the duty payable in respect of the whole of its cargo. A year or two ago the Customs Act was amended to provide for the imposition of duties on goods entering Australia by aeroplane. If an aeroplane first lands in Australia at, say, Geraldton, "Western Australia, any goods conveyed by it must bear the duty then in force. Should the aeroplane then proceed overland to the eastern States there is no alteration in the amount of duty levied, notwithstanding that in the meantime a new schedule of duties has come into operation. On the other hand, if a ship, having called at Fremantle, proceeds to eastern ports, any higher duties imposed after the vessel has left Fremantle must bc borne by the merchants in those ports at which it subsequently calls. To remove these anomalies the Minister should bring forward without delay the necessary amending legislation. At the annual meeting of the Associated Chambers of Commerce held at Sydney in March, 1926, at which I was present, and again at Perth in 1927, resolutions urging the Government to amend the Customs Act with a view to obtaining uniformity in the customs laws were carried. I point out that those conferences were attended by representatives of the chambers of commerce in all the States. Correspondence has also passed between the Minister, the various chambers of commerce, and also other honorable members of this House in the matter. In this connexion I mention particularly the honorable members for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) and Lilly (Mr. Mackay). The Minister has opposed the request chiefly on the ground that it would create a state of chaos and that' it is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution. The chambers of commerce, not being satisfied with that reply, submitted the whole of the correspondence, resolutions and reports to Mr. T. S. O'Halloran, Iv.C., of Adelaide, for his opinion. Mr. O'Halloran is now a member of the Constitution Royal Commission.

He states that there is nothing in the Constitution to prevent the alteration of section 132 of the Customs Act in such a way as to give effect to the desires of the Associated Chambers of Commerce. I propose to read a few passages of his opinion to make it quite clear to the Minister that his view that such an alteration would be unconstitutional is brushed aside by the opinion of so eminent a legal authority as Mr. O'Halloran, Iv.C. His opinion is as follows : -

The Associated Chambers of Commerce at a meeting on 16th March, 1926, passed the following resolutions: - "That it be a recommendation to the Commonwealth Government that the Customs Act lie amended to provide that as soon as an overseas vessel has arrived and reported to the customs at its first place of call the rate of duty enforced on that date shall be the legal rate for the whole of the ship's cargo and that the Customs Act bo amended."

The resolution as passed sets out as the object which the Associated Chambers of Commerce desire to have carried out, and the resolution then proceeds to set out a necessary amendment to section 132 of the Customs Act to give effect to such desire. In order to discuss the question, it will be well to consider the following typical example: - "A ship arrives at Fremantle on the 1st June. Its cargo consists entirely of cement. It lands portion of such cargo immediately on arrival, and same is entered for home consumption. The duty then in force is say 10 per cent. The ship then proceeds to Fort Adelaide and discharges other portion of the same cargo, and the duty then in force is still say 10 per cent. The ship then leaves for Melbourne on say the 20th June, and on the 2.1st June duty is raised to 20 per cent. Having discharged further portion of the cargo in Melbourne the steamer proceeds to Sydney and discharges the remainder of its cargo ou say 27th June. On the 22nd June another ship reaches Sydney (its first port of call in Australia) with a cargo of cement. If the proposed alteration is made, the whole of the respective portions of the first ship's cargo landed in Fremantle, Port Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney would all pay duty at 10 per cent., and the cargo of the second vessel would pay duty at 20 per cent., notwithstanding the fact that it arrived in Sydney several days before the Sydney discharge of the first ship.."'

The first point to note is that the discrimination (section 31, II.) and the preference (section 09) which is forbidden by the Constitution in discrimination between States or parts of States as preference to one State or part thereof over another State or part thereof.

The majority of the High Court (Griffiths, C .-./.. Barton, and O'Connor, J.) held that the words "States or parts of States" must bc read as synonymous with " parts of the Commonwealth " ov different localities within the Common wealth (Barger's ease 6 CL.B... at page 78). Isaacs and Higgins J., the dissenting minority, held that, the discrimination or preference forbidden is in relation to localities considered as parts of States, and not as mere Australian localities or parts of the Commonwealth considered as a single country.

But Isaacs J. went on to say ': Discrimination between localities in the widest sense means that because one nian on his property is iu one locality, then regardless of any other circumstances, he or it is to be treated differently from the man on similar property in another locality."

The proposed alteration of section .132 of thi! Customs Act would provide " a. general rule applicable to all the States for ascertaining the rate of customs duty applicable to goods imported into Australia," and any inequality in its operation would arise partly from the alteration of the Customs Tariff Act, and partly from the choice exercised by the importers in selecting the first port of call in Australia. (Sec Colonial Sugar Refining Company v. Irving 1906, A.C. 367, and Cameron's case per Starke J., at page 79.)

The argument that the proposed amendment would give preference to one State over another State and thus come within the prohibition contained in section 99 of thu Constitution is thus put by the Minister at page 118 of the 1925-20 annual report. " Under the proposed arrangement the same goods would be paying differing rates in thu different States at the same time."

This may be conceded, but how does it constitute a preference to one State over another State!

Any inequality such as the Minister refers to would only operate in respect of a limited number of ships during a very limited period. Assume that the alteration in tariff came into force on 1st June. The goods in all ships which had touched their first Australian port of cull prior to 1st .Tune, but had not completed the distribution of cargo at all ports of distribution in Australia, would be dutiable at the lower rate, and the goods from all ships which arrived at their first port of call iu Australia after the 1st June would pay at the higher rate. The benefit of the lower rate would only apply to cargo in ships which had touched a port in Australia prior to 1st June, but had not then completed the distribution of such cargo at all ports of destination, and when the last of such ships had discharged its cargo, the inequality referred to by the Minister would disappear. It must also be remembered that the suggested preference would cut both ways. Under the proposed amendment, if it ' be said that the goods which have been landed in Australian ports prior to the 1st June (in the example given) have, in the event of an increase of duty, a preference over goods from another ship first touching at an Ai'rs- tralian port after the 1st June, it follows that if the duty is decreased the goods in such lastmentioned' ship have preference over the goods in such first-mentioned ship. I cannot spell "out of the proposed alterations of section 132 any preference under section 99 of the Constitution.

As regards any suggested want of uniformity of customs duties under section 88 of the Constitution, thu answer to the argument seems to, be this : -

The goods on the ship which has reached anAustralian port prior to the alteration of the tariff will pay duty at the rate fixed by the repealed Customs Tariff Act, but the goods on a ship first reaching 'an Australian port after the alteration of the tariff will pay the duty fixed by the new Tariff Act. It is not the amendment of section 132, but the repeal of the old Tariff Act, and the passing of the new Tariff Act, which results in any apparent lack of uniformity.

I have, therefore, reached the conclusion that there is nothing iu the Constitution to prevent an alteration of section 132 of the Customs Act in such a way as to give effect to the desire of the Associated Chambers of Commerce.

A deputation from the Queensland Associated Chambers of Commerce waited on the Prime Minister in respect to the matters of which I am now complaining, and he informed them that, if it was at all possible to do what they wished, he would see that it was done. He said that, first of all, it would be necessary to obtain competent legal opinion on the matter. That opinion has now been obtained, and it is, as I have said, to the effect that the Minister's ' contention is wrong. I now urge the Minister to lose no time in amending the Customs Act in order to give the relief desired. Duringthe past few days he has presented to the House numerous reports of the Tariff Board. My experience is that when these reports come in numbers like this, .there is generally at the back of the Minister's mind the idea of altering the Tariff Act. I hope that before such an alteration is made, the Minister will see that some provision embodying the relief for which I have asked is contained in an amendment to the Customs Act.

I take this opportunity to voice an emphatic protest against the continued reduction, iu the vote for rifle clubs. The votes over the past three years for rifle clubs have been as follow: -


Far from being reduced, these votes should, in my opinion, be substantially increased,so that those men who devote so much of their own time to perfecting themselves in the use of weapons essential in war should be encouraged. A volunteer is worth a dozen pressed men. A citizen who voluntarily sacrifices so many Saturday afternoons in so useful an occupation should be given every possible encouragement by the Government. It is fast becoming impossible to keep the interest in rifle shooting alive. A large number of rifle clubs will soon be unable to carry on, while those which do not close down altogether will be crippled in their operations. Rifle clubs are our cheapest form of defence, as well as being part of our first line of defence. The present cheese-paring policy is discouraging all the clubs, and particularly the young members of them. In Queensland, particularly, owing to its vast empty spaces, its great coastline, and limited means for moving forces should the need arise, it is essential that rifle clubs be kept very much alive, and the formation of new clubs encouraged. Recently the Minister representing the Minister for Defence (Sir Neville Howse), in answer to a question asked by myself, admitted that Australia's defence forces were at present below strength. The total number of officers, he said, was 2,700,and other ranks number 40,800. There was a shortage, he said, of 608 officers, and of 1,612 other ranks. Now, in spite of our defence force being materially below strength, the Minister has seen fit to reduce still further the votes for rifle clubs by, roughly, £2,000. Rifle clubs are to Australia what the trained Boer population was to South Africa in the Boer War. In the event of our shores being invaded, the rifle clubs would prove a most useful defence. Countries like Australia and South Africa are particularly adapted to guerilla warfare as a means of protection against aggression, and a definite means of defence until adequate assistance comes. In the South African war the Boers, although untrained in military tactics, were able, because of their ability as riflemen, their horsemanship, and their knowledge of bush lore, to make a prolonged defence of their country. Australians have a natural instinct for bush life, are good horsemen, and are particularly suited for guerilla warfare if taught to shoot. One sometimes hears the question asked, " Of what use are rifle clubs, andwhat did they do in the Great War ?" In answer to that question, I shall quote from a report prepared by Colonel Jackson, Director of Rifle Clubs in Queensland, who stated : -

For some years prior to the Great War a scheme of mobilization had been in existence for the defence of the Commonwealth in the event of an invasion, and rifle clubs were allotted to the Militia Forces as a reserve force from which was to be drawn the number of members required to bring the Militia units to their war strength, the peace establishment of these units being, in many cases, only about half the strength required for war. The position is worse to-day. We have now only a very poor nucleus of a defence force. We are606 officers and about 700 noncommissioned officers under establishment. Certain rifle clubs had also been allotted to important localities for the defence of cable and wireless stations, &c. Briefly this was the position under peace-time conditions, and the efficacy of the rifle club's organization as a reserve had never been tested up to this time. When the order to mobilize was issued by the Defence Department on 4th August, those rifle club members, who were called up to go to their war stations, responded immediately. The partial mobilization of rifle clubs in Queensland, who embarked on the transport "Kanowna," will serve to prove how completely effective the Rifle Club Reserve was for its special purpose.

On the 4th August, . 1914, the Kennedy Regiment, which consisted of Companies at Charters Towers, Townsville, and Cairns, was ordered to mobilize and proceed to its war station at the northern gateway of Australia. The regiment required 386 men to raise it to war strength, sixteen rifle clubs being instructed to provide this number between them.

These clubs at once sent forward 474 medically lit members. The required 386 were selected from this number, and embarked with the regiment. The Irvinebank Club, from an active strength of 115, sent 90; the Herberton Club, with an active strength of 44, sent 41, the remainder of the clubs sending the balance of 255 men required.

The calling up of these members, medical examination, clothing and equipping them, occupied only three days, and the transport left the following day, or within four days from the order to mobilize. Numbers of these rifle club members were engaged in the timber and mining districts of the north, many miles away from their club's headquarters, when they received the order to mobilize. This necessitated long journeys by rail, coach, and on horseback to enable them to reach the place of assembly, and it is claimed that the repsonse and result of the mobilization of these men could scarcely admit of any improvements for celerity or effectiveness.

The members of other rifle clubs called up for duty at the cable and wireless stations were all at their posts by the evening of the 4th August, 1914, and for some considerable time afterwards carried out the duties allotted them, and won the special praise of the department for their services.

When it was known that Australia was to send troops overseas to assist the Allies, and recruiting of the first Australian Imperial Force units commenced, the council of the Southern Queensland Rifle Association immediatelyoffered the services of selected expert rifle shots to assist in the musketry training of the infantry battalions then being formed-. The Defence Department gladly accepted the offer, and asked that the services of twelve picked rifle shots be made available for the duty. These riflemen were enlisted as sergeants and qualified by examination for certificates as instructors in musketry. Their duty was to instruct the recruit in the use of the rifle, giving him the benefit of years of hardwon experience, encouraging him in his efforts, and endeavouring to give him confidence in himself, for it must be borne in mind that thousands of those who enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, never fired a rifle in their livesbefore they went into the training camp..... This is where the rifleman was enabled to give invaluable service, and with such results that he won not only theappreciation of the thousands whom they instructed, but justified their being entrusted with such an important part of the training.

The actual number of rifle club members who enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in Queensland was 4,382, in addition to which 934 ex-members who were not at the time of their enlistment on the roll of their club, but who had passed through the ranks of a rifle club, joined the Australian Imperial Force. Therefore, the total number of recruits supplied by the rifle clubs of the first military district, directly and indirectly, was 5,316. of which number 568 gave their lives in the cause of freedom and justice. I feel certain that the records of the rifle clubs in the other States are as good as those of the Queensland rifle clubs. The importance of the rifle club movement and the place that' it holds in our defence scheme must convince the Minister of the imperative necessity to greatly increase the grant I hope that, at an early date, he will bring clown supplementary estimates which will give effect to this request. I trust also that the other matters which I have brought to the notice of the Government will be given early attention and that the requests which have been made will be readily granted.

Suggest corrections