Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 4 November 1910

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) (Minister for Defence) . - I do not think that the honorable senator has made out a very good case against the adoption of these questions. He has, however, suggested additional reasons why they should be included in the census-paper. I refer especially to his remarks on the value of these questions from the economic point of view. Any one who heard what he had to say on that subject, so far from regarding his objections as valid objections to the putting of these questions, must regard them as arguments why they should be included.

Senator Givens - Why not ask the same information from everybody?

Senator PEARCE - I cannot say everything in one sentence. Senator St. Ledger is, as we all know, an honest and industrious student of political economy, and 1 am astonished that when the Government supply a means to ascertain valuable economic information he should be the first to object to it. It is said that we are proposing to disclose the private affairs of people to those who have no right to know anything about them. Honorable senators will see from the sample card which has been circulated that because of that objection we treat these questions differently from others.

Senator Millen - The Government recognise the objection?

Senator PEARCE - No, they recognise that it is not desirable that the census collector should .see the answers to these questions. It will be seen that they may be covered over by a gummed slip before the paper is handed back to the collector. That portion of the information supplied will be known only to the person who fills in the answers to the questions and the census enumerators, who will have no time to look into the names, and will merely record the information as it is read out.

Senator Millen - Does the honorable senator think that device will be effective? I could show him that it is possible to open as many of these slips as one pleases without any one being aware that they had been opened.

Senator PEARCE - No one will believe that the men collecting this information, who, I understand, will be the police, will go to the trouble of steaming the gummed slips in order to find out what wages a man is receiving.

Senator Millen - That would not be necessary.

Senator Chataway - In collecting the census the collector may fill up the answers to these questions.

Senator PEARCE - In such a case the citizen could have no objection to the collector knowing these particulars.

Senator Rae - The average man would not care if he did.

Senator PEARCE - I quite indorse that statement. The average man does not care a fig who knows what wages he is getting.

Senator O'Keefe - Suppose a man objects to saying whether he is a total abstainer or not, and does not answer the question, what penalty would he be liable to?

Senator PEARCE - He would be liable to the penalty provided for in the Act.I think I have disposed of the objection that these questions are inquisitorial, because means are taken to guard against any disclosure of the information supplied.

Senator St Ledger - My objection is to their being asked at all.

Senator PEARCE - I am going to show why they should be asked. The honorable senator gave his whole case away by admitting that we need statistical information as to the economic conditions of the people. He said that we can get more accurate information from other sources, and he mentioned as two unfailing and infallible sources the income tax returns and the Savings Bank returns.

Senator St Ledger - I should not have said "infallible." That was too strong.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator withdraws the word " infallible," but he also said that these sources were unfailing. Are they unfailing sources of accurate information as to the economic conditions of the people ? Of course, we know they are not. I take the figures for two States as an example. In Victoria, with a population in 1908 of 1,250,000 in round figures, the number of Savings Bank depositors was over 511,000, and represented 407 per thousand of the population. In Queensland, with a population of 552,345, the number of Savings Bank depositors was only 100,324, or 182 per thousand. What is the inference to be drawn from these figures? If they are an unfailing source of accurate information as to the economic conditions, the people of Queensland are not as thrifty as are the people of Victoria, or wealth is not as well distributed in Queensland as in Victoria. Either the people of Queensland have not sufficient money to put into the Savings Bank, or they do not have recourse to that form of saving.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. - Many people put their money into the ordinary banks.

Senator PEARCE - Of course they do. That is only one distributing factor which shows that these returns are not an unfailing source of information as to the economic conditions of the people. We have to consider also the enterprise of the people. It is quite possible that the figures I have quoted are explained by the fact that the people of Queensland are more enterprising than are the people of Victoria, and instead of putting their money into Savings Banks, invest it in capitalistic institutions.-

Senator Rae - In mining scrip.

Senator PEARCE - In mining scrip, in bank shares, in business or other more venturesome forms of investment. Now, I find that the amount on deposit per head in the Savings Banks in Victoria was, for the year mentioned, £26 5s., and in Queensland it was£491s.1d. What are we to infer from those figures?

Senator Chataway - That the proportion of men to women in Queensland is greater than in Victoria.

Senator PEARCE - We might infer a number of things. The economic student, looking at these figures alone, would say that though the number of people possessing wealth in Queensland is less than the number in Victoria, those who do possess wealth in Queensland have nearly twice as much as those who possess wealth in Victoria. Honorable senators know how ridiculous it would be to draw any such inferences. Now I come to the income tax returns. Here, again, we find that the income tax returns cover a still smaller area than do the Savings Bank returns. In Victoria, there are 500,000 depositors in the Savings Banks, but only about 35,000 payers of income tax. Are you going to analyze the conditions of life of these persons, and say, " That is a true index as to the economic conditions of the 1,250,000 persons in the State " ?

Senator St Ledger - All comparisons are relative.

Senator PEARCE - How ridiculous it would be for any economic student to form any conclusion as to the economic conditions of the people from these facts ! I shall now state the reasons why these questions have been put in the census-paper. The first two questions read - (i.) The amount of salary or wages being earned per day, or per week, or per month, at the time of the census, (ii.) The total amount so earned during the year ending the 31st day of December preceding the census.

Why have the Government included these questions? We say it is of the highest interest, not only to members of Parliament, who deal with economic questions, but to the people of Australia, that we should have accurate information as to the economic conditions of the great mass of people. We can get that information in relation to a restricted class - those who own the wealth and property of the country - from their land tax and income tax returns. But, as regards the great mass of the people, we have no statistical means of ascertaining how the wealth is distributed, and on' the varying wages or incomes on which persons have to live. When a man comes to me and says, " The earnings of a labourer in Melbourne are 7s. or 8s. a day," my reply is, " He may get that sum when he is earning; but what I want to know is how much he earns during the year." From my experience as a wage-earner, I know that an average labourer in the building trade gets about nine months' work per year if he is fortunate, and very often he gets less. In putting these questions, we are endeavouring to find out, not merely what a man got on a certain day, but what he earned on an average per week, per month, and per year. By tabulating this information, ive shall be able to establish, not merely the average wage for the workers of Australia, but in a particular avocation the average wage earned.

Senator Givens - You might be able to do it for that particular year, but what about the other nine years in the interval?

Senator PEARCE - I admit that we cannot take a census every year; but for that particular year we can do as much as we may.

Senator Givens - That might be a particularly good, or a particularly bad, year.

Senator PEARCE - Yes. The honorable senator will admit, I am sure, that if he were to ask any one to state what he had earned during the last ten years, the person would have very great difficulty in supplying the information. He knows, of course, that there is a practical difficulty in the way. But I am sure he will admit that the information for one year will be of very great value. We can always turn to the harvester and mining returns to ascertain whether it was a normal or an abnormal year.

Senator Rae - And, once established, one decennary will compare with another.

Senator PEARCE - That is so. The third question which we put reads -

The average number of hours worked per week, or per day, during the year ending on 31st December preceding the census.

Senator Walker - How will you arrange about domestic servants, who live in the house ?

Senator PEARCE - They will state all the hours in which they keep awake.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. - During half of which time they are not working.

Senator PEARCE - Generally speaking, they are able to indicate what their regular hours are. I think that in most cases there are fixed hours at which they are supposed to go to work and leave off. That information, in itself, will be very valuable for the purpose of economic deductions. This question will elicit very valuable information, which will enable us to make comparisons of great importance, and to form deductions, which will be very useful in the study of economic questions. In various ways the Bureau of Statistics in America collects a very large amount of statistical information on these lines. I have had occasion to study questions with the aid of their statistics. By means of that information they are able to take a certain article and give the labour value therein, and a number of other interesting facts which it is impossible for us to deduce from our statistics at present. I am sure that our general desire is to obtain statistics which will assist us in the solution of many problems which we have to work out. The fourth question which we put reads -

The amount of money held in gold, in notes, in silver, and in copper at the moment of midnight preceding Census day.

The information elicited by that question will be of very great value in matters affecting the currency.

Senator Walker - Suppose that you had six or eight servants, are you to put to each of them the same question?

Senator PEARCE - Yes ; each individual in the house will have to answer the question.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. - A maid will have to tell the. employer then, I suppose.

Senator PEARCE - No.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. - Is it to be a separate return?

Senator PEARCE - It is to be the householder's return.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould.; -He has to certify to the return.

Senator Givens - The second regulation says that the householder's schedule shall include certain matters, which are set out, in relation to persons who are in the

Senator PEARCE - That is so.

Senator Givens - Do you expect every boarder in a hotel to tell the landlord how much money he has?

Senator Millen - If he says he has none, the landlord will turn him out.

Senator PEARCE - There is, of course, an easy way out of that difficulty, which I am sure has already occurred to my honorable friends. They are inclined to be facetious; but the answer to the objection is that one of these forms can be left for each individual in a house to fill in.

Senator Millen - But there you will lessen the householder's responsibility.

Senator PEARCE - The householder is, of course, responsible for his own return.

Senator Millen - For the personal card.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator must see that his objection can be easily met. However, the matter before the Senate is whether the questions shall be disallowed. Those who will carry out the Act are. I take it, competent to deal with the practical difficulties. Returning to the fourth question, I would point out that it is of great importance to know the amount of floating currency in the country. You can get from the banks their returns, but it is well known that they do not give a complete answer to the question as to what is the currency of the country.

Senator Stewart - Do you think the people will give the information?

Senator PEARCE - I think so. What objection can there be to answering the question ? The honorable senator comes in at the close of my speech and puts in a question like that.

Senator Millen - It is a pertinent question.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator did not hear my explanation. I suppose he did not hear my explanation, either, as to how this information can be kept secret by being sealed up.

Senator Millen - He is dealing with the accuracy of the information.

Senator PEARCE - When the honorable senator comes in and fires off questions at me in that way, I despair of answering him.

Senator Givens - Those who are in the habit of secretly hoarding their money will refuse to answer the question.

Senator PEARCE - Of course, they will. In every statistical register, no matter what question is dealt with, you can always point to something and say that such-and-such a thing is not provided for. I think that the answers to this question will be sufficiently accurate to be of value to us in the study of economic questions. The last question which has to be answered reads -

Whether the person is a total abstainer from alcoholic beverages.

Senator Millen - That is a piece of impertinence.

Senator PEARCE - I do not think so. I consider that, whilst it is a matter of individual interest, it is also a question of social interest. It was never truer at any time than it is to-day that a man does not live to himself.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - Why not ask a man how many times he drank alcoholic liquor during the year ?

Senator PEARCE - A man's social habits re-act on the community.

Senator Millen - You can ascertain what you want to know by obtaining the quantity consumed.

Senator PEARCE - This question has been inserted at the request of a large number of earnest and sincere persons, who are labouring to combat the liquor evil.

Senator Givens - A lot of busybodies.

Senator PEARCE - They are naturally anxious to know, and even many persons who do not agree with them are anxious to know, what proportion those who use alcoholic liquors bear to those who do not. Seeing that we shall not disclose individual information, I submit that it will be of interest and value in the study of social questions that it should be. given.

Senator Givens - It might be of value if you could get the degree, but you do not ask for that.

Senator O'Keefe - What is the value. of the information unless each person puts down how much he took?

Senator PEARCE - I think it will be of value as showing the number of those who totally abstain from alcoholic liquors. We know that, of those who take them, an enormous majority - I suppose, 95 per cent, -do not drink to excess. I am very glad to state that the number of those who take alcoholic liquors to excess is wonderfully small, and, I am pleased to add, a decreasing minority.

Senator O'Keefe - We all admit that alcoholic liquor is an evil when it is taken to excess, but even tea is poison.

Senator PEARCE - This question does not imply that the mere taking of alcoholic liquor is an evil. It is simply designed for the purpose of eliciting statistical information. . If we ascertain the number of total abstainers from alcoholic liquors at the present census, and ten years hence put the same question, the comparison will be exceedingly interesting.

Senator Millen - So it will be if you ask a man what he eats.

Senator PEARCE - I do not think that at all.

Senator O'Keefe - You might as well ask whether a man drinks tea. Doctors will tell you that tea is slow poison.

Senator St Ledger - As a matter of fact, it is.

Senator PEARCE - I understand that the Vice-President of- the Executive Council desires the debate on this motion to be adjourned. 1 trust that when a vote is taken the Senate will approve of the questions which have been inserted in the censuspaper.

Debate (on. motion by Senator Millen) adjourned.

Suggest corrections