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Wednesday, 6 September 1911

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - J. Russell. - Is that the party that recently died?

Senator PEARCE - These parties die between the elections, but they always bob up serenely prior to an election.

Senator Rae - Under a new name.

Senator PEARCE - Yes, because by the time an election is over the old name has become so discreditable that they must get a new one or render themselves liable under the Vagrancy Act as suspicious characters. Let us look at the first proposition put to the farmers of Victoria, and, I suppose, of Australia generally. They were counselled to vote " No " in order to retain their local independence in State - and that was arguable, of course - and in municipal affairs. I say that no one by the wildest stretch of imagination could contend that any one of the proposals would interfere with municipal government or municipal independence in the slightest degree.

Senator St Ledger - Then Mr. Mitchell was wrong ?

Senator PEARCE - Yes. Let us look at the second reason -

To guard against threatened export duties on primary products.

Whether any member of the party in Australia is in favour of export duties or not, I ask, What on earth had the referenda to do with the imposition of export duties on primary products ? Senator Millen and every honorable senator opposite must know that if the Government pleased they could today introduce a Bill to impose export duties on primary products, and if every question put to the people at the referenda had been carried, we should not have had a single tittle of power more than we have at present to deal with that question. The People's party tried to make the farmers believe that the referenda proposals were intended to give the Labour party the power, and that they had the intention to impose export duties on primary products. No one with any sense of honour will refuse to admit that that is a direct misrepresentation, or that any person who was induced to vote " No " because of that second reason was misled.

Senator Walker - Does the honorable member say that no member of the Ministry has said that he is in sympathy with an export duty on primary produce?

Senator PEARCE - I do not say anything of the kind. The members of the Ministry may be sympathetic with silver coinage for all I know. I am not their father confessor, but I do know that the question referred to has not been placed upon the Labour platform, and that neither this nor any other Labour Government has ever made a proposal to that effect. Even though every member of the Ministry and of the party believed in an export duty on primary products, it would have nothing to do with the question. It would be like "the flowers that bloom in the spring." The question was whether we were seeking these powers in order to impose export duties on primary products, and the only answer that could be given to that was " No." We had the power to do so, if we chose, before the referendum.

Senator Walker - The Minister of Customs the other day said that he was sympathetic with it.

Senator PEARCE - What has that to do with the matter? Because some of my honorable friend's colleagues believe in black labour, would it be fair to argue that he wished the proposals of the referenda to be defeated in order that black labour might be introduced?

Senator St Ledger - Which of Senator Walker's colleagues believes in black labour.

Senator PEARCE - I have my doubts about Senator St. Ledger himself. I have heard quotations from his speeches which had a very doubtful ring in them.

Senator Millen - Every statement from this side has a doubtful ring in the honorable senator's ears.

Senator St Ledger - The honorable senator has said that over and over again, and I dare say he will continue to repeat it.

Senator PEARCE - With regard to No. 3 - that the people should vote " No " to prevent the nationalization of land - I ask what on earth had the referenda to do with the land question?

Senator Millen - Will the honorable senator allow me to show him in one sentence. The Government proposed to nationalize monopolies ?

Senator PEARCE - Yes.

Senator Millen - And did they not declare land to be monopoly?

Senator PEARCE - Is that the connexion ? Does not the honorable senator know that in that sense this Parliament has now the power to nationalize land?

Senator Millen - No, we have not; under the Constitution we cannot touch a single acre.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator should know that we have that power. If he requires confirmation of the fact, let him appeal to Senator Vardon, who, when the Land Tax Bill was going through last session, declared that it was confiscation and robbery.

Senator Vardon - Hear, hear !

Senator PEARCE - Because, the honorable senator contended, it confiscated the economic rent. If this Parliament has the power - and the High Court says it has - to confiscate a portion of the economic rent of land, it has the power - and had it before the referenda were taken - to confiscate the whole economic rent of land. This Parliament had, therefore, before the referenda, the power to nationalize land.

Senator Millen - No; to confiscate land.

Senator PEARCE - Confiscation, taxation, or purchase are only means to an end. The matter referred to in this leaflet is the nationalization of land, and an appeal is made to the farmer to vote " No," because, if he votes " Yes," and assists to carry the referenda proposals, he will be supplying this Parliament with an instrument by which it can nationalize land. In that sense it is an absolute fabrication ; it is untrue in fact. The three statements, with the exception of that part of the first one which refers to State independence - and that is arguable - are simple lies. This is only a sample of the literature - no doubt bounty-fed literature - with which the Commonwealth was flooded, and under these pretences farmers in thousands no doubt voted "No," believing that they were preventing the Federal Parliament from interfering with municipal affairs, from imposing export duties on primary products, and nationalizing the land ; whereas the fact is that their " no" vote or their " yes " vote could not affect in the slightest iota any one of those three questions. Senator

Millen is greatly concerned about the little troubles which occur from time to time in the Federal and State Labour parties.

Senator Millen - Not greatly concerned j it is rather the other way about.

Senator PEARCE - I can well understand the honorable senator being much" concerned in that regard. Whenever we have lived for a time with a family in a district, and find it desirable to go elsewhere, we always retain a distant interest in the people upon whom we have turned our back. In the days which are gone Senator Millen had some little association with the Labour party, and therefore he naturally feels an interest in the small family troubles which occur from time to time therein. As regards his attempt to show the country that there has been any serious discord or any want of solidarity in our party, I want to tell the people whom he has been addressing, and whom I also hope to reach, that the Financial Agreement was a question which concerned the Federal Labour party. The interpretation of that plank lay with this party, and with no State Labour party. The Federal Labour party interpreted that platform, and I challenge Senator Millen to name one single Labour candidate throughout Australia who did not support the Financial Agreement.

Senator Millen - What is the heresy hunt in New South Wales about?

Senator PEARCE - Can the honorable senator claim the same cohesion for his party? Certainly in New South Wales there were State politicians who disagreed with the interpretation which the Federal Labour party put on that plank, but they were in the position of the ordinary man in the ranks. The power to interpret that platform had been placed with the Federal Labour party, and not with any State Labour party in Australia. In the same way the power of interpreting the State platform has been reposed in the State Labour party, and we have no more right to interfere than has an ordinary man in the organization.

Senator Millen - I do not dispute that. I only say that the interpretation is not accepted by the whole party. I was not speaking of a member of the parliamentary Labour party when I used the term. The Minister forgets that there is a party behind that party.

Senator PEARCE - I come to the honorable senator's criticism of our attitude on immigration. There was a time when the Labour party was hostile to immigration. We were perfectly honest about our attitude. We said that under the conditions existing up to the time the Labour party got into power immigration had simply been a policy to bring in cheap labour, lt was a policy which on the one hand locked up the lands of Australia, and therefore prevented the access of labour thereto, and which on the other hand would flood the country with labour in an overstocked labour market, and thereby bring about a decrease in wages and worse labour conditions. We always said, whether in the Federal or the State Labour party, that if we had the power to deal with the land question, and could apply our remedy, in our opinion there was room in Australia for millions of white people. When we obtained the power we did place on the statute-book a measure to open up the lands of Australia, and we are proud to say - and we have made the statement in the opening Speech - that it is having that effect. It is doing more than that, for it is the best immigration agent which Australia has had for many a long year, as is shown by the immigration returns. Senator Millen spoke of cheap land for the farmers of Australia. Which party stands for cheap land for the farmers? Is it the party with which the honorable senator is now associated? It is notorious that that party, whether in the State or the Federal sphere, has always been the one which has been prepared to give land in huge blocks to big corporations, and which has never taken any step to give the land to the people who wanted to use it.

Senator Millen - That is not correct.

Senator PEARCE - It is absolutely correct. It is the Labour party throughout the States and in the Federation which has been fighting always for land for the man who wanted to use it. Our endeavour has always been to burst up the big estates which prevented farmers from getting areas, and no better weapon to that end has ever been forged than the progressive land tax which was passed last session.

Senator Millen - And land is dearer to-day.

Senator McDougall - It would be much dearer without the tax.

Senator PEARCE - Let us see who is making land available to-day. Senator Millen quoted the number of thousands of acres being made available in New South Wales. I venture to say that during his term of office Mi. Neilsen has thrown open more land than has any other Minister for Lands.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator is absolutely wrong; the official figures show' the contrary.

Senator PEARCE - In the press of New South Wales I have seen figures which show that that is a fact. The honorable senator, using this argument in another connexion, said that New South Wales was throwing open thousands of acres of land, naming the number. When he looks over his proofs to-morrow he will find that he quoted figures given to the press by Mr. Neilsen himself.

Senator Millen - Pardon me, I never used any of Mr. Neilson's figures in connexion with land.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator will see that he did.

Senator Millen - No, I only used the figures which Mr. McGowen used when he stated that 26,000,000 acres' were available.

Senator PEARCE - The Labour Government in South Australia is also making land available. One of the planks on which the Labour party in Western Australia is fighting the elections is " cheaper land for the people." Its contention is that for some time the Government has been raising the price of land to the genuine settler, and has inaugurated a policy which I referred to a little while ago, and by which certain men are able to get huge blocks to the detriment of the genuine settler. We did not say in the opening Speech that land was cheaper; what we said was that land was available. There is all the difference in the world between land being cheap and not available and land being dear and yet available. That is the position to-day. As soon as the land tax was brought into effect in Tasmania, the Van Diemen's Land Company - one of the biggest land monopolies in these States - saw fit to change the policy of half a century, and its property has been purchased by a company with the deliberate intention of being cut' up and sold in small estates. The Western Australian Midland Railway Company - a twin brother of the- other company - is taking energetic steps to dispose of a large quantity of its land, lt is providing homes, fencing, and clearing, and bringing immigrants from England in order to get its land on the market and avoid the land tax. You cannot pick up the newspapers of any State without noticing that estate after estate is coming into the market which has been locked up for half a century and more.

Senator Millen - This has been going on for live years in New South Wales.

Senator PEARCE - In Victoria only a few years ago the tenant farmers on a neighbouring estate waited on the owner of an estate situated at a little distance from Ballarat, and asked him to subdivide it and sell, but he point-blank refused. Within six months of the land tax coming into effect this estate was put on the market. These are only isolated instances; they can be multiplied. Every honorable senator can give similar instances throughout the States.

Senator Millen - With all this land coming on to the market the price is still dearer.

Senator PEARCE - I am going to ask Senators Millen and Vardon to have a little colloquy, because their remarks are mutually destructive. If, as Senator Millen has said, the land tax is not having the effect of breaking up big estates, then Senator Vardon must be wrong, because the latter said that our policy was one of confiscation and robbery. Now, if estates are not being broken up, there is no confiscation, and, therefore, no robbery, because the estates are still in the hands of the original owners. Before my honorable friends get up here and make these wild and whirling charges, they should confabulate outside, and come to a common agreement as to which horse they are going to whip. I come to Senator Millen's statement on the floor of the " Chamber. In answer to interjections from this side, and Somewhat heatedly, evidently without weighing what he had been saying, -and after he had been arguing for a quarter of an hour to prove that land was not available, he said that men are selling land more freely to-day, and at a better price, than they ever did. That is what we said would be the_ effect pf the land tax.

Senator Millen - Did you state that it would be sold at a higher price?

Senator PEARCE - Yes; we said that one result would be that the land tax would bring so much fertile land into use that, whilst one tendency might be to lower thi: values, die increased prosperity brought about by the increased settlement would tend to bring values back to their original level. Senator Millen's statement shows that that is exactly what is being done. 1 now come to the question of the defence scheme. My honorable friend mentioned - and I recognise that he spoke in no captious spirit - that at the inauguration of that scheme some of the boys felt the arduous nature of the task given to them, and that there were some cases of boys fainting. That is by no means peculiar to this particular scheme, because I can remember a case which occurred under the old cadet system where, on one parade, not fewer than eighteen boys fainted on a hot summer's day. That arose, not from a particular scheme, but from an over zealous or foolish officer giving lads too severe a drill under inclement conditions.

Senator Millen - Is there not a possibility of the medical examination not having been quite severe enough?

Senator PEARCE - That may be the case. We are having an investigation of the methods under which the medical examination was conducted, and the low percentage would seem to suggest that, perhaps, a more rigid one should be carried out. I regret, as anybody must regret, the instances which have occurred. But I attribute them to the fact that the majority of the area officers and the noncommissioned officers who were detailed were young. They were naturally eager to get to work, and do the best they could. I attribute what has happened rather to overzeal than to any intent on their part to do an injury to the lads.

Senator Millen - No one would suggest that.

Senator PEARCE - I think that they have been over zealous, giving too much drill, and the lads, not being used to drill, have felt the exercise rather much. Some time ago when the Vice-President of the Executive Council was acting for me, an instruction was issued that these officers were to use a little more discretion, that they were not to make the drill so arduous, and that they were to fit it to the physical capabilities of the lads. That is now being done, with the result that we hear no complaints. I ha%'e no knowledge of any want of accommodation for the carrying out of the medical inspection, but I am aware that there is a lack of accommodation for drill purposes. It is easy to see how that arises. To-night, we have some 80,000 or 90,000 lads drilling in various parts of Australia. Twelve months ago scarcely any of them were undergoing drill, and surely we cannot expect that in one short year adequate accommodation can be provided to that extent. If we were to provide halls for the whole of the cadet force, it would cost us upwards of £1,000,000.

Senator Millen - Cannot the accommodation be rented?

Senator PEARCE - We might as well erect halls of our own as rent them, because in the latter case we would be obliged to pay interest on the capital sum.

Senator Millen - A hall might be used for drill purposes only one night a week.

Senator PEARCE - When we come to rent premises, we have to pay a pretty stiff rent, and in most cases it would pay us better to erect a hall of our own than to rent one. Senator Millen has referred to our " loafing " upon somebody. Let us look at this question. Throughout the Commonwealth, the various municipalities, roads boards, and district councils - bodies of taxpayers - have erected halls. Anybody who goes through our country districts will see these halls in darkness upon five nights out of seven. Very often there are offices in them, which are occupied only during the daytime. These buildings are the property of the people - of the very taxpayers who would have to build drill halls if we decided to erect them. They are the same people, I repeat, and it is nonsensical that we should spend public moneys in erecting drill halls in townships where there already exist halls, which are unoccupied when we might be using them. We have made an appeal through the State Governments to the various authorities I have mentioned, and I am glad to say a very large number of them have responded to that appeal. We have told them that we are willing to pay for any damage which may be done by the cadets, and that we are also prepared to pay for the lighting. All we ask is that, wherever accommodation exists, the people who own that accommodation should make it available to themselves.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - In all these country centres, is not the chief revenue that which is derived from halls which are let for dancing purposes?

Senator PEARCE - We do not expect to get halls of that description placed at our disposal. The local authorities would not lend them to us, for the simple reason that the drills would spoil the floor. But in nearly all these halls there are rooms in which we could store equipment, and where the area officer could do his work. Generally, too, there is a show ground where the lads could drill upon an earthen floor. I am glad to say that the people are bringing pressure to bear upon these various bodies to induce them to grant us the necessary ac commodation. As time goes on, we will provide all the accommodation that is required, if Parliament will vote the money. But the thing must be done gradually. Coming to the question of the area officers, I am sorry that the Leader- of the Opposition has such a very short memory. If he had only cast his mind back to the time when he introduced the Defence Bill, and to Lord Kitchener's report, which was made afterwards, he would have remembered that one of the questions which Lord Kitchener specially stressed was that each area should eventually be placed under the charge of a graduate from the Military College. Dealing with the transitional period through which we are now passing, that distinguished officer went so far as to say -

I do not consider that any of the officers now serving should be transferred to the staff corps, which ought to be entirely formed from the graduates of the Military College, but in order to enable the officers so appointed to areas during the transition period to give instruction to the new force, I would put such officers, when necessary, through a short course in the duties of an area officer. For this purpose I have put in the Estimates, funds sufficient to provide additional instructors.

Lord Kitchener recognised that during the transitional period, we" would require to have some officers acting as a stop-gap - that we could not have them as permanent officers. The only permanent officers we could have were the non-commissioned officers and instructors. We have followed his recommendations in that regard absolutely. He says -

Under this system it is evident that the responsibilities of the area officer will make it a national necessity that he should be a carefullyselected man, thoroughly grounded and trained in his profession, and scientifically educated. No social considerations, no influence, nothing but efficiency should be allowed, to affect the selection and promotion of these officers. Their work should be judged by results alone.

He goes on to say that, in the United States, the West Point Military College supplies that particular class of officer, and recommends us to establish a similar college. He recommends that we should set up a staff corps which should be entirely drawn from the Military College, that the graduates should be sent abroad for a term, and that upon their return they should be placed in charge of the various areas.

Senator Millen - How many years does the Minister anticipate will elapse before they will be in command of the areas?

Senator PEARCE - Three years from the end of the present year the cadets who entered last year will come from the Military College. They will then go for a year's training either to India or England, and upon their return they will' be sent out to the different areas. From that time there will be a gradual flow from the College into those areas. Consequently, what we had to do was to appoint the best men in Australia to these areas to carry on for the time being. If we had taken these men from their civil avocations and turned them adrift in four years' time, we would have inflicted considerable hardship upon them". Accordingly we decided, with Lord Kitchener's approval - he knows what has been done, and he told me in London that he thought we had done the best thing under the circumstances - to appoint the best militia officer available to insure an efficient administration. All that the area officer has to do is to supervise that administration and we have limited the amount of time that he is called upon to sacrifice to not more than four days in one quarter. His duties have been defined, and every individual who applied for the position of an area officer knows exactly what he is expected to do. Under the circumstances we find that these officers are doing their work as well as can be expected of them. Indeed, I think that considerable credit is due to them for the way in which they have done their work. We have not had any serious complaints that they have been overworked. I wish now to draw attention to the fact that the Military College is not under the Public Service Act, and that the accountant of the college is not subject to the Public Service Commissioner. The man who has been appointed, Binnie, was in the temporary employment of the Department of Home Affairs. His name was on the Public Service Inspector's list of applicants for temporary employment. The practice in all the Departments is that when an officer is to be appointed outside the Public Service Act resort is had to the list in the Public Service Inspector's office of the State concerned, and a man is taken from there. If suitable, he is appointed on probation. That is exactly what has_ been done in Binnie's case. He is simply carrying on the work on probation, and the question of his permanent appointment will come up later.

Senator Millen - If he proves to be a satisfactory officer he will be retained?

Senator PEARCE - Yes. That practice has been in vogue for some time. If Ministers had to attend to appointments of this kind their whole time would be taken up by them. 1 do not know that there are any other points to which I need devote attention. In our opinion the policy put forward by the Government is a progressive one, although it is not as progressive as we would like it to be. We would like to have had power to deal with many of the evils from which the people of Australia are suffering to-day - notably with the trusts which are flourishing here. But the people have not given us that power, and if they prefer to leave the matter where it now stands we must bow to their will. But when they have had a little more experience of these commercial trusts I believe they will recognise the wisdom of giving us the fullest power to effectively cope with them.

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