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Wednesday, 21 August 1912

Senator VARDON (South Australia) . - In introducing this Bill the Vice? President of the Executive Council referred to the proposed expenditure as a very large one, and congratulated the Commonwealth and the Parliament upon having so much money to spend. I think that we can all join in the congratulation. For a number of years we have had wonderfully prosperous seasons, and these have led to better wages, to larger importations of goods, and generally helped and brought about, not by the aid of the Labour party, but more in spite of them perhaps, a general condition of prosperity. I admit that we have had a wonderfully expanding revenue. The Customs and Excise revenue has increased, I suppose, by over 50 per cent, since the establishment of Federation. The increase in Customs revenue, it seems to me, is bigger than it ought to have been, in one sense - that is, importations have been larger than they ought to have been. A great many of the goods which have been imported during the last year or so ought to have been manufactured in the Commonwealth. It is because we have been unable to manufacture the goods that we have had these largely increased importations.

The PRESIDENT - Order!

Senator VARDON - I notice that your eye is directed at me, sir ; but I take it that a little latitude will be allowed when these matters are introduced into the debate. We ought not to suppose for a moment that this state of things will continue for ever. History has a very awkward way of repeating itself. While nobody is praying for a return of bad seasons, everybody is hoping that the good seasons may continue. We know that in Australia we are subiect to bad seasons, and we should be preparing and ought always to be ready as far as we possibly can for a return of them. I want to call attention to the fact that already the balance of trade is against us, and that consequently money is getting dearer every day. I propose to quote from Mr. Knibbs some figures . which I think are pertinent. Of course, if we have the money, 1 do not object to it being spent. It is useless to keep the money in the Treasury, while it may be put to useful purposes outside. I find that in 1892 the balance of trade in our favour was £3.263.000. The imports were £30,107,000, and the exports £33,370,000. The balance from that time forward steadily increased every year. In 1901 the balance to our credit was £7,262.000 on a total trade of £92,130,000. In 1907 we reached high-water mark, when we had a balance of £21,015,000 in our favour - a very handsome record. Our exchanges as a rule are not made in coin, but in goods, and this surplus in our favour enables us to settle our accounts very satisfactorily every year. In 1909 the balance dropped to £14,137,000.

Senator Givens - The natural consequence of our enormous borrowing.

Senator VARDON - Was it? This amount was, however, quite ample to cover the entire interest on our State and municipal debts. In 19 10 the balance had dropped to £11,841,000. This, however, was still sufficient to enable us to defray the charges I have mentioned - that is, nearly £9,000,000 due for State debts, and about £600,000 for municipal debts. But in order to make up for this diminished balance, it was necessary to add £4,746,946 in gold, coined and uncoined. In 1911 the balance of trade was still in our favour, though it required no less than £12,040,190 in gold to cover the interest due, and no less than £10,000,000 of coined gold was exported to turn the balance on the credit side. In 191 1 the balance of exports - exclusive of gold- over imports shrank to less than £593,000. The gold that we had to export was necessarily drawn from the coin held by the banks of the Commonwealth. It amounts to a very severe depletion of our gold stock, and the consequence may be very severely felt if the balance of 'trade continues to go against us as it has done during the past year. Our Commonwealth taxes run up to £2 13s. per head, and we return less than 50 per cent. to the States - that is to say, we return 25s. per head. I do believe that if this process continues it will soon create a most serious position in regard to State finances. [ mention it because I think we ought to look these matters in the face. When we are providing for a very large expenditure, we should consider, not merely the particular year in which we are spending the money, but should look forward a bit, and have regard to the possible consequences in a year or two. lt may involve additional taxation if the Government are going to maintain this rate of expenditure, both for State and Commonwealth. In these Estimates the expenditure proposed for the Department of Home Affairs reaches £991,647 - very nearly £1,000,000. The Postmaster-General's Department is also liable foi £830,000. We have to ask ourselves where the money is to be laid out, and whether to the best advantage. I agree with Senator McColl that we do not know the extent of the expenditure to which we are committing ourselves. I put my finger upon a line of the Estimates, £2,500., " towards cost." The work itself may involve an expenditure of £50,000. If so, we ought to know that we shall have to find £47,500 in the future. But we get no such information from the Government. No real estimates of cost are laid before us. I object" to this system very strongly. We ought to know exactly to what we are committing ourselves in years to come. The question of day labour has again been introduced. I have been called to account for what I said on a previous occasion. First of all, let me say that I made no charges. I simply referred to an article published in the Argus, and quoted it.

Senator Givens - The Argus made the charges.

Senator VARDON - It did.

Senator Givens - And the honorable member's party pretty well fathered them.

Senator VARDON - No.

Senator Givens - Does the honorable senator disown the Argus then?

Senator VARDON - The daily press all the world over holds a very important position to-day. The newspapers make it their business to look into matters of public interest. We owe thanks to the press very often for the rectification of evils. Newspapers of high reputation, such as the Argus, the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Daily Telegraph, the Adelaide Register, and the Advertiser, do not make statements without a sense of responsibility. lt is generally recognised that they have a right to expose abuses.

Senator Givens - Provided they tell the truth.

Senator VARDON - When a reputable newspaper makes definite charges, and gives chapter and verse for them, it is the duty of the Government to cake the matter up.I know what position I should, have assumed if I had been Prime Minister or Postmaster-General. I should have said to my officers : " Here are charges, and they must either be proved or refuted."

Senator Henderson - What rot! Does the honorable senator think that if he were a Minister he would go blithering about the country inquiring into every petty lie that appeared in the daily press? He would go mad if he tried to do that.

Senator VARDON - The honorable senator may, naturally, be a good judge of rot, and may think himself justified in saying that I should not do the things that I have said I would do.

Senator Henderson - I am sure that the honorable senator would not. No sane man would.

Senator VARDON - I am sure that I should. It was the duty of the Government in this case to take up the charges, and immediately call upon their officers to investigate them.

Senator Henderson - A Minister has a higher duty than that to perform.

Senator VARDON - According to the Prime Minister's own statement, a report was called for and laid upon the table of the House of Representatives. But he said : " The report is contained in a covering letter, and I am not going to let you see the originals." If the Prime Minister went so far as to get a report, why not publish the whole thing? If there is a. complete refutation of these charges, why not publish it?

Senator Givens - The Prime Minister did publish the report.

Senator VARDON - He published a report, and was then asked to put the original documents on the table above the signature of the officers.

Senator Givens - That is what the honorable senator is complaining about - not that the reports were not published, but that the signatures were not attached.

Senator VARDON - It is not the duty of a member of Parliament to go nosing about acting as a detective, but he has a right to insist that if charges are made by a reputable newspaper they shall be investigated.

Senator Findley - These charges were investigated and replied to by the Department responsible.

Senator VARDON - Will the Minister publish all the reports?

Senator Findley - We published the reports from the responsible officers, but it is not usual to publish reports from every one in the Service. If the honorable senator wants a report about his business he gets it from his foreman, not from any one in the office

Senator VARDON - Will the Government publish the reports from the inspectors or foremen in this case? I agree with Senator Needham that the success of the day-labour system depends upon supervision. One of the charges in this, case was that, whilst supervision was exercised,, Ministers did not back up their officers. Inspectors made complaints, but instead of their being backed up, their reports were put on one side. If we are going, to maintain the daylabour system, we must have proper supervision, and when complaints are made by responsible officers or managers, they must be backed up.

SenatorFindley. - They have been.

Senator VARDON - I should be very glad to know that they have been. Senator Blakey says that I backed up the Argus. I did not. I simply said : " Here are charges, and they ought to be investigated." I did not say a word against any manager, overseer, or ganger.

Senator Findley - Why is not the honorable senator prepared to take the replies to these charges made by the Deputy PostmasterGeneral and the Electrical . Engineer ?

Senator VARDON - No one would be more pleased than myself if the charges were shown to be absolutely wrong.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Extracts from the official replies were published. Why does not the honorable senator look upthe reports ?

Senator VARDON - This is a matter of backing up responsible officers. I know of a case where similar things have occurred. A work was being carried out in Adelaide under the Verran Government by day labour. Ganger Thompson made a complaint. What happened? The workmen threw down their tools, and said that they would not work under him. The ganger was battered about from pillar to post; the men went off the job, and they picketed the place all over with red flags. Eventually the Government took the work out of their hands and let it to a contractor.

The PRESIDENT - Order! The action of the South Australian Government is not covered by anything in this measure.

Senator VARDON - I simply mentioned that to show the abuses that are likely to creep in if officers are not properly supported, as they ought to be. I say that day labour will be a failure unless that is done. I find people backing up this kind of thing. I say in all sincerity that I have a very high opinion of the workers of Australia. I do not believe that they are loafers and shirkers. But I say, further, that if there are loafers and shirkers in the employ of the Government, it is in the interests of the Labour party themselves that they should put them out at once. The Government have work which they require to be done by day labour, and they have the opportunity to say, " Here is this work to be done. We shall give you fair wages, and let you work under fair conditions, and it is, therefore, up to you to justify us in the action we are taking."

Senator Blakey - Who has backed up the loafers, except a Mr. Curtain? What public man has backed up shirking?

Senator VARDON - I am glad Senator Blakey has reminded me of the gospel ac-. cording to Curtain. He said that no man had been found loafing in a trench, and no man had been found smoking.

Senator Givens - Would it be such a great crime if a man had been found smoking?

Senator VARDON - No; I smoke myself. He said, further -

The speeding up process was wrong. Loafing was a good thing. Jesus Christ said it was. He said, " Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin." If that was all right people did right to loaf, because it was the doctrine of Christianity. If they reckoned it would take five weeks to build a house they should make it last six weeks. If they did loaf it was to their credit, because every man who made a job last longer reduced the time between that job and another.

I do not believe that that represents the views of the workers of Australia. But I say that if Mr. Curtain happened to be a member of my party, I should be the first tq publicly denounce such a statement.

Senator Blakey - I, for one, denounce it.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Is Senator Vardon quite sure that Mr. Curtain is not a member of his party ?

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel SirAlbert Gould. - Is he not a member of the Trades Hall Council ?

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - He is a member of the Socialist party, who are against the Labour party.

Senator VARDON - I find that he is secretary of the Woodworkers Union.

Senator Needham - Packer is the secretary of a union.

Senator VARDON - That is no disgrace. I believe that Senator Needham is the secretary of a union.

Senator Needham - I am.

Senator VARDON - Then I do not see why the honorable senator should object to some one else being the secretary of a union. I say that Curtain's statement is a libel on the working men, and if I were in a prominent position on the other side, I should be the first to denounce it publicly as such.

Senator Long - No ; the honorable senator would treat it with contempt, as we do.

Senator VARDON - Another matter to which I wish to refer is the question of preference to unionists. , I say at once that I am a trade unionist, and in my business I have worked for many years with members of a trade union. We have worked together in the greatest amity, and I have never had any trouble wilh unionists. I take it, however, that a private employer may, if he thinks well, say, " I shall do work with unionists only." On the other hand, he may, if the thinks well, say what was said by the employer to whom Senator Needham referred, " I shall not have a unionist in my place." He is working his own business, and has :a right to say under what conditions he shall run it.

Senator Needham - Have not the Commonwealth Government the same right?

Senator VARDON - No; that is where I draw the Une. I say that while it is right for every private employer to conduct his business as he thinks well, the Government, whether of the Commonwealth or ofa State, occupy an altogether different position. Every man in the Commonwealth is expected to obey the law, to pay his share of taxation, and take his share in carrying on the business of the Commonwealth. . On that account, I say that every man, whether he be a unionist or a nonunionist, has the right, if there is public work going, to a share in that work.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Surely the honorable senator draws some distinction between the ordinary functions of a

Government and its functions when it enters into a commercial concern like the telephone system ?

Senator VARDON - I draw no such distinction. Honorable senators will remember that I questioned ' the Minister of Defence on this matter. I asked him whether, if a single man were a unionist and a married man with a family was a nonunionist, the single man would be given preference for employment by the Government. Although the Minister did not say so in so many words, his reply indicated that he would. I say that that is a monstrous doctrine which ought not to be countenanced in any civilized community.

Senator Henderson - The Minister did not lead the honorable senator to infer any such thing. He said that, other things being equal, he would give preference to the unionist.

Senator VARDON - If Senator Henderson will get the records of the Senate, he can see the answer for himself.

Senator Henderson - I shall do so.

Senator VARDON - When I put the question whether the single man would be given preference to a non-unionist who was a married man, I could get no further answer from the Minister, and I could only draw the inference I have drawn. I say that I do not believe in that policy, and would not support it in any way, no matter on which side of the Chamber I sat. All men in the Commonwealth are equal, so far as the Government are concerned. They have no more right to say to a man that because he is a unionist he shall have preference over a non-unionist, than they have to say that because a man is a Roman Catholic he shall have preference over a Protestant, or because he is a Jew he shall have preference over a Gentile. All citizens of the Commonwealth should be equal in the eyes of the Government, and their opportunities for Government employment should be equal, also.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - And they should accept equal responsibility, too.

Senator VARDON - So they do, so far as the State is concerned. I should be prepared at all times to give preference in employment to a man with family responsibilities, and children to provide for, before a single man. \ believe that to be just, right, and merciful.

Senator Needham - If it were not for unionism, God help the married men in Australia to-day I

Senator VARDON - That does not affect the question at all. It is not a question of unionism that I am discussing. I have no objection to trade unionism, butI do object to political unionism. Give me industrial trade unions, and I am with them all the time.

Senator Givens - Is the honorable senator not aware that it was his party who first suggested the formation of political trade unions ?

Senator VARDON - No ; I think that is one of the things that has originated in the fertile imagination of my honorable friend.

Senator Givens - That was the remedy they suggested after the great maritime strike and the shearers' strike.

Senator VARDON - I do not wish to detain the Senate longer at this stage. There are details of the Estimates which will require to be further discussed when we get into Committee, as that is the proper place in which to get information upon them. I have said at this stage what I wished to say about day labour and. preference to unionists. I have done so because I have felt strongly upon these matters, and because I believe, that my views upon them are just.

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