Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 28 May 1914

Senator McCOLL - It was an authority to these people to go on with works to cost £750,000 without any inquiry as to how the business was to be conducted, or how the operations of the trust were going to affect the people of Australia. It is a good thing that no Liberal Government did this.

Senator Gardiner - The honorable senator would not have the Government! try to stop them by interfering with them?

Senator McCOLL - I would have had the Government inquire as to how the trust intended to carry on its operations.

Senator Oakes - They were not frightened of a Labour Government when they started during their term of office.

Senator Millen - Why should they be frightened of a Labour Government?

Senator McCOLL - Some members of the Labour party in another place say that the Beef Trust will be the finest thing for the country, whilst others say that it is going to. be. a. menace. Which statement is correct ? The trust is receiving a lot of attention at present, and may lead to trouble. How far it is responsible for the high cost of meat remains to be seen. One very striking phase of the question demanding the serious attention of the Governments of the Commonwealth and of the States is that, while the number of our people is increasing, our stock are not increasing in proportion, and the export of our stock and meat is very largely increasing. We reached the highest number of sheep in this country in 1890, when we had 97,881,221, and the highest number of cattle in 1895, when we had 11,767,488. The figures for succeeding years are most interesting. In 1897 we had 10,832,457 head of cattle, or 22.99 per head of our population, which was then 3,617,783. In 1902, the drought year, the number of cattle in the country went down to 7,062,742, or 1.82 per head of the population. In 1907 the number had risen again to 10,128,486, or 2.43 per head of the population. In 1912 the number was 11,577,259, or 2.44 per head of our population. The figures are relatively much the same for sheep. In 1897 we had 82,643,578 sheep; in 1902, 53,668,347; in 1907, 87,650,263; and in 1912, 83,263,686. Of pigs, the number has remained about the same between the years 1897 and 1912, although the population increased from 3,617,783 in 1897 to 4,733,359 in 1912. Our stock did not increase in the same ratio to supply food for the increase of population. Another important question to be considered is the increase in the volume of our exports of stock and meat. In 1902 we exported cattle to the number of 4,489; in 1912, 16,083. Of sheep, we exported in 1902, 24,296; and in 1912, 34,113. The figures of our export trade in meat are still more striking. In 1902 our export of beef reached 72,453,248 lbs. ; in 1907 it was 52,050,592 lbs. ; in 1912, 142,210,076 lbs. ; and in 1913, 218,918,606 lbs. Of mutton we exported in 1902, 44,105,600 lbs.; in 1907, 109,227,757 lbs.; in 1912, 115,371,981 lbs.; in 1913, 204,931,783 lbs. We exported in tinned meats in 1902 to the extent of 21,989,644 lbs.; in 1907, 8,220,972 lbs. ; in 1912, 34,187,389 lbs. ; and in 1913, 52,150,183 lbs. Of other meats our exports were in 1907, 414,090 lbs. ; in 1912, 3,250,753 lbs. ; and in 1913, 3,071,748 lbs. In view of these figures, the question is of the greatest importance, and requires careful attention if we are not to be brought face to face with very serious problems indeed. It is our duty to find out the cause of the trouble and the remedy for it. This is a question in which we are all interested, and it should not be viewed as a party question. The present Government have acted promptly, and have appointed Mr. Justice Street to conduct an inquiry, primarily into the operations of the Beef Trust, and subsequently in other ways, and to report as soon as possible. I may be told that to meet the difficulty we could put an export tax on meat, but I am dead against that. I do not believe in coming between the producer and his market. Some members of the Labour arty have nibbled at this proposal, but ave been afraid to bite. They have talked of it for some time, and it has recently been openly advocated in another place. But if we attempt to tax the farmers' exports, we may look out for trouble.

Senator Russell - What is the meaning of Mr. Groom's statement at Geelong about an export duty on sheep skins ?

Senator McCOLL - I do not know anything about it.

Senator Russell - Then the honorable senator should be careful in making charges against the Labour party.

Senator McCOLL - If we settle the Murray waters question, and make proper use of the waters of that river, there will be no shortage of food for the people in this country. We are only cultivating a portion of our wheat area. In Australia we have 310,000,000 acres with a 10-inch rainfall during the growing season - a rainfall sufficient, with cultivation, to mature a crop. Out of that area we are cultivating only 9,000,000 acres, and the farmers to-day are abandoning the growing of wheat in favour of grazing.

Senator O'Keefe - Does the honorable senator think that the rural workers are getting too high wages?

Senator McCOLL - I ask that this matter should not be treated as a party one. I am merely stating facts for the consideration of the Senate and of the people of this country.

Senator McDougall - What is the reason that the farmers cannot get land?

Senator McCOLL - I am not responsible for that.

Senator Millen - It is because we are offering land at less than its market value, and the successful applicants can therefore make good profits by selling.

Senator McCOLL - The farmers today can get 15s. each for four months' lambs, and before long I believe they will get 20s. When they resort to grazing they have an easier life and less worry than they experience when they are growing wheat. I believe that cheap meat and the cheap loaf in this country have gone for a considerable time. I wish now to deal with the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway. It has been stated in this Chamber that the Government are wrecking that enterprise. But is it so? The late Government controlled this work for 284 days, and the present Ministry have controlled it for 331 days. During the 284 days that the Fisher Government were in office they laid down 18 miles 63 chains of line, whereas the present Government during their 331 days of office have laid 153 miles 7 chains. The present Government have employed twice the number of men, and have done eight times the amount of work. Under the Fisher Government, plate-laying proceeded at the rate of 15.11 days per mile, the surveying at 3.302 days per mile, the clearing at 5.79 days per mile, and the oarthworks at 7.704 days per mile. Under the Cook Ministry plate-laying is proceeding at the rate of 2.16 days per mile; the surveying at 1.18 miles per day; the clearing at 2.32 days per mile, and the earthworks at 2.24 days per mile. In view of these figures, how can it be said, that we are not expediting the construction of the line, or that we are wasting the money of the public? We have been fissured that private contractors are paying higher rates to their employes than are the Government. Very hard things were said of the Ministry last night in this connexion by Senator de Largie. But we must recollect that if we increase the rate of wages in one part of the country we shall have to increase it in another part. Wc must also remember that work under private contractors is task work. The Prime Minister has made a fair offer to the men, viz., to allow this unfortunate dispute to be settled by arbitration. A good deal has been said about the relative merits of the contract and day-labour systems. The Government have been strongly criticised because on shows, within some cases estimates and in contract to the day-labour system. My own opinion is that we might well paraphrase a couplet by Pope, and say -

For forms of labour let fools contest,

What'er is best administered is best.

I have been told by inspectors that they can get better work done with day labour now than they could when the previous Government were in office. When I inquired the reason for this they replied, " Because we can now pick our men, whereas previously we could not. We then had to take any man who was sent to us."

Senator Gardiner - Sent by whom?

Senator McCOLL - Probably by the honorable senator.

Senator Gardiner - The VicePresident of the Executive Council must know that that is not true. I rise to a point of order. I submit that the honorable senator has no right to make a statement of that kind. I never sent any man to the Fisher Government to get work. Is the Minister in order in saying what he did ?

Senator McCOLL - I withdraw the statement. I come now to the Queensland proposition. I say that unless we know the actual conditions which obtain in different places, the statements which have been made here by way of comparing the day-labour and contract systems have no relevance whatever. Moreover, what is termed day labour in Queensland is really a mixture of the day-labour and contract systems - as has been explained by the Engineer-in-Chief of the Commonwealth, who has just come from that State.

Senator McDougall - There is no contract let there for the construction of any line.

Senator McCOLL - But there are small contracts.

Senator McDougall - They are not contracts at all.

Senator McCOLL - There is something of that kind; otherwise, Mr. Bell is not telling the truth . Now , I have h ad sent to me a statement from New South Wales, and I am told that all the figures in it are official. It is a list of some twentyone or twenty-two different works, comprising the erection of car-sheds, bridges, post-offices, court-houses, residences, public schools, lockup-keepers' quarters, and railways, together with the construction of water supply works, and cottages. It shows, with in some cases estimates and in other instances actual tenders, a total amount of £351,297. These works were carried out by day labour at a cost of £484,518 - a difference in favour of the contract system of £133,221. Then I might point to the Orbost line, the construction of which has been dragging on for three or four years. Had that undertaking been built by contract it would have been completed long ago. The farmers have been waiting for it for two years beyond the period when it should have been constructed. I say that it is difficult to lay down an absolute rule in respect of the day-labour and contract systems. But do my honorable friends opposite always practise what they preach ? If they require a job to be done, do they always get it done by day labour? I think if they had a work which was going to cost them a thousand pounds or two, they would want to get a price for it. I have been told that, not long ago, a Labour member in another State was going to build a rather nice house. A friend of his inquired of him, " I suppose you are going to build it with day labour?" His reply was, "No. I am not such a fool; I am going to get it built by contract."

Suggest corrections