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Thursday, 4 June 1914


Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) .- I would not like this measure to pass without saying a few words upon it. We are now dealing, perhaps, with the most important question with which we have yet been called upon to deal. I am rather disappointed at the way in which the Leader of the Senate addressed himself to these proposals for the amendment of our Constitution. His statement, which was brief and indicative of the way in which the Government will treat them, was just what we might have expected from him. But this is one of those rare occasions, I think, when, both parties might fairly unite for the purpose of devising some amendment of the Constitution, with a view to vesting in this Parliament the additional powers with which we are all agreed it should be clothed. Prior to the last election, and when these proposals were before the people a little more than two years ago, the antiLabour party were perfectly satisfied that no trusts, combines, or monopolies existed in Australia, and that consequently the legislative power to prevent their growth was quite unnecessary.


Senator Oakes - - No. He said that there were only two out of the twentythree you said there were.


Senator GARDINER - I am quite prepared to believe that the honorable senator can assure us of everything they said; and, no matter what fair proposition we may submit, he will find some way of shuffling out of the position.


Senator Oakes - I get behind Mr. Justice Powers ; that is all.


Senator GARDINER - I shall try to fairly state the attitude of the Liberal party when our referenda proposals were first submitted to the country, and we asked for power to be given to this Parliament to deal with the great dangers to the Australian people of organized trusts and combines to control the food supplies. Our opponents replied to our statement that there was no danger in Australia of the growth of combines, that really no combines existed ; but what has happened since then ? No less a representative of the Liberal party than Mr. W. H. Irvine has informed the people at a public meeting that he is now aware of the growth of combines. Yet the party are not shifting one iota from their opposition to give to the people of Australia a weapon with which to defend themselves against the ever-increasing danger of a growth of combines of men with the means of taking control of the food supplies and making money out of that control. If there was no evidence of a growth of trusts or combines, I would still favour this Parliament being empowered to deal with the possibilities of such bodies coming into existence within the borders of the Commonwealth at any future time. What harm would be done to the people if the desired power were conferred on this Parliament, and no combine ever showed its head ? None whatever. But what harm will be done to the people if a combine shows its head, grows strong, and takes a portion of the worker's earnings every week to add to its already too large profits? We who advocate an extension of our constitutional powers are on perfectly safe ground. The conferring of such powers on the Australian Parliament can injure no one. But the refraining from the conferring of the powers on this Parliament, and therefore on the Australian people, may injure every one. That is the position we are in at the present moment. In a speech he made on another matter, Senator Oakes said that although we on this side talked about a combine, we brought no evidence forward to prove its existence.


Senator Oakes - Hear, hear!


Senator GARDINER - The honorable senator quoted a passage from the report of a Commission presided over by Mr. T.

A.   Bavin, in New South Wales. I propose to make a quotation from the report, because it seems to me a most extraordinary thing for the honorable senator to claim that we have not proved the existence of a combine, and to quote a portion of a report from a gentleman who inquired into the question of the food supplies and the prices, but not to quote that portion in which the Commission referred directly, not only to a combine, but to the American Beef Trust. They gave in their report the shareholders of the company - the solicitor and' the clerks in his office - who signed the articles of association in Brisbane. They also furnished the evidence given by the managing director of the American Beef Trust, who told them very candidly that he came to Australia to look into the meat business and see what could be done. In their report, the Commission pointed out to the Government and the people of New South Wales that Swift and Company, of the American Beef Trust, who for twenty years have been building up their business in Great Britain and America, had already established meat works in Australia. The local manager stated in his evidence what the company had done as a beginning, and indicated what they intended to do. When Senator Oakes quoted from this very report, with the view of showing that no such trust exists, and failed to quote a portion of the report in which it is pointed out distinctly that the trust does exist, we can only infer one of two things.


Senator Oakes - I quoted Mr. Bavin's actual words, and now you might quote his words showing where the Beef Trust put up the price of meat.


Senator GARDINER - I do not know whether Mr. Bavin ever said that the Beef Trust had put up the price of meat, and I do not know whether any one else has said that the Beef Trust has done so, except the man who has to pay for the article.


Senator Oakes - Exactly.


Senator GARDINER - I walk about Sydney, where I live, with my eyes open, and I can say that, notwithstanding that the honorable senator and his colleagues told the people prior to the last election to vote for them and for cheap living, beef is 2d. per lb. dearer in Sydney today than it was when his party took office.


Senator Oakes - If you like to say that it is ls. per lb. more, you can do so.


Senator GARDINER - What I wish to drive home is that the honorable senator said that we talked about the existence of trusts and combines, but we never brought any evidence to prove that they do exist. The Commission presided over by Mr. Bavin, who were only authorized to inquire into the food supplies and the prices, went out of their way to include in their report a special passage dealing with the growth of the Beef Trust in Australia, so that the honorable senator, in quoting from the report to show that no trust existed in Australia, was deliberately and intentionally misleading the Senate.


Senator Oakes - I did not say that the report stated that there were no trusts in Australia. I quoted certain specified foods which Mr. Bavin said did not concern trusts.


Senator GARDINER - When I, at the beginning of my remarks, said that the honorable senator twitted us with talking about these trusts, and bringing nothing forward to prove their existence, he interjected, "Hear, hear!" But I said that those who heard his quotation yesterday will remember that he used the quotations to show that these trusts did not exist.


Senator Oakes - Not as to the particular items which I quoted.


Senator GARDINER - I had too much experience in my youth iri catching eels to try to hold such a slippery gentleman as the honorable senator. The point I want to make is the difference between the attitude of the Liberal party opposing the referenda proposals at the present time and their attitude two years ago and at the last general election. Two years ago, according to their contention, there was no danger of trusts and combines in Australia. At the last election they said that there was no proof that trusts and combines had increased the cost of living, and that the real cause of such increase was the presence of the Labour party in office. "Put that party out of office," they told the people, " and down will go the cost of living." That .is what they told the people from one end of the Commonwealth to the other. Unfortunately for themselves, the' result they asked for was brought about, and, although it is more than twelve months since they succeeded at the poll, they have not only done nothing to reduce the cost of living, hut, so far as their political programme is concerned, they have made no attempt in that direction.


Senator Rae - They do not know how to do so.


Senator GARDINER - I am quite prepared to admit that it was because they did not know how to do so that many members of the Liberal party opposed our efforts to confer on the Australian Parliament the power to control the growth of the combines and organizations that were daily increasing the cost of living. By a few pence per week on groceries, a few pence per week on meat, a few pence per week on flour, and small increments on other articles in daily use, the people who found the finances to support this Government and their party have been able to take a richer harvest each year from those who have to toil very hard for their living.


Senator Turley - Did you forget the increase in rents?


Senator GARDINER - No. The increase which has been taken in house rent is a large amount. In Sydney the rents have been increased in the last five years by the combination of property-owners by at least 25 per cent.


Senator Oakes - The tenants are finding out that they pay Fisher's land tax, not the landlords.


Senator GARDINER - I feel quite sure that it may take the tenants a year or two to find out the honorable senator. But, as Abraham Lincoln said, you can fool some of the people some of the time, buE you cannot fool all the people all the time. The party who live by attributing the increasing cost of living to another party and who promised that when they got into office they would immediately reduce the cost of living, sit quietly in their places and make no attempt in that direction, because they know, -as we know, that the increase in the cost of living - the increase in the grocery bill in Melbourne during trie last few weeks and the general increase in groceries - is due to trade combinations. We know that uie increase in the price of beef is 'due to the combination of those who are engaged in the beef trade.


Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - What about the increased wages?


Senator GARDINER - The increase in wages is due unquestionably to the com bination of the Australian workers, and that increase has been fought bitterly by the other party ever since it has been in existence. I propose to quote, in reply to the quotation made by Senator Oakes, a passage from the interim report of the New South Wales Commission on the Supply and Distribution of Meat, ordered by the Legislative Assembly to be printed on the 23rd December, 1913. Referring to the American Beef Trust, the Commission said -

Apart from this, the Swift Beef Company, of London, which is the representative of Swift and Company, of Chicago, has an agent in Sydney, who purchases mutton here on receipt of cabled orders from his principals. This agent was appointed in April, 1911, and during the first year of his appointment he purchased and shipped about 100,000 carcasses.

I have not made this quotation to show the extent of the trade of the trust, but to show that Senator Oakes was not only wrong, but misled the Senate, when he quoted from a report to prove the very reverse of what this statement proves.


Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - That does not prove anything as to a trust, does it? Because a big buyer is in the Sydney market, and buys a lot of stock or meat, therefore it seems that there is a trust. Anybody can buy the stuff, if he has the money, and export it.


Senator GARDINER - If, in face of the fact that Mr. Malkow, the representative of Swift and Company, went before the Commission of his own free will, and gave evidence that he was the agent of the Chicago Meat Company and the Swift Company, operating in England, and that he had come here to establish their works, and that they were expending £350,000 on a plant in Queensland, my honorable friend is prepared to say that that is not evidence of the existence of a trust in Australia, all that I can say is that no one will ever convince him that there is a trust in Australia. If the fact that the greatest trust in the world dealing with the beef supply - the Meat Trust that has made the cost of living, so far as this one staple article of food is concerned, dear to the working thousands of the world - are through their agent establishing works here, is not evidence of their presence in Australia, it is almost useless to attempt to convert tEe party opposite to the view that we are threatened by the growth of such bodies. We are so threatened, and that is why we are endeavouring to pass these Bills, and asking the people to confer on this Parliament the right to deal with a trust or a combine whenever it shows its head. Under the Constitution at the present time we have no power to act within the limits of an individual State. Senator Oakes, no doubt, will say glibly from the platform to the people, " You have a Labour Government in New South Wales; why did they not deal with the Meat Trust?"


Senator Oakes - In the present Arbitration Act they have a very good section with which to deal with the Meat Trust. With section 72 they could break it up.


Senator GARDINER - I have no doubt that the honorable senator had a good way of dealing with trusts when he dealt with the Coal Combine. The taking of coal at the price which existed months before, the commandeering of coal, or, to use plain language, the stealing of it, may be his method of dealing with a trust, but, so far as any legislation is concerned, we have to deal with trusts and combines in a sensible and practical way, and a common-sense way is to have one law operating from one end of Australia to the other. What would be the result if any State Government attempted to deal with the present Beef Trust? The result would be that, as the trust have established themselves in Queensland, and obtained a commanding control over the meat supplies, a State that dared to legislate harshly against them would find its meat supplies materially shortened, with a consequent immediate rise in the price of beef. The Commission's report further states -

If the development of the business of the Swift Company in Australia is as rapid as it has been in the Argentine, we shall be within measurable distance of a condition of things in which members of this American trust will have control of a considerable portion of the foreign meat supply of the United Kingdom. and so on throughout the whole report. Three pages of the report are devoted to pointing out to the Government of .New South Wales the existence of the Meat Trust, their operations, and what they intended to do. All this information was given in evidence by their managing director, who came here a few years ago, and was here again two years ago. At the time that he gave the evidence he was establishing works for Swift and Company at Brisbane, with a view to extend ing them to the other States. Once these trusts and combines are given unrestricted power to establish their businesses, there is no saying to what extent they may develop and exploit the public, who require the necessaries of life of which they have command. I want to make it clear that there is no possible danger to the people involved in giving this Parliament power to resist the growth and encroachment of combines which deal with their food supplies, but there is a very grave, pressing, and immediate danger ' in allowing things to go on from day to day, leaving this Parliament with no power to restrict the development of these pernicious aggregations of capital. If ever there was an occasion on which both parties should sink political differences and work together it is now, when we are convinced that uniform Commonwealth legislation is necessary to deal not only with trusts and combines, but with the other great questions upon which the public were so evenly divided on the last occasion. The great reduction in the negative vote as compared with that cast on the previous occasion must convince any one that we are within easy distance of carrying these proposals in the near future. What time could be more opportune for the Government, who are in such a hopeless minority in this Chamber, and have such a miserable majority in the other House, to invite the two Houses to meet together to devise measures to extend our constitutional powers, so that we may deal adequately with these growing dangers? It is generally admitted that the Government are unable to proceed with any policy or programme to restrict the increased cost of living.


Senator O'LOGHLIN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -Col. Sir AlbertGould. - Because of a hostile Senate.


Senator GARDINER - They . are afraid to move to combat the growing influences which are increasing the cost of living for fear of offending their friends, and so cutting off the financial supplies that make their political life possible; because if they dared to fight the combines and companies and other forms of organized capital there would be no more election funds to win them their seats. Senator Gould interjected that they were unable to proceed because of the opposition of the Senate. What measures are they being prevented from proceeding with? Surely the honorable senator does not refer to the summary manner in which the Bill dealing with preference to unionists in Government employment was thrown out. The Minister who introduced that measure in another place said himself that preference was npt being given by the Government, as it had already been abolished by minute. Surely the Government do not say that that is one of the measures on which they depended to make the cost of housekeeping a little lighter for the housewife. Senator Oakes actually quoted from the report of the New South Wales Commission to show that there were no trusts and combines, and said it rested with us to prove that there were. I have produced a copy of the same report, and pointed to three or four pages dealing with and definitely naming the Meat Trust. This satisfies me that when Senator Oakes makes quotations in the future it will be necessary to ask him to give us the fullest information as to what he is quoting from. We desire to amend the Constitution in six different directions, but personally, I should have liked to see both parties meet together to make one simple alteration in the Constitution that would, I believe, be effective for all time. It is provided that the Australian Parliament shall have power under the Constitution to legislate on certain matters. If both parties met together we could devise means to strike out the words " under the Constitution," so that the Australian Parliament would have what nine-tenths of the Australian people believe that it already has - full power to legislate, on any matters that come before it or that its members may bring up. That is my idea of an Australian Parliament representing the Australian people. I would allow the State Parliaments to exist until their existence was no longer needed by the people. I believe in a Constitution that will give the Australian Parliament powers of legislation, restricted only by the common sense of the people's representatives.


Senator Oakes - Would that mean no State Parliaments?


Senator GARDINER - Not necessarily, until the people became aware that no State Parliaments were required. Why should there be any restrictions on the power of legislation of this Parliament representing the whole of Australia from coast to coast?


Senator Oakes - Because that was the common agreement under which the States entered Federation.


Senator GARDINER - I quite understand that; but my proposal, if put before the people now, would meet with the approval of nine-tenths of them. Why not have a wider and more far-reaching agreement? Under the old agreement, not only were the States given equal representation in the Senate, but the Convention held that principle to be so sacred that they provided that it should not be altered except with the consent of the States themselves; yet the present Government are doing their best to undermine it by establishing the principle that a Government with a majority represented by the Speaker's casting vote in the lower House, shall have the right to say to the Senate, " You shall pass whatever legislation we ask for, or no longer exist as a Senate." That is striking a serious blow at the principle of State representation. It is not so very long ago that the agreement was made to give the States equal representation in this House; yet the Government are proposing, and their papers are backing them up, to sweep it away. No Government has a right to carry such a proposal on the casting vote of the Speaker. The Government are not prepared to accept any amendments to the Constitution to protect the interests of the people, and have put forward no better proposals of their own than the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the operations of the Beef Trust. That is on "all-fours" with their action in referring the Tariff to the Inter-State Commission. The only gleam of hope that we can get from the appointment of the Trust Commission is that it shows that our continued warnings have at length penetrated the slow understandings of the men who govern the anti-Labour party, and made them realize that the growth of trusts and monopolies is becoming a very real thing in this country. The appointment of a Commission is their idea of placating the popular cry for legislation against those bodies. It only means shelving the question for a little time, but in that little time a great deal of injury may be done. Time is of the utmost importance in this matter. I was rather amused at Senator McColl'. attempt to saddle the Labour party with the responsibility of allowing the Beef

Trust to get a footing in Australia. I understand it is the duty of the Minister of Trade and Customs to pass the plans for all buildings wherein the food supplies of the people are prepared. The plans for the building on the Brisbane River happened to come before Mr. Tudor when he was Minister, and Senator McColl asks why Mr. Tudor did not refuse to pass them. Would not it have been a statesman-like way of dealing with the Swift American Company to refuse to pass plans to which no objection could be taken, and which were in accord with all our laws and regulations? The honorable senator thought he had made a splendid point in throwing on the Labour Government the responsibility for the existence of the Beef Trust, because when the plans for their building were before the Government it did not stop them.


Senator McColl - I did not say that.


Senator GARDINER - I know the honorable senator did not; but that was the only inference we could draw from his remarks.


Senator McColl - I asked why Mr. Tudor did not inquire what the company was going to do with the building.


Senator O'LOGHLIN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. - If there was anything wrong being done in the way of trusts, why did not your party introduce legislation to deal with them ? They had a majority in both Houses.


Senator GARDINER - That is a pertinent question. The reason why such legislation was not introduced is that we knew, as Senator Gould knows, that the Commonwealth Parliament has not the power to interfere with the operations of a business within the limits of one State. We did the correct thing in the circumstances. We asked the people of Australia at the earliest possible moment to give us that power.


Senator McColl - Why go to the Commonwealth for authority when you admit that the Commonwealth could not interfere?


Senator GARDINER - The honorable senator still sticks in the trench, and contends that the way to fight the Beef Trust was, not to amend the Constitution, but to refuse to accept the plans for its building. If that is not what he means, what would he have advised the Labour party to do? All that was re quired was that the plans should be in accordance with certain regulations. We were dealing with a great organization like Swift and Company, who, according to the evidence of their managing director, have been twenty years building up their beef trade in London, have command pretty well of the Argentine market, exercise an enormous influence, and regulate by cablegram the price of meat in various countries of the world, and Senator McColl says that we could have prevented them getting a footing in Australia by refusing to accept the plans for their building. I am pleased to think that the honorable senator is a member of a Government who, since that time, have discovered that the Australian people are getting very restless under the statement that no trusts exist in the Commonwealth. The grocery hill in Melbourne is increased by 3s. or 4s. a week for the average family, the price of meat has been increased by a few shillings a week, house rent has been increased by a few shillings per week, and every man of common sense in the community is aware that these increases are due to the combination of the people who control the things which they require, whether they be houses, groceries, or beef. The Government stand opposed to legislation which we hope will give the Australian Parliament the powers which the framers of the Constitution imagined they had given us'. We are not asking for any unheardof powers, but for powers which the framers of the Constitution believed were conferred upon this Parliament by the Constitution which brought it into existence. We have, found that they did not correctly anticipate the way in which the Constitution would work. We asked the people a few years ago to rectify the mistake made by the framers of the Constitution. Twelve months ago we asked them the same questions, with increasingly satisfactory results so far as we are concerned. I hope that the questions will be repeated to the people again in the very near future. They will be more alert on the next occasion, because they have had to pay dearly for the mistake they made twelve months ago. Instead of the promise of the Ministerial party that there would be cheaper living being realized, they know now, although the Government will not confess it, that they cannot prevent the growth of combines, trusts, and monopolies until this Parliament is given extended powers. We are asking for these powers because we are determined to fight the combines. We have no money interests in them, and our organizations are not subsidized by them. We know, from sworn evidence given before the Sugar Commission, that it is reasonable to draw the conclusion that a huge bribe was given by the sugar monopoly to the anti-Labour party. How can we expect them to give the Australian Parliament powers to deal with the huge growths of capital represented by the sugar company and by Swift and Company, of Chicago and London, and now established in the Commonwealth?


Senator Oakes - The honorable senator should read the report of the Sugar Commission on the question of the nationalization of the industry.


Senator GARDINER - I have read the report of the Commission and all the evidence given before it, and I can tell Senator Oakes the effect it had upon the honorable senator who leads his party in the Senate. When the first President of the Commission, Mr. Justice Gordon, was conducting its proceedings a little friction arose between him and the Chairman of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and this led the Leader of the Senate to refer to Mr. Justice Gordon as a " chartered bully." I was going to say that the power of wealth was so great that it made Mr. Justice Gordon's position as President of the Commission very uncomfortable. The Chairman of the Sugar Trust, Mr. Knox, was asked whether the company had given £50,000 to the funds of the Liberal party, and, although the gentleman who asked the question told him that his desire in asking it was to give him an opportunity to deny the suggestion, he did not take advantage of that opportunity. He declined to answer the question. If the company had not given a huge bribe to the anti-Labourparty the gentleman managing it would have taken advantage of the splendid opportunity that was afforded him to contradict the statement which had gained currency during the election. He preferred to shelter himself by declining to answer the question. Viewing the whole of the evidence he gave before the Commission, it is reasonable to conclude that the sugar company did pay a huge sum of money into the Liberal party's funds.


Senator Oakes - I wish it were true.


Senator GARDINER - I remind the honorable senator that one of the lady organizers of the party in Melbourne asked what use it was to spend £50,000 to defeat the referenda proposals if the Government allowed the Labour party to defeat them at the last election. I have no doubt she knew what she was talking about. If the statement is not true, I should like to know where the Liberal party got the money to conduct their campaign in New South Wales.


Senator Mullan - It was stated on oath in the Law Courts of Queensland that the Liberal funds received £2,000 from an unknown quarter, and would receive more if it were necessary.


Senator GARDINER - I wish to say that the need for legislation of this kind is so great that it is desirablethat representatives of both the political parties in this Parliament should get together and devise something which the people of Australia will accept. I believe that if we ceased to make a party fight over these necessary extensions of our powers under the Constitution we might arrive at an agreement upon something which would be of distinct advantage to the Australian people if embodied in the Constitution. It would not be embodied in it by a bare majority of the electors, but by an almost unanimous vote. I say that the time is ripe for such a move to be made. I recognise that it is very difficult for political parties to meet and devise proper methods for securing the constitutional amendments necessary to meet all the difficulties we can foresee. But I believe that if Senators Millen and McGregor sat at the table for an hour together they might discover a means of bringing forward amendments of the Constitution to which both political parties could agree. Under a system of parliamentary government, providing that the members of one House shall go before the people every three years and half the members of the Senate shall go before them at the same time, it is almost impossible to confer too great powers upon the Parliament, so broad-based is it upon the people's will. There is grave and immediate danger through this Parliament not having the powers necessary to deal with a combine existing even in the smallest States of the Commonwealth. Consideration of State rights seems to have fettered the minds of the framers of the Constitution, and in their endeavour to preserve the rights of the States they, to some extent, have failed to preserve the rights of the Australian people. Although my appeal may be made to deaf ears, I should like the leaders of both political parties in this Parliament to try whether they cannot devise a means by which constitutional amendments sufficient for the purpose can be made in order that Australian people may be given some assurance that they will not any longer be at the mercy of these powerful organizations of capital, shipping companies, sugar combines, meat trusts, rack-renting landlords, and other combinations that are living upon their hard earnings. The time has arrived when this Australian Parliament, representing the whole of the people of the Commonwealth, should have the power to check these dangerous growths wherever they appear.

 

 

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and reported from Committee without amendment.

Motion (by Senator McGregor) proposed -

That the report be adopted.







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