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Thursday, 13 May 1915

Senator O'KEEFE (Tasmania) .- I have always advocated equal pay for equal work for both sexes, and it is becoming the principle of many members on both sides. There may be some difficulty in allowing female telephonists or civil servants to advance to the same rate of pay by yearly increments as male civil servants, but it is very hard for any man who believes in equal pay for equal work to defend a system that allows so many female civil servants to remain so long at £110 per annum. Male civil servants doing similar work of the same value have the chance of a yearly increase. The question will have to be considered by the various Departments which employ female labour, because I am satisfied that every member of the Government believes in bringing into effect the principle of "equal pay for equal work wherever it is possible to do bo. .

Senator Gardiner - I believe in the principle of fair and generous payment for the work done, but beyond that I am not prepared to go.

Senator O'KEEFE - I think that the Minister believes in the general principle of equal pay for equal work to both sexes. I do not think he will disagree with that remark, for he is a member of a Government who are trying to do their best to give the best rate of pay to public servants. Now, these are difficulties which might well be mentioned in a debate of this kind, and I think Senator Ready is to be commended for his action. The question raised by Senator de Largie is a very large one indeed in Australia today. If it is at all possible for the Federal Government in any Department to increase legitimate employment, and to minimize the great quantity of unemployment which stares us in the face in every State, particularly in the larger centres of population, I am satisfied that they will turn their attention to that work. Since they came into power, the Labour Government have done splendid work in this direction. They have done wonders in minimizing unemployment and providing increased employment; but, if it can be shown to the Government that there are channels in which a further increase of legitimate work may be provided, I believe that they will be quite prepared to give sympathetic consideration to the suggestion. Senator de Largie has said that he made certain suggestions some time ago, and followed them up today. I think that his suggestions are very reasonable. Any honorable senators who have had experience with timber work, and even those who are not experts, know perfectly well that our Australian hardwoods are far better when they have been seasoned a few years than they are when brought into use with insufficient seasoning. That is a fact well known to a non-expert. It seems to me that the Government might look ahead for a few years. It is not only the question of the number of sleepers which will certainly be required in the next few years for the building of railways. There is the other question of a large quantity of hardwood timber which will probably be required for building, especially in the Federal Capital. I ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council if it is not a fact that a great deal of work will be gone on with, at the Federal Capital within a few years, and that a great quantity of hardwood timber will be required there, in addition to the hardwood which will be required for the smaller culverts and bridges on the projected lines of railway? If it is a fact that the Federal Departments will require a lot of hardwood timber, surely now is the time for the Government to obtain that timber, and for a twofold reason. One reason is that probably it could be got at much cheaper prices to-day than would be demanded in a few years' time after the present disastrous conflict is ended. The other reason is that the timber would then have been seasoned long enough to have attained to its best value. I came into touch with a case in Melbourne only a day or two ago, when I was discussing the question of Australian timbers versus imported timbers with an expert belonging to a firm of timber merchants. He said, " When we use, or attempt to bring into use, Australian hardwoods to take the place of imported woods, as we would like to do, we are met by builders with the objection that in most cases the timbers are insufficiently seasoned. Not very long ago we filled a big order from our Australian timber mills. If that hardwood had been satisfactory for the building purposes for which it was used, it would have opened up a big trade, and increased the consumption of Australian timber, to the exclusion of that quantity of imported timbers; but, you see, right at the very start, when we commenced to build up a big business, we had that difficulty to face. The timber we sent had not been seasoned sufficiently, and so we are not going to take any more of it." That, we know, is one of the many difficulties surrounding the timber industry. It ought to be one of our biggest primary industries, but, comparatively Speaking, it is a very small one. In addition to the magnificent resources of hardwoods in Western Australia, and I may mention that I have had an opportunity of seeing them-

Senator Henderson - You have seen thousands and thousands of loads of sleepers lying on the ground, quite seasoned.

Senator O'KEEFE - Yes. I am not going to claim that, for some purposes, Tasmanian hardwoods are of equal quality to Western Australian hardwoods, because they are not. I believe that, for some purposes, Tasmanian hardwoods, the reputation of which I am jealous of, are perhaps not so good as jarrah; but for many purposes the hardwoods in Tasmania, and, I believe, in some parts of Victoria, are magnificent timbers. Any small body of working men who have combined and gone in for timber-milling, any capitalists who have taken shares in milling companies, have not had a happy experience. It seems very difficult to arrive at the reason. Men who have put money into timbermilling and the experience in Victoria, I believe, has been the same as in Tasmania - have experienced more losses than gains. On one hand, we hear that one of the reasons advanced by the men is that they cannot get an outlet or regular market for the hardwoods. On the other hand, we are faced with the absolute fact mentioned by the Minister to-day, and that is that in some of the cities, particularly in Sydney, hardwood is selling at a price which seems to be unreasonable, and which. I suppose, is twice as high as that of a few years ago. On one hand, hundreds of men who were employed in mills a year or two ago are idle, while others are threatened that, before very long, their employment will be gone. On the other hand, the men who want to use the hardwoods in big centres are complaining that they cannot get them at anything like a reasonable price. There seems to be something wrong, and we have to discover the reason. I think it is the existence of a tremendous timber combine. It is getting in its work in Melbourne and Sydney, if not in other large centres. It almost drives one to the conclusion that the great trouble in connexion with the timber industry, which ought to be ten times as large as it is, is that it is not under State control. It ought to be taken over by the States. I hope that, before very long, the Commonwealth will be vested with the power to take over the industry, if that is considered advisable, if it is found to be an injurious monopoly.

Senator de Largie - Western Australia has made a good beginning. Let us give it all the support we can.

Senator O'KEEFE - Every credit should be awarded to the Labour Government of Western Australia for having taken that step. In Tasmania the

Labour Government have made certain efforts, but, of course, their efforts have been nullified, to a large extent, by the opposition of the Legislative Council. We hope, however, to see State timber mills established early in different parts of the island. If we could get the whole of the timber industry of Australia nationalized by the States or by the Commonwealth, there would be a very different story to tell on both sides. On one hand, the poorer people who wanted to build homes for themselves would be able to get beautiful Australian timbers at probably 50, if not at 33 or 25, per cent, more cheaply than they can do under existing conditions. On the other hand, not only would those who are engaged in the milling and timber-getting industry in the back-blocks be retained in their employment, but there would be thousands more timber employes than are engaged to-day, and they would be employed at better wages and under better conditions.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Do not forget that the Government would see that their forests were not depleted.

Senator O'KEEFE - Naturally, reafforestation would go hand in . hand with any great national movement in the working out of our timbers. It has been sadly neglected in every State. One does not like to be always talking on one subject, but this is another very strong reason why this Parliament ought to be invested with more powers, because, perhaps in the very near future, when it gets the additional authority, as it will do, it might take a hand, if the State Parliaments would not act, in nationalizing, or at least in extending the nationalization, of the timber industry. The consuming public, and those who are engaged in getting timber in the bush and milling it, would all benefit. Judging from the statements made by Senator Bakhap today, when we come to advocate the nationalization of the timber industry I believe that we shall probably have him on our side.

Senator Bakhap - I would not advise the honorable senator to hug that belief to his bosom.

Senator O'KEEFE - At all events, we hope that we will have the honorable senator converted by that time. Senator de Largie has mentioned that, although we are not yet committed to any particular time at which to commence the projected north-south railway, we are committed to the construction of the line. In my opinion, this Parliament is absolutely committed to the construction of a railway from the south to the north of Australia.

Senator Grant - So we are committed to the construction of the Federal Capital.

Senator O'KEEFE - That is so; and I quite agree with the honorable senator that there, also, work should be pushed on as fast as possible consistently with business reasons and the carrying out of the project in a proper way. Senator de Largie deserves the thanks of the Senate for bringing this matter forward to-day. In connexion with the railway, a splendid opportunity presents itself to the Government to consider whether it would not be good business to lay up a big store of sleepers for the work.

Senator Gardiner - At the combine's prices ?

Senator Bakhap - Where is the combine making any money out of the sleeper industry, if there is a combine?

Senator O'KEEFE - The combine is making a lot of money out of the timber industry ; but I do not think that it would come in there very much. I believe that if the Federal Government were to decide to-morrow that it would be a good business act to get in store the large number of the sleepers which will be required, at all events, the number which will be required for the first 200 or 300 miles of the line, it would be able to go ahead without any fear of the combine's operations.

Senator de Largie - The combine is dead just now.

Senator Ready - The combine is the timber merchants, not the owners of the timber mills.

Senator O'KEEFE - Undoubtedly so. I have it on the best authority that the whole of the retail timber trade of Melbourne and its suburbs is controlled by one man. One individual in this city wrote a letter to a firm here in which he said, in effect, "It is time that you knew, and that other builders knew, that you have to come to me if you want this timber."

Senator Bakhap - What timber was referred to ; was it imported timber?

Senator O'KEEFE - I am not sure whether it was imported timber or Australian hardwood.

Senator Bakhap - I will back the men connected with the timber industry in Tasmania to break through any combine that tries to prevent them making contracts.

Senator O'KEEFE - The combine does not enter so much into the question of the supply of sleepers or other timber for the Federal Government, because the Government has the advantage of a strong financial position, and of being able to buy in large quantities. The Federal Government is in a position to purchase for future requirements, so that the timber may be properly seasoned. But private individuals cannot do that.

Senator Ready - As a large buyer the Government can make better terms.

Senator O'KEEFE - Exactly. There are millers now working short time, or not working at all who would be very glad indeed to consider tenders by the Federal Government for timber requirements. Federal Ministers have first of all to be assured that the purchase of timber in large quantities is a good business proposition. If they felt justified in doing so, there is no doubt that it would be a splendid means of reducing the volume of unemployment. It has become a problem in every State. Only to-day, when Senator de Largie was discussing this question, I was called out to see a carpenter, who is one of the best workmen one could find, and who has been weeks out of employment in this city because of the slackness in the building trade. If the Government can do anything to minimize unemployment it is their duty to do it. I believe that this discussion will induce them to give the matter further consideration. I should like to say that I was not quite satisfied with the answer I received to a question I put to the Minister of Defence today. I asked whether the Government had taken any steps to control or prevent meetings of persons who come from the countries with which the Empire is at war. A great deal of discussion has taken place in this and in other large cities of Australia concerning German clubs. There are German clubs established in most of our large cities. In the past, German residents in any part of Australia had a perfect right to form their own clubs, just as Irishmen, Scotchmen, and people of other nationalities had. But things are vastly different to day from what they have been in the past, and I think it is not unreasonable that we should ask that periodical meetings of clubs of Germans, Austrians, or Turks in Australia should cease. I think this should apply, not only to clubs restricted to persons belonging to enemy countries, but to clubs, the membership of which is largely composed of such persons. I do not approve of the cry that no German has any business in Australia. There are Germans who have been resident amongst us for many years, and who have been good citizens.

Senator Bakhap - It is only fair to say that the names of many of the sons of Germans have appeared in our casualty lists.

Senator O'KEEFE - That is so. Only last night 1 read in a list of wounded the name of a native of Tasmania, the descendant of German parents. Many German residents of Australia are good citizens to-day, loyal to Australia and the British Empire and to our sentiments and ideals, and they would not do anything to which we as Australians could object. At the same time, in the existing condition of affairs it is somewhat incongruous that we should permit fortnightly or monthly meetings of German clubs to be held. We should be in a position at the present time to know what is discussed at such meetings, but that would be very difficult to discover. It is only natural to assume that the chief, if not the only, topic of conversation at such meetings is the terrible war that is going on, and it is equally natural to suppose that the sympathy of the persons attending such meetings is with the people of their own nationality. I do not think that that is a desirable state of things at the present juncture, and perhaps the Minister, in his reply to this debate, will be able to say whether some steps, in addition to those already taken, cannot be taken to restrict the operations and meetings of such national associations.

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