Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 8 July 1915

Senator MILLEN - Did you say that the other party said that?

Senator GARDINER - I say that .your -party did.

Senator Millen - Then it must have been a party matter?

Senator GARDINER - Your partyalways tried to make it a party matter.

The PRESIDENT - Order ! I ask the Minister to address the Chair.

Senator GARDINER - I think that any man who read the press of the day will admit that it is perfectly true that the Liberals made people fear that the Labour party wanted these powers to, in plain language, rob them. Here is a party now telling us that we possess greater powers, which we can use for war purposes. Senator Bakhap said a while ago that the statement that we would rob the people was true. I suppose he implies that we would do so. He has on the notice-paper a motion in which he says that we ought to obtain the power to take, not only the farmer's horse, but the farmer's son.

Senator Bakhap - Quite so, in time of war.

Senator GARDINER - Let us examine the extraordinary power which the honorable senator wants us to use.

Senator Bakhap - And you have the power in time of war.

Senator GARDINER - I know that we have. To the farming people who were misled two years ago, to the business men of this country who were- misled two and four years ago, as well as to the financial people of this country who were misled as to the nature of the powers we wanted, I say: If we wanted extraordinary powers with which to exploit the people, could we ever get a better time to do so than now? Have we done it? Have this Government taken one step during the nine months of the war to deal unfairly with the earnings of any citizen in this community? Senator Bakhap talks about the powers we have. He recognises that the war may make it necessary for any Government to pass a Conscription Bill, to take any man who is fit to fight and make him fight.

Senator Bakhap - Yes; but he has an objection to applying the conditions of war to the times of peace.

Senator GARDINER - I think that the honorable senator will agree with me that if we have the war powers now, and we can use the power to take a man from the plough, we can also take the horse. If we can take a man from working in a coal mine, we can take the coal which he has mined. If we can take the farmer and his son, surely we can take the produce of the farm. But have we taken that stet) ? Have we not, rather, followed the good axiom adopted in Great Britain in time of war, " Business as usual " ? By that method the people have been going along in a much less hysterical manner than have people on the other side. Our .motto here is "Business as usual." I wish to point out to those who use the argument that we were really a dishonest party, that we were only awaiting the time, and forming plans in secret at the Trades Hall, to rob the thrifty of their hard-earned wealth, that here is a time when an honorable senator is prepared to rob them of their sons. I, of course, am not using the term offensively. Senator Bakhap is prepared to take sons of men because he believes that in a national emergency they should be taken.

Senator Bakhap - You will have to take them yet.

Senator GARDINER - A time may come when we shall have to take the eons, but that will be the time to take the horse, the coal, and the wealth. The two things cannot be separated in a Democracy such as this is.

Senator Bakhap - In time of war they cannot.

Senator GARDINER - No ; but can honorable senators opposite honestly say that the Labour party are seeking great powers for electioneering purposes, are not using powers, and are not to be trusted? If they will not admit that during the last nine months we have not only used the enormous powers we possess, but have used them with consideration for every business, , financial, and producing interest in this country; if they are not prepared to openly and fairly make that admission, and create a feeling in the minds of the people that the affairs of the Commonwealth are being conducted by men who have not a sense of responsibility, and an honest consideration for every interest in the country, I will be prepared to admit that my honorable friends are getting very near the limit of what is a party fight in a time of grave national crisis. We have administered the affairs of the Commonwealth in the light of day. I am only labouring this point for the reason that the misstatement which created most apprehension in the minds of reasonable citizens, who did not understand the wiles of politics, when these questions were put before them previously was, that if the powers were granted to the Australian National party, they would be used for their own vile ends. Our answer to that allegation is that in nine months of war, the Government, with an overwhelming majority in each House, could, if they had had any evil designs on any one, have exercised the powers in that direction. I venture to say that outside this Parliament, as shown by the recent elections in South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, the management of the affairs of the Commonwealth by the Labour party has met with almost unanimous approval, and I hope that we shall continue to meet with such approbation. I have drifted some way from the constitutional questions. The powers we ask for are necessary. They are more necessary in time of war thai* we thought they were in time of peace. We have found ourselves hampered on every hand. We hear an outcry at times against this man or that man. One man, because he has a German name, is attacked. Let us .see what is happening in regard to some of our citizens who are taking the most patriotic and active interest in the affairs of the Commonwealth. In this community there are trusts and combines who have used, and are using, their combined power to exploit the widows and children of the men who shed their blood for our country, the wives and children of the men who are fighting, and are willing to shed their blood in our defence, and to make them pay exorbitant prices for the necessaries of life. There are trusts and combines in this fair Australia of ours which are doubling the cost of living to the wives and children of the men who are fighting for as at the .front. Sir William Irvine has said that we have not the power to deal with trusts and combines, and that we should have it. Are we to sit down idly and allow every man from the Commonwealth who is now fighting for the Empire to know that while he is thus engaged the Beef Trust is doubling the price of meat to his dependants here? It is not merely a small increase which has taken place, but an increase which will represent millions of pounds to the Trust in a comparatively brief period. My honorable friends opposite ask what the Government have done in regard to the shortage of sugar. Let me tell them that we have stood between the combine and the people. We have not treated the combine unfairly, but we have taken care that the people shall have sugar at a reasonable price.

Senator Millen - The Government had the power to do that.

Senator GARDINER - Because the Queensland Government had the power to purchase it.

Senator Bakhap - Which power the Government contested in the New South Wales Wheat case.

Senator GARDINER - We contested that power, because the New South Wales Government represented only the people of that State, and made a very good deal on their behalf. We represent the>

Commonwealth, and we used the law in an endeavour to allow the whole of the people of Australia to share in that- deal.

Senator Bakhap - The VicePresident of the Executive Council believes that the action of New South Wales was inimical to the interests of the Commonwealth ?

Senator GARDINER - Most assuredly I do. To a slightly lesser extent than it benefited the people of New South Wales it injured the people outside of that State.

Senator Bakhap - I hold that it was antagonistic to the Federal spirit.

Senator GARDINER - Exactly.

Senator Bakhap - I do not think that the decision of the High Court was the correct one, and I say that if an appeal were made to the Privy Council that tribunal would, in all probability, upset it.

Senator GARDINER - The Commonwealth Government have as their legal adviser one of the keenest lawyers in Australia - one whose measures have not been upset by the High Court. When an appeal was made against the seizure of wheat by the New South Wales Government the Commonwealth Government acted on his advice.

Senator Bakhap - Does the VicePresident of the Executive Council say that many of the cases which have been brought before the High Court at the instigation of the present AttorneyGeneral have not fallen to the ground ?

Senator GARDINER - I do say so; and I challenge the honorable senator to mention one of those cases.

Senator Bakhap - What about the Coal Vend case?

Senator GARDINER - I do not want any interruption which conveys only a vague meaning.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Order ! I have allowed some latitude to honorable senators, but this running fire of interjections across the chamber must not continue. 'Senator Bakhap will have an ample opportunity of stating his case.

Senator GARDINER - I feel that, to some extent, I am responsible for the interjections. I say that the Government used no extraordinary powers in commandeering the Queensland sugar crop. A precedent was to he found in the case of the wheat seizure in New South Wales. But I would point out to honorable senators that this circumstance in itself is the strongest reason why our Constitution should be amended. Let us assume that there is in Queensland a Government which supplies the Commonwealth with 48 per cent, of its beef and 80 per cent, of its sugar, and that it desires to make up a large deficiency in its revenue. If it can do what the High Court has held it can do, it will simply have to commandeer the sugar crop and the beef supply of Queensland. By increasing the price of these commodities Id. or 2d. per lb. it will be in a position to raise millions sterling. Thus, it becomes apparent that the recent decision of the High Court in the wheat seizure case constitutes the very strongest reason why the powers which the Commonwealth Government seek in these Bills should be conferred upon this Parliament. We now ask Senator Bakhap, realizing that this great power is enjoyed by the State, to take the platform with us and make the constitutional amendments which we propose a national matter.

Senator Bakhap - What has the VicePresident of' the Executive Council to say when I tell him that the best lawyers declare that not one of these Bills, if adopted by the people, will alter the position that has been created by the Wheat case in New South Wales?

Senator GARDINER - I know that the best lawyer in the Commonwealth does not say so - I refer to Mr. W. M. Hughes. So far as the Sugar Combine is concerned, the Commonwealth Government, assisted by the Government of Queensland, have stood between the Combine and the people. A move was on foot to secure an increase -in the price of sugar. An increase of a penny per pound would be equivalent to millions of pounds annually. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company, with that splendid capacity which distinguishes its management, had not only sent its sugar from our bonds to places where it was realizing a better price, but it had bought up fresh supplies.

Senator MILLEN - After the shortage became known, the only lot of sugar sent out of this country was exported on the authority of Mr. Tudor. The VicePresident of the Executive Council ought to be fair.

Senator GARDINER - I hope that I am fair. I am not blaming the Colonial Sugar Refining Company for its action.

It not only sent out its own sugar to where that article would command a better price, but it purchased other people's sugar to prevent us getting hold of it. It purchased thousands of tons in this way. That is a perfectly legitimate business deal, and I have no complaint to make in connexion with it. But are the Commonwealth Government to leave themselves in a position in which they cannot protect the people from exploitation in this way ? Then let us look at the position in regard to meat. Whilst riding in the tramcars I frequently observe the prices that are marked up in the butchers' shops in Sydney. Quite recently I noted an increase of as much as 3d. per lb. in that city within the short space of one week.

Senator Bakhap - What is the cause of the advance in the price of bullocks in all the markets round our cities?

Senator GARDINER - The Beef Trust.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert GOULD - What about the drought?

Senator GARDINER - Dreadful as the drought has been, it has not made any perceptible difference in the number of cattle in the .Commonwealth. Everybody is aware that the great bulk of our beef supply comes from Queensland. I find that at the end of 1914 the approximate number of cattle in the Commonwealth was 11,200,000, whilst at the end of 1913 it was 11,483,000. These figures show that there has not been any perceptible difference in the number as the result of drought. At the end of 1914 there were 2.27 beasts per head of the population, as against 2.36 at the end of 1913. I was perfectly prepared for the interjection of Senator Gould, and had taken the precaution to obtain these figures in advance. Anybody who reads the history of America will see that the course followed by the Beef Trust there was first to create an artificial scarcity of live stock, and afterwards to raise prices. Similar tactics are being pursued here.

Senator Bakhap - What was the result of the judicial investigation into the allegations concerning. the Beef Trust in the Commonwealth a few months ago.

Senator GARDINER - The investigation in New South Wales proved that the Beef Trust has obtained a footing in

Australia, and that it is operating here. We know that it is not operating for fun.

Senator Bakhap - What did Mr. Justice Street say about the matter?

Senator GARDINER - What any Justice may say about it does not concern me. When I speak as a representative of the people, I endeavour to be accurate. Some time ago, a Commission sat in Sydney for the purpose of inquiring into the operations of the Beef Trust. On that occasion, Mr. Malkow jauntily stated that those interested in the Trust had been building it up for twenty years, and that the Trust was now in operationin the Commonwealth. "Senator Bakhap affirms that the Trust is not responsible for the increase in the price of meat.

Senator Bakhap - Do the growers get more for their cattle now than they did three or four years ago ?

Senator GARDINER - I desire to be allowed to state my case without interruption. Even if the Combine has not increased the price of meat, surely, if it has the cash with which to purchase the necessary cattle, it can increase it. Consequently, a wise people will empower the Commonwealth Legislature to prevent such an evil. I can point to the prices paid for meat in New South Wales five years ago and the prices being paid at the present time by householders. Even if Justices do not know that there has been an extremely large increase in those prices, I have no hesitation in saying that the population who are comparatively poorly paid for their work, know it. What is there of a party character in the action of a Government in asking the people to give this Parliament power to control monopolies? If we possess these powers, we may be able to prevent certain evils from springing into existence. Only a few months ago a portion of the German Fleet was threatening our cities. The knowledge that the battle cruiser Australia carried larger guns than did any of those enemy vessels, alone prevented the bombardment of our capitals. Just as our Australian Fleet saved our cities on that occasion, so will these powers, if conferred upon this Parliament, save our people from the raiding operations of trusts and combines. Many companies in our midst, whose members are appealing with patriotic fervour to the manhood of this country to volunteer for the front, are deliberately making the wives and families of the men who are fighting for them pay more for their foodstuffs. It may be said that that raises a party issue, but I say that it is a national issue. The people are asking to be protected from exploitation by a section, and we are asking in these Bills for the constitutional powers necessary to protect them.

Debate (on motion by SenatorDe Largos) adjourned.

Suggest corrections