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Tuesday, 28 June 1921

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Repatriation) . - I shall, I think, express the opinion of the Senate when I say that the opportunity which the first reading of a money Bill affords this Chamber has been very happily utilized on this occasion, judging by the speeches to which we have beep treated.

I listened with a great deal of surprise, surprise so great that at first I thought he was indulging in the rôle of a humorist, when Senator Gardiner said that he understood that the promise of the Government as to the redemption of the war gratuity bonds meant that a certain percentage of each individual bond should' be cashed on certain dates. My surprise deepened when I became convinced that the honorable senator was at least speaking with an appearance of seriousness. I have never heard that suggestion put forward before by any other person in a position of knowledge or authority. I have in the meanwhile looked up the records to see exactly what was promised. Reading through the speech which the Prime Minister delivered in the other House on introducing the measure, I find it quite clear that the original conception which I had of what was promised was entirely justified. All through that speech is the clear indication that the aggregate represented by the total of the bonds- issued was dealt with, and not the individual bond. Running through it, too, was the idea, and machinery was created to carry out the idea, of priority of selection, in determining which bonds were to be cashed first. I understand that Senator Poster was present when the deputation from the Soldiers League interviewed the Prime Minister. The honorable senator has been good enough to say, by interjection, that his recollection of what took place at that interview entirely confirms the view which I am putting forward now. I need not detain honorable senators by reading extracts from the debate, but I draw -attention to the fact that the idea of priority, of selecting the most necessitous cases, was not only embodied in the

Prime Minister's speech, but is set out in the Act itself, which actually prescribes the order of priority. It is also, I am sure, generally understood outside. The Act sets out various classes. The widow comes first, and then in various degrees of relationship and necessity other cases are. dealt with. This is supplemented by the promise of the Government to cash bonds whenever they are presented in cases which axe adjudged to be necessitous, and the decision in that matter has rested with what are known as War Gratuity Boards, which were created in each State specially to deal with these matters. Returned soldiers have been appointed to these Boards.

A suggestion was made by Senator Gardiner, and indorsed by two later speakers, as to the wisdom of making the war gratuity bonds- negotiable. Senator Gardiner spoke as if their non-negotiability represented some handicap or hindrance which the Government had imposed upon the holders of the bonds. I submit that that is not a fair view to take of the case. What the Government did, with the concurrence of Parliament, was to present a nonnegotiable bond to the soldier. It did not present a bond and make it non-negotiable afterwards. It said that it desired, in view of the very fine services our men had rendered, to give them a gratuity, but that it was not in a position to pay cash, and for other reasons did not feel free to give them negotiable bonds. It presented them with bonds which were clearly known at the time to be non-negotiable.

Senator Foster - One of our soldier representatives suggested the nonnegotiable bond to the Prime Minister because the Prime Minister said that the Government could not find cash at the time.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is only another evidence of the fact that 1me soldiers, when they speak officially, as they did in that case, have always shown a keen regard for the prime interests of this country. When the bond was given, well deserved though it was, it was' still a gift of a non-negotiable character. It is therefore unfair to say that we placed upon it a condition which in itself constituted an injustice. Let me go beyond that and see .what the effect of making the bonds negotiable would be. Weare not yet out of the financial wood. The Treasurer will very shortly be under the necessity of floating another repatriation loan for the purpose of continuing the redemption of our promises to the soldiers. I do not take an unduly pessimistic view of the situation, but it is clear that the Australian market is not as buoyant or as well supplied to-day to meet Treasury requirements as it was a few years ago. Without being unduly pessimistic, it is also clear that the loan will require all the efforts of all the well-wishers of this country to make it a success. What will be the effect if the war gratuity bonds are made negotiable? There are outstanding about £14,000,000 of them, and to throw them on the market at once would create an inevitable slump. Senator Gardiner compared them, very fairly, with the bonds quoted to-day at about £90 or £91, but the bonds which are being sold to-day at that figure are not being thrown on the' market in parcels of £14,000,000 worth at a time. Many of them are sold in small parcels, but if £14,000,000 worth of them were thrown on the market at once, does any one suppose that they would bring £91 five minutes afterwards? How far they would fall I cannot say.

Senator Foster - And they are 6½ per cent. bonds as against the 5¼ per cent. war gratuity bonds.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - At any rate, instead of bringing £90 or thereabouts, the war gratuity bonds would bring far less if £14,000,000 worth were thrown on the market by a number of men, some of whom would be reckless, some of whom would need money, or think they did, and some of whom would be too impatient to wait for the time when they would be paid face value, and would be prepared to sell them for what they would bring. That would have a serious effect, not merely on the bonds themselves, but on every other Commonwealth security, and would spell disaster to the loan which the Treasurer will shortly have to float. If those £14,000,000 worth of bonds were thrown on the market and people could purchase them for £70 or £80, what response would there be when the Government asked the public to pay £100 for the new bonds which it was seeking to float? The object of the new loan is to enable the Government to go on redeeming the pledges it has made to the soldiers, all of which have not been redeemed, and to make these bonds negotiable would render it almost impossible for the Government to do this. In an attempt to give an additional concession to the mento whom the war gratuity bonds were given we should, if it were done in that way, be rendering ourselves impotent to help those other soldiers to whom our promises are still outstanding. I ask honorable senators to think, not about the mere cashing of the bonds themselves, but about the effect it would have upon the whole financial position of the Commonwealth. The Treasury undertaking to find the cash in necessitous cases still stands good. Bearing in mind the Government's financial obligations and the very serious load of debt which it has to face, I think in the circumstances the Government have gone in this case as far as it is safe to go.

Senator Crawford - Will there be an opportunity to convert the war gratuity bonds in connexion with the new loan?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not yet in a position to explain the prospectus of the new loan, but in past loans there has generally been some concession of that kind. That, however, applied to war gratuity bonds; would not give the Treasurer what he wanted - that is, cash. It would be merely issuing one bond in exchange for another.

Senator Crawford - That has not been the practice. You havehad to take up £ 100 of the new loan to convert £100 of a previous loan. .

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the honorable senator's suggestion were carried out, the Treasurer would not get the cash which he requires to go on helping the soldiers in land settlement, housing, and other directions.

Senator -Payne.- A great deal of the dissatisfaction that is felt would be removed if anarrangement could be made whereby the soldiers could get their bonds cashed by private individuals. At present, face value has to be paid.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable senator mean to permit the sale, providing that the present market rate is paid?

Senator Payne -Yes.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I shall put that view before the Treasurer without. at the present stage, expressing any individual opinion concerning it.

Senator Thomas,referring to the Economies Commission, spoke of its cost as being an item on one side of the ledger and he desired to know what was on the other side- to balance it. The Commission's report provides the balancing factor. As for the recommendations of the Commission the responsibility of the Government was to read and study them. The Government are not called upon to adopt every suggestion contained in every report of every Commission. Where the suggestions of the Economies Commission appeared to fee good, they have been largely embodied in this Bill. The Government have, embodied in the measure not necessarily the specific views and recommendations of the Commission, but a line' of action based on the Commission's recommendations. .No Government would say beforehand that they would fee prepared to accept every line of every report. A Commission makes its inquiry and presents its recommendations, and the Government take responsibility for accepting the report wholly, or in part, or of rejecting it.

Senator Thomasreferred also to immigration. I am sure every honorable senator will echo his sentiments concerning the welcome waiting in Australia for a stream of newcomers . of the right type. The honorable senator made a suggestion concerning a home which has been started in Sydney somewhat on the lines of the famous Dr. Barnardo institution. During my recent stay in London I met a member of the Canadian Government, namely, .Sir George Foster, and the Canadian High Commissioner. Both spoke eulogistically of the results which have accrued .to Canada from its efforts to attract Barnardo boys as settlers. I was given an outline of the scheme which has been adopted for receiving these youths, for training them upon farms, and for placing them eventually with individual citizen:?. I should like to see some plan of the kind established in Australia. Canada's experience is encouraging; and, from what I was told, not only by the Minister and the High Commissioner, but fey two or .three leading Canadian officials also, these Barnardo trainees may be regarded as being among the finest types of citizen. They go out to Canada at an impressionable age, having little to unlearn; and the percentage of .those who turn out badly is negligible. We might do well ito seek citizens from the same source. For, without desiring to rob Canada, we are not forgetful of our own needs. I shall take an early opportunity to press the point for the consideration of our immigration ' officials. Senator Thomas asked me to furnish particulars concerning officials in the Immigration Department, together with a resume of their duties and an indication of the number of people who have been brought out to Australia during the past few months. I ask the honorable senator to give me notice of his requirements in the form of a question, since I have not had time to procure the information.

I listened to the remarks of Senator "Bakhap, as I always do, with great interest. The question of the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese alliance is how being discussed at that important gathering which, for lack of a better name, is termed the" Imperial Conference. With the honorable senator, I would like to see some good understanding, very definitely expressed, with the great American Republic. I hope that nothing may- arise in connexion with the Anglo-Japanese alliance which will put such an expression beyond the realms of probability. There was something practical and timely in a suggestion made to the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) before he left for England, regarding an understanding between Great Britain, the United' States of America, and Japan. _ If that could fee 'brought- about, it would represent an ideal which we in Australia would regard as the best thing possible for all the world. I trust also, with Senator Bakhap, that, whether the alliance is renewed or not, studied efforts will be made to create good relations with Australia's -Asiatic neighbours. Foolish things have, been said about the latter, which, if we were in the place of those nations, would arouse resentment. I should add, in fairness, that some also of those "^nations have not been altogether free from similarly unwise utterances and actions. We should make every effort to suppress hurtful criticism, for it does no good, and may lead to grave injury.

Good understanding mli grow, I trust, until Japan perceives that we are not seeking to exclude her people on any such ground ais that of alleged inferiority or because of any prejudice, or for any reason, indeed, other than the desire to keep this country racially pure. I trust that Japan will recognise that out policy ia a

Bound one, and that she will publicly and frankly admit that recognition. When she does so accept the situation, and refrains from .putting forward her continual demand for racial equality, there should be no- reason why Australia and Japan should not live forever as extremely good friends and neighbours.

Question resolved ia the affirmative.

Bill read a first time.

Senate adjourned at 9.2. p.m.

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