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Wednesday, 12 October 1921

Senator EARLE (Tasmania) .- The motion is one upon which honorable senators naturally expect to deal chiefly with the finances of the nation, although, at the same time, opportunity is offered for them to debate any questions which they think affect Australia's welfare. I shall not attempt to make an analysis of the Budget. If there is one question occurring in a deliberative assembly of which I am a member, which I like least, it is the discussion of finance, although I recognise that the financial affairs of the nation, are of most urgent importance1.

In a contribution by a previous speaker the Government was taken to task for excessive expenditure in *the direction of defence, and from that I propose, in a measure, to dissent. Until there is some better organization among the peoples of the world, some greater safety against the possibility of a recurrence of war, no greater question demands the attention of the Legislatures of Australia than that of defence. It was the continual cry for retrenchment and economy in the defence expenditure of the' nation which led the British Government into the condition in which the Empire found itself on the fatal 4th August, 1914. The very men who were ever urging the British Government to economize in the expenditure for the defence of ;the Empire, sire represented in Australia to-day by the people we have clamouring against this Government and the expenditure of money for the defence of Australia. If the future should hold for us any such dire calamity as that which overtook the Empire in August, 1914, and we should find ourselves unprepared, defenceless, and perhaps on the verge of destruction, these very men who are now clamouring for economy would be the first to accuse the Government of lack of foresight in failing to prepare for the emergency. I wish to see the utmost judgment displayed in the preparation of the defences of Australia, but, at the same time, I have no sympathy with those who are always .clamouring for retrenchment in this direction. I hope I am optimistic enough to look forward to the time when the wisdom of the peoples of the world will he such that it will be unnecessary to make such comprehensive preparations for war; but that time has not yet arrived. Until it does, it would be little short of treachery to Australia were the Government not to make all necessary preparations to meet such an' emergency.

Another grievance with a large number of economists outside is the cost of government. 'I think I pointed out in a previous debate that the cost of government in Australia per capita of the population is very high indeed; but it is equally true that if our population were ten times what it is to-day, the actual cost of government would be very little more. There are now between 5,000,000 and 6,000,000 people in the Commonwealth, and they demand the same effective system of government as would be required by 50,000,000 people in the same area. The proportionate increase in the cost of government for the larger number of people would be small indeed. There may be some directions in which more retrenchment might be made, but, in the aggregate, the saving which could be effected is very small if we are to give efficient service to the people. Those discontented persons who are always complaining of the cost of government should recognise that we have the same service for the 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 of our population as 40,000,000 or 50,000,000 would have were they here to receive it.

There is another grievance which is very widely expressed by a certain section of the community, and that is the heavy taxation which the people now have to bear. We hear all over Australia, and we read in a great many of the newsprints of the Commonwealth, serious complaints against the administration of this Government, because of what is termed the extravagant and extraordinarily high expenditure. There is- a failure to realize that a vast portion of this expenditure is an aftermath of the war. The majority of those who are now complaining are the very people who, during the war, urged the Government to leave no stone unturned in order that Australia might play its part in that terrible conflagration. The sentiment expressed by a previous Prime Minister, at the beginning of the war, that Australia was behind the Mother

Country " to the last main and to the last shilling" was indorsed all over this country, and those now complaining, hecause they have to meet the bill, were loudest in their proclamations that they were behind the declaration made on behalf of the Australian people.

Senator Crawford - They seem to be more concerned about the shillings than the men.

Senator EARLE - Very much more, many of them. Some of the prominent newspapers of Australia are greater sinners than the average. Australia did wonderfully well in the war, and the men who represented us did marvellously; but Australia as a whole must foot the bill. The people must remember that they have received the goods. Had Australia not played its part in common with the other British Dominions, it is more than probable that we would not be governing this country to-day. Australia would then have been under the Government of a nation which would certainly have insisted upon the people being called upon to pay a great deal more than they are required to pay by the Governments that control the affairs of the Commonwealth from time to time. I want the people who are always clamouring against the expenditure, which is the result, of the part Australia played in the war, to remember that they not only received the goods, but they still have this Dominion to occupy. This important part of the Empire is still their own. They have their property, and they have the opportunity to make incomes in consequence of the expenditure of this money in the great efforts made by Australia's sons.

Senator Vardon - Do you know of anybody complaining of that?

Senator EARLE - Yes, I do. Is not the greater proportion of our expenditure to-day a result of the war; and why are people clamouring against it?

Senator Vardon - I do not think they are.

Senator EARLE - We must differentiate between the amount of money spent upon the ordinary Civil Service and the expenditure which is due to the war.

Senator Vardon - I do not believe anybody is complaining of that particular expenditure.

Senator EARLE - If they are not complaining of that there is very little for them to complain of at all. We know that the taxation is high, but it is because of the enormous interest bill we have to meet on over £300,000,000, which was borrowed to enable us to play our part in the war, and, of course, in addition, to provide for those men who have played their par.t as soldiers of the Empire.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Another trouble is that Parliament imposes statutory obligations on the Treasurer, and then grumbles at him for spending money.

Senator EARLE - I am not speaking so much of the grumblings of Parliament as the grumblings of the taxpayers outside. I quite realize that it is an unpleasant thing to have to hand out one's money. Many people in their advancing years have an opportunity, probably for the first time in their lives, to make provision for their old age, and it is very annoying to them to receive a demand from the income tax collector for a very substantial proportion of the money they might otherwise be putting away.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I wish the people would feel the same against Customs taxation.

Senator EARLE - In that case we are building up something. The money paid in income tax, apparently, is gone for all time. I feel that myself, but, when I pay income tax, I realize that I am meeting' a debt I owe to the nation, and that I have received full value for the money.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - We ought to be thankful we can pay it.

Senator EARLE - Yes, that is my view; but a great number of people, of course) will not share it. We would get on very much better if the people of Australia, instead of complaining and creating discontent in their own minds, and in the minds of their associates, would get their backs into the proposition, as the German people are doing at the present time, and thus rebuild our Empire and endeavour to make Australia what it is capable of being.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Do you think there is anybody who is not complaining in Germany to-day?

Senator EARLE - ."Not to any great extent: not as we understand it in Australia. This is a matter on which I have some first-hand information from a person who travelled through Germany and has only recently returned to Australia. He is a man of marked capacity for ob- servation, and he told me that it is simply wonderful how the German people are applying themselves to the rebuilding of their nation.

Senator Crawford - The output of the breweries in Germany is said to be greater than ever.

Senator EARLE - All sorts of industries are settling down to the pre-war standard.

There is another subject to which I want to refer. It forms the foundation upon which the prosperity of Australia depends. I mean the increase of population within our States. It is well known that the Government at the present time has in operation a system of immigration from the Old Country. That is all very well, but it seems to me, that something mora ought to be done. I am not altogether satisfied with the arrangements which have so far been made for the reception of the immigrants when they arrive from overseas. One of the worst things that the Government can possibly be guilty of is to induce people to come to Australia from far-away England, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales without making sufficient preparations to enable them to earn a living when they get here.

Senator Rowell - Those immigrants to whom you refer, I suppose, are nominated?

Senator EARLE - No. The system of nominating immigrants has been carried on for a long time, but there is now in operation an ' arrangement between the Commonwealth and the States. I am not by any means satisfied with the arrangements made by the States for the utilization of these immigrants when they arrive in Australia. It is well known that there is a good deal of unemployment in Australia to-day, and' the idea of bringing people outto this country to swell the ranks of the unemployed would be the worst thing possible. Looking through the Commonwealth Statistician's YearBook for 1919, I find that there is an indication in the vital statistics for that year of a way. in which the Government can increase the population of Australia by an even more desirable class of settler than any from overseas, good though these may be. The year 1919 is the last full year for which statistics are available. I find that the death rate of infants under five years of age in Australia for that year amounted to 11,833; under one year, 8,464; and under two years, 10,172, In a healthy country like Australia, with a total population of only 5,000,000, those death rates are too high.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is there any truth in the statement of the teetotaller that if all people were temperate fewer would die?

Senator EARLE - The temperance people are rather intemperate sometimes in their statements. As nosuch statistics can possibly be available, I am afraid the temperance people who made that statement are relying upon- their imagination for their facts.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Are you prepared to say that there is no truth in the statement?

Senator EARLE - I am not prepared to say that, but there is no authenticity for such a statement. It may be true, or it may be untrue. The Government of the day has provided in the present Budget for the expenditure of about £700,000 on maternity bonuses. This is not the first . time that I have raised my voice in opposition to this system, and I suppose it will not be the last I am fully convinced that the Government could expend this money to far greater advantage in the interests of tho people of Australia,and that if it was properly expended in the direction I am going to suggest, thousands of infants who are sacrificed in Australia yearly could be saved, and would make the very best pf residents. The native-born of any country are undoubtedly the best class of resident we can possibly have.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - How are you going to do it?

Senator EARLE - I will tell the honorable senator. I do not know whether he has had the opportunity of watching the activities of an association ealled the Child Welfare Association. I believe there are such associations in nearly every State, but I have had the opportunity, particularly, of watching the operations of an association of that description in Hobart, Tasmania. 1 have seen nothing more practical or more helpful in the preservation and the building up of the child-life of a nation. The people connected with the association, by their energy and self -sacrifice, all of which is given in an honorary capacity, not only collect .money to pay for the provision of nurses to wait upon mothers and prospective mothers and advise them in the treatment and feeding of their children, but also to provide for infants milk which has been tested by a Government officer. If a mother at Hobart is not able to pay for the milk, it is provided free by the association. I say, without any doubt of the accuracy of my statement, that there are many children alive in Hobart to-day that would not be alive but for the activities of this association. If the Government were to enter into arrangements with the States;' and to divide the money now given in "maternity bonuses pro rata, among the States, according to population, on tho understanding that it must .be spent in the establishment of child-welfare _ associations, a vast amount of good which is not attempted at the present time would be accomplished. The money might be given on the stipulation that it would be' augmented by the States. Many of the bonuses now given are expended most ridiculously. An investigation which was made' a short time ago, and information which was. obtained on sworn evidence, showed that in 99 per cent, of births in Australia the bonus was claimed. I have heard many stories of tho way in which the bonus has been expended. The other day I was told of a case in which a very popular young man became a 'happy father, and in conversation with his friends .he said he was going to claim. the bonus. He was followed by a friend, and when he had received his £5 he was advised that he was wanted at Menzies' Hotel. He went there, in compliance with the request. 'What took place there I do not know, but subsequently he received a bill from Menzies'. Hotel for £30. The gathering had been drinking the baby's health, of course. The facts as I have stated them in this case, I believe, are absolutely true. I know of other instances in which the bonus has been invested in Tattersalls, and others in which it has been placed to the credit of the child, to mature at a certain age. That was not the intention of Parliament when this system was enacted; and I venture to say that out of the. £?00,000 which it is proposed to expend during the coming financial year, at least £300,000 of it will bo paid to people who do not require it, and the balance, too often, to people who merely act as agents between the Government and the doctor. I do urge upon the. Government once again the desirability of entering into . negotiations with the Governments ' of . the different States to bring about an improved method for the expenditure of thismoney, so that better results and greater benefit to Australia will accrue. Although we require an increase of our adult population as quickly as we. can secure it, I should prefer to' spend more money* on the preservation of infant life in Australia than to have it spent upon immigration. .

There is another question arousing considerable agitation in parts of Australia, and in none more than in Tasmania, upon which I desire to say a word. I refer to the operation of industrial arbitration. Where a practicable and sensible administration of the principle of arbitration is possible, I nave always' been, and I am still, a supporter of it. But I recognise that in some cases wo have now got into a position which is absolutely untenable. As an instance in point, I can cite the case of -an industry in which Southern Tasmania is' considerably interested. I refer to the timber industry and the effect upon it of the last award made by Mr. Justice Higgins. As a result of that award, the industry is at present paralyzed. I have very carefully read Mr. Justice Higgins' report on the industry, and. from his view-point I am unable to confute his statements. I know the labour which men have to undertake in working in the bush, particularly in the southern parts pf Tasmania. I am not prepared to- say that the conditions laid down by Mr. Justice Higgins' award would not be right if those engaged in the industry could afford to carry it on under those conditions. But what is the use of making an award for an industry if any- attempt to put it into effect must involve the closing down of the industry? Mr. Justice Higgins' award proposes the payment of a weekly wage to bush workers; wet or dry the amount is the same. The position now is that the mill-owners find that - the men, and they are quite right, will not work, while it is wet, because-the award provides that under such conditions they shall be paid their wages even if they remain at home. They cannot work when it is windy, and, in the circumstances, to attempt to comply with the conditions of the award in the southern part of Tasmania would mean that those carrying on the industry would have to pay the men they employ a week's wages for, on the average, two or three days' work. No industry could be carried on under such conditions. The timber industry is not the only one in Australia which is in practically the same position, and unless the Judge administering the arbitration law will take into consideration the practicability of giving effect to his award, and its relation to other industries, we must do something with our arbitration system. I know that many people in Tasmania are agitating for the abolition of the principle of arbitration. I should not strongly object if that meant the abolition of the Commonwealth arbitration system and the substitution for it of some system within a State under which the local conditions of each industry might be considered. I recognise, however, that we cannot in Australia go back to the old condition of the survival of the fittest in industrial disputes. We cannot depend for their settlement on strikes or lockouts. Those methods belong to a past age. We must have for the settlement of industrial disputes a system which can be operated in a lawful and equitable way. Unless the men undertaking the settlement of such disputes will take into consideration the possibility of the industries to comply with their awards, the arbitration system must undoubtedly fail.

There are one or two small matters especially affecting Tasmania which I may mention. I refer to the light dues at present charged for shipping, in connexion with which I have had a very voluminous correspondence with the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), and the operation of the Navigation Act as it affects coastal shipping. I recognise that, in connexion with the operation of the Navigation Act, we are up against a very difficult problem. But with regard to the other matter, I maintain that in dealing with Tasmania the Government have been arbitrary and unsympathetic. By insisting on the payment of full duesby ships using practically only one light on the coast of Tas mania, they have prevented vessels calling at that State, although it would have been to its material advantage if they had done so; and the fact that they have not done so has meant a considerable loss to Australia. I have already explained all this to the Minister for Trade and Customs, but, so far, have been unable to enlist his sympathy. I desire now to say publicly that I still hope that the Government will reconsider the light dues charged in certain portions of Australia. Where ships derive the benefit of a considerable numiber of lights it maybe quite right to charge them full light dues ; but it seems to me absolutely ridiculous to charge full light dues to a ship casually calling at one port of Australia, it may be, to land or take up a few passengers or to take in stores, and carrying on practically no cargo trade with thatport.

I have a word to say upon another question which was touched uponby a previous speaker. I referto the Convention proposed to be constituted to consider alterations of the Federal Constitution. Perhaps I may more effectively express my views on this matter by quoting a letter which I addressed to the Prime Minister on 2nd December, 1920, just after an adjournment of this Parliament. I wrote as follows: -

Hobart, 2nd December, 1920.

TheRight Hon. the Prime Minister.

Dear Mr. Hughes.- As I believe you will during the present recess consider and decide upon the constitution of a Convention to consider and recommend certain alterations to the Federal Constitution, might I be permitted to make a suggestion re the appointment of such Convention.? I hold that it is more helpful to make suggestions before such a matter is considered by the Government than tocriticise and perhaps oppose a scheme after the Government are committed to it. Now, first let mo say that I am opposed to the election of a Convention in the ordinary way, for the following reasons:- 1st. Such an election would cost the Commonwealth at least £80,000, 2nd. We should have all the turmoil and disorganization of industry incidental to a general election. 3rd. If the delegates to the Convention were elected on other than the Senate franchise and electorates, they would not be representative of the whole State; if they were to be so elected, then, in practice, only wealthy men or members of the Federal Parliament could offer themselves as candidates. 4th. It is practically certain that at such an election the great majority of successful candidates would be members of the Federal Parliament, they being the betterknownmen, and the Convention would only be the

Federal Parliament in another form. 5th. There is no guarantee that the public men and women would support the recommendations of such a Convention at the subsequent referendum to the people, and without unanimity of support the people would surely vote no, and all the trouble and expense would result in nothing. It would be worse than useless to hold such a Conference or Convention unless it was so representative as to secure for its recommendations the united support of all parties at the referendum. Now my suggestion is that the Convention shall consist of thirty-five members, to be elected in equal numbers from the Parliaments of each State and the Parliament of the Commonwealth, that is to say, the Legislative Councils and the Legislative Assemblies of each State, and thu Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth, shall elect five delegates. Method of Election. - The two Houses shall sit conjointly, and Che President will call for nominations, which must he in writing and signed by not less than five members, no member will be permitted to sign more than one nomination. Nominations closed, the House will proceed to elect its five delegates under the proportional representation system now in operation in Tasmania. A Convention so elected would bo thoroughly representative of all classes of the people, and its recommendation's would, I believe, receive an affirmative vote at the referendum. If in this I should be disappointed, and the people again voted " No," then the loss incurred in preparing the question would be comparatively small. That is a rough outline of my idea, and I submit it for your consideration.

Your respectfully,

J.   Earle.

To that communication I received no reply. I have not the confidence of the Government in the matter, hut it seems to me that they are determined to constitute a Convention by an electionby the whole people, similar to the way in which certain Conventions were called together priorto the establishment of this Parliament.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - A waste of time and a waste of money.

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