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Thursday, 15 July 1926

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - As this is the first time that I have addressed the Senate since you, Mr. President, have occupied your present position, I take this opportunity of congratulating you on your election to your high office. I trust that you will long occupy the position; but, whether your occupancy of the chair is long or short, I trust that it will be a happy time for you and one of benefit to us. While I agree with Senator Findley that we are prone to regard those matters in which we take a keen interest as being of paramount importance, I concur in the statement of the Leader of the Senate that no more important measure could be brought before this Parliament than one dealing with development and migration. I am strongly of the opinion that, unless, within a reasonable time, the empty spaces of this great continent are filled with people of our own race, economic conditions throughout the world will cause them to be occupied by people whose sentiments and morals are different from ours. For that reason I am prepared to assist any government which is endeavouring to deal with the problem of populating this country. I prefer that a Government should attempt something and fail, rather than that it should do nothing at all. While I am in accord with the Government's desire to develop this country, and for that purpose to bring migrants here, I am not in favour of the appointment of a commission, which will not only be costly, but will also be unable to do what is expected of it. T have not that strange infatuation for commissions which the Ministry seems to possess. It would appear that the Government, anxious to shirk its responsibilities, appoints commissions to do its work.

Senator Thompson - The British Government is doing the same thing.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am referring to the Government now in office in Australia, whose settled policy appears to be to appoint commissions to undertake difficult tasks. This is not the first bill for the appointment of a commission which Senator Pearce has introduced into this Chamber. No mother ever fondled her first-born more tenderly or spoke of it more lovingly than does the Minister of a new commission which he desires should be appointed. No father ever looked forward more optimistically to the future of his clever son than does the Minister to the results which will accrue from the appointment of a new commission. On each occasion that a bill for the appointment of a commission has been before the Senate, the Minister has spoken of the able men who will constitute it. From his remarks one would gather that these men are capable of performing miracles. Men of that calibre are to be appointed to this commission. I was reading lately a book, written by E. T. Raymond, a brilliant English journalist, dealing with the life of Disraeli. In this book, entitled The Alien Patriot, Disraeli is pictured as a hero. The writer says that Disraeli was about 70 years of age when he became Prime Minister of England, and practically dictator of that country, by reason of his majority in both Houses of Parliament; that, although he was anxious to carry out some of the ideas of his youth, the fires of his ambition had, to some extent, been quenched, and, moreover, that he was surrounded by a conservative party, and consequently unable to accomplish all that he desired. For those reasons the writer said that Disraeli then did what all stupid or tired politicians do - he appealed to the people of England to save themselves by their own energy, and then he appointed a royal commission. The Minister, in introducing this bill, gave various reasons for the appointment of a commission, included among which was the statement that Ministers now were so busy administering their departments that they had no time for anything else. It would appear that Ministers are regarded as something in the nature of overpaid clerks. There was a time when Ministers were expected to enunciate the policy of their departments, and to prepare a programme to be carried out by others. Apparently, that is not the case to-day. It seems now to be the view that commissions should be appointed to propound policies for Ministers. If the Government persists in this policy, its supporters, instead of being proud of Ministers, will be forced to regard them as beggars in thought and bankrupt in ideas. We have a right to ask whether the commissions which have already been appointed have justified the expectation of the Minister. Some years ago a bill for the appointment of a Public Service Board, comprising three commissioners, was introduced by the Minister. I remember his eloquent words on that occasion ; they have echoed in my ears ever since. I remember how optimistic the Minister was concerning the appointment of that commission. At the time I was opposed to the Government's proposal, because I did not think that the anticipations of the Minister would be realized. I had occasion to read the speech again the other day, and though I may not be a good judge of English literature, I should say that it would be difficult to find language couched in more glowing terms than the Minister used in his anticipations in regard to the work of that body. We were told that the appointment of the board would lead to the adoption of scientific methods to ensure the coordination of the various departments, and that we should have a contented Public Service, rendering the highest service to the community. I sometimes think I am a direct descendant of the doubting Apostle; but, in any case, like an historic figure in Biblical history, I was almost persuaded by the Minister. I invite honorable senators to read what the Minister said on that occasion, and then ask themselves if the Public Service Commission has done all that was expected of it. Another similar body appointed by this Government is the Shipping Board. I doubt if any ohe is particularly proud of what that board has done, but I do not propose now to say anything about it, because we shall have an opportunity later to discuss its operations. The War Service Homes

Commission was another body of which great things were expected. That commission was appointed, not by the present Government, but by a former National Government, and I think we have to admit that it broke the heart of one of the finest men we have ever seen in this Senate.

Senator Reid - The public demanded the appointment of that commission.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, but unfortunately it shortened the days of the responsible Minister, the late Senator E. D. Millen. Another body, the appointment of which has been approved by the Senate, but which, up to the present, has not been authorized by another place, is the North Australia Commission. As that body has not yet been appointed, it is impossible to say whether or not it will be successful. Much, of course, will depend upon the calibre of the men who' will receive the appointment. I suggest that it may be difficult to find these super-men, these commissioners, who will be expected to perform tasks beyond the capacity of the ordinary man. The Migration Commission, also, will call for men of more than ordinary ability. The names- of two gentlemen have already been mentioned. I refer to Mr. Gepp and to Mr. Gunn, the Premier of South Australia. Whether either, or both, will be appointed, I cannot say. In any event, I shall offer no criticism, but it has occurred to me that, as Premier of South Australia. Mr. Gunn could do more for migration than he could do as1 a member of the Migration Commission. As a commissioner, Mr. Gunn could only be a party to reccommendations submitted to the Government, whereas in his position as Premier he would be able to take definite action. I pass now from the commission, and turn to the general subject of migration. I agree with many of the remarks made by the Minister. Senator Pearce stated that Australia was capable of absorbing only a. limited number of migrants, but that we could increase our absorption power by the construction of well thought out developmental works. That was sound reasoning. I agree with the Minister. I always like to find myself in agreement with him. Then the Minister went on to say that it was easier to bring migrants to Australia than to provide suitable employment for them. Again I agree with the Minister. But, after having said that, Senator Pearce emphasized that an increase in population was not a menace to employment. He said that, even before the discovery of gold in Western Australia, there was a strong tide of migration to that State from the other States and practically every country, without restriction, and he went on to show that the position with regard to employment had never been better. I suggest that his argument was hardly consistent with the ideas underlying this bill. Another statement by the Minister, which 1 heartily endorse, was that we must have markets for all that we produce. I remember a friend of mine telling me of a conversation which he had with a German some years prior to the war. When he asked his German friend who was the greatest man in the world, the German's reply was " Bismarck." When asked who was the second man in the world,, he again replied " Bismarck," and when asked who was the third man in the world his reply once more was, " Bismarck. " So it is with regard to- migration. If I were asked what was our most pressing need, my reply would be " markets, markets, markets." The Minister told us further that our best market was the British market. Whilst he was speaking I interjected, as I thought very pertinently, " What are we going to get back 1" As an Australian I' am deeply interested in that phase of the subject. It is all very well to send our products to England, but what every Australian should demand to know is, " What are we going to get back in place of the things we send overseas?"

Senator Grant - Why bring up that unpleasant subject f

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is not an unpleasant subject. The Minister did not furnish a very satisfactory reply to my question, contenting himself with the remark that I could deal with it at some other time. I ask now, " What are we going to get back V A little while ago I happened to be present at an address delivered by Mr. Bankes Amery, the British migration representative, at the Colonial Institute in Sydney. In the course of a most interesting speech, Mr. Amery showed, by means of lantern slides, how much beef, butter, eggs and other primary products were consumed annually by the people of England, and how much of those products was being supplied by Australia. He stated that, if we could increase our supplies to the British market, we should be able to employ more people in this country, and altogether he put up a strong argument for migration along those lines. I believe he was right, but as he is an English official, I did not think it fair to ask him what we would get in return, though I submit that it is a fair question to ask the Minister now. It is obvious that it will not be 'of much use to send Australian products to Great Britain unless we get something in return. Let me remind honorable senators of the position of the Tasmanian apple-growers. I believe at present there are about 2,000,000 cases of Tasmanian apples in England. The Tasmanian growers fear that they will not get a fair price for them.

Senator Ogden - Probably they will not get enough to pay expenses.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I understand that, unless something happens to improve the market, the Tasmanian orchardists would have been better off had they allowed the apples to rot on the trees. If, however, they could get 20s. a case for their apples, they would be jubilant. The more value they can get in return for their produce - and this remark applies to all primary producers in Australia. - the happier they will be. But we must remember that the policy of this Government is to prevent commodities of other countries from being introduced into Australia. That is the settled policy of the Government. And yet it is asking people to migrate to Australia !

Senator Ogden - The honorable sena- tor must not talk protection !

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not talking protection or freetrade. I think I am talking plain commonsense. The orchardists of Tasmania would like to get 20s. a case for their apples, but probably they will not be able to get more than 9s. The people of Australia would be in a better position if the Tasmanian orchardists could get a higher price for their apples. About three years ago I paid a visit to Leeton, a district in New South Wales, where a great quantity of fruit is being produced. I had a letter of introduction to a gentleman who probably knows more about irrigation and fruit-growing than any other man in Australia. When I asked him about the future of Leeton, he said, " I can tell you if you can inform me what prices we are likely to get, not in Australia, but in London, for our produce. If present prices continue we shall be all right." In other words, the prosperity of Leeton, according to that gentleman, depended upon what the orchardists there could get back for their produce. I say, therefore, that it is impossible to dissociate migration from markets. The Minister was right when he said that we must have markets for our products. I understand that Australia utilises only about 5 per cent., or at the most, 10 per cent, of its wool clip. If our manufacturing processes were further extended to provide the whole of our .requirements, we should still be handling in this country only 30 per cent. of the wool clip, and be exporting the balance. Fully 60 per cent, of the wheat grown in Australia is exported, and the same can be said of other products. One of the most important problems which the commission will have to solve is that of finding suitable marKets for Australian products, and I should like to know if it is the intention of the commission to develop trade in oversea markets or increase the home markets. Increased population will, of course, improve the possibilities of the home market, but for many years we must expect to dispose of a large proportion of our produce overseas. Reference has been made to the fact that a large number of migrants came to Australia between 1910 and 1913.

Senator Findley - Because a Labour Government was in power.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is true that a Federal Labour Government was in office during those years.

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