Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 22 July 1926


Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) .- The Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) has claimed to have established a record, because on this occasion he presented the financial statement of the Commonwealth within eight days of the close of the financial year. It is true that he has done that; but that is no cause for satisfaction. If ho had presented a complete budget I could have congratulated him; but he has not done so. Information that we should have is not contained in the budget. A President of the United States of America once said, " Government is finance, and finance is government." The budget is the foundation of all governmental activities, and when presented to Parliament, it should contain full particulars of those activities. In view of our present financial position, the Treasurer should have placed all possible information before Parliament. But this budget is incomplete. In his complacency, the Treasurer stated that the information contained in the budget was sufficient. I do not agree with him. Like many proposals of the Government, the budget is ill-considered and incomplete. The Treasurer places his views before us, and expects us to accept them without question.


Senator Pearce - In what respect is the budget incomplete?


Senator NEEDHAM - Yesterday the Leader of the Senate was annoyed because some honorable senators interjected while he was speaking. He told them that he had not reached the points to which "they referred. I remind Senator Pearce ;that I have been on my feet only a few minutes, and I suggest that he possess his soul in patience. This Government has a mania not only for rushing legislation through Parliament, hut also for establishing boards and commissions. Parliament now is working against the clock, mainly because the Prime Minister will be leaving for Great Britain shortly to attend the Imperial Conference.


Senator Findley - It must be a oneman Government.


Senator NEEDHAM - That is evident. While the Prime Minister is away, Parliament will be closed. A glance at the Senate business-paper shows that we are now dealing with the last item Of government business. The state of the. business-paper in another place suggests that the Senate will soon have nothing to do.


Senator Pearce - Parliament has been in session for the greater part of the year. Does the honorable senator want to sit all the year round?


Senator NEEDHAM - If the Government were true to its election promises, Parliament would remain in session during the Prime Minister's absence. The ex-Prime Minister, the Right Honorable W. M. Hughes, was regarded by many as an autocrat; but when he went to Great Britain Parliament did not go into recess; the business of the country was conducted under the leadership of Sir Joseph Cook. Before the present Primo Minister left for Great Britain in 1923, Parliament was " bludgeoned " - .to quote the public press at the time - in order to pass necessary legislation. What happened then is being repeated to-day. We are asked to pass legislation in a hurry. Time after time this session, the Leader of the Senate has moved for the suspension of the Standing and Sessional Orders in order that certain bills might be passed without delay. Notwithstanding that all the legislation promised in the Prime Minister's policy speech has not been placed upon the statute-book, the business of Parliament is being rushed in order that the Prime Minister may go to England. I do not object to his presence at the Imperial Conference. I think that all the dominions should be represented at that conference, because matters of great importance to the

Empire will be discussed there. But, in addition to the Prime Ministers, representatives of the Opposition in the various dominion parliaments should also attend the Imperial Conference in order that both sides of the nation's thought might be expressed. The Opposition appreciated the compliment paid to it, when the Government decided to include the Leader of the Opposition in another place (Mr. Charlton) as a member of the delegation to the Fifth Assembly of the League of Nations at Geneva. The precedent then established should be repeated in connexion with the Imperial Conference. The Assembly of the League of Nations is certainly a gathering of great importance; but so is the Imperial Conference, and the views of His Majesty's Opposition should be heard at it. The present Government is composed of members of the Nationalist and Country parties.


Senator Ogden - The Country party is nearly dead, I believe.


Senator NEEDHAM - - If it is not really dead, it is dying. Among the supporters of the Government are my genial colleague, Senator Carroll, and next to him my youthful and irrespresible friend, Senator Chapman, both members of the Country party. Others are ex-Labour men-, like the right honorable the Leader of the Senate, Senator Pearce, and some, like my honorable and learned friend, Senator Barwell, are exLiberals. Senator Abbott is, I understand, a Pitt-street farmer.

It may be said that I am reviving ancient history; but there are times when these matters ought to be. mentioned. Not long ago members of the Country party were violently opposed to the gentlemen with whom they are' now associated. Before Dr. Page joined the Cabinet he was most hostile in his opposition to the Nationalists of that time. He moved no less than sixteen votes of no-confidence in the Nationalist Government, but because the County party was divided the Government won on each occasion. After the 1922 election, when the Nationalist party got a heavy set-back, negotiations were entered into between the Nationalist and Country parties for the formation of a composite Ministry. Dr. Page was then, as it were, the king-pin. At the commencement of negotiations the Country party stipulated that Dr. Page was to be Prime Minister, otherwise no binding alliance would be undertaken, but merely a working arrangement. Eventually, the Country party gave way on that point. According to the Melbourne Age of the 18th January, 1923, the Country party representatives stated that-

The verdict of the country was, in effect, a vote of censure upon the Hughes administration, and that they would be stultifying themselves and proving recreant to the whole attitude they had taken up during the election campaign by now allying themselves with a government which had received such a heavy and significant set-back.


Senator Reid - That is ancient history.


Senator NEEDHAM - I know that it is, but it is often wise to revive these matters in order to refresh the public mind. The lure of office was too strong for the Country party. It came into the political arena a young, vigorous party, determined, like the Labour party, to stand alone, paving its own way and carving its own destiny. But when the lure of office was held out to its leader, he fell. He thought more of office than he did of the fate of the party he was leading, and, as a result, his party was swallowed by the Nationalist wing of the Parliament. In an endeavour to safeguard himself, Dr. Earle Page afterwards said that the Administration he had joined had very little resemblance to the old and discredited Administration. That was after Mr. Hughes had been given the " order of the boot." At the same time his colleague, Senator Pearce, who was reported to have said that he would follow Mr. Hughes, out of the Government, but did not do so, said -

The policy of the present Ministry is but a continuance of the last Ministry's policy.

Dr. Pagewas not to be outdone. In February, 1924, in replying to a statement made by Mr. Hughes, he used the words -

Considering the state in which we found things when we came into possession of the treasury bench.

Evidently he had found things in a bad way. The Country party, which had an individuality at one time in this Parliament, has now lost it and has become entirely absorbed by the Nationalist wing which it joined.


Senator Chapman - That is ridiculous. The Nationalists are saying that the Country party has too much influence.


Senator NEEDHAM - The honorable senator has just recalled to my mind the fact that out of thirteen members in the Country party' in this Parliament there are only two who are not in the Cabinet or on some Parliamentary Standing Committee.

I come now to some of the election promises made by the Government. During the 1925 election it promised, among other things, that it would bring in a scheme of child endowment. That statement was published in every newspaper in the Commonwealth, and was incorporated in the Prime Minister's policy speech. Mr. Bruce in his policy speech said, "A man with a family is the greatest asset to the community, and it is essential and desirable that the greatest encouragement and assistance should be given to such a man." What has the Government done to carry out that promise ?


Senator Ogden - It has appointed a commission.


Senator NEEDHAM - When the Prime Minister made that promise, the commission referred to by Senator Ogden had 'been .in existence for quite a long time. In any case, the Government should have brought in legislation dealing with child endowment without waiting for the report of that commission. The Prime Minister qualified his statement by saying that the matter would be submitted to Commonwealth and State arbitration judges, but there was no need for this.


Senator Andrew - The arbitration judges have only been appointed within the last few days.


Senator NEEDHAM - When the Prime Minister made his statement, there were Arbitration Court judges in existence.


Senator McLachlan - No, not Arbitration Court judges.


Senator NEEDHAM - Why does the honorable senator quibble? Was not Mr. Justice Powers President of the Arbitration Court?


Senator McLachlan - He was a justice of the High Court.


Senator NEEDHAM - Was he not President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court?


Senator McLachlan - It was called a court, but it was actually not a court.


Senator NEEDHAM - My friend is evidently quibbling. The fact remains that there was in existence at the time an arbitration court.


Senator McLachlan - We have just altered the scheme in an important particular, giving the judges of the court a life tenure and pensions.


Senator NEEDHAM - It is true that by a recent measure we have somewhat altered the act, but that does not alter the fact that when the Prime Minister made his promise that this matter would be submitted to Commonwealth and State .arbitration judges, we had a judge and deputy judges of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and judges in State arbitration courts. In any case, the Government had at hand sufficient statistics and information to prove the necessity for a child endowment scheme without referring the matter to arbitration court judges.


Senator Pearce - Does not the honorable senator see the connexion between such a scheme and the basic wage?


Senator NEEDHAM - I admit that the one has relation to the other, but nothing has been done to fulfill the Government's election promise.


Senator Pearce - We have to get the Arbitration Court to fix the basic wage.


Senator NEEDHAM - Of course; but pending the determination of the basic wage by the Arbitration Court the legislation for. child endowment could have been brought in. Some time ago, when the right honorable W. M. Hughes, as Prime Minister, appointed a royal commission to inquire into the basic wage he said that he would give effect to the recommendation of that commission, but when it submitted a unanimous report fixing a basic wage and the right honorable gentleman was confronted with his promise to put it into operation, he declined to do so. All he did- was to send a memorandum to the chairman of the commission. The present Government should have anticipated the fixing of a basic wage by introducing legislation for child endowment, which no doubt would have assisted the body appointed to determine the basic wage.

In regard to national insurance, all we know is that the royal commission is still inquiring. I am not alleging that it is in any way dilatory, but it has spent a considerable time in inquiring into a matter of great urgency and vast importance. And when one realizes that legislation dealing with national insurance is in force in other parts of the world, one must come to the conclusion that we might have reached finality in this regard long ere now. I believe that the commission has presented some interim reports. However, I am not blaming it. I blame the Government for not endeavouring to hasten its determinations.

I come now to the question of finance. Before Dr. Page became Treasurer he was most hostile in his attacks on the several budgets presented by his predecessor (Mr. Bruce), and it is interesting to compare his remarks at that time with his present statements. For instance, in 1922, in condemning the budget presented by Mr. Bruce, he said -

A close examination of the present budget indicates that, although many of the old defects are better covered up, it is tragically full of objectionable features.

Those words surely can be applied very aptly to the budget he has just presented. I do not know of any other budget that has contained more defects than are to be found in it. Dr. Page went on to say -

The Treasurer, instead of trying to stem the stream of extravagance, has been content to go with it.

I invite honorable senators to look carefully at the figures in Dr. Page's budget to-day, and say whether or not he himself is not going with the stream of extravagance. I venture to say, and I shall prove it before I have concluded,, that he is going with a very rapid stream of extravagance, and is using no effort to stem it.


Senator Reid - Why does not the honorable senator prove the extravagance?


Senator NEEDHAM - If my old and honorable friend will possess himself in patience I shall come to that proof. As Senator Reid is a practical man, he should know whether Commonwealth expenditure has increased or decreased since the present Treasurer has been in office.


Senator Reid - Commonwealth and State expenditure has increased.


Senator NEEDHAM - Yes ; but has the expenditure incurred by the Commonwealth Government during recent years been of any practical advantage to Australia ? The figures are -

 

That expenditure is exclusive of that mentioned in Part IV. of the budget, which relates to payments to or for the

States. During the four years mentioned our expenditure has increased by £9,200,000. At the time to which I was referring the present Treasurer said -

I own to being very disappointed that . . . through the whole service there is the same old war-time scale of expenditure, that there is no cessation of new appointments, and that the Commonwealth has not even begun to follow the example of Canada, New Zealand, and Great Britain in trying to get back atthe earliest possible moment to something like a pre-war standard of finance.

A careful scrutiny of the budget will show that we are not even approaching a prewar standard of finance. As a private member, and the Leader of the Country party, the present Treasurer was very dogmatic, but since he has been the Commonwealth Treasurer he has not made any attempt to economize in the directions he previously suggested..


Senator J B Hayes - Would the honorable senator be in favour of salaries and wages being based on a pre-war standard ?


Senator NEEDHAM - Although salaries and wages are higher to-day than they were in the pre-war period, their purchasing power has considerably diminished. The additional expenditure to which I have referred has not been occasioned by the payment of higher salaries and wages, but in other directions which I shall mention later. The present Treasurer, when a private member, complained of the numerous appointments being made, but he is now a member of a government which is making new and important appointments almost every week, and consequently increasing expenditure. The additional amount paid in salaries and wages to public servants is not a big factor in this connexion, but that incurred in meeting the cost of boards and commissions is enormous. Many of these boards and commissions have been appointed during the regime of the present Treasurer. A commission has recently been established to control development and migration, whilst the Department of Markets and Migration, which is already in existence, should be able to do all that is required. In these circumstances are we likely to return to a pre-war standard of finance?


Senator Payne - Is the honorable senator ignoring the difference between pre-war and present conditions?


Senator NEEDHAM - We cannot possibly get back to the pre-war standard of finance, but some attempt should be made to approach it. Until recently we have been labouring under taxation which is; a relic of the war period.


Senator Payne - We still owe over £330,000,000.


Senator NEEDHAM - The honorable senator was eager that we should incur a war debt.


Senator Payne - I was not at all eager, but the expenditure had to be incurred to ensure the safety of the Commonwealth.


Senator NEEDHAM - Yes, and those who rendered military service to assist in ensuring the safety of the Commonwealth are now contributing a substantial portion of the taxation collected.


Senator Payne -Food, clothing, and equipment had to be supplied.


Senator NEEDHAM - Of course, but those who fought and were spared to return are now meeting a great deal of our war expenditure. The net debt of the Commonwealth for the past four years has been as follows : -

 

The figures indicate our present financial position. Despite the Treasurer's boast of our war debt having been reduced by £28,500,000 in four years, our net debt has increased by £3,000,000.


Senator Payne - What is our net debt, apart from war obligations?


Senator Pearce - Those figures include the war debt.


Senator NEEDHAM - In dealing with the question of direct taxation, I wish to quote the present Treasurer, who said -

The electors must know, and will know as far as it lies in the power of the Country party to inform them, that the proposed reduction in taxation cannot continue unless there is a permanent reduction in the cost of government

The Treasurer has stated that direct taxation has been reduced by 47 per cent. ; but the figures for direct and indirect taxation per head are as follow : -

 

Direct taxation has been reduced, and indirect taxation has increased, but the total taxation over the period I have mentioned has been increased by 2s. lOd. per head. The figures in relation to the actual amount ' of taxation received are as follow: -

The amount received in the form of indirect taxation has increased by £4,300,000, and that by way of direct taxation has decreased by £1,400,000, so that the total amount of taxation received has increased by £3,000,000. Commonwealth taxpayers are, therefore, carrying a burden of £3,000,000 greater than they were when the present Treasurer was a private member. As the Customs and excise duties are responsible for the increase in indirect taxation, it is interesting to note what was the attitude of the Treasurer and his colleagues in the Country party some time ago. Dr. Page and his colleagues then spoke very strongly against the protective policy of other parties. The present Treasurer, when speaking of the tariff on behalf of the Country party, once said, before he took office -

In regard to the tariff, I will fight for a reduction of duties on the staple necessities of the producers, and for the admission of implements and tools of trade free of duty when made within the British Empire.

Later he said -

The collection of nearly £1,500,000 worth of additional duty through the Customs Department is due to causes which are not advantageous to Australia..... The increase in Customs revenue is not a matter of which the Treasurer should be proud. It should, rather, cause him to go into sackcloth, and place ashes on his head.

The Treasurer has been in office over three years now, and, despite his utter- ances, and the policy of the Country party, he has voted for higher duties.


Senator Chapman - That is not so. Country party members have voted against higher duties.


Senator NEEDHAM - If Senator Chapman will study the division lists in connexion with the debate on the last tariff schedule, he will find that, with one or two exceptions, Dr. Page and other members of his party voted for increased duties.


Senator Duncan - Mr. Prowse and Mr. Gregory certainly did not.


Senator NEEDHAM - I repeat that, with one or two exceptions, members of the Country party voted for higher duties. On this subject Mr. Marr, the Honorary Minister, was reported in the Sun as having said that -

Cabinet had unanimously agreed to the tariff proposals that had been laid on the table of the House of Representatives, and that there had been no disagreements.

Honorable senators will recollect that prior to the last general election exSenator Drake-Brockman withdrew his candidature in Western Australia in pursuance of an arrangement made between the Nationalist and Country parties in that State, led by Senator Pearce, that the Nationalists were to have two candidates, Senators Pearce and Lynch, and the Country party one candidate, Senator Carroll. It was well known also that part of the arrangement was that the three candidates should oppose the imposition of higher duties. Despite that compact, Senator Pearce is still a member of a Cabinet that has imposed higher duties. My position on the fiscal issue is well-known. I am a protectionist. It is obvious, however, that Dr. Earle Page has discarded the main plank of the Country party's platform which, as Senator Chapman must know, is the one dealing with the tariff. I shall listen with interest to the honorable senator when he addresses the Senate, in the hope that I shall be able to ascertain his views on fiscal matters generally. The Customs revenue in 1922-23 totalled £32,872,000, and in 1925-26 £39,198,000, the increase being over £6,000,000. This does not suggest that the tariff is protective so much as revenue producing. Certainly it has been responsible for a substantial increase in indirect taxation.

I pass now to the subject of defence. Recently the Director-General of the Australian military forces,. Sir Harry Chauvel, made a startling statement--


Senator Duncan - It was staggering.


Senator NEEDHAM - According to the newspaper reports, Sir Harry Chauvel stated that our defence system was in a precarious condition. The Labour party has been taunted from time to time with having no defence policy, but I venture to say that it would stand the closest examination of any unbiased military expert in the world. Since the signing of the armistice in November, 1918, successive Nationalist Governments have spent approximately £40,000,000 on defence. What have they given us for that expenditure? Recently General Monash who, will be accepted as an authority on this subject, said we were less prepared for war to-day than in 1914. He also stated that our Air Force was a sham. The Labour party has been charged with having no defence policy. As a matter of fact, we have a very definite policy, especially as regards the provision that should be made for munitions. Part of our defence platform is the establishment of factories which, in times of aggression, may be converted for the manufacture of munitions. Sir Harry Chauvel has told us that, if war found us, we could not last 24 hours. In other words, if a hostile army landed on Australian shores we should not have sufficient munitions to keep our forces in the field for. 24 hours.


Senator Graham - What has become of the millions of pounds spent on defence during the last few years?


Senator NEEDHAM - I do not know. In seven and a half years Nationalist governments have succeeded in spending on defence £40,000,000 of the taxpayers money, and to-day, according to the report of the Inspector-General, our military forces could not last 24 hours, in the face of an invading force. Some time ago exSenator . General Drake-Brockman said that we were not getting full value for the money we were spending on defence. Recently the Melbourne Herald made a scathing attack on the Government's defence policy. The Minister, when I read portion of it, endeavoured to show that the writer was not an authority on the subject. Since then Sir Harry Chauvel has made a still more damning statement about our unpreparedness for defence. It is evident that for years the Government has been throwing away millions of pounds. In 1924 Sir John Monash stated that the present system of compulsory training was farcical. Here, again, is the statement of a military expert. . Senator Duncan, who did his "bit" during the war, will admit that Australia's untrained men proved to be admirable soldiers. Therefore, we are justified in assuming that, even without a system of compulsory military training, we would have the men available and, provided they had adequate supplies of modern munitions, they would be able to defend Australia. This Government, following the lead of earlier Nationalist governments, has wasted millions of pounds on defence and has nothing to show for it, yet Ministers have the audacity to condemn the Labour party for desiring to abolish a system of compulsory military training which has. proved to be useless. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), in an attempt to combat the views expressed by Sir Harry Chauvel, stated -

The Government's policy of defence, whilst aiming at a definite and a balanced programme, was based primarily on the Navy.

From that statement, I gather that the Government is pinning its faith to the Navy.


Senator Duncan - A very wrong thing to do.


Senator NEEDHAM - Where is our Navy? At the moment it consists of a few vessels that are practically obsolete.


Senator Graham - And the two 10,000-ton cruisers.


Senator NEEDHAM - If modern cruisers or battleships are to be built, for the defence of Australia, they should be built, not on the Clyde, but in Australia. [Extension of time granted.] We must first take into consideration the cost, and, secondly, the fact that military authorities consider that the day of the battleship has passed. We know full well that battleships become obsolete in a very short period. Science is constantly discovering improvements, and it frequently happens that, before a vessel has been completed, additional improvements have been devised. I admit that that argument can be applied also to submarines. Science is daily endeavouring to improve that arm of defence. Australia would need a navy as large as those of Great Britain and the United States of America combined to adequately protect its shores in the event of aggression. I shall quote the remarks of prominent naval authorities in support of my contention that the day of the battleship has passed. The following paragraph, published in 1924, stated the view of Admiral Sir Percy Scott : -

During recent years Admiral Sir Percy Scott has led the British naval school which advocates the use of the submarine as against the heavily-armoured capital ship. He has rarely lost an opportunity of putting forward the claims of the submarine, and was repeatedly asked the question, " Of what use is the battleship?" He claimed that he had received only one effective reply to this query. It came from a midshipman, and was, " No damned use at all."

Because of his belief that the submarine was the naval weapon of the future, Sir Percy Scott was a strong opponent of the proposal to build the naval base at Singapore.

When Australia and New Zealand are properly defended with aeroplanes, submarines and "destroyers (as regards invasion) they will have nothing to fear.

Rear-Admiral Sims of the United States of America Navy, voiced the following opinion in 1925 : - " I thinkthe Navy should build light aeroplane carriers instead of cruisers," he said. " It is a curious thing, but you cannot change the minds of naval conservatives. You have to shed their blood before theywill change, or they hang on until disaster comes. With adequate air and submarine protection no nation can bother us."

Another opinion given by Admiral Sir Percy Scott was as follows: -

Another bogy put before the Australians is that on account of their enormous coast-line they must have battleships. That is just what they do not want. If the waters of all countries are protected by submarines, all waters will be wrong waters for battleships.

Admiral Kerr, of the British Navy, is reported to have said -

The Australian line of defence obviously comprised of aeroplanes, submarines and torpedo boats against which no hostile fleet dare approach within 200 miles.

Admiral S. S. Hall, of the British Navy said -

We had a grand fleet with a preponderance of nearly two to one over Germany alone. We had the assistance of the American, French, Italian and Japanese Navies, and yet our main naval purpose - the protection of our trade - could not be carried out.

I think that I have quoted sufficiently from naval authorities to prove that the Prime Minister's idea of having a navy as the principal means of defending this country cannot be supported.

I come now to the proposed petrol tax. During the election campaign the composite party that comprises the Government stressed the point that it intended to make available a sum of £20,000,000 over a period of ten years for road construction. Many persons at the time considered that that was an exceedingly generous offer. But no sooner was the Government returned to power than it was made manifest that there was a catch in the proposal. In the first place, the condition was imposed that the States should provide £2,000,000 for every similar sum provided by the Commonwealth Government. That condition was subsequently reviewed, and the contribution of the States was lowered to 15s. for every £1 contributed by the Commonwealth.


Senator Duncan - Where are the States going to get the money?


Senator NEEDHAM - The Commonwealth proposes to raise it for them. It is now intended to impose a duty on petrol, tires, and chassis to enable this Government to make good its promise to provide £20,000,000. If that is not " robbing Peter to pay Paul," what is it ? The Prime Minister, in his policy speech, said that the provision of good roads should be regarded as a national problem. I entirely agree with that sentiment. It naturally follows that the nation as a whole should find the money for the upkeep of our roads. The right honorable gentleman also stated that the money necessary to finance the scheme would be raised through the Customs Department; but he did not explain in what manner it was to be carried out. The majority of the people believed that the expenditure would be defrayed from ordinary revenue, not that one section of the community would be singled out to "foot the bill." If the duty on petrol which has been introduced by the Government is agreed to by Parliament, the Standard Oil Company, the British Imperial Oil Company, and the Vacuum Oil Company will pass on the increase, and John Citizen will have to shoulder the burden. The proposed petrol tax is neither more nor less than a revenue-raising device.


Senator McLachlan - Does the honorable senator think that the companies he has mentioned can pass on the increase ?


Senator NEEDHAM - Does Senator McLachlan know of any Australian law that can prevent them from taking such action ?


Senator McLachlan - There is the law of competition.


Senator NEEDHAM - They will have very little regard for that. Their only competitor is the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. I should like to see it flourish, but I realize that if the tax is imposed by Parliament the companies to whom I have referred will recognize no law except that of " passing it on." Senator McLachlan knows that there is no Commonwealth authority that can prevent them from doing so.


Senator McLachlan - Would it be all right if they did not pass it on?


Senator NEEDHAM - I do not think that it would be right even in those circumstances. But if it is passed, a number of citizens in Australia will suffer. Already two of our States impose a petrol tax to enable them to raise revenue for the maintenance of their roads; they are the States of South Australia and Western Australia. As I view the matter, other persons in addition to the users of roads will be penalized. If it were confined to road users, there might be some equity in the proposal. The farmer, who uses petrol to drive his farm machinery, will be obliged to pay an increased price; and numbers of persons in other occupations will be similarly situated. Thisis really an invasion of one of the functions of the States, and in view of the fact that two of the States are already operating in this field, I can see no justification for it.

I now desire to make a few observations in relation to the condition of the goldmining industry in Australia, but particularly in Western Australia. The Government of that State has offered assistance to the mining companies. Those who have closely followed the affairs of the gold-mining industry are aware that it is in a very unsatisfactory state at the present time. It has been one of the greatest industries that Australia has had. Up to 1923 something like £616,000,000 worth of gold was extracted from Australian mines, but during the past few years the industry has been gradually declining. In Kalgoorlie to-day the mines are closing down, and men are leaving the district to find work elsewhere.

Glancing through the budget, I notice that £217,000 was paid out by way of bounty to the wine industry during the last financial year, and that the iron and steel industry received assistance to the extent of £242,000. Up to September, 1924, different industries were assisted by way of bounty to the extent of approximately £5,000,000.


Senator McLachlan - Over what period ?


Senator NEEDHAM - I cannot state exactly what the period is. I have always supported by voice and vote the payment of bounties, though it appears to me that practically every industry except the gold-mining industry is able to secure assistance from the Government. I do not lay the entire blame at the door of this Government, because its predecessor in office was approached, and declined to give assistance.


Senator Andrew - Did not the Senate recently pass a bill making provision for a grant of £25,000 to the mining industry ?


Senator NEEDHAM - That was for prospecting. I remind Senator Andrew that that amount could easily be disposed of in one portion of Kalgoorlie alone. It must be remembered that £10,000 of that £25,000 is allocated to the Northern Territory, leaving only £15,000 for the remainder of Australia. That is a mere pretence at giving asistance to the mining industry. It was never intended to assist the industry as a whole, as the grant was specifically confined to prospecting in new areas. To show how mining, and especially gold-mining, has decreased in Western Australia, let me quote the following figures : -

 

In 1910, 17,711 persons were engaged in mining in Western Australia. By 1919 that number had decreased to 8,346, with a still further reduction to 6,497 in 1923.


Senator H Hays - Some mines are worked out.


Senator NEEDHAM - Gold is still obtainable in Western Australia, but many difficulties confront the gold-mining industry. To overcome those difficulties, Government assistance is necessary.


Senator McLachlan - Is it not true that in many cases it costs more to obtain the gold than it is worth?


Senator NEEDHAM - I admit that there is a lot of low-grade ore, which, because of the high cost of production, is unprofitable to work; but a saving in overhead expenses would probably alter that. The Western Australian Government has made suggestions in that direction. The Commonwealth Government could assist the State Government in its efforts to get the best possible results from the gold that is there. During the tariff debate I endeavoured to secure a reduction in the duty on mining machinery, but the Government refused to grant it.


Senator Graham - During the war period the gold-mining industry of Western Australia was robbed to the extent of nearly £3,000,000.


Senator NEEDHAM - That is so; and no restitution has since been made. A year or two ago a deputation waited upon the Prime Minister to ask for assistance for the gold-mining industry. That deputation comprised representaTtives of all political parties as well as of the Chamber of Mines, yet the Government has done nothing. Mr. R. Hamilton, president of the Western Australian Chamber of Mines, in his evidence before the royal commission which inquired into Western Australia's disabilities, in April, 1925, at Kalgoorlie, said -

Briefly, the alarming and continuous decline of mining is attributable to the great increase in working costs since 1914, which precludes the treatment of any but high-grade ores. Of this increase the two principal causes are the war, with its general enhancement of prices, and the high Federal tariff.


Senator H Hays - That does not apply to the gold-mining industry only.


Senator NEEDHAM - I admit that; but the gold-mining industry has a special claim on the Commonwealth Go1vernment because of what was taken from it during the war period.


Senator Sir William Glasgow - I remind the honorable senator that numbers of copper mines as well as gold mines have closed down. " Senator NEEDHAM.- I do not dispute that, but I am dealing now with the gold-mining industry. Other honorable senators may, if they wish, refer to copper-mining. Before concluding, I desire to quote from a pamphlet issued by the Chamber of Mines of Western Australia. Referring to the gold bonus, it says -

To serve the gold-fields of this State, 1,160 miles of railways have been built, 2,000 miles of road made, 350 miles of piping to deliver 5,000,000 gallons of water every day laid down, innumerable reservoirs for water constructed 1,700 miles of telegraph and 3,000 miles of telephone .lines erected. Many towns have been built; but, taking the towns of Kalgoorlie and Boulder only, these, on municipal value, based oh five years' purchase, represent over £1,000,000. To these may be added the value of the mine plants as shown in the Western Australian Mines Department annual' report for the year 1923, £1.950,000. It is an easy matter to prove that these items added together have a total value of over. £8,000,000.

I thank honorable senators for their courteous hearing, and say, in conclusion that, while the Treasurer can be congratulated on having introduced the budget early, thus enabling us to criticise it before the money is expended. I regret that a more perfect budget has not been presented.

Debate (on motion by Senator Duncan) adjourned.







Suggest corrections