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Wednesday, 23 March 1927

Senator GRANT (New South Wales) . - In moving the second reading of the bill the Minister (Senator Crawford), stated that 3,300 persons were engaged in the pearl-shell industry, which produced last year £350,000 worth of shell showing that they received the nominal wage of about £100 a year. The object of the bill is to secure by co-operative action a higher price for the product.

The Minister now informs us that the organizations at Broome and Thursday Island are unanimously in favour of the proposed system of voting. I should like to know how many of those engaged in the industry are members of these organizations.

Senator Crawford - I understand that practically all the owners of boats engaged in the pearling industry are members of the organization.

Senator GRANT - How many votes will be required to secure the election of a representative? I think it would be much better to admit that all those engaged in the industry are equally interested. The persons engaged in winning the shell are as anxious as are the owners of vessels to obtain a good price.

Senator Crawford - But they receive their wages.

Senator GRANT - Yes, but it is obvious that the owners will not continue to pay wages very long, unless they receive a satisfactory price for the product.

Senator Crawford - Does the honorable senator suggest that the Asiatic employees should be placed on the same basis as the white owners of pearling vessels ?

Senator GRANT - The Minister did not indicate the number of Asiatics, Chinese or Japanese engaged in the industry. I understand a very substantial proportion consists of Europeans.

Senator Crawford - About 2,092 colored persons are employed.

Senator GRANT - As there are more than 1,200 white persons engaged in the business, instead of confining the franchise to the owners of the vessels, we should provide that every one engaged in the industry shall have a vote. Possibly some reputed owners of pearling craft have mortgaged their vessels, and are only the nominal owners. In all industries it is beginning to be realized that workmen should have a voice in the conduct of the business.

Senator Crawford - Does the honorable senator suggest that the employees in a company should elect the directors ?

Senator GRANT - The employees in this concern are as much interested as the owners are in the securing of a good price. It is very clear that the two persons to be appointed will be paid from the Consolidated Revenue, which willbe recouped by a charge upon the industry.

Senator Crawford - The honorable senator is now dealing with something which is not covered by the bill or by the amendment.

Senator GRANT - I know that. The bill provides that they shall be paid such fees as are prescribed.

Senator Crawford - There is to be a levy of £3 a ton on the shell, from which all charges will be met.

Senator GRANT - The money is to be paid into the Consolidated Revenue.

Senator Crawford - It is to be paid to the collector of Customs, who will control a trust fund.

Senator GRANT - If the money is to be paid into the Consolidated Revenue, even if it is to be recouped by a tax on the shell exported, those engaged in the industry should have a voice in the election of the representatives.

Senator McLachlan - I rise to order. I ask if the honorable senator is in order in discussing the manner in which the fees are to be paid to the persons to be' appointed. We are dealing now only with the franchise, and I submit that the honorable senator's remarks are irrelevant.

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