Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 29 November 1927

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - The action of the Leader of the Senate in rushing this bill through is in keeping with what took place recently in another place. The Estimates were "gagged," "bludgeoned," and " guillotined " through that chamber. It is true that the debate on the Estimates extended over a long sitting; but, surely the elected representatives of the people should be given the opportunity fully to discuss the Government's financial policy, and its handling of the country's finances. During the last thirteen months Parliament has been in session for only a few weeks. In the circumstances what reason was there to rush the Government's financial proposals through another place? The procedure which was adopted there is apparently to be followed in this chamber. Notwithstanding that during the last 21 months prior to this session Parliament has devoted only 84 days to its business, the Government forced ' the representatives of the people in another place to deal with an expenditure of many millions of pounds in a few hours. Such procedure is a travesty of parliamentary government. It is a reflection on democracy.'

Senator Herbert Hays - What ' does the honorable senator suggest should be done?'-

Senator NEEDHAM - If honorable senators opposite would exercise that independence of which they boast, such things would not happen. These legistive halls have been closed for many months, yet when members gather to conduct the business entrusted to them they are not given time to do so.

Before the last election the Government was rich in promises. Foremost among the promises which it then made to the electors was one that a scheme of national insurance against unemployment would be introduced.' In his policy speech the Prime Minister said that, although it had been the practice of various Governments, when appealing to the electors, to make many promises designed to attract the support of the . different sections of the people, he would not resort to such tactics. Yet, his policy speech was full of promises, made with the distinct object of securing votes. Many of the promises then made have not been fulfilled; I do not think that the right honorable gentle- man ever thought that they would be fulfilled. Two years of the term for which this Parliament was elected have expired; yet no scheme of national insurance against unemployment has been introduced. Referring to the proposal of the Government the Prime Minister in hig policy speech said -

One of the main causes of industrial unrest is the everpresent dread which haunts the worker of the privation .and suffering which will be brought upon his dependants in the event of sickness, .unemployment and old-age. lt lias to be recognized- that, even under the conditions existing in Australia, the wages of the workers are not sufficient to enable them to support themselves against these evils. My Ministry recognizes the duty of the nation in this regard. The Ministry proposes to introduce legislation for a national scheme of social insurance covering the questions of old-age, and invalidity, which have been reported on, and as soon as a further report on unemployment is received I will legislate on such lines as will enable workers to be insured against this most deadly cause of anxiety and unrest.

With fine words and alluring promises of that nature the Prime Minister sought the votes of the electors of Australia. Believing that those promises would be fulfilled, the electors of Australia voted for a return to. power of the Government led . by the Prime Minister. But what has been done to give effect to those promises ? In particular, what has the Government done to introduce a scheme of insurance against unemployment? It is true that a commission was appointed, and that already it has submitted two or three reports. I claim, however, that if the Prime Minister had been sincere in his desire to introduce such a scheme, he could have done so without appointing a royal commission. There was already sufficient information available to enable a scheme of national insurance to be introduced. Even now, long after the royal commission has ceased its labours, we appear to be as far as ever from the fulfilment of that promise.

There is no need to stress the importance of a scheme of national insurance. The distress and suffering caused by unemployment may be compared with that caused by war or pestilence. As it is the duty of every nation to protect the health of its people, as was done in Australia during the outbreak of bubonic influenza, so it is its duty to provide against unemployment. The resources of the State should be employed to prevent unemployment and its consequent loss to the community. We frequently hear the workers of Australia blamed for causing industrial trouble - we have heard it in this chamber to-day - but the Prime Minister spoke truly when he said that one of the main causes of industrial unrest was the uncertainty in the minds of the workers regarding the welfare of themselves and their families in the event of unemployment or sickness overtaking them. The Prime Minister himself stated on the hustings in 1925 that one of the main reasons for it was the ever present dread of the privation and suffering that follow in the wake of unemployment. The blame for the unrest that occurs can be laid at the door of this Government; at least it cannot escape from its share of the responsibility for . it. Despite its realization of the danger to the community in that regard, it has allowed two years of its governmental life to expire without redeeming this pledge given to the people two years ago. A few days ago I asked the Leader of the Government in the Seriate if the Ministry intended to introduce legislation to provide for national insurance against unemployment, and the reply that I received was that the policy of the Government would be announced in due course. But that policy was announced two years ago, and has not yet been put into operation. The only thing that the Government has done in the past two years to give effect to its policy has been to pass an amendment of the Crimes Act. It was stated at the election that there were people in our midst who were a menace to the community; but the persons named on that occasion are still here. The revolution that was prophesied has not occurred, and nobody has heard anything since of the " Bed " menace. To save its face the Government amended the Crimes Act, but the measure is a dead letter, and if it were put into operation to-morrow it is possible the High Court would declare it to be unconstitutional.

While ' the Government has not carried out its promise to give effect .to.' a scheme of national insurance against unemployment, it has rendered assistance to an indiscriminate system of migration, which is swelling the ranks of the unemployed and intensifying the labour problem. The Government is attracting to this country persons who do not settle on the land, but enter into active competition with Australian citizens who are already unemployed. I referred to one phase of the evil a few days ago - the great influx of Southern Europeans. I do not know whether the Government intends to reserve the subject of national insurance for another election cry. That lure was held prominently before the people in 1925, and it will not be long before Australia will be in the throes of another federal election. Perhaps the Government will hold the matter over until the eve of the election, trusting to the forgetfulness of the people, and will put it forward as something new.

The subject of war reparations -is worthy of a few moments' consideration. When hostilities ceased, and the peace terms were arranged, we were informed that Germany would be required to pay certain sums to the, .allied nations by way of reparation. Great Britain was to receive, under the Dawes Treaty, a certain sum, of which Australia was to have a share. A few days ago I asked the Leader of the Government what amount Australia was supposed to get, and the reply was " It is not possible to make a reliable forecast of what Australia will receive in future." I call attention to the fact that I did not ask what sum Australia might receive in future; I distinctly inquired as to the total sum Australia, was entitled to receive. I was told that up to the present time the payments to the Commonwealth had amounted to- £2,090,098. Perhaps the Leader of the Senate will inform us whether that sum was paid into the consolidated revenue,, or whether it was used to reduce the war debt. I should also like to know if we have so far received our proper proportion of the reparation money. The Minister might also tell us how much New Zealand and Canada have been paid, and the total sum those two dominions are supposed to get. We should then be able to compare the position of the three great, dominions.

A discussion has occurred during this session on the subject of the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. I understand that the Government intends to dispose of the Line without giving the Parliament an opportunity to discuss the conditions of sale. I notice by the press that inquiries are being made by Lord Inchcape and Lord Kylsant, who control 42 and 37 lines of steamers respectively. I believe that those two great shipping magnates have inquired from the Prime Minister about the sale of the Commonwealth Line, and that he has replied that public tenders will be invited. -He and his Government have gone further than that, and now saythat this Parliament will not be consulted before the sale is effected. Last week the Prime Minister stated in another place that the Government had decided to call for tenders as soon as possible. When it was proposed to place the Line under the control of a board, this Parliament was consulted on the matter,, and was given an opportunity of agreeing or objecting to the constitution of the board. I contend that just as we wereasked for our opinion on that matter,, we should also be consulted before the final disposal of the vessels. The Leader of the Senate made a definite statement in this chamber that Parliament would have another chance to discuss the sale of the ships, and when confronted with that statement, he said that he thought that the opportunity would be provided when the bill for the repeal of the act which brought the Shipping Board into existence was under consideration. "Whether that is so or not, we cannot escape from the fact that the Prime Minister, prior to the discussion in. this Parliament on the sale of the Line, had already committed himself to the statement that, before the ships were sold, Parliament would be consulted. Are we enjoying a true constitutional system of government, when the representatives of the people are denied a voice in the completion of such an important transaction as the sale of this Line? It was said by the honorable member for "Warringah (Mr. Parkhill), in the other branch of the legislature, that Parliament is not the place to discuss important matters, and that they should be dealt with in the party room. That may be his view; but if honorable gentlemen on the other side are to receive all the information on matters of this nature, and are to be consulted in their party "room, before the ships are disposed of, what of the rights of the Opposition? Although we are small in numbers, we represent almost half of the people of Australia. Therefore, Ave claim as a right, and not as a privilege,' that this great State instrumentality, which has done good work for Australia, should not be, disposed of until this Parliament, and the people of this country, know the conditions of sale. The Prime Minister did not get authority to sell the ships, although the right honorable gentleman spoke of the famous mandate which he says he received from the people in November, 1925. As a matter of fact, Government supporters during the election campaign spoke most enlogistically about the value of the fleet, and clearly gave the people to understand that, if returned to power, they would advocate the retention, if not the extension, of the Australian Commonwealth' Shipping Line in the interests of the primary producers. The Govern ment's proposal now to sell the ships is a betrayal of that pledge. Parliament should have another opportunity to discuss the proposal before the ships are disposed of. Let me refresh the memory of honorable senators concerning certain cable messages that passed between the Shipping Board and its chairman in London. One message asked if the Government would give favourable consideration to an offer, and the Prime Minister's reply stated that before any decision' was arrived at Parliament would be consulted. If it was necessary then for Parliament to be consulted, it is necessary now. The statement made the other day by the right honorable the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) that this chamber would have another opportunity to discuss the sale of the Line, certainly influenced a number of votes on a motion then before the Senate.

Before I resume my seat I may, perhaps, be permitted to mention briefly another matter upon which we have had some discussion this afternoon. The Conciliation and Arbitration 'Act, in its amended form, is not calculated, to prevent industrial unrest. In th-3 first place the path to the court is neither as easy nor as clear as it should be, and the delay in hearing claims makes the task of industrial leaders particularly difficult. They find it almost impossible sometimes to restrain members of their unions from taking direct action.. Further, I submit that the spirit of the amending Conciliation and Arbitration Act has not been put into operation. It would have been much better if, instead of additional judges the Government had appointed more conciliation commissioners. A few months ago the personnel of the Arbitration Court bench was increased by the appointment of another judge and the first conciliation commissioner. If we had more conciliation commissioners to assist Mr. Stewart, we should have less industrial unrest throughout Australia. Though reference to the appointment of ex-Senator DrakeBrockman to the Arbitration Court bench may be somewhat belated, I feel it incumbent on me to say 'now that ' the appointment was ill-advised, because the appointee was not qualified for the position. Certainly his presence on the bench does not inspire the confidence of those workers who are obliged to approach the court for redress of grievances. ExSenator Drake-Brockman was a known industrial partizan. On every occasion in debate his voice was raised against the case stated for the workers. He is a past president of the Employers' Federation, an ex-Government Whip, and a year or two ago was the Government's emissary to another part of the world.

Senator Grant - His appointment to the Arbitration Court bench was a purely political one.

Senator NEEDHAM - The honorable senator is right. It might have been different if the appointment had been to the High Court bench rather than to the Arbitration Court. It is deplorable that one who displayed so much partisanship in industrial matters should now hold in* his hands the industrial destinies of citizens of the Commonwealth. The right honorable the Leader of the Senate, will say, probably, that other governments have made similar appointments. I know of none so glaring as that of exSenator Drake-Brockman to the Arbitration Court bench. He had no great legal qualifications, and, so far as we know, he was a briefless barrister. 4But I am not so much concerned about that, as I am about his undoubted partisanship in all industrial matters. The appointment has not helped the cause of conciliation and arbitration.

Suggest corrections