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Friday, 29 November 1935

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) . - I endorse the protest by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) against the AuditorGeneral's allegation of intemperance among old-age pensioners. I take exception to the conclusions which he drew from the fact that the takings of hotel proprietors are higher on days on which pensions are paid. Such statements are similar to reports which were habitually published in a section of the Western Australian press concerning various police court cases. Very often a person against whom a conviction was recorded was specifically described as a returned soldier. There was no reason why that distinction should have been emphasized. The Returned Soldiers League in Western Australia took exception to such reports, and about the same time a similar protest was made by the Rabbi of Western Australia when the accused in a police court prosecution was described in a certain newspaper as a Jew. There is no good reason for such distinctions being made in respect of culprits brought before a police court. It would be just as logical to emphasize that a certain culprit is a member of some prominent organization. I do not believe that old-age pen sioners as a body are any more intenperate in their habits than is the average Australian citizen. For that reason, I condemn the remarks of the AuditorGeneral in this respect. I would like to have taken him with me on a tour which I made some years ago before the boom in gold-mining to some outposts situated many miles north of Kalgoorlie, and in the Kanowna-Kurnalpi areas, and shown him there a large number of oldage pensioners who, although approaching 70 years of age, were still scratching for a few specks of gold. Nowhere else in Australia could one meet men of a better type. I am always prepared to take off my hat to the old-age pensioners in recognition of the pioneering work they have done in the backblocks of Australia.

I do not agree with the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition concerning the attendance of honorable senators in this chamber, in support of which he read an editorial from the Melbourne Age. Yesterday I had occasion to criticize that journal because of its narrow-minded references to the financially weaker States. The comment read by the Leader of the Opposition is not the first criticism in the same strain published by the Age. To judge honorable senators fairly in this matter I suggest that a comparison be made of the number of sitting -days of the Senate with the number of sitting days of upper chambers in the different States. Such a comparison will clearly indicate that honorable senators have no need to hang their heads in shame. In making its caustic references to the Senate on this matter, the Melbourne Age shut its eyes to causes for similar comment nearer its own door. I propose to give the official attendances of members of the various Legislative Councils throughout Australia. Taking Victoria first, we find that during the last five years the average annual number of sittings of the Legislative Council was 40. The figures for the individual years were -


Senator ALLANMacDONALD.During 1932 the Ottawa Conference was held, and was attended by a number of senior members of the Commonwealth Government whose absence from Australia affected the sittings of the Commonwealth Parliament. The Victorian Legislative Council was not affected in the same way by that conference, which everyone will admit was of great importance to Australia and the Empire generally.

The average sittings of the legislative councils of the several States for the last five years were - Victoria, 40£ days; Western Australia, 56£ days ; South Australia, 41 days; and New South Wales, 58 days. The average of the Senate for four years was 60J sitting days. The period to which those figures relate includes the disastrous regime of the Lang administration, when the Legislative Council of New South Wales was more busy than usual in trying to keep Mr. Lang and his Government in check. But, after all, the number of sitting days is not of such importance as is the work performed. Judged according to this standard, the record of the Senate is one of which it has good reason to be proud. Had it not been for the Senate, the Commonwealth Bank would not be in its present unasailable position.

Senator Brown - Nonsense !

Senator ALLANMacDONALD Had not the Senate intervened, the Commonwealth Bank would now be under political control.

Senator Collings - It is under political control now.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I was not a member of the Senate when this chamber took steps to prevent a most undesirable state of affairs that was threatened in connexion with the Commonwealth Bank; but, like many other Australian citizens, I followed with interest the determined and successful efforts of the Senate to keep our monetary system free from political control. For the present satisfactory state of affairs this chamber was wholly responsible. The Senate is content to be judged according to the value of the work it performs, rather than on the number of its sittings. When making comparisons with other legislative chambers, the fact must be remembered that a House of 36 members is able to dispose of its business much more expeditiously than is a House of 76 members, unless, of course, our ability and usefulness is to be measured by the yardstick of verbosity. The stock of verbosity is less in a House of fewer members, so that to suggest that the Senate should meet more frequently merely because another branch of the legislature has more sitting days is only to suggest unnecessary additional expense to be borne by the taxpayers of the country. Had it not been for the verbosity . of members of the House of Representatives, the Senate might have met last week to perform useful business in the interests of the Commonwealth.

In the press and elsewhere reference is frequently made to alien nations. Last night we listened to an intelligent and thoughtful address on Japan by Senator Payne, and heard at first-hand a number of important facts regarding this near neighbour in the Pacific. Senator Payne urged that greater care should be taken not to do or say anything which might hurt the feelings of other peoples. He urged that all should discourage outbursts of temper, or the use of extravagant language, when referring to the proposals of other nations. Similar advice was given by the exAttorneyGeneral of the Commonwealth (Sir John Latham) on his return from Japan and other eastern countries which he visited a year or so ago. I hope that that good advice will be taken to heart, not only by public men, but also by those in control of the various newspapers and journals published in this country. The latest issue of the Bulletin contains on the front page, an alleged cartoon depicting a hideous looking Japanese soldier attempting to kill a defenceless Chinaman while the League of Nations, represented by a policeman, pays attention to a schoolboy quarrel between Italy and Abyssinia. The art displayed in the cartoon is in keeping with its alleged wit. It is to be regretted that such publications should be widely distributed throughout Australia, and even find their way to Japan, for nothing is more calculated to arouse unfriendly feeling among our Japanese neighbours than an offensive cartoon such as that to which I have referred.

Senator Foll - The Japanese will not lose any sleep over it.

Senator ALLANMacDONALD.That may be; but the whole thing is stupid, and only tends to create ill-feeling between nations whose relations should be of the friendliest character. I candidly admit that many of the cartoons in the Bulletin have given me pleasure; but Australian journals do a disservice to this country and the cause of peace by senselessly publishing matter which, to say the least, is irritating to others.

It is difficult in a discussion of the Estimates to point to any item of expenditure and say that it ought to be reduced. As a representative of Western Australia, I feel constrained to say that that State has received favorable treatment from the Commonwealth during the last two or three years. I do not know whether Senator Johnston meant that pensions should be cut down when he spoke of federal extravagance.

Senator E B Johnston - The honorable senator knows that I meant nothing of the kind.

Senator ALLANMacDONALD.When liabilities arising out of the war, including soldiers' pensions and repatriation, together with old-age pensions and other obligations, are met, the bulk of the Commonwealth revenue is absorbed.

Senator Foll - Perhaps Senator Johnston means that the grant to Western Australia should be taken away.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I know Senator Johnston much better than to believe him capable of suggesting such a thing. It is difficult to discover where the alleged federal extravagances could bc avoided, and I, for one, when perusing the Estimates in the brief period that they have been available to us, failed to see where these so-called extravagances could be reduced. Like Senator Johnston, I hope that the grant payable to Western Australia will be increased; but, if the Government listens to the Melbourne Age, there is a 'grave danger of that grant being decreased, because a mere suggestion from one quarter may give rise to a train of thought which will prove very disastrous to the financially-weaker States, not only Western Australia, but also South Australia and Tasmania. The age was formerly a very important journal and in taking a leading part in the public life of the Commonwealth did good work for the nation, but when it stoops to cheap criticism of the financially-weaker States, I and many others deplore its fall from grace, lt ill becomes the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) to quote comments in that paper in support of his criticisms, not only of the Senate, but also of many other matters. I suggest that the honorable senator should go to more reliable sources when seeking material with which to fortify his criticism of ministerial supporters. I hope that the Government will favorably receive requests from the financially-weaker States. To-day I received a letter from the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), in which the right honorable gentleman stated that his Government at all times is prepared to hear representations from the weaker States when they are experiencing a financial or economic difficulty. I am sure that the Prime Minister will be ready to accede to any reasonable requests from the States. I support the bill.

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