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Friday, 18 June 1937


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) [2.34]. - I congratulate the mover and seconder of the Address-in- Reply on their businesslike and pithy speeches. Their remarks had the merits of being brief and to the point and of dealing strictly with the subjects under consideration. But how can I describe the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) ? Not having at my command the honorable senator's wealth of language I am obliged to fall back on borrowed phrases, and I recall a verse from Goldsmith which may be very appropriately applied to the oration to which we have just listened -

While words of learned length and thundering sound

Amazed the gazing rustics ranged around,

And still they gazed and still the wonder grew

That one small head could carry all he knew.

Senator Collingsseems to be worried because unemployment is decreasing ; that fact seems to rob him of one of his favorite texts upon which he expounds the gospel of labour. To-day he has no alternative but to question the figures; he really doubts, he says, whether the figures, which are given on the authority of the Commonwealth Statistician, supply a true picture of the employment situation in Australia.


Senator Collings - I contend that they are not all-inclusive.


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - I propose to deal with that point. I have here the latest bulletin issued by the Commonwealth Statistician, which was made available to the press on the 17th April last. That bulletin deals with the very point which Senator Collings has raised in respect of the figures certified by the trade unions. Incidentally, I assume that Senator Collings does not question the genuineness of those figures.. The unions certify them as being correct, and we must assume that, being stalwarts of the Labour party, they would not publish false data. The question arises as to whether these figures can be taken as a reliable guide to the volume of unemployment. There are three ways in which this point can be examined. One is to compare the census figures with the unemployment statistics based on the trade union returns at the time the census was taken. These will be found to tally within a point or two, showing that the unemployment figures at the time the census was taken truly reflected the employment situation. But there are other means of checking the accuracy of these figures, and, in this respect, I invite Senator Collings to look at the following very interesting statement contained in the Statistician's bulletin: -

Working from the basis of the census of the 30th June, 1933, and from compilations made from returns of employers in remitting wages tax and returns collected from Government Departments, the Government Statistician of New South Wales has prepared an index of employment and unemployment covering all persons dependent on employment in New South Wales.

Honorable senators will notice that this statement deals with all persons dependent on employment. Of course, Senator Collings will probably say that the Government of New South Wales is not a Labour Government and for that reason its figures are open to doubt. In this respect, I am reminded of an occasion when a well-known political figure in New South Wales challenged the figures published in Coghlan's Year Booh. When figures from that authority were placed before him he asked where the book was printed and, on being told that it had been published by the Government Printer, he replied, in effect: " There you are ; that is a Government publication; you cannot rely upon those figures ". However, I shall now refer to an authority whom Senator Collings will not question. In his bulletin the Commonwealth Statistician says: -

The Director of the Bureau of Industry in Queensland publishes an index of employment mid unemployment among men wage and salary earners. The data for this index are derived from information relating to unemployment insurance contributions and other sources. The results are given below.

I do not propose to give these figures in detail, but I shall refer to a relevant section of them. It is shown on the authority which I have quoted that in March, 1937, under the heading " Excluding as employed the full-time equivalent of part-time men engaged on relief work " the percentage of unemployment in NewSouth Wales was 8.1 per cent. That is leaving out those who are employed on part-time employment; if those are included the figure is 6.S per cent. In respect of Queensland, under the heading " Employment and unemployment among men wage and salary earners (in terms of full-time employment and unemployment, excluding normal seasonal variations)" the figure for March is 8.6 per cent. Now we turn to the figures issued by the Commonwealth Statistician to see how they compare with the Queensland and New South Wales figures, the Commonwealth figures being based, of course, on trade union returns. For the March quarter of 1937 we find that the New South Wales figure for unemployment is 11.8 per cent. Thus, if the Commonwealth Statistician's figures err at all, they err in the direction of exaggerating the volume of unemployment, because the figures taken from all sources by the New -South Wales Statistician is S.l per cent. The Queensland figure for the March quarter of 1937, compiled from trade union returns, is 7.7 per cent., as compared with 8.6 per cent., the figure compiled from all sources by the Queensland Government. If Senator Collings will study the publications which are issued from time to time he will find that he is on very unsound ground when he challenges the statement of unemployment as revealed in the report of the Commonwealth Statistician.

The honorable senator is unfortunate also in another respect. Despite his tale of woe and his attempt to paint a picture of widespread destitution and misery in this country, he will find that some of his own friends have been saying just the opposite. At the present time the trade unions are applying to the Federal Arbitration Court for an increase of the basic wage. What have the leaders of Labour in that sphere to say about the prosperity of this country? They have placed their arguments before that court, and from press reports it appears that the basis of their claim for an increase of the basic wage is that Australia is now fully restored to prosperity. I suggest to Senator Collings that he had better have a few words with some of the gentlemen in the army behind him, and tell them that when he is going to tell a tale of poverty and depression in this chamber, they should not give him the lie direct by their claims before the Arbitration Court.

The honorable senator described the Imperial Conference as a dud. Only about three months ago, together with the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives and other leaders in the Labour party, he was denouncing the Imperial Conference, by drawing a terrible picture of Australia being drawn into the spider's web, and being committed to all sorts of imperialistic policies behind the back of Parliament.


Senator Collings - I did not say that.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.Perhaps not in those words.


Senator Collings - Nor in any other words.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.The honorable senator was among those who tried to create the impression that real danger lurked in the mission undertaken by the Australian Ministers now visiting London. Was not that one of the reasons which they advanced in support of their contention that Parliament should be called together before the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and his colleagues departed on that mission, so that Parliament might be told what they intended to do at the Imperial Conference? To-day, when the imperialistic tricks that Labour critics predicted have not taken place, and schemes to drag Australia at the tail of the United Kingdom have not eventuated, the honorable senator and his colleagues say that the Imperial Conference has proved a dud. Considered as a point for the coming election the conference certainly has proved a " dud " for Senator Collings and his party, because the things which he said were going to happen have not happened. The honorable senator also remarked that the. Governor-General's Speech was so much window-dressing, but he had to admit that, as dressed, the window looked rather attractive. Consequently, he appeared to be somewhat perturbed. He told us that he had no objection to a little window-dressing for election purposes, but apparently his concern now is that the results are so good.


Senator Collings - What I complain of is that the Government is merely "topping off" its sales to the electors.


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - The honorable gentleman to-day had the opportunity of a lifetime to point out to the electors which of the goods in the Government's shop-windows were in his view, spurious or defective.


Senator Collings - That is what I did.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.Oh no. The Leader of the Opposition had very little to say about the quality of the goods so displayed. As a matter of fact he scarcely referred to a single item in the shop-window, his remarks being directed mostly to the goods that were not shown in it. And that, I repeat, is his present trouble. That is why he objects to this window-dressing. His one concern now is that it i3 altogether too attractive for his liking; he fears that it will appeal to the electors.

I come now to the subject of national insurance. Senator Collings this morning raised objections to the employment of two experts from the United Kingdom to advise the Government on thi3 important subject. Since national insurance is an issue of great magnitude, affecting all sections of the community, every precaution should be taken to see that any scheme we may propose is based on sound principles. We have not hitherto had experience of such a system in Australia. There has been unemployment insurance in Queensland for some years, but no system of national insurance. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, has operated some forms of national insurance for over 20 years. In the circumstances was it unwise on the part of the Ministry to seek the advice of two men who had actually been administering the British scheme and had a practical knowledge of its working?


Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - They have been identified with the scheme from its inception.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.That is so, and knowing its advantages and disadvantages, they were in a position to advise this Government with reference to the inauguration of a similar scheme in this country. What did these two men do when they came to Australia ? They immediately visited every state which is operating measures of social policy, in order to inform their minds of what is being done in Australia. Surely

Senator Collingswill admit that before any well thought-out scheme can be introduced, those who recommend the form which it should take must know all about the operations of social legislation in the various States, in order to avoid waste of money and duplication of services.


Senator Collings - My objection is that these investigations have been going on for over 20 years.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.There has been no similar prior investigation of this particular phase of social legislation. I am aware, of course, that Senator Collings has been so busy preparing his speech on the Address-in-Reply that he has not yet had time to read the report presented to the Government by Mr. Ince, one of the British experts to whom reference has been made ; but I am sure that when he does read it he will find that Mr. Ince has given careful consideration to all that has been done by the various States up to date. His report indicates to what extent State social legislation at present in operation will be rendered unnecessary in the event of the institution of a Commonwealth scheme. I am astonished that any one who wishes to see such a system inaugurated should object to the introduction of experts to assist us in formulating an effective scheme.

As regards the 40-hour working week, Senator Collings' desire seems to be that this matter should be dealt with, not by the Arbitration Court, but by legislation. If he holds this view so strongly, why does not the honorable gentleman appeal to Mr. Forgan Smith, the Premier of Queensland, to enact State legislation along these lines? There is nothing - not even an Upper House - to prevent Mr. Forgan Smith from introducing legislation enacting immediately a 40-hour working week in Queensland.


Senator Collings - The Leader of the Senate knows the reason.


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - I assure the honorable gentleman that I do not.


Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Commonwealth Parliament has not the constitutional authority to legislate for a 40-hour working week.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.As my colleague has reminded me, this

Parliament has not complete powers to legislate on this subject.

The Leader of the Opposition also went on to say that the Governor-General's Speech was, in many respects, a bed-time story.Well, I have listened to many bed-time stories over the air, and I confess that I have found some of them quite interesting. I cannot say the same of the speech delivered by Senator Collings. To me, his remarks rather resembled a horrible nightmare. The honorable gentleman did refer to some matters mentioned in the Governor-General's Speech, but I regret to state that his interpretation of them was quite incorrect. He kept referring to the policy speech delivered by the Prime Minister at the last election, and asked what the Government had done since then. For example, he told the Senate that nothing whatever had been done about the standardization of railway gauges. I am afraid the honorable gentleman has been asleep. Has he never heard of the construction of the Red Hill to Port Augusta railway on the standard gauge? This work was carried out in accordance with the recommendation of the commission which inquired into the standardization of gauges.


Senator Collings - Is that work completed?


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - It will be completed shortly.


Senator Collings - That is about all that has been done.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.At any rate, it is something, and Senator Collings said that nothing had been done.

The Leader of the Opposition also criticized the Government's proposals to promote the extraction of oil from shale. His opinion seemed to be that, instead of coming to an agreement with Mr. Davis, who submitted a scheme to develop the Capertee deposits, it should undertake the work as a State enterprise. I remind honorable gentlemen that at various times many State enterprises have been undertaken in Australia, and some are still in operation. One is the State coal mine at Wonthaggi in Victoria. That venture, I understand, involves the State Government in heavy financial loss annually, and for the last twelve months its history has been one of almost continuous industrial disturbance. That, I suggest, is not very encouraging to the Government. I suppose .that Senator Collings would like us to know that the State coal mine in Queensland is being operated at a profit. It is true that it shows a profit, but this is earned by compelling the Queensland Railways Commissioners to buy the coal at a cost above its economic value.

Senator Collingshad a good deal to say about the projected export of iron ore from Yampi Sound in Western Australia. That subject, also, does not appear in the Governor-General's Speech. Concerning it, all I have need to say is that the granting of mining leases is a matter within the sole jurisdiction of the State Government; in this instance the Commonwealth Government is concerned only with the export of the iron ore and the admission of people to be engaged in connexion with its purchase. Honorable senators are aware that H. A. Brasserts and Company Limited formed an Australian operating company to work the iron deposits at Yampi Sound on the understanding that the Nippon Mining Company would take the whole of the output. The scheme provides for the sale of the ore at the company's works at Koolan Island and not on delivery in Japan, so that it is necessary for a limited number of Japanese experts to remain on the island to satisfy themselves as to the proper grading and analysis of the ore, thereby eliminating difficulties and possibilities of disagreement. These experts, to be four in number, will not be engaged in development work of any kind, and the position in regard to them is to be reviewed at the end of twelve months with a view to determining whether the work of grading and inspection can be satisfactorily carried out by Australians. There is also to be one interpreter. The entry of these Japanese experts and interpreter for this purpose is on all fours with the admission into Australia of representatives of other countries for the purposes of inspecting, evaluating, and purchasing the wool clip. It is estimated that eventually 500 or 600 Australians will be employed in this enterprise.

Senator Collingswill see from this that the granting of the lease is a matter entirely for the Labour Government of Western Australia. It is no concern of the Commonwealth Government. The Leader of the Opposition suggested, but did not -say so straight out, that we ought to prevent the export of this iron ore to Japan. If that is his view, I ask him does he propose to stop there ? What has he to say about the export of ore produced from Mount Isa? Will the honorable senator urge that that should not be exported? Surely, if it would be right to prevent the export of iron ore from Yampi. Sound, it would be equally right to prevent the export of ore from Mount Isa. But if we did this, what would happen? I understand that if we prevented the export of ore from Mount Isa we should render unemployed about 10,000 men who are directly or indirectly connected with that enterprise.

I am afraid that Senator Colling's knowledge of even the political history of Australia is somewhat shaky. He appears to be under the impression that the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act was placed on the statutebook by the Labour party. I happened to be a member of the Labour party when that measure was passed by this Parliament. I know all the circumstances that led up to its introduction and adoption. I was a member, as you were, Mr. President, of the Labour party in Western Australia when the Arbitration Act was passed by the State Parliament, so it may not he out of place to remind Senator Collings that the Labour party cannot claim the credit for that legislation. The Commonwealth act was introduced by the late,Mr. C. C. Kingston, a well-known Liberal in his day.


Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Mr. Kingston had also piloted through the State Parliament a similar law.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.Mr. B. R. Wise, another Liberal, introduced an arbitration bill into the New South Wales Parliament and succeeded in getting it passed, and Sir John Forrest introduced the Western Australian measure. Therefore, it is not true to say that we owe all our arbitration laws to the advent of the Labour party in the Commonwealth or State spheres, and it would be well if Senator Collings were sure of his ground before he indulges in criticism regarding the initiation of social legislation.

Another point raised by the Leader of the Opposition, but one not mentioned in the Governor-General's Speech, was the distribution of the grant to those engaged in the pearling industry at Thursday Island. Honorable senators are well aware that the grant was made because the pearl shell industry generally was then in a distressful condition. It was represented to the Government of the day that a grant should be made to them in order to keep the industry going. It was feared that, otherwise, it would fall entirely into the hands of the Japanese. Accordingly the grant was made, and it may be that some wealthy men shared in. its distribution. But the money was not paid to- them because they were wealthy.

The honorable senator also referred to the patrol vessel in Northern Australian waters. I admit that for some of the work which it is called upon to do the Larrakia is unsatisfactory, but I remind the Leader of the Opposition that when that vessel was ordered it was not intended that it should be employed on patrol work at all. Honorable senators will remember that when the air mail service between Australia and Singapore was inaugurated it was operated by land planes. About that time there had been a number of air catastrophies in different parts of the world, where land planes had fallen ii.to the sea, and it was thought that it would be unfair to ask pilots to take similar machines across the sea unless speedy assistance could be given to them in an emergency. Australia's obligation was to look after that portion of the route between Timor and Darwin, and the vessel now used as a patrol boat was obtained for the purpose of going speedily to the rescue of aviators who had fallen into the sea.


Senator Collings - It was not capable of doing even that without repairs and alterations.


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - That is not so. The Government has always recognized the unsuitability of the vessel for patrol work, and some time ago it ordered another vessel which is nov? under construction. In the meantime, the Larrakia has been impressed into the patrol service. In addition to the Larrakia there is a customs vessel now at Darwin; it arrived there within the last fewdays. Although a larger and more powerful vessel, it has not the speed of the Larrakia, but for the work for which it will be used it should prove reliable.

The honorable senator complained that Parliament has been closed for six months. From his remarks one would imagine that a crime had been committed. It is extraordinary that honorable senators now find fault with a practice which has continued without complaint for 50 years in the State parliaments of this country. Since long before federation it has been the ordinary practice in every State for the parliament to sit for about six months and to be in recess for a similar period each year. No one found fault with that practice; but now that the Federal Parliament, the members of which are gathered, not from within the borders of one State, but from all over Australia, follows the same practice, Senator Collings and others are loud in their denunciation of it.


Senator Brown - The Prime Minister promised that Parliament would meet in March.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.Finally, I shall refer to the remarks of Senator Collings in relation to party funds, and I do so as a warning to the honorable senator, because he is on dangerous ground. I have the confidence of the Nationalist party in Western Australia, and I. know that the experience there is that the party never has a feather with which to fly.


Senator Collings - The honorable senator has made some good flights.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.Yes, but not because of ample party funds. My only object in mentioning this subject now is to warn Senator Collings of the danger of an inquiry being instituted into the source of the funds of the Labour party. I can tell him how the- funds of that party are raised in Western Australia. The most powerful trade union in that State, as in some of the other States also, is the Australian Workers Union. In Western Australia thousands of men who were out of employment were offered relief work; but a condition imposed by the Labour Government of that State is that each man before he becomes eligible for employment shall take out a ticket in the Australian Workers Union.

SenatorCollings. - The right honorable gentleman is wrong.


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - The membership fee is 25s. per annum. If the relief workers have not sufficient money to pay the fee in a lump sum - and many of them, being on the verge of starvation, cannot do so - they are permitted to spread the amount over four payments. Obviously, the money represented by those fees is not necessary for carrying out the administration of the Australian Workers Union, because the union carried on successfully before the new system . was inaugurated. The balance-sheet of the Australian workers Union in Western Australia shows that approximately the equivalent of the fees obtained from relief workers is expended on political organizing in that State. In other words, the Labour Government ofWestern Australia, through its powers of administration, has financed the Labour party out of public funds.


Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -It has used public officers to collect the money.


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - IfI were asked to say which is the more decent way to raise political funds - a voluntary contribution from those who support a political party, because they think its policy is best in the interests of the country, or a compulsory levy from those who, through unemployment, destitution and starvation are obliged to accept relief work - I would choose the former method.

Debate (on motion by Senator Hardy) adjourned.







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