Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 23 June 1937


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - It would be foolish to do so.


Senator Sir George Pearce - As Labour contends that a 40-hour working week would not have the effect of either lessening the output of the workers or increasing the cost of 'production, why does not Queensland proclaim a 40-hour working week?


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - I have not said a single word about the effect of a 40-hour working week on the efficiency, or output, of the workers.


Senator Collings - Queensland set an example to the world by proclaiming a 44-hour working week; no other country has done that.


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - Senator Brennan,who is a distinguished lawyer, will agree with me that it would be industrially difficult for Queensland, as merely a portion of the Commonwealth, to institute a 40-hour working week, but that in agreement with the Commonwealth and other States it can be done constitutionally and without loss to any one single State. Queensland would be foolish to do so without such agreement, because it would thus place itself at an unfair advantage in competition with the other States.


Senator Sir George Pearce - Does the honorable senator say that a 40-hour working week would have the effect of lessening the output of the workers?


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - I have not said anything on that point, and I do not think that Mr. Armstrong touched on it, either. I believe that if this Government is returned to office at the next election, it will make no attempt to institute a 40-hour working week, but I say definitely that if a Labour Government is elected it will immediately do so.

The appointment of Mr. Abbott as Administrator of the Northern Territory is another example of the reactionary outlook of this Government, which believes in persisting in methods which, over and over again, have been proved to be futile. I believe that the development of the Territory should be tackled with a measure of imagination and vision on the part of the Government. Great schemes and undertakings have started from inauspicious beginnings; we know, for instance, how Australia was originally settled. Mr. Abbott is probably as good, or bad, as any of the score of administrators who have been appointed by either the Government of South Australia, or the Commonwealth Government, during the last 60 years, to control the Northern Territory, but he is only going to do the job in the way that it has been done in the past. Our neglect of the territory has been pitiably exposed in the recent exploits of the Government's patrol boat Larrakia. Until a few days ago very few people knew that that boat existed. The Australian Navy has a job to do, but, apparently, is not charged with the care of the Northern Territory. Consequently, to-day, despite all the talk that has been heard concerning Japanese encroachment on our shores, the smuggling of opium into the Northern Territory, the illicit relations of Japanese divers with native women, and the landing of prohibited immigrants, these happenings continue through the neglect of that portion of Australia. To-day, the only vessel we can commission to patrol the thousands of miles of our coastline from Thursday Island to Darwin is a little lame motor boat. The Government's failure to deal with this problem has been accentuated by recent happenings. Yet, some people are so deeply buried in their own prejudices that even this joke about the Larrakia has not made them smile. They have not appreciated all that we have been told by missionary clergymen and others concerning the maltreatment and neglect of the aborigines. These things are still happening at what is, geographically speaking, the front gate of Australia; yet Ministers disregard them. Anyone who has had experience of life in the back blocks realizes that the natural tendency of a man is to get back to the soft spots; as Carnegie said, the Australian population is clustered like flies round a saucer; the centre of the country is practically empty, and the people cluster round the rim.


Senator Herbert Hays - The disposition of our population is due, in a large measure, to problems of rainfall and transport.


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - The rainfall on the fringe of the Northern Territory is comparatively high. For generations, I repeat, this neglect of the Northern Territory has gone on in the old hugger-mugger way. Instead of continuing with its bungling methods the Government should attempt to develop the Territory by some semi-socialistic scheme. I am not suggesting that a very large population could be supported in that portion of the Commonwealth, but I feel that after occupying that country for 70 or SO years we have no reason to be proud of our achievement, the present white population being not more than 5,000. More effective measures will have to be adopted in future if we are to develop North Australia on a satisfactory basis.


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


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - A national settlement scheme would, I believe, be successful.


Senator Grant -What would the settlers do up there?


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - They would not be expected to sit down and twiddle their thumbs, but they should,. I suggest, be encouraged to engage in a number of small industries which in time would enable them to pay their way.


Senator Herbert Hays - Would the honorable senator encourage them to raise sheep in a small way?


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - Cattle and sheep raising could be undertaken. I believe also that the large number of crocodiles in North Australian rivers would support a fair-sized industry in the production of crocodile leather. The cultivation of tropical fruits is another business that might be undertaken. With modern air transport facilities tropical fruits could be marketed in the southern States, andI have no doubt that such an industry would provide a living for a fair number of people. It is evident that all experiments hitherto have been conducted on entirely wrong lines. New avenues of production must now be tried. Attempts to organize new industries could not' be attended with worse results than have been reported in connexion with many enterprises that have been initiated in the

Northern. Territory in the past. It is imperative that no further time should be lost in initiating new development schemes, because land-hungry people in the East are turning their eyes to the vast empty spaces in the north of Australia.

To protect the Australian pearling industry the Government has established a base at Darwin for a " lame duck " of a patrol boat which is supposed to prevent 70 or SO Japanese sampans from fishing illegally in Australian waters. These vessels are known to be operating very close to the Australian coast, and the crews whenever they please land on aboriginal reserves and cause much trouble.

The sparseness of our population is impressed upon me whenever I travel up and down the Australian coast. In some parts there are large areas of poor quality scrub country carrying stunted eucalytus forests. The carrying capacity of the poorer class of land is limited, but I am quite sure that the land-hungry people of other nations, including Indians and Chinese, whose standard of living is so much below our own, could make good use of it, and I fear that unless we occupy it more effec'tively, they may one day take possession of it. In the same way the lands of the Northern Territory, poor and uninviting compared with the richer parts of Australia, should be occupied, and a much greater population than 5,000 whites maintained or assisted to hold the country. This is becoming increasingly urgent.


Senator Leckie - Would the honorable senator advocate letting them come into Australia ?


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - Of course not. Nor would Senator Leckie, I assume. But we have heard the threat that unless we more effectively people our vast empty spaces other races will come in with or without our permission.


Senator Herbert Hays - The need in the north is more population.


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - That is the point which I am endeavouring to emphasize. My complaint is that while we have an expensive administrative staff in- the Northern Territory, we are not taking the right steps to encourage people to go there. I make no reflection on the gentleman who was recently appointed administrator, but I do protest against the lack of imagination as evidenced in the Government^ policy, or lack of policy, for the development of North Australia. Hitherto our efforts have been confined to the encouragement of cattle raising, and to a much lesser extent, wool-growing. If the cattle-raisers had their way, the whole of North Australia would be one vast cattle run. As a matter1 of fact they are the greatest obstacle to the more effective settlement of North Australia. The crying need now is for a closer settlement of that vast area. Instead of having a meagre 5,000 whites scattered, over the entire area, we should have at least 50,000, even if the Commonwealth Government had to support everyone of them for a time in semi-military settlements, because they would be doing useful work in defending and policing the country, and eventually the new industries established would enable them to pay their way.


Senator Herbert Hays - Why did Vestey Brothers leave the Northern Territory?


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - I have yet to learn that they have left the Territory, although I am aware of the old lie that the employees at the meatworks made so much trouble, that Vesteys were forced to close down their meatworks at Darwin. The truth is that Vestey Brothers did not -wish to keep the industry going in the Northern Territory, but they did wish to keep competitors out. I understand they still have their station properties and meatworks intact.


Senator Herbert Hays - They have closed the meatworks.


Senator Collings - Because it paid them better to ship beef from Argentina.


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - My leader has correctly stated the position. Vestey Brothers closed their works at Darwin, not because of difficulty with the workers, but because they found it more profitable to ship meat from Argentina. If all the lies that are told about the Australian workers causing trouble in industry were true, there would be hardly a factory in operation in Melbourne or Sydney. , lt is unfortunate that, after over a century of occupation of North Australia hy our people, the aborigines there should he practically at the mercy of Malay and Japanese fishermen, simply because the Commonwealth Government has not, up to the present, provided an efficient patrol of our northern waters to prevent illegal fishing by foreign vessels for pearl shell, trochus shell and other sea products. If we had a bigger white population in the country bordering the Gulf of Carpentaria and extending to Darwin, our position would be much more secure. Originally, the native population of Australia was between 300,000 and 400,000. To-day it is down to about 50,000. Something will have to be done by an intelligent government, if that portion of the Commonwealth is to he retained for settlement by whites. In its present condition, it is a menace because approximately 500,000,000 Asiatics in the north are seeking room for expansion. If tlie Chinese were organized by the Japanese in a mass migration movement southwards we should have a major trouble on our hands, because the front door of Australia would be wide open to them.


Senator Dein - Does the honorable senator believe in migration?


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - That would depend on the type of migrant seeking admission to Australia. During the last few years we have had considerable trouble with Japanese sampans owing to their encroachment on Australian waters. It is high time that the Government entered into negotiations with the Japanese Government with a view to some satisfactory arrangement. Under international law there is nothing to prevent pearl fishing beyond the threemile limit; but since we have only one patrol boat to police the northern waters it is impossible to prevent fishing vessels manned by Asiatics from poaching pearl shell, trochus shell, and other marine products, in our territorial waters. Unless an agreement is reached to restrict their operations, I fear that, in the course of time, our fishing grounds will be exhausted. It has been necessary to take action along these lines to protect the whaling industry in the An tarctic, a portion of which is under Australian control. For many years it has. been the practice of well organized companies in Norway, Sweden and Japan to send mother ships, accompanied by smaller vessels, to engage in whaling in the Antarctic, and so extensive have been their operations that the extinction of the whale was feared. Recently an agreement was reached to limit their operations. We can not dispute the right of Japanese, Javanese, or Malays to search for marine products in waters beyond the territorial limits, but under the conditions which now prevail unpleasant international complications may develop. The Government should negotiate with the representatives of the nations concerned in order to ascertain if some workable scheme cannot be adopted. A veil appears to have been drawn over what is being done in northern waters. While vessels of the Royal Australian Navy are apparently idle, efforts to maintain a form of patrol have been made by a vessel that is unsuitable for the purpose.

I was surprised to hear Senator Hardy refer to closer settlement as if it were a new proposal. Every honorable senator knows that closer settlement has been a pressing problem, particularly in some of the States which, for many years, have possessed legislative authority to resume large estates for subdivision purposes. Even before 1890 and 1S91, when I was in touch with those engaged in the shearing sheds of New South Wales, there was a strong agitation in favour of a closer settlement policy. The Labour party has always supported closer settlement, but even before its advent this policy was favoured by the Liberal and Radical parties.


Senator Dein - The Labour party is in favour of a number of things', but it does not do anything.


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - Has the honorable senator forgotten that the Labour party was responsible for the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank, the introduction of a White Australia policy and also . for passing numerous tariff schedules, all of which have proved of immense benefit to the Australian people? Senator Hardy, who is comparatively new to' politics, insinuated that the Labour party has never ' taken any action in respect of closer settlement; he overlooks the fact' that that party has always strongly supported the policy, and whenever possible, has assisted to give effect to it.

Senator Arkinsand other honorable senators referred to the GovernorGeneral's Speech as a most comprehensive and pleasing document. The leading article in the Canberra Times on the 18th June last, mentioned some of the omissions : -

There is nothing in the Governor-General's Speech to indicate why Parliament was not summoned earlier. There is no vital legislation that justified delay. The Inter-State Commission Bill has been hanging fire for years. Its introduction coincides strangely enough with the time at which politicians usually decide upon their future plans. An amendment of the Seamen's Compensation Act is no new thought. The Statute of Westminster is a monument to Government procrastination. Other measures to be submitted are in the nature of machinery bills and the ratification of agreements. The most important subject of proposed legislation - national insurance - is mentioned chiefly to explain why it cannot be proceeded with. But the GovernorGeneral's Speech fails to mention several very important matters that have been before the public since the last meeting of Parliament. The Japanese trade agreement, the protection of our northern coastal waters, the question of constitutional reform and the long-awaited report of the Royal Commission on Banking, find no mention. There is brief mention of the Pacific territories, but none of the .Northern Territory, to which the Government found it necessary to appoint one of its supporters during the parliamentary recess. The Governor-General's- Speech, as printed, has required the use of eight pages of foolscap, but two and a half pages are blank. That sums it up pretty well.


Senator Dein - Does the honorable senator agree with that statement?


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - The charges against the Government arc justified. The Governor-General's Speech, which apparently was hurriedly prepared, could readily be attacked from many angles. Even its accuracy could be challenged successfully. Reference was made to a reduction of shipping freights on certain primary products exported from this country. For many years, Australian shippers have been shabbily treated by the shipping combine in the matter of freights, and a reduction is long overdue.

I have studied carefully the tables in the report submitted by Mr. Ince on. the subject of national insurance, and so far as I have been able to ascertain, the benefits provided are not greater than those now available under the Queensland system. Proposals based on tables contained in that report would be unacceptable to the Australian people, because, in many instances, the rates are not in excess of dole payments.


Senator Arkins - How do the rates compare with those paid in Queensland?


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - The Queensland system is preferable. A measure providing for a system of national insurance will not be passed this session, and the subject has been brought forward at this juncture merely for political window-dressing purposes. If the present Government should be returned, which is most unlikely, the whole proposal will again be pigeonholed. The Labour party i3 .'he only party that will introduce a scheme acceptable to those entitled to benefits. Senator Hardy and other honorable senators opposite, have- taunted us with the gibe that, although national insurance has been a plank of the. Labour party's platform for 25 years, we have never done anything to put it into operation. I concede that that is true; but point out that our platform also includes nationalization of banking, and the objective of socialism. These ideals are impossible of achievement while the people are against us, as they have been against us for the most of the last 25 years. It is useless for Senator Hardy, or any one else, to say that we had the opportunity to institute national insurance and should have done so. The honorable senator knows that we had no such opportunity. For the whole of its term the Scullin Government had a majority against it in this chamber. Moreover, its predecessors had so mis-managed the country that the Ministry was occupied for the whole of that period in saving the nation from bankruptcy and national disaster. The depression into which we had been precipitated had effects on the legislative programme that were akin to those of war. It was no time for social reform. It took the whole of Mr. Scullin'® time - and his hair-turned grey in the process - to restore stability to the Common.wealth. The previous Labour government took office almost concurrently with the outbreak of the Great "War. The Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) was the Minister for Defence in that government, and he had no time to spare for domestic reforms, which invariably go by the board in time of war.


Senator Collings - That is why wars are brought on.


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - Yes. Similarly, when a dictator takes charge, the people can say goodbye to social reform. The only changes a dictator makes are designed to give him fuller mastery of the people", and, when he gets it, he invites them to look outside at the devils who are threatening danger. Dictators are continually mouthing " "War ". We see proof of that to-day in Germany and Italy. The only other time when Labour has had power in the Commonwealth was from 1910 to 1913, when it had a majority in both Houses, That government did a lot of good work. For instance, it established the Commonwealth Bank. In the present Government are distinguished men who were members of that first Labour Cabinet, to whom the memory of that time and its events must still be fresh, and who can be proud that they were members of the Labour party. I cannot understand why the Australian people, in 1913, dismissed that government, unless it was because of the traditional fickleness of democracy. It had done splendid work, and deserved an even greater victory than it had had in 1910. I remind the Senate, too, that the field for social reform is far greater now than it was then ; national insurance was not so important then as now. Again, I enjoin the Senate to look at Labour's platform. There are many things which remain for us to do.


Senator Sir George Pearce - Such as the abolition of the Senate.

Senator J.V. MACDONALD I agree that the abolition of the Senate is necessary, and feel that, if a safeguard be needed, it lies in the adoption of the initiative and referendum. The abolition of the Senate would be a logical sequence of the abolition of legislative councils, to which Senator Pearce himself was at one time committed. I am afraid, however, that the Senate will outlive me, and at least the majority of my colleagues. The expectancy of life of mankind is about 70 years, and generally a man who exceeds that age is no longer fitted for political work.







Suggest corrections