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Thursday, 10 June 1915

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I can only express my regret that a practical suggestion put forward by Senator Stewart in quite unimpassioned tones - and it was practical whether one regards it favorably or not - should have been met by the speech to which we have just listened. Instead of proceeding to deal with the suggestion as a practical one, Senator Gardiner attempted to refer to quite a variety of other matters which had no bearing on the point, and sought, following his usual custom, to obscure the issue by an appeal to passion and the use of rather reckless assertions. He made some reference to conscription, and drew a distinction between conscripting men and property. If we could terminate this war by a levy on property, there is not a man in Australia who would not say at once, " Strike the levy." But we are not going to end the war by money. It is men who are going to end it.

Senator Guy - The men are of no. use without the money.

Senator MILLEN - But men and money should not be regarded as alternatives. Whether the war is to be settled by a levy of men or a levy of money, we must have the men, and the suggestion made yesterday was in no way put forward as expressing a preference for levying upon men in contradistinction to money. It was a little ungenerous on the part of the Vice-President of the Executive Council to place the utterances of my friend in an entirely false light. Senator Stewart is to be commended for having had the courage - a quality in which he has never been lacking since he has occupied a seat in this chamber, and I make this acknowledgment without the slightest reserve, although I differ from him in his fundamental articles of faith - to put before us not only an important matter to-day, but one the importance of which will grow. He affirms that there is a tendency on the part of people living in the cities to consider that they are entitled to take the produce of our rural population and to pay for it just what they choose. He went on to point out that, whilst legally we can do that, and whilst legally we can fix prices of commodities, there must necessarily be a limit to the extent of these operations, otherwise the producer would cease to produce.

Senator Russell - It is sheer nonsense to suggest that the course indicated by the honorable senator has ever been seriously entertained.

Senator MILLEN - One has only to pick up any public print or to listen to the speech of any member associated with the Labour party to learn that my statement is founded upon fact.

Senator Russell - There have been propositions to submit the prices of commodities to competent Boards.

Senator MILLEN - I will go no further than the speech of the VicePresident of the Executive Council, who, in dealing with this matter, sought to show that the high price of meat to-day is due to the operations of rings and trusts. Senator Stewart knows better. He knows that the high price of meat is due to increased export facilities, which enable our producers to place that commodity on the London market at a less cost, and with greater surety, than they could place it there some years ago. It was for this reason he affirmed that the day of cheap meat has gone, and that in future the price of meat in Australia will be on a parity with its price in London, less the expense of getting it there.

Senator Russell - Does the honorable senator mean to say that the city people do not know what Commodities cost to produce ?

Senator MILLEN - I do not think that they do.

Senator Russell - What they do not know they are prepared to submit to competent Boards.

Senator MILLEN - Senator Stewart pointed out that for years, when the prices of his commodities in the world's market were low, we left the producer to struggle along as best he could. When our wheat-growers had to compete with the cereal-growers of India and Egypt, and when they were getting only 2s. 3d. per bushel for their grain, the community did not come forward with offers to assist them.

Senator Russell - I never knew of the honorable senator doing anything in that direction.

Senator MILLEN -I might say the same of the Assistant Minister, but it would not help my argument. I do not remember the honorable gentleman doing anything to help anybody. It is significant that whenever a practical proposition is submitted, an attempt is at once made to defeat it by an appeal to prejudice rather than to reason. Senator Stewart has properly pointed out that; so far as our producers are concerned, when the prices of their commodities in the world's markets were low, we left them to struggle along as best they could. Now that the world offers them higher prices, we step in and deny them the right to obtain those prices. With what object? In order that the consumer may obtain the cheap loaf. I am convinced that the interference, of the Government in New South Wales has made the price of wheat higher than it otherwise would have been.

Senator Russell - Does the honorable senator believe that?

Senator MILLEN - I am not like the Assistant Minister. I should not have made the statement if I did not believe it. If there had been no threat of Government interference in New South Wales some months ago, the ordinary operators of wheat would have imported at a time when they could have imported at a lower rate than they can to-day. But as the result of Government intervention the whole industry was paralysed. Not a single importer was prepared to import. They all stopped operating. What has been the result? The Government have had to go abroad, and pay for the cheaply-produced wheat outside of Australia a higher price than they would have had to pay our own farmers, whom we pretend to protect.

Senator Watson - The honorable senator says that we now have to pay more for wheat than was paid by the New South Wales Government when they commandeered the wheat supply in that State?

Senator MILLEN - Yes.

Senator Watson - Does the honorable senator say that we could not have bought wheat outside of New South Wales for less than the price paid by the Government of that State?

Senator MILLEN - When it was first known that there would be a shortage of wheat, we could have bought wheat in the markets of the world at a lower price than we can now. To-day we cannot import a single bushel for less than 5s.

Senator Watson - But we could have imported for less then.

Senator MILLEN - Yes; and but for Government interference that would have been done. Wheat operators were preparing to bring in a sufficient supply of grain to make good the shortage. But the moment the New South Wales Government intervened every private individual said, "I am not going to import wheat until I know the price at which I will have to sell it. If the Government are going to impose a limit on its selling price, I will not import." The result is that to-day the Government of New South Wales have to pay a higher price for wheat than that which they paid for the grain which they seized.

Senator Watson - The price would have gone up, anyhow.

Senator MILLEN - Undoubtedly. Time was the essence of the contract. The people of New South Wales, as the result of Government interference, will unquestionably have to pay more for their loaf than they otherwise would have paid.

Senator Guy - Is it not a fact that they thought there was a quantity of surplus wheat in New South Wales?

Senator MILLEN - I am not responsible for what they thought. Until recently nobody imagined that there would be a material shortage in Australia. Only about eleven months ago, when the war broke out, steps were taken to ascertain whether there would be a shortage or not. From that time onwards the harvest prospects commenced to become less favorable.

Senator Guy - Only a few months ago the people of New South Wales thought they had a surplus, because they exported wheat to Tasmania.

Senator MILLEN - I do not think that they thought they had a surplus then. They sent that wheat to Tasmania- in order to help that State round a tight corner, and upon the understanding that Tasmania would return an equal quantity of wheat, which was to be obtained from abroad.

Senator Guy - If the people of New South Wales required it?

Senator MILLEN - Yes. I wish, however, to get back to the point raised by Senator Stewart. It seems to me that the suggestion that the high price of meat is due to trusts - though it may be a very good electioneering cry - does not assist us to solve the problem with which we are confronted. "The high price of meat is due to the fact that a man who has that commodity to sell can obtain - as our wheat-growers have been doing for years - the London value of it, less the cost of placing it there.

Senator Russell - Why, in this city, meat was 12s. per cwt. higher than it was in London !

Senator MILLEN - There will always be isolated instances of that kind. The people of New South Wales, I repeat, have to pay more for their wheat as the result of Government action than they would have paid.

Senator Russell - Liberals generally are opposed to interference, and yet the position was so serious that they had to abandon their political principles.

Senator MILLEN - To-day not a single proof has been offered that the price of meat is being kept high as the result of the operation of trusts. But we do know that the increased demand for that commodity in Europe and in other parts of the world, particularly since the outbreak of war, together with the certainty with which producers can now export, has enabled them to send their stock outside Australia. Now comes the very point to which Senator Stewart has directed attention. Are we to turn round and say to our producers, " We will not let you get the benefits of the markets of the world. So long as you are receiving only £1 per 100 for your meat, you can sell as much as you like; but now that the markets of the world are favorable to you, we intend to stand between you and those markets, and to prevent you making more from the results of your industry " ? To my mind, Senator Stewart has put forward a proposition which does offer a practical solution of the difficulty. Of course, I do not approve of his methods in their entirety. He has pointed to the unwisdom of any attempt to stand between the producer and his legitimate market. He has affirmed that the real solution of this difficulty is to be found in an increase of production. Now, there are two ways in which production may be increased. He has pointed to one of them. But may I ask: What has Senator Stewart done to stimulate production? We have been accustomed to hear him declaring that, given a progressive land tax, land would be made so cheap that there would be an abundant supply of it. In a Labour manifesto, issued some time ago, stress was laid upon the large number of people who reside in our cities as compared with the small number who reside in the country. We were assured that the imposition of the land tax would alter that. Yet to-day we have had the pathetic avowal by Senator Stewart that this panacea has failed, and that, instead of there being a larger number of country producers and a smaller number of residents in the cities the evil of which complaint was made still remains.

Senator Guy - The honorable senator ought also to say that that tax does not suit Senator Stewart.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator means that Senator Stewart thinks there is not enough of it. Apropos of a remark by Senator Gardiner to the effect that his party should be judged by its actions rather than by its words, I would remind him that one of his party's actions quite recently was to affirm that an increased land tax is desirable. I am referring to a resolution adopted at the Adelaide Labour Conference. That increased tax will be paid by the rural producers. Thus Senator Stewart, who is so anxious to see production stimulated, is a member of a party which is willing to prevent that object being attained by levying an increased impost on our producers. The way in which to stimulate production it not to place additional taxation on the people who go into the Northern Territory to settle it, but to render lifethere more attractive by making theburden upon them as light as possible.

SenatorSenior. - But you will puta burden on the workers. If you donot increase the land tax you mustincrease the Customs duties.

Senator MILLEN - The resolutionof the Adelaide Labour Conferencewould practically take away from the land owner that which would represent afair interest upon his capital outlay.

Senator Senior - It is not proposed to do anything but what is correct.

Senator MILLEN - My honorable friend can wrap it up in whatever phrase he likes. But I want to tell him that I am just as familiar with the subject as he is. I have not lived in the same State as Senator Grant without having become familiar with the magic of the term " unearned increment," and all the rest of it. Now, with regard to the Northern Territory, what inducement are we holding out to people to settle that land ? They would have to abandon all the social surroundings of a fairly civilized life in the settled States to go out there and spend the best years of their lives in a wilderness, with a tremendous risk as to whether their ventures would be successful or not. If a man settled there he, with other pioneers, would be robbed of the value which he himself had created, if effect were given to the proposal of the Adelaide Conference.

Senator Senior - Does the honorable senator know the present land value as estimated by the price paid for leases?

Senator MILLEN - I do not know; it is not a matter of importance.

Senator Senior - Then how can it be taken away?

Senator MILLEN - Does the honorable senator suggest that there is no value ? #

Senator Senior - It is small, and will be small until a community creates it.

Senator MILLEN - Sooner or later some policy for repurchase will have to be adopted.

Senator Senior - But that will be confiscation, so you say.

Senator MILLEN - If buying from a man is confiscation, I would like the honorable senator to confiscate some of my things. I never heard the term used in that way.

Senator Gardiner - It is the term which you applied to us.

Senator MILLEN - It would not be so applied if the honorable member's party are prepared to pay for a thing. I call an act "confiscation" when a Government, under the guise of taxation, appropriates the whole capital value.

Senator Grant - That has never been done yet.

Senator MILLEN - And that was the reason for the Adelaide resolution calling upon the Government to go faster.

Senator Guy - They never used the term.

Senator MILLEN - Of course, they did not use it in that sense, but they wanted the Government to take action.

Senator Guy - You are very good at putting words into other people's mouths.

Senator MILLEN - I do not care whether it is called confiscation or not. That is the effect of it.

Senator Grant - Is it not a fact that a community creates a value in land ?

Senator MILLEN - I am not going to argue that phase of the subject now. The position of my honorable friend is well known. For very many years he has been a persistent advocate of the appropriation by the State of what he calls the community-created values, and I think I am correct in saying that, at conference after conference, he has endeavoured to remove the exemption on the land tax.

Senator Grant - It is a pity that you left the track.

Senator MILLEN - I accept the compliment, whether deserved or not, as to my ability.

Senator Gardiner - But the honorable senator has not left the track yet, has he?

Senator MILLEN - I never stray, but sometimes the track goes in the wrong direction. Now in the consideration of this Northern Territory problem, the object is to stimulate production. How can that be done ?

Senator Gardiner - By making land cheap, of course.

Senator MILLEN - The land tax would not cheapen it.

Senator Grant - It was not heavy enough

Senator MILLEN - Surely if a 6d. land tax did not prove effective, a land tax of ls. would not. The object should be to make land cheap, so that the settler could be induced to provide money for its development. We have been wasting time fooling about to see whit tropical products we can grow in the Territory. If I want to grow tropical products I would not want to go to the Territory to do it, when I could get as good, and possibly better, land in Queensland, with a market open to me, and good trade routes established, as well as all the accessories of social life provided, such as schools, churches, ' and other institutions.

In this matter of the development of the Territory we have been directing our attention to the wrong end by carrying out experiments close to the coast to see what can be done in agriculture, instead of turning attention to the pastoral possibilities as a starting point for closer cultivation later on. Why bother about these silly little farms, trying to grow rice and such things? It will be a ghastly revelation to the Government and to the Parliament, as well as to the country, when the cost per acre, or per settler, in respect to these schemes is disclosed. The VicePresident of the Executive Council has urged that the Government's hands were tied because of the financial position. I recognise that, but I say that what I am speaking of has nothing to do with the financial side of the question. The problem is to devise a policy which will enable us to persuade people to go out and develop the Territory. I know there is a prejudice against the grazing industry, but whether there is a prejudice or not, I am satisfied that we will never break up that Territory unless we make a start from the grazing standpoint. And the first question to consider is: How we are going to make the land available? There is a great deal of land which is not under lease, and there is a much larger proportion of land held under lease. We must start by multiplying the number of graziers. There is a prejudice against large holdings, but we have to remember that this is a comparative term, and when applied to the Territory, what might seem to be a large area in a more settled State would, in the Territory, be regarded as only a horse-paddock. Therefore, we must not be frightened when we deal with thousands of acres instead of hundreds of acres.

Senator Senior - Thousands of square miles, do you mean ?

Senator MILLEN - No. I am speaking of holdings which would be sufficiently large to invite to the Territory a new class of settlers, a class of men who would have a chance of success. It is idle to ask any man to go out there unless he has money, because cattle raising is not a business upon which a man can expect a return to-morrow. The chief instrument for the development of the Territory is going to be capital, and in order to tempt men with capital to go out there, there must be a reasonable op portunity to secure a return on the outlay.

Senator Russell - You can have capital without the capitalists. The Government freezing works would represent capital, would it not?

Senator MILLEN - Yes; but the Government will not freeze stock for nothing.

Senator Russell - No.

Senator MILLEN - The main obstacle to the development of the Territory is the incurable prejudice against the use of capital.

Senator Russell - No; it is prejudiceagainst monopoly. What was the inducement given to private capitalists to go there?

Senator MILLEN - An area of land was given to provide resting paddocks.

Senator Russell - It was practically giving them enough land to make a State.

Senator MILLEN - We are- told that we have given a State to the company that started the works there. There is not the slightest justification for that statement. The land given to the company was only a small area, comparatively speaking, and sufficiently large to be used as a" resting paddock for the stock coming in.

Senator Russell - What was the area?

Senator MILLEN - It might have been about 200,000 acres.

Senator Grant - A mere unconsidered trifle!

Senator MILLEN - Any man who hae had experience of that part of the country would not regard it as a large area.

Senator Russell - That is a new definition of a small area to me.

Senator MILLEN - I invite the, Assistant Minister to ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council if he regards it as a large area. What might appear a large area in a State like Victoria would only be a fair-sized holding in the Territory.

Senator Gardiner - I agree with Senator Russell that the area is large enough for a State.

Senator MILLEN - Two hundred thousand acres large enough for a State f 1 am afraid it would be a state of depression if that constituted a State. Surely the Honorary Minister does not mean, what he said. Why, it is ridiculous to say that 200,000 acres of country like that out west of the Darling is a large estate.

Senator Senior - You cannot compare the Darling with the Northern Territory country.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator isright. The western district of New South Wales is infinitely superior country to that of the Territory.

Senator Senior - But you will find very few estates of 200,000 acres where the land has been developed by pastoral industries.

Senator MILLEN - It does not matter. The question only arose through an interjection. The area was given to secure for the stock owners a resting paddock at the head of the railway line. Stock brought in to be frozen cannot be dealt with at once. They have to be held there until they can be brought down to the freezing works. It is a necessary adjunct of the business of freezing.

Senator Senior - I am not complaining of that at all.

Senator MILLEN - That is what the Assistant Minister did. He said that we could get private capital there if we gave the capitalist an entire State.

Senator Russell - I said an area of and almost equivalent to a State.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator said "an entire State." Really, the company were given nothing, because the 200,000 acres, or whatever the area was that was made available, was for the benefit of graziers sending in their stock, the object being to rest them there in order that they might follow in a regulated order to the freezing works.

Senator Russell - Is the honorable senator not prepared to accept my denial ? I did not make the statement he has attributed to me.

Senator MILLEN - If the Minister says that he did not mean to make it, I will accept that; but that he said what I have attributed to him I am quite satisfied.

Senator Russell - It is not very often that the Leader of an Opposition will not accept an honorable member's denial. I say distinctly that I did not say "an entire State," and the honorable senator should withdraw his statement.

Senator MILLEN - Withdraw what?

Senator Russell - My statement was not that an entire State had been given; and I object to Senator Millen getting into Hansard a statement, as coming from me, which I did not make. It ought to be withdrawn.

Senator MILLEN - I should like to know what it is that the Minister wishes me to withdraw.

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