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Tuesday, 3 December 1935

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for Defence) [5.1]. - in reply - The criticism of the Senate by certain newspapers is apparently endorsed by one or two honorable senators. I have here a statement showing the time given by honorable senators to the consideration of business, as compared with the time given by members of the House of Representatives to practically the same business. For purposes of. comparison, it is necessary to divide the total number of hours which each House sat by the number of members in each House, in order to arrive at the average number of hours devoted by each member to the business before Parliament. The figures are as follows: -

In the session of 1020-27-28 the Senate sat 780 hours. Divided by 36 senators, this works out at 21.7 hours taken by each senator, on the average.

In the same session the House of Representatives sat 1,657 hours. Divided by 76 members gives 21.8 hours to each.

In the session of 1029, the figures are - Senate, 109 hours. - Average 3.03 per senator.

House of Representatives, 342 hours - Average 4.5 per member

In the session of 1929-30-31 the figures are - Senate, 958 hours. - Average, 26.6 per senator.

House of Representatives, 1,050 hours. - Average, 21.8 per member.

In the session of 1932-33-34 the figures are - Senate, 853 hours. - Average, 23.7 per senator.

House of Representatives, 1,428 hours. - Average, 18.8 per member.

Over the nine years the figures are - Senate, 2,700 hours. - Average, 75 per senator.

House of Representatives, 5,083 hours. - Average,66.9 per member.

Present session (to the 22nd November, 1935) -

Senate, 216 hours. - Average 6 per senator.

House of Representatives, 546 hours. - Average, 7.3 per member.

When we remember that every act that finds its place on the statute-book has to be approved in the Senate as well as in the House of Representatives, it is clear that there is nothing for which honorable senators need to apologize.

Senator Leckiereferred to the accommodation provided in this building for members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives. I was a member of the Senate when Parliament sat in the building provided in Melbourne by the Government of Victoria, and I know that the accommodation here, both for private members and for Ministers, 'is much better than was provided in Melbourne. That is not to say that the accommodation here is all that could be desired. The time will come, I believe, when every member of the Senate and of the House of Representatives will have a separate office for himself, as now obtains in Washington.

Senator Collings - The original plan for Parliament House at Canberra included that provision.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.That is so, but it has not yet been possible to give effect to that plan.

Members of the Opposition have complained at great length against the action of the Government in " rushing " this bill through, as they describe it. After all, what does this bill amount to? It is a measure to appropriate the amount required for the services of the country during the financial year, and is on the same lines as that passed last year. It does not provide special appropriation for war pensions, &c, about which there has been so much discussion, but merely provides for the payment of public servants, and for various governmental activities. It is absurd for honorable senators opposite to say that insufficient time has been allowed for the discussion of the measure, when three speeches by members of the Opposition alone occupied over four hours, and during all that time not one word relevant to the bill was said. 'Discussion is allowed at the first reading stage of the bill whether it is relevant or not. Why could not some of the time occupied at the first reading stage in the discussion of all manner of extraneous subjects be spent in discussing the bill itself?

Senator Brown,after a lengthy prologue, complained that the Senate was being asked to become merely a recording chamber. Does it not seem inconsistent, for the honorable senator to pose as a champion of the rights of the Senate when he and his party are prepared to abolish the Senate altogether? Of course, I know that members of the Opposition are suffering from a sense of disappointment in that a nice little plan which they had laid for this session has gone awry. The plan was to take up as much time as possible in discussing measures during the early part of the session, so that, during the latter part, the Government would be compelled to rush the bills through, and members of the Opposition would be able to complain, with every semblance of indignation, that discussion had been stifled. That plan broke down when the Government brought in a little plan of its own, under which proper time was allotted for the consideration of each bill, so that every honorable senator, and not merely members of the Opposition, would get a chance to speak.

Senator Brownreferred to the Military 'College, and I desire to correct the figures that he quoted. Those figures were used, and then corrected in the House of Representatives ; nevertheless. Senator Brown repeated them. He said that, when the college was at Duntroon in 1929, there were 66 cadets, while the instructors numbered 98. The correct number of instructors at that time was 20, the others consisting of the administrative and clerical personnel, and members of the subordinate staff, such as grooms, cleaners, groundsmen, &c. It was also stated that the aggregate cost of maintaining the college since its establishment had been £1,000,000, and the number of graduates 390. The correct cost is £970,000, and the number of graduates 407. The average annual cost for each student is £595, as compared with £570 and £410 for Woolwich and Sandhurst respectively. This comparison is very favorable to Duntroon, when allowance is made for the smaller number of students, and the consequent relatively higher overhead cost.

I compliment Senator Sampson on the excellent speech he delivered on defence and I believe that, in one respect, he could have made his arguments even stronger. When discussing universal military training, people do not always give full consideration to its effect on the morale of the youth of the country. After the system had been in operation for about three years, I, as Minister for Defence, asked the police departments of the States, through the Premiers, if they would obtain reports from their inspectors in the various districts as to the effect, if any, of the system on the behaviour of youths since its inauguration. The reports were practically unanimous in their appreciation of the improvement in the behaviour of youths. In one report, which impressed me particularly, a police inspector in New South Wales said that before the introduction of compulsory military training the behaviour of youths in his district was very bad, indeed. They had got into the habit of congregating at street corners, their language was objectionable and their behaviour bad. Three years later, he said, larrikinism had absolutely disappeared from the district, and he attributed the improvement to the military training of youths who had been given something to do in their spare time - something they appreciated and liked. Their previous bad behaviour was really the result of having nothing to do with their spare time, and their exuberant spirits had been diverted into wrong channels. I recommend that opinion to those honorable senators who object to compulsory training merely because they are opposed to militarism.

Senator Johnstoncriticized the Government on the ground that it was spending too much, and he advocated that taxation be reduced. I have no objection to any one advocating the reduction of taxation ; I believe in that policy, and so does the Government. I say, however, that there is a responsibility on every honorable senator, especially when he advocates the reduction of taxation, to do his best to check expenditure, rather than to encourage it. I invito honorable senators to look at today's notice-paper, and study the questions which were asked by Senator Johnston. Obviously three were prompted by a desire to urge increased Commonwealth expenditure.

Senator E B Johnston - In the right direction.

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - That would be the answer which one would expect from the honorable gentleman. I ask him how can there be increased expenditure, even in the right direction and, at the same time, a reduction of taxation? The proposed relief to wheat-farmers about which he addressed a question to the Government will mean an expenditure of -anything up to £3,000,000. Other questions relate to a new airport at Wyndham - I do not know how much that would cost - but it would duplicate the expenditure already incurred at Darwin, and the construction of an up-to-date clock at Fremantle, which I know would cost £1,000,000. I am noi saying that any of these proposals may not be desirable, but I repeat that we cannot have, at the same time, increased expenditure and a reduction of taxation. This being so, I invite the honorable gentleman to say which is the more important - a reduction of taxation or increased expenditure on works such as those which he has indicated. Obviously we cannot have both.

Senator E B Johnston - Much of that suggested expenditure would be from loan. .

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.Senator Johnston quoted the total of Commonwealth revenue, and delivered a homily to the Government on the desir ability of reducing the burden of taxes on the people. Had the honorable gentleman studied the budget figures he would have found that whilst in 1931-32 income tax yielded £13,481,982, the estimated revenue from this source for the current financial year is £8,800,000. In 1932 it was £10,87S,000, so it has been steadily coming down owing to reductions made by this Government. The land tax in 1931-32 returned £2,156,000. It also has been steadily decreasing each year as the result of the Government's policy to give relief to this section of taxpayers, and the estimate for the current financial year is £1,150,000. There has been no reduction of the rate of estate duty, and the estimated receipts from this source show an increase; but the entertainments tax which, in 1931-32 produced £133,000, has disappeared altogether.

Senator E B Johnston - I mentioned all those figures, and gave the Government credit for what it had done.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE The figures show clearly that the Government has been reducing the burden of taxation in many directions, and in such a way as to make available more money for investment in industry, which is the best way to correct the unemployment evil. In view of his criticism of the Government, the responsibility is on the honorable senator to indicate which item of expenditure should, in his opinion, be reduced. On page 8 of the budget speech will be found the major items of Commonwealth expenditure. These include war services - interest, sinking fund, and exchange on war debt, war pensions, repatriation and other services - totalling £17,901,034. Would the honorable gentleman reduce that expenditure? Then there are payments to States under the financial agreement, federal aid roads grants, special grants to certain States, and nonrecurring grants - totalling £15,781,S02. Would Senator Johnston reduce any one of those payments? Next in order are the items - pensions, invalid and old-age and maternity allowances, £12,091,351; interest, sinking fund and exchange on other than war debts, £4,086,851; defence, £4,368,605 ; defence equipment, £4^160,000. Would Senator Johnston apply the pruning knife to any of the above, the total of which is £58,389,643 out of a total Commonwealth expenditure of £67,151,277?

Let us now examine the business undertakings to see if any reduction could be made there. After meeting all administrative charges in connexion with the post office, railways and territories, the balance-sheet shows a credit of £184,494, due largely to the excellent management of the Postal Department under my colleague Senator A. J. McLachlan. Another item of expenditure is wheat relief and like payments, £4,324,056. Would Senator Johnston suggest a reduction of that amount? The total of all other federal expenditure, including administration of all ordinary departments, cost of Parliament, and bounties is £4,622,072. I invite Senator Johnston, the Taxpayers Association and other critics of Commonwealth expenditure to indicate any particular item in the Government's balance-sheet which would be susceptible of substantial reduction without impairing the efficiency of the services. If we add to these items the other proposals for expenditure which Senator Johnston has mentioned in his questions to the Government, the possibility of reducing taxation becomes extremely remote.

I was interested in Senator Dein's remarks dealing with unemployment, and I agree with him that it is a problem to which we should direct attention. In his policy speech the Prime Minister said that the Commonwealth Government would take a greater share of responsibility for dealing with unemployment. That the Government has done. This is proved by the grants that have been made to the States and Commonwealth co-operation with the States in respect of unemployment relief schemes which are spread over a number of years. These proposals were initiated in pursuance of the undertaking given by the Prime Minister in his policy speech. I was also interested in the honorable senator's observations concerning the reduction of the number of hours of labour in industry, popularly described as the shorter working week. At present the Commonwealth has no power to legislate in regard to the hours of labour in industry. Before it could take a lead as suggested by Senator Dein, it would be necessary to amend the Constitution.

Senator DEIN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I agree with the right honorable senator on that point.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.If, during the coming recess, Senator Dein will visit various States he will find that the idea of the Commonwealth having unrestricted power to legislate in industrial matters is by no means so popular in some States as it appears tobe in New South Wales.

Senator Hardy - The elections of 1929 proved that.

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - As there is no unanimity among the States on the subject of Commonwealth power to legislate in industrial matters, to do as Senator Dein has suggested is not so easy as it might appear to be. The Government indicated its attitude at the recent International Labour Conference at Geneva at which it was represented by Sir Frederick Stewart, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Employment. It informed the conference that the Commonwealth had no power to legislate in industrial matters but that it would ask the States to legislate for a reduction of the hours of labour in industry provided that the leading industrial nations adopted the same policy. If Australia were to introduce a 40-hour working week in industries whilst industries in other countries work 50 hours a week, as many are doing, it would unfairly handicap itself in the competition for international trade. I invite Senator Dein to explain why manufactured goods are only 4 per cent, of our total exports. The explanation is not that Australian workmen areless skilled or less intelligent than the workmen of any other country, but that in exporting secondary products Australia has to meet competition from countries with a much lower standard of living, due to lower wages and less favorable working conditions than obtain in this country.

Senator Gibson - Do the workers in other countries work the long hours demanded of our primary producers?

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - I am sure that it is unnecessary to remind Senator Dein that 96 per cent, of our overseas trade consists of primary pro- ducts and that we discharge our international obligations from the proceeds of their sale in the world's market where the competition determines the standard of living of those who are engaged in primary production in Australia. If that competition is intensified by a reduction of the working hours in industry the inevitable result will be a lowering of the standard of living for all workers in primary industries. Already those workers have to be content with a lower standard of living than that which is enjoyed by workers in secondary production. They have to work longer hours for lower wages and under less favorable conditions than obtain in secondary industries because their products are sold in the open market in competition with similar products from other countries where the same living standards are not observed. A reduction of the hours of labour in industry is desirable, but obviously it can be attained only by agreement through the International Labour office of the League of Nations. Already substantial progress in this direction is reported. Labour conventions have raised the standard of living in countries like Japan and China, have abolished child labour in certain industrial countries, regulated female labour in others, and effected a reduction of the hours of work in a number of industries. The best way to achieve the objective is to encourage international co-operation with a view to raising the living standards of workers in all countries and this, I repeat, may best be done through the International Labour Office.

Senator Arkins - Is there a difference between the standard in Australia and in other primary-producing countries?

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - I should like to see the difference which exists between Australia and other countries reduced. Why should Australian primary producers have to work for ten hours a day while those employed in the cities work for only seven hours a day? Hours of labour should be adjusted by international action.

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