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Friday, 13 June 1902

Sir WILLIAM LYNE (Hume) (Minister for Home Affairs) . - Before we adjourned for lunch, I rose to reply to some remarks which had been made by the honorable and learned member forIllawarra ; and I wish to' emphasize the fact that at the present moment there is not one member of the Opposition present. The honorable and learned member forIllawarra made statements which I think in his calmer moments he will see are absolutely devoid of fact. If he had known as much about the droughtstricken country as I unfortunately know- if he had known anything at all about the subject - he would not have made the remarks he did. It appeared to me very clearly this morning that the action taken by members of the Opposition was with a view to nothing else but having a fling at the Government. It is very easy to attempt to thrash the Government with any sort of stick ; and advantage of the position has been taken by, at any rate, a number of members of the Opposition to attempt to bring discredit upon Ministers. Many honorable members of the Opposition are, I know, earnest in the opinions they express, but the whole sum' and substance of the cry they raise is "Remit the duties." I hope to show that if a State wishes, in the interests of those who are suffering from drought, to do some real good, there are quicker and more effective methods than that of remitting the duties. In the first place, if honorable members refer to this morning's newspapers they will see that the statements which have been made in regard to the quantity of fodder available in New Zealand are contradicted. It is stated by a commercial authority that in one large centre of that country there is not available the quantity of fodder which has been estimated.

Mr Page - New Zealand is not the whole world.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I have gone through the mill, and have had more than one experience of drought. If some honorable members, who have most loudly condemned the Government, had my personal knowledge of such a calamity they might have some reason to express an opinion as to the best mode of alleviating the distress. But what honorable members have said regarding the present drought is not absolutely correct. I do not think that this is the worst drought we' have had in New South Wales.

Mr Page - It is the worst that we have had in Queensland.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - That may be ; but it is not the worst experienced in New South Wales.-

Mr Henry Willis - Does the honorable gentleman say that the picture is overdrawn ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The picture is overdrawn so far as regards the comparisons which have been made by honorable members. There was an occasion when the whole of the back country of New South

Wales was ruined by one year's drought - when scarcely any stock survived.

Mr HENRY Willis - That was 60 years ago.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Not so long ago as that, but it was some years since. Every one, whether in political or private life, must feel great regret and sorrow that this calamity has fallen on the community; and we all desire to do everything possible to alleviate the distress. But honorable members, and the people generally, must be reasonable and not expect impossibilities. If we were a State Parliament we should have only a particular State to consider, but the Commonwealth Parliament has to deal with the whole of Australia.

Mr Wilks - This trouble affects the whole df Australia.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The honorable member for Dalley was never in the back country and never experienced or saw a drought ; he speaks only from what he has read and not from what he knows.

Mr Wilks - I have not a ton and a half of chaff I want to get rid of.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Such a circumstance might influence the honorable member ; but my impression from his speeches is that he ha3 an immense quantity of " chaff" to get rid of. The Government of New South Wales have done something already to aid those in distress, though I cannot speak from personal knowledge of any action on the part of the Government of Queensland. In New South Wales the freight on fodder for starving stock, carried from Sydney to the interior, has been reduced to 2s. per ton, and I have suggested that it should be carried for nothing, not only from Sydney, but from any place where it can be obtained.

Mr Bamford - That is what the railways were really built for.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I do not mean to say that the Railway Commissioners should be debited with the whole of the loss thus incurred. It would be a simple matter for the State Government to make a book entry or transfer a credit account to the Railway Commissioners for the sum which would have been realized under the ordinary charges. In this wa)' the State only would be affected, and the balance-sheet of the Railway department would not suffer. I believe 300 or 400 tons of fodder per day are leaving Albury, and if the Government carried this free it would be a much quicker means of affording relief than would a remission of the duties.

Mr Thomson - The New South Wales Railway Commissioners are already carrying fodder at 2s. per ton.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Two shillings a ton freight is better than a duty of £1.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The honorable member must not misconstrue my remark. If fodder were carried free from Albury to Nyngan or to Bourke, that would be better for the consumer by 3s. a ton than if the whole of the duties were remitted, the ordinary freight on fodder being 33s. per ton as against the duty of 30s.

Mr Sawers - Why should the consumer not have the advantage of both ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - A usual characteristic of the honorable member for New. England is fairness, and he will acknowledge that the Government must be reasonable. The Government of New South Wales can deal with this difficulty much more easily, and with less complication than can the Federal Government. In my opinion, neither the Commonwealth Government nor the States Governments should remit the duties. The Attorney-General of New South Wales, in the course of a newspaper interview, said that if the Tariff Bill were now law, the duties could not be remitted in the way proposed, but that the spirit of the Constitution might, under the present circumstances, be infringed to that extent. That would be a most dangerous step to take.

Mr Fuller - Does the Minister representing the Prime Minister say that the States can remit duties ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The AttorneyGeneral of New South Wales expressed the opinion that I* have just stated, adding that the reason the spirit of the Constitution coil lcl be infringed was that there was no tribunal to which an appeal could be made - that because the High Court has not been constituted there can be an illegal act, and the spirit of the Constitution to that extent be nullified. But we ought to be in very great extremes before such a step is taken ; and every effort should be made by the States to deal with the question before appealing to the Federal Government.

Mr Thomson - To deal with it in what way ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The States could carry produce free, and also carry starving stock free, or at very Tow rates, as,

I believe, is now being done. In addition, the States have large sums of money which they could appropriate in various ways to meet the emergency.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then the honorable gentleman believes that the Federal Government should not do anything.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I shall not answer conundrums or catch questions. I know that the honorable member is only trying to do all the harm he can to myself and other representatives of New South Wales ; he does not know or care anything; about the starving stock.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is unworthy of the honorable gentleman.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The honorablemember will use every weapon he can to injure me and those in New South Wales connected with me. The honorable gentleman who last spoke said that as a rule I am ready to assist New South Wales, but that he doesnot think that I am so on this occasion. When he has done as much for that Stateras I have done, he may be justified in speaking in that strain, but not before. I have always done what I could for New South Wales, but now that the Commonwealth has been established, it is my duty to do what Ican for it, keeping in view, of course, the interests of New South Wales, as well as those of the other States. The honorable member for Parramatta stated that within five years the number of sheep depasturedin New South Wales has decreased from 65,000,000 to 25,000,000. It is, however,, at least ten years since as many as 65,000,000* sheep were being depastured there. Eight, years ago the State lost 20,000,000 sheep, and we have never had more than about 40,000,000 since. The loss of stock which has taken place there this year is not so large as that which has taken place in other years. Our great loss occurred two or three years ago. No doubt, large numbers of sheep are dying at the present time, and any Government would desire to prevent that. But how can we give special terms to one State in the union against the protests of the other States ? Are we to have no stability in our legislation?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why did not the Government say this before, instead of finessing with the matter for weeks ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - If a drought occurred in the Southern parts of the continent, would it be right to remit duties upon produce against the protests of the

Northern States ? Furthermore, the remission of these duties will not cheapen produce to the amount of one farthing. I made inquiries a short time ago as to the price at which oats could be obtained from New Zealand, and I was told by one of the largest importers of oats that the moment the price here went up to 3s. 4d., the duty would have no effect in keeping out New Zealand oats. Now the price has gone up to 3s. od. and 3s. 6d. There is not, however, a sufficient quantity of oats available in New Zealand to affect prices here. It has been said that the people of New South Wales as a whole are in favour of the remission of the duties. I did not know at first who are the men who have been moving in this connexion, but I know now that they are Mr. J. P. Gray and Mr. Myles McRae.

Mr FULLER - Nothing of the sort. The movement began with a public meeting at Camden.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Mr. McRae was in Melbourne yesterday, and he and Mr. Gray originated the whole movement. When I was leaving Sydney the other night, I was waited upon by people who wished to give me that information, and to tell me that the movement did not originate with the stock-owners of that State. The communications which I have received from New South Wales on this subject have been against the remission of the duty. The district of Lockhart, which has been sneeringly referred to," is perhaps the largest farming district in Australia. In that district there are stacks of wheat lying at every shed along the railway line, and the holders cannot get 4s. a bushel for it. Although they are prepared to put it upon the trucks at that price, they cannot sell it. I could by telegram purchase an immense quantity of wheat at one or two centres in that district for 4s. per bushel. I have known wheat to be 5s. per bushel, and I know that on one occasion a farmer on the New South Wales western railway, beyond Dubbo, sold the whole of a crop of wheat from an area of 10,000 acres at 4s. 9d. per bushel. That was only three or four years ago.

Mr Hughes - There was no duty upon wheat then.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - No. But there is a duty now, and the price is not so high as it was then. I have twice known wheat to be about 6d. per bushel dearer in New South Wales than it is to-day. Only the day before yesterday I received a letter from an acknowledged representative of the farmers in the Lockhart district protesting against the suggested remission of the duties. The farming area in which the district of Lockhart is situated extends from one end of New South Wales to the other, along the western slopes of the Dividing range.

Mr Sawers - There is no produce to sell in the northern districts.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The honorable member can 'buy as much as he likes in the district I speak of. The other day I saw immense stocks of wheat at the railway stations at Culcairn, Henty, Yerong Creek, and The Rock. Nearly every railway shed was full of bags of wheat.

Mr Henry Willis - The speculators bought up the wheat at 2s. 6d., and are now holding it. A great quantity is held by speculators at Wellington, New South Wales.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Those who hold wheat there cannot sell it for more than 4s. or more than 4s. 3d. per bushel, if it can be bought in other parts of the State at 4s. per bushel, delivered on the trucks. The best way in which relief can be given will be b}' reducing the railway freights. Wheat can be profitably imported from Canada, from the Argentine, and from other parts of the world at 4s. per bushel, notwithstanding the duty. I have known wheat imported from California to Sydney, and taken from there to Albury by train, to be sold at Albury for ls. lOd. per bushel. Wheat can be imported from almost any place at 4s. a bushel, and it will be imported if there is a demand for it.

Mr McDONALD (KENNEDY, QUEENSLAND) -paterson. - Some of those who hold stocks will keep them too long.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I hope that some of them may burn their fingers over the business. I am endeavouring to show that there is still a great deal of produce in the country. In the farming districts to which. I have referred they do not want to feed their stock, because the season has not been a bad one.

Mr Henry Willis - Do not the duties keep up prices 1

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Not when prices go beyond a certain amount. The duty upon wheat is about lOd. per bushel, and when prices rise to about 4s. per bushel that duty will not keep out importations. Unless a quantity sufficiently large to swamp the whole Australian market can be imported suddenly, prices will not be affected. Even if the duties were taken off to-morrow it would be three weeks or a month before a shipment of produce could reach here from South America. ' The most effectual relief can be given by the State Governments by further reducing railway freights.

Mr Thomson - The railway freight upon produce in New South Wales is now only 2s. per ton.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Yes ; but the State Government have only recently reduced the rates there, and, if I am correctly informed, the 2s. per ton rate will not take effect before Monday next. If they can reduce the freight to 2s. per ton, why can they not take it off altogether? That will do the people more good than the remission of the duties. We should be very careful about removing duties, because, by removing them, we may cause a great deal of unrest, and a considerable dislocation of trade. The farmers who have written to me upon the subject point out that the effect of the remission of the duties will really be to help the millers, who will take advantage of the opportunity to increase their stocks at the expense of the farmers. I hope that reasonable counsels will prevail in this matter. The Government cannot, in the face of the replies which have been received from the States, take any action. If each of the States, through its Premier, had agreed to the remission of the duties, and the people did not object, there might be some reason for the Government taking action in the matter, but, as the majority of the States are strongly opposed to it, I do not think it would be justifiable for us to do so. I regret very much that this is the position of the Government. I should like, if it were possible, to give relief, because I know from past experience how great the pinch is. I do not think, however, that the remission of the duties would give relief, because there is not a large quantity of produce available in New Zealand. The New Zealand stocks have been greatly drained by the South African demand, and Australian stocks are also shorter than usual, because of the quantity of produce which we have sent away to South Africa to fill orders. This being the state of things, where can we send for supplies ? We could send to Canada, to California, to the Argentine, and to Chili, but it would, I think, take at least five weeks to bring anything from there. After the orders had been telegraphed, the produce would have to be purchased, brought down to the ports, and put on board the ships, and then there would be the voyage across: Even then the prices would not be lower than they are to-day.

Mr Hughes - But the prices will no doubt increase within five weeks' time.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Perhaps so; but if the drought lasts for another five weeks it will not matter much whether prices go up or down.

Mr McDonald - The drought will probably last till January in Queensland.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I do not know about that. With the cold weather coming on, the poor stock, having no grass, will die in large numbers. All those that are going to die will probably perish . within the next five weeks.

Mr Fuller - That will be the fault of the Ministry.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - It is all very well to say it is our fault, but any action this Government could take would not have prevented that. Honorable members and the public generally know that what I say is correct.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No they do not; they know that the contrary is the case.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The honorable member does not know anything about the matter, because he Has never had any experience. I want honorable members to look at this matter from a reasonable stand-point, and not to ask the Government to do that which is constitutionally impossible. It is not altogether a bad thing for the community that wheat should be 4s. per bushel. It does not affect the price of flour to any extent, and, therefore, does not raise the price of bread to the consumer. I will not enter into the question whether the drought in the north is a good thing for the farmers in the south, because a subject of this kind ought not to be considered on that basis.

Mr McDonald - The man who sells considers it on that basis.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - And the man who buys very often injures the man who sells. Many farmers have been ruined because the consumers have been able to obtain their produce at prices which were far from profitable to the farmer. I am not suggesting that prices should be unreasonably high or low. I have shown that the prices of fodder, except, perhaps, lucerne hay, or the best classes of other kinds of hay, are not exceptionally high. Hay cannot be used for feeding stock which is far removed from the railways. It can be utilized only in the districts near the coast. In theIllawarra district the dairy farmers may use hay, because they have a railway line running right along the coast. But there is no drought in theIllawarra district, except by comparison with the good seasons which are usually experienced there.

Mr FULLER (ILLAWARRA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Over three months ago the dairy cattle were dying in the Picton and Camden districts.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I know that dairy cattle will not stand drought like sheep. Hay cannot be used for feeding sheep in the worst of the drought-stricken districts, because the cost of carriage from the railway stations is too high. The stockowners, therefore, have to fall back upon wheat, oats, or corn. The price of oats is not as high as it has been, but it is high enough to allow of importation from New Zealand. The price of wheat is not as high as I have known it to be on two previous occasions since I have been in New South Wales. I cannot speak about corn, because I do not know the prices for which it has been previously sold. The State Governments of New South Wales and Queensland could, and should, do all that is required to assist those who are suffering from the effects of the drought. They have no responsibilities to any of the other States, and they are free to act as they may think best in the interests of their own people. The honorable member for Yarra asked me a question with reference to the regrading of public servants in Victoria in order to place them upon the same footing as that occupied by officers performing similar work in other States. The Public Service Commissioner has for warded to me the papers relating to this matter, and I also have the opinion of the Attorney - General. I cannot give any detailed information just now, but honorable members will be advised very shortly of the course that is likely to be adopted. The Public Service Commissioner and the Attorney-General are in agreement as to the interpretation of the Act.

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