Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 29 May 1903

Mr FULLER (Illawarra) - The long programme submitted by the Government affords an opportunity for very wide discussion, but I do not propose to deal with the subjects mentioned in the GovernorGeneral's speech except in a general way. I shall defer any remarks I may have to make until the measures foreshadowed are brought before us. I welcome the proposed High Court Bill. I listened with very great attention to the eloquent speech delivered by the Attorney-General in connexion with the measure introduced last session. I have always advocated the appointment of a High Court, and, after hearing the Minister's speech, I was more than ever convinced that in the interests of the Commonwealth it was absolutely necessary that a High Court should be created. I have been astonished at some of the suggestions made regarding the vast amount of expense which will be entailed by the establishment of the proposed tribunal, and this is one of the matters on which I shall require the fullest information before I cast my vote. I arn not prepared to approve of any undue expenditure. I hope that in regard to the High Court Bill and other measures which are to be brought in the Government will not advance them to the second reading stage and then allow them to drift along in a haphazard way as was the case with a number of Bills last session. I trust that the Government will not resort to their previous practice of counting heads in order to ascertain the feeling of the House, but that they will act with that independence and resolution which should always characterize a dignified Administration. I desireto direct attention to one or two matters affecting the constituency which I represent. We have there one of the largest industrial centres in Australia, with fifteen or sixteen coal mines, numerous coke works, large harbor works, brick works, and other important industrial undertakings. 1 interested myself in attempting to secure telephonic communication between that district, which is 50 or 60 miles from Sydney, and the metropolis. Estimates were drawn up and other preparations made, and just when everything seemed complete I was asked to. provide £700 cash for five years as a guarantee to cover the working expenses of the line. So far as the Illawarra district is concerned, no doubt the money could be found, but why should the people be asked to furnish a guarantee for a public facility which should be provided for the benefit of the whole district ? My contention is that in the case of a great industrial centre with a settled population - not a moving population such as might -be temporarily located on a gold-field - the Postmaster-General should deal with an application for telephone communication as a matter of general policy, and should, if the circumstances appear to him to warrant it, carry out the work independently of any guarantee on the part of the people. In another case it was proposed to connect the Camden hospital with the residence of its medical officers, but in that instance also a guarantee had to be provided before the work was carried out. Surely, of all institutions, those which are provided by the people for the relief of human distress should receive the greatest consideration at the hands of the authorities. The principle upon which these and similar applications are dealt with at present appears to me to be absolutely wrong, and the sooner the present regulations are repealed the better it will be for all concerned. I have also to complain of the unaccountable delay in the expenditure of money voted in June last for carrying out work in connexion with the Postal department in my- district. In one case money was voted to provide a postal service for an important centre at which there are large smelting works employing upwards of 600 hands, but although twelve months have elapsed the plans and specifications for the work are not yet ready. In another instance £67 was voted for painting and repairs at a post-office, and although the premises are in a disgraceful condition, the plans and specifications for this work also are still incomplete. Judging from my own experience and from the criticisms passed by a number of honorable members, the administration of the Postal department is not being carried on with any approach to satisfaction. I do not wish to say anything of 'a personal character against the Postmaster-General or his under-secretary, Mr. Scott, but so far as I have been able to observe the magnificent postal facilities to which we have been accustomed in New South Wales are gradually being brought down to the level of the conveniences provided for the public of Queensland. The object should be not to level down in this way, but to improve in the highest possible degree the means provided for ministering to the public convenience. I desire to touch upon one matter in regard to which I put some questions to the Minister for Trade and Customs yesterday. I allude to the proposed enactment of uniform patents laws, to which reference was made in the GovernorGeneral's speech. Those who have had anything to do with the registration of patents in the various patents offices throughout the States, must be aware of the great difficulties under which inventors labour at the present time. In New South Wales it is notorious that the office is in a state of confusion and chaos, as a result of which the public are called upon to submit to great inconvenience. I am personally acquainted with many investors, who are anxiously awaiting the enactment of a federal patents law, so that, instead of having to register their patents in each of the States, they may take out one patent for the whole of the Commonwealth. The answer which the Minister for Trade and Customs - in whose department this matter is - gave to me yesterday, was that he had no power to interfere until a statute dealing with it had been passed. No doubt his statement is perfectly correct ; but ray idea is that, in the interim, a convention composed of men possessed of technical skill and knowledge should meet, with a view to placing the State patents offices in order. We all know that at the present time the transfer of patents from one person to another is a very expensive process. It resembles the style of the old land transfers to which the people of New South Wales were accustomed before the adoption of the Torrens title simplified the procedure necessary in such cases. Under existing circumstances, no layman can obtain a transfer of a patent without consulting the legal fraternity, against whom there is such a strong antipathy in this House. After all, it should be remembered that the majority of the inventors who take out patents belong to the poor or middle " classes of the community, and I think that the Minister for Trade and Customs would do well to consider the suggestion which I have made, in order that the process of transfer may be rendered as inexpensive as possible. The honorable member for Echuca, speaking as a representative of the farmers, objected to any large expenditure in connexion with the Federation. Amongst other matters, he declared that we should be careful not to incur any expenditure in' connexion with the establishment of the federal capital. But I would point out that in selecting the capital site we shall be merely carrying out the compact under which New South Wales was induced to join the union. That in itself is a reason why the work should be undertaken at the earliest possible moment. Last session, in common with the honorable member for North Sydney and the honorable member for Parramatta, I was anxious to ascertain something regarding the duties which the board of experts that has since been appointed to deal with the matter would be called upon to perform. At that time the report of Mr. Oliver was available, together with all the evidence taken by him, and I felt satisfied that no additional information of any value connected with the questions into which he inquired could be furnished by any commission. What has been the result? The members of the commission have travelled all over the country, collected a large amount of evidence upon the same lines as that submitted to Mr. Oliver, have ascertained the price of tomatoes in Albury, and acquired voluminous information of a similar character. I was sorry to hear from the Minister for Home Affairs yesterday, that the report of the commission would not be available till next month, although it was promised for the middle of April. These are some of the matters which tend to delay the carrying out of the compact made with New South Wales. The remarks of the honorable member for Echuca were only a' repetition of what has been said for months past by the daily newspapers of Melbourne. They object to the establishment of a federal capital on the ground of expense, and suggest that we should have a peripatetic capital alternating between Melbourne and Sydney. These suggestions are put forward only for the purpose of securing delay in the selection of the site.

Sir Edmund Barton - They will not delay it.

Mr FULLER - At any rate we cannot deal with the report of the commission until it has been received. That means a further delay of a couple of months. I should like, also, to refer to one matter connected with the Defence department. I. understand that the general officer commanding the forces of the Commonwealth proposes to dispense with the band which is connected with the regiment of lancers in New South Wales. That regiment is a most important part of the State military forces. It is a body the members of which have shown their loyalty to the British Empire perhaps more than any other force in Australia. They were the first colonial troops to land in South Africa, and to be sent to the front during the Boer war. Upon different occasions they have journeyed to England at their own expense to compete at military tournaments, and they also took, part in the celebrations connected with the Queen's Jubilee. The members of the band connected with the regiment are trained soldiers who go through an annual course of musketry. In other words, they are well qualified for active service. Although the head-quarters of the regiment are in Sydney, branches of it exist in a great many towns in New South Wales. There is one in the constituency of the honorable member for Parramatta, another in the electorate of the Prime Minister, and three in the district which I have the honour to represent. I understand that the officer commanding the regiment has called a public meeting in connexion with this matter, and that a petition has been sent to the Prime Minister with a view to securing provision- upon the Estimates to prevent the services of this band from being dispensed with.

Sir John Forrest - We are providing £150 a year.

Mr FULLER - I was not aware of that. I understood from the report of the public meeting which was held that no allowance had been made.

Sir John Forrest - The amount is not so large as it was.

Mr FULLER - Colonel Burns, the officer- commanding the regiment, as well as some of its members, have spent a considerable amount of money out of their own pockets in connexion with its maintenance, and therefore I think that they are entitled to considerate treatment. Knowing how strong are the. Imperial instincts of the Minister, I feel sure that after their services in South Africa, he will grant them every consideration. We have heard a good deal from various speakers throughout the Commonwealth, and notably the Prime Minister, as t6 the necessity of having what is called a " Tariff rest." The honorable member for Echuca was very strong on that point to-day, holding that in the interests of the country we ought to be satisfied with the Tariff as it now stands, and that there ought to be a cessation of fiscal discussion. The honorable member also expressed the opinion that if the leader of the Opposition re-opened the Tariff question, his chance of reaching the Treasury bench would be hopeless. I do not know whether the Treasury bench constitutes the great aim of the right honorable gentleman, but as for myself, I am fighting as, I believe, my leader is fighting, for a revenue Tariff in the best interests of Australia. The Prime Minister, speaking at Dungog, said that if the Tariff were swept away, and another substituted, the second would be more of a botch than the first, thus acknowledging' that the present Tariff is a botch.

Sir Edmund Barton - Perhaps the honorable and learned member was not present last night when I denied having called the present Tariff a botch. I did say something about the Opposition endeavouring to make it a botch, but nothing to the effect that it was a botch.

Mr FULLER - I was present in the

Chamber last night, but did not hear the explanation. My authority, however, is the report of ' the speech in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Sir Edmund Barton - I do not blame tlie newspapers for an error like that ; there are many errors which we cannot contradict.

Mr FULLER - The Prime Minister also said that it would be iniquitous to bring

About a period of unrest, and he appealed to the people to give the Tariff an opportunity of settling down. On the same occasion the Prime Minister asked why we should go through a period of unrest "to suit the people on the other side." But this is not' altogether a matter of " suiting the people on the other side." The question ought to be settled in the interests of the people of Australia. It is in those interests, and not merely for the advancement of personal aims, that honorable members on this side are fighting. At Maitland, on 27 th April, the Prime Minister said -

But whether Mr. Reid failed or succeeded to reopen this question it would lie an act of perfidy to the Commonwealth, because it would mean that for the sake of fads and theories and the desires 0 office they would get rid of that which ought to be tried under normal conditions.

It appears to me that the remark about " fads and theories " applies equally to the Ministerial side, seeing that they insist on maintaining the present Tariff in order to carry out their fad or theory of protection. After tlie Maitland manifesto of the Prime Minister, the people of New South Wales had no idea that such a Tariff as that laid before the House last session would be presented, and there is not the slightest doubt that as introduced the Tariff was a partisan measure.

Mr Bamford - New South Wales is not the whole Commonwealth.

Mr FULLER - That is so, but I have no doubt that the people of New South Wales will make their voice heard at the next election. Ministerial members, and the newspapers which support them, charge the Opposition with the responsibility of delaying much needed legislation by the prolonged discussion on the Tariff proposals.

Mr Kennedy - We do not blame the Opposition.

Mr FULLER - The honorable may not, but most Ministerial supporters do blame us. The same charge has been made against us by the Prime Minister.

Mr Thomson - The discussion on the Tariff occupied time equal to only 58 sitting days.

Mr Austin Chapman - The blame laid on the Opposition is severe, but it is merited.

Mr FULLER - That may be the honorable member's opinion, but I do not know whether he will consider that the present' Ministerial supporters will merit the result of the next election. The Prime Minister asked -

Whether under the struggle and strife they have had, they should again bc subject to similar strife and struggle for the mad purpose of pulling up the plant before they knew whether the roots had struck.

That is the very reason why we want the question fought out at the earliest possible moment. If the roots of protection do get struck in Australia, we shall hear the same old miserable cries about vested interests - the same cries which were heard in the lobbies throughout the Tariff discussion - and it is in order to avoid such a result that we want the matter decided by the people at the earliest possible moment. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro smiles, but I ask him whether there are no people in the Commonwealth deserving consideration except those interested iia manufactures? Has no regard to be paid to the miners, farmers, and others throughout the country districts, who are engaged in the great industries which have been the backbone of Australia from the very beginning Are these people not entitled to some consideration in connexion with a Tariff for all Australia? The honorable member for Gwydir, this afternoon, said that the agricultural duties produced only £17,000 at the port.of Sydney during the six months prior to last December. But the people of New South Wales and Queensland know what they have to pay in consequence of the present Tariff. It is not merely a question of the £17,000 paid at Sydney on the foreign produce imported ; -we have to consider the enhanced price which, as a result of the Tariff, the people of New South Wales and Queensland have to pay for the produce received from Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia.

Mr Bamford - It must be remembered that those duties always existed in Queensland.

Mr FULLER - But the New South Wales people have been accustomed to live in an air of freedom, and they desire to see the people of Australia breathing the same healthy atmosphere. It is no new thing for the Prime Minister to urge a Tariff rest, because as far back as 1894 the right honorable gentleman was engaged in talking in exactly the same way in relation to the Dibbs Tariff in New South Wales. In defence of that Tariff, the Prime Minister then said -

A drastic, alteration would unsettle every commercial and industrial interest, would unhinge all the operations which had begun under different arrangements, and in a time like this, where we are crossing the stream, we should not be asked to swap horses.

But the New South Wales people insisted on "swapping horses" when "crossing the stream." There was a general election which resulted in the Dibbs Tariff being swept away, and in the establishment of free-trade - or comparative free-trade at any rate - in the mother State, which then entered on a period of prosperity never enjoyed under protection.

Sir Edmund Barton - It would have been better if the people of New South Wales had taken my advice.

Mr FULLER - I believe that at the Commonwealth election the people will refuse to accept the Tariff rest which the Prime Minister offers. I feel satisfied that we shall have a revulsion of feeling from one end of the Commonwealth to the other, with the result that the people will again be able to breathe that air of freedom to which they had been accustomed. In regard to the naval agreement, I am one of those who desire to keep Australia for white people. The prominent way in which we have brought ourselves before the world in recent years, and the class of legislation which we have .been passing, imposes upon us the necessity of doing something to preserve our shores against attack. We have always lived under the flag of Old England. It has been our protection in the past, and I trust that it will always be so. The proposition made by the Prime Minister meets with my hearty approval. If we desire to keep Australia for white people; if we wish to be in a position to enforce our legislation, then we must place ourselves in as strong a position as possible to defend our shores. I entirely agree with that part of the GovernorGeneral's speech, and I sincerely trust that those measures which are in the interests of the people of Australia will be proceeded with as expeditiously as possible in this House.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Wilks) adjourned.

Suggest corrections