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Friday, 19 June 1903


Mr THOMSON (North Sydney) - In resuming this debate, I cannot let pass the opportunity of complimenting the Chairman of the Coinage Committee on the very full, able, and effective speech which he delivered last Friday in support of the recommendations of the committee. In some parts of it he rose even to eloquence, and a man who can be eloquent upon the subject of decimals could, I think, extract a poem from the differential calculus. I shall not do him the injustice of endeavouring to amplify the historical and practical treatment which he gave to the subject. The chief object of my remarks is to reply to the objections raised to the report by the Treasurer. The right honorable gentleman stated that he was afraid that the committee came to their finding, not so much on the evidence submitted to them, as under the influence of enthusiasm imparted by the chairman. Although there are differences of opinion in the evidence, and it is not as extensive as the efforts of the committee to obtain expressions of opinion from witnesses justified, the great majority of those examined testified to the value of a decimal system as compared with the presentsystem. The differences of opinion were more as to the kind of decimal system which should be adopted, and the time when it should be brought into operation. But the evidence published with the report by no means covers the whole of the information which we had before us. We were able to refer to the valuable reports based upon inquiries by committees of the House of Commons and commissions appointed by the British Government, and were able to read evidence given on the subject by men of the highest position in the commercial and financial world at home. We were guided in our recommendations by that evidence as well as by the evidence given before the committee, and concluded, as all but one of those committees and commissions did, that, not only would the decimal system of coinage be superior to our present system, but that it is desirable that it shall be brought into operation at the earliest convenient moment. The enthusiasm of the chairman could have had no effect upon the opinions of the members of the English boards of inquiry, and yet we find one of them declaring that-

In conclusion, your committee, having well weighed the comparative merits of the existing system of coinage and the decimal system, and the obstacles which must necessarily be met with in passing from one system to another--

And in Great Britain these obstacles are of the greatest magnitude as compared with those which we have to face here - desire to repeat their decided opinion of the superior advantages of the decimal system, and to record their conviction that the obstacles referred to are not of such a nature as to create any doubt of the expediency of introducing that system, so soon as the requisite appropriation shall have been made for the purpose, by means of cautious but decisive action on the part of the Government.

Subsequently to that recommendation being made, a resolution was carried in the House of Commons to the effect that the issue of two-shilling pieces had proved eminently successful and. satisfactory. That was the first step towards decimalization, but a second resolution was carried without opposition, affirming that a further extension of the system would be of public advantage. It is quite true that the latest British Committee, while acknowledging the value of the decimal system as compared with the present system, did not, on the ground of expediency, advocate its being brought into operation. The Treasurer will find, as I have already stated, that in the evidence brought before the Commonwealth Committee, most of the differences of opinion expressed are not as to the value of the decimal system, but as to the kind of decimal system which should be adopted, and as to the time when it should be brought into operation. It was the committee's business, seeing that there were those differences of opinion, to come to a conclusion, upon the evidence given before them, and upon the other sources of information available to them, both as to which would be the best decimal system to adopt, and as to when would be a desirable time to bring it into operation. That they have done. The quotations which the Treasurer made from the evidence of various witnesses, giving opinions differing from the recommendations of the committee, express chiefly differences of opinion upon matters of detail coming under those two heads. But it must be remembered that we in Australia are in an infinitely better position than are the people of Great Britain to introduce a system of this kind. Our population is small as compared with that of Great Britain, and our trading relations are infinitely less. I am perfectly certain, from the reports which I have read, that the people of Great Britain regard it as a great pity that advantage was not taken of the opportunity to introduce the decimal system at an earlier stage in the history of the nation, when their population was nearer the level of our own, when their trade was smaller, and when the consequent disturbance of business would have been less. But we cannot, by postponing this alteration, put the question altogether aside, and we must remember that the difficulties in the way of any alteration will not decrease. As our population grows, and our interchange of commodities with other countries increases, the difficulties will increase. I. am therefore satisfied that it would be the truest wisdom not to postpone matters, but to face the question at once. I can quite understand that the Treasurer, in looking through the report, was seeking the line of least resistance, and he must have chuckled when he discovered the opportunity which was given to him by the evidence of several of the witnesses in favour of the postponement of any action on our part until something is done in respect to the matter by Great Britain. The committee were of opinion that if there was any likelihood of Great Britain taking action in the near future, it would be wise to defer moving in the matter here; but inquiries made from the Secretary of State for the Colonies elicited the reply that the difficulties in England were too great to allow of the proposed reform being considered at present. The committee then had to consider whether, in view of this, we should postpone the improvement of our system until a uniform change could be made throughout the Empire. We had every indication of the direction in which Great Britain would go when she did decide to decimalize her coinage, and we- felt that we could proceed on these lines, and that a change could be effected now with far less disturbance than in the future. The Treasurer raised a number of objections to the decimalization of our coinage. First of all he said that the people had not asked for it, and that therefore it was not the duty of the Government to undertake it. I think that the right honorable gentleman forgot one of the functions of government. Have not Governments very properly introduced many measures "for which the people have not asked 1 Have they not frequently taken action which has been repugnant, for a time at least, to the great majority of the people? Did the people ever ask for the change that was made in the Calendar ? Did they npt object to the change, and clamour for the days which they supposed they had lost? Did the people of Australia ever ask that the standard time should be made .uniform in certain of the States ? That reform was never asked for, but it was effected because it was thought that it would be of advantage to the people. Did the people ever ask for a great deal of our sanitary legislation1! Did they not sometimes offer to it a passive, if not an active, resistance ? Was vaccination ever approved of by the bulk of the people before it was adopted ? No. It was urged by a few who had studied the question that it was a desirable thing, and the Government thought the matter so important that they determined to introduce it for the good of the people, even in the face of strong objection. The Government has something more to do than merely to carry out the expressed will of the people. I can understand a Government not wishing to do more than that, because so long as it is content with that it may rest assured of a majority, and as long as it has a majority it can live. But it is required of Government that it should introduce any change which it considers to be for the general advantage, even though a large number of the people may not appreciate it. The Treasurer objected .to the decimalization of coinage because of the practical difficulties which he said no nation had ever faced, except, in order to replace a mixed and debased currency. But some nations with no more mixed or debased standards than out- own have undertaken to effect changes. The French Government faced the decimalization of its weights and measures when their system was no more diverse and no more objectionable than is ours. Further than that, if the mixed and debased character of the coinage compelled some nations to effect a reform, it has to be remembered that the intrusion of foreign money which led to the mixing and debasing of the coinage increased the difficulty attendant upon the adoption of a new system. When the people still had access to the coinage which had prevously debased their system, it could not be expected that the decimalization of the national coinage would take effect quickly and thoroughly. It might be fully relied upon that for years afterwards the mixed coinage would continue in use, and that the difficulties of effecting the change would be increased thereby. Yet in spite of this knowledge the French Government faced the task, and accomplished a very desirable" reform. Australia is so situated that she is not tempted to use coinage other than her own. She is an Island State, cut off from other parts of the world, and so long as we can get a good coinage for ourselves we are not tempted to use outside money. This very fact should operate in favour of simplicity in making the change here. The reform could be brought about promptly and effectively, and we should not have to wait for years in order to completely shut out intruding coins. We should remember that, as compared with older countries, the superior education of our people, and their aptitude and alertness, offers security for their ability to adapt themselves to a system of decimal coinage with very little disturbance. They have been able to carry on their affairs with some of the most debased standards that were ever adopted by any nation. In the early days of New South Wales rum was the standard of currency, and under that extraordinary system the people managed to live and conduct their business. You will find so many gallons of rum mentioned in the title deeds of property in Sydney, as the consideration which passed upon their transfer. The chaplain and other officers of a British regiment in New South Wales actually received their salaries in the form of certificates for rum. I do not mean to say that they actually consumed the rum, but the certificates for rum were the money standard of the time, and the values of other articles were reckoned -upon them. It was the medium of exchange. At another period, Mexican, Spanish, or Eastern dollars were the standard of currency, and for convenience the dollars were cut into chunks to represent smaller coins. Even under this system the people managed to appreciate values and conduct their interchanges. Then we know that in some parts of Australia, hides, sheep, or bushels of corn, have at different times been the standard of exchange amongst the people. Now we have the British coinage, which is undoubtedly a good example of the mixed duodecimal system. Just as the people managed under the rough and ready methods I have described to conduct their affairs with satisfaction to themselves, so have they been able to adapt themselves to our present coinage, and to be satisfied with it. That, however, does not establish the fact that there is no better system than the British. I am supported by the strongest evidence when I declare that the decimal system is superior to our own. It is in this direction that the countries of the world are moving to-day, and it is also in this direction that Great Britain will in the future, more or less remote, have to move. The Treasurer considered that it would be necessary to run two systems concurrently, owing to the inability of the people to adapt themselves to the decimal system. He thinks that the old would stand side by side with the new. I have already referred to the readiness of our people to adapt themselves to new circumstances, and I am confident that there would be no necessity for running concurrent systems. Many of our people move into countries where the decimal system of coinage is established, such as the United States and Canada, and within one week are quite as well able to conduct their affairs in decimal coinage as under the English system to which they have been previously accustomed. The decimal system is more simple than our own, and the relative values of the coins can soon be understood and appreciated by even the least educated of men. The Treasurer has stated that he has nothing to say against the excellencies of the decimal system, to which he is himself favorably disposed, but he has discounted that statement by saying that, after all, it has" evident disadvantages. He quoted some remarks of witnesses to the effect that suitability for calculation did not necessarily mean suitability for payment. ' I quite admit that ; but the Treasurer did not go on to prove the unsuitability of the decimal system for payment. I propose to show him by figures that, upon this point, the system proposed by the committee is, if anything, superior to that now in existence. For instance, if, under the present system, 3'ou take the number of coins necessary to make up every sum from one farthing to sixpence - that is, one farthing, one halfpenny, three-farthings, one penny, and so so - you will find that you can make 24 different amounts, and that you will require 61 coins to do so. Now, under the proposed system, ' between 1 cent and 25 cents - 25 cents being equal to our sixpence: - you can make, not 24, but 25 separate payments, and you can make them with 60 coins, or one coin less. If you take from 6£d. to ls. under the present system there would be 24 separate sums,' and it would take S4 coins to make them up, whereas under the proposed system there would be 25 separate sums, and to make them up would require 85 coins, or one coin more. Under the present system, between ls. 0\A. and 2s., which is equivalent to 100 cents, 48 sums can be made up, and to make them up 192 coins would be required, whereas under the proposed system there would be 50 separate sums, to make up which 194 coins would be required, or two coins more. What is the total of these 1 If you take from £d. to 2s. - which latter is the unit of the proposed system - under the present system 96 separate sums could be made up, and it would take 337 coins to do that, whilst under the proposed system you could make up 100 separate sums, and to do so would require 339 coins, or two coins more.


Mr McCay - Has the honorable member worked out any calculation based upon the substitution of the halfpenny for the farthing, because a farthing is rather an academic basis to adopt 1


Mr THOMSON - I will allude to that matter presently, and show the effect of dropping the cent as we now drop the farthing. Had my calculation been made in that- way, it would -have told more against the present system. The figures which I have given show that you can make up four more sums under the new system than under the present system of currency, and that you require only two additional coins to do it, so that you get a greater subdivision with practically the same number of coins. The report of the committee states that if it is deemed desirable to do so, the 1-cent piece can be omitted. It follows then that we should have to coin a 3-cent piece to allow of the making up of certain sums. That would be a desirable addition to the coinage if we omitted the 1-cent piece. By omitting the farthing, as we do at present, from our issue, we could not make up odd farthings or three farthings ; and we should reduce the sums that we could make up by almost a half. But under the proposed system by dropping the cent, and substituting a 3-cent piece-


Mr McCay - If you have a 3-cent piece you ought also to calculate upon a 3-far- thing piece.


Mr THOMSON - I am quite content to go to any length that the honorable and learned member may wish, so satisfied am I of the superiority of the decimal system. But if you have the 3-cent piece you can make up all the 100 separate sums between that coin and 2s. except one. I admit that if you issue a 3-far- thing piece, you could do likewise as regards the 96 possible sums. But even in that case there is no superiority in our present system. Not merely therefore as a method of calculation are the decimals infinitely superior, but as a means of exchange or of purchase they provide fully all the facilities provided by our present system.


Mr McCay - Has the honorable member considered the question in its relation to our present system of weights and measures ?


Mr THOMSON - That is rather a separate subject, but I admit at once that the decimalization of weights and measures - if that is what the honorable and learned member means - would provide even very much greater facilities for interchange than the decimal system of coinage. The coinage is only one item in the decimalization of weights, measures, and values, and although our system of weights and measures is duodecimal and mixed - just as our coinage is duodecimal and mixed - that does not give us any facilities for calculating, whilst decimal money can be used as a means of calculation with the present mixed and chaotic system of weights and measures far more effectively than with our present system of coinage.


Mr McCay - I was referring to the disadvantage of adopting the decimal coinage system without the decimalization of the metric system.


Mr THOMSON - I will, allude to that matter later on. The Treasurer got hold of a piece of evidence by some witness who said that pounds, shillings, and pence are easily added up. It is true that they are just as easily added as are decimals, but you must effect a division at every column besides doing the addition. Even if the single columns are as easily added as are the decimals, does the Treasurer say that you can divide and multiply with anything like the ease that you can under the decimal system? There is no comparison between the two methods. You have to perform divisions even in the addition of pounds, shillings, and pence. In attempting to multiply pounds, shillings, pence, and farthings, there is an enormous risk of inaccuracy occurring under the present system, as compared with the simplicity of similar operations under the decimal system. Then the Treasurer stated that you cannot express one-seventh in decimals except in recurring fractions, which go on through all eternity. I should not like to provide as an occupation for the Treasurer's eternity in the working out of recurring decimals. As a matter of fact, there is no practical occasion to carry out recurrent decimals to any length. Under our present system of coinage, you cannot express one-seventh of a shilling, and whilst it is true that under the decimal system you cannot express one-seventh in figures without using the recurring decimal, in ordinary calculations there is no need to carry out those decimals to more than two places. In minute calculation the recurrence of the decimal enables you to carry it on till you get practical accuracy, no matter how fine the calculation may be.


Mr McCay - We can get absolute accuracy with a vulgar fraction.


Mr THOMSON - Yes, because in practice we use less subdivision, but if we want to get absolute fineness we must favour the use of the decimal. Even the authorities at the Mint stated that they work out all their calculations by decimals, and subsequently convert those decimals into the present currency.


Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Insurance offices do the same thing.


Mr THOMSON - Yes, and banks also; they have discovered the superiority of the system.


Mr McCay - Its. superior simplicity, but not its superior accuracy.


Mr THOMSON - The " honorable and learned member is right and wrong in that statement. One can go to the length of a ten-millionth part under the decimal system if he chooses to do so. Surely that is accurate enough for most things. It is true that he can make use of a vulgar fraction by putting the figure 1 above 10,000,000, but by so doing he is really making use of the decimal notation. In simple fractions, we jump from ^ to Let honorable members look at the range between these two sums. In a simple fraction these sums are nearest to each other, because 2 follows 3 in our notation. Between these two ranges we can express in decimals sixteen or seventeen different subdivisions. Of course, we could get much nearer than that if we compounded the fractions. We could have 4-9ths for example, and so on. But what does that mean'! That we have then to multiply and divide. We have to enter into two calculations and that is a complication we would avoid under the decimal system, whilst under that system we can get a finer subdivision more easily than can be obtained by the use of vulgar fractions.


Mr McCay - The honorable member is referring to calculations only, and not to payments.


Mr THOMSON - I have given instances as to payments. I have 'shown that in all the payments which can be made up to 2s., we require under the present system - by the use of which we can make up only 96 separate sums - 337 coins, whereas under the decimal system - by the use of which we can make up 100 separate sums, or four extra sums - we require only 339 coins, or two coins more. Then the Treasurer objected that the adoption of the decimal system by Australia before its adoption by Great Britain would cause great difficulty in transforming British money into our money. I do not know how the Treasurer arrives at that conclusion. I am not by any means a lightning calculator, but I would undertake to transform without pen or pencil any sum of English money into the new decimal coinage.


Sir George Turner - But the honorable member, unlike the ordinary man in the street, has the experience and education necessary to enable him to do what he says, but the great mass of the people are not in that position. I have been practising myself, and it took me some time to effect the transformation. I like the old style better.


Mr THOMSON - The objection is only imaginary, as is shown by the fact that the Treasurer admits that there is no difficulty about the calculation.


Sir George Turner - I do not say there is no difficulty. My trouble is that I generally get the decimal point in the wrong place.


Mr THOMSON - A little practice would soon cause that difficulty to disappear. At any rate, the system of transforming the coinage is so simple that the Treasurer, or any other honorable member, can apply it without pen or pencil. It merely means that ten has to be added to the number of pounds, and the shillings divided by two, in order to get the number of florins ; then there is something less than two shillings remaining, which, when reduced to farthings, gives you the 24th. In that way the transformation is effected easily and instantly. As to the "man in the street," surely our educational system is accomplishing something. I guarantee that some of the boys in our public schools could do the calculation much more rapidly and effectively than the Treasurer or myself. The point, however; is that the "ordinary man in the street" is not called upon to transform the coinage ; it is only those who have to deal with exchanges who have to do it, and it can be done with the utmost simplicity. All the " ordinary man in the street" has to do is to make himself acquainted with the new coins, the whole of which are the same as the old coins excepting those below sixpence. The coins below sixpence, excepting the two and two-fifths coin are so close, being within 4 per cent. of the penny, halfpenny, or farthing, that "the man in the street" will not find any practical difficulty. Even as to systems which vary more from our own system, because they do not contain the coins above sixpence - such as the system of the United States or the Canadian system - there is no difficulty to an Australian in arriving at a full appreciation of the relative value of the coins within a week after landing in the countries where they prevail.


Mr O'Malley - Within an hour.


Mr THOMSON - The evidence which the committee had from witnesses who had been brought up under the British system and had latterly lived under the decimal system, was the strongest in favour of the latter, each witness declaring that he would not dream of desiring to return to our mixed coinage. Another objection raised by the Treasurer was that the threepenny bit would disappear - that this measure of our religion and our charity would not be available, to the injury, possibly, of religion and charity. It might be desirable, from that point of view, to have no silver coin under sixpence ; but I point out to the Treasurer that the threepenny bit, if it is of such importance and value, need not disappear. It could be minted as a coin of convenience, in the same way as is proposed in regard to many of the other coins under the decimal system. We might coin a 12½ cent. piece, or, if the Treasurer wishes to abolish the half, a 12 cent. piece, which would practically take the place of the threepenny piece. I do not think there is much in the objection raised on this score by the Treasurer, but, if there were, I have indicated a means of getting over the difficulty. The Treasurer seemed to favour the American dollar and the retention of our penny, though I do not know whether he has given much attention to the point.


Sir George Turner - I did not say I was in favour of that course being followed, but suggested that it would prove the simplier, seeing that we cannot get rid of our sovereign.


Mr THOMSON - The Treasurer did not say absolutely that he was in favour of the American dollar and the retention of our penny, but he seemed inclined to regard such a step with approval. The Select Committee went very closely into this matter. Amongst some of the members of the committee there was a predilection in favour of the American dollar, but it was found that the British sovereign is too closely interwoven with the affairs of the United Kingdom - that it is the coin of our records and our statistics - and that, even in countries beyond the British Isles, it has become an important standard of value. That being so, the committee arrived at the conclusion that, unless there was the strongest possible reasons, it would be unwise to depart from the sovereign as a standard, especially when we may anticipate that the direction which a decimalization of the coinage would take in Great Britain would probably be that indicated very emphatically by the reports of all the select committees which have considered the question there, and also by the coinage of the two-shilling piece, avowedly as a first move towards a reform such as is now submitted for the approval of the House. These facts became so evident, and the disturbance of the coinage would be so much less when the1s., which has a very strong position, and the 6d. are retained, as also are the 10s. piece and the£1, that the select committee were first forced to the conclusion that the better course was to adopt the British sovereign as a basis. I believe that if the American coinage had to be constructed to-day, there would be a smaller unit than the dollar, which, as a coin of convenience, is too large to be suitable. In Canada, where the dollar is adopted nominally, that coin is actually never minted, but only the half-dollar, which is about equivalent to the two-shilling piece. It is most desirable that a unit of coinage should be one that will go into circulation. Then there is a great probability that some other countries adopting the decimal system will recognise the supremacy of the British sovereign, and make it the standard of value. We have been told by the honorable member for South Sydney that in Peru and Ecuador, of which the select committee knew nothing at the time their report was issued, the British sovereign has been adopted as the standard and reorganized as currency. That is evidence of the trend of future decimalization, and of the strength of the position that the British sovereign has acquired, partly by its size, weight, and suitability as a coin, but, more than all, by its containing a full 20s. worth of gold without any deduction for minting charges.


Mr O'Malley - The sovereign is still used in Canada.


Mr THOMSON - That is so. Canada was really compelled to adopt the American system, because there not being, as here, a sea-border, the intrusion of the American coinage could not be prevented. Had Canada not adopted the American system, there would for all time have been a mixed coinage in the Dominion, because it would have been impossible to prevent an influx of coins from over her border. That was the adoption of a coinage system by compulsion of circumstances. We have to face the further fact that there have been attempts to establish an international coinage, which would be of immense advantage to the peoples of the world. Coinage reform, such as I have indicated, would reduce the dead-weight which is felt by producers and consumers in the interchange and handling of products, although people in their ordinary daily avocations may not know of the disadvantages which they at present suffer. A reformed coinage would, as regards account, reduce the labour in the handling of products and the distribution of supplies, and therefore decimalization and unification of the world's coinage is not merely a sentimental but a practical proposal, which, if accomplished, would, or ought to, do much for the peoples of the world, whether producers or consumers. The trend of a world's coinage will, the committee think, be towards the adoption of a unit between the American dollar, with its clumsiness and difficulty in handling and circulation, and the smaller units of Europe, such as the franc and mark. The circumstances and conditions of the European peoples are gradually becoming more uniform. At one time only the very small coins were used by a great number of people on the continent ; but as wages rise, these very small coins are being displaced. Under the circumstances the select committee consider that the two-shilling piece would form a compromise between the two great systems of the world at the present time, and that a movement for a world's coinage would probably be in that direction. Then there is the question of Great Britain being allowed to act first, and of decimalization of the weights and measures ever preceding, or taking place concurrently with the adoption of the decimal system.. The difficulties in the way of Great Britain Acting are much greater than those we have to face here, and whilst I believe that circumstances will force Great Britain not perhaps into the adoption of a decimal coinage, but into the adoption of a decimal system of weights and measures, and that it must then accompany the adoption of that system with a decimalization of the coinage, I see no reason why, with the uncertainty as to the time when it will act, we should not move in the direction in which it is sure to move, and on the lines which, so far as we can possibly see, it is likely to adopt.


Mr Watson - Is it worth our while to make a disturbance in regard to the coinage without the compensations which come from the adoption of the metric system of weights and measures ?


Mr THOMSON - I agree with the honorable member this far : that the most important thing is the decimalization of the weights and measures ; but we cannot move in that direction very well without Great Britain, for the reason that it does not merely affect the weights of our potatoes, corn, and so on, as those we can ourselves decimalize to some extent. If we adopt a decimal system of coinage without Great Britain we ought to adopt the cental instead of the bushel.


Mr Watson - We have done that in the Customs Tariff Act.


Mr THOMSON - Yes. If we did that it would be a great assistance when we had the decimal system of coinage. The two would interwork, "and much of the calculation,would be simply done by shifting a dot backwards and forwards. We can do that much, and we ought to do it ; it is of such importance that the sooner it is done the better. But the metric system of measurements will extend far beyond such questions as that. Great Britain to-day is, in my opinion, losing millions per year, and her workpeople are losing a great amount of work, owing to the non-adoption of the metric system. Her gauges, templates, moulds, patterns, screws, machines, are all different from those of the nations that have the metric system. The number of the peoples who have adopted the metric system is increasing from year to year.


Mr Watson - And a large proportion of the consumers of Great Britain's products use the metric system!


Mr THOMSON - Yes. Once a country that Great Britain supplies, or has been supplying largely, introduces machinery founded on metric measurements or screws, or a variety of articles in the making of which you require very exact measurements, the chance of Great Britain competing for those things in that market is gone. They become the standards, as they have a right to do, because they are more suitable and more easily worked. For instance, take the erection of a milling plant for any purpose. The speeds and powers are calculated with the greatest ease when all the parts have been gauged to a decimal system of measurement. All that calculation, which is a very difficult thing with our system, is simplified so much that any one having the parts of a machine on that system once, will not have British parts. Those parts cannot be replaced or repaired, except by parts based on a similar measurement. Therefore the users have to go to the producers who work under the metric system. It will be asked, Why does not Great Britain adopt both systems ? It is because of the enormous expense of the machinery. It would cost England millions upon millions to change her system of weights and measures, because of the expense of altering the immense machines they have turning out certain gauges to machines that would turn out other gauges.


Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It will cost her more if she does not.


Mr THOMSON - Yes; it is costing her more now if you take the loss per annum. That fact must begin to impress itself upon the people of Great Britain. Of course British people are conservative. Very often they have an admiration for old things because they are old, and they do not like facing, as the Americans are prepared to face, a destruction of valuable and very effective plants for other plants, in order to clear out their great works and put in other machinery to produce articles under a new system. That feeling, I believe, will go. The only question is, when will it go 1 When it does go, I believe there will be a decimalization of British weights, measures, and money, and from the reports of the British committees and the evidence afforded by the adoption of the florin and the position of the sovereign I have not the slightest doubt that the decimal system which we propose now must ultimately be accepted by Great Britain.


Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Every Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain has declared in favour of the system.


Mr THOMSON - Yes ; the declarations of British Chambers of Commerce have been in favour of its adoption. In that connexion I desire to point out a fact to the Treasurer. We took every step to get evidence that was possible. We sent out a schedule of very embracing questions to the Chambers of Commerce, and to many other institutions, such as the stock exchanges and trades-halls in the different States.


Mr Bamford - That is where you would get reliable information.


Mr THOMSON - We did not get much reliable information, because we did not get any practically from trades-halls. We sent out a schedule to parties who might be expected to regard this subject from different points of view. We got very little information in return, and the great strength of our report lies in the evidence which we had available in the statements made before British commissions and committees by some of the most able men on such questions in the Empire. A great many of those to whom we applied are quite well acquainted with the decimal system and conduct a large part of their operations under it, and is it not clear that there is no opposition or objection to its introduction, otherwise there would have been a very active effort to bring opposing evidence before the committee 1 Most persons seemed to entertain this feeling - "Well, we can work along as we are. We are accustomed to the present system ; we have our staffs and so on. We admit that there would be some saving with the new system, and whilst we shall not oppose its adoption, we shall not bother ourselves about working in that direction." That is pretty well the situation as evidenced by the results of our very wide-spread efforts to obtain witnesses. Another objection which the Treasurer had to this proposal was the abandonment of the penny and half-penny. We do not propose to abandon those coins. We only propose to vary their value to the extent of 4 per cent. The same coins would do as tokens ; they are not intrinsically worth anything like a penny or a half -penny. We were faced with this difficulty, that if we adopted the 2s. unit we had to make the penny token either a coin worth lid., or a coin worth 4 per cent, less than Id. We did not consider, that in the interests of the public, it was right to give . the penny token the value of lid. Of course, in the matter of wages, it could make no difference,' because they could be calculated to an exactitude under the decimal system by cents. But in services or articles purchased for a penny or half-penny there must be one of two things done. In a great many cases the quantity of the article, or the extent of the service could be varied to suit, if need be, that difference of 4 per cent.


Mr Mauger - How would the newspapers manage ? They would knock off a column.


Mr THOMSON - My honorable friend as a member of the committee knows that we discussed that question.


Sir George Turner - One witness suggested that they should take one column off.


Mr THOMSON - They could do it in that way if they wished, but I do not think that they would be so wanting in enterprise as to do that. There are a few cases such as postage stamps, newspapers, and so on, where the quantity of the article or character of the service practically could not be varied.


Mr Watson - Probably the newspapers would charge five cents.


Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No; the whole history of newspapers and postage stamps is in the direction of cheapening the price.


Mr THOMSON - What the newspapers would do - because some of them would be enterprising enough to do it, if all did not wish to do so - would be to charge the coin which would be equivalent to the present penny, and put up with the loss of 4 per cent. I do not think that eventually it would be a loss even to them.


Mr Mauger - They -would not do it without a struggle.


Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - They do not make their profits out of the sale of the paper.


Mr THOMSON - They reduced the price of the paper, first from 3d. to 2d., and then from 2d. to Id. I am certain that ' there is not going to be a retrograde increase of prices. Then we come to the question of stamps. This system provides a fuller subdivision than the old system does. We can issue a 4-cent stamp, a 5-cent stamp, and a 6-cent stamp. It might be that by issuing a stamp at 96-lOOd., or 4 per cent, less than a penny, there would be a loss of 4 percent., but the people individually would benefit to the same extent that the revenue loses. But with the increase of the postal business, any loss so occasioned would soon disappear. With reference to the Customs Tariff, the question has been raised as to the effect of the proposed change upon penny and halfpenny duties. They could be adjusted so that the returns from the Tariff would be exactly the same as they are now. Some duties could be reduced to four cents, or three cents, others increased to five cents, and so on. There would be in the total no loss whatever. There would simply be an adjustment. I think I have answered the objections of the Treasurer as well as I am able, and I will now briefly refer to the findings of the committee so far as I have not touched them. They are practically these : We recommend the adoption of a decimal coinage, and suggest a certain system. Then we recommend that the adoption should be an early one, and should precede action by Great Britain or with respect to the metric system of weights and measures.


Sir George Turner - The honorable member would not allow the old and the new systems to run together, surely 1


Mr THOMSON - If we adopted the decimal system, we should remove the existing coins as early as possible. We could not do it in a day, but within a reasonable period those Coins should be withdrawn. The Treasurer agrees with the proposals of the committee with regard to coining silver and copper, as he finds that there would be an advantage from adopting them. Of course, there would have to be a mint mark upon our coins to distinguish them. It would be desirable in that case to, as early as possible, have the present British minted coins withdrawn.


Mr Bamford - Except the sovereign.


Mr THOMSON - I am only alluding to silver and copper coins. The committee also recommend that we should not coin our own gold so long as we use the British sovereign. There is really no profit attaching to the coinage of gold. The British Government are very particular, even though they lose by the coinage of sovereigns, in requiring that they shall be able to guarantee their soundness and value by conducting the coinage under their own officers. There would be some profit by having one mint instead of three - that is to say, there would be a profit by removing our mints to the Federal capital ; but, on the other hand, the facilities afforded to the miners for the disposal of their gold would be diminished. They would have to pay the cost of carriage, and if the mint were in the Federal capital, a considerable amount of gold produced in Australia would be sent to England instead of being coined here.


Mr Watson - The miners would be at the mercy of the gold buyers.


Mr THOMSON - We should seek to give the gold buyers additional advantages. I do not think it would be wise to remove the existing mints. As to the coinage of our own silver and copper, the Treasurer, as he has told us, was, previous to the appointment of the committee, and is now, in strong agreement with our finding, that to establish a mint for this purpose would be undesirable. The amount of silver ' and copper coinage we require would not pay for the expenditure. We can get our silver and copper coinage from the Imperial mint, as Canada does, paying a slight percentage for the actual oversight. That percentage would not be anything like so great as our expenditure would be if we attempted to coin our own silver and copper. . I need not dwell upon that point, except to say that the Treasurer practically agrees with the committee with ^regard to it.


Mr Bamford - Would not the coining of our own silver apply in the same way to the silver miner as the coining of our gold does to the gold miner ?


Mr THOMSON - It would apply to a much smaller extent, because the quantity of silver which we produce in Australia is large as compared with the very small quantity we require as coinage. We coin sovereigns not only for our own needs - not even principally for our own needs - but much more largely for the needs of other portions of the world. A very large quantity of the gold which is coined here goes out of Australia, and is afterwards simply melted down into metal. The small quantity of silver we should require to coin for our own needs would have no influence whatever upon the value received by the mining companies for the silver they produce.


Mr Watson - There is more gold than silver secured by individual miners in Australia.


Mr THOMSON - Oh, yes; silver mining is principally conducted by large companies which can make their own arrangements in other parts of the world, and thereare not the intermediate parties between the silver producer and the coining that there are in the case of gold production.I think it unnecessary to state further reasons than I have done for the superiority of the decimal system recommended by the committee. The difference can be shown in a word. If honorable members were to attempt to find out how many twelfths of a foot there were in the table of this House, and had to do it with a rule which was measured to tenths of an inch, they would have a parallel to the difficulties which prevail under our present system. Under our system you are trying, by a notation which is in tenths, to calculate in a system of coinage which is in twentieths and twelfths and other relations. The proper course is to adopt asystem of monetary notation the principle of which is progression by tenths. The advantage of so doing is manifest. As to the saving in our schools, I do not think, personally, that there would be a large saving simply by the adoption of decimal coinage ; but the saving would be enormous by the adoption of decimal weights and measures as well as decimal coinage. It would be an enormous saving of labour to the children. They would get that grasp of arithmetic which at present, even after they have gone through our schools, and have earned high positions in their arithmetical classes, they lack. They do not understand what is the foundation of the system, or the notation of the system, and they cannot see a co-relation between the arithmetical notation and our existing notations of coinage and weights and measures. Indeed, there is no co-relation. If the children had the opportunity of learning a system of weights and measures and of values founded upon the same basis as the notation of arithmetic, they would at once see the whole principle, and would be saved the labour of having to learn all the relations of weights and measures and values that they do now, some of which are so complicated to their minds that it is a hard task to get them afterwards to make calculations correctly, even on Customs entries. We should have a simple system so interknit that we should save an enormous sum if only in the cost of handling and distributing the produce of the world. As to the recommendations of the committee respecting the particular form of the currency, I need not say more than has been said. With respect to the adoption of the system being determined upon as early as possible, I may say that, in my opinion, we cannot have abetter time than thepresentfor the purpose. I quite admit that theTreasurer as a member of a Ministry that has inaugurated several enormous changes that have had the effect of disturbing the people in different directions - sometimes, I am afraid, to their disadvantage - is not very ready to disturb them again, even to their advantage.


Sir George Turner - We find the British Chancellor of the Exchequer always taking up the same position.


Mr THOMSON - The difficulty is infinitely greater in Great Britain than it is here. If wehad to consider ourselves alone, we could introduce the proposed system, and in three months the people would be perfectly settled down to the change, and would in no way find difficulties occurring under it. But in England it is quite a different matter. People there are not so educated as they are here. They have not had to adapt themselves to new and changed circumstances so constantly as we have had to do. They have not had within the life-time of one man, as we have had, a rum currency, and a dollar currency, and a bushelof corn currency. They have not had all these varying circumstances to adjust themselves to ; and they have not the alertness of mind - I am not wishing in any way to derogate from their powers of mind - which people in a new country, who live under constantly changing conditions, have. If England had adopted the decimal system before her commerce had grown so great, she would to-day bless the fact of having done so. But she has now grown so large, her commerce is so great, her people have been so long accustomed to the old system, that it is very difficult for them to change. I believe it is an excusable thing for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, under the conditions prevailing in England, to hesitate - even although I believe he would be doing the best for the country by the adoption of the metric system of coinage and of weights and measures. But what is difficult in an old country is comparatively simple in a new one ; and whilst I quite admit that the advice to wait is an argument for Great Britain, still it is merely the argument of delay that is always advanced in these matters. I believe that in this, as in other things, Australia could do much to expedite the consideration and adoption of the proposed system by Great Britain. If we can do anything to push forward what will be of value to the British people, that should prove an additional reason for our adoption of the system. As to wedding the metric system of weights and measures to the metric system of coinage before adopting the latter, I see no reason why what is part of the process of decimalization should not take place -seeing that it is an advantage - before we accomplish the whole scheme. Owing to the relation of our weights and measures, our machinery gauges, our textile widths and lengths, and so on, to those of Great Britain, we can only decimalize in that direction when she does so. But I see no reason why the decimalization of our coinage, which I admit is a lesser reform, should await the larger reform which we hope will follow, and which the success of this would assist. I, for one, see none of those great difficulties that the Treasurer sees in the adoption of a decimal system of coinage. After some consideration, and after some tendency to favour delay, I came to the same conclusion - not influenced by the enthusiasm of the chairman of the committee, as the Treasurer has said - that hard-headed men have come to in Great Britain. The members of several. English committees, in spite of the difficulties there, and in spite of the greater importance of the change in its effects upon the people, came to the conclusion that the proposed system ought to be adopted by the British people. I have come to the same conclusion as did the House of Commons, which unanimously passed a resolution to the effect that the introduction of the florin had been a success, and that it should be followed up by a further decimalization of the British coinage. One of the British committees which found that, in spite of the difficulties which might surround the introduction of the decimal system in Great Britain, it was a matter which should be undertaken at the earliest possible moment was not a small one, nor was it unrepresentative or unintelligent. It comprised some of the hardest-headed business men in the British Empire, men of thought, education, learning, and position. The original members were Mr. William Brown, Mr. Cardwell, Mr. John Ball, Mr. Tufnell, Mr. Alderman Thompson, Mr. Dunlop, Mr. Matthew Forster, Lord Stanley - afterwards the Earl of Derby, who was by no means an enthusiast - Mr. Moody, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. John Benjamin Smith, Sir William Clay, the Marquis of Chandos, Sir William Jolliffe, and Mr. Kinnaird. They found as our committee, and prior British committees appointed to deal with the subject, found. As a matter of fact, only one British Commission has reported against the reform. Even that commission admitted the advantages which would attend the change, but reported against its introduction at the time, solely on the ground of expediency. In common with these various bodies, the committee appointed by this House holds that this matter ought to be faced at once, and we have far greater reasons for arriving at that conclusion than had the committees in Great Britain. If our committee has erred at all, it has erred in good company. I have much pleasure in supporting the report of the committee, and the able arguments - which I have refrained, as far as possible, from repeating - put forward last Friday by the chairman, the honorable member for South Sydney.







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