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Thursday, 16 June 1904

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not intend to speak at any length. I believe that the reform recommended by the Coinage Committee is coming. We may delay it if we like, but come it must. If we recognise this fact, there is no time so fitting as the present. There is a general consensus of opinion that the proposed reform is desirable, but that we should wait. If, however, 'we recognise that in view of our growing population and extending ramifications of trade, delay will increase the difficulties of effecting the reform, we must be forced to the conclusion that the sooner it is introduced the better. It has been pointed out by the honorable member for North Sydney that if Great Britain ever introduces a currency reform it must take the direction of this proposal. The subject .has been approached there by several Select Committees and Royal Commissions, and the only scheme that ever had any chance of being adopted was similar to that which the Coinage Committee have seen fit to recommend. The Prime Minister seems to entertain the idea that if we delay action for a few years the question of the reform of our currency system will be taken up by Great Britain. If we were convinced that it would, there might be some reason' for our continued inaction. But I should like to know what the Prime Minister would say if he were asked to postpone some of the Government measures - -the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, for example - for a similar reason. I deeply regret that the Commonwealth has not displayed the spirit which was exhibited by the United States so early in its Federal career - the spirit which should prompt us to grapple with our own problems, and deal with them in our own way. Instead of doing so, however, we are continually asking - " How will this matter be viewed in its relation to the Empire?" When we were considering the question of Australia's contribution towards the maintenance of the British Navy, no member of this House desired to go further than I did. I am prepared to go still further in connexion with the proposed reform of our coinage system. If by the adoption of that system we can effect a saving of ^30,000 or ^40,000 annually, I am perfectly willing to hand over that sum towards the support of the Imperial Navy. But I fail to see why, year after year, we should continue to make a present of that amount to the people of Great Britain, and then quibble about voting an extra £1,000 or two towards the maintenance of the British Navy. Let ur take what absolutely belongs to us, and afterwards, when we come to consider the question, of how much the Commonwealth, as an integral part of the Empire, should contribute towards that Navy, let us give freely. Of course if we are to effect the saving to which I have referred, we musthave a distinctive set of coins. This brings us face to face with the question, " Which is the best coinage system to adopt?" My answer is that the decimal system is universally recognised as the only one which we can adopt if we are to get the best system. The argument has been advanced that, by introducing the reform we shall dislocate our relations with the British Empire. Some honorable members who are possessed of commercial experience surprised me when they advanced that argument. The honorable member for Kooyong seems to think that a system of coinage differing from the present one in its cent, two-cent, or three-cent pieces - copper tokens - would dislocate our trade relations with Great Britain. The idea is perfectly absurd. Both Canada and India possess coinage systems which differ very markedly from that of the mother country. Although the rupee is ostensibly a 2s. piece, and varies in value from is. 1 1/2d. to is 3d., according to the ruling price of silver, business men experience ro difficulty in buying or selling in India. I would further point out that not one-eighth of 1 per cent, of our whole population are interested in the remotest degree in transactions with other parts of the Empire.

Mr Watson - Upon that basis we should maintain the penny, I think.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No. The great question to be considered is that of our internal relationship. It would be of no benefit to us if we made our money system accord with that of the rest of the world.

Sir John Forrest - Are the masses of the people dissatisfied with the existing system?

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The greatest advocates of the decimal coinage system in Great Britain are the working classes, who are constantly signing petitions in favour of its adoption. In South Sydney I have addressed large meetings of working people, who exhibited the most intense appreciation of that system. The benefits to be derived from a universal system of money values are no more worth aiming at than are those which would accrue from the adoption of a universal time system. The only reason why we keep in touch with the British sovereign and the 2s. piece is because they form a part of our history. We do not wish to depart from them in obtaining a new system. We can decimalize our present monetary system with very little disturbance to our current coins. All the objections which have been urged against this proposal vanish when subjected to close examination. Honorable members must recognise that within a comparatively few years there has been a reduction of 100 per cent, or more in the price of almost every article which can now be purchased for a penny. During my own lifetime there has been a decrease of 100 per cent, in the price of postage stamps, whilst the difference in the case of a box of matches represents 200 per cent. The price of newspapers has steadily decreased throughout the world. It is well known that many public men favour a reduction in the price of postage stamps, but believe that the nation cannot sustain the loss which it would involve. If, however, we can secure a smaller coin-

Sir John Forrest - What country has such a small coin in common use?

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If we adopted the decimal system, and introduced a 4 cent piece, which would be worth 4 "per cent, less than a penny, we could reduce the price of the present penny postage stamp at least 4 per cent. Then let us see how the system would operate in the- case of newspapers. Most of us recollect, that the price of the great morning journals has been reduced from 3d. to id. Below that, however, they do not seem able to go, simply because it is impossible for them to reduce the price to £d., and there is no interme diate coin. If we decimalize our present system, . the cost of the daily newspapers would immediately be reduced to 4 per cent, less than id., so that the poorer classes of the community would be benefited. The same remark is applicable to the ferry fares which are- now charged. In Sydney many of the ferry companies are obtaining a higher fare than they really desire.

Mr McCay - The price of all these things might be increased to 5 Cents?

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes; if everybody was as ignorant of the circumstances of trade as the honorable and learned member appears to be.

Mr McCay - That is very rude.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I beg the honorable and learned member's pardon if it seemed rude.

Mr McCay - It was rude - there was no seeming about it.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I maintain that the decimalization of our coinage system will contribute towards the reduction of charges which is now in progress. The honorable member for Kooyong urged that the people have not asked for the change proposed. In reply, I would point out that at a conference of representatives of the Australian Natives Association, which was recently held in Melbourne, resolutions in favour of the introduction of this system were unanimously agreed to. Similarly the various Chambers of Commerce throughout Australia have affirmed the necessity for reform, not only in our currency laws, but in our system of weights and measures. I believe that these reforms are coming, and that Australia, in common with other parts of the Empire, will benefit by their adoption. Nevertheless, I hold that our coinage system can be reformed without interfering in any way with our foreign relations. By adopting the decimal system, we can obtain a signal benefit, not only in our private but in all our public transactions. Therefore, we should no longer stay our hands, and await the initiative of other people.

Question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.

Resolved -

That, in the opinion of this House, the necessary legislation should be introduced to give effect to the recommendations contained in the report of a Select Committee on Commonwealth Coinage and Currency adopted by the House on 19th June, 1903. .

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