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Thursday, 13 May 1915

Sir JOHN FORREST (Swan) . - I am moving in this matter to-day because the Leader of the Opposition has received distressing news in regard to a member of his family now at the front. Therefore, I am moving in this matter on his behalf. At the last sitting of the House, the honorable member for Moreton asked the member representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -

What is the contract price now being paid for bread, for the Expeditionary Forces at Enoggera?

Were any tenders received at a lower price than that now paid?

The member representing the Minister of Defence replied -

The tenderer for bread at Enoggera Camp is W. Shead. The price is 15s. per 100 lbs., with the provision for increase or decrease of ls. per 100 lbs. for every£1 per ton rise or fall in the price of flour. There was a lower tender, namely, that of the Automatic Bakeries Limited, at 13s. 3d. per 100 lbs. The tender of W. Shead was accepted in preference to that of the Automatic Bakery Limited because the former was the only firm employing union labour.

That answer furnishes the explanation for my action in this matter, which establishes an extension of the principle of preference that has hitherto been adopted by the Labour party.

Mr Burns - A very good extension, too.

Sir JOHN FORREST - We on this side of the House do not think so, or I would not be taking exception to it now.

Mr Burns - We got the indorsement of the people to the principle at the last election.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Will honorable members cease interjecting ? Cannot they listen to anything they do not agree with without interjecting to such an extent that one cannot proceed ? I submit that this action on the part of the Government is an extension of a principle of preference which up to now has applied only to casual labour in Government works, with the addendum " other things being equal." It seems that as time goes on, and as some success has attended the efforts of honorable members on the Ministerial side, they grow bolder; and if the same speed is maintained, it will not be long before no one will be able to get employment at idi in any position in the Government service, from the very highest to the very lowest, unless he subscribes to some form of union. Where are we going to end? In the case before us a tenderer offered to supply the Government with a certain commodity. His tender was the lowest, "but a higher tender was accepted on the definite ground that the higher "tenderer employed union labour. There was no question as to the wages to be paid by these two tenderers. It may be, for all I know, that the lower tenderer paid even higher wages than those paid by the successful man.

Mr McWilliams - They are working under an award, and must pay the same rates.

Sir JOHN FORREST - At all events, no question arose as to whether the wages ; paid were sufficient or the conditions of labour were suitable. The only consideration that weighed with the Government in accepting the higher tender was that he employed union labour. We have not ibeen told what evidence was secured by the Government as to the class of labour that was being employed; but on the ground I have mentioned the higher tenderer received preference and was accepted. He was shown favoritism; he was, in fact, given a bribe because he employed union labour. For this the taxpayers have to pay. If Ministers were using their own money in this matter they might have some discretion allowed them; but since they are merely guardians and trustees of the public funds I do not think there can be justification for the action they took. Such an aetion on their part is tantamount to the taxpayers of the Commonwealth being mulcted or robbed, and a fraud perpetrated upon the finances of the country.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (INDI, VICTORIA) - Very strong language.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I repeat that the revenues of the country are provided by the people, and belong to the people. Ministers - whether they belong to the one party or the other - are merely trustees for the taxpayers, and I assert that a fraud has been committed upon the public finances by giving away money for partisan political purposes in a way that is wholly unjustifiable. This is a question of Ministers giving away, not their own money, but the money of the people. What else does this preference to this tenderer mean when we come to analyze it? The public revenues are paid into the Treasury, and are disbursed by Ministers, by direction of Parliament, as Ministers are responsible to Parliament. Is it to be said in these days that the expenditure of the public revenue shall be restricted to a certain caste or class of people ? Can it be argued that the public funds should be specially devoted to giving preference to any industrial, social, or religious class or caste ? If there is one thing more than another that has been condemned by my honorable friends on the Ministerial bench over a long course of years, it is class legislation or class distinction. They have argued against it ad infinitum. One of their principal complaints has been that in years gone by there were class and caste distinctions in regard to the appointment of officers, the emoluments of office, and generally in respect of the expenditure of public moneys. But what shall we say of them in view of this their latest action? Honorable members opposite are " like dumb-driven cattle." They have nothing to say. They believe in class legislation when it suits them, and they believe in the policy of the spoils to the victors. I emphatically assert that this action of which I complain is unjust. Is it right that any section of the community should be told: "You must contribute as much as we like to the revenue, but when it comes to using the. revenues of the country in providing employment, no employment will be given to any of your class. A particular section of the community who do not contribute any more than you - who, perhaps, do not contribute as much - are to receive the preference, and to be shown favoritism in employment"? This sort of injustice seems to grow upon the Labour party. A few years ago there was not a man in Australia who would have subscribed to such an unfair doctrine. When it was first proposed, it was scouted even by moat honorable members opposite.

Mr Fisher - In certain Conservative towns in the Old Country where I have lived people will not trade with any one but unionists.

Sir JOHN FORREST - In that case the Prime Minister must have acquired these unfair notions in the Old Country, and is trying, apparently, to carry them into effect in Australia. Such a thing a few years ago would not have been tolerated, but to-day it is approved by honorable members opposite, and our protests are jeered and laughed at by men like the honorable member for Barrier. Is this the freedom we have built up in Australia ? Is this the sort of freedom we want in this country - preference to a class ; favoritism to one man over another? Have we not heard over and over again that every man in this fair country is free; that all are equal and have equal rights?

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is what the Prime Minister told the people of the Old Country about Australia.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Yes ; he told them that this was a land of free people.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - It is the freest country on God's earth.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I maintain that this is not freedom, bub thraldom -

Thraldom who walks with the banner of Freedom, and recks not to ruin a realm in her name.

I am lost in amazement that this policy of preference and favoritism should find a place in the programme of a party who do not hesitate to say that those whom they claim to represent have suffered in the past from such a pernicious system. We' now find them applying it, however, with far greater force than ever before, and, apparently, deriving satisfaction from this form of oppression. What could be more oppressive, and more unjust, than to force men to contribute to the public funds, and then tell them that some one else is to have the sole right to the employment to be paid for from such funds? If honorable members opposite are prepared to subscribe to such a doctrine, then I can only say that they are a danger and a menace to the country. Coming on top of what has gone before, this action on the part of the Government is repugnant to the principle of natural justice and to the sacred Christian principle that '" we should do unto others as we would they should do unto us." It is repugnant to what is just and fair as between manand man, and it must bring discredit on all those who support such a vicious and improper doctrine.

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