Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 20 May 1915

Mr SINCLAIR (Moreton) .- When the honorable member for Bendigo reads to-morrow the proof of the speech he made to-night, I think he will regret a great deal of what he said, and will come to the conclusion that he wasted fully half-an-hour in his maiden speech in this House. At this period in the world's affairs the Government supporters and, the members of the Opposition should work together in order to secure a full utilization of the country's resources, with a view to hastening the termination of this terrible and cruel war. At this time we should not expose any weaknesses, if such exist.

Mr Riley - There was nothing hostile in the speech of the honorable member for Bendigo.

Mr SINCLAIR - I am referring to his remarks concerning our inability to supply arms for our troops, and I consider that the statement which the honorable member made was. very indiscreet. We are discussing the Estimates this year in unique and painful circumstances. The Commonwealth is involved in a war of unprecedented magnitude, which we all deplore, and hope to see brought to a speedy close in favour of the British Empire and its allies. Even as we discuss the Estimates, our minds and hearts go out to the brave lads who are taking their share of the fighting against a powerful foe. There is not a member of the Committee but is very much interested in the welfare of our troops at the front, and some of us are very directly and personally concerned in the news that comes from the battlefield. We admire the fight which is being put up by our Australian comrades, and regret very much the sad losses our Expeditionary Forces have sustained, more particularly the latest loss by the death of Major-General Bridges. Turning more particularly to the vote that is before us, I think the Government might take notice of the suggestion made by the honorable member for Hunter in regard to making early use of Port Stephens as a naval base. Nature has been kind to us by providing there a good harbor, which, at little expense, can be made of great use in defending the whole of the north-eastern coast of Australia. I made the same suggestion two or three years ago to the then Government, but at that time my voice was as that of one calling in the wilderness; but I sincerely hope that the present Government will lose no further time in putting that splendid harbor to the uses for which it is so well adapted. The honorable member for Corangamite drew attention to what he considered the injustice meted out to some Victorians who were offering their services as officers in certain commands. I have had the same sort of complaint from scores of officers in Queensland. Perhaps it is a very excellent sign that so many capable and efficient officers are offering their services that the Government are not able to accept them all. But, whenever those men are wanted, they will be willing to go to the front and give to Australia and the Empire the benefit of their long training. In regard to the medical appointments, I do think that some of the Queensland medical men have been overlooked, and appointments have been given to southern men who had no claim by reason of previous service to any such preferment. Some Queensland men who held the rank of captain were refused appointments in favour of other men who had never served in any capacity with the Military Forces. I do not like to voice criticism on these matters, because I would prefer to believe that the Department is trying to select the best men, and that every capable man will in turn get his chance. I can only express the hope that future appointments will be distributed as equitably as possible over the whole Commonwealth. I venture to say that no Department has laid itself more open to criticism, not only in regard to recent actions, but on account of its administration for some considerable time past, than has the Defence Department. The remarks I am about to offer may be considered somewhat severe at the present time, but I assure the Assistant Minister and the Committee that I shall not be one-tenth so severe as I would be if I did not feel that during this crisis we should curb our criticism as much as possible. My remarks have to do particularly with the contracts that are being let by the present Government through the Defence Depart ment. The Commonwealth is happily in a position to meet its financial responsibilities and pay for what it gets, but at this time the utmost economy should be practised, not only with regard to ordinary munitions, but also with regard to the best of all munitions - bur finances. The honorable member for Maranoa may be congratulated on the manly retreat he made from an untenable position when he found that he had said something that was incorrect about a certain firm in Brisbane. Having given expression to his thoughts, when he had been informed in regard to the facts he made ample apology; and I only regret that the Minister did not follow that very laudable example and withdraw what he had said. I am now again referring to the bread contract for the Enoggera camp, and I may say that, not only in regard to that camp, but in regard to others, there are general complaints in this connexion. It is to be hoped that the Minister will look into the matter and see that there is no waste, for I am given to understand that certain contractors who have, in a given period, to supply a certain quantity, do so, with the result that much is left unused. I do not know whether this matter comes directly under the supervision of the Assistant Minister or under that of the Minister himself; but, in any case, the Government are responsible. Some time ago there were paragraphs in the Brisbane Labour daily newspaper dealing with the subject. One of these had reference to an Inter-State conference of unionist bakers in one of the southern States, and stated that the delegates, on their return, reported having seen Senator Pearce with reference to the Enoggera bread contract being given to a union bakery, and were highly pleased with the result of their interview. The other paragraph was a report of a meeting of operative bakers at which a hearty vote of thanks had been passed to the honorable member for Brisbane for his efforts in securing the contract for a union bakery. The first paragraph referred, of course, to a time prior to the contract being let, and the other to a time subsequent to the contract. The Assistant Minister, I think, put up a very poor defence when he said that the Automatic Bakeries Company had. not been given the contract because they refused to employ unionists and did not concede proper working conditions. I wish to give these two statements a most emphatic denial. A representative of the Automatic Bakeries Company has written saying -

We have never refused to employ unionists, as we never nsk what a man's politics are. To-day I have made inquiries, and find that a large number of our men (not bakers) are unionists. On the formation of this company the operatives decided that Chey would not work for us. The then president and treasurer (Messrs. McCarthy and Nash) were employed in one of the shops taken over by us. Before they decided what to do they asked us to employ only unionists in that shop, and only such unionists as the president approved of. This, of course, we refused. On the day we started business these unionists left us. As to wages, ours are the highest in the city, being above the Wages Board award. We do not know what the successful contractor pays. There are four workmen also in that firm besides the contractor, and, of course, these men work under no award.

The company further wrote to another honorable member, whose name I need not mention now, as follows : -

The Bakers Union prohibits any of its members working with us. A few months ago we were in urgent need of an extra hand to see us through a rush, and one man we approached, though he was up in years and only had casual work, refused, because lie said hu dared not on account of the union attitude to us. The cause of the union antipathy is the usual one of the fear of machinery doing away with manual labour. Other bakers, of course, have the fear that we might get too much trade, and so have helped to fan this antipathy in order to gather union trade. The successful contractor was the principal master baker to follow these tactics. Mr. Hall, the N.S.W. Attorney-General, came up hero on a special mission to inspect this factory, and went away so pleased that he is going to establish a similar one in Sydney for the Labour Government. I am sending you a booklet explaining our system, and you will see by it that we deserve the thanks of the community instead of the condemnation of some. Clean bread should be compulsory, and one has only to visit the majority of present day bakehouses to feel sure of the need of reform.

In the light of what I have read, let us look at the conditions under which the union firm works. The secretary of the Automatic Bakeries writes to say -

I have made inquiries, and I find that the registered members of the company are Walter Shead, a' Dane or other Scandinavian; Emil Bruschuiler, senior, Emil Bruschuiler, junior, evidently Germans; and John Marment and William Costa, whose nationality I do not Know. ifr. Sinclair.

Thus there are five shareholders, the last four of whom work in the factory, and, of course, are not under the "Wages Board award.

Mr Burchell - Are the Germans naturalized ?

Mr SINCLAIR - I have not the slightest idea.

Mr Riley - What is the point?

Mr SINCLAIR - The point is that German unionists appear to be preferred to Australian non-unionists.

Sir John Forrest - Is this a German bakery ?

Mr SINCLAIR - I would not like to say that it is a German bakery; there seems to be a mixture of Scandinavians, Germans, and I know not what. However, Mr. Shead is recognised as the owner of the business, and the others as mere dummies for the purpose I have mentioned. I should now like to refer to the matter of the prices, with which, I regret to say, the Minister did not fully deal. No doubt, 15s. per 100 lbs. was the correct price when the contract was completed, but there was a condition that the price should rise ls. per 100 lbs. as the price »f flour rose. When the contract was accepted, in February last, the price of flour was 14s., but it has now risen to 17s. 6d., so that the contractor is now receiving 18s. 6d. per 100 lbs. of bread, aa compared with 13s. 3d., the amount named in the unsuccessful tender. I have it on authority that I regard as fairly good, that the price now being paid by the Government is what I have stated; and it means that this unionist bakery will receive from the Defence Department about £1,300 in a period of five months.

Mr Fenton - But would not the price mentioned by the unsuccessful tenderer have risen with the price of flour?

Mr SINCLAIR - No ; that was a straight-out tender for 13s. 3d., without any rise.

Mr Riley - I think he must be glad he did not get the contract!

Mr SINCLAIR - He was asked if lie could carry out the contract, and was prepared to do so: and he assures me that he had quite sufficient flour in stock to carry him over the period. If we examine this a little more closely, we find that the successful contractor is subsidized at the rate of about £650 per man per annum, so that be may employ these dummy shareholders.

Mr Jensen - Just for the information of the honorable member, I should like to inform him that no persons can get a contract with the Defence Department unless he makes a sworn declaration that he is not of the nationality of the enemy. That disposes of the argument of the honorable member.

Mr SINCLAIR - That does not get away from the fact that these men may be naturalized British subjects.

Mr Jensen - They cannot get a contract, even if they are naturalized.

Mr SINCLAIR - These men may be Australian Germans for all I know, and I do not say that they are not; but it is a matter that should be inquired into.

Dr Carty Salmon - Does not the Defence Department take 'charge of naturalized Germans 1

Mr SINCLAIR - I do not think that that is done in Australia, although a great number have been taken charge of by the Government at Home.

Mr Fenton - I know of full-blooded German doctors who have gone to the front to look after our soldiers there.

Mr SINCLAIR - And some very fine Germans have gone from Queensland to the front.

Mr Fenton - And yet the honorable member is trying to make capital out of the employment of these men in this bakery !

Mr SINCLAIR - I am endeavouring to show that this matter will not stand investigation - that the Minister started out, in the first place, to give preference to unionists, and never made any inquiry as to the relative merits of the two bakeries. The Automatic Bakeries Company, I say, is superior to the other in every respect; and, therefore, should have had the contract, more especially as their price was ls. 9d. lower when the tender was accepted, showing now a difference of 5s. 3d. per 100 lbs.

Mr Jensen - What is the retail price of bread in Brisbane?

Mr SINCLAIR - I think it is 9d. the 4-lb. loaf.

Mr Jensen - The Defence Department is paying 7d. wholesale, and yet we are accused of robbing the public funds!

Mr SINCLAIR - That is not the lines on which I conduct my business, which is to make money when I honestly can.

Mr Jensen - How does the honorable member's argument apply to the case of the mail contractors, in regard to which honorable members are asking the Government to increase the subsidies ?

Mr SINCLAIR - Let the Minister get back to his own argument, which has not been withdrawn, that the Automatic Bakeries Company would not concede proper working conditions. I have shown that they conceded the very best conditions, as is proved by the fact that the men working for them have no desire to work for others afterwards. They do not lose their men because of any harsh treatment, and there is no comparison between the working conditions in the two establishments. The Automatic Bakeries Company had sufficient flour at a price which would have enabled them to carry out the contract to the end of June, and they were prepared to do it. The Department knew this, and it was not out of sympathy for them, lest they should lose on the contract, that the Department gave the contract to the other firm. It was because that firm posed as unionists, and political influence was brought into the matter, and they gave the contract to their friends at a handsome price, which represents a subsidy of about £650 per annum to the union workmen whom Mr. Shead employs.

Mr Fenton - Be careful, Mr. Finlayson is coming back.

Mr SINCLAIR - The sooner he comes back the better. If he replies to anything I have said, it will be the first time he has done so. If it is a matter of punching, for every punch he gives I will give another back. However, when the papers in connexion with the contract are laid on the Library table, we shall be able to satisfy ourselves by first-hand evidence as to the truth of my statement, which has been partly backed up by the Minister himself, not only with regard to the first contract price, but as to the price the Department is paying for bread now. We have nothing to do with what is being paid outside-; and if a contractor is prepared to supply us at £5 a ton less than he charges the outside public, the Government should accept the tender.

Suggest corrections