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Wednesday, 13 December 1911

Senator McGREGOR (South Australia) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) . - On this occasion, as almost always when a Supply Bill comes before the Senate, honorable senators have taken advantage of their right to criticise not only the administration, but the legislative action of the Government, just as if we were dealing with the Estimates-in-chief. Several criticisms have been replied to by the Minister of Defence in regard to the Departments which he represents in this Chamber. But there are several other matters on which I desire to say a few words. The first criticism indulged in by the Leader of the Opposition was in connexion with the creation of a new Department under the Prime Minister. Of course, he agreed with the action which has been taken.

Senator Millen - If it is going further.

Senator McGREGOR - And he associated it with some intention in the near future to create additional Ministers controlling Departments which may now be a burden on some Ministers. I dare say that a great many senators, as well as members of the Ministry, have recognised that difficulty. But up to the present time we have not discussed the matter to any. serious extent, and have not yet come to a conclusion, though I dare say that the time will come when the work of the Commonwealth will grow so much that such a course of action will be absolutely necessary. The next complaint from the Leader of the Opposition was in connexion with the Northern Territory. He considers that the Government should at once set about spending money indiscriminately, and making what the " Jubilee Plunger " would call a " splash " straight away.

Senator Millen - I did not ask the Government to spend anything, but to disclose a policy.

Senator McGREGOR - I dare say the honorable senator did not mean it in that way, but it appeared to me that he complained of a certain amount of dilatoriness on the part of the Government. The Ministers who have been controlling the External Affairs Department - the late Mr. Batchelor, and the present Minister - have done everything possible to get together information that would assist in the formulation of a policy which would be to the advantage of, not only the Northern Territory itself, but the whole of the people of Australia. It must be remembered that when a man buys a farm it takes him some time to ascertain what it will be best adapted for - the growth of wheat, or mixed farming, or anything else. The development of the Northern Territory needs very much greater thought than does the simple process of purchasing a farm and going into that industry.

Senator Millen - Do you intend to awaitthe result of your operations on the experimental farm before you do that?

Senator McGREGOR - No. The honorable senator need not be alarmed. Is it not legitimate to ascertain the best place in which to establish the experimental farm, and what areas are available for certain kinds of settlement? That is the kind of work which is carried on, andas soon as results of a material character are obtained a policy will be formulated. In the meantime everything is being done to hurry things up.

Senator Sayers - Did not South Australia do anything? Had you not all the information which that State had collected ?

Senator McGREGOR - Yes. If I had a lot of information on farming from the honorable senator I should require to refer it to a reliable agriculturist before I would think of taking action upon it.

Senator Sayers - Were there no reliable agriculturists in South Australia?

Senator McGREGOR - It is exactly the same in connexion with State information which may have been obtained in the past. It has to be verified, because our action in connexion with the development of the Northern Territory will have to be of a more vital character than any action which could be taken by any one State. Perhaps I might refer now to what has already been dealt with by the Minister of Defence. In connexion with postal matters we hear all round that something ought to be done to develop the country through the Postal Department. I am very pleased to say that some members of the Senate have, at last, come to the conclusion that it ought to be a Department which should render services to the people of Australia in some proportion to the requirements, and that where subsidies axe required for other kinds of development that should entirely rest with the States. In every State it would be quite easy for a postal service to be created, which would assist in the development of a portion of the State, and relieve the State of its obligations to a considerable extent.

Senator Millen - Yes, but there is no State Government in the Northern Territory.

Senator McGREGOR - Will the honorable senator leave me to deal with the question? 1 know what is in his mind, because I am a kind of thought-reader. So far as the States are concerned, the duty of the Post Office is to give the public mail services which will be equal to all reasonable requirements, but with respect to the Northern Territory, and other Territories under the Commonwealth, an arrangement should be made between the External Affairs Department and the Postal Department. That is what was in the mind of Senator Millen. It is in the minds of the PostmasterGeneral and the Minister of External Affairs, as well as of the Government, that something in that direction ought to be done. If it is necessary, as has been stated, that a subsidy should be granted to a steamer going from Port Darwin to Borroloola, it is not the Postal Department which should be entirely responsible for that. It should only be responsible for the postal service required. If, for the purposes of development, a subsidy is necessary, it should be borne to a certain extent by the External Affairs Department. All these matters are under the consideration of the Government, and, in due time, I hope that a satisfactory solution will be arrived at. The next matter I come to is the prolonged complaint of Senator Stewart in connexion with the attitude of the Government towards Protection, and also that great question of land monopoly. He rises in his place as if he were the only man in Australia, or, indeed, in the world, who had an earnest desire to do justice to the people of the Commonwealth, and bring about its welfare. So far as the Protective policy of the Commonwealth is concerned, I, as a member of the Ministry, have the same earnestness in that direction as I had when I first came to this Parliament. Our Protective policy then was much more definite than is that of Senator Stewart.

Senator Stewart - You are not doing anything, anyway.

Senator McGREGOR - With regard to land monopoly, the honorable senator must be aware, because he was here, that we did pass a progressive land taxthrough this Parliament. What is his complaint about? He has never, in the past, or even now, told us where the fault lies. He has only told us that we should reduce the exemption of£5,000.

Senator Millen - And raise the tax.

Senator McGREGOR - I am not going to say anything about the necessity of raising the tax now, or at any future time, but I do say that the policy of the Government has been, is, and, I hope, will be for some time, an exemption of £5,000. If any one goes from one State of Australia to another, and looks at the conditions of settlement throughout the country, he will find that, owing to the varying climatic and other conditions, the majority of the settlers find it very difficult to develop the country and make a profit for themselves with much less than a land value of £5,000. What does it mean? If you get 5,000 acres of land, which is worth only £1 per acre, it is only fitted forgrazing. Senator Milleri can tell the Senate that a man will not make a very great success of 5,000 acres of grazing land. He wants all that area to make a living. In the same way, if a man goes to Bacchus Marsh, Warrnambool, Mount Gambier, and other places, he cannot get land at less than £50 to £100 per acre. We must come to the conclusion that an area of 100 or 50 acres of such land is not more than sufficient to yield a living, such as a citizen of Australia should enjoy. Does Senator Stewart want to reduce the settler in Australia to the same state as the crofters in Scotland, who have 4 or 5 acres, and can only get enough oatmeal to make porridge or brose for themselves from one end of the year to the other? We do not want that condition of things to come to pass in Australia.

The PRESIDENT - Order ! At the other end of the chamber there is a continuous hum of conversation, which prevents honorable senators from hearing what the speaker is saying.

Senator McGREGOR - Thank you, sir. As we want the mechanics, labourers, and other individuals connected with our industries to get double the wages which are paid in some of the sweated countries in the world, and three times the wages which are paid in other countries, so we also want our settlers to be in a position to get ten times the value out of this land that, speaking generally, farmers and settlers in other portions of the world obtain from their land. Consequently, to reduce the exemption below £5,000 would be to defeat that object. Whether it may benecessary or not in the near future to increase the tax on land held above £5,000 in value I am not in a position at present to say.

Senator de Largie - Hear, hear ! Thatis the right direction to go.

Senator McGREGOR - I think it will be the duty of Senator Stewart, and every other honorable senator, to wait until he sees what effect this progressive land' tax will have on land settlement in Australia. Some honorable senators say that there are no large estates coming into the market. Senator Vardon, for instance, has quoted South Australia as a country where a progressive land tax was never required. I wish to point out to him and others that even there this progressive land tax has had a very marked effect. Every one who knows anything about the State is aware that estates have been offered and purchased through the imposition of the land tax.

Senator Vardon - One estate.

Senator McGREGOR - What about Bundaleer, Booboorowie, and Moorak estates ? Even before the land tax came into existence there were land-holders offering very large estates to the Government. They knew that the shadow of the tax was coming over them, and so they were prepared to get rid of their land.

Senator Vardon - The good seasons did that.

Senator McGREGOR - The honorable senator says that a progressive land tax was never required in South Australia. Does he know exactly how much the land tax has brought in? For the people of the Commonwealth it has produced, approximately, £r, 400,000.

Senator Vardon - More than that.

Senator Sayers - Say £1,500,000.

Senator McGREGOR - I shall say nothing of the kind. That is approximately the amount. The amount in South Australia was £138,000. If Senator Vardon, or any other honorable senator considers the proportion of South Australia towards the rest of the Commonwealth, which is one-eleventh, he will find that that State is paying exactly its proportion of the land tax. So that a land tax was just as necessary in South Australia as in any other State. Senator Vardon referred to Queensland as a State where a land tax might be advisable, because there were many large estates there.

Senator Vardon - I did not say that.

Senator McGREGOR - Does the honorable senator and other honorable senators know that, although the population of Queensland is much greater than that of South Australia, the amount of land tax paid in Queensland is much below the amount of the tax paid in South Australia? The amount paid in Queensland was only £115,000. So that any argument which Senator Vardon may have advanced to show that there was no land monopoly in South Australia is all moonshine.

Senator Vardon - I never made any reference to Queensland.

Senator McGREGOR - Never mind; I can make reference to Queensland, because Queensland senators have spoken on the same question, and Senator Vardon might benefit very much by the information that Queensland is paying less in land tax than is South Australia. That, to my mind, is evidence that land monopoly existed in South Australia, and no one who has been' through that State could deny it if he kept the open mind to which Senator Fraser is so fond of referring us. Senator St. Ledger found great fault with the Government in connexion with the administration of the quarantine laws of the Commonwealth, as affecting the medical profession in Queensland.

Senator St Ledger - Not grave fault. I mentioned the complaint which has been made.

Senator McGREGOR - If the matter was not of great consequence, the honorable senator should not have referred to it, because no member of the Senate should waste the time of the country in discussing a matter which is of no consequence. Assuming this matter to be of some consequence, I wish to inform the honorable senator that the members of the medical profession in Queensland are treated in exactly the same way as are the members of the same profession in every other State, with the exception of Victoria.

Senator St Ledger - Then they are all badly treated.

Senator McGREGOR - The honorable senator is making a statement that he has no grounds for. Either he does not know what he is talking about, or he is trying to mislead the Senate. Every medical man engaged in connexion with quarantine work, in Queensland is engaged in a classified port, and before he made his application for employment in the work he knew the payment he was to get for his services. If . he did not think it was enough, he should not have applied for the position.

Senator Millen - That is the doctrine of the sweater.

Senator McGREGOR - It is not sweating, because the value of the services rendered has been fairly estimated, and the doctors knew what they would be paid before they sent in their applications for the work. In Victoria a practice has been followed of paying so much per vessel. If the same practice were followed in Queensland, and the amount per vessel paid in Victoria was paid in some of the Queensland ports, the Queensland officers would find that they were doing the work for very little, if anything at ali.

Senator St Ledger - Would the honorable senator be prepared to work in Queensland for the pay given in Victoria ?

Senator McGREGOR - The honorable senator must be aware that if the same pay were given in Victoria as in Queensland there would be complaints in both States. The Government have continued the practice adopted by the State Governments prior to Federation. In connexion with the matter referred to by Senators Gardiner and Blakey, I may be allowed to say that before Senator Gardiner spoke the Minister of Defence clearly explained the attitude of the Government in connexion "with the standard wages fixed in each of the States by Wages Boards or Arbitration Courts. The Senate was informed of the difficulty that has arisen between officers under the Public Service Commissioner and public servants who are not classified under him. Honorable senators were told that the Government had considered the matter, and had made a communication to the Public Service Commissioner, who, at the present time, is considering that communication. With respect to the farriers whom Senators Blakey and Gardiner may have had in mind let me say that we have just passed legislation which will enable them, if they have a grievance, to get it adjusted under the Public Service (Arbitration) Act, by the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. Some honorable senators may be under a misapprehension in regard to legislation of this kind. Hitherto we have had only the ordinary conciliation and arbitration legislation, which, under the restrictions of the Constitution, could be applied only when a dispute extended beyond the boundary of one State. But it should be borne in mind that, under the Constitution, the Commonwealth Parliament has complete control of its own. public servants, and it does not matter in what State they may be, they will have the power to come under the Conciliation and Arbitration measure which we have just passed to have their grievances adjusted. I hope that if any of them have grievances they will seek that means of remedying them, in order to secure fair play for themselves and for the Commonwealth. I do not think that the other matters which were referred to during the debate were of sufficient importance to warrant me in occupying more time in dealing with them.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a first time.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee :

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clauses 2 and 3 postponed.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Schedule -

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