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Wednesday, 13 September 1911

Senator McCOLL (Victoria) .- We have all listened with a very great deal of interest to the speech of the honorable senator who has just sat down. I confess that I do not thoroughly understand the sugar question, and am very glad to obtain information to assist me to a clear understanding of the matter. It is lamentable that, although we have given between £2,000,000 and ,£3,000,000 to those engaged in the sugar industry, the conditions in that industry should be as they have been described. I agree with Senator Givens that a wage of 30s. per week for men working eight hours per day in such a climate is top little for white workers. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that something might have been done to remedy such a state of affairs. Nearly two years ago, a Royal Commission was appointed to investigate conditions in the industry, and it was only the illness of a Judge which prevented that Commission getting to work. When a change of Government took place, nothing was done to set the Commission to work to make the necessary inquiries, which might have avoided all the trouble that has since taken place in the industry. Apparently, the authorities were content to allow matters to drift until we reached the state of affairs which led to the recent strike. We were told a little time ago in the press by the Acting Prime Minister that a remedy would be found, and we thought that a remedy was going to be found, and right away ; but nothing has been done, and now the Government are falling back upon what the last Government proposed nearly two years ago, namely, a Commission, which could have reported within the period of six months, and which might have avoided all this trouble.

Senator Givens - An inquiry by a Commission always means delay.

Senator McCOLL - That is all that we are offered now. What else can we do? The honorable senator says that a suggestion has been made by a powerful newspaper that possibly a national refinery could be established which would take the sugar and treat it. The honorable senator casts ridicule on the proposal, but he does not state his reasons for so doing.

Senator Givens - I said that the reasons are to be found in the Constitution.

Senator McCOLL - We have as much right to take that contention as correct as to regard it as wrong. Why not test the point? Why not find out if the Government have the power to establish a refinery? I may be wrong, but I fancy, speaking from memory, that Senator Pearce, when he brought in his proposals in 1903, argued that under the trade and commerce power of section 51 of the Constitution the Commonwealth could take any industry and nationalize it and go into business. If he was right at that time, the same thing must be right now.

SenatorGivens. "Oh, no; the High Court has had a very important say on the question since then.

Senator McCOLL - I am inclined to think that the Age, which does not speak at random, which is a most careful newspaper, and which has the best legal talent at its command whenever it advocates a proposal, would not have made this statement so clearly and so confidently as it has done unless it had ample ground for believing that the Commonwealth had power to establish a national refinery. However, let us hope that something will be done in order that this trouble may not be repeated. We have spent enormous sums of public money to secure the establishment of the sugar industry by white labour, and it is a pity that we have spent all that money if our people are to pay £6 or £7 a. ton more for the sugar than is charged in other countries, and there is to be such great dissatisfaction in the cane-fields. Senator Givens touched upon another point, and I think that he was scarcely fair. 'He said that, at the referendum, the people refused to give to the Government power to deal with monopolies, and he argued as if that was the only question which was put to the country at that time. But he knows very well that that was not the case ; he is well aware that every speaker on a platform who was against the referenda at that time said that he was willing, and that the people should be asked, to give the power to deal with trusts and monopolies. But there were other important matters included in the referenda. There was a radical change proposed, which, if ratified', would have dwarfed the States, and made them complete nonentities.

Senator Henderson - Oh, rot !

Senator McCOLL - That is not argument. The fact cannot be escaped from. The States would have been dwarfed and made mere nonentities, and power would have been (given to this Parliament 'to meddle with every industry, no matter how large or how small it might be. and to say that any industry it pleased was a monopoly, no matter what that industry might be. Senator Givens lias stated that at the referendum the workers were misled. Surely the workers of Australia have sufficient common sense to understand proposals when submitted. Is not the honorable senator uttering the strongest condemnation of the proposals themselves and the attitude which the Government and the Labour party took up in regard to them when he says that the workers, who compose ninetenths of this population, would not have them ? What stronger condemnation than that could he utter ? Does he think that the workers would turn against those whom they consider their friends, and defeat such proposals by a quarter of a million votes unless they thought they were unworthy of acceptance? The suggestion will not stand argument. At the last election we had senators returned by a majority of a few thousand votes - one candidate was beaten by only 1,100 votes. In a similar constituency - the whole of the people - we have proposals turned down by a majority of a quarter of a million votes. What a volte-face is that ! It is nonsense for Senator Givens to say that the people of Australia would not empower this Parliament to deal with trusts and monopolies. Every speaker from a platform would have consented to grant such power, and the people would willingly have clone so. As Senator St. Ledger said, an offer was made by the Leader of the Opposition in another place to agree to the referendum if it were confined to the question of taking power to deal with trusts and monopolies.

Senator Givens - The only source of information which most of the people had was the daily press, which had laid itself out to misrepresent the whole position.

Senator Millen - You were out speaking.

Senator Givens - Unfortunately., I was laid up with dengue fever most of the time.

Senator McCOLL - The people of Australia are not fools. They quite understand the right or the wrong of a proposal, and they were not prepared to accept the proposals of the Government, simply because they did not believe that they were wise and would be beneficial to Australia. It is of no use for any one to say that the people refused to grant to this Parliament power to deal with trusts and monopolies. If they had been asked for such a power, it would have been willingly conferred, but the Labour party, elated by their success at the general elections, and believing that the wave which swept them into power had not subsided, put forward these audacious proposals, and they met with a fitting fate. What do we find now? Do we find any intimation in the Speech that the proposals are to be made again ? No. The only announcement which is made is that power is to be asked from the people to deal with trusts and monopolies, because the Government know well that such power will be given, but the other powers asked for in April will not be given. With much of Senator Givens' speech I am in thorough agreement. I sympathize with the men employed in the sugar industry. I think that they asked very little, but the honorable senator was wrong in condemning the proposal of the Age without our having the clearest legal opinion on the point. I read the articles very carefully, and it seemed to me that the writer had the best of the argument, and that the section dealing with trade and commerce does give that power. At any rate, it is worth a trial. As this Parliament meets year after year, one perceives the utter uselessness of a debate on the Address-in-Reply. Really, 1 think it is time that the Government took this matter in hand. Of course, we must have an Address, because it is .the King's representative who calls Parliament together. I think that after the opening Speech is read, a simple motion, supported by the two Leaders, might be passed in a formal way, when we could get on to the business of the session.

Senator St Ledger - Suppose that we wanted to move an amendment?

Senator McCOLL - An amendment could be moved and decided, should the parties desire to try their strength. When there is no desire to move an amendment, why should so much time be wasted?

Senator Henderson - Sit down then.

Senator McCOLL - I intend to waste a little more time, because that is the fashion. At the same time, I should be very glad to see this procedure done away with. We have listened to-day to two able speeches from Senators St. Ledger and Givens? but of what use are they ? Do they settle anything ? No. In the old days, a debate on the Address-in-Reply to the opening Speech might have been desirable to educate the people, but now we have a press which gives them all the information they require. The debate settles nothing, and very often it only embitters the relations between the two sides. If a debate of this kind were necessary at one time, surely it is less necessary than ever now when all the business of Parliament is threshed out by the dominant party beforehand, and questions settled so that the' programme cannot be altered. We are here to-day as a registration body, and not as a representative or legislative body. We cannot alter the course of legislation once it has been settled. Why, therefore, should we waste two or three weeks of the country's valuable time, especially after a recess of nine or ten months, in beating the air as we are doing? The Speech itself is very mild indeed. There is nothing very truculent about the Speech, and evidently the Government's desire is to have a very quiet and peaceful session. 1 have heard that the depressing influence of the vote at the referendum is having its effect upon the party. Had their proposals been carried, we should have had a Speech containing very different proposals from those which are submitted.

Senator Pearce - Of course you would ; there is no secret about that.

Senator McCOLL - But the people of this country have thought differently. We dare the Government to submit the same proposals to the people at the next election. I should be only too glad if they did, and if it resulted in my defeat I should feel better out of Parliament than inside. In this Speech, the Government speak about the prosperity of Australia. A little while ago, the Acting Prime Minister took credit to the Government for that prosperity. The prosperity of Australia does not lie with any Government, it lies in three or four inches of rain. It is rain which makes this country prosperous or otherwise. A Government can always do a great deal to mar its prosperity, and, in my opinion, this Government is doing so. The country is too good, and the seasons for the last five or six years have been too good, for even a Government as bad as we have now to do very much harm. I do not propose to touch at length on the delegation to the Old Country. As is known, I was against the voting of money for any person except the Prime Minister. I thought he was the only one who ought to have his expenses defrayed. I did not agree to the subsidizing of members of this Parliament to go to. the Old Country. It was a private invitation they received from private members of the British Parliament, and ought to have been accepted at their private expense. I think that the Government has been lavish in expending public money. I fail to see why three under-secretaries should have gone with the Ministers, and why the families of those officers should have been taken.

Senator Pearce - They were not taken at the public expense.

Senator McCOLL - If all I hear is correct, there was a pretty good sum allotted to each officer.

Senator Millen - Fifty per cent, more than an officer ever had before. Senator McCOLL.- The Minister of Defence brought up this question in his speech, and he quoted one or two Ministers who had been rather extravagant, but he did not quote the case of a man - a better man than any of the Ministers who went Home lately - who went to England and did the business of this country at very much less cost. I remember the time when the gentleman who is leading the Opposition in the other House went to London in connexion with the passing of the Constitution Bill. ; The Victorian Government, of which 1 was a member, placed ,£1,000 to his .credit to cover his expenses, and he returned .£450 to' the Treasury.

Senator Mcdougall - Look at the rise in the cost of living. \ Senator McCOLL. - The Ministers who went to the Coronation recently were franked everywhere at Home. One member said that he attended fifty banquets in forty days. Surely other persons found the money to pay for their entertainment. What the result will be I do not know.

Senator McGregor - I suppose that the honorable senator would do like Sutherland did - get £5 worth of threepenny-pieces for tips.

Senator McCOLL - I have never been called mean, and such a suggestion as that has, never entered my head. I have travelled in the Old Country, and in America, and happen to know what tipping is, certainly better than does the Minister. I think that the Prime Minister would have done well to have gone to the Old Country more as a representative of Australia than as a representative of the Labour party. He was met everywhere by Labour men - men who were no friends to this country. I think that he should have taken higher ground, and kept on a higher plane than he did. Keir Hardie, Ben Tillett, Barnes, and others, were not the men whom this country sent the Prime Minister Home to collogue with.

Senator Pearce - Where did Ben Tillett meet the Prime Minister ?

Senator McCOLL - His name was mixed up with the Prime Minister and his party right through the affair.

Senator Pearce - Where did he meet the Prime Minister?

Senator McCOLL - I am not sure.

Senator Pearce - You ought to be sure before you speak.

Senator McCOLL - The Prime Minister was with Keir Hardie, anyway. However, I have no doubt that our friends had a good time in England. Fifty banquets in forty days was really good work. But I am afraid that they hankered very much more after the flesh-pots of Egypt than after the tents of Jacob. We may well ask ourselves now - what is Australia going to get from the whole expedition? The answer is, I think - practically nothing, or very little indeed. Ministers went to London to do honour to the King, and that is about the beginning and end of the whole matter.

Senator Pearce - Does the honorable senator say, then, that Australia should not have been represented at the Imperial Conference?

Senator McCOLL - Certainly Australia should have been represented, but we did not require a whole posse of officials, nor did Federal Ministers need to be drynursed by their secretaries. .

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator said that it would have beep better if we had stayed away.

Senator McCOLL - I did not say that Ministers should have stayed away. I know that one or two had to attend. It seems to me that Ministers and their supporters have been extremely unfair in regard to the claims made as to the origin of our present system of military and naval defence. A previous speaker attempted to give the whole of the credit to the Labour party. I interjected that that was exceedingly unfair to Mr. Deakin. Honorable senators opposite know very well that the establishment of an Australian Navy has been advocated for years by the Age and Mr. Deakin.

Senator McGregor - How many years?

Senator McCOLL - Six or seven years. If honorable senators opposite will read the reports of the various Conferences, they will see that what I have stated is correct.

Senator McGregor - Read the report of the 1903 Conference.

Senator McCOLL - Mr: Deakin did not go to England on that occasion. Australia was represented by Sir Edmund Barton and Sir John Forrest.

Senator Pearce - Read the report of the Conference that took place in Australia in 1903.

Senator McCOLL - Something had to be done in the matter of defence at that time. The British Government wanted the naval subsidy to be nearly doubled. They succeeded in getting a promise that Australia would pay £200,000 a year and New Zealand £40,000, for naval defence. When that proposal was submitted here it was opposed by the Labour party, who have always been opposed to the British Fleet and the British Army. They have never had a good word to say for the British soldier and sailor. The establishment of an Australian Fleet has for years been in Mr. D eakin 's mind, though he had to accept the proposals made by Sir Edmund Barton and Sir John Forrest. If Parliament had rejected those proposals, we should have been loafing on the British Government and paying nothing for our naval protection. From that time forth, however, Mr. Deakin used all his efforts to get the Naval Agreement with the Admiralty cancelled. In 1907 he submitted definite proposals for the cancellation of the Agreement, and it was cancelled. To say, therefore, that the new scheme of defence is due to the Labour party is simply equivalent to going about in filched plumage. If honorable senators opposite will read the magnificent speech by Mr. Deakin, in which he laid down the whole platform and policy of naval and military defence in another place, they will realize how unjust their claims are. On that occasion Mr. Fisher said that the speech was the finest utterance Mr. Deakin had ever made, and that he cordially agreed with the policy there laid down. But Mr. Deakin did more than that. He placed £250,000 to a Trust Fund for naval defence purposes, though a promise was given that the money would not be touched until Parliament determined exactly how it should be spent.

Senator Pearce - If eloquent speeches could have built a navy, we should have had the biggest navy in the world.

Senator McCOLL - That sneer is utterly unworthy of the Minister. I am afraid that he is getting "swelled head," and is trying to trade upon the achievements of others, with which his own will stand no comparison. When the Labour Government came into office they took the money which Mr. Deakin had put aside for naval purposes and spent it, without the authority of Parliament, on the building of three destroyers. If honorable senators opposite say, therefore, that this Government is the author of the present policy of naval and military defence, they are claiming credit that is not due to them. I hope that the question will be definitely looked into by some impartial authority, and that the history of it will be given, in order that credit and blame may be attributed to the right people. I would especially ask honorable senators opposite to read that magnificent speech made by Mr. Deakin in 1907. With regard to the building of war-ships, I should like to know why a contract was given to the New South Wales Government to build for cost, with 10 per cent, added, without affording Victorian firms an opportunity to tender? 1 feel sure that other firms would have been glad to undertake the work on those terms. I also desire to touch on the question of universal training. I believe that the night drills for boys are doing a great deal of harm. Only the other day a State schoolteacher spoke to me in a very serious way as to their effect upon our youths.

Senator McGregor - Does the honorable senator want the boys to drill on Sundays ?

Senator McCOLL - I want them to drill on Saturdays and in daylight. This teacher said to 'me that, while the system was benefiting the youths physically, it was having a demoralizing effect upon them. I would urge the Minister to give this subject his most serious attention. If I had a lad of fourteen years of age, I would not send him to night drills. I would rather pay the penalty, and, if I could not get out of it in any other way, I would send him out of the country. I cannot think that it is right to require lads to go out to drill at night, with all sorts of fellows, listening to all sorts of language, under officers who have no real control over them. Some cases have been reported of larrikinism by some of the youths, but the Acting Minister of Defence merely sneered and took no further notice of them. Then there is the matter of drill halls. These lads should be drilled in proper halls, which should be obtained by the Government. Ministers say that they have attempted to obtain the use of halls all over the country, and have failed. But they refuse to grant the use of their own drill halls for any purpose. Only last week, application was made by a physical culture class in Kerang for the use of a drill hall in that neighbourhood for an hour or two a week. They were refused. Yet the Government say that Town Halls should be placed at their disposal for drilling purposes.

Senator McGregor - We never said anything of the kind.

Senator McCOLL - Ministerial supporters have said so, and have complained that Town Halls were not placed at their disposal. In Canada, some of the finest halls in the country are what are called " Armouries," which are used for training purposes. Forces who have the use of places like those become, proud of their institutions and buildings, and are pleased to be trained in them. To drill young lads in the open air at night is not a right thing at all. If the ,£30,000 in excess of the amount authorized by Parliament, which has been spent upon the Federal Capital, had been devoted to the erection of drill halls in various parts of Australia, there would not have been so much ground for complaint. Parliament authorized the expenditure of £54,000 on the Federal Capital, but ,£84,000 has been spent. That was not a proper thing to do, and many of those who now support the Government would have complained if it had been done by any other Ministry. It also looks as if we were not going to get the best design obtainable for the Capital City. Competition is to be limited to a very small circle. When Washington was laid out, designs were invited from the whole world, and, as a matter of fact, a Frenchman was chosen ultimately to lay out the city. Every one who has been there knows that Washington is one of the best designed cities in the world. An endeavour should have been made to meet the views of English architects, in order that the widest possible range of competition might have been secured. One must be disappointed at knowing that nothing definite is contemplated in regard to the Tariff. We are told in the GovernorGeneral's Speech that the operation of the existing Tariff is " being carefully watched," but watching seems to be all that is to be done. I do not agree with the argument that before we touch the Tariff we should see to it that the workers get full benefit from it. Senator Givens was quite right in the argument he addressed to the Senate this afternoon. He said that' if we are going to pursue the policy of securing full benefits to the workers before we institute a thoroughly scientific Protective Tariff, we shall, in the end, probably have a great Tariff but nobody working under it. I have always contended that we should secure work for our workmen first, and insure proper conditions of labour afterwards. But if we are going to deprive Australia of an effec tive Tariff until the labour conditions are satisfactorily arranged, we might as well wipe out Protection altogether. The truth seems to me to be that the Government are not sure of carrying Protection within their own party. We know that originally that party was just about equally divided on the Tariff issue.

Senator de Largie - We are not sure about carrying the honorable senator's kind of Protection at any time.

Senator McCOLL - Honorable senators opposite are not sure of themselves. They feel uneasy as to not being on safe lines. They say, " This is a thorny subject, and if we touch it we shall have our hands scratched; therefore, we will simply watch and do nothing." But that was not what the people expected at the last election. Thousands of Protectionists'- votes were given to the Labour party because it was believed that the country would get a larger measure of Protection from them than from the Fusion Government. Now, those voters feel that they have been betrayed. But there is another great danger to Protection in this country. We cannot shut our eyes to the danger that Protection may be ruined by the trade unions.

Senator Findley - We would get on all right if we had freedom of contract?

Senator McCOLL - The honorable senator will provoke some very nasty . remarks if he does not remain silent. At the Collingwood hat factory, from £^200,000 worth to .£300,000 worth of hats were manufactured last year, and £^200,000 worth were imported. Why were they imported? Because the factory could not get the labour which it required. The Hatters' Union kept five hatters, who possessed certificates of competency and the clearances from their unions, out of work for three months after their arrival here, because it would not admit them into its ranks, unless they agreed to pay £40 each. This want of labour is what is going to kill Protection. Labour is wanted in almost every branch of industry in this country. Only a little while ago, I entered a furniture warehouse for the purpose of purchasing two or three small articles. I could not obtain them because, the factories, I was informed, were unable to fulfil their orders on account of the scarcity of labour.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - What were the benefits which the hatters were to derive for the money which they agreed to pay to the union?

Senator McCOLL - The right to work, which ought not to be denied to any man. To tell them that before they can obtain employment they must pay a heavy penalty is a queer way of extending a cordial invitation to them.

Senator St Ledger - It is sweating the worker.

Senator McCOLL - Then we are promised the establishment of a Commonwealth bank. I should like to know who is the Government adviser in this matter. Is it the Yankee who is running the Department of Home Affairs?

Senator Findley - I think, that is an unfair remark to make.

Senator McCOLL - He is the only person whose name is mentioned in connexion with it.

Senator Needham - Who is the Yankee?

Senator McCOLL - Mr. O'Malley,the gentleman who is administering the Department of Home Affairs, and who uses such very correct and elegant language himself.

Senator O'Keefe - He is not a Yankee, but a Canadian.

Senator McCOLL - The establishment of a Commonwealth bank is a very big question. Similar institutions have been started in other countries, and we know the ruin which they have brought upon those countries. I ask the Government to be very careful in entering upon financial undertakings of this character. I believe that the idea underlying it is not so much a desire to help the people as_ to wage a vendetta against existing institutions. I hold no brief for private banks, or monopolies of any kind. But we must remember that banks as they exist today are an absolute necessity. I have made some inquiries into this question, and I have ascertained that the average amount held per shareholder in three banks in this city represents only ^£520 in two and £250 in the other. It is all very well to hold out to the people the delusive hope that they will be able to obtain cheap money; but our Savings Banks are paying depositors 3J per cent. on. their deposits, and lending money out at a\ per cent.

Senator Millen - If the Commonwealth bank pays its depositors a higher rate of interest, it cannot lend money as cheaply as can existing institutions.

Senator McCOLL - Of course not. If we hit a bank we do not harm it, but we harm the whole community.

Senator O'Keefe - The Savings Bank will only pay 3J per cent, upon deposits UP to ^250.

Senator McCOLL - More than that amount may be deposited at the interest rate if it be placed to the credit of a trust account. Better terms cannot be obtained from any bank.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - It would be interesting to know how the honorable senator voted when he was a member of the Victorian Government at the time of the banking crisis. He ought to defend private banks.

Senator McCOLL - It is a great pity ' that the Government did not prop up all those banking institutions which failed at the time of that memorable crisis, because I believe that their security was absolutely sound. They should not have been allowed to suspend payment.

Senator Lynch - What about the Federal bank ?

Senator McCOLL - I believe that the security held by each of those banks was good enough.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - If their securities were sound, why did they suspend payment?

Senator Millen - For the simple reason that -their assets were not liquid.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Senator McColl gave a vote in the Victorian Parliament while that crisis was on. I will give him the particulars of that vote as it is recorded in the Victorian Hansard.

Senator McCOLL - I was a member of the Victorian Government at the time the banks suspended payment. It was not our fault that they did so. We did what. we could to keep them going.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - In what way?

Senator McCOLL - I do not remember. I know that the honorable senator is the ferret of his party, so that he can look the matter up.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I am not the fox of my party.

Senator McCOLL - No; the .honorable senator is the Thug of his party--- the knocker-out.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - On a point of order, I wish to know whether it is parliamentary to use that expression.

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