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Friday, 16 August 1912

Debate resumed from 15th August (vide page 2215), on motion by Senator McGregor -

That this Bill be now read a second time.

Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [2.32].- In dealing with this Bill, it is well that honorable senators should have a clear understanding of our financial position. I would remind them that, whilst we have been experiencing years of abundance, which have resulted in an overflowing Treasury, we ought not to lose sight of the fact that we cannot expect those conditions to continue indefinitely.

Senator McGregor - If the Labour party be kept in power, the country is bound to have good seasons.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I have no doubt that Providence has a very high opinion of the Labour party.

Senator Millen - I thought it was some other power than Providence who looked after his own.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - We have to look forward to the time when we shall experience lean years, and, consequently, it is not wise for Parliament to burden itself in years of prosperity with an extravagant expenditure. Provision should be made for the bad years which will inevitably confront us sooner or later. The Vice-President of the Executive Council said that the Government were taking advantage of the fat years to expend money in providing employment for the people.

Senator McGregor - I never said anything about providing employment. I spoke of providing the buildings and other equipment which are necessary to carry on the business of the country.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - The Vice-President of the Executive Council stated that while we have an overflowing Treasury, we should embrace the opportunity to erect all the buildings we may deem to be necessary in the interests of the Commonwealth. I need scarcely point out that if we have an abundant revenue, and if we expend it upon public works, we must necessarily provide a large measure of employment for the people. But private individuals are also desirous of laying out their capital to advantage, and of doing so with a view to making themselves secure when the lean years come round. This policy inevitably increases the cost of construction in every direction, and the cost of construction is an element which must be taken into consideration in connexion with the cost of living. By the expenditure of large sums upon public works, at high rates of wages, fictitious conditions will be established, which will only serve to accentuate the trouble we shall experience when that expenditure has to be curtailed in times of depression. It would be far better, I contend, if, instead of spending so largely in periods of prosperity, we made provision for carrying on a fair amount of work in the country during periods of depression, thus affording employment to the people. We must recollect, too, that in times of adversity, we cannot raise additional revenue by means of taxation. In saying that, I am merely repeating what has been the history of Australia since its earliest settlement. Years ago it used to be our boast that Australia was one of the lightest-taxed countries in the world. What do we find to-day? The reverse of the picture is becoming very apparent. If honorable senators will refer to the Budget-papers, they will see that the estimated revenue for the current financial year is £4 7s.per capita, as against £4 10s. last year, and £4 5s. the year previously. Those three years represent the period during which the Labour party have been in power, and if honorable senators will take the trouble to compare those figures with the figures relating to previous years, they will find that while there has been an enormous increase in our revenue per capita, taxation is higher to-day than it ever was before.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator does not call the revenue derived from the Postal Department taxation?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I will give the Vice-president of the Executive Council the benefit of that. The postal revenue per capita for the current year is estimated at 17s.103/4d., and from coinage, at 73/4d. These two items make a total of 18s. 61/2, which has to be deducted from the £4 7s. per capita, of which I have spoken. When that deduction has been made, it will be seen that an enormous amount of money will still have to be extracted from the people of this country. We must recollect that that taxation is not calculated upon the basis of the heads of families. It includes both the tiny infant and the old-age pensioner, who do not contribute to the revenue. This expenditure has to be collected from less than 1,000,000 heads of families. Consequently, it requires to be multiplied four or five times over if we are to ascertain, approximately, the amount which the bread-winners of the Commonwealth have to contribute. In this connexion we have also to consider the taxation which is levied by the State Governments upon their citizens. What that taxation averages I am not aware. But I do know that in New South Wales it is very much higher than it has hitherto been. In conjunction, Commonwealth and State taxation represents an enormous impost upon the people of this country. The question, therefore, naturally suggests itself, " Shall we be able to raise an equivalent amount during the lean years which we must experience sooner or later?"

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Has the honorable senator any suggestion to make whereby taxation may be reduced?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - It is my duty to direct attention to the position rather than to devise a remedy.

Senator McGregor - When the honorable senator's party were in power they did nothing.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - When the Liberal party were in power, they had not anything like the revenue which the Commonwealth is collecting to-day. I recollect one Minister of the Crown who used to declare that the Commonwealth Government were the meanest Government he had ever known, because of the small amount which they expended upon their various services. In the early days of the Federation the Commonwealth was accustomed to return to the States large sums in excess of its constitutional obligations, and in that connexion it committed a very serious mistake, because many of the works which are now so urgently required might well have been undertaken then.

Senator O'Keefe - The honorable senator's voice was never raised in this chamber against that practice. He was one of the advocates of returning that money to the States.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - The Constitution required the

Commonwealth to return a certain proportion of revenue to the States; but the Commonwealth returned to them large sums in excess of that.

Senator O'Keefe - And the honorable senator was an advocate of that course.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I neither advocated nor dissented from it. But whether I advocated it or not, I am perfectly free to admit that we made a serious mistake. It was not only a serious mistake in the interests of the Commonwealth, but also of the States themselves, because it induced them to spend money much more freely than there was any necessity to do. I should like honorable senators to look also to the large amount of revenue from Customs and Excise. It totals something like £14,000,000. Then there is the revenue from land tax,£1,400,000, derived from a very limited number of taxpayers. We cannot expect to obtain large sums from taxation always. We shall have good seasons and bad seasons. During good times taxation is not felt to be so oppressive as it is in bad times. The probability is that the revenue from land tax will diminish in consequence of the decreased value of lands available for taxation. If the policy of breaking up large estates be successful, the revenue from land tax will be small. We have to consider whether, in view of such contingencies, we can meet the expenditure with which we are faced. It is a wise thing for a country to exercise its taxation powers within reasonable limits. If the country were faced with a grave crisis such as war, our expenditure would naturally increase materially, and we ought to have such a reserve power of taxation as would enable us to raise money in an emergency. Otherwise, we are living in a fool's paradise. We seem to be spending money in every direction without considering whether the whole of the expenditure is justified, and without regard to the advisableness of distributing it over a number of years. If honorable senators take the trouble to read the literature regarding the finances of the Commonwealth, they will realize that we are pledged to enormous commitments. We do not even know what some of the works will ultimately cost. Over and over again, so many thousands are put down " towards cost of construction " of one work or another; but no intimation is given as to how much money will be required in the total. I have an instance in my mind regarding a public work that it was considered desirable to carry out, and which would probably cost£70,000 or£80,000. The sum put down was simply "towards construction" £ 18,000 or thereabouts; and there was not a single word to show what the work would ultimately cost.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Does the honorable senator think that the Government commences any work without having an estimate of total cost?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - The Government may have an estimate of their own, but they do not furnish such information to us. Why have not members of Parliament particulars of these works in order that they may know to what we are committing ourselves? At some time we shall have a change of Government. The history of parliamentarygovernment shows that the strongest party is always eventually sent into Opposition. It will be the ' same here. It will be a nice state of things for the Government that succeeds the present one to find itself faced with large commitments and an empty Treasury. I am reminded that in the case of the Western Australian railway we have no information as to how long the work will take to complete.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Has the honorable senator seen no estimate of the total cost of that railway?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - We have had no satisfactory information on the subject. The most definite thing that we know about the financial policy of the Government is that they are determined, as far as they possibly can, to pay for works out of revenue; and, if necessary, to impose extra charges upon the people to do so. Take the Defence expenditure. I am prepared to. support any reasonable policy to put this country in a proper state of defence. We have entered upon a national training system, and a na val defence system, which, speaking generally, I support; but it is alarming to contemplate the commitments we have in hand, and which are to be paid for out of current revenue. Senator McGregor told us that we had spent last year£1,108,171 on naval construction, and that there is £1,196,829 at the disposal of the Government towards the construction of ships taken from the surplus revenue of last year. That money is to be provided out of current revenue for services the payment for which might very well have been spread over ten or twelve years. It would be far wiser to spread expenditure in that way. I admit that when it becomes necessary to add to our Fleet, we may have to take stock of the position afresh. In the early days, it would have been a fair and reasonable thing to distribute expenditure over a term of years instead of taking the money out of current revenue. It may be said that that policy involves borrowing money and paying interest. But the principle that I lay down is that when money is borrowed provision ought to be made for writing off the debt by annual sums with an amount added to provide for repairs. Under the heading of Home Affairs Department, an expenditure of £609,099 is provided for defence purposes; under the heading of Defence Department a further sum of ,£900,925 is provided ; while the cost of Defence administration runs up to £2,869,693. In other words, it is contemplated that the expenditure during the current year for Defence will be upwards of ,£5,500,000. While I want to see our Defence policy pursued efficiently and effectively, I also want it to be carried out on the most reasonable terms possible. When I recall the time - a comparatively few years ago - when it was laid down as a dictum by the Labour party that £850,000 ought to be an ample sum to spend annually on the defence of this part of the Empire, and find that they are so largely increasing the annual expenditure, I pause to ask myself whence comes, this great change of opinion on their part.

Senator de Largie - There have been great changes since those days. A lot of water has run over the mill-wheel.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I am glad to have the interjection, because it shows that our honorable friends opposite have realized the great necessity there is for defending the country. T give them all due credit for that. If we could afford to do it, it might be wise to expend twice the amount which they propose in any one year. I realize to the fullest extent not alone the advantage it is to us to protect ourselves, but the duty that devolves upon us to do what we can to assist in the defence of the Empire generally. And, of course, every citizen has a stake in the country, and an interest in its defence. I was very pleased to see the reply which the Minister of Defence gave to a deputation the other day when he reminded the gentleman who had said that a certain class had nothing to defend, that they had a great deal to defend.

Senator Needham - Some members of your party have said time and again that Labour men have no stake in the country.

Senator Chataway - And plenty of Labour men have said that they have nothing to defend.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I am not here to defend what other persons have said. But apart from that, I would point out to my honorable friends that the freedom which we enjoy is absolutely dependent upon our being able to maintain our policy by force of arms, or entirely dependent on the great old Mother Country, which has made it possible for a great free Australia to exist, and for the ideals of the people of this country to be carried into effect, although those ideals are felt by foreign nations to interfere with what they believe they ought to have the right to do. Were it not for that fact, mv honorable friend's ideal of a White Australia would be gone to-morrow. Their ideal of freedom, reasonable hours of labour, and reasonable rates of pay, would- go by the board if we had not the advantage of the protection of the Mother Country. Probably these Estimates contain very many items which might well have been allowed to stand over for another year. I know that where the revenue is limited, very frequently Governments have to decline to carry out many works which they consider would be to the great advantage of a particular district, or a Department. They have to cut their coat according to the cloth. We have to look to the possibilities of the future, and we should not rush into a great expenditure when we might obtain the same results on more easy and equitable terms to the taxpayers. I do not want to be misunderstood in the matter. We should consider where we are being led by these items. When I turn to the Estimates for the Postal Department,. I find large commitments, but I recognise that it is a Department which must be carried on, and is, to a certain extent, revenue producing.

Senator McGregor - Have you pointed out yet the Departments in which you would like to cut down the expenditure?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - That is no part of my duty at the present time.

Senator McGregor - You are not showing where you would economize.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I am showing that the expenditure is very great, and has increased very rapidly. I want the Government to realize that some day we may be overtaken by great difficulties in regard to our financial obligations and commitments, and that there are ways and methods of meeting them which could be very reasonably adopted at the present time.

Senator O'Keefe - Tt is a fair thing to tell us where you would lop off expenditure.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - How can I say where that should be done? In these Estimates, I find an item for a drill hall here," or a post-office there. What knowledge have I to enable me to say that the proposed expenditure should stand over till next year? I assume that the Government always make proper inquiries,, but I want them to realize that with an overflowing Treasury there is a great tendency to expend the money right away, irrespective of what may happen in Ihe future. Then we want to know what is the policy of the Government, and in what circumstances these moneys are to be expended. Are fair opportunities to be given to everybody in the country? Are these public works to be carried out under a system of preference to unionists alone, or are they to be carried out under a system of open competition? It has been laid down by our honorable friends on the other side that preference to unionists should be observed, and we know, too, from reports or articles which we have read that a special provision was made a little time ago that when tenders are called for preference shall be given to unionists in all cases. I contend that the Government of the day have no business to advantage one portion of the community at the expense of the other. The Government of a country whether returned by a Labour or a Liberal party owe a duty not merely to the party by which they were returned, but to the people of the country, and they should give equal opportunities to every man in it. It is not for the Government of Australia to say that no one but unionists shall be permitted to earn any of the money which for public purposes is taken out of the pockets of the people who are unionists and non-unionists. The policy of the Government should be to know no person or persons in a matter of this kind, but simply to say, " There is public work to be done. It is immaterial to us whether it is done by unionists or nonunionists, so long as it is done honestly and fairly, and at a reasonable rate, and we get value in return." When my honorable friends say, as has been said, that preference is to be given to unionists, they are introducing in the most vicious way imaginable, the principle of " Spoils to the Victors." To-day, the Labour party happen to be on top. If they intend to expend the public moneys amongst their friends alone, then they will do a gross act of injustice to the people of the country, and will not be true to their position of trust.

Senator McDougall - Why do not the men join unions?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - If the honorable senator says that he will expend his own money only amongst unionists, he is perfectly within his .rights, and it would be a piece of presumption and impudence for any person to question his act.

Senator McDougall - Why does your union get a preference?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - The legal profession is absolutely open to all members of the community if they can pass the examinations.

Senator McDougall - They could be admitted without examination.

Senator Millen - If there is a union in the legal profession, every member is allowed to vote politically as he likes.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - Yes. He can vote as he likes.

Senator Chataway - It is done for the protection of the public.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - Yes; but is preference to unionists instituted for the protection of the public? Suppose that my honorable friend sitting opposite, and myself, are two working men - one a unionist, and the other a non-unionist, but both equally capable. Is there any justification for saying that the unionist shall obtain- the Government money as against the non-unionist? Each of us is contributing towards the cost of government, and therefore we are entitled to equal consideration with regard to the expenditure of that money.

Senator O'Keefe - What system was adopted by past Governments?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - They invited tenders for a work, and accepted the lowest tender, if the officers reported that the tenderer was capable of carrying out the work.

Senator McGregor - All things being equal is the condition of preference.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - Even that was not mentioned by the Government. Two men are equally competent to perform a particular work, but the Government who have the public money to expend, say, " We are going to give a preference to the unionist, because he is just as good as the other man." I have noobjection to an honest, straightforward trade union, but I do object to a political trade union in which a man has to abandon his political views and principles in order that he may have an opportunity of earning a crust for himself, his wife, and his family. That is one of the grossest injustices of which unionists are guilty.

Senator McGregor - A statement like that is untrue.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - The honorable senator knows perfectly well that there is one union in the community that refused to accept preference to unionists when it was told that it would have to abandon the political plank of its platform.

Senator Henderson - Quite right, too.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - If the honorable senator, Senator Millen, and I were in a trade union, and some matter cropped up on which the honorable senator entertained a very strong antagonistic opinion, would he think it fair if we made him pay a third of the cost of carrying our view into effect? That is where it is unfair. If men want to band themselves together for the purpose of obtaining reasonable rates of wages, and reasonable conditions of labour, let them do so. I do not object to their action, but I do object to the other thing. However, I have been carried away from the point that I want to make, and that is that the policy of this Government has been, and is, preference to unionists. What have unionists done that, so far as earning wages is concerned, several millions sterling should be expended for their benefit alone? Again, take the question as it affects contracts. Why should there be a provision as to preference at all ? I can understand a provision that a man who receives a contract shall pay a reasonable rate of wages, but I do not understand this provision. Then I should like to know how much of this work is to be carried out by day labour.

Senator O'Keefe - As much as possible, I hope.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - Is the honorable senator prepared to assist us to obtain information with regard to the scandals which are said to exist in connexion with the use of day labour ?

Senator O'Keefe - Hear, hear, yes.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - We have been told through the press that there have been grave scandals and a great defrauding of the people of the country.

Senator Henderson - You have been told a lot of things through the press which contain no vestige of truth, and you know it.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - We have been told many things which I have no doubt contain more than a vestige of truth.

Senator Needham - Who is " The ma» on the job? "

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - There has been a great deal of outcry with regard to " The man on the job," but up to the present the Government have given no answer to the charges. If they could be disproved by the production of departmental documents, and we find that those documents are not produced, we are justified in assuming that there is a great deal more than a vestige of truth in those charges. If Senator Needham will only use his influence with the Government to have the official documents produced we shall learn whether the charges which have been made have any foundation in fact or not. I am sure there is no one in the country who would not welcome a complete refutation of those charges. They have been made publicly by a reputable newspaper which has held a position of respect in the community for a great many years. It may be that honorable senators opposite do not believe in the policy of that newspaper, but that is no reason why they should treat charges made in it with contempt, particularly when they have been backed up in the way these charges have been. Statements have been deliberately made in another place that certain reports have been sent in to the Government. Is it not a very simple matter to ascertain the truth of those statements. The Prime Minister was invited to place the whole of the official documents on the table in another place. Has he done so? We know that he has not. A charge is made against a member of the Ministry, not that he has been corrupt, but that he has been hoodwinked by men who are not doing a fair day's work for his Department. It is said that supervising officers have sent in reports complaining that men employed by the Department have not been doing their duty. That is a definite state- ment. Another statement made is that the men can get the ear of the Minister, whilst superintendents and overseers are not given the same opportunity, and there is now such a reign of terror in the Department that responsible officers dare not make reports as to laxity in the work done by the men, or make them at their peril.

Senator Long - Dreadful !

Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERT

GOULD. - The honorable senator may say that, but it should be a very easy matter to refute the charges that have been made, if there is no truth in them. I do not say that the Government should take any notice of mere tittle tattle, but when a challenge comes from a reputable quarter it is up to the Government, either to admit that a mistake has been made, or to produce evidence to show that the charges are untrue, and that the employes of the Department have been seriously maligned.

Senator Long - Does the honorable senators call a slander on good, honest, hard-working men a challenge?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I say that every honest, hardworking man is entitled to the greatest consideration. But I say also that the man who deliberately loafs and does not give a fair return for the wages paid him is absolutely dishonest, and is deserving of no consideration.

Senator O'Keefe - In whatever walk of life he may be.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - Yes, in whatever walk of life he may be. When the honesty and integrity of the employes of the Government are assailed as they have been, the Government should meet the charges made, and let us see whether they are true or not.

Senator Blakey - Every charge has been refuted by the Prime Minister in another place.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I ask honorable senators opposite to say whether there has been any straightforward refutation of the charges.

Senator Blakey - There has been a report from the Deputy Postmaster- General.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - Let the Government produce the official reports, and if they show that there is no truth in the charges that will be a complete refutation. The Honorary Minister laughs-

Senator Findley - I do.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I suppose that the honorable senator thinks that when such charges are made a Minister has only to say that they are incorrect, and that should be the end of the matter.

Senator Findley - Did not the Prime Minister say something more than that?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - It is the duty of the Government to give the fullest possible information to Parliament. Why do we sit on different sides ? We are separated by certain political principles, but no matter what Government may be in power all their acts of administration should be of such a character that if any charges are made against them, it should be possible to refute them by the production of documents which could not have been prepared for a special occasion. No one would more gladly welcome than I should a complete refutation of these charges.

Senator Long - Has the honorable senator read the articles which have appeared in the Age about these slanders?

Senator Millen - Are honorable senators opposite taking the Age back into their political bosoms?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - It is wonderful to consider the opinions expressed about newspapers. If the Age had made these charges I should have urged just as strongly that they should be inquired into. If newspapers published in Sydney, or in Tasmania, made serious charges of this kind, I should just as readily ask the Government to give some reply to them.

Senator O'Keefe - The Age has been very rough on the honorable senator's party lately.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I have no objection to criticisms by the newspapers if they think we. are doing wrong. I hope that whatever may be the result of the charges made as to the way in which public works are being mismanaged the Government will, sooner or later, be in a position to refute them. I challenge them now to produce documents which will refute the charges made. If they are prepared to remain under the stigma cast upon them, and propose to suppress these documents, that is a matter for them to consider, but it is also a matter which the people will have to consider at an early date.

Senator Henderson - The people will consider it all right.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I dare say that Senator Henderson will have an opportunity of hearing some very wonderful revelations made when another Government occupies the Treasury benches.

Senator Henderson - - That is a very long way off.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - No doubt it will be fortunate for the honorable senator and the party to which he belongs if it is; as, in that case, the public will be kept longer in the dark with regard to many things which are hidden at the present time, but which ought to be open to the light of day.

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