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Wednesday, 21 August 1912

Senator SHANNON - Yes, with a vengeance I The Government are doing the very thing which has crippled the Territory. They are incurring an additional debt, with no possible chance of reducing the total indebtedness. That is exactly the policy which the Honorary Minister is carrying out so far as the poor old Territory is concerned. I hold that, before anything can be done there, it must be linked with the south. The first step to be taken is not to fill up the north with officials of every kind before anybody is there for them to do anything for, but to link up the north with the south. I am sorry that no provision is made in this Bill for the construction of a railway between those points. I honestly believe that the Minister of Defence is genuine in his attempt to defend Australia, but I am surprised that he did not instil into the minds; of his colleagues that the very first thing to be done for the proper defence of Australia is to connect the north and the south by railway.

Senator Gardiner - A railway from Brisbane straight across to Perth..

Senator SHANNON - Is that a railway from the north of Australia to the south? I am afraid that the honorable- senator is a little out in his geography. I do1 not believe that there is a member of the Senate who does not believe in the defence of Australia by Australians, and, holding that belief, there can be no two- opinions as to the construction of a railway to connect thenorth and. the south. I. repeat that one of the first works of *ny magnitude which honorable senators should have undertaken was to immediately connect the north and the south by a direct line.

Senator Blakey - Immediately ?

Senator SHANNON - Yes. If there is any member of this Parliament who understands the Northern Territory at all, he knows perfectly well that its development has- been retarded because the Parliaments of South Australia never grappled with that great difficulty of linking up the north and the south. _ t

Senator Findley - They had. the control of the Territory for fifty years.

Senator SHANNON - I know that they nursed the baby for fifty years. They nursed it through the bad times, and now when the times are better, and the Federal Treasury is overflowing - it may not always be overflowing - Australia has a golden opportunity to undertake this great work, and do something for posterity. I am sorry that no provision for the purpose is made in the Bill. 1 suggest, in all seriousness, for the consideration of the Government, and especially of Senator Pearce, that they should make immediate provision on the Estimates and get the work carried into effect. Senator O'Keefe said that now we have taken over the huge Northern Territory, it is too much to ask the Minister of Home Affairs to control the whole ol the public works. I am not in a position to say at this juncture whether that view is quite correct or not; but if the work is too much for the Minister, it is for ' the Ministry, as the leaders of Parliament, to say when an alteration of the Constitution should be made. As Senator O'Keefe properly pointed out, section 65 provides that, until the Parliament otherwise provides, the Ministry shall consist of seven Ministers.

Senator O'Keefe - And the Parliament may "otherwise provide" at any time.

Senator SHANNON - Who are to lead Parliament in this matter? Who are better fitted to say whether one Minister is overworked or not than the occupants of the Treasury bench? If they are satisfied that none of the' Ministers is overworked, I take it that Parliament will not be asked to make other provision ; but so soon as that work is more than seven Ministers can undertake-, I imagine that it will be their bounden duty to ask Parliament to provide more Ministers to help' them to carry out their duties efficiently. There is another question which has been brought forward very prominently, and that is preference to< unionists.. I wish, sir, to address myself, through you, to Senator Needham, who, I think, needs a little enlightenment on the question.

Senator Needham - Why do you single me out?

Senator SHANNON - I shall tell the honorable senator why. The extract he quoted from a letter by a person who refused to accept the services of a man because he did belong to a union was altogether irrelevant to what the Government are doing, in giving preference .to unionists. There is no analogy, so far as I can see, between the two cases. I have not the slightest objection to a private individual saying what class of labour he shall employ. I would not dream for a moment of questioning his right to employ any labour he pleased. He is quite at liberty to employ all unionists, or all non-unionists, or to take a mixture of both classes. He is at liberty to say, " I shall have none but unionists"; but is that an attitude for the Government of the country to adopt? I unhesitatingly say, " No." The Government are the custodians of the purse of the people, and they should say, " We are prepared to deal with all classes of the people fairly and squarely, and to give preference to none." They should not say, " We will give preference only to unionists, and that in every case." With reference to the criticism of "the man on the job," I yield to no person in the Commonwealth in my admiration for an honest working man. I have been an employer of labour since I was seventeen years of age, and I have never had the slightest difficulty with working men. I am an employer of labour today, and I am sure that any men in my employ would be only too willing, at any hour of the day or night, to do anything which I asked of them. I have been before the public of South Australia for nine years, and no one who cares to look up the records will find an instance where my vote or voice was cast against the interest of honest workers. They have my sympathy to-day. But I have no sympathy with the " speeding-up " principle, nor do I believe that a single senator has the slightest sympathy with it. Why? Because it is an inhuman principle. Tt is inhuman to ask a weakling to keep up with a strong and able man ; to pick out the strongest and most capable man in a team and ask weaklings to keep up to them. That is monstrous in the extreme, and has no sympathy from me or any other rightthinking man. On the other hand, is there an honest man in Australia who has the slightest sympathy with the " slowingdown " principle? If the "speeding-up" principle is inhuman, the " slowing-down " principle is absolutely dishonest. It is more honest for a man to come behind my back and take three or four shillings out of my pocket, than it is for him to do three or four shillings less work in a day than he should do. I do not know to what extent the " slowing-down " principle obtains in Australia. We do know, however, that, in some lines of business, men do not put forth their best efforts. That not right. It is no more right than it is to say to a slow man, "You shall keep up with the fast man." Neither of these things has my sympathy, and I trust that they have not the sympathy of any honorable senator. With reference to the question of contract versus day labour in carrying out public works, probably a great deal can be said on both sides. But, first and foremost, if day labour is to be carried out under any Government, the officers in charge of the works must have the absolute sympathy and support of those in authority. Otherwise you cannot secure that efficiency and discipline amongst the men which is necessary if you are to get a fair day's labour for a fair day's pay. I do not think that there is any honorable senator who wants, or has ever asked for, more than that. That is a fair all-round deal, and if it were carried out by all sections of the community, nobody ought to complain. But when we hear such statements as "It is not so much the work, as what you can get for it," that is not honest policy. The honest policy is, " If I get so much for my day's labour, I must give an honest day's work in return." And that is the policy which the Labour party ought to adopt. We have had the contract system tried in Australia. I do not know how far it has been tried under the Commonwealth. because I have not been long enough here to know. But I do know that contracts which were started on the day-labour system by a Government in the Commonwealth were thrown up after 30 miles of work had been constructed, and handed over to contract labour. I know, too, that where a Government in Australia tendered with day labour against contract prices, they were beaten by a very considerable sum. I am under the impression that on the Tailem Bend to Brown's Well railway, the difference was between £30,000 and £50,000, showing that contract labour can compete against day labour. The case referred to by Senator Vardon proves conclusively that the day labour system is not altogether what it should be under the Governments of Australia. That being the case, I ask the Government to take these questions into consideration in dealing with day labour. I do not wish it to be understood that I am opposed to day labour. I am not. 1 realize, as others who have spoken have done, that if a particular work were carried out by contract it would be done by day labour. But the difference is that the contractor would see that his men did a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. That is why a contractor can afford to do a piece of work cheaper than the Government can. If the Government intend to insist on the day-labour policy, I hope they 'will stand loyally by their officers, and that the officers will insist on getting a fair day's work out of the men. It has been alleged that those who have brought this subject before Parliament have charged the men with being malingerers and loafers. I deny that. I understand that Senator Vardon introduced the matter into the Senate by reading a cutting from one of the local papers. I have not been long enough in Victoria to know the character of these journals, and whether they are generally regarded as speaking with veracity. As far as I know, however, they are worthy examples of journalism. I believe that the newspapers of this country do their best, in the interests of the people, to expose grievances and evils that come under notice. But because Senator Vardon read this clipping from the Argus it has been asserted that he fathers the charges contained therein, and that the Opposition do the same. How can that statement be justified ? Honorable senators ought to welcome the bringing forward of such a matter. Here was a statement made in the public press on a matter of public interest. The honorable senator took the trouble to bring it under the notice of the Government. Surely he did no more than his duty. I say unhesitatingly that any senator who saw that such allegations had been made would be failing in his duty if he did not bring them under the notice of the Government, and ask for an explanation. It is not fair debating to represent that my colleague, Senator Vardon, in taking that course, was guilty of fathering the charges made in the journal from which he quoted.

I trust that honorable senators opposite will not regard me as a boy teaching his grandmother how to suck eggs when I say again that this is not fair debate.

Senator St Ledger - We are used to that.

Senator SHANNON - I am not, and trust that I shall not have to become accustomed to it whilst I have a seat in this Senate. In regard to Commonwealth expenditure, whilst I do not intend to enter into details, I cannot help realizing, after looking through this measure casually, that we are spending an enormous amount of money. I should like to sound a note of warning to the Government. Whilst they have an overflowing Treasury at present, they must not forget the source from which the money comes. They must not forget that federated Australia is only in its infancy, and that they are tapping nearly all the sources of wealth within the Commonwealth. We have rather more than a revenue Tariff, and on the top of that we have a land tax. It is true that the Government might, if they chose, increase the amount of the land tax. But what would be the result? Who is paying t'->e tax at present? Is the man on the land paying it? I venture the opinion that the man on the land is not paying so much as are the people in the cities. The centres of population are paying a very large percentage of the tax - probably more than one-third.

Senator Vardon - Nearly one-half.

Senator SHANNON - So much the worse. Do the Government and their supporters for one moment believe that the taxpayers submitted to this impost without a murmur? Do they think that the owners of property in Collins-street, some of whom perhaps had to pay a ten-pound note, part with their money without qualms? I do not think they do, but certainly when they have paid they put a little more on to their rents, and the shopkeepers put a little more on to the prices of the goods they sell, so that the consumer pays every time. I submit that consideration to the Government very seriously. They have an overflowing Treasury at present, but is it wise to spend the money as fast as we get it? Some honorable senators say that there is no need to put money by to pay off debts. Even my colleague, Senator Vardon, said that he did not believe in putting money by if it could be properly spent. That is just the point. I do not believe in holding money up if it can be spent to advantage, but I do believe in putting by a little for a dry day, because it is the dry days and not the rainy ones that are injurious to Australia. Look at some of the projects on which it is proposed to spend money. One is for a laundry. We have plenty of laundries already. Instead of spending money on wild-cat schemes of this kind Australia would be better served if we devoted the surplus revenue to the purposes of the Federal Bank, charging a small percentage to that institution for the use of it. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said, " All Australia has to do is to keep the Labour party in power, and it will enjoy good seasons." Well, it is quite true that the Government have been favoured with good seasons while they have been in office.

Senator Findley - God is on the side of the just.

Senator SHANNON - Yes, the Almighty has sent us very good seasons, but we have had very bad management. Money is tighter to-day than we have known it to be before in the history of Australia. Practically our financial institutions are refusing to open their hands in any shape or form. Meat is dearer than it has been for many years.

Senator Barker - Is that owing to the Labour party ?

Senator SHANNON - The point is that honorable senators opposite say, " Keep us in power, and the country will have good seasons." We have had good seasons, and what has the result been? I hope that we are not at the end of the good seasons.

Senator Pearce - Nor at the end of the Labour party.

Senator SHANNON - The sooner we come to an end of the Labour party the better. The Government have not done justice by the good seasons they have had. No one will say that we are faced with a bad season now. The rain has been held back, but since it commenced we have had one of the finest seasons I have ever known. Probably no honorable senator in this House has seen a finer season than the present. There has hardly ever been a better growth of vegetation.

Senator Pearce - Senator McColl said is was a bad season.

Senator SHANNON - It is not, speaking of Australia generally. But, notwithstanding that, we find that money Is scarce and meat is dear. Beef is selling at £2 per 100, sheep at £2 each. Eggsare 2s. a dozen. Even the hens go on strike against the Labour party. The affairs of the country have been very badly managed. . I put this proposition tothe Leader of the Senate : If we are fared with the difficulties to which I have referred when rain has only been withheld1 for two months later than usual in the year, what would be likely to be the result if we had two years of drought? That, is a possibility which the Government must face. When, with all the good seasonswe have had, such difficulties have arisen, what would happen to Australia if we experienced again such a drought as that from which we suffered in 1893? It behoves the custodians of the public purse in the Federal Parliament to be extremely careful in -the matter of public expenditure,, and to try to save a little in times of plenty, that we may have something in hand to meet the days of adversity.

Senator Ready - The honorable senator has just been advocating the spending of more money for the construction of a certain railway.

Senator SHANNON - I did so because the construction of that railway is necessary if we are to get any return for expenditure in the Northern Territory. The Commonwealth has taken over a province, and it is not a bit of use for us to sit down and look at it. As we have shouldered the responsibility for it, I say unhesitatingly that the only way in which to make it pay is to link north and- south by railway. The expenditure involved in that work would be justified. What I am 'asking the Government not to do is to spend money on steam laundries, baby bonuses, and the other silly rot which has been referred to.

Senator Gardiner - Does the honorable senator object to the baby bonus?

Senator SHANNON - I do object to it.

The PRESIDENT - Order'! There isno reference to that matter in the Bill.

Senator SHANNON - I admit that the resources and possibilities of Australia are very great ; but I still ask the Government to carefully consider the position, and not toheap up taxation so that they may squander the money as fast as they can get it. I thank honorable senators for the hearing; they have given me.

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