16th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– I have received from Mrs. D. W. Fowler a letter expressing thanks for, and appreciation of, the resolution of sympathy and condolence passed .by the Senate on the occasion of the death of the Honorable J. M. Fowler.
– I have to announce that, consequent upon the retirement of Mr. J. S. Weatherston, Mr. G. H. Romans has been appointed Principal Parliamentary Reporter, and Mr. A. P. Adams Acting Second Reporter.
Assent to the following bills reported : -
Supply Bill (No. 3) 1040-41. Loan Bill (No. 3) 1940.
– In view of the growing opinion that petrol rationing has not given the results that were expected by the Government, will the Leader of the Senate state whether the Government will now consider a more active exploitation of the oil-shale deposits throughout Australia, with a view to the development of such deposits as those at Baerami, in New .South Wales, and particularly that at Murrurundi? I have been informed by the Minister for Mines in New South Wales that the latter is the richest oilproducing shale deposit in Australia.
– That statement is not correct.
– I am supported by the records of the New South Wales Department of Mines. Will the Government initiate a policy for the development of these deposits under strict supervision, in order to bring about the muchdesired increase of the supply of petrol?
– The matters referred to have received the active consideration of the Government for some time. I shall bring the specific question of the honorable senator under the notice of the Minister for Supply and Development, and a reply will be furnished to him on Tuesday next.
– Can the Leader of the Senate give any indication when the present sittings of the Parliament will be concluded? I have asked this question owing to the difficulty of obtaining transport at this time of the year.
– The House of Representatives will be asked to assemble on Monday next, and it is hoped that the business now awaiting consideration will be concluded by next Thursday or Friday.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answer: -
Inquiries are being made, and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
asked the Minister for Supply and Development, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable senator’s questions is as follows : - 1 and 2. No. The scheme is to be reviewed early in the new year.
asked the Minister for Munitions, upon notice -
Will the Minister explain the appointment and suggested duties of the special officers who are to be appointed to interview applicants for employment in the Munitions Department?
– The special officers referred to are clerical officers with technical knowledge of the labour requirements of the munition factories, annexes, and contractors engaged on munition work. Their duties are to ascertain and record in detail the qualifications of applicants for employment, and their suitability for the various types of work for which employees are required, to attend to the requisitions for labour assistance from factories, and to allot suitable applicants for selection by the respective managements.
Minister representing the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
Has an agreement beenarrived at between the States and the Commonwealth relative to the marketing of the apple and pear crop for the coming fruit season?
– The Minister for Commerce has supplied the following answer : -
The Commonwealth Government has decided upona plan for marketing apples and pears during 1941. Agreement with the States was not necessary, but there were several consultations with the States and the industry, and the Government understands that the plan adopted is widely approved.
asked the Minis ter representing the Minister for the Army, upon notice-
– The Minister for the Army has supplied the following answers : - 1. (a) Compensation and hiring costs, £155; (b) and (c) The total cost of establishing the camp at Dapto and for certain demolitions on leaving the site was £15,604. All the buildings and plant were removed and used at Walgrove and elsewhere. The loss of equipment irrecoverable is approximately £250.
The cost of labour for initial erection and removal amounts to approximately £8,000.
Senator McLEAY (South Australia -
Postmaster-General). - by leave - In the debate on the budget in the House of Representatives on the28th November, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Cur tin), when resuming the debate on the first item in the Estimates, moved an amendment designed to postpone the consideration of the item. He adduced reasons why the item should be postponed. Those reasons amounted to a suggestion that certain adjustments should be made in the budget to deal with matters which he proceeded to enumerate. After the debate had proceeded for some time, the Government decided that, in view of the situation which Had developed, some effort should be made to secure a compromise which would be feasible and just, and would, at the same time, give due recognition to the numerical strength with which the Opposition parties were returned, at the recent elections. In other words, the paramount importance of the war and its administrative problems was felt to necessitate some give and take, if Parliament was not to proceed from one crisis to another, with all the dangerous interruption to administration which such a state of affairs would produce. Accordingly, a meeting of the Advisory War Council was summoned, that council being, in the opinion of the Government, an appropriate body before which the views of the leading members of the various parties could be exchanged. The Advisory War Council met yesterday, and a frank, amicable and constructive discussion took place. As the result of that discussion the Advisory War Council agreed that it would recommend to the various parties that certain amendments to the budget should be adopted. I propose to read the amendments to honorable senators, and, in doing so, I shall read paragraph 7 in the form to which it was altered at a further meeting of the Advisory War Council -
It was, as I have mentioned, agreed that these proposals should be recom mended to the respective parties. This course has been followed by the leaders of all parties. The recommendations have been accepted by the Government and by those who support it, and I am happy to be able to announce that they have been accepted by the Opposition.
The budget is now to be re-adjusted, and is to be read as if it included these matters. The legislation which had been prepared will be amended to any degree necessary to give effect to this decision.
Debate resumed from the 4th December (vide page 435), on motion by Senator McBride -
That the papers be printed.
– My approach to the budget proposals is, I trust, that of a realist who recognizes that, whether we like it or not, we are involved in a war, and that we must either fight and win or submit to defeat and all that defeat means. The Labour movement says that we must fight, and that the whole of our resources must be used to the best advantage. In my judgment, the resources at our disposal are not being used, and are not intended to be used, to the best advantage. We on this side do not object in the slightest degree to the proposed expenditure of approximately £274,000,000 this year, of which about £200,000,000 will represent war expenditure; but we do object to the way in which it is proposed to raise most of that money. We hear a good deal about equality of sacrifice, but the budget before us is not based on that most desirable principle. According to the Melbourne Herald of the 23rd November, the London Times of the previous day commented on the Australian budget in the following terms:-
The city’s first reaction to the Australian budget is that it is a good one. Increased demands on small wage-earners is described as an honest attempt to tackle the problem of consumption from the right end, namely, spending power. This is in contrast to the British budget, which left untouched a large proportion of extra wages and incomes generated by exchequer disbursements.
Apparently, the London Times considers that the Commonwealth Government is making an honest attempt to tackle the problem by taxing the purchasing capacity of small wage-earners, but it makes no reference to big incomes, which are greatly in excess of the reasonable requirements of those who enjoy them. In this country there are men like Mr. Harold Clapp, and others, who are paid salaries ranging from £1,000 to £4,000 a year - rates which I suggest are greatly in excess of their requirements. Inferentially, The Times has said that the Commonwealth Government, in taxing small wage-earners, has- set a good example which could well be followed by other governments. I object to money being raised by means of taxes on small wageearners. I object also to the enormous amount to be expended in paying interest. These proposals will not make the sacrifice equal ; on the contrary, the inequality of the sacrifice will be intensified. If the Government were really sincere in its desire for equality of sacrifice, it would take steps to bring down to £500 the incomes of all persons who now receive more than that amount, before it imposed any taxes on persons in receipt of less than £500 a year. Such action would not mean that persons with large incomes would have to forgo one necessary meal, of be deprived of adequate food, clothing, and shelter, or any of the reasonable amenities of life. It would, however, mean that persons in receipt of less than £500 a. year would be in a better position than they will be if effect be given to the Government’s proposals. It is sheer humbug and cant to talk about equality of sacrifice in circumstances which permit a privileged few to receive more than they actually need in a time of grave national emergency.
The Government’s proposal to raise £80,000,000 by the flotation of loans means that generations yet unborn will be committed to economic servitude in order to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds weekly, or millions of pounds each year, to persons who obviously will not have contributed towards the waT effort of this generation. That money will be paid not to the soldiers who will fight to win this war, but to the sons and daughters of investors who will hold bonds entitling them to extract heavy tribute from their fellows. Provided that the war ends within the life of this generation, its cost, in terms of man-power and materials, will be paid in full by this generation; but future generations will continue to pay tribute to people who did not contribute one unit of man-power or 1 oz. of material towards the war effort. If that money were used to assist the present generation to fight and work in order to maintain our possessions and win the war, it would be expended to far better advantage than in paying interest in future years to the sons and daughters of wealthy persons who, in this generation, invest their money in government loans. If it could be shown that the raising of loans were necessary in order to finance the war, I should be prepared to admit the necessity; but the need for these loans has not been, and cannot be. demonstrated. If an institution is in a position to lend money it is also in a position to pay taxes. If people with wealth were taxed as the Government proposes to tax wage-earners, there would be no need whatever to pay interest to investors during their lifetime and to their sons and daughters after their decease.
– Many of these institutions are trustee organizations which hold the life savings of people with small incomes.
– I expected that interjection, and I reply to it by saying that, if the war continues long enough, the Government will have to take over the control of the assets and liabilities of these institutions, so that it will not be committed to the payment of the interest to which I have referred. I do not suggest the repudiation of our liabilities to small investors - that would be distinctly dishonest as well as unnecessary; but I point out that in the lastwar considerable sums of money were borrowed, thereby committing the nation to the payment of about £240,000 a week in interest. There were also borrowings after the war. That policy culminated in the adoption of the Premiers plan. The people of this country were told that it was impossible for Australia to meet its commitments in respect of interest without drastic reduction* of governmental expenditure, salaries, wages, and so on. The plan was agreed to, with the result that, almost overnight, thousands of men, women and children in this country were rendered homeless.
– The honorable member’s party agreed to the plan.
– Not all parties agreed to it. At first the Premiers plan was not fully understood; but when it was realized that the people who were least able to pay, such as old-age pensioners and small wage-earners, would be hard hit by it, the Labour movement repudiated the plan and took action against those who were responsible for its introduction. The point I make is that this generation was born in economic servitude or slavery as the result of borrowing, and was committed to pay that enormous amount of interest which resulted in the starvation of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. Many thousands are still suffering as the result. While this war is on there will be no such thing as a Premiers’ plan for the reason that labour power will be indispensable. There will be no talk of re-adjustment in the event of our not being able to make interest payments. The workers will be indispensable. They will have to be housed and clothed and provided for. But after the war, when the Treasurer picks up the national ledger and sees the enormous liabilities to which this country is committed, an attempt may be made to reduce living standards, as was done in 1932, for the purpose of meeting the enormously increased commitments. If that be done, women and children and those least able to defend themselves, will be treated in a way approximating to the way in which they have been treated in Germany. They will be systematically starved and thousands will die as the result. If the working masses say, as they are most likely to say, that they will not submit to a demand similar to that to which they submitted in 1932, it will not be done; but if they do submit the consequences to them will be more widespread and disastrous than they were in 1932. Why should we commit those yet unborn to pay millions of pounds in interest to the sons and daughters of investors. They will not have contributed anything towards making this war-time effort successful, but they will be privileged to demand that tribute and will be backed up by the forces of law.
That is not only unnecessary, but also unjust, immoral, inhuman and unworthy of the best traditions of this country.
Taxes form the very basis and machinery of government, and the people must be taxed, but I object to the methods proposed to be adopted by the Government, particularly in this war-time effort. In doing so I would say with the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden), that the. whole of the new and increased taxes will be paid by the working class. According toHansard of the 23rd May, 1939, the Treasurer said, while debating the Supply and Development Bill in the House of Representatives -
I do not agree with methods of excess taxation, because I recognize - 1 speak with some experience - that all taxation is paid by the workers and the producers, who cannot pass it on.
That statement was made by a qualified man. The method that the Government proposes to adopt is a method by which the tax will be passed on by the people of wealth, like the Prime Minister, who said that his income tax would be trebled.
– How could the honorable gentleman pass his tax on?
– I could not pass mine on. My remarks apply to those who are engaged in business. Those in receipt of big incomes are doing much better while the war is on than they were previously. I support that statement by quoting from a confidential and special share market letter issued in October by J. B. Were and Son, stock and share brokers, of Capel Court, 375 Collinsstreet, Melbourne. That company is rightly recognized as an authority on finance. It advises clients as to how they can best invest surplus moneys. Amongst other things, the letter states -
Results of public companies which had issued accounts in 1940 have been very favorable and profits have been maintained.
– Does the honorable senator want them to make a loss?
– No; I am pointing out how they pass on the tax. It does not affect them at all. This circular advises investors of that fact. The Minister may peruse it. Coming to the November issue, after the budget was delivered, we find that J. B. Were and Son wore still of the same frame of mind. It states -
Old-established companies with large reserves will not in many cases be called upon to pay very much war-time profits tax even if earnings and dividends on the subscribed capital are more than 8 per cent. . . . the main point is that companies should be able to maintain profits at a satisfactory level, and, even after providing for the taxation outlined in the budget, their power to maintain dividends, at least at current rates, should not be any less.
The very highest authority, in my opinion, in Australia of the financial interests to which most of the members of the Government are committed, says that companies will he able to carry on regardless of the extent to which they are taxed. They will be able to do that mainly because of their ability to pass on the tax to those who are least able to pay. If any further doubt exists as to the position in that regard, I propose to q>uote from an analysis of capital investments in public companies registered or operating in Australia and New Zealand in 1939. This analysis is by Brian Fitzpatrick, M.A., Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne, whose many works on economics have received favorable comment. Following is his short summary of the financial history of Australia since the war began : -
I submit herewith five tables of statistics relating to public companies registered or operating in Australia and New Zealand in 1939. They are industrial companies, excluding banking, insurance, trustee and investment, building society and other miscellaneous financial companies. The results of some research, embodied in the tables, go to show -
1 ) that a substantial capital outlay has been made through 772 industrial companies;
that the great majority of 057 of those companies, i.e., those the balance-sheets of which T have been able to’ inspect, made substantial net profits in 1939, amounting on the average of all companies including 43 which showed a loss on the year’s operations, to 11.04 per cent., being the percentage of net profits on paid-up capital, or 12.97 per cent., being the percentage of net profits on cashpaid capital, i.e., excluding bonus capital issued free to shareholders out of accumulated profits; (3) that the accumulation of capital through reserved profits since 1885 in the case of some companies and since 1914 in the case of many, has been considerable and fairly consistent, denoting a high average return on capital invested; (4) that between three-fifths and two-thirds of the total capital invested in Australian’ public companies is invested in 91 companies, all being companies with share- holders’ funds exceeding £1,000,000; (5) that speaking generally the larger companies show greater net profits than the smaller; (6) that the practice of making large bonus issues is virtually confined to the highlycapitalized companies and to smaller companies associated with them; (7) that 00 companies closely associated by shareholdings in each other and by interlocking directorates. 42 individuals holding 145 directorships out of 260 in 45 of the companies, represent 28.6% of all shareholders’ funds invested in Australian public companies; (8) That the uniform .practice of these associated companies, hardly ever departed from in their history, has been to increase their capital only by bonus, par or premium issues to their own shareholders or by issues to companies absorbed or brought into association; (9) that my result showing C57 companies in 1939 making net profits amounting to an average of 11.04% on their paid up capital or 12.97% on their cash-paid capital is consistent with the result reached by P. V. McGee (paper in the Economic Record, Melbourne, November, 1926), viz., that the average net profits of 466 industrial companies in 1925-26 amounted to 12.31% on paid up capital and 14% on cash-paid capital; and (.10) that these results are all consistent with the results published by the Commonwealth Bank.
Thus we have it on the highest Australian financial authorities that, in spite of the war and the alleged increases of taxes on big incomes and profits, the budget proposals will not involve the slightest sacrifice on the part of wealthy companies. That is not merely the opinion of the Opposition, or myself, but the opinion of the high authorities which I have just cited. In the light of such evidence, which makes it clear that the whole of the increases of taxes will be passed on to the working class, my objection to the budget proposals is based on legitimate grounds. My objection is strengthened when I realize that the efficiency of this nation in the production of wealth, and of our fighting forces, depends mainly on those who are in receipt of low wages. Before the Government does anything to lower still further the living standard of that section of the community, it should reduce the living standard of the wealthy sections. When a ship is wrecked and its complement takes to the :boats, no distinction is made between first and second class passengers and members of the crew. The pampered people who were accommodated on the top deck, and enjoyed all the luxuries provided, find that they have a great deal more in common with, the members of the crew than they hitherto thought possible. They have to depend on the crew to save them. Are we to await a similar state of affairs before this Government, in prosecuting its war effort, will realize its obligations to the less fortunate sections of the community? If that be the case, it will he even worse for all of us. However, if the Government is prepared to collaborate with the Labour party in its approach to our present problems, we shall achieve a maximum war effort, not merely on paper, but in reality. But the Government must first abandon many of its budget proposals. So unjust do the taxation proposals appear to me, that I can only regard them as daylight robbery. In that connexion, I refer particularly to the increase of the sales tax, by which means the Government plans to raise an additional £5,000,000.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes). - The honorable senator is not in order in describing any proposal of the Government as “ daylight robbery “.
– I am contending that whilst the Government can legally take certain action, private individuals acting on the same principles, without legal authority, would be classed as robbers. For instance, the Government could, if it so desired, issue notes for which no backing of real wealth existed, but if I acted similarly, I would be punished. The effect on the unfortunate victims would be the same in either case. Any increase of the sales tax will force the poorer sections of the community to go without many of the necessaries of life.
– Will the honorable senator enumerate some of those commodities?
– I propose to do so. In extenuation of the Government’s proposal, it is said that many commodities will be exempt from sales tax. That is quite true. However, the prices of articles exempt from that tax will be increased, and such increases will have the same effect as increases of the tax. The price of an exempted article can be reduced in order to make it more attractive to buyers.
– That is a specious argument.
– It is not a specious argument, but an analytical argument. We should not take too much for granted. Anybody who has had long and varied experience in the hard school of adversity, like my colleagues and myself, do not take too much for granted. By inquiring more closely than a lot of people like, we discover that appearances are often misleading.
– The sales tax was originated by a Labour government.
– I do not deny that; but Labour governments are often obliged under duress to take certain action.
– The honorable senator said that the sales tax is daylight robbery.
– The flour tax, for instance, is daylight robbery. It should never have been imposed. I shall not quibble about terms; it is political robbery. Reverting to the Government’s income tax proposals, I admit that the Government requires the revenue which it seeks under the budget proposals. There can be no doubt on that point. The question which we should now consider is how can the money be obtained. Is there anything wrong with the suggestion that the Commonwealth Government should reduce the present enormous overhead charges ? For instance, is there any need for six State Parliaments? An enormous saving could be effected by abolishing State Parliaments, and by utilizing the staffs to much better advantage
– The honorable senator has advocated the abolition of the Senate.
– The Senate should be abolished and honorable senators placed in much more useful employment.
– That would be a sad day for the honorable senator.
– It might be a sad day for honorable senators, but not for the nation. I repeat that this Government should reduce overhead costs of government in Australia. So far, however, it has made no attempt to do so.
Are we to await disaster before we realize the necessity for taking such action? If bombs were being dropped in Melbourne and Sydney as regularly as they are being dropped in England, unnecessary legislatures would cease to function. The Government needs money. It has been said that this budget is unprecedented. Again and again, the Government has emphasized the necessity for economy. Yet we find that, whilst the wage-earners are to be taxed unjustly, both directly and indirectly, unnecessary instrumentalities with which are associated costly ceremonies are to continue. I find it almost impossible to believe that the Government is really sincere when it refuses to reduce present overhead expenses of government.
Labour’s view on the budget proposals must not be misunderstood. “We have no objection to the raising of all of the money which the Government requires in order to prosecute our war effort to the fullest degree. We know that we are limited in that respect only to the degree to which we can provide man-power and produce material. However, the Labour party has the strongest objection to the expenditure of money unless it is expended to the best advantage. We strongly object to the payment of enormous sums in interest to a section of the community which can well afford to do without them. Under such a system, members of the working classes as yet unborn will be committed to economic servitude and slavery. We offer the strongest objection to the expenditure of money on unnecessarily high salaries, particularly when it could he used to better advantage in making a maximum war effort. Should the war continue, involving huge loss of life and material wealth, and the struggle become more acute, the Government will be driven to do the things which I now suggest that it should do. I advise the -Government to take a long-range view of the situation, and to provide, as adequately as is possible, for those upon whom it depends to work in munition factories and to serve in the fighting forces. If such provision be made, the Government will justify its existence; but if it is not, the Government is merely awaiting a catastrophe, and leaving the way open for another government to do the work that it has failed to do.
– I am pleased to learn that during the last few days the Government has changed its stupid adamant attitude towards the budget, and is now endeavouring, to a degree, to meet the realities of the situation. By so doing it has condescended to accede to the demands of more than one-half of the people of Australia. I have no desire to conduct a post mortem upon the last general elections, but 1 understand that nearly 120,000 more electors voted for the Labour candidates than for Government candidates. It is the desire of the Australian Labour party, through its representatives in this Parliament, to co-operate with the Government in the successful prosecution of the war, and at. the same time to maintain, so far as possible, the living standard of the people.
– The figure mentioned by the honorable senator is wrong.
– Honorable senators opposite will at least admit that onehalf of the Australian electors supported the Labour party.
– We concede that.
– The Prime Minister has acted wisely in “ climbing down “ in order to avoid a political crisis, but he did so only when he realized that members of the Labour party were earnest in their desire to ensure that the people received justice even though Australia be at war.
– The Prime Minister was not the only one who climbed down.
– Honorable senators opposite obtain their information through the press, and that is why they are so ill-informed. The members of the Labour party discussed the issues involved in an endeavour to benefit those whom they represent; but the Tory leader was adamant; later, he relented. The representatives of the Labour party then said that, for the present, they would accept, what was offered to the workers. I understand that under the arrangements made the workers will benefit by an amount of approximately £4,500,000.
It will be seen therefore that the Labour party has been successful in forcing the Government to recognize that fair play should be extended to the wives and dependants of soldiers and to invalid and old-age pensioners. In the matter of income tax the statutory exemption has been raised from £150 to £200; but that is not exactly what we desire, because the single basic wage-earner, who is already taxed in various ways by the State governments, will still be sub.ject to Commonwealth income taxation. Concessions were granted by the Prime Minister despite the fact that he said that the Labour party’s proposals constituted a direct challenge to the Government. It is also right that the Government should assist single men who have wholly dependent mothers because there is an exemption in respect of dependent sisters and brothers. It is also gratifying to know that soldiers’ wives with children will receive an additional 7s. a week. I am sure that thousands of soldiers’ wives throughout Australia will be pleased that the additional allowance is to be provided.
In common with other members of the party to which I belong I am disappointed to find that the Government proposes to increase the invalid and old-age pension, bv only ls. a week.
– The pension will be raised to meet increases of the cost of living.
– Provision has been made for an increase of 6d. a week on the basis mentioned. That will be satisfactory to pensioners, and will help them to realize that the people of this country are still anxious to help them even in wartime.
– It will keep a balance.
– That is so; but it should be realized that the quantity of goods which can be purchased to-day with £1 is not so great as that which could have been purchased a few years ago when the pension was 17s. 6d. a week. The pensioners live on what may be described as a miserable ration - a paltry £1 a week. Surely the purchasing power of the pen sion should at least be equal to that which it was ten years ago. I have been informed by an ex-Prime Minister that today 22s. is required to purchase that which could be purchased in 1931 for 17s. 6d. If Senator Herbert Hays will examine the figures more closely he will find that the position is as I have stated. In any case the Government should have acceded to the wishes of more than one-half of the electors and raised the pension to at least £1 2s. 6d. a week. No doubt many pensioners will be grateful for the increased amount. When considering this subject we should not confine our attention solely to figures, because, as I have said, on many occasions, pensioners live on goods that are produced in Australia in abundance, with the exception perhaps of tea and coffee. Practically every commodity required can be produced in Australia in large quantities, and, should the war continue, and exports be restricted, we should have even larger quantities for our own use. Honorable senators opposite, who view everything through finance-tinged spectacles, believe that further concessions cannot be made to pensioners because the additional cost would amount to several million pounds. In times of stress, we should look behind the financial veil and reckon in terms of services and commodities. The standard of living of pensioners can be increased without affecting the successful prosecution of the gigantic struggle against Hitler, Mussolini and the scurvy crowd in Europe with which they are associated. An intelligent government should ‘be able to devise a method whereby sufficient of the necessaries of life may be -made available in the homes of the aged in order to lighten their burdens in their declining years, especially in a country where such necessaries are produced in abundance.
At last the Government has decided to get down off its high horse, because it proposes to appoint a committee to deal with matters relating to the taxation of companies. The budget proposals in this respect have been condemned by the press throughout Australia. I do not regard myself as an authority on company taxation. I do not hold any shares in companies, and I am not interested in their activities other than the degree to which, they provide employment. It appears, however, that the large companies will not be compelled to contribute the amount they should,, while some of the smaller companies will he penalized.
An inquiry is also to be conducted into the issue and control of Commonwealth bank credit. Senator Darcey, who has spent almost a lifetime in studying finance, and who, for the last three years, has been giving to the Senate the benefit of his extensive learning, should be a member of the committee. Unfortunately some of the honorable senator’s seeds of wisdom have fallen on barren ground, and the Government is still adhering to the obsolete orthodox methods of finance. According to the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) no departure is to be made from the orthodox method of finance. He said -
Credit expansion must be used ‘to the full, up to the limits of safety; but this is not a time when wo can look with safety to any considerable further expansion of credit.
– The safety of the nation should come before the safety of vested interests.
– Exactly; the security of this country is more important than the protection of the interests of the financial magnates. The Treasurer continued -
Expenditure in Australia by the Government, on war or anything else, must come in some way from the pockets of the people.
Senator Cameron has pointed out that the physical cost of the war will be met here and now by the people, whose services will be given in various ways. They may be rendered on the field of battle, or in the factories in .which munitions are made. Real payment for the war will be made by the men and women who are participating in the national effort to maintain our democratic system.
– The honorable senator will be contributing a fair quota.
– I am prepared to allow the Government to take all that. I have. When the present member for Wakefield (Mr. Duncan-Hughes), who is rich, was a member of the Senate, he took exception to professional politicians. I said on that occasion that I was prepared to accept amateur status in this Parliament, provided that my family and I were fed and clothed, that my children were educated, and that my debts were paid. In giving my all to the Government I should not be parting with a great deal, because, after allowing for my debts, the property which is supposed to be mine, would, if sold at the current market rate, leave me with .a debit balance of £300. Speaking seriously, however, all Labour men and Tories should be prepared to make their contribution to the war effort.
The Treasurer, referring to money expended by the Government, stated in his budget speech : -
It may come by loans, where a man willingly gives up spending power in the present in return for spending power in the future. It may come by a system of taxation designed to take from each man according to his ability to pay. lt may come by expansion of credit whereby spending power is taken from the community by rising prices. When business is slipping back and prices tending to fall, expansion of credit may only help to keep prices stable.
I shall have the full support of Senator Darcey when I say that that statement shows clearly the stone-age mentality of those who favour orthodox finance. Recent developments in Australia and throughout the world have evidently made no impression upon the Treasurer. It is not true to say that an expansion of credit necessarily involves increases of commodity prices.-
– It does sometimes, and that is exactly what the Treasurer said.
– He stated distinctly that this expenditure may be made possible by an expansion of credit whereby spending power is taken from the community by rising prices.
– He did not say that that is the only source.
– I have quoted the Treasurer’s words, but I deny their accuracy.
I admit that, during the war, prices may rise on account of economic conditions. If Australia had to import raw materials to the value of millions of pounds, if insurance and freight rates increased, and if the cost of imports rose rapidly, there would be good economic reasons for increased prices; but an expansion of credit by the Commonwealth Bank, or even by the private banks, should not inevitably cause an increase of prices. If the general costs of operating a tramways system showed no increase, there would be no good reason for an increase of tram fares, following upon an expansion of credit. Nor should the prices of clothing go up, if the manufacturing costs remained unchanged. Credit is expanded by the banks on the basis of the communal efforts of the people, and that expansion is made the means whereby increased interest and profit is wrung from the community. There could be an expansion of credit by the Commonwealth Bank that would assist the private banks. Time after time, reference has been made to the financial methods adopted during the last war, when the private banks placed loans on the market. The issue of those loans was made possible only because the private banks had the right to draw notes from the Commonwealth Bank. Loans were issued to approved clients, but £90 out of every £100 was lent only by the expansion of credit. When Commonwealth Bank notes were first issued the private banks received £3 for every sovereign they deposited in the Treasury, with the result that they were able to issue further credit. As Senator Darcey has pointed out on numerous occasions, the banks have issued credit to an amount of six to eight times their cash reserves. I do not wish to give the impression that a mere alteration of our methods of finance would overcome the disabilities imposed by nature or by economic conditions; but, by proper utilization of the credit of the nation, the people would get the maximum return for the expenditure of their energy. The Labour party recognizes that the community, working in unison, could enable a large issue of credit to be made. Instead of allowing its use by the private banks for the improvement of the bank balances of private individuals, it should be properly controlled, so that the nation would derive the whole of the benefit.
The orthodox view of honorable senators opposite is that we cannot coordinate our war efforts unless we continue under the debt system. They contend that we should perpetuate the system of loans, which involves the payment of interest almost indefinitely.
We are out to win the war, and yet those who control this Government and the finances of this country say that, in order to do so, we must perpetuate the debt system and use the credit of the community for private purposes, and so increase the amounts in the pockets of private persons that they will be able to draw interest indefinitely. I am not mentally overpowered by this ever-increasing debt. When Wellington and Napoleon met on the field of Waterloo, and a lot of money was expended, it was said that the debts then incurred would never be repaid. Those who said so were right; the original debt has never been repaid, but huge sums in interest have been paid. Before the last war, the national debt of Great Britain was about £800,000,000; when the present war began it was £3,000,000,000. Lord Stump said that when this war is over we shall owe more money than the total wealth of Britain. I shall not be misled by these figures of increasing debt, for, although they frighten many people, the fact remains that, if hundreds of millions of pounds have to be paid, the money has to be taken from those who have it. Should the national debt be increased, and inti-rest have to be paid on the debt, whatever government is in power will have to take the money from the people before it can be redistributed. Bernard Shaw puts the position neatly. He says that if he had to pay £1,000 a year in taxes, and his wife was entitled to draw £1,000 a year as interest on bonds, so far as the family was concerned, one payment cancelled the other. He would pay £1,000 and his wife would receive £1,000, less, perhaps, a little to cover expenses. The real danger is not so much that the national debt may be increased, but that when money is taken from one section of the people and paid to another section, its distribution may bring suffering and starvation to some and bankruptcy to others. If the interest debt were £10,000,000 a year, and £10,000,000 were collected from the same people in taxes, the one amount would cancel the other and, hey presto, the figures would disappear! We should not be frightened by these huge figures - “ astronomical “ is the popular term, I believe - but should approach the question as realists. We should ask how many men and women in this country are able and prepared to do their bit; what are our resources and potential powers; what economic reorganization may be necessary to achieve the best results ; and what can be done to produce a supreme war effort and also give essentials of life to our people. Unfortunately, the Government and its supporters view everything from the point of view of money. The question usually is, “We want so many millions; where shall we get them ? “ Although many of the workers are on low wages, the cry is, “ Take it from them “. How far will that help us to win the war? Shall we achieve victory by reducing still further those who are now on the breadline? Will victory be won more quickly by refusing to deal fairly with invalid and old-age pensioners, or by rich men dismissing their gardeners and wealthy women dispensing with the services of their maids? If it could be said that those gardeners and maids would immediately be given useful employment in the production of munitions, the position would be different. It could then be said to their employers, “ These munitions must be made, and notwithstanding your position in the community, you must do without your gardener, and your wife must do without ‘her maid, because the services of every man and woman are required in the national effort”. That is not done, however; it is money, money, money all the time. Everything is seen through the veil of finance and the economic truth is hidden. There has been much criticism of this Parliament and of government institutions by the press and those who assist it by their advertisements, because they are anxious to maintain the present economic system. They complain of the number of parliaments in Australia. I believe that the time is coming when we shall be more sensible in regard to State parliaments; but have those people who speak of the duplication of parliaments ever thought of the duplication that exists in industry? Have they ever thought of the numbers of company directors in Australia? Let us think for a moment of. the gas companies, breweries, investment trusts, shipping companies, insurance and other companies, with their numerous directors and huge staffs. Have those who talk of the cost of our parliamentary system ever considered the waste and inefficiency associated with the production and distribution of goods in this country? Twenty years ago, the cost of distribution represented about 25 per cent, of the price of a commodity; in many instances the cost of distribution to-day is 75 per cent, of the total cost. Some years ago, a company which dealt in sewing machines admitted in a court that a machine which it sold for £14 was landed in Australia for £2 10s. The price of a similar sewing machine to-day is £30. The distribution costs of most of the commodities in general use to-day are outrageous. If governments and others who seek to act in the best interests of the community would study the facts they would find that that is a field in which there is much scope for effecting economies. In that way, much could be done to improve Australia’s war effort. I believe that the day when we shall organize out resources more scientifically is not so far distant as many people believe.
There has been much criticism of the Labour Government of New Zealand. I frankly admit that that Government is working under the capitalist system, just as we are doing in Australia. Nowhere in Australasia is a socialist system in operation. It is freely recognized by all thinkers that it is difficult to superimpose a socialist system of finance on the capitalist system. In New Zealand efforts had been made to control the credit of the community in the interests of the people. I have here an extract from the Brisbane Worker on the subject of credit control. It is a statement by the New Zealand Minister for Finance, Mr. Nash, in which he says -
Some critics of the New Zealand Labour Government declare that we do not control credit. The reply to that is that we do. It is only because we do so that our great public works policy was possible. Had we not controlled credit the guaranteed price with which so many dairy farmers are satisfied would have been quite impossible.
Mr. Nash explained that by buying out the private shareholders in the Reserve Bank and the Mortgage Corporation, the Government had gained complete control of both institutions.
Both the Reserve Bank and the Mortgage Corporation now acted entirely in accordance with the policy of the Government. Mr. Nash continued -
A sum of £28,000,000 taken out of the Reserve Bank had brought marvellous results. For instance, Reserve Bank credit had financed the purchase of all the butter and cheese bought from the dairy farmers.
One-half of the credit provided- £14,000,000 - had been devoted to the Government’s houseconstruction policy, and there were no finer houses in any country in the world. These houses had been let at rent from 10s. to 15s. a week less than private enterprise houses.
Through the Reserve Bank the Government controlled currency and credit in its entirety, and since the outbreak of the war there had been more control of currency and credit in New Zealand than had ever previously been dreamt of in any other country.
The Labour Government of New Zealand consists of big men, who realize that a big problem confronts them. They are tackling it in a big way. The problems confronting Australia are big, and they, too, must be tackled in a big way by big men.
Sitting suspended from 12.J/S to 2.15 p.m.
– My contention that figures give a wrong impression is borne out by an article written by th, finance editor of the Sunday Telegraph and published in that newspaper on the 24th November last. He showed that the national income in 1938-39 amounted to £788,000,000. The governmental appropriation was £111,913,784, and the balance £676,086,216. In 1939-40 the national income amounted in round figures to £863,000,000, the governmental appropriation being £150,100,000 and the balance £713,000. What he wrote may give heart to the Government, and it may use it on the hustings at the Swan by-election. Writing of the budget, he said -
The additional impost is drastic but not unbearable because the national income continues to grow. Assuming that State taxation is no higher the figures indicate that £30,813,784 more income will be left with the public than in the previous year because income is higher.
The ordinary mortal would come to the conclusion from that statement, that, in spite of the almost unbearable taxes that are to be levied, the people are to be nearly £37,000,000 better off than they were last year. It is no comfort to the worker on the lowest rung of the ladder to know that the national income has increased, when his own position is worsened. The taxpayer looks at the subject from an individual point of view rather than from a national viewpoint. The national point of view should be predominant, especially in war-time, but human nature does not operate that way. The men on the breadline whose standard of living is reduced by taxation, direct or indirect, are not likely to take comfort from the optimism of the finance editor of the Sunday Telegraph. These matters should be looked at from the economic rather than from the mathematical viewpoint. The approach should be: Is it possible for this nation to maintain the existing standard of living of the workers, and, at the same time prosecute the war to the full? The Labour party contends that the standard of the men on the lowest rung of the ladder can be improved, and that at the same time our power to prosecute the war can be increased. The men who draw the larger sums from the community ,and thereby help to increase the national income can afford to lend their surplus money. If they forgo expenditure on consumption goods they can increase their subscriptions^ loans, and they and their progeny are rewarded throughout their lifetime by the interest which they draw. But the worker is compelled, by a process of taxation, to forgo expenditure on consumption goods and his only reward is that he is told that he is performing a service to the Empire. An added difference is that when the wealthy forgo part of their expenditure they continue to enjoy the same standard of comfort, whereas the worker goes from a low plane to one that is even lower.
The lower-paid worker is affected adversely, not only in the way that I have outlined, but also by the increased cost of living. We cannot deal with the cost of living in a general way. In order to draw an accurate picture we must look at the commodities and services received by the worker in return for his labour. Figures in toto .and per capita are very often used in order to depict circumstances, but they produce a false result. The only accurate picture of what is occurring in Australia or in other countries can he drawn after an examination of each individual in order to ascertain what he is drawing from the community by way of goods, services, enjoyment and so forth, and what he is returning to the community. The American millionaire, Jay Gould, will serve as an example. His long black coat was green with age and his office lunch consisted of a couple of biscuits and a piece of cheese. He took the greatest pleasure in beating any one down for a few cents. It is on record that on one occasion he was most cheerful when he “ beat “ a newsboy for 5 cents. He took little from the community, but, under the system, perhaps he gave a great deal in return. If we studied every member of the community in that woy we should find the real economic picture of the people as a whole. The workers produce the largest part of the wealth of the community, but individually they get very little in return. If, from the labour point of view, it were essential and vital that they should get less from the community in order to safeguard Australia, the workers would be the first to say, “ “We shall give up some part of our pittance “. “What I have said shows how the people can be misled by figures. Those given in the Sunday Telegraph create a false impression.
– It is part and parcel of the process.
– It is part and parcel of the process to keep the workers in the place they are now in. Bobby Burns said -
To gull the mob and keep them under
The Ancients told their talcs of wonder.
Workers to-day are still being told the same old fairy stories. The figures relating to the national debt arc cited from time to time in order to keep the workers bewildered, but, as Senator Cameron once pointed out, the national debt is an asset to some people. If a man has £10,000 invested in the national debt it is an asset to him. Would it be an asset to Australia if every man had an equal share of the national debt? The interest from the national debt, however, does not go to the people who could do with it.
I have shown how figures are used to hoodwink the people. Another method is the issue of war savings certificates. They are a natural development from the system, and their purpose is to divert money from consumption goods to the production of war materials. Questionable methods have been used by many firms to compel their employees to invest part of their wages in war savings certificates so that those firms will get the kudos, but the purpose and the result are not always the same. When speaking to some gentlemen several days ago, they said : “ But we must have loans. There is not a country in the world that does not borrow. Why, even Russia calls for loans. Even the Russians have to lend money to the government.” There is a reason for that. The people of Russia were promised that if they supported the Bolshevists there would be a five-year plan - there was a five-year plan and it was followed by another five-year plan - under which the country’s wealth would be increased, the people’s wages would be increased, hours of labour reduced and the standard of living improved. As the result of the low rate of economic production, the Government of Russia found that, in spite of the fact that the country was organized on a socialist basis, total production did not allow it to give to the workers those consumption goods which they had been promised. Had the Bolshevist government turned around and said to the people, “ We have made a mistake in our calculations, and we must reduce your wages “, the people would have revolted. * Extension of time granted.’]* The Russian Government realized that the people would resent any reduction of wages, and asked them for loans and thus it took from them millions of roubles. Anybody who knows anything about Russia’s financial system knows that there was no necessity whatever for the Government of Russia to take one rouble from any peasant or moujik by way of loan. However, the Government followed that course deliberately, because by so doing it tied the Russian workers to the Bolshevist system, and made them believe that loans were essential to the future of the Soviet Republics. The Russian worker accepted a reduction of his wages which he loaned to his Government. That system was resorted to deliberately as a matter of
State policy. Again, Germany deliberately adopted a policy of inflation in order to destroy the national debt. Russia had originally followed the same course. It is obvious that the economic power of neither Russia nor Germany was seriously affected by wiping out that debit. In each country, the mines, the mills and the working men remained in production. Germany has gone farther. It has moulded its financial machine in order to enable the nation to produce at the highest rate possible. Finance has been a secondary consideration with Hitler, Goering and Goebbels. In principle, we must follow a similar course in Australia; in order to save democracy we must mould finance according to the will of the people. The basis of this budget is the maintenance of the system of orthodox finance. It regards as secondary the needs of the nation in its present hour of peril. I do not blame supporters of the orthodox system of finance personally; their whole psychology is determined by financial interests. For this reason it is most difficult to persuade a government composed of gentlemen of the calibre of honorable senators opposite to initiate monetary reforms. They are wedded to the orthodox.
I regret to have to say that the people of Australia do not fully appreciate the danger which threatens the British Commonwealth of Nations at the present time. As the result of the failure of the Department of Information - some one has described it as the Department of Misinformation - we are not fully cognizant of the grave peril which threatens us to-day. Every effort should be made to tell the truth to the men and women of Australia. Only by telling the people the truth can we expect them to perform effectively those duties, the discharge of which is vital to the welfare and safety of the nation. I realize that the outlook of our people as a whole is conservative; they stick to the old traditions and methods. It is most difficult to destroy their antagonism towards new ideas. That fact has been demonstrated by the rejection of practically every proposal submitted to the people by way of a referendum. Only one or two of such proposals have been adopted. In a time of peace, the people, regardless of political creeds, are instinctively conservative. It is only in a time of war, when danger threatens the nation, that the public mind becomes malleable. This outlook on the part of the people influences all governments, regardless of their political colour. Many men in the Labour movement who have been reared in the school of reform have ceaselessly advocated the release of our forces of production in order that every man and woman in the community should enjoy the greatest benefits. Their efforts, however, are defeated by the prejudice of the people against any new idea. In a time of Avar, however, that antagonism can be broken down. The people can then be aroused to a realization of the dangers that threaten democracy. In the present crisis, for instance, they realize that success for Hitler is not merely a matter of military victory. They know that should Hitler win this war, the people of Australia will be enslaved, in the production of practically every commodity which we ave capable of producing for consumption in Germany, and that for such services and goods they will receive no payment whatever. “We should use every means at our disposal to mould the mind of the people in such a way that every one will exercise his and her powers to defeat the common enemy. Is that being done to-day? No. It is not being done by this Government. The facts of the war have been hidden from us. Our people can “ take “ it ; let the Government tell them the truth, and rouse them to the dangers which threaten us.
– Does the honorable senator suggest the formation of a national government?
– I am urging the Government to use every means at its disposal in order to organize for the defence of Australia and democracy. Honorable senators opposite talk about a national government as though it were a panacea for all our difficulties. The trouble with them is that they are still thinking in the old tradition of politics. We should get’ away from the old methods. Our nation is in peril, and at such a time as the present the political colour of the government is beside the point. The Government has failed to rouse the people to a full realization of the dangers which threaten the British Commonwealth of Nations. However, if we attend to this duty as we should, it will be possible to unite the nation effectively. To-day certain leaders speak over the wireless in the cool, calm tones of a lawyer defending a client. Such methods will not suffice. In this matter let us take a lesson from Goebbels, who has built up the greatest propaganda machine the world has known. By that means Germany has succeeded in moulding the mind of its people for the prosecution of the war.
– The Germans are not being told the truth.
– It is necessary that our people be told the truth; at all events, it is not necessary to tell them a pack of lies.
Criticism of the Government is essential, even in a time of war, if the rights of the people are to he truly safeguarded. In this connexion I should like to read a statement made by Somerset Maugham, one of the greatest of present-day authors. He was born in France, and as he knew that country so well, he was engaged there by the British Government on work of national importance. Commenting on France’s collapse he said -
I can sum up the causes of the collapse of France in a few words. The general staff was incompetent; the officers were vain, illinstructed in modern warfare and insufficiently determined; the men were dissatisfied and half-hearted. The people at large were kept ignorant of everything that they should have been informed of; they were profoundly suspicious of the government and they were never convinced that the war was a matter that urgently concerned them. The property classes were more afraid of Bolshevism than of German domination; their first thought was how to keep their money safely in their pockets. The government was inept, corrupt and, in part, disloyal.
I do not say that all such criticism can be levelled, against this Government. I believe that every supporter of the Government hopes just as earnestly as we do that the war will be brought to a successful conclusion. However, many supporters of this Government think only of their money. That fear is bred by the present financial system. We, on this side, agree with Somerset Maugham, that if a nation values anything more than freedom it will lose its freedom. The irony of the present situation is that if comfort or money is valued most, they also will be lost. The Government can only rouse the people to a realization of our present danger by teling them the truth. Money and comfort must be a secondary consideration. This nation must be organized in order to meet onslaughts in the future. I fear that within the next few months the attacks of the enemy will be much more severe than has been the case up to date, and that our kin in the very heart of the Empire will be called upon to suffer to an even greater degree than they have already suffered. Let me conclude with the following words which I quote from Somerset Maugham: -
And when a nation has to fight for its freedom it can only hope to win if it possesses certain qualities: These are honesty, courage, loyalty, vision and self-sacrifice. If it does not possess them it has only itself to blame if it loses its freedom’.
I commend those words to honorable senators. Let us work in unity for the safety of the nation. Let us forget old traditions, and methods, which hamper us in our present task. In that way only shall we win out in our fight for freedom.
– I have listened with interest, and, I trust, with some understanding, to a number of speeches delivered on the budget from the Opposition benches. In doing so, I hoped that I might be able to construe in my mind the kind of budget which the members of the Opposition would present to Parliament had they been occupying the treasury bench; but I am afraid my efforts failed dismally because of the inconsistency and lack of coherence which characterized their speeches.
I approached this subject in much the same way as some members of the Opposition have approached it; but I have reached an entirely different conclusion. I believe that this war must be paid for by the generation which wages it. Also, I believe that we arrive at a false view of these problems if we approach them merely as money problems. That is illustrated by examining the practical position to-day. Day by day this community is losing the goods and services which could be provided by approximately 400,000 persons who are now either engaged wholly in war production or are serving in the military forces. We are not able to enjoy all the goods and services which this section of the community could produce were we not at war. In other words, the losses which we suffer as a result of being engaged in a war, are the losses of goods and services to-day, and, in these circumstances, the one great problem confronting the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) is how best those losses can be spread over the entire community. In this time of grave national emergency one cannot get very far in a realistic approach to the problem by speaking of the reorganization of the whole of our economic system.
– The war will bring that about.
– It may; but we should be too busy with the gigantic task of winning the war, as our one supreme effort, to embark upon the difficulties and dangers involved in a radical alteration of our financial and economic system.
Three methods by which the cost of the war can be met have been suggested. They are : Taxation, loans, and a resort to that somewhat mythical creation, national credit. I still do not know exactly where honorable members of the Opposition stand in relation to these three methods. Senator Cameron commenced with the brilliant suggestion that we should tax down to £500 a year all incomes in excess of that amount. But even if we did so we would not have sufficient to meet our war expenditure. If we took the whole of incomes of £1,000 and over the yield would be only £85,000,000 annually. Obviously, Senator Cameron has not provided a solution of the difficulty for this financial year. Next year it would be necessary to raise a similar sum, and probably more, from those who would have been deprived of the whole of their incomes for this year. Senator Cameron is not consistent. He told the Senate that all taxation ultimately falls on to the shoulders of the working man. From that I take it that he wants to adopt some other method of financing the war. Similar opposition to that which Senator Cameron expressed towards taxation as a method of providing war finance was also expressed in respect of loans. After all, when we raise loans, we are not getting away from the burden of paying for the war; but all those who subscribe to such loans are forgoing a larger proportion of goods and services than those who do not do so. They are forgoing, voluntarily, something above the amount that they are bound to forgo by the imposition of taxes. If, by means of taxation, we raised all the money that is necessary to finance the war, a far heavier burden would be thrown on all members of the community than will be the case if some of the money is obtained voluntarily from those people who can afford to lend it to the Government in the interests of our war effort. As the result of the wise financial policy which the Government has followed ever since the war started, we are not paying high rates of interest. Despite the demands for government expenditure, interest rates in Australia have decreased since the war began. Yet it is claimed that honorable senators on this side of the chamber are the representatives of big capitalist interests, whose only concern is that interest rates shall rise in order that they may get a higher proportion of the national income. The Government has been extraordinarily wise in the financial policy which it has adopted. It has not relied solely on taxation, it has not resorted fully to loans, and, at the proper time, it baa made use of central bank credit.
Senator Brown, who delivered an interesting and instructive discourse, suggested that the Treasurer had said in his budget speech that resort to bank credit must inevitably lead to a rise of prices. Actually, the Treasurer did not say anything of the kind. Indeed. U cated quite frankly in the paragraph from which Senator Brown read, that there were occasions when governments could resort to bank credit without bringing about an increase of prices. In the first, place the Treasurer mentioned methods by which we might raise the money necessary to carry on the war; he referred to taxation, and then made the following statement : -
It may come by expansion of credit, whereby spending power is taken from the community by rising prices.
But his next sentence read -
When business is slipping back, and prices are tending to fall, expansion of credit may only help to keep prices stable.
That is a perfectly clear recognition of the fact that there are occasions when resort to bank credit is desirable, and- that, in certain circumstances, prices will not rise but, on the contrary, will be kept stable. The whole problem with which we are confronted in relation to bank credit is the degree to which we can use it with safety, and when we can use it without risk? I confess that I am appalled by the fact that the only tangible suggestion - if it can be so described - advanced by the Opposition for financing the war has been to resort to bank credit. Apparently, honorable senators opposite believe that in some mythical manner we can avoid the burden of war expenditure by printing bank-notes. I think that I can claim to have a liberal mind on this subject. I can see, along with the Treasurer, that there are times when bank credit can be resorted to with advantage to the community, hut these are times when that method of approach can only be used with the greatest of caution.
– At what point?
– Bank credit could be resorted to with safety during a period of low production in order to bring all of the forces of production into action; but that is a process through which this country has already passed. We are now reaching the stage when the forces of production are approaching full use.
– Yet there are thousands of men out of work.
– There is less unemployment in the community to-day than there has been since the heyday of 1927. At no period in the history of this or any other country has every man and woman been employed. The unemployment figure for the quarter ended September 1940 is 7.4 per cent, of the members of the reporting trade unions, and that is the lowest figure since August 1927. In Victoria the number of unemployed is now less than 10,000.
– Those are only the registered unemployed.
– They are the persons registered for the purpose of unemployment relief works or sustenance. An examination of the figures is rather illuminating. It shows that 47 per cent, of that 10,000 are over 50 years .of age, and 72 per cent, are over 40 years of age.
– They could be employed.
– The problem is to find useful employment .for them which will assist in the war effort. It is not possible to reduce unemployment to zero. A certain number of men go on the unemployed list when their seasonal occupation ends, whilst others are constantly transferring from, one job to another. The unemployment figures in this country are so low as to suggest that we are at any rate approaching the stage of full employment of our man-power. No fewer than 400,000 men and women are employed in Australia to-day, in producing not consumption goods, but munitions and other instruments of war, or are engaged in war activities in the defence forces. The labour of this large number adds nothing to the store of consumption goods available to the community. Wages are beingpaid weekly to this large body of men and women, and week by week they are making claims on consumption goods. In these circumstances, is it likely that this country can continue to enjoy the same relative consumption of goods and services as it would if we werenot at war? There must necessarily be a. reduction of the store of goods which all of us must draw upon, if the communityis to carry on the war successfully
My friends opposite say that this is a. time when we should increase the quantity of money available to the community. Every £1 note which is issued’ represents a claim upon the limited storeof goods and services available. Therefore,, it seems to me almost beyond argument that, if we resort to unlimited bank credit,, or even to substantial bank credit, in order to get out of our difficulties, the only result will be that, with the increased number of bank-notes - claims to goods and services - circulating in the community, there must be an increase of prices. My three colleagues and I represent, by the votes we have received, the views and interests of more than half a million people in Victoria. These people are not large capitalists; most of them are working and middle class men and women, and’. they are the very people who will suffer if we approach the problem of war finance by issuing bank credit as a substitute for taxes and loans. We cannot escape the fact that there must be a relative reduction of the consumption by the community of the commodities which it desires and needs in peace-time.
– Not if production be increased.
– No matter how we approach the problem, it seems that the honest way is for the Government to take the money it requires from the community by means of taxes or loans. There will then be some reduction in the claims for goods and services; and the money thus released would be avai’lable for war production. If the bank credit method were adopted there would be an appearance of great prosperity for a time, and wages would rise; but, as I said a few days ago, rising wages would never catch up with rising prices. I am greatly concerned about the interests of those who would suffer most in such circumstances. To some degree, increased prices will be inevitable, but I hope that the increases will not be accentuated by resort to the expedient of issuing bank-notes as a substitute for sound and honest finance.
– Nobody suggested that that should be done.
– That is what the honorable senator’s proposals amount to; he cannot have it both ways. It seems to me to be the height of madness for the Opposition, which is a party that claims to represent working men and women, to encourage the idea that the burdens confronting the nation can be removed by substituting ‘bank credit for sound finance.
– We have never suggested that.
– The speech by Senator Brown was an instructive discourse on the idea of financing the war effort by resort to what is vaguely termed national credit. In the final analysis, the war will be paid for by us now by a relative reduction in the goods and services which would otherwise be available to us. The issue of bank credit to a substantial degree would necessarily bring about an increase of the prices of the limited store of commodities available.
– The sales tax increases prices.
– I intended to refer to that tax. It does, to some degree, increase prices, but it is necessary to raise money by some means.
– Not by imposts upon the poor.
– One would have thought that a Labour government had not been responsible for the introduction of the sales tax, but in 1931 if found itself forced to resort to that expedient in order to get from the community the amount of money it needed. My friends opposite object to an indirect tax such as the sales tax on the ground that it weighs heavily upon the poorer sections of the community, but the issue of bank credit is the most insidious form of indirect taxation ever devised. It must bring about a continuous reduction of the standard of living of the people whom Senator Cameron represents.
I am glad that during the course of this week members of the Opposition parties have seen fit to approve of the amended budget.
– The honorable senator means that he is glad that the Prime Minister has agreed to accept it.
– The Government parties agreed to it first.
– But we improved it.
– The alterations that have been made are not fundamental, because the main principles of the budget stand. It is a budget designed to spread the burden of the war fairly among all sections of the community.
– Even those on £1 a week ?
– It does not tax them. The lowest income on which tax will be levied is £4 a week.
– What about sales tax?
– There will be, of course, some contribution by means of the sales tax, but a person who receives only £1 a week will pay very little tax.
– Excise duties levy a tax.
– Almost all taxes place burdens on every section of the community. This budget is an attempt to spread the burden fairly; it faces problems realistically and honestly. It is a foundation upon which, I hope, the Australian community will avoid the worst features of war finance as we knew them in the last war, so that at the end of the war we shall not necessarily have to face a big economic depression as the result of our mistakes.
– I compliment Senator Brown on his excellent address to-day. It reminded me of the lines -
Tis all very well to be pleased
When life goes by like a song,
But the man worthwhile
Is the man who can smile
When everything goes dead wrong.
At the present time most things appear to be going dead wrong. The war position is grave, and the budget proposals show that, generally, things are far from satisfactory. The Labour party and tradeunionism generally desire to give the maximum assistance in the war effort. I am a secretary of a branch of the Electrical Trade Union, and I desire to quote from a short article in the official journal of that organization, because it sets out clearly the trade union outlook -
The attention of members in all branches of the E.T.U. is particularly directed to timely paragraphs in the Victorian and South Australian sections of this month’s Journal dealing with the present national emergency and Labour’s part in Australia’s war effort.
Labour engaged in the production of munitions and war equipment generally is as much an integral part of the war machine as the sailors, soldiers and airmen of the fighting forces. In this total warfare all the others are in it, too, but the electrical and engineering trades are in the very front line of national defence.
There should be no necessity to stress the gravity of the situation. Unfortunately, there are those who claim to voice the attitude of Organized Labour - particularly the unions - who speak and act as if it were not a grim and unassailable fact that if Britain is conquered we shall assuredly share her fate.
The time is ripe - much overdue, be it said - for plain speaking and drastic action by those who value our national existence. The resolution of the Victorian Branch Executive, although moderately stated, expresses, we firmly believe, the real attitude of the great rank and file, and is a clarion call to all E.T.U. Branches for definite and unstinted effort in making effective the electrical trades’ contribution to the cause of national security and the preservation of human rights.
The hour has struck when the last great free European democracy and these Dominions are engaged in a struggle to the death. It is not straining words to say that Australia’s contribution to the common cause might in the last extremity be sufficient to turn the scale.
SenatorSpicer, who is a representative of the bankers, said that we must increase taxation to bring about more activity in Australian production for war purposes. I disagree with him, for I believe that by the proper utilization of national credit, we can do all that is necessary to prosecute our war effort to the fullest degree possible. In this connexion, I desire to quote from the Catholic Worker of the 2nd November, 1940 -
Millions of pounds are being found every day for the manufacture of munitions to deal out destruction and death. When the war is over and pressing social expenditure becomes urgent, will the people continue to accept the favourite cry of the financial despots that there is no money?
Whenever any really important social reform has been broached in the past it has always foundered for lack of finance. Consider the slums. They ought to be abolished.Every one says so; but the slums are not abolished. We have the wreckers to pull them down - we have the architects to design the new houses - we have the sites to put them on - we have the carpenters to put them up - we have the timber to build them - we have the people to live in them when they are built.
The explanation is that they do not return a profit to investors. National credit properly employed will enable us to carry out necessary productive works, leaving the cost of the war effort to be met by taxes. For instance there is a scarcity of houses in Canberra ; but if the credit of the nation were utilized, through the Commonwealth Bank, to build the houses that are required, a national asset would be created and no harm would be done to the community. If credit amounting to £500 be put into the building of a home worth £500, there is no inflation or anything to cause prices to rise. In that way, broadcasting stations and other utilities can be provided, and assets created, without injury to the community as a whole. Throughout the country various municipal undertakings, ‘electrical works, and schemes for the conservation of water, could be undertaken by the utilization of the nation’s credit, with advantage to the whole community. I have here a number of quotations which show what various authorities have to say on the subject of national credit in relation to productive works. I shall quote first Mr. H. G. Wells, who says -
Unexpected consequences of banking convenience have appeared. The idea of the cheque was a very obvious and a simple one, yet its working out leads us to quite a remarkable kind. The opening nineteenth century saw the rise of the cheque to an importance far exceeding that of the restrained and regulated bank note. If cheques were forbidden to-morrow, all the money in the country, even if no one held any for more than a day, would scarce suffice for half the needs of the very slackest working of our economic life. An enormous amount of business of the English speaking communities is now transacted by cheque without the moving of abank note or the shifting of a coin. The clearing house has become an organ of primary importance in our economic life. The experience of the century is making it clear that, except for the convenience of paper and coins for small immediate transactions, it would be possible to dispense with actual concrete money altogether; it would be possible to sustain the general working of an entire economic system by clearing house bookkeeping by the continual transfer of money on account, of crude purchasing power, that is from one account to another.
I shall now read what Mr. MorganRees, Professor of Economics in the University of Wales, has to say on this subject -
So far is this control being attained that since 1914 it is increasingly clear that the grip of the financiers and the bankers over the credit machine therefore over industry is becoming stronger. Note must be made here of the difference between control of industry of the capital of land, houses, machinery, raw material, labour, organization, &c, and the control of the tokens or “money “ which enables the productive and distributive machine to be set in motion. The power of finance is fiction because it is based on the belief that the financiers and bankers have it; immediately it is known that their exercise of this power is not on other financiers or on other money, gold, or credit, but on goods and on the productive rapacity of a State or a nation, this power they at present wield will disappear “ like snow upon the desert’s dusty face “.
That is a recognition thatbankers, through their control of finance, control not only money but also the wheels of industry. That is why we on this side ask that the Commonwealth Bank be given control of the issue of money in this country, such money to be used as directed by the Commonwealth Government. Professor Soddy, of Oxford University, said -
The cheque system, itself a beneficent invention, has, by a mere incidental consequence, enabled the banks continuously to create and destroy money at will. If it had been understood from the first, that what hitherto had been a bank, was by this invention made a private mint, the practice would have been prevented as subversive to the continued existence of the State - for it is just as much high treason as uttering coins. Though known to students of the subject (and the “ City “ which thrives on it) from long before the war, i is only since the war that the fact has become obvious to everyone able to think for themselves and capable of interested denial. . 1. is this power of the private mint which imperils the future of scientific civilization, which makes politics a sorry farce, and reduces Parliament to a sham. Destroy it. and the nation would be free to pursue itspeaceful avocation in peace.
Mr. H. Atmore, Independent member for Nelson in the New Zealand Parliament, stated -
The statement of the Minister of Finance that he proposed to raise some of the money by the utilization of the people’s credit per medium of the people’s bank - the Reserve Bank of New Zealand - would give heart to a very large and increasing number of persons throughout New Zealand who were keenly alive to the possibilities of the utilization of the people’s credit. He quoted as follows from a speech by Abraham Lincoln: -
Government, possessing the power to create and issue currency and credit as money, and enjoying the right to withdrawboth currency and credit by means of taxation, and otherwise, need not and should not borrow capital at interest as the means <> financing government and public enterprise. The Government should create, issue and circulate all the currency and credit needed to satisfy the spending-power of the Government and the buying-power of the consumers. The privilege of creating and issuing money is not only the supreme prerogative of the Government but it is the Government’s greatest creative opportunity.
I am trying to influence the Government to use the creative opportunities given to it by the central bank. If further proof be required hear J. Curtin in his Australia’s Economic Crisis. He said -
It took all the years from the foundation of the banks down to 1906 - a half century at least for most of them - to build up a little over £6,500,000 of surplus assets. In the eight years preceding the outbreak of war the surplus rose by less than£600,000. Then came the greatest tragedy in civilization - a world at war - and the surplus assets of the Australian banks which had hitherto increased slowly accumulated with the speed of an aeroplane. Let me put the acceleration pace tubularly -
Now £80,000,000 is near the mark. The debt structure has reached absurd proportions, resulting in a situation in which farce and tragedy are enacted on the stage at the same time. The interest bill on Australia’s national debt ticks up at the rate of £110 a minute! For every fis. that is paid by the consumer for gas, water, or electricity, approximately 4s. is needed to pay interest and exchange. The interest on every bushel, of wheat produced is ls. 6d. ! Under this monstrous financial system the national debt doubles every ten years, as is shown by the following figures: -
Through “ sound finance “ the national debt of Australia is more than £.1,200,000,000, and the interest bill £1,000,000 a week. In .1860 the national debt was £12,000,000, to-day it is one b hundred times as great, yet the population is only four times as great. Since Federation, Australia has paid £871,000,000 in interest alone, repaid nothing and added another one thousand million to the principal ! The figures for Australia are typical of all countries, and there should be no need for further evidence to convince the Government of the need for the Commonwealth Bank to do the productive work of the community and of the need for taxation to finance the war.
I believe that the existing arbitration system is wrong. No lawyer can judge the value of an engineer’s work simply by hearing evidence. The only man who can do so is .an engineer who knows the ramifications of the industry in which the man is employed. If we are to have a successful arbitration system, we must have men on the bench who can assess the value of work and bring in findings which could not be challenged. No man who has not worked in an industry can adjudicate successfully on the value of the work.
For many years, I have taken a keen interest in the basic wage, and in whether cost-of-living figures actually reflect the true cost of living. A few months ago, I investigated the statistics of the 42 commodities on which the basic wage is based. Those commodities include dairy produce, groceries, meat and house rents. I have no complaint to make about the prices of dairy produce and groceries generally, because they do not fluctuate greatly. But there is a marked disparity between, the Commonwealth Statistician’s average house rent and the rentals at which houses are actually available. The names of persons who supply the figures upon which the Statistician works out the average should be published so that persons who question their authenticity would have the opportunity to challenge them. The Commonwealth Statistician shows the average rent for a four or five roomed house at Launceston at 19s. 2 1/2d. a week, but there is a housing shortage in Tasmania and it is acute in Launceston, where a four or five roomed house is unobtainable for less than 25s. a week. I took up this matter with the Commonwealth Statistician. Most of the agents in Launceston share in the work of providing quarterly returns for the Statistician. Forms are provided on which they fill in the rents being paid for all the houses for which they are agents, those for which they have been regular agent3 for many years, as well as those which, have just come under their control. Information is provided separately for four-roomed wooden and four-roomed brick houses, and for five-roomed wooden and five-roomed brick houses. One agent said -
We do not include in the list houses which have exceptional features which would put them right out of the normal class-
Who shall decide what is a normal house ? -
For example, you might have a live-roomed luxury cottage complete with swimming-pool and goodness knows what other luxuries. That would not be shown on the list.
I contend that every house should be taken into consideration, if there is to be a fair average of rents paid. In most cases, it appears that the lists include houses which have been let to one tenant for a good many years, and they, therefore, represent the average rent which has been paid for that class of house over a period of years. Had the house changed hands several times during that period, the rent might easily have been higher or lower. I could not imagine, however, that it would be lower, in view of “the scarcity of houses. An owner who has had a good tenant for a number of years would not be prone to increase the rent during his tenancy, but as soon as he left the rent would rise. Agents agree that there might be a tendency for houses near the upper limits of the figures on which the average figure is based to change hands more frequently than those near the lower limits. One agent thinks that occupiers of rented houses are generally looking for lower rente, and that those living in houses the rents of which are already low stay there. But every body knows that. He suggested that this might explain the fact that while the average of all the rents now being paid in Launceston is probably very close to the Statistician’s figure of 19s. 2-£d., it is extremely difficult to obtain a house for that amount or below it, the only houses available being those above the average. That shows that the Statistician’s average of 19s. 2-Jd. is ridiculous, and that the workers in Launceston are being deprived of at least 5s. a week in their basic wage.
My next complaint is about bread prices. The Commonwealth Statistician’s figures would indicate that in Launceston in January, February and March of this year, bread was 5 1/2d. a loaf, and that it fell to 5.3Gd. a loaf in May, and increased to 5id. in June. I defy any one to produce to me evidence that in that period bread fell below 5 1/2d. a loaf. If the men who supplied the figures on which the Commonwealth Statistician arrived at that average were known, we could challenge the alleged decrease. The supposed decrease was small, hut I claim that actually there was no decrease.
In the majority of cities, the meat on, which the Commonwealth Statistician’s average is worked out is bought in the open market on the 15th of each month, but the price of meat fluctuates so much that it would be impossible on any one day to arrive at the average for a month. That method is unsatisfactory, and it should not be used to adjust the basic wage. Something should he done to have figures more up to date.
– If we knew the names of those who supplied the figures, we could ascertain whether they were accurate.
Some time ago I drew attention to complaints by contractors who were not given an- opportunity to tender for the construction of quarters at the Western Junction Aerodrome. Whilst the number of sets of plans made available was far less than the number required by prospective tenderers, those who did tender were given only a fortnight in which to submit their price. As the result of the tenders being handled in that way the Government will incur an expenditure of £20,000 which it could have avoided. It is well known that the price which tenderers submit covers them against fines arising under the contract should they not complete the work within the specified period. That is a general practice, and, particularly in view of the way’ in which tenderers were rushed in this instance, there can be no doubt that the successful tenderers covered themselves fully in that respect. I also complain because the carpenters’ benches, for use on that work were imported from the mainland. These benches were made of Tasmanian wood which had been exported to Melbourne. Surely, it is stupid to send wood from Tasmania to Melbourne to be made up into carpenters’ benches and then to send the benches back to Tasmania. With, the exercise of a little foresight such waste could be avoided. Another cause for complaint in connexion with the work is that the stoves installed in these quarters were also imported from the mainland. The Peters Star stove, which is made in Tasmania, is recognized to be the equal of any stove made on the mainland, and it could have been purchased by the Defence Department at a much cheaper price than was paid for the stoves which were used.
The Defence Department has also incurred considerable waste in connexion with the construction of quarters for the guard at the cable station at Low Head. Since the Postal Department inaugurated the radio telephone service between Tasmania and the mainland, the necessity for the cable no longer exists. Had the Defence Department made full inquiries from the Postal Department on this matter, it would have learned that the employment of a guard at Low Head was unnecessary, and could thus have avoided the expenditure incurred iri the erection of quarters for the guard at that station. The construction of those quarters cost some hundreds of pounds. To-day they are useless, unless they be shifted to some other part of the State.
I urge the Government to establish in each State a bureau at which skilled workers, who are now unemployed or engaged in unskilled callings, can register, so that their services will be readily obtainable should they be required in war industries. Due to the fact that Tasmania produces fancy woods in abundance, hundreds of cabinet-makers reside in that State. To-day, many of them cannot find employment in their trade. For instance, I know of a first-class cabinetmaker who is now engaged as a wharflabourer. By reason of his particular skill a cabinet-maker can be readily absorbed in aeroplane construction. He is a neat workman, who turns out a finished product of a high standard. In addition, I know of many moulders in Tasmania who are working in the timber industry. If a bureau, such as I suggest, were established to enable these men to register according to their trade, their skill could be utilized in many factories engaged in the war effort.
A statement of Government policy in respect of concession fares to soldiers is long overdue. Steps should be taken to secure concession railway fares to enable the men in camp to return home during the week-ends. Some of the States have taken action in this direction, but very often uniformity in these concessions’ is lacking. For instance, the return fare from Hobart to Launceston has been reduced from 24s. 3d. to 8s. 9d., but fares from Hobart to places nearer than Launceston are greater. The fare to Deloraine is 9s. 7 1/2d., to Devonport 12s. 1 1/2d. and to Burnie 14s. In Tasmania it is not an uncommon sight to see soldiers tramping along the roads back to their camps. On numerous occasions I have given lifts to men returning to the camp at Brighton. The Commonwealth should approach the State Governments with a view to securing greater concessions for soldiers, and it should also publish information on this matter. Perhaps the best arrangement would be to fix a flat rate, as low as possible, in respect of all destinations. Concession fares should be given to, not only members of the Australian Imperial Force, but also to members of garrison battalions. The Government should also endeavour to secure for these men a free railway pass at least once a month between their camp and their homes.
– Is that not a matter for the States?
– No. The Government of Tasmania contends that, in view of the reduction of its grant from the Commonwealth Government, it cannot afford to provide further travelling concessions to soldiers. If a flat rate were decided upon, soldiers could secure their railway ticket when they received their leave pass. In that way congestion at railway ticket offices would be avoided. I also ask that greater facilities be provided by the defence authorities to enable parents and friends to see soldiers off when , they are embarking at Launceston wharf for the mainland. At present the men are obliged to go straight on to the boats from the train, with the result that relatives and friends have no chance to mingle with them as they would wish. This difficulty could be overcome by advancing the train schedule by half an hour. Situated adjacent to the Launceston wharf is Ogilvie Park, in which the men could see their relatives if they were allowed an extra half-hour to do so before embarking on their ship. I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator MoLeay) agreed to-
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till Tuesday next, at 3 p.m.
The following papers were pre vented : -
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired at Elizabeth Bay, New South Wales - For Defence purposes.
National Security Act - National Security ( General ) Regulations- Orders - Investigations and Designs (82).
Northern Territory Acceptance Act and Northern Territory (Administration) Act - Crown Lands Ordinance - Reasons for resumption of portion of the reservation of certain lands in the Northern Territory formerly reserved for the use of aboriginal native inhabitants (dated 3rd December, 1940).
River Murray Waters Act - River Murray Commission - Report for year 1939-40.
Science and Industry Research Act - Fourteenth Annual Report of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research for year 1939-40.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Ordinance No. 21 of 1940 - Police Superannuation (No. 2).
Senate adjourned at 3.54 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 6 December 1940, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1940/19401206_senate_16_165/>.