12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Spkaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and offered prayers.
– Has the Prime Minister seen the newspaper report that an agreement has been reached between the United States of America and France, regarding the Hoover plan for suspending the payment of war debts ? Has the right honorable gentleman received any information from the London office of the Department of External Affairs regarding the progress of events connected with this proposal?
– I propose to ask leave later to make a short statement on the subject.
Melbourne Conference Plan - Debt conversion agreement-private Mortgages and Contracts.
– I ask the Prime Minister if it is true that the Premiers of the States, with one exception, have signed the agreement relating to the conversion of the internal public debt?
– The agreement has not been signed by all the State Governments.
– Has New South Wales signed it?
– Victoria is the only State that has not yet signed the agreement. The delay in this instance is due to the fact that certain technical points are still the subject of negotiations between the Commonwealth and State Governments.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government proposes to honour the promise of the Treasurer that a meeting of the National Appeal Executive would be convened at an early date; or is it intended that the work which that executive might do shall he done by the Treasury Department alone ?
– I have been awaiting the return of the Leader of the Opposition to Canberra to discuss the procedure with him. The executive appointed to take charge of the conversion loan appeal was the Leader of the Opposition, the Chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board (Sir Robert Gibson), and myself. It is not convenient for me or the Leader of the Opposition to go to Melbourne frequently for meetings, nor would it be convenient to summon Sir Robert Gibson to Canberra, until there is something definite to discuss. I have asked the Treasury officials to prepare draft proposals for submission to the executive, andI propose to discuss them with the Leader of the Opposition before fixing a date for its first meeting.
– In addition to the signing of the debt conversion agreement, is not certain legislative action by each of the Australian Parliaments necessary?
– The plan for the conversion of the internal public debt requires that a formal agreement shall be signed by each of the Australian Governments. In addition, all the governments have undertaken to ask their Parliaments to give legislative effect to other aspects of the plan. Each government is expected to submit such legislation to its Parliament at once, so that it may be passed hy all simultaneously, or as nearly as may be.
– Will the Treasurer indicate to the House the Government’s proposals relating to the reduction of interest on mortgages and other private contracts in order to alleviate the position of primary producers and others?
– The Melbourne Conference agreed that each of the State Parliaments should pass a hill authorizing the reduction of interest on mortgages and other private contracts at the rate of 4s. 6d. in the £1, which is equivalent to 22½ per cent. The only action that will devolve upon the Commonwealth will be the extension of that relief to debtors in the territories controlled by the Commonwealth. Such action is included in the legislative proposals of the Government.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral inform the House whether the Government intends to proceed with the proposed amendments of the Arbitration Bill before the approaching adjournment of Parliament? Ifso, will he indicate on what date the debate on the amending bill will bo resumed?
– At a very early date.
– Has the Minister for Defence inquired into the possibility of releasing more blankets and other defence material for the relief of the unemployed, particularly those who are ill?
– In accordance with the promise I made in the House recently, I have investigated the possibility of making available further clothing from the Naval Defence Stores. As a result 12,000 articles of clothing and 5,750 yards of shirting suitable for making children’s garments have been made available for the unemployed in Victoria. The distribution to other States will be on a population basis, and honorable members will be notified of the allocations to their electorates. The supply of blankets is limited, but an additional 150 are being distributed in Victoria.
– Can the Prime Minister inform the House of the progress of the negotiations between the Commonwealth Bank and the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales? Has his attention been drawn to a paragraph in the Daily Telegraph of to-day, which purports to state the reasons for the delay in the completion of the discussions? The matter is of great importance.
– I agree with the right honorable member that the matter is of great importance and urgent. I have not seen the paragraph to which he has referred, but I have inquired as to the progress of the negotiations, and expressed the view that they should be expedited. Representatives of the Commonwealth Bank and the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales are still conferring on the subject, and I have urged that they should come to a determination as speedily as possible.
– Can the Prime Minister indicate what measures the House will be asked to dispose of before the forthcoming adjournment ?
– At this stage I cannot answer the honorable member exactly. It will be necessary for Parliament to deal with all the measures connected with the Melbourne Conference plan, including the Financial Emergency Bill, and the Debt Conversion Agreement
Bill, as well as the budget and the Estimates, and the taxation proposals arising therefrom. Other bills to be dealt with are those relating to the amendment of the Arbitration Act, wheat marketing, and the tariff.
Resignation or Minister for Defence
– As the Minister for Defence has tendered his resignation as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I ask when does the Prime Minister intend to move that he be discharged from its service?
– I shall give consideration to the matter.
– Has the attention of the Postmaster-General been drawn to the fact that in the United States of America firms in a large way of business who send a considerable amount of correspondence abroad, are permitted to stamp on the envelopes “ Return postage guaranteed “ ?
– My attention has been directed to that practice in the United States of America, and I shall inquire whether it can be adopted here.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
La Perouse by Amalgamated Wireless for station 2UW to re-broadcast, when that had already been done?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Retention of Officers after Retiring Age.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
– The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch) has asked, upon notice, a number of questions regarding the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund. The information is being obtained, and will be furnished as soon as possible.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Nauru - 1928. - Receipts (including accumulated fund of £14,158 15s. 7d.) £34,061 16s.1d.; expenditure, £18,267 7s. 9d. 1929. - Receipts (including accumulated fund of £15,794 8s. 4d.) £35,730 13s. 8d.; expenditure, £17,859 10s.10d.
Wine Export Encouragement Account - Bounty - Drawback
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What amount has been paid during the same period from the account as -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
(a) £165,008; (b) £37,064; (c) nil.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he obtain the information and inform the House of the cost of maintaining each prisoner in the Melbourne and Sydney gaols respectively ?
– I shall communicate with the Premiers of New South Wales and Victoria, and ask whether the information desired can be obtained without undue expenditure. I shall advise the honorable member as soon as replies are to hand.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The information desired is shown in the following table : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he obtain the following information for the House: -
The allowances made to the unemployed, single and married men and women, in the various States, and the allowances made for children?
Are there any obstacles raised or objections made to claims for unemployed allowances being paid to men and women who have no permanent address through inability to pay rent?
– I shall communicate with the Premiers of the States, and ask whether the information desired can be obtained without undue expenditure. I shall advise the honorable member as soon as replies are to hand.
– On the 1st July, the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) asked me the following questions, upon notice : -
Will he furnish the following information in regard to government houses at Acton occupied by Messrs. C. S. Daley, P. E. Deane, H. Jones, and G. H. Monahan: - (a) Total cost of construction of each house and additions, if any; (b) present valuation of each house; (c) weekly rentals paid by each occupant; and (d) the unimproved capital value of the land on which each house is erected?
I am now in a position to furnish the following particulars : -
£4 0s. 6d., £3 14s. 3d., £3 9s. 3d., and £2 17s. 9d.
– by leave - I wish to make a short statement with regard to the debt moratorium. Advice has been received that an agreement in principle has been reached between the United States of America and France. Several important points have been left open and will require to be discussed between the governments. The British Government is accordingly renewing the invitation issued by it last week for a conference in London. The general basis of the settlement is understood to be -
So far as Australia is concerned, the Government has agreed to forgo, for the present year, its share of reparation moneys, amounting to £830,000, conditional on the Hoover proposals being generally adopted. Australia has also accepted Great Britain’s offer to suspend the interest payments on our war indebtedness to the Government of the United Kingdom, amounting to £3,920,000 for the present financial year.
– Is there any reference to the payment of reparations in kind in France ?
– Not at the present momint.
The following papers were presented : -
Nauru - Report to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration of Nauru, during the year 1930.
New Guinea - Report to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration of the Territory of New Guinea from 1st July, 1929, to 30th June, 1930.
Ordered to be printed.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Ordinance of 1931 - No. 12 - Cotter River.
Debate resumed from the 7th July (vide page 3483), on motion by Mr. Theodore -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The title of this bill is wrong and misleading. It states that this legislation has been introduced to “re-establish financial stability, and to restore industrial and general prosperity “. Actually the purpose of the bill is to bolster up our monetary system which, in my opinion, has collapsed, bringing hardship, privation and misery on the people of this country. Those who have studied recent events must realize that our financial crisis has been brought about as a result of the operation of the policy of the banks and of the governments of this country. The object of the bill is stated to be, as I have said, “ to re-establish financial stability and to restore industrial and general prosperity “. That is to be done by penalizing the old and feeble in the community! The halt and the blind, the lame and the weak are to suffer as the direct result of this legislation ! Prosperity will not return to this country merelybecause of the reduction of the wages of the lower paid section of the community. If we deprive the worker of his purchasing power, we shall rob the producer of his customer by withdrawing from circulation money that has hitherto been used for the purchase of Australian products. For yetars Australia has enjoyed a fairly decent wage standard. I entered this
House in October, 1929, pledged to a definite policy. I still owe allegiance to that pledge, and to the policy on which I was returned to this Parliament. It is for the people, and not for any economic conference sitting in Melbourne, to say whether that policy should be changed. Why should the aged people suffer a reduction in their pensions at a time when we are spending £20,000 a week on the upkeep of Parliament House at Canberra? A reduction in old-age and invalid pensions is one of the meanest forms of taxation to which a government can resort. The Prime Minister recently stated in this House that oldage and invalid pensions would not be reduced until we had reached the last ditch. I cannot think that this country has become so unproductive as to have reached the last ditch, necessitating a burden being placed on the old and infirm, who were pioneers of industry, and gave of their best to their country. Yet they ara now to be thrown on the scrap-heap. Certain members of this party, in the Government and outside of it, who occupy comfortable quarters in this House, and are well fed and well paid, now say that our pension payments must be reduced by £1,500,000. What for? Merely to balance our budget in order to protect the interest rates of those who, during prosperous times, invested their money in Government stocks, and in all the prosperous years made a valuable rake-off from the public. The other day I moved an amendment to another bill with the object of reducing interest on Government loans to a- flat rate of 3 per cent. If my amendment had been carried the cut in pensions would have been saved. Three per cent, is all that this country can afford to pay for money for developmental work. Only eight honorable members supported that amendment. Yet I know that the House will agree to the reduction of the old-age pension by 2s. 6d. per week. It will also agree to limit the value of a pensioner’s home, for pension purposes, to £500. This will mean that the man who has spent £800 on the purchase of his home, and is forced to apply for a pension, will be granted a lower pension than if he had not been thrifty. A man whose home is worth £250 more than £800 will, under these proposals, be given a pension of only 7s. lid. per week. That is a reduction of about 60 per cent. Can that be called equality of sacrifice? The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) had a good deal to say the other day about the small bondholders, whom he termed the thrifty people of this community; but the small bondholders are not our only thrifty people. Those who have saved their money, and put it into a home, were also thrifty. It is totally unfair that these people should be called upon to suffer a reduction of 60 per cent., and in some cases more, in their pensions because they have been thrifty. It must be remembered that the value of a pensioner’s home will depreciate unless a certain amount of money is spent on it regularly in painting and necessary repairs. If the pension is reduced it certainly will not be possible for pensioners to do this maintenance work.
Let us look for a moment at the case of the blind pensioner. Some of our blind people who are drawing the pension, work in institutions for the ‘blind, and receive payment in accordance with their output. These, also, will have their pensions reduced under these proposals. Men with families, whose blindness came upon them after marriage, will have to make very heavy sacrifices if this proposal is agreed to. The people who invested their money in bonds during the war and have drawn interest from their investments ever since, have had a very good time. The general taxpayers, the real wealth producers of this country, and the consumers generally, have been carrying a crushing burden in consequence of the heavy interest bill, which the taxpayer has to pay. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane) was informed by the Treasurer the other day, in reply to a question, that Australia would have to provide £28,500,000 this year for interest overseas, and that an additional £9,000,000 or £10,000,000 would have to be found for exchange. The proposals which the Government is making in this bill, including the reduction of wages and pensions, will not be adequate to meet that situation, and will not be effective in “ restoring industrial and general prosperity “, to use the language of the bill.
– “What about the bondholder who, six months or so ago, paid £100 for bonds which are now worth only about £80?
– Such a man has to take a risk just as the man who puts £800 into a house, and has insufficient money left to insure it must do so. If the house were burnt down during the period it was uninsured, the owner would suffer a dead loss.
– Who is making the greater sacrifice, the old-age pensioner, or the man who invested in bonds ?
– The old-age pensioner is making the greater sacrifice, and is being more heavily penalized than any other section in the community. As for the bondholders, I contend that the Government should have adopted the proposal of the economists, Copland, Shand, and company, that the banks and insurance companies and the Commonwealth Bank, should underwrite the holdings of the small bondholders in needy circumstances, as the ‘bonds fall due. But we are not justified in making a plea for the small bondholders while we allow the old-age^ invalid and war pensioners, and the blind, the crippled and infirm of this community, to suffer.
In order to ensure equality of sacrifice the Government should have begun at the top, and not at the roots, of the tree. We know very well that an orchardist who tinkers with the roots of his trees will destroy them. The Government, by trying to effect the heaviest economies at the bottom of the tree, will bring destruction upon this country. The man who has to make a 22£ per cent, sacrifice on an income of £3 or £4 per week is in an infinitely worse position than the man who has to make a similar sacrifice on an income of £500 a year. A loss of 4s. or 5s. a week to a man on a low income is exceedingly severe if he has a family to keep. It may mean that his family will have to do without milk, or some of the other necessaries of life. I think that such a reduction is unjustified while members of Parliament draw their present salary.
– What would the honorable member do with the salaries of members of Parliament ?
– In my opinion the parliamentary salaries should be cut down to the bone - to the basic wage if necessary - before the pensions of the old people in this community are reduced.
– Would the honorable member vote for such a proposal ?
– He would not say that he would vote for it unless he were sure it was safe to do so.
– I assure the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) that I will support any proposal that will avoid the reduction in pensions. If necessary I could bring a camp kitchen to Canberra, and live in the same way as the people who work on the roads, who are no worse and no better than members of Parliament.
– Yes-, let us live like the blackfellows.
– There are 400,000 unemployed persons in Australia to-day who are living under conditions worse than those of blackfellows, and the honorable member sees fit to sneer at them while he goes on drawing his big salary. The very fact that honorable members, opposite are supporting this proposal should be sufficient to make honorable members on this side of the chamber suspicious of it. Honorable members opposite are grinning in their sleeves while they are watching the Labour partysmash the convictions which it has held ever since it has been in existence - convictions to which the people of this country were led to believe it would be loyal’ to the last degree. The platform of this party was drawn up by the workers, and the mass of the people, and many honorable members on this side of the chamber have prated about their readiness to do anything whatever to give effect to it. For a lifetime this class has battened on the workers, whether they be employed on the land or on the roads.
The present Government was returned to this Parliament on a definite policy of arbitration. Will members of the present Ministry tell ‘ me what defeated! the last Government? I address that question to the right honorable member forNorth Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who said; that compulsory arbitration must not be: interfered with. This bill is a direct interference with the arbitration system of this country. If Parliament intends to assume the powers of the Arbitration Court, and fix wages, we may as well abolish the position of Public Service Arbitrator. The majority in this Parliament were elected on a definite policy of arbitration, yet they are taking to themselves power to determine the wages and salaries to be paid to public servants. A few months ago ,the Public Service organizations agreed, weakly, in my opinion, to a proposal for the reduction of their wages and salaries to the extent of £1S a year, prior to the date on which that alteration would have become operative, owing to the reduction in the cost of living. What must they think of the present action of the Government? If sacrifices are to be made, they should not begin with the lower paid members of the Service, but should be made on a graduated scale, commencing with those receiving, say, over £200 a year. If the lower paid members of the Service are to suffer a reduction of 22£ per cent., the rate might well increase to even 50 per cent, in the case of the higher paid officials, who can better afford to make sacrifices than men receiving £4 a week; and the lower paid men, who cannot bear the loss, might then be let off. Having seen the shocking conditions under which families are living in the back country, in north and north-west Queensland, and being familiar with the deplorable circumstances of the poorer sections of the community in the cities, I maintain that no Parliament should pass such a bill as this to save the interestmonger when the lower paid workers in the community have had their incomes reduced. Under this measure, the Commonwealth public servants will be in a worse position than that of State public servants. In Queensland, no employee on the basic wage, is to have his income reduced. There the basic wage is now, I think, £198 per annum, and as it is proposed to reduce the basic wage of Commonwealth employees to £186 per annum, a federal public servant, who may be doing exactly the same class of work as a State employee, will receive £12 a year less. Under this measure the weekly basic wage will be £3 ls. 8d., which will reduce the standard of the working man below that fixed by Mr. Justice Higgins in the Harvester case over twenty years ago. The worker has been placed in this position because the cost of government has more than doubled in recent years. In my opinion, the creation of new departments has reduced the efficiency of government.
Let us consider the legislation passed by this Parliament under Labour rule. The provision for the payment of invalid and old-age pensions is to be slashed by a Labour administration. It is proposed to take £1 off the maternity allowance, which is a reduction of 20 per cent. A few years ago, governments in Australia were immigration mad. The nationals of every country were welcomed here; there was supposed to be land for all, yet Australians are now clamouring for it. At Mareeba recently, a hundred blocks were made available for selection, a ballot was taken, and there were 2,000 applicants for the land.
– I would have got in myself, if possible.
– Had the honorable member done so, he would have starved, because he would be unable to make a living on the land. Under the pretext of attempting to balance the budget, this statesmanlike Labour Government is now prepared to tax the womanhood of this country by reducing the maternity allowance. It is said that now the allowance is paid to many who do not need it. But surely the well to do, who belong to the Nationalist party, ought not to apply for it. And it ought not to be taken from those who do need it.
What does the right honorable member for North Sydney say to the reduction of 22^ per cent, in war pensions, when a definite promise was given that our soldiers’ interests would be safeguarded? When the opponents of conscription had the temerity to declare publicly that half the promises made to the soldiers would never be honoured, they were haled before the court under the War Precautions Act, and shot into gaol at the pleasure of the right honorable member. There was much beating of the. drum at that time, but what does the right honorable member say to-day? Men who enlisted from the mining areas, and described themselves as miners, are now told, when they apply for the war pension on the ground that they are suffering from tuberculosis, that the disease was not due to their war service, but was caused by “the dust in which they worked in the mines. I, myself, know of a man who enlisted from Charters Towers. For three months only before he enlisted he had been employed as a miner in the Einasleigh mine. This was a wet mine, where it was impossible for a miner to get dust. No one who worked there had ever been affected with lung trouble. Some time after his return from the war this .man developed tuberculosis, and when he applied for a pension he was told by the pensions tribunal that his condition was not the result of war service, but of his employment as a miner before he enlisted. He was refused a pension, and he with his wife and five children were left to starve, or to depend upon the charity of the people of the town. That was the treatment meted out to this man, although in Mary-street, Brisbane, we rent elaborate premises in which to house the Repatriation Department ; we have at Stanthorpe an elaborate institution in which there’ are almost as many, nurses and doctors as there are patients; and at Rosemount Hospital provision also exists for the treatment of such patients. The upkeep of these institutions is charged against the pension account. Some time ago I brought this man’s case under the notice of the Minister for Health (Mr. McNeill), who was good enough to have it re-opened. .The Appeal Board, consisting of two or three persons, boarded the train at Melbourne and travelled to Brisbane to hear evidence. I was informed that the man would be brought from Charters Towers to Brisbane, but that was not done. The members of the Appeal Board drew their 30s. or £2 2s. a .day for travelling expenses while they were absent from Melbourne, and the expenditure on that trip alone would have been enough to have paid the man a pension for a year. Before this the appellant spent a month in the Rosemount Hospital. He was given no medicine, and no sputum tests were taken. He was told that he was in a pretty bad way, but that he would get” a hearing before the tribunal, and a report would be published. Now he has been informed that his state of health is not the result of his war service. The public are not blind to what is going on, nor ignorant of the extravagance associated with the administration of the Repatriation Department. Nor is it blind to other forms of governmental extravagance. Every one knows of the financial madness causing the shift to Canberra. Three costly hotels here are lying empty and idle while the Government is paying rent to private individuals for office accommodation.
The other day I read a letter from a man who had served in the Postal Department for twenty years. He left the service on account of ill health, but did not put in his resignation. He applied for three months’ leave of absence, to which he was entitled, but was informed that as he had left without resigning he would not be granted leave. I got into touch with the Postmaster-General’s Department, and from it received a letter referring me to section this, subsection that of the regulation, which, in effect, meant that he had no rights. The other day I picked up a newspaper and read in it that Mr. Skewes, the retiring Chairman of the Public Service Board, was to retire on full pension, and was to be granted a year’s leave of absence on full pay. Upon inquiry I learned that his salary was £2,500 a year. That, would provide thirteen men with work for a year, and support their families. It would, according to Arbitration Court rates, provide sustenance for 52 persons for a year.
– What is the honorable member’s excuse for the Government’s action?
-The Government has merely followed a practice established by the last Government during its fifteen years of office. It is time this Government abandoned that practice. The Government should refuse to do the bidding of the other side any longer. If the people -will not support it in carrying out the Labour party’s programme, it should get out, and make room for those who have been raiding the Treasury for the so last fifteen or sixteen years. Then, when the people are thoroughly fed up with that sort of a government, they may give a Labour Government a chance in both
– That is a very dismal prospect.
– There is a very disanal prospect in front of any man at the present time, who is willing to work, but has no work to do. Even the prospect of the wheat-growers is not so dismal as that of the unemployed. I expected that the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) would vote for the reduction of interest rates to 3 per cent. He should know better than most honorable members that the greatest difficulty with which the primary producers have to contend is the dearness of interest. Under the Government’s plan interest rates are to be reduced by 1 per cent., which will not mean a great deal to a man with a heavy interest bill to meet. If the honorable member for Wimmera is an advocate of reduced wages, he should reflect that, by bringing about such reduction, he may be injuring the interests of his own wheat-farmers. He would reduce the spending power of the community, and thus lessen the ability of the people to consume wheat. A little time ago, Judge Dethridge said that a 10 per cent, reduction in wages was essential, and, if brought about, would immediately restore prosperity. Wages have been reduced a good while now, but we have not, so far, noticed the return to prosperity. In Queensland, for instance, heavy reductions have been made in wages. There, it was said that, if only wages could be reduced from the artificial level at which Labour had maintained them for years, everything would be well. Yet, in Queensland, there is, I suppose, as much unemployment as in the other States. The wages of shearers and other workers have been reduced, but the only result, so .far, is that industry has become stagnant, and business people who bought in at high prices, are being ruined. South Australia effected big reductions in wages, and imposed - high rates of taxation, with no improvement of its position. I contend that the Labour party was proceeding along the right lines, and that the financial institutions of the world are coming its way. I have here an article taken from the London Times of the 28th May last. It is written by Professor Gustav Cassel.
– That is Niemeyer’s cousin.
- Sir Otto Niemeyer recently investigated the financial affairs of Austria, with the result that that country borrowed a further £4,000,000 from the Bank of England to bolster up its affairs for another few months, so thrusting the workers of Austria deeper into the mire of slavery, and more firmly in the grip of the capitalists of Great Britain. However, all’s well with Sir Otto. The article is headed, “ The Monetary Character of the Present Crisis,” and reads -
It is. time that the leading central banks came together and made an end of the depression simply by declaring that they intend, from this moment on, to supply the world so abundantly with means of payment that no further fall in prices will be possible. . . . Under such circumstances the downward movement could only have been stopped if the central bank system had decided immediately to supply the market with purchasing power on such liberal terms that any further fall in commodity price levels would have been made impossible.
Continuing, the Professor said -
The only possible remedy for our present difficulties was a systematic reduction of central bank requirements of gold reserve, or, far better, the radical step of immediately abolishing laws regulating the reserves.
That definitely advocates an extension of credit, and seeks to bring about what the leader of the so-called United party terms inflation. If his premises were accepted as correct, the English “ Bradbury “ was not “ real “ money, nor is the present English or Australian bank-note “ real “ money, if a gold backing is the requisite basis. Most economic authorities now admit that that very same gold backing has brought about most of our economic troubles.
Another prominent authority, Dr. Julius Klein, who often acts for the Washington administration as spokesman on economic matters,- is reported in the London Times of the 29th May last as having made a bitter attack on wage cutting, in these terms - .
Wage cutting, Dr. Klein declared, effectively ended buying power, destroyed the consumers’ morale, did not result in any appreciable lowering of the cost of production, and was unfair to the wage earner. He asserted that wages amounted to only 16.2 per cent, of factory cost on an average, so that 10 per cent, reduction meant only 1.6 per cent, saving of wages. He further said that costs had not been inflated by wages, that from 1921 to 1929 real wages increased by 13 per cent., while in the same period the return to industrialists grew by 72 per cent., and dividends on industrial and railway stock grew by 256 per cent.
Yet investors are to be protected from these reductions!
I can see that it is merely butting one’s head against a stone wall to suggest an amendment of the bill at this stage. ‘ It is claimed by the Government and the Opposition that this plan is not capable of amendment, as it represents an agreement that has been entered into by the Premiers and Treasurers of the Commonwealth and the States. If that is so, what a farce we have gone through during the last three or four weeks, debating something that is not capable of amendment. It was merely necessary for members of the Nationalist and Country parties to declare that they concurred with the action of the Government, and the bill could have been bludgeoned through. I hope that, when the measure reaches the committee stage, it will be capable of amendment, in details. I realize that such a hope is almost futile, because, besides having the support of the Government and the Opposition, the plan is supported by the press. Those who oppose it are ridiculed, if, indeed, any publicity at all is given to their utterances. The supporters of the plan are taking advantage of their strength, and decree that “It must go through. The people must make the sacrifice in the interests of the nation, to tide it over the crisis “. I point out that the people who are called upon to make the sacrifice are the very persons who did so during the war period. The old-age pensioners, too, are to be further penalized. Pensioners living in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and other coastal cities and towns are in an infinitely better position than are those who live in Western and Northern Queensland and New South Wales, where the cost of living is 25 per cent, higher than it is on the coast. Where, then, is the equality of sacrifice? Those who have pioneered our mining centres have put their last shilling into mining ventures in an endeavour to re-open different fields. Those are the people who have been insulted by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition by being termed “paupers”.
– Be fair. The honorable gentleman was quoting from a letter.
– In that case I misunderstood the honorable gentleman, and am pleased to accept the correction. I have no desire to misrepresent anybody.
It is declared that those who oppose the plan are traitors to their own country. A very big section of the community own very little of Australia. To them it is a doubtful privilege to live in the country, and if they had the wherewithal to get out of it they would do so to-morrow. They are denied the right to work, which is due to any citizen. That comes from the Government overtaxing the most industrious section of the community, theproducers, the tillers of the soil, who aresharing the present hardships with the workers.
– The honorablegentleman’s time has expired.
– This bill, which is part of the plan produced by the Melbourne conference, presents to all honorable members, regardless* of the parties to which we belong, difficulties of no ordinary kind. In a sense, it is revolutionary. At one sweep it brushes aside those standards which the people of this country, by incessant political and industrial agitation, have achieved during the last 25 years; It reduces wages, pensions, salaries, and allowances of all kinds by one-fifth, and the irony of it is that we who, all our political lives, have “ championed the existing standards, and helped to achieve them, are forced by cruel circumstance to justify this measure and urge its acceptance by the people. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) is greatly concerned about the bill, as, indeed, we all are. But he did not attempt to offer an alternative to this plan. Throughout this debate I have listened for some guidance in what I conceive to be the most difficult situation in which I have ever found myself. I have listened in vain for alternatives at once practical and adequate ; but of such there has been no indication. One expects criticism of this measure, because it cuts right across the lives of the people. In these drastic reductions the Parliament is forced to take the most distasteful action. ‘ But the alternative is default, with all that that connotes. Public servants, soldiers and old-age pensioners have to ask themselves, not whether this plan is harsh, but whether the effects of the only alternative, which would be immediate, would not be much worse. We have been told, and no one has attempted to deny, that the national income has declined by £200,000,000. We are like men on a ship in mid-ocean, whose supply of fresh water has nearly run out, whose distillation plant- has partially broken down, and who are compelled by circumstances to go on short allowance. They have no alternative, nor have we. It is not a question of what we would or would not, or what we like or dislike. As the national income has decreased by £200,000,000, obviously, to that extent, we all must receive less, because there is so much less to divide. The plan will help to balance the budget. I have always believed in the balancing of budgets, both private and public. Nations and individuals should live within their means. All the governments in which I have had the honour of a place have lived within their means and balanced their budgets. I have practised as well as preached this national virtue. Because I believe that budgets must be balanced, and because the alternative is default, I accept this plan, but with the greatest possible reluctance. I regard it merely as a measure to meet a great emergency. I refuse absolutely to regard these reductions as permanent and so destroying the standards for which I have fought all my life. It is a temporary expedient, a means by which we can bridge the financial chasm, while awaiting the development of that process of rehabilitation which we are told will spring naturally and inevitably from this plan. To make that clear, I propose to move that the bill shall remain in force for three years, and no longer. If we have faith in our country, and in ourselves, we shall, I hope, in that time regain prosperity. Not for one moment do I subscribe to the doctrine preached in cer- tain quarters with great vehemence that there must be a permanent lowering of our standard of living. I shall fight such a retrograde policy to the last ditch.
The honorable member for Kennedy protested against the reduction of war pensions. I have had much to do with pensions. In the name of the people of Australia, I made certain pledges to our soldiers when they enlisted to fight overseas, and no man surveying the position fairly can say that those pledges have not been honestly kept, or that the soldiers have not been treated as their deeds merited. Certainly, no soldiers who took part in the Great War have been better treated than have those of Australia. I have kept my word to them in the past, and’ I intend to continue to do so. The representatives of the soldiers’ organizations have accepted the proposed reduction of war pensions subject to certain adjustments of its incidence, and therefore it is unnecessary for us to attempt to deal further with them. I accept what they have proposed, and I am glad that the Government has been able to do so. But I accept the soldiers’ plan, as I do this measure generally as a readjustment rendered necessary by a passing emergency. In the same spirit, and- with the same limitations, I accept the reduction of old-age pensions by 2s. 6d. a week. This twentieth century is the most wonderful in the history of man. The improvements it has witnessed in the productivity of labour have been astounding. Wealth is now poured forth in lavish abundance; daily we achieve new conquests over nature, and all her vast treasure-houses are open to us. Yet, after 30 years of this progressive century the great democracy of Australia finds its affairs so mismanaged that it cannot remain solvent without taking 2s. 6d. a week from the pensions of the pioneers and the infirm.
– The right honorable member has had a good deal to do with the management of the country in recent years.
– The honorable member talks a great deal, but he offers no alternative to this plan. In any case, his own leader (Mr. Lang) has subscribed to it.
– The right honorable member does not understand what he is talking about.
– Despite the enthusiasm which marks the utterances of the honorable member for “Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini), he does not propose to us a workable alternative that will enable us to say to the soldiers and the old-age pensioners “ There is no need to do what the Government has proposed; here is a plan that wi,U enable us to carry on the government of the country without requiring of you these sacrifices”. The honorable member knows very well that unless the plan embodied in this bill, or something equally adequate, is adopted within a few weeks, Australia will be bankrupt. “We want constructive, not destructive, criticism. If somebody could point to a better way I would welcome his guidance. But there is no better way. Hard and utterly distasteful though it be, it is the only course that is presented to us, and I am prepared to adopt it as a temporary policy to deal with unparalleled conditions. I believe that this plan to be the only alternative to default. I believe these reductions to ‘be necessary to meet our financial position. I do not believe that the plan will remove the depression, the causes of which are deep rooted and not peculiar to Australia. “We find them in every country of the world, and in many in a more aggravated form than in Australia. The plan qua plan does not go to the root of our troubles. Nothing can create, employment for the people which does not stimulate industry, and industry cannot be stimulated so long as conditions remain which do not give to the producer a reward which will encourage him to further efforts. There is no cure for a world depression except the prevention of the downward trend of prices. The stabilization of prices is the crux of the problem. The whole world has come to an impasse, and unless prices can be restored to an economic level at which it will pay to produce, there can be no absorption of the unemployed, and no stimulation of industry.
– In “what way will this “bill dp that?
– This is a great world problem, and cannot be solved by any nation alone. The interdependence of the nations of the world is obvious and intimate. There is shortly to be a world, conference on the subject of disarmament.. No doubt it would be a happy omen if the world agreed to beat the sword into the plough share; but a world conference to deal with the causes of the existing depression is needed infinitely more than a conference to consider disarmament. “While there are in the world tens of millions of men unemployed and consequently discontented, while nations are on the verge of bankruptcy, and at their wits end to make ends meet it is idle totalk about world peace. Therefore, I hope that the nations will confer together with a view to finding some effective method of dealing with this great world problem.
Let us look at this plan for a. moment, and consider what it will do. First. it will help materially, by reducing public expenditure. It is hoped that it willput us on the road towards the balancing of our budget, though it is not expected that that can be done for some years. Its precise and direct effect on unemployment, I am at a loss to determine. I cannot see that it will, of itself, encourage employment or stimulate industry.
– Then why is the right honorable gentleman supporting the bill?
– Because there is no other way of avoiding default.
– The right honorable gentleman admits that it is of no use.
– Of itself, it cannot accomplish much, but it may help to restore confidence. Prosperity and depression are, in- essence, states of the mind, and prosperity depends upon hope fortified by works. So long as the people have not faith in the future, prosperity will be impossible. The sun of prosperity is now hidden behind a dark bank of clouds; but if the people can be made to believe that the future has something in store,, then pockets will be opened, enterprise will be unleashed, and employment will become abundant. To that extent the ‘plan is excellent. Then we are told, and it is part of the plan, that the banks have agreed to make credits available.
That will undoubtedly encourage enterprise, and directly help to absorb the unemployed. The plan is good in those two respects, and may -do something towards the rehabilitation of our finances. But nothing will restore prosperity to Australia until there is an increase in the prices of our staple products.
I shall not labour this question. The position, viewed from any angle, is extremely difficult, and I am loth to make it more so. I have said plainly that I accept the bill as. an emergency measure, and that I propose to submit in committee an amendment to limit its term. Although, as I have said, by the restoration of public confidence and the release of bank credits, something may be done towards the absorption of the unemployed, no permanent and effective solution of this problem can come from action by this country alone. I hope J hat either America or Great Britain will give a lead to the world in this matter. Great Britain has always been in the vanguard of progress, and has given a lead to the nations in many reforms. Let her again take the place which is rightly hers. Unless she will do so, the position, not only for us, but for herself is black, indeed. In five months British trade has fallen off by £200,000,000, and, unless there is a turn in the tide, her position will not be much more satisfactory than ours.
I do not subscribe to the doctrine that the salvation of the world lies in the reduction of wages and the standard of living, because I regard communism as the greatest menace confronting the world to-day. Its agents are incessantly active in their propaganda; its aims are well known. It is against our ideals, our racial traditions, against everything in which we believe - Christianity, liberty, democracy, and the Empire. Its avowed purpose is the destruction of civilization as it now exists. The number of its converts is rapidly increasing. In this country communism has hitherto made little headway, because our people have had something to hope for. Their standards of living and comfort widened their outlook and broadened their judgment. Communism can make no appeal to them. But now that these standards are menaced and this country has hundreds of thousands of unemployed, these specious doctrines do not fall on deaf ears. If we preach the doctrine of despair, if we tell our people that there is no hope for them, “that they are to be permanently reduced to lower levels of comfort and standards of living, what barriers remain between us and those communistic forces that are making headway in every country of the world? We must, therefore, preach the gospel of hope. Our people must have something to look forward to. In a young country like” Australia, in an age like this, when science, invention, and human effort have achieved so many victories, it would be a scathing commentary on our intelligence and capacity if we said, “ Our standard of living must be reduced if we are to live at all “. I do not subscribe to such a doctrine. I say plainly that those who love their country, who understand what communism means, and know what strides it is making in this country, realize that the surest, and, indeed, the only barrier between communism and its objective is a happy and contented people.
.- We had, on the first bill, a full-dress rehearsal, as we thought, of the merits and demerits of this much-discussed plan. In the discussion on this bill, the issues have been boiled down to three - the reduction in wages, the reduction in the allowances for our social services, and the reduction in pensions, including war pensions. My main objection to a reduction in wages is that the plan, as a whole, does not give any certainty of employment for the 400,000 people who are depending upon this Parliament for relief. I cannot find in the whole plan one suggestion to that end, except one nebulous, suggestion that if a certain mysterious thing, known as confidence, is restored, money will be made available. Every member of the House realizes, I think, that it will not be possible for some time for the Government to borrow any money abroad; nor will it be able to obtain locally more than the £550,000,000 required to convert the existing loans. Even if the Government could secure new money locally, it would have to come from private sources, and so would not be available for private enterprises, to which, after all, most of our people have to look for work”. The Government, by the arrangements made through the Loan Council, reduced its loan expenditure in one year from £43,000,000 to £14,000,000. It is now proposed, by means of the reductions provided for in the financial rehabilitation plan, to reduce expenditure by another £14,000,000. . This means that £43,000,000 less will be in circulation than was circulating at the time the Government assumed office. This must necessarily cause deplorable changes in industry. The State Governments, as well as the Commonwealth Government, are under obligation to reduce their reduction. In Victoria, the Railway Department alone is showing a deficit of £2,000,000. Every possible economy has been practised in the railway services of the State; train services have been curtailed ; overhead costs have been reduced ; and every award has been suspended. Any wages can now be paid to, and any conditions fixed, for the 24,000 men at present employed in this undertaking. Yet the accounts show a deficit of £2,000,000. The Premier of Victoria, like the Premiers of other States, has undertaken to balance his budget. So far as I can see, he can only do so by dismissing another 5,000 or 8,000 men. No steps are proposed in this plan to provide money for expenditure on other work to find jobs for the men dismissed.
I suggest that we adopt the following slogan in respect to the ‘balancing of budgets : - “ To balance budgets, put men into work and not out of work.” An alternative slogan might be - “ To balance budgets, restore the spending power of the community.” This cannot be done by dismissing civil servants or reducing their allegedly high rates of pay. Just recently the Public Service organizations voluntarily agreed to a cost of living reduction aggregating £480,000 three months earlier than it need have become operative. This was a great sacrifice. But it is now proposed to oblige them to make another sacrifice of £1,700,000. If this reduction is made, the spending power of the community will be still further reduced; and no additional employment will be provided. In fact, additional dismissals may be expected.
I am anxious to serve the people who elected me to this Parliament. In my electorate I have business groups, secondary industry groups, primary producing groups, Civil Service groups, and others. The secondary industries are being well catered for by our high customs duties. The primary industries have not been given as much help as they deserved ; but this is due to reasons with which honorable members are well acquainted. But civil servants and the aged and infirm have a right to 3be considered.
This party was returned to power with a special mandate to maintain our industrial arbitration system, including Public Service arbitration. But,’ despite the fact that the public servants voluntarily agreed to the cost of living reduction being made operative three months earlier than was necessary, they are now being called upon to make other heavy sacrifices without any reference at all to the Public Service Arbitrator. It must be admitted, therefore, that our 1929 election promises were so much hot air. I hold some unorthodox views in regard to arbitration. I believe that this Parliament should fix the minimum wage and the maximum hours of work for the community. I would not leave those matters to any court. But that is by the way. Our election promises were made from thousands of platforms in this country, and I am sorry that they have not been fulfilled.
The present proposal involves the reduction of the basic wage in the Public Service, from £198 to £181 per annum, or £3 ls. per week. When I was elected to this Parliament a little -over eighteen months ago, the basic wage was £4 8s. per week. I should like honorable members to compare the proposed new basic wage of £3 ls. per week with their own expenditure. I admit, of course, that a member of Parliament is in a good position. But where would we be if we had suddenly to limit our expenditure to £3 ls. per week? Many public servants will, however, be put in that position. That wage is grossly inadequate to provide for the bare necessaries of life. I may be told that the existing basic wage was based upon statistical information compiled by the Common- wealth Statistician, and that since it was fixed the cost of living has fallen. My reply is that representatives of the industrial Labour movement have always” contended that the present system of estimating the cost of living is unsound. It may be said that this is a wild generality. I know that the cost of food, groceries, and housing is estimated on a certain basis. House rents are fixed in accordance with the returns obtained from selected agents. It is not difficult, of course, to determine the price of bread, meat and potatoes. But many other costs which every person incurs are allowed for. Even under present conditions, the cost of medical attention and medicine will remain the same as heretofore.. Legal and school fees will not change. Municipal rates will increase somewhat; while the income taxation imposed by Commonwealth and State Governments will increase heavily. The interest rate on mortgages and small overdrafts is not likely to decrease by any more than 1 per cent. The price of coal, electric light, gas, and other fuel, will not change very much. In my opinion the increased costs consequent upon the imposition of sales tax and primage duty will more than offset all the decreases to which I have referred. The people will also feel the derogatory effects of the high customs duties imposed by the Government. The price of sugar will not fall ; and the price of tea has actually risen. These are two important items in the living costs of the ordinary householder. It is, therefore, absurd to say that the cost of living has fallen.
The members of the Premiers Conference were excellent fellows. Most of them are known to me personally. But they .were unduly influenced by certain economists who, in my opinion, have no practical knowledge of every day affairs. If I want medicine I go to a doctor, and if I want meat I go to a butcher. If I want practical politics, I go to practical leaders of industry, and not to academic economists. These men have theories which change so frequently, that no one can place any reliance upon them. The economists urged that it was necessary to reduce expenditure by £14,000,000 this year, in order to balance our budgets. The fact that this saving would involve the dismissal of many men did not mean anything to these experts. The. plain truth is that a fight has been going on in Australia for many months for the lowering of the standard of living, and those who started it have won. This is shown by the fact that all our arbitration awards have been brushed aside.
I am not deluding myself with the idea that we are dealing with emergency legislation. If -.this bill is passed it will remain on the statute-book for many years. No secret is being made of the fact that the provisions of this measure will override the provisions of many acts of parliament now in operation. Even if we save £14;000,000 in our expenditure this, year we shall still fail to balance our budget. In the circumstances I believe that this party is not justified in sacrificing the advantages which it has won for the workers during a long period of years, particularly as the sacrifice will not result in the employment of any one of the 400,000 persons who are to-day practically starving in this country. Our standard of living will be lowered without any compensating advantage.
– The honorable member seems to overlook the fact that his practical politicians, the Premiers and others, have endorsed the proposals of the economists. Surely he will admit that the Premiers and their brother Ministers, who sat in conference, were practical politicians.
– In my opinion these gentleman allowed themselves to be overruled by the experts. The Hills, the Hogans, and the others who attended the conference, know something about practical politics; but they overlooked the fact that the so-called experts were out of touch with the majority of the people of Australia. The members of the expert committee do not know what it is like to struggle for a living. Their views on life are theoretical and not practical. These men put up a proposition such as, a glass will not hold more water than will go into it; and from such flapdoodle they proceed to generalize. I said when I spoke on the first of these emergency measures that, while it might be practicable to reduce the rate of interest on government” securities, I doubted whether it would be possible to ensure’ a general reduction in interest on mortgages and overdrafts. But I made it quite clear that, although I was prepared to give those measures a trial, I “was not prepared to scrap the whole of our arbitration machinery, nor was I willing to sacrifice the interests of our old-age, invalid, and war pensioners, merely to save about £5,000,000 a year. To do this would mean the throwing aside of the beliefs of a lifetime.
I have no doubt that the members of the Government are sincere. They have a long industrial history behind them, which began, in some cases, before I was born. It is proposed to save £5,000,000 by slashing the wages of public servants, and I venture to say that, within a month of the passing of this measure, application will be made to the Federal Arbitration Court for a reduction of 20 per cent, in the wages paid to outside employees. It was contended, when the 10 per cent, cut in the wages of Federal arbitration awards was made, that the national income would be increased and that employment would be provided, but, from the date when that reduction was made, unemployment steadily increased. The reduction of wages will not guarantee the public servants against dismissal. This Sword of Damocles will always be hanging over their heads. We have been unable to secure an assurance that, if the cut now proposed is made, further dismissals will not occur.
It seems to me that the most dangerous feature of the proposed reduction of the income of old-age pensioners is, not the slice of 12£ per Bent. off the amount they now receive, but the proposal to reduce the value of the property they may hold without being required to. submit to a special deduction from their pension. In the committee stage, certain amendments with regard to this matter will “be submitted. It is absurd to suggest that any human being can exist on less than £1 a week. On this side of the chamber are a number- of men who are most economical. I do not pose as one of that number. I spend, legitimately, on odds and ends for myself, over £1 a week. If I had to house, clothe and feed myself on that income, I would not weigh 18 stone 9 lb. It is idle to suggest that, owing to the drop in the cost of living, an old-age pensioner can live on 2s. 6d. a week less than the amount to which he has become accustomed. I admit that the social services granted in the Commonwealth are not provided in other countries, but the people of Australia have come to look upon the old-age pension as their right, The statement has been made that, while members criticize the Government’s proposals, they offer no alternatives. I have already mentioned one. I asked the Prime Minister recently what amount of overseas interest will have to be paid by Australia during the present financial year, and the reply that I received was “£28,568,45.2”.- In reply to a further question, I was informed that the average rate of interest payable was £4 15s. 3d, per cent.. My suggestion was that Australia should retain that interest for a. year. We should thus save about £9,500,000 in exchange, and have the substantial sum of about £38,000,000 with which to relieve industry, help the farmers and provide work for the unemployed. [Quorum formed.]
I also asked the Government what steps had been taken to secure the reduction of Australia’s interest on the overseas debt, and the answer that I received was -
This is a matter for consideration after the plan of financial rehabilitation now before Parliament has been put into operation, and the financial standing of Australia in the overseas markets has been restored.
Has one member of the Government or the Opposition made a solitary reference in this chamber to the overseas liability? They are prepared to screw our own people down to the last farthing, regardless of their economic wants. They will slash the income of the aged and the exsoldiers, but why not make a business proposition to our overseas creditors on the lines of the Hoover plan? I also asked the Government what would be the financial gain to Australia if the Hoover plan were adopted, and the reply was as follows : -
If the Hoover proposals are adopted, Australia will forgo her share of reparations for the present year, amounting to £830,000. At the same time, Australia will secure relief from interest payments during the ‘present financial year on its indebtedness to the Government of the United Kingdom amounting to £3,920,000. The net gain to Australia for the year will thus be £3,090,000.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) said this afternoon that this proposal had been agreed to. If, for one year, we allowed the overseas bondholders 1^ per cent., or even 3 per cent., and compounded that payment, we could save nearly the whole of the amount of the proposed reductions that I am sure are unpopular with every member of the House.
– Does the honorable member suggest that we should retain this interest without the consent of the other parties to the contract?
– No. I have not heard from the Prime Minister, or any member of , the Government, what they did in London towards achieving this object. I would not act arbitrarily, but £ would make a proposition to Great Britain. Such a proposal may have been submitted; I do not know. When I mentioned the matter recently, the Minister for Defence (Mr. Chifley) remark-jd “That has all been thought out”. An outstanding fact is that £38,000,000 could be kept in Australia to afford relief to the people which cannot be given under the present plan.
– But the plight of the British people is very much worse than ours.
– I recognize that, and I am prepared to ‘credit the bondholders with the interest that we would be holding back for a year. There may be a large number of small bondholders in Britain, us there are in Australia, and I would be willing to make a reasonable arrangement with them.-
Under this bill, the gold bounty is to be cut down by half. I wish to emphasize the fact that the members of my party knew nothing about this proposal. Certain Ministers knew nothing of it. The Leader (Mr. Lyons) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), and the Premiers Conference, were not consulted about it. Other bounties have been reduced by 20 per cent., but the gold bounty is to be cut down by 50 per cent. In my opinion, the one measure passed by this Government that has put an extra man in a job is the gold bounty. To-day, there are 8,000 extra men at work in Victoria as the result of it, and in Western Australia the number is proportionately higher. Although the bounty will cost certain governments a large sum, it must Be remembered that the payment will not be made until the end of the year. The payment of this bounty is hedged round with more difficulties than are experienced in the allocation of any other. When it was first proposed, Ministers-were not in favour of it; its only attraction was that it would draw overseas capital to Australia. For years, . Australia will feel the injurious effects of this reduction, and, in the committee stage, an effort will be made to see that this bounty is hot reduced to a greater extent than others. Although gold is worth £5 5s. 8d. an ounce without the bounty, it must be recognized that the Government has not paid one penny yet by way of bounty, and will only have to pay at the end of the year on the gold that has been won.
– The bounty has to be found out of this year’s revenue.
– Even though it costs the Government £200,000, as has been suggested, the money will be devoted to keeping men employed and off the dole, while industry will be relieved to that extent of the burden of supporting those out of work. Let us consider what is being paid in other bonuses. Up to May of last year, the iron and steel bounty cost £1,800,000; the sulphur bounty, £280,000; the cotton bounty, £300,800, and the wire bounty, £1,318,000. I have no quarrel with those secondary industries, but they have, been receiving most liberal assistance. The gold bounty is the only one which has really provided work for the unemployed, and yet, without reference to anybody, it is to be chopped in half in this, arbitrary fashion. During the committee stage of the bill, efforts will be made to secure the same treatment for the gold industry as is being meted out to the other assisted industries. Whoever was the designer or prompter of this proposal at the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, whether he was a politician or a scientist, his place is in - a lunatic asylum. He was certainly not a statesman. The great task before us to-day is to find employment for our people. Everybody admits that it is a good thing to have men profitably employed if possible, without being under the direct supervision of a boss. As a result of the gold bounty we can say to the unemployed “ Here is a pick and shovel, and a tent you can sleep under; there is a place where gold is known to be. Go and win it “. Up to the present the results have been most satisfactory. In Victoria alone, hundreds of men have been put to work, and the gold yield has been increased by £35,000.
– The cutting of the gold bounty was decided upon by this Government, not by any State Government.
– The decision to do it was arrived at at the Premiers Conference, attended by representatives of the State and Commonwealth Governments. For some mysterious reason, and without any one being consulted, it was decided to cut the gold bounty in half, while the wine bounty, for instance, was not touched.
– The wine bounty is to be cut by 20 per cent.
– That is a small thing as compared with a 50 per cent. cut. It is altogether wrong to interfere with the gold bounty just when it is beginning to show good results. While some phases of the goldmining industry are not too desirable, it offers, at the moment, the only field for the absorption of unskilled or semiskilled labour. No railways are being built now, so that 40,000 unskilled workers, who formerly found employment on railway construction, have to look elsewhere for jobs. The building of roads has been stopped, because it is impossible to obtain money- from overseas. Water conservation schemes are not being proceeded with, for the same reason. As a result, there is a great army of unskilled men for whom employment of some kind must be found. In England there is no less than £2,080,000,000 lying at call awaiting investment. Some of it would be invested in gold-mining ventures here if conditions were made sufficiently attractive.
– How many millions does the honorable member think would come to Australia ?
– When the Gold Bounty Bill was before the House, I said that £8,000,000 could be obtained. Already £4,000,000 has arrived. No one in Britain will invest money in Australian land to grow wheat or wool, or in Australian industries to manufacture machinery or other secondary products.
– Not even to manufacture sewing machines?
– Not even for that. Whatever capital is required for that purpose can be raised in my own electorate. The sewing machine manufacturing industry is going on quite well.
Let me now summarize my argument. The reduction of wages is wrong. If the Government reduces wages and salaries it will be copied by outside employers. Such a reduction will not increase employment, as has been demonstrated by the reduction of wages by the Arbitration Court. The reduction of old-age, invalid, and war pensions is unthinkable. The cost of living has not been reduced by 12½ per cent. There is an alternative to the Government’s plan. Under the Hoover plan, Australia will be relieved of the immediate payment of £3,090,000. A large proportion of the interest payable on our overseas indebtedness should, for the time being, be retained in Australia. This would relieve us of the payment abroad of £47,000,000, which would be available here for assisting industry, and absorbing the unemployed. Far from there being the prospect of any such sum to help us under the Government’s plan, we are faced with a certain deficit by the end of June of next year. Finally, our policy should be to balance budgets by putting our people to work, and not by reducing wages, and decreasing the spending power of the community. Let us not stultify the good work already done by the Government, but let us go ahead on constructive lines, believing that things will alter for the better in Australia, perhaps much more rapidly than the gloomy prophets on the other side of the chamber profess to believe.’ [Quorum formed.]
– The responsible. Government of the Commonwealth has placed before this Parliament, and the people of the country, in very clear terms, the difficulties with which Australia is at present confronted. The Government has explained what it is necessary to do, and has expressed the determination to carry out the policy which is necessary for the financial and economic rehabilitation of the country. After mature consideration, I have resolved to support the measures submitted, although I am as reluctant to do so as is any other honorable member of this House. Some honorable members opposite, although elected as supporters of the Government, have not the courage to fall in behind it at this time of crisis, and support a policy which they know will be unpopular. They are shirking their responsibilities.
– The Government is only doing what the honorable member wants it to do. He should not complain.
– I resent that interjection. I have never before advocated the policy which the Government is now seeking to put into effect. Honorable members will recollect that, when the Leader of the Opposition suggested some time ago that the salaries of civil servants should be reduced, I opposed the proposal, because the Government said then that it had other means of balancing the budget.
– The honorable member’s leader suggested the reduction of wages and salaries.
– I am responsible for my own actions.
– So are we.
– Some honorable members opposite are not facing their responsibilities; they will not support the plan agreed upon at the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, which included representative Ministers of four Labour Governments, although they know that there is no alternative except that of paying civil servants and old-age, invalid and war pensioners only 12s. in the £1 from this month. Honorable members opposite cannot refute the statements of the financial experts who advised the Melbourne conference. They are concerned only with the safety of their political skins. It is time that the electors of the Commonwealth gauged the actions of their representatives by their motives. For too long have the- people been fooled by politicians who advocate and support only those things which they think will make them popular. That attitude has been largely responsible for bringing about the difficulties which face us to-day. We must tell the people the truth, and must not work for our political safety at the expense of national interests.
– In other words, the honorable member is thinking of reversing his policy.
– The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) has reversed his support for the Government, and is now opposing it in association with the corner party, the Lang party, which has claimed to hold the balance of power in this House. I am glad that it is not in that position to-day, and I hope that, if any party in this House ever does hold the balance of power, it will take a more serious view of its responsibilities than does the corner party opposite. Honorable members who associate themselves with that section are evading a responsibility that should be theirs as supporters of a government in the National Parliament. The Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), . explained very clearly that every avenue had been investigated in an endeavour to lighten the burden as much as possible. The Commonwealth Government wa3 faced with the knowledge that if prompt action were not taken it could pay only 12s. in the £1 to its employees and bondholders, and this plan was evolved after careful deliberation. Our primary producers have already suffered reductions, and the salaried- officers of the Queensland and other State Governments have been subjected to reductions in income. If the Commonwealth officers do not share in the general sacrifice that is so necessary, those who are now bearing the burden will wait in vain for a restoration of prosperity.
Just before the climax came, people were fond of saying, “ reduce the costs of Government “. They did not know what those costs represented. Actually the maintenance of the Federal Administration does not involve great expenditure. Our social services, which have been provided for so generously, represent the greatest expenditure. Pensions of all descriptions account for £21,000,000 per annum, as compared with a mere £77,620 for the maintenance of Federal Parliament. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) declared that several million pounds could be saved by reducing tha cost of Government. It is lamentable that a member of this House should, out of ignorance, perpetuate. a misconception of that nature. Ill-considered and- inaccurate statements such as that can do only harm. The administration of the whole of the Departments of the Commonwealth costs less than £3,000,000, while that of the section which controls trade and commerce, a department that ha8 a revenue from various sources of £39,700,000, costs only £265,000 per annum. Obviously some administrative charges must be involved in collecting so colossal a sum. If the whole of our Commonwealth Departments were abolished, including Parliament itself, the saving effected would not be as great as that anticipated from the reduction in pensions. The burden should be spread. as equitably as possible over the community. A further reduction is to be made in the salaries of members of Parliament. I support that, as I supported the last reduction in members’ salaries and I shall support any similar saving that may be considered necessary by the Government.
The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane) confined himself to a virulent attack upon the supporters of this plan. He claimed that their only desire was to make an onslaught on the basic wage earners. That is absurd. The scheme does not touch the basic wage. Australia is in a position of dire necessity. The honorable member conveniently omitted to mention that Australia’s shortterm indebtedness in Great Britain amounts to £38,000,000 and in Australia to £25,000,000, and that the limit had been reached. He did not remind his constituents, through you, Mr. Speaker, that we are now paying an additional £10,000,000 in exchange and a further £10,000,000 for unemployment, as compared with normal years. Nor did he say that our accumulated deficit of £6,500,000 was not being reduced, and that we were confronted with an additional deficit of £14,000,000, or that our customs, excise, and income tax revenue has shrunken by some £18,500,000 per annum.
The Government, was faced with default, and had to introduce some emergency provisions such as those embodied in this bill. It had not sufficient to meet payments for pensions, salaries and interest. A conference met in Melbourne. It consisted of Commonwealth and State Premiers and Treasurers, eminent economists, and political leaders of various shades of opinion. The meeting was inspired with the determination to assist the nation to deal effectively with the great problems that confront it. It was not moved by any petty desire to reduce the emoluments of the basic wageearner or to impose hardship upon pensioners. It was realized that the nation’s earning capacity had decreased by £200,000,000, and that no loan moneys were available to stimulate industry and increase employment. The nation was further embarrassed by the action of the Government of New South Wales, which already has a deficit of £8,000,000 for the current financial year, and which is doing everything to harass the Commonwealth and to prevent successful carrying out of this plan. Faced with the facts, the representatives of the nation “ realized that reductions in social services were imperative, and that simultaneously there would have to be reductions in bounties, in the emoluments of the judiciary and in the rates of interest paid io bondholders. So, this plan was evolved. Yet we find the Government being assailed toy .disgruntled members who are afraid to stand up to the obligations. I would far rather be out of Parliament than allow myself to pander to public opinion in an effort to placate my electors, to the detriment of the best interests of the nation.
– What a Daniel we have among us.
– It would be well for the honorable member to emulate Daniel. It was stated at the Premiers Conference that the necessity for these sacrifices is due to the inability of Australia to pay its way. In the circumstances, could the position have been met more fairly? It has been claimed by some honorable members that the scheme involves an assault upon the privileges of bondholders.
– I think that the whole thing is repudiation.
– The honorable member “would use any argument, but the fact is he does not think at all. His’ responsible leaders have informed him that the reductions are inevitable, that if the plan were not put ato effect the country could not pay more than 12s. in the £1 to its bondholders and employees. Prom a kerosene box on the Yarra bank the honorable member delights to tell the supporters who put him into Parliament as palatable a story as possible; he enjoys the applause which follows his declaration that he desires to preserve the incomes of unfortunate widows, and ward off any attacks upon pensioners. Those sentiments are admirable, and we should all like to give effect to them, were that possible. In the circumstances, it is not. The country is staggering under a burden that is beyond its strength, and all must help to lighten the load. [.Quorum formed.]
I will not have it that Australia is altogether responsible for the troubles that now beset it. I do not deny that governments have been extravagant in borrowing and distributing money among the States; but there are other reasons. The world is suffering from a general depression, chiefly the result of the aftermath of the war. The sooner the United States of America comes to its senses and releases the countries which are so heavily indebted to it through borrowing to carry on the war, the better it will be for all, and the sooner countries will have credits to pay for the output of primary producing nations. The monetary policy of the United States of America has brought about a credit shortage.
There are other reasons for our troubles, the principal of which is unemployment, which needs to be solved before attention is given even to disarmament, or to the economic ills mentioned by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). A world conference on unemployment would do the greatest good. One of the principal causes of unemployment is mass production. The application of science to industry, and the resultant improvement of machinery and labour-saving devices, has made possible production on a gigantic scale. Because the rate of production is greater than the absorptive capacity of the nations, the world is over supplied. But the displacement of labour that has resulted from these causes cannot be rectified by a reduction of wages. The present disturbance of industry can be adjusted only by a reasonable distribution of the work available at fair rates of remuneration. If a world conference on unemployment were held, probably one of the easiest solutions that could be proposed would be the raising of the industrial and economic standards of cheap-labour countries to approximately those obtaining in Australia.
The plan now before the House includes the saving of millions of pounds annually by reducing the interest payments on the internal public debt of £556,000,000. The reduction of interest is not popular, for it requires sacrifices by even the small bondholder. A suggestion was made that holders of bonds not exceeding £1,000 should have the option of being paid off in cash, or have their stock redeemed at an earlier date than is provided in the Debt Conversion Bill. I supported and .advocated an amendment to give effect to -that when the interest reduction bill was under discussion, but the Treasurer said that that concession would require the Commonwealth to find £100,000,000. Some critics of the Government’s plan have urged that attention should be directed to the interest payable on the external debt of £573,000,000. We have been assured frequently that following the readjustment of the internal public debt, it will be possible to consolidate the loans owing in the United Kingdom, and effect, in respect of them, a saving of interest equivalent to that being made on the internal debt. We cannot, however, ask for a funding of our overseas debt at a lower rate of interest until we have given proof to the world that we are making sacrifices in order to put our financial house in order. External bondholders cannot be expected to accept a lower rate of interest until our own people have done so. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) stated that he proposes to move an amendment to limit the operation of this bill to three years. Of course, everybody would be gratified if the position of Australia so improved that the period of sacrifice could be made even shorter than the right honorable member proposes. This is a measure to deal -with a financial emergency. The right honorable member boasted that he had made certain promises to the soldiers, and that he had kept them. The truth is that he left the promises to be honoured by those who succeeded him. The Australian public debt of £1,100,000,000 includes £280,000,000 out of a total war debt of £400,000,000. The interest and sinking fund charges on the war debt and repatriation services amount to £21,000,000 a year. War pensions cost nearly £8,000,000, repatriation £11,250,000, other war services £293,000, or a total of £30,326,000. That is some of the cost of the war, to which must be added interest on the huge loans raised. No one objects to the payments to the soldiers, but if the right honorable gentleman had shown ! keener foresight Australia’s war burden would have been less than it is. He sold Australia’s produce during the war period at half; the price the producers in other countries were receiving. Had he shown better judgment, some of the financial sacrifices which Australia has had to make would have been shared among the other nations which were not then contributing either “men or material to the cause of the Allies. Some of the countries which made the smallest sacrifices derived the greatest benefit from the war, and some of the benefits were at the expense of Australia. Had the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), when Prime Minister, been more alert to the best interests of Australia, he would not have left a war debt of £400,000,000 to those who succeeded him. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) referred to the operation of this financial emergency plan in Queensland, and said that the reduction of Public Service salaries there was not so great as the Government proposes in respect of Commonwealth employees. I remind him that the Queensland Government took time by the forelock; it commenced to economize eighteen months ago, and it is now the duty of other portions of the Commonwealth, particularly New South Wales, to face their obligations, so that the sacrifices of the people of Queensland may not be unduly prolonged through the failure of some States to do promptly what is necessary and inevitable. The deficit in Queensland is only £842,000, as compared with £8,000,000 in New South Wales, and it included £500,000 for exchange. Actually, the deficit on the ordinary services of the year was only £342,000, notwithstanding that the revenue was lower than in any year since 1925, and £1,664,000 less than in 1929-30. Whereas in 1926, when Mr. McCormack was Premier, the deficit was £500,000, although the revenue was £700,000 above that of the preceding year. The policy being pursued by the Government of New South Wales is inflicting hardship on people throughout Australia. The Premier of that State is playing the part of a Judas, and loyal Australians should take steps to put him out of office, and rid “the country of the reds who, through their control of the Australasian Council’ of Trade Unions, are dictating Mr. Lang’s policy.
In regard to the details of the bill, a pleasing fact is that the soldiers have again shown their readiness to come to the aid of their country in its hour of need. Representatives of the various soldier organizations, having conferred regarding the Government’s proposals, have submitted certain recommendations for a saving of £1,018,230. By these modifications of the Government’s proposals for a 20 per cent, cut of war pensions, they have obviated any reduction of the payments to orphan children, war widows, disabled soldiers, sailors, and nurses, and widowed mothers of unmarried soldiers who were killed or died from other war causes. The acceptance by the Government of the suggestions of the soldiers’ conference has been a great help to honorable members.
– And Professor Copland has been criticizing the arrangement.
– The honorable member has also criticized the Government. Criticism of any proposed reduction of something which people are now enjoying is popular, but the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane) did not suggest any alternative to the scheme submitted by the Government^
He merely indulged in abuse of those who, he said, were seeking to reduce the basic wage.
– He suggested an alternative by saying that we would have more money if we did not pay our debts.
– The honorable member (Mr. Keane) is qualifying for inclusion in the Lang faction. He has been very ready to kick the Government which he was elected to support. Eighteen months ago he said that the House should not adjourn until it had solved the unemployment problem. That problem is still unsolved; but the honorable member’s declaration was a good electioneering stunt. Now he is opposing a scheme which provides that the Government shall, as part of the general plan for rehabilitation, negotiate with the banks to provide £2,500,000 for advances to necessitous wheat farmers, and £6,000,000, at the rate of £1,000,000 a month, for the relief of the unemployed. Here is a practical proposal to help the unfortunate people who are out of work. It is the only practical and concrete suggestion that has Deen put forward, and it merely requires ratification by the various Parliaments of Australia. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane) is not likely to place the true position before his electors. Those with whom he is associated wish to extend unemployment so that this country may be cast into the slough of despond, and thus bring about at an earlier date their objective, which is the general breakup of the conditions under which we live. Australia is not at present in a position of despair. If the world’s prices for our commodities were to improve, Australia would immediately begin to recover. As our pioneers overcame the extreme difficulties which faced them, so will we overcome the difficulty confronting this country to-day. Queensland is facing the position. The people have confidence in that State, and there is less unemployment there than in any other State. New industries are being established; settlement is taking place, and capital is being attracted there. If similar steps were taken in the other States, confidence would soon be restored in this country. The Premiers Conference has submitted a plan for the rehabilitation of Australia under which all sections of the community are asked to. bear their share in the general sacrifice. [Quorum formed.] Surely we should be guided by the opinions of those who attended the Premiers Conference. Their final resolution, according to the summary of main decisions and proceedings of the conference, reads -
The conference unanimously passed tha following final resolution: -
The representatives of each Government present at this conference bind themselves to give effect promptly to the whole of the resolutions agreed to at this conference.
That conference was attended by representatives of the official Opposition in this Parliament, the Prime Minister and the Premiers and Treasurers of the various States, and those gentlemen, after a full discussion of the whole plan, passed the following resolution: -
The conference including the Leaders of the Opposition in the Federal Parliament, having most carefully considered the financial position of the Commonwealth and the States, and recognizing the national inability to meet existing government charges, is unanimously- of the opinion that to prevent national default in the immediate future and a general failure to. meet government payments, all expenditure including interest on government securities and other interest, and expenditure upon governmental salaries and wages, pensions, and other social services must be substantially reduced. These measures, drastic as they may appear, are the first essentials to the restoration of prosperity and the re-employment of our workless people.
Those sentiments appeal to me. We on this side have repeatedly asked that all parties should get together in an endeavour to better the conditions of the unfortunate unemployed in this country. These men and their families have suffered severe privations during this rigorous winter. A young Australian who has just reached manhood is unable to obtain a start in life. In an effort to assist the unemployed we should bury what desire we have for political kudos at this moment. We should do the right but unpopular thing. I support the Government’s proposals, and will stand behind the Government so long as it continues to pass legislation designed to relieve the unemployed and to place Australia on the road to prosperity. The. members of the Lang group in this House may think that they hold the balance of power, but if they try to use it they will find that there is a balance of power on this side of the House, and that members of the Country party will support the Government in respect of any legislation that will be of advantage to this country.
.- The ground of this debate has been extensively traversed in a previous debate, and I rise more with the object of suggesting certain amendments to the. proposals before the House, so that they may be considered by the Government and possibly embodied in the bill at the committee stage. But before doing so, at the risk of being accused of resorting to tedious repetition, I wish to say a word or two about the arguments that have been advanced against the Government’s proposals. Judging by the remarks- of some honorable members, one would think that those supporting the Government find a fiendish delight in supporting the drastic economies outlined in the bill. That is the wrong way to approach these proposals. After all, to simply condemn them without submitting an immediate and practical alternative is to be as futile as a dog howling at the moon. It is of no use suggesting what should be done in the future. The problem now confronting us is the only one that we have to solve. The only justification for the drastic economies outlined in the bill is the expected restoration of economic stability and prosperity, which the Government has prophesied will follow the operation of this plan. Personally I am not prepared to agree to these proposals being given effect unless other results are to follow. I hope that this Government will resolutely press forward with the conversion of our .external debt. I fully appreciate the fact that it is essential to put our own house in order before we start talking to our’ external creditors. I take umbrage at the manner in which certain honorable members have scoffed at the idea of restoring confidence in this country.
– The honorable member’s argument is not likely to assist him at the next election.
– I shall not allow the consideration of political security to interfere with my attitude towards the
Government’s proposals. So long as I am convinced that what I am doing is right, 1 am prepared to take what is coming to me, and the threat of political extinction does not deter me from following the course that I have determined upon. No man will lend another man money unless he has confidence in his integrity and his ability to repay the loan. Surely the whole structure of credit, in society as we know it, is based on that principle. It is absurd, therefore, for honorable members to scoff at the idea of restoring confidence in Australia. I sometimes think that it would be better to let the nation drift as it is now drifting towards bankruptcy than face the barrage of hostile and destructive criticism which has been hurled at this Government and its supporters. That would, of course, be taking the line of least resistance, and it might be preferable were it not for the disastrous results that would follow such a policy. Some honorable members have quoted the views of economists in regard to our monetary policy, but they have overlooked the fact that those economists have invariably pointed to the necessity for a change in the international monetary policy. A reform of monetary policy in one country only would have little or no effect upon the price levels that are to-day depressing the trade of the world. There must be an international reform of monetary and economic policy before’ a speedy recovery can be achieved. This problem must be approached from that aspect. “We all hope that international reform will be effected, because the seriousness of the present crisis is threatening the whole system of credit, and the security of civilized society as we understand it. . That, in itself, is the best assurance that we can have that reforms will be made. The problem which is confronting us to-day is world wide. “Without going into details, we know that one of the gravest problems of America has relation to the collapse of silver currency, and its effects on South American and eastern, trade. “When I passed through “Washington a few months ago, I learned from the head of the Government and other quarters that the principal difficulties which are facing the United States of America have arisen from the stock exchange collapse in America last year, and the collapse of the silver currency. It was pointed out by the Government of the United States of America, as early as last September, that the remonetizahon of silver as a medium of international currency was badly needed. If we can get international consideration to remedies of this kind, price levels will be restored, and our troubles, together with similar troubles in other parts of the world, will vanish like an evil dream. I know that views like these are scoffed at by some honorable members who claim to possess superior knowledge. I do not claim to be an expert economist, but I have some common sense. One must, of course, take some notice* of the claim which certain honorable members make to the possession of superior wisdom, but the views of experts who, over a long period of years, have given mature consideration to these important problems should not be entirely overlooked.
I have said all that I desire to say along broad lines. The general discussion of these problems has been well covered in previous debates. But I have two or three suggestions to make in regard to the details of the bill.
I urge the Government to amend clause 17 with the object of limiting the inroads that may be made upon the incomes of Commonwealth employees by means of special emergency State taxation, particularly for unemployment. It must be remembered that the members of the Public Service will be taxed upon last year’s income. That, to my mind, is absolutely unfair. .1 was glad to get an assurance from the Minister for Defence that steps were being taken to remedy this anomaly.’ Persons in ordinary employment will not sustain such severe and immediate reductions of income as those which will fall upon the members of the Federal Public Service, in respect of whom the Government has a peculiar responsibility. It should certainly see that its own employees are not subjected to drastic unemployment taxation in addition to the imposts which will be placed upon them under the provisions of this bill.
The action of the representatives of the returned soldier organizations in con- ferring with the Government and suggesting alternative means of reducing repatriation expenditure without interfering with the rights of disabled soldiers was gratifying to me. I have read in the press the details of the - suggestions of the returned soldiers’ representatives, including the proposal that returned men not affected by these reductions should be invited to refrain from collecting pensions, if in a position to do so. I hope that that proposal will be acted upon. We noticed in the press to-day that the Prime Minister had been notified by one returned man that, in the circumstances, he did not intend to continue collecting his pension. I suggest, however, that provision should be made in the bill to protect the interests of those- who voluntarily refrain from collecting pensions to which they are entitled. It would be entirely unfair if the interests of these men were prejudiced, while the interests of those who did not adopt such a public-spirited attitude were left unimpaired. I hope that this point will be met when the bill is in committee.
In regard to the suggested reduction of old-age and invalid pensions, I shall, in committee, offer some criticism of the cheese-paring methods that have been adopted. I hope that the Government will review some of the trifling economies which are making inroads upon’ the principles which have governed our pension legislation for many years past. There are some anomalies in the manner in which the pensions of inmates of benevolent institutions and sanatoria are to be reduced. It seems to me to be paltry to take ls. from the income of these persons, some of whom, as the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) pointed out, are dying from tuberculosis and other diseases. If the Government feels that, in order to spread the sacrifices over all sections of pensioners, it must make some reductions in these pensions, I hope that it will make them more equitable than is at present proposed. A reduction of ls. per week in the pension of 5s. 6d. drawn by hospital inmates is more than 12£ per cent; A 12£ per cent, reduction on 5s. 6d. would be only 8-)d. It is, therefore, . proposed to take 3d. more than the equity of the situation requires. It is proposed to take ls. 6d. of the amount payable to the institutions concerned in respect of each pensioner inmate, whereas 12£ per cent, would be ls. 9Jd. Most of these institutions are maintained by the State, and in some cases the inmates of them are self-supporting. The specific figures in regard to these reductions are as follow: - Present pension payable to inmate, 5s. 6d. ; proposed rate, 4s. 6d. ; reduction, ls. ; percentage, 18 per cent. Present contribution payable to institution,’ 14s. 6d. ; proposed rate, 13s.; reduction, ls. 6d. ; percentage, 10 per cent. I suggest that the Government should reduce the pension payable to the inmate by 6d., bringing it to 5s., and the amount payable to the institution by 2s., bringing it to 12s. 6d. The reductions would then be 9 per cent, and 14 per cent, respectively. Such an arrangement would be more equitable than that which is now proposed, and would be more mathematically accurate.
In regard to staff re-organization, I suggest that the Government should follow the example of the New South Wales Government, and ration the available work in preference to dismissing employees. It would be ‘deplorable if the number of unemployed persons in the community, were increased by the adoption of a severe policy of retrenchment.
This economy plan is a drastic expedient which must be judged by the results achieved. If the adoption of the plan does not lead to the provision of work for the workless people in the community ; to the re-establishment of economic stability; to the release of credits by banks both here and overseas ; to the funding of our overseas debts; and to the reduction of interest rates, externally as well as internally, it will not justify itself, and must in due course be condemned.
Mr. THOMPSON (New England) f5.43]. - I listened with great interest to the speech of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who intimated his intention to move an amendment to provide that the plan of the Government should remain in operation for three years only. That was a drastic proposal, and I fully expected the right honorable member to advance some good reasons in support of it. Usually his speeches and suggestions in this House are worthy of careful consideration, but in this case he entirely failed to justify his proposal, and adopted an attitude which I can only describe as that of a rail-sitter. The right honorable gentleman is in exactly the same position as the rest of us. I do not suppose that one honorable member will support these proposals with any degree of pleasure. But we must recognize that honorable members who have expressed themselves violently in opposition to this course have failed to advance any practicable alternative to it. We have been forced to conclude that the putting into operation of the policy now proposed by the Government cannot be delayed any longer without courting the gravest financial disaster. Therefore, we have to support the Government’s proposal.
– Members opposite have beaten the Government to its knees.
– I do not accept that view.
– They put this proposal forward twelve months ago.
– It was never suggested by the Opposition that interest rates should be reduced, but when the Government brought down the drastic proposal to reduce interest, and said that on the authority of the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers in Melbourne, that reduction must stand or fall with the others, we on this side, to be logical and fair, had to agree to it. It is most deplorable that we have to break our contract with the bondholders. Nobody will deny that this measure involves a breach of contract. It is of no use to demand continually that something be done to save Australia from financial disaster, if, when the Government brings down a concrete proposal, we run away” from it, as some honorable members opposite are doing; I refer, particularly to members of the Lang group, and I am sorry to notice that its numbers are growing in this House. That party has been reinforced, apparently, by the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan), and it appears that the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates), and the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane), who I thought was too big an Australian to associate with that group, have also joined the party that initiated the movement for default by Australia. The latter honorable member has actually taken the extreme step of proposing default to the overseas bondholders. He has suggested that ifwe wish to get out of our financial difficulties we should fall down on the job of paying our overseas creditors.
– Under my proposal, we should be merely postponing, temporarily, the payment of interest.
– The honorable member for New England has misrepresented me. I merely stated theposition as I see it.
– I claim that I have not misrepresented the honorable member. I said that apparently the honorable member for Kennedy had joined the Lang group, because he consistently supported it in its attitude to the proposals now before the House. He, of course, has the same right as other honorable members to express his individual opinion.
– From the outset I have opposed the proposals now before Parliament.
– What party is the honorable member supporting?
– The party which I was elected to support, and that is more than the honorable member for Bendigo can say. Eighteen months ago, he was regarded as a Labour stalwart, with a promising political future, but the first time he is called upon by the Government that he is pledged to support to stand fast, and help it in this time of difficulty, he deserts it. I gave my word to the Government that, if it brought down a proposal that represented the matured opinion of the economists, the financiers, and the State Premiers, I would support it, and I stand by that promise now. I venture to say that no member on the Opposition side will let the Government down.
– In his heart, the honorable member despises it.
– That is an unfounded statement. I admire the present conduct of the Prime Minister. This is the greatest exhibition of courage by a government that we have seen in the political history of the Commonwealth.
The Government has very little to gain and everything to lose in submitting this bill. In carrying out a most disagreeable task, it calls upon the public-spirited men of this chamber, irrespective of their party views, to support it, and I consider that I have sufficient public spirit, whatever the cost may be to me, politically, to stand behind the Government. All I ask it to do is to remain firm, and refuse to be stampeded by the members of the Lang group, who are trying to demoralize it on this issue. If members of the Government have any faith in themselves, and in the future of the Labour movement, they must realize that, eventually, they will win on the rehabilitation proposals which will help to restore confidence among the people of Australia. Long after the noisy members in the corner occupied by the Lang group, and those who have brought New South Wales to the verge of ruin and rebellion, are forgotten, the Government will be remembered. The members who support the present proposals, unpopular as they are, will be regarded as the political saviours of their country.
It seems to me that the right honorable member for North Sydney has drawn a red herring across the path, though he did not reveal his motive in doing so. It is to be regretted that he has suggested that we should fix a definite period for the operation of this measure. He said that these reductions of wages and pensions should be limited to three years, but he did not mention that the reduction of the interest of the unfortunate bondholders is to take effect up to 30 years. If this is to be a logical scheme, each part of it must be accepted, and if its operation is to be limited in any way, we should announce to the bondholders that, at the end of the period of its operation, the old rate of interest will be restored. I do not think that honorable members opposite would agree to that. If it were now proposed that, at the end of three years the old rates of interest should be reverted to, members opposite would immediately show their teeth, and reveal the fact that they are prepared to cut down the interest of the bondholders for all time.
– This plan is sheer repudiation.
– I admit that. It is unfortunate and disastrous, and I am supporting it only because there is ho escape from it. I would sooner see the bondholders receive some interest and save their principal, than witness the financial crash that would, inevitably, occur if these proposals were not adopted. If the right honorable member for North Sydney desires to limit the operation of the plan to three years, he must include the interest of the bondholders, otherwise, he could not logically claim that pensions and the wages of public servants should be restored in three years to the old level. On that test alone, I think that his amendment falls to the ground; but other tests may be applied. He deplored the alleged fact that this scheme provides for a general reduction in the standard of living in Australia - “the great standard “, he said, “ which we have fought all our lives to maintain “. But he did not substantiate his argument. I claim that these proposals do not involve a reduction of the standard of living in this country. The actual standard has fallen automatically, and this Parliament had no power to prevent that. The cost of living figures show that as much can be purchased to-day with 17s. Id. as could be bought with fi two years ago.
– That is theory.
– The statements made by the honorable member in his speech were based mostly on theory. The fact that the cost of living has fallen- in Australia is indisputable. There is plenty of evidence of it, apart from the theorizing of the statisticians and economists. If the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane) can show that they are wrong, why does he not do it ?
– Does not the honorable member understand that those figures do not include eighteen items that I mentioned ?
– The calculation does not include certain items, and one cannot dogmatize in connexion with such statistical calculations. It is impossible, of course, to claim that John Brown uses exactly the same number and type of articles as does William Jones. Different individuals have different tastes. Yet the dissimilarity of their requirements may safely be left with the statisticians for adjustment. They average all the factors over the whole range of economic possibilities, and base on them the resultant calculations.
I do not attach any importance to the suggestion of the honorable member for Bendigo that this is mere theorizing. There is nothing else to go on. I also dispute the statement of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) that this plan lowers the high standard of wages and pensions that’ previously existed in Australia. The available statistical data totally disprove that contention. The actual reduction is iriconformity with the economic value of money to-day. If any regard is to be given to statistics, it may be assumed that we are on perfectly safe, ground in. making these reductions; that they will; leave our old-age and other pensioners on the same economic basis that they were on twelve months or two years ago. There is every probability that within the next twelve months the cost of living will decline still further,, which will make the position even better. There now exists a world-wide tendency for prices to come down, and it is the accepted opinion of economists that prices will not rise for a considerable period of years. Any improvement in the prices of wheat and wool may be only of a temporary nature, and no one can claim with justification that, at present, we Gan look forward to a substantial rise in the price of primary products.
– Will not local circumstances, such as the imposition of primage duties and sales tax, affect prices ?
– The honorable member has put his finger upon an important fact that appears to be the weakest spot in these proposals. It has been determined that we must reduce the costs of government, and this plan provides -the only reasonable way in which that can be done. I believe that we are ill-advised in imposing additional taxation simultaneously with a reduction in wages and allowances. I should prefer to take a chance, and dispense with additional taxation, at least for a reasonable period. We shall obtain tangible results by reducing the costs of government, but by increasing direct and indirect taxation at the same time we make it extremely difficult to bring about a reduction in the cost of living. If it is impossible for ‘the Commonwealth Government, with its heavy commitments, to balance its budgets in any other way, I am prepared to support even that section of the proposal, though I do so reluctantly. It is the weak point in the plan.
There is another factor that deserves consideration. It seems a tragedy that we should have two sets of sovereign parliaments, each legislating for the same people, each facing the same problems, and yet totally isolated from each other. Our Federal and State Parliaments impose on the same people taxation which is similar in nature, and which covers the same economic field, yet neither takes cognizance of what is being done by the other. The legislative work of the States is ignored in this chamber, and it is rare to read in the debates of the State Parliaments any reference to what is going on in the Federal Parliament. Legislative proposals involving higher taxation are even now before the State Parliaments. They have been brought down by persons who have not taken the trouble to ascertain what the Federal Parliament proposes to do along similar-lines. Recently we had a striking example in New South Wales, when the tragic Premier of that State almost caused a revolt by introducing a confiscatory proposal to take practically one-quarter of the earnings of the’ people. He sought to crucify income earners, and smash business. There was a deliberate proposal to lift £16,000,000 out of the depleted resources of the taxpayers of New South Wales. Mr. Lang must have known very well that any plan for the rehabilitation of Australia depends for its success upon the freedom of the Federal Parliament to extract more taxation from the taxpayers of New South Wales, as well as those of other States. He did not consider . that aspect of the case, or point out to the people of New South Wales that, in addition to the £16,000,000 that he contemplated filching from them, the Commonwealth Government was also likely to introduce legislation that would collect an extra £15,000,000 from the taxpayers of Australia. The Commonwealth’s participation in the matter was never mentioned. Mr. Lang concentrated upon the liability of New South Wales, the Government of which “ was determined to solve its own problems “. In effect he said, “ To hell with the Commonwealth “.
The right honorable member for North Sydney based his speech upon the allegation that we are whittling away our old established standards of living. He failed to prove his case, because he was unable to show in what direction those standards are being attacked. The right honorable gentleman ignored the fact that, while it is easy to talk glibly about a standard of living for the community, that standard varies with its various sections; that actually it is impossible to say that any community has a set standard of living that can be either improved or attacked. After all, what standard of living have the unemployed? Does not this plan aim at providing a standard of living for those who now have none? That is also being ignored by honorable members in the corner who belong to the Lang faction. They will not face the facts. In parrotlike fashion they screech that they are the only persons in this House who are fighting for the unemployed. They carefully refrain from mentioning that the proposals before this Parliament seek to relieve unemployment, and to put the people “back at work. If one out of every four male adults in Australia is at present out of employment, and this plan is seeking to restore confidence and replace those people in work, surely it is for the better! If it cannot improve conditions, it certainly will not make matters worse. When this Government came into office the unemployment figure in Australia was 12 per cent.; to-day it is nearly 30 per cent. Although an immediate improvement may not be possible, this plan should enable us gradually to cut down the prevailing percentage until it again reaches 12 per cent. Will that not be helping to improve the standard of living in the Commonwealth? The right honorable member for North Sydney exhibited remarkable remissness in not drawing attention to that point. I consider that his proposed amendment constitutes a very serious menace to the success of the proposals now before the House. The danger cannot be overrated. Honorable members on this side, who are staking their political existence in supporting these proposals, should have some consideration from the Government in the matter.
I know that it may be said to be audacity on my part to criticize one who claims that he was the author of our . former standard of living. The right honorable gentleman declared, “I gave these pensions. I made certain promises to the people, and I kept them.” Does the right honorable gentleman seriously claim that he is the custodian of our standard of living for all time? He merely enjoyed that right temporarily, while occupying the high office of Prime Minister of Australia. If he granted certain concessions in times of prosperity that does not absolve him, as a legislator, from the duty of assisting to take back that which, in the changed circumstances, constitutes too heavy a burden for the nation to carry any longer. The right honorable gentleman said that this is a world-wide problem that cannot be solved by any action taken by Australia only. What greater challenge to his own speech could he have advanced? At one stage he said that all would be well in another three years; that this is merely a gesture that we should hold out to the people. If we did that, we should be very sorry for it, as the people would expect the promise to be redeemed at the end of the three years. In view of the position of the country, it would not be fair to hold out any such promises to the people. The very best that we can say, as individuals, is that if conditions so improve within three years that we are able to restore pensions to the old basis, that will most certainly be done. But it would be an unpardonable action to make, as a parliament, promises that we know very well are not worth a snap of the fingers ; that are merely a political device to hoodwink the people. Our pose of frankness would eventually be exposed, and branded by the people as a piece of political trickery.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), in the course of his speech, made various statements which, in my opinion, destroyed his whole case for the limitation of the Government’s plan -to three years. In one part of his speech he said -
This is a great world problem, and it cannot be tackled or solved by any one nation.
If he admits that, why does he affirm that it is within the capacity of Australia to solve the problem within three years, for that is what his proposed amendment implies? Again, the right honorable member said -
There is need for a world conference to deal with this problem of depression. It is, unfortunately, more urgent than a conferenoe to deal with armaments.
That is a very important statement, coming from the right honorable member for North Sydney, and it, too, disposes of his assertion that Australia can solve her problem within a period of three years. In one breath the right honorable member says that the problem cannot be dealt with by any one nation, and in the next he says’ that Australia is not only competent to deal with it, but can solve it in three years. Further on in his speech the right honorable member said -
I again say that nothing will restore prosperity in Australia unless it involves an increase in prices of our stable products.
That is another admission that factors are at work which are quite outside the scope of this Parliament, or of this nation, to deal with.
– They are beyond our control.
– They are.
– There is a world inquiry in progress now into the economic depression.
– Yes, but the proposed amendment of the right honorable member for North Sydney implies that we have it within our power, by the application of certain methods which may or may not be adopted, to restore in three years those benefits of which the Government proposes to deprive civil servants and pensioners. He bases this hope, apparently, upon the natural expectation that things will improve, but his own statements make it clear that even he himself does not believe that they will, because he made this further important statement -
In the last five months the trade of Great Britain has declined by £200,000,000. and he added -
Unless there is a turn in the tide, Britain will be in the same unsatisfactory position as ourselves.
Those are very significant words. The right honorable gentleman did not indicate that he believed there would be a turn in the tide. His remarks were wholly pessimistic regarding conditions in Great Britain, and we know that the whole of our economic and financialarrangements depend upon conditions in Great Britain. The right honorable member concluded his speech with a warning. He said that the great menace to the success of this plan, or of others like it, was the growth of communism; that communism was becoming a very serious factor in our political life, and that unless we took steps to scotch it, it would not matter what plans we might make, for they would come to nought. He did not tell us how to deal with communism, nor did he say that it could, in his opinion, be scotched within the next three years. On that ground, if on no other, we are justified in rejecting his proposed amendment, which virtually amounts to a promise to pensioners and civil servants that their pensions and salaries will be restored to them at the end of three years. I do not wish to labour the subject. I warn the Government not to underrate the proposal of the right honorable member for North Sydney. He is an old political campaigner; he does nothing without a motive. His proposal to move this amendment is one fraught with great danger. I trust that he will yet think better of, it, and will not persist in what I regard as an act of treachery against those political forces which have combined in an endeavour to lift Australia out of the mess in which she is to-day. Certain rumours are abroad to-day which may have the effect of indicating to the Government - and the proposed amendment of the right honorable member for North Sydney will lend colour to the suspicion - that once these measures are put through Parliament, and the Government is definitely committed to them, attempts will be made by certain political interests on this side of the House to double-cross the Government.
– They will do that all right.
– I do not agree with the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey). That is a despicable statement. The honorable member might be at least a little discriminating in his remarks. If he believes that there are some men on this side of the House who would attempt to assassinate the Government - who are concealing a stiletto, as the Prime Minister said - he should at least be fair enough to say that he does not believe it of all honorable members on this side of the House. Although I have all the antipathy of honorable members on the other side of the House for these proposals, although I realize that they are very disagreeable for politicians to espouse, I feel that the time has come when men should be honest enough to accept the risks that must be faced in the exercise of their duty, and notthink only of their own political interests. In other words, they should try to do something for Australia rather than sacrifice everything to save their political skins. I am sorry to see so many honorable members on the other side of the House, who were elected to support the Government-
– Not on this policy.
– Prepared to consider the safety of their own political skins rather than have regard to the welfare of Australia. That is a despicable attitude to adopt, when they must know that these things have to be done, and that even more may yet be required. They will not support the Government in what they know ought to be done, because they wish to be able to say afterwards that they did not vote to reduce pensions or salaries, and although they have no sympathy with the bondholders, they even wish to be able to say that they did not vote for a reduction of interest. They wish to be able to say that these proposals were carried into effect because honorable members on this side of the House united with a conservative rump on the Government side to put them through. They want to retain their seats in Parliament, though they may ruin Australia in the process.
The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser) said that there was no intention among honorable members in this corner to take advantage of the Government’s courageous action in bringing in this epoch-making -legislation. I endorse every word uttered by the honorable member. If the Government goes through with the job - and we realize the possible consequences, not only to the Government, but to ourselves - it need have no fear from those in this corner of the House. There are no concealed stilettos here, and there will be no attempt to assassinate the Government, or to make unfair political capital out of what it has done. Let the Government not worry about the men in its own corner who are associated with communists and revolutionaries, such as those against whom the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) warned us. Let the Government not lose a minute’s sleep over the communists, revolutionaries, and wreckers; but let it stick to Australia, and we will stick to it.
– I am delighted to hear that the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) is not anxious to retain his seat. That marks him out as the only man in this chamber who is not animated by any low motive.
– We know that that consideration comes first with the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey).
– Yes, I admit it. The difference between me and the honorable member for New England is that I admit it honestly, while he does not. I feel sure that the Government will be pleased to receive the assurance of the honorable member for New England that he and his friends are not contemplating treachery, and I hope that the Government will not in future place any reliance in the extremists on this side of the House, but will look for support to honorable members opposite. Its fortunes will be safe in their hands. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) asked what alternative there was to the Government’s proposals. In that pamphlet of his, Bond or Free, he asks the same question, and answers it himself. At that time he had no doubt of the alternative. But the situation has since become awkward. I presume that most honorable members will recognize that a vast change has come over the scene during the last six weeks. Six weeks ago this Government was cursed and denounced by the press from one end of Australia to the other. In all the land there was none to call it blessed. Members of the Government were described as drifters, panderers, repudiationists and disruptionists. No opprobrious term was too bad to apply to them. Now, what a change has taken place. Members of the Government can go to sleep, soothed by the lullaby of praise from the great daily press, and they can wake up again with the same sweet music ringing in their ears.
– The honorable member has himself been asleep for a long time.
– It is my normal state, but I wake up now and then. Not only does the Government now get the plaudits of the press, but every criticism and condemnation that was previously levelled against it is now directed against the minority of the Ministerial party that dissents from the Government’s policy. The Nationalist and Country parties and the majority of the Ministerial party are now linked in holy matrimony; they are welded together for one great national purpose. God bless them ! We who constitute the minority of the Ministerial party are denounced and abused.
– Defaulters and repudiators
– Yes. Those charges, and others which were previously directed against the Government, are now laid against the minority of. the Ministerial party. In the daily columns of the press we read that the opponents of the plan are wreckers, blind, misguided, vindictive, idiotic and criminal, and ought to be extirpated. In a free land the minority, if it consists of only one man, has a right to be heard. It is not a crime to raise one’s voice in opposition to the majority ; yet in this so-called free Australia, newspapers declare that the minority should be extirpated. A Nationalist journal declared “ Those inside the Labour party who. oppose the plan are traitors”. We are referred to as contemptible renegades, cowards, curs, skunks, squids, squibs, “ this contemptible mob of selfseekers “.-
– What paper is the honorable member quoting from?
– I am quoting a selection of epithets from various newspapers. Some of them were published in the Age, and others in the Sydney Morning Herald.
– On a point of order, I ask whether an honorable member, when purporting to quote from a newspaper, is not required to mention the name of the journal.
– The honorable member for Bourke is quite in order.
– I am just as much in order as was the honorable member opposite, who characterized some honorable members on this side as defaulters and repudiators. The press has characterized us as “ this pack of wolves “, “ this mean crowd “, “ these untouchables “, “ these deserters and poltroons “, “ these crooks “. Not only is such testimony given by the daily press, but some of those inside the Labour party, whose fortunes are now linked with those of the Nationalists, are not sparing of their praises. Gentlemen with whom we have been associated for many years, but with whom the fortune of war has brought us into disagreement upon the subject of financial policy, have bespattered us with abuse. We are dealing with an issue involving the future of the Labour party, and one would think that whatever the enemy might say of us, those within our own ranks would regard our opposition tolerantly, if not generously. But they have not done so. One gentleman on the treasury-bench declared that “ Anstey is the greatest repudiator in the party “, I have never said a word against him; wide though the differences between us have been. Yet on the public platform he held up to opprobium a member of his own party.
Mr. Thompson interjecting,
– If the member for New England (Mr. Thompson) does not refrain from interjecting I shall name him.
– Those who do not see eye to eye with the majority of the Ministerial party have been denounced by them as bilkers and welchers, traitors and poltroons, repudiationists, yellow streaks, enemies of the country, seekers of cheap applause, and the worst enemies of the class they profess to represent. The most generous thing said of us was the Prime Minister’s statement, “ It ispossible they may be honest “. We were honest men while we followed him, but we became criminal and dishonestwhen we did not see fit to march under his banner in respect of an important matter of national policy. Is that the way in which to build up the solidarity of the Labour party ?
– What about placing the country before the party?
– A party exists to give effect to principles which it believes to be in the interest of the country. The members of all parties, no doubt, honestly believe that the interests of their parties and the interests of the country are identical. This measure before the House is entitled “ A bill for an act to make necessary provision for carrying out a plan agreed on by the Commonwealth and the States for meeting the grave financial emergency existing in Australia, reestablishing financial stability, and restoring industrial and general prosperity”. That is a beautiful phrase, and very wide in its application. There is no member of the chamber who does not desire to restore industrial and general prosperity.
– The honorable member does not desire it.
– You’re a liar.
– The honorable member for Bourke must withdraw that remark immediately.
– Having said it, I withdraw it.
-The honorable member must withdraw unreservedly.
– I withdraw unreservedly.
– I ask that the honorable member be made to apologize, and I shall see that he does.
-The honorable member for Bourke has withdrawn unreservedly. The constant interjections of the honorable member for Wide Bay only provoke disorder, and I ask him to remain silent.
– I do not think that he did withdraw the remark. I certainly did not hear him.
– I shall name the honorable member for Wide Bay if he disobeys the Chair.
– On a point of order. The honorable member for Bourke, when asked to withdraw, said, “ Having said it, I withdraw it.” That is not a withdrawal.
– I asked the honorable member to withdraw unreservedly, and he did so.
– He has not done so.
– I name the honorable member for Wide Bay for that interjection.
– I ask the honorable member for Wide Bay to make due apology to the Chair, and not impose upon me the duty of taking extreme action.
– With all respect to the Treasurer, I cannot submit to the insult directed against me by the honorable member for Bourke. He had no occasion to insult me in that manner.
– Order !
– The honorable member was not provoked to that extent.
– Order !
– If the honorable member for Wide Bay will not listen to my appeal to apologize to the Chair, I shall have to take the action which the Standing Orders require.
– I listened with respect to what the Treasurer had to say, but I do not consider that the honorable member for Bourke received sufficient provocation to warrant the insult he hurled at me.
– As the honorable member is obdurate, I have no alternative but to move -
That the honorable member for Wide Bay be suspended from the service of the House.
Motion put.The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Norman Makin.)
Majority . . . . 32
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Mr. Corser than retired from the chamber.
The purpose of the bill, as set forth in the title, is unexceptionable; but the effort to restore financial stability aud general prosperity is not commencing with this measure. The efforts of the Government ever since it took office have been directed to that end. It was the aim of Mr. Bruce, and his colleagues, according to their lights. In fact, there was never a government in any country, or at any time, or a ruler, however absolute, who had not the desire to establish stability and general prosperity, because upon such conditions their positions and security depended. Therefore, this title is a mere placard to disguise purposes which the Government is ashamed to . declare on the front page. Those* purposes are to reduce wages, salaries, and pensions. So far as the reduction of wages and salaries applies to the postal employees, who constitute ninetenths of the Public ‘Service of the Commonwealth, this Government, and the majority of the Labour party, are acquiescing in the very policy for which Mr. Bruce and his party were swept into political oblivion. We are doing to-day what we denounced the BrucePage Government for proposing nearly two years ago. Honorable members on this side who are supporting the reduction of old-age and invalid pensions well merit the cheap applause which they are now getting from honorable members opposite. The pensioner who has n home valued at £500 will suffer a reduction of from 12£ to 20 per cent. in his pension; but the pensioner who has a home valued at £700 will suffer a reduction of 50 per cent. In the case of two old-age pensioners living in one home, each will suffer a reduction of 25 per cent. The pensioner who has a home valued at £750 will suffer a reduction of 60 per cent, in his payments. Every pensioner who lives in his own home has to meet various expenses such as water rates, municipal rates, repairs, and so on. In one fell swoop this legislation will, in some instances, take away from the aged and infirm who own the houses in which they live the great bulk of their pension. Many pensioners who have a little home of their own will be in a worse position than those who have no home.
I come now to soldiers’ pensions. Had this Government attempted, in the national interests, to reduce soldier pensions, the full force of the soldiers’ organizations from one end of Australia to the other would have been brought to boar in opposition to it. An entirely new situation arose when the Government allied itself with the Nationalist party. One would naturally have thought that the high command of the soldiers’ organizations would immediately attack every honorable member of this Parliament who proposed to vote for a reduction of soldier pensions, irrespective of the political party to which he belonged. But as the high command of the soldiers’ organizations is linked up with the Nationalist party, it has adopted an entirely new attitude in the present instance, and today it is working throughout the country to secure the acceptance of the agreement which it has made with the Government, so that the interests of certain Nationalist candidates may not be prejudiced. It is plain that this Government and the Nationalist party are placing the responsibility for the reduction in soldier pensions upon the returned soldiers themselves. The high command of the Returned Soldiers Association is accepting full responsibility for it, and it is because they are doing so that this callous act is being perpetrated.
We are faced, also, with the reduction of wages, the destruction of the arbitration law so far as it applies to the public servants, the reduction of old-age and invalid pensions, and the reduction of soldier pensions.
Years ago, before the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) formed the Nationalist party, he made this statement, “I give this guarantee, that while I am in control of this party, not one stone of the temple of Labour will be torn down”. What do we as a party say now?” Of course, we say the same thing. But what are the facts? By supporting these proposals for reductions in wages, pensions, and social services, those of the party who now stand behind the Government are pulling down, in the name of national preservation, not only the walls, but also the roof of the temple of Labour.. They are doing that as ruthlessly as a gang of evictors in an Irish village dispossess a helpless tenant. Honorable members on this side who are supporting the Government’s proposals are demolishing the temple of Labour stone by stone. This is not the end, but it is the beginning of the end of the Labour movement as it stood when we were elected to this Parliament.
If I thought that this legislation was necessary to secure national stability, and to save the country from bankruptcy,
I should have reason for supporting it. But what justification is there for this legislation, in view of the many policies accepted by this Government during the last two years, all of which have miserably failed? This is the annihilation of everything that the Labour party has produced during two long generations. The condition of a civilization is not to be improved by the reduction of its standard of living. The policy which the Government is now pursuing means the reduction of the community’s powers of consumption. It matters not whether what is proposed aims at the restoration of stability in this country, and the bringing again of the purchasing power of two, ten, or 100 years ago, the fact is plain that this legislation will reduce the purchasing power, not only of the working man and the great body of public servants, but also of the old-age and invalid pensioners and soldier pensioners. It will thus decrease the consumption of the products of the man on the land. There will be no market for those products, and, as a result, tens of thousands of men who have been forced off the land will help to swell the many thousands of unemployed who are already walking the streets of the cities. This is not the first time that I have made that statement. Eighteen months ago I stated what would happen if the Government continued the policy that it was then pursuing.
I am opposed to this bill, and shall vote against every clause in it. “We who oppose the bill have been asked to suggest an alternative to it. “We have been told that we have no constructive policy. Is there any constructive policy in this ‘bill! There is nothing constructive in it. It provides for nothing but destruction, the pulling’ down of everything that stands for Labour and its ideals. “We who oppose it are asked to submit an alternative. I say to the Government that it is too late to ask for that. When Mr. Bruce was Prime Minister he attended the May conference Of his party, and there outlined the position of this country. He refused to impose additional taxation, for the reason that that would drain the life blood from industry, increase the cost of production and the cost of living, and thus” compel the workman to ask for higher wages. H« told the Nationalist party that he could not reduce soldiers” pensions, because that was unthinkable. He could not reduce old-age and invalid pensions, because that would place a burden upon the poorer section of the community and those least able to ‘bear it. He said that there was only one alternative, and that was the reduction of production costs, including wages. If there is any distinction between the Nationalist party and the Labour party it must be, not merely in name, but in principle. Mr. Bruce at that time advocated the reduction of wages which, he said, would ultimately benefit the workers. He told the May conference that he would ask Parliament to sweep away the federal arbitration law, so that the standard of living and the wages, not only of the great body of Commonwealth employees, but also of the great mass of the people, might be reduced. The Labour party thereupon swept him out of office at the next election, and he disappeared. We came into power. If, at that- time, we were not prepared to increase the burden of taxation or to reduce pensions and wages - and we were elected on that declaration - surely we should not do so now. That is the answer that I give to this Government, and to the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) who now asks us for an alternative to this bill. This Government has, since it took office, pursued a policy of drift. It has suffered ignominy upon ignominy. It has refused to take any other road. It said that there was an obstacle in the way of giving effect to its policy, that obstacle being the Senate, and that it governed only in name. In such circumstances, it was its duty to become a real government, and to put its fortunes to the testIt should have appealed to the country on the issue. Unfortunately, it refused to do so. It put up policy after policy, some of which had previously been condemned by the party. This went on for months, and then a minority of the party submitted an alternative. There is no need for me to describe it, because the details are well known to honorable members. It was described by honorable members opposite as repudiation, inflation and default. Every ignominy was cast upon us. That continued until last September, -when a sub-committee of the Cabinet evolved a policy which included a reduction of pensions. The Leader of the Opposition, who was then Acting Treasurer, submitted that policy to the Prime Minister, who refused to accept it.
In October the Labour party was returned triumphant in the New South Wales election. With Mr. Lang’s triumph there came a measure of strength to the wobblers of the Federal Labour Party. Their sinews were stiffened, and their backbone strengthened, so that they again took a straight course. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) stepped in again, and assisted in the formation of a monetary policy which the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Gibbons) was selected to champion. My object in referring to these matters is to give an answer to those who ask of us, “ What is your alternative to the present proposals of the Government?” The honorable member for Dalley at this time became a convert to the very things that he had formerly denounced, namely, inflation, the release of credits, the purchasing of bonds, the borrowing of money for public works, and so on. A. majority of the caucus accepted that policy.
Some time afterwards the Prime Minister returned from Great Britain, and the honorable member for Dalley again became a member of the Government. But what became of the policy? It was abandoned, and we were again like a shipwrecked crew who had no compass; we were without a policy. The policy had been. thrown overboard. There was no one to speak for it. The Labour party went into the Parkes byelection absolutely without any policy. The only thing that members of” the party could say during that election was that Labour had no policy to submit to the electors other than the policy of antiNationalism.
In the following February a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers was held, which the Prime Minister opened with a speech. At the conclusion of his remarks he said to Mr. Lang, the Premier of New South Wales, “ Have you anything to say?” According .to the report of the conference, Mr. Lang replied, “ No ; what is your plan ?” The Prime Minister said, “ We have no plan ; we have come here to formulate a plan “. At that conference another plan was devised, or I should say that the old plan was resurrected, and an addition made to it. It was the old plan under a new name. But in June that plan was dropped. The history of this party might be expressed in this way: First, the party drifted, then a plan was devised. Then there was no plan; then there was a plan; then there was no plan, then there was another plan, then there was no plan, and now there is another plan. How, in the name of creation, can a party which drifts in that way get anyanywhere? Now the banks are saying to us, “ Gentlemen, put your hands up “. They are not saying this for the first time. When this party carried a certain resolution last October, it was submitted to the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank, and to the associated banks. The reply of the Commonwealth Bank Board was received on the 16th December, and the reply of the associated banks on the 18th December. Sir Robert Gibson said to us, “ We have no funds “. Then he went on to say, “If we had funds, we would not advance them to governments which had no means of repayment “. When he was charged with having curtailed credits, he said, “ We have curtailed credit to private individuals in order to pay the bills of impecunious governments “.
The crisis was in front of us six months ago. Of whait use is it to tell us that we are now facing a crisis? The issue was before us, and should have been faced long months ago, but we had not the courage to face it. We are being asked to-day what we intend to do. My reply is, “ We intend to stick to the facts “.
When the Prime Minister was asked during the Parkes by-election what he intended to do, he said, “ We will take one step after another, but every step will be a sound step”.
A few months ago, His Holiness the Pope, in speaking to the faithful about the relations between the Mussolini Government and the Vatican, said that there could be no Hosannas, for the crucifixion was coming. The crucifixion is coming to the mass of men and women in this country, as it came to Christ himself. We could understand it coming from our enemies ; but I know of no blow which is harder to bear than the blow of a friend, and of no stab which goes so deep as the stab from the hands of one’s own companions. What would Christ have thought as He hung on the cross if the nails that pierced His hands and feet had been hammered in by His friends; if the sword that pierced His side had been driven by His friends; if the sponge of vinegar had been held to His lips by His friends? These things were done to Him not by His friends, but by His bitterest enemies. But to-day this Government is crucifying the very people who raised its members from obscurity and placed them in power. I am appalled that they should even contemplate doing this contemptible thing.
– I realize that the minds of honorable members are made up, and that no amount of argument is likely to alter a single vote on this bill. But I wish to refer briefly to the circumstances which have brought us to our present position. The main factors have been our crushing war debt, the great drop in the prices of our exportable products, and the closing of the overseas money market against us.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) in the course of his speech referred to what he called the disastrous policy of this Government; but he made no reference to the even more disastrous policy of the Government with which he was associated for a number of years - a policy which has been aptly described as “borrow, boom and burst.” The Bruce-Page Government indulged in an absolute orgy of overseas borrowing and extravagant expenditure. It borrowed, it boomed, and the country is now reaching the bursting point. The difficulties of Australia cannot justly be attributed to i V present Government.
I shall support the general principles of this bill though I shall endeavour to secure an amendment to some of its provisions. I realize that this is a time for compromise. In the formulation of this plan for our financial rehabilitation, both parties have made some sacrifices. This is no time for honorable members to be bound hard and fast to party.
One of the main causes of our present difficulties is the drop of £200,000,000 in our national income, which has receded from £650,000,000 in 1928-29 to £450,000,000 this year. This decrease has been caused by the drop in the price of our exportable products. Another major cause of our difficulties is the huge deficits that the various Commonwealth and State Governments have accumulated. The combined deficits of the various Australian Governments at the end of the last financial year was £30,000,000, and it has been estimated that at the present rate of expenditure the combined deficits at the end of the current year will be £40,000,000, making the accumulated deficit £70,000,000. The deficit of the Commonwealth Government at the 30th June last was £14,000,000, and it is estimated that at the present rate of expenditure the deficit at the end of the next financial year will be £20,000,000, making an accumulated deficit of £34,000,000. Additional difficulties are caused by the fact that short-term debts to the extent of £38,000,000 overseas, and £25,000,000 in Australia, making £63,000,000 in all, must be met. Last year the adverse exchange rate cost the Commonwealth £10,000,000, and unemployment relief £9,000,000. These facts must be kept in mind in considering the present proposal. The Commonwealth deficit at the end of June, 1929, was £5,000,000. There was a further deficit of £1,500,000 in June, 1930, and in June, 1931, a shortage of £14,000,000, making a total of £20,500,000. It is estimated that there will be a further drop in the coming financial year of £20,000,000, and, unless an improvement is brought about, the Commonwealth will then have a deficit of £40,500,000.
The Prime Minister told us, in his second-reading speech on the Debt Conversion Bill, that there had been a huge fall in Commonwealth revenue from three main sources, namely, customs, excise, and income taxation’. The estimated drop for the year 1931-32, compared with the revenue for 1929-30, is £18,500,000 on those items alone. The estimated revenue for the coming year is £60,000,000, and the estimated expenditure £80,000,000, leaving a balance on the wrong side of £20,000,000. A prudent housewife regulates her household expenditure according to her income. If she sees that the expenditure is growing, or that her income is falling, she will endeavour to curtail her expenditure. If she imprudently spends all her income, and, also borrows from every possible source, a day of reckoning will come. Similarly a nation that has been spending unwisely over a long period eventually reaches the stage at which a reduction of its disbursements is unavoidable. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) boasted that the governments with which he had had the honour to be associated had balanced their budgets ; but it would be interesting to know whether they lived within their means. So far as I can learn they did not meet their expenditure wholly from revenue, but were responsible, to a large extent, for the excessive overseas borrowing which is now causing great concern to the present Government, which would be relieved of its difficulties if it were able to borrow on the same scale as past administrations. [Quorum formed.’] Some government had to cry a halt, and this unpleasant task has fallen to the lot of the Labour Ministry. I have said that the expenditure for this year is estimated at £80,000,000, comprising the following items -
The bill under consideration makes provision for a reduction of the wage.” and salaries of public servants, interest duc in Australia on Government loans, the maternity allowance, invalid and oldage pensions, war pensions, and bounties ; but of the comparatively large sum of £25,000,000 due overseas for interest, contributions to the sinking fund, and exchange, no reduction is contemplated under the Government’s proposals. We are informed that a great deal of money is available in the Old Country for investment, and would be readily lent to Australia if overseas investors had confidence in the Government. Under another bill, bondholders in Australia are asked to convert to a new stock, and sacrifice 2 per cent, of the interest that they have previously received; but no sacrifice is to be made by overseas bondholders. In my opinion,’ 4 per cent, would be a profitable return to investors in Grea.t Britain, and they would not be harshly treated if they were required to make a sacrifice similar to that demanded of the Australian investor. There is said to be a plentiful supply of money available in Great Britain at rates as low as even 2 per cent., and, if it were the will of this Parliament to call upon British bondholders to accept a reduced rate of interest, a way could be found. The savings that the Treasurer proposes to effect under this measure are as follow: - “
If all those savings are made, there will still be an excess of expenditure over revenue of between £4.000.000 and £5,000,000.
Some honorable members blame the banks for not having come to the assistance of the Commonwealth; but, as they curtail the credit of a client with an excessive overdraft, it is not surprising that they will not advance money to the Government unless the security is satisfactory. I do not blame them for the attitude that they have adopted in the present crisis. The figures submitted to us by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer show that the Commonwealth is rapidly drifting towards financial disaster. The banks sounded a true note when they warned the Government twelve months ago that a wrong course was being pursued. They have issued this warning on more than one occasion, and I consider that the memorandum sent to the Treasurer recently should be seriously heeded by the Government.
No member of the House finds it palatable to agree to the reduction of wages, old-age pensions, war pensions and the maternity allowance, but we must face the plain facts. The Government is called upon to do a thing which is extremely unpopular, but in the best interests of the country. The present scheme, which has been arrived at by compromise, is the only proposal offered that will achieve the desired object. Those responsible for it are the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) the State Premiers, the Treasury officials of the Commonwealth and the States and leading economists. The plan is the result of the collective wisdom and concentrated efforts of those who took part in the recent conference in Melbourne over a period of three weeks, and we should give duc weight to the outcome of their deliberations. Distasteful as the scheme may seem, we must accept it if we desire to save Australia.
I notice that the gold bounty is to he reduced by half, whereas other bounties are to be cut down by only 20 per cent. If there is one primary industry in Australia which, to my mind, deserves a bounty, it is that of gold-mining, the encouragement of which would increase employment. I have heard it said by the Deputy Leader of the Country party (Mr. Paterson) that the bounty paid to the galvanized iron industry in Australia equals the payment of one ounce of gold per week to each man engaged in it. That statement has not been contradicted. The gold-mining industry has saved Australia before. After the great land boom in the early - ‘nineties there was a great depression, and it was the gold discoveries in Western Australia that saved the country. Just as the gold-mining industry saved Australia then, it could, I believe, do so again if it were given a chance. The gold bounty was the chance for which the industry had long been waiting. Up to the present Australia has produced £630,000,000 worth of gold. The Victorian production alone has amounted to over £300,000,000, while the total amount of government assistance received by the Victorian gold-mining industry has amounted to only £313,000. Up to the present the gold-mining industry has not been given a chance. Western Australia has produced gold to the value of £160,000,000, while the industry has received by way of assistance from the Western Australian Government only £S00,000. This Parliament agreed to pay a bounty of £1 an ounce on gold won in excess of the average production for the previous three years, which was 480,000 oz. Therefore, unless that amount is exceeded, the Government will not be called upon to pay one penny by way of bounty. The gold yield would have to be doubled before the Government would be called upon to pay a bounty of 10s. an ounce, because the bounty is to be distributed over the whole amount produced. There are vast areas of auriferous country in Australia which have never been explored, much less exhausted. What man is bold enough to say that there is not another golden mile to be found in Australia? From the East Coolgardie field in Western Australia, which included the famous Golden Mile, £87,000,000 worth of gold was mined. During the regime of the present Government in one year no less than £27,000,000 in gold has been exported from Australia. If we had not, had that gold to meet our liabilities overseas,. Australia would have been in queer street long before now. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition declared that he would always meet with uncompromising hostility any proposal for a fiduciary currency; yet he voted for the bill authorizing the export of one-third of our gold reserve. With the export of that gold our present note issue becomes partly fiduciary. To that extent the honorable member has proved himself inconsistent.
The Government’s proposals are unpalatable. I support them, but I do so with no pleasure. I compliment the soldiers’ organizations on the way in which they have dealt with pensions, and upon the satisfactory compromise reached.
They have shown how the Government can save practically the full amount for which it planned without attacking any of the vital principles for which returned soldiers have always stood. The Government has agreed to accept the returned soldiers’ proposals, and I am pleased that this satisfactory way out of the difficulty has been arrived at.
I have never been able to see why those in receipt of large incomes should have the same right to claim the maternity allowance as have poorer people. Some persons, including the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney), have said that, if any distinction were made, it would place the stigma of pauperism upon those who are permitted to draw the allowance. We should remember, however, that no one is allowed to draw the old-age pension who is not comparatively poor. If a man’ or woman possesses property over a certain value, he or she is not qualified to draw a pension. If the stigma of pauperism is to apply in the case of maternity allowances, it must apply also in the case of old-age pensions.
– It has always applied in the case of old-age pensions.
– The scheme evolved by B the Premiers Conference is designed to bring about the financial and economic stability of Australia. I support it as an emergency measure, and trust that it will do what its framers hope for it - that it will save Australia from default, and lead to a return of national prosperity.
.- 1 refrained from speaking on the other bills introduced to give effect to the Government’s plan because I wished them to be passed as quickly as possible so that the conversion of our indebtedness may be proceeded with. I have some comments to make upon this measure, however, particularly in regard to soldiers’ pensions. I listened to the brilliantly delivered speech of the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey), which reminded me of many such speeches which we have heard from him, particularly when we were in Melbourne. Listening to him I could not but be reminded of the British submarine service during the war. This branch of the navy performed wonderful deeds in .the Sea of Marmora and in the Baltic, where the submarines, submerged, were caught in steel nets, and rose to the surface again with bombs hanging all round them. It grew to be a saying throughout the service- that submarine navigation was “ by guess or by God “. Honorable members will find a book in the Library bearing that title - By Guess or by God. It is a wonderful publication, and gives intimate and interesting sidelights upon the submarine service. The policy of this Government reminds me of the method of navigation employed by the British submarine service - it is mostly by guess not by God.
– There is nothing very godly about these proposals.
– We might well ask for the help of God in times like these, and I say so with all reverence. While listening to the speech of the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey), I could not help letting my mind go back over the last few months during which this Government has been in office, and reflecting upon the appalling spectacle now presented by the once mighty Federal Labour Party. A few months ago one would not have thought it possible ever to listen to such a speech as that delivered to-night by the honorable member for Bourke. He showed how dissension had come into the party and split it into various sections. Who is to blame for that? I have never been one to gibe at the other side of the House, but at this time one must face facts. We must go back to the time of the Niemeyer agreement, signed by the Prime Minister, on behalf of the people. Good or had, he signed it for what it was worth, and then left this country and went overseas. Arrived at the other side, he made speeches in support of the signing of the agreement, speeches which were recorded here and there. He came back, and made another speech at Fremantle, and I wrote to him congratulating him upon it. From that moment, however, the party began to break up. The present Treasurer was reinstated; but I am not at liberty to discuss that now. There followed the dropping of the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Lyons), and the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton). The Government then began to slide. Conference after conference was held, as we have been told by the honorable member for Bourke. The trouble was brought about mainly by the Prime Minister, who failed to stand up to the Niemeyer agreement. The proposals embodied in that agreement did not go so far as those for which these bills provide. They did not include the reduction of interest, which we all wish to see brought about; many other proposals were put forward, and had they been adopted eighteen months ago our present difficulties might have been avoided. The present Government came into office at a time of very great difficulty, but instead of facing the situation resolutely at the beginning, it aggravated the trouble by pursuing a policy of drift. I do not think for one moment that the present bill is going to solve all our problems. Like the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), I do not see how it is going to provide work for the unemployed. The bill may, no doubt, prove a stepping-stone to better things.
– Then what are we to get out of the bill?
– I am not a pesssimist, but I believe it will be a good many years before Australia gets out of its present difficulties. The governments of Australia are practically bankrupt, and, like the right honorable member for North Sydney, I ask, what is the alternative to the Government’s proposals? No alternative scheme has been advanced except that Australia should become bankrupt, and pay 9s. in the £1 of its obligations. We must do something to remedy the position. We must all endeavour to make a success of the conversion loan, and reduce interest rates. I hope that the banks will reduce overdraft rates, both for my own sake and for that of every one else. I trust, also, that the State Parliaments will pass legislation to reduce the interest rate on mortgages, so as to protect trustees. Otherwise they will he placed in a very awkward position. I made it quite clear to my party, when we were discussing the present bill, where I stood in regard to soldiers’ pensions. I said that I reserved to myself the right to vote against a cut in soldiers’ pensions. I think that we are all very glad that the soldiers’ representatives have come to an arrangement which the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government, has been able to accept.
– To what party does the honorable member belong now ?
– I represent the people of Australia. Had the honorable member been hero during the life of the. last Government, he would know that I stood for the people even against my own government, and I shall always do the same. The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) and I are in entire agreement that no money can compensate the digger for what he went through during the war ; that his pension should be absolutely sacrosanct. This agreement preserves the position. There is to be no reduction in the pensions paid to the disabled digger himself, or to the orphan children of diggers, or to “war widows, returned nurses, widowed mothers of unmarried killed and died from war causes.” Certainly there is to be a cut in the pensions paid to other dependants, which is pretty rough. However, we must remember that this is a time practically of national bankruptcy. Civil servants and invalid and old-age pensioners have approached me saying, What about our pensions?” My reply was, and still is, “ It is pretty rough that your pensions are to be touched, but you cannot place them on the same piano as those of the diggers.” There might have been no Civil Service or invalid and oldage pensions but for the Australian Imperial Force. Those who have travelled France as I have know that the French people believe that but for Monash and the Australian Imperial Force, particularly at Amiens, Paris must have been taken. Inevitably, the channel ports would have followed. That opinion prevails even in ‘ the remote corners of France. When I was in that country on a motor tour about eighteen months ago, I arrived with my party at a country town and applied at a hotel for accommodation, which was refused, on the assumption that I was British. Unfortunately, the French hatred of the British is most ‘pronounced. A French ambassador, with whom I was travelling, happened to mention that I came from Australia. Directly the people heard the word “ Australia “, the place was ours. Not one of us’ wishes to see n cut made in old-age. or invalid pensions, or in the salaries and wages paid to civil servants.
– Then do not make it.
– The honorable member knows perfectly well that, if it is not done, the Government will be able to pay only 9s. in the £1, and that that will be a last payment. There is no alternative except a fiduciary note issue.
– We do not want that.
– I am glad to hear the honorable member say it.
– It could not be done. There are too many printers out of work.
– They would soon be back at work. Our 400,000 unemployed would not be able to supply enough labour to keep the good old printing presses working fast enough. But that is not the way out. If it were the only alternative, it would be “God help Australia.” It is enough to recall the experience of France and Germany in that respect.
These bills have come rather late in the day. I have always contended that it would be much better for governments, when they found themselves in the wrong, to admit it. Such is the position of the Prime Minister to-day. How often 1 have heard the right honorable gentleman say, to the cheers of members of his party, “ A cut in pensions and wages ! No. It is the last thing that I will do.” That has all gone by the board. Th, right honorable gentleman has at least been man enough, even though it is at this late stage, to retract. He knows that if be refuses to face the position the alternative is bankruptcy. One of the reasons why I support the Government in connexion with these bills is that they represent a start to rehabilitate our country. I hope that the action has not. come too late.
I consider that the proposal of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) that these measures should be temporary, and should operate for not longer than three years, merits consideration. The position could then be reviewed. Let us hope that in three years’ time the sun will again be shining, and that Australia will be on the road to prosperity.
I am delighted with the wonderful spirit that has been manifested by the returned soldiers in this matter. Originally they stood rigidly to the claim that their pensions should be regarded as sacrosanct, and in that I was with them to the hilt. I sent out scores of telegrams and letters telling them that on that issue I was with them till the cows caine home. Those men were all much worried. They realized the position that Australia was in. I believe that a vital mistake was made when the voluntary principle was applied to bondholders and not to the returned diggers. I am satisfied that, had it been suggested that they should forgo, voluntarily, a 20 per cent. reduction of their pensions, the nation would have been staggered by the response to the appeal. I note that, in communicating with the Prime Minister on the subject on the 3rd July last, Captain Dyett, the Federal President of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, suggested that the Government should invite war pensioners - voluntarily to relinquish portion, or whole, of their pensions for the period in which the Premiers Conference decided to balance the budgets.
That suggestion should have emanated from the Premiers Conference. Already I know of many disabled diggers in receipt of pensions who will voluntarily submit to the 20 per cent. cut in order to help Australia. Unfortunately, there are many returned diggers among our unemployed who are not receiving pensions. It is a mental tonic to me to know that the spirit that existed in the Australian Imperial Force during the war persists to this day, and that our returned men are again the first, voluntarily, to assist Australia in her hour of need. In the circumstances I shall give this measure my support. [Quorum formed.]
.- It is not my intention to dilate upon the apostasy of the present coalition. To do so would be futile. The challenge has been repeatedly made that no alternative to this legislation can be advanced. I intend to submit one that is fool-proof, and to submit evidence. It is the policy of the Labour party, which provides for the’ utilization of national credit for the purposes of the government of the country; a sane financial system for Australia.
Mr. G. B. Edwards, speaking on the Commonwealth Note Issue Bill when it was introduced, referred to the experience of Guernsey Island in these terms -
The little island of Guernseyhas a legislation of its own. The community there is very small, and one can trace the operations in such a community with far less mental effort than is necessary to trace a similar operation in a larger community. Guernsey, which had a parliament of its own, as well as an executive, and all the paraphernalia that we have for administering the affairs of this Commonwealth, felt the need of a new market. It was found that it would cost £4,000 to reconstruct the old building for the purposes required, and the Government said, “We cannot raise the money “. A man named John Jacob, however, came to them and said, “ I will show you how to find it. Issue £4,000 paper currency, pass a law to make the notes legal tender, pay your workmen and buy your material with that £4,000 of legal tender paper currency, and you will succeed. All the people will take the paper, for they want to secure this market.” His advice was followed and, in twenty odd years, the notes were all paid oif from rents of the markets. The market was built, the paper currency was retired, and the people had the satisfaction of securing the market buildings, and of obtaining from them a revenue for all time. I ask the critics of the paper currency to point to a flaw in that operation. I repeat that challenge in this House. Certain Americans, given to the consideration of this question, and applying to it keen minds and close scrutiny, have said that it would have been possible for the Government of the United States of America, by the adoption of the same system, to have built the transcontinental railway, so that it would not have cost the American people one cent.
A comparable enterprise in Australia is the east-west railway. A statement supplied by the Treasury to Mr. Gahan, Commonwealth Commissioner of Railways, explanatory of the interest charged upon the capital cost of constructing the east-west railway, the rolling-stock thereon, and all improvements, subsequent to the completion of construction, is as follows : -
As the treasury-bills and inscribed stock, which covered the expenditure of £3,428,519, were redeemed from the profits of the Australian note issue in 1920, thi3 expenditure, for interest purposes, was deemed to have been made from revenue, and therefore no interest has been charged thereon. Interest on the amount of £808,020 expended since 1918, has been allocated from year to year on a proportionate basis in accordance with the actual interest paid each year on the loans concerned. The amount of £128,000, representing the total amount, is au approximate estimate of the debit for the current financial year.
These facts cannot be controverted, as they are stated by the Commonwealth Treasury. Had the Commonwealth charged interest, as is done in every business undertaking, at 3£ per cent, per annum from 1917, the year in which the line was completed, on the total sum made available from revenue and the notes account, namely, £6,969,542, the whole of the amount advanced would have been recovered in the form of interest by 1945. The east-west railway, therefore, like the Guernsey markets, would have been bought and paid for by the nation, out of its own resources. It was not necessary to borrow or load the people with an interminable debt. This fact, based on the evidence of the Commonwealth Treasury, completely confounds all the talk that such a policy would be inflation, and unwise financing. The process could be repeated at the present time for the absorption of our unemployed in industry, without printing a single new note, as soon as we have the men with the necessary courage to do the job. There is no need to sacrifice the old-age pensioners or disgrace the name of Australia by the repudiation of our obligations to the returned soldiers. Too long have we been dominated by the financial oligarchy which thrives and fattens on the thrift and industry of the nation, regardless of the misery and degradation which the present monetary system produces. The application of the principle I have enunciated to all Government plans is the clear and only way out of the present morass. That is my alternative, and my slogan is “Do it now.”
That this alternative is possible is recognized by the experts who recommended the present crippling proposals, for they say in paragraph 20 of their report -
It may be possible to devise and carry out positive constructive plans for the relief of unemployment, though all such schemes would require heavy capital expenditure. It is not the business of this committee to consider such schemes, but only to inquire how sufficient funds can be obtained to meet the accepted obligation of governments to provide sustenance.
This clearly reveals the fact that the experts were co-opted, not to devise and carry out positive, constructive plans for the relief of unemployment, but to use all their ingenuity and ability to safeguard the monetary oligarchy which at present governs Australia.
.- I intend to vote against this bill, and I shall briefly explain my reasons for so doing. Earlier I indicated that whilst I would support the bill providing for the conversion of the £556,000,000 of internal public debt, I would oppose that part of the rehabilitation scheme which involves the reduction of pensions, wages and salaries. This measure is entitled “ A bill for an act to make the necessary provision for carrying out a plan agreed on by the Commonwealth and the States for meeting the grave financial emergency existing in Australia, re-establishing financial stability, and restoring industrial and general prosperity.” I agree with those honorable members who have said that the bill will not achieve the purposes stated in the title; it is more likely to do the reverse of what the authors of it evidently expect. It contains provision for the reduction of old-age, invalid and war pensions, Public Service salaries and wages, and the maternity bonus. The measure is divided into nine parts, namely, Part I., preliminary; Part II., salaries and wages; Part III., pensions to officers; Part IV., maternity allowances; Part V., invalid and old-age pensions; Part VI., war pensions; Part VII., judiciary ; Part VIII., bounties ; and Part IX., miscellaneous.
With some provisions of the bill one can agree, but I maintain that rehabilitation could have been brought about by other means without resort to the drastic expedient of cutting pensions. It is significant that in this debate members of the Opposition, who, in season and out of season, have opposed the Labour party and resisted its every proposal, have almost fallen over themselves in their anxiety to support the Government and its present financial policy.
– Because they hope to destroy the Labour party.
– That is obvious. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron), one of the most highly esteemed members of the House, “who never speaks with his tongue in his cheek, stated yesterday that any party putting forward this plan would incur popular disfavour, and would be lucky to survive a general election. That, perhaps, explains the reason why so many members who are usually opposed to the Labour party are to-day supporting the Government. Well may they gloat over the fact that a Labour Government has been induced to do what its opponents have always believed should be done, but what they had not the courage to do, because of the political consequences. The attitude of the press also has changed from violent opposition to warm support of the Government, and the Opposition may well congratulate itself upon the success which has attended its efforts and the propaganda of the newspapers supporting u during the last eight or nine months. Admittedly in times of depression governments must take action that would not be justified in ordinary circumstances, but how often have we boasted that Australia, because of its productivity and recuperative powers would escape the depression which in older countries was the aftermath of the war? I believe that our present troubles are largely due to maladministration by past, governments, particularly the BrucePage Ministry. It held office during bountiful years, and handled larger incomes than were available to any previous governments. It also borrowed more than any of its predecessors. In addition, millions of pounds of manufactured goods were imported from abroad, and although this created unemployment, the Government at the same time encouraged immigration. The members of the Opposition, remnants of the BrucePage following, who are now allied with the Government in the advocacy of this financial rehabilitation scheme, have never stood for the welfare of the masses. They regarded the industrial and economic standards of Australia as too high, and some of the Nationalist leaders have been hold enough to say that they should be reduced. The present Agent-General for South Australia, Sir Henry Barwell, declared some years ago that the standards of the Australian people were too high, and that if the workers would not voluntarily submit to a reduction of wages and working conditions, he would do everything possible ‘to impose it upon them. Undoubtedly the conservative minds among the Opposition are of that opinion to-day. Few of them would be prepared to reduce wages and pensions, for fear of the political consequences; but this Government, unfortunately for itself, has come to their aid. Honorable members opposite may well gloat over the fact that, through the agency of the press, and the propaganda that it has broadcast throughout the country, they have been able to force the Government to take an action which they desired, but had not themselves, when in office, the courage to take. [Quorum formed-] It is true, as stated by Mr. Bruce in a speech delivered in Melbourne only last week, that the Bruce-Page Government was responsible for increasing the oldage and invalid pensions twice during its regime; but those increases were in proportion with the increase in the cost of living at that time. That Government increased, not only pensions, but also bounties paid to various industries, in an effort to retain possession of the treasury bench. To-day we are suffering the consequences of the reckless and extravagant policy pursued by the Bruce-Page Government. The Labour party stands, not for a reduction, but for an increase in old-age and invalid pensions. The platform of the Labour party contains a plank to that effect, and at the last election we were returned with an overwhelming majority.
– The white ants are evidently in the planks of that platform.
– Yes. It is also obvious that the rats have deserted the ship of state, but that craft will weather this storm as it has weathered others. No doubt the honorable member is delighted that this Government has seen fit to ally itself with the Nationalist party, so as to give effect to its proposals, but I assure him that the Labour party will become re-organized, and will, at no distant date, be once again paramount in this country. We were returned to this Parliament on the promises that we made to the electors.
– Those promises have not been carried out.
– That is true in respect of some of our promises, but that can be said of every party which has held office. Even if it means my political doom, I shall stand to the platform on which I was elected. The main issue at the last election was the retention of the Arbitration Court. This party has at all times advocated that wages should be fixed by arbitration. When wages were on the up grade the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) and other honorable members were against Parliament interfering in any way with the wages of the workers, yet to-day those honorable members are supporting a proposal to reduce wages. The Labour party was returned to power on the arbitration issue, yet to-day it is prepared to brush aside the arbitration law as it applies to public servants. It is advocating a reduction in old-age and invalid pensions, and soldier pensions, -which it has hitherto strenuously opposed. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) said truly that those who support the Government’s proposal are risking their political lives. Since this Government took office the Opposition has indulged in considerable political propaganda. It has raised the scare cries of repudiation, inflation and default. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), when discussing this bill, and while stating his intention to support the rehabilitation plan submitted by the Government, tried to resuscitate that propaganda. He lost sight of the fact that the proposals of the Government, and particularly the proposed conversion loan, which he now supports, constitute the worst form of repudiation. The recent legislation providing for the export of £5,000,000 worth of gold from this country, with a consequent lowering of the percentage of the gold backing to the note issue, will bring about inflation to a greater extent than was proposed by the Government in its financial policy prior to the formation of this plan. As the Opposition has now accepted the principle of inflation, the scare cries of repudiation and inflation at this stage are not likely to cut much ice with the people, and I advise honorable members opposite not to indulge in that propaganda in the future. There is no sincerity in the demand for equality of sacrifice. It is not equality of sacrifice when we compel a pensioner who is receiving only 5s. 6d. a week to sacrifice ls. of that amount, when at the same time wealthy bondholders are to have their interest payments reduced by only 22$ per cent. The capital invested in bonds is not to be interfered with, and the reduction in interest will entail no sacrifice, because of the fall in the cost of living, and the consequent increased purchasing power of money. The payment received by the old-age and invalid pensioner barely suffices for the mere necessaries of life. The prices of bread, butter and meat have not been reduced to any extent. Because of the drought conditions that have prevailed in Australia, and the consequent need to re-stock land, the price of meat in the country districts is to-day no cheaper than it was six or eight months ago. Therefore, so far as the pensioner is concerned, his payment of £1 has very little greater purchasing power to-day than it had some time ago. The Government’s’ proposals will place the greater burden of sacrifice upon the lower paid people. All this sacrifice has to he made, so we are told, because of the necessity for balancing budgets. I remind honorable members that during the last two years of the regime of the Bruce-Page Government, the budget was not balanced, yet there was no demand by the banking institutions that that should be done. At that time there was prosperity and an abundance of production, yet the Government of the day did not seize the opportunity to make provision for lean years. It borrowed extravagantly, with no thought for the future. There was no great cry then for the balancing of budgets. Why is it that immediately a Labour Government takes office the cry goes out throughout the land that budgets must be balanced. Not only must our budgets be balanced, but the balancing of them must be mad* possible chiefly by the sacrifices of the lower paid and less prosperous classes in the community. Last year this Government made available £1,000,000 for the relief of unemployment. ‘ and afterwards allowed £850,000 of that money to be diverted to South Australia to assist in balancing the public accounts of that State. This money was intended to provide extra work at Christmas time, so that our unemployed could add something to the meagre necessaries of life on which they were trying to live. But even then the budget of South Australia was not . balanced.
Not so very long ago economists and others informed the Arbitration Court chat if wages were reduced by 10 per cent, the rehabilitation of the finances of Australia would be assured. The reduction was granted ; but to-day still further and heavier reductions are being sought. Again, it is the rank and file of the people who have to bear the burden.
This party was given a mandate to increase, and not to reduce, pensions.
– Would the honorable member vote for an increase of pensions under present circumstances?
– I would not. That is u very different thing from resisting a reduction of pensions. Those honorable members on this side of the chamber who are opposing the reduction of pensions are adhering to the policy on which they were elected.
I shall vigorously resist the proposal for a reduction from 5s. 6d. to 4s. 6d. per week in the pension payable to the inmates of benevolent institutions. This money is used by these old people for the purchase of comforts not provided by the institutions in which they live. Many of these people are pioneers, who spent their working lives in trying to improve conditions in this country, and it is deplorable that the Government should seek to reduce their income by ls. a week. A number of honorable members have referred to the injustice of reducing war pensions. In my opinion there is even greater justification for a protest against the reduction of the particular pension to which I have referred. I am glad that steps were taken to mitigate the hardship which these proposals, in their original form, would have placed upon returned soldiers; but consideration should also be given to the plight of our old-age and invalid pensioners.
Before even considering the reduction of pensions^ the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers should have made heavy reductions in some of the high salaries that are being paid in Australia. People in receipt of these high salaries could suffer a reduction of 50 per cent, with less inconvenience than our pensioners could suffer a reduction of 6d. The conference should also have devised ways and means of eliminating duplication in the Public Service. The office of State Agent-General should be abolished, and the High Commissioner for the Commonwealth made responsible for the discharge of the duties which the Agents-General are at present performing. Sufficient money could be saved by the elimination of duplication of parliaments, and by other means to render unnecessary the reduction of old-age, invalid and war pensions. 1 believe that there would have been no necessity to consider the possibility of default while investigations of this kind were being made.
In replying this afternoon to an honorable member who referred to the extravagant expenditure on Parliaments in Australia, the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) quoted the cost of the Commonwealth Parliament, but neglected to mention how much it cost to maintain the Parliaments of the six States. Doubtless the conference deliberately overlooked this point, because practically all the members of it were confirmed “ State righters “. Last year it was elicited in reply to a question in this House that it cost the Commonwealth Government £37,806 to maintain the office of Governor-General. An expenditure of this nature is incurred in all the States for the maintenance of the office of Governor. There are possibilities of great economies in this direction which should have been explored before the reduction of pensions was even suggested.
The fact of the matter is that the bankers have been able to dictate the terms under which they will assist the Government of this country. The Commonwealth Government had the power some time ago to force the banks to accept its terms, but it neglected to use it. The
Prime Minister has shown clearly that the banks have now gained the upper hand, for in the course of a recent speech he said -
With the adoption by governments of a plan to balance their budgets in a given period, the banks have undertaken to release credits for sound industrial enterprise.
Surely no one will contend that the banks should have the right to dictate the policy of the various governments of Australia. It is well known that for many months the banks have sought to bring about a reduction of old-age, invalid, and “war pensions, and also a reduction in the expenditure on various social services, and now they have succeeded in achieving their objective. It appears to me that this Government has surrendered to the banks. One can imagine how honorable members opposite are gloating over the fact that the Government has been forced to do certain things that they themselves desired, but would never have had the courage to do.
– In view of the criticism to which the Government has been subjected, I feel it proper briefly to defend its policy. Honorable members should give some consideration to the position in which the Labour movement, the caucus, and the Government have been put. Some time ago the Government introduced a bill for the issue of fiduciary notes to the extent of £18,000,000.
– And it then ran away from that proposal.
– The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) ran away from it by deserting his party. [Quorum formed.] The Fiduciary Notes Bill was defeated in another place.
– And a good job, too.
– The Government proposed to use £6,000,000 worth of the fiduciary notes to assist the farmers, and the remaining £12,000,000 to assist the unemployed. But it was prevented from doing so. It recognized, of course, that fiduciary notes could not be issued to an unlimited extent, but honorable members opposite argued that even the issue of a controlled fiduciary currency would ruin the country. This view had not unanimous support, even from our economists. Professor Giblin, for instance, published a number of articles in the Melbourne Herald some time ago in which he pointed out that the release of credits by means of a controlled fiduciary note issue would afford quick relief to the country. But the Government was not permitted to give effect to this policy.
We then had to face the possibility of default. The Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) and the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) both assured us that unless steps were taken speedily to rectify our financial position, default was inevitable. I accepted the judgment of these honorable gentleman, because they were in a better position than any one else in the community to form one. A conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers was then held. I remind honorable members that a Labour Prime Minister and two Labour Premiers were included in the personnel of the conference. There is a vast difference between the proposals of the present Opposition and those of the Government. Even when the Cabinet met the conference, and the scheme for financial rehabilitation was submitted by the economists, no provision was made for the reduction of the interest of bondholders. When the members of the Ministry, as Labour men, suggested that such a reduction was just as necessary as the proposed reduction of wages, we were met by the argument that once real wages were reduced 10 per cent., the interest rate would automatically fall. We felt that we could not accept that assurance, and the big work that the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) and the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) accomplished at the conference was in inducing it to agree to a reduction of the interest on the internal debt of £556,000,000. Those on the Government side who are honestly, I believe, opposed to the present proposals have utterly failed to submit an alternative scheme. To-morrow, if this plan had not been brought forward, Australia would have had to default, and a large number of employees would have suffered immediately. The workers on the breadline are always the first to feel the effects of a great financial disaster.
The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey), in an attack upon the Ministry, said that although six weeks ago this Government was anathema to the newspapers of Australia, to-day the press was behind it. He said that eulogies of the Ministry were to be read in every section of the press; but that is not a correct statement. The Sydney Bulletin, which is recognized in some quarters as an authority on financial matters, does not support the Government in its present proposals, while the Melbourne Argus and the Sydney Morning Herald are by no means friendly to it. The only daily newspaper in Australia that has consistently stood behind the Government, even when the honorable member for Bourke was against it, is the Melbourne Age. Where was that honorable member six weeks a.go, or, for that matter, ever since this Government has been in power? I make bold to say that from November, 1929, to the present time, although he was a member of the Cabinet for fifteen months, he has been opposed to the Government, and was fighting his colleagues behind their backs. As a member he did no constructive work to assist the Cabinet.
– He is not the only member of whom that could be said.
– What about the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) ?
– It is said that the Devil will quote scripture for his own purposes. The honorable member for Bourke, in suggesting that by these proposals the Government was crucifying the Labour party, said that he wondered what Christ would have thought if He had been crucified by His friends - if the nails had been driven into His hands and feet, and if the sponge of vinegar had been held to His lips by His friends. Let me say that, since the time of Andrew Fisher, there has never been a Labour Government in power which the honorable member has not attempted to stab in the back. Even when he was a member of the Cabinet, he was in collusion with those who were fighting the Government. If ever a man should be loyal to his party, it is when he is a member of a cabinet. If he cannot agree with his colleagues in the Ministry, he should do as the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Holloway) did, and resign. But for months the honorable member for Bourke did all he could to destroy this Government, while at the same time he was drawing the pay of a cabinet minister. If that is not treachery, I should like to know what is.
– Why attack him behind his back?
– I do not propose to alter what I intended to say because the honorable member has chosen to make a speech and then leave the chamber.
The Government has invited honorable members to submit alternative proposals. The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) has again drawn attention to the manner in which the Guernsey market scheme was financed at the beginning of last century, but 1 remind the House that the Island of Guernsey is not much larger than a large Australian farm. The people there wanted a market, and as they had not sufficient money in circulation to finance it, they issued certain credit notes which were circulated in place of money. There was nothing remarkable in that. In the north-west of Western Australia, cheques similarly pass from hand to hand. The people of Guernsey believed that their market proposition was a sound one, and within a few years the whole debt on the scheme was wiped off from the proceeds by way of rent. Any group of men in this chamber, without going to a bank, could, by means of their own cheques, carry out a similar scheme. No analogy can be drawn between the Guernsey experiment and the present proposals of the honorable member for Adelaide to meet a national emergency. While the Treasurer believes that a fiduciary currency could be issued with safety in Australia, if properly controlled, to the extent of, say, £18,000,000, the honorable member for Adelaide would have us believe that credit could be advanced to a far greater extent than that. I disagree with that entirely. I do not pretend to be a financier, but I do not think that such a scheme would be safe. The countries which have adopted » policy of unlimited currency inflation have all collapsed with their credit. The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) quoted the building of the transcontinental railway as an example of what could be done from the profits of the note issue. He must know, however, that when that railway was built the Commonwealth Bank had just come into existence, and was replacing with its notes the currency of the private banks. Even at that time, those Commonwealth notes were described as “ Fisher’s flimsies “ by the tories, of whom the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) is a direct descendant. They pretended to believe that blue ruin would be brought to this country if authority to issue banknotes were handed over to the Commonwealth Bank. The tories at that time were seeking to protect the interests of the private banks, which had a great deal of political pull then as now. It must be clear, however, that if the finances of the country are in the hands of private banks when another depression strikes the country, we shall find ourselves in the same difficulty as Ave are now.
None of us likes having to support the proposal for a reduction of old-age pensions.” It needs some courage for a Labour man to go into his electorate, and tell oldage pensioners that he voted to reduce their pensions. Probably every honorable member in this House has assisted hundreds of old people to obtain their pensions, and. the task we have now before us is a very distasteful one. It is a matter, however, of performing the task, or of letting Australia down, and I am prepared to take my courage in my hands, and tell the people the truth. We have only to study the cost of living figures to realize that 17s. 6d. is the present equivalent of £1 a few years ago.
– That is what Judge Dethridge said when he reduced the basie wage.
– Judge Dethridge may have said that; but no one can dispute the figures I have quoted. The honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey) said that if we had lopped the tall poppies it might not have been necessary to demand these sacrifices of other sections of the community. I remind honorable members that all these schemes have been trotted out before. When the present proposal was before the party, and was carried by 26 votes to 13, there was a long discussion, and every man had an opportunity to speak. The arguments which have been advanced in this chamber against the scheme were advanced then, and were demolished by the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), who showed that if public servants now in receipt of £1,000 a year and more were paid nothing at all, the amount saved would add only jj-d. to every old-age pension.
– If we sacked everybody in the Public Service who receives more than £500 a year it would save only £800,000 a year.
– That is so. I do not believe for a moment that the Government’s plan will provide work for a great many men, but it has prevented Australia from becoming bankrupt. I believe that it is better for this Governto carry out the plan - and it is more distasteful to this Government than it would be to another - than to hand over the task to the party opposite, which would make a welter of it. This Government can at least watch over the interests of the workers to some extent.
– Let George do it!
– The honorable member for Warringah is just as hungry for office as is the next- man. Prosperity will not be restored to Australia until there is an improvement in the price of our primary products. Times will continue to be bad until the price of wool and wheat goes up. I am old enough to remember the great slump of 1892 and 1893, which had many features in common with the present depression. If any honorable members feel that they are called upon to vote against a reduction of old-age pensions, they are, I suppose, entitled to do so; but if for that reason they vote against the Government’s plan, they should remember that they are voting against a reduction in interest which will mean a saving of £2,500,000 to the primary producers. Private debt in the Commonwealth is probably £150;000,000 ; the reduction of 4s. 6d. in the £1 in the interest on private mortgages will amount to about £2,500,000 or more a year, and this is the equivalent of lifting a capital load off the shoulders of the private producers and traders of about £35,000,000.
– Is that interest reduction provided for in the hill?
– No ; but it is part of the general scheme. Moreover, we propose to reduce to 4 per cent. the interest on our internal indebtedness, amounting to £556,000,000, and thereby save £6,500,000 a year. Honorable members should remember this when they declare themselves to be advanced Labourites, who will not agree to the reduction of old-age pensions or salaries. Some honorable members say that they will agree to the reduction of old-age pensions and widows’ pensions, but will not agree to the reduction of soldiers’ pensions. At this time, however, there is need for sacrifice all round. Under no circumstances should Australia be allowed to default. That would almost immediately involve the throwing out of work of another 100,000 persons. The Government is determined to go on with this plan. It intends to face up to the position, and is prepared to fight out the issue before the people if necessary.
Question - That the bill be now read a second time - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Norman Makin.)
Majority .. ..28
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and committed pro forma.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Norman Makin) laid on the table his warrant nominating the Honorable Charles Ernest Culley to act in the place of the Honorable Joseph Benedict Chifley as Temporary Chairman of Committees when requested so to do by the Chairman of Committees.
House adjourned at 10.57 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 8 July 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1931/19310708_reps_12_130/>.