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Thursday, 18 February 1932

Dr EARLE PAGE - That would be determined by a properly constituted tribunal in accordance with evidence. The basic wage affects the welfare of every being in the community, and should be decided by a body independent of this Parliament and able to function without fear of political consequences; the basic wage should not be a political pawn, or a bait to lure the workers at election time. The present financial position in New South Wales cannot be corrected until the existing industrial anomalies are rectified. 1 suppose that80 per cent. of the costs of the iron and steel industry at Newcastle, Port Kembla and Lithgow, are determined by the State industrial laws, because the basic wage in that State is higher than in other parts of the Commonwealth, and that State is the seat of our basic industries. Is it just that every industry throughout Australia which draws its raw material from New South Wales, should be penalized by the industrial conditions in that State?

A cardinal feature of the joint policy is the subdivision of New South Wales, and I emphasize the effect which such a policy would have on the future credit of Australia. The results of the recent federal election prove that if a general election were held in New South Wales at the present time, the Lang Government would be overwhelmingly defeated. The votes cast for the Senate candidates show that the majority of electors are opposed to Mr. Lang in the proportion of approximately seven to four. If they had the opportunity to express their views they would declare emphati- cally that he should be deposed because of the policy of default which he initiated last year". Although subsequently he repented and went on bauds and knees to the Loan Council, he now, being again, temporarily embarrassed, repudiates his debts, and casts disgrace not only on Now South Wales, but on Australia generally. His policy is repugnant to the country people especially, and they desire the earliest possible opportunity to express their will regarding it.

Mr Beasley - About two years hence.

Dr EARLE PAGE - -Mr. .Langhas a majority in. the Legislative Assembly, and probably in normal circumstances the people of New South Wales will have to wait, two years before they can put out of office a man whom they no longer trust. During that period Australia will remain in the shadow of his shame, and New South Wales, which has two-fifths of the population of Australia, yields a similar proportion of federal taxation, and is the most developed State in the Commonwealth, will suffer dishonour and degradation, and drift steadily to insolvency and default. That is a prospect which nobody with any patriotic pride can regard with equanimity. The country people of New South Wales have made up their- minds not only to get rid of Mr. Lang, but to prevent the possibility that he or anybody with a similar standard of public morality may again bring shame upon them. If, as was recommended unanimously by the Constitution Commission, the Constitution were amended to provide that, instead of the State Parliament having the right to declare for or against a subdivision of the State the people in any portion of it could petition the Commonwealth Parliament to take a referendum of all the electors of that State or of the area affected on the issue, feeling is so high that the people of Riverina, New England and Western New South Wales, would declare for immediate separation. Such a decision would enable Mr. Lang to be brought before his masters at a much earlier date than in ordinary * circumstances will be possible. If only in order to get rid immediately of this menace to Australian credit this Parliament should take steps at once to initiate this constitutional reform. The Lang regime from 1925 to 1927 is well remembered by members in this House; although he was returned with a handsome majority, he disintegrated his own party, dismissed twelve of his Ministers, and remained in office for only two years. Yet, so short is the memory of the people generally that he was again returned to power three years later. If investors in Australia and abroad knew that in future Mr. Lang could control only a much smaller portion of Australia than he does at the present time, and that the Constitution provided machinery by which those who desire to remain honorable and meet their obligations could gain control of their own affairs, as the people of Riverina and New England desire to do, the credit of Australia generally would be much higher than it is to-day. The bondholder would realize that there was no likelihood of a recurrence of the present default on the same scale. The evil effect of default in the eyes of investors is very much greater when ' committed by a rich and populous State than it would be if committed by Tasmania, which has less population, revenue, and resources. Constitutional reform along the lines I have indicated should be introduced at the earliest moment, and I urge the Attorney-General, before he leaves for Europe, to draft the necessary amendments so that they may be dealt with in his absence. The Disarmament Conference has already started, and a further delay of three or four weeks will not greatly disadvantage the Commonwealth; therefore, if necessary, the Attorney-General should delay his departure so that the amendments of the Constitution may be submitted to Parliament at the earliest practicable moment.

Mr Forde - Why did not the right honorable member keep the Government of which he was a member up to scratch?

Dr EARLE PAGE - That Government appointed a royal commission to investigate thoroughly the operation of the Constitution. It proposed that all political parties should be represented on the commission, but so petty were the members of the Labour party in this Parliament that they refused to appoint a representative. Fortunately the outside Labour organizations took a broader view, and appointed Messrs. MacNamara and Puffy to represent the Labour party. The amendment of the Constitution should be above party considerations.

The revision of the tariff would have an. immediate effect on production costs. Such a revision was part of the joint policy, and having regard to the speeches of the present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) during the last two years, and his careful analysis of the schedules introduced by the previous Government, we should be able to introduce immediately drastic amendments to carry out the policy which he and other members supporting _ the Government enunciated at great length. I have previously suggested that we might start by giving a substantial preference to Great Britain in respect of machinery imports; that would be an appropriate response to the magnanimous gesture which the Mother Country has already made towards the Commonwealth.. It will be remembered that Great Britain has abolished the duties on dominion dairy produce, fruits, and wines,, while imposing them on ali foreign importations, and is prepared to give the dominions certain quotas for wheat and other commodities. If we responded with a similar generous gesture we should place the proceedings at Ottawa on the highest possible plane. We do not desire the Ottawa Conference to develop into an auction sale of preferences between one part of the Empire and another, but we desire the framing of a comprehensive scheme of mutual assistance within the Empire,, so that we may develop trade among the various units of the Empire, increase markets, cheapen costs of production, and provide additional work for our people, with the result that eventually the Empire as a whole and its individual units will be enabled to attack foreign markets with better chances of success than before. That should be done immediately. So f ar as Australia is concerned, the Ottawa. Conference is probably the most momentous Imperial convention that will take place within the next half century. 1" urge the Commonwealth to appoint an Australian economic committee, consisting not only of parliamentarians representing all parties, but also of represen- tatives of our different industries. That committee would prepare a case for presentation to the Ottawa Conference. It is impossible to estimate the importance of such a body, particularly in connexion with our primary industries. I have always held that our outlook regarding Imperial trade should be above party. We may lose heavily by adverse decisions against us at Ottawa if we fail to take that wise action. The appointment of such a committee would enable us to achieve results of far-reaching significance to Australia, to the Empire, and possibly to 'the destiny of the world, particularly its future peace. I trust that at the earliest possible moment the Government will proceed with what it was elected to do. If it does, I promise it the wholehearted support of the Country party.

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