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Thursday, 10 June 1915

Senator STEWART (Queensland) .- On the vote for the External Affairs Department, I would like the Minister to give some information with regard to the Northern Territory and its development. We have heard a great deal about the richness of its soil and the excellence of its climate; but apparently nothing has yet been done towards promoting settlement. I see that the sum of £2,000 has been spent in the United States of America on advertising, I take it, the Territory. Probably the Minister can tell us how many settlers have come from the United States of America and taken up land there. There is a suggestion which I would like to put before the Committee. I do not know whether the Government would be willing to accept it or not; at any rate, I think it is worth while to ventilate it. In Australia the cost of living is a burning question at the present moment, more especially the price of meat. My own opinion is that if the production of our meat supplies is left in the hands of private enterprise, the price of meat in Australia within a few years will be on a level with the European price. I think it is inevitable, unless something is done, that that will be the result. I see no reason why the people of Australia should be compelled to pay the European price. We produce large numbers of sheep and cattle, and, I believe, could produce millions more than we do. My suggestion is that the Commonwealth Government should establish sheep and cattle stations in the Northern Territory. I know that until the passing of tine referenda proposals the Government cannot enter the market as a dealer in meat ; hut I hope that within a comparatively short period the people of Australia will agree to such an alteration of the Constitution as will enable the Government to do everything and anything in that direction. ' I consider that we have a most excellent opportunity in the Northern Territory. If I am to take the reports of persons who have been over that country, portions of it are well suited to the production, not only of sheep, cattle, and horses, but also of wheat. It seems to me that the solution of the cost of living question lies largely in this direction. If the Commonwealth Government will establish large sheep and cattle stations, and, when they get the power, go into the meat business just as large companies have done, establishing abattoirs, freezing works, and all that kind of thing; and if the State Governments will also take up the question, seeing that five of the States are now in the hands of the Labour party, I do not see any reason why this project should not be gone into right away. Of course, we cannot say anything in regard to the State Governments, but if the Common wealth Government were to set an example and establish big stations in the Northern Territory, in the course of a few years they would be able to provide a very considerable portion of the meat required for the people of Australia. That meat could be sold to the people at the cost of production, and there would be no trouble with regard to the fixing of prices.

Senator Bakhap - It would not be very cheap meat, for all that.

Senator STEWART - That may be very true. I do not know whether the honorable senator is prophesying rightly or not. All that I say is that the people of Australia would be on sound ground. They would be producing their own meat, and it would be sold to them at the cost of production. The present position seems to me to be extremely unsatisfactory.

Senator Bakhap - At the cost of Government production !

Senator STEWART - The honorable senator can give his views on this question when I am finished. A great number of the people in Australia seem to have arrived at the conclusion that they can seise the product of the people who live on the soil, and pay them any price they please for it. I do not doubt for a moment that the Governments in Australia have that power, but they have no moral right to do anything of the kind. Men do not go into meat-raising or wheatraising, or any other industry for fun, but to make a living out of it. Hitherto the price of meat, wheat, and various other commodities have been fixed for Australian producers by the price ruling in the markets of the world. If hitherto we have left these producers exposed to the competition of other countries, and many of them cheap labour countries, it has been morally wrong, however legally it may be right, to refuse to allow producers to get the present benefit of the markets of the world. With regard to meat, the price is undoubtedly going higher and higher, and the reason is obvious. The number of persons who arc producing meat, indeed, all kinds of food, not only in Australia, but in almost every other country in the world, is becoming less and less, while the number of those who are consuming meat and wheat is growing greater and greater everywhere. Take the United States of America. Some time ago that country was an exporter of meat, but now it is an importer. Take some of the eastern countries where the use of meat as an article of food aitherto has been almost unknown. These people are getting the taste for meat now, and it is entering very largely into their diet In Australia, half of our people live in cities, while the other half live in the bush. Yet the people in the cities think that these should go out on the soil of the country to produce food and to procure them cheap living.___

Senator Bakhap - Hear, hear ! The honorable senator is addressing himself to a very pertinent matter.

Senator STEWART - The thing cannot be done. If you have more people eating food than you have producing food undoubtedly the price of food must go up and up. Here "we have a very delicate problem. It may seem to some persons very easy to fix prices and all that kind of thing. But if the prices do not suit the producer, what happens? He ceases to produce. Instead of having this Board and that Board, and fighting elections on the cost of living question, why not launch out and grow our own food; sell it, retail it, do everything in connexion with it? There is not any reason that I know of why there should not be a butcher's shop in every street in every town and township in the Commonwealth. And until we reach that point something could be done.

Senator Bakhap - You would want a lot of tan yards to tan the hides.

Senator STEWART - Certainly we would want tan yards, boot factories, and a great number of things. The vista it opens up before me is immense. I see great possibilities.

Senator Millen - Do you propose to travel down the whole length of it this afternoon ?

Senator STEWART - No, I spare the honorable senator that. Until the system ' could be completely established the meat might be sold to wholesalers at a certain price, and the rate to be charged by the retailers might be fixed by some authority established by the Commonwealth. In that way, I think the people of Australia would be able to get their meat at a very much more reasonable price than they are likely to get it otherwise.

Senator Bakhap - What would they work at to cam the money to buy the meat with?

Senator STEWART - What do they work at now?

Senator Bakhap - All Government jobs?

Senator STEWART - The honorable senator is putting to me what seems to him to be a conundrum. Why not Government jobs? Could not the Federal Government sell meat, wheat, and every other commodity which is produced here to buyers outside of the Commonwealth much more easily than people who conduct private enterprise can do? I do not propose, in the meantime, to interfere with private enterprise. I would say to the cattle and sheep-owners, "Go ahead, produce meat, mutton, wool, and everything else you can, and sell wherever you can get the best price." We would not interfere with their operations. All that I ask the Government to do in the meantime is to produce the meat for the people of this country. So far as I can see, that is the only solution of the dear meat question. Senator Bakhap appears to think that the' cost of production would be extremely high. I agree with him that probably there might be some difficulties, in that connexion, but surely they would not be insurmountable. As we got further and further into a condition of collective production, I think that the" cost under that system would become less and less. The continual struggles between capital and labour in the past have produced a class of capitalists and a 'class of workmen who each try all the time to get the better of the other. The capitalist wants to get as much work out of his workmen for as little money as he can pay, and the workers, on the other hand, conserves his labour as much as possible. He gets as much wages as he can for the minimum of work. That is the object of both parties in the industrial arena to-day. But under a system of collective production, there would be no hostility of that character; everybody connected with an industry would, in time, feel impelled to do his or her very best for the industry, realizing that thereby he wasdoing, not only the best for himself, but the . best for his country. That,, as Senator Bakhap can see, is a matter of evolution. I do not say it can, or will, be done all at once; but it is* desirable that, having a unique opportunity - and I know of no other country with equal opportunities in this direction - the Government should take advantage of it. The objection may be raised that our fate is trembling in the balance ; but the war will not last for ever, and after it is over the old war between Capital and Labour will rage as fiercely as hitherto. Whether this country is owned by Germany or Britain, that war will continue. It was going on in Germany before the present conflict broke out, and it will go on in Germany after the present conflict is forgotten. Within a comparatively short period the war, with all its results, will be out of men's minds, and the old problems of life will insist upon solution. I, therefore, see no reason for staying our hand in this or any other direction. I ask the Government to give the matter their serious consideration. In this direction, I believe, lies the only solution of the dear food question; and if the Commonwealth Government lead the way, I am sure some of the State Governments will follow their example, and probably the whole of them will do so.

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