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Friday, 17 August 1906

Mr BROWN (CANOBOLAS, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Free-trade Party received from him a good deal of support in connexion with some of the Tariff items.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And a good deal of opposition.

Mr BROWN - The honorable member for Perth, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, together with Senator Pearce - all representatives of Western Australia - were supporters of the free-trade cause, whilst the honorable member for Grey and other members of the Labour Party who hailed from South Australia also stood "by it. There were no free-traders among the members of the Labour Party returned by Tasmania and Victoria, but altogether about eleven members of that party were fighting with the Opposition for Tariff reform.

Mr Tudor - The honorable member has failed to mention Senator Dawson, who also stood bv the free-trade cause.

Mr BROWN - That is so.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - How does the honorable member classify the honorable member for Darling?

Mr BROWN - The honorable member for Darling is a fiscal atheist. When the Free-trade Party entered this House it had only one supporter from this State - the then honorable member for Wannoro, Mr. Winter Cooke. But in the meantime there has been a great change. The members I have already mentioned are, I understand, to be cast overboard, and thrown to the Conservative sharks, to be devoured, if possible, at the coming elections.. On the other hand, the Free-trade Party has been strengthened by the addition of the very respected member for Oxley, and also, I understand, by Senator Drake, who was a member of the' Government who introduced the Tariff. In Western Australia there is no change; but in the case of South Australia the party has lost the honorable member for Grey ; whereas in Tasmania they have secured Sir Philip Fysh and, probably, Senator Dobson, on important questions. But the great change in the party has occurred in the case of Victoria, where their gains include the honorabje member for Gippsland, who was co-equal in the Premiership a little while ago, and was previously responsible for the stock tax in Victoria imposed against the rest of Australia. With the honorable member for Gippsland there are the honorable member for Corinella, the right honorable member for Balaclava, and the honorable member for Echuca. After the passing of the Tariff , the honorable member for Kooyong, the honorable member for Grampians, and the then honorable member for Flinders, Mr. Groom, passed over to the free-trade, or Opposition, side ; and after the elections the honorable member for Corangamite and the honorable member for Wannon joined the party,, along with Senator Fraser.

Mr Spence - Where does the honorable member place the honorable member for Mernda ?

Mr BROWN - I do not know; but I think the honorable member for Mernda is rather friendly 'disposed towards the Government, and I give him the benefit of the doubt. The changes which I have indicated are responsible, I presume, for the alteration in name from the " Free-trade Party " to the " Anti-Socialist," or " Antilabour Party."

Mr Johnson - Not anti-labour, but anti-Socialist.

Mr BROWN - When the Labour Party first entered politics, they had to combat much prejudice, and some scare was caused by the entrance into the political arena of men new to politics, who claimed to represent labour. That prejudice, to some extent, has disappeared, and the Free-trade, or Anti-Socialist, Party find it necessary to find for the Labour Party some new appellation likely to engender mistrust, and justify, from their point of view, an appeal to the prejudice of the public. Hence the Labour Party are now described as the " Socialist Party."

Mr Johnson - Do the Labour P arty object ?

Mr BROWN - In time, however, the term " Socialist " will cease to act as a bogy, and no doubt will disappear, to give place to some other.

Motion (by Mr. Deakin) agreed to -

That the honorable member for Coolgardie be appointed temporary Chairman.

Mr BROWN - I simply desire to express an opinion as to what is responsible for the changes I have indicated, and intimate what may be expected from them in the future.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - One fact responsible for them is the honorable member's leech-like sticking to the present Government.

Mr BROWN - The honorable member for Parramatta was prepared to stick closer than a leech to the members of the present Government when they were united with his party.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I stuck to my leader, while the honorable member ran away from him.

Mr BROWN - All that can be hoped for in the future, in the matter of reduced taxation, is a kind of guerilla warfare. That which was once a solidj and, to a certain extent, democratic party, in defence of the rights of the community in the matter of taxation has ceased to exist as such; and in the Opposition there is now a large protectionist element, which, I understand, will be an important factor in the counsels of the party on this side, not only for the present, but in the future. I can only regret that what otherwise might have been an important and successful fight in the interests of fair taxation has been indefinitely postponed, and that, when the question is raised again, it can only be by other leaders and other men.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member has not shown that he would do anything to put a protectionist Government out of office.

Mr BROWN - The protectionists on the Opposition side of the House are fighting, not against the Government, but against democratic reform - the question of freetrade or protection is only secondary. Those protectionists, rightly or wrongly, consider that they can fight with greater advantage under the wing of the honorable member for Parramatta than under the wing, of the honorable member who leads the present Government. There are a number of items in the Budget which vitally affect the future welfare of the Commonwealth, and which call for comment; but, so far as most of these are concerned, I shall reserve what I have to say until the Estimates come before us in detail. In passing, I recognise, with others who have spoken, the importance of dealing with the States' debts. I think, however, that we should go slowly in the matter- that we should be very sure of our ground, and obtain all the* information possible - before we commit the Commonwealth to any particular scheme. I regret that the States Premiers appear to be disposed to discuss this matter in a somewhat provincial manner. They seem to desire to unload all their burdens on the Commonwealth, without giving the Commonwealth Government any adequate means to meet the additional responsibilities they would cast upon them, and without being prepared to hand over reasonable assets to cover their obligations. If the Commonwealth Government will take over the States debts, pay the interest on them the best way they can, will seek no curtailment of the rights of the States with respect to future borrowing, and will not demand States railways or lands as security for the debts taken over, most of the States Governments will readily accept that as a solution of the difficulty. That, however, would not be fair to the Commonwealth, or to the persons from whom the money has been borrowed. I think that the better plan to adopt in dealing with the matter would be to appoint an expert Committee to investigate the whole question' and report to Parliament. In the meantime, the Federal Government should keep in close touch with the States Governments, and should try to make them understand the position, in order that some common agreement might be arrived at. It would not be well for us to move in these matters without the consent of the States Governments, and I do not think that it is desirable that we should take any step which might be considered hostile to them. It must not be forgotten, however, that in the near future the position will be very much! more serious than it is at present. The honorable member for Mernda, in the able paper which he has submitted, quotes from the Victorian Year Book a statement to the effect that within the next eleven years States debts to the amount of £78.000,000 will mature, and that within the next thirty years no less than £200,000,000 of the £236,000,000 representing the total indebtedness of the States will have to be provided for. In the floating of their various loans in the past the States Governments have been to some extent their own masters. They have been able to choose the time at which a loan should be floated, and to withdraw proposals from an unfavorable market. But it is a difficulty of the question with which we are called upon to deal that provision must be made for the various loans as they mature. Those who control the money market are well aware of what are likely to be the conditions of the market for some considerable time to come, and will make their preparations to meet, them. There is no philanthrophy about money transactions, and it is probable that the money market will be found to be so controlled that the States will find some difficulty in meeting their loan obligations as. they fall due. In the circumstances, it would be wise on the part of the States and Federal Governments to endeavour to anticipate possible unfavorable conditions of the money market. That contingency is one which might very well engage the attention of both Governments. In connexion, with the proposal for the establishment of penny postage, I should like to say that I do not join with those who consider that it is likely to involve loss to the Commonwealth. I am unable to see the financial difficulties which apparently loom so largely in the view of some of my brother members. The experience of penny postage in Canada, New Zealand, and, in a lesser degree, in Victoria, does not bear out these gloomy forebodings. I believe that in a very short time penny postage, if established as proposed, instead of involving a loss of revenue, will be found to pay for itself, and probably, as in the case of Canada, to return a handsome profit, which will enable us to provide increased postal and telegraphic facilities, and, possibly, also some contribution to the fund necessary to enable us to give effect to a Commonwealth old-age pensions scheme. I shall leave the matter for further consideration at a later stage. One matter which has been touched upon to some extent bv other honorable members is the necessity for increasing the population of the different States. Some move in this direction has recently been made by the States Governments, and a vote appears on the Estimates to enable the Federal Government to render some assistance. Population is a vital factor in the progress of the Commonwealth. We cannot afford to see our population diminish, or even to remain stationary. We must use every legitimate means to increase it. It is unreasonable for us to suppose that we shall be permitted to continue to hold empty a continent with such great latent possibilities. I have not said all 'I should like to say on this subject, and, perhaps, as we have now reached the usual time for adjournment, the Prime Minister might not object to report progress.

Mr Deakin - The honorable member can finish his general remarks now, and can deal with details later on in the Estimates.

Mr BROWN - I believe that other honorable members desire to speak on the Budget - I wish to deal more fully with the subject of immigration, and should like to be able to continue my remarks when the Committee next sits.

Mr Deakin - The honorable member has twenty minutes yet in which he can speak.

Mr BROWN - As the Prime Minister in all probability must then report progress, and allow an adjournment, he might as well do so now.

Mr Deakin - Very well, then we shall have to sit late next week.

Mr BROWN - I shall be very glad to do so.

Progress reported.

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