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Tuesday, 4 May 1920

Mr ANSTEY (Bourke) .- It is most interesting to discover that all the Government supporters, whilst in sympathy with the proposition put forward by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), yet adduce a multiplicity of reasons for not supporting the thing in which they believe. That is the outstanding feature of the debate to-day. We have before us an amendment moved by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) upon a proposition by the honorable member for Echuca that the Government should give financial assistance to a system of co-operatidn amongst soldiers. I make no professions of sympathy with the soldiers in any shape or form, but, warrior as I am, returned from the Front with all the scars of war upon me - I could say more than could those who have kept far away from the battle line - express my sympathy with them also. But that matter is not under discussion. We are dealing with a proposal that co-operative enterprises for soldiers shall be assisted by the Government. This has been violently opposed by the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Poynton) on the ground that it is the most violent' piece of socialistic legislation ever presented to this House. So that no credit or discredit attaches to honorable members on this side; the whole of it belongs to the representative of Echuca, who comes from a farming district to present to us the foundational principles of Socialism. For this reformation, we may be thankful. Finally, a transformation took place, and the Minister accepted what he said was dangerous to this country. It was not that he had become converted to the principle that earlier had been abhorrent to him, but because he found that the numbers were against him. Again, we see how numbers count, and how they dictate principles. The amendment having been carried here, it was sent to another place, and, on the recommendation of a representative of the Government, was turned down. Four grounds for its rejection were given : Firstly, that we could not give to ten men> what was not- being given to one, and therefore we should not give anything to anybody; secondly, that we should not settle any soldiers, because it would unsettle them; thirdly, that we should not support any enterprise, or, indeed, anything at all, because it would probably be unsuccessful. Of course, if it would be unsuccessful, we could not do anything; and therefore the whole scheme of repatriation should go by the board. We should not give a man anything, because if we gave him, say, a horse and cart to carry on his industry, he might be unsuccessful, and the money would be wasted. So why do anything? Fourthly, that, after the principle had been condemned and rejected, if it had any excellence in it at all, the proposal should be embodied in another Bill. Thus the rejected amendment comes back to this Chamber, where the Government moves that it be set aside. Then comes the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) with another amendment, which is a whittling down of the original proposition. The honorable member for Echuca proposed that, instead of soldiers individually receiving ,£500 each for their repatriation, to buy a horse or cart, or start in a business in which they might fail, or to settle on the land, we should be prepared to treat with any number of them as a collective body, and give to them as such a lump sum of money representing the total of what each man could have claimed as an individual. What does it matter, if we are dealing with half-a-dozen individuals, whether the Government advance £500 to each of them or to say to them as a body : "If you care to engage in any industry or occupation together, the money that should be advanced to you individually will be advanced to you as a corporation? But the Government say "No" to that proposal. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) then proposes that if the Government will not go the whole hog, they shall have power to at . least subsidize .any cooperative enterprise to the extent of £1 for £1 of the amount subscribed by those engaged in it. What do the Government do then? Do they say that they cannot accept that amendment, and the principle it embodies? Do they denounce it for the four reasons for which another place rejected the major proposition? Not at all. Yet there is no argument against the major proposition which is not equally applicable to the amendment moved by the honorable member for Capricornia. If the original scheme might involve failures, might unsettle men, and might be a waste of funds, and if the principle which the Minister for Repatriation denounced in another place should be embodied in another Bill, on what grounds do the Government consent to embodying in this measure the same principle which they said was an absurdity and would lead to failure? Driven by the force of numbers, and seeing the possibility of whittling away the amendment moved by the honorable member for Echuca, they accept the alternative put forward by the honorable member for Capricornia, and propose to embody in the Bill the same principles and the same objections as led to the rejection of the original amendment. And if the amendment be insisted upon, it ia quite true, as has been said by the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lister), that the Minister will have absolute power to say whether these advances shall or shall not be made. That argument being valid, what harm can the amendment do? Honorable members opposite say that they know the Minister; that they can rely upon him; and that, holding the opinion he does, he would not give any assistance in the terms of this amendment. If that be true, not only the amendment, but the original proposition, may be accepted with safety, for the reason that the Minister might make it a dead letter. What, then, is the objection, to the amendment?

Mr Lister - Why incorporate this new clause in the Bill, and cause disappointment and delay to the men who put in applications?

Mr ANSTEY -Who will create the disappointment and delay but . the nian who has the administration of the Act? As has already been said, if this proposal is incorporated in the Bill, and a Minister dares to repudiate the .decision of Par- liament, the responsibility will rest on him; Parliament at least will have done its duty. We have heard much about the fear of non-success under a clause such as that proposed, but if we had judged all repatriation cases on their merits and asked whether each was likely to be a success or not, repatriation would not have been advanced at all, for probably thousands would have been judged on the possibility of non-success." The money for repatriation has been advanced, I take it, on the ground of justice. Hundreds of men have, unfortunately, been unsuccessful in their enterprises, but, on the other band, thousands have been successful. It may be quite true .that under this new clause a few would be unsuccessful, but some good would be achieved, at least, if a certain section of the men were successful, and a number of industries established throughout the country, with the workers, as proprietors and shareholders, bound to do part of the work and to carry part of the responsibility. That, in itself, would demonstrate to every man that he was not merely a workman drawing wages paid by another, but that he could exist by his own enterprise, activity, and thrift. It would, I repeat, be good work to develop a class of men capable of carrying on their own businesses.

However, the whole position is largely farcical. Even if it were likely, as has been said, that the Minister for Repatriation would make the clause a dead letter, I cannot see why the Government cannot accept it now. There is no stronger condemnation of the Government than its present absurd position. I could have understood the Government saying that they could not accept the proposal, but it is surely ignominious on their part, after saying they could not accept one proposal, to accept another, the same in principle, and against which the same arguments can be applied. I propose to vote for the retention of the new clause agreed to before on the motion of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), but I do this with no ill feeling against the Government. At this crisis, in view of the advent of a very important immigrant whom we are to presently welcome to our shores, I do not wish to offend or embarrass the. Government in any way; the idea of a double dissolution is disconcertingeven to me.. But, surely, in spite of the coming of His Royal Highness ..the

Prince of Wales, and the risk of the loss of their salaried positions, the Government might, for one night at least, stand on some ground of principle - not permanently, but just for a little while. An honorable member near me suggests that the principle of L.S.D. is the most important one; and I cannot ask the Government to cast such a principle to the winds. I would not do so myself; but, at the same time, I think the Government, in their own interest, ought to take some solid stand. If the Government objected to the clause and the amendment on the self-same grounds - 'that, if either were carried into effect, it would unsettle people, would be likely to prove unsatisfactory, and that this is not the measure in which to embody a principle of this character - any man could understand the position, though he might not agree with them. For my part, I shall vote for the new clause, but without any great hope that the Government will be overthrown.

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