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Wednesday, 12 May 1920

Mr HIGGS (Capricornia) .This proposal undoubtedly involves a principleof very great importance. I can well understand that there may be a considerable section of the community who will argue that it is not right to use Commonwealth funds to assist even a returned soldier to start in business in opposition to them. Firms and companies which have been established by individuals who have put into them their own hard-earned savings--

Mr Mathews - Saved while the soldiers were fighting.

Mr HIGGS - Let us put aside for a moment war-time considerations, and deal with this as a peace proposal. How are companies formed ? A man discovers what he conceives to be a good business enterprise, and invites others to join with him in putting capital into it. That capital consists either of the money of the men themselves, or money borrowed from a financial institution on the security of capital which people have saved. These men put their money into a saw-milling or boot-manufacturing establishment, or, it may be, into a co-operative society such as that of which the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Robert Cook) is a director. We, in Parliament, now come along with a proposal to use Government funds in helping returned soldiers, to the extent of £1 for £1, to start in opposition to them. Firms like Messrs. Bedggood and Company, the Marshall Shoe Company, a sawmilling company at Maryborough, or other companies who have been in business for some time, and have built up a big industry despite, in many cases, severe competition, might object to the proposal. Such political economists might reasonably be expected to look at the matter from the point of view which I have just put. I at first saw some reason for opposing this measure on the ground that it was not fair to use Government money, for which these thrifty people, with others, are responsible, as a means of making advances to other groups of persons to compete with them, and probably to put them out of business.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - No efficient manufacturing company would worry about an inefficient co-operative enterprise.

Mr HIGGS - Isthe honorable member right in concluding that the cooperative enterprises of returned soldiers would be inefficient? In some cases 'they may, and probably will, be inefficient, and a considerable amount of money may be lost. On the other hand, many of them will be efficient. Last night I introduced to the Assistant Minister for Defence (Sir Granville Ryrie) a deputation of four returned soldiers, who did not want money from the Government, but stated that . they purposed establishing a co-operative Anzac tweed manufacturing business, and desired permission to obtain from the Government mills every week 300 lbs. of yarn, for which they were willing to pay the highest price for cash. Having seen these men, and heard what they had to say, and having seen the samples of tweeds which they produced, I was quite satisfied that they would not be inefficient.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - That is not the type of men to whom I referred.

Mr HIGGS - But the honorable member did not qualify his remarks .

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I shall do so.

Mr HIGGS - The honorable member said that a successful manufacturing company would not be afraid of inefficient cooperative companies. Many efficient bodies of soldiers drawn from the 250,000 men who have: returned will be prepared to put up, either by way of war gratuity bonds or cash, £1 for every £1 advanced by the Government to establish them in co-operative enterprises, and they will prove very effective competitors with those already established in business. While we must all sympathize with those who by their energy, thrift, business capacity, and experience have established businesses in; competition with one another, and who object to Government money being expended in starting enterprises in opposition to them, the production of wealth in Australia at the present time is so limited that there is plenty of room for competition. If we may judge from the stories we hear as to the inability to place orders for bricks, cement, tiles, and galvanized iron for the building trade, there must be ample room for others to set up for ' themselves. As in the building trade, so in the clothing and other industries.

The Assistant Minister for Defence said last night that it might be found difficult to supply the ' four returned soldiers with 300 lbs. of yarn each week, because the Commonwealth Woollen Mills were working at their highest pressure to- supply the demand for cloth for returned soldiers. The fact that there is such a limited production in Australia is fair reason for this proposal. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has said, " We want more work and more production, of wealth in this country to enable us to bear our interest burdens and to pay our debts." I agree with him. I agree also with, the Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) that the financial position is extremely serious . The right honorable gentleman took that as his text when dealing with the proposal to make advances on the £1 for £1 basis to returned soldiers to assist them in co-operative enterprises. The country is not going to suffer from advances that are made to such enterprises, because, despite the suggestion of the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), they will be largely reproductive. I agree with the honorable member, however, that there will be cases of inefficient men starting co-operative enterprises, and losing their own as well as the Government's money.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - There are also legitimate opportunities for returned soldiers to embark on co-operative enterprises.

Mr HIGGS - When this scheme has been working for some time, there will probably be the same proportion of failures among returned soldiers that there is at present in the general business community, as shown by the annual bankruptcy records for the Commonwealth. I would remind the Acting Treasurer that what is causing trouble with respect to our finances is that we are advancing - and we have to do so, perhaps: - about £36,000 every week by way of sustenance money. Something like £2,000,000 is now being spent each year to maintain returned soldiers who are out of employment. That, as an honorable member interjects, is, largely, a dead loss. The £250,000 proposed to be devoted to this scheme will be put into more or less efficient production, of wealth, or its effective distribution, which is the same tiling.

Let us contrast this proposed expenditure of £250,000 with the £2,000,000 per annum expended as sustenance money, and which is going to men who deserve it as well as to some who do not. The fact that some who are receiving sustenance should not get it is a phase of repatriation upon which public men do not like to dwell, but the percentage of ne'erdowells is exceedingly small.

I should like the Minister in charge of the Bill to agree to the Government proposal being dealt with clause by clause, so that we may have an opportunity to amend it in detail. The honorable gentleman himself has agreed to amend the sub-clause providing for an advance of £150. He says that it is not intended that the total advance made in any case shall be only £150.

Mr Poynton - I am prepared so> to amend it that that will be the amount in respect of each original shareholder. We are also prepared to increase the aggregate expenditure for which our alternative scheme provides from £250,000 to £500,000.

Mr HIGGS - Then I should like the Minister to ask the . Chairman to put seriatim in paragraph 7 the Government's alternative clause, which is divided into nine sub-clauses.

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