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Wednesday, 14 July 1920

Mr J H, CATTS (COOK, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am speaking for the people. The honorable member talks about the inconvenience that might be caused to vested interests if they were obliged to supply these statistics. My answer is that their inconvenience is as nothing to the trials and tribulations caused to the masses of the people who at {present cannot get enough to eat. My honorable friend and his party show concern for the convenience of the vested interests. My concern is for the welfare of the masses. There in a nutshell is crystallized the vital difference between the policy of Labour and anti-Labour.

The Commonwealth Government have unlimited power over exports. They may demand a return of all contracts and prices in regard to every pound of exportable produce.

Mr. RobertCook. ; They may put an embargo on exports.

Mr J H CATTS - The Government have the power to prevent the export of any commodity out of this country.

Mr. RobertCook. ; Yes, and that is what you would do.

Mr J H CATTS - I shall not allow the honorable member to put words into my mouth.

Mr. RobertCook. ; You are putting them into your own mouth.

Mr J H CATTS - I am not. But if I find that the production, of this country is being sold to, foreigners below the price charged to the people of Australia, I shall do my best to prevent- the export of any such goods, until our own people are provided for at a reasonable price. At the same time, I have always insisted upon the price for home consumption being based on fair living.- conditionsto the primary producers.

Mr. RobertCook. ; When have goods been exported at half the price charged, to Australian consumers?

Mr J H CATTS - If I had the time I could give the honorable member all the information he is asking for. But I invite him to look up his own statistics. The present Leader of the Labour party supplied many returns, when Minister for Customs, giving instances of that of which I" complain.

The Commonwealth Government have unlimited power over imports from foreign countries. If it is believed that an importer is robbing the people of Australia, the Government, under their present powers, may demand the production- of his invoices, and' they could publish in the Commonwealth Gazette the- prices charged. If this were done it would be one of the most effective steps that could be taken to prevent profiteering, because, when the people realize how they are being robbed, they will insist upon definite action being taken to stop it.

Again, the Government have unlimited power over taxation. They could tax all profits above a certain margin, and by the publication of the names' of those who are making excessive profits, could discourage the practice.

The Government, further, have complete power over the Post Office. Here, indeed, is a huge machine- that could be used to protect the great masses, of the people from the rapacious trader. ' If a commercial firm were found to be acting unfairly towards the people, the Postal authorities could prevent the firm's letters from being, delivered through the post; and' they could disconnect -the firm's telephone. And why should not these public conveniences be refused to any firm found guilty of using, them for the purpose of exploiting the people? No trader could stand up against Government action properly directed to prevent profiteering,.

I.   intend now to quote some admissions by the Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) during, the course of my remarks on the- occasion I have referred to. They will be found' on page 3632 of Hansard, 2nd June, 1915. I was contending that the Government were not taking adequate steps to meet, the situation, and had pointed out that the War Precautions Act and the powers relating to exports, imports, census and statistics, and the general law of necessity could be effectively used, when- the Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) interjected - \

The honorable member, after making these strong statements, ought to go a> little further. All these Governments have' the power' to do what they like so far as foodstuffs, are concerned.

I had been , pointing out that both the State and Federal Parliaments had the power, and the right honorable gentleman, by his interjection, confirmed my statement. The 1915 reference continues. -

Mr J" H Catts - Does the right, honorable member- include the Federal Government -.. in that statement?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Yes. .

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - No doubt, the power of prohibition of' exports is complete.

Mr J H CATTS - The Minister cannot get into that little. hole now. He cannot restrict his- statement in 1915 to mean exports only.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I do not want to get into any hole.

Mr J H CATTS - The right honorable gentleman did not then place any limitation upon his reference to the power of Parliament. When I was dealing with! the export power on 2nd June, 1915, I said: -

Then we have the export power. The power to prohibit export is almost unlimited in its scope. It has, already been exercised, I am glad to say, in regard to wheat/ flour, and sugar, and. the export of meat, except for the Imperial Government, is also prohibited. The Imperial Government, however, has asked only for meat from the surplus stock of Australia.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Incidentally to the exercise of this power, the Government would have to ascertain the food stocks of the Commonwealth,

I had been contending that we had power over census and statistics to gather this information, and went on to refer to the export power, and the right honorable gentleman interjected that incidental to the exercise of this one power alone the Government could demand information about the food stocks of the Commonwealth. And so it ' is clear that he knows perfectly well now, as he did then, that this Government have the power; that under a number of different headings there is power, which, multiplied in an Act of Parliament, gives them the necessary machinery to control profiteering and prices. But the Commonwealth Government have so faT refused to exercise this power. That is what is wrong about the whole business. They- have the "War Pre cautions Act, and have used it for the purpose of controlling the price of some goods. Only a few weeks ago the Government issued a proclamation on a Saturday, fixing the price of cheese; but apparently some of their supporters complained, and on the following Monday the Government withdrew the proclamation. It is clear, then, that if they can issue a proclamation fixing the price of one article, they can do so with regard to any commodity. They have this power. Not one of them dare deny it. They sit facing me to-day. I challenge any honorable member to deny that the Government have this power at the present moment.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - They have the power, and they are exercising it in all the States, but prices are going up all the while.

Mr J H CATTS - The right honorable gentleman is now contradicting his leader. He says the Government have the power, and are exercising it in all the States. All I can say is that one wants a microscope to find out what they are doing.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Judge Rolin is at it every day.

Mr J H CATTS - The right honorable gentleman, being caught with an admission, is very astute in endeavouring to slip from. Commonwealth action- to State action in New South Wales. I am dealing with the power of the Commonwealth Parliament, and I again challenge any honorable member to deny that the Government have power to deal with this problem. The right honorable gentleman says it is being dealt with.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I am merely suggesting that the power to deal with it does not necessarily insure its being done.

Mr J H CATTS - When I seek to pin him down to a definite statement, he tells us that Judge Rolin, in the State of New South Wales, is dealing with the problem. But that has nothing to do with my argument.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - You are not pinning me down at all.

Mr J H CATTS - I am afraid it would be impossible to do that. I am confident, however, that this matter will be noted, and that those who read the debates of this Parliament will realize that the Minister is merely endeavouring to create the impression outside that the Parliament has not the power, though he will not say so in 80 many direct words.

In regard to the old-age pensioners, I have sent several letters, requisitions, and petitions to the Prime Minister, asking that the pensions be increased commensurate with the increase in the cost of living. In every instance I have met with a refusal, but I shall continue to urge the Government to increase the pensions, at any rate, to an amount equivalent to the purchasing power of the pension in the past. I take no notice of the argument that there is not sufficient money to pay the increased sum. There is plenty available if only the right means are taken to obtain it. What the Government really mean is that they are not prepared to tackle the vested interests in order to find the money.

I enter my emphatic protest against the wages paid in the Commonwealth Service. Although the New South Wales Board of Trade has fixed ?3 17s. per week as the lowest living wage, the Commonwealth Government are paying in New South Wales a living wage of ?3 10s., or 7s. below what is declared to be the living v/age in New South Wales. I protest against this. A Government which cannot provide a living wage for its employeesis, to use the terms of .this resolution, demanding of censure for its general incapacity.

This motion charges the Government with (&) its failure to keep its pledges to the returned soldiers and their dependants. When the War Gratuity Bill was before us on the 25th March, I produced the pledges given, and gave detailed evidence and references that could not be contradicted, showing that the Government refused to honour it. I moved an amendment, but every Nationalist voted against it. Here is a statement by the Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook), reported in the Daily Telegraph of 4th November, 1919, just before the elections -

This year the Government expected to spend on his behalf from £40,000.000 to £45,000,000 - for repatriation, land purchase, war service homes, and other things, £15,000,000; for war pensions, £5,450,000; and for gratuities a sum of from £20,000,000 to £25,000,000. ' Our total war obligations for the year 1919-20, including gratuities would amount to close on £100,000,000.

Mark you, " this year " the Government expect to spend from £20,000,000 to £25,000,000 on gratuities.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - That is up to 30th June next.

Mr J H CATTS - I accept that definition. But again the Prime Minister tells a different tale. On the motion, speaking of the total repatriation appropriations, he said -

For 1920-21 the total amount provided is £37,475,000.

The Government are issuing a piece of paper, very little of which can be negotiated. Is that "spending money"? Were these terms used to mislead the soldier electors into the belief that they were going to get cash for their bonds? What is going on to-day with regard to those bonds is an absolute scandal. Traders in Sydney, who have the authority of the Government, are selling goods, say, furniture, and demanding that the soldier shall spend with them £60 out of every £100. In needy cases the furniture so supplied is taken to the auction rooms and sold for a song.

If interest-bearing bonds are issued they cannot be made inalienable or non-negotiable - they will be negotiated in some shape or form; and the proper thing is for the Government to carry out their election pledges. The Labour party said that if they were returned to power cash would be paid, and under the influence of public opinion, and the driving force of the Labour movement, the Government also promised to pay cash. The bonds should be paid in a negotiable instrument that can be openly traded at ite face value, instead of being secretly and covertly negotiated at an enormous discount. This policy really means that, with the connivance of the Government, the soldiers are thus robbed by the profiteers of the country of 10s. in the £1 of their gratuity. The Government is issuing depreciated currency in its worst form.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - That is an infamous thing to say - *' the connivance of the Government." The honorable member knows that is not true.

Mr J H CATTS - It is true, in the sense in which I use the words.

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