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Wednesday, 14 July 1920

Mr SPEAKER - What was that statement ?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The statement that the Government was conniving at the roguery going on in connexion with the cashing of the bonds.

Mr SPEAKER - I did not catch that reference, my " attention being momentarily otherwise engaged, but if it were used I must ask the honorable member for Cook (Mr. J. H. Catts) to withdraw it.

Mr J H CATTS - I did not put the point im that way at all.

Mr SPEAKER - If the honorable member said something that the Minister regards as offensive it must be withdrawn.

Mr J H CATTS - I do not wish to say anything personally offensive; I am not referring to the members of the Government in any personal way, but referring to the policy of the Government, which, I say, amounts to what I stated. If it is allowed to go on under the system that has been introduced it does amount to the connivance of the Government. There is only one way to stop this, and I moved to give effect to the remedy, but the Nationalists voted against my proposal.

The Government promised that young farmerswho went to the war would,on their return, he provided with homes on the land.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Some 17,000 of them have been settled.

Mr J H CATTS - Where?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - In Australia.

Mr J H CATTS - I am not going to either contradict or accept that statement, because I have seen inflated figures put forward. The Government are not doing this business themselves, but have handed it over to some one else; and totally incorrect figures have been issued by some of the Departments. Two cases have come under my notice, one of a military medallist who left his farm in the hands of a partner to go to the war, and when he returned, after an absence of three years, found his whole business had "gone to smoke." That man has been two years begging the State Government to provide him with a living area, and he cannot get it. There is a published statement by the State Government that 16,000 men in New South Wales, who hold qualifying certificates to go on the land, cannot get homes for themselves.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Where do you. get your figures from?

Mr J H CATTS - From the New South Wales Government.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - If that be so, they gave you one set of figures, and us another.

Mr J H CATTS - If the right honorable gentleman will next week produce the statement supplied him, I undertake to produce the statement supplied to me.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I have given you the latest figures supplied to us, namely, that 17,000 men have already been settled.

Mr J H CATTS - That is another point; what I say is that in New South Wales there are 16,000 qualified men who cannot get homes for themselves, and the State Government say that the Commonwealth Government will not provide the means.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - That is not true.

Mr SPEAKER - I must ask the Minister to withdraw the statement that what the honorable member says is not true.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I said nothing of the kind. I said that the statement alleged tobe made by the State Government was not true.

Mr SPEAKER - I apologize to the Minister if I misunderstood him. I understood him to say that the statement of the honorable member was untrue.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - That is not so.

Mr J H CATTS - I am not talking about the number of men who have been settled on the land. In New South Wales, about 4,000 have been settled; but we- have to remember that New South Wales represents about one-third of the population of the Commonwealth, so that 4,000 there means, approximately, 12,000 for the whole of the States'. I repeat, again, that there are 16,000 qualified returned soldiers who cannot get homes on the land.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - And I say, again,that those figures are totally at variance with the figures supplied to us.

Mr J H CATTS - I ask what number have been reported to the Government as being competent to go on the land, and as not yet provided with land.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I will give that information to-morrow.

Mr J H CATTS - The Minister says that what I say is at variance with the information supplied to him; but, apparently, he does not know the facts, for he is going to get them to-morrow.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I do know the figures; but I wish to check them.-

Mr J H CATTS - The Prime Minister, when dealing with this count in the censure motion, said that the matter was to be decided at a conference next Saturday.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Quite true.

Mr J H CATTS - If that is so, it cannot have yet been decided. I have not the slightest doubt about my figures. As a member of Parliament, and as a public man, I shall resist to the uttermost any proposal to bring a solitary manhere from any part of the world to take up land while these returnedsoldiers are kept without homes.

Mr Hill - There is plenty of Crown land available.

Mr J H CATTS - There is plenty of land of all sorts everywhere, but soldiers cannot get it. We have Crown lands, but the vested interests, whom honorable members opposite represent, have taken care when in control of the Government of the States, to acquire it on leases of forty or fifty years at peppercorn rents;

Mr Stewart - Is there no provision in the leases to allow of resumption?

Mr J H CATTS - Not without considerable notice.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - This settlement is costing £2,500 a man in New South Wales.

Mr J H CATTS - We are now told that this repatriation is costing this or that sum; but why did the Government not find out, before they made their promises, that they could not fulfil them? Our charge is that the Government promised, and is not honouring their promise. The Government do not say they are carrying out their undertaking, but are giving reasons for not doing so, and that is no answer to the charge.

The next charge against the Government is that of (c) failure to take steps to deal with the causes of industrial unrest. This unrest is caused by two phenomena - the high cost of living and unemployment. It has already been shown, and it is admitted, that the Government have done nothing to deal with the high cost of living; as to unemployment, the Government themselves are the greatest offenders. They are putting Government employees off work, and thus creating unemployment, as at Cockatoo Dock, Sydney, where large numbers of .men are out of work.

The Government refuse to go on with the building of - the .Federal Capital, which would . riot "only provide work, but create an asset that would return handsomely . on the expenditure. There are any number of private companies which would be very glad to take over the Federal Capital as a commercial proposition. At the present time, although the lands within the Federal area are let on short leases, which does not allow them to be put to their best use, they, are returning a profit. The development of the Federal Capital is a_ paying concern, and could be made so from the jump; yet the Government refuse to go on with the work, although the compact is nearly twenty years overdue. There are some honorable members on the Government side who have been vowing vengeance against the Government on this score. Amongst these are the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Austin Chapman) and a number of others, and they now have an opportunity of expressing their dissatisfaction with the Government for its "general incapacity" in this matter. However, as I have said over and over again in New South Wales, those members only express their dissatisfaction by their votes when there is no risk to the Government - never if there is any " business" in it. The Government know that the attitude of these gentlemen is only a bit of by-play; and it is certain that the very moment they assert themselves in regard to the Federal Capital, and show that they intend to take decisive steps by voting against the Government, the latter will render a hostile vote unnecessary and get to work very quickly. They will not risk being torn from the Treasury bench for the mere sake of declining to proceed with the erection of the Federal Capital.

The Prime Minister has already appointed a Royal Commission to deal with the question of industrial unrest, but only a few weeks ago he was compelled to admit that this body represents only so much blank cartridge, and that the Government can do nothing with its reT port.

The next count in the indictment of the Labour Opposition charges the Government with (d) failure to secure an adequate return to the Australian people for their wool and other primary products which have been sold overseas. In this connexion I do not propose to repeat the case against the Government 'which I put upon record in Hansard earlier in the session. My case dealing with the wool sales effected overseas will be found on page 305 of Hansard, and that dealing with the sales of wheat on page 341 of Hansard of the current session. In speaking upon those subjects I quoted statements made by Ministers in the British . House of Commons, and from other authoritative sources, with a view to proving that this country has been grossly robbed in the prices which it. has obtained for its primary products under sales effected by the Government. All the admissions which have since been made have served only to confirm my charge, including the statement of the Prime Minister on the 13th May last that, during the war, we had sold our wool to Great Britain and the Allied Powers at one-third of its value.

No doubt, when the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) returns to this country we shall get the full details of the dispute between himself and the Prime Minister, and shall thus secure further confirmation of the rotten state of affairs which has existed in regard to the sales of Australian produce.

On the 13th May last- as will be seen by reference to Hansard, page 2085-86 - the Prime Minister took up the role of a prophet. He said, in effect, "Just watch how the prices of Australian wool will tumble after 30th June next." He then went on to show that prices were coming down with a run as the result of an express arrangement to exploit the Australian producer. A few weeks later his prediction was verified. The prices of our wool came down with an awful crash to the serious loss of our primary producers. The Prime Minister himself told us that those prices were being manipulated. Where are the representatives of the Country party that they allow this kind of thing to go on? They do not even register a protest against it.

The next count in the indictment against Ministers charges them with (e) failure to make definite binding contracts for the sale of Australia's primary products. So far, these contracts have not been tabled. They have been asked for again and again, and their production has been refused. We can only conclude, therefore, that their production would not be to the advantage of the Government. Any attempt to do so would seriously embarrass the Government. What did the ex-Treasurer say prior to his departure for the Old Country? He said. " I am going to London to try and straighten out the threads of this wool bungle."

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - He did not say " bungle," did he?

Mr J H CATTS - Yes,he did.

Sir Granville Ryrie - I heard him say " tangle."

Mr J H CATTS - The Assistant Minister for Defence really confirms my reference. How can there be a " tangle'' if there are proper contracts governing the sales?

I now propose to say a word or two in regard to the cables between Mr. Hughes and Mr. Watt, an edited edition of which was produced in this Parliament.I wish toregister my emphatic protest against that editing, and against the presentation of a garbled statement to the Parliament and the people of this country.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Does the honorable member accuse his own Leader of putting forward a garbled statement?

Mr J H CATTS - I do not;but whatever the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) did, he did on his own responsibility. He acted according to his judgment; but I decline to be bound by his action, and I protest against the procedure adopted. We have been told that some things have transpired between representative men of this country which the people of Australia ought not to know. My own view is that nothing can possibly transpire in regard to the government of this country which the men and women of Australia, who elect this Parliament, are not entitled to know, I have not had an opportunity of seeing the original cables, but there are far-spreading rumours amongst public men generally accepted as well-founded as to what was contained in them, and these rumours can be effectually silenced only by the publication ofthe whole of those cables.

One of the stories current is that a particular cable contained a statement to the effect that if Australia did not pay £8,000,000 odd within a prescribed time she would be branded in the House of Commons and before the world as a defaulter.

Mr Jowett - Of course, the honorable member does not believe that ?

Mr J H CATTS - I believe it until I see a proper denial of it.

Mr Watkins - The statement was made here, and the Government did not deny it.

Mr J H CATTS - I did not see the statement, and I have not seen the cables. Moreover, I do not wish to see them if I am to close my mouth in regard to their contents. Seeing that 60,000 Australian soldiers gave their lives to help Great Britain during the recent war; that, according to the statement of the Prime Minister, our wool has been sold overseas at one-third of its value;that there is now a credit to Australia in London of £40,000,000, an amount which will be increased by the 30th June next to £175,000,000. I say that if the statement was made that, unless the Commonwealth paid a sum of £8,000,000 by a certain date, she would be branded as a defaulter, our people should know it. Perhaps it was this statement which had something to do with. the attitude taken up by the ex- Treasurer.

It is further alleged that, because of some pressure having been exerted on behalf of Australia in regard to the Japanese Treaty, Mr. Watt was compelled to report point for point to the Australian Government, and that he was not to be trusted on vital matters affecting the national well-being of this country. The very insinuation that is being industriously circulated against the honorable member for Balaclava demands that the whole of the cables shall be placed upon the table of this House. It is practically charged against him that, though an Australian bom, he regarded his obligations so lightly that he had practically to he put in chains and legirons, because of the fear that he would do something to prejudicially affect the vital interests of Australia.

What has transpired with regard to the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty should be made public property in this country. If I am in public life at any time any difficulty arises between Japan and our kinsmen in America, I shall be no party to any treaty or agreement that is likely to embroil Australia on the side of the coloured races of the East aKa nsf our kinsmen in America.

Mr Jowett - Of course, the honorable member knows that iB impossible.

Mr J H CATTS - I believe it is impossible, because an agreement that would do anything of that kind would not be worth the paper it is written on; hut if such an event should take place, I should be found going from one end of this country to the other, putting before the people what I believe to be the proper view, in order to prevent them from being entrapped into* any dispute, or from taking Bides against the people of America.

The statements in current circulation amongst parliamentarians, Commonwealth and State, as to the serious allegations in the cablegrams which passed between the Prime Minister and the ex-Treasurer demand, not merely a denial across the chamber, but the production of the messages in an unabridged condition, so that the people may know the truth. I have known the honorable member for Balaclava for a good many years. I cannot conceive of him doing an utterly foolish thing; and I cannot but believe that something we have not seen has had something to do. with his resignation.

The statement of the case put forward by the Prime Minister against his absent colleague was too strong, it went too far, it proved too much; it made the honorable member for Balaclava out as a babbling infant in swaddling clothes, or even a raving idiot. In the circumstances , I shall have very much doubt as to the facts until I hear the other side. In any case, I presume that the honorable member for Balaclava, as an Australian, is just as good a judge as is the Prime Minister, who is not an Australian, as to what ought to he published; and he asks for the publication of the whole of the cablegrams.

I am not concern ect whether honorable members of the Corner party vote against the Government or not. On this indictment, let them support the Government; let their constituents see what their attitude is. Let the so-called representatives of the primary producers explain to the real primary producers why they did not demand further knowledge about the sales of their products, and something more about the supposed contracts in regard to those sales. Then their constituents, and not those who sit in the Chamber, will be the persons to judge them.

The charges against the Government have been proved up to the hilt. Anything said in defence has been mere Billingsgate, or excuses or references to issues that are mere side-steppings. No real answer has been put up; nothing hae been said to indicate to the people of the country that the Government are not guilty of the whole of the charges. It only strengthens our case to say that our allegations are mere reiterations of what has been said previously. It shows that the charge of neglect, incapacity, and incompetence of the Government has been sheeted home against them time after time.

I am satisfied that when the people of

Australia read these charges, as they will appear in the official record of Hansard, and the case stated in support, they must come to the conclusion that the Labour party was entirely justified in the step it has taken.

It is due to the people of the country that the House should be divided upon this indictment of the Government, so that they may learn where honorable members stand in regard to the issues at stake.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Mahony) adjourned.

Motion (by Sir Joseph Cook) agreed to-

That the resumption of the debate be made an Order of the Day for to-morrow, and take precedence of all other business.

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