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Thursday, 15 July 1920

Mr McWILLIAMS (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - I recognise exactly where we stand. A member of my party said to me one day - " Make no mistake about this. Outside the door of this party room the Country party has no friends on either side." And we have not. So far as concerns the interests which we are here to represent, we have nothing to thank either side for.

Mr J H Catts - Did not the same vote return you to this Parliament as to the previous Parliament?

Mr McWILLIAMS - There is sucha thing as the secrecy of the ballot box. If it is any consolation to the honorable member, I can tell him that some of the men. who supported me strongly at former elections opposed me last time.

Mr J H Catts - Very few.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I have always opposed the operations of rings, trusts, and combines, and at the last election I had to fight the full strength of this influence in Hobart and in my own division.

But on a censure motion I realize that there is no half way house. A man must either vote for, or against, a Government; he must express either his. confidence or his want of confidence in the Government. When we realize that the interests which we stand for have not the representation in this. House that they are entitled to by their numbers outside or their importance, we must regret the tone of the debate. The speech made by the honorable member who preceded me was. a direct attack upon my party, and everything for which my party stands. I am compelled, therefore, to ask myself if the honorable member who tabled the motion really desired the Country party to vote for it or not. If honorable members opposite desire the support of the Country party, then all I can say is that they have a most extraordinary manner of dissembling their love, because the speeches give one the impression that their object is to compel members of the Country party to vote against the motion.

Mr Tudor - No one can say that I said a word against the Country party.

Mr McWILLIAMS - But nothing that has been said will make me swerve in the faintest degree from the course I have marked out for myself. It matters not to me if every member on this side and every member on the other side, makes a direct attack on those interests which we are chiefly here to. represent, along with all other interests in Australia.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) -Consider the motion on its merits.

Mr McWILLIAMS - There is something a great deal more to be considered than the motion on its merits. I am prepared to accept the responsibility attaching to the vote which I shall give, as must every man who votes on the motion'. We have to accept the full and complete responsibility for attempting either to put the Government out of office, or for expressing our confidence in the Government. There are times when a man can take a middle course, but when it comes to a direct issue, and the fate of a Government is concerned, no member can salve his conscience, but must take, as I say, full and complete responsibility for either removing the Government from office or keeping it in office, thus accepting the policy that it has followed up to the present. That is the position as I recognise it, and that is the attitude which I intend to take.

May I say herethat the party of which I have the honour to be leader, do not approach these matters upon cast-iron principles. Every member of this party is absolutely free to vote on this or any other motion exactly as his conscience dictates, and the same liberty which I allow to every follower, every follower allows to every other member of the party. The policy which some of our friends opposite have enunciated is diametrically opposed to every principle which the Country party upholds . The policy enunciated, especially by the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Catts), is that there must be a regulation of prices of primary production so far as the consumer is affected. Overseas, producers mayget as much as they can for their produce, but here the prices must be regulated to suittheconsumer.

Mr J H Catts - Based on a fair deal to the producer.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Who is to make the fair deal?

Mr J H Catts - We can devise machinery.

Mr McWILLIAMS - The time has gone by whenevery worker in the cities and suburbs is to be permitted to have the full and fairresults of his labour, while the producer in the country is to be sweated - sweated in order to give cheapnessto men to whom cheapness is a curse in every other direction. I have no sympathy with a man who demandsthe highest price he can get for his labour, and, at the same time, is prepared to sweat the producer in the case of everything he has to sell. Iwarn honorable members on both sides that the man on the land is at last beginning to realize that an eight-hours system in the city is no good to him if he himself has to work ten ortwelve hours and have his products sweated to the cheapest possible price. Cheapness has been a god so far as primary production is concerned, but anathema to people engaged in every other industry. The day for that, however, is gone. The primary producers, in the matters to which I am referring, have in the past had nothing to thank nay honorable friends opposite for, and, perhaps, have had quite as little to thank honorable members on this side for. We accent the position in which we find' ourselves, and are prepared to plough our own furrow. So far as I am concerned, I shall vote for any motion - I care not where it comes from - so long as I believe in it. As honorable members know, I have - perhaps to my own personal disadvantage - taken that attitude on more than one occasion in this House. I have never been able to accept, and certainly I have never preached, that a motion is right if it comes from one man, and wrong if it comes from another; a principle is either right or it is wrong.

While I am entirely opposed to the attitude and speeches of honorable members opposite, I recognise that the Government have absolutely failed in dealing with the finances of the country. I am reiterating what I have said over and over again in this House for years past when I say that we are indulging in a carnival of financial folly -indulging in a "boom, borrow, and burst " policy. Never in the history of Australiahave the finances of the country been in the same deplorable condition. I am not going to exaggerate, because at a time like this one hasto be exceedingly cautious in what one says ; but it iseverywhere known that representatives of the Victorian Government went Home and failed to borrow ; that the representative of the Queensland Government is Home to-day and failing to borrow; and that the representative of the Federal Government went Home, and certainly did notsucceed. As to the merits of the case in which the exTreasurer (Mr. Watt) is involved, I am not going to say one word. The attitude I took at the time of that gentleman's resignation is, I think, the right one. We have heard one side of the case, and before I pass a verdict I intend to hear the case of the man who is absent. I am not prepared to debate that question at all. When the ex-Treasurer comeshome, and makes his statement, willbe thetime for me, atany rate, to give my verdict. We cansay, however, that the representatives of the Government who have been Home during the last month or two endeavouring to borrow, have all failed. It is not too much to say that the finances of the Commonwealth to-day are in a decidedly unsatisfactory condition, and that there' is not the slightest attempt to curtail expenditure.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Will the honorable gentleman complete his statement and say that we are borrowing at lower rates than the British Government are able to do at Home now?

Mr MCWILLIAMS - We are borrowing money in Australia, and we cannot give this country too much credit for the way in which the financial people here have met their responsibilities in this connexion. If anybody had said ten years ago that the Government could borrow £150,000,000 in Australia at the current rate of interest, the statement, would have been ridiculed. Nevertheless that has been done. We know, too, that the investment of the moneys which have been loaned to the Government had a very serious effect in preventing expenditure where it was urgently needed, especially in the direction of establishing newindustries and in opening up the country in the way that it ought to be opened up.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - That also is a matter of universal application.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - Of all the Dominions, Australia alone made no effort during the war period to secure a reduction in her ordinary expenditure. During the war we were willing to overlook expenditure which at any other time would have been subjected to searching criticism, because we recognised that we were sailing on an uncharted sea. Instead, therefore, of our' ordinary expenditure being curtailed', year by year it has been steadily increased. But we have now reached a time when, no matter who may be charged with the government of the Commonwealth, there must be either a substantial increase in our revenue or a decided reduction in our expenditure or both. May I point out some of the directions in which our revenue is being increased to the serious detriment of industries in the various States? Only the day before yesterday I received from the Treasurer of Tasmania (Sir Elliott Lewis) figures which show that, between the 25th March last and the date I have mentioned, the sum of £5,500 has been paid in duty upon machinery that has been imported into that State by the Hydro-Electric Company - a State enterprise - although that machinery could not be obtained in Australia. But the most serious aspect of the matter is that, during the next twelve or eighteen months, the duty payable upon materials to be imported will be approximately £125,000. I ask honorable members to seriously consider the position. Here is a State which, at very considerable expenditure and risk, has undertaken the generation of electric power, which is being availed of by all parts of Australia. Refractory ores from Broken Hill are being treated by this State enterprise in Tasmania. The works which have been established there will permit of the treatment of millions of tons of low-grade refractory ores which it was quite ' impossible to treat previously. Yet, that State will be called upon to pay to the Commonwealth, by way of duty alone, the sum of £140,000 or £150,000. Further, this money will have to be borrowed by the State of Tasmania. I care not what views honorable members may bold as to the desirableness of encouraging local industries-

Mr Nicholls - What class of machinery is being installed at the works in Tasmania ?

Mr MCWILLIAMS - Hydro-electric. Every effort has been made to secure in Australia every pound's worth of machinery that can be obtained here. When, therefore, Tasmania is asked to pay £150,000 by way of duty in two years upon a State enterprise which will enable thousands of men to be employed in the reduction of refractory ores, it is time that the matter was considered seriously.

Mr Charlton - The New South Wales Government have exactly the same complaint in regard to that machinery.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - Did not Tasmania get £900,000 from the. Commonwealth?

Mr MCWILLIAMS - What is the use of giving that State £90,000 a year, if we take £100,000 a year out of its exchequer? Surely it is not the function of the Commonwealth to bleed a State enterprise in this way. I do not intend to occupy the time of the House any longer. I have endeavoured to make my position absolutely clear. I am not asked to say whether I support the proposals which have been brought forward, or whether I indorse, or disapprove of, the speeches which may be made from either side of the chamber. The vote which I shall cast when the division upon this motion is taken will be one in regard to which . I shall have to accept the responsibility either of indorsing the policy of the Government, and of continuing them in office, or of displacing them. I am prepared to face that position, and to accept my full and complete responsibility.

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