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Thursday, 15 July 1920

Mr LAZZARINI - I do not know why they voted for them. That, however, has nothing to do with the question.

Mr Wise - Does the honorable member think it has no bearing upon. the question ?

Mr LAZZARINI - I do. A laugh is very often the argument of an empty head. The reservations of which I have complained had not been made when this House was asked to vote on the Bill to amend the Constitution.

Mr Wise - They had" been made. The Bills as passed by the Parliament were put before the people.

Mr LAZZARINI - At that time all the reservations of which I complain had not been made, and the Prime Minister had not been touring the country for two or three weeks making conflicting statements on the subject.

I propose now to deal with the questions of industrial unrest and the high cost of living. I group these two subjects, under the one heading since they must go hand in hand. While the cost of living continues to increase, and the position of the wage-earner becomes worse and worse - while the burdens to be borne by him become heavier and heavier every day - industrial unrest must increase in volume. That cannot be denied. It is the experience of the world to-day. Prior to the phenomenal increase in the cost of living the worker was more contented, and industrial conditions were far better than they are at present. The great mass of the people, whether they are employed in offices, in factories or in country fields, depend for their living upon the wages they earn. I care not what Mr. Knibbs or any other authority may say; my own practical experience is such that it is useless to tell me that the cost of living has increased by only 60 per cent., and that wages at the same time have increased to the extent of 30 per cent, or 40 per cent. If wages have increased to the extent of 30 per cent, or 40 per cent - and we can measure the exact increase in wages - the cost of living has gone up by nearly 200 per cent. Week after week the wages brought home by the worker grow less and less capable of purchasing the bare necessities of ordinary civilized conditions of life. While that state of affairs prevails, and the Government do nothing to alter it, we must expect to have industrial unrest. In such circumstances the industrial upheaval will go on and on until finally it bursts forth into the inevitable revolution. As I have said before in this House, even a worm on the ground, when hungry, will fight. Will a man do less ? The Government may go on until Doomsday creating Wages Boards and Arbitration Courts. I have nothing to say against such tribunals, but while the Government allow them to determine the rates of wages to be paid, and at the same time permit the capitalistic class and the profiteers to go on raising the cost of living, such lop-sided economics must necessarily result in unrest and discontent, and I am afraid that they will result eventually in revolution in this and every other country.

I am not going to enter into a controversy to-day regarding the power of the Commonwealth Government to deal with profiteering. I have given much study to the problem, and followed the controversy relating to it long before I entered this House. I am not a lawyer, and am not going to give a legal opinion " off my own bat," but I have heard many opinions on the subject. The Prime Minister says, in effect, " It is useless to talk about this matter. I tell you that we have no power to deal with profiteering. I have spoken, and that is an end to the question." On any question of law, I would sooner have one opinion from the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) than 5,000 from the Prime Minister. The honorable member for West Sydney claims that the Parliament can deal with profiteering, and until his opinion is proved to be wrong I shall accept it. Having regard to their respective records as lawyers, I prefer the opinion of the honorable member to that of the Prime Minister. This Government has failed, and failed miserably, to deal with the problems of industrial unrest and the high cost of living. If they fail to deal with one they fail to deal with both, since the two must go hand in hand. If the Government make no attempt to discover the bed-rock causes - if they are content to deal only with effects and to go on talking about Arbitration Courts - the whole matter will ultimately betaken out of their hands and the problem solved for them by some one else.

Mr Laird Smith - How would the honorable member deal with it?

Mr LAZZARINI - We have told the Government how to deal with profiteering. If they will only bring down the cost of living and leave wages where they are we shall have the workers as contented as they were before the war. The honorable member for West Sydney has a reputation as a constitutional lawyer, and I accept his opinion as to the powers of the Government in preference to that of the Prime Minister, whose only reputation as a lawyer is one of failure in respect of practically every legal opinion given by him.

Another matter with which I propose to deal is the failure of the Government to carry out its pledge to our returned soldiers. I believe that, with the exception of a very few cases, the Government have failed dismally to fulfil their promises to the returned soldiers, and they have failed equally in their treatment of the repatriation problem from beginning to end. I shall give one or two cases. My opinion is based upon them, and hundreds more like them that I could produce. The Repatriation Department extended the privilege to returned men of receiving, after they were discharged, a £10 allowance for tools of trade, in order to enable them to make a start in their old avocations. Much of this sort of arrangement was done by regulation, and not much publicity was given to it. It was not like an Act of Parliament, such as the War Gratuity Act which was debated here for a week, the speeches being reported in the newspapers. These regulations, I understand, are part and parcel of the machinery of administration, and hence a large number of returned men never knew that the £10 allowance was available. I had a letter from two men yesterday, stating that when they found they were entitled to the allowance for tools, they applied for it; but the Minister for Repatriation informed them that he had made a regulation requiring them to apply within six months of their discharge, and that, as they had not applied within that time, they had forfeited their claim. To me, that sort of thing is an absolute scandal. When the regulation was made granting the £10 allowance, every man who went away to fight for his country was entitled to that allowance, amongst other things : I care not whether he was discharged two months or two years before he applied for it. If he was entitled to it six months ago, he is entitled to it to-day. A number of returned men did not apply for it, simply through ignorance. When some of them came back, they were not in good health, even if they were not wounded, and they wanted a rest. Many of them stayed for varying periods with different relatives, and the six months slipped by before they actually went back to work. Surely they were entitled to six months' holiday after what they went through; but the Repatriation Department has deliberately turned down these cases, one after the other, while those who were " in the know " drew the £10 allowance.

As regards war pensions, I have received a letter from Mrs. Pearce, of Yass-street, Young, who tells me that her son was reported missing in August, 1915, and payment of her military allowance ceased on the 5th January, 1916. Through ignorance of the pension provisions, and thinking that her son might still turn up, she did not apply for a pension until the 16th October, 1919. and it was granted from that date. She was afterwards told that she ought to have received the pension from the day the military allowance stopped, and of course she would have done so had she applied for it at once. Still, honorable members can imagine the mother hoping and praying that the son who was reported lost would turn up. She did not apply for the pension until later, and she was then told by the Pensions Department that as an act of grace they would give her six months of the back pay, and she got no more. Fancy the mother of an Australian soldier, as an act of grace, receiving only six months of pension money to which she should have been held to be entitled for at least eighteen months! The Repatriation Department, or the military authorities, whoever are responsible; ought to pay the full pension to that woman, and to every other woman similarly situated. That is the way some of the war expenditure, and some of our obligations for past services, are being evaded. The machinery of administration is being used to turn these cases down, in the hope, I suppose, that a little more money will be available for the manufacture of guns and military equipment' for some future war, in which others may be maimed and knocked out, and afterwards treated as many people are being treated to-day. A similar policy, for which the Government are wholly and solely responsible, is being pursued with regard to the old-age and invalid pensions. These should be liberalized.

I come now to the burning question with the Corner party - the position of the farmers. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) said that the farmers never received any consideration from this side of the House, and not much from the other side. I agree with him that they never got much from the Ministerial side, although they have supported that side for a very long time; but the farmers of Werriwa are quite satisfied that I represent them just as well and effectively as the honorable member for Franklin or any other member who sits in the Ministerial Corner, and that I understand their conditions and the disadvantages under which they labour just as well as any member of the Country party does. I understand that some of the members of the Country party have expressed some resentment against an agitation, for which we are supposed to be responsible, for the placing of an embargo on the export of wheat for the present. I wish to emphasize those words - " for the present." We are not so stupid as to want an embargo on wheat export for all time. There is a great deal of difference between an embargo for the present time and an embargo as a fixed policy. All the shire councillors and municipal councillors in my electorate, as the Prime Minister should know, for I have sent their letters on to him, have written to him, through me, urging the Commonwealth Government to prohibit any further exportation of wheat from Australia until they find out how they stand at the present time. Two-thirds of the members of those councils in my electorate are farmers.

Mr Laird Smith - Did those men sell their own wheat?

Mr LAZZARINI - I do not know whether they did or not; but there are not many small farmers who have any wheat, or any wheat scrip. The big farmers, and some of those wealthy mcn who sit with the Country party, may have hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of wheat scrip, for all I know; but the share fanner, and the small farmer, does not hold much of it, and is getting no benefit from any rise or profit that is being made out of it. The farmers of New South Wales, and, in fact, of the whole of Australia, are not opposed to an embargo on the export of wheat at the present moment, while the Government fail to make a statement to prove that we have sufficient wheat left here.

I have touched previously on the position of the primary producer. We have had a very serious drought, and I believe there is a scheme in progress to-day which will prove a great blessing in conserving water; but in the last two months sufficient water has fallen in the Commonwealth to have justified vigorous efforts at conservation. What was wanted was a Government big and bold enough to take on big undertakings while the drought was on. It is of no use to start to dam the waters now that they have rolled away to the ocean. If the present Government had been bold enough to undertake big construction works for the benefit of the primary producers, I could understand the primaryproducers sticking to them when a motion of censure was being moved upon them. I, for one, would not have opposed such a policy.

Mr Gregory - Good work is being done on the Murray.

Mr LAZZARINI - That is so; but how long has it taken ? The Murray does not represent the whole of Australia. I want that work on the Murray to continue, but little weirs could be dotted throughout every State in the Commonwealth, at not too much expense, and water conserved everywhere, instead of in one particular area.

Mr Laird Smith - Do not you think the State Governments could do that?

Mr LAZZARINI - The State Governments may be ableto do something, but these are undertakings which in their nature are far better controlled by a National Parliament.

Mr Bowden - You had better give us more power first.

Mr LAZZARINI - For heaven's sake stop that squeal about wanting more power. The Government have newer yet tested what power they have, except the power to deport men without trial, or to shanghai men into gaol for waving the red flag, and to oppress all those who do not agree with them.

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