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Thursday, 15 July 1920

Mr GREGORY (Dampier) .- I do not know how elections are usually won, but if the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) makes the charges in the country which he has made here this afternoon, I can quite understand how country districts sometimes get representation of a certain kind in the House. When the honorable member charges the Government with failure in their administration, because they have not erected weirs across rivers and undertaken wholesale water conservation, he either does not understand the Constitution or is deliberately making an unfair attack upon the Government. It has been said that a vote cast against the motion must be interpreted as an indication of absolute confidence in the Government. I entirely dissent from that view ; further, I think it would be exceedingly difficult for any honorable member who desires to promote and build up the primary industries to vote for honorable members opposite, after the speeches to which we listened last night.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - You cannot judge a party's programme by the statements of individuals.

Mr GREGORY - Not by individual statements, but by the remarks of the leader of the party, in this case. The first item on which we are asked to express by our votes our opinion of the present Administration is in regard to its alleged failure to prevent the inordinate rise in the cost of living. If honorable members opposite had been in control of the Treasury benches, what action would they have taken?

Mr Nicholls - We would have prevented exports, up to a certain stage.

Mr GREGORY - It should not be forgotten that a Labour Administration was governing this country for some two years after the war began. It had every opportunity to take whatever action it saw fit to prevent the rise in the cost of living, which was even then beginning to show itself alarmingly. Those Labour members, and their Government, had their opportunities when they were in power. They should now explain what they did, or sought to do, and what efforts they have since made by way of suggestion to the present Administration, to overcome the rapidly soaring cost of living. I have heard little from honorable members opposite in that respect, and I certainly saw and heard nothing while a Labour Administration controlled the Commonwealth Treasury. The only suggestion made has had reference to the placing of an embargo upon exports. Apparently, the only proposition is to prevent exportation so that people here shall first be supplied with the produce of this country at any price which the authorities may see fit to give the producers.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is not the policy of this party.

Mr GREGORY - But it is, and has been so proclaimed here repeatedly. In regard to the price of bread, let us deal with the position of the farmer during the war period.

Mr Nicholls - Is the farmer getting anything out of the extra price of bread to-day ?

Mr GREGORY - I admit that he is now getting a good price for his wheat. The primary reason for the increased price of bread is the higher cost of wheatgrowing, and that item of cost can be added to by the ridiculous trade regulations which exist in regard to handling and delivering. Let us see whether the farmer is doing so well as would appear at this moment. I warn honorable members opposite that they are treading on very dangerous ground when they seek to discourage the farmer from maintaining and expanding production. There are to-day some 4,000,000 acres less under wheat than four years ago.

Mr Brennan - Thanks to the actions of the Government which, apparently, you are going to support by your vote.

Mr GREGORY - That is an absurd remark. There were certainly blunders made in the administration of the Wheat Pool, but the greater portion of the blame attaches to the State Boards rather than to the Central Administration. There is not one honorable member from New South Wales who has shown himself prepared to defend the actions of the Board in that State. In the press to-day there is a report of a meeting of persons interested in South Australian wheat who desire to take action in order, if possible, to secure satisfaction from the authorities for what is regarded as gross neglect of the interests of the farmers.

Mr Nicholls - But the State Boards were under the control of the Federal authority.

Mr GREGORY - Each State Board had absolute control of its own wheat, except in regard to finance and export sales. The New South Wales wheat administration sold and exported- wheat at a time when the people of the State were going short.

Mr Nicholls - With the advice of the Prime Minister, and the consent of the Central Board.

Mr GREGORY - That action in selling New South Wales wheat was taken without the approval of the Central administration. I admit that to-day the farmer is getting a good price; but has he had a good price throughout the war ? So far as South Australia's 1916-17 harvest is concerned, the farmers have received only 3s. 3d. per bushel. There may be a further small dividend to come, but they have had to bear a heavy loss, in regard to that year's returns. Moreover, from the beginning of the war the cost of wheat production has increased enormously. During the past three years of wheat-growing in New South Wales, the farmer has carried on at an actual loss; and, to-dav the State Government is advancing £1,000,000 to aid the man on the land to secure seed and actual sustenance.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That indicatesthat a Labour Government is much better for the farmer than any other.

Mr GREGORY - I do not assume that the Labour party is so devoid of brains that it cannot realize what would be the economic position of Australia if the man on the land were discouraged altogether from carrying on the thankless task of primary production.

Mr Gabb - It is the Labour party which gets the land for the people.

Mr GREGORY - Yes, and then takes it away from them, if the record of Queensland is to be taken into account on that point.

Mr Ryan - What about Queensland ?

Mr GREGORY - Honorable members are well aware of what has been happening in that State during the past few years.

Mr Ryan - That is the kind of generality that you people have been spreading about the country for some time. If you have anything definite to say, say it here.

Mr GREGORY - I have spent a few instructive hours in examining reports of the Queensland Auditor-General for the years in which the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) was in charge of Queensland's finances. It was most interesting reading.

Mr Ryan - Tell us what you found.

Mr GREGORY - I have other and urgent matters in hand at the moment.

During the past three years, wheatproduction has been carried on at a loss. There has been an enormous reduction in the area tilled ; and, even at present prices, the circumstances of the farmer are far from happy. I have learned from an official source that the actual cost of wheat production in the United States last year totalledno less than 8s.11d. per bushel.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - More than1,250,000 acres sown in New South Wales last year produced absolutely nothing.

Mr GREGORY - I am glad to have that reminder. But when we find that honorable members opposite are prepared to place an embargo on the export of wheat until the people of the community have been supplied, according to the ideas of the Labour party, we are bound to hold grave suspicions of Labour's policy.

Mr Nicholls - The embargo would only hold until the requirements of Australia Had been provided for.

Mr GREGORY - One honorable member, in the course of the present debate, stated that the increase in the cost, of sugar to the Australian consumer was due to the export of huge supplies of jam and canned fruit. If an embargo were to be placed upon the export of jams and canned fruits, what would happen to the Australian orchardists

I would have liked the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) to state last night, when referring to the increased price of bread, what action he would have taken had he been a member of the Government to-day? Just as the Administration to which he was attached in the early stages of the war acted in those days, so would a Labour Administration act again to-day. In the preamble of the measure which passed through the Victorian Parliament at the initiation of the Wheat Pool it was set out that, with the approval of the Prime Minister and of the four Ministers of the wheatproducing States concerned, the price to be paid for wheat in Australia would be equal to the London parity. However, the wharf lumpers went on strike, and refused to load ships with our wheat, when the London parity was 5s. 2d. What did the Labour Government do at that stage?

It reduced the price to. the Australian farmer to 4s. 9d. per bushel, on account of the wharf lumpers' clamour.

Mr Riley - There was no Labour Government in power at that time.

Mr GREGORY - I am making no mistake concerning which party was in power, and I know that the deputation which persuaded the Government to reduce the price from 5s. 2d. to 4s. 9d. waited upon the then Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), who was Acting Prime Minister.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - And the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) was Minister for Customs.

Mr GREGORY - That was so; although the honorable member had nothing to do with the point which I am now stressing. The honorable member for Yarra referred also last night to the price of butter; and in that regard, again, we find that when he was Minister he placed an embargo upon the export of that commodity.

Mr Tudor -Hear, hear!

Mr GREGORY - There has been a considerable reduction of production in Australia. Owing to the serious droughts experienced during the past few years, our dairy farmers have been obliged to buy fodder at almost famine prices. I have in mind, in connexion with an earlier drought, the case of a woman in the Murchison district of Victoria. She had a herd of from thirty-seven to forty cows, and had to pay £12 10s. per ton for fodder. Then when rain fell and grass came, she lost nearly one-half of her herd in a few weeks. These are some of the privations which our dairy farmers have had to put up with. We all know that the high cost of fodder at the present time makes it extremely difficult for many of them to carry on. And there is no eight hours' system on a dairy farm. In view of an' these difficulties, surely it is reasonable that our dairy farmers should get world's parity for their products. Honorable members opposite are always declaring that the labourer is worthy of his hire, and so I say our primary producers are entitled to a fair return.

Mr Nicholls - That is our policy.

Mr GREGORY - It is my policy at all events, and I shall resent very strongly any attempt by any Government to place any embargo upon the marketing of the products of the people.

The Leader of the Opposition dealt extensively with the high cost of meat. We all know that this is due to losses. In New South Wales during the past few months stockowners have been obliged to pay heavy prices for fodder for starving stock, andthen recently, as the result of very heavy rains, serious floods have caused tremendous losses. The Leader of the Opposition spoke also of the consumption of frozen meat. It is useless on his part to refer to the extent of our export trade. A few moments ago I looked up some figures in Knibbs, to see what our export of meat really amounted to. I found that in 1914-15 we exported meat to the value of £3,413,000; in 1915-16, to the value of £769,000; in 1916-17, £1,540,000; and in 1917-18, £452,000. In the Melbourne Age of to-day there appears a statement that in Victoria, from 3rd June up to the end of last week, 17,700 carcasses had been taken out of cold storage for consumption in the city of Melbourne. I am not concerned with the price charged by the retailer. That is a matter for the State Government ; but I remind honorable members that frozen mutton was supplied to butchers at 51/8d. per lb. plus1/8d. for storage charges, or a total of about 5¼d.

Mr Riley - And they have been getting 100 per cent, profit.

Mr GREGORY - Well, that is a matter for the State, and not the Commonwealth Government. Although prices are at a high level in Australia, we must not forget that elsewhere in the world living conditions are not nearly so favorable. Recently I had a letter from a friend in the United States of America stating that prices there were extraordinarily high. Mutton was about 3s. 8d. per lb., , beef 4s. per lb., and potatoes ever so much dearer than in Australia. Altogether, according to this letter, conditions in America were quite abnormal, the cost of living being more than double that in Australia. I ain not giving the Commonwealth Government any credit for this. I believe that but for the drought the cost of living in Australia would have been very much less than it is to-day. But we have to realize the difficult conditions under which our pastoralists and fanners have been working in recent years. These are the causes of present high prices, though in comparison with people in any other country in the world we have no reason to complain.

In connexion with this motion I would like to know what members of the Opposition would have done had they been in power.

Mr Ryan - Would your party be prepared to accept office if the Labour party stood behind you?

Mr GREGORY - I do not know whether the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) thinks I came into the House yesterday or the day before, and do not realize what the Constitution demands. How could the party of which I am a member form a Government? The suggestion is preposterous.

Mr Ryan - Is it?

Mr GREGORY - Of course, it. is. What position would we, or the Opposition, occupy in another Chamber?

Mr Ryan - Oh ! I see.

Mr GREGORY - Would we have the solid support of the Opposition if we formed an Administration?

Mr Ryan - You answer my question first.

Mr GREGORY -If the honorable member will tell us what he would do, it might make things a little bit easier. But, after all, our first duty is to try to buildup Australia. We are all proud of this country, and our natural desire must be to see it develop. This can only be achieved by giving every encouragement to our primary producers. Take the butter industry as an example. Those acquainted with the history of Victoria know how the valuable assistance rendered by the State Government enabled the agricultural areas to be prosperously settled. Australia is not, and never will be, a great wheat-growing country, but satisfactory progress may be expected by mixed farming ; a combination of grazing, wheat-growing, butter production, and kindred industries. The value of our exportsproves conclusively that our progress depends upon our primary industries. In 1861, our exports totalled in value £17,000,000; in 1881, £27,000,000; in 1891, £36,000,000; in 1901, £49,000,000. At about this time the frozen meat trade began to develop in consequence of insulated space on steamers; being made available, and in 1911 our exports totalled £79,000,000. ' In 1916-17, the figure was £174,000,000.

Mr Charlton - Chiefly due to the increased value of products owing to the war.

Mr GREGORY - No. I have taken that factor into consideration, and I find that for the last five years preceding 1916- 17 the average annual value of our exports was about £140,000,000. In 1917- 18, it was £135,000,000, excluding gold.

Mr Fleming - And one-third of that total was provided by sheep.

Mr Charlton - Which goes to show the increase in the price of wool during the war. '

Mr GREGORY - Nobody can say that any substantial amount of this export trade can be credited to our secondary industries. . Almost the whole of it must be credited to our primary producers. Surely then it is our duty to encourage land settlement, the success of which up to the present has enabled the worker to command better conditions here than prevail in any other country. It is quite clear that an impoverished country means an impoverished people, so that it would be criminal on the part of any honorable member to countenance any suggestion as to placing an embargo on the export of our farm products or to do anything to injure our great primary industries.

Mr Ryan - No one proposes to do anything to destroy them.

Mr GREGORY - I am satisfied hon- orable members would not deliberately do that; but there is not the slightest doubt that if their policy, and if the arguments advanced by some honorable members in the debate last night, were given effect to, the position of our primary producers would be seriously prejudiced.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Can you show any proposals on the Labour platform that would hurt the country interests?

Mr GREGORY - I believe I could point to nearly every plank, if I cared to do so. There is, for instance, the proposal for the nationalization of the land and of all means of production.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is not on the Labour platform.

Mr GREGORY - Since when ?

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - I will give the honorable member a Labour platform, if he cares to have one.

Mr GREGORY - It is not worth while just now. The second charge against the Government is-

Mr Ryan - Do you find the Government not guilty on the first charge?

Mr GREGORY - Absolutely.

Mr Gabb - Does the honorable member think that the Government has keptdown the cost of living ?

Mr GREGORY - I think honorable members opposite would have increased the cost of living much more.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - You cannot prove that in the case of Queensland.

Mr GREGORY - Speaking from memory, I think the Government Statistician states that the increase in the cost of living in Queensland during the last year has been higher than in any other State.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is not so, anyhow.

Mr GREGORY - I do not like to quote from memory, and thus run the risk of mistakes.

Mr Ryan - If the honorable member were addressing a bush meeting he would not be so careful, I suppose?

Mr GREGORY - The honorable member may speak for himself. I have no desire to be the means of placing any statement in Hansard that I cannot prove, and I have not the figures with me; but I believe that the greatest increase in the cost of living has occurred in Queensland.

Mr Ryan - Will you accept my assurance that you are wrong ? : Mr. GREGORY. - Will the honorable member say that the Statistician did not say so ?

Mr Ryan - Yes, I will say that, too.

Mr GREGORY - Then I must, of course, accept the honorable member's statement. The Government is charged with failing to keep its pledges to the returned ' soldiers and their dependants, but the figures presented to us last night by the Prime Minister make us wonder if there is any other country in the world that has attempted to do so much. When I heard- those figures I wondered where the money was to come from, because the amount is enormous, though no more than our boys deserve. Everything possible should be done . to place the returned soldier, if not in a better position, at least in as good a position as he occupied before he went to the war. I was a little disappointed in connexion with some of the proposals in this connexion, because I wished every returned man to have an opportunity to repatriate himself. Are we now, after the experience we have gained, going to ask honorable members opposite to take charge of this work of repatriation ?

Mr J H Catts - You cannot forget that you are a Nationalist !

Mr GREGORY - The honorable member has done all he possibly can to create friction between this country and another, and I look upon him as one of the most dangerous men we have had in the House from the time the war started.

Mr J H Catts - You are not a dangerous man to anybody!

Mr Gabb - The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) will never be dangerous to this Government.

Mr GREGORY - That is a matter of opinion. When we are living in tragic times it behoves every member to be exceedingly careful, and to endeavour to protect the best interests of the country. We can always easily find trouble if we look for it; it is dangerous to look round to see if we can find some way of causing friction between Australia and another Power. However, the land settlement scheme for our returned soldiers has cost millions, and will cost many more, in view of the wonderfully generous proposals for homes and so forth. As to the gratuity, I agree with thePrime Minister, that there would have been created something in the nature of a financial panic if it had been paid in. cash.

Mr Nicholls - Then, why did the Prime Minister promise to pay it in cash ?

Mr GREGORY - He did not make that promise.

Mr Nicholls - He did, in his Bendigo speech.

Mr GREGORY - The Government went to the country on the clear understanding that the gratuity was to be paid in bonds, and I may say that, in my opinion, if it had not been for the extravagance of this and previous Governments, we should not have been in the wretched position of having to give bonds. There has been gross extravagance in the past, starting in about 1910, and continuing ever since; and every effort must be made to stop it. This Government, however, only follows on the lines of the previous Government.

Mr Ryan - Then, the Government is guilty !

Mr GREGORY - No doubt there is extravagance at the present time, but our financial position is being greatly aggravated by the industrial unrest. For this I do not wholly blame either the workers or the Government; but, unfortunately, by this unrest the country has lost millions and millions of money. In New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa, on the other hand, we find a fine financial position, and I am afraid that here we have missed wonderful opportunities. It is, of course, easy to be wise after the event, but I believe something might have been done by the Government to mitigate the conditions which have arisen. I cannot, as I say, wholly blame the workers for becoming dissatisfied, in view of the high cost of living and the troubles attendant on appeals to the Arbitration Court. But is there a single instance of a strike where members opposite have urged the men to go back to work and comply with the laws of the country ?

Mr Lazzarini - No, because the men want justice.

Mr GREGORY - What relief would we get if honorable members opposite were placed in power? Every member of the community must comply with the law. We surely do not desire that laws should be observed by one section and not by another. As I said before, it is easy to be wise after the event, but I believe that much loss and trouble might have been saved if, when the cost of living was found to be increasing, the Government had appointed a Board composed of the Government Statistician and a couple of other experienced men. Such a Board could have issued quarterly statistics, showing the increased cost, and an Act could have made provision for wages being raised by so much per cent. I do not mean to say that if the cost of living increased 15 per cent. the whole increase should be made up in wages. That is a matter for consideration; but if some suggestion of the kind had been carried out, I believe that much industrial unrest would have been prevented. On the other hand, I think we are quite justified in condemning honorable members opposite for not using their influence to prevent much of this unrest.

As I said when I rose, in voting against this motion we are not expressing confidence in the Government, but merely showing that we disapprove of the motion. I have very strong grievances against the present Administration.

Mr Tudor - You would " eat out of its hand."

Mr GREGORY - The honorable member must realize that while I could not support an Administration from the Opposition side, I can support the Government now in power; it is merely choosing the lesser of two evils. I have no desire to indulge in any trimming, but merely to tell the Government straight out what my 'opinions are. I refer the Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) to a book he published many years ago entitled An Orgie of Extravagance, -showing the extravagant expenditure on the part of the Commonwealth Government; and certainly since 1910 there has been a continual drift. I admit that during the past twelve months there has been, in many directions, a desire shown to economize; but the drift continues, and taxation is increasing. If taxation goes above a certain level, people with money are driven out of the country.

Mr Tudor - Where could they go to be much better off in the way of taxation ?

Mr GREGORY - The honorable member must admit that the taxation here is fairly well up to the limit, and now en large estates amounts to something like 15s. in the £1, taking Commonwealth, State, and municipal taxation together; indeed, we are getting to that stage beyond which it would be exceedingly dangerous to go. I rather regret that the Government have not introduced a measure to impose taxation on expensive articles and luxuries, such as high-priced foods and hats.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - These bear a pretty stiff taxation now.

Mr GREGORY - But that is through the Customs, and only helps to give extra profit to a few people here. A man ought to be able to buy a decent hat for £1, and any person who wishes to buy more expensive articles of the kind should be made to " pay through the nose."

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The honorable member would tax his purchase?

Mr GREGORY - Yes. I do not wish to digress from the charge of extravagance, because it is imperative that we should economize. I hope that the time is not far distant when, the Treasurer will be able to tell us what he proposes to do in connexion with the financial position of this country. I would like him to tell us the whole truth as to what are our obligations, and how we are going to meet them.

Mr Ryan - Does the honorable member approve of the Government continuing to exist without a Treasurer?

Mr GREGORY - I do not. It is almost an insult to this House that the filling of the vacancy which exists in the Cabinet should have been so long delayed.

Mr Ryan - Does not the honorable member think that the delay tends to solidarity in the Government ranks?

Mr GREGORY - I was just going to refer to that matter. It is almost an insult to this House- that the vacancy created by the retirement of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) from the Ministry should have been permitted to remain unfilled so long. The conditions connected with the Treasury are such that a Treasurer should be appointed, and I hope that we shall get a man who will be able to come down here reasonably soon and explain what is the financial position of the Commonwealth. If, on the other hand, somebody is to be pitchforked into the position at the last moment, he will be able to give us only the information which the Treasury officials choose to give him, so that we shall then occupy much the same position as we have occupied hitherto. The sooner that the office of Treasurer is filled, the better it will be for all concerned, because we are justified in demanding - particularly in view of the speeches made by tie Acting Treasurer - the fullest information as to what our financial obligations really are, and how they are to be met. I mention this matter chiefly because the Prime Minister recently made an announcement in connexion with the proposed unification of the railway gauges of Australia. Had that proposal been brought forward prior to the war it would have commanded my solid support.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - It was brought forward prior to the war.

Mr GREGORY - Of course, and I quite realize that it is a matter upon which a compromise will have to be effected with the various States, Before the war. we should have been quite justified in proceeding with the work of unifying the railway gauges of the Commonwealth. But , to-day we are not. In view of the enormous sums which we have expended in connexion with the war, and with the knowledge that we were unable to pay our soldiers a war gratuity in cash, and that the Government are 'not prepared to advance further moneys for soldier settlement in Australia, we are not justified in proceeding with that particular work. I am given to understand that the Government have actually stopped making advances for the purchase of single blocks of land for repatriation purposes. Their action will cause a good deal of embarrassment to many of our returned soldiers.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I do not think so. "When we come to pay £3,500 for an isolated block of land, it is quite time that a halt was called.

Mr GREGORY - But the Treasurer could impose a limit upon the amount of these advances. There, are returned soldiers who have gone through vocational training, and who have been waiting for .months- in some cases for more than a year - to get settled upon the land. These men. are now. told that the Commonwealth has stopped making advances for soldier settlement.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I assure the honorable member that we are not discontinuing the advances, but we are going to review the whole question. These blocks are costing too much.

Mr GREGORY - I understand that action is being taken under section 20 of the Act.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - When the average cost of soldier settlement blocks runs into £2,500 - as .it does in some of the States - it is time to call a halt.

Mr GREGORY - When . this soldier settlement scheme was started, a very grave mistake was made in failing to fix a maximum average price in the different States. At the present time, the average cost is very high in some of the States, whilst in others it is very low; and yet both are placing on the land an equal number of soldiers. I trust that the Government will make every endeavour to redeem their obligations to our returned soldiers.

Mr J H Catts - At Mildura, in New South Wales, leases have been granted for forty years, at a rental of from ½d. to 2d. per acre.

Mr GREGORY - One cannot judge «f the actions of a State without knowing all the details connected with them!

Mr J H Catts - There are 16,000 returned soldiers in New South Wales who possess qualification certificates, but cannot get upon the land.

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

Mr J H Catts - It is correct.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - It is absolutely incorrect.

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