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Friday, 16 July 1920

Mr CUNNINGHAM (Gwydir) . - The Labour party always welcomes an opportunity to express its opinion of any Administration that is not conducting affairs in the best interests of the people as a whole. Since the general election which took place on the 13th December last, inquiries instituted by members of the Opposition .have revealed gross laxity on the part of the Government in dealing with big national questions, including those international relations and financial questions involved in the returns made to our people from the sales of their produce; also in respect of what we were to get as a result of the hundreds of millions sterling we have expended in connexion with the war.

There has also been evidence of incapacity on the part of the Government in connexion with the arrangements made to secure the prosperity of Australia in thi5, future.

Any one reading the cables which appear from day to day from the other side of the world must be convinced that the National Government of Australia- have failed miserably to safeguard the interests of the landed proprietors and wage-earners, who are the producers of wealth in this country. Last night, the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) referred to the fact that a sum amounting to about £1,500,000 ha3 been paid over by the Government in connexion with the Nauru Island agreement, aud the Government have not concerned themselves to learn under what conditions we are to receive authority to control Nauru Island. We know that in the House of Lords only a few days ago a motion was carried which alters the terms under which it was proposed that the island should come under the control of the Federal authorities in Australia. This means that the Government have placed themselves in the position of a person who has bought a house without investigating the title deeds. It is an evidence of the failure of the Government to safeguard our interests, and shows a lack of that business capacity of which members of the Government continually claim to have a monopoly.

In connexion with a far more important matter, in my estimation, the Government have failed to safeguard the interests of Australian producers. It will be agreed that wool is one of the greatest assets of the Commonwealth, and the Government have failed miserably to look after the interests of those of us who have wool in the Pool. In this connexion, honorable members are, no doubt, aware that Senator Pratten has found fault with the Government because of their lack of business capacity, and their failure to take common business precautions to secure that Australian interests shall be properly looked after. We have claimed continually that millions sterling have been lost to the wool-growers of Australia because' the Government failed to take proper business precautions in connexion with contracts for the sale o'f our wool. We have asked that the contracts should be produced, and have discovered that they are represented by a series of cables, and that we have no redress at law should the British authorities fail to give us what we consider a fair deal. In a discussion in the Senate on the 14th April of this year, Senator Pratten made the following remarks bearing out the statement I have made: -

I think the growers have a right to complain that they have been given no indication of what is Australia's share in the enormous prices which have been obtained for wool in the world's market during the last year or two. They may justly complain that no accounts have been rendered of their half-share of the profits made by the British Government on the world's parity. Neither have they, nor has any of us, even an approximate official estimate of what that share is, although considerably more than half of the whole four clips sold to Britain has been re-sold.

And, again, Senator Pratten said, in regard to making provision for different methods of marketing our wool: - " Clever Yorkshiremen, who so often beat Australia, will have to deal with stronger sellers, and there will be no more transactions such as letting 450,000 bales of wool go at issue price, with the perfectly correct and laudable idea of reducing the price of British tweeds, but which was ultimately engineered by Bradford manufacturers to their own advantage and sole profit."

The point on which the Labour party takes exception to the present Administration is that, while we have a say in the sharing of the profits from our wool, the Government should have maintained an organization at work in England to see that nothing like the above occurred. It is useless for honorable members to complain that we are wasting time in discussing these matters in view of the fact that they involve hundreds of millions of money, and, having regard at the same time to our bad' financial outlook and the enormous burden of taxation which we are bearing, and must continue to carry. For reasons such as these it is absolutely necessary that we put the present Government out of office, and endeavour to secure an Administration which will more satisfactorily guard the' interests of the primary producer. Members of the Country party say they cannot put the Government out because they do not know what they would be getting in its place. There will be no change of Administration so long as that view is held. We do not make a practice of putting a fresh man into a job while there is another working on the spot. So the fact remains that we cannot get another man in until we have sacked the one who is already there.

This motion has been introduced' to furnish honorable members with an opportunity of removing the Government, so that we may put an end to the losses and to the bungling which has been continually going on in relation particularly to our overseas interests. The exTreasurer (Mr. Watt) was sent to Great Britain when everybody knew that he was a sick man. Yet the Government sent him there alone to deal with great questions. Let us suppose that Mr. Watt had not resigned, but had become ill, and' so had been unable to attend to our urgent interests. What would have been the position ? We would have been unrepresented. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) stated the case very clearly and forcibly when he pointed out that through the instrumentality of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) wc had lost hundreds .of thousands of pounds upon sales of wheat. For example, the Prime Minister had given an option over 500,000 bushels, which he had' no right to do. And so we have had these successions of evidences by way of proof that the Government has been sadly neglecting the interests of the great body of workers on . the land - men, like myself, who have small holdings, and have had to struggle hard to make a living. It requires to be brought! right home to honorable members opposite that, whereas business men have resented interference and have maintained that they must not be prevented from making their comfortable profits, we small producers have had no redress or protection, and have not received a return on capital invested. We have had to work harder than ever, and have found it almost impossible to keep going.

I wish to refer now to the Finance Conference at Brussels, where, again, the interests of Australia are being neglected. We are maintaining the High Commissioner's Office in London at a huge annual cost. In Brussels grave financial matters in which we are deeply concerned, as an integral portion of the Empire, will be discussed. Where is Australia's representative? Why should not the

Government instruct the High Commissioner to attend, and, on our behalf, pro-, test against things which are not in conformity with the rights and interests of Australia? The idea behind the inauguration of the High Commissioner's Office was that we should have an ambassador in Great Britain. If the High Commissioner is not, that, then we should abolish the office. The Labour party is not in favour of maintaining the High Commissioner's establishment at tremendous annual cost in order that it may be merely a show place, and that, when anything of importance is happening, the High Commissioner shall be superseded by a Minister sent all the way from Australia. It is an anomaly under which our interests are being .seriously neglected. No matter what may be said of Mr. Watt when apportioning blame, the responsibility for the situation must be accepted by the Government, and by honorable members who maintain the Government in office. Australia has been let down.

The motion sets forth that the Government has failed to prevent an inordinate rise in the cost of living. We have continually protested against profiteering during the years of war. If honorable members care to examine the balance-sheets of various big 'companies, week by week, they will be impressed by the enormous profits which are being made. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company, for example, has increased its capital by nearly £1,000,000 in a few years. The Vacuum Oil Company, and the various steam-ship companies, have also increased their profits by enormous leaps and bounds. It is of no use for honorable members to say that they and their Government have been unaware of these facts. The Government has employed its own line of steamers to bolster the tremendous profits of the various shipping companies. When the Commonwealth ships were purchased by a Labour Administration, the idea was that they were to keep down freights, and not bolster them up. Yet this Government has pointed with pride to the fact that our vessels paid for themselves in a couple of years. Who actually paid for these ships ? Men like myself and the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) ; small, struggling men on the land, humble primary producers. We have been fleeced ; we have had to pay for those ships. One of the main causes of industrial unrest is the profiteer. The wage-earner goes into Court, and there, upon oath, he has to relate what, it costs him to live. He must tell minutely how he maintains his wife and family. He must state what rent he pays, how much he spends on newspapers and picture shows and the like. And upon his statements his wage is based. What happens directly he secures .a living wage? Trusts and combinations of capital immediately thrust up prices of commodities, and render his living wage ineffective. So long as this kind of thing is allowed to continue, so long will there be industrial unrest. In Australia we hear people continually prating that every one has. full and plenty. We are always told that our people are the most prosperous in the world. What effect has this talk on the mind of the struggling wageearner, who finds that he cannot decently maintain his wife and children? He immediately begins to question himself whether he is doing right by his family in the matter of the amount of his earnings. Dissatisfaction arises in his mind, and there is unrest and labour trouble. No matter what machinery is put into operation to deal with the position, the fact remains that, so long as the purchasing power of the wage-earner can be rendered ineffective by the untrammelled operations of the profiteer, so long will there be industrial unrest. The Labour party, through the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan), has advanced a proposition, based upon the proposed Judiciary Bill, for the purpose of preventing this kind of thing. But the Government has not seen fit to bring forward the Bill since the honorable member proposed his amendments ; and meanwhile the profiteer flourishes, and industrial unrest spreads broadcast. Inevitably it will not be long before we are still further embroiled in industrial trouble. There are those who say that the Labour party has no concern for country interests.

An attack was made upon honorable members on this side by certain honorable members opposite, who asserted that we did not represent the primary producers. We represent not only the primary producers, but all other sections of the community as well. There are in the Labour party men who have come from all walks of life; men who are primary producers. or are in businesses . allied with primary production, and men concerned in the great problems of transport and distribution. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) represents the waterside workers of Port Jackson; the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) and the honorable member for Melbourne Parts (Mr. Mathews) represent large bodies of Melbourne workers who are marshalled under the Labour banner ; and other members represent widely different sections of the community. If the country is to advance, and peaceful industrial conditions are to be maintained, there must be co-operation between the various sections of the community. Efficient government requires unity of purpose on the part of all sections of the community. Sectional government for the primary producers or for the wage earners, or for any one section of the community alone would be a bad thing, because it would produce conditions which would not be fair to the people as a whole. The policy of the Labour party, therefore, has been designed to bring together all sections of labour. and to assist the workers on the land, in the stores, and in every other avenue of life, in order that by means of an efficient Government reasonable conditions may be secured, and a more equal distribution of wealth provided for. To clear away misapprehension as to the policy of the Labour party in this matter, I wish to put it on record, so that it may be seen that what we aim at is not the interest of the wage-earners only, but the interest of the whole community. The platform of the Australian Labour party lays it down that; -

The Australian Labour movement is based upon the recognition of the truth that practically all wealth comes primarily from the land. This accounts for Labour's desire to promote closer settlement, and the rigid distinction it draws between the genuine land user and the land trafficker. Labour's objective the securing to producers of the full results (if their labour," succinctly states our attitude towards the important question of a just distribution of wealth. The men working at the lathe or in the mines share with the 'men at the plough the distinction of being essentials in the production of wealth. We believe that the interests of the farmer are identical with the interest of his brother in the mine or in the workshop. Each is necessary to the well-being of the other, in the division of labour, and as consumers of the other's products. Both are deprived of the fair share of the fruits of their labour by the waste of the competitive system; both are victims of organized exploitation, and both' can only look for redress to the one method - Uo-operation.

That statement should dispose of tho arguments of those who contend that the Labour party stands for one section only of the community. Those who have tried to saddle the party with that fault either do not know what its aims. are, or wilfully misrepresent them.

The proper administration of the Postal Department is a function of government which is of vital importance, particularly to those who live in the back country, yet that Department is one of the most neglected. Blame for this state of affairs was laid on the last PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Webster) ; but he is no longer in the Ministry or in the House, and a few weeks ago, by writing to the daily press, he showed that it is the Government itself that is at fault. The members of the Opposition hold that the Government is at fault. Nationalist members thought that an improvement would be brought about by getting rid of Mr. Webster, but that gentleman shows that, although he made a profit of some hundreds of thousands of pounds by his administration of the Department, the Government would not give him the money necessary for the proper carrying on and extension of its services. At the present time telephone connexion cannot be got. It is said that in the city of Sydney alone there are 2,500 persons who wish to be connected with telephone exchanges, but who cannot bo so connected. In the country the conditions are deplorable. Neither a telephone line nor any other convenience can be got from the Postmaster-General's Department, and officials of the Department have told me that they might bc working for a pauper, it is so difficult to get what is needed, even, if only a hammer or a few screws, there being virtually no stores. While this state of affairs continues, the Department cannot give satisfaction: It is useless to blame the PostmasterGeneral, because the blame falls properly on the whole Administration, which is not financing the Department as it should be financed. We have had no indication of any intention to make money available for necessary services, or to depart from the present policy. The employees of the Department are probably worse off than those of any other

Department, Commonwealth or State. The Commonwealth Public Service is one of the worst to work for, the remuneration of its employees being lower than that of the State Departments. A few days ago the position of the girls in the Telephone Branch in Sydney was brought under my notice. They are put through what is virtually the " third degree " examination. They are spied on, questioned, and cross-examined until their life becomes a veritable hell on earth. Sooner or later, if there is not a change, the breaking point will be reached, and then the business community will have its affairs thrown into a state of chaos, and much bitterness will be caused because the employees have been forced to take the only action open to them for securing redress of grievances. In the country we have done all we could to obtain the facilities for communication that we need, and yet men living miles from centres of population find it absolutely impossible to get even ordinary mail services. A few weeks ago, on behalf of the residents of Black Springs. near Bar.rabra, I made an application for a free mail-bag, and it was refused, on the ground that one of those who would benefit was of enemy origin. This man is actually a financial member of the Rejected Volunteers' Association, and to say that he is of enemy origin is to circulate a vile lie. Yet the Government is paltry enough tq use this untruth to deprive, a community of postal facilities. Then travelling post-office facilities have been cut off. There are large centres of population which, if the residents wish to communicate with places in the suburbs of Sydney, cannot get their letters delivered until Monday afternoon, if they post them after noon on Friday - that is, when these letters are addressed to suburbs not along the Worth Shore line, for which mails are not made up specially. This is a matter the Postmaster-General should look into, because he could institute a reform very easily by re-instituting the travelling post-offices. But the Government must take the blame for the general dissatisfaction caused by the deficiencies of the Department.

It is not my intention to occupy much more time. Every one must realize that the action which the Opposition is now taking is right, and absolutely im perative. We should use every opportunity to ascertain the feeling of the House in regard to the Government, and to get members who have hitherto supported the Administration to change their attitude. We have stated the facts, so that no one can say that he is not aware- of the enormous losses caused to the people by the bad management of the Government. The breaking of the drought gives promise of a good harvest, and millions of bushels of wheat may be garnered. But if the present Government continues in power, its control of public affairs may again bring about conditions as bad as those of the last four years. It may commandeer shipping, as it did before, and tell the farmers that they cannot get ships to take away their wheat, and must, therefore, be satisfied with contracts which are not in the interests of the wheat-growers. It is the duty of every member to vote to displace the Government, with a view to constituting another Administration which will remove the grievances under which the community is suffering. For this a dissolution of Parliament may be needed. We should see that we are properly represented on the other side of the world, where interests amounting to millions of pounds are involved, and a stop should bo put to the gross neglect of local affairs which characterizes the Administration now in power.

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