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Wednesday, 23 November 1927

Mr BELL (Darwin) .-When I heard this budget delivered by the Treasurer, I formed the impression that it was a very good one. Upon a closer examination of the figures, that impression developed into a conviction, and nothing that has been stated during this debate has altered that conviction. There has been a good deal of criticism of the legislation passed by the Government, but very little has been directed to the budget itself. The debate has really developed into a discussion of the tariff. I do not question the right of honorable members to discuss that subject during a budget debate, for the Standing Orders allow great latitude, and on this occasion honorable members, as a rule, have addressed themselves to many subjects which are only remotely connected with the financial position of the Commonwealth. It has struck me, however, that, although there is a certain amount of unanimity in attributing our difficulties to the tariff, there is a marked diversity of opinion as to the remedy which should be applied. Honorable members opposite have made it quite clear that they regard the existing tariff as inadequate, while some honorable members who support the Government are just as strongly of the opinion that our customs duties are far too -high. But, whichever party may be' right, it is undeniable that it would be very difficult for this or any other government to intro-


duce a tariff which would please everybody. The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) confined his remarks almost exclusively to tariff matters, and I listened to what he had to say with a good deal of interest. He is always fair in his criticism and presents his case in an agreeable manner; hut on this occasion I disagree with, his views. He said that Australia needed a scientific tariff; but he did not explain what he meant by that term.. He and other honorable members opposite have made it clear that they would go so far as to prohibit importation; but that would not be a scientific method 'of dealing with the situation.

Mr Fenton - We prohibit the importation of sugar.

Mr BELL - That may be so : but I have never heard it suggested that that is a scientific way to protect the sugar industry. I am a firm protectionist; but I realize, as I believe every thinking person in the community does, that if we impose high tariffs to protect our secondary industries, we must necessarily make it somewhat more costly for our primary producers to carry on their operations, and so add to their difficulties in marketing their products. What we need is a tariff which will protect secondary industries, but not penalize primary industries. One of my chief objections to the present system is that, although we have a board of experts to advise Parliament on tariff matters, we have not constituted an expert authority to protect the general community from exploitation by the manufacturers who are enjoying protection. A serious fault in our system is that manufacturers who operate- under the protection of very high duties, may be almost indifferent to the cost of production, the efficiency of their methods or the quality of the article they produce. The community is not safeguarded in any respect. Then again, the tariff operates inequitably.

The timber industry of the Commonwealth has suffered far more from tariff inequalities and unsatisfactory industrial legislation than any other great industry in the land. It has not been protected from the competition of the importers of foreign timbers. The result is that it has practically disappeared, and thousands of our finest timber-getters have been compelled to seeks employment in other walks of life.

Honorable members opposite have argued that the tariff is ineffective because a huge revenue is derived from" the duties, that are imposed. My reply to that argument is that from the inception of federation it has always been understood that the customs duties would yield sufficient revenue to meet the requirements of the Commonwealth. Such great protectionists as Deakin, Lyne, and Kingston always intended that these duties should yield a substantial revenue The sort of protection to which honorable members opposite appear to bc wedded, would be of no use to me. However, I shall reserve any further remarks on this subject until the tariff amendments proposed by the Trade and Customs Department are before us, and I trust that on that occasion we shall confine our remarks on the one subject, and that the Minister for Trade and Customs will be somewhat more kindly treated than the Treasurer has been during this debate.

I most heartily congratulate tho Government upon the success that has attended its efforts to bring about n readjustment of Commonwealth find 5! tate financial relationships. The matter was discussed in an atmosphere conducive to co-operation between the parties concerned.. I feel sure that the agreement will ultimately be ratified. The Government has not been given sufficient credit for its achievements in this respect. I consider it only fair that I should make these remarks, for I was opposed to the withdrawal from the States of thcapita payments.. I felt that the proposals that were made in lieu of the capitation grant were inadequate, and. I could see that it would be extremely serious for the States had the Government forced them to accept its proposals.. It was highly desirable that a mutually satisfactory arrangement should be made. I sincerely trust that the Loan Council, which will henceforth represent all the States as well as the Commonwealth, will be able to prevent excessive public borrowing.

I congratulate the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) upon the speech which he delivered in this debate a day or so ago ; but I trust that he will not misunderstand me when I say that in my opinion his criticism of the honorable member for Henty (Mr: Gullett) for daring adversely to refer, on the floor of this, chamber, to the Government's financial proposals was entirely uncalled for and unwarranted. Honorable membersof the Nationalist party have always considered that it is their right to criticizethe Government if they consider criticism is deserved, even though they are in. general agreement as to its policy. I disagree with the honorable member for Warringah that these matters should be- thrashed out in the party room. I waselected to express my views in thi chamber, and I have done so, even though at times they have been in opposition tothe views of the Government. I have always claimed that the great differencebetween this party and the Labour party lies in the fact that we are entitled, without being considered' disloyal to the party, to speak freely on all matters of Government policy, whereas honorablemembers opposite are bound to give expression to the decisions of the caucus.

It must be gratifying to the Government that its allocation of the surplushas been subjected to so little criticism. I am particularly glad, too, that the Treasurer intends to reduce income taxation. I entirely differ from my friend, the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) r who condemned him for reducing direct taxation. If we can afford it - and weclearly can to-day - we should reducedirect taxation. Nothing will givegreater impetus to industries, or do more to encourage new capital, than the knowledge that private enterprise will not be unduly hampered by an excessive incometax. Although the federal land tax does not directly affect the small landholder, it affects him indirectly, because the more tax the Commonwealth takes theless is left to the States.

I am pleased that the PostmasterGeneral proposes to increase the payments to allowance postmasters.

Mr Gibson - That has already been done.

Mr BELL - I am glad to hear it ; but I desire to draw attention to the need forgiving larger increases to some of those postmasters than to others. Those whose receipts amount to only a few pounds a year are in need of special assistance. Certain allowance postmasters receive more remuneration than some of those in charge of official establishments. Many who are doing valuable work in outback districts, often working for nine to ten hours a day for a paltry £25 or £30 a year, are more in need of increased remuneration than those earning £200 a year in addition to their ordinary income. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a further increase to those allowance postmasters who at the present time receive an inadequate return for their labour.

Honorable members on the Government side, and particularly the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), have stated that the outstanding need of Australia today is greater production. In order to bring that about, the cost of production must be reduced. I. remind the Opposition that another great need of this country is population. The only real criticism contained in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition is the remark that the Government is encouraging too many immigrants. Of course, the party opposite has always objected to immigration, just as it has opposed defence measures. I find myself in accord, however, with honorable members opposite in their disapproval of the influx of Southern Europeans. The best way to develop this country is to encourage men of British stock. With what the Government has done in the latter direction I entirely agree, and I am sure that it is supported by every thinking man in the community, at any rate, by every good Britisher. I do not allow that the Britishers coming to Australia today will not make as good .Australians as did their fathers and grandfathers, who were responsible for the early development of this country, and the Tace with which it is now peopled. If, instead of constantly criticizing the efforts of the Government to encourage migration and thereby increasing unemployment, the Opposition would use its influence with those persons who are interfering with the industries of the country and bringing about unemployment, their efforts would be directed to a good purpose. At the present time a strike of the waterside workers is in progress, and if honorable members opposite gave good advice to those responsible for that strike, they would be doing good to the Commonwealth, and, incidentally, to their own cause. I seldom quote from newspapers, but I intend to refer to a paragraph published in the Melbourne Argus yesterday. Similar reports appeared in all the principal daily newspapers. The waterside workers have refused to handle the cargo of vessels from Tasmania carrying zinc, and they have declared " black " every boat loaded by employees of the Electrolytic Zinc Company. It has always been the custom for the employees of the company to load its own product. The waterside workers decline, to transfer the cargo to overseas vessels, because some of their fellow workers who are not members of their union loaded the zinc. They claim the right to load all boats, and to handle all cargo conveyed by steamer, train, or lorry.

Mr M CAMERON (BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - They want to starve their fellow workmen.

Mr BELL - Yes. Seamen have been discharged and firemen are out of employment, and the waterside workers will not admit their fellow labourers in Tasmania into their union. Obviously if the employees of the Zinc Company are not allowed to load the vesels, some of them will be thrown out of work. What a remarkable thing is the brotherhood of Labour! The paragraph in the Argus states -

Because the vessel contained as part of its cargo zinc loaded at the Electrolytic Zinc Company's works at Risdon (Tasmania) by the company's own labour, the Union Steamship company's cargo steamer Kakariki was declared " black " when it arrived at Queen's wharf yesterday morning. Part of the zinc cargo was consigned to the United Kingdom. Vor some years zinc has been loaded at the works of the company by its own employees, but recently the Tasmanian wharf labourers declared that the work belonged to them, and threatened that if the cargo was loaded by other labour it would be declared "black." This decision is regarded as part of the new policy of the Waterside Workers' Federation in adopting irritation tactics, as well as resorting to an overtime strike on the wharves against the shipowners.

Wharf labourers refused to unload the zinc from the Kakariki, and it was decided by the owners to lay. up the vessel indefinitely at Melbourne. The crew was paid off yesterday morning, and the Kakariki was laid up.

It was ascertained that the Waterside Workers' Federation had, in its new offensive against tho shipowners, threatened to include also the Commonwealth Line cargo vessel, the Fordsdale, in its " black " declarations in the event of any attempt being made to load zinc from the Kakariki on to the Fordsdale. This decision was reached because it was believed that part of the Kakariki's cargo had been consigned by the Commonwealth Line vessel.

That is an example of what the workers are doing to assist the Commonwealth to operate a government line of steamers, and it furnishes a very good justification for the Government's decision that the Line cannot be continued except at enormous and unwarrantable loss to the general taxpayer. With the Government's policy in that regard I am in complete accord. I was reported in the Tasmanian press as having supported the censure motion in regard to the proposed sale of the Commonwealth ships, but it is hardly necessary for me to contradict that statement. The attitude of the waterside workers, seamen, and other industrialists associated with the running of the vessels has crippled the Line, and made the operating cost such that it is impossible for ships to be profitably worked on the Australian register.

The criticism levelled by some honorable members against the budget has been in the nature of a personal attack upon the Treasurer. It cannot be supposed that the Treasurer alone was responsible for the budget; in any case he alone is not responsible for the legislation that lias compelled the Government to borrow overseas, or for the building of Commonwealth railways, or for the roads grant to the States. Those things are in conformity with the policy approved by this Parliament. Yet honorable members have directed their criticism against the Treasurer personally. I. consider that his handling of the finances is entirely to his credit. He has devoted a lot of time to his office, and his achievements in connexion with the financial agreement and the bringing of the States into a loan council that will more effectively regulate borrowing, are a lasting monument to his energy and farsightedness. Whatever feelings honorable members on this side of the House may entertain towards the honorable gentleman as Leader of the Country party, he is en- titled to full credit for what he has done as custodian of the public finances.

Of course I shall vote against the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) who, although he quoted masses of figures, did not succeed in proving that anything was wrong with the handling of the finances. He charged the Government with extravagance. When honorable members opposite espouse economy, they appear in a role that is new to them, because their usual view is that the people who pay taxes are not the people who support them politically. I am glad that they have seen the error of their ways.

The Leader of the Opposition devoted a good deal of attention to the League of Nations and Australia's defence policy. I hope to have an opportunity, when the defence estimates are before the committee, to deal with that subject fully, but I asked the honorable gentleman by interjection whether he considered thai: Australia should be the first to disarm. I think he replied that it should set an example. It is impossible for the Commonwealth to disregard the expenditure of other countries upon defence, particularly the naval construction programmes of America and Japan. The first duty of the Government is to ensure,!, as far as the means at our disposal permit, the safety of the country by providing adequately for its defence. Australia cannot afford to spend many million pounds a year on defence, nor can it afford to remain open to attack by neighbouring nations. We all are firm supporters of a White Australia. It is useless, however, to advocate such a policy if we are not prepared to defend it. No one would be more pleased than I if the League of Nations could put an end to war for all" time, by inducing the world to agree to the settlement of international disputes by arbitration. But is it not extraordinary that people in Australia should suggest that international disputes may be settled by arbitration when we are not able to settle our own local industrial differences in that way? Those who say that Ave should turn the other cheek to the aggressor, and not make preparation for our own defence, arc identical with those who at all times ure inciting one section of tlie community against another. If people whose interests are identical cannot adjust thendisputes, it is idle to say that much bigger and more critical differences between nations can be settled by arbitration. The Leader of the Opposition said that Australia should set an example to the world by being the first to disarm. Is it possible for the League of Nations to function successfully when the great country of America adopts towards the League this attitude, " Arbitrate in Europe, settle all your differences by arbitration; let there be no wars in Europe. But hands off the Monroe doctrine? In regard to all that it implies there can be no arbitration." So, if differences should arise between the United States and some of the South American republics, Europe must not interfere. Such a matter would, in the opinion of America, come within its exclusive jurisdiction. Australia takes up a similar attitude in regard to the White Australia policy. We claim, that it is a domestic question which we intend to decide for ourselves, and although we are prepared to arbitrate on all other issues and to encourage other people to settle their disputes by peaceful discussions round the table, upon that one vital subject the opinion of the outside world is not wanted. Is there anything more likely to embroil Australia in war than this policy? I hope our people will never be required to fight, but so long as we rigidly exclude all colored races from this country, we must be prepared to defend it. Those who are opposed to provision for the adequate defence of our great ideal of racial purity, our homes, and our national heritage, arc not good Australians. So long as they maintain that attitude they are not likely to be entrusted by the people with the government of the country.

Like many other honorable members, I am. very much concerned about the adverse trade balance, but I do not think that a remedy will be found in a higher tariff. Certainly a policy of free trade will not improve our condition ; no young country was ever developed by free trade. If the Commonwealth controlled all the banking institutions they might be able to assist in balancing our trading account by refusing to provide money to pay for imports in excess of exports. Perhaps the extravagance amongst our people could be checked in that way. On the other hand, the suggestion has been made - that the importation of certain luxuries should be prohibited while the trade balance is against us. Some action should be taken, and I was glad to hear the Prime Minister say that the Government is giving serious consideration to this problem, and will seek the advice of the Commonwealth Statistician and other competent authorities. Of course, if this Parliament were to take action to limit the flow of imports, loud protests would be raised by certain sections of the community. I would not be influenced by them. We are living in an age of extravagance, and probably our people could, dispense with 15 per cent, of our imports without material or social disadvantage. City dwellers are mainly responsible for the present extravagant methods of living, and I am afraid that only bacl seasons and adverse economic conditions will check this tendency. Any legislation that the Government may introduce that may help to bring about a favorable .trade balance will have my whole-hearted support. The pernicious time payment system which is operating in this and other countries has been largely responsible for the present day extravagance. If the law did not project the sellers of motor cars against buyers who were unable to meet their liabilities, the time payment system would be curtailed considerably. The greatest evil existing in this country to-day is the credit system of purchase, and unfortunately this Government, cannot prevent it to any extent, except with the co-operation of the States. Certain honorable members have advocated the cessation of borrowing abroad, but a drastic curtailment in that direction at present would only intensify our unemployment trouble. For years past we have had to borrow abroad to meet our liabilities. When unemployment is rife, and honest and good workmen are seeking employment, that is the time when governments should construct out of loan moneys public works, such as roads and railways. The cessation of overseas borrowing would inevitably bring about depression and possible upheaval in this country and the consequent overthrow of the Government. No government has legislated so well in the interests of Australia as has this Government. It has not favoured one section of the community more than another. It has recognized that the smaller and weaker States must receive some assistance if Ave are to have a happy and contented, community and a successful federation. Having no desire to bring about a change of Government, I shall not support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition.

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