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Tuesday, 20 October 1931

Mr PROWSE (Forrest) .- To a very large extent, I agree with the attitude of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), and the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb). However, governments in the past have not acted on the high principles enunciated by those honorable members. This is a democratic country. This Parliament was elected by a majority of votes in the various constituencies of the Commonwealth. I very much disagree with the decision, but I have to grin and bear it. A company or syndicate is governed by the will of the majority of the shareholders. A certain dividend may have been forecast by the directors, but if 97 per cent, of the shareholders agree that the financial circumstances of the company necessitate a smaller dividend, the 3 per cent, who dissent must bow to the will of the majority. Australia being a democracy, majority rule obtains. We have already broken faith with the returned soldiers. We promised to pay to them certain pensions, but the financial exigencies of the nation have necessitated a variation of the undertaking. Other interests which we hoped would not be adversely affected have been obliged to share in the general sacrifice, because, otherwise, the country could not meet its obligations. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has proposed that the Government should withhold the £3,000,000 which it proposes to provide for necessitous wheat-growers. He fails to realize that a definite promise was made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), as head of a government elected by a majority of the electors, to pay to the' wheat-farmers 4s. a bushel on last year's crop. Not one farthing of that guarantee has been paid. Subsequently, this Parliament enacted that a bounty of 3s. a bushel should be paid; not a farthing of that has been paid. Now the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), representing those people in exotic secondary industries who have been sponging on the farmers for many years, and are still dependent upon them, would deprive them of every penny of the promised bounty, notwithstanding that 3s. a bushel will not repay the cost of production. Such a suggestion shows the extent of the honorable member's vision. It has been said, that Australian credit will suffer if we do not honour our obligations to the dissenting 3 per cent, of bondholders, but I recognize the great injustice that would be done to the 97 per cent, who converted, and to other citizens who made tremendous sacrifices, if a premium were to be placed on selfishness. I have no sympathy for the mean 3 per cent, who refuse to share in the general sacrifice.

Mr Gabb - With many, it is a matter of need rather than greed.

Mr PROWSE - My sympathy goes out to those who are in need, and I am glad that the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) has proposed a means of. assisting those bondholders upon whom compulsory conversion will impose hardship ! I refer particularly to the many people who invested £100 or £50 in government bonds in the belief that they were helping the country, and who will be embarrassed if they cannot cash their bonds on the due dates. We should make every effort to avoid injustice to necessitous bondholders, but those others who could have converted without hardship but did not do so are not entitled to sympathy. They showed a lack of public spirit when they refused to come into Hue with their fellow citizens, notwithstanding that the necessity of the- country was apparent to all. If not 1 per cent of the bondholders had converted, what would have been the value of the bonds? The very fact that 97 per cent, were patriotic enough to convert has given a definite value to the stock held by the selfish 3 per cent, who have dissented. If the conversion had been an absolute failure, the bonds would not be worth to-day 50 per cent, of their face value. I do not discount the honorable principle enunciated by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), but we have to regard this matter in the light of Australia's need.

Mr Gabb - What does the good old book say?

Mr PROWSE - I have no doubt that it contains something appropriate to those who refuse to share in the general sacrifice.

Mr Gabb - " Righteousness alone exalteth a people ".

Mr PROWSE - The. 3- per cent, who expect the other fellows to make all the sacrifice cannot be very righteous. If Australia could meet its obligations to every one of .the bondholders, it would be in honour bound to do so. but with a national .debt of £1,200,000,000, .and a diminished income, it cannot meet its commitments. A general sacrifice by the whole of the people will enable the nation to carry on without imposing a crushing burden on anybody. In a democracy, .no wrong is done by demanding that the 3 per cent, of dissenting bondholders shall fall into line with. the 97 per cent, who converted, especially as the Government has undertaken that no avoidable hardship will be imposed upon any section of bondholders. The present Government is in office not with my approval, but by. the will of the majority of the electors.

Mr Gabb - The electors never endorsed repudiation.

Mr PROWSE - Ninety-seven per cent, of the bondholding electors decided that conversion was the right policy for Australia in its present emergency. In accordance with the democratic principle of majority rule, the "3 per cent, who dissented should be ordered into line with those who consented.

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