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Thursday, 18 February 1932


Mr JOHN LAWSON (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I move -

That the following Addresss-in-Reply to His Excellency the Governor-General's Speech he agreed to: -

May itpleaseyourexcellency :

We, the House of Representatives of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, bug to express our loyalty to our most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.

I desire to express my highappreciation of the honour and distinction conferred upon me by this opportunity to move the adoption of the AddressinReply. I am the parliamentary representative of what is probably the most varied constituency in the Commonwealth. It comprises farming and grazing areas of every description, and has also within it many manufacturing, industrial and purely residential centres. I, therefore, regard this honour and distinction as an earnest of the Government's genuine concern for the welfare, not of any particular section of the people alone, but of all sections of the people; and of its realization of the magnitude of the problems confronting industry generally and their bearing upon the whole community; and of its determination to face those problems fearlessly in an endeavour to aid their solution by dealing out evenhanded justice to all. The policy of the Government as outlined prior to the general election of the 19th December last received probably the most emphatic endorsement by the people that has ever been recorded in the annals of electioneering in this Commonwealth. This policy is well defined, clear cut, and unequivocal. It is not a policy the potential usefulness of which is warped by the narrowness of sectional thought. It is not a policy foredoomed to failure by the parochialism of its sponsors; it is a policy which is national in its conception and in its aim. It was con ceived by men whose ability is unquestioned, whose outlook is essentially Australian, whose personal integrity is unimpeachable, and whose high motives of unselfishness are beyond doubt. This policy is not aimed at the achievement of cheap popularity by the application of mere palliatives, the effects of which will soon pass; but is an attack upon the basic causes of our country's ills with a view to the permanent amelioration of the sufferings of the people and the restoration of general prosperity to the whole community. The emphatic endorsement of this policy by the people was immediately followed by a brighter tone in business throughout the Commonwealth, by an improvement in the value of Commonwealth stocks, and by the re-opening of the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales under the aegis of the Commonwealth Bank. We regard these events as a happy augury for the future. The people, generally speaking, have confidence in the present Government, and look to the future with renewed hope. But wo cannot live by faith alone, and the Government realizes that the present economic condition of Australia must be faced fearlessly. It will not be blinded by the optimism which the events of the last few weeks have created. It recognizes that the economic position of Australia is still critical, requiring the most delicate handling, and that any recovery or return of confidence must be gradual, requiring to a high degree courage and fortitude on the part not only' of our political leaders but also of every section of the people themselves. The Government is prepared to face the position with determination, and a full realization of its -responsibilities. To my mind an interesting and important light is thrown upon the present position of Australia by an examination of our export trade over a period of years. Taking a triennial average, we find that from 1914 to 1929, Australia's export trade increased in volume by approximately 65 per cent. Over the same period the export trade of Canada increased in volume by approximately 210 per cent., and that of New Zealand by approximately 150 per cent. The official figures for 1930 and 1931, I understand, are not yet available for all these countries, but the evidence is that while their trade suffered seriously during that period, Australia's trade suffered even more seriously than did that of, either Canada or New Zealand. lt is therefore evident that, during the past fifteen or twenty years, Australia has suffered a very definite trade lag, and that in the field of commerce it has been outstripped in an astonishing manner by sister dominions whose industries closely resemble ours, and whose resources are certainly no richer than ours. It must also be remembered that during the period over which the volume of Australia's exports increased by approximately 65 per cent., our national debt increased by more than 200 per cent. In view of these facts the Government realizes that the social and economic structure of Australia is badly in need of a complete overhaul, with a view to the stimulation of private enterprise, and the creation of greater national efficiency. Australia has suffered acutely during the last two years as a result -of the drop in the prices of our export products. Unfortunately, there seems to be no immediate prospect of any substantial increase in export prices. The policy of the Government is, therefore, to encourage private enterprise, and particularly, to increase our income from external sources by the stimulation of our export trade. But a3 trade is made up almost entirely of products of the soil, I submit that one of the greatest problems confronting the Government is the rehabilitation of rural industries. A proper understanding of the importance of this problem can be obtained only by a knowledge of the fact that there can be no real recovery in any industry, and no permanent absorption of unemployed, until rural industry is again placed upon a sound basis. Rural industry in the past has been the fount of all our blessings; it is the foundation upon which the whole of our economic and commercial architecture rests. In happier days, it was the bulwark of our prosperity; to-day it may, perhaps, be regarded as our last line of defence against unparalleled disaster. And yet the difficulties confronting rural industry are such that it cannot indefinitely maintain its present position unless relief is speedily forthcoming. I submit that the only sound way of providing relief is by enabling primary producers to reduce their production costs, and so adjust rural industry to the lowered value of its products.

I speak feelingly because, during recent years, I have experienced all the bitterness, and suffered all the uncompromising hardships of life on the land. During that period I have marvelled at the courage and tenacity of the mcn and women out-back, for whom life seems to hold little but drudgery and disappointment, but who yet refuse to admit defeat, oven though the odds are overwhelming and the fight apparently hopeless. In 1'927 my wool clip averaged 19-£d. per rb.. in 1928, it averaged 15id.; in 1929, 10fd., and in 1930, it averaged only 6 1/2d That is an example of the calamities which have overtaken rural industries during recent years. Nor is that an isolated case. It can be accepted as applying generally to rural industries throughout the country, but is not confined to rural industry alone. It has affected almost all other primary products in a similar way, and it gives a vivid idea of the slender thread by which such industries hang at the present time.

Notwithstanding the drop in the value of primary products, the only contribution that has been made during the last two years to the reduction of costs of production has been -made by the employees engaged in rural industry, who have accepted lower wages; but any gain ro the farmers in that respect has been more than counterbalanced by increased taxation. I hold the opinion that the employees engaged in rural industries should not be the only ones required to contribute towards lower production costs, and it is therefore gratifying to learn that the Government will take immediate steps to revise the tariff along lines which will make it more equitable, not only to primary producers, but to the consumers also, and to those outside Australia with whom we wish to trade, who to-day harbour a hot resentment against Australia for the restrictions which the Australian tariff places on legitimate trade. Such a revision of the tariff as has been outlined will also pave the way for greater Empire trade reciprocity. In this sphere I consider that the possi- bilities of Australian trade are unbounded. We need only look at Great Britain's annual trade in foodstuffs to realize how great is the market which awaits us. Each year she imports foodstuffs to the value of approximately £450,000,000. but Australia's share of her annual disbursements for food amounts to only 3 or 4 per cent. It is vital to our wellbeing to increase that trade, but the only way in which we can do so is by placing rural industries on a sound basis, and by looking to the efficiency of our production and marketing methods.

That all is not well here may be gleaned from an examination of our frozen meat trade. In 1914 Australia was exporting considerably more frozen meat per annum than New Zealand. Since then our frozen meat trade has declined year by year until to-day Australia is exporting 45 per cent. less by weight of frozen meat than eighteen years ago. On the other hand, the export of New Zealand meat has expanded, until to-day New Zealand is exporting considerably more than twice as much frozen meat by weight each year than, is Australia. The uniform system of grading which was instituted some years ago in New Zealand has enabled buyers of frozen meat in any part of the world to cable an order for meat of any description, stating the grade and quality required, knowing full well that when the consignment arrives it will conform in every particular to the grade specified. It is in this way that a country's trade is built' up. It is largely because the Australian meat trade has never been properly organized that it finds itself in its present deplorable condition. I have had some experience of this matter. I was in the veterinary service of the New Zealand Government when the meat grading system was established, and I assisted in the training of the first batch of graders who went out. Therefore, from my own knowledge and experience, I can vouch for the benefit which has been conferred on the New Zealand meat trade by the introduction of this system. Australia would do well to follow the example of New Zealand in this respect. If Australia could increase her share of Britain's food imports to 15 per cent., a revolu tion of the right kind would be achieved in this country. It would mean that our rural population could be doubled;, our non-paying railway lines could be placed upon a sound financial basis, our land settlement schemes would cease to be the tragic farce they are to-day, taxationcould be reduced, the output of our factories could be increased, and, as a result, the price of their products reduced, and our unemployed could be absorbed in the exploitation of the untapped natural wealth, such as the shale deposits at Newnes. These are not idle dreams or futile speculations, but are definite possibilities of the near future. Their realization, however, is entirely contingent on a great national effort embracing revised tariffs, lower production costs, and greater efficiency in marketing, coupled with uniform working conditions, a stable exchange rate, rigid governmental economy, and the balancing of budgets.

Recent developments with regard to Britain's fiscal system, and the approach of the Imperial Economic Conference at Ottawa open up possibilities for Australian trade of an unprecedented character. But we must show Britain and the world that we are deserving of the fruits of those opportunities before we shall be allowed to enjoy them. I rejoice that our representation at Ottawa and Geneva will be entrusted to such capable men as those who have been chosen to labour in our interests there. I applaud the decision of the Ministry to be represented in London for the time being by a cabinet Minister. I feel confident that these gentlemen will serve Australia with honour and distinction, and I am convinced that they will, in the truest sense of the term, be empire builders. It is vital, however, that their efforts be not stultified, or their path made more difficult, by the shadow of default or by the bitterness of party or factional recriminations at home. Shakespeare has reminded us that -

There is a tide in the affairs of men,

Which taken at the flood leads on to fortune.

A feeling is abroad that Australia is about to be presented with the greatest opportunity for trade development in her history. It is the national obligation of every Australian citizen to do all that is possible to help Australia to take the fullest advantage of this opportunity, lt may be that the present will be the most momentous of all Commonwealth parliaments. As a new and young member of this Parliament, as yet untouched by the cynicism which, I understand, parliamentary life has a tendency to foster, I appeal to all honorable members to bear in mind that possibility, to remember the great responsibility it places upon them, and to allow their words and actions to be shaped not so much by party feeling as by national sentiment. In this manner we may all share the very great privilege of doing everything a parliament can do to set Australia's ship sailing home again ou the flood tide of renewed prosperity.







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