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Thursday, 18 February 1932

Mr HUTCHINSON (Indi) .- I second the motion that has been so ably submitted by the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson), and I feel particularly pleased to be associated with the honorable member in connexion with this motion, because he and I represent, to some extent, the young brigade which has just recently been returned to this Parliament. I have no doubt that all honorable members welcome the action and example of the young men of Australia who have offered their services in the interests of their country, and are taking a deep interest in its welfare. Their action augurs well for the future of Australia, because the problems that are arising will, I feel sure, demand the attention of men of the younger generations, who may be able to consider national problems from new angles.

The Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General expresses in general terms the action which the Government intends to take, and the legislation which will be introduced into this House in the near future. The programme outlined is, of course, more or less of a general nature; but it is framed on sound lines. When it has been put into effect, it should assist materially in removing some of the distress and difficulty that now confronts us, and it should usher in a somewhat brighter period. Possibly there has never been a time when the people have viewed the issues raised at an election, with such intense interest ae they showed at the recent poll. At the 1929 election, the people voted more or less for one plank of a policy, and failed to look into other and equally vital points of the policies of the opposing parties. In addition to that, they failed to realize the seriousness of the financial and economic position confronting Australia. This, added to the huge array of promises that were made, obscured their vision, and adversely affected their judgment. On this occasion, however, the reverse was the position. The issues raised were of wide interest to the people, and their vote was a sound and intelligent one; in. fact, it may be said that the last election was a triumph for democracy - not an uninformed democracy, or one having a narrow view, but an informed democracy which reflected the better side of the nature of the Australian people.

It will be realized that the main causes of the depression in Australia to-day are international. If the world is to emerge from the present period of depression, it must be as the result of international action. Therefore, I am pleased to note that this Parliament will send representatives abroad to discuss such subjects as disarmament, and also, I hope, reparations. These subjects are closely allied, and the matter of reparations is intimately related to the great problem of currency. It seems absurd that we should have an abundance of production, and yet not have the means of exchange. These problems are of vital importance to Australia and to civilization, and we should bend our energies to bringing about international co-operation for their solution.

The important subject of the financial situation of the Commonwealth, and the unemployment problem, cloud all other issues. They are by far the mo3t serious that the present Government will have to face. I am glad to know that, on the financial issue, the Government intends to follow along the lines laid down under the Premiers' plan. It proposes to live within its means, and, further than that, I hope that it will reduce the cost of administration as far as possible. We must realize that taxation has now risen to a point at which it is definitely the cause of, and not the cure for unemployment. While the Government must try to live within its income, it must also strive, by economy, to lighten the crushing burden of taxation which now rests on private enterprise. It is said by some persons that, by bringing economy into government, purchasing power will be reduced, and that thi3 will add to unemployment; but I suggest that economy in government will make available additional money for private enterprise and for production, as well as provide increased funds, ultimately, for the employment of the people. The unemployment problem can be solved only by private enterprise. Any measure adopted by governments to that end must be of a purely temporary nature. Therefore, I am glad to notice that the Government intends to apply economy measures, and to live definitely within its income.

I am sure that we all deplore the attitude of the Government of New South Wales in failing to honour the promises given by it to observe the terms of the Premiers' plan. We regret the stigma that has been placed ou the people of Australia as a whole by reason of the fact that that State has openly announced its intention to default with regard to its overseas interest payments. The attitude of the Government of New South Wales is adding materially to the difficulties of Australia, and it is to be hoped that at an early date the people of that State will have an opportunity again to exercise their judgment, and give evidence at the ballot box of their true character.

I now come to another subject which, after finance and unemployment, is of the utmost importance; I refer to the tariff. This matter must be definitely attacked by this Parliament if we are to place our economic system on a stable basis. This subject, more than any other, must be courageously and intelligently faced by the people. A group of economists, in 1929, reviewed the tariff system, and pointed out that in 1927-28 the excess costs of the exporting industries of the Commonwealth, on account of the tariff, amounted to, roughly, 8 per cent. To-day we know that the value of our main exports, wheat and wool, has fallen to a very great extent, and we are also aware that the tariff has been increased. It is instantly apparent to every honorable member that the devising of means of maintaining and increasing the volume of exportable products of all kinds is vitally important. Therefore, it is essential that we should do everything possible to relieve the burdens now placed upon those industries, if we are to save Australia from default. It was also pointed out by the economists that the 1927-28 tariff could not be raised without seriously interfering with our export industries. I do not intend to discuss that subject further at this juncture; I am content to say that it is apparent that if we are to provide funds in London to enable us to meet our interest payments overseas, we must place our export industries on a sound basis, in order to escape national default and dishonor. There are two ways of bringing about tariff reform. There is the haphazard and hasty method; but I do not recommend that that course should be followed. We must adjust the tariff on a scientific basis. Hasty action would result in a further loss of capital, and would further disorganize industry and increase unemployment. It is essential that we hasten slowly, and pay due regard to the recommendations of the Tariff Board. If we will place the horse before the cart, instead of the cart before the horse - if, in other words, the export industries are given due consideration . in economic policy, we can accomplish a great improvement, and the protective system will be on a sounder basis. Involved in any policy of tariff reform is the development of Empire preference, and I welcome the Government's decision to be strongly represented at the forthcoming economic conference. One of the most encouraging features of the economic outlook is the desire of the British peoples to establish closer trade relations, and I am confident that, despite the difficulties to be overcome, great good will result from the gathering at Ottawa. The coming together of the British peoples will not only give advantage to the dominions, but will give renewed hope to the world for the advancement of freedom and civilization.

The aim of this Parliament should be to reconstruct down to a basis in keeping with our finances, and to allow the utmost freedom to private enterprise. Industry cannot prosper if it is hampered by constantly changing legislation and governmental interference. We should seek to give stability to private enterprise ; the captains of industry must be assured that they will not be subjected to undue interference by the legislature or the Government, and that they are free to plan ahead to increase production and restore prosperity. The present, more than any other time in the history of Australia, calls for statesmanship; the problems that confront us must be resolutely and courageously faced, and I venture to suggest that in applying themselves to this task, honorable members should not regard themselves as merely representatives of parts of Australia. Although we have been chosen by individual electorates, our duty is to work for Australia as a whole; we should endeavour to take a national view of our problems and deal with them without fear of the consequences to ourselves. If, adopting that attitude, we strive to reconstruct the economic edifice on a sound scientific basis in accordance with the necessities of the times, giving freedom and stability to private enterprise, I am confident that the initiative, resource and public spirit of the Australian people, will increase production and employment and usher in a new era of prosperity.

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