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Thursday, 18 February 1932


Dr EARLE PAGE (Cowper) . - I congratulate the mover and seconder of the Address-in-Reply on their maiden speeches. Both have distinguished themselves by the manner in which they have presented their cases to this House, and I trust that on many future occasions they will assist with their eloquence the deliberations of this assembly.

I must express my disappointment in regard to the Governor-General's Speech, not so much for what it contains, as for what is omitted. I trust that before many months have passed, the Speech will be supplemented by a statement of government policy which will enable the Country party to give further assistance to the Government along the lines I shall indicate.

I congratulate the Government on its proposal to bring down immediately an Insurance Bill. Such a measure is long overdue. In 1929, the Bruce-Page Government brought down a measure dealing with the whole question of life assurance, and, during the last Parliament, Senator McLachlan and myself endeavoured to have passed insurance legislation that would enable the Commonwealth law to override that of the States, and provide a uniform law throughout Australia. I hope that that problem will be faced in the immediate future. Everybody recognizes that there is a definite threat of confiscation of much of the assets of the insurance companies - which are part of the bulwarks of Australian social life - in the proposal made in New South Wales that excessive deposits in cash should be demanded. I trust that the bill to be brought down will contain provisions regarding not only life insurance, but also fire and marine insurance.

I congratulate the Government on its proposal to deal, by means of a commission, with the subject of national broadcasting. During the election campaign I pointed out that the Country party was firmly of the opinion that any of the features which militated against the private contractors must go, and that the system adopted by the British Broadcasting Corporation should be installed in Australia in its entirety. I added that if broadcasting was to be removed from the exigencies pf politics, it must be controlled by a board operating upon a charter which gave it full responsibility over both the programme matter a.nd the technical administration, without interference directly from the Government of the day, or indirectly through the interference of the civil service which, in turn, could be nothing more than the mouthpiece of the Government. I am glad to see that action along these lines is to be taken.

I am also pleased to notice an indication in the Governor-General's Speech that initial steps have been taken to coordinate the transport systems of Aus"tralia. The first steps in this direction were taken at the Premiers Conference in May, 1929, by proposals for the formation of a federal transport council, which was actually established at that time, and sat under the presidency of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), who was then Minister for Markets and Transport. Although that council has been allowed to lapse for the last two years, I consider it essential that the transport costs of Australia should be brought down, and that the railway systems whose deficits are largely responsible for the deficits of the various governments of Australia, should he placed upon an economic and commercial footing by a real co-ordination of management and activity.

I note with- pleasure the statement in the Speech that legislation is to be brought down to permit of more active proceedings than have been instituted in the past against communists and persons introducing alien propaganda into Australia, so that they may be dealt with effectively. I say definitely that if it is found that' the particular legislation proposed to be passed is insufficient to produce the desired effect, and if it is necessary to amend the Constitution to enable the Commonwealth Parliament to be master in its own house in this matter, I can vouch for the co-operation of the Country party, not merely in this chamber, but also in the country, in regard to the taking of the necessary constitutional referendum.

With regard to the other parts of the speech of His Excellency, I must confess to a certain amount of disappointment, because, despite the opening statement that the financial and unemployment positions are of the gravest importance to Australia, one finds no specific proposals to be placed before the Parliament actively to deal with them. I am glad, however, to know that steps are being taken in this direction; I understand today that a measure will be brought to this chamber to deal in a practical way with the default of the Government of New South Wales. I regret that there should have been delay in the payment of the interest due by that State on the 1st February. I think that an error of judgment was made in that connexion. It was of paramount importance that the credit of the Commonwealth should be maintained at the highest possible pitch. The right method was to pay the money owing by New South Wales, and subsequently adopt such proceedings as might be necessary for its recovery. I venture to say that the failure to pay the interest due at that time will, undoubtedly, make more difficult the task of the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Bruce), who I am pleased to see again in this chamber, and despite the statement of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) concerning his going

Or. Earle rage. to London as resident Minister, I am glad to know that he will represent Australia in London as a resident Minister. -This will make it more difficult than it would otherwise have been for him to clean up the financial position overseas, and consolidate the whole of the Australian debts in London in such a manner as materially to reduce our interest rates. That desirable object can be achieved only by an improvement of the credit position of Australia as a whole. What is necessary is a definite attack on the root cause of the instability and unemployment in this country, and the lack of confidence overseas. If this course is pursued, we shall find, before the end of the present year, that we shall be able to convert the whole of 'our overseas loans on as favorable terms as we converted those within Australia last" year with the same goodwill.

I am satisfied, however, that a permanent cure of the country's financial ills can be effected only by the application of the policy that was laid down at the joint conference, prior to the last election, between representatives of the Nationalist party, the All for Australia League and the Country party. What disturbs me, in regard to the Speech of the GovernorGeneral, is the fact that no mention is made of immediate action to do what was regarded by those responsible for the joint policy as urgently necessary. The leaders o{f these three parties suggested definite means of reducing production costs, abolishing excessive taxation, reducing and revising the high tariffs that are strangling production in Australia, and removing the burden on industry of industrial conflict. This joint policy was agreed upon in Sydney after various conferences during a period extending over many months, and it was directed towards the restoration of Australian industry.


Mr Scullin - Did it indicate how that object was to be achieved?


Dr EARLE PAGE - That was indicated clearly. The action taken was set out fully in various public statements in a draft agreement, and in various newspaper articles. It was the basis of the policy-speeches made by the Prime Minister as Leader of the United Australia party, and by myself as Leader of the Country party. The four main points in connexion with the policy were that there should be a revision of the tariff in the direction of securing a reduction of the cost of production and distribution in both primary and secondary industries; constitutional reform for the purpose, especially, of allowing New South Wales to be subdivided, without reference to the State Parliament, thus securing a cheapening of the cost of government; a limitation of the menace to Australian credit due to the operations of the Premier of New South Wales (Mr. Lang) ; the removal of the overlapping of Federal and State activities; a constitutional change to permit of uniformity determined in the basic wage, and standard hours of work being adopted throughout Australia, through the operation of a federal tribunal ; and, finally, the removal of the overlapping and duplication in connexion with the transport and electrical power systems of Australia. That, in short, was the basis of this policy.


Mr Forde - Does the right honorable gentleman say that the Prime Minister has gone back on all those undertakings?


Dr EARLE PAGE - No; there is abundance of time for him to bring down measures dealing with those matters. I urge him to introduce, at the earliest possible moment, legislation relating to the matters that are of first importance, so that we may discuss it and put it into effect. That is what the people of Australia demand.

I should like to place on record the exact text of the draft policy that formed the basis of the policy-speeches of the Prime Minister and myself at the election. Honorable members, I think, will see that the proposals referred to fundamental matters. Take, for instance, the huge wave of unemployment which is now passing over New South Wales. That, I venture to say, is due to the fact that the New South W ales industrial system is out of step with the industrial system and regulations of the rest of Australia.


Mr Beasley - Low wages!


Dr EARLE PAGE - Despite interjections from honorable members on my right, I adhere to that assertion. Scores of thousands of men are out of work in New South Wales simply because there is no uniform system of determining the basic wage for the whole of the Commonwealth. That is not merely my opinion. In a few- moments I shall quote the words of the Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Lang, who states that the reform which I am advocating should be one of the first matters to be discussed in this Parliament. On the 30th January last - less than three weeks ago - Mr. Lang, speaking at the Premiers Conference, said -

That brings us back to the point that the Commonwealth is striving for the principle of uniformity of the wage paid, real and nominal, and the hours of the working week. That is a reform that all Australia wants, and which only the Commonwealth can bring about. I hope that before the conference ends we will have a definite statement from the Prime Minister that his government has taken' steps to obtain immediately the necessary powers to bring about uniform industrial conditions so far as the basic wage and working hours is concerned. Mr. Lyons has placed his finger on the weakest spot in our national armour, and as his government sees this problem so clearly, I feel that it will not require any pressure from this conference to induce the Federal Parliament to take steps necessary to carry it.

So it will be seen that Mr. Lang supports the view, which I have 'just expressed, that this is one of the fundamental problems to be dealt with in Australia. I am certain that it is directly responsible for the fact that scores of thousands of men are out of employment in New South Wales to-day.

Let me now deal with the policy which was agreed to by the various organizations concerned, and formed the basis of the policy speeches made by the Prime Minister and myself at the last election. It embraces, inter alia, the following: -

Examination and adoption of the following policy, which shall be the common basis and keynote for the united effort for the rehabilitation of Australia.

Federal Objective.

1.   The elimination of overlapping of Federal and State powers.

Mr. Lyonsdealt with that subject in his election address, and pointed out that in quite a number of fields, such as aviation, wireless, and navigation, and double taxation by States, constitutional alteration should place the' position on a -satisfactory and national basis. It has already been' unanimously agreed by the members of the Royal Commission on the Constitution, on which the various parties were represented, that an alteration of the present position is imperative.

Tariff and Arbitration.

2.   To create employment and lower the cost of living, it is agreed that there must be a reduction in the cost of production and distribution in both primary and secondary industries. This can largely be achieved by a revision of the industrial situation and a revision of the tariff, which must be carried out equitably.

Tariff.

The scientific revision of the tariff for the economic rehabilitation of Australia with a view to -

(a)   The encouragement and protection of efficient primary and secondary industries.

(b)   The expansion of the export of primary and secondary products.

(c)   Encouragement of Empire trade.

(d)   Negotiation of reciprocal trade treaties with other nations.

Arbitration.

Amendment of the Constitution to provide for the basic wage and standard hours being fixed by federal authority in accordance with federal legislation. Margins for skill, overtime and other industrial matters to be dealt with by State bodies representing employers and employees, and based upon the principle of conciliation.

Transport and Power. 3. (a) The creation of an Australian transport council to co-ordinate transport activities, thereby reducing costs, and to secure -

(   1 ) Unity of policy, more particularly in respect of railways, and their freedom from political control.

(2)   Standardization of rolling-stock and equipment.

(3)   Reduction of border disabilities to a minimum.

(b)   Reduction of costs of marine transport on the Australian coast to be brought about by the amendment of Federal and State legislation relating to navigation.

(c)   To co-ordinate the generation and distribution of power throughout the Commonwealth.

Those were the main headings of the joint policy, and I am anxious to hear from the Government when and how effect will he given to them. I do not complain of the Governor-General's Speech; I have already stated that it contains several matters which are in accordance with the general view of the Country party. Transport reform is a subject which is specifically mentioned in the joint policy. But the other matters which will necessitate altera tions of the Constitution, especially Federal control of the basic wage throughout the Commonwealth, are vital to the well-being of Australia, and should be dealt with at once. I have mentioned Mr. Lang's view on the basic wage, and I trust that when the members of the Country party press the Government for an indication of its attitude on this subject, we shall have the support of all other honorable members, because what we are urging is in accordance with the generally expressed desire of all parties.


Mr James - What basic wage would the right honorable member suggest?







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