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Thursday, 18 February 1932

Mr BEASLEY (West Sydney) . - I followed very closely the proposals of the Government as they are foreshadowed in the Speech of the GovernorGeneral. Like the policy speech that was delivered by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) in the Sydney Town Hall during the general election campaign, the Speech which is now under discussion is quite indefinite; indeed, for indefiniteness it is without parallel in the series of similar speeches which have been made during the history of Australian Parliaments. In the policy speech of the Leader of the United Australia party, the only thing upon which one could fasten with certainty was the phrase, "Restoration of confidence ", which was reiterated and varied again and again. The honorable: gentleman pointed out that if his party were successful at the polls confidence would be restored at home and abroad, and that every day thereafter would be a better day for the Commonwealth of Australia. He declared that prosperity would come again, and at once, in every avenue, of public activity.

First let us consider to what extent confidence has been restored abroad. A week after the result of the election wa» announced, -it became necessary to convert bills to the value of approximately £5,000,000 falling due in London. Afterthe statements of the Prime Minister and' his followers, the least that could" have been- expected was that those billa would be renewed at a lower rate of interest, and for a longer period than would have been possible under the regime of the previous (Scullin) Administration. But the information now at our disposal discloses that they were converted at \ per cent, higher than the tuen existing bank rate in London, and that the holders would not grant an extension for a longer period than three months. That explodes the myth of the restoration of confidence abroad.

Now as to the promise that there would be a restoration of confidence in Australia. I have closely analysed the figures and other information which is available as to the state of our industries, and in no case can I find that there has been any improvement since the advent of this Government. . On the contrary, a state of panic now exists among our unemployed. Undoubtedly, many were misled at the general election by the specious promises of the Leader of the Government. They gave their support to the United Australia party because of those promises; support that otherwise would have gone to opposing parties. Those who were unemployed were led to believe that if the United Australia party were returned to power the banks would release credits which would not be available to any other government returned to power.

To-day the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) showed that the adherence by his and other Governments to the Premiers plan involved ''the jettisoning of the principles on which the Labour movement was established. It was on those terms that a kind of guarantee was given by the banking institutions that credits would be made available to assist the thousands of unemployed. It appears to me that, after the late Government had been jockeyed into a position that meant the sacrifice of all that Labour stood for, it was left, to quote a statement made by Sir Otto Niemeyer just after his departure from Australia in referring to our people generally, " to stew in its own juice". All praise and honour must now be given to those in the Labour movement who have fought against attempts to break down the conditions of the people of this country, and thus to destroy the political movement that gave them birth. There has been no restoration of confidence in Australia. Instead, the position is steadily growing worse. We are now told that something may be done for the unemployed at the Premiers Conference that is to be held in May of this year.

Mr Scullin - Is it not to be held before May?

Mr BEASLEY - No. We have asked what is to be done in the meantime, but have received no reply. There have been numerous conferences with the Premiers, and meetings of the Loan Council, during the past two years. I and others eagerly awaited their decisions. The importance of those conferences was magnified by the press, so that the people of Australia stood tip toe, to see what beneficial result would accrue. But, as from empty vessels, much sound but nothing else came from those conferences. Yet, now, all that this Government has to offer to the people is the promise "of another conference^ - with the same inevitably abortive results. There is no need for conferences of Premiers to outline the work that is to be done. Such conferences, indeed, can give no solution. Whatever they may decide, their decisions may be over-ridden by a higher authority which determines everything. When speaking at Drummoyne during the general election the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) declared that he could sit down and in half-an-hour evolve a scheme which would give " employment to hundreds of thousands. But that, in itself, would give no work. Yet it is all that a Premiers Conference could do. The deliberations of a conference must be futile when dominated by the banking institutions which provide the money. The solution should be provided by this Government, which is the central authority; it should determine what is to be done. It is vitally necessary that the Government should indicate definitely to the people of Australia - the farmers and business men as well as the workers - that it has some concrete proposal for the rehabilitation of the country. It is unnecessary to convene a Premiers Conference for the purpose. This central authority should come to a determination, make it known to the Premiers and the people of Australia, and provide the necessary credits to give employment to those who need it. In the

State of New South Wales alone this year over £6,000,000 is being distributed to provide food relief - and it is scanty at that.

During the general elections the' people were not enlightened as to what would be the Government's policy. It is true that the Prime Minister admitted to-day that he had asked the electors to give his party an open mandate. In point of fact, we obtained an indication of the Government's policy only after the return of the right honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) from abroad. It is strange that after the Cabinet had been sworn in, and enlightened as to the financial problems that confront Australia, the Prime Minister had to inform the press that no action could be taken until the return of Mr. Bruce from overseas. It is obvious that while the Prime Minister declared to the people during the general election that his party had a policy which would solve the problem of unemployment and the restoration of prosperity, he actually had to wait until the return of the right honorable member for Flinders before the subject could even be discussed. It is also passing strange that, in 1929, the same honorable gentleman was returned to this Parliament on a policy that was absolutely opposed to that of this same Mr. Bruce. He criticized the actions of that gentleman when Prime Minister, and those of his Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page), and declared that most of our troubles were due to the policy which they had followed when at the head of an administration. Now he intends to send the honorable member for Flinders to London to represent this country. Probably that gentleman will be more at home in that city than he is in Australia, for he certainly has not an Australian outlook or sentiment. He showed that clearly during the seven years he was Prime Minister of Australia. In the circumstances, it may help this country if he spends all his time abroad. I say, definitely, that many of the problems and troubles which we are facing to-day were caused by the actions of Mr. Bruce and his followers, and the Country party with which they were allied. Although the present Prime Minister opposed the policy of the Bruce-Page Administration on every platform in the Wilmot electorate, he said, after his election on the 19 th December, that he must await the return of Mr. Bruce to Australia before he could indicate the policy of his Government.

Since he has given us an indication of his policy, the people of East Sydney have had an opportunity of expressing their opinion upon it. In fact they are the only electors who have had an opportunity to do so. Surely it is significant that at a by-election which occurred almost immediately after the announcement of the policy of the Lyons Government, the people expressed their disapproval of that policy by reversing their decision at the general election. _

This is the first time that the policy of a government has been condemned in this fashion. After the return of the Scullin Government to power in 1929, a by-election occurred, following upon the death of Mr. Mcwilliams, and the policy of the Scullin Government was approved, for the Labour party then won a seat which it had never previously held. It is surely suggestive that an important electorate like East Sydney condemned the policy of the Lyons Administration at the very beginning of its career. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) is interjecting. He may, if he chooses, denounce the State of New South Wales, but he must know that the time will come, and perhaps earlier than he thinks, when the electors of his constituency will rise in their might and remove him from his position for his support of a policy of low wages and long hours.

The policy of the Lyons Government was announced, first of all, at a Millions Club luncheon - a very appropriate place. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister selected a suitable place to state his policy. He went to his masters. It was the first time that he had addressed the Millions Club. He was not accustomed to such company. But he felt at home', for he outlined his policy clearly and definitely to those who were present. I do not know very much about the Millions Club, but I understand that the members of it" eat well and abundantly - certainly much better than those who have to exist on the dole can eat. The atmosphere of that august assembly was very suitable for the announcement of the Prime Minister. Those who live on the dole and who have barely enough to exist upon would not have cheered the honorable gentleman to the echo as the members of the Millions Club did when, after pointing out that whereas the basic wage was in New SouthWales £4 2s. 6d. per week, in South Australia it was only £3 3s., and that whereas the working week in New South Wales was 44 hours, in South Australia it was 48 hours, he said that those conditions could not be expected to continue.

Mr Lane - Many of the people in New South Wales have no work at all.

Mr BEASLEY - Does the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) advocate a reduction of the basic wage to £3 3s., and a lengthening of hours to 48 weekly? That" is a fair question for him to answer. I shall he glad if the honorable member for Barton will answer my question when he has a favorable opportunity to do so. The people of his electorate, or many of them at any rate, will be very interested in his reply. I am sure that the electors of Barton did not think for a moment that the honorable gentleman would support a policy which involved the reduction of the basic wage in New South Wales to £3 3s., and a lengthening of hours to 48 a. week. I do not think that a single United Australia party candidate advocated such a policy during the election campaign. But, of course, there was nothing wrong in making such an announcement at the Millions Club ! It was the place for such a declaration. The electors of East Sydney have been called upon to express an opinion upon this policy, and they have done so very definitely. I am anxious to hear honorable members opposite give us their opinion upon the speech delivered by the Prime Minister at the Millions Club. I believe that if they support that policy the Government to which they now owe allegiance will have a short life. Governments with very large majorities have come and gone in the past, and will do so again. No government can remain in power for very long if it fails to deal effectively with the unemployment problem.

We had an elaboration of the government policy at the recent Loan Council meeting. A speech was made by a responsible member of this Government which was in conformity with that delivered by the Prime Minister at the Millions Club.

Mr Prowse - There must be something in it then !

Mr BEASLEY - I have no doubt that there is something in it which will suit the purposes of those who stand behind the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) ; but it will not suit the purposes of the majority of the people of Australia. It was a good thing for the people of Australia, and particularly for the people of New South Wales, that some one at the Loan Council meeting was prepared to stand up for the best interests of the majority of the people of the Commonwealth and of New South Wales. It was also a good thing that some one at the conference was able to tell the people what was likely to happen. Otherwise, they might have known nothing at all about the prospects for the future. The Assistant Treasurer informed the Loan Council that after the end of June there would be no money available for public works. He made it clear that those who were at present employed on public works would, after the end of June, need to find employment elsewhere. It has been said to-day from this side of the chamber, that it is impossible, even in prosperous times, for all the people of Australia to find employment in private enterprise. We have been told that even in good times as many as 200,000 persons have been employed on public works. If all public works are to cease at the end of June it must be apparent that many more people will be thrown upon the unemployment market. The Assistant Treasurer told the States that they must prepare for the cessation of public works before the end of June, otherwise there would be a very heavy increase in unemployment at that time. He suggested that the States should begin at once to taper off employment upon public works. He advised that the tapering system should be put into operation so that it would affect as many as 1,000 men per month. He said that if thisweredone the people would " getused to unemployment". Those are his own words. It is, therefore, the policy of thisGovernment, apparently, to administer the affairs of the country so that people will " get used to unemployment It would not have been politic to state that policy in clear terms in the GovernorGeneral's Speech, but there can be no doubt that this is, in effect the real policy of the Government. It was a good thing therefore that the Premier of New South Wales attended the Loan Council meetings and obtained information about the policy of the Government before the time came for the policy to be put into full effect. In these circumstances it is necessary for us to watch very closely all the activities of the Government.

Therecan be no doubt at all that unemployment is the most important problem with which we have to deal. We have been informed that the Government intends to send delegates to the Disarmament Conference. In view of the professed need for economy, we are entitled to ask how much is likely to be spent on this delegation. We should also be told how much it is likely to cost to maintain a resident Minister in London. We know very well that people who undertake such duties as thesedo not live cheaply. Seeing that there is a prospect of still greater unemployment, the public will be interested to know how much money is to be spent in the directions that I have mentioned.

We have heard a good deal for a number of years about the need to reduce the cost of production. This, and similar phrases, are frequently used by honorable members opposite. But they will never define what they mean by a reduction in the cost of production. In the recent by-election in East Sydney the United Australia party candidate had a great deal to say about the removal of the shackles from industry so that costs could be lowered. But neither he nor any other member of his party has ever said definitely what shackles he has in mind or how they are to be removed. It is true that the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson), in his speech this afternoon, referred to the sacrifices that had been made by the workers. He is the first member ofhis party, to my knowledge, who has admitted thatthe workers have sacrificed all that can be expected of them. The honorable gentleman said that other means of effecting economy would have to be explored. I am sorry that he did not proceed to outline what avenues of exploration he had in mind. Perhaps he will explain himself later on that point.

Certain views have been expressed this afternoon on the interest problem. Honorable members of the previous Parliament will remember that the group to which I belong said, so far back as last February, that interest rates would have to be reduced, and that they were the main factor in keeping up the cost of production. It was suggested that arbitrary methods should be adopted to reduce interest rates. But that was called repudiation, and we were bitterly condemned for having even suggested such a thing. It will be remembered that the statement was made at a time when interest charges cost nearly as much as wages in some public undertakings. We pointed out that the wages bill for the New South Wales Railway Department was about £9,000,000 per annum, while the interest bill was about £7,000,000 per annum. We know now that although the wages bill has been reduced greatly, the interest bill has not been touched. Those who have followed the political history of this country since last February will remember that the Premier of New South Wales enunciated a definite policy for the reduction of both internal and external interest rates, and the abandonment of the gold standard. For doing so he was strongly criticized by some members of the Labour party at that time, as well as by those who held other political views. Mr. Lang not only said definitely that an arbitrary cut would have to be made in interest rates, but he took steps in the New South Wales Parliament to give effect to that policy. Unfortunately, the majority against him in the Legislative Council was too great to permit him to give effect to his policy. Since that time this Parliament has itself arbitrarily reduced interest rates, and fixed both minimum and maximum terms for the repayment of loans. The minimum term was fixed at seven years, and the maximum at 30 years. In view of all that has happened, I cannot help saying that there is a great deal of- hypocrisy in the utterances of public men in Australia throughout these days. We all know very well that many business mon realize in their heart that action of this kind was necessary. When they can be got to talk in their quiet moments, away from the hurry and bustle of their affairs, they admit that no other course could have been taken than that followed by the Government of New South Wales.

I think we are entitled to ask the membars and supporters of the Government to make a clear statement of their arbitration policy. It was said during the election campaign that the United Australia party would not 'interfere with out arbitration system if it were returned to power. Yet at a meeting 'of the Loan Council Mr. Bruce said -

It was all right for Mr. Lang to say thai wages must be dealt with by the court, but, in times -of -emergency, long cherished principles must be laid aside.

We know where Mr. Bruce stands, and we are anxious to know where his supporters stand, because, after all, this is an important question, on which the people gave a definite decision at the elections of 1929.

Reference has been made to the position of New South Wales in relation to interest payments overseas. The law relating to the control of overseas debts is administered solely by the Commonwealth whose powers are definite. Therefore, it is utterly impossible to shift the responsibility for interest payments to a State. Obviously the Commonwealth Government has made a huge blunder otherwise there would have been no need for a sudden change of front after the Loan Council had definitely decided that the Commonwealth should not meet the interest obligations of New South Wales. This Government realized its mistake when it was too late. It was suffering from "Langitis", as the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has stated. The members of the Ministry have an obsession about Mr. Lang. They in common with many others can think of no one but him. I hope that they may continue to have that obsession, and to organize bodies like the New Guard with its press-stunts about bush fires and other things.

Mr Lane - What happened to the Lang supporters at the recent election?

Mr BEASLEY - I left this House with five members, and I returned with a similar number. That cannot be said of every party in this House. I did not use the electioneering tactics adopted in the Martin electorate, where posters were exhibited asking the people to vote for W. A. Holman, and so \isner in prosperity. There are to-day thousands of workers in the Martin electorate waiting for the waving of the magic wand to bring about the era of prosperity that has been promised to them. I wish now to quote a few figures in respect of the overseas interest debt of New South. Wales. The sum of £958,764 is involved, and of that, £294,048 represents exchange. The old-age pensioners and those in receipt of the dole, food or other relief have to make sacrifices so as to swell the profits of oversea money-lenders. Approximately £300,000 of the interest debt of New South Wales can be regarded as. money for nothing. As Mr. Bruce said when speaking on this subject, we can take this money from the workers - the railway and tramway workers of New South Wales - so as to meet our commitments overseas. The Westminster Bank is to receive £466,150, and New York £207,817. I was interested to learn from the anti-labour pres6 that on the 7th of January, five of the leading banks of Great Britain paid an average dividend of 18 per cent, to their shareholders. It was stated that in spite of a bad year in Great Britain, the directors were pleased to be able to report that the five leading banks, including Lloyd's, the Westminster Bank, the National Provincial Bank, and the Midland Bank all paid an average of 18 per cent. Yet in Great Britain the dole has been reduced by 10 per cent.; the wages in the army and "navy have been slashed ; and social services have been considerably reduced. It is true that there is an obligation on all governments to meet their financial commitments, but the Australian governments have a greater obligation to the people. In this crisis our obligation is to provide food, clothing and shelter for the unemployed. While I remain in the public life of this country, I shall advocate the maintenance of the services provided by the Labour party for the relief of the sick and needy, the old and the infirm, and the unfortunate unemployed. I shall fight with all the means at my disposal, in and out of this Parliament, to ensure food relief to our unfortunate people. That, I contend, is our first obligation. My attitude is that of the Premier of New South Wales (Mr. Lang), and is supported by the electors of East Sydney. During the election campaign we clearly indicated our views in respect of overseas commitments. That issue was decided by the electors of East Sydney, and I should like to have an opportunity to test it in many other electorates of New South Wales.

Mr Archdale Parkhill - The honorable member had his opportunity.

Mr BEASLEY - The honorable member had an exceedingly close shave at the 1929 elections, and did not poll too well in the recent election. The leader of his party, who is now the Prime Minister, had to leave Adelaide immediately for Sydney in order to assist the honorable member in his campaign, and to save time had to make use of a speed boat in which to rush across the Sydney Harbour. The honorable member for Warringah was closely pressed by an exsenator, but now that he is back in this chamber I say good luck to him. But there is nothing for him to "crow" about.

Reference has been made to the proposed appointment of a resident Minister in London.

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