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Thursday, 25 February 1932

Mr SPEAKER - I am sure that the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Hutchin) does not mind the interruptions, and is quite able to hold his own against them, but I remind honorable members that it is customary to afford new members, while making their first speech, an uninterrupted hearing.

Mr HUTCHIN - The new bill which is before the New South Wales Parliament proposes to give these conciliation commissioners the widest powers. The definition of industrial matters is as wide as the Pacific Ocean. In addition to that, they are to have a vote, so that it is essential that they should be impartial. Now that I have disclosed the names and histories of some of these gentlemen, it is not surprising that the employing interests in New South Wales feel that this measure proposes to deliver them bound and gagged to the domination of the New South Wales Trades Hall. Why is not the money which this- cumbersome organization costs devoted to the relief of distress? The other States of the Commonwealth are entitled to ask that.

There has been for some time past a milk board in New South Wales, the president of which receives £1,250 a year. The members of the board each receive £750 a year, but recently their salaries have been increased by £500. Mr. Lang evidently intends to milk the State. Not long ago he said that no one was worth more than £500 a year in any position in these days, and he proposed to cut down the tall poppies. Very shortly one will not be able to see Mr. Lang for these poppies. An increase in salary of £500 a year to the members of this board in face of the prevailing distress is surely the height of absurdity. One is informed on authority which one usually believes, that there are reasons behind this increase which have not been disclosed.

Another appointment has recently been made which indicates that, while the desire may be strong in the breasts of certain people in New South Wales to look after humanity, their interest is centered not only in the poor. A gentleman has been appointed to a land board in Western New South Wales at a salary of £1,000. He may know all about land, but, so far as I can learn, his previous connexions have nothing whatever to do with it.

Then, in connexion with the administration of the dole, the Lang Government appointed an army of inspectors at fairly satisfactory salaries. Their duty is to keep a check on dole payments, and to prevent that dishonesty which, apparently, became a little bit too much to be borne. If the Government of New South Wales is so concerned about the starving women and children, what need is there to create this ever-growing bureaucracy at salaries which must be as a red Tag to a bull in the eyes of the unemployed. The Loan Council would have been justified at its last meeting in. tackling the New South Wales Government on that question. No other State has done anything of the kind, nor would think of doing so. In New South Wales, however, there appear to be a great many people who have to be appeased, and the Government has no hesitation in appeasing them at the expense of the rest of Australia. The Loan Council, which authorizes the raising of the money to be spent by New South Wales, has the right to inquire into these matters.

Regarding the basic wage in New South Wales, it will be informative to place on record the percentage decreases which have taken place in various parts of the Commonwealth since June, 1930. In New South Wales the State basic wage has not been decreased at all. The federal basic wage, which is paid over a fairly wide range of industry, has been reduced by 25.19 per cent. In Victoria the reduction has been 26.27 per cent. ; in Queensland, 24.25 per cent. ; in South Australia, 30.86 per cent.; in Western Australia, 26.37 per cent.; and in Tasmania, 22.83 per cent. The Governments of those States have not shouted from the housetops that they have starving women and children to support. The only State which has raised that cry is New South Wales, which has refused to adjust wages to meet present day conditions. Because of the high wages ruling in that State, competitive industry in other States has had an advantage over it. The New South Wales Government, in an endeavour to meet that position, has introduced a trade mark bill designed to frustrate freetrade between the States. In addition to the high basic wage, there is in New South Wales a system of family endowment payments. For this purpose a levy of 2 per cent, is made on all salaries and wages, including the salaries of members of executive staffs. From the fund so created 5s. a week is paid to each dependant child - after the first where the average income is less than the basic wage. Due to unemployment, and intermittency of employment, which, in turn, is due to the high rate of wages prevailing, child endowment claims are increasing by hundreds every week.

In New South Wales and in other States governments are paying sustenance or, as it is more commonly called, the dole. The dole for a single man in New South Wales is lis. 8d. a fortnight, on top of which he may earn, if he feels so disposed, 25s. a fortnight, bringing his total income to £1 16s. 8d. The dole for a married man is 18s. lOd. a fortnight. He may earn 50s. a fortnight, bringing his receipts up to £3 8s. lOd. a. fortnight. If he has a child, he may draw 29s. 4d. a fortnight, and earn another 50s. a fortnight, bringing his total receipts up to £3 19s. 4d. If he has seven children he may draw up to 55s. 4d. a fortnight. He may earn, without diminishing the amount of the dole, up to £5 12s. 6d. a fortnight, so that his total receipts will be £8 7s. lOd. a fortnight. Is it any wonder that many people in New South Wales have become so expert in doing just that amount of work which will fail to penalize them in drawing their dole payment? That is a very provocative state of affairs in the eyes of the people in other States, people who, besides being citizens of their respective States, are first of all Australians, and -as such are concerned for the welfare of the federation. They naturally resent the action of the Government of New South Wales, which has resulted in increasing the burden which they themselves must bear.

I pass on now to another matter which affects the State of New South Wales, and the other States of the Commonwealth also, namely, the coal industry. The best coal in the Commonwealth lies in New South Wales, and the best of the New South Wales coals lie in the northern district. Other States must use New South Wales coals for gas and for railway purposes, as well as for industrial purposes. The price of coal, therefore, concerns all industries throughout Australia. The Maitland coals aTe superior to most in the world; in fact, I doubt whether they have any superior. They are high in volatiles, and low in ash. Because of the quality of the coal, it was previously possible for a large export trade to exist; but that trade is now almost a thing of the past. Its loss is due, not only to the development of coalfields in other countries which are now our competitors, but also to- the fact that the price of our coal has been too high and the supply uncertain. In 1913 cargoes in bunkers from New South Wales consisted of 3,500,000 tons, whereas in 1928 the quantity had decreased to 1,400,000 tons. The coal industry of New South Wales has been a heavy charge upon the manufacturing enterprise of that State as well as of other States, and has made a serious .contribution' to the present financial position of New South Wales. The price of coal in 1915 was Ils. a ton, and in 1929, 25s. a ton; but whereas in 1911 coal produced in that State used to be the cheapest in the world, in 1929 it was the dearest. It is only recently, lu the scramble for trade, that the price has' fallen. Then, again, the question of wages crops up. The basic wage in New South Wales is far above that of the other States, and this applies particularly to the coal-mining industry. It is a condition which, if New South Wales is to recover its health, must be cured. In 1921, pig iron, according to the figure computed by the Statistician, stood at 2,470, and in 1929, that figure had been reduced by 50 per cent. The figure for cement had been reduced by 14 per cent., and that for general supplies on the railways of New South Wales by 40 per cent. The railways are one of the biggest items of loss in the revenues of the State, and one of the principal charges on them are the rates on coal. It is, therefore, necessary for the coal industry to come to earth, and to recognize the economic conditions of to-day, so that coal may be made available for the various purposes for which it is required at a price which will result in its economic utilization in commercial and manufacturing channels. Gas is one of the basic requirements of society, and its cost is closely bound up with the price of coal. In fact, the selling price of gas is reflected in the price of "coal to the extent of 37 per cent., and a reduction of 5s. a ton in the price of coal would show a reduction in the price of gas of 3id. per 1,000 feet. At the present moment legislation purporting to rectify the anomaly of the coal position is before the Parliament of New South Wales, but, unfortunately, it omits many of the recommendations of the recent coal commission which sat in that State. The control that was proposed to be exercised over the two sides in this industry - the employers and the employees - is now to be exercised over the employers, and the employees are to be given more or less a free hand.

No one wishes more heartily than I do that in the interests of Australia the States and the Commonwealth shall pull together in this period of adversity, and march on to greater prosperity than we have known before ; but unless we can eliminate much of the selfishness which now exists that will not be possible. It is perfectly natural that the other States should resent the action of New South Wales, and the sooner that State realizes that it is not a self-contained unit, either geographically or economically, the sooner will there be between the States and the Commonwealth that goodwill which is essential to our national solidarity and our future progress. As an illustration, let me say that New South Wales may be considered as a trustee holding valuable deposits of coal, not for its own immediate enrichment, but on behalf of the Australian people as a whole.. The proper handling of the industry would confer great advantage, not only upon the State of New South Wales, in which the deposits lie, but also upon the other States of the Commonwealth.

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