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Thursday, 25 February 1932

Mr JAMES (Hunter) .- There will be no need to ask me, when I am nearing the end of my speech, whether or not I am in favour of the bill as was asked of the honorable member who has just resumed his seat. I say at -the outset that I am absolutely opposed to it, because I regard it as one of the most pernicious measures ever introduced in any legislature in Australia. The Government is endeavouring to seize power which it does not constitutionally possess, and I am convinced that after a long drawn-out legal battle the High Court will uphold the point of view I have expressed. Among the supporters of the Government are many who, on other occasions, have been loud in their advocacy of State rights, but they are strangely silent now. The honorable member for Martin (Mr. Holman) has frequently championed the rights of the States, but though I have waited patiently to hear something from him, I have waited in vain. He is credited with possessing much knowledge of these matters, and I hope that he may be induced to give honorable members the benefit of that knowledge. This bill is the effort of a bandit. As with individuals, so it is with States. The individual who goes to the wall seeks the protection of the Bankruptcy Court. The person to whom money is owed does not issue some edict of his own demanding payment from the individual who owes it, nor does he seize the debtor's goods; he has recourse to the courts. When the farmers of New South Wales were short, approximately 3,000,000, in their payments to the Consolidated Revenue of the State, they were not thrown neck and crop off their land ; the bailiff was not put in. They were allowed to wipe off their liabilities by a a system of deferred payments under the Moratorium Act. Yet some of them - many of the Hardy type - are prepared to take those concessions with one hand and stab their benefactors through the press or ballot-box with the other.

According to the right honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce), this step has been taken without prejudice; it is not done in any spirit of vindictiveness or for party political purposes; the bill is designed solely to enforce payment owing to the Commonwealth Government. But it is quite obvious to the people of Australia that it is aimed solely at the Lang Government of New South Wales. On the contrary, we find, that when speaking at the Millions Club, a week before the last meeting of the Loan Council, the Leader of the Government, or rather its nominal leader, referring to Mr. Lang, said, "We must remove this incubus from office." He went on to say how unfair it was that in New South Wales a basic wage of £4 2s. 6d. should be paid for a 44-hour week, and child endowment should be paid, things which he said were throttling and shackling industry, whilst in South Australia the wage of £3 3s. was paid for' a 48-hour week. These shackles must he removed.

This bill certainly does display vindictiveness or party spirit. Did not the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Marr), the present Minister for Health, say during the elections that if the Lang Government was not removed within fourteen days after the return of the Lyons Government he would eat his hat? It is about time the honorable member set about eating his hat, and perhaps his trousers also, because the Lang Government is still in power and is likely to be for many a day.

The right honorable member for Flinders asserts that he is not the Leader of the Government, but when the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) raised a contentious question and suggested that the bill should be taken in two sections, one making the Commonwealth responsible for overseas debt and the other dealing with the internal situation, particularly in regard to New South Wales, he was not answered by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) who introduced the bill, and would naturally be expected to answer any contentious question, but by the right honorable member for Flinders, who says he is not the Leader of the Government.

Does any right thinking man think that the people of New South Wales would allow the Commonwealth to put bailiffs into the New South Wales railway offices or taxation departments? Would not such a step on the part of the Commonwealth Government have rather a tendency to cause a revolution? Is the Commonwealth Government desirous of bringing about the disintegration of the Commonwealth? If so, it is going the right way about it. I contend that it is not in accord with the provisions of the Financial Agreement to attach money belonging to any State in any bank. No one can foresee what the effect of this bill will be, except that it will certainly cause a considerable amount of discontent among those to whom I have referred in my opening remarks, and who, before many days are over, will make their voices heard, if not in this chamber, at any rate in the State of New South Wales. In 1928, when the people were asked to amend the Constitution and accept the Financial Agreement, they never expected such legislation as this; or that State revenues were likely to be seized, otherwise they would never have consented to the agreement. Now we find that a State is to be debarred, not only from borrowing, but also from deriving any benefit from any revenue it may raise. The Loan Council says that the overseas usurers must be paid and that the unemployed of Australia can go hungry.

Mr Maxwell - How would the honorable member suggest that the Financial Agreement be enforced?

Mr JAMES - The Commonwealth should do what the States have been obliged to do to the farmers, give an extension of credit, have a moratorium such as Australia will have to seek whether we like it or not.

Let me review the position in New South Wales. The bill has been brought down solely to compel the State to reduce the standard of living. The honorable member for Denison (Mr. Hutchin) was outspoken. He made himself quite clear on the point. Not only did he say that he believed in a reduction of the basic wage; he also inferred that the dole paid to the unemployed in New South Wales is excessive, and should be reduced. The honorable member, who is a new member, has possibly put a mill-stone round his neck, because his utterance will be clipped from Hansard, and used to his detriment at the next election. The other jokers here are more cunning.

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