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Wednesday, 2 March 1932


Mr GABB (Angas) . - I cannot give a silent vote on this important bill. The realization that the measure may affect other States than the defaulting State of which we have heard so much during this debate, obliges one to approach the consideration of it, not in a spirit of vindictiveness, such as the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) suggested that some honorable members had adopted, but in a spirit of caution. I have listened attentively to some of the able speeches delivered in this debate, and have subsequently read the Hansard ' record of them. As to the constitutionality of the bill, I feel that I must rely upon the advice of the learned members of the legal profession in this House, who have given opinions on this subject. The lay members of the House can hardly do other than be guided, in such matters, by their learned colleagues of the legal profession.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) expressed opinions somewhat contrary to these advanced by the learned members on this side of the chamber, but though his effort was an able one, it left me with the impression that the righthonorable gentleman was seeking an excuse for opposing a measure introduced by the Government rather than trying constructively to criticize the bill. My impression may, of course, be wrong. I shall not further discuss the constitutionality of this measure.

I intend to support the bill for four main reasons. The first reason is that it is imperative that we should do every thing possible to preserve the sanctity of contracts. It has been truly said during this debate that great moral issues are at stake. I was sorry to hear the honorable member for Melbourne Ports say, in what seemed to me a sneering tone, that we ought not to impose a " super moral standard " upon ourselves. There is no such thing as super morality. Morality is morality, and that is all there is to it.

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The National Parliament will ba doing only what is its duty if it lays emphasis upon the necessity for morality in both public and private life'. The Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) in his speech said thai governments must be taught that they cannot deliberately break their contracts. The honorable gentleman had previously said, something about the necessity for emphasizing the moral issues. I agree that governments should not be allowed deliberately to break their contracts. It is very necessary to bring that fact home to the people to-day, the more so because the Commonwealth Parliament has itself recently deliberately helped to break contracts made between various Australian governments and our bondholders. The Commonwealth Parliament and the State Parliaments recently said to dissenting bondholders that they must convert their bonds. Although the bondholders had. indicated that they did noi wish to convert, and were not willing to accept a reduced rate of interest, the various Australian Parliaments have declared that their " no " means "yes". To this extent there has been definite repudiation in respect of both the rate of interest and the currency of bonds. No one can gainsay these facts. It is therefore necessary to emphasize that governments cannot be allowed deliberately to break their contracts.

The second reason why I shall support the bill is that drastic action is necessary in present circumstances. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports said thai there was no precedent for the introduction of a measure of this kind ; but that is not. a sufficient reason for us to refuse to act. Our hands cannot be tied because of the lack of a precedent. If unprecedented action has been taken by certain authorities the Commonwealth Parliament is entitled, insofar as the Constitution allows it, to take unprecedented action to counteract any damage that may have been done. It is absolutely necessary for us to do our utmost to prevent the economic and financial structure of the Commonwealth from collapsing. The Attorney-General said that civilization itself was being challenged. The present situation has been brought about, to some extent, because the New South Wales Government has sought to give certain classes of people within the State, better conditions than the State can afford to give them. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) made some reference in his speech to coolies in South Australia. I do not know exactly what he meant. Our position is that whether we like it or not, we feel that a basic wage of £3 3s. per week of 48 hours is all that the State can afford to pay under existing conditions. We should like the wages to be higher and the hours shorter if possible, but it is not possible. When theories come against facts, facts always reign supreme. The facts that we are unable to obtain money from overseas, and that world prices of the commodities which we produce are low, cannot be disregarded.

The third reason why I shall support the bill is that I desire to perpetuate a White Australia.







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