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Wednesday, 16 March 1932

Mr PROWSE - I take exception to the statement of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) that this Government is stealing, or attempting to steal, the revenues of New South Wales.

Mr SPEAKER - I ask the honorable member to withdraw the word to which, exception has been taken.

Mr JAMES - I withdraw it. This Government, in seizing the revenues of that State, desires to bring about chaos for the purpose of forcing an election. This resolution has been introduced in a venomous political spirit. New South Wales is being carpeted by other States which have from time to time been nursed by that State. Many thousands of pounds have been made available by New South Wales for the assistance of Tasmania. Western Australia and South Australia, and in- return those States are biting the hand that fed them. New South Wales contributes to the CommonwealthTreasury 14s. 4d. more per head of population than it receives from it. The business of Tasmania is about equal to that transacted by the Coal Miners Federation, to which I belong. The business dealings of that State are no bigger than those of the Sydney City Council. Yet Tasmania is a party to this attempt to smash New South Wales, a State which has two-fifths of the total population of Australia, and provides two-fifths of its total revenues. The action that this Government is taking is not likely to strengthen the ties of federation. Honorable members generally do not seem to realize that the operation of this legislation may bring about bloodshed in the community. Quite a number of honorable members believe that Mr. Lang is a monster, and beyond the pale of decent society, but in New South Wales there are many thousands of people who respect the name of Mr. Lang. He has shown more sympathy for the people than have the Premiers of the other States. The legislation sponsored by him has been designed to assist the poorer section of the community. At one time a woman, when her husband died and left her with no means of support, had to work at the wash-tub or as an office cleaner, but under State legislation a widow is now entitled to a pension. Instead of having to place her children in an orphanage, a widow may now keep her children round her knee, giving them the love, comfort and guidance to which they are entitled from their mother. Prior to the operation of that legislation, many unfortunate children were denied this protection. If the State revenues are seized by the Commonwealth Government, the widows' pension must necessarily cease. The Lang Government has also provided child endowment and workers' compensation, and these have been of great benefit to the people generally. But if the Commonwealth Government put the bailiffs into New South Wales those privileges will be lost to the mothers and the workers. The Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) referred to Mr. Lang's act of repudiation, but I contend that the Premier of New South Wales has not repudiated. Mr. Lang himself has, by means of the State Moratorium Act, given thousands of the people who are represented by the Country party in this House, time to meet their obligations, thus preventing them from being ejected from their holdings. They now owe £3,00*0,000 to the Government of New South Wales. All Mr. Lang is asking for is time to meet his obligations, and an adjustment of interest rates in accordance with the recent fall in values. The Government itself, and even the Opposition when it was in power, adopted the policy of repudiation. During the Great War men who enlisted were promised that they would be provided for when they returned, or, if they did not return, that their dependants would be provided for. That promise, which was made on every recruiting platform, was honoured by various governments until last year, when the Financial Agreement began to operate. The Scullin Government, with the assistance of members sitting behind the present Government, by reducing the pensions of the dependants of fallen soldiers, committed an act of repudiation. When the big loan conversion took place many bondholders refused to convert their holdings, and although the rate of interest applying to their bonds was 6 per cent., legislation was introduced compelling them to convert their holdings at an interest rate of 4 per cent. Is not this repudiation of a written contract? When honorable members talk about Mr. Lang's alleged repudiation, they should remember that this Parliament has repudiated some of its undertakings, par ticularly in respect of returned soldiers and the dependants of deceased soldiers. At present, many of our pensioners are being obliged to live on a mere pittance. The sum of 30s. a week is supposed to be enough for a man and his wife. If a married pensioner earns anything up to 30s. a week, he only receives in pension the difference between his earnings and the 30s. This is repudiation of the worst description. The Assistant Treasurer complained that the basic wage in New South Wales was higher than in any other State. To me that is a subject not for complaint, but for pleasure. I am glad that the standards of the working people of New South Wales are higher than those of the working people of the other States. The right honorable gentleman also referred to the percentage of unemployment in New South Wale3, but he did not say that there are to-day 8,000,000 unemployed in the United States of America ; 6,000,000 unemployed in Germany; and 2,400,000 unemployed in England. Is Mr. Lang or the high standard of working conditions in the State of New South Wales responsible for this? No; these countries have a standard of living far lower than ours, yet, on a per capita basis, they have more unemployed. It is sometimes said that the cause of the unemployment in Australia, is high wages and short hours, but other countries of the world in which lower wages are paid and longer hours worked, have a greater percentage of unemployment than Australia. We shall never solve our unemployment problem by reducing wages and lengthening hours. We know very well, that the mechanization of industry, which has resulted in the displacement of human power by machine power, has had a great deal to do with the extension of unemployment throughout the world. I know that Australia, with her unique opportunities for land settlement, is in a better position than some countries to meet an abnormal situation such as is now facing her; but we shall never solve our unemployment problem until we abandon the obsolete monetary system which is in vogue in this and other countries.

If the proposal to seize State revenues were not so tragic it would be Gilbertian. Have honorable members opposite asked themselves what is likley to happen when federal officers attempt to enter State departments for the purpose of receiving State revenue? Do they know that instructions have been issued in New South Wales that no stranger is to be permitted to cross the threshold of any departmental office? What is likely to happen when Commonwealth police officers attempt to take charge of the State lottery office, or of our railway and tramway systems? There will, undoubtedly, be serious trouble. State officers will naturally obey the instructions that have been given to them by their departmental heads, who in turn, have received their instructions from the Government. When resistance is offered to the entry of federal officers into State establishments, does the Government propose to train the guns of H.M.A.S. Canberra on Sydney? Honorable members opposite must realize that there will be serious trouble when the first attempt is made to enforce the provisions of this act in New South Wales. As a representative of New South Wales, I shall do my very utmost to resist this action of the Commonwealth Government, and I shall fight to the last ditch for the protection of the State Government.

Mr Hutchin - The honorable member will be thrown into the ditch.

Mr JAMES - I am sincere in theattitude that I am adopting in connexion with this motion, and the honorable member for Denison need not joke about ditches. The situation is serious. Surely the Government cannot calmly contemplate development of the situation which unfortunately may lead to bloodshed in this wonderful Australia, of which we are so proud! Surely the people of other States cannot lightly contemplate the possibility of fighting against their brothers in New South Wales ! Yet if an attempt is made to enforce this legislation in New South Wales that may happen. The people of the mother State are just as determined to oppose, as this Government seems determined to insist, upon the enforcement of this rotten law, which may lead to a bloody revolution which no sane person desires. -.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! (The honorable member must withdraw the word " rotten."

Mr JAMES - I do so and substitute "iniquitous." We have anticipated for a long while the setting up in Australia of one government for the whole Commonwealth; but the movement towards unification will be hindered and not helped by the passage of this motion. We know very well that We3ter.11 Australia has been talking secession for some time, and so also have some of the people in Tasmania; but probably nothing that- has been done in recent years by any Government is so calculated to destroy the spirit of unity among the Australian States as the actions of this Government, The Financial Agreements Enforcement Act may be likened to a wedge driven into the Australian federation". It will probably result in the splitting of it asunder. This will mean that instead of this great nation becoming united in sentiment the feeling of nationhood will 'be killed in its infancy. One of the troubles about this legislation is that it has been conceived by persons without Australian sentiment or outlook, who have spent more time abroad than here. This Parliament is now being asked to act in the interests of the overseas bondholders and .not in the interest of the people of Australia. Our own people are to be deprived of the necessaries of life in order that overseas bondholders, who are not in need, may receive their interest payments. Surely the bondholders can wait a little while. Even when Mr. Lang entered upon negotiations with the overseas bondholders through the Agent-General for New South Wales (Mr. Willis) his efforts were adversely criticized by his enemies in Australia. The Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales declared that even if Mr. Lang were successful in getting the overseas bondholders to agree to a reduction of interest rates, his action would be ineffective without the approval of the Loan Council. Is the Loan Council ever likely to do anything that may even remotely benefit the Lang Government? The answer is an emphatic " No." I believe that the Loan Council will do its utmost to crush the Lang Government. Even if by any miracle this Government received, from the action it is now taking, more than enough State revenue to meet the liabilities of New SouthWales it would not pass the balance of the money over to that State.

There are, of course, grave doubts about the constitutionality of the Financial Agreements Enforcement Act. I contend that the Government should have these resolved before it endeavours to enforce the law. Any action against New South Wales should be taken by the usual judicial procedure. Disunity and disruption among the people of the country can only be the result of any other action.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member's time has expired.

Sitting suspended from 6.16 to 8 p.m.

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