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Wednesday, 16 March 1932

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) has misrepresented the attitude of the members of the party to which I belong. If he believes that this legislation is neces- sary, he should support the Government; but if he is opposed to it, let him oppose it wholeheartedly, without qualifications. The honorable member, who talks so glibly about honesty, has said that we have many things to answer for, but I ask him is it not true that his own party met in caucus on the morning of the late Government's defeat and decided that it was a favorable opportunity to go to the country.

Mr Makin - That is not correct.

Mr WARD - The honorable member for Hindmarsh has stated that the workers of New South Wales are taxed to the limit, while the commercial and mortgagee interests are taxed lightly. If he wishes the burden of taxation to fall more upon the commercial and mortgagee interests he should support Mr. Lang. It is not Mr. Lang, but the supporters of the honorable member's party in the upper chamber of New South Wales who are preventing a more equitable distribution of the burden of taxation. The honorable member's constituents will want to know what his party is doing in New South Wales in the direction of restoring protection to the rural workers, a protection which is being denied those workers by the honorable member's friends in the upper chamber of New South Wales. Those who support this resolution assert that Mr. Lang is guilty, and, therefore, should be executed; but the honorable member for Hindmarsh and his colleagues consider that that execution should be carried out scientifically and not brutally, as is now proposed. I oppose the resolution. The supporters of the Government say, "We are not brushing aside the judiciary". They are prepared to hold an inquest after the murder has been committed. This resolution has a double purpose. The Government intends not only to seize the revenues of New South Wales, but also to avoid the necessity for obtaining a decision of the High Court before giving effect to its legislation. Many honorable members realize that this legislation is unconstitutional, and that the finding of the High Court will be against it, but in the meantime this Government intends to seize the revenues of the State and to bring about chaos by making it impossible for the State Government to carry on. We intend to do all within our power to defeat the object of the Government. It is all very well to talk about preserving the honour of Australia. I often wonder from what angle some honorable members view this question of honour. Is it honorable for honorable members, who are well paid and sheltered from the storms of adversity, to acquiesce in a policy which will crush thousands of Australian men, women, and children? If such action is honorable then I do not wish to be associated with those honorable members who are parties to it. I claim to be as much a patriot as any honorable member in this House, but I do not profess to be a flag-waver, who, in order to prove his loyalty to the British Empire, tries to create the impression overseas that he is actually more British than the Britishers themselves. I have no time for the kind of patriotism preached in this House by honorable members opposite. The real Australian patriot is the man who desires to see the conditions ofthe people of this country so improved that he can justly be proud of his citizenship. Honorable members opposite who talk about honour should remember the attack that was made recently upon the defenceless women and children of Australia, and particularly upon the dependants of those who died on active service, and- the many men who returned from the war broken in body and crushed in spirit. These people, and many mothers who sent their sons away to fight and to make the supreme sacrifice, are now finding it difficult to keep body and soul together, because of the actions of some honorable members of the last Parliament. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) has instanced the case of a war widow who received the miserable pittance of1s. a week as a pension, which was said to be adequate because it assured her of a total income of £3 a fortnight! Is that an adequate sum for the maintenance of the life of any person ? I should like some honorable members opposite to attempt to live on £3 a fortnight for a while, and then say whether it is adequate or not.

It was said this afternoon that the action of the Premier of New South Wales in withdrawing State moneys from private banks was dishonest. Evidently those honorable members think that Mr. Lang should have waited until after the burglars had come and gone before be attempted to get the money. I think that he is to be commended for his foresight in protecting money which is needed to provide the necessaries of life for the people of New South Wales. Honorable members opposite, who are favorable to the attachment of State revenues by this Government in order to ensure the payment of the interest obligations of that State, seem to think that no hardship will be inflicted on the people if £1,000,000 is applied for this purpose. One would imagine from the remarks of these honorable gentlemen that the State Premier wants the State revenues for his own purposes. Why are they not honest and straightforward, admitting that it is honest for a government to honour its obligations to the people who returned it to office? No one can point to a single dishonest action of the Premier of New South Wales. The honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Stewart) may laugh, but I have a clear recollection that a member of the party to which he belongs, who had made certain charges against Mr. Lang, was so humiliated that he had, within a few days, to make his apologies to the Premier on the floor of the State Parliament.

The leader of the Country party. (Dr. Earle Page) says that there should be no discrimination in taxation between the various States. I agree with the right honorable gentleman in that regard; but has there not been discrimination in taxation ever since the consummation of federation? Is it not a fact that on the average the people of New South Wales pay 14s. 4d. per head more into the Commonwealth Treasury than the State receives from the Commonwealth? Is it not also a fact that the people of some of the other States pay less to the Commonwealth per head than they receive from it, and that thus their States are made able to meet their obligations ? Who provides the moneys to enable these States to meet their obligations? Is it not the taxpayers of New South 'Wales? We know that many special grants have been made to several States in recent years.

Western Australia, for instance, has received £3,935,905 from the Commonwealthy Tasmania has received £2,465,656, and since 1925 South Australia has received £1,530,000.' The money to provide those special grants has come out of the pockets of the taxpayers of New South Wales.

It has been said that the money on which interest is now being paid by the New South Wales Government was borrowed for public works, such as our harbour bridge and water schemes, and the extension of our railway and tramway systems. That is true. It has also been said that New South Wales is not carrying any war debt. It cannot be said that that statement is actually true, for wo know very well that during the war years large sums were paid out of State revenue for the provision of war services. It is now said that the people who provided the money for the construction of the works to which I have referred should be paid their interest. But although the investor had everything to gain by the protection of the undertakings in which his money was put, was it suggested during the war years that the revenue from those undertakings should be applied for war purposes? Of course not! That would have been counted dishonest. But is it not extraordinary that the people who had to go to the war and fight for the protection of those public works, should now be asked to sacrifice themselves again to provide the money to pay for them ? This is surely an astounding proposition ! Do honorable members opposite who believed that the last war was a war to end war realize that the war cost Australia approximately £744,000,000, or more per head of the population than was paid by the people of any other country in the world? Will these same gentlemen tell us whether Canada assisted Great Britain during the war to the same extent as Australia? Were the Canadian people so foolish as to sacrifice the interests of posterity, in order that the war might be prosecuted with vigour? We know very well that they were more far-sighted than to adopt such a policy. In Australia our leaders had not sufficient vision to realize that the war was being fought, not to. end war, but to secure control of world markets, and that it was a losing proposition for the workers of every country, irrespective of which group of nations might win the victory. Was it not said that German reparation payments would recoup us for what we paid for war purposes?

Mr Thompson - I rise to a point of order. I submit that the honorable member's observations have nothing whatever to do with the motion before the Chair.

Mr SPEAKER - I have been following the speech of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) very closely, and his observations are relevant to the subject of interest payments.

Mr WARD - I am sorry if my -speech is hurting some honorable members, but they will have their opportunity of placing their views on the subject before the House, The right honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce), who in the delivery of his speeches in this chamber always preserves an attitude of contempt for honorable members, and whose bearing suggests that he is bored, by having to speak at all, had something to say about the relative position of a private bankrupt, and a State bankrupt. He said that a private bankrupt is stripped of all his possessions. No doubt the right honorable gentleman would like to strip' New South Wales of every penny of its wealth, in order to meet the demands of overseas bondholders. He indicated that he would even be prepared to seize the State railway and tramway services, and hand them over to private enterprise, so that the State might, as he said, preserve its honour. He also observed that a continuance of the present policy of the State Government would undoubtedly bring disaster to New South Wales. The fact is that if the Lang Government had been able to carry out its policy, and had not been hampered by the Legislative Council, and by the supporters of the party to which the honorable member for Hindmarsh belongs, the condition of the people of New South Wales would be very much better than it is to-day. The State Government has not been able to do all that it would like to have done, but its policy is far preferable to that enunciated by the right honorable member for Flinders, who has suggested that we must starve ourselves before We can again walk along the road to pros perity, and enter upon the new era for which we are all looking. I do not describe the present circumstances of Australia or of other countries as depression ; it is due to the decline of a social order, which has outlived its usefulness and cannot now provide for the needs of the people. Those who are attempting to maintain this order are like the boy who tried to stop the leak in the dyke. The present social order has served its purpose and must go.

It has been said that the people of New South Wales are suffering the pangs of starvation, but even if that is true to some extent the State Premier is not responsible for it. I ask the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb), and the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Stewart) whether they would care to live on the rations provided for the unemployed in New South Wales or iu any other State. I speak as one who knows what unemployment is, and who has_ suffered hunger. Although my position has been improved by the votes of many thousands of people in East Sydney, I am not unmindful of their needs, and I hope that I shall not forget that while I am in this Parliament it is my duty to do everything I can to relieve their unfortunate condition. I trust that if ever the time comes when my position here is taken by some one else, I shall at least be able to face the people who sent me here with the knowledge that I did my best to improve their conditions. The right honorable member for Cowper said that if the New South Wales Government could not provide for the unemployed the Commonwealth Government would have to do so. This Government cannot, or will not, provide for the 30 or 40 unemployed persons in the Federal Capital Territory.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member must not pursue that line of discussion.

Mr Thompson - It. is about time he was called to order.

Mr SPEAKER - That is a reflection upon the Chair, which the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) must withdraw.

Mr Thompson - What must I withdraw ? My comment was quite fair.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member must withdraw his statement, and apologize to the Chair for having made it.

Mr Thompson - At your request, Mr. Speaker, I both withdraw and apologize.

Mr.WARD. - The right honorable memberfor Flinders quoted figures by which he sought to show that the purchasing power of wages was less in New South Wales than in the other States, but he referred to only some of the figures. I ask honorable members whether they believe that the invalid and old-age pensioners are better off to-day than they were before their pensions were reduced by half-a-crown a week? I saw aged pensioners, men and women, break down and burst into tears on discovering for the first time that their pensions had been reduced. How long would the right honorable member for Flinders exist on an income of 17s. 6d. per week? I find that far from being in receipt of a salary-

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member must confine his remarks to the matter under consideration.

Mr WARD - If New South Wales is expected to pay the interest due to overseas bondholders, and if there is tobe equality of sacrifice, can it be regarded as fair to reduce the old-age pension from £1 to 17s. 6d. per week, and provide the right honorable member for Flinders with a position on the other side of the world at £5,000, to enable him to attend to his own business? Does that help to bring about equality of sacrifice?

Mr Thompson - I submit that the honorable member is not dealing with the resolution before the House.

Mr SPEAKER - I have already called upon the honorable member for East Sydney to connect his remarks with the subject under consideration. ' He has already been allowed a good deal of latitude, and I now ask him to confine himself strictly to the question before the Chair.

Mr WARD - The right honorable member for Flinders, when asked why so many classes of revenue were mentioned in the resolution, said that this would entail no undue hardship on New South Wales, although he admitted that if New South Wales did not pay another penny to the 30th June next, the interest obli gations of the State would then amount to about £6,000,000. The right honorable gentleman added that if the whole of the revenues mentioned in the resolution were attached, the Commonwealth would only take slightly less than £6,000,000. If the Commonwealth were permitted to take all the revenue usually received by the New South Wales Government from race-courses, income taxation, motor vehicle licences and taxation for unemployment relief, no undue hardship would be inflicted, he said, because this money was paid into the Consolidated Revenue. I point out, however, that if the Commonwealth Government took what was needed to meet the interest dueto bondholders overseas, there would not be sufficient left for the ordinary requirements of New South Wales. The right honorable member for Flinders has not an Australian outlook.

When Major Jones, at the head of the Commonwealth Police Force of sixteen members, marches into New South Wales, he will not find it easy to appropriate the revenues of that State. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane), and the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Stewart), atthe head of their New Guard squads, would find the task equally difficult. The honorable member for Barton, I imagine, would be mounted on a horse, and the honorable member for Parramatta would be seated on a bus.

Mr Lane - The honorable member for East Sydney would be in the rear.

Mr WARD - No. I would be in the forefront, fighting in the interests of the people of New South Wales. I urge honorable members opposite to realize the seriousness of the decision they are about to give. An attempt is to be made to seize revenues that are required to feed the people of New South Wales. The fact that the unemployed are more numerous in that State than in other parts of the Commonwealth is due to the number of those who have flocked into New South Wales from all parts of Australia in order to share the benefits of the legislation passed at the instance of the Lang Government. Would honorable members opposite suggest that the workers were born into the world merely to provide the good things of life for such persons as members of

Parliament? I represent a constituency in New South Wales in which a large number of people are in receipt of food relief, and I intend to protect them. They are represented in this chamber by members of the Labour party who do not make mock attacks on the Government, and then fail to carry out their undertakings. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson), when travelling in the train between Sydney and Canberra, asked the members of the Lang group to support the Country party against the Government in regard to the tobacco duties. My party agreed to do so; yet, when the vote on the matter took place, that honorable member repudiated his undertaking and crossed over to the Government side.

I view the proposed action of the Government with alarm, because it will have far-reaching consequences. I see no necessity for the hasty steps contemplated. As a matter of fact, last month Mr. Lang paid the interest due by the New South Wales Government, because he was able to do so. Why does not the party opposite tell us what it means when it talks about " living honestly " ? Does it want the basic wage in New South 'Wales brought down to the South Australian level? Does it desire the widows' pensions to be taken away? Is it suggested that workmen's compensation, and food relief for the unemployed should cease? Members opposite should not hide their true opinions by using vague expressions such as "protecting the honour of the Australian people." Actions are of more value than words. I have heard some honorable members opposite speak of the need for a restoration of confidence, and others have said, " Get down to world conditions." It should be realized that every country has its unemployment problem. Owing to the introduction of machinery, the human element is being largely displaced in industry, and wealth is now being produced like water. What the world needs now is markets. In the United States of America, there is no shortage of finance, but that country has enormous numbers of unemployed. The only country in which unemployment has decreased in recent years is the Soviet Republic of Russia. I have never been a member of the Communist party; but on reference to volumes to be found in the Parliamentary Library, honorable members will see that my statement is correct.

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

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