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Wednesday, 27 April 1932

Mr JAMES (Hunter) . - I am opposed to this measure, which, I claim, has been introduced by the Government at the behest of the capitalists, regardless altogether of the suffering that will be brought about as a result of its passage. This legislation is not likely to relieve the people of this country. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has stated that New South Wales will have defaulted by the end of June to the extent of approximately £5,000,000 in respect of its interest obligations to overseas bondholders.

Mr Paterson - That amount covers both internal and external obligations.

Mr JAMES - I suppose that the amount includes exchange at the rate of approximately 25 per cent., although the Prime Minister did not make that clear in his statement. If the amount owing by New South Wales were recovered tomorrow, no relief would be. afforded this country, because itrepresetns interest on our overseas debt incurred directly and indirectly on account of the war.

Mr Paterson - Not one penny of these interest obligations relates to the war.

Mr JAMES - We have had no concessions from Great Britain for the services which we rendered to that country when it engaged in a war in the making of which Australia had no voice. During the war this country sent overseas 300,000 men of whom 62,000 paid the supreme sacrifice, and 72,000 were crippled. Our participation in the war cost us £744,000,000. Great Britain gave concessions to Italy andFrance by writing down their debts by approximately 62 per cent., and received concessions from the United States of America in respect of her indebtedness to that country during the war. Great Britain received from the United States of America money at 31/2 per cent., a portion of which was re-loaned to Australia at 5 per cent.

Mr Paterson - That is not so. Great Britain charged us in respect of our war loan, a rate of interest lower than that at which money was borrowed from the United States of America. At present we are being charged no interest at all.

Mr JAMES - That is as a result of the operation of the Hoover moratorium. In addition, Australia during the war sold its wool and wheat to Great Britain at a price considerably less than the prevailing rate. I believe that wheat which we sold to Great Britain at 4s. 6d. a bushel was resold to allied nations at 9s. a bushel. Australia did not participate in the rake-off.

Mr Holloway - We lost millions of pounds.

Mr JAMES - As the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) has said, we lost millions of pounds in respect of the sale of our wheat during the war. To-day, although we are staggering under a colossal debt, GreatBritain will not assist us to the extent to which it assisted some of its allies, and to the extent to which it was assisted by the United States of America. We havehad no concessions whatever from the Motherland. To-day there are in this country many people who are demanding that the Commonwealth Government stand up for Australia by putting its case clearly and forcibly before the overseas bondholders. The claim by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) that he was one of the first to advocate negotiation with the bondholders overseas for a reduction of the interest rate, is most humorous. It is Mr. Lang who has that distinction. Undoubtedly many people have been converted to his view, and I am pleased that the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) is now supporting at least a portion of the Langplan. The right honorable member declared also that a state of anarchy exists in New South Wales. Such a condition does not exist yet, but apparently the Commonwealth Government desires to create it. The warning against the danger of anarchy and revolution comes strangely from the right honorable member for Cowper. He is an advocate of economy by the subdivision of New South Wales into smaller States, and the creation of additional parliaments, and I recollect that when speaking at a New States convention in Maitland last year, he said that the rural people were determined to secure the right of selfdetermination, and he hoped that the Commonwealth Government had not forgotten the lesson taught by the American War of Independence. Behind those remarks was a veiled threat of revolution if the Commonwealth Government did not pay heed to the demands of the new-staters.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) characterized Mr. Lang as a dictator. He is not a dictator. He is merely expressing the will of the people of New South Wales, and, indeed, of Australia, and conserving their interests, when he declares that those who through no fault of their own are unemployed and in need of the necessaries of life should be fed before interest is paid to overseas bondholders. That humane policy has wrongly been called repudiation. Mr. Lang does not desire to repudiate; on the contrary, he instructed Mr. Willis, the Agent-General for New South Wales, to negotiate in London for the suspension of interest payments. Mr. Bavin, formerly Leader of the Opposition in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, said that Mr. Lang had no right to propose a negotiation for a reduction of the overseas interest debt", because nothing would absolve him from that liability but a direct resolution of the Loan Council.

We have to take a sane view of this matter. The people of Australia are honest, and desire to pay their way; so does Mr. Lang. But our first obligation is to those who cannot get work or the wherewithal to buy the necessaries of life for their women and children. The Commonwealth Government, however, has determined to seize the revenues of the State, and send them overseas for the benefit of wealthy bondholders. The interest of the money lenders - the modern representatives of the usurers whom the lowly Nazarene banished from the temple - must be paid though the poor starve! This is nothing more nor less than the worship of Mammon; it is not Christianity. The Commonwealth Government is prepared cal lously to take from little children and from women in delicate health - prospective mothers of Australian citizens - the wherewithal to buy food and clothing. Yet some honorable members who support that policy have the audacity to attend church services, and pretend to be Christians. There is no Christianity in giving to the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

With much that was said by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) against this bill, I agree. He referred to Mr. Lang as being out of step with the other Australian Governments. That may be true, hut Mr. Lang is not out of harmony with the policy of the Australian Labour party, nor with the desires .of those who are in need of sustenance, because they are denied the right to work. The present Commonwealth Government was elected on a promise to find employment. I have referred on previous occasions to the election placards, "Vote for the "United Australia party and secure for yourself a job at decent wages ".

Mr Marr - The jobs will be forthcoming in time.

Mr JAMES - The only job that has been provided by this Government so far, is a post in London for the right honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) at £5,000 a year. The Government was elected in December, but if has not brought forward one measure for the relief of the unemployed. Its whole policy is to destroy the Lang Government, incidentally hurting innocent people. Our first duty is to give consideration to our own people. Except the few who have inherited wealth, there is probably not one member of this House who has not been at some time in financial difficulties. I have been in debt, although I owe not a penny to-day. If I owed £10 to the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Marr), and had in my possession only £10 to save my wife and children from starvation, I would frankly tell him that I could not pay.

Mr Marr - I would not ask for the money in those, circumstances.

Mr JAMES - Payment by me would be a crime, and acceptance by the honorable member would he equally criminal. As legislators, our relation to the people is that of a father to his family. We have a responsibility to those who are hungry, and we cannot humanely pay interest to wealthy bondholders overseas if thereby we condemn some of our people to starvation. I invite the honorable member for Parkes to tell the bondholders abroad that they have no right to claim their interest until Australia has recovered, and its people are in a position to pay.

This amending bill is designed to tighten up the law and give assurances to those who are reluctant to pay State income tax into the Commonwealth Treasury. Clause 2, which amends section 8 of the principal act, provides that -

No fine penalty forfeiture or other disability shall be imposed upon the person by reason of the payment to the Treasurer or authorized person, in accordance with this act, or of the non-payment of the amount in question to the State.

Apparently, under the principal act, a State could take action against any person paying his State dues to the Federal Government, and, indeed, certain newspapers declared that such action would be taken. This clause is a counter move in the game of chess now in progress between the New South Wales Government and the Federal Government backed by all the other State governments, and, in all probability, it will bc followed by another move by New South Wales. The position is humorous, although so tragic to the people of the State. Despite the laughter which is evoked on the Government benches whenever the people of that State are said to be content with the leadership of Mr. Lang, I can say that I have never seen a more remarkable demonstration of appreciation to any State Premier or Federal Prime Minister, or overseas visitor, including members of the royal family, than was shown to Mr. Lang on Thursday night last.

Mr Stewart - Under penalties or fines.

Mr JAMES - Nonsense ! A vast concourse blocked the whole of the traffic from Bathurst-street practically to Park-street, and down the side streets. It was a remarkable scene. Undoubtedly it put the wind up the New Guard. There was no "De Goat" attempt to intimidate that vast concourse. I fully believe that, if the effort to force Mr. Lang to the country is successful, his Government will secure a majority of the seats in the metropolis and in industrial country centres. If that happens, what further step of intimidation will the Commonwealth Government propose to take in order to attach State revenues ?

It is regrettable that, in this period of depression, the country is not united. Many of us are anxious to have one government for the whole of the people of Australia ; but we are all proud of the fact that Australians have one outlook in life, one destiny - the building up of a mighty nation. This legislation, however, may prevent the carrying out of that ideal. It may bring about internal dissension, possibly conflict between the various States. No one is anxious for that. So far Australia has been free of anything of the nature of a revolt or a rebellion. I should like it to be a country capable of saying, hundreds of years hence, that not one single drop of blood has ever been spilt in civil war in Australia.

Mr Scholfield - We shall have to get rid of Mr. Lang first.

Mr JAMES - The honorable member does not realize the danger of this legislation, and the possibilities attaching to it.

Mr Stewart - The best thing to do is to put the Lang Ministry in the grave.

Mr JAMES - Believe me, Mr. Lang does not desire anything like a revolution. There is nothing in the platform of the Australian Labour Party that verges on revolt or the exercise of force. Indeed, the party is to-day bitterly opposed by/ a section in this country which does advocate revolution.

Mr Thorby - What section?

Mr JAMES - I can remind the honorable member that the leader of his party (Dr. Earle Page) has talked of revolution to bring about new States, but I was particularly referring to the Communists who openly advocate revolution.

In addition to the concessions given by Great Britain to France and Italy, the Mother Country in 1907, in conjunction with France, advanced £150,000,000 to the Czar of Russia. At that time the Czarist regime of Russia was practically bankrupt. There was not even enough money in the coffers to pay the Cossacks, the troops employed by the Czar to suppress ruthlessly any sort of agitation. That is the principal debt which the Soviet Government of Russia has repudiated.

Mr Thorby - No, it has repudiated £1,000,000,000.

Mr JAMES - At any rate, it is a portion of it. Yet we find Great Britain buying Russian wheat in preference to Australian. Although Australia has done so much in the interests of the Empire, and has received so little in return, the people of Great Britain prefer to buy their wheat from a nation which has not. even asked for an extension of time for the repayment of its debt, but has absolutely refused to pay, and has not paid.. I want these facts to enter into the minds of all when there is mention of repudiation. I can say, without hesitation, that a considerable section of the people of Australia is of opinion that some one should be sent to Great Britain to demand for Australia concessions similar to those given by the Mother Country to other peoples. In the war we sacrificed the flower of our manhood in the interests of the Empire, yet we are receiving nothing in the shape of concessions, not even those which have been given to a communistic country. Great Britain would rather trade with Communists than with the fathers of the soldiers who went overseas to fight on its behalf.

I shall oppose this measure at every stage. I realize that it is useless to anneal to honorable members opposite. The whip has cracked, and they must vote in support; of the bill introduced by the Prime Minister, but conceived by the honorable member for Flinders-lane, so that when he goes back to London he can strut about, saying what a wonderful people the Australians are. As a matter of fact, he does not care a tinker's curse for them. He is more concerned with his, financial interests and these are not all in Australia; some are overseas. To help his big business Ministers have had the audacity to create the position of resident Minister in London, and so that the honorable member can well and truly look after the job they propose to pay him £5,000 a year.

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