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Wednesday, 27 April 1932

Mr BLAKELEY (Darling) .-1 propose to vote against the second reading of this bill, and also against the other stages of the measure. I shall do so because I consider that the position as between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of New South Wales has degenerated into a political dogfight. Ever since the assumption of office by the present Commonwealth Government this business has been permeated with the taint of politics. There could be no misconception, in the minds of the people of New South Wales, or of the members of this Parliament, concerning the intention of the Scullin Government. Its proposals to deal with the situation as it then existed were definite and well understood, but because they were not sufficiently bloodthirsty or spectacular, they were condemned, not only by members supporting the present Government, but also by every anti-labour newspaper, and by every nationalist and country party organization throughout the Commonwealth. These people and these organizations made it quite clear that they wOuld not be satisfied until they had the head of the

Premier of New South Wales served up on a charger. With them the paramount consideration was not so much the payment of its debts by the State as the extinction of the Lang Government. Now, in pursuance of that intention, we have this political ramp in the form of the bill under consideration. I believe that the measure is essentially political; that the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and his followers have not the slightest compunction as to its consequences, or whom it may hurt so long as they "get" the Premier of New South Wales. To this end they Have been working since before the last federal election with Mr. Stevens, the present Leader of the Opposition in the New South Wales Parliament, and earlier with Mr. Ravin and the Nationalist and Country parties throughout New South Wales. Several members who contested seats on behalf of the Nationalist and Country parties in New South Wales made definite promises that, if they were elected, they would see that Lang and his Government were " out " in two weeks.

Mr E J HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member is probably referring to another promise made by one of his colleagues to the coal-miners.

Mr BLAKELEY - I do not know if the honorable member was one of "those who said to the electors, " For God's sake vote for me; if you. do, I shall see that Lang and his Government are thrown on the political scrap heap within a fortnight ". Probably he was. All these pre-election promises clearly indicate what was in the minds of members supporting the Government, and since his return to power the Prime Minister has become quite hysterical in his attempts to bring about the downfall of the Lang Government. His voice almost shakes with emotion on every occasion when he tells --the people that it is his intention, to pursue, to the bitter end, the course which has been mapped out for him in this matter. Apparently, the honorable gentleman does not care to what lengths he may be obliged to go. Certainly he does not visualize what may be ahead of him. Blinded as he is by political prejudice, and obsessed with the thought that he must " get " Mr. Lang, he has resolved to go ahead with this legislative proposal, be the consequences what they may.

Under earlier legislation, the Government attached several sources of New South Wales revenue, but up to the present time comparatively little money has been obtained. That legislation was passed in such a haphazard manner that almost before the ink was dry, further amendments were found to be necessary. Yet, as I have said, notwithstanding all these excursions and alarms nothing much has yet resulted.

Equally hysterical in this matter is the right honorable member for Cowper (.Dr. Earle Page) who has been inciting those people of New South Wales whose views are in accord with his own to take certain action. After venting his political spleen on a certain section of the people in that State, the right honorable gentleman introduces his King Charles's head, in the shape of the subdivision of the State of New South Wales, and offers that as a cure for the present difficulty. If the right honorable gentleman had his way, he would take out his portion of the State,' and allow the rest of New South Wales to " carry the baby." But that would not solve our problems. Nor can it be said that his contribution to the debate in this, the most serious crisis that has occurred in the history of the Commonwealth, has helped us very much.

As I have stated, very little money has been diverted into the coffers of the- Commonwealth following the attachment of certain revenues of New South Wales, and it would seem that the next move by this vindictive Commonwealth Government is to take charge of New South Wales, regardless of the consequences of that action. Actually this was suggested by the right honorable * member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), who said that it might be necessary, in the, near future, for the Commonwealth Government to carry out essential services within the State of New South Wales. I do not know whether the right honorable gentleman meant all that is implied in that statement. Certainly it was definite enough to be well understood by all who heard him, but I cannot understand how one who has been a responsible member of this Parliament for some years, and occupied a -high ministerial position in a former govern- ment, could fail to visualize what would happen if the Commonwealth took charge of New South Wales. It would mean the introduction of the military machine. If the right honorable gentleman was really expressing the views of the Government, and let the "cat out of the bag" after conversations with members of the Cabinet, I think that honorable members and the people generally, are entitled to know just how far this Ministry is prepared to go in its political dog-fight with the Premier of New South Wales.

Dr Earle Page - Why does the honorable member put words into my mouth? I never said that. What I said was that essential services were gradually ceasing in New South Wales, because of the failure of the State Government to do its job properly.

Mr BLAKELEY - The right honorable gentleman said very definitely that it might be necessary for the Commonwealth Government to carry on essential services in New South Wales.

Dr Earle Page - They are ceasing, because the New South Wales Government is failing to do its duty.

Mr BLAKELEY - If the New South Wales Government is failing in its duty it must go to the country.

Dr Earle Page - Mr. Lang will not. do that.

Mr BLAKELEY - But that is not what the right honorable gentleman meant. He said, without any qualification, that it maybe necessary for the Commonwealth Government to take over the- essential services of New South Wales. If that statement were made in all seriousness, it implies drastic action by the Commonwealth. It means that the Commonwealth Government will have to take over the control of the railways, the treasury, the hospitals, family endowment, unemployed relief, the police force, and other State services; and, obviously, in view of the strained relations between the Commonwelath and the State of New South Wales, any such action ' would only be possible with the assistance of the military forces. Just how this could be done, I do not know, but I remind the House that the Constitution stipulates that, before the military machine can be put into operation in a State, there must be an application by a State government for assistance. If this Government contemplates taking control of New South Wales, the people of Australia should be fully informed; but if all this talk and political activity are merely so much shadow-sparring, perhaps not much damage will be done.

Recent events indicate what is in the mind of this Government. The Premiers Conference a week or two ago discussed proposals to give political preference to one government and impose penalties on another. Ostensibly the purpose was to compel the Premier of New South Wales to fall into line with the Commonwealth's proposals, but really the intention was to bring about the defeat of the State Government, with a view to securing control by political parties supporting the present Commonwealth Government. Honorable members will recall that the scheme submitted by a special committee of experts to deal with unemployment was hurriedly adopted, and as hurriedly shelved for a period of six months or thereabouts. There was a good reason for this changed attitude. Two State elections arc pending - one in Queensland and one in Victoria - and it was feared that the experts' plan to deal with unemployment might jeopardize the return of candidates of the Nationalist, Liberal or Liberty " parties - whatever term may be applied to them.. Accordingly, that cranky scheme was shelved in order to enhance the chances of the return of the Moore Government in Queensland, and of the Nationalist party candidates in Victoria. I am opposed to the bill for reasons given when I opposed the original measure, and I warn the Government that, in this matter, it is playing with fire.

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