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Wednesday, 4 May 1932

Mr HOLLOWAY (Melbourne Ports) . - I rise to make a suggestion which may prove helpful. No decent Australian citizen can feel pride or satisfaction in regard to the existing conflict between the Commonwealth and New South "Wales. This internecine warfare is a .tragedy over which none can gloat and which every decent citizen must regret. The people outside expect their representatives in Parliament to seek a solution of the problem by a frank exchange of views. My experience of many large industrial troubles during the last twenty years has taught me that while the parties are endeavouring to beat each other to the ground, the community, as a whole, is suffering losses which soon amount to millions of pounds. In the present dispute, both parties have burned their boats, and while they continue the fight, each in the hope of achieving a definite victory, hundreds of thousands of innocent people are suffering hardship and travail, and Australia is losing vast revenues.

Last year the financial difficulties of the Commonwealth and the States led to the adoption of a rehabilitation plan which imposed sacrifices on all sections of the people. Prior to the adoption of the plan, experts whose assistance the various governments had sought, reported, after much investigation and deliberation that the balancing of budget's was an essential preliminary to economic rehabilitation. I suppose that 75 per cent, or SO per cent, of the plan has been loyally implemented by both Commonwealth and State Governments, but their financial difficulties have continued; budgets have not been balanced. Again the experts were called together only a few weeks ago, and they made a significant report which, in part, contradicted their previous recommendation. Apparently, even experts can learn from experience, for they have now come to the conclusion that whilst the balancing of budgets is essential, and an ultimate objective to be kept constantly in view, it can be achieved only after a revival of industry. Budgets cannot be balanced this year or next year. The aggregate deficit of the Commonwealth and States this year is likely to be upwards of £20,000,000, and even if the people continue to make sacrifices, that amount cannot be reduced below about £12,000,000 next year. "Whilst practising economy with a view to the ultimate balancing of budgets, we must resort to the measures adopted in the United Kingdom, and suggested in this Parliament many months ago to encourage a revival of industry. Obviously, while the present conflict between the Commonwealth and the largest State continues, the prospect of balancing budgets becomes more and more remote; every day the treasuries are losing hundreds of thousands of pounds as a direct consequence of this quarrel. When the fight is over, what will be our position ? Even though the Commonwealth should succeed in reducing the Government of New South Wales to submission, we shall be hopelessly in the financial mire. How will it be possible for governments to make up their leeway ? I do not attempt to apportion the blame for the present trouble; a disastrous conflict is in progress, and instead of indulging in personalities, and being influenced by bigoted objections to individuals and parties, we should co-operate to effect a settlement, I have been engaged in many big industrial disputes, and, with the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Bruce), have sat at the council table seeking a solution. We knew that every day the dispute lasted scores of innocent people suffered and many thousands of pounds were lost to the community. The representatives of the parties at these conferences were never so undiplomatic as to " burn their boats ". For my own part, I was always careful fo say that I would never yield this or that. I always tried to leave a middle course open, so that when at the psychological moment a compromise was possible I could accept it. Nine times out of ten a solution was found, not by the jungle method of beating each other to the dust, but through the temperate exchange of views, evolving a formula acceptable to both parties. The dispute between the Commonwealth and the State of New South Wales is of much greater magnitude than any industrial strike or lockout; but, nevertheless, the principle of arbitration is applicable to it. It is foolish of either government to believe that in the end its opponent will be beaten to the ground ; that sort of result cannot be achieved. Compromise is inevitable. Sooner or later the wise counsellors of both Governments will ask a group of independent, experienced, and expert men, who enjoy the confidence of the majority of the people, to devise a formula for the repayment of the obligations of New South Wales to the Commonwealth over a period of years. Some arrangement for time-payment will have to be made; the Commonwealth cannot expect to recover the whole of the' arrears at once. Every round of this fight means a loss to both contestants, and, indeed, to the whole of the Australian people, and when the struggle ends how will the governments concerned be able to balance their budgets? Whence will New South Wales obtain the funds to repay the interest which the State Government says it cannot now pay, and which the Commonwealth is paying on its behalf? Because of our experience in connexion with the Premiers plan, and of our futile efforts to balance our budget, we should abandon this conflict, and hand over the problem to persons dissociated from the contesting parties. For some 20 or 30 years we have been preachingarbitration. If that principle is sound, it should be applied in this instance.

Mr Jennings - Does the honorable member suggest that the matter should be placed beyond political control?

Mr HOLLOWAY - I certainly do. I am not reflecting upon party leaders, but it must be obvious that if it were left to certain honorable members in this chamber a satisfactory solution would be impossible. The heated exchanges that have taken place in this House indicate that the political bias of those concerned makes reconciliation between those honorable members impracticable. This conflict is so far reaching in its effect, and imposes so much unnecessary travail upon the people of Australia, that this Government and the Government of New South Wales should be big enough to endeavour to evolve some sane, modern system of arbitration to settle the dispute. In my opinion, it cannot be settled satisfactorily in any other way. If the conflict continues in the hope that one side will beat the other to the dust, there can be no hope of balancing our budgets for many years to come. I repeat, the time has arrived when we should try to find some unbiased tribunal that will endeavour to settle this dispute through the medium of some sane basis of arbitration.

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