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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Whenever a nation is facing a grave emergency, there will always be found a gang of profiteering buccaneers, loudly proclaiming their patriotism, and at the same time "going their hardest" in the dastardly game of plundering the people.

These flagwaving pirates operated true to form in Britain a few weeks ago when that country was feverishly preparing for a war that looked like becoming a grim reality at any moment. And not a word of protest came from the Chamberlain Government, much less any action to check their shameless looting operations.

When materials were needed for the protection of the people against air raids, these despicable and conscienceless profiteers were willing to make supplies available - at profits ranging up to 500 per cent.!

Pickaxes and trench tools, selling at a couple of shillings before the crisis, suddenly jumped to as high as 10s. each. Spades and shovels, needed for digging trenches, rose from 2s. 6d. to 7s. 0d., and even higher. The price of galvanized iron, needed for covering shelter trenches, jumped up hundreds per cent., and tho price kept increasing almost every hour.

There were no shortages of supplies of any of those materials before the war preparations were got under way. But when Britain's workers began trench digging and making preparations to protect the masses from the threatening menace from the air, supplies of the needed tools and materials could be had only at prices dictated by the profiteers.

A scandalous example of ghoulish profiteering was that of sandbag supplies. Sold ordinarily a.t Id. to l£d. each, the price was increased up to as high as lOd. each in a few hours. Millions of them., needed for the protection of civilians and buildings, were sold to councils and local government" authorities at this price. The soulless profiteers did not hesitate to "sandbag" the community right and left for fat profits.

These individuals, posing as patriots, yet ready to take advantage of a perilous situation to engage in shameless profiteering, are to be found in every capitalist country in the world. They know no loyalty powerful enough to restrain them from plundering their fellowcountrymen. The only flag they acknowledge is the black emblem of the buccaneers.

We had them here in Australia during the last world war, over twenty years ago. And they would again be well to front, ready to bleed the country and its people white for profits, were Australia to become involved in another struggle for the defence of the nation.

And while they plundered right aud left they would noisily proclaim themselves as patriots of the highest order!

In submitting the Labour party's policy on international affairs to Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) made two points. One was that, whatever else Australia might do as a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, no Australian troops should be sent to take part in overseas wars. The other was that all efforts should be directed towards making Australia completely self-reliant in defence. Striking confirmation of the force of this policy was given in the Senate on the 7th October by Senator Brand, of Victoria, who is a brigadier-general. He said - " It was unnecessary for Mr. Curtin to broadcast to thu world that no Australian soldier would be sent to fight overseas," said General Brand. " The world situation to-day. as far as Australia is concerned, is quite different from that in 1014. There is no likelihood of the formation of another Australian Imperial Force. All our industrial, economic and service defence preparations have one objective - home defence."

The justification for defence and all that it involves lies in the fact that there is more at stake than the defence of territory. It is our principles of justice, liberty, and democracy and our standards of life that we are striving to defend, and the threat to them is great. We have lived to see the liberties of the private citizen suppressed in many countries, which, despite brilliant cultural histories, seem to be reverting to a conception of the individual's relation to the state intolerable to Australians, with a parallel deterioration of international morality. Liberty and justice are principles worth much material loss, but Australians have for years made really great sacrifices for far less worthy ideals. For instance, the loss to Australia consequent on the Ottawa Agreement would equal the cost of building several battleships, and there are many who believe that Ottawa has bred more disappointment and dissatisfaction than genuine Empire welfare.

A more practical justification for substantial expenditures on defence is that much of the construction work and training of labour involved will, in any event, be undertaken in due course, and will add considerably to the national income. Papua and New Guinea offer an outstanding example of the need for development of latent resources. Potentially one of the richest territories in the Pacific, New Guinea has resources which, with the exception of gold, are relatively undeveloped. Its potential mineral wealth includes copper, zinc, silver, osmiridium and possibly petroleum, while its agricultural possibilities are also great. Once the initial difficulties of transport and capital have been overcome, plantations of coffee, sugar cane, rubber and tea could easily be supported. Papua is in the same position. Its mining and agricultural resources are extensive, but the lack of capital for the construction of roads and for other purposes and the inadequate shipping facilities have retarded progress. As a result, the area under cultivation has not increased. Development of these territories is essential if they are to play the part in our defences that their geographical position dictates. Otherwise Australia will not only decline to take advantage of a natural outer ring of defences, but will also leave a tremendous gap in its strategic position almost inviting attack. Forward bases to the north, of Australia will form an integral part of any defence programme, and for this reason the future of New Guinea may be very important. The range of operations of the Singapore base will be inadequate to keep all the waters surrounding the north of Australia clear of invaders. The solution is to supplement this main base by establishing forward bases, probably in New Guinea. The provision of forward bases entails the establishment of facilities rather than actual garrisons. It is not necessary that troops, planes and destroyers should be stationed at the bases, but only that sites should be prepared in such a way that they can be used at any time. Landing grounds in these tropical areas will require constant clearing and careful charting. Also, an exact knowledge of the waters to the north of Australia will be necessary. At present such knowledge is inadequate. In peace times the navy could be employed profitably in carrying out survey work, such as charting the intricate waters around New Guinea, little of which has so far been undertaken.

Trade routes provide another good reason for concentrating attention upon the north, for about one fourth of Australian trade traverses the Pacific. Moreover, one of our most important trading connections to the north-west is the Netherlands East Indies, our chief supplier of oils. In 1936-37 about 60 per cent, of Australian petrol imports came from the Netherlands East Indies, the next largest suppliers being the United States of America and British Borneo, with less than 20 per cent. each. The Netherlands East Indies and Australia could gain much from co-operative defence of trade routes, because, apart from the trade between them they both have a very lively interest in trade with Europe, and over a large part of the journey their routes coincide.

Australian dependence upon oil from overseas raises the whole question of storage of essential imports, and of the limits to which it is advisable to become independent of imported goods. Generally speaking, it is wiser to strive to keep open channels of trade giving access to products more cheaply than they can be produced at home. But in war-time, a com-* promise is probably the better plan. Storage is one solution. While Great Britain is storing principally foodstuffs, Australia's stored goods would be mainly of a different kind. The need for oil we have in common, but for machinery and machine parts, including motorvehicles and aeroplane engines, Australia is almost entirely dependent upon supplies from England and the United States of America. The problem is more than one of keeping trade routes open, because these countries may not be able to supply such commodities in an emergency. This makes it necessary to prepare at once factories for the construction of motor vehicles and aeroplanes. Work has already been begun in that direction, and it was recently announced that in five years about 25 per cent, of Australia's petrol consumption will come from Newnes. These are important contributions, and it is imperative that their urgency should not be overlooked. It seems necessary, too, that apart from a greater use and development of Cockatoo Dockyard, some encouragement should be given to shipbuilding in Australia.

Industrial development, however, involves more than factories; it necessitates greatly improved communications in order to keep connected all the vital links in the Australian economy. Germany has led the way in showing the need for excellent roads and bridges as an integral part of its defence programme. They are equally important here. For example, in New South "Wales there is only one bridge crossing the Hawkesbury River, which is the only link between Sydney and the coal, iron and steel resources of the Newcastle district. The roads across the Blue Mountains are also inadequate for communication between east and west. Numerous railway lines require duplication, and some important districts are not yet adequately served by rail and road. But before going too far in extending railways, the relative merits of road and rail transport should be calculated, since it may be that railway lines are more vulnerable to attack than are motor routes.

The number of aerodromes has been increased of late as also has provision for night flying, but there is still much to be done in that direction, which, in view of the vital importance of aviation in modern warfare, Australia cannot afford to neglect. Great Britain has been improving harbour facilities, and it seems that Australia should also examine the adequacy of this aspect of its defences. Some part of the various defence preparations will be carried out in each State, and the whole undertaking will be a vast one, the control of which might best be vested in some central authority after a thorough Australia-wide survey.

Air raid precautions would also como under the direction of this authority. The scope of modern warfare has made it necessary to prepare the civil population as well as the armed forces, and though Australia may not have to go to the lengths of European countries to guard against air raids, the larger, coastal towns may be liable to attacks of this nature. It must be obvious to any observant person that the grim spectre of unemployment is still with us, despite the fact that the amount of factory employment has been gradually extended, for which this Government takes the credit, although it knows that the improvement in the main has been due largely to other circumstances. The man in the street knows that the improvement is, in large measure, due to natural causes, over which the Government has had no control. It is an acknowledged fact that the higher prices for primary products, metals, etc., based on war and threats of war, had reduced temporarily the unemployment figures, but, unfortunately, without producing any real remedy for the miserable conditions still existing for a large section of our fellow citizens, who are still unemployed, or of offering any outlook or security for the future of that section of the population which provides the skilled and unskilled labour still necessary for our productive requirements. The practice of citing figures compiled by the Statistician from returns submitted by trade unions to prove that unemployment has been reduced by specific percentages takes no account of the fact that many of our youths and young adults have never had an opportunity to join a trade union, and ignores the other fact that part time employment is now a much more important factor in industry than was the case prior to the depression. The trade union figures, therefore, do not provide a sound basis for comparison, nor do they truly reflect the existing position. Unemployment in Australia is still very severe, and is one of our greatest problems. Figures culled from reliable sources testify to this fact. It is reliably estimated that at least 200,000 of our fellow citizens cannot obtain regular employment, to say nothing of the annual addition to that huge total from amongst the ranks of young people of both sexes, who, on leaving school, are unable to enter industry through lack of a properly planned economy on the part of this Government, which has repeatedly promised economic security to all. This state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. Those who are still unemployed cannot be expected to remain quiescent for ever. Sooner or later, a day of reckoning arrives for a Government which breads its promises. For the jobless breadwinners and their hapless dependants, the problem is a very real one. The Labour party realizes that it is still acute, and is likely to be aggravated in the near future, the possibility of another slump having already been forecast. For these reasons it has put forward a constructive policy to deal with the problem. One way in which unemployment could be relieved is by undertaking essential public works, in which Australian material, as well as labour, would be utilized. The standardization of our railway gauges, I suggest, would admirably fill the bill, because all of the materials which would be required, such as steel rails and fastenings, could be manufactured in Australia, whilst the sleepers could be hewn in our forests. Furthermore, the conversion of the permanent way to the 4-ft. S-J-in. gauge, and also the alteration of the rolling-stock, would involve practically all labour. Such a project offers a golden opportunity to this Government to give employment to at least 50,000 people, whose families and dependants, totalling 150,000 persons, would be enabled to live on a much higher standard than they can afford to-day. Furthermore, this work would be of immense value from a defence standpoint. It can, therefore, be said to be a work which would be in the interests of the nation as a whole. The advantages of A standardized railway gauge are as great as the disadvantages resulting from the lack of it.

During the debate which took" place on the subject last week, I was very pleased to hear the Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen) announce that he proposed to call a conference of Ministers for Railways for the purpose of co-ordinating transport services throughout the Commonwealth. As an ex-railway employee I fully realize the importance of the problem of transport in this country. However, if it is not immediately tackled by the various governments it will soon become insurmountable. I suggest that the Government should appoint a traffic committee to advise and assist the State transport departments on all matters connected with both intra-

State and interstate traffic. Such a committee could also give a lead in the preparation of a plan for the co-ordination of air, road, rail and water transport services. It would seem that each improvement in transport increases the desire for still better facilities. Faster and more frequent passenger services are being demanded, whilst the more rapid delivery of goods is being insisted upon by traders who have adopted a policy of ordering in smaller lots. Such demands have in many cases increased operating and financial problems. Rapid, cheap and efficient transport confers great benefits on the community as a whole, whilst, on the other hand, inadequate, costly and inefficient services adversely affect every individual. The transport industries can only be enabled to render the best services possible ito the community by being placed on. a sound financial and economic basis. At present it is generally recognized that the transport situation is in many respects unsatisfactory, and that the beat use is not being made of the facilities already available. Passenger transport in many of the larger cities is in a state of chaos, with the result that an additional problem of serious magnitude has been created. Furthermore, the relationship of the new air services to road and railway transport is vital. Tremendous benefits may be gained from the co-ordination of not only road and rail transport, but also other services. The rapid development of commercial aviation has brought into prominence the problem of co-ordinating aerial services with other forms of transport. Since collections and deliveries at terminal aerodromes can be effected only by road vehicles or railways, some degree of co-ordination with air services is essential. I point out that most aerodromes are situated some distance outside the cities which they serve, and, therefore, some co-ordinated system of road and rail delivery is essential in order to minimize delays. Over long distances, also, great possibilities are presented in connexion with the co-ordination of rail and steamer services, and already such co-ordination has been introduced in other countries with advantage. The electrification of the Sydney metropolitan railway system should be advanced as rapidly as possible in order to enable the withdrawal qf road vehicles from the inner suburbs. Furthermore, new suburbs could be developed by providing feeder services to the railways. In this way congestion would be overcome, and the Defence Department would be materially assisted in its plans.

I am disappointed that the Government has seen fit to increase the rate of sales tax from 4 per cent, to 5 per cent., which is really an increase of 25 per cent., in order to enable it to finance its annual contribution of £2,000,000 towards the national health and pensions insurance scheme. It is estimated that the extra sales tax will return as much as £1,900,000. I remind the Government that when the national health and pensions insurance legislation was introduced a promise was given that no extra tax would be placed upon any commodity in general demand by the workers on the basic wage. However, the Government has broken that promise. I have abundant evidence that the sales tax has been increased on many articles, such as soap and the cheaper kinds of biscuits, which are essential requirements of basic wage-earners. Thus, the workers are being doubly penalized. They are obliged to contribute directly towards their own insurance, and, at the same time, through increased sales tax, to provide the Government's annual contribution under the scheme.

The Australian Broadcasting Commission Act has been on the statute-book for more than six years. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) recently contended that the rapid developments in broadcasting in Australia rendered it essential that broadcasting should be the subject of legislative review by Parliament. Events have shown that a change of policy is required. It appears that in many respects the administration of the commission is very wasteful. Appointments have been made, and programmes prepared, which leave a grave doubt as to the qualifications of many members of the staff. It is the practice of the commission to give rather lavish entertainments to mark the arrival of distinguished celebrity artists, and the question may well be asked as to whether these receptions are justified. I suggest that A and B class stations should be regarded as co-related agencies in the Australian broadcasting service. [Quorum formed.]. The utmost dissatisfaction exists with the manner in which certain commercial stations have been given increased power, and the replies offered by the Postmaster-General on this point are contradictory. Parliament has not had a reasonable opportunity for many years to deal with broadcasting as such, let alone the work of the commission. The whole subject is due for review, and a measure for the complete amendment of existing legislation relating to broadcasting should be submitted to Parliament.

My only comment with respect to the constitution of an inner group of the Cabinet is that it is the first step in a move by a small clique of fascist-minded Ministers to usurp the democratic functions of the National Government. Apparently, this Government is not concerned about the fact that it has no authority under the Constitution for establishing an inner group within the Cabinet. Chapter II. of the Constitution provides that the whole of the Cabinet must go into consultation on all matters. The proposal to constitute an inner group, therefore, violates the Constitution. The Government is well aware of that fact. Because of the lateness of the hour, however, I shall leave the matter there.

In view of persistent rumours that the Government proposes to bring this session abruptly to an end about the 2nd or 3rd December, I draw its attention to a promise in the budget that, during this session, it will introduce legislation relating to reciprocity between the Commonwealth and New Zealand in the matter of invalid and old-age pensions. At present residence in New Zealand is not accepted as residence in Australia for pension purposes, and vice versa. I sincerely hope that, before this period of the session is concluded, appropriate legislation will be introduced to give effect to this desirable amendment of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act.







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