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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Mr GEORGE LAWSON (BRISBANE, QUEENSLAND) . - Even at this early hour of the morning I feel it incumbent upon me to offer some criticism of the budget now under consideration. I listened carefully to the remarks of the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Fairbairn), who made a valuable contribution to the debate. Like him, I protest against the action of the Government in keeping the House sitting until this hour when the debate should have taken place weeks ago. I also listened with interest to the speech of the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden), and I congratulate him upon it, particularly those parts in which he stressed the bungling of the Government in regard to national insurance. I desire to congratulate the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) upon his appointment. I have no doubt that he will prove to be ari acquisition to the Cabinet, and that he will carry out his duties in such a way that Australia will benefit. ' '

This is the most barren budget that has been . presented to Parliament since I have been a member of it. It contains nothing for the benefit of the workers or the people generally. There is not one redeeming feature in it, and I am convinced that it has displeased as many honorable members on the Government side as on this side of the House. It was interesting, however, to hear the praise given to the Government by some honorable members for the way in which it has managed the affairs of the country during the last twelve months. It has been truly said that this is a government of spare parts. It is not the same government which appealed to the people, and was returned to power at the last election. Until a few weeks ago, it was the Lyons-Page Government; now it should really be termed the Page-Lyons Government, because the Country party has forced the hand of the Prime Minister, and has got everything it wants. There is no doubt that the Leader of the Country party (Sir Earle Page) has a predominant influence in the Cabinet.

I remember well the many and varied promises made by the Prime Minister, and by Sir Earle Page, during the election campaigns of 1934 and 1937. It was on those promises that the Government was elected, but not one of them has been honoured. In his policy speech, the Prime Minister said that if he were returned with a majority - as he was, unfortunately for the people - he would engage upon a number of major works for the relief of unemployment, such as the standardization of railway gauges, sewerage construction for large country towns, the extraction of oil from coal, and other employment schemes, having particular reference to the needs of youths, which would take precedence over all other Commonwealth activities. Lastly, he promised to appoint a Minister, with definite responsibilities in regard to unemployment.

Let us see how the Government has endeavoured to honour those promises. It had conveniently forgotten all about the standardization of railway gauges until the matter was brought before the House a few days ago by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford). I was pleased to hear so many honorable members take part in the discussion on that occasion, because it showed that they realize the importance of this undertaking for defence purposes and also as a means of providing work for the unemployed.

The Prime Minister's second promise was to make money available for sewerage works. In his speech to-day, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) pointed out that many of the suburbs in Sydney are still unsewered, and he painted an alarming picture of what would happen if a bad epidemic should break out. This is a matter of great importance in Queensland. Unfortunately, many part3 of Brisbane are unsewered, and unless the Commonwealth Government will make money available to the local authorities, the work cannot be done for many years to come. I desire to give credit to those in charge of this work in Brisbane for having, within the last five or six years, completed many miles of sewers, and for having reticulated the various areas through which they pass. Now, however, because money has not been made available, the local authorities have had to close down on this work. If the money were forthcoming many thousands of the unemployed in Queensland could be put to profitable and productive work in constructing sewers in Brisbane and various towns.

The Prime Minister also promised to encourage the establishment of industries for the extraction of oil from coal and shale. Admittedly a beginning has been made at Newnes, but a great deal more must be done. Both the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), and the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), have repeatedly pointed out how necessary it is that Australia should be made independent of outside supplies of oil and petrol. Almost every week the honorable member for Hunter has urged the Government to make provision for the extraction of oil from coal. He is a practical coal miner, and knows what can be done in this direction. He also realizes how beneficial it would be for the people of Australia if we were able to produce our own supplies of oil and petrol. The Government has been lacking in its duty in failing to redeem its promise to encourage the extraction of oil from coal, an industry which, if established, would not only assist directly in the defence of the country but would also provide employment for thousands of coal-miners.

The amount of money which the Government has expended for the purpose of assisting the youths of Australia to find employment has been negligible. It promised a solution of the problem, but has contented itself merely with subsidizing to a small degree the State governments upon which it has thrust the responsibility. There will be drastic repercussions if the Commonwealth Government does not shoulder its obligation in this direction, because every year the ranks of the unemployed are swollen by the thousands of youths who leave school and are unable to find employment.

The appointment of a full time Minister for unemployment was promised, and a great deal of faith was inspired among the unemployed that their troubles would be ended by the pronouncement of the Prime Minister that this Minister would bend the whole of his energies towards the solution of the problem. That promise also was broken, because, although the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) was appointed as Parliamentary UnderSecretary for Unemployment, he was unable to persuade the Govern"ment to accept his proposals, which I sincerely believe would, had they been adopted, have been of great benefit. The honorable gentleman resigned in despair and was never replaced.

The Government has at all times attempted to evade responsibility for unemployment by laying it on the States, but it is not a State matter because the Commonwealth Government holds the purse strings. The Minister for "Works (Mr. Thorby) declared that the unemployment position is better to-day than it was last year and certainly better than it was in 1931-32. Nevertheless, according to the returns supplied by the trade unions, more than 170,000 persons are unemployed. Those returns by no means cover the whole field of unemployment, and, accordingly, the number of the workless in Australia must be vast. The fallacy of accepting the Commonwealth Statistician's estimate of the number of unemployed was emphasized by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway). I endorse everything that he said. Thousands of children who leave school each year must be added to the unemployed, because even those who obtain work must push other persons, perhaps their fathers, out of work. I have said previously in this chamber and at meetings of the unemployed in my electorate that the ability of the State governments to find work for the unemployed is dependent on the moneys that they have available, that those moneys are dependent, to a large degree, on the whim of the Loan Council of which the Commonwealth Treasurer is chairman. The Government, and shire and municipal councils in Queensland are employing to-day more men than they have ever previously employed. Most of them are engaged on relief work although some of them work full time. Nevertheless, thousands are unable to obtain employment. Where were the men now out of work employed before the depression? Certainly they were not employed .by governments or municipal councils, and consequently they must have been employed by private enterprise. It is the duty of the Commonwealth Government to make money available so that these men may be re-engaged by their former employers. That can be done by money being made available to the States. I regret the necessity to increase taxes, particularly the sales tax, because it falls chiefly on the worker, but, apparently, the Government is of the opinion that in no other way can it meet its commitments for this financial year. I do not object to the proposed expenditure on defence, for it is the duty of whatever government is in power to defend the country. Every honorable member on this side of the chamber believes in adequate defence. There are, however, ways by which the Commonwealth could raise money to finance necessary works without resorting to increased taxes. All the money required for defence and the relief of unemployment could be made available through the Commonwealth Bank. Thousands of men, women and children are still on the verge of starvation. [Leave to continue given.] The Commonwealth Bank financed Australia's war operation* which cost £257,000,000. After the war, the late Sir Denison Miller was asked whether he could raise a similar amount to relieve unemployment. He replied that he could raise as much 'for a peace programme as for war. The present Government h, s ignored his advice. The whole of the war loans raised were floated in Australia at a flotation cost of £705,000, or 5s. 7d. per cent., as compared with £3 pel' cent, for loans previously floated in London. What was done to prosecute the war should now be done in this time of the nation's need. The monetary policy of the Labour party is in accordance with the recommendations of the royal commission on banking which, apparently, the Government has ignored. If effect were given to the recommendations of that body there would be no need to pay exorbitant rates of interest. I shall conclude by quoting paragraphs 503 and 504 of the commission's report -

The central bank in the Australian system is the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. This bank is a public institution engaged in the discharge of a public trust. As the central bank, its special function is to regulate the volume of credit in the national interest, and its distinctive attribute is its control of the note issue. Within the limits prescribed by law,, it has the power to print and issue notes ns legal tender money, and every obligation undertaken by the Commonwealth Bank is backed by this power of creating the money with which to discharge it.

Because of this power, the Commonwealth Bank is able to increase the cash of the trading banks in the ways we have pointed out above. Because of this power, too, the Common wealth Bank, can increase the cash reserves of the trading banks; for example, it can buy securities or other property, it can lend to the governments or to others in a variety of ways,- and it can even make money available to governments or to others free of any charge.

Unless it gives effect to those recommendations, the Government will fail in its duty. Money could bt made available to the State governments almost free of charge, in order to finance works which would provide employment for many who are unable to obtain work.

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