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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Mr COLLINS (Hume) .- The contributions to this debate have been many and varied ; they have touched on almost every phase of scientific, economic, and social life. A splendid address on the subject of constitutional reform was delivered by the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin). Other addresses on the same subject by the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies), and the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) followed. The subjects of unemployment, population, immigration, water conservation, and aviation also were referred to. I was sorry that the Government saw fit to apply the " gag " to the motion for the adjournment of the House, moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde), to discuss unemployment. I had pleasure in voting against the application of the " gag ". Even though little constructive criticism was offered, and no solution was found, I am convinced that all members, irrespective of party, are striving to solve this problem, and consequently debate on the subject should not have been stifled. Figures were cited to show the volume of unemployment in the Commonwealth. I shall now give other figures setting out the present position: -


When we see figures of that magnitude, we cannot but regret that the Government saw fit to restrict the discussion. Governments, both Federal and State, are doing a great deal to solve the problem, but, in my opinion, it was wrong to apply the " gag " when only two speakers had expressed their views. I hope that such a thing will not occur again.

I regret also both the proposals to guillotine the budget debate, and the alternative adopted - a sitting which lasted from 2.30 o'clock yesterday afternoon until nearly 7.30 this morning, with only a short suspension before resumption of the debate at noon to-day. The best results cannot be obtained from men who are too tired to enter into the discussion intelligently. I shall never support the curtailment of debate in this way, unless I am convinced that obstructive tactics are being resorted to. I agree that stone-walling should not be tolerated when measures affecting the welfare of the nation are awaiting decision.

The discussion on constitutional reform introduced by the right honorable member for Yarra was most interesting. The right honorable gentleman gave the lead for which the people of Australia have been looking ever since the commencement of federation. When the Constitution was framed, the electors were promised that as soon as the new machinery was working smoothly, the State parliaments would be abolished. However, a person only requires to travel throughout the Commonwealth to realize how far some of the electors are from the seat of Government at Canberra. It might happen that a referendum would disclose that in New South Wales and Victoria a majority of the electors favour the abolition of State parliaments, but as it is necessary to have, in addition to a majority of the people, a majority of the States in favour of alteration, changes are not easily made. Particularly in the more sparsely populated States, the people do not seem to desire any change from the system of control by State parliaments. Nevertheless, I believe that the vesting of greater powers in the Commonwealth Parliament would be in the best interests of Australia. With greater powers delegated to local governing bodies, I am. convinced that better and more uniform results would be obtained than under existing conditions.

Australia needs population, not only for its development, but also for its defence, and, consequently, the greatest measure of encouragement possible should be given to those responsible for the administration of the Defence Department in order that this country may be saved for Australians and the white Australia policy preserved. I am convinced that little difficulty will be experienced in increasing the militia forces to 70,000. When the recruiting campaign, which has already been initiated by the Minister for External. Affairs (Mr. 'Hughes), is in full swing, I am confident that the sons of Australia will rally to the cause, particularly when they know that they will be supplied with uniforms and will be paid for their services. I trust that the objective of the Minister will be achieved by voluntary enlistment. I hope that Australia will never be attacked by an aggressor, and also that we shall never again see an Australian army being transported overseas to war.

I listened with interest to comments on the reconstruction of the Cabinet, and was sorry that the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), after six years' association with it, should condemn the Ministry in this House. I am afraid that he will have a job to reconcile his actions.

Mr White - In what way?

Mr COLLINS - After six years' association with the Cabinet, the honorable gentleman said that the affairs of Cabinet should be run on the lines followed by private enterprise. As the honorable member was a member of the Government for six years, he should have tried to introduce that system years ago. Only when he found that certain arrangements were not to his liking did he find fault with the system. He then criticized on the floor of the House the conduct of members of the Cabinet. In my opinion, that was most unfair.

Mr White - I put forward the suggestion many times in Cabinet, but only after I again became a private member could I speak of it publicly.

Mr COLLINS - I viewed with some apprehension the proposal to create an- other full portfolio, but when I heard of the multiplicity of the duties which fall to the lot of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer (Mr. John Lawson), I was prompted to interject that he should be made an assistant Minister immediately. I am now convinced that there is sufficient work to-justify the creation of an additional portfolio. Never in the 150 years of Australia's history has the time of Ministers been more fully occupied. It has been said that some Ministers do too much work, and others too little. That is true both of human beings and dumb animals the world over ; the willing horse does most of the work. Consequently the able and willing man is always expected to undertake the major share of the work. The honorable member for Balaclava supported the creation of an inner group of the Cabinet, while he believed that he would be in that group, but when he was informed that he had been excluded he disagreed with his colleagues. These internal squabbles should not have been disclosed in this chamber by the Prime Minister, the honorable member for Balaclava, or the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I am not blaming the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for the action he took in the matter. He reminded me of a hostile neighbour offering advice while a family brawl was in progress on the other side of the fence. Possibly he was anxious to secure some benefit from the ultimate clean up.

Mr Forde - I wanted to make a few friendly observations.

Mr COLLINS - The matter should never have been discussed in this chamber.

Mr Lane Mr. Lane interjecting.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse.)There is too much disorder. The Chair insists that the Standing Orders be observed.

Mr COLLINS - The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) would be at a disadvantage if he could not make irrelevant interjections at any time.

Mr Lane - Mr. Chairman, I hope that you will protect me from the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Collins).

Mr COLLINS - I believe that the Government is making an earnest attempt to co-ordinate the various arms of our defence system so that Australia will be able adequately to defend itself against an aggressor. I listened with a great deal of interest to the informative speech of the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Fairbairn) who is an authority on aviation matters, and 1 trust that some of the valuable suggestions which he has made will be carefully considered by the Government. During the debate various topics have been discussed, including the ramifications of finance. I do not profess to be an authority on finance, but I was astounded to hear some honorable members suggest a means whereby we can obtain something for nothing. It is ridiculous to suggest that while printing paper money to the amount of millions of pounds we can* retain financial and economic stability. The business of the Commonwealth must be conducted on sound lines. It is possible, of course, to print millions of pounds' worth of Commonwealth notes and to destroy them after they have been cashed, but my idea is that assets must be created before credits can be established. Unless one is in the fortunate position of having inherited property or wealth in some form assets have to be created in order to establish credit. This is usually obtained by producing wool, wheat, butter or other commodities or by the exercise of effort. If we were able to obtain money for our wool, wheat or butter without having to exercise our energies in producing it, it would not be long before we would be on the verge of starvation. In certain circumstances a maternity allowance is paid to mothers, but imagine what the demand would be if the allowance could be obtained without the baby. It is the -responsibility of the Commonwealth and State governments to proceed with reproductive public works on which men can be employed at wages which will enable them to maintain themselves and their wives and families in comfort. The financial and economic conditions are not so depressed as_many honorable members would have us believe. I supported the national health and pensions insurance scheme because I believed at the time that it was a beneficial social reform. Also it has been included in the Prime Minister's policy speech. The scheme, however, contains some unsatisfactory features which should be removed at the earliest opportunity. Some honorable members have said that we are heading towards another depression. If that should happen, what would ' become of the non-contributory national insurance scheme proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) ? We all recall the insurmountable difficulties with which the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) was confronted when he was Prime Minister, owing to a reduction of the prices of our export commodities, and how he was forced to reduce the salaries of public servants and invalid and old-age pensions. I do not blame him for the action then taken by his. government, because the circumstances were unusual and had any other party been in power it would have been compelled to adopt similar measures. "Social services were severely restricted. If another depression comes with a Labour government in power and a noncontributory national insurance scheme in operation, Australia will be faced with conditions similar to those which confronted the right honorable member for Yarra. Under the present scheme, contributions are paid by the employers and employees, but under a non-contributory scheme it would be impossible for the friendly societies, which are doing such good work, to carry on. Workers and others who would come within the scope of a non-contributory national insurance scheme would not remain members of friendly societies.

Mr James - What of pensions?

Mr COLLINS - A man who reaches the age of 65 - 60 in the case of a man who has had war service - receives a pension of 20s. a week. A member of an approved society under the national insurance scheme, on reaching the age of 60 or 65, as the case may be, can, regardless of his financial position, receive a similar pension and free medical service and medicine for the rest of his life.

Mr James - What of the man who has been unable to pay his contributions for two years?

Mr COLLINS - The scheme is complicated in some respects.

Mr Rosevear - Contributors may not remain in industry sufficiently long to enable them to become entitled to a pension.

Mr COLLINS - That may be so in some cases, but some of the difficulties which now exist will be removed should the scheme become operative. When the bill was first introduced, the secretary of the Federal Council of the British Medical Association was asked by the Treasurer to suggest a representative body to discuss with him a reasonable per capita payment for the doctors. Without consulting the rank and file the Federal Council of that organization negotiated on their behalf. The per capita payment suggested by the members of the Federal Council, who are city doctors, was not acceptable to medical practitioners working in country areas, many of whom have long distances to travel. City doctors are similar to representatives of city constituencies who can visit almost any part of their electorates in a few hours, whereas a tour of a country electorate may take six months. When the measure was first introduced conditions were better than they are to-day. Although such a scheme would be of great benefit to the people, it would impose further liabilities upon employers and employees and place them in an unenviable position. Unless prices for wheat, wool, and other commodities again become profitable, the Government would be well advised to postpone the operation of that act, more particularly when the people of this country are so readily responding to the Government's financial measures for the purpose of meeting our increased expenditure on defence. In addition to the tax which they will be called upon to pay under national health and pensions insurance legislation, the primary and secondary industries are already' shouldering such imposts as wages tax, State and Federal income tax, municipal and shire rates, levies by various boards, workers compensation contributions, and various special taxes such as orchard registration fees, &c Honorable members, therefore, will appreciate the terrific burden which is already being carried by the community generally, and in such circumstances this legislation might well be postponed in order to afford some relief to industry, until, at least, such time as prices for our primary products improve.

I had intended to deal with the Government's banking proposals, but as a further opportunity will be presented to me to do so, I shall postpone my remarks on that subject, I sincerely hope that I have made some worth-while contribution to the debate.

Motion (by Sir Earle Page) proposed -

That progress be reported.

Mr Forde - In view of the application of the " gag " when the Opposition sought to debate the urgent problem of unemployment, we protest against the procedure now being adopted.

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