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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Mr WILSON (Wimmera) .- Apart from the huge amounts provided for interest payments, the most important item in the budget is the provision for defence. No one who has studied the recent trend of events can deny the need for defence* I do not wish to criticize too severely what the Government has done to provide fortifications, and land, sea and air services of one kind and another. I shall merely observe that its whole ' programme and procedure could bc improved. Our defence policy require? careful re-examination. I hope that the Government will be fortunate in its advisers in this connexion, and that the steps which it has taken so far, and which it may take in the future, will not be misinterpreted by other powers. Our only desire - and this should be emphasized - is to defend ourselves^ maintain our free institutions, and govern ourselves as we desire. I hate the very thought of war; but I am forced to the conclusion that, though we may strain every nerve to ensure world appeasement and disarmament, we must,, at the same time, do our best to remove the economic and other anomalies and injustices that exist among the nations. Only by adopting that policy shall Wé be able to assist in the achievement of world appeasement and peace. I doubt whether it will ever be possible for us, with our limited manpower, to develop military and other defence forces sufficient to ensure absolute safety. For that reason, among others, I strongly advocate a policy of negotiation with other countries to draft treaties for the adjustment of economic injustices and other complaints. It is encumbent upon us to do everything, in our power to maintain and protect our free industries, and to develop our great inheritance imperfect though it may he at present. We should strive our utmost to develop the great resources of this country which have been explored and revealed by our pioneers. I ant convinced that many of our hardships could be alleviated if our problems were faced courageously. Many of our developmental difficulties could assuredly be overcome.

In regard to defence, I shall offer several suggestions which appeal to my commonsense, as a layman, and which, 1 believe will receive the endorsement of many other honorable members. It has been suggested in the press that the Government should expend a vast sum of money, even as much as £15,000,000, in the purchase of a battleship. Whilst I agree that our defence equipment should be as up to date as possible, I do not think that we can afford to purchase a battleship at that price. The expenditure of £15,000,000 on aircraft would be much more effective, having in mind our vast distances and our long coastline. I can see ho reason why we should not build, in Australia, all the aircraft that we need here. This, in my opinion, would develop a most valuable industry. It would also be wise to spend money on the provision of submarines and fast-moving ocean-going craft, a policy which is being adopted to a greater degree than ever before in connexion with the British Navy. Such vessels could also be built in Australia. We ought, in my opinion, to build our own merchantmen. It is deplorable that the ship-building industry which, before the war, and also during the war, was established in a reasonably efficient way in this country, has been allowed to languish. We have built one cruiser, some destroyers, and several ocean-going freight ships in Australia. At one time we had a flourishing shipbuilding industry with a skilled personnel doing good work in the national interests. We should be ashamed of ourselves, particularly in view of our claim to be self-dependent, that practically the whole of our export trade is carried by ships not on the Australian register. It is to the everlasting discredit of this Government and previous governments, that no effective steps have been taken to revive our ship-building industry. - 1 suppose that our people pay not less than £10,000,000 a year in freight charges to shipping firms whose vessels are not registered in this country.

In my opinion, the greatest failure of the Government lies in the fact that it has failed to awaken a great national spirit among our people. In years gone by Australians had a deep love for their country and were prepared to make great sacrifices for it. That spirit has been dissipated, I believe, because our governments are not actuated to-day by altruistic ideals, and do not make any real appeal to the democracy. They are concerned too much with commercial activities. The needs of the great masses of the people have not been met. Vested interests have been allowed to develop, and unsound policy in many other directions has caused the stagnation of development. This is serious in a young country like Australia. I have heard many other honorable members refer to this subject, and also to the need for increasing our birth rate, which unhappily, has declined to an unsatisfactory figure. This state of affairs must be altered. We should, in this Parliament, make a careful search for the reasons for this stagnation and endeavour to remedy them. Broadly speaking, the cause of our troubles is the lack of a sense of economic security by the great mass of the people, and the loss of markets for our exportable primary products. We have sacrificed some of these markets, and have, I am afraid, permanently lost them. Although T represent an electorate which is principally concerned in primary production, I say deliberately that we must direct attention to the development of sound secondary industries in Australia in order to provide careers for our rising generation. The Government has fallen down on its job in this connexion. There should be no need for large numbers of our people to be unemployed. The attention of the Government should be devoted to the development of a sense of economic security among our people as a whole. I believe that there is a simple solution of our troubles if the Government had the courage to adopt it. Undoubtedly, many of our younger people are to-day indifferent to their responsibilities as citizens in consequence of their sense of social insecurity. Defence measures are not likely to be regarded with great enthusiasm by people who feel economically insecure, and who are not guaranteed a reasonable standard of living. The solution of our problems is much simpler than some honorable gentlemen who support the Government would have us believe. We must not allow ourselves to be guided absolutely by history. Rather should we clear away the cobwebs that cloud our outlook. Then we should see the way to progress. We must tackle our problems in a more progressive way than wb have done hitherto. This country is capable of producing more food than our people need, and we could provide here probably a higher standard of living than that enjoyed by the people of any other nation. I accuse the Government of lack of courage in its approach to these great national problems. It is culpable to the extent that, possessed as it has been of almost unlimited knowledge secured from the reports of many committees of inquiry and royal commissions, it has almost invariably displayed weakness and timidity in putting into effect the recommendations of these costly bodies of inquiry. These committees and commissions have, in the main, dealt in a practical manner with the problems which they have investigated. One has only to point to a few of their findings to expose the vacillating attitude of the Government. The Development and Migration Commission was appointed some years ago. Had its recommendations been followed, much loss in regard to settlement would have been avoided. Then the Wheat Commission pointed the way towards a solution of the problems affecting the wheat industry; but here again the Government would go only part of the way indicated, and as the result, the industry is still labouring under serious disabilities. Another royal commission was appointed to inquire into monetary and banking systems. Contrary to . expectations, as has been pointed out by a number of honorable members, that commission made recommendations which have received the general approval of the people of Australia. It was believed that, if put into effect, those recommendations would have been instrumental in giving the country a better system of finance, but the Government is showing weakness in this connexion also. Although the commission's report has been available for more than a year, nothing has yet been done to introduce legislation to implement its recommendations. Patronisingly, yet fearfully, the Government has consulted the private banks, apparently not being satisfied with the work of the commission which it appointed. It appears to me that the reason for this is that the recommendations of the commission are a definite challenge to the privileges of these powerful concerns. The Government has subverted a great national need to expediency, and it now stands hesitating between the devil and the deep sea, apparently placing the trading interests of the banks before the welfare of the people. It has, however, promised that a mortgage bank bill will be brought down to provide for long-term mortgages, and I hope that we shall see the consummation of that promise before the House goes into recess. Such a measure would be of great assistance to industry generally and to primary industry in particular, because primary industries must have long-term credit at a low rate of interest if they are to function satisfactorily.

According to cable messages published in the press recently, a trade agreement has been concluded between the Dominion of Canada and the United States of America. The principal concessions granted to the United States of America by Canada, to the detriment of Australian producers, are on lemons, dried fruits, and canned fruits. This is a vital matter to Australian fruitgrowers. The Canadian market for Australian dried fruit is second in importance only to the British market. It would appear, therefore, that the Government has not been alive to this threat to Australia's valuable trade with a sister dominion. If should have been more active in the interests of the fruitgrowing industry, which is highly developed in the electorate I represent. I shall be very pleased to learn if the Government has taken any steps for its protection. Other cable messages referring to an Anglo-American Trade Treaty, indicate that that agreement involves concessions on the British market amounting to £169,000,000 in favour of the United States of America. This is a great inroad on the Australian fruit exporting trade, and I am very disappointed at the bad results which followed the visit of the Australian Trade Delegation to the United Kingdom. The figure which I have quoted is based on the 1938 trade figures. Of that large amount, £50,000,000 applies to farm products. Obviously, that will be a grave disadvantage to Australian farm products on the United Kingdom market. It calls for very firm action on the part of the Commonwealth Government, which has not been so well represented at trade conferences as it should have been. I am supported in my view by figures which were published in the Melbourne SunPictorial some months ago. That newspaper published the following article : -

Australia ranks third in the countries of the world as an importer of British goods and second as an exporter of her own products to United Kingdom markets.

Official returns for 1937 issued to-night by the Commonwealth Statistician (Dr. Wilson) showed that during the year Australia took British goods worth £37.530.725 sterling, compared with £41.432,399 taken by South Africa and £39.103.728 by British India.

The United States of America was Britain's best foreign customer with purchases valued at £31,424,519, .but this by no means' balanced United States exports to Britain, worth £114,248.943. This huge total placed America first in the list of exporters to Great Britain.

Australia was third in the world and second in the Empire with £71,805.371, being exceeded by Canada with £88,380,294.

A.   significant feature in view of the coming trade discussions was that the Argentine and Denmark, which arc particular rivals of Australia in meat and dairy produce respectively, supplied between them £90,000,000 worth of goods for British markets. On the other hand, Australia bought more from Great Britain than these two rival countries combined.

If Great Britain, to which Australia has given many advantages on its own markets, is not prepared to reciprocate in. a reasonable manner, Australia should investigate prospects in other countries for the marketing of its exportable products. After all, these are matters of business, and sentiment should not be taken too much into consideration. Unless legislative action is taken, merchants iti Great Britain will buy on any market where they can obtain the best deal.

We have been told by the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) that the wheat preference, which wo have lost as the result of the negotiations to which I have referred, was not of very much value. That is a complete denial of the statement which was made to this Parliament and to the Australian people when that favorable concession was obtained.

At that time, the right honorable gentleman stated emphatically that it represented a great victory, and would be cf distinct advantage to Australia. Now le says that it was not worth worrying about. A proper opportunity has not been afforded to honorable members to give expression to their opinions on trade questions until it has been too late and valuable preferences have been lost. They need not have been lost if a firm attitude had been t-ken up by the Government. In a typically ambiguous statement on the Anglo-American trade treaty, in which loss of preferences had to be admitted, the Minister for Commerce recently tried to gloss over that admission, but his explanation will not be very satisfactory to the primary producers of Australia.

I have never heard of a royal commission being appointed in Australia to inquire on a proper national basis into the great problem of unemployment. It is a problem which appears to have continuity. Conditions exist in the world to-day which make the need, for labour less urgent that it was a century ago. I need not amplify this, other than to say that the development of machinery in the last few decades has decreased the demand ' for manual labour in industry. We have been working to produce machinery which has had the effect of creating' unemployment. Therefore, we must accept our responsibilities to our fellow men who, apparently, are not needed in the industrial scheme, and must make provision for them accordingly. That is a national responsibility which we as a Commonwealth Parliament cannot continue permanently to pass on to the States. I regret that yesterday, when a motion for the adjournment of the House was moved by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) to discuss the matter of unemployment, the discussion was gagged by the Government.

Mr Lane - The honorable member can discuss unemployment now,

Mr WILSON - I know that.

Mr Lane - The motion moved yesterday was merely obstruction.

Mr WILSON - It was not obstruction. It was an attempt by the Opposition, which particularly, but not exclusively, represents that section of the community, to have unemployment discussed, and it was reprehensible for the Government to gag the discussion. Time should have, been allowed for honorable members to suggest ways and means to solve the unemployment problem, the severity of which is increasing, not only in the secondary industries, but also in rural industries, as the result of adverse seasonal conditions. The Government may cite figures to show an improvement of the position, but we know very well that, far from there being an improvement, the numbers of unemployed show an upward trend. It is admitted, of course, that some improvement did occur some time ago, but now the trend is the other way. At no time has this problem been dealt with and solved. "We have always had a number of unemployed in this country, and I submit that there is something wrong when Australia, which is able to produce sufficient goods to give a high standard of living to the people who are willing to work for the benefit of this country-

Mr Bernard Corser - What about the ones who are unwilling?

Mr WILSON - I have no sympathy with them, but they form a very small percentage of the population. We must provide for the honest people, who are willing to play their part as members of the community.

The Commonwealth Government should make funds available for developmental works. The time is opportune to do so, particularly in the rural areas which have suffered so severely from drought. Much has been said about the need to standardize railway gauges. Standardization of the gauges is a work that is well worth undertaking. Apart from that, we have insufficient railways. There should be built cross-country lines to connect existing lines. This work, if undertaken, would be of benefit, not only for defence, but also to the rural populations, because it would facilitate the transfer of stock from drought-stricken areas to fresh pastures. Some years ago, there was a project for the construction of a railway line from Ouyen, in my electorate, to connect with the many lines which go in a northerly direction from Melbourne. If that line had been built, the journey from Adelaide to Sydney would have been shortened by 200 miles.

It is not too late now to undertake that work. Another public work that should exercise the minds of Ministers and of honorable members is the construction of better and additional roads. There is also a great need for water conservation and irrigation projects. This country is subject to frequent drought visitations, even in areas in which great rivers flow. If steps were taken to conserve the water supply in those rivers, the country would be able to support many more thousands of people. I do not consider that much could be done in the hinterland to make it fit to carry considerable population, but in the more settled areas considerable progress could be achieved by the application of a policy for the conservation of our rivers. I commend all of these matters to the earnest consideration of the Commonwealth Government.

There is to-day a great tightening of credit and it would appear that, unless something is done to arrest the deflationary tendency, the country will soon be in a depression of greater depth than, that from which we emerged a few years ago. It is incumbent upon this Government to use that great facility which it has at its command, the Commonwealth Bank, to prevent this deflationary period, for which there is no need. I am reminded of what happened in the last depression when production, both primary and secondary, was greater than we had ever previously experienced. The warehouses were jammed with the foodstuffs and clothing, but, because of the false situation created by the banks, there were hungry and ill-clad persons- standing alongside of plenty. There is something wrong with an economy which allows such a condition of affairs, and any government which stands idly by without taking steps to prevent its return is not worthy of the confidence and support of the people. If this Government does that, the people will know how to deal with it. They will not put up with the humbug that they suffered on the last occasion.-

I am concerned with the thousands of young people in Australia who have no prospects for the future, unless the Government takes action. I commend the Government for having provided money for the training of youths and I hope that it will ensure that the States wisely expend it, but more money should be made available. It is the responsibility of the Commonwealth to make this money available, because the powers of the States to tax and borrow are limited. I hope that the Commonwealth Government will give encouragement to the establishment of more and more industries in Australia in order to absorb into industry, not only youths, but also all other unemployed persons. I have in mind particularly . the establishment of the shipbuilding industry to which I have already referred, and the establishment of an Australian motor car manufacturing industry.

Immigration is a difficult problem and I sympathize with the Government in its efforts to solve it. I, personally, should not shut the door on any one who wanted to come to Australia provided he did not come into conflict with the White Australia policy.But we have a responsibility to our own people and I hope that due regard will be paid to them in the consideration of the resumption of immigration.

The former chancellor of the University of Melbourne, Dr. R. E. Priestly, said in an article -

I am convinced that Australia to-day is the safest country in the world tolive in, and I am glad that my daughter is remaining here. I dp not believe that Japan is the immediate menace some people think she is; and the dangers of Europe are very far away. But, just because of her enviable situation, however, Australia ought to be putting herself in a position to exercise leadership in world affairs.

That is the burden of my remarks. I do wish to see Australia take a leading part in world affairs and I do not want it to be, as it were, simply saying "Yes" to everything that the Motherland does. I want Australia to realize its nationhood and to have a say in shaping the policy of the British Commonwealth of Nations. I hope that the Government will take cognizance of what I have said and that it will launch out on a vigorous policy of advancement for this grand country of ours.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 7.30 p.m.

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