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Wednesday, 16 September 1942

Mr BAKER (Maranoa) .- When criticizing the budget, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) deplored the fact that the Treasurer has not increased the rate of tax payable by those who are in receipt of less than £400 a year. I remind the right honorable gentleman that the wage-earners are being heavily taxed, not only by previous budgets, but also by the mounting cost of living. The Leader of the Opposition gazed into the pasture represented by this large group, and urged the Government to invade it, and thereby deprive many people of a portion of their hard-earned wages. The Labour party believes that taxes should he imposed upon those who are best able to bear it. That is the golden rule of all taxation. The Leader of the Opposition also urged the introduction of a system of compulsory loans, such as was advocated by Mr. J. M. Keynes, but I shall deal with that subject at a later stage.

I was surprised by the splenetic and bitter attack that the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) made on the workers. I should like to define the meaning of " worker ". A worker is not only the individual who wields a pick, and has calloused hands. For example, the wheat-farmer and grazier work very hard. The dairyman works long hours for a small return. The shop assistant performs tedious work for long hours every day. Even the waitress who serves food so daintily in a restaurant is a worker. In short, a worker is any person who produces a commodity, or who renders a social service. Nearly 95 per cent, of our people are workers. That fact makes the bitter attack of the honorable member for Indi all the more inexplicable. I assume that he referred to industrial workers, and that his attack was inspired, because, from time to time, friction arises between employer and employee and develops into a strike. In many factories, particularly those engaged in the manufacture of munitions, men are doing high-precision work for long hours daily, and the problem of stoppages is really a psychological one. When a man feels the strain of arduous and continuous work, he is inclined to " fly off the handle ". He must be handled very carefully by his employers. As faults occur on both sides I fail to see why the worker should always be the target far such sweeping condemnation. If it were not for the worker, where would Australia be to-day? For 150 years, our people have laboured to build up a high standard of civilization. In that direction they have achieved more than any other people in history. Even the United States of America had not developed in one and a half centuries to the stage that Australia has reached. In a very short time we have cleared the scrub, tilled the fields, established the farms, built the towns, laid down the railway lines, and made this a worth-while country. The workers have done that. They are also fighting the war to-day, and some honorable members opposite believe that the workers should pay for it. They wish to attack the wages of the working class. If it were not for the unions, especially the Australian Workers Union, our White Australia policy would be nonexistent. When President Roosevelt spoke of the " Four Freedoms ", I hope that he had in mind the right of men to combine for the purpose of forming unions for the betterment of their conditions, such as higher pay, better conditions of work, and better habitations. Why should not they have some of the worth-while things of life ? For too long, the " go-getters " and vested interests have enjoyed the good things, whilst the workers lived in conditions almost of poverty. To-day, the worker is intelligent, and he demands a fair deal. From the Labour party he will get a fair deal.

The honorable member for Indi referred to the " unfairness " of compelling people to join a union. I compare the policy of the Government in this respect with the rules of a cricket club. In return for their subscription, members enjoy the right to partake of the privileges of the club. Men should count it as a privilege to pay the small amount necessary for a union membership ticket when they go into employment and enjoy the pay and conditions for which the union lias fought over the years.

I now direct the attention of honorable members to some of the achievements of the Australian Labour party since it took office in October last year. It implemented child endowment.

Opposition Members. - Child endowment was introduced by the Menzies Government.

Mr BAKER - It was compelled to do so by the Labour party. We have increased the invalid and old-age pension to 25s. a week. We have provided pensions for widows and orphans. We have increased 'the pay of the fighting forces. The Australian soldier, before we took office, received 5s. active pay and 2s. deferred pay a day. The allowance for a wife was 3-=. a day, for the first child 2s. 6d. a day, and for the second child 1s. 6d. a day. The budget introduced in 1941 by the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) increased those rates to 6s. active pay,2s. deferred pay, 3s. 6d. wife's allowance, 2s. 6d. allowance for the first child, and 2s. for the second. Since March, 1942, the Australian MilitiaForce and the Royal Australian Air Force in Australia have been able to qualify for deferred pay after six months' service. Naval shore personnel have been placed on sea-going rates. Since August, when the last budget was introduced, the active pay has been 6s. 6d. a day, deferred pay 2s. a day, the allowance for a wife 4s. 6d. a day, the allowance for the first child 3s., and for the second child, 2s. Since taking office this Government has increased the pay of members of the fighting forces at a cost of £18,000,000. In addition, the first £250 of a soldier's income is exempt from income tax as the result of action by this Government.

When the wool agreement was signed in 1939, it contained a clause providing for annual review of the price provided either party to the agreement asked for it.

Mr Abbott - Rot! We were always asking for it.

Mr BAKER - Nobody, not even the United Country party, which professes to represent the wool-growers, lifted a finger on behalf of the wool-growers until this Government came into office, and the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) went to Great Britain, asked for a rise of price by 15 per cent., and got. it-

Mr Fadden - That rise was obtained by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page).

Mr BAKER - No, by the AttorneyGeneral, who went to Britain after having visited America. We have stabilized the price of wheat at 4s. a bushel at railway sidings for the first 3,000 bushels. That was a worthwhile achievement. In Queensland we are in an anomalous position in that we do not produce sufficient wheat for local consumption. Wheat has to be brought from the south, and it is hard to do so because of the shortage of rolling-stock and congestion on the railways. We have guaranteed to the tobacco growers an increase of the price for their leaf by 10 per cent. The price of raw cotton is now 15d. per lb. Tthe price of bacon has risen by 2d. per lb.

The dairying industry is the Cinderella of all industries. The men, women and children engaged in it work under conditions of slavery so that the producers may get cheap dairy products. A dairy committee is now inquiring into all matters connected with the industry, and I hope that as the result the dairy farmers will get a better deal. The fifth progress report from the Joint Committee on Rural Industries states -

At its meeting in Sydney in August, 1040, the Australian Agricultural Council considered that the long-term market prospects justified the adoption of an energetic policy of extensive production in the dairying industry in all States. The British Government placed dairy products high on the priority list and many countries formerly supplying the British market were subject to enemy occupation or control. Take Denmark, for example; it is a little bigger than the western district of Victoria, but it had over 3,000,000 dairy cows. These had to be fed on imported grain, and as the grain is not now reaching the country, probably many of these cows have already been slaughtered for human consumption. These were probably the best cows in the world, having 40 years of herd testing behind them. As it takes three years to multiply dairy animals it will be impossible for Denmark to get back to its old productivity for many years after peace is declared.

We have promised Britain 70,000 tons of butter and 40,000 tons of cheese in the financial year 1942-43. That is a sacred undertaking. In addition we have to supply our own men in the Army, our allies, and the civil population, and there is a very great danger that we may not be able to do so. The report proceeds -

In his evidence before the committee, the general president of the Agricultural Bureau of New South Wales (Mr. Cavanagh) said that if steps were not taken to offset the shortage of man-power there was a very real danger that we will experience a shortage of foodstuffs. He added : " That is not an overstatement of the position. There will certainly be a shortage of dairy products. The shortage of manpower in the dairying industry is due largely to the fact that, because the industry never paid very high wages, many young men entered munitions factories and the Army . . . The question in regard to fodder conservation is also serious as the result of continued dry seasons which have exhausted the reserves, and also because of the shortage of man-power experienced last year has not been made good. On top of that, the whole of the State has experienced a severe drought. . . . Fodder conservation is an urgent problem, and should be tackled on a national basis in order to build up stocks for tile use of the Army as well as for the preservation of our flocks and herds . '. .". In Queensland the State Director of Dairying (Mr. Rice) told the committee: "Rural labour, especially under the low wage conditions of dairying, was early depleted owing to the much higher ratio of voluntary enlistments in country districts and the exodus to the attractive high-wage work available in industrial cities and towns. In my travels through dairying districts I have noticed that many farms are unoccupied. . In the South Burnett I was told that nine farms had gone out of dairying. On the Darling Downs, twenty dairy farms have gone out of production in the last twelve months". . . . The general manager of the Port Curtis Cooperative Dairy Association Limited (Mr. Wilson) said: "Farmers cannot pay good wages on the price they receive for butter. My opinion is that, with a better price for butter, production will increase. If farmers are to receive a price comparable with that paid in other industries, and appropriate to the hours worked, the price of butter should be 2s. per lb."

Mr Rosevear - Do not say that to the workers in ray electorate.

Mr BAKER - I tlo not think that any decent worker would object to better conditions in the dairying industry. The average annual consumption of butter per capita in Australia is 31 lb., and an increase of 6d. per lb. would add only 15s. 6d. a year to the worker's cost of living. "We who pride ourselves on our high standard of living do not wish to have some of our people working under slavery conditions. The dairyman has to go into his yard twice a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year, and when he is not there he has to sow feed. "We can no longer close our eyes to his perilous state. The dairyman should be able to> earn the basic wage, but at current prices he cannot receive this. I think that all primary industries can take a lead from the sugar industry, which is the best-organized primary industry in Australia. It is controlled by a board consisting of a representative of the growers, a representative of the manufacturers, and the Chief Justice of Queensland as chairman. No one who has travelled through the sugar country will deny that the sugar industry is on a sound basis, and I do not know why its lead cannot he followed by the wheat industry, the dairying industry, and all other primary industries.

We are experiencing a shortage of tobacco. We grow only one-fifth of our annual requirements. Recently I travelled with the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) through the tobacco country in South Queensland, and I had the privilege of visiting the site of the proposed dam at Mingoola, the point at which four creeks - the Pike, the Mole, the Tenterfield and the Severnlea - come together to form the Dumaresq River. If that dam were built and half a dozen weirs were constructed on the Dumaresq River and the Mclntyre Brook, thousands of acres of country could be irrigated and made suitable for tobacco-growing, and within a few years we should be independent of overseas sources of supply. The cost of the dam would be about £1,000,000, which is less than our war expenditure for one day. Surely we can afford that.

Another imperative work is the railway link from Blackall to Charleville. Floods or a bombing raid on the coastal line would isolate North Queensland, but the construction of the Blackall to Charleville line would afford the necessary link. Later the line could be extended from Cunnamulla to Bourke.

In order to provide more food for the Motherland we should increase our production of dehydrated mutton. The Minister for Commerce has this project in hand, and I hope that he will expedite his plans. There are many towns in the west of Queensland where dehydration plants could be erected.

I turn my attention now to that well-known parrot cry " inflation ". As soon as any suggestion is made to use the national credit of Australia, there arises the cry " inflation ". It is only a bogy, and there would be very little, if any, inflation if we had a proper system of controlling prices, interest rates and costs. As a matter of fact, of the two evils, inflation and deflation, the latter is very much the worse. We all had a taste of it during the depression period of 1931-32.

I often hear the cry raised in this House that the Labour party is using war-time conditions as an excuse to introduce its policy. We make no apology for that. That is why we are here. We can win the war only by implementing the Labour party's policy, and, furthermore, that is the only way in which we can win the peace. I direct the attention of the committee to the platform and objective of the Australian Labour party, which shows that the Labour party is pledged to control all nuance and banking. We make no apology for trying to implement this plank of our platform. The only apology I have to make is that we are going too slowly about it; we should move ahead a great deal faster. When the history of the last twelve months is written, the people of Australia will thank Heaven that the Labour party was in power and that the right honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) was at the wheel. I shudder to think what would have been the position of Australia to-d'ay had the Labour party not been in power. I shall not say any more about that now, but the time will come when the story of the Labour party's achievements will have to bc fold.

I spoke a little while ago about the control of profits. In this connexion I direct the attention of honorable members to the following paragraph from the Sydney Daily Telegraph of the 9th September, 1942 :-

Mutual Store Limited discloses a profit of £21,491 for the year to the 31st July, after providing £15,000 for taxation and £7,597 for depreciation. Profit for the previous year was £18,952 . . .

We are fighting a war, yet here is a firm making profits out of all proportion to its size. This is not a. time when business concerns should make profits.

Mr Beck - The honorable member is telling only half the story.

Mr BAKER - I shall finish reading the paragraph -

Profit for the previous year was £18,952, when taxation took £10,000 and depreciation £5,9S2. Dividends are 8 per cent, on first preference, RJ per cent, on second and 7 per cent, on ordinary shares (6 per cent, in 1940-41). absorbing £19,487.

Here is another item from the same issue of the Daily Telegraph -

Profit of Distillers Corporation Proprietary Limited, manufacturers of Corio whisky and Vickers gin, for the year to the 31st January, was £44,810, against £22,332 in 1940-41.

That is an increase of more than 100 per cent.

Mr Badman - What about taxation?

Mr BAKER - I am coming to that.

The item continues -

That of Federal Distilleries, manufacturers of Old Court whisky and Brinds gin, was £11,270, against £11,716. These two companies paid to United Distillers Proprietary Limited, which holds all their shares, £58,000 in dividends. United Distillers Proprietary Limited, shows profit of £58,390 for the year to the 28th February contrasting with £32,590 in the previous year. This company in turn paid a dividend of 4 per cent, to the holding companies - Australian Distillery, Brinds, Breheny Brothers, and other interests - absorbing £42,000.

That sort of thing must not be permitted. I am sorry that the Government dropped its proposal to restrict profits to 4 per cent. I understand that there were some difficulties in the way of collecting excess profits under the scheme, but I hope that the war-time profits tax will straighten out that difficulty. It is disgraceful that this sort of thing should happen in wartime.

The rationing of clothing, tea and sugar has been fairly satisfactory, and I do not believe that any hardship has been caused to anybody. Some people are squealing, but they would squeal in any case. If we are short of commodities, we should go further and ration bread, butter, cheese, tobacco, cigarettes, beer, wines and spirits. Liquor could be rationed under a coupon system, so that a man would have to produce coupons in order to get a drink in an hotel. Then everybody who so wished could get a drink, but nobody would get too much. That is a very important matter at the present time. I suggest further that newspapers should be rationed. We could release a great deal of man-power if that were done. Of course, people will talk about the liberty of the press, but there is no such thing. The press is tied to the chariot-wheels of big vested interests. I suggest also that talk in this chamber should be rationed. I myself speak very seldom, and if every other honorable member spoke as little as I do, we should get a lot more work done. Furthermore, if talk were rationed in Parliament, the Hansard record of debates would be reduced.

We have been looking forward for a long time to the establishment of a mortgage bank. I hope that such a bank will be in existence 'before this sessional period ends, and that it will he established on a proper basis. The rate of interest charged should be low, certainly not more than 3 per cent.

Mr MORGAN (REID, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why 3 per cent. ?

Mr BAKER - As a matter of fact, I do not see why it should not be 1 per cent.; the banks could operate profitably at that rate. It should, provide longterm accommodation upon easy conditions, because, at the present time, the private banks do not always give sympathetic treatment to people who are in difficulties. We on this side of the chamber are pledged to implement the Labour party's policy. I repeat that I have no apology to make for that. I read in a newspaper recently that the coal-mining industry in Great Britain has been nationalized. Many people claim that government enterprises are not successful. I remind the committee that the British Navy is a government enterprise. So are the British Army, the Royal Air Force, the Royal Australian Navy, the Australian Imperial Force and the Royal Australian Air Force, and nobody will deny that they are very successful. The Post Office also is a government enterprise, and in Queensland we have a State Insurance Department, which is doing remarkably well. The sooner we implement the Labour party's policy in full and nationalize banking systems, the better it will be for Australia. I understand that national credit was extended last year by an amount of £78,000,000. I hope that it will be extended very much more this year.

I advocate equal pay for equal work in industry. -Women are being called upon now to do what previously was regarded as men's work, They are working for long hours at tedious jobs, and they should receive the same pay for that work as the men who are working beside them. I hope that we do not pay a person 'according to sex. We should pay for work done. We should now begin planning a system of post-war rehabilitation because, when the war is over, conditions in this country will be chaotic unless we have planned thoroughly in advance.

I am not enamoured of the word "austerity", which is heard so much to-day. I do not like it, because it connotes bitterness, rigidity, nastiness, sourness. We should rather use the word " Spartan ", which suggests simplicity, frugality, and intense courage. We all know the story of how 300 Spartans held the pas3 at Thermopylae to the last man. We want more of that sort of thing. We also need a spiritual background, so that we shall move forward in faith and in hope, not with 'bitterness or austerity. We should move forward with a clear eye, a smile on our lips, and a quip on our tongues to meet the worst that may come;. I hope that when this tragic nightmare of war is past, we shall have plans for national reconstruction ready to be put in operation. In conclusion I trust that before long we shall hear the wings of the dove of peace fluttering at the gateway of a glorious day.

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