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Thursday, 4 April 1946


Mr BREEN (Calare) .- I have been awaiting speeches by responsible members of the Opposition who formerly occupied Cabinet rank in order to have the pleasure of listening to a useful contribution to the debate. Like my friend the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley), I appreciate the need for support from every phase of political thought in Australia in order to make the referendum succeed. The history of referendums in Australia is not a happy story. We understand why great difficulty as experienced in inducing -the ' people to transfer powers from the States to the Commonwealth when we look back oh the history of the establishment of federation. I have figures which give a picture of the population of the nation at that time. New South Wales had a population of 1,333,000; Victoria, 1,100,000; Queensland, 500,000; South Australia, 333,000;- Western Australia, 179,000; and Tasmania, 172,000. The total for . Australia was approximately 3,700,000. The export trade of the nation was valued at £41,000,000, of which £15,000,000 was represented by gold bullion, leaving a merchandise trade of approximately £26,000,000. So, even if we grant that the founders of the Constitution were men of great foresight, we still must assume that they could not foresee the development of the nation to the stage it has reached at the present time, with a population approximately three times as great and a trade which has risen to £146,000,000, consisting principally ofprimary produce. The most important and difficult of our trading operations is in relation to foodstuffs. I have heard it said. that it will be very difficult, should the proposed alterations be made to the Constitution, to arrive at the exact meaning of some of the terminology indicating the powers that will be available for use by the Commonwealth Parliament. It has been said that the term " primary products " covers a wide field. Let us admit that. But that does not connote that although this Parliament, in the event of the Constitution being altered, will have the power to deal with all phases of primary production, it will spend its time upon details which do not present a problem in relation to overseas markets. It can hardly be visualized that the Parliament will spend much time in dealing with the Victorian beet sugar industry. That presents a local problem which can be solved locally. Nor can it be visualized that the Parliament will spend a lot of time in dealing with the export of peanuts, peanut butter, or any of the products of peanuts. Such problems can' be solved locally, and, consequently, do not require to have devoted to them the time, energy, or organization of the Commonwealth. We can confine " primary products " to approximately five commodities - wheat, wool, meat, sugar and butter. ' There is nothing arguable about whether those items are primary products in the true sense of the term, or have been carried to the stage of production at which it is necessary to determine whether they are primary or secondary. Therefore, in my opinion, honorable members opposite are quibbling over the -terms used by the draftsman because they lack the courage to oppose them straight out. 'They would support the proposals if a government to their liking were in power to administer them. In the meantime, they damn them with faint praise, thus inviting their supporters in the electorates to vote against the proposals because they will be administered by a Labour government. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), in a speech last year, gave cynical utterance to this idea, when he said that the support or non-support by a political party of any proposal for the alteration of the Constitution boiled down in the- end to a consideration of who was to administer the new powers. In short, he admitted that he would support the proposals .if he were leading a government that would exercise the powers, but he would not like the Labour party to exercise them. He is not alone in that attitude. Honorable (members on this side of the House, when in Opposition, followed the same line of reasoning. Therefore, I appreciate the need to obtain agreement among all parties if we are to induce the people to give to the Commonwealth Parliament the powers which we believe it should have, powers which the Parliament should be able to exercise no matter what party is governing. In regard to these proposals, the Government is giving the people an opportunity to decide (a) whether Parliament is to enjoy, the powers in question; and (6) who will administer those powers. That is a most important consideration, but honor- able members opposite advanced the old worn-out argument that the Government proposes to hold a referendum on the same day as a general election in an attempt to gull the people into believing that a vote against the referendum proposals will be a vote against the Government; in other words, that they cannot vote for the Government without supporting the proposals. The Leader of the Opposition, who has the capacity to make a statesmanlike approach to this matter and help to obtain the needed powers for the Commonwealth, characteristically prefers to play the part of a political dilettante, to treat the proposals as something to be talked about but not to be considered with the earnestness which they certainly deserve.

I , heard another ex-Prime Minister (Sir Earle Page) speak to-night, and he adopted the same attitude as the Leader of the Opposition. He said that the powers were desirable, but they should be more exactly defined; that the Government's method of approach was wrong in that it should seek the powers, not by referendum, but hy agreement with the States. He said that a conference of State representatives should be called to discuss the matter, and - if they were satisfied that it was in the interests of Australia generally that the Commonwealth Parliament should have the powers,- the States could- refer them to the Commonwealth. He said that, from his experience of State leaders, he believed that' they were reasonable men who would place no difficulty in the way of the Commonwealth Parliament getting the powers which were needed. Bearing that in mind, it is interesting to recall a speech which was delivered by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) in this- House on the 29th November, 1940, when, introducing a bill providing for the stabilization of the wheat industry. He said -

The problems of the wheat exporting countries had been steadily growing more difficult because the principal importing countries in Europe ever since they were struck by the depression, redoubled their efforts to secure self-sufficiency. . . . The Australian Governments had been trying for twenty years bc fora the present war to secure a plan of stabilization which would dovetail in with the international position

The Government, because it could not get agreement among State Premiers, or even among State representatives on the Agricultural Council, proceeded to act under National Security Regulations.

Could anything be more arbitrary? The right honorable gentleman does not now hold a portfolio, and perhaps he is not too hopeful that he will ever hold one again.


Mr Holt - Surely the honorable member does not believe that the Labour party will be in power forever.


Mr BREEN - Perhaps a more radical government will be in power twenty, years hence.


Mr Holt - The " Commos " must have the honorable member scared.


Mr BREEN - They have me scared, and they have scared the honorable member too, as well as a lot of other people. The difference is that we are facing the situation, whereas the others, ostrich-like, are hiding their heads in the sand. What the right honorable member for Cowper said to-night was the very opposite of what he said in 1940, but such a volte face is typical of the honorable members opposite when they discuss proposals for granting additional powers to the Commonwealth. I have spoken of wheat because it is pf particular importance to the electorate I represent. The founders of federation did not visualize what an important part wheat was destined to play in the economy of Australia. In 1900, Australia produced about 30,000,000 bushels of wheat - hardly enough to supply the needs of its own people. On the 23rd January, 1918, the then Minister for Agriculture for New South Wales, Mr. Ashford, said -

I cannot, on the facts before me, advocate continued encouragement to. wheat growing, although I would welcome any proof that it. is possible to do so without sacrificing the best interests of the settlers and the country.

In the absence of such proof I advocate a reduction of the wheat area to the minimum at which the crop will meet the domestic requirements of this State and Queensland.

Thus even eighteen years after the establishment of the Commonwealth, wheat was considered of such little importance that the Minister for Agriculture for New South Wales said that he would not advocate the growing of more wheat than was needed for consumption by the people of New South Wales and Queensland. He did- not visualize the growth of an export trade in wheat.


Mr TURNBULL (WIMMERA, VICTORIA) - Restrictions on the production of wheat were imposed only recently.


Mr BREEN - Yes, and during the war there was conscription for military service,' and conscription of labour, but surely the honorable member does not believe that during the next ten years the people will put up with the things which it was necessary to do in time of war when the nation had to defend itself. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir EarlePage), speaking in November, 1940, said' that there would have to be some restriction of wheat production in that year. I do not think that the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) would, in 1940, have suggested that there should be no control over the production of items which were then in excess supply. ' Turning from the production of primary commodities and the control of marketing, I come to the subject of mechanization on farms. This gives a lead to the third question that will be submitted at the referendum, seeking control over the relationship between employer and employee in order to bring harmony into industry throughout the Commonwealth. To illustrate the great changes which have occurred in methods of primary production, I refer to an article published in the Science Digest of March, 1946, which deals aptly with the subject of labour on farms and the problems that have arisen from increasing mechanization. These problems demand something that was not thought of in the past - a code that will link the farm worker and the farmer with the worker and the employer in secondary industry. The author of the article, Mr. Albert Parry, discussing what would happen to rural workers who had served in munition factories during the war, stated - "War workers don't go back to their farms ", areal estate man said to me in Tulsa, Oklahoma. " They've saved more of their war-time earnings than we gave them credit for. We thought they were spending all their wages in taverns, but apparently they weren't. - " So now they are sitting tight and pretty, waiting for the factories to reconvert or the strikes to be settled. They don't want to go back to their Ozarks and Smokies. Nothing much to go back to in those mountains, you know. They like city life better, and why shouldn't they? But even when they came from good farms they don't care to go back ". " They aren't needed there anyway '', interposed a friend of his, " I watched a cornpicker do its stuff the other day. Why, that machine does the work of six or eight men! "

In Louisiana they had statistics to prove this point to me. Harry D. Wilson, state commissioner of agriculture, issued figures recently, showing that because of the continued trend of mechanization, farms in Louisiana get smaller in number and bigger in acreage,' needing fewer hands to operate them.

From 150,007 in 1940, Louisiana's farms decreased to 130,699 in 1945, a loss of 12.9 per cent., while their acreage in the same fiveyear period rose from 9,998,108 to 10,310,806.

I have before me a country newspaper with a picture of a girl operating a, hay baler. The mechanization chief of the Department of Agriculture in New South Wales, Mr. Leonard Jull, said of this machine, "I have seldom seen anything more efficient or better designed to save labour than the one-man hay baler ". There is a world-wide problem in relation to changing farm economy, it is not confined to Australia. Because' of this development, leaders of American thought are calling international conferences to handle the new problems on an international scale. This Parliament must have power to send representatives to such conferences as plenipotentiaries, with the assurance that, if agreement is reached, it will give effect to their recommendations. The sending of advisers to make reports without prospect of positive action to follow would be mere political " ballyhoo ". Members of the Opposition have a duty and obligation to help to secure that power for this Parliament without quibbling about the terminology of the questions to be submitted to the people at the referendum. They have to carry on under a Labour administration just as the Labour movement had to carry on under anti-Labour governments. Though we may disagree about political theories, none of us is likely to commit " hara kiri " just because anotherpolitical party is in power. We must overcome political enmities in order to help make the nation prosperous in the new world. We must discourage any movement back towards the dark ages, and unite to move along the road of progress which leads to what we, as Christians, consider to be our destiny. The rational organization of primary industry is indissolubly linked with the establishment of fair terms and conditions of employment and a high standard of living for everybody. These things can be achieved only if the Commonwealth Parliament has power to legislate for them. In the bad old days, strikes were settled by calling out the Militia or the police. Such action will not be effective in the future. The community expects its representatives in Parliament to do the' job for which they were elected. The President of the Liberal party of Australia, Mr. Ritchie. who is one of our greatest industrialists, has said that the 40-hour working week should be introduced in Australia, first, because Australians deserve a standard df living based on £he 40-hour week, and, secondly, because industry can afford it. A similar statement was made by the president of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures. Nobody has quibbled at the right of Australians to enjoy benefits arising from scientific advances in industry and the victory achieved by our armed forces over the enemies of democracy. Nevertheless, when the Government asked that effect bc given to the unanimous desire of the people, members of the Opposition quibbled at the ways and means proposed for introducing the reform. The Opposition claims that this Parliament should not, set itself up as a commission to formulate industrial codes. The fixation of standard hours of labour is not a matter for an Arbitration Court judge. It fs a matter for a solid reform which is desired by all sections of the community. I hope that there is in the offing some modern Cromwell who will find a way. of inducing members of Parliament to agree on such matters of national importance, regarding which the people can reach agreement more quickly than political parties have been accustomed to do in the past. The people will be asked to sanction the permanent granting to this Parliament of power to administer social services. The existence of such power having been regarded as a fait accompli, this has not raised so much criticism as have the Government's other proposals. Apparently the Opposition has concluded that it is not good politics to damn the proposal with the same fervour and animus as it has directed towards the others. The people and the State parliaments, having had a sample of Commonwealth adminis tration in this sphere, will be satisfied to make the power permanent. The other two powers are equally important. They represent cardinal points in a progressive economic policy, which must be implemented if the people are to benefit from scientific and social progress. I appeal to members of the Opposition to allow their patriotism and sense of justice and morality to guide their actions in this matter, and not to make it merely a political football, because otherwise, in the next few years, revolutionary movements now starting in other parts of the world may block the road of democratic progress.







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