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Tuesday, 9 April 1946


Mr MOUNTJOY (Swan) . - I support' the three bills, which will authorize the holding of a referendum. I have listened on numerous occasions to the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen). Although his speeches are always grossly inaccurate, I . have never heard him deliver one that was more so than that which he made to-night. He went out of his way to attack my colleague the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Lemmon), who had interjected that wheat production could be controlled by giving a price for a quota. He asked the honorable member for Forrest, " Are you going to control wheat production by fixing a price?", arid then drew a terrifying picture of the price being forced down to such- a level that it would not be payable to the grower. That was a gross distortion. The honorable member for Forrest is a licensed wheat-grower who is actively engaged in the. wheat industry. His knowledge of wheatgrowing is much greater than that of the honorable member for Indi. He does not have to run to John Teasdale for .advice. The honorable member for Indi criticized -the growers for having elected men to the Australian Wheat Board. Although he twitted the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture with consulting Sir Louis Bussau, the honorable member did not say a word about the personal adviser who gives him all the inside information from the Australian Wheat Board. It is absolutely untrue that the present Government would attempt at any time to control the production of wheat by forcing down its price. The honorable member has asked for a statement of our intentions in regard to these matters. They should be perfectly plain. In respect of the bill dealing with social services, our intention is to improve the lot of, to Use his own description, the.under-dog. Our intention in regard to the bill relating to organized marketing is so to organize primary production that the producer will get the full fruits of his industry. Our intention in regard to the third measure is to give to the industrial worker an instalment of that new order which honorable gentlemen opposite promised to him when their skins were threatened by the Axis powers. These matters should not be subjected to so much distortion. They should be debated in a non-party atmosphere, but that seems impossible. The referendum of 1944 should have been put to the people with the support of all parties, but it was not, and the Labour party did not have sufficient funds to counteract the vicious propaganda of its opponents, which confused the people. I have taken the trouble to peruse past parliamentary debates, in order to learn what ideas were held b'y different members when similar questions were previously submitted to the people, and I lighted upon an excellent and very interesting speech by the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), when he was Attorney-General of the Commonwealth. It was made during the budget debate of 1938-39. subsequent to the holding of the last referendum in respect of organized marketing, which was de- feated. The right honorable gentleman then said that, in his opinion, there were eight anomalies in the Constitution, these being in respect of trade and commerce, health, control of companies, industrial power, transport, fishing industry, agriculture and unemployment insurance. Those include some of the very matters with respect to which the Government is attempting to gain power for the Commonwealth at. the present time ; yet, because the right honorable gentleman is now Leader of the Opposition, he has introduced party politics into the consideration of them. I wave indulgence to read a few extracts from his speech, giving reasons why Constitution alteration referendums were lost. Making his first point, he said -

T can imagine no greater fallacy than this theory of sovereign States. Sovereignty in this country belongs to the people of Australia. As we pointer] out just before the recent referendum, even that sovereignty is not, perhaps, technically complete, because there are one or two silent places Still in th'e Constitution. But, speaking broadly, sovereignty belongs to the people, because this is a democratic community which carries out its desires through various agencies.

Making his third point, in the course of which he discussed the introduction of party politics, he said - 1 ami quite sure that one of them was a purely factitious party opposition to proposals put forward by a government of another colour. ' As the right honorable member for Yarra said the other day, if we are to deal with these problems of national power, we must shut our eyes and minds completely to all ideas of which party is putting them forward or of what such and such a party will do if such and such powers are granted.

From my , point of view, there is only one question : Should the people of Australia take power through our Commonwealth Parliament to carry out certain functions? If they do, the people will have their own rights, in their own way, to decide which party shall sit on the Government benches. . . .

The fourth answer is this: I have detected many times, as have other honorable members an instinct in the average voter in Australia to feel that, in this welter of governing authorities, his primary loyalty is to his State. We have all encountered this. I have met men in the States who, in addressing themselves to a problem of constitutional change, have not said, " Is this the kind of power better exercised by a local governing authority, or a national one?" - which is the real question - but instead have said, " Why should we in the States give any more power to the Commonwealth," with the finger pointing in a rather condemnatory fashion in the general direction of Canberra'. If that instinct is analysed, it will be seen to be an instinct of primary loyalty to the States, and, in effect, it treats the Commonwealth as an outside body, if not a foreign body. And so, year after year, and referendum after referendum, we hear well-meaning people, otherwise intelligent, saying that the real question is, " Why should the States give more power to the Commonwealth?" whereas the real question is, " Should we, the people, who are superior both to Commonwealth and State authorities, entrust this power to this parliament or to that?". If that were properly understood, a great deal of the difficulty that attaches to this feeling among the people would disappear.

If the right honorable gentleman spoke honestly in 1938, after the defeat of the referendum on the proposals in respect of the organized marketing of primary products, how is he speaking to-day? Probably we have the reason for his change of views in his latest remark, " We shall fight the Government every week, every day, and every hour, and by all means The Leader of the Opposition must know in his heart that the powers to be sought should be granted to this Parliament. His bosses, those engaged in. " big business ", have dictated otherwise, and -that is the reason for his change of front.

It has been said that because the. validity of many of the social service measures has not been challenged, it is not likely that others will be. We are reminded that the maternity allowance, which has been operating for the last 35 years, has not been challenged; but it was not thought that the power of this Parliament to grant pharmaceutical benefits would be questioned, and as- that measure has been declared invalid, other portions of our social service legis.lation could be challenged.. That is the opinion of King's counsel who support, not the Labour party, but those opposed to it. Therefore, the right of this Parliament to provide those services should be settled finally by the electors. If the people were asked to grant power to this Parliament to provide medical and dental services, I believe that they would readily agree. I am. surprised that Country party members, who are supposed to represent outback constituencies, are opposed to the nationalization of medical services. Even if city dwellers have to stand in queues to obtain medical attention at public hospitals, at least that service is available to them, but in many country districts no doctors at all are available. They will not practice in outlying areas, because they are unable to obtain sufficient income there; The. establishment of a national medical) service would be of great value to the man on the land.

A cross-section of the opinion of all doctors, including Macquarie-street specialists, would show that a majority ^ of the members of the profession are in favour of the nationalization of medical services. Naturally, I meet more country doctors than city practitioners, but I have' not come in contact with one country doctor who would not be happy to work in a national medical service. Any doctor worth his salt should be prepared to give of his best to the community. As a rule doctors choose their calling because of love of their profession, and ' not merely to make money out of it. Those who are. found in Macquarie-street, Sydney, and on St. George's-terrace, Perth, are, in the main, opposed to the nationalization of medical services. Social services enable the income of the community generally to be levelled up, and some of the greatest defects in our economy remedied. No challenge as to the- validity of these proposals should be heard, particularly from members of the alleged Australian Country party, but members of the Liberal: party are naturally expected to oppose them.

The measure dealing with the organized marketing of primary products relates to one of- the principal powers to be sought. After World War I., I as a boy, saw large estates in the Swan River Valley subdivided for the settlement of returned soldiers.' Many settlers engaged in grape production, and when the vines came into full bearing there was a glut of dried fruits. The ex-soldiers were seen hawking their product in Perth, where they were able to obtain only 2d. a lb. for it. The growers were reduced to a bare subsistence level, and those who worked for them received a wage of only. 6s. or -7s. a, day, because there was no organized marketing of primary products. In the vegetable-growing- industry, the producers expect to get a profitable price, for their crops. At times they receive fair prices, and at other times, ruinously low prices are paid, because of glutted markets. Even when first-grade tomatoes command only 3s. a case, the price in the retail shops often remains at Sd. or 9d. per lb.. The only way in which to overcome that difficulty is to plan for a small surplus of production,,- and to organize producer-consumer co-operation. Action on those lines would provide cheap vegetables for the consumers without menacing a satisfactory, price to the growers. Such & 'plan, could not always give perfectly satisfactory results, because of changing seasonal conditions, but a vast improvement by comparison with the present haphazard system could be effected. One year cabbages may fetch high prices because reduced plantings have been made, and beans which have been planted in large areas would be at glut prices. The following season, growers remembering the good prices' for cabbages would plant heavily, and the poor price for beans would cause them to plant that vegetable lightly, the result being the reverse of the previous season.

Criticism has been levelled at the Apple and Pear Board. The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann) seems to think that the board's operations had resulted in low prices to the growers and clear fruit to the consumers. Western Australia and Tasmania export their fruit, and.it was only reasonable to expect that during the war period, when their fruit could not be shipped, a surplus would be unavoidable. Had the board ceased to operate in those States during 1 hat period those engaged in the industry would have been ruined. I claim that the people have hot been called upon to pay high prices for, apples. Because they know that thousands of bushels of fruit have been ploughed into the ground, they ask, " Why can we not get cheap apples ? " ; but in Western Australia, they have always been able to purchase half a bushel of first-grade apples for 3s. 6d. from the travelling trucks of the Apple and Pear Board during the "flush of the season. I do not represent the main "applegrowers in Western Australia. Most of the growers in my district produce pears and early apples, but they recognize that it would not be in the interests of the growers generally to dispense with the Apple and Pear Board. When new season's apples appeared in the shops in Western Australia, I saw Granny Smith's, which had been in cold storage for six months, priced at10d. per lb., and, immediately alongside of them, green new season's apples, the price of which was not controlled, selling at11d. per lb. Those who contend that the board's operations have resulted in high ' prices of fruit are wrong. Apples may not have been cheap in the first part of the season, butthey were certainly cheaper over the whole year than before the board came into existence. Anybody having a full knowledge of the effect of the control operations would be ready to defend the board.

The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) claimed that the primary producers have suffered shocking treatment under the control system. He instanced the Potato Control Board, and said that the growers had to ask when they could plant, dig, and market their crops. Of course, they have been called upon to do that, but it is also true that, having suffered certain inconvenience due to government control, they received £12 10s. a ton instead of £1 10s. a ton for their crop. They ought to be quite prepared to submit to control in return for that benefit, I am sure that every reasonably minded grower is prepared to accept this control; as a matter of fact, they have asked for the control to continue for another year. For the first four years of the war, wheat was practically unsaleable. In Western Australia, all bulk storage bins were full, and as fast as newbins could be built they were filled. It could not be foreseen that a devastating drought would occur in the eastern States, and that soon the people would be clamouring for wheat; so a policy of restriction of production was adopted. Therefore, there is' no justification for accusing us of being responsible for the shortage of wheat of a year or two ago. The Attorney-General in his secondreading speech, read, in this House a table of figures showing how the incomes of primary producers had increased during the period this Government has been in office. Members of the Opposition countered this by saying that incomes were larger because farmers worked very hard, and were unable to spend money on top-dressing their land or on repairing fences and sheds. It is true that they were unable to carry cut proper maintenance work, but during the depression farmers had no money for maintenance work, and they certainly worked as hard then as they worked during the war; yet their . '.incomes fell to a mere subsistence level. The honorable member for Maranoa charged the Government with, restricting the growing of wheat in Queensland, while at the same time, using badly needed transport for carrying wheat 'to Queensland. In this respect, the figures issued by the Commonwealth . Bureau of Statistics in regard to wheat production in Queensland are interesting : -

 

That, was the last year in which an antiLabour government was responsible for the crop. For the last three years the production of wheat in Queensland has been : -

 

It is estimated 'that this year the yield will be 8,000,000 bushels. These figures prove conclusively that the production of wheat in Queensland steadily declined during the regime of the last Government, and has consistently increased during the term of office of the present -Government. The honorable member for Maranoa quoted figures published by the South Burnett Dairy Company to show that, before the war, the price of butter was higher than during the war. "Well, we admit that higher prices were obtained before the war, but they fluctuated violently. For instance, in 1920, the price was 25.51d. per lb., while in 1935, it was only 9.75d. "What would be the position of a man who, in 1920, bought dairying land on the basis of a price of 25.51d. per lb., and then had to carry on when the price fell to 9.75d. ? It is much -better for' the farmer if the price of his produce can be stabilized at a reasonable level. In 1940-41, the gross value of farmyard and dairy products for Australia was £62,629,000, while in -1943-44 the value was £77,450,000. The value per head of population for 1940-41 was £8 18s. 4d., and for 1913-44, it was £10 13s. 2d. Taking the index number for production in Australia for 1927-28 as 1,000, the figure for 1941-42 was 876, and for 1943-44 it was 1,037. This shows that the volume of production actually .increased during the war.

The Leader of the Opposition quoted the Taxation Department as an authority for saying that if a farmer made his own butter, it remained- a primary product, but if the -butter were made in a factory it became a secondary product. "What would be the position if a group of farmers banded together and made their butter in a factory, or if a farmer employed someone on his farm to make butter? ' I believe that such matters should be put beyond doubt by declaring that butter, cheese, fruit and wine,' for instance, are primary products. If a man grows his own grapes, crushes them and makes wine, the wine is, presumably, a primary product, but what is it when produced by a wine-maker who grows some grapes and buys more? Is his wine a primary product or not? Honorable members can see that it would be hopeless to sort out such a tangle.

Speaking of wines, I should like something to be done to prevent a monopolistic concern such as Penfolds from invading and dominating the market in Western Australia. I would have no objection if Penfolds sold their wines in fair competition with the Western Australian products, but their practice is to buy up all the wine licences in Perth, and to lease the premises- on conditions that only Penfolds wines are sold. Consequently, better wines made in Western Australia have no market, because no one is able to sell them.


Mr Archie Cameron - That is the fault of the State law.


Mr MOUNTJOY - I admit it. There ought' to be more licences. In Queensland, there is excellent marketing legislation which was introduced by a Labour government, but Queensland has the advantage of having no Upper House. We have a Labour government in Western Australia, but we also have -a reactionary Legislative Council, which contains many big landowners. These people are not at all favorable to breaking up large estates which are suitable for soldier settlement. The Government cannot get legislation through the Parliament to acquire estates of that kind, because the Upper House will not pass it. During the last referendum, we were told by members of the Opposition that the Commonwealth already had ample power to repatriate ex-servicemen, but we have since found that it can be done only in co-operation with States.

The third proposed power, that which relates to terms and conditions of employment in industry, has been attacked very strongly- by members of the Opposition. We should recognize that the world has moved forward. With the application of science and invention to production, the potential earning power of the people has greatly increased.

In 1921-22, the population of Australia was 5,510,944, whilst in 1942-43, it was 7,196,622, an increase of 30.9 per cent. For the same years the national income was £540,000,000 and £1,223,000,000' respectively, which was an increase of 126.4S per cent., while the income per head of population was £9S and £169 respectively. During the same period the basic wage rose from £4 2s. to £4 18s., an increase of only 19.51 per cent. Thus, it is evident that the return to the workers has not been commensurate with the general increase of the national income. During the recent war, no fewer than S00,000 persons went into the fighting services, and many thousands more into munitions factories. Nevertheless, those who were left were able to produce enough to feed and clothe the entire population, including those in the services, as well as to supply large quantities of food and other goods to our Allies. Now the Army has been greatly reduced, the munitions factories have been closed, and a great many men and women are returning to civil production. Work must be found for them. As it has been made possible to produce more per head of population, then the workers themselves should share in the extra production. It is hopeless to expect that the Arbitration Courts will ever grant a 40-hour working, week. In Western Australia, some unions have had the benefit of a 44-hour .week for the last twenty years, whilst others are still working 48 hours. If one State were to legislate for a 40-hour working week, while another kept to a 44-hour week, the first State would be placed at a disadvantage industrially. If a 40-hour week is to be introduced it should be done at one stroke, and made to apply all over the Commonwealth. 1 do not think that this Parliament should concern itself with assessing the exact amount of the basic wage, but it should determine whether or not the basic wage is adequate, and should fix a basis for assessing a proper wage. The present basic wage was fixed in 1912, and real wages have increased very little since then, although the productive capacity of the country has increased enormously-. We should remember that things which were regarded as luxuries five years ago are now looked UpOn as necessaries. For instance, every worker should have a radio and a refrigerator in his home. Let us not forget that the workers produce the wealth - not those who skim the cream off the top.' During the war, members of all parties proclaimed loudly that, when the war was over, the workers must get a better deal. In Great Britain, the workers asked Ernest Bevin, " When we come back, do we come back to the same old conditions?" We told our workers that a new order would be given to them after the war, and we must honour our promise. Otherwise, we shall drift into another depression, and then, I am afraid, the workers may take what is due to them.







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