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Thursday, 25 July 1946

Mr LAZZARINI (Werriwa) (Minister for Works and Housing) . - I regret that the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) has left the chamber, because I intend to reply to some of the extraordinary "claims that he made in the speech he has just delivered. His reference to the budget that he introduced in 1925 was rather unfortunate, because, if my memory serves me rightly-, it was. because of that budget' that the late Sir Henry Gullett described him as "the most tragic Treasurer' Australia' had ever known". The right honorable gentleman also referred to his budgets of 1926, 1927 and 1928. In those years the Government, which represented the great vested interests of this country, consistently refused to impose a sufficiently high .tax on the incomes of wealthy persons, who would have been able to carry a heavier burden of taxation. Had such taxation been imposed", the. revenue produced by it would have been sufficient to make unnecessary the disastrous borrowing in which the Government engaged. The result in this country, and in other countries which had antiLabour Governments supported by vested interests, was a severe financial depression. The Bruce-Page Government borrowed so heavily in London that it destroyed our overseas credit, and that was one of the most important factors leading to the depression. It was the financial policy of the Bruce-Page Government which laid the foundations of the depression in Australia. [Quorum formed.] Honorable members opposite will retort that the depression was world-wide, that it applied, not only to Australia, but also to every other country. Of course it did, because every country was applying the same financial policy. But would honorable members ' justify murder in Australia because it was being committed in the United States of America or in Great Britain? The depression was man-made. Surely honorable members opposite would not blaspheme, and say that God caused the depression. No; the depression was a direct result of wrong economic policy, particularly of the policies of such 'governments as that of which the right honorable member foi; Cowper was the tragic Treasurer.

Sir HerbertHolden addressing, the students of Oxford University in 1936 asked, " What caused the depression ? " and he answered his own question by saying, " Everybody knows. It was caused by the time-honoured policy of the bankers of .the world refusing, advances and calling in- overdrafts". In Australia, at the very time the bankers were pumping out credits fbr the building of palatial picture theatres in capital cities', they were throwing- thousands of men out of work by calling up the overdrafts of manufacturers and other employers. Yet the right honorable member for Cowper wants this Government- to apply now a similar policy which would inevitably lead to the same result. If the electors are so misguided as ever to make him Treasurer again, T have no doubt that he will do his best to produce the same results as before. The right honorable member claimed to have reduced taxation on those receiving incomes up to £14 a week. I admit that he reduced the rates a little in their case, but we must remember that income tax rates were negligible then compared with what they are now. In any case, such a reduction provided a convenient- excuse for making reductions that were really worthwhile for the benefit of those in receipt of high incomes. [Quorum formed.]

The currency o,f a country can be inflated by unwise borrowing just as much as by the improper use of bank credit. Heavy borrowing, and expenditure of the proceeds on unproductive works is even more dangerous than the- use of bank credit for such purposes. When it was first proposed to build Canberra, Sir Denison Miller said that the Commonwealth Bank would provide all the finance free of interest. However, the government of the day, instead of accepting that offer, borrowed the money through the ordinary channels. The right honorable member for Cowper boasted about the 1925 budget, but that was the year in which the Commonwealth Bank was handed over to the representatives of big business. The Commonwealth Bank Board was formed, and. regulations were issued that the bank was not to lend money to primary producers, or attempt to take business- from any other bank. In other words, steps were taken to prevent it from expanding. The shackles then fastened on it were struck away only when the present Treasurer brought down his banking legislation a few months ago.

The right honorable member for Cowper praised the Leader of the Opposition for what he did when he was Prime Minister, but if the right honorable gentleman had had his way the present Leader of the Opposition would never have been Prime Minister. We have not forgotten what was done and said at that time.- The right honorable member made a great mouthful of the action of a previous government in sending the Australian Imperial ForGe overseas. It is true that the Australian Imperial Force was sent overseas, but the Government which sent them left Australia naked to its enemies. For two years before Japan entered the war, it was obvious that that country was trailing its coat, and merely awaiting an opportunity to strike at British interests. This was evident from the incidents that took place at Hong Kong and other parts of China. There were warnings enough that we would have to face an attack by the Japanese, and it was evident that Australia would be one of the places at which they would strike. However, nothing was done to prepare against attack.

The right honorable member moaned about the shortage of goods. He moaned about government control, about the results of rationing, and about tb,e existence of black-marketing. We know that there is blackmarketing in Australia, as there is in every country where goods are in short supply and money is plentiful. The right honorable gentleman can take little credit to himself for being associated with the shipping of Australia's manhood overseas, ' and for leaving Australia defenceless while the Japanese were racing towards us. The Curtin Government had to ' mobilize the country foi- total war, and this involved thetaking over of many things ordinarily required for civil use. Thus, we still lack facilities for the building of houses and .the making of clothing. We. areshort of food and other requirements for the same reason. The right honorable gentleman knows what the reason is, but he hopes that by " squealing " about the shortages now he will gain some political advantage. The fact is that the shortages are due to the war, and to nothing else, and everybody knows it. No greater calamity should befall Australia than for the right honorable gentleman to become Treasurer again. In the course of his speech he even trotted out the National Insurance Act. I thought' that he, and those associated with him, were so ashamed of that piece of legislation that they would never refer to it again. It imposed a tax of 6d. a week upon wageearners, and in return proposed to pay a pension of fi a week to a man, and one of 15s. a week to a woman. If a woman married she 'lost her rights to benefits under the National Insurance legislation. The right honorable gentleman is holding out as a bait for the electors a promise that if his party is returned to office he will abolish the means test in our social services legislation. In the past when the right honorable gentleman himself either led or was a member of anti-Labour Governments it was proposed that a tax of 6d. a week be imposed to give people what previously they had been entitled to receive without "making any contribution whatsoever. Yet the right honorable gentleman has the audacity to tell the people to-night that if he were returned to office he would liberalize the provisions of our social services legislation. When we were in opposition we had to fight to obtain for the old-age pensioner an additional 6d. a week. The Lyons Government, of ' which the right honorable gentleman was a member, ' reduced the pension rate from 17s. 6d. to 15s. a week and introduced an iniquitous law which provided that upon the death of a pensioner who possessed a property of any kind his estate would become liable for the full amount of pension paid to the pensioner and his wife during his lifetime. " The electors know' how insincere are the parties opposite when they speak of benefits for invalid and old-aged people. Having regard to his record, it ill becomes the right honorable gentleman to attack this Government which has established its social services legislation on a solid basis, and has put into operation a programme of social benefits unequalled' in the world. This Government is already taking steps to abolish the means test, and when it is again returned to office and the referendum is carried the people will witness a great advance in social service benefits. I have been a. member of Parliament for a long time but I have never heard such sheer hypocrisy and humbug as has fallen from the lips of the right honorable gentleman to-night. When I was a young man the old people got nothing but charity, and if the Labour party had not championed their cause in every Parliament of the Commonwealth they would still be dependent on charity. A Labour Government in New South Wales first instituted the widows' pension which the Commonwealth Labour Government has now made applicable all over Australia. Some of the candidates endorsed by the party led by the Leader of the Opposition are now even telling the people that their party is pressing for the introduction of a -40- hour week. In the years following World War I. up to the end of the regime of the Bruce-Page Government the financial stability of this country weakened steadily, public borrowings increased, and there was a growing unwillingness on the part of the Governments of the day to meet their commitments out of the national income.

Mr Spender - That is precisely what this Government has been doing for the last five years.

Mr LAZZARINI - .That interjection is what one would expect from the honorable member who, knowing he is on the air, seeks to mislead the people. The honorable member knows very well that this Government has been in office mainly during a period in which the country has had to struggle for its very existence. Although the honorable member did not fight in the war he promoted himself to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. I doubt very much if he even' realized that this country was at wai'. Certainly he did not know anything of the horrors of war and the difficulties that faced the Government in the dark days when the Japanese were attacking our territories. The present Government was confronted with a most difficult task in maintaining the stability of the country during the stress of war. On the contrary Governments supported by the honorable member were in office at a time when the production of this country was flowing in great volume and at the same time unemployment was at its greatest height. The financial drift which began during the regime of the Bruce-Page Government did not end until the people had suffered the worst of the effects of the depression. The honorable member will no doubt retort that the depression was world-wide and was in no way attributable' to our domestic economy, and that therefore nobody was to- blame. The depression was man-made, and is calamitous affects upon Australia were undoubtedly aggravated by the mismanagement of Governments led by the parties opposite.

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