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Thursday, 7 November 1946

Mr BURKE (Perth) .- The

Eighteenth Parliament meets at a time when we can look forward to a large measure of progress, but it is also a time of heavy responsibility. In the course of an excellent speech, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) dealt with a number of matters which are prominent in the minds of people throughout the world to-day. I propose to deal in brief, not with such major matters as the views of the right honorable gentleman on defence, but rather with the later portions of his criticism of His Royal Highness's Speech. He dealt at some length with the application now before the Arbitration Court and expressed the view that it would have been preferable had the unions applied for an increased basic wage rather than fewer hours of work each week. Probably that is the correct approach to the dual problem that confronts industry and workers in industry, not only in Australia, but also in other countries. Men and women in industry, however, have other concerns than those associated with wages and conditions in employment. Prominent in their minds - and desirably prominent, in my opinion - is the need to reduce working hours, so that they may be able to enjoy more fully the cultural opportunities which modern conditions provide. If a mistake has been made in the way which the matter has been approached, it has been caused by a desire to improve the conditions of the people in the matter of leisure, and to confer additional benefits on workers and their wives and families. As I have said, this is a dual problem which must be solved, because its solution would, lin large measure. mean the settling of most of the industrial problems that arise from time to time. Even those who are described as wreckers, must have a fertile field in which to work before they can wive effect to their policies. That fertile field is provided by unsatisfactory conditions of employment, prices which make a mockery of the basic wage, uncertainty as to future conditions of work, and the fear of largescale unemployment. Although the matter of working hours may have less significance in the minds of many of us than has the matter of remuneration for services rendered, it is a vital part of the terms and conditions of employment in industry. Mutual understanding between employers and employees is a principle to which we all subscribe. As the Leader of the Opposition said, the fault does not lie completely with either one side or the other in industry. We all know that there are good and bad employees and good and bad employers.

Taxation policy, and what part it can play in promoting greater productivity in Australia, is a highly contentious subject. It is one of the matters raised in the election campaign which Government supporters will be keen to debate in this House. They will set out to prove that had the Opposition parties regained the treasury bench conditions similar to those which existed after World War I., and which have existed after every major conflict in the past, would have been experienced again in this country. From our study of history, particularly the history of wars and their aftermath, we know that there has always been a period of rising prices followed by a period of reaction, culminating in a slump, either great or small. As modern wars have grown in intensity they have made greater demands on materials and man-power, and so the boom and slump conditions have been of greater magnitude. I firmly believe that the ruin and misery which followed previous wars would have resulted from the policy which Opposition parties would have put into operation had they won the election. Those things can bedemonstrated. During the election campaign, the right honorable gentleman also enunciated other proposals, at the full effect of which we can only guess. For instance, we do not know just how far his proposal to reduce taxes would have involved a contributory scheme of social services. We cannot do more than speculate on that matter. However, a calm examination of the proposals made by the opposition parties to the people reveals that the tendencies to which I have referred must have been accentuated by the policy enunciated by the right honorable gentleman and his followers. In the early portion of his speech to-day he examined the international situation. At first, I thought that he intended to demonstrate that Australia was not playing its part in Empire co-operation, but, later, he graciously admitted that Australia was performing its duty in that sphere. We should devote more time to discussions on international affairs, because they are of tremendous significance to our people. The United Nations has been born in an atmosphere of hope. It has fought against natural obstacles. It has warred with problems arising from varying national outlooks, some of which have arisen from fear and others from self-interest. The discussions which have already taken place undoubtedly give rise to pessimism as to whether this structure, conceived in hope and devoted to high purpose, can succeed where former organizations have failed. One can infer from the remarks of the right honorable gentleman that Australia should build up its own defences, regardless of other organizations in the world. We should not rely solely upon either the United Nations or our position in the British Empire; but neither should we believe that in unilateral defensive action, giving way to an armaments race, we can find a solution to the grievous problems that confront the world and demand solution by the statesmen of all countries. Although the difficulties which have confronted this newly formed organization already give rise to some degree of pessimism, there is no need for panic. We must not despair, and abandon the organization which has just begun. It is only through collective organization that we can hope to avoid- another conflagration of the magnitude of that through which we have come. The system of individual nations arming to the teeth has been tried time and time again, but always with the same result.

Australia must play its part both, as an individual nation and as a member of the British Empire and the United Nations. The Speech delivered by His Royal Highness, the last which he will mate to the Parliament before returning to his homeland, dealt in a special way with the planning of Australia's defence policy. "We were informed that Australia is completely conscious of the need, first, to keep in order its own defences against any sudden unprovoked attack, and, secondly, to develop closer association with the British Empire in its endeavours to promote a free way of life and preserve world peace. Finally, we regard the United Nations as the bastion of those people who seek to preserve peace. Summed up, Australia's defence plans are based upon a practical approach to world problems. Our defence policy is based on collective, rather than unilateral, armament; but this does not ignore the necessity of maintaining Australia in a position to withstand possible attack. On many occasions in this House honorable members opposite have attempted to create the impression that Australia is endeavouring to draw apart from the British family of nations. I repeat that that assertion is not helpful to the British Empire. It is not fair to Australia, and it is ungenerous to the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt). The very reverse is the case. We have pursued our policies in close co-operation and consultation with British Empire leaders, and the purpose of suggestions made by the late Prime Minister, the present Prime Minister and the Minister for External Affairs is to solidify the varying resources which the British Commonwealth of Nations could put into the field in the face of a common enemy should war once more come to this world. I trust that we shall not hear any repetition of that idle and baseless charge which has so frequently been hurled across this chamber. It is not only unfair to the Government, but also harmful to the British Empire.

Dealing with circumstances in the Pacific, His RoYal Highness drew attention to the fact that in this area, as in the European sphere, while we demand that peace shall be enforced and that all vestige of Fascist and Nazi tyranny shall be obliterated, we seek for defeated peoples as well as for ourselves a just and democratic peace. In the past the seeds of war have too frequently been sown in unjust treaties. We must not commit that mistake on this occasion. . Whilst unfair and vindictive treaties stave off war for a period, the children of this generation will suffer the consequences of any peace written in hostility and dictated by the spirit of vengeance. Therefore, I welcome the portion of the Governor-General'3 Speech which emphasizes the necessity to evolve a just and democratic peace. His Royal Highness also stated that frequent consultation will be carried on with our sister dominion of New Zealand. Through the Anzac Pact the common aims and ideals of Australia and our sister nation have been proclaimed to the world. In this chamber that Pact has been criticized, and the Government and the Minister responsible for it have been vilified in that respect. However, the Anzac Pact offers a basis upon which we can deal wisely and effectively, first with problems arising in the Pacific theatre, and, secondly, in our negotiations with other nations. In that spirit of free consultation and open diplomacy, and by insistence upon democratic ways and procedure, we can build a world in which existing hateful, racial prejudices among nations can be removed, and men and women in years to come can live happily together, l-id of the constant fear of war, ruin and destruction. An important phase of the Government's foreign policy is the extension of its foreign affairs services. This also reflects sound planning, because we must get to know the peoples of other lands and demonstrate our willingness to work side by side with them in the maintenance of peace, and the promotion of cultural and economic standards. Only in that way can we strengthen the feeling of friendship and goodwill throughout the world. The other organizations of an international character with which this Government has been associated, and to which reference is made in the GovernorGeneral's Speech, are parts of a general pattern upon which wo can build futurepeace and .prosperity, and, to quote the Charter of the United Nations "achieve high and rising standards of living". Fierce competition in the past has sown the seeds of disagreement which has led to international conflict with consequences which we know only too well. The Government's insistence upon the part Australia must play in world affairs will help not only to solve existing problems and meet future dangers, but also to ensure the maintenance of high standards of living, and the welfare of dependent peoples, which is regarded as one of the responsibilities of trusteeship that devolves upon what are termed, the more ci vilized peoples. International conflicts in the past have been between nations which have developed to somewhat similar standards, culturally and in the industrial sphere. The war of the future might well occur between more advanced peoples and backward nations, the dependent peoples, who may come to feel that they have been exploited in order to raise the standards of human beings of another colour. Bearing in mind the growing national sentiment among native peoples in the Pacific, we have a Teal interest in their welfare and in helping to raise their standards of life.

Dealing with the demobilization of service personnel His Royal Highness related the record of this Government, of which we have every reason to be proud. Some difficulties existed. Many who have been discharged from the armed forces have not fitted into the occupations which they have undertaken; but that is inevitable in the existing circumstances. It can be said wi th confidence that, overall, Australia's demobilization, planned well in. advance and carried out efficiently according to the Government's policy, has been at least comparable with that achieved by any other nation.

HisRoyal Highness referred also to the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States. That relationship 1ms been unsatisfactory for many years. State governments that are operating in areas which were the latest to be developed have laboured under a tremendous handicap. The present Commonwealth Government, and I believe previous governments also, have usually come to the assistance of State governments when they have found themselves in a precarious financial position. As a matter of fact, however, State governments in "Western Australia and the other claimant .States have not had an opportunity to develop the policy that was demanded of them by the huge territories committed to their care. They have had to act warily and proceed slowly in the promulgation of the programmes which they desired to implement, because they have always been uncertain as to whether the financial commitments they would be forced to make in order to proceed with big developmental schemes, or even railways, road and like services, would be met in part by the Commonwealth Government when claims were submitted to it. That is a situation that might well be investigated. The problem of the financial relations of the Commonwealth and the States is complex, and very little that is beneficial might be produced by even lengthy discussion of it, because of the conflicting loyalities of Federal and State instrumentalities. The simple fact is that the strength and welfare of Australia are dependent on the strength and welfare of its outposts; for example, the State, of Western Australia and even the small State of Tasmania. The greatness of Australia is not to be found in the heavily industrialized areas of the crowded cities. Sydney and Melbourne are only as strong and prosperous as they are enabled to be by the strength and prosperity of the whole of the continent. My colleague from Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) has referred to a problem that, exists in the northern portion of his State of Queensland. That is bound up with the whole of the problems of the other States. Western Australia has a similar one, vast in its ramifications and tremendous in the financial drain that it makes od the State Treasury or that it will make on the Commonwealth if and when federal assistance is provided. These problems are a challenge to the Government, and demand a solution. Therefore, in the interests of Australia, I welcome the reference in the Governor-General's Speech to an improvement of the financial relations of the Commonwealth and the .States.

At page 5 of the Speech, the Government, through His Royal Highness, has referred to improved amenities and working conditions in workshops and factories.

That sentence has very great significance ; because, in an improvement of the conditions in factories, plus the improved relations to which the Leader of the Opposition referred, is to be found in large measure a solution of the industrial unrest that exists to-day. I do not want to be misunderstood when I speak of industrial unrest; because not only in Australia but also throughout the world there is growing evidence of such a condition, and it is due to a variety of causes. By proposing to improve amenities and working conditions, the Government is adopting a course which will help to increase production and achieve a better understanding between the various elements in industry to-day.

I welcome the reference in the Speech to the institution of an inquiry in regard to the basic wage. No person in Australia who considers this matter dispassionately can claim that, .at existing price levels, not only of those commodities which appear in the "C" series index but also of all other items which are regarded as essential to the maintenance of ordinary living standards, a man can bear family responsibilities on the present basic wage. It will be generally conceded that the basic wage is inadequate to meet the needs of the ordinary man and woman in industry or elsewhere in the community.

I shall refer briefly to the reference in the Speech to the wheat stabilization plan. I do not speak as a representative of wheat farmers; but I 'have had a long experience of the trials and tribulations of the farming community of this country. No man who is engaged in primary or other production can exist if he is uncertain of the price which his produce will realize. "We have had the experience of daily fluctuations of wheat prices, of rises to comparatively high levels and of falls to levels that have been ruinous to the farming community and have made a severe impact on the rest of the people. So, I consider that the Government's stabilization plan ought to be accepted by the people of this country. I know that the subject is a contentious one. Some persons have the idea that the farmers could achieve a better result and obtain a more immediate cash return, f believe that the farmers would be ill- advised to sacrifice a stabilization scheme which guarantees to them a price of 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. at ports for five years, in the hope that during that period they may receive higher prices or a more generous scheme may be evolved. Higher prices than the price guaranteed are ruling to-day, and they may continue to be paid. But every one knows, and the farmers have reason to appreciate, the rapidity with which a shortage of production can be replaced by considerable over-production of essential commodities. The present price of wheat could topple in a brief space of time to the ruinous level that was experienced in the years prior to and during the depression. So 1 warn the farming community not to forgo the substance of this stabilization scheme for the shadow of a better one or the hope of an immediate cash return.

In common with other speakers who have preceded me, I express to Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester the warm regard in which they are held by the Australian people because of the interest they have shown in this country. I believe that when they return to the seat of Empire they will be ambassadors for Australia and advocates of the development of the great possibilities that exist in this country.

I consider that this Eighteenth Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia has a great opportunity but a heavy responsibility. As we plan and develop our approach to domestic and international problems, so shall we determine whether a period of boom and slump will again be experienced in Australia, and on the international plane whether the wars shall recur, with short or long but always uneasy intervals of peace. That places upon us a tremendous responsibility. T hope that every member of the Parliament will discharge that responsibility in the manner demanded of him.

Sitting suspended from 5.25 to 8 p.m.

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