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Monday, 20 May 1957

Mr PETERS (Scullin) .- This Government has spent more money in less time than has any government in the history of Australia and it will continue to spend money more and more rapidly. Therefore, it is fitting that we in this Parliament should take the opportunity, when the Government comes to us seeking many more millions of pounds, to have a look at the recent history of this country and see the results of the recent expenditure by the Government. The war ended in 1945. The Labour government had been in office since 1941. It remained in power after the termination of the war until 10th December, 1949. The record of the Labour government during that war period and post-war period has never been impeached. The Labour party did not seek the government of this country. It governed Australia without a majority in either House of Parliament. It marshalled the manpower and resources of the nation for war, and with great success. When the war ended there were more than 1,000,000 men and women in the armed forces of Australia. There were nearly as many employed in the factories manufacturing exclusively weapons or materials necessary for war. Between 1945 and 1949, Labour had to put back into industry more people who had been engaged either in active warfare or in the factories associated with the creation of the weapons of war than were engaged similarly in other countries. Labour put those people back into peace-time industry. It made available for works of peace hundreds of factories which had been converted for the manufacture of articles of war or had been built during the war for that purpose. It did more than that. It initiated a land settlement scheme to place returned soldiers on the land. It inaugurated a housing scheme for the people. It initiated the greatest immigration scheme this country has ever known. It implemented, for the first time in the history of this or any other country, a policy of full employment. Such were the achievements in peace and in war of the Labour governments led by the late Mr. Curtin and the late Mr. Chifley that -

E'en the ranks of Tuscany,

Could scare forbear to cheer.

In October, 1950, the Treasurer of this country (Sir Arthur Fadden) said in this Parliament that he had taken over from the Chifley Government a country that was being fully developed. He said that great development was being carried out - as, of course, there was. He mentioned the Snowy River scheme. He said that great development was being carried on by the Commonwealth and the States. He said the confidence of the world was reposed in the people of Australia. He added that money was coming to this country from other parts of the world as well as from the people of Australia, to help in its development. If honorable members read his speech they will find that those were his words. He said, " We have £750,000,000 in our overseas funds. Prices, of course, have risen in Australia, but they have not risen as rapidly as in other countries. It is in times like these that real progress is made ". But where has the real progress been made?

There has been immense expenditure, but what are the highlights of the history of this Government? In 1950, as I have said, tribute was paid by the Treasurer to the achievements of Labour. In 1951, the " horror " budget was brought down. In 1952, our overseas funds were dissipated and the nation was facing international insolvency. In that year, 100,000 of our people were out of work.

Mr Bowden - Do not be silly.

Mr PETERS - I remind the honorable member for Gippsland that in that year the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) was at the microphone, making a declaration to the people of this country about its economic plight. In 1955-56 our overseas funds were dissipated. Once again we are trembling on the verge of mass unemployment. Those are the facts. Those are the highlights of the history of the present Government.

But there is much more to the tale than that. Despite the confidence in Australia of investors overseas, and also of investors within Australia, this Government has raised the rates of interest considerably. Government supporters know the story of the first "horror" budget of 1951, and of the "little horror" budget of 1955. These are facts that the people of this country well know. They well know, too, that a section of the people - the age pensioners - are aware that their purchasing power has been consistently and persistently reduced by this Government. The workers have had taken away from them, not merely the quarterly basic wage adjustments, but also, for a considerable period, the payment of a margin for skill. In 1953 the quarterly basic wage adjustments were abolished. In that year the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration suspended the hearing of the case in connexion with margins. For a long period, the purchasing power of the vast masses of the people of this country, as a result of the actions of this Government, has been reduced.

But, of course, the story goes farther than that. The Government was gathering into its coffers more wealth than had ever gone into them before in a similar period of its history. Was it launching out on vast schemes of development? Where were they? The Snowy River scheme was the only one. But that had been inaugurated by a Labour government and was merely being carried on by this Government. Was this Government initiating, through the States, vast irrigation schemes in order to put thousands of people on the land?

Mr Bowden - Yes.

Mr PETERS - The honorable member for Gippsland says " Yes ", but 1 say " No ". I ask honorable members to think about Victoria. What happened about the Cairn Curran and Rocklands reservoirs? They had been in progress under previous governments. What about the NambrookDennison scheme? That was inaugurated, and was being developed before this Government came into office. This Government has not initiated or carried into effect: any major developmental work. That was. during a period when such works were moredesirable than ever before in our history. The flood of immigrants which was in.itiate.di by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) and encouraged by a virile Labour government was continuing of its own volition. What provision did this Government make for the immigrants? Where better could it have placed them than in the unoccupied hinterland of this country? Where better could it have settled these people coming from overseas than on the land or in the country towns? That is where they should have gone, but did they go there?

Mr Bowden - No, they were free.

Mr PETERS - My friend says they were free. It is not freedom that induces men to go to a particular place. People do not live in hovels in Fitzroy because of freedom. Does my friend suggest that freedom causes people to live in the more congested areas of a city rather than to go out and help to develop the outback of this country? Does freedom cause the people who were once on the farmlands of other countries to seek work in factories when they come to Australia? They do that because of the ineptitude and incapacity of a government that does not provide for them an avenue of service that is essential to the development of this country. Development is something that has not occurred under the present Government, which stands condemned-

Mr Bowden - By whom?

Mr PETERS - It is condemned by the conditions that prevail in Australia. That fact is undeniable. Only this Government and its supporters could contemplate with complacency the fact that although 2,000,000 new settlers have been brought to this country in the last eight or nine years, during the same time the number of rural workers has declined by more than 30,000. In fact, there are fewer farmers and farm employees on the land to-day than there were in 1939. That alone is a serious indictment of the Government.

The, honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes) referred to decentralization and told us what was happening in the United States of America. He told us that, because of the threat of war, that country was uprooting people who had been settled near the great cities for many years and was moving vast industries beyond the mountain ranges and into the middle west, where they were far removed from the seaboard. The United States had to take that action in the interests of national survival, yet Australia, with every State capital city on the seaboard, is concentrating more and more population and industry in those cities. Such a course spells national disaster, inevitable destruction. Maurice Hindus wrote, during the last war, that Hitler and his armies could not conquer Russia because that country had no heart at which to strike. Her industries and her people had been dispersed, so she was able to recover from the smashing blows of the Nazi armies, and strike back. But the fighting power of Australia could be destroyed by six hydrogen bombs dropped in the right places from aircraft, delivered by intercontinental weapons, or launched from submarines or ships. They would destroy our industry and our power to retaliate.

As I have pointed out, this Government has failed the people, both in development for peaceful purposes, and the absorption of vast numbers of immigrants as well as in many other respects. It has destroyed the purchasing power of the pension and the average wage. It has allowed the housing lag to increase. Worst of all, it has spent £1,000,000,000 upon defence, but has not produced the essentials of defence. It has destroyed the very basis of national progress and prosperity. It has whittled away the things upon which our capacity to develop and progress so greatly depend. It consists, almost wholly, of political termites who are destroying everything essential to development. The land tax provided a means of enforcing the use of land for purposes of production and development, but this Government wiped it out.

The Government has also strangled the Commonwealth Bank. It was a bank which acted in the interests of the people, but the Government has made it a bank which acts in the interests of the private banking institutions generally. The primary-producing organizations of this country - of which I am no supporter - have, during the last few years, continually pointed out the difficulty of obtaining credit because of the restrictive credit policy operating in the interests of the private banks. They have called upon the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to investigate the means of issuing credit employed by the private banks and by the Commonwealth Bank. People who wish to obtain houses can obtain credit from neither the private banks nor the Commonwealth Bank. Hire-purchase offers a more profitable field of investment and, to the hire-purchase magnate is sacrificed the housing of the people and the development of our farm lands. This Government is destroying a Commonwealth Bank that could be a medium of development in time of peace and a strong right arm in time of war.

Let us consider now what the Government has done in regard to shipping. The rates charged by the shipping companies which operate overseas, and by those which operate around our coasts, are everincreasing. The coastal shipping line which this country owns is also being strangled. It was not sold to private enterprise but, by legislation, it has been made subject to a commission, which entered into a twentyyears agreement not to compete with the private shipping lines. In every department one finds that the hand of private enterprise - the predatory hand of capitalism - directs government action. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) said a short while ago that some governments were controlled from outside Parliament.

Mr Bowden - So they are!

Mr PETERS - The honorable member should know. When the bankers call the tune every member of the present Ministry dances. When the shipping ring calls the tune the same thing happens. Every Australian Country party member should be up in arms against the exploitation of primary industry of which the shipping rings have been guilty, but they are silent. The honorable member for Chisholm spoke about fair competition. "That is all we want ", he said. We are told in relation to the so-called " strengthening " of the Commonwealth Bank that the Government has merely sought to make sure that that institution will not compete unfairly with capitalistic institutions. If honorable members opposite were honest they would rise in their places and say, " I am a defender of private enterprise. Private enterprise, free and unfettered, is the thing tor which I stand. I am out to destroy this Commonwealth Bank, which is the medium by which a socialistic Labour party hopes to develop this country in the interests of the masses ". The forebears of Government supporters said that in 1910. They said, "Bring this bank into operation and you will destroy the very basis of our national economy ". They said, " Under Labour's proposal for a national note issue you will have people with barrel loads of ' Fisher's flimsies ' unable to buy a postage stamp or a pot of beer ".

I do not object to a fair and open fight with those who believe in things different from what I believe in, but I object to those who pretend that they believe in the things that I believe in and use that pretence as a camouflage under which to destroy the things for which I stand. An anti-Labour government destroyed the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, and in recent years this Government has frustrated the Commonwealth shipping line operating around our shores. The anti-Labour parties have mutilated the Commonwealth Bank and are prepared now to mutilate it further. The Treasurer proclaimed, " I will not be a party to the final assassination of the Commonwealth Bank ". He made that statement recently through the press. He said, " Only over my dead body will you destroy that implement of progress, that national monument created by a Labour party ". He did that, of course, not of his own volition but because the primary producers and their organizations throughout the length and breadth of Australia were saying to him, "Hands off the Commonwealth Bank ". Ultimately, he looked around and said, in effect, " Better be a Treasurer in a government that implements those things that the people I represent do not believe in, than be on the outer in this Parliament serving the ideals I have been expounding recently in the interests of primary producers ".

That, of course, is the story of this Government right through the years. We of the Labour party are aware of that. We are out to create national undertakings for the benefit of the people. We are out to protect the manufacturing industries. We are out to split up the vast areas of land that have become aggregated in the hands of a few to the detriment of the absorption of immigrants and the settlement of soldiers on the land. We are out to create vast developmental works, irrigation schemes and transport schemes, whether by road, rail or air, in the interests of the people. We are out to serve this country in peace and in war.

Mr Wheeler - What about the private banks?

Mr PETERS - The private banks. We Labourites of Australia have this in common with the Labourites of England: The Labourites of England were once twitted that they did not love their country, and a noble and exalted lord of the Labour party replied, " We Labourites love our country as the Athenians of old loved the city of the purple crown ". That is also true of the Labourites of Australia to-day. From whatever quarter the opposition comes, Labour stands to defend the best interests of this country; it will not allow a section of the community to build up for itself vast wealth at the expense of the masses of the people. Honorable members opposite have said that this country is prosperous. They pretend it is more prosperous than ever before in history. If that be so, then let the aged and the infirm have a share of that prosperity! If honorable members opposite believe what they say to be true, then let the purchasing power of the workers be continually and progressively increased so that they should have an expanding share in that prosperity. But, as was pointed out by an honorable member on this side, all this Government has done has been to whittle away the conditions of the vast masses of the people and to ensure an aggregation of wealth and property in the hands of the very few. Those things are detrimental to this country. They are detrimental in time of peace. They are blows at the building up of a state of affairs that would make Australia secure in the days of war. I have only two minutes left in which to conclude my remarks; but I want to say that a government that has already spent more money in less time to less effect than any other government in the history of this country will not receive my approbation to spend one penny more of the money of the people.

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