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Friday, 18 June 1915

Senator STORY (South Australia) . - As the Minister in his opening remarks voiced an idea that I was about to urge on Senator Gould, I need not pursue that question, but I protest against the systematic action of honorable members of the Opposition in the Commonwealth Parliament in endeavouring to make use of the war for party purposes. On nearly every occasion on which an honorable member of the Opposition rises to speak he introduces the subject of unionism versus non-unionism in connexion with the war. I ask Senator Gould : Has not this war resulted from the determination of the British nation, including Australia, to preserve liberty, justice, and freedom for the human race? He will admit that that is so. I ask him another question - Does he not realize that unionists are banded together for a similar purpose? The only need for unionism is the fact that in the past - and even now in some cases - unscrupulous employers on every occasion have taken unfair advantage of their employees, who, being weak, were unable to resist them. It was necessary for unions to be formed, and they have now become strong enough to combat the unfair attacks of employers. As a rule, honorable members of the Opposition represent employers, and they desire that the employing class should still have the power to crush the workers and dictate the terms on which they shall work and live. Largely with the desire of damaging unionism honorable members of the Opposition seek to ally this question of unionism with war matters. There are instances where they have pleaded with the Government to drop all party questions and put in the background all proposed legislation, and deal with nothing but the war. What a ridiculous position they would be placing themselves and the people of Australia in if the Government accepted that advice! In the first place, how would it help the war ? How would it help the people who are fighting on the other side of the world if this Parliament were closed for the next twelve months? Would it assist in gaining a single victory? Would it assist in equipping any Australian man to go and fight for the Empire ? I do not see how it would. On the other hand, if the important legislation which demands attention is delayed, it may cause very serious trouble in Australia, if not in other parts of the Empire, after -the war is finished. Every one who has read history knows that at the end of a war there is a period of great depression. All the factories which had been engaged actively in manufacturing munitions suddenly stop, and there is a dislocation of trade and industry. That is going to occur all over the world at the end of the present war; it is bound to occur in Australia. Before this Parliament is adjourned we should pass the necessary legislation to put Australia in a position, if we possibly can, to employ all unemployed labour as soon as the war is finished, to mitigate the effects of the dislocation of industry, and we can do that by passing, as complete as possible, a Tariff which would enable dozens of new industries to be established. If, however, the new industries we propose to establish are to be of any material service in avoiding the trouble which is likely to occur at the end of the war, they must be established before that event. I ask Senator Gould what is the use of waiting till the end of the war, and then starting to legislate to deal with the troubles that follow a war ? The sooner we legislate the better. I am astonished that the leading Victorian newspaper - the Age-- - which has always recognised the importance of having a Tariff, is to-day, for some unknown reason, prepared to defer the revision of the Tariff until the war is finished.

Senator Findley - They wanted the Tariff a week ago, but they do not want it to-day.

Senator READY (TASMANIA) - The reason is not unknown - it is the Referenda Bills.

Senator STORY - I do not like to make that suggestion, but it seems to me that the Age is advocating that the consideration of the Tariff should be deferred simply because it believes that if that course were taken the submission of the referenda proposals would also be deferred. I do not desire to occupy the time of the Senate, because I know that this measure has to go through to-day, but there is just one other question I wish to refer to. All the senators on the other side of the Chamber are denouncing the Government for their determination to introduce the Referenda Bills. In the history of Australia there never was a time when the amendments of the Constitution which would be effected by those measures were so badly needed as at the present moment. Does not everybody know that all over Australia to-day wealthy men are monopolizing articles of common use in order that the prices may go up and they may derive immense profits? We read in the press every day, and we know of our own knowledge, that men are deliberately putting up the prices of articles which everybody must use in order that they may become rich.

Senator Bakhap - Was the price of the bullocks that brought £37 each at Kyneton the other day deliberately put up? Why does not the honorable senator talk sense?

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Why did Angliss export meat at all ?

Senator Bakhap - Who but Angliss asked for an inquiry?

Senator STORY - Now that others have done, I will give one concrete instance in proof of my statement. Not very many weeks ago, when I was coming by train from Adelaide to Melbourne, there was in the same compartment a gentleman who is reputed to be, and who, I believe, is, one of the richest men in Australia, and, by the way, he had something to do with Senator Bakhaps bullocks. In the ordinary course of conversation this gentleman stated, in a manner which suggested that he thought there was nothing improper in the statement, that he had succeeded in practically cornering dripping. This is an article which is only consumed by the poorest section of the community. This wideawake gentleman, in travelling round the country, noticed that we were going to have a rather bad season, and that the price of butter was likely to rise, and, consequently, he reflected that the price of dripping must rise too, and said to himself, "I might as well make a bit out of it." He instructed a broker to buy him some dripping, and when the broker asked, "How much?" the gentleman said, " All you can get." " But how much?" said the broker; put a limit on the quantity." The gentleman replied, " You buy all the dripping you can get." The broker said, "Why do you not go and buy it yourself?" The gentleman said, " They would not sell it to me; you buy it for me." In the train he assured the company who were travelling with him that he had succeeded in buying 50 tons of dripping at 4d. a lb. He said, " After a few weeks people wanted dripping, and they had to come to me. I sold some of it back to them for 5£d. a lb. I sold two or three tons for 6d. a pound, and I am going to hang on to the remainder, and make them pay a pretty stiff price for it." What has been the result of that action?

Any one who knows the price of dripping is aware that it has risen 100 per cent. That kind of thing has been going on throughout the whole of Australia, and we have no power to prevent it. In one State there was a Government who had the courage to endeavour to fix prices; that is successful to a certain extent, but it is only good for the people of that State. We know to-day that the people of New South Wales are living, or can live, at a very much cheaper rate than can the people of Victoria or South Australia, because the prices of commodities were fixed, and the controllers of them were prevented from charging more than certain rates. The point I am coming to is that it is absolutely necessary that this Parliament should have the power to deal with these people, not in one State or one part of the Commonwealth, but in the whole of the Commonwealth, in order that this method of fixing -prices, or preventing depredation by people who deliberately put up prices, shall be uniform throughout Australia.

Senator Bakhap - If those States had refrained from fixing prices, would not the prices have been uniform throughout Australia so far as commerce would permit?

Senator STORY - They might have been uniform, but they would have been uniformly high.

Senator Bakhap - In Tasmania we have had to pay more for our wheat, simply because other States checked the transmission of the parcels we bought.

Senator STORY - If the honorable senator will reflect, it may occur to him that if this Parliament had had the power it asked for that would not have occurred, and Tasmania would not have suffered. If he has the interest of his State at heart he will immediately support the carrying of the Referenda Bills, and do his utmost to induce the people of his State to carry them when the proper occasion arises. I do not desire to occupy more time, but I felt impelled to give expression to one or two thoughts in the hope that it might deter the members of the Opposition from continuing to make use of the war in order to attempt in an underhand way to prevent important legislation which is urgently and eminently desirable from being carried early enough to be of benefit to the people of Australia.

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