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Wednesday, 14 July 1915

Senator READY - Oh, no ; it is a Conservative Government. The extract continues -

While there is a conflict of authority between the Commons and the Senate, they cannot speak with such decision as is desirable, and cannot insure that proposals sanctioned by Canadian Ministers in the Conference would secure parliamentary ratification.

The next paragraph is headed " Voting a.t the Front, " and that is another thing about which Senator Millen drew a very harrowing picture. He spoke of our men being forced to record their votes within the sound of the guns, and amid the dripping of blood from bayonets, and so on. Absolute bosh ! It is pure and undiluted bunkum to make such a statement. Now, let us see what this paper says about voting at the front among Canadians -

Voting at the Front. - Already a supply of ballot-boxes, to enable the Canadian soldiers at the front and in the trenches to vote for their parliamentary representatives, has been received in London and sent to Flanders.

According to the views of our friends opposite, the very Empire itself must surely be rocked to its foundations because such an unprecedented thing as this is being done !

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - By a Conservative party, too.

Senator READY - That is so. Let honorable senators listen while I read further -

The Times correspondent says that it is not likely that the contest will develop exceptional bitterness, and there is no reason to apprehend any organized attempt to impugn the loyalty of the Liberal party or divide the country over the relations with Great Britain.

The Times correspondent says that there will be no attempt to impugn the loyalty of the Conservative party because they determined on an election.

Senator Guy - They are not so anxious for party strife over there.

Senator READY - That is so. The extract continues -

The Liberal press and the elements not identified with cither party arc vigorously opposing a dissolution, and insisting that the contest should be delayed until the war is over. To this the Government answer that if the election is not held now, it must be held in 1916, and there is no guarantee that the war will even then be over, while it is important that in the meantime a Government should hold office with the full confidence of the country, and free to devote its whole energies to -the war and the problems inseparable from Canadian participation in the conflict.

That argument applies equally to the present position. If we postpone the taking of the referenda on these measures for another twelve months, we might find the Empire still at war, and perhaps we would be in a worse position than to-day. I sincerely hope not, but it is possible.

Coming now to a statement made on the second reading by Senator Bakhap, I would like first to ask - What are the functions of a Government? The functions of a Government are to control, adequately and effectively, the conditions of the people who live in the country. Now, upon this matter, honorable senators upon the other side know thai, under the present circumstances, no party on the Treasury benches in this National Par- liament can effectively control the conditions of the .people of Australia. They cannot interfere with, or regulate as people would desire, the social system under which we live.

Senator de Largie - But we have taken an oath that they will.

Senator READY - The Commonwealth Government have been bereft, as it were, of its outer garments and the powers that were given to them when we federated, and which every one in Australia thought we possessed. It has been found that we do not possess to the full those powers which are so necessary, for measure after measure, after passing in the National Parliament, has been thrown on to the parliamentary scrap-heap, simply because io has not been worth the paper upon which it was printed.

Senator Maughan - The High Court decision practically invites the referenda proposals.

Senator READY - That is so. It does not matter which party is in power. No party can carry out and give effect to the ideals of Federation without an alteration of the Constitution. We desire to protect the people in this matter, and we desire to deal with that subject which is causing apprehension and anxiety in the treasury of every home in Australia - the cost of living. These measures will, at least, enable us, not to completely control and tackle this problem as we would like, but it will give us an opportunity to make a commencement in tackling one of the greatest problems that lias ever confronted this great country of Australia.

It is one of the remarkable anomalies of civilization that, nowithstanding that machinery to-day is immensely superior to the machinery of the past, notwithstanding that the tools of production are producing far more wealth, and doing it far more cheaply, than ever, notwithstanding the fact that machinery for primary, secondary, and technical industries is more effective than ever, the price of commodities is steadily increasing. That is an anomaly. The price of bread, for instance, is not lower to-day in spite of . the fact that improved scientific methods of farming have been introduced and adopted. We are, therefore, forced to look for a reason for the strange anomaly that, although things are being produced much more cheaply, the public have to pay more for the articles they consume. There are two or three causes to which this can be attributed. Land monopoly is a primary cause, the accumulation of wealth and private taxation forms a second reason, and trusts and combines constitute a third, for the abnormal increase in prices in spite of greater cheapness of production. When we come to deal with the causes of the increased prices, and the problem of checking them, and insuring to the people some return for the improved and up-to-date methods that :1 re being daily introduced in our machinery of production, we find that Senator Bakhap regards the fixation of prices as impossible. In his speech on the second reading he also asserted that there were no trusts.

Senator Findley - He told us that he was in a public-house, and knows that publicans do fix prices, as he had a conversation with the publican, and found that is was as easy as " falling off a log."

Senator Bakhap - A man need not sell anything except at a price which he fixes himself. The Labour party want to fix prices for other people.

Senator READY - The honorable senator alleged that it was impossible to fix prices satisfactorily.

Senator Findley - Yet he partook of a glass, the price of which had been fixed.

Senator Bakhap - By the seller.

Senator Maughan - No ; by the Licensed Victuallers Association.

Senator READY - If the seller had been a wise man he would have advised Senator Bakhap to sign the Kitchener pledge and follow the King. The honorable senator argued that it was disastrous and ruinous to fix prices. Will he tell me who fixes the price of sugar to-day? Who fixes the price of tobacco? Who fixes steam-ship freights? Who fixes the price of coal?

Senator Bakhap - The people who own the steam-ships and who produce the coal.

Senator READY - That is not altogether so. Who fixes the price of confectionery, timber, bricks, and other commodities? The honorable senator interjects that it is done by the people who sell them. They fix them entirely for their own advantage, and to the disadvantage of the rest of the people of the Commonwealth. The honorable senator argues that it is legitimate and shows business enterprise and initiative for these men to fix prices and become as rich as ever they like. He places no limit, so far as I can see, upon their acquiring vast possessions.

Senator Findley - He tells them to keep on doing it.

Senator Bakhap - To keep on getting rich. Why should not everybody do so?

Senator READY - The honorable senator says it is quite legitimate for these men to do it, but that it is the abomination of desolation for the people of Australia to attempt to fix prices in their own interests. Individual sellers can fix prices and suspend the law of supply and demand, and that is quite legitimate; but if the whole of the people want to fix prices on a fair and legitimate margin, in order to protect themselves, that, according to my honorable friend, spells damnation.

Senator Bakhap - You want to fix prices so as to make them sell at a loss. If that is not robbery, I do not know what is.

Senator READY - Not so. When a few people are allowed to fix the prices of their commodities, and force the rest of the people to pay them, it is closer to robbery than anything else that can be mentioned. But the honorable senator accuses us who support the referenda proposals of being robbers because we want to prevent this robbery from continuing.

Senator Bakhap - You want to fix the price of an article for which a man can get more outside of Australia.

Senator READY - That is not the argument, and we do not admit it.

Senator Bakhap - Your party have already done it in New South Wales in the case of- wheat. It has been done in Victoria also in the case of wheat.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Who fixed the price of wheat in Victoria ?

Senator Bakhap - Unfortunately, it was a Liberal Government. They can be just as foolish as a Labour Government at times. This arises from an imperfect knowledge of economics.

Senator READY - The trouble is that the Labour party have too good a knowledge of political economy for those who support my honorable friends opposite. Senator Bakhap went on to say -

Are not some of the State Governments in Australia robbing the farmer of the price of his wheat to-day? Are they not robbing him of the price of his butter and of the price that he might secure for his chaff?

He went on with tears in his voice to put up the well-known plea for the poor producer - the farmer and his wheat, the farmer and his fodder. We are just as anxious to protect the farmer as is the honorable senator, but we are more practical about it.

Senator Bakhap - Let the referenda questions be decided by the farmers.- You know where they would go then - up the spout.

Senator READY - They will be decided by the whole people. The honorable senator argued that the farmers had been robbed in regard to their wheat by a Liberal Government in Victoria, and by a Labour Government in New South Wales. What are the facts? I noticed that in the farming district of Murrumbidgee, represented in the New South Wales Assembly by Mr. Pat. McGarry, a Labour member, immediately after the wheat deal was consummated by the New South Wales Government, the farmers in his district banqueted him. The reason, which the honorable senator persistently evaded in his speech, is that when the New South Wales Government took the crop over they saved the farmer from the wheat speculator in the case of at least onethird of the wheat, if not more, because the majority of the farmers in New South Wales had sold their wheat for a little over 3s. a bushel. They actually got 5s. The honorable senator would have a tough job to persuade those farmers that they had been robbed by the Government. You do not find shrewd farmers, as a rule, banqueting those who work the depredations that Senator Bakhan has pictured. The farmers of New South Wales are in the main very well satisfied with what their Government did. I have met a great number of producers from that State, and know that they are beginning to realize that their enemy is not the Government which fixes prices, but the speculator. They would welcome the fixation of prices by the Government to protect them from the speculators. I met a farmer on the north-west coast of Tasmania who had 1,200 bushels of oats which he sold for 2s. lid. a bushel, as he could not get more. He went from buyer to buyer in the northern part of Tasmania, and by some mysterious coincidence was offered the same price in one office as another. This mysterious fixing of prices by a ring occurs every day in the week.

Senator O'Keefe - I wonder if there were any telephones between those offices ?

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