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Thursday, 14 April 1921

The PRESIDENT - If the honorable senator's remarks are relevant; but he should not labour the financial aspect of the matter at too great length.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - I say that we have the aftermath of the war upon us. We have enormous obligations to face, and this, therefore, is nor the time to spend money on the establishment of a great air fleet. I should like to point out that a huge sum is being spent on the Public Service. The salaries paid to the Public Services of the Commonwealth and States amount to £33,000,000 per annum, and there is one member of the Public Service for every ten adults in the country. I remind honorable senators also that the total debts of Australia at the present time amount to £820,000,000, and that the Taxation Office alone costs this country £440,000 per annum. Our national debt is nearly equal to the national debt of Great Britain in 1913, and the expenditure on the government of Australia is altogether too great in proportion to our population. I point out that the cost of Parliaments in Australia amounts to £425,412 per annum, as against a cost in Canada of £313,488 for a population of 7,300,000, and as against a cost in Great Britain of £556,314 for a population of 45,000,000. I point out, also, that we have 800' legislators in Aus- tralia.

The PRESIDENT - Order! The honorable senator is going quite beyond what is relevant to the question before the Senate. A passing referencetothe financial condition of the Commonwealth may be permitted as a reason why the Bill should not be passed, or why it should be postponed, but the honorable senator appears to be using the motion for the second reading of the Bill in order to hang upon it a general discourse upon the financial condition of the country. That cannot be allowed. If I were to allow the honorable senator to take that course other members of the Senate could claim the same right, the discussion would become interminable, and the purpose of the motion before theSenate would be lost sight of.

Senator Gardiner - The honorable senator has been using most convincing arguments against the Bill.

The PRESIDENT - I am not concerned with the weight of the honorable senator's arguments, but with their relevancy, and I must ask him to keep more closely to the question before the Senate.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - May I elaborate in some detail the tremendous fall in the value of raw products in Australia?

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator has already done that t& some extent.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - I want to show that we cannot afford to spend money on the proposed Air Force.

Senator Pearce - There is no proposal under this Bill to spend any money.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - The decline in the value of our raw materials is very serious. It is very doubtful whether the present price of wheat, 9s. per bushel, can be maintained. The value of oats has fallen 55 per cent, maize 47 per cent., tallow 84 per cent., hides 64 per cent., skins 65 to 71 per cent., rabbit skins 80 per cent., and lead 51 per cent. Practically everything we export has fallen in value. Beef has fallen 45.8 per cent.

Senator Pearce - Not in the household.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - I am going to deal with that. I am referring now to the prices obtained for their produce by the producers of Australia, and it is they who have to bear the bulk of the taxation. Mutton has declined 63.2 per cent., and lambs 54 per cent. The price to the consumer is a very different matter. "Whilst beef is 5d. per lb. wholesale in Melbourne to-day, which i3 50 per cent, less than it was twelve months ago, the public are 3till paying ls. per lb for it.

Senator Senior - No, 14d. per lb.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - One shilling per lb. is the average retail price. The wholesale price is 5d. per lb.

The PRESIDENT - Order! The honorable senator's remarks might be verycogent if addressed to some other question, but they cannot be regarded as arguments relevant to the Bill before the Senate. They might be relevant to a financial Bill, or the discussion of a financial statement, or a general statement of Government policy. The difference between wholesale and retail prices can have no relation to the question now before the Senate.

Senator Keating - On a point of order, may I suggest that the question now before the Senate is not whether the Bill should or should not pass, but whether now is a proper time for the discussion of the Bill at all? The Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) has moved that this Bill be now read a second time, but Senator J. D. Millen has submitted an amendment to the- effect that the consideration of the Bill be deferred for a certain time. Is not the question now before the Senate not so much one of the merits or demerits of the Bill, as of the propriety of considering it. at all at this juncture? If the latter be the question before the Senate, are not Senator Guthrie's arguments perfectly relevant to that question?

The PRESIDENT - Senator Keatingis quite right in saying that the question before the Senate now is that the Bill be postponed, but how he can contend that the difference between "the retail and wholesale prices of commodities is relevant to that question I cannot understand. Under the Standing Orders and practice of the Senate, when an amendment is moved to the second reading of a Bill like that now before the Senate, the original question and the amendment may be spoken to, but, so far as relevance is concerned, an honorable senator i3 given no further right of speech merely because the amendment is submitted.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - I was dealing with the prices of our raw commodities wholesale in Australia, in order to show the danger which lies ahead, and to stress the fact that we shall not have a sufficient income to warrant us in incurring the large expenditure which is n»r; proposed. Wool, which is our main product, has fallen in value 60 per cent., and some classes of wool have declined 85 per cent. I do not know whether I am at liberty to deal with the details of the high cost of living at the present juncture. I suppose that I am not. But I maintain that this is a time when we should stop squandering money upon nonreproductive works, otherwise we shall produce conditions in this country which will lead to unemployment and strife of all kinds, and which will breed such a spirit of discontent that we shall need to look after our own house instead of building aeroplanes to keep other people away from us. I do not know whether I shall be permitted at this time to say that, in view of the urgent need which exists for economy, the display in the Queen's Hall by the advocates of Canberra -is a lamentable one.

The PRESIDENT - Order! I ask the honorable senator to respect the ruling, which I have already given more than once. I have endeavoured to extend to him the fullest latitude, but, obviously, there is a limit beyond which I cannot go.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Then I shall conclude my remarks. I have endeavoured to prove that, owing to the enormous decrease in the value, both of our exports and imports, our revenue must seriously diminish, and consequently we cannot afford to spend money upon the establishment of a large Air Force, at any rate until the Prime Minister has returned from the London Conference to tell us' what ought to be done in this matter.

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