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Friday, 29 November 1935

Senator COLLETT (Western Australia) . - One advantage about a debate of this nature is that an opportunity is afforded from time to time to vary or even change the subject. I propose to deal with several matters in which the electors of Western Australia are interested.

The financial policy of the Government as announced by the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) in the House of Representatives has been referred to as being disappoint- ing. I do not entirely agree with that view, although I admit that the policy does not contain all that we might have reasonably hoped for; but in that, perhaps, a wise precaution has been exercised. When our ship of finance was torpedoed a few years ago, the situation called for a government that was able to effect the requisite repairs. The saying of the hull was due entirely to the action of the Scullin Government which was then in power. The Government which succeeded it was entrusted with the duty of effecting repairs to the ship and with prudently testing the new fabric and machinery before committing it to any speed. That has been and is still being done. The ship is now gathering way and the adherence of the Government to the policy which brought the Lyons Ministry into power has certainly restored confidence and a considerable measure of our former prosperity. One wishes that the improvement were even more rapid, but it is recognized that outside factors have been a deterrent, and until they are further influenced in our favour, the ideal cannot be gained. We may extract some comfort from the figures that have been placed before us in the budget and other papers. They reveal that unemployment, a3 compared with 1932, has been so reduced as to be approaching the 50 per cent, mark of improvement. The building industry last year showed an advance of over 50 per cent, on the previous year, and in the same period factories absorbed no less than 45,000 additional hands. On the financial side, recent loan conversions have resulted in the saving of interest and exchange of nearly £3,000,000 a year while the interest hill per capita is now ls. 3d. less than it was thirteen years ago. Nor has the Commonwealth public debt been disregarded ; it is being steadily, if slowly, reduced. Despite the advantages gained, I join with honorable senators of all shades of political opinion in deploring that so many workless still remain in our midst, to whose assistance the community should be able to contribute. Particularly am I concerned for the younger generation. Appeals on their behalf have been made, but nothing concrete has been achieved. In the last financial year this Parliament voted a sum of £100,000 for afforestation in Western Australia, conditional on a proportion of it being devoted to absorbing some of the unemployed youth. Most unfortunately, the Commonwealth Government seems to have agreed to this proportion being diverted to some other channel, on the ground that it could not be usefully employed as had been proposed.

Senator Sir George PEARCE - The States declared that they could not procure sufficient youths.

Senator COLLETT - That declaration from the States will bear investigation. I am sorry that the original intention with regard to this money was not pressed.

The position of the taxpayers might be justifiably described as distressful; I make this statement despite what has been said by members of the Opposition. A large number of the heavy impositions resulting from the depression still remain with us. Under the financial emergency legislation, those engaged in business, trade and commerce have grievances approaching in gravity that of the unemployed. We have been told that with their aid the governments of Australia were able last year to establish a record in the financial history of the country. The collections of taxes amounted to over £93,500,000. Just imagine! That sum was extracted from less than 7,000,000 people! I ask honorable senators to judge of its effect in retarding business or the extension of factories, industrial undertakings and other enterprises productive of widespread employment. Government expenditure is not always reproductive - this we know - and the withholding of so much capital from its natural outlet must further postpone the condition of prosperity that is so desirable. To use words which were recently conveyed to me and which doubtless other honorable senators have also read -

It is not so much a question whether governments can afford to remit taxation, but rather whether they can afford not to do bo.

To hark back for a moment, the same principle applies in regard to the taking of measures for the reduction of unemployment. I am not suggesting that these matters have not been considered by the Government, but I would urge the administration to grant further relief wherever and whenever possible.

I not only commend the basis of the Government's budget, hut I also congratulate the administration itself on its evident intention to observe the policy which it announced prior to the last elections. For instance, agreements designed to create and improve overseas trade are being sought, and the tariff schedules are receiving the attention which they so sorely need, and which is so desired by many honorable senators. The difficult problem of rehabilitating the farming industry has been investigated, and a policy has been agreed upon for the fixation of a homeconsumption price for wheat. This was unanimously endorsed by representatives of all the States, and is to be the subject for early consideration by this and the State Parliaments. In themselves these are indeed advantageous achievements

I welcome the decision of the Government to conduct an inquiry into the banking and monetary systems. The activities of the apostles of Douglas Social Credit, and the election propaganda of the Labour party rather shook the faith of some persons in the rectitude and usefulness of our well-tried financial institutions.

Senator Collings - Shook them to their foundations!

Senator COLLETT - The result of this inquiry will, I am sure, completely restore the confidence of the public. I trust that the findings of the royal commission will be conveyed to the people in some graphic or readily understood form. If that be done, the effect would negate any further attempt to undermine the foundations of the structure of public and private credit.

I believe that the relations between the Commonwealth and the States have perceptibly improved recently, and for this better understanding there was plenty of room. The Commonwealth is a federation, and recent co-operation between it and the units is causing this to be appreciated. A glance at the figures relating to last year's expenditure reveals that of the revenue of £67,000,000 all but £4,500,000 was devoted to the interests of the States or to directions that inextricably concern the populations of the States. To administer the Commonwealth itself, therefore, cost the taxpayers of Australia only £4,500,000. Suggestions have been made that, in order to increase State revenues the Commonwealth should forsake entirely the field of direct taxation. I have yet to be convinced that such a step would be beneficial, and that it would not have the effect of indirectly increasing costs to the producer and the consumer who are already overburdened with a variety and multiplicity of loads.

The Government is proceeding with its plans for the modernization and expansion of the defence system, and satisfactory developments are indicated. Recent occurrences abroad have amply demonstrated the wisdom of providing increased guarantees for our protection and ability to assume a full share of responsibility in the Empire scheme. Greater facilities should be devised for the more effective education and training of officers of the citizen land forces. Existing opportunities for acquiring a knowledge of their duties - even peace-time duties - are far too few. Command implies leadership: effective leadership is based on sound training and on knowledge and experience of men, weapons, equipment, material and terrain, together with that of their proper conservation and uses. In many of the officers holding appointments, such knowledge and experience is not so conspicuous as is desirable. The fault cannot be attributed to the officers. The drastic restriction of the votes for training purposes has closed many useful avenues of instruction, and the too hasty retirement of tried officers who served in the late war has removed a most valuable and helpful element. Some arrangement should be made whereby the plan originally advocated by General Sir Edward Hutton could be revived. This provided for the sending abroad of citizen force officers for six months' association with a unit during the training season in India, or Great Britain. It operated prior to 1914, and the subsequent record in the Great War of those officers who had the benefit of this training fully justified the experiment. Such a scheme should be revived or developed. If this be impracticable a suitable substitute would be the attachment of officers to a school of instruction or permanent unit in Australia. The period of tuition should not be less than three months.

I commend the Government for its decision to re-establish the Royal Military College at Duntroon. It is wrong to condemn this institution because of its initial cost. The justification for its existence can only be assessed on its ultimate value. For whatever money has been expended on the college an adequate return has been received, and it can be discovered in the services rendered during the war by its graduates. Equivalent service continues to-day. In another five years, I suggest, the principal appointments connected with our land defence forces will be held by graduates who received their first military instruction in that college. One of the original objects in establishing a college was to produce officers who could fill such positions, and we are approaching the time when that objective will be realized.

Every member of this Parliament must be, and I feel sure is, deeply concerned with the problems connected with the settlement and development of Northern Australia. I favour a continuance of the attention hitherto given to their solution. The position is by no means hopeless. In my opinion, adequate communications are a first essential. In the wireless broadcasting and aerial services already functioning we have some useful elements which are capable of much greater development. Same re-organization of the mail time-table between Daly Waters and Perth is imperative. At present, many benefits are denied to those residing between these termini. At the present time I do not advocate railway construction. It would be much more advantageous to devise and gradually carry out a system of trunk roads which would facilitate the movements of stock and carriage of goods as well as encourage visits from more settled districts.

Then there is an issue which, in th, interests of sound, national finance and of the taxpayers and all members of the community should be dealt with without delay. I refer to the institution of some form of national insurance against old age, invalidity, sickness and unemployment. We hear many references to the ever-increasing burden on the people due to the payments made to old-age and invalid pensioners. In this connexion I wish to repeat what I said on a former occasion in this chamber, namely, that the time cannot be far distant when a choice will have to be made between fewer pensioners at the present rate of pensions and more pensioners at a lower rate. At present Australia has no definite plan foi" dealing with the contingencies of life, and there is imposed the natural consequence of unnecessary hardship, allied to which there is much suffering, to say nothing of overlapping or redundant functions and economic waste. Disabilities for which comprehensive legislative provision could be made are at present costing the community, directly and indirectly, enormous sums of money. Lack of co-ordination in the efforts of contributing authorities has unnecessarily increased the burden. In Australia we have rightly set ourselves a high standard of living. Our social services are constantly expanding. Racially and geographically, we are fortunately placed. In order to retain these advantages for all sections of the community, we should conserve our assets to the utmost. I trust that the Government will act, and act quickly in this direction. If a workable and effective scheme is placed before Parliament by the Government, it will for ever find a worthy place in the records of human affairs.

I have already mentioned the improvement of the relations between the States and the Commonwealth. In order to maintain this improvement and strengthen even further the ties of amity and promote .efficient co-operation, I urge the Government to give effect to its promise to re-appoint the interstate commission. The preliminary work done by the Commonwealth Grants Commission is a most valuable contribution towards a complete understanding of the working of the Constitution, and with this as a basis a policy could be evolved that would make the interstate commission a body to which every State could refer its federal problems with every confidence.

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