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Thursday, 12 November 1936

Senator HARDY (New South Wales) . - It is on very rare occasions that I find myself in agreement with the principles enunciated by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) - or, at any rate, some of them.

Senator Collings - Only some of them?

Senator HARDY - Yes. I desire to bring to the knowledge of the Senate the reasons why Labour members, having failed to secure an agreement amongst themselves on this matter, decided to treat it as a non-party question. I have here a number of speeches which have beet, made in the House of Representatives by members of the Labour party. If honorable senators bothered to read them they would .discover beyond any doubt that only one section of the Labour party is prepared to support this bill, which is intended to give to the primary producers of this country not only a reasonable standard of living but also the advantages of organized marketing. I think that, irrespective of political parties, we can agree . that this bill, proposing an alteration of the Constitution, is one of the most vital bills which has ever been submitted to this Senate. It is a tremendous issue which the people have to face. As members of the Country party see it, the question iE simply whether the people of Australia are prepared to extend to the producers in primary industries a reasonable standard of living and, in addition, the advantages of orderly marketing schemes.

Senator COLLINGS - The whole of the Labour party stands for that.

Senator HARDY - That is not as apparent as it should be. I do not want it to be thought that I am in favour of unification when I say that I am in sympathy with the desire of the Leader of the Opposition to secure for the Commonwealth an unchallenged right to full marketing powers. I am not in favour nf his proposed principle of application, and I disagree with his contention that the Commonwealth should implement those powers by Governmental control. I be- lieve in producer control of primary industries; but at the same time I know that if this alteration is car ried by the people, and l tervently hope it will be, it will only endow the Commonwealth Parliament with certain power which will not be sufficient to provide orderly and organized marketing in respect of certain commodities, notably wheat. That it will give to the Commonwealth power to legislate in respect of the dried fruits industry I do not deny. The same may be said about the butter industry, But I say definitely and emphatically that it will not give to the wheat industry what the wheat-growers desire - the right to form a compulsory pool - though it will give to the Commonwealth the right to establish a home-consumption price for wheat. I do not, however, propose to argue that matter; I merely desire to draw attention to the fact that this bill possesses a disadvantage inasmuch a3 if the proposed alteration is made the Commonwealth will not have power to give to the wheat industry the advantages of a compulsory pool. The Leader of the Opposition might very well say that the best way to get over that disadvantage is to move an amendment substituting for the alteration now proposed a proposal to give to the Commonwealth full powers to initiate marketing schemes. While admitting the attractiveness of such a proposal, let us analyse the reasons for which we are here as representatives of the people. We are here to endeavour to translate into legislation the practical objectives of every-day life. We are- not hero to bluff ourselves by a mere gesture ; we are here to give to the people definite results. The result we require in this case is to provide producers with a reasonable standard of living and an organized market. Therefore, it is our duty to ask ourselves, free from political prejudice, whether we shall, by an amendment of the Constitution, get the people to endow the Commonwealth with the right to initiate full marketing schemes. I say frankly that a proposal to endow the Commonwealth with full marketing powers would undoubtedly be defeated at the poll.

Senator Brown - How does the honorable senator know that?

Senator HARDY - I know it because of the limitations imposed by the Constitution itself. Certain requirement; must be met before the Constitution of the Commonwealth can be altered. First, a majority of the electors must favour the change. That, however, is not the real difficulty, because that majority can be secured by a massed vote in Victoria and New South Wales alone. But another requirement, and this is the one. which is at times queried by those anxious to alter the Constitution, is that the change must have the approval of the majority of the States. That means that four of the six States must approve of any alteration; and it is not at all likely that they will do so. I should have liked to support a proposal asking the people for full marketing powers to be given to the Commonwealth, in order that compulsory pools and organized marketing of primary production might be established; but I reluctantly realize that such a proposal would be impracticable at the present time. Again I stress the fact that, after all, we are here to get results, and we must, therefore, adopt the most practicable proposal. Does any honorable senator think that the people of Western Australia, who a bare feY months ago, indicated clearly a desire for secession from the federation, would consent to give greater powers to the Commonwealth? The people of Western Australia are jealous of their' State rights, and honorable senators representing thatState have not hesitated to express their reluctance to grant additional powers to the Commonwealth. Not one honorable senator representing Western Australia could guarantee an affirmative vote in his State on a proposal to endow the Commonwealth with greater powers in regard to marketing than it had before the decision of the High Court in 1921. The objection to granting further powers to the Commonwealth which exists in Western Australia is not exclusive to that State; it is evident also in South Australia and, I believe, in Tasmania as well. Let us now face the position squarely. If we attempt to force on the people of those States a change which they are not prepared to make, we shall destroy the marketing machinery that, we now possess, and the primary producers will worse off th ali they ure now. I sun satisfied to go as far as is practicable, ;;i!i.l fight every inch of the way to ensure reasonable standards for the producers. In 1921, the High Court decided that section 92 of the Constitution did not bind the Commonwealth, and on that decision was based the whole of the marketing legislation of Australia. The adverse finding of the Privy Council, however, has rendered that legislation invalid. We now ask the people to grant the power which we thought the Government possessed prior to the decision of the Privy Council. Would any person willingly endanger the growth and expansion of the dried fruits industry in this country or deprive the producers of dried fruits of a reasonable standard of living?

Senator Collings - Mr. James would.

Senator HARDY - Would any one willingly destroy the structure of marketing which has been built up over a number of years on the assumption that the Commonwealth possesses rights which now the Privy Council says it does not possess? If we believe in the right of producers to be granted reasonable standards, we must vote for the bill I confess that I am unable to understand the attitude of some members of the Labour party towards this subject. That party has repeatedly stated that it desires to help the primary producers of this country -in every way, and to ensure to them a reasonable standard of living. That statement has been reiterated to-day by the Leader of the Opposition who said that he was prepared t.o do everything possible to help them. That is an excellent attitude. But what is the atitude of some other honorable members of the Labour party? The honorable member for Cook in the House of Representatives (Mr. Garden) has given utterance to remarks which show clearly that he, at least, is rendering only lip service when he says that the Labour party is prepared to help the primary producers. Unfortunately there does not appear to be any possibility of this issue being treated as of a nonparty character. If honorable senators will recall the legislation which from time to time has come before them they will, remember that at no time has tha Labour party agreed to approach it on a non-party basis. Has that party ever announced that it would help a government representing another political party to pass legislation designed to secure for primary producers a reasonable standard of living, or to provide for orderly marketing i Members of that party are afraid to admit that the legislative proposals of any other party contain any real merit. That is why, in a position such as that which now exists, they shelter under the "nonparty" principle.

Senator Brown - The achievements of the Labour party in Queensland show clearly how the Labour party has assisted the primary producers.

Senator HARDY - I hope that Senator Brown will be able to convince his colleagues in the Labour party to support the present referendum proposals of the Government. The attitude of the Labour party to this subject is unfair. Although every policy speech delivered by successive leaders of that party has expressed a determination to ensure, a reasonable standard of living for all sections of the community, in practice that policy is given effect only in respect of those engaged in secondary industries. In regard to men on the land, who work, not 40 hours, but 60 or 70 hours a week, the Labour party makes an extaordinary reversal of its attitude.

Senator BROWN - Be reasonable !

Senator HARDY - If I appear to benn reasonable, it is because I am righteously indignant at the attitude of the Labour party towards the primary producers of this country. A national policy requires that a reasonable standard of living for the people of Australia shall not be limited to one section of the people. To-day, those engaged in secondary industries have the right of access to the Arbitration Court, and to the wages and conditions prescribed by duly constituted tribunals. Consistency demands that that policy shall be extended to the primary producers, especially those engaged in export industries.

Senator Brown - The Labour party agrees with that statement.

Senator HARDY - Then, it should agree to a fair home-consumption price for that proportion of Australia's primary production which is consumed in

Australia. The people engaged in primary production do not cease work at the sound of a whistle; they do not become members of trade unions which, by exerting political pressure, secure wages awards, and reasonable working conditions for their members, nor do they enjoy stated holidays each year. They practically take their chance. Let us face the facts. There are only three methods by which a fair home-consumption price, which I regard is the equivalent of a reasonable living wage, can be secured for Australian primary products. The first method that could be adopted to supplement the income of the producer is the use of direct taxation. We could say that it is necessary to redistribute the national income so that those who receive an income that is below a reasonable living wage - particularly the primary producers - will have their income supplemented from the proceeds of a special tax in order to raise it to that standard. Action of that nature has been suggested in certain quarters, but I maintain that that would be impossible because, apart from the impracticability of applying the scheme to any individual, in my opinion, direct taxation arouses a vicious class feeling which is inimical to the best interests of the country. We, therefore, must consider the second method, and it in turn has little to commend it. It is a proposal that has been debated often, in this Senate, namely, that we should give a reasonable amount of assistance to the primary producers by way of a direct subsidy through the medium of an excise tax; that is to say, that in order to give to those producers a reasonable home-consumption price, we should subsidize them in a manner similar to that employed when the flour tax was imposed in order to provide assistance for the wheat industry which, for some years during the period of low prices, has been subsidized to the extent of £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 a year. That method of assisting primary production has many advocates, but it has serious defects which outweigh the temporary advantage of direct financial grants. The greatest disadvantage is that it would not give to the producer any reasonable stability or security, because no subsidy can be given. to any industry by a government unless it has been approved by Parliament, and, what is more, that approval must be given every year. To subject primary industries to the necessity of obtaining annual subsidies would be to make them the plaything of politics and leave them at the mercy of the whims of politicians. It would be possible, for instance, if the scheme were adopted for the Leader of the Opposition to rise and say, "I shall vote that we give £6,000,000 to the dried fruits industry " or " that we increase the vote to the wheat industry by £4,000,000." Similarly, those hostile to certain industries could move for a decrease of the vote.

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