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Friday, 18 June 1937

The PRESIDENT - If the honorable senator is referring to the GovernorGeneral, he is distinctly out of order in using his name disrespectfully in debate.

Senator COLLINGS - I am referring to the action of this Government in providing more than one official residence for the Governor-General. I have protested against its action in this respect on more than one occasion.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator also referred to the remuneration of the Governor-General.

Senator COLLINGS - Yes ; I approved of it.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator must know that he is not entitled to reflect upon the Governor-General.

Senator COLLINGS - If you, sir, can direct my attention to any remark of mine which can be construed as a reflection upon the Governor-General, I shall withdraw it; but I object to being accused of using words which I did not utter.

Senator Payne - The honorable senator referred to " imported gentry ".

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - If that is not a sneer, I do not know what it is.

The PRESIDENT - I ask the honorable senator to withdraw the offensive remark.

Senator COLLINGS - You are placing me in a difficult position. I did not refer to the gentleman himself. What do you wish me to withdraw?

The PRESIDENT - The honorable Senator, referring to His Excellency, sneeringly used the term " imported gentry ".

Senator COLLINGS - I included His Excellency in the general term " imported gentry meaning imported gentlemen.

The PRESIDENT - I ask the honorable senator to withdraw the offensive remark.

Senator COLLINGS - In deference to you, sir, I withdraw it. I dislike doing anything that is disorderly.

The PRESIDENT - There must be an unqualified withdrawal.

Senator COLLINGS - I withdraw the remark, because if I decline to do so I shall be prevented from concluding my speech. 1 do not know what degree of loyalty the Governor-General expected to find when he was on tour. I hope that he was not surprised, because Australians are notably not lacking in loyalty. I am just wondering whether the splendid spirit of confidence to which His Excellency referred is shared by the Government, because, judging by this Speech and by Ministerial actions, I am afraid that, it has very little confidence in the future of Australia.

His Excellencyalso referred to the disaster which occurred at Rabaul. I congratulate everybody concerned on the way in which that misfortune has been handled, and I draw attention to the fact that once again in a time of emergency private enterprise was very promptly superseded by Government control; in this way the very difficult position at Rabaul was quickly ameliorated.

Later in his Speech the GovernorGeneral made the following comment concerning the financial position: -

The public credit in Australia has been maintained at a very high level with corresponding advantages to interest rates generally while the conversion of our overseas indebtedness to lower interest rates has been steadily carried on, as loans mature, with most satisfactory results. . Business generally is once more vigorous and expanding and the future may, therefore, be looked to with wolffounded optimism.

In passing I draw attention to the fact that to-day Australia is paying more for its loan money than is being paid by most of the other countries which are using borrowed money for the development of their territories. His Excellency's Speech contains this further interesting statement : -

Recorded unemployment which in 1932 had reached the previously unknown level of 30 per cent., has progressively fallen until to-day it stands at less than 10 per cent, a state of affairs which compares favourably with that existing before the depression.

I say definitely that those figures are absolutely and totally unreliable; the claim that such a wonderful result has been achieved by this Government is neither true nor creditable to the authors of. it. The statement does say, of course, that they are " recorded " figures ; but

I point out that the only recorded figures are the numbers of registered unionists who happen to be unemployed at a particular date. No notice is taken of the thousands of our young people who are leaving school and to whom at present no possibility of securing a job presents itself. The Government is entitled to take credit for achievements resulting from its own policy, but in this instance it is taking credit to itself undeservedly. The Governor-General's Speech continues -

My Advisors desire to repeat that this recovery would not have been achieved as quickly as it has been without the patriotic cooperation of the people as a whole and -the patient endurance of those who were the greatest sufferers from the depression.

In face of all that has occurred and is still occurring, I have never listened to worse piffle in a speech from the King's representative. That statement is untrue; every one knows that the suffering was forced on the people affected, and they were neither patriotic nor patient in enduring it. In dealing with this Speech I propose to impeach this Government; I do not intend to let .it get away with grandiloquent language designed to deceive the people and to enable it to shirk responsibility for all the evils that are occurring in this country.

Paragraph 3 of the Speech informs us that the Prime Minister and two other Ministers have been participating in the important deliberations of the Imperial Conference, and I understand from intimations given to honorable senators yesterday, that the result of those deliberations will be placed before us later. In passing, I shall only say, ihat everybody in this country with a mentality developed beyond the infantile stage, knows perfectly well that the Imperial Conference has been a dud,, and that the time occupied in its deliberations has been totally valueless to Australia. That is the only conclusion we can draw, if the information that has percolated to .Australia through the syndicated press- in which, by the way, I have very little confidence - and the syndicated _ wireless, which is controlled by the syndicated press, can be taken as reliable. This information shows that the conference has been a complete and tragic dud.

Senator Dein - Did not the conference achieve anything of importance?

Senator COLLINGS - Ye3; but those things could have been achieved without this conference.

In paragraph- 14 of the Governor.General's Speech, the Government again takes great credit to itself for the fact that that magnanimous combination of captains of industry, the Shipping Confer^ once, has agreed very belatedly to make a reduction of freights to the amount of £500,000 annually, the benefit of which, we are told, will be reaped mainly by primary producers who are obliged to use this transport. I am not in a position to question the accuracy of this estimate. My pleasure in reading this announcement was qualified by this further passage in the Governor-General's Speech -

With a view to reducing the costs to shipping, the Com mon wealth Government proposes to reduce light dues from Gd. to (id. per ton on all overseas shipping visiting Australian ports. The State governments have been asked to co-operate with a view to reductions in harbour charges.

What a magnanimous gesture has been made by the shipping companies ! First the Government tells them that they are taking too much toll of the primary producers of this country, and they must cease doing so, but having made the companies see that they have been charging, excess freights to the extent of £500,000 annually, it says in effect, to them, "We do not want to soak you too hard, so we will give you a rebate of £65,000 annually in respect of light dues." On examining the relevant figures I find that from 1932 to 1935-36 the total revenue collected from light dues was £7S1,000, or an average of £195,250 annually, and a third of that figure, £65,000, the Government proposes to present to the shipping companies. These shipping magnates, numbers of whom were interested in the sabotaging of the Commonwealth Government line of steamers, should have been properly dealt with long ago.

In paragraph 17 of the GovernorGeneral's Speech, it is intimated that an amendment of the Seamen's Compensation Act, designed to bring the provisions of that legislation into line with modern conditions, will be introduced. As I do not know what will be the exact nature of the amending measure, I cannot criticize it, but I hope that steps will be taken to deal effectively with those gentry who control our shipping and who, as an Australian judge said recently, "have been sending coffin ships to sea." I hope that the Government will take notice of the representations made by members of the Opposition in this chamber to the effect that every vessel engaged on the Australian coast, and over which the Commonwealth has control, should be compelled to carry modern wireless apparatus in order to safeguard the lives of those on board.

According to paragraph. 19 of the GovernorGeneral's Speech, the Government proposes to push ahead with the ratification of the Statute of "Westminster. Its action in this respect is very belated ; but better late than never. With this remark I conclude my references to the precious document presented to this chamber yesterday in the form of the GovernorGeneral's Speech.

I asked earlier whether this Government shared the confidence in the future of Australia that was expressed by the Governor-General. I suggest that the Government's approach to national problems - it does occasionally awake from its legislative sleep-walking and discover something wrong somewhere - and the method by which it proceeds to handle such problems, provide evidence of its tragic failure to understand the basic causes of those problems. It merely interferes and tinkers with the festering sores on the body politic, and glosses over its incompetence with statements praising the patriotism and enduring patience of the people, but never attempts to root out the diseases. I regret that I am unable to congratulate either the genius who compiled the Governor-General's Speech or the honorable senators who were given the difficult task of submitting to this chamber the Address-in-Reply. All parties to this document have my sincere sympathy; they have done their best to make bricks without straw.

Senator Hardy - Why did the workers apply to the Federal Arbitration Court for an increase of the basic wage by 12s. a week? They based their claim on the ground that industry was able to pay the increased amount.

Senator COLLINGS - I shall not attempt an explanation, but I know that the decision of the electors in the Gwydir division, in which by-election campaign Senator Hardy was most prominent, clearly indicated their dissatisfaction with the present Government. I recognize, of course, that in the ramifications of our present system of parliamentary government there is such a thing as window-dressing for election purposes. I suppose that every government and every party feels that it has a right to do something in this direction. At all events I do not deny the right of the Government to do a bit of honest legitimate window-dressing, provided there is a sincere purpose behind it.

Senator Arkins - Provided also that the goods are on the shelves.

Senator COLLINGS - Political windowdressing is legitimate only when the goods are on the shelves. If, on the other hand, they are all in the window, the results to the people may be disastrous, and I suggest that just as the street vendor or barrowman is by law punishable if he " tops " up his sales by substituting inferior quality goods for those displayed, so also should a government be punished if it indulges in windowdressing for election purposes and does not subsequently redeem its election pledges by legislative enactment. This Government because of its failure to honour its promises will be so punished when the polling booth juries next assemble to record their verdict.

Senator Hardy - The honorable gentleman had better watch his step or he may meet his Waterloo.

Senator COLLINGS - If I meet my Waterloo at the next election the loss to this chamber will be greater and more tragic than if half a dozen leaders of the Country party mat their Waterloo.

This Government is not only bankrupt of legislative ideas, but, in this chamber at all events, is also suffering from mental pernicious anaemia, as is evidenced by its lack of supporters capable of adequately explaining even the feeble apology for constructive statemanship which has been submitted to us for consideration.

During its waking moments it babbles about national insurance to the press - but never to Parliament. In a newspaper statement published on the 22nd September, of last year the Federal Treasurer "referred to inquiries now being made by British experts ". The GovernorGeneral's speech which was placed in our hands yesterday, also referred to " inquiries now being made by British experts ". Apparently we have to go to some other country which has made a tragic failure of social services, for experts to advise us in respect of national insurance, because, so the Government believes, no Australian is capable of giving sound advice with respect to this essentially Australian problem. The newspaper statement continued that the Treasurer " considers that the investigation will enable them to provide the Government with a comprehensive report". We have been at the report stage for the last 20 years. It is positively dishonest now for the Government to say "we are prepared after the elections to do something with regard to national insurance ".

Senator Hardy - How long has national insurance been on the Labour party's platform?

Senator COLLINGS - This Government also sent its delegates to the Geneva Labour Conference with instructions to support proposals for a 40-hour working week in respect of certain industries.. It is to our discredit that in nearly every other country employees have for long enjoyed a 40-hour week in some industries. If this Government had been sincere in its desire to do something, it could have provided for a 40-hour week for the whole of its employees, including those on public works, and thus set an example to the governments of the States and the world generally. In this connexion I am proud to say that Queensland has for many years had a statutory 44-hours working week. We are now waiting for the National Parliament to extend this system to its employees.

Senator Hardy - Read the Constitution and see if this Parliament has authority to do that.

Senator COLLINGS - This Government talks of health and nutrition, and gives the little Minister a roving commission to ramble over Australia and entertain amused audiences with circus antics on the platform until they are like the old lady at the zoo, who, confronted with the elongated giraffe, declared in her bewilderment " there ain't no sich animal ". What does this Government care about the health and nutrition problems which are rampant in every working class home? So serious is the situation that a census taken recently in Victoria of the children attending public schools in that State, disclosed that only 19£ per cent, were without physical defects. The Government is still chattering about health and nutrition, but so far its only contribution to a solution of the problem is the appointment of commissions and boards of inquiry. Every one knows that all that is required is to give the working men and women decent homes to live in, and reasonable wages for the work which they perform.

Senator Hardy - Does the honorable senator forget that there was a Labour Government in power in 1931?

Senator COLLINGS - The honorable senator need not be concerned about what was done or . said by the Labour Government in 1931. His present preoccupation should be the political avalanche that will put a Labour Government in power at the next elections. In the Prime Minister's Policy Speech in 1934 - and the statement was broadcast from hundreds of platforms - this Government promised that it would, forthwith, deal with the unemployment problem by putting in hand the work of standardizing the railway gauges throughout the Commonwealth. Some years have elapsed, but not one steam-tractor nor a single steam-scoop has been set to work; not a shovel or pick has been placed in the hands of idle Australian workmen to get on with the job. We are still waiting.

Senator Hardy - What is the present percentage of unemployment in Australia ?

Senator COLLINGS - If Senator Hardy would refrain from asking absurd questions, he would probably be able to absorb some of the facts which I am placing before the Senate, and, with his colleagues, might then soon be kneeling at the political penitent's form seeking salvation.

This Government sends nervous old women of both sexes shivering to bed for fear of the bogy of an invasion through the vulnerable north of Australia by hordes of Japanese or others. At the same time it has unpatriotically imported an alleged patrol boat, which in its first exploit and after much expensive repair work had been done to it, has to be re-discovered from the air and ingloriously towed back to its base by the enemy prize ship which it had so heroically captured! What a wonderful achievement !

This Government has discovered, through its experts, both imported and indigenous, what every good. Australian already knew, namely, that there are within the confines of this continent vast coal and shale deposits and immense indications of potential flow oil. Yet it has not exploited any of them. It proposes to hand over this business to private enterprise. It talks of " empire ", of "loyalty", of "patriotism" and " defence ". It scarifies the Opposition with baseless charges of disloyalty, but its only outstanding contribution so far, to the adequate defence of Australia, is to evolve plans for firmly establishing in this young democracy in the southern seas thieving, private-enterprise, profiteering armament manufacturers, that cancerous world scourge which has made Europe a seething cauldron of war, or inspired in the peoples there the paralysing fear of it. With all the opportunities available to it and with the full knowledge that manufacture of armaments by private firms is responsible for the apprehension that exists in the world to-day, this Government proposes to hand over the business to private enterprise. There would be le3s likelihood of war if there were not private manufacture of arms, and certainly there would bo no prolonged war if there were not profit in the business of -armament making.

This Government has also discovered that there are in Australia vast iron ore deposits and huge quantities of scrap iron, and its criminal contribution to Australia's defence problem, should a national crisis ever unfortunately arise, is to allow the export of both products from Australia. It has not the excuse that it did not know of what was being done, because in season and out of season, I have asked questions concerning proposals by foreign companies to exploit our iron ore deposits, and I have received all kinds of answers, tie purpose of which was to discredit my information. I was told first that the Government had no knowledge of such proposals, but later ministers admitted that a scheme had been formulated, but said that Brasserts Limited, the company concerned in the negotiations, was an. English concern and that English capital was behind the venture. On one occasion you, Mr. President, took me to task because I doubted the sincerity of the Government in respect of the answers given; but what I then said is now common knowledge. Practically every newspaper in the land is taking the Government to task for allowing the exportation of this valuable Australian raw material, and to-day we have the spectacle of a scientific representative of one nation actually supervising arrangements for the exportation of our fabulously rich iron ore deposits as fast as the ore can be taken out of the country. Honorable senators may be a little surprised at my earnestness upon this and other subjects which I have discussed from time to time; but I take the view that no good Australian with the capacity to think and a voice to express his thoughts can remain silent regarding the inactivity of this Government with respect to such matters.

This Government knows that the nations of the world stands aghast at the fearful prospect of another world war ; yet it contemptuously sneers at those in this chamber, who, like myself, advocate an active policy of peace and goodwill at home and abroad, who. plead. for support of a universal language and demand legislation having world peace as its goal.

I have no doubt that when the defence estimates come before us for consideration, we shall hear repeated some of the statements made by a representative of this Government during the Gwydir byelection. That gentleman, in a public address during the campaign, said, in so many words " Ladies and gentlemen : I shall not mention the Labour party's defence policy, because it is well known to everybody that it has not got one." But what of this Government's policy? Fiscally it assaults and insults certain foreign nations and then sends its political head, whom it hates but dare not destroy, to the Imperial Conference, there to jibber, in a masquerade of statesmanship, of a Pacific pact! It permits hordes of aliens to come into Australia, while hypocritically professing its loyalty to the Australian national policy of a White Australia. It " monkeys " with the generally accepted policy of Australian protection, so that every session sees more and more reduction of the protective nature of the tariff, each reduction resulting in some Australian being forced into the ranks of either the unemployed, or that unhappy army which must perforce accept the dole. It talks grandiloquently of its great love for the primary producer but annually treats him as a mendicant, using his often appalling economic misery as a means of securing votes at election time. That brings me back to the statement which I made at the commencement of my speech - the Government is incapable of distinguishing between cause and effect. It either does not know the basic causes of Australia's national problems, or it does know them. If it does know those causes, why is every attempt to solve those national problems concerned only with the effects, rather than the causes?

By some of the things that it has done, the Government stands condemned. But I cannot- blame it nearly so much for its acts of commission as for its acts of omission. The things left out of the Governor-General's Speech speak much more eloquently than do those which are in it. I say, further, that some of the things which are in it are childish; they are things which no self-respecting Government would have submitted to the gaze of the electors of this nation. The Government ought to have been ashamed to include in the Speech the unemployment figures to which I have already referred and then to refer to the patriotic and patient way in which the Australian people endured the misery of the depression years. It ought also to have been ashamed to take to itself credit for all the improvements mentioned in the Speech.

Senator Payne - The Government has not taken credit for all the improvements.

Senator COLLINGS - Senator McLeay, speaking with a sob in his voice, said last night-

Senator Hardy - He is not so good a " sobber " as is the Leader of the Opposition.

Senator COLLINGS - I have more justification for my tears than the Leader of the Country party has for his laughter. Last night, with tears in his voice, Senator McLeay said : " Surely honorable senators have not forgotten the depression years and what this Government inherited." He went on to say that in- flation, nationalization and repudiation were the main ingredients of the policy of the Scullin Government. In a moment of inspiration he used those three terms : " inflation, nationalization and repudiation," but he forgot how to apply them to his argument. I shall take advantage of this opportunity to fill in the gap left by the honorable senator. First, I shall deal with inflation, a term which is supposed to scare us all when it is mentioned. But if the Government relies on a denunciation of inflation to win the next election, it will not succeed.

Senator Hardy - The honorable gentleman still believes that the Commonwealth Bank should be controlled politically.

Senator COLLINGS - I believe that the Commonwealth Bank, like every other Government Department, will carry out the policy of the successor to the present Government as loyally as it has carried out the un-understandable policy of the mesalliance known as a composite Government.

Senator Hardy - A Labour Government would interfere with the currency.

Senator COLLINGS - Senator Hardyprobably knows no more about inflation than he does about currency. He is on dangerous ground. Every owner of a motor car knows that if the tyres of his vehicle are deflated the only remedy is inflation.

Senator Arkins - He must first mend the puncture.

Senator COLLINGS - Mending the puncture is merely a part of the process of inflation.

Senator McLeayproceeded to inveigh, against nationalization. I commend to the honorable senator and to those who hold his views, a book entitled Business in Government, which may be obtained from the Parliamentary Library. It is most informative, although it contains only what public men ought already to know, namely, that because of the decadence of the capitalistic order of society, governments in every country of the world are forced to adopt to an increasing extent a policy of nationalization. Private competitive enterprise has proved a tragic failure, and, therefore, governments everywhere, irrespective of their political beliefs, are obliged to take over more and more control. In other words, they adopt nationalization, a term which Senator McLeay mentioned as though it should strike terror into the minds of his hearers. Having declaimed against inflation and nationalization, the honorable senator proceeded to deal with the term "repudiation". If the Government is relying upon a campaign in which " repudiation " is the key-word in order to win the next election, I sympathize with it. Its spokesmen last night did not improve a bad cause; they did not have even the capacity of members of the Ministry for making a good case out of a bad job. Only once in Australia has repudiation raised its head; and then a Labour Government scotched it at birth.

Senator Hardy - The honorable senator is frequently to be seen in the company -of those who have advocated repudiation.

Senator COLLINGS - Evidently Senator Hardy is concerned that I shall always be found in good company. I am sorry that I cannot compliment him on the company that he keeps, for during the Gwydir by-election campaign I frequently saw him with doubtful political associates.

Senator Hardy - 'Does the honorable senator refer to " Jack Lang " ?

Senator COLLINGS - Senator McLeay is a thick and thin supporter of the Government, probably because he does not want to incur the disapproval of the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce). While the honorable senator was speaking last night I could not help sympathizing with his leader, because frequently during his speech, and also during that of Senator Marwick, the Government's case was given away. When Senator McLeay ' referred to the 40-hours' week I fully anticipated that he would proceed to tell the Senate of the Government's intentions in that connexion. He stated with all the force of which he was capable that " a 40-hours' week is on everybody's tongue ". It is true that his voice was no louder than mine, but its lack -of volume was due to physical, rather than to mental, causes. He endeavoured to show that a working week of 40 hours is now within the realm of practical politics, and, as the mouthpiece of the Government, in that he was chosen to move the Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General's Speech, he argued that the determination of this subject should be left to the arbitration courts of this country. I should like to know when the honorable senator, and the Government for which he spoke, were converted to the policy of arbitration and conciliation.

Senator Hardy - I have supported it all my life.

Senator COLLINGS - Senator Hardy is a .young man who does not remember the strenuous days when the Australian Labour party, at the cost of much sacrifice and energy, first advocated a policy of arbitration, until, in time, its enthusiasm had converted public opinion. The result Ls seen in the fact that young fellows like Senators Hardy, McLeay and Marwick now believe that the determination of working conditions should be left to the arbitration courts.

Senator McLeaythen announced another wonderful discovery that he had made. Speaking as the one selected by the Government, from the galaxy of talent and beauty among its supporters, to act as its mouthpiece, he said: "We learned during the depression that, when the primary producers suffer, everybody suffers." The depression to which he referred began in 1929 or 1930 and continued for some years. Not until then did the honorable senator learn the great truth which he enunciated ! In this connexion there is one further truth that he must yet learn - although I doubt his capacity to appreciate it - that when the workers of this country - all those who wrest the national wealth from the soil of this country and create it into commodities and articles required by the people - suffer, every other section of the community suffers also. Even that section of the community which the honorable senator has singled out for his special attention suffers. When one stratum of society is in trouble every other stratum is affected, although in respect of the upper strata, the incidence is not so tragic as in the lower grades. Senator McLeay did not know that fundamental fact until 1929. I realize that he could not have learned it as- early as I did, for I am a much older man than he is; but now that he has acquired the knowledge, I hope that he will retain it for many years. With the . air of a Solomon, or a pundit, he went on to say that what the wageearner requires is not more leisure, but more money. What a discovery!

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