Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 22 June 1937

Senator HARDY (New South "Wales) . - As Leader of the Country party in this chamber I congratulate the Government on the excellent speech of the Governor-General, and the proposals of the Ministry outlined therein, because

I believe that its programme will be the coping stone of a record of constructive legislation, which, possibly, has not been equalled in the political history of Australia. I pay a tribute to the Government in that respect, but I am afraid that I cannot congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on his oration; not only was it illogical but it also lacked in many respects the element of truth. Furthermore, the honorable senator offered no constructive criticism. I was particularly interested when he said that the Government would be indicted because of its failure to honour the promises it had made at the last elections, and that it would certainly be punished when the polling booth jury next assembled to record its verdict. I can readily understand the optimism of the Leader of the Opposition, particularly in view of" his successful campaign in Gwydir, but I draw attention to the fact that while helaunched his tirade of criticism against the Government, alleging that it had failed to carry out the promises made by its leader at the last election, he did not mention one specific instance in which the Government had fallen down on its job. He simply dealt in generalities, picturing how wonderful the world would be if private enterprise were abolished and some marvellous form of socialism were substituted. I urge the Leader of the Opposition, if he is going to continue his attacks against the Government, as undoubtedly he will because an election is in the offings - and at that election, incidently, he is going to meet his own Waterloo - to tell us exactly in what way the Government has failed. If it has failed to deal effectively with unemployment, let him say so frankly and give us specific illustrations of such failure; if he alleges that it has failed in its financial administration, let him make his charges specifically, instead of offering a patchwork, a crazy quilt of idle allegations.

Senator Collings - What about the failure of our loan in London on Saturday?

Senator HARDY - Although only 50 per cent, of the loan was subscribed, even that subscription was greater than that to any loan converted or attempted to be converted during the whole reign of the

Labour Government, because during the regime of the Scullin Ministry no flotation or conversion operation was attempted.

In his endeavour to indict the Government in respect of national insurance, Senator Collings stated that the Government during its waking moments, babbled about national insurance to the press - but never to Parliament. The honorable senator made that statement on the day after the Governor-General's Speech was read in this chamber, although in that speech a comprehensive policy in respect of national insurance was definitely outlined. Let us analyse the attitude of the Labour party towards this very vexed question of national insurance. During" the Gwydir campaign I heard Senator Collings attack the Government on the ground that it had not launched a comprehensive scheme of national insurance. J ask the honorable senator when was national insurance first included in the platform of the Labour party? "Was it last year, or ten years ago? No. I have before me the actual records of the conferences of the Australian Labour party, and I find that it was included at the fifth Commonwealth conference of that party held in Hobart. How long ago did that conference take place? Was it t wo years ago ? No ; it was held a quarter of a century ago! Within the 25 years which have since rolled by two Labour governments, one in 1914 and the second in 1931, have been in office, and honorable senators will seek in vain in Ilansard and other legislative records for one statement in which any supporter of either of these Labour governments raised his voice on this matter. The true test of sincerity is action; 25 years have gone by and the Labour party has taken no action at all to establish a scheme of national insurance; but because this Government is now proposing a national insurance scheme which will appeal to the people of Australia as a whole, and place the whole of our pensions and social legislation on a sound basis, we hear Labour supporters saying in the highways and byways of this country that this Government has fallen down on its job ! If it he true that this Government has fallen down on its job in this respect within the last two years, my reply to

Senator Collingsis that the Labour party has fallen down on its job in a similar way for the last 25 years. I believe that when these facts are put before the people at the next election they will realize that this Government is sincere in its attempt to formulate a national insurance scheme on a sound basis. The report of an expert, which is available to honorable senators, has already been obtained, and before launching this tremendous financial experiment, the Government is analysing its probable effects and the contributions to be made by various sections of the people. While this is being done, the Labour party now attempts to indict the Government on its delay in the matter, although within a period of 25 years it failed itself to bring any scheme of a like nature to fruition.

Senator Collings - The Labour party was not in office; it could not establish such a scheme.

Senator HARDY - The Labour party was in office in 1914 and again in 1931. I direct attention to another interesting point in Senator Collings' speech, because it reveals his interpretation of his duty as Leader of the Opposition. In reply to an interjection by Senator A. J. McLachlan, Senator Collings said -

The honorable senator's remark is not clever. Talk is all that we can do in this chamber; we are simply here to talk, not to chop wood.

On many occasions the honorable senator speaks at length, and on Friday last he addressed himself to numerous subjects for an hour and a half. There have been other occasions, however, when important measures have been before the Senate, and the Leader of the Opposition has not spoken at all. For instance, during the last session of this Parliament he could have spoken on the second reading of the London Naval Treaty Bill for one hour, but the time he occupied on that measure was less than one minute. During the last week of the session five customs tariff bills were passed through this chamber, on the second reading of each of which he could have spoken for one hour, but he did not speak at all. This is a reversal of the honorable senator's contention that the electors of Queensland sent him to this chamber to talk and not to chop wood. There was also a sales tax amendment bill on the second reading of which he could have spoken for one hour, but he declined the opportunity afforded him. I also direct the attention of the Leader of the Opposition to a vital bill covering a trade agreement with France, and dealing with the production of wine and barley and primary produce generally. Although the honorable senator could have spoken on the second reading of that measure for one hour he did not address himself to it at all. There was also a Commonwealth Railways bill, dealing with important subjects, on the second reading of which he could have spoken for an hour, but he did not participate in the debate on that measure. On a Petroleum Oil Research Bill, a subject in which the honorable senator should bo interested, and an Air Navigation bill he did not speak at all. Although the honorable senator claims that the electors of Queensland sent him here to talk and not to chop wood he declined to take advantage of the opportunity to speak on at least 24 important measures which came before this chamber. My job is not to talk, but ito criticize, and if necessary amend proposals that are submitted to us. If the legislation has my approval I have a perfect right to allow it to pass without criticism. The Leader of the Opposition may place a different interpretation on his statement, but he must admit that in effect he approved of at least 24 legislative enactments of this Government without offering any comment on them.

Senator Collings - I am not apologizing: if I consider legislation satisfactory I do not oppose it.

Senator HARDY - I fully expected the honorable senator to don his political spurs as he did and deride the members of the Country party for their defeat at the Gwydir by-election. I noticed, however, that the honorable senator did not have anything to say concerning the Darling Downs by-election, held a few weeks earlier. He concentrated upon the Gwydir contest, insisting that the result supported his indictment of the Government. The honorable senator contends that the decision of the electors in Gwydir indicated their dissatisfaction with the present Government.

Senator Collings - Hear, hear ! .

Senator HARDY - The honorable senator says " hear, hear .' ", brit apparently he ha3 not analysed the figures. Had he done so he would have found that a. number of electors in Gwydir are satisfied with the present government, because of 26 subdivisions the Country party won twelve, and the Labour party fourteen, and that in three of the subdivisions the Country party candidates - particularly in the closer settled areas - obtained more votes than did the Labour party at the last election. One of the reasons why the Labour party secured a victory at Gwydir was that the Stevens-Bruxner administration in New South Wales sent over 1,000 distressed workers from the Cessnock and Newcastle districts to work on the main roads in the Gwydir electorate. That fact has to be taken into consideration before Labour supporters can claim a political victory.

Senator Brown - The honorable senator should not blame us for that.

Senator HARDY - Hundreds of men, representing the Trades Hall, descended on Gwydir, and as from 40 to 50 could be found in each subdivision, it is easy to understand the extent of the Labour party organization. The Leader of the Opposition also said, "Evidently Senator Hardy is anxious that I shall always be found in good company. I am sorry that I cannot compliment the honorable senator on the company he keeps ". He said that during the Gwydir byelection he frequently found me in doubtful political company. 'That is true, because representatives of a huge Labour organization conducted from the Trades Hall followed me around the Gwydir electorate. No doubt Senator Collings based his opinion on that fact.

I now wish to direct the attention of the Senate to what I believe is rapidly becoming a national problem, and one which should have the serious consideration of the Senate. I refer to the closer settlement movement which is becoming vital in some of the eastern States. In connexion with such problem, the Federal Government cannot stand on the side-line, as a detached spectator; closer settlement cannot be carried out without proper co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States. In speaking of closer settlement, I realize that I shall not have -the sympathy of those honorable senators representing closely settled States such as Victoria and Tasmania, or even Western Australia, but I can assure honorable senators that in practically every country centre in New South Wales there is a strong agitation, from those of our people who are land hungry. for more land. There is a definite 'public demand for a sound and economic policy of closer settlement. I was particularly interested to note that, in the first week or two of the Gwydir by-election campaign, the issue drifted right away from federal politics, the two concluding weeks of the campaign were devoted purely to a State issue, and I do not fear contradiction when I refer to it as an outstanding issue. I do not know whether the Leader of the Opposition spoke on this subject, but when thi Leader of the Labour movement in New South Wales, whom the honorable senator applauded so vigorously on Friday, mentioned the subject he did not hesitate to drive home to the country people that further economic development is essential in that electorate. I know that it was only an election cry, for although the history of the Labour movement in New South Wales shows that the Labour party favours closer settlement - and this will be of interest to the three Labour senators in this chamber - no Labour government has ever been responsible for the subdivision of one large estate. In the Gwydir campaign the Labour party did not hesitate to advance its political aims by supporting closer settlement, because it sensed that among the country people a desire for closer settlement was arising. I believe that Labour's realization of that, had something to-do with the defeat of -the Country party. In -the next few clays in the Riverina, .a closer settlement conference - one of 'the largest conferences ever held in New South Wales, and consisting of men who are anxious to see some sound, well-constructed economic policy of closer settlement proceeded with - v/ill take place. There is a degree of reluctance on the part of the Commonwealth Government to -give attention to closer settlement, because the problem bristles -with difficulties and its history is full of mistakes. The mistakes made in Western Australia can be instanced; that State even now is still grappling with the problems that accrued as the result of ill-advised closer settlement schemes. Similar trouble has been experienced in New South Wales. We have now to recognize that in order to avoid a repetition of past mistakes, if any State launches a policy of closer settlement, the Commonwealth Government cannot stand aloof. There must be coordination of Commonwealth and State efforts, 'because any scheme to be successful must be placed on a national basis. Honorable senators will recognize the logic of my reasoning when I point out that the problems of primary industries do not wholly relate to production. Increased production involves the problem of marketing. How can the Commonwealth Government make trade agreements with other countries in respect of various classes of primary production if it is not aware of development in a particular economic unit? The matters of production and consumption are inextricably interwoven. The Commonwealth Government must realize that any plan for closer settlement must be the result of close planning between the Commonwealth and the States. But my case does not only rest on that point. There is the matter of the possible expansion of secondary industries. The expansion 1hat has taken place in secondary industries in the last few years reads like a romance; to-day their production is at the highest level Australia has ever known. I was particularly interested last week to read a statement by the Canberra representative of the Associated Cham'bers of Manufactures, Mr. Withall, in which he said that there was .a potential absorb.tive capacity in secondary industries of 50,000 Australians every year. Every primary economic unit provides a market for the secondary industries. Relatively, those industries have no export market, but every farm that comes into production provides an expanded home market. Every farm requires equipment, and every industry requires a market; it is plain, therefore, that the problems and interests of primary and secondary industries are inter-related. Because primary and secondary industries are related in matters of supply and demand, the Commonwealth Government cannot stand on the side-line when closer settlement schemes are under consideration. Then there is the unemployment problem. The Commonwealth Government has found it necessary to allocate a considerable sum for the relief of unemployment, thus proving that the problem is there, and must be grappled with. The whole of the unemployed cannot be absorbed in secondary industries. They must be spread over the whole field of production by a vigorous, sound, well-planned closer settlement policy. Therefore, it is plain that closer settlement is a matter for national planning. We cannot allow six distinct State plans to go ahead independently; we must pick up the six strands and weave them into a solid rope. Only by co-ordinated planning can we avoid the mistakes of the past. Further aspects of this matter are migration and defence, which are national matters ; both are allied with a vigorous policy of closer settlement. I dp not say that closer settlement will bring into the country a flood of migrants- or that the defence problem will be solved by it, but a wellreasoned policy of closer settlement on an economic basis must be a contribution to national development. Finally, in urging that the Commonwealth shall cooperate with the States in that respect, I point out that under the financial agreement the Commonwealth has. assumed final responsibility for State debts. Having undertaken that responsibility the Commonwealth cannot allow the States to go ahead on their own schemes of economic development involving large liabilities and long-range planning, without close financial supervision by the Commonwealth. So, although the objection may be raised that closer settlement is the function of the States, the Federal Parliament has a definite niche in any such plan, and must play its part in a general co-ordinated scheme. Such action would not be creating a precedent. We remember the £34,000,000 migration agreement. I was interested enough to check again the principles of that agreement, because it has almost passed into the limbo of forgotten things. The real intention of the agreement was to effect permanent settlement in Australia.

It was an agreement between the Governments of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, and the States for permanent settlement. What was meant by permanent settlement? Its scope was indicated by the words "whether on the land or otherwise ". It is quite clear that at least at the period when the agreement was signed, it was the actual intention of the Commonwealth to take an active part in permanent settlement, such as closer settlement would bring about. The agreement stated also that considerable areas of land were to be made available for development and settlement. The reason for my resume of that agreement is that when I mentioned that matter to several honorable senators recently they said that the Commonwealth Parliament was in no way concerned with the land settlement policies of the States. I dispute that, because history shows that in the past Commonwealth governments have been prepared to enter into co-operative agreements, and to enter into long-range planning such as that provided for in the migration agreement. Further objectives of that agreement were the acquiring or resuming of alienated land, advances to settlers who were in process of settlement, and the settlement of people on the land. Therefore, there is no lack of precedent for the Commonwealth taking an active interest in the closer settlement schemes of the States. I re-affirm that owing to the interlocking nature of these problems and the probable marketing difficulties that will follow the further development of primary and secondary production in Australia, it is impossible for the National Parliament to stand aloof from the consideration of proposals for their solution. We have, as I have said, ample precedent to guide us. During the last few years we have, on many occasions, discussed the payment of bounties to wheat-farmers and financial assistance to other primary producers, including a subsidy for the purchase of fertilizers, the purpose being to ensure the continued activity of these production units. This Parliament has also authorized the expenditure of £12,000,000 for the adjustment of farmers' debts, and during the last six or seven years it has considered projects having as their objective the co-operation of the States in the development of our primary industries.

Senator Collings - So as to increase the exportable surplus and then have quotas imposed.

Senator HARDY - I expected that the honorable senator would have something to say about the difficulty of disposing of our exportable primary production. On that point I differ entirely from the honorable gentleman. He believes that we should seek to become a self-contained nation, revolving entirely on our own economic axis and having no interest whatever in the exportation of surplus production.

Senator Brown - He has never said anything of the kind.

Suggest corrections