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Thursday, 26 August 1937

Senator GUTHRIE (Victoria) . - I happened to be in Europe when the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and his fellow delegates were attending the Imperial Conference, and from all sections of the British community I heard most favorable comments upon the efforts of those gentlemen on behalf of the Empire in general and Australia in particular. The fact was widely realized that, at. that conference, Australia was splendidly represented, just as all of us know how fortunate we are to have in the heart of the Empire so capable a High Commissioner as Mr. S. M. Bruce. Both Mr. and Mrs. Lyons are very highly respected in Great Britain; at all functions their presence was eagerly sought, and, together with the Minister for Defence (Sir Archdale Parkhill) and the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) they were regarded as being excellent speakers and worthyrepresentatives of this great Commonwealth.

Senator Brown - Mr. Curtin would have been a very worthy representative of Australia.

Senator GUTHRIE - I am not denying that; but some honorable members of the Labour party who went abroad in Australia's name in the past were not worthy representatives of this country.

Senator Brown - I could name some tories who were in the same category.

Senator GUTHRIE - Cheap criticism has been levelled at this Government in respect of the amount of money spent on the delegation. So far as I have been able to ascertain, this delegation was one of the most economical that ever left Australia to attend an Imperial Conference. The money was well spent. After the experience of seeing how matters are conducted abroad, my colleagues and I came to the conclusion that it was almost necessary to send batches of honorable senators and others abroad to be educated as to how things should be correctly done. When mixing abroad with the prominent men from all parts of the Empire, one must learn much of value to a public man who is trying to represent this great Commonwealth in the National Parliament.

At the Imperial Conference defence was the principal subject of discussion. War was not contemplated; deliberations related to the measures necessary for the prevention of war. The concensus of opinion amongst all thinking people in Europe was that a strong, united, and prepared British Empire was the only possible security for world peace and progress.

Senator Brown - The Labour party believes in first preparing in Australia.

Senator GUTHRIE - The Labour party's defence policy as enunciated by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) this afternoon is most parochial ; it does not allow of any coordination of co-operation with any other member of the Empire for mutual defence. It even precludes the despatch of the Australian navy or air force to assist our sister dominion of New Zealand, a few hundred miles away, should it be attacked.

Senator Brown - That is not so.

Senator GUTHRIE - The Leader of the Opposition made that statement. The policy of' the Labour party is to send nobody beyond the confines of Australia to protect any part of the Empire.

Senator Brown - The honorable senator has misunderstood our policy.

Senator Cooper - The Labour party stands for complete isolation.

SenatorGUTHRIE.- That is so.

Senator Brown - The words " complete isolation" were never used by the Leader of the Opposition.

Senator GUTHRIE - The policy of the Labour party is to provide for defence within the Commonwealth; it objects to the sending of arms or men from these shores. Surely such a policy is one of complete isolation. If the sister dominion of New Zealand is attacked the policy of the Labour party is to send neither ship nor aeroplane to its assistance. Although New Zealand may be threatened, we must, not raise a finger to aid them.

Senator Brown - The honorable senator is being childish.

Senator Sir George Pearce -Senator Brownseems to be at variance with both his leader and the Australian Labour party.

Senator GUTHRIE -Senator Brown may be the next leader of the Labour party in the Senate. Mr. Beasley, who is the Leader of the New South Wales section of the Labour party, has openly stated that the policy of the party is one of complete isolation. Before engaging in hostilities overseas, the Labour party would first take steps to obtain the opinion of the Australian public on the matter by referendum. Presumably if New Zealand were being attacked we should send somebody in a rowing boat to say to the aggressor: "Please do not attack us, we are not ready. We must hold a referendum before we can help New Zealand. That referendum will take only a few weeks; so please, Mr. Enemy, do not fire a shot until we determine whether or not we shall defend Australia or New Zealand ". Senator Collings insinuated that Australia was overtaxed for defence purposes in proportion to other members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. The honorable gentleman showed quite correctly that we spend more per capita on defence than does Canada. But, Canada is not nearly so vulnerable to attack as is Australia ; it is protected by the Monroe doctrine and in the United States of America has an enormously powerful and friendly neighbour. On the other hand, Australia is a huge, empty, rich island continent with a coastline of 12,000 miles and a population numbering less than 7,000,000 persons. It is one of the prizes of the world. Senator Collings also showed that for defence purposes, Australia paid more per capita than the Union of South Africa. That is so; but two rights do not make a wrong. In my opinion, South Africa should make a much larger contribution towards the defence of its own shores than it is doing. However, it has strengthened the naval base at Simonstown, and is developing a powerful air force. What the Leader of the Opposition failed to compare was the contribution per capita for defence purposes of the little British Isles - the heart of the Empire - with our own payments. Probably Australians have more reason to defend their shores than have the people of any other part of the Empire. In proportion to their area, the British Isles have an enormous population, and it would be impossible for an invader to capture or occupy them for any length of time. Even if by a tragedy Great Britain temporarily lost control of the sea or air, no foreign nation could occupy it permanently. But the position of the Commonwealth is vastly different. First, it has a coastline of 12,000 miles; secondly, it has a dangerously sparse population; and thirdly, it is potentially very rich in productivity. For these reasons Australia must have adequate home defences, because it is worth defending. The little British Isles are spending on defence about ten times per capita as much as Australia is expending. "What is more, they are spending more money on the defence of Australia itself than we are spending. Great Britain would not need such an enormous navy but for the fact that it has to assist in the defence of the various parts of the Empire. The Leader of the Opposition should havestated the taxation per cap. for defence of Great Britain.

Senator Collings - The honorable senator's figures in that respect are inaccurate.

Senator GUTHRIE - They are not. The Leader of the Opposition also said that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Great Britain introduced a bill providing for the imposition of an additional £25,000,000 for defence purposes, there was such a storm of objection that the measure was withdrawn. I happened to be in the House of Commons when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is now Prime Minister withdrew the bill, and ho was applauded for being big enough to admit that a mistake had been made. Later, he introduced another measure, increasing the additional taxation to be imposed from £25,000,000 to £34,000,000, or £9,000,000 more than the original bill provided, and that was accepted by the House.

The Leader of the Opposition also referred to the necessity to increase employment in Australia, and with his contention in that respect, I entirely agree. It is the responsibility of any public man interested in his country to endeavour to ensure that the people are provided with adequate food, clothing, and shelter. Whenthis Government, which was attacked by the Leader of the Opposition, came into office, over 30 per cent. of the registered trade unionists in Australia were out of employment and poverty was rampant. What is the position to-day? In March, 1937, according to the latest figures supplied by the Commonwealth Statistician, only 9.9 per cent. of the registered trade unionists were unemployed, but I believe that more recent figures show that unemployment in Australia is actually below normal. When the Scullin Government was in office the situation was calamitous. The head office of the Savings Bank in New South Wales was compelled to close its doors owing to the rush of depositors wishing to withdraw their money. Money could only be borrowed at exorbitant rates of interest. If a government is to succeed in administering the affairs of the nation, it must first secure the confidence of the people. What is the position in connexion with our secondary industries? 1 am a primary producer, to a greater extent than I am a manufacturer, but I always advocate the active development of our secondary industries, because by encouraging all branches of secondary production, we can provide profitable employment for the people and an improved market for primary produce. In the financial year, 1931-32, the last year of the Scullin Government's regime, the number of factories operating in Australia was 21,627, and the number of factory employees was 336,658. In 1935- 36, the number of factories had increased to 24,895, and the number of factory employees to 492,771. The increase of wages amounted to £27,000,000 per annum and the vailue of production by £52,000,000 per annum. During its last year in office the Scullin Government had a deficit of approximately £11,000,000, whilst the aggregate of Commonwealth and State deficits was £36,000,000. Owing to careful administration the Commonwealth budget has been balanced ever since the Lyons Government hasbeen in power, and during the last financial year some of the State governments also balanced their budgets. During my recent visit to Great Britain, I attended many luncheons and banquets where I met persons in all walks of life; some of them were socialists. Usually the first question put to me concerned the season and production in Australia; but before long I was asked if there was any chance of Lang coming back into power. I could only say that that did not appear likely. I was told by all inquirers that if Lang came back to power British capitalists would not invest any money in Australia. A young country such as Australia must borrow at a reasonable rate of interest in order to develop its resources. Since this Government has been in power £40,000,000 of fresh private capital has been invested in industry in Australia. We have also raised internal loans amounting to £98,000,000 at an interest rate of 4 pelcent, or under, but when Lang and his colleagues were wrecking this country, the Scullin Government could not borrow money even if it was prepared to pay 10 per cent. In addition to avoiding deficits the Lyons Government has increased social services and reduced the national debt by £8,600,000. The courtesy extended to me as a member of the Empire parliamentary delegation is typical of that shown to all Australians. It was particularly noticeable at every function which I attended that the British people have a very high regard for the Australians, largely because we are regarded as honest people who pay our debts. This Government, with the assistance of Mr. S. M. Bruce, has been able to convert £200,000,000 of overseas loans at a lower rate of interest and by that means Australia is saving £4,000,000 per annum in respect of interest. Moreover, £14,000,000 has been made available to the States for road construction and maintenance.

The Leader of the Opposition said that our trade dispute with Japan had been detrimental to the interests of the woolgrowers. I do not think it was.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - It was.

Senator GUTHRIE - I have been closely associated with the wool industry for many years and I cannot agree with the honorable senator. The price was good during the first half of last season's sales, but Japan came on to the market when the market was likely to drop, and purchased 400,000 to 500,000- bales; in consequence prices increased by 10 to 15 per cent. The Leader of the Opposition, who said that we had antagonized the United States of America, a friendly nation, by imposing unnecessarily high duties on American exports, should realize that that country imposes a duty of equal to 16d. per lb. on Australian wool, which is equal to the average price obtained for the last clip. The Government's trade diversion policy was adopted to encourage the expansion of Australian motor building and other industries, and also to give some preference to the Mother country which extends such enormous preferences to Australia. The duties we impose on the produce of the United States of America are infinitesimal when compared with the duties that country imposes on our exports to the United States of America. During my recent visit to Great Britain I was proud that I was an Australian citizen. Honorable senators should realize, that Great Britain is doing more for the peace, progress and prosperity of the world than any other nation has ever done. It is expending from £200,000,000 to £300,000,000 per annum to build up its defence forces to ensure peace. The fact that for fifteen years Great Britain disarmed to such an extent that its very weakness brought it to the verge of war is proof of the extent to which it is prepared to go in the interests of peace. But disarmament became a grave danger to peace. Although I conversed with guests at Buckingham Palace and with the inmates of Salvation Army homes in Whitechapel, I never heard complaints concerning the taxes imposed for defence purposes.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - Partly because they realize the risk of unpreparedness.

Senator GUTHRIE - Exactly. Expenditure on defence is the only means by which they can be assured of peace. The Labour party in Australia has never had a defence policy.

Senator Sir George Pearce - It had a policy when it was a real Labour party.

Senator GUTHRIE - The Scullin Government scrapped the Naval College at

Jervis Bay, and the Royal Military College at Duntroon; in fact, it scrapped practically the whole navy and army, and left us with nothing. It adopted a coward's policy - for only a coward would make no effort to defend himself - and did nothing to assist the Mother Country, which is carrying a heavy burden, not so much to defend its own islands, which cannot be occupied, as to protect the children of the Empire who are scattered throughout the world. I came back with an admiration for British statesmen, and thankful that I, as an Australian, was also a citizen of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

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