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Thursday, 20 November 1941

Senator COURTICE (Queensland) . - I have listened with interest to speeches made in the course of this debate, and in connexion with other financial legislation, which has just been passed through this chamber. It seems to me that there is no real opposition to this budget. Senator Cooper, who has just spoken, might easily have been speaking from this side of the chamber. He made a thoughful speech, free from vindictiveness. It seems to me that the feeling underlying the speeches made by some other honorable senators opposite is that the only thing wrong with the budget is the fact that it has been introduced by a Labour Government rather than by a government formed by the parties of which they arc members. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber cannot be blamed entirely for the fact that a Labour Government; is now in occupation of the treasury bench. Since the beginning of the war - in fact since my entry into this chamber four years ago - constant quarrelling has been going on in the United Australia party and the United Country party. The culmination was the defeat of the Fadden Government. Honorable senators have themselves to blame for what has occurred. I arn sure that the people of Australia, will bc disgusted with the present attitude of the Opposition in view of recent happenings. Honorable senators opposite complain of disunity and lack of co-operation, yet in their own ranks Ave see outstanding men occupying back benches. The position is ridiculous. There is no doubt that the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) is head and shoulders above those who were scheming constantly to undermine him, and eventually succeeded in .depriving him of the Prime Ministership of this country. Generally speaking, the people of Australia are pleased that there has been a change of government. There was considerable dissatisfaction throughout the length and breadth of this country with the previous government and the occupation of the treasury bench by the Labour party has been welcomed. Tb{ criticism of the Labour Government's financial proposals offered by the exMinisters was a little vindictive, and served only to strengthen the impression that these gentlemen are disappointed at the impositions which the Government proposes to place on high incomes. Safeguarding the rights of those in receipt of high incomes seems to be their only concern, and this criticism is hardly warranted at a time when this country is fighting for its freedom and, perhaps, for its very existence. When the people of Australia read the remarks of honorable senators opposite, particularly the three ex-Ministers, I am sure that it will be felt that the present Opposition is well qualified to hold that job permanently. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) complained that the Government was over-taxing, over-borrowing, and using the credit of the nation to too great an extent; but he cannot have it all ways. This budget provides for the raising of an additional £15.000,000 by way of direct taxation. The criticism voiced by the Opposition yesterday in this debate was that large incomes were being unjustly taxed, and to-day, in regard to other financial measures, the complaint was that the Government's taxation proposals would bear too hard upon the working people. Their attitude is obviously inconsistent. As a matter of fact, the people on low incomes pay a large amount in indirect taxes. For instance, customs and excise duties yield £50,000,000 annually, and the sales tax yields £26,000,000. " That is a total of £76,000,000, of which at least £50,000,000 is derived from the working people of this country. That is a substantial contribution. Although I am a great believer in direct taxation, the position to-day is such- that the Government has no alternative but to bring down a budget such as this. I am confident that it will appeal to the people of Australia. There has been no real opposition to it in this chamber or in the House of Representatives. I was astounded by the criticism offered by the Leader of the Opposition, and I am sure that it is not iu harmony with the thoughts which are uppermost in the minds of the people generally. This country is faced with great difficulties, and our first responsibility is to win the war. When I listened to the speeches made by honorable senators opposite, who appeared to be so concerned about individuals in receipt of high incomes, T wondered what our soldiers in Egypt or Tobruk would think if they heard them. They would have been disgusted to think that in times like these such concern could be felt for that small and privileged section of the community.

Senator McBride - What does the honorable senator mean by a high income?

Senator COURTICE - This Government has not altered the Fadden Government's taxation proposals in respect of people receiving £1,500 a year or under. Surely that is a large enough income in these times. It is true that to some degree the increased taxation on high incomes will be reflected in industry; but the

Government is faced with the task of improving our Avar effort by every possible means. Our sole aim must be to defeat Hitler and his hordes, which, are menacing the freedom of the people of democratic countries* When honorable senators opposite express so much concern for people on high incomes, they are out of tune with the people generally. Recently, I spent a few days in Sydney and Melbourne, admiring the beautiful homes in the suburbs. It is no exaggeration to say that many of the workers who are doing the real work of this country to-day would be quite happy to live in the garages of some of these palatial residences. Honorable senators opposite would do well to show a little more concern for the working people of this country, who are making the real sacrifices in this war. I should have appreciated also some reference by the former Ministers in this chamber to the effect that the war is having on industry. Many people will be placed in an extremely difficult position because of war repercussions. Obviously, when honorable senators opposite were in occupation of the treasury bench, they were not fully seised of the ramifications of this war and how it affects the people, particularly in Queensland and outback districts of other States. I am disappointed with the attitude of the previous Government in regard to this aspect of the war. I am disappointed at the failure of the previous Government to bring about a policy of decentralization in Queensland in regard to war expenditure. I believe that the present, Government will endeavour to spread that expenditure as much as possible so that the manpower in country centres will not be depleted. Despite Senator Foil's long parliamentary experience and his ministerial service, he had little to say regarding the new principles embodied in the budget. The only criticism he offered was that a certain person, who, on his recommendation, secured a position at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory, had not done any work there. The only inference to be drawn from the honorable senator's remark was that there were men in Australia who were willing to "sponge" on the country at a. time when we could ill-afford conduct of that kind. If people were loafing about in Lithgow, it is probably due to a state of affairs brought about to a large degree by the previous Administration.

Senator Foll - Is it not my duty to pass on information of that kind?

Senator COURTICE - When Labour senators desired to assist a Minister in such a situation, they invariably got into touch with him personally, and in justice to Senator Foll I admit that he invariably dealt with such cases satisfactorily. The matter to which I have referred should not have been brought before the Senate in such a way as to imply that ministerial supervision had been lax.

The budget has been so framed as to distribute the burden of the cost of the war among those members of the community who are best able to bear it, and I consider that the Government has succeeded to a large degree in achieving its objective. It has been blamed for not having ' adopted the proposals of the previous Administration regarding compulsory loans and post-war credits. Under the proposals of the previous Government many anomalies were noticed. It was intended to raise the revenue required for war purposes in such a way that while Queenslanders were paying high taxes, people in Victoria would-be receiving interest on war loans. The present Government could not approve of such an unjust, proposal. It has been stated that the Government, has gone too far in relieving the tax burdens on persons on the lower incomes. The Government has appealed to the people generally to spend their money wisely and realize fully that every penny that can be saved is required for war expenditure. I have no doubt that the workers will respond well to the appeal of the present Government to refrain from wasteful expenditure. Most workers place their savings in the savings banks, and thus it, becomes available to the Government through the medium of the war loans. The Government would be well advised to make a special effort to produce a complete understanding on the part of the people of what the Empire is fighting for and what it is fighting against. The previous Government failed in this respect and I hope that the present Administration will use whatever facilities it has at its disposal to create a psychology among the people that will lead to a maximum war effort. I was somewhat concerned when I noticed that the vote for the Department of Information was to be considerably reduced. We might take a leaf out of the book of the enemy and realize the value of propaganda for war purposes.

I urge the Government to take into serious consideration the effect of petrol rationing in Australia. Much more than has been done could be accomplished to assist various industries in this country. The previous Government appointed a committee which made certain recommendations relating to the production of power alcohol, and I hope that the present. Government will pay heed to them. There are no technical difficulties in the way of manufacturing a satisfactory motor spirit from sugar cane, and other primary products. In Brazil the production of sugar is very little greater than that of Australia, yet that country now produces about 70,000,000 gallons of power alcohol annually. The Government of Brazil encourages the development of producer-gas units. Wood or coal is used in these units, eucalyptus trees having been found to provide the best wood for this purpose. On the 16th July last, according to the United States of America journal Business Week, a law was passed in Brazil compelling all owners of ten or more trucks or buses to operate one in every ten vehicles with this fuel, the Government providing the equipment necessary for hundreds of trucks operating in outlying districts where petrol is always scarce.

The Opposition has not advanced any sound reasons why objection should be taken to the increase of the invalid and old-age pensions. There is an abundance of foodstuffs in Australia, and the Government will be called upon to expend thousands of pounds shortly in providing storage accommodation for commodities for which we cannot find a market overseas. Senator James McLachlan was surprised recently when I stated that pensions had been increased only to the extent of half a loaf of bread a day. Therefore I do not anticipate that the honorable senator will offer any serious opposition to the increase. As soon as possible the Government should give favorable consideration to the introduction of a pension for widows, butI realize that all available revenue is now needed in financing the war effort. I feel sure that the budget will receive the endorsement of the people generally, and I urge the Opposition to give to the Government every opportunity to put its policy into effect. I have no doubt that the people of Australia will be quite satisfied with the work of the Labour Administration in bringing about a maximum war effort, I ask leave to continue my remarks at a. later stage.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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