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Wednesday, 2 March 1932

Mr DEIN (Lang) .- Were I not the representative of a New South Wales constituency, I feel that, at this late stage of the debate, I should refrain from addressing the House, notwithstanding the important and far-reaching nature of the measure. I rise with both diffidence and regret. With diffidence, because I have listened to so many excellent speeches on the bill, a number of which lucidly expounded its legal aspects; with regret, because the State affected, New South Wales, is that which I represent, the richest in the Commonwealth.

In the circumstances, I consider that 1 should make my position clear, otherwise my attitude towards the bill might be misconstrued. It has been suggested by several honorable members, including the representative for Capricornia (Mr. Forde), that certain new members on this side of the chamber will support the bill, not necessarily because they believe in its provisions, but because they will " follow the leader " or because influence will be brought to bear on them by the older members of the party. I desire to disabuse the mind of the honorable member in that regard, and to remind him that since his departure from this side of the chamber the atmosphere has undergone a complete transformation, with the result that those who now sit here are able to breathe that refreshing and delightful air of freedom which, I believe, the honorable member himself would enjoy if he allowed himself to inhale it.

Every honorable member who has spoken on the measure has admitted the liability of New South Wales, and the great majority of them are of the opinion that steps should be taken to recover the moneys that have been paid by the Co» monwealth Government to meet the commitments of that State.

The Scullin Government contemplated resorting to force to recover those payments, but it found the road thorny, with the result that the process became uncertain and expensive, getting that Government nowhere. I believe that the action proposed by this Government will be more effective and expeditious, consequently I support the measure. I do so in the belief that an overwhelming majority of my constituents, together with a majority of the people of New South Wales, and of the Commonwealth generally, would do likewise if given the opportunity.

The matter of default was made an issue in New South Wales during the recent federal elections. As honorable members know, the people of that State cast their vote overwhelmingly against the application of such an unscrupulous and fantastic scheme. Repudiation was also an issue during the 1930 New South Wales State elections. Mr: Lang, who was then Leader of the Opposition, made very definite statements, which were referred to in this chamber last week. For the benefit of those honorable members who were absent then, I shall repeat them. I quote from the gospel of Labour, the journal known as the Labor Daily. The article is headed, " Lang Repudiates Repudiation," "No Repudiation;" and Mr. Lang is reported as having said that -

The Australian Labour movement would not permit for one moment any of its leaders to be associated with the policy of repudiation. The pledge to the people from a Labour man is as binding as his pledge to a bondholder.^ The Labour party sets its face against all repudiation, whether it is of a kind practised by Premier Bavin, or that which is preached by Alderman Garden.

Not only did Mr. Lang intimate that his Government would not default, he also stated that if returned to power he would "balance the budget, would find work for the unemployed, reduce the hours of work, increase wages - which had been reduced, he alleged, by a conspiracy - and bring prosperity to all. Mr. Lang reduced the hours of work in many industries from 48 to 44. Indeed, in tens of thousands of cases he reduced those hours from 48 to none at all ! Wages were increased, and prosperity did return - to some twenty faithful henchmen, for whom jobs have been created at salaries ranging from £20 to £30 a week. But not only did Mr. Lang fail to honour his promise to the majority, of workers,' and restore what had been taken from them by the previous Government in the form of an unemployment tax; he increased that tax from 3d. to ls. in the £1. Now after eighteen months of office, during which time his government has been engaged in legislation of a "great national character" - legislation concerning tin hares, State lotteries and an endeavour to place industry under the control of union secretaries, as well as the famous Shadier bread contract - Mr. Lang comes before the people of New South Wales, and says that he cannot feed the unemployed, and at the same time pay the interest commitments of the State. After admitting failure in that fashion Mr. Lang should have resigned, as any honest Premier would have done. Instead, he prefers to act the coward, and hide behind the unfortunate women and children, whose bread-winners he has caused to lose their jobs. He reminds me of a certain woman criminal in New South Wales, who burgled my home at Dulwich Hill and, after having been tried and convicted, appeared in the court with a three months' old baby in her arms, in an endeavour to induce the judge to depart from his duty, and so defeat the ends of justice.

New South Wales, in common with other State Governments, borrowed money from overseas, but according to the statistics, Mr. Lang a much heavier borrower than were those who controlled other States. Not one penny of that money was borrowed for war purposes, although it has been suggested by those who support Mr. Lang, that it is part of the war loan. It was borrowed for developmental purposes and public works, and was largely responsible for high wages and good conditions. We were able to build up, in those days, a standard of living of which we are all proud. But it was Mr. Lang, and not the bondholders, who fixed the terms of the loan, including the rate of interest. This relates particularly to certain moneys raised during 1927, when Mr. Lang was Premier. During the two years of his regime in that period of the State's history, very large sums of money were borrowed. No less than £10,000,000 was obtained in New York at that time under conditions which I, and many other citizens of New South Wales, regarded as very harsh - the most oppressive, as a matter of fact, that the State had been subjected to up to that time. The raising of that money in New York was regarded by Mr. Lang and his supporters as a great achievement. But I remember that the brokerage paid on that money - it amounted to £92,000 - was one of the factors which ultimately contributed to the defeat of the former Lang Ministry. It was contended that this brokerage had not been divided equitably.

Mr Rosevear - That is not right.

Mr Stewart - The statement is quite right, except that the amount involved was £94,000.

Mr DEIN - It is the interest on the money that he borrowed at that time that Mr. Lang is now refusing to pay. He and his followers were proud of their success in floating that loan, but now they want to avoid compliance with the terms of it. As a citizen of New South Wales, I disagreed with the floating of the loan on the terms that were then fixed, but, in spite of that fact, I regard it as my duty, as an honorable citizen of that State, to carry out the terms of the agreement. When Mr. Lang floats his next loan, I also shall regard it as a great achievement.

I support this bill entirely on my own volition, first, because the Commonwealth should definitely accept responsibility for the payment of these debts; secondly, because the measure seems to be the most effective and expeditious method of recovery ; and, thirdly, because an agreement honorably made must be kept, if we are to preserve faith as between man and man.

Mr. HOLLOWAY(Melbourne Ports) [4.35}. - I participate in the debate on this bill with some diffidence, because of the legal technicalities which are involved in it. As I am a layman without legal training, it is natural that I should feel timid in examining the provisions of the measure. But a man who has been a citizen of this country for many years, and has taken some part in its political affairs, naturally acquires some know ledge of the spirit, if not of the technical meaning, of its Constitution, even though he may have had no legal training. I listened carefully to the honorable member for Darling Downs (Sir Littleton Groom) and the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Holman), who are qualified, by legal training, to discuss the constitutional implications of the bill, and, if I understood the utterances of these honorable gentlemen, they both expressed grave doubts about the validity of the measure.

Like the last speaker, I wish to make my personal position clear. I am not a citizen of New South Wales, but a citizen of Victoria and the Commonwealth. I realize that the position of New South Wales to-day may be the position of Victoria, or any other State to-morrow. I consider it highly necessary, therefore, that we should carefully examine both the circumstances which have led to the introduction of this bill and the trend of economic affairs in these days. I hope I shall not be misunderstood when I say that I believe many honorable members have allowed political antagonism and personal animosity against an individual to blind them, temporarily, to the interests of the great mass of the people of New South Wales. In my opinion this extraordinary measure is quite unconstitutional. Those who have introduced it appear to be reckless of its consequences. Of course, the legality of the bill will be tested before very long in the High Court, and the wisdom of the utterances, of honorable members who spoke on it in this chamber, will then be revealed. I have spent many hours in research to try to discover any precedent for the introduction of such a bill in the peace-time political history of any country in the world, but I have been unable to find one.

Mr Maxwell - No such situation as we are now facing has ever previously arisen.

Mr Fenton - No other country in the world has ratified a financial agreement like that ratified by the Parliaments of the Commonwealth and the States.

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