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Thursday, 15 April 1915

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - I must confess that after listening to the very able speech that, as usual, we have heard from the Leader of the Opposition I address myself to this question with a certain amount of trepidation. In that gentle pleading language, of which he is a master, he has appealed to us not to encroach on the domain of party or controversial politics, and after listening to a great portion of his speech I felt that I should almost be committing sacrilege if I turned a deaf ear to his pleadings. I confess that it is my intention to deal with one or two questions which may be considered as of a party nature, because whilst I agree with the honorable senator that the titanic struggle in which the nations of the world are engaged is of paramount importance, not only to those of our kith and kin who are risking their lives on the battlefield, but also to those of us who remain in this country, I realize at the same time that it would be foolish for this National Parliament to stand idly by and pass no legislation except that immediately connected with the war. As a result of that very war, of which I trust the world will never see the like again, there is misery and distress within the four corners of our island continent. ' That distress is very keen, and has been accentuated bythe unfortunate seasons that we have experienced. When the wouldbe over-lord of Europe declared war on the nations of the world, the elements in Australia declared war against us, and five of the States have had a very severe drought. We have a large amount of misery and distress owing to unemployment, and it is therefore imperative for this Parliament to introduce and pass legislation to relievo the situation. It is all very well for Senator Millen, speaking, I presume, on behalf of the party with which he is associated in both branches of the Parliament, to say that they are willing to give the present Government full power to deal with war questions and war issues. I was amused at Senator Long's interjection about the honorable senator's amazing generosity. Whilst I thank him for his intentions, which I believe to be sincere, his assurances in that regard were totally unnecessary, because the Government already have power without the consent or assistance of the Opposition to do everything possible for the protection of this country, and in regard to every other kind of legislation that will be beneficial to the people who placed them through the ballot-box in their present position.

Senator Bakhap - They are by no means doing what is possible.

Senator NEEDHAM - If the honorable senator means to imply that the Government are not doing all that they could do in connexion with the war, I entirely disagree with him, and will prove that he is wrong.

Senator Bakhap - I do say so.

Senator NEEDHAM - The honorable senator's leader, who was Minister of Defencewhen war was declared, and the ex-Prime Minister, Mr. Joseph Cook, also made a statement that the Government were not doing all they could and should do to assist the Empire in this world-wide struggle, and those statements received a considerable amount of prominence in the Australian press. Both those gentlemen asserted that we must sand to the front 100,000 men. They practically told the people that the Labour Government were not doing all they could to send as many men as possible to help the Allies to victory. Let me tell the honorable senator what really occurred. The Minister of Defence could not reply in public to those allegations. His lips were sealed, and every sensible man knows why. He had from the Imperial authorities information that he could not disclose. He had local knowledge of the abilities of Australia to fit. equip, train, and transport troops. Was he then to open his mouth, and tell the people of the world the actual facts of the position, and thus give information to the enemy that we are endeavouring to destroy? Of course he could not do it. If he could have made the statement which was in his possession, he would have thrown the ranks of the Liberal party into confusion. The AttorneyGeneral, who was at that time Acting Prime Minister, sent to Mr. Cook a certain confidential State document, which explained the whole position, thus taking that gentleman into the confidence of the Government, and from that day to this neither Mr. Cook nor Senator Millen has repeated in public the statements they then made, nor have they had the common courtesy or manliness to withdraw or apologize for them. Both owed an apology not only to the Government, but to the Australian nation, because the substance of their public allegations was that we in Australia were indolent or indifferent as to the result of this titanic struggle. Those are plain and straightforward facts which neither Senator Bakhap nor any other member of his party can deny.

Senator Bakhap - I deny them.

Senator NEEDHAM - The honorable senator cannot prove his assertion. He may have an unlimited capacity for denial, but he has a very limited capacity for proving his statements, so far as my experience of him in this chamber goes.

Senator Bakhap - The exigencies of the situation disarm our criticisms.

Senator NEEDHAM - I do not want to make in this chamber any statement which may go abroad, and do exactly what Senator Millen and Mr. Cook might have done by giving information to the enemy. Had the Minister of Defence replied at that time as he would have liked to reply, without giving away national secrets, he could easily have put Senator Millen and Mr. Cook in a very serious position before the public.

Senator Watson - It will be done later on.

Senator NEEDHAM - Possibly , when the war is at an end.

Senator Bakhap - And the policy of the Government, and of other Governments connected with the matter, will have to be altered before the war is over.

Senator NEEDHAM - We should all like to see the war ended, but it is of no use to anticipate the end now. I wish it would end to-morrow. We have learned many things from this war, and one of the lessons which has been severely brought home to us is that we were not as prepared for it as we should have been.

Senator Bakhap - And we are not as prepared for other eventualities as we should be.

Senator NEEDHAM - If the party with which the honorable senator is associated had had its way we should not have been prepared at all. We should not have had our Saddle and Harness Factory, our Clothing Factory, our Woollen Mills, our Cordite Factory, and our Small Arms Factory. We should not have had what his party were pleased to dub a "tin-pot Navy" and a "kiddie Army." They opposed compulsory training tooth and nail.

Senator Bakhap - In 1913 I advocated it, and that was only a year before the war.

Senator NEEDHAM - The honorable senator might as well talk about what happened in the time of Adam and Eve. The fact is that from 1901 to 1907-8 the honorable senator's party opposed our policy of withdrawing the naval subsidy and paying for what was really a phantom fleet, with a view to devoting that £200,000 annually to the development of an Australian Navy. His party also stoutly opposed the initiation of compulsory training in the first instance. Indeed everyproposal which the Labour party brought forward, including the establishment of the Small Arms Factory and of other Commonwealth instrumentalities, was dubbed " Socialism run mad." But we would thank God to-day if those factories had been established ten years earlier. Hadour Small Arms Factory been established a decade ago we would have been able more easily to equip our men who are to-day going forth to fight the Empire's battle.

Senator Bakhap - Hear, hear! I agree with the honorable senator.

Senator NEEDHAM - Then of what use is it for the honorable senator to tell us that our policy will have to be revised ?

Senator Bakhap - I say that it will have to be accentuated.

Senator NEEDHAM - If that is the honorable senator's position, of course I agree with him. Anxious though we are that the present cataclysm in Europe shall be the last of its kind, when its final settlement comes, we do not know that we shall not find ourselves embroiled in another. Too much, therefore, cannot be done towards putting our house in order, so that if we are called upon to fight for the world's liberty we shall be better prepared to do so than we are today.

Senator Bakhap - I can applaud the honorable senator's sentiments.

Senator NEEDHAM - There is still another lesson which this war teaches, and that is the necessity for being industrially self contained. In this Parliament the battle of Free Trade and Protection used to be fought, but I am told that there are no Free Traders here now - that we are all Protectionists. However, I am not so sure about that. The war has taught us that if we had had a really effective Tariff on the statute-book we should have been in a far better position, both industrially and commercially, than we are. In referring to the Tariff, let me express the regret which I feel in learning from the Ministerial statement that our Customs and Excise revenue has increased. When the new Tariff was laid on the table of the House of Representatives towards the end of last year, I was under the impression that ic was an effective Protective Tariff.

Senator O'Keefe - I was not.

Senator NEEDHAM - To-day I am satisfied that it is not truly protective in its incidence, and it will be the duty of this Parliament to amend it out of sight if it is to be made an effective fiscal weapon, which will preserve the industries already in our midst and develop others.

Senator O'Keefe - If it comes to the Senate in its present form it will leave it in a very different form.

Senator NEEDHAM - I hope so. I shall endeavour to amend it to the best of my ability. I admit that, in the terrible time through which we are now passing, there may be a desire on the part of the Government to collect as much revenue as possible through the Customs. I do not say that the Ministry would experience the same feeling in ordinary times. But I hope that that feeling will not be permitted to carry us away from the pledge we gave to the people to the extent of depriving them of that foi which they have asked, viz., a truly Pro'tective Tariff. This is the time to initiate such a Tariff if there ever, was a time, and L trust that no delay will occur in putting the Tariff schedule through' Parham ment. The very, fact- that to-day we have to depend upon other countries- for commodities which, we can easily manu facture here is proof positive that we have been lacking in that regard. I would like to ask Senator Millen and his party whether they consider that the Tariff is a question which should not be discussed during the war ? Perhaps Senator Bakhap, who is the only representative of the Opposition in the Chamber, will answer my question ?

Senator Bakhap - What is it?

Senator NEEDHAM - The honorable senator's leader stated this afternoon that this Parliament should only devote attention to matters arising out of the war.

Senator Bakhap - A very sensible statement.

Senator NEEDHAM - Does the honorable senator think that the Tariff is a question the consideration of which should be shelved ?

Senator Bakhap - In the circumstances it may be desirable to hold it back for a while, especially as the Inter-State Commission has not yet reported upon it.

Senator NEEDHAM - The honorable senator says that it might be well to " hold it back for a while." For how long does he mean?

Senator Bakhap - The Tariff is in operation to-day.

Senator NEEDHAM - But it is not a Protective Tariff at all. It is merely a revenue-producing instrument.

Senator Bakhap - Does the honorable senator really believe that we shall ever frame a Tariff which will not produce revenue ?

Senator NEEDHAM - I am not so illinformed as to make a statement of that kind. But I do say that we should make our Tariff as protective as possible, and that we should lessen our receipts through the Customs, rather than increase them.

Senator Bakhap - The United States collects a very big revenue from Customs.

Senator NEEDHAM - Having received a mandate from the people to frame an effective Protectionist Tariff, it is our imperative duty to give effect to that mandate.

Senator Bakhap - Why- does not the honorable senator come out honestly and say that he wants to make the Tariff a prohibitive one? Why beat about the bush ? If he wants: prohibition, why does he not say so ?

Senator NEEDHAM - I am glad to know that the Government intend' to sul*mit the referenda proposals to' the people once? morel Each time they have been submitted we have been accused of being advocates of unification. But since this Parliament adjourned on the 18th December last Ihave discovered that we have an arch unificationist in the ranks of our political opponents - in the person of Sir William Irvine. We always replied to our opponents that we were not unificationists, but merely sought to confer upon this Parliament certain powers which are necessary to enable it to do the work of the nation.

Senator Bakhap - Honorable senators opposite are not unificationists, but they want to destroy the Federal machine.

Senator NEEDHAM - No. Here is a statement which was made by Sir William Irvine in Ballarat. Referring to the Constitution, he is thus reported -

Proceeding, Sir William Irvine spoke of the Labour party's proposed amendments of the Constitution. Some of them, and notably the proposal to nationalize monopolies, as the result of a chance vote, were among the most ridiculous proposals ever put before a sane people. At the same time, he wanted to say that the proposals did contain " the germ of some necessary improvements in the Constitution." As for the Constitution itself, the cloth was very good, but the cut was always a little old-fashioned. (Laughter.) Moreover, the garment, as a whole, was bursting at the seam. Dealing with the financial question, he deplored the fact that seven different bodies in Australia were in a position to compete in a game of " Yankee-grab," the stakes of which were the product of the industry of the people of Australia. He could not conceive of a system more likely to lead to financial disaster. In the domestic establishment of Australia, not only had the housekeeper the key of the storeroom, but six housemaids had separate keys. Also, there had been attempts at agreements among the borrowers themselves; but he thought there was not much to be hoped from such attempts. This was the position that he asked the people's party to take into its serious consideration, as he considered that on this party lay the duty of investigating the fundamental defects of the Constitution under which they lived. Until somebody could coordinate the other borrowing bodies to itself, there would, he thought, be no improvement.

He then proceeded to say -

But before we could perform the task we must bring the whole sources of public revenue under the control of one Parliament, that should be responsible to the whole people for the money raised, and the way of spending it. He felt this was a time when no man who had firm opinions should hesitate to express them. He concluded - " It is true we must not sacrifice what you are pleased to call State rights. We must retain that measure of home rule that enables them to manage their own affairs. I, for one, would never dispute that. While you maintain State rights you must also uphold the national security, the development and the fulfilment of the destiny of this country of ours."

I shall pursue this matter later. As private members' business is called on after 6.30 o'clock, I ask the leave of the Senate to continue my speech at a later date.

Leave granted ; debate adjourned.

Motion (by Senator Pearce) proposed -

That the resumption of the debate be an Order of the Day for to-morrow.

Senator Long - I wish to say that I was on my feet prepared to resume the debate before any question for its resumption was submitted to you, sir.

Senator Pearce - Senator Needham asked for leave to continue his speech at a later date.

Senator Long - Certainly; but that did not prevent another honorable senator resuming the debate.

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