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Wednesday, 24 February 1932

Mr SPEAKER - That expression is unparliamentary, and the honorable member must withdraw it.


Mr BEASLEY - There are solemn obligations in more directions than one, and those of governments to the people are particularly solemn. We may centre our thoughts along one,line, as has been done in this Parliament, but if the people who are responsible for the existence of parliaments reach the stage at which they can no longer maintain themselves and their dependants, they will have no scruples in regard the course they should take to rid themselves of governments and any other obstacles that stand in the way of their getting the necessaries of life. Therefore our chief consideration during this crisis must be to meet our obligations to the people in regard to food, clothing and shelter. * There are other obligations as well. During the early part of the war many gentlemen in this country took the stump advocating that Australia should send troops abroad, and even conscript them for that purpose. They, on behalf of the people of Australia, entered into a very solemn obligation to the men who went away. They told the soldiers that Australia was to be made a land fit for heroes to live in; that if the war were fought to a successful conclusion their future would be provided for if they returned, and if they did not, their widows or dependants would be liberally maintained by the State. It was promised that in paying the pensions to widows, dependants, or returned soldiers suffering from disabilities, the Government would hot take into consideration any other income which those persons might be earning. But what is the position to-day? All income received by pensioners is taken into consideration in assessing the pension paid, and if their earnings exceed £78 a year, their pensions are cut.

Mr Lane - The honorable member would have starved them also.

Mr BEASLEY - The business which the honorable member followed prior to coming to this House resulted in starving many householders. He rapped on the back doors of many houses, and followed practices in his line of business which, to say the least of it, were not respectable. There can be no doubt that the obligations entered into in regard to the soldiers have been repudiated. This bill has a bearing upon external debts of all kinds, and it is, therefore, relevant for me to point out that between 1915 and 1931, Australia has paid £219,800,000 in interest on her war debts. Last year the Commonwealth paid interest amounting to 16s. 7d. a head of population on debts raised for public works, but the interest payment on war debts amounted to no lees than £2 6s. 4d. a head. In other words, interest payments on money raised for developmental and constructive purposes amounted to only 16s. 7d. a head while that paid on the war debt, incurred for purposes of destruction and the taking of human life, was £2 6s. 4d. a head. Last year our war debts amounted to £277,780,226, on which we are paying an average rate of interest of £5 8s. 5d. It is no wonder that there is a general clamour for a reduction of interest rates. Recently a statement was published to the effect that steps would be taken by the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) when he went to London to have the interest on our overseas indebtedness reduced, but Mr. Bruce hurriedly had that rumour denied through the press. I can justly claim, I think, that every section of the community in Australia is to-day demanding that overseas interest rates shall be reduced to a level which this country can bear. There is nothing unusual iri such a demand. In practically all debtor countries to-day steps are being taken to reduce the burden of their debts. I could even quote from the Sydney Sun of the 22nd August of last year an editorial opinion actually advocating the repudiation of war debts altogether. It was pointed out in this article that it was humanly impossible for this and other countries to continue paying interest. Mr. Lloyd George, upon his return from a health trip to Colombo, stated that there was no hope of economic recovery for the world so long as war debts and reparation obligations remained as they were, and that the sooner the nations arrived at a decision to cancel such debts and obligations the better it would be for the world. Despite such assertions by leading authorities in other parts of the world, we have not, up to the present, had any one occupying a public position in this country to advocate similar action in regard to our own debts. As a matter of fact, the Premier of New South Wales (Mr. Lang) did not go so far as some of these overseas authorities propose. He stated that, in his opinion, the same concessions should be granted to Australia in regard to the debt which she owed in Britain as the United States of America had conceded to Great Britain. There is a large and influential body of opinion in many countries which demands that not only war debts, but reparations as well, should be entirely cancelled. Yet, many of us in this country go on pretending that we can meet our obligations in full. We know in our hearts that we cannot do so, but we adopt the hypocritical attitude that we can, and those who stand up and state the position fairly are howled down by the enemy press and by political opponents.

It may be interesting to state how some of our overseas indebtedness was incurred. In regard to our war and repatriation, expenses, we raised £101,000,000 overseas, £273,000,000 in Australia, and spent from revenue £370,000,000. .The spending of this £370,000,000 from revenue seriously affected the finances of Australia; yet it was the spending of this money on providing employment, and in settling returned soldiers on farms and in homes, which has induced them to accept the present position up to now. The whole of the money spent for these purposes may well be classed as war expenditure. Some honorable members are not prepared to accept that view of the situation, but I do not propose to debate the matter further, because time will prove that I am right. Including the expenditure which I have mentioned, our total war expenditure now stands at £744,000,000. It is obvious that something will have to be done, and those who are prepared to take the side of justice and common sense cannot but aline themselves with New South Wales in the fight she is putting up to-day.

It is now fourteen years since the war concluded, and besides having to pay interest on the debts for which the war was responsible, we have a further heavy impost to meet in the form of exchange. Last year exchange payments cost us £1,140,000. This exchange rate is something which the stock exchange gamblers are able to manipulate to their own advantage, and by this means they are imposing upon the people an annual extra burden of over £1,000,000. On the sum of £900,000 due for interest in connexion with the New South Wales debt the exchange amounts to practically £300,000, which is really £300,000 for nothing. The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) spoke about a fight in which the Commonwealth was engaged. I can assure him and other honorable members that it will undoubtedly be a fight. The definite determination has been arrived at by those who stand for the people to do whatever is necessary to defend the people from those who would oppress them. Honorable members opposite may laugh, but when the struggle takes place the laugh will be on the other side of their faces. They did not laugh when the results of the East Sydney byelection were made known, and it was seen that the electors there had reversed the previous decision, the candidate of our party receiving over 19,000 votes. I am certain that when the struggle really takes place the electors will line up behind those who advocate the only just and sensible way of dealing with our indebtedness, and in saying that I am not forgetting the electors of the waterside electorate represented by the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Parkhill), who, I notice, is sneering at my remarks.

There has been a great deal of talk about repudiation, but we have heard too little of that great act of dishonorable repudiation committed by several of the banks in 1893, when they repudiated their obligations to their depositors. Yet those same institutions are now regarded as " Simon Pures and no one is permitted to doubt their honesty and integrity. That great leader, Charles Hardy, of the Riverina, was one of the first to take advantage of the Lang scheme when he repudiated his personal obligations, and went through the Bankruptcy Court, his creditors receiving only 6s. 8d. in the £1. The honorable member for Martin (Mr. Holman) the other day gave evidence in the Bankruptcy Court in the case of Mr. Hugh Mcintosh. Apparently no stigma of repudiation attaches to men who fail to meet their obligations, and seek the shelter of the Bankruptcy Court, but no one must dare to suggest that a government should attempt to seek relief from its obligations. The great Charles Hardy, the Cromwell of the Riverina, scooted up and down the country talking about what he would do if the people trusted him with power; how he would see that governments met their just liabilities. His supporters in the House speak in the same strain. Let them examine their own circumstances, and acknowledge their own sins, instead of throwing stones at their neighbours. If we made inquiry into the history of many of those who support the party opposite, we should probably find that most of them had " double-crossed " their clients, which is more than can be said of those who stand with me in this fight, and have been charged with dishonesty.

We believe that' governments have their main obligation to those who need sustenance, and to those out of work, which is greater than any obligation to their creditors whose debts have not been arrived at on a just basis. They have an obligation to the sick and infirm, and a duty to provide the social services necessary for the well-being of the men, women and children under their charge. We say that it is humanly impossible for New South Wales to meet its debts overseas at the present time. We say that time must be given to that State to recover from the economic depression, and the representatives of other States who have raised objections had better look to the affairs of their own States. I hope that we shall all live to see the time, not many months hence, when the governments of most of the other States will be in the same position in regard to their external debts as New South Wales is in to-day. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) spoke of the position of Western Australia. That State has done very well at the hands of the taxpayers of New South Wales. The smaller States have for years been receiving subsidies from the Commonwealth, the greater part of the money coming from New South Wales, and those States should be the last to sneer at what is happening in New South Wales today. They have lived on the backs of the New South Wales taxpayers for years. They have clamoured about their disabilities, and have cried to royal commissions and to the Public Accounts Committee about what federation has done for them. As a matter of fact a statement issued by the Commonwealth Treasury showed that New South Wales has paid into federal funds 14s. 4d. more than it has received ; the balance has been paid to States whose representatives sneer at New South Wales. The honorable member for Perth spoke of starving Mr. Lang into submission, but if honorable members representing New South Wales electorates are bent on destroying New South Wales and its people, I am satisfied as to what the verdict will be when the electors are given an opportunity to decide whether they shall continue to represent them in this Parliament. The people of Western Australia are continually complaining about federation and clamouring for secession, and when I visited Tasmania only a few weeks ago I found in Hobart also a strong feeling in favour of that State's withdrawal from the Commonwealth.

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