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Thursday, 3 March 1932

Mr BEASLEY (West Sydney) . - At this stage of the debate, it is obvious that, the honours have gone to the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) for finding a way out of the difficulty with which the Government was faced, but apparently was unable to overcome. It was upon the suggestion of the right honorable member for Cowper that the original measure was amended, and this bill introduced. The reason for the bill now under discussion, according to the Prime Minister, is that certain doubts have arisen regarding the obligations of the Commonwealth to make interest payments to overseas bondholders. As the members of the Government in this and another chamber have taken particular care in the draftsmanship of measures concerning which the question of pounds, shillings and pence arises, it is remarkable that they did not. know that the alleged doubt in this legislation existed previously. The Prime Minister was a member of the Scullin Government for over twelve months, and it is remarkable that he did not take steps during that time to have this matter cleared up, particularly as it is now the intention of the Leader of the Opposition to support this bill. Apparently he did not know of any doubt during that period. We have, therefore, to question politically the argument, put forward in favour of this procedure. I am not prepared to accept the explanation that has been advanced. This so-called doubt, has been brought forward merely to cover up the failure of the present Commonwealth Government to meet its obligations. I feel quite satisfied about that, because the Assistant Treasurer, when questioned just now by the Leader of the Opposition as to when the rumblings of doubt to which ho had referred had arisen, suggested that they originated with the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham). Although the legal know- ledge of that honorable gentleman may be of the highest character - I am not competent to question it - he has political feelings just as I have, In spite of his high legal training, his decision on financial questions in which the law is involved must be coloured by his political feelings. The human factor must prevail.

Mr Scullin - That being so, it is necessary to allay the distrust which the action of the Attorney-General has created.

Mr BEASLEY - This alleged distrust or doubt is not based upon fact, and in reality does not exist. It has been raised for the express purpose of covering the failure of the Government to meet its obligations, a failure which has been severely criticised, not only in Australia but also overseas. I intend not to assist the Government to cover up its mistakes, but to forcibly express to all and sundry that the motives directly behind this legislation are purely political and not in our national interests. I am not prepared to help it to overcome a difficulty which it stupidly created. I am not prepared to allow it to pass a measure, the object of which is to strengthen further its efforts to destroy the party which I represent in this House. I have listened attentively to the Assistant Treasurer, and his reference to the rights of the States. After all, it must be admitted that the position confronting this country is exceptional. We all agree that a similar position is confronting most other countries throughout the world. Despite the Financial Agreement, I argue that it is competent for a State which is confronted with exceptional circumstances to declare to what extent it can meet its commitments. It matters not to me what honorable members on the Government side may say about the need to discuss this subject irrespective of party. We have not shortlived memories. We cannot forget the recent utterances of the Prime Minister in Sydney to the effect that any and every means had to be taken to remove from New .South Wales' the incubus of the Lang Government. Another Minister said that he would eat his hat if the Lang Government were not removed a fortnight after this Government took office. The Government supporters who now ask us to discuss this- question irrespective of party and to take the broad national view, have attempted to strike a deadly blow at the party to which I belong.

Mr Paterson - This bill does not deal with that.

Mr BEASLEY - The honorable member does not know the position as we know it. Government supporters call for cooperation to uphold our national prestige, while, at the same time, doing everything in their power to thwart those who are just as well-intentioned as themselves.

Before the sum of £900,000 for interest payments fell due recently, New South Wales asked the Loan Council for £500,000, because it was unable to find all the money necessary. It could not do so, because of the economic depression which was effecting New South Wales in common with the other States. The Loan Council resolved that it would furnish no assistance to New South Wales, although, of the £900,000 owing, £300,000 represented exchange. The Loan Council did not refuse assistance to the other States which needed help, and we know why it singled out New South Wales for such treatment. I have listened to the speeches that have been made from the Government side of the House on this bill, and it has become clear that the Loan Council and the Commonwealth Government refused to help New South Wales because they disapproved of the social services which were provided in that State. Even the right honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) suggested at the Premiers Conference that the £500,000 which New South Wales could not find might be taken from the railway and tramway employees. It is obvious, therefore, that political animosity had a great deal to do with determining the attitude of the Commonwealth Government on this matter. I am not prepared at this stage to allow the Commonwealth Government final determination in any matter regarding loans or interest payments. The Commonwealth Government has shown no disposition to move in the direction of having our overseas interest burden reduced. When an unofficial statement was published that the right honorable member for Flinders would, when he went to London as Resident Minister, take steps to have overseas interest rates reduced, he flatly denied the statement the following morning. The public policy of this

Government is, apparently, to force the people of Australia to go on carrying on the present enormous interest burden, although it has been shown that the burden is too great for them. When the Loan Council refused to provide money to meet the interest commitments of New South Wales, Mr. Lang cabled to the New South Wales Agent-General in London, requesting him to get into touch with the Bondholders Association in order to make some arrangement for deferring the payment, or for a reduction in interest rates. Immediately this was done, the Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales (Mr. Bavin) published a statement in the Sydney Sun, that even though Mr. Willis was successful in his negotiations, the arrangement could not be given effect unless the Loan Council approved. Even though the bondholders themselves were willing to meet New South Wales in this matter, Mr. Bavin would not allow the taxpayers this measure of relief without the consent of the Loan Council. Why should we not seek some relief in regard to overseas interest payments? The farming community has obtained relief to the extent of over £2,000,000 on their interest commitments which have been deferred and, in some cases, waived, so that they may have a chance to recover. Similar concessions have been granted to other sections of the community, because it is recognized that, at the present time, it is humanly impossible to meet all obligations in full. Therefore, rather than force the farmer off the land, the business man into the street, and the tenant into the slums, payments have been deferred and concessions granted in the hope that, when better times come, every one will be able to pay his just debts.

This bill proposes to remove certain doubts, but those doubts, I claim, are purely imaginary. The bill has been introduced to cover up the failure of the Government to meet its obligations when they fell due, and I will not be a party to screening the misdeeds of the Government. Bather will I do all in my power to focus public attention upon them. Even the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) in a published statement, said that, if the Government had taken any other course in regard to the default of

New South Wales, it would look ridiculous in the eyes of the party and of press.

Mr BRUCE (FLINDERS, VICTORIA) - -For the information of the honorable member, I may say that I never made the statement he attributes to me.

Mr BEASLEY - Honorable members opposite talk glibly about taking a broad, national view of the situation, and of preserving the economic stability of the country; but on the confession of one of their leaders, they are more concerned with whether or not they will look ridiculous in the eyes of the press. They seem to be unduly sensitive to press criticism. For my part, it does not affect me, and I recall that certain members of the Labour party, who have grown old in its service, have declared that, when the press begins to eulogise a labour man, it is time for his colleagues to ask just where he stands in regard to labour principles. I am just as much concerned with the welfare of Australia as are honorable members opposite, and I will not be a party to the passing of any legislation the only purpose of which is to save the face of a Government which has committed an error of judgment.

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