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Wednesday, 4 May 1932

Mr GULLETT (Henty) (Minister for Trade and Customs) . - The Government is not in reality responsible for\ ibo introduction of this measure; the entire responsibility for it lies at the door of the Premier of 'New South Wales. That statement, is true of the introduction and operation of all the financial agreements enforcement legislation. The Government was compelled to embark on this course through the deliberate default of Mr. Lang, and out of his obstruction of our ' first measures has come the necessity for this further 'bill for the attachment of New South Wales revenue. Certainly this measure contemplates an extensive widening of our powers, and it is calculated, we believe, gradually to improve the prospect of the Commonwealth Government recovering from the New South Wales Government the. interest which is now being paid on its behalf by the taxpayers of Australia. The extraordinary attitude of the Leader of the Opposition to the Lang Government was completely inconsistent and indefensible. As the Minister who brought the Premiers plan into operation, it is remarkable that he should say to-day that the present Government would not have embarked upon this course of legislation had it anticipated the troubles that it has encountered. He suggested further that this Government was going on with these proposals merely to save its face. He made a still more remarkable statement in suggesting that we should have followed the course adopted by him last, year. Had we done that, we should haw been following Mr. Lang for ever, and he would have been showing us a clean pair of heels. His total default during the term of office of the last Government amounted to about £5,000,000, but what sum did the Scullin Government recover? It merely accepted from the Premier of New South Wales a number of I.O.U.'s, upon which he has now ceased to pay interest. That was the achievement of the Leader of the Opposition, who now criticizes what the present Government is doing.

It may be suggested that we have not yet been successful with our legislation to deal with Mr. Lang ; but whereas the Government led by the right honorable gentleman collected not one penny of the debt of £5:000,000, this government has to date put its hands on about £440,000 of the total default of £2,700,000 which has occurred since its advent to power. J submit that in view of the extraordinary obstacles we have met, and the novel class of legislation that has had to be passed, as well as the amazing person with whom we are dealing, that is a very good beginning. We anticipate quite confidently that, with the widening of our powers under this measure, our success from this time forward will be greater still. The Leader of the Opposition, despite his conflict with Mr. Lang last year, still says that the Government should seek to solve this problem by going into conference with Mr. Lang. The Government has had all the conferences it is prepared to hold with Mr. Lang so long as he continues to tread his present path. We consider that he has dishonoured and disgraced everything that is decent in public life in Australia. We will deal with him through the processes of the law, and will continue to do so while he persists in pursuing a policy which is disastrous to the State of New South Wales, to the Commonwealth, and to all sections of the Australian people. The Leader of the Opposition made the further statement that, if this measure were put into operation, it would probably result in a suspension of the railway services in New South Wales, and he expressed that anticipation as though he would be almost pleased if it were to happen.

Mr Scullin - That is not so.

Mr GULLETT - The right honorable gentleman protests, but the fact remains that when he, the author of the Premiers plan, was in conflict with Mr. Lang last year, we, the Opposition, supported him in everything he did, but he has failed to accord us. similar support.

Mr Scullin - I rise to a point of order. I take strong exception to' the statement of the Minister that I would be almost pleased if the railway services in New South Wales were suspended. I regard the statement as personally offensive to me. It is untrue,' and E ask that it be withdrawn.

Mr GULLETT - I withdraw the statement if the right honorable gentleman takes it in that way, and I apologize to bini. I remind him, however, that when his Government was last year embarrassed by financial difficulties, which were greatly accentuated by the behaviour of the Government of New South Wales, we, the Opposition, in answer to his appeal for support, gave him our support wholeheartedly, and all the time. Now, when we are in similar difficulties, and appeal to the Leader of the Opposition for support, he takes a narrow party view of the matter. He endeavours to make cheap, scoring points against the Government; and if I show some warmth in this regard I am, I think, justified by the right honorable gentleman's remarkable behaviour.

There is in this proposal to attach a portion of the revenue of the New South Wales railways, nothing calculated to bring about a stoppage of the railway services in that State. If those services are stopped, it will be only by the wilful act of Mr. Lang, or by incitement of the railway workers by irresponsible leaders of the Labour party in this country. It is evident from the figures available that it will be possible to attach a considerable portion of the New South Wales railways revenue, and still leave sufficient to keep the services in operation. For the currentfinancial year, the estimated revenue surplus over working expenses is £3,500,000. This sum, in the ordinary course of events, should go towards the discharge of interest obligations on the capital indebtedness of the railways. According to the revenue receipts for January of this year, the estimate upon which we are proceeding appears to be sound.

Mr Rosevear - Estimates prove nothing.

Mr GULLETT - We are proceeding on an estimate prepared for the Government of New South Wales, but should it become evident that the estimate is unsound, the Commonwealth Government undertakes not to seize railway revenue which is necessary to meet reasonable working expenses.

The Commonwealth Government has been charged with taking action which has made it impossible for the Government, of New South Wales to carry on certain special, social services. We have been charged with robbing widows and orphans, and of depriving persons of their pensions and superannuation payments. That charge, so entirely unfounded, has already been demolished so many times in this House that, it is hardly necessary to pursue the matter much further, lt may be desirable, however, to set out once more the actual position, iri order to see at whose door lies the responsibility for depriving persons of money that is clue to them. It has been, revealed in an affidavit by the Under-Treasure for New South Wales that, on the 11th April last, the total sum standing to the credit of the Government of New South Wales in various banks amounted to only £85,000. The State Government is responsible for a number of trust funds, and in the Supreme Court Fund alone there should have been at that time £482,000. This, together with the money which should have been in the other trust funds, would have made a total of probably more than £1,000,000. The Government of New South Wales should have at its disposal this sum of money to meet the requirements of the social and other services for which it was responsible, but the actual sum available on the 11th April was £85,000. The Commonwealth Government did not seize one penny of that £1,000,000 which should have been there, but we know that Mr. Lang, shortly before the 11th April, withdrew from 'the bank £1,225,000. It is quite clear, therefore, where these trust moneys went. If they have vanished, as they appear to have done, it is clear by whose act they have vanished. If these unfortunate people have been robbed, there can be no doubt who it is who has deliberately robbed them. Beyond all doubt, they have been robbed by this boastful friend of the women and children and pensioners of New South Wales. They have, in short, been robbed by Mr. Lang. I trust that, in this House at least, we shall have no more of these gross misrepresentations.

Throughout this debate we have heard a great deal of Mr. Lang as the friend of the workers in New South Wales, and the upholder of the wage standard. Today, the Government of New South Wales, led by Mr. Lang, is, by his deliberate act, in a state of bankruptcy. It is with a State as with an individual. When an individual becomes bankrupt, when his credit is gone and he cannot meet his obligations, he ceases to be of any use as an employer to any sort of worker. So it is with the State of New South Wales. The deadliest blow that could have been struck against the workers of New South Wales was delivered by Mr, Lang when he smashed the credit of that State, when he failed to meet his obligations, and rendered his Government bankrupt. In that chain of events we have the reason why New South Wales, the greatest, and incomparably the richest of all the States of the Commonwealth in normal times, is to-day the poorest ; and why in New South Wales, at the present time, there is the greatest percentage of unemployment, not even excepting the relatively poor State of South Australia. Moreover, unemployment is increasing in New South Wales more rapidly than in any other State. This is due solely to the policy of the present Premier of New South Wales, the alleged friend of the workers. As Minister for Customs, I am in a position to learn certain things about industry which are, perhaps, unknown to most other persons. I could name a number of great industrial enterprises which are not operating in New South Wales to-day because of the presence there of Mr. Lang as Premier, and because of the policy he has pursued. I make that statement deliberately, and if any honorable member cares to come to me for specific instances, I shall be pleased to furnish them. By his general violence Mr. Lang has, within the last eighteen months or two years, prevented the investment in New South Wales of several million pounds, the spending of which would have been a great stimulus to the industrial and commercial life of that State, and would have gone a long way towards relieving unemployment. I commend the bill to honorable members, and trust that it will receive a speedy passage through the House.

Sitting suspended from 6.12 to 8 p.m.

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