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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Mr WARD (East Sydney) (1:10 AM) . It is remarkable how the discussion on this budget has centred in the Government's defence policy, whilst every other question which should receive consideration by this Parliament has been entirely ignored. Some honorable members have attempted to lead the people of this country to believe that we are passing through so critical a period that all available revenue is needed for defence purposes alone, and that no finance at all can be provided for the improvement or main tenance of essential social services. Since this Government assumed office in 1932, we have had a repetition of speeches from honorable members opposite setting out what it claims to have done, and proposes to do, for the relief of unemployment. The attitude of the Government to that problem is most important, particularly at present when the Government is asking for the co-operation of the trade unions and the workers in connexion with its defence programme. My advice to any representative of the workers who may even be inclined to contemplate extending such co-operation is to note the way in which the Government refused to-day to cooperate with the Labour party in considering the problem of unemployment. After only two speeches had been delivered it applied the gag and curtailed discussion.

Just prior to the advent of this Government, certain honorable gentlemen, for various reasons which it is not permissible to mention in this discussion, but of which every honorable member is aware, deserted the Labour party and their life-long political principles, and espoused a cause which was diametrically opposed to that which they had supported throughout the whole of their previous political careers. In attempting to find some excuse for his treachery to his old political party, when visiting Tasmania a few months after he had deserted the Labour party, the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) was reported in the Launceston Examiner, of the 9th December, 1931, as follows: -

Mr. Lyonsreferred with impassioned sincerity to the unemployment situation, and condemned the Labour Government for having failed to do something for the solution of the problem. He said, " That above anything forced me to leave the Labour party ".

In order to judge whether the right honorable gentleman's excuse had any foundation in fact, we need only review the record of the Government which he himself has led in the intervening period, and ask ourselves whether the very problem which he declared the Labour party had failed to solve has been solved by his own Government. It might be argued, as the Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby) contended, that this Government has been responsible for the expenditure of considerable sums of money in carrying out works which have provided some employment for those seeking it. One thing which that honorable gentleman failed to indicate, however, was that the two decreases in the percentages of unemployment which have taken place this year, namely, for the quarter ended the 30th June and the quarter ended the 30th September are the only decreases which have been recorded since it was claimed an improvement of the unemployment situation had been effected. Everyone must be aware of the fact that this country is now faced with a situation practically similar to that which confronted it in 1930. It is useless for the Government to attempt to gloss over the facts in an endeavour to lead the people to believe otherwise, because I agree with honorable members who have pointed out that any fall of prices of our primary products overseas has an important bearing on the economic position of this country. We know that when those prices decline our national income decreases accordingly. Yet the Government, knowing the situation, and how the overseas funds had been depleted during the last year because of this fall of the price of primary products, made no attempt to correct the position. As a matter of fact, its actions have had quite the reverse effect.

Instead of attempting to protect Australian products in the markets of the world to whatever degree may have been possible, it tacitly consented to a trade agreement between Great Britain and the United States of America, which was diametrically opposed to the interests of certain sections of the primary producers of this country. The Leader of the Country party (Sir Earle Page), when making a statement recently with respect to the trade agreement between Great Britain and the United States of America, said that the British Government had agreed that wheat from the United States of America should now be allowed duty-free entry to the British market, but that that concession did not mean anything to the Australian wheatgrowers, and it could not be said that the Australian Government, in consenting to the concession, had given anything away.

All I can say is that if the United States of America, in its trade negotiations with Great Britain, was particularly anxious to secure this concession, it must have been of advantage to American producers. Conversely it can reasonably be said that the granting of that concession must have been disadvantageous to the Australian wheat-growers who have been accustomed to ship their wheat to the British market for disposal. The loss of the preference of 2s. a quarter which previously operated under the Ottawa Agreement, places the Australian grower at a considerable disadvantage. We must recognize that the American growers are much closer to the British market than are the Australian growers, and as a consequence their transport costs, are considerably less. Instead of endeavouring to make the people of this country believe that the American growers were on the same basis as Australian growers when the preference of 2s. a quarter granted to Australian growers under the Ottawa Agreement had been removed, the Government should have frankly admitted that it had tacitly agreed to a concession which gave a distinct advantage to the American growers. During the debate on the Ottawa Agreement the Minister for Commerce told us that the duty of 2s. a quarter which was applied to foreign wheat imported into Great Britain would be of considerable advantage to the Australian producers. His remarks on that subject can be perused in Hansard. It is beyond my comprehension to understand how a duty which when it was imposed in 1932 was regarded as conferring a distinct advantage to Australian producers could now, in 1938, when the Government agrees to its removal because of the making of a trade agreement between the United 'States of America and Great Britain, be considered of no advantage to them. In my opinion the ministerial delegation which went abroad from this country failed utterly to bring back anything worthwhile. Instead they agreed that there should be a variation of an existing agreement which it had claimed previously was of distinct advantage to at least one section of the Australian primary producers. It appears to me that the members of the

Country party in this House have consideration only for the protection of whatever primary products are produced in their own electorates or in "which they are particularly interested. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) has always done everything possible to protect the interests of the Australian butter producers and of those interested in the export of meat; but when it comes to a consideration of the interests of the wheat-growers, we find that he is prepared to give away almost anything so long as he can retain adequate protection for the primary industry in which he is particularly interested.

It is evident that this Government has not done what it might have done in order to prevent that considerable loss of national income which has been brought about because of the chaotic conditions which have existed in overseas markets in which Australian products have to be disposed. Honorable members opposite who are always praising Great Britain should remember that when the British authorities were recently buying huge stocks of foodstuffs to store as a reserve against an emergency, and a considerable amount of Rumanian wheat was imported into Great Britain, not one of them protested against that action although at that time the Australian wheat-growers were finding .it impossible to market their wheat at any price.

As I pointed out earlier, this Government has, in various ways during recent weeks attempted to create in this country a war hysteria. We were told first of all that the critical period was in September last. Subsequently, we were told that, due to the efforts of Mr. Chamberlain, the critical period had then passed and that Australia could enjoy at least, a breathing space; but there was no relaxing of effort on the part of this Government in expending large sums of public money on the purchase of war equipment. While the Government to-day admits that there is absolutely no limitation of funds for defence purposes, when the problem of unemployment has been raised it has always used the excuse for not attempting to solve if that it could do nothing because of the lack of the necessary funds. The Governor-General's speech which was delivered in another place on the 23rd October, 1934, contained the following passage: -

My advisers regard with sympathy and concern the heavy unemployment which still persists and propose to give to this grave and pressing problem priority over other matters.

If the wording of that statement meant anything it meant that the Government would not consider making provision for relief in any direction until such time as it had given attention to the problem of unemployment. In endeavouring to make the Parliament and the people believe that it was doing its utmost to tackle the problem of unemployment, it appointed the Minister for Commerce specifically to deal with the matter, and in order that he might be able to devote sufficient time to it he was relieved of a considerable amount of his ministerial work. Shortly after that, a change of policy resulted in the appointment of the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) as Parliamentary UnderSecretary for Employment. He was, however, not even permitted to answer questions in the House relating to the subject with which he was specifically appointed to deal, and so humiliated did he become at the fact that his appointment was really only a pretence, that he resigned his position.

According to the Governor-General's speech, amongst other works to be undertaken by the new Government, as a means of providing relief for the unemployed, were the standardization of the railway gauges, further water conservation, and housing. Yet in New South Wales we find that only a few months ago a very serious water shortage occurred because of prevailing drought conditions and the inadequacy of water storage facilities. Some time ago, the New South Wales Water and Sewerage Board decided to hurry the construction of the Warragamba Dam, and engaged a large number of men who were worked in shifts extending practically the round of the clock to hasten its completion. -Only a few weeks ago, however, no less than 1,300 men engaged on the Warragamba project were sacked and only a skeleton staff was retained to demolish camps formerly used by the men. The work has not been completed and, judging by the present attitude of the department concerned, it will not be completed for many years as it is contended that no funds can be made available.

This Government has always argued that it should do everything possible to encourage the absorption of the unemployed by private enterprise. Let us look at the record of private enterprise in this respect, because honorable members opposite are always citing statistics in an attempt to show that conditions aTe much better now than they were formerly. In New South Wales to-day, unemployment has rapidly increased, and is still increasing, until it is now in the vicinity of 10 per cent.-, and it is not much consolation to those still numbered in the ranks of the unemployed in that State to say that there has been a small amount of money expended on Commonwealth works and employment provided for a few workers. The Commonwealth Year-Booh of 1937, dealing with manufacturing industries, at page 569, states-

The total value of production computed on the basis of retail prices in 1911 between 1928 and 193fi increased from £93,900,019 to £102,592.707, with less than 1,000 increase in the number of employees engaged. The value of production per employee computed on the same basis increased from £201 in 1928-29 to £228 in 1934-38. Such figures as are available disclose that this increase has been maintained since 1936.

So that, although, according to the figures in the Commonwealth Year-Booh of 1937, there had been a considerably increased value of production in those industries, all that private enterprise was able to do for the workers of this country was to provide 1,000 additional positions. Despite the fact that in 1936 private enterprise was in a much better position to provide employment than was the case in 192S, due to an increase of the value of production of each employee from £208 to £228.

Mr Anthony - Does not that value include the cost of production as well as of labour?

Mr WARD - I understand that it is the actual value of the production. Let us consider how private enterprise dealt with workers in what we might call the depression years, 1929-31. Between those years, there was a fall in the value of factory production amounting to .£129,000,000; employers were saved fuel, light, power and materials valued at £80,000,000; 111,000 employees were dismissed ; and the average adult wage was reduced from £4 ls. to £3 14s. 7d., resulting in a saving of . an additional £29,000,000. We find also that a compliant Arbitration Court, not satisfied with the sacrifices already forced upon the workers, arbitrarily reduced the then existing basic wage rates by a further 10 per cent, which resulted in a saving to the employers of an additional £6,000,000. In 1931-32, there was a further fall in the value of factory production of £9,000,000; the employers saved expenditure on fuel, light, power and materials amounting to £3,000,000, and wages amounting to £6,000,000 were also saved. But the profits remained on the same level of £56,000,000, which was equivalent to the amount paid out by way of salaries and wages. That meant that the few privileged individuals who owned and operated those manufacturing concerns were actually receiving as much as the 337,000 employees in the industry who had to maintain themselves and their dependants on their incomes. This occurred in a year considered to be the worst during a period of 40 years. Yet the profits did not decrease; only the wages of the workers employed in the industry fell.

The Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page), speaking in this House recently, appealed for the co-operation of all sections in connexion with the Government's defence programme. He said some very nice things, if he and the Government meant them ; but we have been accustomed to hoar speeches of this kind, which are intended for the ears of the electors and do not ring with sincerity. The Minister said -

Here I may say that the Government considers that no policy of defence and development can be effective, or, in fact, worthy of consideration, unless it is based upon the maintenance and improvement of the living standard of an over-increasing population.

We cannot hope to develop and hold Australia without a steadily-increasing population. The policy of the Government is directed towards the creation of conditions that will ensure such a living standard as will check the fall in the birth-rate, encourage natural increase, and attract a steady flow of suitable migrants.

If this Government believes that one of the factors necessary for the adequate defence of Australia is an improvement of the living conditions of' the' people, why is it that since 1932, when the parties now in power assumed office, although they have enjoyed recurring surpluses in the national budget - in the aggregate these surpluses have amounted to about £15,500,000 - on no occasion has one penny been expended in improving the living conditions of the people? Those surpluses have been devoted to the reduction of taxation for the benefit of the influential and wealthy section of the people which supports this Government. No expenditure took place to improve the- housing conditions of the people ov to carry out national works.

Mr Gander - A great deal of public money was expended on ministerial trips abroad,

Mr WARD - Yes, about £74,000 was paid for that purpose, without the people being benefited to any appreciable degree. The Minister for Commerce further stated subsequently -

The provision of necessary public works as a base for a defence plan was of fundamental importance, but difficulties had been experienced in the past in finding sufficient loan money to meet all State requirements for public works.

It seems remarkable that, when the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) recently spoke of the necessity for unification, and for the Commonwealth Parliament to be the dominant governing authority in Australia, his speech met with the approval of some honorable members on the other side of the House. The Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies) said he. supported the proposal of the right honorable member for Yarra for unification because he believed that this Parliament should be the supreme governing authority; yet it is. generally recognized that no ministry can truly govern unless it controls the monetary policy of the country. When this Government talks of the need for the transference to the Commonwealth Parliament of certain powers now exercised by the parliaments of the States, it should be remembered that this Parliament would not exercise supreme power unless a step further was taken, and it was given authority to determine monetary policy. The Labour party is in favour of the granting of such power to the national Parliament, but the present Government is not. This is what the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) has said with regard to the powers exercised by the Commonwealth Bank Board -

Under the Commonwealth laws, monetary policy is not in the hands of the Loan Council, or of any single government, or association of -governments, but exclusively in the hands of the Bank Board.

This Government knows that, although it may be able to secure the consent of the people to the Commonwealth Parliament being made the dominant legislature, it would not actually become the supreme governing authority unless it were able to tackle the major problem of determining monetary policy.

Although honorable gentlemen opposite say that they desire no political interference with the banking institutions, in 1924, when the present Minister for Commerce "was Treasurer, he introduced political control of the Commonwealth Bank. When the board of that bank was established, men were appointed to it who represented the commercial interests, and were concerned not with the development or administration of the bank's operations, but with the determination of its policy. In my opinion, it is wrong in principle to say that we have in Australia a democratic form of government, when wc delegate the powers of this Parliament to a nominee board which is not answerable to the people for its actions as' are the honorable members of this Parliament. The Commonwealth Bank Board will always provide financial accommodation for the purchase of warships, aeroplanes, or guns, because the representations of vested interests who comprise the board are anxious for this country to be defended, because they want their wealth and privileges protected. Their privileges include the control and ownership of the means of production, and the power to exploit the workers, so we find that there is no shortage of funds for tho defence of those interests.

The present policy supported by the Government has not met with general approval, even among its erstwhile supporters. The Sydney Sun, on the 27th October last, stated -

Dissatisfaction with the Federal Cabinet is widespread. We find, examining the Cabinet, Ministers who are able to see half the subject, but have not an eye to the whole. For instance, Mr. Casey, answering those critics who suggest that he subordinates policy to the views of the Commonwealth Bank Board replies - by declaring sternly, " that money has been found for defence, money is being found for defence, and money will be found for defence .... just as much and just a3 fast as it is wanted. Let me state that the Commonwealth Bank Board does not stand in the way of raising money for defence, and would be swept out of the way if it did." Brave words indeed! They mean, if they mean anything, that Mr. Casey and the Bank Board will find money for guns and aeroplanes, and uniforms, and all the apparatus for defence. Yet when approached by the Premiers recently for money for the development of this country, the same Mr. Casey, and the same Bank Board could not find it, and asked the States to forgo works which were necessary and reproductive for defence works which produce and develop nothing. Mr. Casey, and the Bank Board, finding all the money necessary foi defence or security, a more embracing word - does not depend merely on guns and other warlike machinery. The security of the country depends upon the people behind the guns, and nothing, not even the provision of engines of war, is more important than the prosperity and efficiency of the State, since only a prosperous and efficient people can supply or organize its defences efficiently. A government which can find money for arms, yet with-hold it to the arts of peace, certainly requires a reconstruction operation to restore its vision. One of the needs of the Australian people, if we are to be secure, is an increase in population. Before we ask migrants to come here, however, and help us to develop the country and pay the taxes, it is necessary to provide work for the 100,000 men out of employment. Buying cruisers and big guns will not give that employment. It is a one-eyed policy which finds all the money necessary for these and refuses it for hydroelectric schemes, and railways, and other works, which not only give employment in Australia, but aid those industries upon which, in the main, effective defence must depend.

That shows conclusively that some of the people are beginning to realize that no defence policy will be of any avail unless the Government is prepared to do what is necessary first to provide the workers with social security and decent living conditions. When the Government appeals for the co-operation of the workers, all it talks about is the provision of more attractive drill halls. It is willing to give the workers the most up-to-date military equipment. It will supply them with .pretty uniforms, and it will appeal to their employers where they are in employment to allow them to carry out the necessary training in the employers' time, but many of the young men who are asked to enlist in the militia forces are without employment, and, in many cases, their fathers have also been out of work for very long periods. Because of the inability of these young men to secure employment, almost entirely owing to the failure of the present Government to carry out reproductive public works, the appeal is directed to people living under slum conditions and buying adulterated foodstuffs, because they have not had sufficient' money to enable them to purchase pure food. Similarly, they have been compelled to manage with inferior clothing. The Government appeals to their patriotism, but no appeal is made for a sacrifice on the part of the wealthy section which supports the Government. Can any member of this Government give one instance, during the present crisis, of the Government having asked for any sacri-" to be made by the wealthy section in order that the country may be adequately defended?

What has been the Government's attitude to those people for whose assistance it is now appealing ? It has been responsible for repressive anti-working-class legislation to prevent people from meeting and discussing the problems which affect their industrial welfare. It has been instrumental in providing under the Crimes Act severe penalties for what are considered to be political offences, and in every possible way it- has attempted to encroach upon the liberty of the workers. It introduced the Transport Workers' Act, which compels some workers to take out a licence before they can accept employment to enable them to obtain a livelihood. Nevertheless, it appeals to these people for co-operation in regard to its present defence programme, and with respect to the treatment meted out to the present members of the defence forces the ex-Minister for Defence (Mr. Thorby), and the Government itself, know full well that, owing to the harsh regulations affecting the naval and military forces, a form of tyranny oper- ii tes which prevents members of the forces from bringing their grievances even before the honorable members elected to represent them in this Parliament. Instant and severe penalties can be imposed on any member of the forces who approaches his elected parliamentary representative for the ventilation of a grievance on the floor of this House. Those are the conditions which exist in this country to-day. Many insanitary dwellings exist in our cities, and totally unsatisfactory housing conditions are the general rule throughout ibc nation. Yet the Government has appealed to the people who are obliged to occupy these houses to assist in its defence programme. When an appeal was made to the' Commonwealth Government some time ago to provide funds to purchase milk for needy children in city areas, the reply was that no funds were available. In all of the States there is a lack of adequate accommodation in school buildings, and in practically every part of Australia the hospital accommodation is inadequate to' meet needs or is out of date. Yet when the Government is asked to find money for public works of this character its only reply is, " We must devote all our energy to providing for the defence of tho country." in my opinion the Government is starting with its defence programme, not at the beginning, but in the middle. In effect, it is saying to the worker, "We want you to forget all that anti-Labour governments have been responsible for in the past. We ask you to start afresh. You should go into camp foi1 some days every year and attend drills regularly. During the period you are in camp, we shall pay you Ss. a day, and provide you with, meals and a suitable uniform. Of course, when you cease to he a soldier you will lose your 8s. a clay, and if you have not got a job to return to," you will have to go back on the dole at 7s. 6d. a week". If 8s. a day with keep is the minimum that should be paid to a soldier under military discipline, we contend that it is the minimum that should be paid to an unemployed soldier of industry. The mere fact that a man is unemployed should not disentitle him to proper food and clothing. We say to the workers of this country that they should refuse to accept the plans of the Government until the Government has made some concessions to them. We say that all repressive legislation on our statute-book in respect of the workers and the workers' organizations should be repealed. We say, further, that the workers should be provided with decent wages and decent working conditions, and that if work is not provided for all who need it in this country, the Government should pay to those who remain unemployed sufficient to permit them to live as decent citizens. When that is done the Government may expect some response to its appeal for recruits for the army. I have outlined what I consider should be the attitude of the Labour party on this subject. Why should the workers of industry be expected to risk their lives in the defence of a country without demanding in return social justice as a reward for their services? They are not responsible for the unrest in the world to-day, or for the distrust among the nations. The workers, through their organizations, have attempted to live on the most friendly relations possible with the people of other countries. We realize that, in the final analysis, in every international conflict between imperialistic powers the workers pay the piper. That was true of the last war. When the Government required recruits for the army during those days it made all kinds of promises to the workers, but it was careful to say that the promises would be fulfilled only after the war ended. However, many workers accepted the word of the Government. Subsequently when they returned to this country they found that, although certain measures had been placed on the statute-book ostensibly for their benefit, it was impossible for them to secure the benefits alleged to have been provided. Departmental officials and others took advantage of all sorts of technicalities to deny to the returned soldiers the benefits that they expected to receive. Thousands of men who were injured during the "war. and whose health has since failed completely, are to-day in dire need because the Government has disregarded the promises that were made years ago. If honorable gentlemen opposite wish for any further evidence to justify the attitude that I have adopted in respect of this question, I direct their attention to the following paragraph, which appeared in an article published in The Harbour, an anti-Labour journal which deals with ship-building, coal-mining, and other allied interests: -

Nothing but a settled conviction that the existence of the British Empire is to be put at stake in the impending second world war that is visibly drawing near could account for such an amazing development in Great Britain's defence policy. The statesmen responsible for this decision must be in possession of information not within the knowledge of the Parliament and peoples of the Empire up to the present . . . The ultimate clash emerges into view as a certainty when the " field " in this race of armaments approaches the end of the course. For the mass of the population in all the countries participating in this frightful race, poverty, suffering and hardship will be inevitable while the race is on, and the horrors of war will supervene on the horrors of the armed peace. It isa prospect that no civilized man can contemplate with equanimity.

Those sentiments were expressed, not by a Labour newspaper, but by an antiLabour journal, and, in my opinion, they completely justify the view that I have expressed concerning the attitude that the workers should adopt in respect of participation in any future imperialistic conflict. In this connexion I direct attention also to the following paragraph, which appeared in a report published this year by the Foreign Policy Association of the United States of America : -

A survey of the world armament expenditure revealed that in1938 it was £4,395,325,000 as compared with £945,925,000 in 1933, a rise of 305 per cent. . . . Virtually every industrial nation is confronted with the question of how long its national economy can stand such expenditure. For democracies the ultimate cost of unlimited armament competition may be the undermining of democracy itself. Recent history has demonstrated that huge armament expenditure leads almost inevitably to a dictatorship or government intervention.

I believe that this country will find itself in a very dangerous position if the present Government is permitted to continue its present lavish expenditure on what it calls its "defence programme".

In order to pay for the armaments now being manufactured, the Government will eventually demand further sacrifices from the workers. Of course, it will not require sacrifices from the financial interests of this country, which really control and dictate government policy, but if the expected fall of the national income occurs, there is no doubt tha t ways and means will be devised to oblige the workers to make additional sacrifices in order that dividends may be maintained.

The attitude of the Government towards the workers was clearly expressed at the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers held at Canberra recently, at which the representatives of the Commonwealth Government requested the State authorities to postpone certain public works which they intended to put in hand, in order to proceed with certain works which the Commonwealth described as " urgent for defence purposes ". In order that these works might be constructed as cheaply as possible, the Commonwealth Government suggested to the Government of New South Wales, in particular, that it should transfer between 20,000 and 30,000 relief workers from certain State undertakings to defence works, and pay them, not award rates, but relief work rates. To-day, when trade unionists apply for employment on defence undertakings, they are required to resign from their trade union organization before they enter factories engaged in defence work. This condition is, of course, designed to destroy the workers' organizations and ultimately to reduce our standards of living and dislocate working conditions generally. As I see it, reduced wages must inevitably result from such a policy. In spite of such circumstances I have outlined, this Government has had the effrontery to appeal to the workers for their cooperation in connexion with its defence programme. In my opinion, unless the Labour party and the officials of various labour organizations realize immediately the situation which confronts them, they will find themselves in a critical position. The time for labour organizations to assert themselves is now, for their power, relatively speaking, is greater now than it may be in future years; because we know that the development of armed forces in any country and the creation of a class of professional soldiers inevitably leads to a retraction of civil liberties. That has always been the experience in countries where militarism has raised its head. It is the condition that prevails in Germany to-day, and it was the condition when militarism was in control in that country at the outbreak of the last war.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse).The honorable member's time has expired.

Motion (by Mr. James) put -

That the honorable member have leave to continue his speech.

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