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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Mr BAKER (Griffith) .- The Opposition is strongly antagonistic to the proposal of the Government to interfere, at this stage, with the budget debate.

The sole reason of any importance advanced by the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) for the action he has taken was that he had received a telegram from the Premier of Queensland, Mr. Forgan Smith, asking that the passage of this bill should be expedited. No doubt the honorable gentleman has had experience of the brittleness of the promises made by this Government, and he is anxious that the measure should be passed without delay. The Minister for Commerce does not seem to realize that honorable members were required by the Government to proceed with public business throughout the whole of last night, and the majority of us have not had any sleep at nil during the last 36 hours. The urgency of the need to proceed with the debate on the budget is partly to be found in the fact that almost half of the financial year has now elapsed. The Lyons Government has never treated the budget debate as anything but a farce. In 1930, when the Scullin Government was in office during a more critical period than any other Commonwealth Government had had to face, the budget was brought down on the 9 th July, and the Estimates were passed on the 4th August, very little more than a month after the closing of the financial year. In 1931 the budget was introduced on the 10th July, and the Estimates were passed on the 30th July, within a month after the closing of the financial year. In 1930 the then Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), who also held the portfolio of External Affairs, was called upon suddenly to assume the Treasurer's portfolio on account of the sudden resignation of the Treasurer. Yet the right honorable gentleman prepared his budget in 48 hours. It is in accordance with the practice of the mother of parliaments - the British Parliament - the traditions of which this Parliament is supposed to observe, for the budget to be considered as early as possible in the financial year, yet this Government has delayed the consideration for so long that two supply bills have had to be passed. Unless the budget and Estimates arc finally dealt with by the end of this month the introduction of another supply bill will be necessary. In these circumstances, the Opposition is thoroughly justified in its protest against the proposal of the Government to interfere at this stage with the budget debate. What makes it all the more remarkable is that the right honorable gentleman in charge of the House (Sir Earle Page), who made us " sit up all last night, is himself a medical man. I have always understood that the Minister for Commerce was opposed to all-night sittings, not only because of the inconvenience caused to honorable members, but also because they were definitely harmful to health, and because he regarded them as one of the major reasons for the shortening of the lives of many honorable members of this Parliament. I should not be surprised if the Government decided to keep Parliament sitting all night to-night, so that it may force honorable members, when they are unable to think clearly, to pass legislation which should have been passed four months ago, and which would have been passed then had the procedure advocated by the Labour party been adopted. There is no indication that this bill will be passed to-day, in any case. One reason for its introduction at this stage is that the Minister has already given information regarding it to the press. The Premier of Queensland, Mr. Forgan Smith, and others who have the interests of the wheat-growers at heart, want to know whether the Government proposes on this occasion to stand up to its responsibility, or whether this proposal will be treated as were the promises of the Government in regard to the mortgage bank, the patents bill, the housing scheme, and numerous other matters. The Government, in its endeavour to hold office, does not seem to worry whether its bills are passed or not. It is quite satisfied to bring them down, and if they are criticized by its supporters, they are simply dropped. Members of the Opposition have every sympathy with the wheat-growers; and the action of the Government which we are now criticizing docs not affect our intention to help the growers in every way possible.

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