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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Mr DRAKEFORD (Maribyrnong) . - Either by accident or design the budget debate has developed along the lines of the Government's favorite topic - defence. Ministers should be well versed in that subject; they have been on the defensive for .years. Not long ago one honorable member- he

Inter joined the Government, and at this moment he is the only Minister in the chamber - came prominently before the public as the result of his vigorous attacks on the Ministry. Honorable members will remember that while sitting in the cross benches the honorable gentleman frequently condemned other honorable members and measures introduced by the Government. I did not blame him for that. There were so many things wrong with the Government, in the opinion of the honorable gentleman, that apparently the only thing to do, to keep him quiet, was to include him in the Cabinet.

Mr Archie Cameron - And in the opinion of the honorable member, the Cabinet has become worse?

Mr DRAKEFORD - Yes. The honorable gentleman has, no doubt, done his best to prop up a. Government that is tottering to its doom. It was a difficult task, but like the latest kaleidoscopic change in the Ministry, it has been successfully carried out, so. that a new collection of ministerial stray pieces is now presented to the public gaze. The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Archie Cameron) is a vigorous and capable fighter, and no doubt his strength in that direction will bc useful in propping up the Government.

What is the exact reason for the increased defence vote? Until a few months ago it was considered that an expenditure of £43,000,000 spread over a period of three "years would be sufficient to provide for the defence of this country. To that figure should have been, added £1,000,000 per annum, for civil aviation, making a total of £46,000,000 for t,he three years. Now we are expected to vote for still further expenditure.

A month or two ago a grave crisis occurred in European affairs, but after much anxiety it was peacefully settled by negotiations initiated by the British Prime Minister. Since then there has been a deluge of propaganda, in favour pf a considerable increase of defence expenditure. The spending of this money on unproductive war material greatly impairs our capacity to carry out real social reforms. It also prevents this country from being made as attractive" as it should be, and as it used to be, to people from overseas, except those unfortunates who are seeking refuge from war-scarred fascist-ridden countries. It does not now attract, as it did a quarter of a century ago, and as New Zealand is doing to-day, people from other countries because of better social and industrial conditions. On the contrary, the position has been reversed ; we are now losing that section of the population. That is a reflection upon the Commonwealth Government. This enormous expenditure on defence is a colossal burden for a young country to carry. I complain that honorable members of this Parliament have not been furnished with sufficient lata on which to judge, the need for the impending of approximately £46,000,000 for defence purposes in three years and the further indefinite increase of that amount now proposed. Much of this expenditure is based on fears and propaganda which, for all we know, are mere distortions of the truth. We arc to have a statement from the newly appointed Minister for .Defence (Mr. .Street) on the position, and I am quite sure that if any one can make a case to justify the expenditure he will be able to do so, but I doubt if any one oan. 1 do not think that any member of the Cabinet before its reformation could have done so; that was, perhaps, one of the principal reasons far the Cabinet reconstruction. Recently, I addressed the Minister for Defence, upon vol irc, the following question relating to the amount of money being expended overseas on the purchase of war material : -

Will lie furnish tin? House with the total value of i in pints of arms and munitions and nil materials associated with -the defence of Australia, excluding cruisers, for the years 103 1 -32 to 1037-38. showing each veur separately?

To-day I received the following reply: -

I urn now in a position to inform the honorable member ,-is follows: -

This information shows how unready, after seven years, are combination governments of the kind now entrusted with the task of governing Australia to meet emergencies without resorting to importations from overseas. The money now being expended on defence might very well bc used for tha employment of our own people. Heaven only knows the extent to which the country has been committed for 193S-39. It will be seen from the figures supplied in answer to my question, that, whereas only £84,000 was expended on purchases of war material abroad in 1931-32, more than £1,500,000 was so expended in 1037-3S. I venture to suggest that when figures are made available for 1938-39, they will disclose that our overseas expenditure on defence requirements has been increased enormously. During the regime of the Labour Government the Labour party held the view that if the need arose Australia could rely on the British Commonwealth of Nations to. provide adequate defence for Australia. The composite government, which occupied the treasury bench for seven successive years, combated that view. It opposed the contention of the Labour party that the defence arm which needed development and special attention was the air force. Yesterday, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Green) read from an article appearing in one of the metropolitan newspapers, written by a person who termed himself a naval expert, in which the writer claimed that expenditure on battleships and cruisers was entirely unnecessary. That . view is shared by many people who think that the money could have been better expended in other directions of a purely defensive character. I was greatly interested in that gentleman's views. I do not think that any one in this House claims to bc an expert, but we are all expected to formulate some views from the information placed before us, as to what is appropriate for the adequate defence of this country. Labour's defence policy, which was opposed by the Government, is now being given effect. The Postmaster-General to-night said that there are widely divergent opinions among the members of the Labour party as to what should be done for the adequate defence of Australia. I venture to suggest that the honorable gentleman knows quite well that Labour's policy is in the terms enunciated by the Leader of the Opposition, published in the press, and broadcast throughout Australia on the 19 th October last. The terms of that policy were printed in the Canberra Times as well as in many other newspapers throughout the Commonwealth, so that Labour's attitude towards defenceis very well known. What the press of Australia thinks about the Government's position in relation to the defence of Australia is exemplified in a few quotations which I now propose to make. According to the Country party Bulletin of the 6th October last year, the then Minister for Defence (Mr. Thorby) said that he had the satisfaction of being able to assure Cabinet, from his own personal investigations, that Australia's military organization was complete for any emergency. The Melbourne Herald, of the 14th October, stated -

The weakest link in Australia's defence at the present moment is the Federal Cabinet ...

It was seen that Australia depended for its security on -

(1)   A navy that could do nothing else but run for safety away from Australia if a hos ti le battleship entered our waters.

(2)   A land army of 35,000 ill-trained citizens, of whom it is estimated about 11,000 are efficient enough to take the field.

(3)   An air force that does not possess an efficient modern bombing plane, and that, on the present provisions for replacement, might, with very good luck, last three weeks under war conditions.

In a later issue, published on the 22nd October, the same journal stated -

There is uncertainty as to the defence deficiencies and doubt asto what are the exact intentions of the Federal Government.

That statement accurately reflects the state of mind of the people of Australia. In the Sydney Morning Herald of the 27th October, the following paragraph appeared : -

Despite the statements by the Minister for Defence (Mr. Thorby) on the precautions taken in the recent crisis, the fact remains that the emergency demonstrated that Australia was unready to meet attack. Some of the deficiencies that were revealed were: at the end of September the naval squadron was weaker even than it was during the starved years of the depression.

If anybody was responsible for that, it was certainly this Government. Now, however, it is making a bold rush to overtake the deficiencies, and is calling upon the people to shoulder a heavy burden of increased taxation to meet expenditure which, had the Government acted wisely, wouldnever have been necessary. Another paragraph from the same issue reads -

The Air Force had no genuinely-modern machines. In fact, no machines whose performances approach those of passenger planes that have been operating in Australia for the last year or so.

That is another indictment of the Government for its incapacity. I place the opinions of this journal on record because I believe that they are characteristic of the views expressed by other journals throughout Australia. The Melbourne Herald, of the 31st October, stated -

The September crisis showed us with great clarity just what our own defences amounted to. It showed us that they were hopelessly inadequate even for protection against raids.

If that is the position of those who support the Government,I think the people have little cause for gratification in respect of what the Government claims to have been doing.

The Government is not approaching the subject of defence in the right way. It proposes that the people shall be taxed heavily to provide the funds necessary for defence. Whilst that may be in accordance with the policy of the Labour party, if the information to which honorable members are entitled were given, it might show that the proposed heavy expenditure is entirely unnecessary. Until the Government furnishes definite proof that it is now necessary to incur this enormous cost, I do not propose to rest satisfied with its efforts. The Treasurer (Mr. Casey), for instance, has been emphatic in stating that money practically without limit can be made available for defence purposes. If the Government really believed that Australia faces a crisis, and if it were not indulging largely in propaganda prompted by a desire to justify itself, in the event of a similar crisis arising in the near future, it could find money for defence other than by placing on the people heavy burdens which they are not well able to carry. It could provide ample finance for defence by increasing the capacity of the people to defend this country. By following the example of New Zealand, it could make credits available for public works by which the unemployed could be put into employment. This would attract to this country additional population which could be utilized for defence purposes. The first essential in defence operations is capacity to concentrate forces strong enough to resist an attack, but the Government has entirely failed to make the necessary provision for that.

Until recently, the Government appeared to believe that so long as it took steps to resist a possible raid, on the ports or shores of Australia, or to raise a quota of soldiers to send overseas, and to provide protection for the ships which conveyed them to distant parts, it was doing all that was expected of it. While the Government dallies with the project, the States are putting forward various other claims. The Government has not done things which would be of real value to the community by employing the people on useful works. [Quorum formed.]

I have from time to time referred to the difficulties experienced by honorable members in getting complete information as to what this Government is doing. One can readily understand difficulties arising because it seems absolutely necessary for Ministers to devise ways and means of propping up the Government. Its meetings for this purpose are frequently interrupted by the ringing of the bells for a quorum. Occasionally, Ministers return to the chamber with a broad smile, or to make ponderous speeches, but, as soon as the bells have ceased to ring, they quickly disappear. The fact that the need for a quorum was plainly seen a few moments ago, even by supporters of the Government, shows that very little interest is taken by its own followers in the proceedings in this chamber. The method adopted in the administration of the affairs of the Commonwealth is depriving members of this Parliament of an opportunity to keep themselves fully informed as to governmental activities. Such methods will help to lower the people's opinion of the capacity of this Parliament as a democratic institution to safeguard their interests. Honorable members are afforded no opportunity to examine in detail what the Government is advised by its experts to do. My four years' experience in this chamber has shown me that budgets are merely brought down for the purpose of giving honorable members an opportunity to talk, but not to enable them to make a complete and consecutive analysis of the governmental programme. We have had the spectacle to-day of the budget debate being interrupted in order to make way for what the Government considers to be important legislation. Instead of the budget proposals being continuously debated, so that members on both sides of the chamber may criticize them, these proposals are put under the table temporarily in order to make way for other measures. This prevents members from properly discharging their duties.

The practice of the present Government - one cannot call it a policy - is to keep the Parliament in recess as long as possible, and to exercise control by cabinet administration. During the whole of 1937, this Parliament met on only 30 days, and this year it has sat on only slightly over 30 daysup to the present time. Even when Parliament was in session the Government used the " gag " and the " guillotine " to bludgeon its legislation through. The impression which has existed since the last elections that all was not harmonious within the Cabinet, and that the same conditions still prevail, seems to have complete justification. It appears that the Government feels that the longer it can keep away from Parliament and its corollary of party meetings the safer it is from the dangers of further reconstruction from within, and from well-justified criticism from without its ranks.

Instead of using the interregnum between the periodic sittings of Parliament for the purpose of giving consideration to the problems which Australia has to face, and of preparing legislation to meet them, it calls Parliament together only to obtain money to enable it to carry on, and presents a lean programme framed, as far as possible, to avoid conflict between the parties of which it is composed. That is the kind of government Australia is suffering from to-day. Three main groups of political thought are prominent in Australia. -The most important of these is that which supports the policy of the Labour party. Its numbers account for approximately half the total number of electors. The second group is that which supports the United Australia party, which nowadays has insufficient support to enable it to govern by its own strength. The third group is the Country party, which claims to represent those who live mainly outside the metropolitan districts, but allies itself to the United Australia party and obtains, in return, certain considerations, and, some representation in the Cabinet, which destroys its power to render full assistance to the farming community. The interests represented by the United Australia party, find it to their interest to placate the members of the Country party, so that they may continue the process of the exploitation of the workers, including the farmers. The representatives of the country area3 agree readily to accept the plums of office, and then go on their way maintaining their own importance and letting the country down.

There can be no real affinity between the exploiting interests of Australia and the farmer - I mean the farmer who farms, not the owner of the land which the farmer tills, which is very often a trustee company or a wealthy banking corporation. Gradually the truth of that is being realized by farmers and other country residents. When this realization is complete, or nearly so, as it is in New Zealand, the composite Government, as a factor in politics, will disappear, to the great advantage of Australia.

Is it any wonder that under conditions such as I have described there is evidence of disintegration within the composite Government. The awakening interest of the farmers is indicated by the return to Parliament at the last election of men like the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard), fifteen Labour senators, and an independent representative of the farmers the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson). This election result has compelled the representatives of the Country party within the Cabinet to ask for things which the United Australia party section is reluctant to give, and so is bringing the Government to the brink of political disaster. The Government cannot lead, nor can it be led, in the direction of progress. To maintain its hold on office it must offer the exploiting interests an increasing share of profits, and, as farmers are now being 'squeezed harder than ever, they are becoming increasingly difficult to placate. They are now being told by the Government and by newspapers which support the Government that, in order that they may remain on farms which they do not own, and which might be taken by an undesignated enemy, many millions of money, in addition to the amount originally announced, must be expended to protect them and other citizens from the unknown. Out of this expenditure the friends of the United Australia party will reap increased profits, while the general taxpayers will have their burden increased. The present Government combination is incapable of evolving conditions in Australia which will serve to attract the kind of immigrants needed here. The Government is, in effect, under the control of the powerful financial groups which are the real government of the Commonwealth. These interests must be satisfied, and all of the Government's energies are concentrated on the achievement of this objective. The Government's channels of propaganda are flooded with statements calculated to keep our population in a stage of excitement, in, which it will readily submit to schemes that ordinarily would not be acceptable.

Markets for the products of our farming community could be extended in Australia if the community were given greater purchasing power, by decreasing the hours of labour, and by undertaking a programme of essential public works, which would increase the avenues of employment and raise the standard of living. The better housing of the people, the provision of water conservation works, the carrying out of wisely-planned' forestry schemes designed to increase our timber resources and arrest the wastage of valuable land by soil erosion, the development of our oil resources, and the installation of plants to provide power for our industries, are all matters of major importance to which this Parliament could give attention if the Government did not prevent it from so doing. This Government and its immediate predecessors have used every conceivable means to retain office and power, but because of lack of capacity to initiate constructive, nation-wide work, very few, if any, important public works have been put in hand.

The Government has not only failed to keep its promises, but it has also brought Parliament into disfavour and even disrepute with a fairly strong and rapidly-growing section of the community, which feels that Parliament is not oven trying to deal with our important problems.

I propose now to revert for a few moments to the subject of parliamentary procedure in order to rebut certain remarks made by an honorable gentleman opposite during our recent discussion of the need to standardize our railway gauges. It is deplorable that our forms of procedure should permit honorable gentlemen who occupy high ministerial office to indulge in misrepresentation of a most unfair and unjustifiable description. I accuse the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) of such tactics, and I shall give an example of the kind of conduct to which I object. The right honorable gentleman attacked the Labour party for what he alleged to be its opposition to the proposal to proceed with the Brisbane-Kyogle section of the 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge. I challenge that statement as being, not only inaccurate, but also sheer misrepresentation, for which it is hard to find any excuse whatsoever. The facts are that a bill was introduced by the then Prime Minister, Mr. Bruce, on the 18th September, 1924, to authorize the construction of the Brisbane-Kyogle line. The then honorable member for South Sydney, Mr.Riley, resumed the debate on the 25th September on behalf of the Labour party. Ho supported the bill without any qualification. As might be expected from the leader of the debate for the Labour party, he expressed the hope that the proposed new line would be only the first instalment of the complete plan to standardize our railway gauges, and concluded with these words - " The bill should be supported by all honorable members who regard themselves as true Australians". After a discussion which lasted one and a half hours, the debate was adjourned on the motion of the then honorable member for Kooyong, Mr. Latham, who resumed the debate on the 1st October and moved an amendment to the effect that the bill be withdrawn and referred to the Public Works Committee. The subsequent debate ranged largely around the amendment, and lasted from 4.57 p.m. to 1.30 a.m. Most of the time was occupied by Government supporters. On that date the debate lasted a little over seven hours, of which Government supporters occupied four hours and the Opposition three hours. The vote of the honorable member for Kooyong was not on party lines, for the majority - nine out of sixteen - of those who supported the amendment were Government supporters. Their names were -

Mr. M.Cameron.

Mr. R.W. Foster.

Mr. H.Gregory.

Mr. DuncanHughes.

Mr. G.Hurry.

Mr. J.G. Latham.

Mr. J.H. Lister.

Mr. E.S. Mann.

Mr. S.C. Seabrook.

The other five who voted for the amendment were Labour members, who believed that the proposal should be referred to the Public Works Committee, so that the relationship to the Brisbane-Kyogle section of the whole scheme of standardization could be examined to ensure it would be part of the general scheme, and that other States should not have to pay for a section of railway in New South Wales and Queensland and not get their portion of the work done. That their fears were justified has been shown by the regrettablelack of leadership and action since that time. The committee stage occupied only a brief time. The bill was put through without amendment in. an hour and a quarter of which time Opposition members occupied only ten minutes. These details are given only because of the grossly unfair attempt of the Minister for Commerce to make it appear that the Labour party attempted to block the Government's efforts to proceed with the first portion of the scheme for standardizing the gauges. If any attempt at delay took place - and I submit that there is not a tittle of evidence to support the charge - it originated among Government supporters, and the reflections on Labour made by the right honorable gentleman are without foundation. I emphasize this matter because something better is expected from a gentleman occupying the high office that he holds. Such misrepresentation causes a contempt for the parliamentary institution. I regret to have to say these things, but that is only one example of many that could be cited.

Greater activity should be displayed in the search for oil. Honorable members can visualize the position in which this country would be placed in the event of war, for it would be without the means of carrying on essential transport services. The Government has not placed before us any evidence that it is in earnest in this matter. When honorable members ask for information on the subject, they are told that the reports which the Government has received are secret. Some time ago I asked for information about the Railways War Council, and on repeating the question, the Minister wrote a brief note to the effect that the council had met on the 13th July, but that he regretted that he could not give any information because the official reports were secret. On one occasion, the information was vouchsafed that the council had met once in ten years. Subsequently, some of its members were replaced by others, but what they did we do not know. What has taken place in connexion with the Railways War Council has taken place also in connexion with the storage of the oil necessary for defence; the representatives of the people are not given any information, except that a vast sum of money is to bo expended in the defence of the country. We are not told whether, from the moneys voted foi* defence purposes, a sum will be set aside to enable the search for oil' to be prosecuted more vigorously. It would appear that no strenuous efforts in that direction are being made.

Australia has not a dock large enough to accommodate a battleship, yet the Government does nothing to stimulate the shipbuilding industry in this country. Any one who studies the position must realize that the Government has fallen down on its job. I shall take a later opportunity to say more on the subject of shipbuilding. I hope that as the result of this debate something of value will be done.

As the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) pointed out, the share of the wealth of this country which the workers receive is gradually declining. No nation can be successful in such circumstances, especially 'when, at the same time, rents and profits are increasing. That state of affairs may explain why people from other countries are not attracted to Australia. The reason for the Government's inaction is obvious. It is a capitalist Government which is controlled by anti-social interests. I do. not say that the men who form the Government are without humane feelings, but the social system under which the Government operates makes it difficult for them to do what they, as individuals, would like to do. There is evidence that the standard of living in Australia is gradually declining, and therefore I hope that even at this late stage the Government will awaken to the seriousness pf the position, and do something to improve conditions. Notwithstanding that a great deal of the time of the Government is taken up in patching up internal disagreements, I hope that it will be strong enough to seize the opportunity to put Australia on a sound basis, so that Australia, like New Zealand, may attract desirable people from other lands, and proceed to a brighter future.

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