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Wednesday, 23 June 1937

Senator LECKIE (Victoria) .- The Government has been accused of not having put very much into the GovernorGeneral's Speech, but is that criticism honest? Within the next few months the Parliament will go to the country, and, at this stage, the Government would not be justified in foreshadowing the tremendous programme that it possibly has in mind. Every one knows that in no circumstances could these matters have been given their due consideration in the remainder of the life of this Parliament, and the Government acted rightly in not stuffing the GovernorGeneral's Speech with more than can be digested before the general election. Senator J". V. MacDonald occupied one and a half hours in criticizing the Government on the points contained in the Speech. How much longer would he have needed if the Government had had the temerity to put into the Speech the whole of what it has in mind? The present debate has been marked by both extravagant criticism and extravagant praise of the Government. I do not know which does a government most harm. Naturally, in the six years in which this Government has been conducting the affairs of the country, it has made mistakes - it is just as well to admit that - . and some of them may have been ridiculous. By and large, however, the Government has done a good job of work. It dug the country out of a deep hole; placed it once again on solid ground, and restored prosperity much sooner than it has been restored to any other country. Whatever we may think of the mistakes that have been .made, future historians - will record that the Lyons Government undertook a difficult task and accomplished it with success. I, for one, will not deny that the general effect of its policy has been to the great advantage of Australia, and the people should not be quick to forget that. Nevertheless, I. believe that individual members of the Ministry have been guilty either of shocking errors of judgment, or what is equally bad, have been victims of bad luck. One thing which will kill a government quicker than anything else is the laughter of the people. I do not mean the hilarious laughter of the Opposition whenever it has the opportunity to indulge in it, or the rueful laughter of Government supporters who laugh and say, " "Well, the Government has made a mistake, but we must stick to it." T mean the derisive laughter of the man in the street. "When a government creates that sort of laughter, it is pretty well at the end of its tether. This Government has, by mistaken loyalty to a ministerial colleague, endangered itself. I concede that a Ministry should take full' responsibility for any faults or mistakes of a Minister, but when it justifies everything that Ministers have done, either collectively or individually, it ultimately throws the onus on to the party, which then has to justify everything that the Government has done - although dissenting f rom some of its acts. "Worse still, it creates a bad impression in the constituencies, and gives rise to derisive laughter, followed by hostility. "Whether this result comes from poor judgment or bad luck on the part of one or two Ministers is immaterial; the important thing is that no Ministry can afford to carry a Jonah. I repeat that this Government has done a great job of work, and it will be remembered for it, but I warn it that it can carry loyalty to a colleague to extremes, and cannot presume on the good work that it has done. If it has a Jonah or a passenger it must not try to impose his indiscretions on the people of Australia.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Is the honorable senator suggesting that the Ministry has a Jonah?

Senator LECKIE - As one instance of the sort of thing that creates derision, I refer to the claim made by the Ministry that its tariff policy is responsible for the large increase of the number of employees in the factories. As the Senate is aware, there are more men engaged in factories to-day than ever before in our history. The Government claimed that it was due to its tariff policy. Could any claim be more childish?

Senator Sir George Pearce - "What was said was that, despite reductions of certain duties, there had been no reduction of the amount of employment in factories.

Senator LECKIE - That is what the right honorable senator says. But one or two Ministers have gone further, and said that the tariff policy pf the Government was responsible for putting men back into the factories. The claim is so ridiculous that it creates derisive laughter in the minds of all who know anything of industry. The Government cannot afford to provoke the people of Australia to derisive laughter. I believe that the improvement is due to the general policy of the Government, but not to its tariff policy.

Senator Cooper - It is due largely to the better prices received for Australian primary products.

Senator LECKIE - To some extent that is so, but the manufacturers of Australia have also done their share. They have undertaken new works; they have improved their methods; they are turning out goods of better quality ; and they are providing as much employment as they can. Tariff protection -has been reduced by the present Government, and therefore the Government's fiscal policy could not have contributed to increased factory employment.

Senator Collings - Better prices for primary products have led to greater employment.

Senator Sir George Pearce - The position in regard to factory employment improved before those prices rose.

Senator LECKIE - I do not say that the Government claims full credit for the improved condition.

Senator Collings - It does make that claim in the Governor-General's Speech.

Senator LECKIE - Whatever the cause, the fact remains that during the regime of this Government, Australia has recovered from the depression and has reached a state of semi-prosperity.

I welcome the proposed re-constitution of the Inter-State Commission, although I do not know how, in the absence of judicial powers, it can be effective. The commission may help to remove some of the existing barriers between the States. It would be absurd to claim that there is freetrade between the States. In this connexion, I give credit to Victoria for not having gone so far as some of the other States .have gone in excluding the products of factories outside their own borders. "We are supposed to be Australians, and we profess to believe in providing equal opportunities for all; but a manufacturer in Victoria who wants to sell something to the Government of New South Wales or a municipality in that State, has no , chance of doing so. Similarly, manufacturers in New South Wales and Victoria have not a hope in the world of selling their goods in Queensland. Irrespective of its price, cement manufactured in Queensland must be used in all governmental and municipal undertakings in that State. Moreover, cement required at, say, Cairns must be transported there by rail, notwithstanding that sea freights may be as rauch as £2 a ton less than rail freights.

Senator Collings - Would cement from Queensland be used for a job in Victoria ?

Senator LECKIE - Yes, so long as its price, delivered on the job, was as low as that of Victorian cement.

Senator Grant - For a long time Victoria would not accept Tasmanian potatoes.

Senator LECKIE - I am not blaming one State more than another, but am stating a fact of general application to all the States, although I do not think that Victoria is so guilty in this respect as are some of the other States. We should endeavour to he Australians and to give to every one an equal chance, and because I believe th,at the Inter-State Commission will assist in removing the barriers which now exist, I shall welcome its re-constitution.

Senator Collings - It will probably mean the removal of an honorable senator from this chamber.

Senator LECKIE - I hope that the appointment of the Inter-State Commission will do much to make Australia a federation in fact, instead of a makebelieve federation.

The Speech contained a paragraph relating to a 40-hour week. Senator J. V. MacDonald said that the Commonwealth can introduce a 40-hour week whenever it desires to do so, but his view differs from that of the best constitutional lawyers in this country. The honorable senator said that what can be done in New Zealand can be done in Australia, but he should know that conditions in the two dominions are entirely different. I cannot believe that he really thinks that the Government can, by a stroke of the pen, put a 40-hour week into operation throughout Australia. I agree with the Government that this is a" matter for determination by the properly constituted and unbiassed tribunal which already exists to deal with all matters affecting wages, conditions and hours of employment. Its members are impartial men who have been trained to assess the value of evidence. By its awards both employers and employees are bound. No reasonable person wants any man or woman to work longer than is necessary, but, -after all, the national income has its limits. I am amazed at the distrust of the Arbitration Court displayed by those whom honorable senators opposite represent. The Arbitration Court has to-day decided to increase the basic wage by 6s. a week. Surely that is evi.dence that it is an unbiassed tribunal.

Senator Collings - Only a few workers arc effected by that increase.

Senator LECKIE - It covers all who come under the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court. If certain organizations prefer to appeal to State tribunals, they cannot hope to benefit from any increases granted by the Federal Court. The Commonwealth Arbitration Court has done more than show a desire to give to the workers a fair deal ; at times it has erred on their side. For that I do not blame the Court; were I a member of it, I would probably do the same. I mention these things to show that the workers have always had just treatment at the hands of the Court.

Senator Collings - Federal awards are still below State awards in many instances.

Senator LECKIE - There has been a good deal of criticism of the Government for the delay in bringing in a system of national insurance, but honorable senators generally will agree that full investigation is necessary before an extensive scheme, such as 'that proposed, is inaugurated. For a scheme to he successful, it must have a proper actuarial basis. It may not be generally known that in social insurance and other direct contributions Australia pays more per capita than does any other country in the world. "We have beentold that 31 countries have adopted schemes of national insurance, but 27 of those schemes would not be adequate for Australia's needs. The other four countries pay less than Australia pays now for the amelioration of the conditions of the people.

Senator Collings - Does not the honorable senator think that a wonderful country like Australia should be able to do more than some of those other countries can do?

Senator LECKIE -Yes. I am not complaining that Australia does pay more; but it must be apparent to the honorable senator that Australia can afford to wait a little longer to put a proper scheme into operation than can other countries which have no scheme at all in operation. Moreover, it is obvious that a contributory national insurance system cannot be superimposed upon State schemes for unemployment relief. There must be agreement between the Commonwealth and States as to how and by whom the money is to be provided. The States must first be consulted before any satisfactory scheme can be introduced by the Commonwealth.

Another reason why I welcome the reconstitution of the Inter-State Commission is that for some time there has been dissatisfaction with the existing financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States. The present haphazard method of dealing with grants to the States, by which the amount varies from year to year, is not conducive to efficient administration. It should not be beyond the capacity of those who control Commonwealth and State affairs to evolve a better arrangement than that which now obtains. It may be that the Commonwealth will vacate certain fields of taxation and leave them entirely to the States, or, should it retain those sources of revenue, that it will hand to the States a proportion of the sums collected.

Opinions may differ as to whether the Commonwealth Government is really responsible for the proposal, but I am very pleased to see that it intends to assist the States with the object of providing vocational training for boys and young men, now between the ages of 18 and 25, who missed their chance during the depression. It might be argued that the Commonwealth Government is practically exceeding its duty in making grants to the States for this purpose. Nevertheless, it is a commendable gesture and the object in view is a good one. I, for one, do not begrudge the proposed grant of £200,000, or even double that amount, to the States for this purpose. Throughout Australia to-day, artisans are being sought after and any worth his salt can get a job, especially in the heavy industries. If many more men were trained in this direction, in a way similar to that adopted after the war, this Government would be doing excellent work.

Senator Marwickspoke of the apprenticeship law; he suggested that before a boy became apprenticed he should be allowed a probationary period of twelve months in which he or his employer could decide whether he was fitted for that calling. I do not wish to criticize the honorable senator, because I realize that he was in earnest, but for some years I have served on the Victorian Apprenticeship Committee and have had experience in dealing with thousands of apprentices. Honorable senators can accept my advice for what it is worth, but I believe that it would be a very great mistake to provide for a probationary period of twelve months as suggested by Senator Marwick. If such a probationary period were provided for, an employer would have no obligations at all towards an apprentice in that period; he would not be obliged to teach him anything and, if it suited him, he could claim that the youth was unfitted for that particular work and dismiss him. There are some unscrupulous employers who would take advantage of such a provision, and these would readily use a probationary period of twelve months for the purpose of getting cheap labour. In Victoria, the law once provided for a probationary period of six months.

Sena tor Marwick. - I shouldbe satisfiedwith a probationary period of six months.

Senator LECKIE -Well, in Victoria, after working on that basis for three years the representatives of the employers and employees on the Apprenticeship Committee unanimously came to the conclusion that six months was too long a period, and induced the Victorian Government to reduce it to three months. We believe that that period is sufficiently long to enable an apprentice, or his employer, to find out whether a lad is fitted for a particular vocation. I point out, however, that the Victorian law provided a safeguard insofar as it enabled the parties to have particular indentures cancelled if, after a period of service, say, up to six or eight months, it was mutually agreed that the boy was absolutely unsuitable. As a warning to Senator Marwick, I point out that if a comparatively long period of probation were provided, many evils which he cannot now foresee would creep in, and, as one who has had experience in the handling of apprenticeship matters, I urge him to be very careful before pressing his suggestion.

Senator Marwick - A probationary period of twelve months has been proposed to the Youth Employment Committee.

Senator LECKIE - Nevertheless, I happen to know a little about this matter from first-hand experience.

Senator Marwick - I greatly appreciate the honorable senator's advice.

Senator LECKIE - I compliment Senator Allan MacDonald upon the plain and straightforward manner in which he dealt with the position at Yampi Sound. He approached this matter from an entirely new and interesting angle, and there seemed to be a lot behind his arguments.

Without any intention to deride them, I shall now refer to certain statements made by Senator Hardy in which, contrary to the practice of most honorable senators, he endeavoured to give us something constructive. He suggested that revenue derived from land tax should be devoted to the furtherance of closer settlement, and likewise that revenue from the petrol duty should be entirely devoted to the. construction and maintenance of roads. If that argument were followed to its logical conclusion, it would lead to absurdities ; if all revenues collected by way of land tax, or petrol tax, were to be expended solely for the benefit of those sections from whom it is collected, then it would be equally logical to suggest that revenue derived from excise duty on beer and whisky should be spent for the benefit of consumers of those beverages. Plausible as the honorable senator's argument appears on the surface, further examination shows it to be absurd.

In conclusion, I repeat that despite the criticisms that have been launched against the Government - and there have been many - despite its faults and little slips - some of which have been ridiculous - it has done a good job of work, and I do not believe for one moment that the people of Australia are going to be so ungrateful at the next election as to forget that this Government lifted Australia from the depths of despair to its present heights of prosperity. Sitting suspended from 6.12 to 8 p.m.

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