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Wednesday, 23 June 1937

Senator BRENNAN (VICTORIA) - I shall endeavour to do so. The second paragraph of the Governor-General's Speech referred to the widespread enthusiasm everywhere displayed in connexion with the coronation of Their Majesties the King and Queen. That I take it was an appropriate reference to be contained in such a document.

Senator Collings - Hear, hear!

Senator BRENNAN - My honorable friend expresses approval, yet his criticism of the coronation celebration, an event of world-wide importance, was that it occasioned considerable expense to the country.

Senator Collings - The two things are entirely different - the coronation ceremony and the institution.

Senator BRENNAN - What are the facts? We know that hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people took part in the celebrations in Great Britain, and I remind the honorable gentleman that those people included the very poorest citizens of London. It would not be too much to say that in proportion to their numbers, the poorer classes of the community were more fully represented at the coronation celebrations in England than was any other section of the people. If thenwe consider the material aspect of the Coronation, what do we find? It is quite true that it cost a great deal of money; but the greater part of that expenditure was for labour, and therefore was of substantial benefit even to the poorer classes throughout Great Britain. In his attitude to the 'Coronation the Leader of the Opposition displayed a most niggardly and grudging spirit. He complained that money had been expended in doing honour to His Majesty and in carrying out in a fitting manner celebrations which are emblematic of our Empire's extent and greatness. That was the honorable senator's attitude to the King. What was his attitude to His Majesty's representative? Senator Dein, when speaking yesterday, referred to the ungenerous remarks of the Leader of the Opposition concerning His Excellency the Governor-General and you, Mr. President, ventured the opinion that the incident might be considered as ended.

Senator Collings - And, in deference to the President, the Minister is now again mentioning it.

Senator BRENNAN - That is not so. The President did not rule that it would be out of order to refer again to the matter, and I direct attention to it in order to compare the honorable gentleman's professions of loyalty with his remarks on Friday last. I go the length of saying that his observations involved disrespect not only to His Majesty the King and to the King's representative, but also to the Empire as a whole.

Senator Collings - Is that all the Minister can think of? Cannot he say something worse about me?

Senator BRENNAN - We on this side do not think it necessary to proclaim our loyalty. We are content that it may be taken for granted. We are proud to be regarded as citizens of the British Empire.

Senator Collings - Hear, hear!

Senator BRENNAN - This being so, we consider it in extremely bad taste for any member of this chamber to refer to distinguished visitors from the heart of the Empire as " imported gentry ", just as we would resent very much if distinguished Australians now in Great Britain were referred to in the House of Commons in similar terms.

The remarks of the Leader of the Opposition also indicate disloyalty to Australia. The honorable gentleman never gets up to make an important speech without directing attention to what he alleges are the unsatisfactory social conditions existing in Australia - conditions, which, I am convinced, exist only in his disordered imagination. He always pictures the people of this country as being on the verge of starvation, and although this may not be his intention, his speeches always have the effect of stirring up class hatred. They convey the impression that the condition of the poorer sections of the community is due to the rapacity and dishonesty of the richer people. When he came to the references in the Governor-General's Speech to the marked financial recovery that has taken place in Australia, and the improvement in the employment position, what was his attitude? Does he rejoice that the Speech contains such a pleasant story? Not at all. On the contrary, he said that the figures relating to improvement are absolutely and wholly unreliable, and he ridiculed the statement that, the present satisfactory position could not have been achieved but for the patriotic co-operation of the people as a whole, and the patient endurance of those who were the greatest sufferers during the depression. He does not think that the people, whom he says he is so proud to represent, should have been complimented for the endurance which they displayed during that trying period.

Senator Collings - That reference in the Speech is not a compliment, but a cowardly insult to those people.

Senator BRENNAN - The honorable senator always takes the most unpleasant view of anything this Government may do, and as regards the reference in the Speech to the attitude of the people during the depression, he says it is untrue, and the worst "piffle" he has ever heard.

Senator Collings - Hear, hear!

Senator BRENNAN - I admit that the figures relating to the improvement in respect of unemployment, are incomplete. I admit that they cover only the number of trade unionists reportedas unemployed, but the basis of computation in 1937 was the same as that employed in 1932, so, as an indication of the unemployment position, the figures are quite accurate, and show that the position has substantially improved. And will the honorable gentleman deny that the people of Australia showed patient endurance during the period of depression ? The Leader of the Opposition on Friday, and his colleague, Senator J. V. MacDonald this afternoon, told us that tens of thousands of persons were ruined during the depression. It is quite true, I suppose, that tens of thousands of persons were then in straitened circumstances, and possibly a great number of them have not recovered. Nobody denies that, but it is a plain fact that the people of Australia did, in the depression years, show patient endurance in very trying circumstances.

Senator Collings - How bravely the honorable senator bears the ills of others.

Senator BRENNAN - I am speaking of what the people did, and I repeat that they showed patient endurance.

Senator Collings - The Minister means that they did not revolt.

Senator BRENNAN - Exactly. There was no disorder, no protest, and no mean attempt to shift the burden on to other people. The sufferers in the depression stood up to their obligations and showed a. most commendable endurance.

Senator Collings - All the gaols were full, and there was more distress in the land than ever before.

Senator BRENNAN - The gaol and the morgue appear to be the honorable gentleman's refuge whenever he wishes to become particularly terrifying. I repeat that, although the people suffered greatly in the depression years, they bore their trials with remarkable fortitude ; so much so, that the casual visitor to Melbourne or Sydney, at. that time, would have found that all the picture theatres had their quotas of patrons; that the races were well patronised, and the football matches had full attendances. In fact, if a visitor had stayed for a fortnight or so in any of our capital cities during those years, he would never have known from surface indications that the people were suffering from a depression. But recovery came in due time, andSenator Collings, with his usual liberality of sentiment, claims that no credit is due to this Government for what has been done.

Senator Collings - I did not say that.

Senator BRENNAN - The honorable senator said that no credit was due to this Government for the financial recovery of Australia.

Senator Collings - I said that this Government was claiming all the credit when, as a matter of fact, it was not entitled to all of it.

Senator BRENNAN - Wi th great respect to the honorable senator I repeat that he gave no credit to this Government for what it had done. I took down his words at the time, so 1 am not mistaken; and I recall that when Senator Dein referred to this matter yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition interjected that credit for the financial recovery was due to the Scullin Government. 1 have nothing to say by way of criticism of Mr. Scullin, but if he was the captain of the team in 1931, all J. can say is that he was surrounded by a very unruly crew.

Senator Collings - I was not a member of the crew.

Senator BRENNAN - No; but the honorable senator was hanging about in one of the small boats, looking for a position, and hoping to become one of the crew. A great deal of the credit is due to the presence on the treasury bench of the Lyons Government, and its action. I first came into this chamber in May, 1931, and no one, not even my honorable friend who was not here then, could have any idea of the spirit of the depression which hung over these Houses of Parliament at that time. Talk of the fiduciary note issue was in the air, tampering with the currency was suggested, repudiation of interest was being advocated, and political control of the Commonwealth Bank was being sought; the average decent citizen of this country did not know what was before him. Mr. Lang's Government was in power in New South Wales. That Government went out of office, and the Lyons Government assumed office in the Commonwealth sphere, and immediately the whole atmosphere changed.

Senator Collings - The Assistant Minister makes my flesh creep.

Senator BRENNAN - What I am saying is true. The whole atmosphere changed from the moment the Lyons Government came in ; but more particularly when the Lang Government was removed from office. From that day, conditions have continued to improve. If we are to learn from the past - and it is the only way in which we can learn anything there, would be a great likelihood that. similar conditions would return, although possibly not so bad, if the people of this country should, as I have the greatest confidence they will not, replace the present occupants of the treasury bench by the representatives of any other party by whomsoever led.

I do not propose to delay the Senate further than to make one or two references to matters mentioned during the debate this afternoon. One is the subject of malnutrition, concerning which a good deal was said by Senator J. V. MacDonald and Senator Brown, and the other is the 40-hour week, which was dwelt upon at some length by the former honorable senator. In respect of malnutrition, he has used out of their context some remarks which were said to have been made by the Minister for -Health (Mr. Hughes).

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - They were taken' from a report of his speech published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Senator BRENNAN - Possibly a correct report. But I should like to remind the honorable senator that the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament in respect of health are strictly limited. The only reference to health matters contained in the Constitution is to be found in the one word "quarantine". If the right honorable the Minister for Health cited on the public platform certain figures relating to health, it wa3 not by way of complaint that the Commonwealth Parliament has failed in its duty, but was because he desired to direct the attention of State governments to a serious aspect of a matter which comes within their purview.

In regard to the 40-hour week, also, the Commonwealth Parliament has very limited authority; it has no general -powers in respect of hours of labour. The only jurisdiction it possesses is that which is conferred by the industrial arbitration provision in the Constitution. The Arbitration Court has certain Australia-wide powers, but the Government does not control the Court, nor was that ever intended. One of the main purposes in setting up an Arbitration Court was that it should be independent of governments; and it is. The Arbitration Court can deal only with disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State, and can deal only with plaints brought before it. Let me remind honorable senators opposite that there has been no great desire during the last few years on the part of their friends to bring before the Arbitration Court the subject of a 40-hour week. They have not ventured to go to the Court and say, " We think that we are entitled to a 40-hour week in this industry."

Senator Collings - What a godsent instrument is the -Constitution to a " donothing " government.

Senator BRENNAN - Sen ator J. V. MacDonald said that if the Labour party were returned to power, it would bring in a 40-hour week. If my honorable friends of the Opposition were vested with the responsibility in regard to hours of labour and they examined what their powers were, their gallantry would soon disappear; they would realize that they had not the powers which they thought they possessed. No doubt the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) would attempt to ride through the Constitution, but he would be prevented from doing so by the High Court.

Senator Collings - There is no need to ride through the Constitution.

Senator BRENNAN - We have either to ride through it or obey it. We are obeying it in this instance.

Senator Collings - And the people are hungry because of the Government's obedience.

Senator BRENNAN - Does the honorable senator suggest that we should not obey the Constitution? I should like him. to state his attitude.

Senator Collings - The Assistant Minister should not be forever pleading the Constitution as an excuse for doing nothing.

Senator BRENNAN - We plead it as an excuse for not doing something, which' some honorable gentlemen who should,but do not, understand the Constitution, say that we can do.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - If some employees are working 40 hours, why should not others.?

Senator BRENNAN - Senator J.V. MacDonald instituted a comparison between the action taken by the New Zealand Government and the attitude adopted by the Commonwealth Govern ment. That point has been adequately replied to by Senator Leckie, and I can only express my astonishment at the suggestion of Senator J. V. MacDonald. Surely, he realizes the difference between a unitary constitution such as in New Zealand, where the Parliament has power over all subjects whatsoever, and a limited constitution like that of the Commonwealth, in section 51 of which the powers of this Parliament are strictly denned.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - I realize that. If a Labour Government were in power would it not be capable of introducing a 40-hour week with the consent of the States?

Senator BRENNAN - The Commonwealth Government can provide a 40-hour week for its own employees.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - And to all employees with the consent of the States.

Senator BRENNAN - If the States surrendered their powers in that respect that would be a drastic amendment of the Constitution. The people of Australia have always shown that they will not readily agree to amend the Constitution.

Senator Arkins - Is it not a fact that malnutrition is due not so much to insufficient food, as to unsuitable food ?

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - The people have not the money to buy suitable food. Unemployed single men receiving 17s. a. week could not buy it.

Senator BRENNAN - That raises the subject of national insurance, which is too comprehensive a question to be dealt with at this juncture. It was discussed at length this afternoon. Its mention in the Governor-General's Speech was not mere window-dressing. The subject requires a great deal of investigation, not only by the electors, but also by the State governments. We do not expect for a. moment that a national insurance scheme will be passed during the life of this Parliament, but certain details based on the report of Mr. Ince, which is now before honorable senators, have been made available, so that they may be studied. If such a system can be effectuated on the lines indicated by Mr. Ince, I believe, in spite of the sneering references of -Senator J. V. MacDonald to an allowance of 17s. a week during unemployment, that it would be a tremendously beneficient thing for the people of Australia.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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