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Wednesday, 19 November 1941

Senator LECKIE (Victoria) . - I approach this budget not in any critical spirit because I realize that with the exception probably of the previous Administration this Government is confronted with the biggest task that any Commonwealth Government has ever had to tackle. However, it is fortunate in that the foundations upon which it will build its future activities were firmly laid by its predecessor. . The Government has three important tasks to undertake in this time of national crisis. First, it has to take every step to ensure that Australia emerges out of this war with the liberty of its people as much as possible unimpaired. Secondly, it has to see that our troops and those of our Allies who are fighting the battle for democracy are properly equipped and that our factories are turning out the maximum production of the munitions of war. Lastly, the Government has to see that, as far as possible, the civilian population is kept in reasonable comfort. Realizing the magnitude of the problems confronting the Government, my only desire is to help it, because I realize that this budget is the only justification that the present Government has for having turned its predecessor out of office. If this Government cannot do a better job than its predecessor - and it would have to do a splendid job to equal the record of the Menzies and Fadden Governments - there was no justification for the change.

Senator Fraser - The honorable senator does not suggest that Labour members turned the last Government out of office?

Senator LECKIE - I do.

Senator Fraser - They did not have the numbers to do it.

Senator LECKIE - Who moved the amendment that resulted in the defeat of the Fadden Government?

Senator Fraser - That Government was defeated because of the disintegration of the parties supporting it.

Senator LECKIE - Then the Minister is but an accidental occupant of his office. He is ashamed of the negotiations that resulted in the defeat of the Fadden Government.

Senator Fraser - Not at all. On the contrary, those who failed to support the then Prime Minister on that occasion did their country a very good service.

Senator LECKIE - It is very hard for me to praise this budget, particularly when I find that Ministers apparently have no confidence in it. Apart from the few staccato sentences delivered by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) when he presented the revised Estimates and budget papers, no other Minister has seen fit to defend the budget. It seems to me that they are ashamed of it; they have no confidence in it because they have set up junior members of their team, one after the other, to substantiate it. What have those junior members of the team done? Possibly with the single exception of Senator Arnold, not one of them attempted to defend it.

Senator Fraser - The budget does not need defending; it justifies itself.

Senator LECKIE - I remind the Minister that he has not yet addressed the Senate in its defence. To witness the spectacle of five Ministers whose verbal athletics have become almost a record for Australia, now sitting almost at bursting point because they are ashamed of their own budget, is one of the most remarkable things that I have ever seen in this Senate. Senator Darcey spoke on the budget ; but he did not defend it. On the contrary, he disagreed with it in essence because from a financial point of view it is abhorrent to him.

Senator Darcey - I desire to make a personal explanation. I have never expressed myself in the terms attributed to me by the honorable senator.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Sen* tor Brown). - A personal explanation may be made only after the honorable senator to whose remarks objection is taken has resumed his seat.

Senator LECKIE - I would be sorry to misrepresent Senator Darcey; but if he said one word in defence of the budget during his lengthy speech on finance, I have no knowledge of the meaning of words. As a matter of fact, all the arguments he used were absolutely opposed to all the financial proposals contained in this budget. As he is opposed to it on financial grounds, and as he disagreed with the methods by which the Government proposes to raise the necessary revenue to meets its commitments, surely I am in order in saying that he in no way defended the budget. He was followed, if I remember aright, by you, Mr. Deputy President. In the course of an excellent speech delivered in your own inimitable entertaining style you made a number of wise remarks, but you did not attempt to defend the budget. I would like the people to know that we are following right lines; but apparently Ministers do not think so or if they do they are afraid to say so. I have never before met so many tongue-tied Ministers. I am at a loss to understand how Senator Eraser can sit in his place in this chamber and bear cogent criticism directed against the budget and still remain silent. He is a remarkable man. He has experienced a complete change of heart. It seems to me that from this hour he has decided not to say anything.

Senator Fraser - I am confident that the honorable gentleman will accept the budget.

Senator LECKIE - This is a pure Australian budget. It is based upon Australia's most primitive weapon. This is what I call a boomerang budget. The Government gives something, but immediately it takes away more than it gives! It proposes to grant a lot of increases to certain sections of the community with great voting power, but it has provided that what is to be given shall not be worth anything. In fact, the people to whom those supposed increases are to be given will be worse off under this budget than they are now. I find that the budget speech itself contains a number of excellent financial expressions. First, it says that the increased volume of employment will place further spending power in the hands of the people. What increase of employment does the Government mean?

Practically no available unemployed are to go into war work and, as Senator Aylett has said, a dearth of labour exists in the rural areas. The same scarcity exists everywhere; so no extra volume of employment will be created. The transfer of certain workers in civil occupations to work in war industries, which I strongly advise, would, not increase the total employment or the national wealth, especially the national wealth, because, ordinarily, munitions of war are not used for its expansion. One of the next statements in the budget speech reads -

Private spending must therefore be limited to the small flow of civil goods that will be available and prices must be rigidly controlled.

The Government intends to inflate the currency by borrowing, which is a euphonious way of saying " creating ", credit through the nation's bank. At the same time as it is inflating the currency it proposes to keep prices down. It proposes to chase the spectre of inflation with the mirage of price control. If it can achieve its purpose it will do one of the most remarkable things ever done in the economic life of any community. The budget speech proceeds -

Credit expansion, however, can be successfully used to finance employment of reserves of man-power to expand the production of goods and materials. That is to say that any increase of the money volume must be balanced by the corresponding increase of production.

The Government will not do that except by shifting men from civil production to the production of munitions. It will hot increase the wealth of the country by that means.

Senator McBride - Nor by increasing wages.

Senator LECKIE - No, that is so. This budget will be all right if there were a vast reservoir of unemployed people who could be employed with the extra money that is to be produced.

I notice that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane), who, in his capacity as Minister representing the Treasurer, introduced the budget papers in the Senate, has returned to the chamber. I welcome him as the only Minister in the Senate who has attempted to defend the budget. I point out, however, that immediately after having,' in his function as Minister representing the

Treasurer, authoritatively and clearly announced the proposal for the limitation of civil spending, he leftthe chamberand resuming his functions as Minister for Trade and Customs, defeated the object of the excise portions of the budget, which were designed to restrict civil spending, by ordering that increased prices, consequent upon the increased excise, must not be charged, and said that the people should be able to drink as much beer and smoke just as much tobacco as before.

Returning to the theme I was developing when the Minister for Trade and Customs made his welcome return to the chamber, I point out that the Government proposes to increase the capital of the country to an enormous degree by expanding credit. Optimistically, the Government also expects to raise, by means of ordinary loans, £66,000,000 for Commonwealth purposes, and £20,000,000 for the States. I am doubtful whether the Government will do so, especially in view of the fact that it proposes to expand credit by about £100,000,000. That amount of money would provide work for 400,000 people at £5 a head a week. Surely, in view of the opinions expressed in the budget speech by the Treasurer, expansion of credit to that degree would be justifiable only if the money so created could be used to finance the employment of reserves of man-power. Where are these reserves of man-power? If they do not exist, this proposal is simply a " blister ".

Senator McBride - That is according to the dictum of honorable senators opposite themselves.

Senator LECKIE - Yes; that is why I am amazed that no Minister has defended the budget. These things should be explained. I am simply looking for information. I should like to be told how the Government proposes to obtain 400,000 extra workers for employment in the production ofmunitions and war materials. No one seems to know. If these workers be taken from other industries it will simply amount to transferring them from one industry to another. The Government says that it will obtain the money it requires by restricting the consumption of civil goods. That intimation is given in the budget, but not so definitely as I should like.

The Government has said in effect that it intends to restrict the consumption of civil goods.

Senator Courtice - What about rationing?

Senator LECKIE - Does the honorable senator suggest that we should entirely couponize the country; that we should issue coupons for food, clothing, tobacco, fuel, lighting, gas, beer and amusements, such as picture shows and races?

Senator Courtice - That is not suggested in the budget.

Senator LECKIE - Not in so many words; but, according to the budget, the Government intends to restrict the consumption of civil goods.

Senator Ashley - Luxury goods.

Senator LECKIE - What goods? It is well known that the consumption of civil goods, instead of declining, is increasing. The business of retail stores has increased by 35 per cent. in Sydney, 45 per cent. in Melbourne and 26 per cent. in Brisbane. At the same time, the prices of commodities have increased by less than 10 per cent. Consequently, an immense additional volume of goods is being consumed. The Government simply says that it will restrict the consumption of civil goods. When it makes a statement like that, it should explain how it intends to give effect to it.

Senator Courtice - We intend to ask the individual to spend his money as advisedly as he can.

Senator LECKIE - According to the honorable senator, the Government is going to ask the women of this country to spend less on underwear, lipstick, &c. ; but they are to reduce such expenditure voluntarily. They are also to be asked voluntarily to reduce their expenditure on picture shows and amusements generally. The cook is to be asked to cut down the gas and fuel bill. All this is to be done voluntarily. People are to be asked not to go to the races so often.

Senator Courtice -Would the honorable senator compel them to reduce their expenditure on certain goods ?

Senator LECKIE - I am entirely in the dark, because no Minister is prepared to defend the budget. Apparently honorable senators opposite are ashamed of the budget. I approach it inthe most friendly spirit. I want to help if I possibly can, because I realize that the Government is now confronted with the biggest job thathas yet confronted any government in thehistory of this country.

Senator Collings - The honorable gentleman should " wake up " to the fact that we are doing the job.

Senator LECKIE - I may entertain doubts about the capacity of the Government to do the job ; but, in the meantime, a Minister should defend the budget. That task should not be left to junior members of theGovernment. Some of them have spoken on the budget, but they have not defended it; they have even attacked it. Most of them, however, merely attacked the previous Government. I should feel relieved if the Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings) would give us an hour and a half, with his usual extension of half an hour, in order to. explain how the Government intends to carry out some of the proposals contained in the budget. I, and the people generally, would thus be enabled to gain some idea of what the Government has in mind.

Senator Ashley - We could not make the honorable senator understand even if we did give an explanation.

Senator LECKIE - If I were obliged to understand everything that the honorable senator has said, I should find myself in a lunatic asylum.

Senator Ashley - The honorable senator would not be out of place if he were in a lunatic asylum.

Senator LECKIE - I ask that the honorable senator, withdraw that remark.

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