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Thursday, 23 June 1904

Mr JOHNSON (Lang) - I do not agree with the opinion expressed by the Minister of Trade and Customs that it is the duty of the Government to find work for the people. I contend that the function of the Government is to remove the obstacles which are now interposed between the people and profitable employment. .

Mr Hutchison - Does the honorable member refer to the necessity for free-trade in land?

Mr JOHNSON - In a sense, yes. Land should be made as easy of access as possible to the legitimate land-user in contradistinction to the mere non-using speculator. Freedom of production and freedom of exchange I hold to be absolute essentials to the permanent and prosperous settlement and growth of population. If we are to attract immigrants- and every one, I think, admits that it is not only proper, but necessary to do so - we must make the conditions of life such that people will come here of their own volition, and seek to establish their homes on our soil.

Mr Hughes - How are we going to bring about free-trade in land?

Mr JOHNSON - Very easily The honorable and learned member has himself often pointed out the way - by the various States adopting the principle that I have often heard him advocate, namely, that of taxing ground rent, and diverting economic rent into the Treasury, instead of allowing it to pass into the pockets of private individuals. The adoption of this plan would entirely do away with the incentive to hold land out of use, and put an end to a system which denies the people proper facilities for turning itv to good account. Land monopoly, accentuated by mischievous restrictive industrial and trade legislation, is responsible for retarding production,, and inducing the exodus of our population. The conditions of land occupation should be made so easy, and the taxation upon production should be so light that people would regard Australia as a place in which they could live a prosperous and healthy life. The conditions under which our rural industries are carried on do not offer any particular attractions to the class of settlers whom we desire to see here. They are repel ied instead of attracted, and are induced to seek other places, in which they can exercise their activities with more profitable results. The large influx of population into Canada is largely accounted for by the liberal land laws of that country. I do not mean to say that the land legislation of the Dominion is the best that could be devised, but it is, at any rate, more liberal than ours. If honorable members will only take the trouble to study the science of political economy, they will come to this conclusion-

Mr Fowler - Does the honorable member assume that we do not study political economy ?

Mr JOHNSON - Some honorable members do so, but, as regards many others, it is impossible that they could have made any effort to acquaint themselves with the principles of political economy, and still give utterance to the! views they express. In order to attract population, we must put our land laws on a proper economic basis, so that value which accrues to land, as distinguished from improvements upon land, and which arises from the presence, growth, activities, and necessities of the people, shall be diverted from the pockets of private individuals into the public Treasury. Concurrently with this scheme for gradually diverting ground rents into the Treasury, there should come into operation a system of Tariff reductions for relieving the products of industry from taxation. At present our farmers, in addition to labouring under the disabilities inflicted by our illiberal land laws, are subjected to taxation of a most burdensome character. All the articles they require are heavily taxed, and, as a matter of fact, they have to bear a great proportion of the taxation imposed through the Customs. Whilst hundreds of square miles of fine agricultural country, in localities close to the centres of population and easy of. access, are lying idle, the farmers have to pass out into areas far removed from markets, and to carry on their operations under the worst possible conditions. In addition to liberalizing our land policy and reducing the taxation upon the products of labour, we should build light lines of railways, in order to furnish our producers with the means of cheap transit. If this were done we should very sooa work a great change in the labour conditions prevailing in our rural industries. If we established a sturdy yeomanry on the soil, their profitable employment would re-act upon the residents of the towns who are dependent for their prosperity upon the success of the primary producers. Take the case of a mining settlement, which springs up in a hitherto barren waste. The pioneers are not the butcher, the baker, the carpenter, the blacksmith, or the doctor, but those who are engaged in the primary industries. When a mining community is established, the secondary industries follow in its train. To supply the needs of such a community, a town springs into existence. The necessities of the pioneer producers demand the skilled labour which follows in their train, the artisans, mechanics, trades, and professions, and also the services of the butcher, the baker, the lawyer, and the Judge, but all these are primarily dependent upon those who first established themselves on the field. Should the mine " peter out," what is the result? There is an exodus of population, and a return to the conditions which originally prevailed. For a town or a city cannot live entirely upon itself. Its existence ever, is largely dependent on the outside producing population. I believe that it is necessary to appoint a High Commissioner in London with the least possible delay, for the purpose of looking after Australian interests. That, however, is a matter of minor importance compared with the question to which I have alluded. Another question, perhaps, which might very well be taken into serious consideration in the near future is the desirableness of holding a Commonwealth Exhibition.

Mr Wilks - After the experience of St Louis ?

Mr JOHNSON - I think it is a matter which is worthy of consideration from the point of view of advertising alone. All these artificial aids, however, are of little use if we continue to follow the course which we are at present pursuing. What is the position ? We find that our producers are saddled with a burdensome

Tariff, which has been the means of forcing thousands out of employment. Its operation has brought ruin and misery to thousands of families throughout Australia. We are not suffering from any niggardliness on the part of nature, but simply from bad legislation throughout Australia- legislation which hampers the freedom of the individual at every turn, which restricts industry, and which imposes burdens that ought never to have been levied. That legislation is having the effect of driving thousands of persons out of Australia every week. One cannot look at the passenger list of any of the big ocean liners leaving Australia without being appalled at the number of families who are quitting our shores - families whose presence it is most desirable we should retain. It has been remarked, during this debate, that free-trade is synonymous with cheap labour. But, I ask, is it not a fact that in the country which for half a century Las been a shining example of the effects of a free-trade policy - I refer to Great Britain - the wages paid are relatively higher than those paid by any other country on the face of the earth, not even excepting America ?

Mr Chapman - That is not a fact.

Mr JOHNSON - It is a fact and is proved by the most eminent statisticians. When honorable members talk about cheap labour I refer them to Germany, to Italy, to Belgium and other highly-protected European countries, and, last of all, to China, which has the most complete protective system that human ingenuity could devise. Will anybody point to China as a paradise of labour or as a shining example of the benefits of a protective policy ?

Mr Hughes - Do not forget that the most complete system of land settlement in the world is to be found in China.

Mr JOHNSON - I do not agree with the honorable gentleman, and if time permitted, I could very well -go into the Chinese land question to show that it is not what many people assume it to be, and any beneficial effect of that system of land settlement is counteracted by its complete protective policy. A policy of land values taxation would not secure the greatest benefit to Australia if we did not pull down the Tariff wall. If we are to- have that class of taxation I hold that it must be concurrent with the reduction or removal of taxation from other sources. If honorable . members desire to know where the most degrading conditions to be found in the world obtain, I would refer them to protectionist America - to the sweating clothing factories, for example, which are to be found about the Bowery in New York. There I have seen whole families living in single rooms, with dogs, cats, and poultry. They are unable to leave their rooms from morning till night, and it requires the united efforts of these families, including the little children, who are not old enough to go to school, to provide the means of subsistence. If the operations of a high Tariff will improve industrial conditions, why has it hot done so there ? Is it not a fact that in all those countries where the Tariff burdens are the heaviest there exist the greatest industrial distress ? I do not deny that similar conditions obtain in other countries which have lower Tariffs, but I do say that df misery and destitution prevail, and if low wages are paid in low Tariff countries, those conditions are accentuated in lands where a higher Tariff is in operation. In my opinion, what has saved America from complete ruination is the absolute free-trade policy which exists between the States from one end of that country to the other. I should not have discussed this question had it not been raised by another honorable member. Under the circumstances, I thought it was only fair that I should direct attention to it, in the hope that some honorable members may yet see the error of their ways, and be converted from the pernicious gospel that the operation of a high Tariff is beneficial to any but a few persons in a community, and to direct their attention to the subject from a different point of view. This I have done in the hope that some may be brought to see that only through embracing freedom can we find industrial, commercial, and social salvation.

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