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Thursday, 29 September 1904

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member must not say that remarks made by another honorable member were false. He must withdraw that statement.

Mr GIBB - Then I will say that they were incorrect, and their incorrectness was proved to the satisfaction of the House. We are not doing our duty to our constituents in allowing such conduct in this Assembly. It was most undignified and unfair for the honorable and learned member for West Sydney to act as he did. He endeavoured to put upon the Prime Minister acts for which he himself was responsible, in order to lower him in the eyes of the community. I wish now to say a few words to show why I cannot support the Socialist or Labour Party. It is impossible for any member representing a country constituency to do so.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - Why, we come from country constituencies ourselves !

Mr GIBB - I hope that those districts are pleased with the representation which they have obtained. If I supported the legislation which the Labour Party have proposed, and are proposing, I could not hope for the support of my constituents. I told my electors that I was opposed to such legislation as the provision of the Post and Telegraph Act which prohibits the employment of lascars on mail steamers, the result of which has been that, up to the present time, our English mail contracts have not been renewed. It may be asked, how does that affect the farmers ? Every one knows that the farmers depend largely on the mail steamers for the conveyance of perishable produce to the old country ; but the Labour Party, out of mere sentiment - because the lascars do not interfere in any way with the state of the labour market here, and their removal from the mail steamers would not benefit a single working man in the Commonwealth - supported legislation which seriously interferes with the shipping companies which have developed the carrying trade for perishable produce to the old country. The way to assist the farmers is to provide for the carriage of their produce to the Home markets at as cheap rates as possible. Another reason why I cannot support the Labour Party is that they propose to bring all farm servants under the operation of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. Speaking as a farmer, and knowing what I am talking about, I say that if that proposal were carried into effect the dairy farmers and others in the country who now employ labour would be unable to continue to make a living, and the country would be used merely for grazing.

Mr Hutchison - The Labour Party do not propose to fix eight hours as a day's work for agricultural employes. We would leave it to the Court to say what is a fair day's work.

Mr GIBB - Well, the farmers do not want an army of inspectors travelling round their farms to see how long the men are being worked, and what wages are being paid to them.

Mr Thomas - Quite so.

Mr GIBB - Honorable members forget that the wages paid in any industry are governed by the profits made in that industry.

Mr Tudor - Let the butter agents get a little less.

Mr GIBB - The honorable member for Yarra knows perfectly well that the coal strike at Outtrim failed because the men demanded higher wages than the company could afford to pay.

Mr Tudor - I do not think that that was the cause.

Mr GIBB - The men had had their wages raised over and over again, but the directors had to make a stand when the miners asked for higher wages than they could afford to pay, and consequently shut them out, so that the strike was an. utter failure. Similarly the farmers cannot pay higher wages than the profits of their industry will allow. If honorable members can show me that the price of farm produce can be raised sufficiently to allow us to give our employes eight hours a day, and to pay double wages, I shall be very glad. The honorable member for Bourke has had a great deal to say about the emigration of young farmers from the country. That has happened because the remuneration to be obtained from farming pursuits is not sufficient to induce them to stay in the country.

Mr Chanter - Is it not because they cannot get land to settle on?

Mr GIBB - No; there is plenty of land available everywhere; but the State, by fixing minimum rates of wage for employments in the city, is responsible for the drifting of many young men from the country to Melbourne. Young fellows will not work for ten or twelve hours a day on a farm for £1 a week and their keep it they can get 7 s. or 8s. a day in Melbourne. I would not do it myself.

Mr Mauger - Does the honorable member think that those wages are too high?

Mr GIBB - No; but they are higher than the farmers can afford to pay. At the same time, I am sure that those in the employ of the farmers are better off than those who are engaged in city industries. I have passed scores of men through my employment who have saved money out of £1 a week and their keep, and, having made a fair start, are now doing well. It must be remembered that the farmerhas to compete in outside markets against the competition of the world, and it is the prices reigning in those markets which govern his operations. When I was before my constituents, I advocated preferential trade, but the Age ingored that fact altogether, and classed me as a rabid free-trader and a crusted conservative. I was never a conservative in my life, and the fact that honorable members seem to regard me in that light shows that they are guided by the Age.

Mr Mauger - What is a conservative ?

Mr GIBB - The members of the Labour Party are the greatest conservatives here, because they think of nothing else but the interests of the few people who have joined the trade unions, and would legislate on their behalf to the detriment of every other class of the community. I do not wish to say anything against the Labour Party, because I admire them. I think, however, that their short tenure of office has altogether spoiled them. When I came into this House I had not the slightest idea that the Labour Party would ever obtain possession of the Treasury bench, and I would commend to them the advice of the honorable member for Perth, that they should stick to their own platform, and keep clear of all alliances with liberals, or other classes of politicians, by whatever name they may call themselves. I believe that at the next election, the Labour Party will come back stronger than they are at present, and I hope they will gain their accession of numbers at (he expense of the liberal members of the alliance.

Mr Thomas - If we gain, it will be at the expense of the members in the conservative corner.

Mr GIBB - I think that the liberal members of the alliance deserve to be taken down, because of the shameful manner in which they deserted their leader, and entered into an alliance with the Labour Party without consulting him.

Mr Mauger - The honorable and learned member for Ballarat admits that that is not the case.

Mr GIBB - He does not. I am a loyal supporter of my own leader, and I should be very sorry to imitate the example of honorable members opposite.

Mr Thomas - Who is the honorable member's leader? He said just now that he was independent.

Mr GIBB - So I am. I am independent to vote as my conscience may dictate. I announced at the time of my election that I should vote against the Deakin Government, but it happened that the very first time I was called upon to vote in this House, I supported the Deakin Government upon the question of excluding public servants from the scope of the Conciliation, and Arbitration Bill. Therefore, I showed that I was perfectly free to cast an independent vote. It is nauseating to listen to the taunts of honorable members opposite that the protectionists who are supporting the Government have sunk their policy. That is simply nonsense. We know perfectly well that the arrangement entered into will be faithfully kept by both sides, and that no attempt will be made by either to gain a point over the other. The coalition was brought about in order to extricate us from a difficulty, and to relieve us from the condition of muddle into which we had drifted. The scheme would have worked out successfully if the whole of the members of the Protectionist Party had remained true to their leader. Then there would have been no difficulty whatever, and we should not have had an election staring us in the face. We cannot go before our constituents at the present time with any great satisfaction, because our record of work is a miserable one. Moreover, we shall be putting the country to no end of expense, and shall be retarding business, which should be pushed forward for the benefit of the Commonwealth. If the whole of the protectionists had stood firm to their leader, and had allowed the business of the country to be proceeded with, there is no doubt that legislation would have been passed which would have done credit to the Commonwealth, and conferred benefit upon the whole community. It is rather amusing to hear honorable members sitting in the Government corner called 'conservatives. We are told by honorable members opposite that we never vote for anything that is calculated to advance the best interests of the community. I may tell them that if I had my way I would advance the interests of the working man to a far greater extent than would the members of the Labour Party. Do honorable members opposite suppose for a moment that they will assist the working classes by taking £8,000,000 out of the banks ? They should know perfectly well that capita) and labour must work together amicably if we are to make any substantial advancement in the Commonwealth. Progress is impossible if the hand of labour is to be always on the throat of capital. The more capital we can attract here the more labour will be employed, and the sooner honorable mem bers opposite realize that fact the better. Some people imagine that they have nothing to do but to attend their union meetings and pass resolutions asking for eight hours a day and higher pay. They do not consider where the money is to come from, or whether the industry that will be affected can stand the extra strain which they propose to impose upon it. In Western Australia recently Tom Mann proposed that the working day should be reduced to six hours, because there was not enough work for every one whilst those who were in employment worked eight hours a day. I do not suppose that he intended to reduce the rates of pay accordingly.

An Honorable Member. - That was not Tom Mann's advice. It was a resolution carried at a meeting of miners.

Mr GIBB - I should like to know where the money would come from if such a change were brought about. Capital must assist labour, or success will be impossible.

Mr Frazer - Does the honorable member know that the Western Australian mines pay. £2.000,000 in dividends annually?

Sir John Forrest - Yes, but how many mines are paying?

Mr Robinson - And how much money has been lost in them?

Mr Carpenter - The returns show a profit of about £8 per week per man all round.

Mr Robinson - I have some shares that I am willing to give away.

Mr GIBB - I have been told that I am a bloated conservative, and that I am opposed to all progressive legislation. That is entirely contrary to the facts. I have always been a liberal.

Mr Mauger - We shall change our name.

Mr GIBB - I do not claim to be a liberal of the same stamp as honorable members who sit in the .Opposition corner. Their liberality seems to commence and end with their endeavours to secure seats upon the Treasury bench. If they had the 8 o welfare of the Commonwealth at heart, they would stick to their own leader. We should then have stable responsible government. I hope that when those honorable members go to their constituents, they will be classed as Socialists. The issue at the next election will be between Socialism and antiSocialism, and I have very little doubt that those honorable members who have deserted their leader will be relegated to their proper place.

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