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Friday, 4 June 1915

Mr W ELLIOT JOHNSON (Lang) . - I wish to take advantage of this opportunity to ask the Minister of Home Affairs to look into a certain matter; but in his absence from the chamber I shall, in the meantime, remind honorable members, who have been making such justifiable outcries against the high cost of living, that this Parliament is primarily responsible for a good deal of what has been complained of in this regard, and they themselves are most to blame. If we had not placed such heavy duties on the necessary commodities and requisites of everyday life, with which the poorest amongst us have to be supplied, the conditions now would be much easier. We in this Parliament are not without responsibility in a large measure for increasing the cost of the food, clothing, furniture, building" material, and other necessaries of life, seeing that the duties range from 20 per cent, upwards.

Mr Burns - How would the honorable member alter that?

Mr W ELLIOT JOHNSON - By retracing the steps we have taken, and reducing the duties, which, by the votes of Labour members, have increased the cost of living to the great bulk of the people. If a merchant imports £100 worth of goods, on which he has to pay 50 or 60 per cent., he has to charge for those goods £150 or £160, plus interest on the duty, seeing that that represents money out of pocket, and the importer naturally passes the cost on to the consumer. Consequently, working men's wives have to pay half as much again and more for their household necessaries. If honorable members are sincere in their desire to do something to reduce the high cost of living they should be prepared to do it immediately, and not at some time in the future. We have nothing tangible before us regarding all. these allegations of corners in foodstuffs and the operations of combines, but we have something tangible in the shape of extra taxation, which is so burdensome on the people. Are we prepared to recede from the position that we have taken up, and reduce the cost of living immediately? We have now the opportunity to our hands to reduce the cost of the necessaries of life, because shortly we will have the Tariff before us for revision. Are we going to do it? I for one am prepared to do that; but I venture to say that some honorable members who profess to be the direct representatives of Labour in this Chamber, and who are so loud in their outcry against the high cost of living, are not prepared to put into operation this simple remedy which would have the effect of making it easier and cheaper for the people to live.

Mr Burns - You did not say this at the last election.

Mr W ELLIOT JOHNSON - I did say it, and have raised my voice and given my vote against it all the time. And, further, I have always fought for and advocated what I am now saying. Theblame for this high cost of living should be placed on the right shoulders - the shoulders of honorable members who are themselves so very largely responsible forit. I do not know whether any of these combinations which have been spoken of are in. existence, for we have not had one single concrete case put before us showing that .there has been any cornering of food by any combine, trust, corporation, or organization. It is true we have had some vague allusions, but nothing tangible has been presented to us, and I say, unhesitatingly, that a good deal of this talk is indulged in simply to disguise from the workers the real truth about the matter - to distract attention from their own culpability in regard to it. If honorable members arereally sincere in their desire to assist the workers they will show their sincerity by reducing the iniquitous taxes which have been placed on the backs of all thosewho have families to provide forand look after. There is one other matter that specially concerns the Minister controlling the Home Affairs Department to which I desire to again draw his attention. It is in reference to resumptions in the Liverpool military area. This again concerns the wage-earners, and not people of wealth, who are able to fight their battles in the Courts of law, and in that way to withstand the tyrannies of the Home Affairs Department. In this case the men concerned are not men of wealth and substance, who can afford to fight the Government, but poor working men, dependent upon their daily wages, and their treatment by the Department is, in my opinion, very unjust. Their land is required for military purposes, and the departmental valuation is an absurdly low one.

Mr Archibald - What lands are these ?

Mr W ELLIOT JOHNSON - They are lands in the Liverpool area.

Mr Archibald - But that is a big area; what part do you refer to?

Mr W ELLIOT JOHNSON - I brought this matter personally under the notice of the Minister some time ago. The owners concerned are the Messrs. Walton. . I have explained the details of the case to the Minister. This land is situated only 13 miles from Sydney, and yet the Government have offered them only £3 per acre for it. If the Government did not require the land it could be sold for suburban allotments at a much higher price than that offered by the Department.

Mr Fenton - I am afraid you are going in for a " stone-wall."

Mr W ELLIOT JOHNSON - No, I am not; but I have not been able to get justice for these men by any other means, and I am forced to bring the matter before Parliament in order that the owners may not be victimized by being compelled to sell for such a miserable sum of money as something like £3 an acre. I venture to say that there is not an acre of land within 13 miles of Melbourne or Sydney that is not worth at least £5 an acre, and very little of it could be got at that figure.

Mr Burns - I paid as much per foot as that for land within a similar distance.

Mr W ELLIOT JOHNSON - Yes, I am aware . that land a similar distance from Sydney has been sold at a price much higher per foot than that which the Department is offering per acre for this land, which is situated in the neighbourhood of George's River and Sutherland.

Mr Webster - Surely one test case would settle this matter.

Mr W ELLIOT JOHNSON - But what is the Department doing? It is apparently using its power to harass--

Mr Archibald - That is absolutely incorrect.

Mr W ELLIOT JOHNSON - I say it is not incorrect.

Mr Archibald - And I say it is in- corrGCt.

Mr W ELLIOT JOHNSON - There has been a delay for two or three years, and yet the owners have not had satisfaction. They are paying municipal rates and other charges, and the Department persists in offering only a paltry sum for land that is worth at least double the amount offered. In my opinion that is victimization. On the face of it, land so close to Sydney must be worth more than that. I do not care where it is, if it is situated so close to the capital cities of Australia, it is worth more than the price offered by the Government.

Mr Burns - How far is it from Sutherland?

Mr W ELLIOT JOHNSON - I think it is about 3 miles.

Mr Burns - You would pay 10s. per foot for it there.

Mr W ELLIOT JOHNSON - Of course, the owners feel they are being unjustly dealt with, but they do not want to be forced into the Courts. Men in their position are not able to bear the expense of a test case. They might lose their employment if they absented themselves from work to fight the Government in the Law Courts. This is the position with regard to these men. They have only their daily wages to depend upon, and I think they deserve more generous treatment at the hands of the Department. The Department should err on the side of generosity rather than play the part of a skinflint or a Shylock.

Mr Archibald - We always do err on the side of generosity. Why did you not tell me that you were going to dig this up? I would have been ready for you then.

Mr W ELLIOT JOHNSON - I did not do so, because the Minister was away in Newcastle, but I brought this matter before the Minister personally some time ago. I have gone into it with his officers, and have asked them to explain how it is that as high as £8 an acre has been offered for land adjoining that to which I am referring, and yet this land, which is said to be greatly superior to the other land, is valued at a lower rate. I will leave the matter for the pre- sent, and will deal with it again, if necessary, when the Estimates of the Home Affairs Department come up for discussion. In the meantime, the Minister can look into the case again, and in coming to a decision upon it, I ask him to use hi3 own common sense, and not to depend entirely upon the opinions of valuers employed in his Department, which are not always infallible. The fact that the land to which I refer is only 13 miles from Sydney is. proof on the face of it that it is worth more than the owners have been offered for it.

Mr Archibald - It is a matter of valuation. Does the honorable member want me to go and value it?

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