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Wednesday, 12 September 1928

Mr WEST (East Sydney) . - I listened attentively to the remarks of the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson). They consisted mainly of a request for additional steamers to be placed on the runs from Sydney to Hobart and from Melbourne to Launceston. He dealt with many abstract questions of which he had little knowledge. He made a futile attempt to bolster up this Government, which is unrivalled in its maladministration of the finances of this country. To-day the Federal and State Governments are faced with falling revenues. No constructive policy is being promulgated to improve our position, and it is our duty, as representatives of the people, to take some action and to suggest means whereby the Government may bring about financial stability. Every true statesman realizes that he occupies his position not merely to receive from time to time the emoluments of office, but in order to serve the interests of the people, and to maintain the high and honorable traditions associated with British administration. Since the unfortunate schism in the Labour party some years ago, Australia has suffered materially in that there has not been brought forward constructive legislation for the benefit of the people. Thoughtful men throughout Australia have lost confidence in the present administration. They admit that the Prime Minister is an energetic man; but they realize that his very activity constitutes a danger to the country. Where activity is not associated with ability, much damage can result. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) spoke in a pessimistic strain regarding the Northern Territory. If it takes 4 square miles of country to provide sustenance for one cow, it would indeed be difficult to obtain sufficient milk for a cup of tea. The honorable member complained of the route of the proposed railway to serve that territory, and prophesied that, if it were constructed, the receipts would not pay for the axle grease used. I remind him that thirteen of the existing railways in New South Wales come within that category.

Mr Killen - But they have assisted settlement.

Mr WEST - The people in the cities have to pay the interest on the cost of those unprofitable lines.

The honorable member had a good deal to say about the value of the wool industry. It is true that our wool crop is worth many millions of pounds per annum, but the wool industry employs less labour in proportion to the returns than does any other industry in this country.

Honorable members opposite blame the Arbitration Court for many of the ills now afflicting this country. When they suggest that the activities of the court are associated only with waterside workers and members of the Seamen's Union, they display their ignorance of the ramifications of the arbitration system. There is hardly an industry in Australia which does not come within the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court. It is many years since I first advocated arbitration as a means of settling industrial disputes. I feel grateful that so long ago I was vouchsafed sufficient wisdom to advocate a system which has been productive of so much good. Arbitration has insured to the workers of this country a share of the wealth they have produced. I am a greater believer in arbitration to-day than ever. I believe in redressing wrongs by constitutional means. Some honorable members, whose antipathy to the arbitration system arises from ignorance and prejudice, appear to fear the consequences of the producers of the country's wealth obtaining a share of it. The day is fast coming when men with such warped views of life will no longer occupy seats in the Parliaments of this country.

The honorable member for Riverina also advocated piece-work. I know something of this system. I have a vivid recollection of some of its effects in my boyhood days. I have seen women struggling along the streets with huge bundles of clothing which they had made at home for a few pence, or a few shillings, for a dozen articles. 1 know something of the miserable hovels in which they dwelt, and of the mental and physical torture they suffered. I know, too, that the conditions under which they worked tended to bring out their worst attributes. Men and women cannot be high-minded if continually faced with the struggle to keep body and soul together. Whenever I hear any person advocating piece-work I am forced to the conclusion that he has never experienced the struggle for existence, and feel tempted to say, "You know nothing about it."

I sincerely hope that the budget before us is the last to be introduced by the muddlers who for several years have occupied the Treasury bench. Unfortunately, for this country, the press does not take the same interest in the budget that was taken in the days of Henry Parkes, William McMillan, George Dibbs, John See, and others. In those clays and later, when Labour was in office in the federal arena, we had sound administration. We do not get that to-day from the composite Ministry; this unholy combination is destroying all the administrative systems.

In his budget speech the Treasurer congratulated himself on the amounts he had paid away in bounties, at the instance of a party he had deserted in order to become a Minister in the composite government. The honorable gentleman has never shown any financial capacity. Having the advice of an expert staff, he should have known the possibility of a decline in revenue. I knew that the receipts from customs and excise could not continue at the abnormal figures of recent years; our markets were being flooded with overseas goods and that could not be allowed to go on. The Treasurer should have had enough foresight to provide against the inevitable fall of revenue. He has not yet told us how he proposes to dispose of the deficit; like Micawber, he is waiting for something to turn up, but there is no prospect of anything helpful turning up. Business men in the capital cities have realized for a long time that the industrial and financial outlook is dark. Notwithstanding that, the Government has continued borrowing abroad to the maximum of the country's credit, and if only for that should be evicted from office. Unfortunately, the Government has been wetnursed by supporters and newspapers by whom the truth has been hidden. Honorable members on this side of the chamber have told the truth to the people as well as we are able to do without the assistance of the press; we warned the country of what was likely to happen. I see no prospect of salvation for Australia unless there is a change of government in the Federal sphere. There is hope from the constructive policy of the Labour party, but the policy of the present Government is merely destructive.

Unemployment is a burning question in the old world and here, and neither the British Parliament nor this Parliament can ignore it. To-day the world is producing more than ever before in its history, and yet is not giving employment to 50 per cent, of its people. One reason is that machinery has largely displaced the worker. Do honorable members think that the capitalists alone should benefit from the economies resulting from the inventions of science, and that the workers should be ruthlessly thrust aside? In Sydney men who have given loyal service to big business firms for 30 years are- told that they are no longer required, and young' men or girls are -Drought in to take their places. Some of these men who at 50 years of age have been thrown on the industrial scrap heap have applied to me for work, but what can I do for them? I cannot send them to the Public Service Commissioner because they are over 45 years of age, and for the same reason they are not likely to get employment from big commercial enterprises, who insist upon the maximum of energy and efficiency in their employees. Hundreds of boys were engaged as street sweepers by the .Sydney City Council with an assurance that if they showed themselves willing and active permanent employment would he found for them as they advanced in years. Eight hundred of these workers have been discharged since the present Civic Commission has been in office. Some of them have been engaged in that work for ten to fifteen years, and what is going to become of them? ' No other establishment will take them. The same sort of thing is taking place in the banks, where male clerks are being discharged, and girls put in their places. At the Cockatoo dock there is some of the finest plant and machinery in the world, purchased at heavy cost, yet the Government proposes to close it up, and to throw a large number of workers out of employment. When it was decided to build two cruisers to protect Australia, the Government sent to the other side of the world for them, and had them built out of loan money. They will last for only ten years, and will then be taken outBide the Heads and sunk. Compare that with the statesmanlike action of the Labour Government when it was in power. The cruisers Melbourne and Sydney, and also the battleship Australia, were built out of revenue, and, when the time came for them to be scrapped, there was not 3d. debt on them.

I have drawn attention to the present policy of excessive borrowing. This Government has borrowed millions of pounds for the Postal Department. When the Labour Government assumed office, it set aside out of revenue £3,000,000 for postal development. We established the Commonwealth Bank, the only' one in the world to be started without one penny of capital. Sir Hugh Denison commenced in a small office with six chairs, and prevailed on the Scotch Treasurer, Mr. Andrew Fisher, to make him a grant of £11,000. In a few years' time the bank had built up a capital of over £4,000,000. At the present time, however, all those in control of the bank have interests in' private banks, and they are not such idiots as not to look after their own private interests. The Commonwealth Bank, in common with other banks, is now curtailing credit, and whenever that is done there is sure to be unemployment. The position is made still worse by the conversion of loans at high rates of interest. The Labour Government was always able to float its loans at par; but this Government cannot get better terms than 98 at 54 per. cent. This is the first Federal Government which has been faced with a deficit, and yet nothing is being done to meet the situation. It is no pleasure to mo to speak in this strain; because I am naturally optimistic. I have great faith in Australia ; but I have no faith in this Government, nor. in its fetish of private enterprise. The last election was won by the Government, not on its merits, but by exploiting the seamen. It assisted to reduce their wages from £10 to £9 a month merely to swell the dividends of overseas capitalists. But now the people are beginning to realize that a change is essential, and that this Government is absolutely callous to the public welfare. It .has squandered money incessantly, and has appointed commission after commission merely to blind the eyes of the people. That work should have been done by the people's representatives. At present there is a commission inquiring into the Federal Constitution. It is costing £300 a week, and is quite useless. To show how futile it is I instance the type of evidence given before it. One witness stated that he wa9 breeding rabbits with fur that was 7 inches long, and that he needed an alteration of the Constitution to- permit him to breed . rabbits with fur only 6 inches long. Another witness, a King's Counsel, and a very able gentleman, gave valuable evidence, but his efforts' were stultified. He criticized the conduct of this Government, the quality of the representatives in our Senate, whom he described as noodles, and the stupidity of having a multiplicity of State parliaments. The chairman of the commission checked him, and stated that the commission was not appointed to deal with that subject. I fail to see why it was appointed. Its report will be voluminous and will cost a small fortune to print, and the whole thing will achieve nothing. If any alteration is to be made to the Constitution it must emanate from this Parliament, and be submitted to the people of Australia by referendum. Then there was the Commission on National Insurance. The German nation introduced a scheme of unemployment insurance at least 50 years ago, and it was quite unnecessary for us to waste time on an extended inquiry when the Government had no intention to proceed with the matter. The whole thing was merely a subterfuge. Actually this Government is strongly opposed to tho passing of such a scheme, which would antagonize many of its strongest supporters, including the medical fraternity. When the problem eventually comes up for discussion in this chamber the Prime Minister will road an elaborately prepared secondreading speech - and that will be the last that we shall hear of the whole thing. The Development and Migration Commission perambulated the country to no purpose and submitted an extremely wordy report that will never he properly read by anybody. The only important subject with which it deals is embraced in one-third of a page. It points out that our unemployed is caused mainly through youths going to work too early in life, and eventually being thrown on the market as unskilled labourers. When Sir John O'Shanassy was asked in the Victorian Parliament about 50 years ago, " What shall we do with our boys ? " his reply was, in the words of London Punch, "Marry them to our girls." The question of the employment of our growing youths causes me a considerable degree of concern. There are in and around Sydney four of the largest technical schools in Australia, and annually I play a part in the distribution of the prizes that have been won by the students. I am probably the father of technical education in the State of New South Wales'. When I am asked by the parents of the boys for advice as to where they can be placed, I am unable to point to any openings for them in a skilled trade. This is a matter that should be taken up in earnest by honorable members generally. When the Labour party was in power it did not send abroad orders for products that only skilled workmen could turn out; it endeavoured to provide new avenues for the employment of our own tradesmen and mechanics. Australia will not progress and become stable until employment is found for the whole of its people. Unemployment is the cause of all discontent; it breeds criminals and mental defectives. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) and other freetraders who sit in this chamber wish to have purchased abroad the whole of our requirements of manufactured goods - they would keep our people down to the level of hewers of wood and drawers of water. The German Empire has re-' covered rapidly from tho ravages .of the war, merely because it is manufacturing on a large scale. The United States of America occupies a similar position. The ships that trade on the American coast are built in that country. The attitude of the Prime Minister of Australia is in sharp contrast to that of the leaders of the United States of' America. In his blundering stupidity he effected the sale of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers, which was assisting the primary producer by conveying his commodities to the London and other markets at a time when they were most readily absorbed, and by that sale he placed us at the mercy of a combine that has neither a body to be kicked nor a soul to be damned. How can we expect anything but unemployment while such a senseless practice is followed ? The Treasurer has not suggested any effective measures for wiping out the deficit and placing the ship of State again upon an even keel. The Government is borrowing at the rate of £40,000,000 a year. A Cabinet consisting of South Sea Islanders, if provided with ample, funds, would administer the affairs of this country much better than the present Ministry. Ability in administration is not necessary when the finances are buoyant, but when there is a shortage of money good management is essential. This Government lacks capacity. Ever since the split occurred in the ranks of the Australian Labour party this country has gone steadily to the bad in regard to both legislation and administration. The Government of which Sir Joseph Cook was Prime Minister consisted of two parties, and was designated a fusion. The electors did not take long to decide upon making a change. I feel confident that the time is not far distant when a similar fate will befall the present Government. The Prime Minister is watching the position very closely, and if he sees a chance of obtaining an advantage over his opponents he will seize it with avidity. For a while he was disposed to precipitate a general election because of the actions of a stowaway on one of the vessels that formerly belonged to the Commonwealth Line. Fancy a unit of the Royal Navy being requisitioned to quell a disturbance caused by one man ! Ever since the occurrence the Commonwealth Government has been a laughing stock in Great Britain for having taken notice of such an insignificant happening. The whole affair was concocted with the object of creating a panic so that the Government could rush to the country." Presumably it would have laid the blame at the door of trade unionism. When honorable members opposite feel inclined to revile trade unionists they should hesitate, because in the ranks of unionism are members of the medical and legal professions, journalists, surveyors, school teachers, public servants and bank clerks. The Government has a large majority and there is no reason why it should not complete its legislative programme instead of rushing to the country. Evidently it thinks that a big strike may occur, and that it may thereby win some votes. But the intelligence of the Australian electors is too great to allow them to be gulled in that way. There is no doubt whatever that a fusion government such as we have at present is injurious to the Commonwealth. We should be better off if we had a straight out Tory administration. When Labour was in office it was able to maintain a credit balance year after year. The present administration is not fit to black the shoes of the last Labour Government. We had no need to bring out travelling showmen to tell us how to govern the country. Undoubtedly the " big four " which is shortly to visit the Commonwealth will endeavour to foster British interests at the expense of Australia. The delegation is composed of sharp-witted business men who may be trusted to look after themselves. One thing that pleased me abou the Secretary of State for the Dominions, Mr. Amery, was that he did not forget for a moment while he was in Australia that he was a member of the British Government. He made no secret of the fact that his object was to make Australians hewers of wood and drawers of water for Great Britain. He said to us, in effect, " Shut your eyes and open your mouth and see what I will send you." It will be much the same with the business delegation which is coming here. 1 shall not neglect to call upon these gentlemen and tell them that, although we are glad to see them, we know how to conduct our own affairs.

It is extraordinary to me that the Government has not given us any indication of how it proposes to meet the deficits in its accounts. Our only hope lies in a change of Government. The present Ministry has lost the confidence of the people. When we go to the country presently, all sorts of wild statements will be made by Government supporters concerning the Labour party. But we have nothing to fear. The people will not be gulled, even by cries such as that once raised against us that we were against the marriage tie. We do not mind the Prime Minister seizing the first opportunity to get to the country because we know that eventually there must be a change. The Prime Minister is a pastmaster at fixing dates for elections. But there is a limit to activities of this sort. The Artful Dodger, as we know, cannot last for ever. No doubt the right honorable gentleman has a splendid staff. If I were Prime Minister with the staff that now assists the right honorable gentleman.

I should "shake the people up a bit." The right honorable gentleman must laugh to himself when he goes home after saying nothing in a great many words. There is actually nothing in what he says, but the people think there is. He must often say to his dear wife, " What a great time I have had. Are not these people stupid? I have fooled them again. It will not last long, but let us make hay while the sun shines." He is not a bad fellow personally, but I have a look at him from the view-point of what is best for my electors. I have nothing to live for now except to do what I can for Australia. My time is short. I know I cannot go on for ever. I note the ironical laughter of honorable members; but I remind them that no one can speak at length unless he is possessed of brains. I am able to speak at length to-night only because I have made a close study of everyday life, and not merely matters of the passing moment. It is my firm belief that we can do a lot to improve the condition of our people. We can bring about a better state of civilization by removing some of the avariciousness that is now displayed. We could improve civilization if those who are elected to legislative halls would use their thinking capacities, and keep abreast of the times by reading literature or even newspapers. Sir Henry Parkes once told me that he was a great reader of newspapers, but his advice was " Read them, but when it comes to a vote, vote the opposite to what the newspapers advise you to do." Honorable members opposite might accept that advice. It is not my desire to be a teacher; but I am anxious to impress on honorable members that when they are elected to a Parliament, they have received the highest gift in the nation, and they should utilize it to the best of their ability to try to remove some of the evils that confront society to-day. For instance, they should try to remove the evil of unemployment. Wherever I go during the coming campaign I shall make that one of the planks in my platform. Unemployment is the breeding ground of ' all discontent in a community. It is a most miserable thing for a man with a wife and children to enter the home on Friday night without his pay envelope, or for a man to have to hump his swag through the country seeking employment. I advise honorable members to read some of our gaol records. A couple of prisoners have written to ask me to visit them in gaol, and I propose to do so next week. I knew them years ago when they were wont to attend the church I attended; but through lack of employment they afterwards did things which they should not have done. Honorable members should think of the many evils which are due to unemployment. Every worker employed is a producer. Every producer is a creator of wealth which can be utilized for the good of the general community. I should like leave to continue my address to-morrow, but by their expressions of disapproval I can see that Government supporters will not grant me that leave. They do not like to hear the truth. All that I have said to-night is gospel truth. I have simply tried to impress on honorable members the need for giving thought to the evils in our midst. I have said nothing unworthy of any man of honour, nothing but that which should cause even the dullest of minds to think, or cause the brightest of minds to become still more active. If I have said anything that is likely to interfere with my return at the next election, I am prepared to accept the consequences. The thoughts to which I have given expression are those of a man who believes that there is much to be done to improve the conditions of the people of Australia. There is, for instance, much to be done to remove the avariciousness of a section of the community and to improve the health of the people.

I have tried to imbue the committee with the principles that were laid down by the Labour movement many years ago. In my youth I was trained as a Chartist in the principles of humanitarianism that are irresistible as a foundation for national liberty. I remember the fight in England for adult suffrage. I recall that some of my fellow countrymen were transported to Australia for seven years for trying to raise the wages of agricultural labourers from 7s. to 8s. a week. Reared in such an atmosphere it is impossible for me to express opinions other than those that I have voiced to-night. I have endeavoured to show that the Government has not conducted the affairs of the Commonwealth in a way that will lead to permanent prosperity. When the party with which I am associated was in power it placed on the statute-book measures of a national character. There was nothing parochial about its legislation. It showed that men of brains could be found among the ranks of those who toil with their hands. I remember the late Judge Lilley addressing a friendly society gathering in Queensland many years ago, and prophesying that the brainy people of the future would be the sons of men who engage in physical labour, and I have never forgotten the truth of that remark. I hope that I have said nothing to offend honorable members, but, if I have done so, it is due to my early training.

Mr Brennan - The Government must answer for this budget.

Mr WEST - Undoubtedly. I do not know how honorable members, opposite can have the effrontery to face the electors in view of the Government's unenviable record. Nothing has occurred to cause a financial drain sufficiently great to justify a deficit. The Government, has relieved large lessees of taxes to the extern of £1,600,000, and has also spent large sums on bounties in order to please the Corner party. It knew all the time that a decline in customs and excise revenue would occur.

I intend to refer briefly to the loan conversion policy of the Government. The only redeeming feature is that it has agreed to consolidate Federal and State loans. When the Labour party is returned to power I shall advocate that, instead of placing short-dated conversion loans on the market, we consolidate our debts and issue consols. I would do what great financiers have done in circumstances such as those existing in Australia. I am quite content to follow men like Walpole, Gladstone, and Goschen. They would never consent to 41/2 per cent, loans such as Australia's war loans being converted at £98 10s., and currying the increased rate of 51/2 per cent, and 6 per cent. People who are willing to permit that method of finance must be foolish, indeed. I read the Sydney Bulletin so much at one time that it was almost my Bible. It was always a pleasure to me to read the interesting leaders of such democratic men as Mr. Edmunds and Mr. Archibald. But the Bulletin has changed hands and is not what it was. It is time the Government adopted a different method of raising loans, and ceased to bleed the people. The number of gilt-edged securities should be reduced, and our finances adjusted in such a way that an opportunity will offer to borrow money at lower rates of interest than prevail to-day. Apparently the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) and those associated with him do not believe that a change is necessary, but the leading financial authorities disagree with them. The problem of our borrowing policy has to be tackled. At present a tremendous amount of money has to be paid in interest before the general community derive any benefit from the revenue collected. I have expressed my opinions upon our financial position somewhat fully in the hope that they may be of some value to the Government, the members of which I have endeavored to enlighten. Conditions alter very rapidly, and if the Government is unable to successfully grapple with the great problems which are confronting the Commonwealth to-day, it should make room for those who are competent to do so. 1 shall reserve any further comment I haveto make on the administration of this Government untilI am addressing the electors, which I hope to do at an early date.

Progress reported.

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