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Thursday, 20 September 1928


Mr YATES (Adelaide) .- Last night two honorable members on the opposite side made speeches in which they dealt with the existing waterside dispute, and it was evident that they would like tosee the waterside workers ruthlessly flogged into submission by the Government.


Mr Manning - They are not asked to submit to the Government dictates, but to obey an award of the Arbitration Court.


Mr YATES - The men concerned in the industry are quite convinced that the judge did not understand the position, and for that reason imposed conditions which are not compatible with common sense, or equity. The honorable member who has just interjected claimed to know something of the workers' conditions, because he had both worked with them, and had employed them. I worked iu a factory for seventeen years, and I know more about the conditions obtaining in the industry with which I was concerned,than could be known by any outsider. Therefore, I can readily believe that the waterside workers are more familiar with their industry and its conditions than any one else could be, and I am inclined to listen to them with respect when they say that the new award is an impossible one. Instead of using the big stick method advocated by some honorable members, the Government should, I think, make some effort to understand the workers' point of view. The waterside workers, as a portion of our community, are playing their part in the creation of wealth. The Commonwealth will have a fine story to tell of its achievements more particularly during the last ten years since the war, and taking things by and large there is very little room for complaint about the workers of this country.

The honorable member for Herbert (Dr. Nott) has referred to tobacco culture. For a long time I have thought that the cultivation of tobacco in Australia has been neglected, and I support the honorable member's contention that if we are to absorb the migrants we desire to come to Australia, it will be the duty of the Government to give a stimulus to tobacco culture. As a factory worker I started at a wage of 8s. a week, and at the end, when I was a married man, -I was receiving the magnificent sum of 39s. a week. I was a steady smoker in those days; I smoked od an average a quarter of a pound of tobacco a week. Multiply that quantity by 52 and consider the amount of excise duty I paid yearly. Compared with the ability of the individual to pay, it will be found that the excise duty on tobacco is one of the heaviest of Australian taxes.

The honorable member for Herbert spoke of the need for alterations to the post office at Cairns. His remarks struck a sympathetic chord in my heart because I have been most assiduous in my attempts to get a new post office in the eastern portion of Adelaide. The business done in that part of the city amply justifies the erection of a new post office there. As I have previously said the present building has been described as a ben roost. It is not paying much of a compliment to the hen roost. When the present Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) was a private member -and was criticizing the budget presented by the then Treasurer, be said -

I have previously referred to the post office at Mildura, which is a disgrace to civilization and can only be compared with the Black Hole of Calcutta.


Dr Earle Page - There is a good post office at Mildura now.


Mr YATES - If . I could only bring about a similar result in regard to the post office in the eastern end of Adelaide I should be satisfied.


Dr Earle Page - The honorable mem- her had better take me to see it.


Mr YATES - The Postmaster-General has already seen' the building and knows that what I am saying is quite correct. A few days ago I said that if the Commonwealth could afford to spend £133,000 on the reconditioning of the Goulburn to Canberra-road, to which I did not object, it could" easily have made provision on the Estimates for the erection of a new post office in the eastern part of Adelaide. The Postmaster-General has informed me that the new post office in George-street, Sydney, has cost £32,000. The amount is not a staggering one and I do not think it is too much for me to ask the Postmaster-General to provide a building of the same suitable type in Bundlestreet, Adelaide. If the PostmasterGeneral, having heard the Treasurer's comparison of the Mildura post office with the Black Hole of Calcutta, could proceed with the erection of a new post office in Mildura, I think he will admit that I have a better claim for the erection of a new post office in the eastern portion of Adelaide. Much more revenue is obtained from the eastern portion of Adelaide than from Mildura. The citizens are entitled to a post office commensurate with the importance of the capital.

I desire to be fair in discussing the budget. I intend to read a few extracts from speeches delivered by the present Treasurer in 1921, when he attacked the then Treasurer, Sir Joseph Cook. His accusation was that Sir Joseph Cook did not budget in the best interests of Australia, and the Treasurer of the day characterized the present Treasurer's remarks as insulting and blackguardly. In October, 1921, Dr. Earle Page, as a private member, went so far as to accuse the then Treasurer of " dummying " his estimates, and making misleading statements in connexion with them. He furnished figures that were claimed by him to prove that his argument was sound. On the 25th November, 1921, le said -

With regard to practically all the departments, it is my intention to attempt to bring about a reduction of the Estimates by, in effect, rationing the departments, and insisting upon their being conducted within the limit thus set.

At that time the present Treasurer probably did not anticipate that the time would come when he would be deserving of similar criticism, and would be called upon to take a dose of his own medicine. He quoted a big table of figures, giving the expenditure of 1921-22, and showed the increase that had taken place as compared with the expenditure for 1913-14. I intend to make a similar comparison, but not such an exhaustive one. He was asked at the time whether the figures were authentic, and he replied that they had been audited by the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Hunter), and were reliable. I have not had the assistance of a certified accountant, and I cannot be expected to give as much detail as the Treasurer did on that occasion.

Sitting suspended from 18.45 to 2.30 p.m.


Mr YATES - In 1921 the Treasurer was a fervent advocate of economy and led the people to believe that the revenues of the Commonwealth were not being applied to the purposes for which they were collected and appropriated by Parliament. In fact, chaos reigned supreme in the Treasury, and he as the leader of the economy party intended to see that the collection and expenditure of public moneys was properly managed. He bitterly criticized the cost of departments and said that his policy would be to ration them and make them live within the allotted sums. Throughout a virulent speech he asserted that the finances were managed in a slipshod manner, and in consequence the Commonwealth was going to the dogs. The departments, he said, were overmanned and did not work long enough hours; either the working hours should be increased or the number of employees should be reduced. One naturally expected that when he took charge of the Treasury he would proceed to practise what he preached, and that his example would be at least as good as his precept. And no Treasurer has ever been in a better position to live within his means. He has been more fortunate than his predecessors in that the public coffers have always been overflowing. But the conditions with which he found fault in 1921 are even worse to-day. Six years of office is a good apprenticeship; an improver in any trade who does not become a good journeyman after six years is regarded as a "dud." The Treasurer when a private member contended that the taxpayers were being heavily burdened through bungling and maladministration and advocated the rationing of departments. Let us see how the departmental expenditure in the year he took charge compares with that of to-day -

 

The Treasurer might justly have been expected at least to live within the income that he criticized as unwarrantably extravagant, but even in his own department, where his master mind should have had full play, the expenditure has increased. I have on a previous occasion quoted the honorable gentleman's criticism of the Treasurer of 1921, and I think it is worthy of repetition -

The best method is to live within one's income so as to reduce indebtedness, and at the same time to have the reputation of being anxious to continue to do so. The worst way is for all the Australian governments to join in a rake's progress of budgeting for a deficit. Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, and now the Commonwealth Government have all done this.

It is strange, indeed, to see the honorable gentleman parading in the plumes which he so unsparingly condemned when worn by his predecessor. He said then that the States were financial rakes. Today he is the greatest rake in the Commonwealth. Having been six years in office, he has had ample opportunity to rectify the faults which he criticized in 1921, and, having failed to do so, he should either frankly admit that at that time he did not know what he was talking about, or that, having climbed to office, he is content to play the same game as his predecessor. He said in the speech from which I have already quoted -

The Treasurer has resorted to taking out of loan funds £923,794 for post office works, notwithstanding that that department is estimated to make a profit of £1,800,000, a difference between £9,300,000 of revenue and £7,500,000, the cost of ordinary services, which he swooped into general revenue, and he proposes to spend from loan funds instead of revenue £162,000 on passage money for assisted immigrants, which under no circumstances can be considered a charge against loans.

To-day the Treasurer is making money available from loan funds for expenditure upon postal works and upon migration. The honorable gentleman had the presumption to declare in effect that no clrcumstances could arise which would justify expenditure from loan to provide passages for assisted immigrants, and if he was right then he cannot justify the item in the Loan Bill introduced by him a few days ago of £300,000 for the passages of assisted migrants. The conditions to-day are not comparable with those iri 1921, when he could find no justification for expending in this way half the sum he proposes to expend this year on the same service. He made a further reference to the Postal Department -

I desire to enter an emphatic objection to taking from the Postal Department the profits it' makes and crediting them to general revenue, while compelling the department to construct the greater part of its new works out of loan funds.

By this practice the department, year by year, is carrying an increased burden. In my opinion the profits that sometimes accrue in this department should be reserved to the department, so that it can extend its facilities as much as possible. Last year this House granted £9,060,000 to the PostmasterGeneral, £1,391,000 of which was not used.

The present Treasurer stated on that occasion that postal works should be constructed out of revenue - that was the policy adopted during the Labour regime - but apparently from what has since transpired he did not know what he was talking about. Surely he has had an opportunity to give effect to the principles which he so strongly advocated when he made a very bitter attack upon the Treasurer. He has said that he would ration the departments, and that the whole system of Federal finance should be changed, in some cases by adopting the principles which the Labour party applied. Notwithstanding his utterances on that occasion, we now find him, after a period of unprecedented prosperity, handling national finance in such a way that he has to announce a deficit of £2,600,000, which is to be placed to a suspense account. When similar action was taken by the Treasurer in a Labour Administration in South Australia, in connexion with a railway deficit of £590,000, the Liberals strongly criticized the action of the Government. The Railway Commissioner, who was an American railway expert, said that the amount should be placed to a suspense account and liquidated from future revenue ; but the Opposition so strongly opposed it that the Government went to the country and the Liberals misrepresented the whole position in such a way that the Labour party was defeated. The Liberal party said that it would square the ledger; but instead of doing so it came out, after its first year in office, with a deficit of £250,000. The Federal Treasurer, like Micawber, is always waiting for something to turn up. He is relying upon the future productivity of the Commonwealth to return him sufficient to liquidate the deficit which has been placed to a suspense account. It is amazing to compare the statements of the Treasurer when he was a private member with his action as a Minister of the Crown. He also made the following interesting utterance concerning Australia's indebtedness: -

The result of this method of dealing with our war indebtedness and the sinking fund is that Australia's State and Federal debts together total £798,750,000. This is equal to £160 per head of the population, and £040 per bread-winner.

Our present debt is approximately £1,100,000,000, and if my calculations are correct the debt per head of the population is now nearly £180 instead of £160 as it was then. I do not know what the amount is per bread-winner, as I am not aware of the basis upon which the Treasurer obtained his figures. The national debt has increased, as also have other financial obligations of the Commonwealth. The result of the Treasurer's handling of our finances is the antithesis of what he said it would be, if the Country party was sufficiently powerful to assume control. It is time the people should realize what he and the Government with which he is associated is doing. I believe that when the electors become aware of the facts, and realize the position in connexion with Australia's development and future financial prospects, they will make a very drastic change. They do not believe in treasurers who do not practise what they preach. Let us see what this " Dismal Jimmy " of whom I am speaking said concerning Australia's industries at that time. On page 12031 of Hansard he is reported as having said -

What have we available to spend on the conduct of our Government? A glance at the sources of our national income will show us that prices for our principal products are approximating those before the war. Wool is about the pre-war level, butter is rapidly falling, hides are down, meat is almost unsaleable, sugar has dropped, jam is a drug on the market, timber mills have ceased working in many parts of the Commonwealth, mining operations generally are suspended, and wheat is falling. All the primary products are in a slump, which may last for years.

If that is not the utterance of a Dismal Jimmy, I do not know what it is. According to his statement, there was hardly an industry out of which the bottom was not dropping. I have quoted the Treassurers' words when he was criticizing, as I am to-day, the Treasurer who was then in office. It was in connexion with a subsequent budget that the present Treasurer made the famous remark, "I intend to turn on the light and make them drop the loot." Who was getting away with it? Are we to assume that, as a result of the light being turned on, we are in our present position, notwithstanding that during the whole of his term of office the conditions had never been better? He has submitted a budget showing a deficit of over a quarter of a million, and a heavier national debt than we have ever had before. In addition, we are sending move overseas in interest than we have ever done before. I now ask the Treasurer to tell us in what way he is giving effect to the principles which he then enunciated, and to explain if wool has ever been back to pre-war prices, whether wheat has fallen, or whether the jam manufacturing and other industries have collapsed. We are producing more than we can find markets for, and the dismal utterances of the Treasurer at that time cannot be substantiated. If time permitted I should quote many interesting statements of the Treasurer, but they are all as ridiculous or as misleading as those which I have already given. Here is another -

Last year we had a trade balance against us of £32,000,000, our imports exceeding our exports by that amount; this year our exports which pay practically the whole of our external interest, and a good proportion of our income tax, are less in quantity, and our imports, which must pay the whole of our customs duties, have slumped to the extent of nearly 40 per cent. Despite this, the Treasurer has budgeted for this revenue from the optimistic side.

He was referring to Sir Joseph Cook, who apparently differs little from Dr. Earle Page. Is he not budgeting in the same way as the predecessor whom he criticized? The only difference is that he is actually the Treasurer of to-day. I do not wish to score off the Treasurer; but he is in a most unenviable position. I merely want to find out who is telling the truth. It may be said that I, as a factory-bred fellow, do not understand all the intricacies of finance, but as one with a certain amount of knowledge in every-day affairs, I cannot but be amazed at the Treasurer's advocacy of certain principles which he has failed to apply when he has the opportunity. I once advocated the issue of incontrovertible notes for use within the Commonwealth, and the South Australian Treasurer at that time, Mr. Crawford Vaughan, conferred with the Under-Treasurer, Mr. Gill, as to whether such a system was compatible with sound finance. The Under-Treasurer told him that it was suitable for internal transactions, and that, if the State had control of its own currency, there was nothing wrong with the principle. We have lived to see such a system in operation. To-day we are using such a note, and it is effecting the same purpose that would be effected if it had a pound's worth of gold behind it, because it is backed up by the assets of the Commonwealth. At the time when I made that suggestion I was told by a person whose knowledge of mathematics was greater than mine that I was a fool. My common sense, however, led me to believe that there was nothing unsound in my contention; and- time has, demonstrated its wisdom. Force of circumstances compelled us to resort to the use of inconvertible paper, and the Commonwealth has not suffered thereby. When conflicting statements are made by those who are supposed to be acquainted with the subject, I may be excused if I fall slightly into error in the deductions I draw from the facts. When the people realize the truth, the present financial policy will be altered.

Our interest bill at the present time amounts to over £1,000,000 a week. We have continued to borrow until we have almost reached the bursting point. When the powers that be considered it essential to float a loan to enable Australia to discharge her war obligations, Mr. Fisher, as Prime Minister and Treasurer, called into conference with him the heads of the banks, the stock exchange, and other financial institutions. It was decided to borrow £20,000,000 within the confines of the Commonwealth. Acting upon the advice of the high priests of finance, Mr. Fisher decided to accept that sum in four instalments of £5,000,000 each. A leading article in the Adelaide Register, which discussed that memorable loan, " let the cat out of the bag " when it said it was well that the money was to be used within the Commonwealth to purchase equipment for the soldiers and to pay them, because it would be spent within the Commonwealth, and thus circulate through the different channels of industry, returning eventually to the source from which it was originally obtained, and thus be available when the next instalment of £5,000,000 was required. I believe that that is what happened; and the financiers imposed upon a bleeding and suffering community an interest rate of 4^ per cent., which has remained with us ever since. The matter was discussed in this chamber, those who took part in the discussion including ex-Treasurers, who might be presumed to be the high priests of finance. No less a person than the present right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), who had just retired from the position of Premier and Treasurer of Victoria, and who ought to have known something of the way in which the financial machine worked, stated in this assembly on the 21st July, 1915, that the Fisher Government had been well advised to accept the loan in five instalments, because it was practically an impossibility to take £20,000,000 in one sum out of industry; and that, if such a course were followed, it would strike at the root of our commercial life. His inference was that the financial equilibrium of the Commonwealth would be upset. But what happened after he made that doleful utterance? Within a period of five years, no less a sum than £300,000,000 had been taken from the very people from whom he said that £20,000,000 could not be taken without causing injury to industry and resulting in financial chaos. We have lived to see what can be done in regard to finance when the devil drives. Unfortunately, we had to pay the controllers of finance the price that they demanded. In a little over ten years those who put their money into war loans will have received the whole of it back in interest, and the Commonwealth will still owe the original amount. Yet the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) says that the national debt is being reduced ! The people are being misled ; they do not realize the truth of the matter. During the last ten years, we have established a record in regard to production that has no parallel in the history of the Commonwealth. Despite the doleful picture painted by the Treasurer, Australia was never more stable than she is at the present time; yet hundreds of thousands of persons are unemployed, the development that should take place is being retarded instead of expanded, and large estates are becoming larger instead of being broken up. Sir William Irvine frequently made in the Commonwealth Parliament the statement that, " Finance is government and government is finance." If we accept that dictum, we must admit that this Government has made a muddle of the affairs of the Commonwealth. We should be a happy, thriving, prosperous people, but we have never experienced worse conditions than those through which Australia is passing to-day.







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