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Tuesday, 27 September 1949

Mr DEDMAN - Did not the Government of which the honorable member was a member introduce the pay-roll tax?

Mr McEWEN - Yes ; it introduced the tax in the middle of the recent war, but not during a so-called golden age.

Mr Pollard - That Government introduced the pay-roll tax in 1938. Why does the honorable member lie about the matter ?

Mr McEWEN - The Minister forCommerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) does not know what he is talking about ; but that is not unusual. When he does know what he is talking about he lies about the subject as he lied about the agreement to sell wheat to the Government of New Zealand. Consequently, does it matter whether he lies through inadvertence, or deliberately? Including the proportion of pay-roll tax that is a component of the cost of living, an impost of at least £24 in indirect tax will be placed upon each person in Australia. That is what the Treasury will collect in primage duty, customs duty, sales tax and other indirect taxes. Certainly, the taxpayer will not pay that impost directly. The trader will pay the indirect tax and in the final selling price of an article will load a profit based on a cost inclusive of tax. The Prices Commissioner who functioned under the present Government approved that practice. The Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) may look at me rather bleakly, but he was a member of the Cabinet when the Prices Commissioner approved of the practice of traders loading their profit upon a price inclusive of the indirect tax payable on commodities. Those write-ups of profit will increase indirect taxes payable by each consumer to at least £36. Honorable members can calculate for themselves how much that impost will work out at per capita in respect of the wageearning population. The figures that I have cited I have extracted from the budget which the committee is now debating. Those figures show clearly that every head of a family in this country whether he earns the basic wage or enjoys a higher income will be loaded with an indirect impost varying from £50 to £100 during the current financial year. That is what the budget means to the average man and woman in this country; and when it is examined from that aspect, it is not an abstract, incomprehensible document. In this so-called golden age a Labour Government has presented a budget under which every head of a family will pay not so many shillings extra a week, according to his income range, hut from £1 to £2 a week in indirect taxes including the impost represented in the profit imposed by traders in passing on indirect taxes. I contend that this is merely another example of the Labour Government treating the people as a lot of " suckers ". When I visited the Royal Agricultural Show in Melbourne the other day I was reminded of my younger days when it was customary for confidence men to fleece the public attending shows. However, the confidence men could learn a few tricks from the people who prepare the Commonwealth budgets. If ever a budget was designed to deceive the people it is the one now being debated. A budget necessarily hinges on the total national income. It shows how much revenue the Government expects to receive, from whom that money will be collected, and how it is proposed to expend the revenue. Of course, we well know that according to how the people like what the Government is doing they can return it to office, or change it at the general election. That is still the prerogative of the Australian people and we shall abide by the umpire's decision. We must all bear clearly in mind that, at the proper time, the Australian people can choose the Government that it wants, one that will divide up the national income as the people desire it to he divided. But the people are not likely to choose a government that proposes to divide up more national income than exists. The size of the sections into which an orange can he cut depends on the size of the orange. That is why the Opposition attaches so much importance to the volume of production in this country. Should our national income diminish seriously, no Government could make good the deficiency. The position is analogous to a group of children dividing a hag of lollies. If there are five children in the group and fifteen lollies in the bag, no one child can have more than three lollies if the distribution is to be equitable. Therefore we should see that there is a volume of production sufficient to maintain a good Australian standard of life.

This is a budget of vast .figures. It is true that in this year of grace there is a very big orange to be divided; in fact, there will be about £540,000,000 worth of orange to be cut up. But did Labour create this hig orange? Let us consider where this money comes from. It must be remembered that all that can be divided is the proceeds from the sale of the physical goods that are produced. I have sought unsuccessfully to obtain from various government departments the most recent figures with relation to the value of production in Australia last year. However, I understand that the export value of wool, wheat, lead, zinc, dairy products, meat, poultry products, and fruit for the year 1947-48 was £284,431,000, whilst the probable value of exports during the financial year just concluded will be about £239,000,000. It is therefore safe to assume that the value of last year's production of these principal basic primary products exceeded £300,000,000. That is why we have a big budget. But if wool realized 100d. per lb. at auction, and wheat £1 a bushel in the open market, could Labour claim the credit?

Mr Ward - What is the honorable member trying to prove ?

Mr McEWEN - I am endeavouring to prove something that could be uncomfortable for the Minister.

Mr Ward - I am not afraid of anything that the honorable member may prove.

Mr McEWEN - I should not stick my head out too far if I were the Minister.

Mr Ward - The honorable member should not fear; I am quite capable of handling any assertion that he may make.

Mr McEWEN - I am glad that no other honorable member on the Government side of the chamber has attempted r,o divert my thoughts on this subject. The high prices at present being obtained for our primary products may be regarded as a windfall. This budget is the outcome of the receipt of high prices for our products plus the aftermath of the great injection of credit into the economy of this country, rendered necessary in the conduct of the war. We are in this fortunate position because vast sums of money have come to us not because of our own planning but just as accidentally as riches come to the winner of a lottery. I stress that the high prices being obtained for our primary products are just as unorganized so far as the Government or the Opposition is concerned, as is the winning of a lottery. This budget appears to have been conceived in the expectation that we shall win a lottery every year during the remainder of our lives. Of course, we might. Normally, however, life is not like that. Honorable members on this side of the chamber believe that we should get down to the real issues and plan for substantially increased production. We should not found the prosperity of this country upon fortuitous high prices, but upon real production and real trade. When Labour came to office it inherited a trade structure which had been carefully and patiently established over the years by non-Labour governments, on a foundation of Empire trade and reciprocity, preference in the British market for the sale of our primary products, and an assured market in this country for British goods.

Mr Ward - There were also 250,000 persons unemployed in this country.

Mr McEWEN - The basic soundness of our economy was that we had assured markets for our primary products, whilst the people who bought them from us were assured of preference in their sales to us. There followed a series of trade agreements mutually advantageous to ourselves and countries with which we negotiated. All that has been turned up by the Labour party, of which this larrikin interjecting Minister, who is never rebuked, is a member.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr Sheehy - Order! The honorable member must refer to Ministers by their proper titles.

Mr McEWEN - I repeat, all that has been turned up by this Government.

Mr Dedman - That is quite untrue.

Mr McEWEN - The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) should be an authority on truthfulness, heaven knows! On this side, we regard him as the greatest authority in this House on untruthfulness. By going to Geneva, Havana, and elsewhere, and signing away the heritage that has been carefully built up 'in this country for generations, he has left us without assured markets, so that to-day, we have no trade preferences. We have no right to preference in British markets, or in those of any other country, nor has the United Kingdom any right to preference in other countries. In due course, when Japan and Germany join the International Trade Organization as that great internationalist, the Australian Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt), intends that they should do, we shall find that those countries also will be entitled to sell their goods in the Australian market on the same basis as British goods. We shall have no advantage in the United Kingdom, or in any other country. This is the most devastating blow that has ever been dealt to the ultimate security of the Australian economy, and it has been dealt by a Labour Government. It is all very well to have this bright and beautiful idealism when wool is bringing 10Od. per lb. and wheat could bring £1 a bushel or more if the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture was not selling it for less; but when the cold blast of world competition hits us, and we find that we have given away our markets - " given " is the word because we are getting absolutely nothing in return - it will be very hard to sustain the standard of living that this country claims to be the right of its people. I am not going to say that all this will lead to another depression and widespread unemployment. Our society is not static. It is an evolving society. All of us have learned a lesson. Whatever government may be in office there will never again be, I am sure, hundreds of thousands of unemployed in this country. The Labour Government has its plans. It has announced what it intends to do to safeguard Australia .against unemployment. One of its plans is to standardize the railway gauges, but, so far, that project has only been an election-time story. It was part of Labour's policy at the last elections, but. what has been done about it since? The Government also has in mind, wc are told, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric scheme, a vast road construction programme, and afforestation schemes. It is said that £50,000,000 will be expended in the Northern Territory. That is Labour's guarantee against unemployment in this country. If there is no better guarantee, let us have Labour's plans, hut I say that those plans are rendered necessary only because honorable members opposite know in their hearts that they have undermined the Australian economy. What of the Australian workers who will be compelled to accept Labour's formula for avoiding unemployment? What of the man who may lose his job _ at Darlinghurst, only to be told, " There is no need for you to be unemployed. We are building a reservoir on the Ord River in the Kimberleys. You can go up there with a few thousand others and carry out that work". And what of the Carlton worker who, upon losing his employment, is told that there is a job for him at Hay, Oodnadatta, or somewhere else in the remote regions of the Commonwealth? Australian workmen and their wives will be the greatest sufferers if the undermining of our economy by a Labour government makes it necessary to disperse our working population in that manner. The Australian people should realize that this easy formula which Labour propounds will not be so easy when it is put into effect, and families are broken up. In Russia, forced labour camps are called concentration camps. In Germany, they were called slave camps. In Australia, of course, we shall have a better and brighter name. For instance, we are told that workers do not pay income tax: they pay a " social service contribution . We have " new Australians ", not " immigrants ". We can expect, therefore, a brighter name for the fellow who has to go to a camp in the Northern Territory ; but whatever label the camp may bear, as far as the worker is concerned, it will only be a. place that he has to go to because Labour has made a mess of things.

Mr Menzies - They will probably call him an "in-patient".

Mr McEWEN - Yes. Labour has no serious thoughts on life apart from gaining votes and rewarding its faithful supporters. In that respect, also, Labour follows closely the pattern laid1 down by the Communists. The " corns " want, above all, to destroy arbitration in this country. The Labour party, of course, will not destroy arbitration. Perish the thought ! It will uphold arbitration ; and so the maritime industries which used to function under the Arbitration Court have been removed from that court and placed under the Maritime Industries Commission, a member of which, by the grace of the Labour Government, is Mr. Elliott, a notorious Communist. Yet, honorable members opposite would have us believe that they would not touch the Communists with a 40-foot pole. The Communist-controlled waterside workers, under Mr. Healy, wanted to get away from the Arbitration Court. Labour, of course, would not remove them from the jurisdiction of the court. Perish the thought! But it did. It established the Stevedoring Industry Commission and appointed to it, by proclamation, the openly confessed Communists Messrs. Healy and Roach. The coal-miners wanted to get away from the Arbitration Court, so they were taken away from it and placed under the control of a public servant, Mr. Gallagher, who is appointed for a term of seven years. One after another industries have been removed from the control of the Arbitration Court proper and put under the control of a , group of people called conciliation commissioners. Mr. Findlay, a ministerial car driver only a few years ago, is now a conciliation commissioner in receipt of £1,500 a year. Mr. Blakeley, a former Labour Minister, has been rewarded for his good service to the party by being appointed a conciliation commissioner. Mr. Donovan, who was a private secretary to a Minister, is also a conciliation commissioner.

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