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Wednesday, 25 February 1959

Mr PETERS (Scullin) .- Mr. Deputy Speaker,the Twenty-second Commonwealth Parliament has passed away, and the Twenty-third Parliament has been opened with all the pomp and ceremony that is dear to the hearts of members of Parliament and their friends, and dear in another way to the rest of the people of Australia also. For the first time, a large audience of Australians has been able to see some of those ceremonies on television.

The fifth Menzies-Fadden Administration since 1949 has come and gone. We have seen the end of an epoch. No longer is Sir Arthur Fadden a member of this Parliament, and the end of an epoch, surely, is a time when we should, as it were, draw up a kind of national balance-sheet and compare the balance-sheet of the era that has just passed with those of earlier eras. But this is not to say, of course. Mr. Deputy Speaker, that directing attention to what has been done will alter anything that has been done. Not all our piety or wit can cancel half a line; nor all our tears can wash out a word of the record of what has been done. The record is written! But a comparison of the balance-sheet of the latest era with those of earlier eras can let the people see whether the road that we are treading is the right road, whether the methods that we are adopting are the right methods, and whether there should be an alteration of methods, direction or administration. Therefore, T wish to present briefly a comparison between the balance-sheet for the latest era and that for an earlier era in the history of this Australia unlimited to which the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) has referred this evening. Of course, the balance-sheets are not mine. They are prepared by the Commonwealth Statistician - the official statistician of the Commonwealth. And the inferences that are drawn from them will not be mine. They will be the inferences of a responsible official in this community.

Let us take the nine years from the financial year 1940-41 to the financial year 1948-49, both inclusive. In that period, we exported £2,001,000,000 worth of commodities. We imported £1,501,000,000 worth of goods. We paid in interest on public authority loans £225,000,000. We paid out in other invisible items £444,000,000. We showed a favorable balance of £145,000,000. During the latter part of that era after 1943, when the Curtin Government was in office, we showed a favorable balance of payments of £210,000,000. When the Curtin Government took office, our overseas interest bill was £28,000,000 per annum. In 1949, we were paying in interest on overseas bonds £19,000.000 per annum. The amount going to overseas bondholders had been reduced by £9,000.000 per annum. T ask honorable members to keep those figures in mind and to pay attention to those that I am about to recite.

From the financial year 1949-50 to the financial year 1957-58, we exported £7,215,000,000 worth of commodities. This was more than ever before - not because of any action on the part of this Government, but because of bountiful seasons, without droughts, and because of high prices for our goods overseas. We imported in that period £6,698,000,000 worth of goods. We paid in interest on government loans overseas £188,000,000, and we paid in other invisibles £1,253,000,000. Over that period of nine years, our adverse balance - the community's loss upon current account- totalled £824,000,000. The interest bill on government loans overseas increased from £19.000.000 in 1949-50 to £23,000,000 in 1957-58.

A nation is like a family or a business, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It cannot continually pay out more than it receives. Along that road lies bankruptcy. I admit, of course, that a community, like a business or a family, can pay out more than it receives over a period, if the expenditure that it makes leads to the development of industry in order that production at home can be increased in the future. But is that the case with Australia? Has that vast overseas debt meant the building up of large assets that will add to the productive capacity of the community in the future and so raise the living standards of the people?

Has the vast expenditure been on capital equipment for the building of hospitals, schools, and homes? No, we have relatively fewer homes to-day than we had in the past. Our hospital facilities are inadequate. We do not have enough schools to cater for the requirements of the people.

Mr Cramer - The honorable member should tell that to Mr. Cahill.

Mr PETERS - The present situation has been brought about because this Government has, contrary to the interests of Australia, spent more than our income, and that at a time when the national coffers have never been so full.

Mr Anderson - Mr. Cahill says that Australia is prosperous.

Mr PETERS - I would be the last to say that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) and the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) should take any notice of the conclusions that I draw or should be able to analyse the figures that I put before them in such stark reality and clarity. I do not expect them to accept my word or to understand what I am saying. But I do expect them to take heed of the leading public servant in this community who deals with these matters. He is a gentleman who was formerly known as Mr. J. G. Crawford, secretary of the Department of Trade. Because of his outstanding capacity and near-genius he was recently knighted, and to-day he is known as Sir John Crawford.

On 30th October, 1958, the Melbourne " Sun " carried the following article: -

An overseas trading deficit of £260 million for Australia in 1958-59 was forecast to-day by the Secretary of the Trade Department (Mr. J. G. Crawford).

What does that mean? In 1939 Australia's overseas funds totalled £55,000,000. When the Curtin Government went out of office our overseas funds totalled £650,000,000. Shortly after the Curtin Government went out of office our overseas funds had reached £803,000,000, due to the efforts of the Curtin Government. To-day our overseas funds amount to £525,000,000. The newspaper article, quoting Mr. Crawford, states -

He said that, as a result, overseas balances would drop below £400 million, against £567 million at the end of 1956-1957.

This is a most interesting article. I should like to read all of it. It continues -

He said that in 1956-57 Australia's exports were £978 million and imports £718 million, leaving a favourable balance of £93 million after freight, insurance and other charges totalling £167 million had been met.

On present market prices Australia would do well this financial year if exports reached £750,000,000. Imports were expected to be £810,000,000.

Mr. Crawfordsaid he was fairly confident that Australia would not have to face a repetition of the 1929 depression.

What does it mean when a man in Sir John Crawford's position says, after pointing out the dangers of our present situation, that he is fairly confident that hundreds and thousands of Australia's sons and daughters will not have to trudge her country roads or her city streets in a hopeless quest for work? What does it mean when he says that he is only " fairly confident " that in an industrial suburb such as Brunswick, where 1 live, with 60,000 inhabitants, including men, women and children, 12,000 of them will not be on the dole as they were in 1929? Sir John Crawford says that he is only " fairly confident ". What is his remedy? He says -

However, we should pray every night that there will not be a major setback in the economies of our main overseas customers.

That is his remedy. The people of Australia must pray that the capacity of overseas countries to purchase our goods will remain as high as it is, or even increase. The position is an intolerable one. Even at this late stage the Government should take some financial action to remedy the position. To-night the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) said that Australia should encourage overseas investment in this country in order to develop it. What happens when overseas countries invest in Australia? Are those overseas investors content not to draw interest on their investment, or must we export more and more goods in order to pay the interest on overseas investments, just as we do now in order to pay the increasing interest debt on government loans? That would be the position. All overseas investors, whether they be from America, as in the case of General MotorsHolden's Limited, or from elsewhere want to receive their interest as it falls due.

Mr Curtin - In dollars.

Mr PETERS - Yes, and Australia has not got dollars. We have to pay the interest on overseas investments by exports of wheat, wool, minerals and manufactured commodities. If we are unable to export manufactured goods, or if the prices for our exports are reduced, then we cannot pay the exorbitant interest charges on overseas investments in this country and at the same time import those raw materials, such as rubber, oil and raw cotton, that are so essential to our industrial progress.

I admit that industrially Australia has made great progress over the past nine years. We have great industries throughout the length and breadth of the land but every additional industry that is established means that we must import more of the raw materials that are essential for the smooth working of those industries. If we do not bring these commodities into this country, unemployment and destitution result.

We see the position as outlined by the expert employed by this Government, and knighted on the recommendation of the Government because of his capacity, knowledge and ability to understand the circumstances attached to ordinary governmental trading. That is the position tha: faces this community. I know, of course, that the warning pen can write in vain, and the warning voice grow hoarse. I remember the other depression and the days before i'.. I remember when, in the late 1920's, conditions exactly similar to those of to-day existed throughout the length .and breadth of this country, and there were warning voices from Labour .members to say that the Government was hurtling down the road that .led to disaster. Those warnings were not .heeded, and I do .not .expect my warning to-night to be heeded.

The people of Australia must realize, when the facts are put clearly before them, that no people can continue indefinitely to spend more than they earn without ultimate disaster overcoming them. Unemployment is rearing its ugly head in the community at present. It is increasing as the days go by, and it will continue to do so unless we have a radical reversal of the Government's policy that has enabled the development of such a position that in a period of nine years we are £824,000,000 to the bad, plus those loans that we have raised overseas in that time. It is a position that is pregnant with danger to the whole community. Although conditions are apparently good to-day - working-class people are enjoying a relatively high wage, the business section of the community is making vast profits, and hire-purchase monopolies an J others are exacting immense toll from the people - the writing is on the wall and the Government should give heed to it. In that calm and unimpassioned manner that always distinguishes my remarks, I seek to direct the attention of the Government and of honorable members generally to the descent that this country is making into the abyss of financial disaster.

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