Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 3 December 1930

Senator MCLACHLAN (South Australia) . - This interesting document, the printing of which we are now debating, betrays within itself evidence of its being hybrid. Without, doubt, some of its contents' are tlie outcome of the various conferences that 'took place between the Prima Minister, the State Treasurers and some distinguished financial guests, who were invited to visit Australia and tender advice to our 1 governments. Oric may 'find echoes of that advice in this financial statement, alsodefinite evidence of alterations in thepolicy that was originally decided 'upon by the Federal Government. It would-' appear that an obtrusion of the " super.government" upon the Scullin Government has brought about this supplementary financial statement. It is neitherhorse nor ass. It might have been well' for Australia had we had a lead one way or the other; had we had something tangible either along the lines originally decided upon by the Prime Minister, or moulded upon the mad proposalsemanating from caucus. We should then have known where we were. Perhaps the present difficulty is the result of the absence from Australia of the right honorable gentleman who is, from the point of view of honorable senators on thisside if not from that of his own party, the- head of the National Government. It is interesting to examine the supplementary financial statement from this point of view. Has there or has there not been a realization of the position by the Government? I believe that we can with advantage examine a few of the statements that were made a few months ago, when the Prime Minister, in his capacity of Treasurer, presented his budget speech on the 9t.h July of this year; a speech to which this financial statement is an addendum; There then appeared to bo glimmerings in the minds of the Government of tlie difficulty with which it was faced ; of some realization of the desperate position into which Australia had fallen. Embodied in that speech is the following passage: -

The Loan Council must secure overseas, by a long-dated loan or other means, not less than £30,000.000 in the near future in order to clear up the London position. Failure to make such provision would bring about an embarrassing situation. ,The difficulty arises entirely from our temporary inability to secure command of funds in London.

The statement continues -

This situation has been causing the Commonwealth Government and the Loan Council grave concern for some time past, and has been" the subject of intimate negotiations with Loudon financial houses. T am hopeful that these negotiation* will prove successful, and that the meeting of our London commitment* will be arranged on satisfactory terms at an early date.

Later in the statement there is a comparison of- London market quotations for

Australian stocks- and those of sister dominions. Reference is.- made to , the impossibility . of balancing our position overseas- other than by the- export of; tremendous1 quantities of gold. There is also evidence of a realisation by the Government at that time that things could not continue as they were. The statement then expresses the pious hope - a hope not yet realized - that the tariff policy of the Government would cure our ills.. Higher tariffs, even to the extent of prohibitions, were imposed with a view to improving the position; but even the Government itself does not now expect relief from that source. So far from assisting us, the higher duties and prohibitions have caused further unemployment and greater financial difficulties. The Government's fiscal policy has had a boomerang, effect. In July last there seemed to be some realization by the Government of Australia's desperate financial position, and had it then grappled with the. position courageously, as I believe the Prime Minister intended, we should now have had nothing, to lay at its door. We could only say that it did the best possible in the circumstances. But what do we find ? The Government plays up to the worst element in the. Labour party ; it is afraid to do what is right in the interest of Australia. Does it fear the consequences of doing right? Every rightthinkingperson would have supported the Prime Minister and those associated with him, if they had taken their courage in their hands and, in the interests of the nation, acted on the independent advice proffered by an expert. Instead of doing that, the Government has bowed the knee to Baal, has cravenly accepted instructions from caucus,, composed, for the most part, of those who do not understand the seriousness of the position, and fail to realize that ruin and disgrace must be the inevitable result of following their advice.

When the Government invited Sir Otto Niemeyer tq Australia; when it conferred with the State Premiers, and entered into an agreement with them, I believe that it was actuated by right motives. But its subsequent actions are nothing short of craven. For political purposes it has backed down from the position it then took up, with the result , that unemployment is. increasing;, industry is almost at a. stand-still and the turnover of, every- section of the community,, with the exception of the sheltered few who,- ace under tha protection, of. certain laws,, or are in receipt of salaries, from the Commonwealth Treasury, is reduced. There are times when the exigencies of party must be subservient to, the welfare- of the nation.. That time, had arrived when the Prime Minister delivered his budget speech in, July. That the Government placed party before country stands to its eternal shame. It would appear that some of the Government supporters are more interested in adopting the role of political showmen than ' in doing their duty as representatives of the people. Although the Government realized the necessity for calling Parliament together, it delayed, doing so in ' order to enable party strings to be pulled, and to' provide facilities for what Senator Lynch has aptly described as 'the- "auction sale" which recently took place in New South Wales. The result of. the New South Wales election has strengthened the hands of the extremists in the Labour party, and now in the party-room they use expressions which can only be described as meaningless and absurd.

I frankly confess that I am disappointed with the Government - one would expect greater courage from men who hold the King's commission - yet I believe that among them are some who have the welfare of this country at heart. I appeal to them in the interests of Australia to defy those who would bring about their country's undoing. I realize that this is not the time for incrimination, but when I see my country's future jeopardized by inaction and ineptitude, I cannot refrain from expressing my disapprobation of the Government's delay in summoning Parliament, Months ago the Government, indicated that if the financial drift continued Parliament would have to be called together. That that drift did continue this paper which we are asked to print shows. Nevertheless, Parliament was not summoned for reasons which I have already stated. I now say to the Government that, whatever it proposes to do - whether good,. bad or indifferent-- let it be done immediately in the interests of industry. The very uncertainty of the position is doing incalculable harm. People do not know where they are. Indeed, he would be an extremely sanguine , man who would attempt to prove that the Government knows where it is in fiscal matters. The Government should take definite action along well defined lines. The people are calling out for some definite policy in place of the ever changing incidence of tariffs and ,of taxation. The Government should decide on a policy for a period of at least twelve months so that industry could formulate its plans that far ahead.

There are certain sheltered persons of the community who, because they have received the protection of awards " of Wages "Boards and Arbitration Courts and have not shared the sufferings of the rest of the people, do not realize the desperate position .which confronts Australia. We are told that we must maintain the Australian standard of living. But what is that standard, when official records show that 200,000 persons in the community are in receipt of the dole? The actual number must be considerably more. Surely it is time we opened our eyes to see -what is ahead of us ! What do these men, who line up daily at Richmond and other places, asking for the necessaries of life, think of our standard of living? What is their standard? The standard of living of which some honorable senators speak so glibly is, after all, something abstract. Instead of considering only the standard of living of those in sheltered industries, we should consider the standard of the masses of the people. I have always stood for industrial arbitration, but in the interests of the multitudes who daily crave a pittance to keep them from starvation, I maintain that it would be better that those who are now protected should be called upon to accept a reduction of wages in order to provide employment for others. I am associated with one or two industries which, although not suffering grievously from the present depression, have had to dispense with the services of ;a number of employees. The absence of markets, and the indecision of the Government, make them so uncertain regarding the future that they can not formulate any plans. . Their money is accumulating, yet they have had to put men off. It may be that that money will be used to swell the present Conversion Loan - which I wish all success - 'but it is not good that money should be withdrawn from industry even for such purposes. If -those in industry knew where they were there would be .greater -confidence in the future, with beneficial results to governments and people alike.

Senator Sir George Pearce - .Money would then be invested .in enterprise.

Senator MCLACHLAN - I c'harge the Government with inaction and ineptitude, and with having sacrificed the interests of the country to obtain a party advantage. I say emphatically that the time for political manoeuvering has passed, that the game of politics can no longer be played with that finesse which is sometimes associated with a game of draughts or chess. The time is overdue for the game of politics to be played honestly in the interests of the nation. I blame the Government most for having neglected its duty pending the result of the New South Wales election. There can be only one explanation of the delay in summoning Parliament. The Government 'knew that if it did its duty, as it was seen by the Prime Minister at the . Premiers Conference in Melbourne, the " auction sale " in New South Wales would not attract the number of bidders it did attract because the people would realize that they were -being offered something impossible of attainment Goaded into action it -produced the financial proposals which have been brought before Parliament. It would appear from one portion of the statement that the Government proposed to adhere to the decisions reached at the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, which was held in Melbourne an August. That it intended to give full effect to the decisions reached at that conference is obvious from the material contained in a portion of this document; but later its courage failed, and it pulled down the flag because of hostile criticism with which I shall deal later. The Government has failed to carry out the policy contained in the budget presented to this chamber in July last. I venture to say that if the Government had carried out its policy, those who made so much noise during the recent New South Wales election, and who spoke about, frozen credits, would have curled up under its influence. What did they do? They placed a weapon in the hands of the cranks - the madmen of the party, as they described them - and these men are now endeavouring to replace some of their sane Ministers by others who wish to do certain things to which I shall refer later. The inactivity of the Federal Parliament at the present juncture has been freely commented upon. Honorable senators have been compelled to travel from the different States to Canberra to find that when the Senate assembles that some unimportant measure is placed before them for consideration, and. then the proceedings are adjourned while some little game is being played in the party room in Canberra, in Melbourne, or in the Trades Hall in Sydney. In that building the game is played most effectively. I understand that at a recent caucus meeting chairs wore hurled across the room. I am glad to learn that on this occasion those who have been so vigorous in their desire to sool on others, took part in the melee, and suffered at the hands of their infuriated friends.

The country generally has' lost confidence in the Government because of the statements of its supporters concerning inflation, and even repudiation. The people, who are entitled to look to the Government which is in control of the nation's destinies for a lead, are wondering what caucus is doing and how the party machine is functioning. The Government must emerge from its inertia and do something worth while in the interests of the country. The financial proposals of the Government are of little value; they will not assist to balance the budget. As Senator Cooper said, some Ministers are breaking faith with the head of the Government. As it is not carrying out its proposals, the people of Australia realize that there is more in this political game than meets the eye. The people are waiting for action which is deferred by decisions reached in the caucus room. The people are losing confidence in the great national institution in which they have always believed, owing to blatancy on one side and weakness on the other.

Senator Barnes - Which side is blatant and which is weak?

Senator McLACHLAN - I do not regard the Assistant Minister as blatant. He is always to the point, and I would not credit him with being weak if he had his own way. He must, however, take what is coming to him, in common with other members of the Cabinet. It is the blatancy of some which has got this country into its present position. Our present depression is due to some extent to the delay of the Government. What is the psychology of the people of Australia to-day with respect to our economic position? They are afraid. They are depressed. There are no avenues in which they can profitably invest their money. The unemployed are losing hope. That is not a position in which this country should be placed. What is the opinion of the depositors in the savings banks? If honorable senators, particularly those from New South Wales, will study the banking figures, they will realize what the people are beginning to think. Recently, no less than £3,000,000 was withdrawn from the Savings Bank in New South Wales. Those who have withdrawn the money cannot have a. very hopeful outlook. What does the Government offer them? It offers them this supplementary budget.

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Additional taxation.

Senator McLACHLAN - Yes, which is to be levied on the thrifty, while others in. sheltered positions will escape. The proposed additional taxation is unjust in its incidence; it is inequitable, and savours rather of political than national interest. This is the budget that is offered in place of one that would restore financial equilibrium and secure the confidence of the people.

We were informed this afternoon by an honorable senator noted for his eloquence and powerful voice, that the scene of battle is now to be changed. It is no longer to be a battle against the Commonwealth and other Australian banks, but against that great national institution established by Paterson, who, I am glad to say, was a Scotsman, in Lombard-street, London. It is the Bank of England which Senator Dunn says is impoverishing the people and blackmailing the nation. Such utterances will, I suppose, he placarded all over the country prior to the next election which Senator Dunn, speaking for himself and not for his party, says will be held next year. The Bank of England, we are informed, is the great menace to Australia's credit. This is the Colossus which is going to he attacked. I can imagine Senator Dunn, in his political armour aud with poised spear, charging this mountain of gold in Lombardstreet. The attack is now to be made on the Bank of England.

Senator Sir Hat Colebatch - Which Ramsay MacDonald and Phillip Snowden say is, undoubtedly, the bulwark of England.

Suggest corrections