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Thursday, 26 September 1912

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - No doubt, sir, when you took the chair this afternoon you noticed- the subdued air which marked honorable senators occupying seats on your right, due to that speech which was delivered last evening by the militant member of that militant party, Senator Stewart. We are deeply grateful to Senator Stewart for stating from the ranks of his own party what, so far, has not been denied, and what has been stated frequently, though less effectively, by honorable senators upon this side of the Chamber. We thank him for his declaration that the Labour party have failed to redeem the pledges which they made to the electors two and a half years ago, and we have also to thank him for bringing the Minister of Defence to his feet this afternoon in a belated attempt to traverse some of his statements. It is interesting to note that Senator Stewart stated that the party to which he belongs have failed to make good the promises which they made to the electors of this country in regard to land monopoly. The Minister of Defence endeavoured to counter that charge by declaring that the party had redeemed the pledge which they gave to the electors by reason of having passed a progressive land tax. But it was not merely the tax which was promised. Honorable senators opposite declared that the operation of the tax would achieve certain results. In other words, the tax was not the end itself, but merely the means to the end. They said it was" the mere instrument. They were going to destroy land monopoly.

Senator McGregor - Will the honorable senator give the instrument another screw up?

Senator MILLEN - It is' not my instrument. The pledge which honorable senators opposite gave to the people, which Senator Ready was indiscreet enough to put in black and white, and to publish, and which Senators Pearce and Findley gave from a thousand platforms, was that they would destroy that land . monopoly f which, they affirmed, was throttling Australia. That is the pledge which Senator Stewart affirms his party have not kept. That they have put a Land Tax Assessment Act on the statute-book of the Commonwealth is perfectly true; but has it been effective for the purposes for which it was introduced ?

Senator McGregor - To the extent of £18,000,000.

Senator MILLEN - To the extent that the Government estimate that they will collect from the tax this year £4,000 less than they collected last year.

Senator Findley - If it has not broken up the large estates, it has not ruined the persons who are on those estates.

Senator MILLEN - I am dealing with the pledge of my honorable friends regarding what they would do if the electors trusted them with their votes. The electors kept their part of the bargain. What have my honorable friends done? The answer was given by Senator Stewart, who cited the number of applicants that there were for certain blocks of land. It is only a little while ago that, for a few allotments in the Forbes district in my own State, there were over 1,000 applicants.

Senator Long - Does the honorable senator say that we are not going far enough in the direction of land reform?

Senator MILLEN - I say that either my honorable friends are not sincere in the pledge which they gave to the electors, or they do not understand the effect of their own measures. They erred either from ignorance or from deceit ; let them take their choice. At the present moment I am endeavouring to arraign them at the bar of public opinion. They are on the eve of appealing to the country, and of asking, for a. mandate from the people. Consequently, it is our duty - a duty which was freely discharged by my honorable friends when the position of parties in this House was reversed - to criticise their actions and the effect of their measures, and to direct public attention either to their failure to carry out those measures or to the failure of the measures themselves to achieve the results which were expected to flow from them.

Senator McGregor - The electors would be tools if they believed the honorable senator.

Senator MILLEN - Then my honorable friends have a promise of another lease of life. It is not necessary for me to go beyond the statements which were made by Senator Stewart last night. Theycome with greater force from one who has always been sincere, even to the point of tediousness, in dealing with this question of land values taxation.

Senator Ready - He is more often at variance with the Government than is any honorable senator on this side of the Chamber.

Senator MILLEN - I will admit that, in this matter, there is a very marked difference between Senator Stewart and Senator Ready. When he was seeking votes, Senator Ready was just as pronounced as is Senator Stewart upon the question of land values taxation. But Senator Stewart is always pronounced upon it, and not merely when he is seeking votes. One gentleman has not forgotten the views which he expressed before he entered the Senate, whilst the other is prepared to sleep upon them.

I wish now to say a word or two in regard to the Tariff. Here, again, I must remind honorable senators - as Senator Stewart did - of the different picture which is presented to-day, when the attitude of honorable senators like Senators Russell and Findley is contrasted with their attitude of two or three years ago. I should be only indulging in a very pardonable figure df speech if I said that it was nothing short of a miracle which saved the roof of this chamber on many occasions when Senator Findley rose to denounce the failure of a previous Government upon this Tariff question. Both he and Senator Russell frequently became pathetically indignant at what was not being done. The Labour Government have had two and a half years of office, with the strongest majority behind them that has ever been behind any Government in this Parliament, and yet these honorable senators have sat as quiet as tame tabbies, quite content to be dragged at the tail of their party, rather than to give effect to their public utterances: The whole position may be summarized in this way : That the Labour party not merely promised the electors bread, but bread heavily covered with jam, and promised that it would be served up on a silver salver. Now they come here and contemptuously fling a stone and say that, because they have been successful in securing the enactment of certain laws, they have redeemed their pledges.

Passing from this matter, I wish to turn to the Budget. I am not at all sorry - indeed, I am rather glad - that the Minister of Defence has given me an opportunity of contradicting a statement which fell from his lips, and of repeating what I have been saying, not only in the New England electorate, but in the metropolitan districts of my own State, and what I propose to say whenever I have occasion to deal with the Budget figures. I venture to think that the Senate will believe what I am about to say, unless honorable senators are goingto impugn the figures presented by the Government themselves. I am about to state facts, and my deductions will follow. The facts which I placed beforethe audiences, in New England in particular, were that two and a half years ago, prior to the advent of the Labour party to power, the cost of the Federal Government was £8,000,000; that the Federal Government then collected, approximately,£16,000,000, out of which they returned, approximately, £8,000,000 to the States, leaving £8,000,000 which was available for Federal purposes, and which was found sufficient for such purposes. Two and a half years later, the Labour Government collected £20,500,000, and returned to the States only £6,000,000, leaving £14,500,000 in the hands of the Commonwealth, being an increase of £6,500,000 on the expenditure of two and a half years ago. But, in addition to that increase, they are drawing upon the surplus revenue - and here is an expression which may have given rise to some misunderstanding - of their predecessprs to the extent of £2,250,000.

Senator Pearce - That is not correct. The surplus we are drawing upon is the surplus left from our last year. None of it was contributed by our predecessors.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator is partially correct there. In spending £6,500,000 more this year, derived from the revenue received this year, in order to avoid a deficit, they are spending£2,250,000 of the surplus of previous years.

Senator Pearce - The surplus of last year.

Senator MILLEN - It is not the . surplus of last year, because there was a surplus in the Trust Fund beforelast year. Let me put the thing in another way. Two and a half years ago, the Federal Government cost £8,000,000, but to-day it costs£16,500,000, so that there is an increase of over 100 per cent. in the expenditure.

Senator Long - I suppose that you would have no difficulty in finding a reasonable explanation for the increase if you wanted to do so.

Senator MILLEN - At the present moment I am stating facts, and the honorable senator can draw his own deductions. These are the facts which I stated then, and which Senator Rae said the people wouldi not believe.

Senator Rae - I did not say that they would not believe your facts.

Senator MILLEN - Every one of these figures is to be found in the Budget. The serious part of it is that this year, with the biggest revenue that the Commonwealth has ever had, and with the big revenue which the Treasurer estimates to receive next year, we are unable to live within our income, and the Government would be absolutely face to face with a deficit this year but for the fact that there is a surplus to draw upon. Judging from the utterances made, not merely by the Treasurer elsewhere, but by spokesmen on behalf of the Labour party, it is quite clear that there is no intention, either next year, or the year following, if the Government have their way, of cutting down the expenditure. On the contrary, there is every justification for saying that the demeanour of the party indicates a tendency to swell the expenditure still further. That being so, one has to ask whether we are not immediately in sight, should the Government remain in office, of additional taxation. They have avoided a deficit this year by having a surplus of previous years to fall back upon, but they cannot live upon that for ever. That surplus is being exhausted, and it will not be long before it disappears entirely, and if the present rate of expenditure is continued, it is quite clear that next year they will be under the necessity of proposing a heavy increase in our taxation.

Senator Rae - Will they have to build a fleet unit every year?

Senator MILLEN - The Minister of Defence will tell the honorable senator, if he does not know already, that we cannot look for any relief in the naval expenditure for the next few years.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Can we not look for relief in the postal expenditure?

Senator MILLEN - At the rate at which my honorable friends are going, it seems to me that that is a Department in which-

Senator de Largie - Have we notbeen making up for the neglect of previous Governments ?

Senator MILLEN - That is one of the things which my honorable friends talk about as though this Government had done something wonderful in spending money.

Senator de Largie - We increased the wages of the men, which you neglected to do.

Senator MILLEN - Yes ; and the honorable senator, aone-time advocate of the adoption of the report of the Postal Commission, is now struck with that muteness which characterizes Senators Findley and Russell, who have nothing to say now about the neglect which these public servants are receiving, because the Government would not adopt that report.

Senator de Largie - I still advocate its adoption.

Senator MILLEN - Let us see what is the position in the Post Office. We are spending enormously more in that Department than ever we spent previously.

Senator de Largie - On wages?

Senator MILLEN - All round. The public will not object to money being spent provided that there is an adequate return. The question I submit, to test whether the expenditure is being made properly and well, is: Are the public getting a better service to-day ? Let them answer.

Senator Long - Certainly, they are.

Senator MILLEN - Is the country getting a better service as the result of the expenditure? There is no honorable senator who goes into any country district in his State, whatever that State may be, but will bring back report after report of not merely the want of facilities, but the diminution of them.

Senator O'Keefe - Has the country got penny postage to-day?

Senator MILLEN - That is said to occasion an annual loss of £400,000; but, strike it out, and my remarks remain. Not only are the public not better served as the result of the increased expenditure, but the Department is not more contented. It was reported only a few weeks ago that there was to be taken in a branch of the postal service in Sydney, a ballot as to whether the men should strike, and to-day there is as much dissatisfaction in this great service as there has been at any time in its history.

Senator de Largie - That is a most ridiculous statement.

Senator Pearce - I see by to-day's newspaper that the telephone girls propose a strike, too.

Senator MILLEN - The men are complaining - I think with every justification - that whilst they were promised certain definite things the moment the Labour party got into office, the Labour Government not only handed them over to the Arbitration Court, but then turned round and questioned the jurisdiction of that Court to deal with their grievances. No men were ever sold more like a lot of bullocks than were these public servants. Having persuaded the men that they would be allowed to go before the Arbitration Court, and the men having gone there, the Government did just the same thing as many employers have done. They questioned the jurisdiction of the Court itself.

Senator Pearce - You know that that is not strictly accurate.

Senator MILLEN - At any rate, it is something for me to get an admission from the Minister of Defence that a statement of mine is partially accurate.

Senator Pearce - You know that so far as pay and conditions of labour were concerned, the men were given freedom to go to the Arbitration Court. It was only when they wanted to bring in questions not affecting their grievances that the jurisdiction of the Court was questioned.

Senator MILLEN - When the Labour party sought votes they did not tell the public servants that they would be left with an Arbitration Court at all.

Senator de Largie - Yes, they did.

Senator MILLEN - The Labour party promised that they would remedy the grievances of the men, and many of them, like Senator de Largie, were persuaded that the Commissioners' report would be adopted.

Senator de Largie - The Arbitration Court has been a principle with us for years and years.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator can go and tell that to the postal officials.

Senator de Largie - We tell it to everybody, and everybody knows it.

Senator MILLEN - It is about as good a get-away as the honorable senator can find, I have no doubt, but the fact is that it was not the promise given by the Labour party to dissatisfied public servants.

I want to deal now with the claim which Senator Pearce has raised, and which is repeated frequently by honorable senators opposite, who ask what we have done. They say, "Your party left a deficit; we paid that off, left a surplus, and spent so much more money." Surely, when Senator Pearce talked just now of a statement of mine not being wholly accurate, he must admit that that statement is entirely misleading. It is perfectly true that the Estimates presented by the last Government clearly faced a deficit. We knew that within the next year the Commonwealth would, owing to the expiration of the Braddon section, receive an augmentation of income, and have a financial freedom not previously enjoyed, and we said, therefore, that the plain 'and sensible thing to do, rather than impose additional taxation to meet the deficit of one year, was to meet the deficit by a temporary overdraft. That was a plain, business-like proceeding.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - The naval loan was not a temporary overdraft, surely?

Senator MILLEN - No; that was to be spread over a period ; but, at the same time, it was not a deficit; we made provision to meet it. There was a deficit of£450,000. In regard to that paltry deficit, I wish to say that our proposal to provide for it for twelve months, and to meet it the moment the Braddon section expired, when we should be able to handle larger sums, was a businesslike act on the part of a Government which did not believe in going in for additional taxation.

Senator McGregor - Did you mean to pay that deficit out of the loan?

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator, if he knows anything about the Budget, knows that we did not.

Senator McGregor - That is the usual practice.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator talks a great deal about loans. One would think that his Government were not dealing with loan money to-day. Why, he himself put through a loan Bill authorizing the Government to borrow £2,500,000, which they have used to the extent of £700,000.

Senator de Largie - To whom are we in debt?

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator seems to think that, so long as we are indebted to the people of Australia, it does not matter; but I shall deal with that aspect of the question a little later. Getting back to my point, I wish to remind the Government that, during the three years they will have been in office at the end of this year, they will have handled £18,000,000 more than did their predecessors in a corresponding period. Surely they ought to do something with that.

Senator Rae - What a mercy to the public that somebody can be trusted with the handling of that money.

Senator MILLEN - The question is whether the Government are to be trusted. The honorable senator seems to believe - and here is the danger to the public finances as shown at once by the interjection - that the one end of government is to spend money.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Is Senator Millen aware that his leader said that the present Government have received £14,000,000 more than did the late Government? Which statement is correct?

Senator MILLEN - The fact is that the honorable senator is incorrect. What Mr. Deakin pointed out was that £14,000,000 was the extra amount of Customs and Excise revenue handled by this Government, because of the expiration of the Braddon section; but, in addition to that, they will have collected, at the end of this year, £4,000,000 in land tax. When they make this bold boast about what they have done, they ought to state that they have done it by reason of taking £18,000,000 more out of the pockets of the people in the three years.

Senator McGregor - But the people know very well that you cannot do what is necessary without the funds.

Senator MILLEN - I am not dealing with that point now. If the honorable senator can show that, whilst handling the same amount of revenue, they have done more than we did, it will be something to boast about; but the mere fact that they have been able to spend £18,000,000 more than we did in three years, does not seem to me, by itself, to constitute any sound reason for the boast in which they indulge.

Senator de Largie - We have not imposed any fresh taxation.

Senator MILLEN - That is quite true; but the effect of the Government retaining this larger portion of the Customs revenue has been that the State Governments, having received less revenue, have had to impose additional taxation. That has been the case in New South Wales.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - But the Government get more revenue from the same sources.

Senator MILLEN - Undoubtedly. They have shared in the abounding prosperity with which, I am sure, we are all delighted. When my honorable friends talk about penny postage, and a variety of other things, they should admit, if they want to be fair, that they were able to do those things, not because they had the courage, but merely because they had that measure of financial freedom which came to them with the disappearance of the Braddon section.

I do not propose to enter into details concerning the Budget itself, because I recognise that the debate elsewhere and the discussion in the public press have rather made it a threadbare subject; but I do want to take advantage of this opportunity of dealing with the position of the public finances in relation to the very serious financial position which I conceive to be developing in this country, and which I venture to say that honorable senators opposite admit to be developing. I shall do that by mentioning one or two very important factors. Having just stated the increased cost of Federal Government, I shall give in very bald outline an account of the expenditure in my own State, New South Wales. I should also like to give figures for other States, but have not been able to get them. New South Wales, however, contains one-third of the people of the Commonwealth, and therefore its financial system must have a bearing upon the whole Commonwealth. If money were to become short in New South Wales, or if a financial crisis were brought about, the other States of the Union would necessarily be affected. Another reason why I wish to refer to the matter is that my accusation against the party opposite is that it is invariably reckless and extravagant. At this stage it is suggested to me that I should ask leave to continue my remarks on a subsequent occasion.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

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