The policy of liberalism
The Town Hall was packed. The Mayor of Parramatta occupied the chair. Mr. Cook said: I appreciate the privilege of announcing the aims and policy of the Liberal Party from the platform, where for 12 years past, by your kindness and confidence, I have been accustomed to announce my personal views. Tonight I speak to a much larger audience, and with a sense of great responsibility. (Applause)
The manifesto of the opposing party has been issued. Its ‘binding’ programme has been before the public for over 12 months. In this respect we are fortunate. We are told in plain black and white, and in the briefest and simplest way, the nature and character of their destructive proposals. (Cheers) With wearisome iteration we have been requested to state our programme. Before doing so, permit me a brief glance at theirs. The fighting platform determined at the Hobart Labor Conference contains quite a number of planks, which are put in the shop window for dressing purposes alone. Many of them are already among the laws and institutions of the country. As, for instance, White Australia, Land Tax, Navigation Laws. Another plank, ‘The Restriction of Public Borrowing,’ is, in the light of recent circumstances, the most perfect piece of irony ever indulged in by any body of men anywhere. (Laughter and applause)
These eliminated, there remain, besides the objective, which is declared to ‘contain everything that a progressive socialist could desire, from flying machines to brick-making,’ two regulative proposals affecting arbitration and insurance; the remainder being a set of nationalising proposals, with the political machinery for their realisation. The big central cake in the political window is a socialistic one, surrounded by one or two small confections thrown in to complete the display. (Cheers)
Never have the issues been so narrowed down and focussed for the public as on this occasion, and never have issues so important and overmastering been submitted to a British-speaking community. (Cheers) Shortly stated, the issue made for us at the Hobart Labor Conference is: The converting of our Federal Union into a unitary constitution, with a view to the ultimate socialisation of the means of production, distribution, and exchange. There is nothing else in their ‘fighting platform.’ Nothing else can be fairly read into it.
Socialism the goal
Socialism is the goal, unification the means to reach it. We join issue with these destructive and devouring proposals, and submit an alternative programme of progressive measures which will enable this great country to continue to march forward safely and confidently to the glorious destiny which awaits it. (Cheers)
It may at the outset be well to remind ourselves and the country that Liberalism is more than a theory of Government, or even a programme, no matter how admirable its planks may be. It is a state of mind, an attitude, an outlook, which is as wide and comprehensive as the needs of the community. It determines its principles of action, not with reference to the programme of a party, but with regard to the actual facts of life. It is a living, growing, self-perpetuating organism, greater than all machinery; old as the everlasting hills, and yet new enough and vigorous enough and enlightened enough to meet all the needs of our 20th century. It looks upon the nation as the making place for man, and is in favor of any law safeguarding the interests of all who labor, developing their energy and spirit, and ministering to their happiness and welfare.
Liberalism and progress
It has been happily described as ‘The outlet of tolerance and progress.’ (Cheers) It has a glorious history behind it, and we confidently believe a yet more splendid future. ‘The Liberal deviseth liberal measures,’ ignoring the dazzling displays of the political necromancers who at the moment pass for statesmen in Australia. (Applause) Setting aside the quack nostrums so freely offered at election time, let us look at a useful working programme, which will add to the sum of Liberal measures we already enjoy, and make our Commonwealth minister increasingly to the common weal. (Cheers)
White, free, federal
I invite your attention to the following proposals of the Liberal party. In the first place our objective is an Australia—white, free, federal. To keep Australia comparatively empty is its greatest danger, and this appears to be the policy of the present Government. (Cheers) In this supremely important question the party speaks with many voices, and shapes its attitude for purely political purposes. While Mr. Scaddan, for instance, is telling the people at home that the cry in Western Australia is ‘Find us the people that we may give them land,’ Mr. O'Malley is interviewing the unemployed in Melbourne, and declaring that the trouble is ‘the result of the State immigration policy, which is outrageous and cruel.’ (Laughter and cheers) So, again while Mr. Hughes informs the public in Great Britain that the figures relating to immigration in themselves furnish the most complete justification of the Labor Government’s policy, his colleague, Mr. Roberts, says the real idea is not to populate Australia, but to dump surplus labor on our shores, with the single object of dragging down the general standard of living, with its consequent degradation and misery, and his party here in all the States is clamoring for its cessation. (Laughter and applause)
A double voice
When, again, the Government was pressed by the Opposition to enter upon an active immigration campaign, the Minister of External Affairs replied that the Ministry were ready to act as soon as requested by the States to do so. At the succeeding State Premiers’ Conference the request for financial co-operation was made, and promptly and decisively refused by the Federal Government on the ground that ‘it would not be wise to introduce divided control.’ Thus throughout their administration a double voice has been heard, and a double part has been played with regard to this great question. (Applause) We are of the opinion that only by a wisely organised scheme, which, with the active co-operation of the States, will set a steady and continuous stream of approved immigrants towards these shores, can our future safely be guaranteed and the heavy financial burdens incidental to the effective occupation of this continent be sustained. I repeat the statement recently made that we must either people this continent or perish.
Moreover, it is time the problem was regarded not merely as a Federal, but an Imperial one. To facilitate migration within the Empire has been happily termed the ‘promotion of the circulation of its Imperial life-blood.’ (Cheers)
At the present time the Government is circulating literature in Great Britain, telling of millions of acres of land awaiting the advent of white settlers from oversea. If this be so, and few will deny it, the problem is clearly one of organisation, and should be so regarded by both State and Federal Governments. I leave this very important and interesting question with the statement of an incontrovertible fact, namely, that those countries of the world into which immigrants are today pouring are most sound and prosperous, and are maintaining the highest ‘white’ standards with the greatest ease and resulting prosperity. (Cheers)
At first blush it would seem to be a piece of the sheerest rhetoric to put the Australia free item in an Australian Liberal programme. Small consideration, however, is required to make its necessity apparent and its appearance appropriate. Under a new and sinister guise, the tyranny of olden times is again rearing its ugly head in our midst. (Loud cheers) The appointment of partisans to high places and positions finds its counterpart today in the selection of candidates for high civil places on account of their political opinions and services and friendship with Ministers and members. The Star Chamber of medieval times has its counterpart today in the proceedings of our Royal Commissions under the new Act, which attempts to drag from business people all the secrets and details of their business affairs, on pain of detention in custody until they are disclosed. (Applause) Powers and penalties which hitherto have been charily put into the hands of a Judge are now claimed and exercised for party purposes by political partisans and nominees of the Government of the day.
Disobedience of caucus
We also lately beheld the spectacle of an outside coterie summoning and flagellating Ministers for disobedience of caucus decisions, while Federal members who have submitted have complained on the platforms of the country that they have been required to vote against their consciences three times in one week. (Applause) Against all this blind obedience, heresy hunts, and the political ‘leg-ropes’ of the caucuc, the Liberal is in irreconcilable conflict. (Cheers) His duty is first to his country and his constituents, and last and least to any junta of men outside who are strenuously endeavoring to establish a tyrannical autocracy in this free land. He is for freedom in his thoughts, his actions, his enterprise, subscribing freely and cordially to the requirements of the law and the wishes of his constituents. Our motto is a wisely ordered freedom and a claim to the rights and privileges, as well as a full recognition of the duties of a free representative of a free people in a free Parliament. (Cheers)
Liberals stand also for a Federal as opposed to a unitary Australia, and therefore square against the referendum, which for the second time is being submitted to the vote of the Australian people. (Applause) Every artifice and subterfuge is being resorted to in the endeavour to succeed. Predatory trusts are pictured as roaming at large, exploiting the people and robbing the worker. Illusive promises are made, which can never be fulfilled. The fear and cupidity of the people are being played upon—lower wages, higher prices, and pure, poignant, and insupportable misery are threatened as the penalty of a negative vote. (Applause)
Notwithstanding these dire prophecies of evil on the last occasion, the people decided for a federal union of Australia with one of the most decisive votes of modern times. What has happened to justify an alteration, we are quite unable to perceive. The only justification from their point of view for their resubmission is the direction of the Hobart Labor Conference, and their inability to proceed with their schemes of nationalisation. This secret conclave declared that the deliberative determination of the Australian people must be ignored, and the proposals pressed upon them until they are accepted. Meantime, we may remember the following facts in favor of a repetition of the vote.
A balanced constitution
It is only 12 years since federation became operative. Our constitution is declared by constitutional atithorities to be one of the best and most balanced in the world. (Cheers) It is true the Prime Minister has declared it to be ‘The worst in the world.’ (Laughter) As against this, however, Professor Dicey has written that:
the Commonwealth is in the strictest sense a Federal Government…endowed with very wide legislative authority, and thus it can legislate on many topics which lie beyond the competence of the Congress of the United States, and in some respects which lie beyond the competence of the Parliament of the Canadian Dominion.
Similarly, the Right Hon. James Bryce has said that:
the range of powers granted to the National or Commonwealth Parliament is very wide—wider than that of Congress or of the Swiss National Assembly, or even of the Dominion of Canada. Technically regarded, the constitution is an excellent piece of work—the arrangement is logical, its language is for the most part clear and precise.
State’s autonomy threatened
This logical, clear, and precise document is sought to be torn into ribbons by the caucus, the autonomy of the States is to be destroyed, and almost the whole of the powers now exercised by them are to be gathered into the slow-moving, despotic, and distant control of a centralised Government. (Cheers)
And for what is this State suicide suggested? To quote the Government summary of the case for the Referendum, it is necessary to extend the people’s powers.
The simple answer to this specious statement is that the people already possess all the powers asked for, and always have possessed them. No transfer, or manipulation of any kind, can add one cubit to the constitutional stature of the people. If these powers are transferred, the same people will possess them, but they will be able to wield them less wisely and efficiently at the lahger range and throughout the wider ambit. (Applause)
Other countries compared
We are also told it is ‘the weakest federation in the world,’ To prove this contention we are invited to look at the constitutions of South Africa, Canada, and Germany. Just why these champions of Labor Socialism will insist upon these excursions over the seas is one of those peculiarities with which their actions are so plentifully punctuated.
We are told to follow the example of Canada. Happy Canada.
There is no trouble, and there is great and ever-in-creasing prosperity. Why should we not do as they have done?
‘There is no trouble in Canada!’ There is no Labor-Socialist Government, either. There is unending trouble here, and there are quite a number of Labor-Socialist Governments. But there are other differences. In the Canadian House of Commons there are 310 members, as against our 75. There is also a nominee Upper House, elected for life, and practically irremovable. This is the example a Socialist Government invites the democracy of Australia to follow. (Cheers)
Take, again, South Africa. If we had the same proportionate numbers in our House of Representatives, we should have today 750 members, instead of 75. Their Upper House, or Senate, has a £500 property qualification, clear of all mortgages, and their Provincial Councils or States nominate the members of the Senate.
In Germany again we find as the outstanding feature of their Federal Constitution the hegemony of Prussia, which has 17 votes in the Senate (Bundesrath), while the smallest States have one each; Prussia has also 236 in the Reichstag out of a total number of 397. There also the State Governments appoint the members of the Bundesrath (or Senate) annually. This council practically dominates the Reichstag, and 14 votes in a chamber of nearly 50 negatives any amendment of the Constitution.
These are the Parliaments and Constitutions we are requested, in large, leaded type, to look to as examples for the democracy of Australia. One would think they should be shown in order to be shunned by these democrats, so called. (Laughter)
We reply that our Constitution has been made by our own people to suit our own circumstances. Its general plan is good enough. They have said so by a thudding majority of 742,000 to 483,000. Reasons for the rejection of these proposals are set out more fully in the booklet which is to be placed in the hands of every voter. We earnestly invite a perusal of the case against them set out in the publication. Meantime, we say that our Federal Constitution in its general scheme supplies the best method of governing a country like Australia. We should do well also to profit by the teachings of history. These show that bureaucracy and centralisation have always resulted in revolution, while just as frequently local self-government has saved the nations from disaster. (Cheers)
The caucus trust
We may also usefully inquire as to the main purpose of these far-reaching amendments. We are told they are needed to deal with the predatory trusts of commerce. They seem, however, to be needed much more by the still more predatory political trusts represented by the Caucus. (Cheers) To this end every rhetorical trick and all the sophistry of the Government are brought to the task set them by their masters in the Hobart Conference. Here is a brief sample. ‘The trusts rule the world.’ This would include the control of the three Labor Governments of Australia. ‘They fix the prices.’ ‘They send up the cost of living.’ ‘They have the worker in a vice. They make him an economic slave.’ So runs the ghastly and blood-curdling tale. After this general diatribe, particulars are furnished. ‘Sugar, coal, shipping, all controlled by monopolies.’ ‘In addition, there are some thirty others.’
Well, what has been the course of the Federal Government in the last three years? Just this—with a pliant and ample majority to carry out all its wishes, it has not lifted a finger to test the powers they already possess. Only one so-called trust has been indicted. But this indictment took place under the Act of 1906, which the Government knew to be defective—so defective that it induced Parliament to revise and strengthen it. The new Act has never been tried. Why? Was it not a shameful thing to use an old Act, which they declared to be weak and ineffective, and leave untouched the new and stronger Act of 1910? The friends of the trusts are surely those who play this sort of confidence trick on their supporters, while they pile on the rhetorical agony as to the enormity and extent of their depredations. (Cheers)
An effective act
There is a strong and effective Act on the Statute Book to cope with malign combinations. (Cheers) I ask again, Why has it never been tested. The people will never refuse the needful power to protect themselves. It is singularly unfortunate for the Government that these sugar, coal, and shipping trusts should now be singled out. Two of them have received the highest certificates of benevolent intent and good behaviour from prominent members of the party in power. Both have been declared to be necessary and beneficial to the workman in these industries. Never has such anxious solicitude been displayed for the welfare of a combination as that so touchingly exhibited by the most prominent members of the present Government, and partly in the case of the Coal Vend. In addition, the High Court has declared it does no wrong to the public, while it is of great benefit to the workers. In all there has never been a single suggestion: of want of power, but merely a want of facts to warrant the exercise of the power. (Cheers)
The sugar industry
The sugar monopoly has been intestigated by Labor sympathisers, and even they have put it on record that to nationalise the sugar industry would be unprofitable and unwise. And this for three principal reasons:
- The State could not run it as efficiently as the present company;
- the price of sugar would go up, and not down; and
- disaster and loss might come from the forced scrapping of the machinery because of its being supplanted by more modern methods.
So far as the Government has proceeded, it has established the following, namely:
- Our Australian trusts, if trusts there be, are not of the same harmful kind as those in America;
- the power to deal with such as we have already exists in our present Constitution, whenever the facts are brought to light; and
- they have shown culpable neglect in taking no single step to deal with trusts alleged to be injuring the public after specially seeking a reinforcement of power to enable them to do so.
If they decline so resolutely to use the undoubted resources they have, where is the sense or wisdom of giving them still further constitutional powers?
Our attitude is simple, clear, and firm. We hold it imperative that these huge organisations of industry should be subject to public control and regulation. They must be required to serve the public as well as themselves. Where this dual purpose is achieved, they do no damage. The test of the whole question is here. Do they help or hurt, do they benefit or injure the public! This test the Government will not apply.The reason is not far to seek. Those responsible for these proposals have repeatedly declared that they have no faith in legislative regulation and control. They do not in their hearts believe in the efficiency of anything short of nationalisation, and they have never attempted to put the 1910 Act fairly to the test. (Cheers)
Our party say of these combinations: Watch them; see that reasonable competition is preserved. If they serve the public there is no reason to disturb them. If they do not, then compel them by law to do so. Safeguard the interests of the consuming public, and employees; then leave private enterprise to make its way.
The remedies for the trust problem would appear to be greater publicity, stricter regulation, and the greater accountability of those in control for the actions of the corporation. Finally, on this matter we should do things, not merely content ourselves with frightening the people by raising bogies for purely electioneering purposes. (Loud cheering)
Of our proposals for defence little needs to be said, except to make ‘assurance doubly sure’ that the present schemes, both naval and military, are to continue to develop along the lines already laid down by our party. The land defence proposals now in process of evolution were finally decided by Lord Kitchener, who was invited for the purpose by the previous Liberal Government. (Cheers) That same Government had previously provided by law for the compulsory training of the young manhood of Australia. Similarly, the scheme for the Fleet Unit, now so slowly maturing, as provided for by my own party, in collaboration with the Admiralty experts at the Imperial Defence Conference of 1909. That being so,all that requires to be done is to watch that development with sympathy and scrupulous care; at the same time ensuring that the main lines of the schemes are not departed from. This policy intends that these preparations are for the defence of the Empire, as well as that of Australia. Our scheme is to fit the Australian citizens to defend Australian interests wherever threatened, and a navy which may always be rightly regarded as an Australian unit of the navy of the Empire. When the Empire is at war, Australia, as part of the Empire, is also at war; and it is no evidence of jingoism to recognise this plain, naked, and salient fact. Above all else, we must not leave the Dominions in danger of dismemberment by one swift blow at the centre of the Empire. Along these foundational lines, our present defence schemes should proceed, aiming at common standards and common preparations for the defence of the whole. (Cheers) In addition, I wish to emphasise the necessity for increased encouragement to our rifle clubs. (Cheers) Under the new defence scheme, this branch will take an altogether new place, for eventually the rifle clubs will be composed of trained soldiers, forming an important factor in the reserve strength of our army. (Applause)
‘Tissue of falsehood’
The time is already fully ripe for the development of the principle of insurance against ‘the chances and changes’ of our chequered existence. Let it be at once distinctly understood that it is not intended to interfere in any way with the principle of old age pensions. Statements to the contrary just now teeming from both the Labor press and platform are one long issue of falsehood. Liberals did not oppose the Old Age Pensions Act, but enacted it. Liberals do, however, consider that the whole principle of insurance should be among the institutional things in our national life.
This proposal has been taken, as in many other cases, from the Liberal platform by our opponents, and with what result during their terms of office it is instructive to note. (Cheers) Insurance found a place in the fighting platform of the Labor-Socialist party in 1910.
It remains still a plank—a very wooden one, withal. Not the slightest effort has been made to breathe the breath of life into the dry bones of their insurance proposals. And yet there is no principle fraught with greater possibilities of good to the mass of the people of Australia than a wisely conceived scheme of social insurance. (Applause) The only tangible result of their three years’ administration was to circulate, and circulate only, a bill during the closing days of last session, for the better control of private insurance companies. I extract this scathing commentary on their actions by an actuarial expert. Speaking of the Commonwealth Royal Commission, which was appointed by a previous Liberal Government, to inquire into the matter, he said, referring to the report of this Commission:—
Its excellent recommendations for reform have been ignored and pigeon-holed by the rulers of Australia for three years. To me that is an incomprehensible mystery. For nearly all the time the Commission’s report has been lying neglected, a Labor Government has been in office, which bases its title to power on a supposed Commission to protect the working classes, and to defend them from all forms and species of oppression. Yet its special and particular constituents are the very people who have all to gain from State control of industrial assurance, and who have been, and are still, losing heavily for want of this control.
National insurance proposals
We propose to continue and greatly extend the good work already begun by the Liberals along lines suggested by the experience of other countries. We propose to mature as early as possible a comprehensive scheme of national insurance, providing for sickness, accidents, maternity, widowhood, and unemployment, on a contributory basis, emphasising, again, that it is intended to be supplementary to the present pensions, and not in substitution for them. (Applause)
We have in contemplation a comprehensive scheme for the fostering of our industrial resources, and the promotion on a large scale of inland development (Cheers) It is a fundamental principle of modern Liberalism to which the party fully subscribes, that all the available resources of the Government should be utilised for the benefit of the people in a reasonable and prudent way. Much, for instance, is necessary to be done for the development of over-sea markets for our primary productions. Closer touch should be established between those who sell and those who buy, the producer here and the consumer at home, and there seems no reason why all that is distinctive in our primary products should not be brought to the notice of our oversea customers in a direct and responsible way. At the present time we are told that many of our products on arrival home become lost in the general sum of the world’s products concentrated there. We must make an effort to see that our Australian products are known as such, and purchased as such, by consumers who need them.
Corresponding regard will also be paid to our secondary industries, and in connection therewith efforts should be made to extend our statistical tabulations, so as to present at least an approximate view of our industrial operations and the demands and supply of our main requirements. We should aim at the enlargement of our statistics, so as to bring into one great conspectus the social and economic movements of the nation. Already this is done in a broad way for the world in respect to sugar, wheat, and such like products. This prineiple could be extended to manufacturers and the sources of production. Efforts should also be made to encourage the principle of voluntary co-operation, both in products and distribution. The only limits to be set to the operation of this principle are those arising from the capacity and character of the people. (Applause)
In this connection mention may appropriately be made of the important question of the tariff. Much heart-burning has been caused by this question to the extremists on both sides. It is to be frankly recognised that in our party, as in the other party, widely, divergent views are held by members on the question of freetrade and protection. Common ground has been sought. That common ground appears in the statement already published. There have been three attempts now at the construction of the tariff. The result is that more and not less anomalies become apparent, and action must and should be taken as early as possible with a view to a searching inquiry into the whole bearing of the tariff and its relation to our Australian industries. Our proposal briefly is to leave the policy of the present tariff intact. In the fierce fighting of the last 12 years the principle of protection has won out. That view must be recognised by all who consider the matter calmly and dispassionately. In the application of that policy, divergent views will continue to be held, and every effort will be made to preserve the solidarity of the party containing these divergent views. One thing particularly I wish to make clear is, that an indefinitely greater question than the tariff is at issue and in comparison with which the tariff must always take second place. It is no longer merely a question of whether trade shall be protected or free, but whether trade shall be privately undertaken at all. (Cheers)
Meanwhile, we propose to deal with the tariff in the same way as in almost every civilised country in the world. It must no longer be the tool of parties. Its proper and reasonable adjustment should be suggested by experts who are absolutely disinterested, and with due and proper regard for the interests of all concerned. This need not and will not prevent a prompt rectification of such anomalies as are discovered by the department in its administration. (Applause)
It is not suggested that there should be the slightest surrender of Parliamentary control over all fiscal matters. No outside body can, or should, assume responsibility for the policy of the country, and if in the exercise later of that responsibility these conflicting views to which I have alluded appear to be irreconcilable, other methods of settlement must be found, and it appears to me the Referendum suggests itself as a means to this end. Already the Referendum has saved the people of Australia from being plunged into constitutional chaos; already it has saved the Federal Union of Australia. And I see no reason why, if it becomes necessary, it should not save from hopeless division that great body of electors which is now united for the accomplishment of higher and more important purposes. (Applause)
Cost of living
I should add, further, that since becoming the responsible Leader of the Party I have been inundated with appeals from all sorts of people as to what I propose to do to bring down the cost of living, and at the same time intimating that, in their opinion, the present high cost of living is the direct and sole result of the present tariff. I do not hesitate to say, without discussing the subject fully, that I am hopeful an expert investigation of the tariff may lead to a substantial reduction in the purely revenue duties of the present tariff schedule. (Applause) This, however, is only one of the phases of this very perplexing and world-wide problem. If I were compelled to write a recipe for the reduction of the present high cost of living in Australia over and above the increases common to the world, I should do it in a sentence, namely:—
The restoration of honest, economical, and efficient Government throughout Australia.
By however much the increased cost of living in Australia exceeds the cost elsewhere may fairly be set down to this simple and potent cause. (Cheers)
While on the question of tariff we further say that since tariffs are necessary under our present conditions an effort should be made to shape them with a view to the development and consolidation of the Empire’s resources. (Applause)
Reverting to the general scheme of the development of our Australian resources, the time seems fully ripe for an earnest effort, in co-operation with the States, for the better utilisation of the waters of the Murray River, for purposes both of irrigation and navigation. We are only at the beginning of the solution of this irrigation question in Australia; and it has to be confessed the problem of inland development is to some extent a problem of aridity. (Applause) The obvious way to solve it is to conserve those huge quantities of water which now find their way to the sea, and to employ them in fertilising and fructifying the rich lands of the interior. Moreover, this question rightly conceived has an intimate bearing upon, and close relation with, the important question of immigration, and should enter into the scheme or organisation which is so necessary if this country is to be settled adequately and promptly.
Control of the Murray
For many years the States concerned have been discussing this question of joint control of the Murray. I am credibly informed that a thorough searching of the facts has brought to light important data, which, it is confidently hoped, will lead to an amicable solution of the whole matter, and in this final arrangement the Federal Government may well take a friendly and active interest, with the approval and co-operation of the States.
General industrial unrest
I come now to the important question of our industrial conditions, and the general unrest which is apparent on every side. (Loud cheering) Of all the promises made by Labour in Australia, none has been so much stressed as the necessity for securing industrial peace. We were told that on their accession to power strikes would cease, and peace and plenty would prevail. The workers must by this time be bitterly dusillusioned. It has been left to Mr. Hughes to say that as the result of their three years of effort the whole policy of arbitration as such shows signs of failure. I had better quote the exact words of the last utterance on the subject in the House:—
I say that without hesitation at all that unless we can regulate prices and profits, all our laborious efforts to preserve industrial peace by substituting arbitration for strikes must be futile. We ought to recognise it.
Labor and arbitration
The plain fact is that these gentlemen do not believe much in the principle of arbitration, or in any efforts to secure industrial peace. Mr. Hughes himself in his ‘Case for Labor’, 12 months ago, declared that the legal tribunals were to be palliatives only, and that the removal of the main causes of industrial disputes should be effected by legislative action,
carried gradually to the point of national ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.
‘There can be nopeace,’ says Mr. Spence and his organ. ‘There will be no peace,’ say other active members of the party.
Warfare must continue until capitalism as a social system is overturned and until then there can be nothing but war between them.
It is impossible to believe that gentlemen with these views can properly administer laws which they regard as at the best only palliatives and stepping stones to complete nationalisation. However this may be, the policy of industrial warfare has received its greatest fillip during the past three years. A reliable authority has stated that on half a dozen of the larger disputes alone during that time there has been a sacrifice of more than £3,000,000 of the wage-earner’s money, to say nothing of the contingent loss inflicted on the other wage-earners connected with them. This leaves out of account about two hundred and fifty other disturbances which have troubled the land during the period of Labour-Socialistic administration. In the language of Scripture, ‘They came not to bring peace but a sword.’ (Cheers) The result is that today a more bitter spirit of antagonism is abroad than before. Organisations, based on class conscious lines, are steadily developing and declaring destructive warfare on the present industrial system. (Cheers)
Observance of law
Amid the confusion and turmoil of the moment one imperative duty emerges, namely, the observance of the laws of the land, industrial and otherwise, and the continuation of a patient and sympathetic study of the whole industrial question. (Cheers) As far as one may gather, their aims from their statements, the Labour-Socialist proposals, would seem to be as follows:— The unification of all industrial power in a central Arbitration Court. This in turn to be independent of the High Court, exercising legislative power similar to that of Parliament itself, to fix all industrial conditions, and to be presided over by a sympathetic Judge, so that awards may be given satisfactorily to their party. Concurrently with this, to cut down prices and profits with the nationalisation pro- posals in the background. (Applause)
This latter is the definition of new protection, contained in Mr. Hughes’s letter to the Hobart Conference. Their idea is that the Court is to be made a lodestone to attract all the labour socialists of the country. Already our Arbitration Courts are being turned into legislative institutions on socialistic lines. Judge Higgins has complained more than once that he is required to do what the legislature should do, namely, to deal with social and economic problems. It is, he says,
for the judiciary to apply and when necessary to interpret the enactments of the legislature.
In the meantime, amendments of the Arbitration Act have been framed, which, as Mr. Deakin properly pointed out, ‘have resulted in the re-shaping of the entire machinery.’ As a result, the Court was non-judicial, and had ceased to be a Court, and the judge was no longer a judge, but au independent authority; he was not there to interpret the law. There was nothing left of what Englishmen were accustomed to reverence and honour; the essentials had been removed.
Arbitration boards favoured
As against this we make the proposal indicated, our idea being to confine the Federal arbitration power more and more to appellate functions, and to leave the prevention and settlement of Federal disputes and the securing of industrial peace to industrial boards created for the purpose. (Cheers) These wages boards still hold the field as a means of securing industrial peace and preserving amicable relations between employers and employees. There should, however, be mentioned the special function which will attach to this improved and re-organised court, namely, to review and readjust any unfair conditions of employment, alleged to exist in a State and which act detrimentally to the industrial conditions in another State, making competition between them unfair and unFederal. This is the very essence of arbitration in its widest and highest sense. (Cheers)
But is it not high time that our unions in Australia entered upon a constructive industrial era? Is it not time that both sides began to recoknise that more is to begained by working in co-operation than by the present ceaseless conflict! Of all the proposals in the field at the present time, I see nothing which is more likely to bring peace than the principle of co-operation, applied to co-partnership and such-like schemes, as against the fratricidal and destructive way advocated by our opponents. This principle is bitterly opposed by the labour-socialist leaders, who appear to thrive best where discord is most rife. The results of co-partnery have been summarised as follow:—
The removal of antagonism and friction between employers and employees; more efficient work on the part of the worker because of a deeper personal interest in production. A new and strong incentive to better work would be inculcated, and the character of the whole of our business life would be raised and dignified.
Unlike socialism and arbitration, it cannot be affected by an Act of Parliament, but only by the employers and employees acting with and for each other.
Government’s wild proposals
The cause of industrial peace cannot be furthered by the wild proposals of the Government, whose aim is to place the whole of our industrial destinies in the hands of a centralised court. At the present time there are over 14,000 manucfacturing industries in Australia, employing more than 300,000 persons, paying 27½ millions sterling in wages, and having a total output of 133 millions sterling. These industries range through every zone and climate over a country nearly as large as Europe itself; and any attempt to control the whole of its industrial operations from one centre must inevitably result in complete industrial paralysis. The principle enunciated by Mr. Justice Higgins in the Federal Convention, when introducing the present Federal arbitration power, is as applicable today as it was then. It runs as follows:-
All I ask for by this amendment is that just as Victoria can deal with Victorian trade disputes, that just as New South Wales can deal with New South Wales disputes, that just as Great Britain and Ireland can deal with trade disputes in the United Kingdom, so the Federal Parliament shall be enabled to deal with disputes which are Australian.
Here the Federal principle is enunciated; local disputes to be adjusted in the light of local conditions by local courts, while Federal disputes pass to the jurisdictions of the larger Federal power.
Importance of finance
The question of our financial control and administration is one of the most ime most important things in our public life today. The way Australian expenditure has leaped up is startling. From a population of a little over 4½ millions, we are gathering this year 65½ millions or the revenues of the country. In addition, we shall spend this year 20 millions of loan moneys, altogether about 85 millions sterling. There are three Labour Governments in Australia at the present time, and during the last three years these three Labour Governments have increased their expenditure by 52 per cent, while the four Liberal Governments have increased theirs by only 12½ per cent. During the same period the population has increased 8 per cent. Money is tight and dear, and tends to become more so. The three great spendthrifts today are three Labour Governments and the Federal Government is the worst of all. We have booming trade and flowing revenues but we are spending it all for the ordinary purposes of government, and we shall not live within our income during the present financial year. About £1 per head, or £5 per family is being collected from Customs duties alone for more than three years, while the ordinary expenditure of the Federal Government has increased 100 per cent. There have been added to the Federal Government pay roll over 10,000 additional persons. These ‘high jinks’ are still proceeding, and as sure as they proceed as sure must they also end.
Men laugh and riot till the feast is
Then comes the reckoning, and they
laugh no more.
Parliament and expenditure
How to combat this wild orgy is not perfectly easy to indicate from the outside, but as a beginning there should be a restoration of effective Parliamentary control of all expenditure. That control is entirely absent at the present time. There has been no serious examination in Parliament of the finances of this Government during the past three years. None has been possible in the circumstances. The estimates of department after department have been rushed through without a single opportunity to discuss an item. And many an all-night sitting has resulted as a protest against the rushing through pell mell of these huge sums. The whole scheme of financial control must be altered as quickly as possible. (Applause)
Then, again, we are spending nearly £4,000,000 this year on our public works without a single independent inquiry of any kind. We have no Public Works Committee. We have no Committee of Estimates, as is the case elsewhere. We have not even a Supply and Tender Board. Parliament is being ignored in every way. Take one or two instances. We are supposed to be building a trans-continental railway, and incidentally it may be mentioned that the only actual laying of the line so far was done six months ago, when the first sod was turned with an elaborate festive accompaniment. Six months have now passed since ‘the tumult and the shouting’ have died down, yet not a rail has been landed, and, as far as we are informed, not a sleeper has been definitely ordered. And when Parliament makes a request for any of the contracts to be laid on the table of the House, so that it may consider them, as in the case of the mail contracts, Mr Fisher loftily replies: ‘In my opinion Parliament is an incompetent body to deal with contracts.’ (Laughter)
Fisher and O'Malley rule
In this case an arrangement is being made with the Socialistic Government of Western Australia for the supply of one and a half millions of powellised, karri sleepers, but of the details and prices Parliament is permitted to know nothing. Gentlemen haaving extensive experience in large public contracts declare that a grave and costly blunder is being made in using karri timber at all. No such transactions as these would be possible in any State of Australia or in any other civilised country of the world where Parliamentary governments exist. They are only possiblie under the rule of Mr. Fisher and Mr. O'Malley. A request for similar information with regard to the taking over of the Fitzroy Dock was made. In this case Mr. Fisher definitely promised the House that it should have the opportunity of considering the matter. No opportunity was provided, and no information vouchsafed, but as soon as the House rose the matter was concluded behind the back of Parliament, and loan obligations for £810,000 were contracted. These are but two instances which indicate the customary administrative methods of present Ministers. The result is extravagance and inefficiency. It could hardly be otherwise.
Chaotic financial control
If other instances are needed of this chaotic financial control they will be found in the fact that while Mr. O'Malley is making the transcontinental railway, Mr. Thomas, acting quite independently, is projecting railway lines In the Northern Territory, and Senator Pearce is carrying out a large expenditure on his own account at the Westernport naval base; while Mr. Frazer is constructing large public works for the Post Office. Amid all this financial chaos and confusion, arising from divided control and divided responsibility, these things stand out as requiring to be done, and done speedily:
- Restore Parliamentary financial control;
- apply business methods to the expenditure of our public moneys; and
- collect within the year the amount needed for the ordinary purposes of government within the year.
We should do as business men would do in connection with similar undertaking outside. Mr. O'Malley’s almost unvarying answer to any inquiry is that ‘he runs this circus.’ (Laughter) The pity is that a circus should be housed in an important government department. (Laughter)
Supply and tender board
We propose the immediate appointment of a Supply and Tender Board to deal with the purchase of all materials and supplies which may be required in all the public departments. (Applause) In addition, some expert body or other must come into existence to investigate and report upon these large public undertakings before the people’s money is lavished upon them.
We are often asked for a single instance of this extravagance. The reply is that the instances are innumerable, and range from the establishment of Government laundries in the Northern Territory to the reckless spending of the public moneys in the South, including
- the man on the job
- the unjustifiable delay and large additional expenditure on the construction of the fleet unit
- the establishment of socialistic factories, while delaying the armament establishments
- the provision of a maternity grant without the slightest knowledge of where it goes, or even if the mother gets it at all
- the unnecessary, costly, and wicked duplication of the Savings Banks
The number of similar instances is legion and will only be brought to the light of day when later full inquiry and comparison become possible. One thing has been made quite clear during the reeent years. It is that the advent to power of a Labour Government signalises the beginning of what has been properly described as ‘a veritable saturnalia of extravagance.’ (Applause)
Public Service appointments
Liberalism arrays itself against the principle obtaining today in Government employment, by means of which the citizens of Australia are classified and political opponents declared ineligible for Government employment because of their political creed. The very essence of civilised government is the equal treatment of all the citizens of the country. There should be only one door of entrance, and that always standing wide open to the public service, and one passport at the door, namely, merit and ability to perform the service sought. What- ever arrangements may be made outside for the granting of judicial preference, conditioned by the circumstances in which it is given, the enactment of absolute preference by the Government is a complete negation of the principle of equal citizenship. No citizen is allowed to escape his responsibilities, and no citizen should be debarred from his corresponding privileges. Equal opportunities should surely prevail in Governmept emloyment, if anywhere at all. The present system by which the Government service is being packed with political partisans should be ended as early as possible.
Spoils to the victors
Today the principle of ‘spoils to the victors’ is in vogue, from the office boy to the highest administrative positions in the service. The proper attitude for any Government on this matter was admirably stated by ex-President Roosevelt some time ago, as follow:—
I am the President of all the people in the United States. My aim is to do equal and exact justice as among them all. In the employment and dismissal of men in the Public service, I can no more recognise the fact that a man does or does not belong to a union, as being for or against him, than I can recognise the fact that he is a Protestant or a Catholic, a Jew or a Gentile, as being for or against him.
In connection with the civil service, there is one branch to which particular attention should be directed. It is our unfortunate, heavily-laden, and long-suffering Post Office. (Cheers) From whatever point of view the facts of the case are considered, the conclusion seems to be irresistible, that our present post office control has broken down completely. Money is being poured into it with a free and lavish hand. There will be a deficit on this year’s transactions of a million and a half sterling. The discontent of the employees, who are by no means extravagantly paid, is increasing, while the facilities enjoyed by the public are not greater. We have therefore come to the conclusion that the public interest would be served by placing the Post Office under the control of a Commission, or Board of Management, as recommended in the report of the Postal Service Commission, which would control the Post Office on purely business lines, the Minister remaining the connecting link between Parliament and the Board.
During the past three years the discontent of the employees has increased to such an extent that the Government, in sheer despair has handed the employees over to the Arbitration Court, to have their difficulties adjusted by that tribunal. The trouble is not at the bottom, nor in the intermediate control, but at the top. There has been no continuity of policy. There could be none in a department which has had 11 Ministerial heads in 11 years. There has been no constructive policy formulated. The control is centralised and bureaucratic in its very nature. The large States have been uniformed in many respects to the pattern of the smaller ones, and there has been a continuous exodus of the best men from the department during the Federal regime. The present conditions cannot continue. This great institution must be managed for the public on more business lines than heretofore. This can be best achieved by the appointment of an independent board of capable and competent administrators. (Cheers)
Northern Territory responsibilities
One of the greatest of all our responsibilities today is the administration of the Northern Territory. (Loud cheering) Little has been done there during the term of office of the present Government, except to appoint a large number of highly paid officials, in many cases without respect to their qualifications for the important duties to be performed. A remarkable condition of affairs exists at the present time. In a territory of over half a million square miles there is a total white population of less than 2,000, and of this number 267 are officials. More than one person in every seven is an official. There is an annual deficiency of over £400 per head of the population, and apparently the end is not yet. Dilatory and experimental administrative methods have been applied to this great task. It has taken the Ministry over two years to appoint a Territorial Commission of Inquiry, which has not yet commenced its labors. There are practically no farmers in the Territory, but there are agricultural experts to teach the farmers who are not yet there. There are mining experts also, but we find no fresh miners wending their steps thitherwards. Land ordinances invite the land-seekers from Europe to come and cultivate the land, to which they can have no title, while the freehold is obtainable in the adjoining States.
Not anxious to go
The attitude of the only men capable of settling the Territory is, ‘We are not anxious to go at all at present.’ There is one thing as plain as anything human can be, and that is that little can be done until a vigorous policy provides the means of transit and transportation. This is the anost important of all the questions affecting the Territory; and it is being treated by the present Government as though it were among the least. Two initial and valuable years have been as good as wasted, so far as this chief est of all the problems is concerned. Another 16 months must elapse, so says the Minister, before the report now called for can be of use. By that time the Territory will have cost the people of Australia over one million sterling.
An urgent problem
There never was a more urgent problem in any country: urgent because of its strategic importance and vulnerability from the point of view of defence, and urgent also from the financial point of view. The two chief requirements are railways and settlers. The farmer means energetic administration; the latter requires attractive tenures and conditions of settlement. We should commence by telling the immigrant, or, indeed, any settler already in Australia that if he goes to the Territory, he shall have the right to the absolute ownership of a freehold grant of a generous living area. Meanwhile, it is comforting to know that the Minister is building a depot for immigrants and a Government laundry. Details, no doubt, are always important in large management, but with the details there should be a larger plan and a wider outlook and vision. (Cheers)
State debts consolidation
Another item of great importance to Australia is the carrying out of the mandate of the electors, given at the last election, for the consolidation and administration by the Commonwealth of the debts of Australia. On no question has the Prime Minister been more definite in statements or more profusive in promise, but the net result of their three years’ administration is to leave things absolutely as they were. In the lines of the old couplet, their course has been to—
Promise, pause, prepare, postpone,
And end by letting things alone.
In 1909 the Prime Minister was very emphatic on this question. He said:
The money of the taxpayers of the Commonwealth can be saved only by means of a national scheme for the consolidation of the State debts. A scheme for the transfer of the State debts is, in my opinion, the only way to safeguard the financial interests of the Commonwealth.
Yet nothing has so far been done. With every year’s delay the problem becomes more difficult, and the sooner it is undertaken the better it will be for all concerned. (Cheers)
Party electoral laws
One of the actions which must always go down to the discredit of the present Government is its deliberate attempt to shape for party ends the electoral laws of the country. (Cheers) In this case they have undone the work which they previously insisted should be done. The question of multiplying the facilities for voting and extending the franchise has been one of the crowning achievements of Liberalism throughout the whole of the last century. Over a country of huge distances such as obtain in Australia, it is not easy to extend these facilities. None the less the effort requires to be made, and has been made by Liberals in all previous Electoral Acts. None were louder in the demands for the postal vote than members of the present Ministry. Mr. Fisher declared it to be the necessary corollary of the universal franchise. After one experience at one election, and because, forsooth, the postal voters cast a Liberal majority, the privilege has been dashed from their hands. Mr. Fisher takes credit for peculiar sympathy with the mothers of Australia, so much so that he brings them gifts from the Treasury in their hour of need; but, on the other hand, he steals from them the privilege of exercising their franchise. Is the gift a quid pro quo for the deprivation? It would seem so.
A new and anomalous principle has been introduced into the present electoral law. I refer to the requirement of compulsory registration, accompanied by a decrease of voting facilities. (Cheers) With the principle of compulsory registration we have no quarrel; but when, on the one hand, compulsion is placed upon the shoulders of the voters, and on the other opportunities for recording the vote are taken away, the whole thing savours of political chicane. The ideal to be aimed at in our electoral laws should be equal opportunities for all to vote. This is a feat very difficult of accomplishment over a wide continent, but always to be kept in view, none the less in a country of universal suffrage. (Cheers)
Not content with taking the votes in certain circumstances from the mothers of Australia, and thus placing them on a lower level than the criminal class of the country, they proceed to place such restrictions on the Press and political organisations as to make it impossible to properly conduct elections, or even to adequately canvass and inform the electorate without bringing these agencies within the pale of the law. Altogether, the Act is full of extraordinary penalties and terms of imprisonment. Someone has said that it is much easier to get into gaol by breaking the electoral law than by thieving or committing burglary. We propose to repeal all this legislation, to restore to invalids the opportunity to vote through the post, to strike the shackles off the Press of the country, to leave the parties and organisations reasonably free to conduct their electioneering, and to re-shape our electoral laws, so that they will not only reflect the principles of democracy, but also the wisdom and good sense of the community. (Applause)
An equal franchise
In addition to this, we propose to remove the redistribution of the electoral divisions necessary to secure an equal franchise from the control and manipulation of Government and Parliament. The present party in power has not scrupled to turn down one scheme after another in the hope of gaining some party advantage front the rejection. As the public know, it was after a most strenuous fight that the present scheme for New South Wales was allowed to pass, and only the fear of political consequences restrained them front deciding the important issues of the coming election in New South Wales on a scheme which gave the Barrier Labor electorate 21,000 voters, and the North Sydney Liberal electorate 50,000. The power to so manipulate and gerrymander the electorates should not be possible either to Parliament or politicians, and we propose to place the matter in the hands of an impartial and competent Commission or Judge. (Applause)
This question has found a place in nearly every programme throughout the whole history of the Commonwealth Parliament. It is time it took shape. It will open up wide vistas of usefulness, if properly organised and constructed. Many problems require to be solved for the primary producers of Australia, which only a well-equipped Commonwealth Bureau can attempt. Rightly conceived, there would be no duplication of State efforts. There should be close co-operation between the two. Each would help the other, and each would do things which the other could not. What is needed in Australia at the present time more than anything else is a small, select body of scientific original investigators of the highest quality. These men applying themselves to the study of the diseases affecting our orchards and the diseases affecting stock, ould be one of the most commercially profitable undertakings to which the Commonwealth could devote itself. To make clear the life history of some of these diseases and the remedies to be applied would mean millions to Australia, beside which the cost of the department would be a mere bagatelle. While on its constructive side, it could, as in the case of the United States, employ agents to collect seeds and plants, and obtain the best information the world can supply. (Applause)
It has been said that the Pasteur discoveries alone were worth to France £220,000,000, and waning industries had been thereby re-established on sound foundations. The same kind of work is awaiting to be done in Australia, over a much larger area, and with equal prospects of success. It would seem, indeed, as if this proposal were too useful to attract the eye of the mere political opportunist. Certain it is that many of these problems must be solved in the laboratory before they can be settled in the field and on the farm. This useful institution is long overdue. It presents no insuperable difficulties. It simply needs to be done, and we propose to do it.
These are the main features of a programme of practical and safe reform. In this connection we do well to remember that to build is always hard and slow—to tear down is easy and swift. One blast of revolution or war may lay waste the nation, but there is no one supreme constructive stroke which can rear the goodly pile.
A thousand years scarce serves to build a State;
An hour may lay it in the dust.
As that great novelist and Socialist, Mr. H. G. Wells, lately discussing this question in the London Daily Mail observed:—
Our situation is an intricate one; it does not admit of a solution neatly done up in a word or a phrase&hellipI know it would be more agreeable for all of us if we could have some small, pill-like remedy for all the troubles of the State, and take it and go on just as we are going now&hellipWe are the State, and there is no other way to make it better than to give it the service of our lives. Just in the measure of the aggregate of our devotions and the elaborated and criticised sanity of our public proceedings, will the world mend.
Sinister social features
As a result of three years’ Labor-Socialistic control of the Commonwealth, all the sinister features of our social life have been intensified instead of relieved. (Applause) There is more, and not less, distrust in the workers’ mind. Industrial peace was definitely undertaken to be ushered in. Instead, there have been 250 strikes—three within the past month. Fresh industrial laws are made and re-shaped, only to be broken and ignored. To such an extent is this the case that Ministers of the Crown have had to organise efforts to break the strike and keep our social machinery in motion. The cost of living towers up and beyond and above the increase which is common to the world. Money is increasingly dear and difficult to obtain. It is none the less being procured and spent freely by the Labor Governments, so that millions of additional interest above the normal rate are being piled upon the backs of the present and future generations. While this is so, the real resources of the nation show no corresponding increase. Our cultivation, despite the land-tax, so loudly trumpeted as the harbinger of social amelioration, shows no appreciable increase. In Mr. Knibbs’s bulletin for December last, the following figures appear: To the end of 19ll, a period claimed by Mr. Hughes as indicative of the advantages of Labor-Socialistic rule, there were increases and decreases for Australia as follows:
- Wheat, increase 55,000 acres
- oats, decrease, 70,000 acres
- hay, increase, 250,000 acres
- maize, decrease 60,000 acres
- potatoes, decrease 21,000 acres
- Net total increase 154,000 acres
- Sugar, practically nochange
Total value of agricultural production shows a decline of 11,000,000.
It may pertinently be asked—if there be practically no increase in the cultivation of our primary products—whence comes the prosperity of recent years? The answer is twofold:
- higher world prices for our products; and
- largely increased loan expenditure.
The reaction is inevitable, and will be severe unless steps be taken to increase the volume and extent of our industrial and productive enterprises. The chief ingredients in the solution of this problem are confidence, security, efficiency, and industrial laws—in a word, good government. (Cheers)
The Liberal Party offers this to the nation, together with a progressive programme such as I have outlined. Our ideal is that of a wise devolution and definition of national powers, the States continuing to develop within their present sovereignties their own internal resources. The Federation, in its sphere, attending to its already ample obligations in matters of defence, territorial development, and external defence. Harmonious co-operation taking the place of the present friction and distrust; each implementing the power of the other to control, to defend, and to develop the immense resources of our wonderful continent, making it the home of millions of free, enlightened, and prosperous people, who, in turn, will preserve the traditions of the race, and hand them on to succeeding generations, honoured, respected, and unimpaired. (Prolonged cheering)