William Morris Hughes was born 25 September, 1862 and died 28 October, 1952. Hughes was the Prime Minister of Australia 27 October, 1915 to 9 February, 1923. Throughout his parliamentary career he was a member of the Labor Party 1901 to 1916, National Labor Party 1916 to 1917, Nationalist Party 1917 to 1929, Australian Party 1929 to 1931, United Australia Party 1931 to 1944 and Liberal Party 1944 to 1952. He represented the electorates of West Sydney, NSW 1901 to 1917, Bendigo, Vic 1917 to 1922, North Sydney, NSW 1922 to 1949 and Bradfield, NSW 1949 to 1952.
Elections contested1917, 1919, and 1922
Before setting out the present circumstances of the Commonwealth and the policy of the Government in regard to them, it is proper that I should give an account of our stewardship, in order that the electors may judge from that which we have done who is best fitted to lead this country during the period of reconstruction which now confronts us.
The National Party—what it is
Let me remind you of the circumstances in which the National Party came into existence, so that you may see what manner of men we are, and who they are who oppose us.
In September 1914, a month after war was declared, the then Labour Party appealed to the electors in a general election for their suffrages. Mr. Fisher as leader, speaking at Colac, pledged Australia's “last man and last shilling.” The manifesto subsequently issued by the party and subscribed to by every candidate standing in the Labour interest was much more definite. It said:—
Our interests and our very existence are bound up with those of the Empire. In time of war half measures are worse than none. If returned with a majority we shall pursue with the utmost vigour and determination every course necessary for the defence of the Commonwealth and the Empire in any and every contingency. Regarding as we do such a policy as the first duty of the Government at this juncture, electors may give their support to the Labour Party with the utmost confidence. And this we say, further, that whatever be the verdict of the people, we shall not waver from the position taken up by Mr. Fisher on behalf of our party, viz., that in this hour of peril there are no parties, so far as the defence of the Commonwealth and the Empire are concerned, and that the Opposition will co-operate with the Government and stand behind them as one man. The position then is that if the electors give us a majority we shall expect Mr. Cook and his supporters to stand behind us. If Mr. Cook has a majority we shall stand behind him in all things necessary for the defence of the Commonwealth and the Empire.
This manifesto, with its note of stalwart and lofty patriotism, its definite renunciation of party, its frank declaration that in time of war there ought to be no parties, won the election. On this pledge the Labour Party was returned to power. The electors of the Commonwealth by their vote expressed their determination to follow the course advocated by the party in its manifesto and
pursue with the utmost vigour and determination every course necessary for the defence of the Commonwealth and the Empire.
As you know, I became Prime Minister in 1915. My first act was to reinforce our men at the front and to increase the number of Australian divisions to five by raising another 50,000 men. In the dark days of 1916 the Empire and [unreadable] lies were faced with a grave [unreadable]. Desperate fighting at Pozieres [unreadable] retrieve the fortunes of the [unreadable] arms had resulted in enormous casualties. The five Australian divisions at the front were far below their strength; recruiting had fallen off; and the British Army Council urgently requested the Government to take some steps to reinforce its men. The outlook was black, the need for men acute.
Those of us who stood by the pledge given to the electors, who were determined to put the war first, saw but one way by which the country and the party could be saved. As Labour men and democrats, as men of honour pledged to do our duty, we submitted the question of compulsory service to the electors. Compulsory service inside the Commonwealth had long been the law; the referendum had long been a plank on the Labour platform. Yet because we sought to give effect to our pledge in the only way possible, those extremists, disloyalists, pacifists, who had since 1914 successfully schemed to obtain control of the Labour organisations, political and industrial, determined to thwart us in our plain duty to the electors and to the soldiers fighting overseas; I and all those who were true to their 1914 pledges were expelled.
National Party, 1917—victory
I came before the country again in March, 1917, as head of a National Party comprised of all sections of the community who put the war first. In this, again, we merely fulfilled that undertaking given to the electors in September, 1914, when the Labour manifesto said,
In this hour of peril there are no parties
With us were all the old leaders of Labour; the men who had fought for Labour in the dark days, who had brought the movement into existence and led it into power. Again we pledged ourselves to put the war first; and to do all that was necessary to safeguard Australia and the Empire. And, again, the electors expressed their determination to pursue that course, by returning us to power with the greatest majority ever recorded in the history of the Commonwealth.
The real issue before the electors. By who will you be governed?
The war is over, victory is ours. Again I appeal to you, and again am opposed by those men who broke their solemn pledge given to the electors in 1914; who denounced and vilified us in 1916, because we would not be their tools; who right throughout the darkest days of war hampered every effort to achieve victory. These are the men who oppose us [unreadable] to speak for [unreadable] they have [unreadable] to do so. By [unreadable] judged. What shall future generations of Australians say of them, when looking back from the vantage point of time they see these events in their true perspective—the danger that threatened us, the struggle for national existence, the cry for reinforcements, the miracles of valour, the narrow escape not once, but many times from complete disaster? What shall they say of the part these men played in this the greatest crisis of Australian history? That they broke their solemn pledge; that they refused to do that which patriotism and honour alike demanded of them; that they proved themselves utterly unworthy and degenerate; that they put party first and the lives and liberties of their fellow-citizens and the safety of their country last.
They opposed not merely conscription, but voluntary enlistment. In the darkest hours of the war, when the victorious enemy had broken through our sorely tried line, and were within striking distance of Paris, menacing the Channel ports, they were for a peace by negotiation, they were against voluntary recruiting. They said that the Allies could not win; that Australia had done enough; that we should make peace upon such terms as Germany would agree to. Happily for us and for liberty their counsels were spurned.
Victory is ours—the greatest and most complete in the history of the world. Australia is safe and free, despite them and their craven counsels, for if we had listened to their counsels and followed their leadership Australia would have been a German colony today.
The war record of the Government and of its opponents
Let us now briefly review the war records of the Government and of those who oppose it. We were, as I have said, elected by the people to put forth every effort in the war. The need was for men. The Government, in its appeal to the electors in May, 1917, said that it accepted the verdict of the people with regard to compulsory service, that it would not attempt to enforce conscription either by regulation or statute, but if national safety demanded it the question would again be referred to the people. All these promises it faithfully kept. Then came disaster. Towards the end of 1917 came the collapse of Russia, followed by her complete withdrawal from the conflict; the defeat of the Italian army and their disorded retreat to the Piave. For a time the fortunes of the Allies literally trembled in the balance. Black disaster seemed to [unreadable] the Eastern Front, turned and added their numbers to the already overpowering forces on the West, where our men, exhausted with the long fight, grimly held on to the line which protected the Channel forts, Paris, Britain and civilisation.
It was in these circumstances—which we had prayed to escape—circumstances in which, without doubt, 'national safety demanded it', that the Government, true to its pledge, decided again to appeal to the electors. The issue of the second referendum is known. The Government fulfilled its pledge to the people and the people decided against conscription.
The result of these campaigns, as I said not once but many times, affected in no way our plain duty in this way. Our men had to be reinforced. The war had to be won. Again the Government plunged whole-heartedly into a campaign of voluntary recruiting; and thanks to them, and despite the efforts of their opponents, Australia has emerged from the trials of the war with a record of which any country may well be proud. Let me make this quite clear—but for this record she owes less than nothing to those men who now oppose us.
The business paper drawn up for the annual conference of the Victorian P.L.C. in 1917, which was afterwards called in because of the announcement of the election, contained the following resolution:—
That the policy of the Labour Party be to push on for peace as soon as possible, and that they take no further part in recruiting.
This question was shelved owing, as I have said, to the elections of 1917. The elections came, the need for caution and posing was gone, and our opponents showed themselves in their true colours. They were against all recruiting. They were for a peace by negotiation. Let me prove it.
In April 1918, the Victorian Labour Party issued a manifesto containing the following:—
Peace with a British victory is impossible; the Allies cannot beat the Central Powers. The Labour Party believes that the humiliation of a nation creates in its people a spirit of revenge. The Labour Party stands for IMMEDIATE CESSATION OF FIGHTING. NO ANNEXATIONS OR INDEMNITIES. Australia has nothing but responsibility to get by becoming Mistress of a Pacific Empire. She has much to lose.
The Victorian Executive declared the Manifesto to be a true and timely exposition of resolutions passed by the New South Wales [unreadable] Labour conference in 1917 endorsed by Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia.
It was on the 14th April, his army fighting desperately for existence, that Haig issued the famous message:
With our backs to the wall each one of us must fight unto the end. There must be no retirement.
I ask the electors of Australia, those who love their country, to note that this craven-spirited resolution was passed at the very moment when the fortunes of the Allies were at their very nadir. Yet the men who approved of this resolution are those who now are claiming to speak for Labour, for Democracy, for Australia.
The Sydney Labour Council, on 30th May, 1918, passed the following resolution:—
We refuse to take part in any recruiting campaign, and call on the workers of this and all other belligerent countries to urge their respective Governments to immediately secure an armistice on all fronts and initiate negotiations for peace.
I ask the electors of Australia to remember that on the 29th day of May, the day before this infamous resolution was carried, the Germans advanced as far as Soissons, about 40 miles from Paris, and, advancing north of Rheims, captured tremendous booty.
Yet the men who approved of this resolution are those who are now claiming to speak for Labour, for Democracy, for Australia!
On 21st June, 1918, Labour held its Interstate conference at Perth. The following resolutions were passed:—
Further participation in recruiting shall be subject to the following conditions:—
- That a clear and authoritative statement be made on behalf of the Allies asserting their readiness to enter into peace negotiations on the basis of no annexations and no penal indemnities.
- That Australia’s requirements in manpower be ascertained and met with respect to (1.) home defence, and (2.) industrial requirements.
I have quoted these things. I could quote many more, but it is not necessary. Out of their mouths they are shown to be men unworthy of the privilege of free citizenship. The electors know them to be men who in the blackest hours of the war deliberately hamstrung voluntary recruiting, denied reinforcements, counselled peace by negotatiation with a victorious enemy.
The Australian Imperial Force
Australia, with its five million people, has reason to be proud of the army it raised, and the great things that army achieved. By voluntary enlistment, depsite the efforts of opponents, we raised no less than 416,809, and transported 329,[unreadable] overseas. We maintained five divisions in France, and the equivalent of another division in Palestine—the greatest voluntary army that ever crossed the seas. Our men were fed, equipped and maintained entirely by the Commonwealth.
The Government has faithfully kept its pledge to the electors that it would put forth every effort to aid the Empire in the war. From the standpoint of enlistments our record is unique in the history of the world. In no country, at no time, has such an army been raised and kept for five years in the field by voluntary recruiting.
Of their deeds it is not necessary for me to speak. They have made the name of Australia a household word throughout the world; it occupies an honoured place wherever the deeds of brave men are discussed. Of their valour, endurance and resource at Gallipoli, Pozieres, Baupaume and other famous fields men still speak with awe. At Villers Brettoneux they stayed the onrushing German hordes, and pushed them back and saved Amiens and Paris. In the great and decisive offensive of 8th August—the stroke that finally broke the German miltary power on the Western front—the Australians shared with the Canadians the honour of that amazing and almost unparalleled drive which sent the Germans reeling back and back until at length the vaunted Hindenburg line was broken to fragments.
From Marshals Foch, Joffre, and Haig, and even from the enemy, have come glowing tributes of their prowess. And in Palestine, where was fought one of the most momentous battles of the war—the battle that brought about the collapse of the Central Empires and their allies—the Australian Light Horse were the flower of Allenby's victorious army.
The Australian Army played a great part in this war; but it paid a great price of victory; 59,957 of our men have died; our casualties total 314,909. This is the price Australia paid for freedom and safety. Our heritage, our free institutions of government—all that we hold dear—are handed back into our keeping stained with the blood of sacrifice.
Surely not only we, their fellow citizens, but Australians throughout the ages, will treasure for ever the memories of those glorious men to whom the Commonwealth owes so much, and will guard with resolute determination the privileges for which they fought and suffered.
Pensions, repatriation, &c.
The work of repatriating our soldiers, both fit and partially incapacitated [unreadable] maimed and [unreadable] the widows [unreadable] who made the supreme sacrifice has been a colossal task, involving great labour and heavy expenditure. The Government, however, conscious of the debt it owes to them, has devoted to it all its energies.
Since my arrival in Australia I have been in constant touch with the executive of the Returned Soldiers' Association, and as I have already set out what steps the Government proposes to take to do justice to the soldier I need not now recapitulate them.
The peace conference
With the signing of the Armistice on 11th November, 1918, the world war came to an end. I and my colleague, Sir Joseph Cook, were in London. We were asked by the Gvoernment to stay and represent Australia in the negotiations for peace.
Australia's claims were very definite and just. We had fought for liberty, for the freedom to make our own laws, fiscal and other; we asked that these rights, which had been ours before the war, and for which our soldiers fought, should be retained; we asked that those ex-German islands in the Pacific, that lay like ramparts along our coast, and threatened our national and economic safety, should be controlled by us, and that we should receive our fair share of a just indemnity.
These claims—moderate though they were—were jeopardised by the acceptance of President Wilson's 14 points as the basis for peace. In the name of Australia I protested. And despite the misrepresentation and misunderstanding which threatened to engulf me not only in Britain, but in Australia, time and events have amply justified my protest. Had that protest not been made, not only the interests of Australia, but those of Britain would have suffered.
The right of Australia to be consulted before matters vital to her existence were disposed of was conceded. The right of separate representation at the Peace Conference was granted us; we took our place as a nation on a footing of equality with all other nations. This marks an epoch in our history. We were, by the assembled nations of the earth, granted the status of a nation. By our deeds on the field of battle we had earned the right to a voice in framing the terms of peace. A partner in the great British Empire, we were recognised as a nation with the rank and priviliges of such. And this applied not only to the Peace Conference, but to all future meetings of the League of Nations, and to the International Conference of Labour.
Experience at the conference has shown us clearly that separate representation was and is vital to our welfare. On some things Britain cannot represent us. The Empire is a far flung domain, embracing people of diverse creeds and colours, and the delegates of the British Empire must consider the interests of all, rather than the particular interests of one. During the discussions at the Conference matters vital to Australia—such as the White Australia policy, the open door in trade navigation, and men—were discussed at length. It was and is impossible for delegates chosen to represent the Empire as a whole to reconcile the conflicting claims of the self-governing nations that comprise the Empire.
Australia had played a great part in the world war, and she was given her place at the World Conference. At that Conference no fewer than 27 separate nations, in addition to the four Dominions and India, were represented. It was before this Conference of more than 70 delegates, representing upwards of 1,000 millions of people speaking diverse languages, with clashing interest and opposing ideals, gathered together to represent their rival claims that Australia had to press her claims, uphold her ideals, and make her influence felt. This is not the time or place to speak of the matter in detail, but the facts speak for themselves, and show clearly that despite the persistent opposition of great and powerful nations—in an assembly where our ideals and our circumstances were neither appreciated nor understood—Australia made her influence felt, and secured the fruits of victory for which her soldiers fought.
The so-called Labour Party and International Labour Charter
There is one other matter in connection with the Treaty of Versailles which deserves special mention, as it vitally concerns Australian Labour. Under the Peace Treaty a permanent International Labour Organisation was created for the purpose of equalising labour conditions the world over, of removing injustice, hardship and privation, and all causes of industrial unrest which might by their existence menace the peace of the world. Amongst the improvements urgently required, mentioned in the preamble to the Labour Charter, were the establishment of a 48-hour week, the regulation of the labour supply, the prevention of unemployment, provision of an adequate living wage, the protection of the worker against sickness, disease, and injury arising out of his employment, the protection of children, young persons and women, provision for old age and injury, recognition of the principle of freedom of association, etc.
Australia is vitally concerned in these matters. The inclusion of them in the Peace Treaty marks the greatest advance that organised labour has ever made in the history of the world. It is the great Magna Charta of labour. It gives to the downtrodden workers of all countries the keys to a new world, in which they, too, will have their place in the sun. By raising the standard of workers in other lands, it relieves us in Australia from that unfair competition with the goods made by cheap labour in other countries.
Although the first draft of the Charter Australia was not entitled to separate representation, I fought for and ultimately succeeded in obtaining that representation. The first meeting of the Conference takes place in Washington this month.
As the agenda paper contains questions of vital concern to the interests of Australian Labour, I invited the Labour organisations to nominate a representative to proceed to Washington. The Charter was drawn up by the representatives of Labour all over the world. The most advanced industrialists of Britain, France, Italy, America and many other countries formulated and approved it. One would have imagined that those loud-mouthed ones who presume to speak for labour here would have hailed this victory by international labour with great joy, and accepted the invitation to send representatives. But, ignoring alike the interests of their fellow unionists, the greater interests of Australia and of the workers of the whole world, the Labour Councils of the various States being utterly incapable of anything but a narrow sectional outlook, turned the proposal down.
Australia by this action on the part of Australian Labour will, therefore, be the only country not represented. The Government cannot take the responsibility of sending representatives in the face of this deliberate opposition. The interests of labour in Australia will be jeopardised, the greater interests of Australia injured by the action of this narrow clique of men who, pretending to speak on behalf of Labour, prating of the brotherhood of man, and the rights of Labour the world over, have shown themselves in peace, as in war, as men utterly unworthy. For it is obvious that they have sacrificed Australia and Labour in order to wreak their spite on me. The workers of the world gathered this day in Washington to consider matters of vital concern to their comrades everywhere will see this act of the present leaders of Australian unionism proof that the so-called Labour Party of Australia are opposed to all the principles on which the Labour movement throughout the world rests.
What the Government has done for the producer
I turn now from the record of the Government in prosecuting the war and in securing the fruits of victory when won to its work for the producer. Almost from the inception of the war it became apparent that without Government action grave, if not fatal, consequences would result to the producers through the dislocation of industry and commerce, particularly freight, caused by the war. Ships were withdrawn to transport troops in other seas, our markets were cut off, products accumulated and prices fell, banks refused to advance money on goods for which there was no market. Our surplus wool, wheat, metals, etc., choked our store, and added further difficulties and greater expense to a burden which already seemed too great to bear.
The Government of which I was a member dealt in drastic fashion with the German cancer, which had eaten into our industrial life in the base metal industry and in other directions. At my suggestion it stepped in and organised freight, and threw all its weight behind the pool scheme. Faced with a reduction of more than 50 per cent of the mercantile marine, it undertook the responsibility of financing the producer, finding a market, and transporting his products overseas. Had the Government not acted as it did, the primary producer would have been left at the mercy of phenomenal conditions; there would have been frantic competition for the diminished shipping freight; the greater portion of Australia's products would have rotted, and there would have been industrial and financial stagnation throughout the Commonwealth.
Under the Wheat Pool the Government handled 468,807,000 bushels of wheat, and has paid to growers £88,500,000. It found the market, provided the ships, and produced the money long before the wheat was shipped. Some idea of the financial side of the position may be gathered from the fact that at one stage the overdraft of the Wheat Pool stood at more than £20,000,000. No private firm or bank would or could have extended such accommodation to the producers of this country.
In December 1916, the Government effected a record sale with Britain of 3,000,000 tons of wheat at 4/9 per bushel f.o.b. This sale saved Australia. It enabled the producers to carry on; it enabled the Government to guarantee a minimum of 4/- for the two succeeding harvets; it kept land in cultivation and prevented widespread unemployment, national, financial, and industrial chaos.
The greatest export of wheat in any year before the war had been only 1,700,000 tons, when freights were normal. What this sale of 3 million tons, at a time when freight was practically unprocurable, actually involved, becomes apparent. Twelve months after the sale was made 2,384,000 tons still remained unshipped. In the normal course of trade, conditions such as these would have meant ruin. The new crop would have been unsaleable; no private firm, bank or commercial group would have considered for one moment the financing of any farmer under the conditions which existed.
Whilst in Britain recently, however, I effected another great sale of 1,500,000 tons at 5/6 f.o.b, at a time when the Wheat Board was willing to accept 5/-.
A word as to price. The average price received for wheat for the three years prior to the war was less than 3/9 per bushel f.o.b. The Government, faced with abnormal conditions of marketing transport and finance, obtained considerably more. On two deals alone it paid to the growers £10,546,875 more than would have been received on a pre-war price.
Something has been said about the world's parity. It is well to remind the wheat growers of this country that under the Government scheme they received considerably more than the world's parity. The key of the situation was freight, and freights were practically unprocurable. Uncontrolled vessels asked up to the equivalent of 8/- a bushel; the Wheat Board itself has been compelled to pay up to 6/- a bushel. With the price of wheat in London at 9/6 a bushel c.i.f., the farmer in Australia basing his return on parity prices, less price of outside freight, would have received from 1/6 to 3/6 per bushel. The Government, on the other hand, guaranteed him 4/- during the most uncertain period of the war, when freights were scarce and the submarine menace very serious; and actually obtained considerably more. The position with regard to freight has not become much easier since war ceased. For some considerable time to come there will be a dearth of shipping; freights will be high. In addition, we have to deal with thousands of tons of accumulated products lying on our wharves, the bulk of which has been already paid for and must be shipped. It is only natural to expect that Britain will endeavour to shift the wheat she has already bought and paid [unreadable] ships to take [unreadable]. Our position in this regard is still serious.
In the marketing of wool the difficulties were practically the same; but the Government formed a pool, sold the whole clip of 1916-17, 1917-18, 1918-19, and 1919-20 at prices approximately 55 per cent higher than those obtained before the war. These sales to Britain involve close on 170 million pounds. Never before in history have such prices been realised or thought possible. In the face of difficulties which seemed insurmountable, by the erection of a great complex machine for appraising, valuing, scouring, distributing, shipping, and financing, the Government has obtained for the grower a price higher than ever before.
The advantages of Government organisation with regard to sugar are particularly striking. Prior to 1915 the price of raw sugar was less than £14 per ton. The Government fixed the price at £18, and later £21, insuring to the grower a sure market and a guaranteed price. The wages of the field workers were advanced till the men employed in the industry, from being amongst the lowest paid in Australia, were amongst the highest. Notwithstanding the increased price to the grower, and the increased wage to the worker, the Government protected the consumer by fixing the price of sugar at 3½d. per lb., at a time when the people of Britain paid up to 7d., and the citizens of the United States upwards of 4½d.
The profits of the refiners and the commissions of the middlemen and retailers were limited to a fixed amount, and profiteering was completely prevented in this industry. Under the Government scheme the grower, the worker and the consumer benefited by fixed prices and high wages.
The assistance given by the Commonwealth to the northern sugar industry during the war has proved alike advantageous to the grower and consumer. After careful consideration of the necessities and prospects of the near future we have decided to extend the guarantee of £21 for raw sugar for another year. In addition to this the Government will be prepared to consider with the representatives of the producers the steps that may be necessary to enable this great interest to stand against the post-war competition of coloured labour from across the seas.
In sheepskins, hides, tallow, fur skins, butter, metals, cheese, bacon, rabbits, and other products the Government has taken control, advanced money, provided ships, and obtained a greater price than ever before. In one year alone the Government handled £115,000,000 worth of produce, and up to date has paid the primary producers close on £300,000,000.
The aftermath of war—high prices
I leave the record of the Government and turn now to the consideration of those problems that the war has left behind it—the aftermath of war. In the main they are the natural and inevitable consequences of war. For nearly five years the flower of the world's manhood has been engaged in the destruction instead of the production of wealth. Millions of men and women who in normal times would have been employed in producing things which they and others want have been producing implements of destruction—shells, explosives, cannon, ships of war, and the like—in order to destroy all other forms of property as well as life. The world is therefore drained of wealth; there is a scarcity of the things the people of the world want, and so a great increase in the prices of commodities of all kinds, which has been greatly intensified by the inflation of the currency. Money has become more plentiful, the things that money buys much scarcer. Naturally more money is required as an equivalent, and so prices have risen. The only remedy for this is one obvious on the face of it. As prices have gone up because goods are less plentiful and money more plentiful, we must endeavour to restore the equilibrium by producing more goods, and gradually reduce our paper currency to something like its former level. By these means, and by these means only, can we hope to deal with this great and world-wide problem. Work, and work alone, and safe finance, can save us.
I shall return again and again to this, for it is the foundation of the Government's policy. But I now want to refer to another cause of high prices, which stands in quite a different category to those we have just been considering. I mean profiteering. Profiteering may be defined as the taking of a profit in excess of that which is fair in all the circumstances. It is the exploitation of the community staggering under the fearful burden of war, under cover of the abnormal conditions which exist. All high prices are not due to profiteering, but it is one of the most prolific causes, and it is a preventable cause. It can be dealt with by legislation and admininistration, and it must be [unreadable] with effectually and without [unreadable]. There is no doubt at all that [unreadable] men have taken advantage of the confusion and disorganisation caused by war, and the inevitable increases in price caused by scarcity of goods and abundance of loan money, to exploit the people. It is not always easy to say to what extent high prices are due to legitimate increases in the cost of production, cheap money, and profiteering. This is shown by the fact, broadly speaking, that wherever increase in the cost of living has been most marked industrial unrest and strikes and unemployment are greatest. For example, Queensland, where the increase in the cost of living has been greater than in any other State—64 per cent., as against 38 per cent. in South Australia—industrial unrest and unemployment are greater than elsewhere throughout the Commonwealth, and here let me say that, although prices of necessaries of life have risen in Australia during the war, the increase is not comparable with the tragic rises in Britain, France, and america; and this is to a large extent due to the rigid application of the War Precautions Act. Profiteering must be put down, and the Government will take all necessary steps to deal effectively with it. It is appointing a thoroughly representative Royal Commission to inquire into the question of high prices generally, and profiteering in particular, and will clothe it with full power to obtain evidence in support of charges of profiteering. The Government, as soon as it is in a position to do so, will promptly take whatever action is necessary to deal with the offenders by legislation and administration until profiteering is stamped out.
Amendments of Constitution
The very serious problems arising out of the war to which I have referred cover nearly every phase of national and individual activity. Chief amongst them are the problems of finance, of industrial unrest, of high prices, of disorganised markets, of scarcity of shipping, and high freights. Although the problems are many, they spring from one source. Apart from industrial unrest, they are the problems of production. They exist through lack of wealth, and can only be dealt with by producing much more wealth than we ever did before. These problems are world-wide, and bad as is our position, it is, on the whole, far better than that of many other countries, of Britain for example, and, of course, France. As the production of more wealth is the only solution of our troubles, it follows [unreadable] Commonwealth must [unreadable] with all [unreadable] the war, and particularly with industrial unrest, high cost of living, and profiteering. Upon a bold and comprehensive policy towards these vital questions the present and future welfare of Australia literally depend. The States cannot deal with these matters effectively, for in their very nature they are Federal in their scope. Unfortunately the Commonwealth's powers under the Constitution are hopelessly inadequate for the purpose. The extent of the Commonwealth's war powers has shrunk now that peace has come and will shortly disappear altogether. Yet the Commonwealth must have the power to deal with all the abnormal conditions arising out of the war, with the aftermath of war, as I have called it; it must have power to deal with industrial unrest, not by tinkering with it, but by going down to first causes. And in order to do this it must have power to deal with industrial matters, with trade and commerce, and corporations which carry on over 75 per cent. of all the trade of the country, and with trusts and combines. The Government asks the people to grant it those powers by voting in favour of the Constitutional Amendment Bills, which will be submitted to the electors on the same day as the election for the new Parliament. The Government wants these powers in order to solve the complex problems that war has created, and so enable Australia to gather the full fruits of the great victory which her soldiers have won for her. The Government pledges itself not to use these powers for any other purpose than those I have set out. Their exercise is further limited in point of time, and can only be used pending the passage of the alterations of the Constitution recommended by the Statutory Convention. It is pledged to call a convention during 1920 to consider in the light of nearly 20 years of experience what permanent amendments of the Constitution are desirable in the best interests of the people.
I want to emphasise once more that we shall not use the powers now asked for to scrap State industrial legislation or State Industrial Courts or Boards, but only to supplement them where necessary, and to deal with the fundamental causes of industrial unrest, high prices, and profiteering.
Industrial unrest, Bolshevism and democracy
As I have already said, the war has created conditions that have intensified the industrial unrest which existed in nearly every country throughout the civilised world before August, 1914.
There are many reasons why this should be so. The fury of the world war shook the world to its very foundations. Ancient institutions that seemed destined to last as long as man himself crumbled to dust and have been swept away. Thrones have been overturned, emperors and kings have become exiles or hunted fugitives, and some an even worse fate has befallen.
The economic as well as the political and social worlds have been convulsed. The world is everywhere in a ferment. In some countries, Russia, for example, chaos streaked with bloody murder and rapine exists and has existed for many long months. There, the distracted people, throwing off the yoke of Czardom, fell under that of Lenin and Trotsky, who, in the name of Liberty, have set up a reign of terror, denying not only liberty and justice, but food to all who would not do their will. Bolshevism is rule by force. It destroys; it does not build up. It is the very negation of democracy; it ignores and despises rule by law, the rights of the individual to justice; it recognises neither the rights of majorities nor of minorities; it does not recognise rights as such at all; it only recognises force. It denies liberty of speech, of action, to all those of its own class who blindly accept its tenets.
Eighteen months of Bolshevism in Russia have reduced millions in that unhappy country to the verge of starvation. It has killed industry. It has murdered tens of thousands of innocent and helpless men, women and children. It is a bloody tyrant, and not less so because it attempts to rule in the name of the people.
Bolshevism is the class war which the I.W.W. and the O.B.U. and others in our midst would have us to accept. The world knows something of what it has done in Russia, the state to which it has reduced the industries and finance of that country. Australia knows something, and Queensland much more, of the disastrous effects of the Australian variety of Bolshevism upon industry, finance, and the general welfare of the country.
We stand against the class war; against direct action. We stand for national unity; for constitutional Government; for democracy; for arbitration versus strikes; for justice and right to all as against tyranny and force.
Now, since more production is and must be the foundation of any policy that is to solve the problem that now confronts us, it will be proper first to consider what stands in the way of increasing production, and then to set forth the means by which the Government proposes to remove these obstacles.
Now let us go to the root of the matter. Wages are paid out of the wealth produced by labour, and are the share alloted to labour out of the margin between the cost of producing a given commodity and its market value. The balance goes to capital. Industrial unrest arises through disputes between capital and labour as to their respective shares in the wealth created. This dispute cannot be settled unless certain facts are accepted by both parties. We certainly cannot hope to settle industrial unrest by tinkering with the surface of the industrial problem. If we are to have industrial peace, we must be prepared to pay the price, and that price is justice to the worker. Nothing less will serve.
The basic wage and the cost of living
We have long ago adopted in Australia the principles of compulsory arbitration for the settlement of industrial disputes and of the minimum wage. When I speak of the minimum wage I speak, of course, only of a living wage, a wage for unskilled and light labour, upon which is to be superimposed extra remuneration for skill and the arduous nature of the work.
Now wages, although paid in money, really represent so much food, clothes, shelter, and other necessaries of civilised life. It follows that every increase in the cost of living is a decrease in wages, since it is a decrease in the purchasing power of the sovereign.
During the war the cost of living has increased all over the world very much. Although it has increased here in Australia much less than in most countries, it has increased considerably. And the cause of much of the industrial unrest, which is like fuel to the fires of Bolshevism and direct action, arises when the real wage of the worker—that is to say, the things he can buy with the money he receives—decreases with an increase in the cost of living. Nearly every application to the Courts of Arbitration or Wages Board, Federal or State, rests its claim for an increased wage upon the increased cost of living.
Now once it is admitted that it is in the interests of the community that such a wage should be paid as will enable a man to marry and bring up children under decent, wholesome conditions—and that point has been settled long ago—it seems obvious that we must devise better machinery for ensuring the payment of such a wage than at present exists. Means must be found which will ensure that the minimum wage shall be adjusted automatically or almost automatically with the cost of living, so that within the limits of the minimum wage at least the sovereign shall always purchase the same amount of the necessaries of life. The Government is therefore appointing a Royal Commission to inquire into the cost of living in relation to the minimum or basic wage. The commission will be fully clothed with power to ascertain what is a fair basic wage, and how much the purchasing power of a sovereign has been depreciated during the war, also how the basic wage may be adjusted to the present purchasing power of the sovereign, and the best means when once so adjusted of automatically adjusting itself to the rise and fall of the sovereign. The Government will at the earliest date possible create effective machinery to give effect to these principles. Labour is entitled to a fair share of the wealth ot creates.
Labour entitled to more than living wage
So much for the basic wage. The fundamental question of the basic wage having been thus satisfactorily—because permanently—settled, there remain other causes of industrial unrest, which must be dealt with if we are to have industrial peace. Labour is entitled to something more than a living wage. It is entitled to a fair share of the wealth it produces. Capital must recognise this, and putting aside all ancient prejudices must meet labour frankly on a footing of equality, so that the two factors in production, laying all their cards on the table, shall decide what it is to be a fair share for each.
I have said that increased production is essential to the very existence of Australia; and increased production cannot be assured without the hearty co-operation of labour and capital. Industrial peace is essential to increased production, and that in its turn cannot be assured unless labour is given its legitimate place as a full partner in production. If we are to have industrial peace, if we wish the worker to avoid direct action, either by recourse to ordinary strikes or to that class war which is the avowed aim of the Bolshevist, the O.B.U., the I.W.W., and other wild extremists, we must recognise his status, we must give him speedy and cheap redress for all his grievances, freed from the red tape of legal formalities.
How to deal with the go-slow policy
The workman must have not only a living wage, but such a share of what he produces as will be sufficient inducement to him to produce more. Once we convince him that the more he produces the more he gets, and that what he gets is his fair and legitimate share, and the 'go-slow' policy—that insidious and deadly doctrine preached here as in other countries—will die a speedy death. Since wages are paid and can only be paid out of the wealth the worker himself creates, he must recognise that the only way in which he can get higher wages is to produce more wealth.
Capital entitled to its share
He must recognise also that since capital is essential to production, and his power to produce in abundance and so earn a high wage depends entirely upon sufficient capital being available, capital, like labour, must receive a fair share, and this must be sufficient to induce men to invest in new enterprises or extend those already in existence.
Strikes—a menace to the country
Once both parties recognise these fundamental facts and come together as fellow-citizens engaged in a joint enterprise, upon the success of which the welfare of their country depends, all will be well. I have every confidence in the energy, initiative, skill and enterprise of the Australian workmen and employers. We must produce more wealth. Strikes arrest production, and drain wealth from the community; they inflict loss and suffering upon worker, employer, and the whole community. What is wanted is continuity of operations. In the shipbuilding industry, which I organised before my departure for the conference in 1918, continuity of operations is laid down as a condition of employment. The agreement was made with the unions in the face of much opposition from the extremists. It has amply justified itself. Despite the introduction of piece work, I am glad to say that with the exception of one dispute on Cockatoo Island the work has gone on uninterruptedly for over 18 months. Excellent work has been turned out. The highest wages have been paid. At Williamstwon—and the same presumably applies to Walsh Island—where the award rates for the six trades involved are £4/6/- per week, the men have averaged over a short period for which a return has been supplied from £5/6/- to £7/11/- per week, while in special cases men have earned up to £11 per week. We have been able to build ships at prices that compare favourably with America, and even Britain. I attribute this to four things—the existence of special tribunals that are always ready to deal with any dispute at a moment's notice; the recognition of unionism; the inducements given to the men to earn more money by producing more wealth; and the knowledge that undue profits were not being made at their expense.
The Government's labour policy
The Government recognising organised labour is prepared to give it legal status and authority. It will create machinery whereby representatives of employers and of organised labour may form industrial councils, Commonwealth and State, and give these statutory authority. It will give legislative sanction to any proposals these councils may recommend in the interests of industrial peace. It will create a Commonwealth Industrial Court in place of the present one, and appoint thereto one Commonwealth and two or more State judges. It will give this Court purview over such industries as are federal in their scope, or are, like the shipbuilding industry, under the direct control of the Commonwealth, and give it power to make a common rule and give legal sanction to industrial agreements between employer and employee, and it will make this court a final industrial court of appeal. In these or any other ways that circumstances call for, or employees and employer desire, the Government will endeavour to remove all causes of industrial strife. It will provide speedy and economical means of redress for all grievances, and will look in its turn for the co-operation of labour and capital to do all things necessary to ensure that continuity of industrial operations, without which all hope of increasing production, of paying high wages, improving the conditions of employment, and of paying the great burden of debt that the war has imposed, is futile.
The Government believes that insurance of the workers against unemployment and sickness is necessary to stable and progressive industry in Australia, and it intends as early as practicable to institute a searching investigation with a view to the establishment of a system fair to both employers and employees.
The future of Australia and the primary producer
If Australia is to become a great nation its greatness must rest upon the basis of land settlement. National safety, the economic, social, and financial welfare of the nation, make the adoption of an effective policy of land settlement imperative. This great Commonwealth, which could easily support in comfort 100 millions of people, with its illimitable resources, its rich soil, its great mineral wealth, has now but five millions, more than half of whom throng our great cities.
Our huge debt, our isolation, point to us the road we must travel if we would avert national ruin. Every really great nation is built upon the solid foundation of primary industries; every nation that has endured and left its mark upon the history of the world had its roots in the soil. When Rome fell it fell because its crop of men had failed. That sturdy peasantry who had fought its battles and built up its greatness had passed away. The empire spread itself over the known earth. But its greatness had departed. The cities grew, the countryside decayed.
We hear from time to time much talk about immigration and the urgent need for population. Now the time is ripe for action. There is urgent need for population, but, of course, it must be of the right sort, and it must go to the right place. We do not want to make Australia a dumping ground for the world's refuse populations, or to bring population to our already overcrowded cities, for such newcomers would not for the most part produce new wealth, but only share the wealth already there. If you ask what is the policy of the Government in immigration it may be stated quite clearly. The Government clearly recognises the urgent need for more population. And it is going out to get it. We shall seek the right kind—Britishers, soldiers, and farmers especially. If we had 10,000,000 we should not only halve our great debt per head, but should produce double the amount of wealth. We shall aim at creating such conditions in our primary industries as will offer inducements not only to those already on the land to stay there and others to follow their example, but to our kinsmen overseas to come also. Given these conditions, nothing more is needed save the wide advertisement of what Australia has to offer to suitable settlers, and the provision of such facilities for transport as will bring them here. The shipbuilding and shipping policy of the Government has been devised not only to ensure that refrigerated tonnage shall be available to our primary producers so that they may send their products to oversea markets at reasonable freights, but also to provide accommodation at cheap rates for suitable settlers. But before we bring new men here we must set our own house in order, we must see to it that the man now on the land is encouraged to remain there; we must devise schemes for settling our own returned soldiers on lands upon which they can have a fair chance of earning a livelihood.
As the States control and own the lands of Australia, we will continue to co-operate with them in land settlement, and I have no doubt at all that future co-operation will take both States and Commonwealth much farther than they have hitherto gone in this direction, and will be welcomed by the various State Governments. I am sure the States will join in this great enterprise. But in any case it must be done, and if concerted action is not obtainable the Commonwealth will resolutely push on.
The policy of the Government for the man on the land
Now let me deal a little more in detail with the policy of the Government towards the primary producer. First, since the greater part of our primary products must find markets overseas, and these markets are now, as a result of the war, disorganised, and since the ordinary pre-war channels are not likely to be available for some little time, at all events, it is plain that organisation both here and abroad is required if the man on the land is to hold his own against his organised competitors who are nearer Europe. And along with organisation, in order that producer shall not be forced by competition or scarcity of freight to sacrifice his produce for less than its fair value, there will be needed financial assistance. During the war the Government created that organisation without which the primary producer would have been helpless. It provided freight of its own, and by this means, and by being the sole charterer of freight, it was enabled to keep down the rates of freights far below the world's parity. It financed the farmer to the extent of many millions in wheat, butter, and other produce. It organised the wool pool, which has given the wool grower nearly 60 per cent. higher for his wool than ever he formerly received. It organised the metal pools. By selling the greater part of the zinc output of Australia for ten years at a remunerative rate, it stabilised one of the great primary industries for a lengthy period. It organised the sugar industry from the cane to the consumer, giving the producer over 50 per cent. more than he received before the war, and the consumer far the cheapest sugar in the world. And it did many other things to assist the producer, which I now pass over for lack of time.
Primary producer organisation
The war is over, but organisation is still necessary. The Commonwealth Government has pioneered the way, and as long as the producers wish it, it will continue to act, but it hopes that the producers will, by co-operation amongst themselves, create such organisation as the circumstances make imperative, or take charge of that already created by the Government. The Government policy is to encourage co-operative effort amongst the producers and to eliminate the middleman. The Government will, if so desired, give statutory authority to boards composed of representatives chosen by the various primary industries, e.g., wool, wheat, meat, etc., and will, where the organisation substantially represents the industry, lend such financial aid as may be necessary. The Government will, if desired, enter into negotiations with Britain and other countries for the sale of our staple products; it will protect the producer against unfair freights; it will co-operate with him in the erection of additional cold storage plants, thus guarding him against manipulation of speculators in the local or overseas markets.
Government will guarantee 1920-21 crop at 5/4 f.o.b.
In order to help the wheat grower, the Government, in addition to its guarantee for the coming crop, will guarantee 5/- at railway sidings for the 1920-21 harvest. If the farmers so desire, the Government will discuss with their organisations the question of guarantees and assistance beyond that year, for in wheat and all forms of primary production the Government's policy is to stimulate and stabilise these essential industries.
I have already said something about what the Government has done to organise the sugar industry and encourage the man on the sugar lands of the north. The Government has guaranteed this year's sugar crop at £21, and in order to stabilise the industry it will guarantee the next crop at the same price, and will favourably consider further guarantees if the cane growers' association so desire.
The encouragement of Australian industries
The encouragement of Australian industries has been the settled policy of Australia for many years, and as a result the progress of our manufactures has been very considerable. The amount of capital invested in manufacturing industries rose from £52,585,000 in 1908 to £90,528,000 in 1917. The value of the product from £99,529,000 to £206,386,000. The number of persons employed [unreadable] 257,494 to 321,670; the [unreadable] per capita from £81 [unreadable] The effect of [unreadable] primary industries [unreadable] viewed; its effects upon Australian manufactures may now be looked at. The absence of hundreds of thousands of our young men at the war, the increased cost of production, the shortage of raw materials imported from oversea, the general disturbance of industry, industrial unrest, and particularly the disastrous strikes of 1917 and 1919, naturally had their effect upon Australian industries. Despite these handicaps, progress has been made. The consistent policy of the Government throughout the war has been to protect existing and encourage the establishment of new industries, and the treatment of all raw materials produced in the Commonwealth, so that they should be placed upon the markets of the world as far as possible as a manufactured article.
As has already been pointed out, the policy of the Government has resulted in more than £7,000,000 being invested in new industries during the war. When in Britain I made it my business to bring before manufacturers the very great opportunities that Australia offered for profitable investment. As a result, I am glad to be able to announce that several of the best known firms in Britain intend to establish themselves here and manufacture locally.
In the base metal industry, which was entirely in the hands of Germany before the war, very great strides have been made. German influence has been completely eradicated. It may be fairly said that in no other part of the Empire has this been so thoroughly done. All copper produced in Australia is now not only smelted within the Commonwealth, but an up-to-date factory has been erected which will supply practically all Australian requirements for manufactured copper goods.
The zinc industry has been placed on a permanent, satisfactory basis owing to arrangements made by me when in England in 1916 for the sale of a large proportion of the zinc concentrates for a period of ten years, and which also provided for the local manufacture into spelter of the balance. The first units of what will be one of the largest spelter works in the world have been erected in Tasmania, while the lead smelting works at Port Pirie and Cockle Creek have been so greatly extended as to now rank as the largest in the world.
The Broken Hill steel works which employs a very large number of men contains a most up-to-date plant, and has provided the Government with [unreadable] materials for locomotives, etc., [unreadable] East-West Railway; much of [unreadable] and steel requirements for [unreadable] is largely an industry [unreadable] the war.
The shipbuilding industry launched by the Government is making steady headway; the workmanship of the ships and engines is excellent, and a credit to the workmen, designers, and supervisors, while the cost of production compares more than favourably with that of America.
The woollen industry has made gratifying strides in all its branches. Considerably more than a million of new capital has been invested in this great staple industry during the war, and further expansion is in progress.
Many new industries have arisen under the stimulus of dire necessity, and the encouragement of the Government. We have learned to make many things ourselves that we formerly imported from oversea. The war has taught us many lessons. It has taught us, among other things, to believe in ourselves and in the greatness of the resources and destiny of Australia.
The policy of the Government towards Australian industries, new and old, can be once more set forth. We believe in Australia. We believe there stretches before her a great future, that she is destined to become a mighty nation. We have come through dark days; danger and death have encompassed us about. But thanks to the valour of our soldiers and sailors, we have won through. Australia is safe and free. She is still staggering from the effects of the deadly struggle in which she has been engaged. But the dawn of a new day beckons and cheers her on. We must develop our resources, provide employment for our young men. We must follow in the footsteps of the great Republic of America, while avoiding her errors. Experience has show that the present tariff imposed when different conditions existed is inadequate. During the war it was impossible for many reasons to amend it, and the early appeal to the electors precluded its introduction after peace had been signed.
The Government has carefully prepared a new tariff. It believes it will prove satisfactory to the manufacturers of the Commonwealth, and intends to lay this tariff on the table of the House and give effect to it at the earliest possible moment after the new Parliament assembles. This tariff will protect industries born during the war, will encourage others that are desirable, and will diversify and extend existing ones.
The Government recognises that there is a danger of the market being flooded by imported goods in anticipation of the tariff before it takes effect. It has therefore decided that the Minister for Customs should be empowered to exercise his powers under the Act preventing importation of certain specified lines in excess of the fair normal average.
A careful supervision will be exercised over prices charged for goods the subject of any embargo, and if it is found that any undue advantage is being taken of the position the restrictions on importations will be immediately removed.
Consumer and worker safeguarded
Experience has shown that in America, and even in Australia, consumers have been exploited by unreasonably high prices of the locally-made article, which have materially prejudiced not only the primary producers, but the general consumer. The Government therefore proposes to take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the consumer shall be protected as well as the manufacturer.
And finally the Government policy in regard to protecting and encouraging the local manufacturer will go hand in hand with such guarantees for the payment of a fair and reasonable wage for the worker as will ensure that he participates in the benefits of this national policy.
Organisation of industry
Much has already been done by the Government to promote the organistion of primary and secondary industries. We intend to continue our endeavours to extend this necessary spirit of co-operation amongst those who raise raw products. We shall not attempt to force them to accept any cut and dried system, but we shall encourage and aid them wherever possible, and in any direction they consider advantageous to their interests.
Cotton and flax
The figures relating to the world's cotton supply are causing the Governments of Great Britain and the United States of America much concern. The production of this important commodity is being undertaken in the State of Queensland, and, although in its elementary stage, it is already clear that the quality of Australian-grown cotton compares favourably with that raised in other countries. The Government has therefore determined to assist the producer of this article, and it will guarantee a minimum price for three years, and thus increase the interest and efforts of the cotton growers.
Flax production has already been stimulated by the measures adopted by the Government during the war. [unreadable] proposes to continue [unreadable] the growers and thus [unreadable] progress of the [unreadable] Commonwealth.
The Government is keenly alive to the urgent necessity for the production of oil within the Commonwealth. The partnership arranged for the Imperial Government for thorough exploration of the territory of Papua bids us hope for good results. The Government has also offered a substantial reward for the discovery of mineral oil deposits by private enterprise. This has already induced considerable activity in the desired direction. The Government will further aid all efforts that are calculated to lead to the development of commercial fields, so that this essential of industry, which is so scarce within the empire, will be produced within Australia.
Trade with Pacific islands
Parliament has authorised the proclamation of important portions of the Navigation Act, the operation of which is essential to the preservation of our trade with the islands of the Pacific adjacent to Australia. The Government is determined that the fullest opportunities shall be afforded the people of the Commonwelath for establishing extensive commercial relations with those lands which are naturally tributory to the Commonwealth.
With the exception of quarantine, all matters affecting public health are within the control of the States. It is doubtful whether Australia will ever be able to satisfactorily cope with some of her grave problems while exclusive power remains with the local authorities. Many preventable diseases still ravage our people, and the full co-operation of all our Governments is alone likely to lead to success. Millions of pounds are annually lost to the nation through sickness and death, and great suffering and sorrow brought by such diseases to the homes of the people. Tuberculosis, venereal complaints, typhoid and other epidemics will yield to treatment if all the forces of Government are combined in their attack. The Government is prepared either in conjunction with the States, or independently if such conjunction is impossible, to undertake this urgent task.
Nothing is so supremely important as the health of the people, and Australia is, because of the present division of authority, lagging behind [unreadable] countries in the [unreadable] of the subject [unreadable] lines.
Of all the [unreadable] the attention [unreadable] more important than that of finance. The public credit, the industrial and social prosperity of the Commonwelath, depends upon the skilful mobilisation of our financial resources. While this is more or less true of every democratic community, even in normal times, it is more especially true of Australia today. A huge burden of debt rests upon us, and it will require all the prudence and caution of high statesmanship to deal with the problem. Until the gradual liquidation of our war indebtedness, production and industry must sustain heavy imposts. This country is rich in resources, developed and undeveloped, but without wise treatment of our financial problems, the interests of this and later generations must inevitably suffer. The wonderful spirit which the Australian public exhibited when called upon to proivide money to equip and feed our forces on land and sea during the war shows what they are capable of. If they preserve that resolute and buoyant temper the future is safe. If they regard the load as insupportable and bow beneath it, then we are in danger.
The Government stresses the great and growing importance of finance, and asks the cheerful co-operation of the people in its treatment of the problem.
In the year before the war the total expenditure of the Commonwealth was £23,150,000. For the present financial year it is estimated that the expenditure out of revenue will amount to £48,650,000, an increase of £25,500,000.
This increase has been brough about almost wholly by war, the war expenditure this year being put down at £25,000,000. That is to say, the Commonwealth expenditure for ordinary purposes has increased since 1913-14 by only £500,000.
Since the outbreak of war up to 30th June last the total payments from revenue on account of the war amounted to £43,527,763. Included under this head are interest on war loans, sinking fund, war pensions, and cost of repatriation.
The heavy burden of war expenditure compelled the Parliament to increase the land tax and to impose direct taxation on sources previously not levied upon by the commonwealth. Since the war began up to [unreadable] last the direct taxation of the Commonwealth yielded a total of [unreadable].
Taxation to be revised
[unreadable] to the disturbance of war [unreadable] impossibility of forecasting [unreadable] conditions, the taxation was necessarily arranged on a more or less temporary basis, and one result is that the Commonwealth laws collide with those of the States. There is reason to fear, too, that the existing forms of the levies upon the people may, in their secondary effects, bring about results which are not advantageous.
With a view to harmonisation of the taxation of the Commonwealth and the States, to reduce the irritation now suffered by tax-payers, and generally to model the Commonwealth system with due regard to all interests, the whole incidence of Commonwealth taxation will be re-examined so that the burden of post-war taxes will be equitably placed on the shoulders of those best able to carry them. Special consideration will be extended to thosee who are experiencing the effects of the widespread drought.
At an early date a commission will be appointed to make a thorough investigation of the subject.
We must pay our way and meet the obligations of the war.
The government will see that the people get full value for every penny expended, and if extra taxation is needed it will be imposed so that progress will not be discouraged or arrested.
The public debt of the Commonwealth and the States is now about £740,000,000, including £360,000,000 borrowed for the purpose of constructing railways and other revenue earning assets. Allowing for that portion of the total debt which earns its own interest, there is a substantial deficit for which the war debt and some State undertakings are responsible. This deficit has to be met by direct taxation.
It has to be borne by a meagre population of 5 millions, and it is a heavy load.
The position calls for economy for enterprise, and for development. Both Government and the people must work together for these.
There is no doubt, with good management, we can clear away our financial difficulties, but every man and woman in this country should be made to understand that on him and her rest grave responsibilities, not the least important of which is to see that a sane Government is given charge of the affairs of the country.
The Commonwealth Government will continue to take all possible [unreadable] towards the replacement of [unreadable] in civil life. The Commonwealth [unreadable] entered into agreements to [unreadable] the States upwards of £30,000,000 to enable them to settle soldiers on the land. Vocational training and all the other activities of the department will be continued, and as quickly as possible, having regard to scarcity of material, houses will be built in accordance with the War Service Homes Act. Apart from land settlement, the expenditure on repatriation will have amounted to £10,750,000 up to 30th June next.
Economy in expenditure is as essential as increased production. We must produce more and spend less. The Government intends to introduce into the Departments of the Commonwealth a Board of Management, as recently recommended by the Economy Commission. This, we believe, will promote economy and efficiency and a higher level of administration.
We desire also to give hope and encouragement to the employees of the Commonwealth, and we therefore propose to establish a system of contributory superannuation for the Public Service, supported by a reasonable and maximum payment from the Treasury.
The spirit of Australian nationalism
I have set before you a brief record of the Government's work during its term of office. We were elected to do all within our power to win the war. This we have done; our record speaks for itself. Never in the history of the Commonwealth have the difficulties been so great, and never has so much been done.
But what of the future? The burning blasts of war have shrivelled, blackened, and destroyed the world we once knew. Old landmarks have disappeared. The nations of the earth panting from the struggle, impoversihed by the unprecedented destruction of wealth, are confronted with a new set of financial, national, and industrial circumstances. Humanity has indulged in a terrible orgy of destruction; it must pay the price. We must enter on a long period of reconstruction—wherein captial will be scarce, interest high, wages and materials costly. Australia, a young, growing nation, requiring both capital and men for the development of her boundless resources; burdened with a huge debt; faced with great responsibilities, national and industrial [unreadable] and expand in the [unreadable] can even hold her [unreadable] co-operation of [unreadable] the task will [unreadable].
Fellow citizens, I appeal to all of you who love your country to forget your ancient party differences and stand side by side in this crisis. I appeal to you to be guided by that spirit of Australian nationalism which animated our soldiers through the long hours of terrible trial and led them at length to victory. On the welfare of Australia depends the welfare of every citizen, producer and consumer, employer and employee. Let our watchword be Australia, and as our splendid boys have fought for it and saved it let us all live and work for it. In this spirit the war was won; in this spirit and in this spirit only can we win the peace. The times call for united action, for just, strong and capable government. They call for leadership, for sagacious statesmanship. The issue before the electors is clear. I have already stated it in plain words. The Commonwealth stands at the crossroads. The electors are to choose who shall lead them, by what manner of men they will be governed. The records and the policy of both are known to you all. Choose ye between us.