Diary of a Labour Man 1917 - 1945

Full Text On the Backbenches



Westralian Worker, 4 October 1929, page 2.

THE CAMPAIGN FOR FREMANTLE. Invigorating Speeches by Mr J. Curtin, M.H.R.

Since opening his campaign at the Fremantle Town Hall on Monday of last week, Mr J. Curtin, M.H.R., has delivered a sequence of invigorating speeches throughout the division, which have aroused the people to the vital issues at stake in this contest.

To the great meeting at Unity Theatre he proclaimed that Mr Bruce was a navigator without a compass, a leader who had deserted the platform of his party, and was so saturated with vainglory that he believed every previous Prime Minister was wrong on the question of industrial policy, and he alone – the man who had dipped into the purse of Fortunatus for the sweets of this life – was right.

"And," continued Mr Curtin, "the Prime Minister, in now insisting that the Commonwealth should not exercise any industrial power, passes a vote of no-confidence in all the declarations that he had previously made upon the subject."

Turning to the campaign of his immediate opponent (Mr H.K. Watson), the Labor candidate pointedly contrasted that gentleman's present attitude of a self-styled "champion" of State Arbitration by asking where would Mr Watson now be but for the work Mr Curtin and the Labor party did in this State in 1926 in preventing Bruce, Latham and Sir George Pearce from then destroying every vestige of authority the State exercises in this important sphere. "In that crucial struggle to save State Arbitration, Mr Watson was not even sighted, let alone heard." The public would do well to remember that notwithstanding Sir George Pearce's present laudation of State Arbitration it exists only because he (Pearce) was defeated in his policy to wipe it out and confer all power on the Federation.

Both Courts Needed

"Unlike these marching-both-ways Nationalists," said Mr Curtin, "I believe in State Arbitration, and I also believe in Federal Arbitration." Both systems were required in the present circumstances of the country – one to provide a local jurisdiction for purely State matters and the other to furnish a media for disputes that concerned more than one State.

If the Federal Court were abolished, the trend would be to level down the standard of living, as the Sate with the lowest standard would be competitively advantaged as against the States with higher standards. Capital would flow into the low-standard State just as it had flowed during the past 20 years into the low-standard countries of Asia, and just as capital from New York and London was being poured into the South American republics, where there were peon workers at low rates and uncontrolled working conditions.

At West Subiaco, Mr Curtin had an interesting peep at history. It had been said that the Government had been destroyed by some of its supporters. If Mr Bruce had a grievance on that score he should remember that the Government which preceded the present administration was defeated not by the strength of the opposition, but by the very men who today declared that they had been betrayed. The present Prime Minister assumed that office because he did to his predecessor what was now being done to him. What had occurred was no new crime or unparalleled event in the political history of the Commonwealth. It was a spectacle for the gods for men like Senators Lynch and Pearce to join in denouncing members of the Nationalist Party for disloyalty. Their own history was probably the notable example which had led those they now assailed to break with the Government.


At South Fremantle, Mr Curtin emphasised the gravity of the Federal financial position. In the early years of his Government, the Prime Minister increased taxation for the great mass of the people and reduced the taxes payable by the receivers of large incomes and the possessors of lands of great value. His Government was responsible for making the Customs and Excise duties its principal source of revenue. During his administration, wealthy persons, by devious means, were able to escape the observance of the law, and only the great pressure in Parliament resulted in their being brought to heel. In 1928, the Prime Minister, after nearly six years of office, converted a surplus into a deficit, even though Federal taxation was higher than it had ever been in the history of the Commonwealth.

Waste and extravagance, Mr Curtin continued, were the supreme characteristics of the Bruce regime, and in order that these things should not be the issues at an election, the Prime Minister again fought on the basis of his industrial policy. The people were told nothing about the growing interest bill and very little about the problem of public finance as a whole. No Parliament – certainly no Government – should expect that it should be constituted to function in a democracy unless in respect of the more important of these subjects it was prepared to indicate the policy it would pursue.

No candidate, no matter to what political party he belonged, had a right to go into Parliament with a blank cheque for 99 per cent of the problems of the country and a covenant with the people in respect of one of them. It was expected that when Parliament met last year that some effort would be made with regard to problems of social reform. Despite a majority of nine the Government had brought down a most sterile policy.


Commenting on other phases of the campaign when at Leederville, Mr Curtin said that in 1926, when there were five Labor Governments in Australia, the Prime Minister and the Attorney General had declared that control of arbitration by the States was wrong. Now that there was only one Labor Government in the Commonwealth they considered that the exercise of power by the Commonwealth in the field of arbitration was evil and that the States should have absolute jurisdiction in these matters. Even in May last Mr Bruce endeavoured to persuade the Premiers to allow him to bestride the industrial world as the sole authority. To their natural and proper refusal of this dictatorial and audacious demand he now had the effrontery to march right about face and to say the Commonwealth should not deal with any industrial problem. "This man," declared Mr Curtin, "is a will-o-the-wisp, who lacks a consistent purpose, and will say today the very opposite of what he advocated the day previously."

The partisanship of the Government in the administration of the law had become a byword. Its own supporters could not justify the brazen disregard of fair play of which the Ministry had been convicted. "In the last Parliament the name of Abrahams had put a smear on the fair fame of Federal law and Federal administration. It was one law for the rich and another for the poor. And in this Parliament the name of John Brown had further blackened the shield of our national honor. All sorts of explanations for these departures from ordinary standards had been made. But the facts stand bare before the gaze of men, and the persons responsible for the facts should be banished from the places of authority they had fouled."