Diary of a Labour Man 1917 - 1945

Full Text On the Backbenches



Westralian Worker, 17 April 1931, page 1.



It is somewhat unusual for two leading politicians to debate before a public audience on financial matters, but that happened last week-end when Senator Sir Hal Colebatch and Mr J. Curtin, M.H.R., addressed a mass meeting of farmers at Northam last Saturday. Incidentally, the same meeting, which consisted of wheatgrowers, refused to sink their identity and join up with the Primary producers' Association, and thereby be submerged in the political wing of that body, the Country Party.

As regards the debate between the two Federal politicians in question (which as on the Fiduciary Currency Bill), Mr Curtin's remarks were all relevant to the subject, and were powerfully delivered. The conclusion of his address was followed by a remarkable outburst of loud and prolonged applause.

Sir Hal Colebatch was obviously ill at ease during the period of his address. He did not seek to deal with the fiduciary currency proposal at all, but vainly endeavored to frighten the farmers by raising all sorts of side-issues, bogies and scare cries.

He painted a dreadful picture of how the Soviet Government in Russia treated the Russian wheat farmers, stating that Russian farmers were half starved. An interjection to the effect that the Australian farmers were no better off seemed to upset Sir Hal. He then went on to deal with the embargo on the export of sheepskins, the embargo and bonus on galvanised iron, the general tariff of the Scullin Government, and a long explanation of his vote against the Wheat Marketing Bill. Two years ago such a speech would have been swallowed whole by the farmers, but they are a different proposition today. They refuse to be fooled any longer by Nationalist and Country Party politicians, who have fooled them for so many years.

Sir Hal's alternative proposal was that the Scullin Government should be hunted from office, confidence thereby restored, and a loan raised on the overseas market, farmers and unemployed to be assisted with the proceeds. This alternative left the farmers stone cold. Nobody knows better than the farmers that our present interest liabilities are beyond bearing. They know also that the raising of loans would surely increase the public debt and increase the annual interest payments. That Sir Hal's speech was a poor one was admitted by even many of his admirers.

To compare it with Mr Curtin's speech would, as one old farmer put it, be like comparing a cart-horse with Phar Lap.

Mr Curtin's reply was completely devastating. With extraordinary brilliance he turned every one of Sir Hal's fancied strong statements back on Sir Hal and the party with which he is associated.

There is little doubt that had the vote on the fiduciary question been taken immediately following the debate between Mr Curtin and Sir Hal it would have shown a two to one majority in favor of the proposal.

The general debate and the vote were delayed until late at night. The anti-Labor originators of this conference hoped, no doubt, that by the time the vote came on many of the farmers from the more distant districts would have left for home, as they had.