Diary of a Labour Man 1917 - 1945

Full Text On the Backbenches



Westralian Worker, 9 January 1931, page 4.


The Prime Minister (Mr Scullin) and the Federal Attorney-General (Mr Brennan) arrived at Fremantle early on Tuesday morning on their homeward journey from the Imperial Conference. Civic receptions were tendered them at Fremantle and Perth and at 1 p.m. they were the guests as a League of Nations Union luncheon at the Perth Town Hall. In the afternoon they received an enthusiastic Labor welcome at the Trades Hall.

A huge crowd gathered at the Fremantle Town Hall and among those on the platform with the Mayor were the Deputy-Leader of the State Labor Party (Mr A. McCallum) and Mr J. Curtin, M.H.R. Mr Scullin, who was loudly applauded on rising to speak, said that he was overwhelmed at the great welcome extended to him. The great task, he said, was to restore confidence in the minds of our own people and in the minds of people who matter in other parts of the world.

The Perth reception was held in the Prince of Wales Theatre, which was crowded. The Lord Mayor's welcome was supported by the Premier )Sir James Mitchell), Mr A. McCallum, and Cr. Raphael.

Mr Scullin, who was enthusiastically received, said that during the time his party had been away they had received courtesy and cordiality in all countries, but there was no welcome like the good Australian welcome they had received that morning. They had come back satisfied that there was only one country for them. There is only one Australia.

"No man," he said, "can return at a time like this and receive a welcome such as you have given without feeling many things. Firstly, the grave responsibility that the head of a nation has to fact today. Another thing is how inadequately anyone is fitted for that great task. When I hear people say, and when I hear thousands support them that they are looking to the return of the Prime Minister to lift Australia out of its difficulties, I feel very, very humble, because I realise that I have limitations. I realise that Governments have limitations, and that no man, and no group of men, can lift Australia out of its difficulties. It will require strong effort, it will require united effort, if Australia is going to get on to the high road of prosperity.

"I left Australia with great reluctance at a time when the position was difficult, but it would, in my judgment – and this has been strengthened by the experiences of the past few months – have been a colossal blunder if Australia had been represented at the Imperial Conference by any other but the head of the Government. Not that there were not men as capable of representing Australia, but no man can speak with the authority that the head of the nation speaks. Never was there a time when it was so necessary for the head of the nation to speak to the people in Great Britain about the problems Australia is facing and the manner in which I believed our people were facing them.

"On our arrival we found that anything calculated to damage the reputation of Australia was receiving a great amount of publicity but there was not much publicity given to the things that Australia had done and is doing. We made it our mission to seize every opportunity at every public gathering to hold up the end of Australia; to tell the people that Australia has played her part as a nation among the family of the British Empire. We told them that if, with the fall in world prices of our staple exports – wool, wheat, and other commodities, we were faced with financial difficulties for the moment, it was not for them to criticise and condemn Australia. I pointed out that we were paying in interest on our war debts and in pensions to our wounded soldiers more money from the Federal Treasury than we used to provide for the whole Budget before the war.

"These facts and others had to be plainly put before the people of the other side of the world. I want to say that I met many men in London, leading men in commercial, financial and industrial circles, with a good understanding of Australia and with great sympathy for our position. I received from many sections great help and great encouragement in placing before those sections, and in the right quarter, the position of Australia and its future possibilities.

"As something has been said by the Lord Mayor and the Premier about finance, I might say that I am one of those who believe that in the past we have leaned too heavily upon the overseas money market. I am one of those who said it not now but three, four, or five years ago, when we had markets for our products, when prices were high, and when there was prosperity in the land. I said then that we ought to learn to rely more upon our own initiative. Had we done that we would not have had the acute problem we have today.

"I do not want to come before you posing as a man who said I told you so,' nor do I want to indulge in any recriminations, but I mention it because I do not want anyone to think I believe in a continuation of borrowing overseas, of bringing in imported money to the detriment of Australian industries. But we cannot stop it immediately without disastrous effects, and that is the position of Australia today.

"Is there any wonder that, with £80,000,000 down in the value of our wool and wheat alone we are faced with financial difficulties? Had we five years ago tapered off our borrowing we would now have been in a better position to face the crisis. However, in order to meet our obligations I believe that Australia is entitled to ask and has a right to expect some financial support to tide her over. That was the view I put before the people on the other side. I told them that Australia had honored every penny of her obligations from the day she was a self-governing country, and we had never defaulted any more than we had ever repudiated; that we were of the same blood as themselves and had the same pride in our national honor as they had in theirs, and we were not likely to refuse or fail to meet our obligations.

"I believe that the presence of the Prime Minister on the other side was of some value from that point of view. I believe that confidence will return amongst the investing public on the other side of the world, and I am proud beyond measure that our own people in our own country have not lost faith and confidence in their own nation."

Mr Scullin then referred to the Imperial Conference and claimed that in the circumstances, it was no mean achievement to retain the existing preferences on the products that we produce in Australia.

Regarding unemployment, Mr Scullin said: "This problem was ever in my mind and in the minds of my colleagues. It did not relieve our feelings to witness a similar problem in other countries. There is hardly one nation without millions of honest, willing toilers seeking for work not to be found. It did not, however, ease our feelings to know that the suffering was elsewhere as well as in Australia. In meeting the problem there is an obligation not only on the Commonwealth Government. There is an obligation on every other public and semi-public body. There is an obligation on the private employer as well as on the public employer.

"We have all to shoulder our share of the responsibility, and I do not believe that we will solve the problem by breaking down the Australian standard of living. I believe that sacrifices have to be made by every section of this community: I believe every section must play its part if we are to get out of this trouble very quickly. Believing that, I am prepared to take my part either as Prime Minister, or, if it be willed, as a humbler citizen, to bring about greater co-operation and more united effort to put Australia where I believe Australia deserves to be. I feel you have assembled here to welcome back the Prime Minister, and I thank God that in this great democracy there is respect and support, not for the individual who holds the office but for the office itself. If we are to get the best service from the public men of our country and the public institutions of our country we must render them the support which people should render to their own creation.

"I am proud you have welcomed today in such a magnificent manner the head of the Government, at least for the time being. I have never been filled with over-weening personal importance. I would make way at any moment for a better man, or my colleagues for better men but while we have got the responsibility we will face it. We will discuss the problems with anybody who is willing to discuss them with us. When we find a step that is in advance of the last we took, and is on the right road, we will take that step regardless of political consequences.


In the absence of Professor Murdoch, Mr F. Alexander (chairman of the executive) presided at the League of Nations Union luncheon. The Union. He said, greatly appreciated the sympathy shown by the Federal Government with its aims. He extended a warm welcome to Mr Scullin and rejoiced that he had recovered his health. The welcome was supported by the Minister for Agriculture (Mr Ferguson), and Mr Curtin, M.H.R.

In the course of his speech, Mr Scullin made an eloquent appeal for the development of feelings of friendship and peace between the nations of the world. "I believe," he said, "that the people of Australia stand behind the League of Nations in support of world peace and disarmament. I believe that the Prime Minister of Australia should occasionally attend that conference because there has been a tendency right from the beginning to sneer at the work of the League, just as there is a tendency to sneer at everything that is idealistic. Unless you can show results in a year, or sometimes in a month, or complete the job in a decade, people say: 'It cannot be done.' Those who take a broader view, say that you cannot change the whole current of events in a generation let alone in a short period of 10 years.

"When one looks back over centuries of war and bloodshed, it is too much to expect the League to wipe all that out in 10 years. A review of the work the League has done, on the other hand, makes one feel amazed that it has accomplished so much. We should feel proud of the achievements of the officials engaged permanently on the League work, and also of the conference delegates of all nations, who have been doing their part towards world peace.

"For their achievements, I take this one thought, Men and women of all nations have gathered around the conference table, and have discussed sincerely how to avert future wars. They are facing problems in their own countries; they are constricted by the ordinary limitations of human nature, and are not able to do everything that, perhaps, they would like. But I believe that not one of those people who have attended a conference of the League of Nations would rush headlong into another war. They would pause and think of the men and women they have met at Geneva; of the friendships they have made amongst people of other countries – people ho spoke different languages, but with whom they were united in the bond of humanity, and with whom they had achieved a better understanding of the other man's viewpoint, than ever before.

"Some people say: 'You must always have war.' Why must we always have war? 'Because it is human instinct to war,' they say. I heard a man once lecturing on war and he used as an illustration the impulse of the tiny infant to raise its fist to attack. But I say that one of the first instincts of the infant is to reach out its hand to grasp something that does not belong to it. By education and example, however, we eradicate the first instinct of the child and lead it to better things. And if you can educate the child in this direction you can educate it in other directions.

"It is a slander upon our own human nature to suggest that it is our natural instinct to make war. The only instinct of human beings I say, is to save each other and to save human life."

"Let me give an instance. On our return voyage the Ormonde was between Suez and Colombo when a message came that a German woman onboard a Dutch vessel 100 miles away was in grave danger of death and there was no doctor on board. What did our commander do? He had over 1,000 souls on board and had a very costly ship in his command. Every hour's steaming involved a cost of £50 to £100, and every hour's delay meant disturbance and inconvenience to the ship's company and passengers. But he did not hesitate for a moment. He ordered the vessel to be put about and took the German woman off the Dutch boat to have the care and attention of a British doctor.

"Though that may be only a simple, passing event, it provided one of those little touches of nature that makes the whole world kin. Every passenger on that boat stood on the deck till late at night to watch the sailors go out and bring that woman on board: and in the morning they anxiously inquired how she fared after a serious operation had been performed on her. They were delighted to know that when we landed at Colombo she was on the high way to recovery and they took up a collection on the British boat for the German woman to enable her to go back to her family.

"When incidents like this are not exceptional in human life but are done every day, who can tell me that it is a natural instinct for people to make war upon one another and shoot each other down?"

Mr Scullin said that there was no nation that stands higher, or as high in the estimation of the world at the present time as Great Britain. In his opinion this was due to the very recent action of Great Britain in leading the rest of the world towards disarmament. A great lead towards peace has been given by the Prime Minister (Mr Ramsay MacDonald). His Government has given a lead to the world and has earned the respect of the people of all nationalities.


In the afternoon the Prime Minister and Mr Brennan, accompanied by Mrs Scullin and Mrs Brennan attended a gathering in the Unity Theatre. The threat was filled and the guests were left in no doubt as to the place they occupied in the regard of Labor supporters in this State.

Mr J. J. Kenneally, president of the A.L.P., presided and in his opening remarks referred to the tremend- has been given by the Prime Minister and his colleagues. A time such as this, said Mr Kenneally, is a testing time and he for one did not subscribe to the belief that in such a time the party could not expect to progress. Labor, he said, must either go ahead or go out, and he had no doubt as to what the result would be.

Supporting the welcome, the Deputy-Leader of the State Labor Party (Mr McCallum) said that the welcome received by Mr Scullin proved that the people of this State viewed him and his task with sympathy and consideration. He asked Mr Scullin to remember that there were other places in Australia besides Sydney and Melbourne. We who were on the outskirts of the struggle must have the utmost confidence in the men entrusted with the great task, and every member of the Movement in this State had the utmost confidence in the Prime Minister.

Mr Scullin, who was greeted with prolonged applause, thanked his audience heartily for a typical Australian and a typical Labor welcome. Although he had attended the Imperial Conference as a representative of the whole of Australia and not as a party man, he had felt that as the working class comprised the great mass of the nation, and were its builders, anything which brought benefit to it must benefit the whole nation. During his absence abroad he had been haunted day and night by thoughts of unemployment in Australia. He and his colleagues had striven hard to open up markets for Australia's produce, which would set the wheels of industry turning again in this country and while they had not been completely successful they had not failed altogether. It was useless to think that anything could be set in motion in Australia which would solve a situation depending upon world conditions, and, conferring with all types in England, he had found that no two points of view agreed as to the causes and remedies of the present world crisis.

"To form one's own conclusions and act upon them regardless of political consequences is the one thing to e done," said Mr Scullin. "I do not think that any easy way out of our difficulties can be found, but there is not one sane and progressive thing which can be done that I do not want to do. Everyone must co-operate. No one Government can solve the problem. The Commonwealth Government, the State Governments, the municipal authorities and private employers must all pull their weight.

"Some things are only palliatives, at which I do not sneer, but I am firmly convinced that there is no permanent solution of our troubles in cutting down the standard of industrial life in Australia. I believe that the basic wage is based on a standard of living which must be preserved, and though, when costs and prices fall, it must fall, I do not forget that when prices were rising in war time, it was not until 1921 that wages began to show some relation to the increasing cost of living. Though I am convinced that a solution of a permanent character cannot be and in cutting the foundations of basic wage, I do believe that those of us who are getting more than a basic wage must contribute to the national sacrifice.

"Sacrifices must be made, but they should be made by those best able to bear them. It is not possible to regain prosperity by cutting down the purchasing power of the people, but some sacrifices must be made, and too much taxation on[?] slows up the wheels of industry. I am prepared to defend every action of this Government, positive and negative, against those who sought to drag down the whole standard of l[?] of the people."

Mr Scullin said he agreed with Mr Kenneally that times of crisis were testing times but felt that it was impossible for the party to make great progress at a time like at present. It was easy to speed in [?] the engine of which was running perfectly, but when it was working [?] it was an achievement to keep moving at all.

The Prime Minister concluded by saying that having in [?] the great resources of the country and the character of the people, he had great hope for the future.

Mr Brennan gave an interesting account of the deliberations at the eleventh session of the League of Nations Assembly, in the course of which he paid a tribute to the good work performed by Miss Holman, M.L.A. He also spoke upon the Imperial Conference, in which his work was mainly in the constitutional and [?] sphere. With regard to Australia's pressing problems he asked for patience. Mr Scullin, he said, was the hardest-worked Prime Minister of any Government. They must not overlook the fact that there had not been Labor Government in the Federal Parliament for fifteen years and the position in which Australia now found herself demanded hard work, and patience on the part of the Government's critics. Had the measures introduced to the Government bee put into operation during the period of prosperity the existing situation would not have arisen.

At the instance of the Prime Minister a vote of thanks to the chairman was carried.

The Prime Minister's party left for the Eastern States by the Great Western Express on Tuesday night.