Diary of a Labour Man 1917 - 1945

Full Text On the Backbenches



WESTRALIAN WORKER, 7 April 1933, page 3.



From the Station 6PR the other evening, Mr J. Curtin delivered the following address. An interesting feature of the broadcast was the fact that a receiving set and loud speaker was installed at the great Labor Rally in Weld Square on the same evening, and Mr Curtin’s speech, in effect, opened the proceedings although he actually was not present. Mr Curtin said:

A Reminiscence. Sir Hal Colebatch today took over the Agency-General for W.A. The fact recalls to me a debate between Sir Hal and myself at Northam.

I had affirmed the necessity of monetary measures to expand consumption, to provide an outlet for the goods congested in markets, and to develop employment resources for the army of men and whom who, being denied work, were therefore denied wages, and whose lack of purchasing power as the root cause of the continuance of depression.

Sir Hal took the negative. He agreed, however, with my contention that he had to do more than merely oppose my positive proposals. He acknowledged that he had to put forward a constructive alternative.

When Sir Hal came to the point of his constructive policy, he declared that it was easy to understand, and that it did not involved the public in mental torturings to grasp what was intended.

“The constructive alternative which I put forward,” he said,” consists of only three words. They are: Change the Government.” Change the Government! Then, on the authority of our Agent-General, can be regarded by the people as a slogan to action, as an incentive to intense electoral activity, and as offering a departure from methods and politics that have failed.

The Slogan

Very well! To the people of this State, suffering the cumulative effects of three years of economic crisis, and who are waiting vainly for some good thing to happen, I say: Change the Government!

To the unemployed, whether on the dole or scattered in part-time relief camps in the forests and the places far distant from their homes and their families, I say: Change the Government!

To the producers, hoping that prices will rise and markets will improve and who now know that these things cannot happen of themselves but must be helped by policy and by restoring the purchasing power of the people, I say: Change the Government!

To the men and women whose wages have been reduced so severely, and on whom oppressive new taxes have been levied in order to balance budgets, I say: Change the Government!

To the business and trading community that has suffered heavy contractions in turnover, who have goods to sell, and who await the return of customers with money in their purses, I say that bad conditions and low wages and unemployment means less customers, mean impoverished customers, and that trade cannot improve until the people have work to do, even proper wages for doing it, and have money in their purses. To the business people and the traders, therefore, I say a change in conditions is essential to recovery, and that one way in which to help to change conditions is to Change the Government!

Reasons for a Change

Why will a Change of Government be a good thing? Mainly because it will indicate a change of viewpoint towards the depression. That is why.

Let me argue this point a little closely. I know that you will not interrupt me while I do it: The longer the depression continues the more palpable became the futility or regarding the balancing of Government budgets, as more important than the restoration of industry and employment.

Though production during the past year was prolific because of several advantages, plus the scientific progress that has been made, the nominal value was the lowest for twenty-five years.

It was not nature that deprived so many people of food and the essentials to well-being. Let me cite a homely illustration:-If thirty families on an island by working eight hours a day provided all their reasonable needs, it would be regarded as satisfactory. If, however, by improved technique, and better methods generally, the found that instead of thirty having to work, the labor of but twenty would suffice, would it be reasonable to compel ten to unemployment, and because they were unemployed, force them on to a dole which deprived them of the standard they had previously enjoyed?

In a small community that would be regarded as ridiculous. Yet this is what Western Australia has been doing during recent years, and is still doing.

Unemployment and the Government

The proportion of the whole community required to maintain production for the essentials of life has steadily fallen. Because of the competitive capitalist system those dispensed with have been degraded. As they are no longer necessary to maintain the volume of production that can be marketed – that is to say is being consumed – it is a monstrous affront to common sense to suggest that there is no other useful service they can render.

It is the predicament of the unemployed which has led to the chaos in the affairs of Government; the problem of the latter is the effect of the former. No mere equilibrium in the budgets, based on grossly unjust and disproportioned levies on the people, can rectify the basic cause of the crisis. All it can do is to intensify discontent and further endanger the whole social fabric.

The Labor Party’s policy is a clear cut recognition of this danger. On the other hand the attitude of the present Government is a blind groping in the darkness of further wage reductions.

Dangers of Defeat

The defeat of the Labor Party at the election means that the reductions in wages, already severe, will be but a circumstance to those which will follow the victory of the Country Party-Nationalist Coalition.

If Labor is beaten the next government will be either headed by Mr Charles Latham, the Deputy-Premier and Leader of the Country Party, or it will have him in it as the equal-in-all-things with the Nationalist leader.

The basic wage in Western Australia is now £3/9/- a week, Mr Latham in his policy speech declared that his party would bring this wage down to the level of the Federal basic wage for Perth, which is £2/18/1 a week.

That means in the plainest of language that the alternative policy to Labor at this election is whether wages shall be cut another ten shillings and elevenpence a week? If labor loses they will be so cut. That is what is involved in the triumph of the anti-Labor Party at this election irrespective of who may lead it when the contest is over.

Far wiser is it for the people to Change the Government. We have experienced the effects of the present policy and know what it means.

It means more deflation in work and productive values. And it also means inflation in taxes, in poverty, in unemployment, and in the acuteness of the economic crisis.

Labor, therefore, asks you to change the viewpoint of statesmanship; to change the policy of the State; to, in fact, Change the Government!

The Mitchell Policy

At Northam Sir James Mitchell said his policy for the future was to continue what he had been doing in the past. What has he been doing? (1) He took office when W.A. had the second lowest rate of unemployment in Australia. He has allowed it to become the seconde highest rate of unemployment in Australia (2) The fall in wages since he became Premier is a descent from £4/7/- to £3/9/-(3) Taxes have been imposed on even the lowest incomes, and not even sustenance rates escape their incidence. (4) The wages tax and the hospital tax violate the principle of graduation in accordance with capacity to play. (5) Increases in ordinary taxation have been imposed in addition to the oppressive flat-rate taxes. (6) The Arbitration Act was altered to the detriment of the workers. (7) The Financial Emergency Act was applied outside the ambit of Government employment. An extension not contemplated in the Premiers’ Plan, and not attempted by any other Government in Australia, however Tory it may be. (8) An attempt was made to substantially reduce the compensation payable to injured and mutilated workers under the Workers’ Compensation Act. And in the face of this black record Sir James says he will go on as he has been going.

The truth is that the people cannot trust the future to men who seek no change.

A New Age

New times demand new measures and new men, said James Russell Lowell. They do. We cannot meet the now problems of our age by sticking to obsolete processes and defunct theories. We cannot hope to meet the issue of this post-war depression by a reversion to pre-war standards.

Changes are imperative. Maybe the change may have to be greater than many of us realise. But to ignore the need for changes in conditions, for changes in policy, and for changes in the outlook ahead for men, for women, and above all for the young generation now pulsing with life for a chance in the world, is economic suicide.

That is why I say Change the Government will be a change to hopefulness. It is the one alternative before you. You can go on as you have been going with Sir James Mitchell, or you can change from that dark prospect to a brighter one with Mr Collier.