r Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Prime Minister



On 9th August, 1944, the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) broadcast over the national network. Mr. Curtin said -

"People of the Commonwealth,

Until final victory is won, war must remain the supreme preoccupation of the Commonwealth Government. But as final victory comes surely and steadily closer, as the war production programme tapers off at many points, as men and women from the services and war industry are diverted to civil employment, the Government must bring post-war plans to the point where they may be instantly applied.

"Preparation for peace is an inescapable obligation to the servicemen and women, to all who work in the war effort, and to the nation as a whole. After the last war, reconstruction fell a victim to many troubles - unpreparedness, selfish men's appetites for exploiting a period of high prices and plentiful purchasing power, provincialism and small-scale planning. Many of you remember how all these things caused the failures of soldier settlement. Nine per cent. of the first Australian Imperial Force took up land under soldier settlement schemes which were wholly State affairs. By the end of 1943, all governments had lost £45,000,000 on soldier settlement. That was apart from the personal losses of the settlers, the losses of country storekeepers and city merchants, the disillusionment and disappointment of cherished hopes, and the misery of brave wives and young children.

"Soldier settlement was only one of the failures of the last post-war reconstruction period. It provides a case-study of why and how reconstruction can fail. It demonstrates the inadequacy of independent handling of national problems by six State Parliaments. One of the primary reasons for the disappointments of reconstruction after the last war was the Commonwealth's lack of peace-time constitutional powers commensurate with the problems confronting the Australian nation. I know that the Prime Minister of those days, Mr. Hughes, is supporting the referendum for wider Commonwealth powers now because of his experience from 1918 to 1922.

"If Commonwealth powers were insufficient for the reconstruction task of 1918, how much less adequate will they prove in the years of reconstruction which lie ahead. We are faced with the prospect of 1,500,000 persons having to change over from their present job, or at least their present work, to new work. There will be a re-employment problem, not only for men, but for hundreds of thousands of women in the services and in war industries.

"There will be a two-fold rural reconstruction problem arising from the withdrawal of 140,000 men from the land for war duties, and from the war-time dislocation of normal export markets. There is a housing lag of 300,000 new homes. Beside these national problems of to-day the reconstruction problems of 1918 seem small indeed. Yet unless the present referendum is carried, the Commonwealth Parliament must confront them with substantially the same constitutional powers which proved insufficient after the First World War.

"While the problems of to-day are immensely greater, the knowledge and experience of what is required to maintain economic activity and employment at high levels have been very considerably advanced. Australia has not lived through one reconstruction period and suffered an intense depression without gaining in wisdom on financial matters. Australia has not seen competition in international markets for primary produce sharpen without learning lessons about the necessity of nationally organized marketing. A generation of delays and frustrations arising from interstate isolation and bickering has not passed without it becoming clear that broad policy and general planning are national tasks resolvable only in national terms under national leadership.

"I do not intend to-night to deal with the legal quibbles and lifeless bogeys which are coming from the self-interested opponents of the referendum proposals. I am confident that the good sense of the Australian people will cut through the special pleadings of these champions of negation. I will speak to you about the positive things involved with the referendum. The issue is simply this: Is the National Parliament to have the power to do something effective and to help the States do something effective for the Australian people, or is it to go about reconstruction with one hand tied behind its back?

"The Commonwealth Government has carried its post-war planning a long way. But in few directions has it been able to complete those plans, because of lack of certainty about post-war powers. In outline, the plans are clear enough. Industry must be smoothly and promptly turned over to civil production. It must be assured that no convertible productive plant or capacity is scrapped or left idle. The Government must help industry to re-equip. It must help labour to train for new
skills. New industries must be maintained and where possible others established. The peace-time future of such new or possible industries as textiles, optical instruments, motor cars, aircraft, shipbuilding, food processing, light engineering, plastics, aluminium, paper manufacture are being carefully surveyed. Industries are being examined having regard to decentralization. The Commonwealth has examined, or is examining, in conjunction with State Governments, the peace-time prospects of aluminium manufacture in Tasmania, charcoal-steel production in Western Australia, food-processing in Queensland, heavy industry in South Australia. The smaller States are in no position to ensure that a new industry comes to them rather than to a more developed neighbour. Only the Commonwealth is in a position to achieve balanced decentralization of industry throughout the six States and it can do so only if it has the necessary constitutional power.

"Australians want decentralization within each State as well as among the States. In the past four years the Commonwealth, armed with war-time power over production, has been able to set up dozens of textile, food-processing, light engineering and other factories in country cities and towns. If the Commonwealth Parliament is granted a peace-time production power it will be able to see that those plants continue where they are to-day. Without the power, the Commonwealth will be powerless to resist another drift of industry to the capital cities.

"The worker in industry expects the foundations of the basic wage to be overhauled, nation-wide provision made for holidays with pay and shorter hours, and the maintenance of national war-time advances in industrial welfare. The Commonwealth Parliament, given employment and production powers, could legislate towards their realization.

"The future of government war factories has caused the old bogey of socialism to be paraded. The people who raise that bogey show little or no concern for the future of the men and women who to-day work long hours in those establishments. But the Government has not forgotten them, nor their loyalty, and their skill. It is intended to keep them in employment after the war, and the peace-time possibilities of each government plant is being examined. If necessary or advantageous the Commonwealth will run those plants - public investment and productive capacity must not be lost. The Government is not being rigid about the precise terms of ownership in every case, but neither will it abdicate before the clamour and dictates of monopolies and combines.

"Peace-time agriculture will call for Commonwealth action as has been done in war. New equipment, new fencing and other materials, full supplies of superphosphates will be urgently needed. A Commonwealth Parliament with power in matters of industrial production, distribution, prices and profiteering, can ensure that farmers in every State receive a fair share of those things as promptly and as cheaply as they can be had. If the Commonwealth has not those powers then it will be a matter of catch-as-catch-can for the farmers - those in some States will be lucky, those in States remote from the sources of supply may be unfortunate. All may have to pay inflated prices.

"The greatest post-war worry of the man on the land will be markets for his produce. The war has cut off many normal peace-time markets. So far, that difficulty has been met by organized marketing under national security powers. If, after the National Security Act lapses, the Commonwealth Parliament has power over organized marketing and can continue war-time marketing schemes in peace-time, the farmer will be assured the same stable income he is enjoying to-day. If not, the primary producer will face grim prospects in an unsettled world.

"Beyond immediate production and marketing questions, are the problems of rural housing, increased farm mechanization, soil surveys and conservation, extension of war conservation, irrigation and water-reticulation schemes, and an afforestation programme. For country people all these problems offer solid benefits if they can be solved. Conservation and development schemes constitute part of the proposed post-war national works programme. The Commonwealth has taken the initiative in setting up a National Works Council and in calling for an initial national programme of £200,000,000 worth of works, to be followed on completion by a succession of similar programmes. The initial programme will include only the most urgent works from each State, but this and succeeding programmes will include projects as varied as hydro-electricity schemes, extension of irrigation, extension and modernization of port facilities, standardization of State electricity plants, rebuilding of Darwin, unification of railway gauges, construction of civil aerodromes, and general road and public utility maintenance work. In particular, the war-time development of the frontier States of Queensland and Western Australia must be pressed on. All this work will require the procurement and equitable distribution among the States of vast quantities of material and plant. That is a national job and that is why the Commonwealth Parliament must have production, distribution and national works powers.

"Australia needs 300,000 new homes to catch up the existing housing lag and to demolish slums. Australia has never before built 40,000 houses in a year. To do better there must be a national plan to assemble and distribute to each State, according to its needs, the essential timber, bricks, fittings and furnishings. The Commonwealth has set a target of 50,000 houses for the first peace year, rising towards 80,000 for subsequent years. To build on that scale nationally-determined standards must be enforced if jerry-building is to be avoided. Additional building labour must be trained. New methods of building, pre-fabrication of sections of houses and variety of design must be assured. The Commonwealth Parliament must have the powers sought by referendum to enable it to give a lead with the national housing programme. The women of this country must be able, irrespective of family income, to bring up the next generation of young Australians in healthy, bright, sound and comfortable homes.

"Housing is one aspect of social security. The Commonwealth Parliament has not had to wait for the end of the war to go to work on its other aspects. In the past four years, unemployment and sickness benefits, child endowment, increased maternity allowances, free medicine and widows' pensions, have been passed by Parliament, leaving practically only a national health and medical scheme to be adopted to complete the provision of a national minimum of income and welfare to a man and his family in all emergencies. So long as National Security powers exist, there is little fear of any challenge to social security schemes, but some doubts have been cast on their peace-time constitutionality. To safeguard them in the post-war years ‘family allowances’ have been included among the powers for the referendum. But it will mean more than a safeguard if granted. The Commonwealth could continue to help financially those deserving of higher education. It could initiate a nation-wide scheme for milk and meals in schools. In these and other ways, by underwriting the material side of family life, a population policy for this country can be laid on a firm foundation.

"International considerations affecting the political and economic stability of the peace and affecting the prospects of stable prosperity in Australia have received increasing attention here and abroad. Markets for Australian goods, sources of supplies of equipment and materials, international economic machinery for the post-war years - all have been the subject of work and planning. But these things call bear fruit in Australia only if the Commonwealth Parliament has adequate national powers over the corresponding phases of domestic economic life. This has not been so is the past. The referendum offers us the chance to change that.

"The principles of demobilization have been worked out. Reinstatement rights will be assured. Training opportunities will be available for professional, commercial, rural and technical careers. Ex-servicemen, trade unions and employers are represented on the management of the training schemes. Given the power, the Commonwealth Parliament will be able to provide a nation-wide employment service which call put men and women in touch with employment opportunities to replace the present man-power compulsion, which will be discontinued after the war has finished. It is desired to see everybody in jobs of their own choosing. The Commonwealth Parliament seeks power only to help bring men and jobs together.

"Certain controls should be maintained for some time after the war in the interests of Australians generally. One of these is price control. For some time after the war, purchasing power will exceed supplies of clothes and furniture and houses and cars and certain other classes of goods. If prices are not to be inflated beyond real values, if profiteering and speculation are not to be the order of the day, there must be control over the prices of these things and the materials which go into them. There will be conflicting demands for timber and other building and construction materials. If we are to have new homes rather than new hotels, new hospitals rather than new entertainment places, there must be control over the allocation of materials. While war-time restrictions must and will go as soon as war conditions pass, a few controls must have a temporary place in the reconstruction period. No government which fights exploitation, profiteering and speculation would say otherwise. No thinking person would expect otherwise.

"So the Commonwealth has the plans but not the necessary powers. But, given the powers, there is no suggestion that the Commonwealth will by itself carry out all these plans. The housing, the works, the industrial programmes will largely be put into effect by State and local authorities and by private enterprise. The Commonwealth is, for the most part, seeking only power of initiative, of planning and of coordination.

"With national supervision there must be decentralization of administration. Plans are being made to decentralize the administration of Commonwealth social security services. The administration of a Commonwealth-wide employment service would be decentralized. I have suggested to the State Premiers that the Commonwealth and States should collaborate in decentralizing administration generally. It should be possible to associate with regional administrative units, representative advisory committees of local citizens who could bring nonofficial opinion to bear upon administrative policies and practices. I hope to discuss the matter further with the Premiers.

"I put it to you simply that no greater powers are sought for the Commonwealth Parliament than are necessary for immediate post-war tasks. Commonwealth and State leaders in 1942 agreed that the powers you are now asked to confer, together, were a necessary minimum. The Commonwealth Parliament is seeking not greater but less power than it has at present - more than it had before 1939 but lees than it possesses to-day under the defence power and the war-time National Security Act. The Commonwealth Parliament is not asking for new powers. The States have all these powers and have had them since last century. The British, South African and New Zealand Parliaments have these powers. The Commonwealth Parliament is asking for substantially the same powers. Finally, in accordance with the agreement reached with the States at the 1942 Convention, the Commonwealth Parliament, seeks the powers only for five years. If the jobs, the homes, the social security and the national development which Australia needs in the peace are to be realized, then, on 19th August, I ask you to vote ‘yes’ to make it constitutionally possible for Australia to start on the work of national achievement"