What a Letter from Australia Told Me.
Australia had sent 100,000 men to
the front at a cost of L18,000,000, which was covered
by a loan from Britain.
Though the decline in trade on account
of the war caused widespread unemployment, the sending
off of 75,000 men eased matters considerably.
As these men were paid at almost the same rate as their
ordinary wage, and as a big proportion of their pay
was held in Australia, the war did not hit the Commonwealth
so very hard in this respect.
So people did not trouble much.
They went about their business almost as usual and
enjoyed the many entertainments arranged by “society
people” for any object, however remotely connected
with the war “Sheepskin Waistcoat
Funds,” “Comfort for Horses Fund,”
“Knitted Socks Fund,” and others.
It was all so much work and gave people opportunity
to have a busy time, flavored with the knowledge that
it was an act of patriotism.
Six months before the war had ended
the manufacturers began to get busy. When public
bodies begin to get busy in Australia, the first thing
they say is: “Let’s have a Dinner.”
The manufacturers saw a chance of
influencing High Protection by the use of a new gag:
“Don’t buy German-made goods.”
They, of course, wanted people to buy only the Australian
made, but they were cute.
They put it this way:
“Only trade with the Empire
and its Allies. Every pound,” it was said,
“that is spent with Germany means another gun
to our future menace.” So the public were
exhorted to confine business to the Empire and its
Allies with Britain, Africa, India, Canada,
France, Belgium, Russia, Servia and Japan, and to
cut the rest of the world. That is to say, to
trade with three quarters of the world!
Their decision practically meant free
trade with nearly the whole world, and so their hands
were tied so long as Britain was joined up with foreign
A striking proof that this slogan,
“Trade with the Allies,” was only an after-dinner
sentiment was given when, in May, 1915, the Australian
Postmaster-General rejected a Japanese tender for electric
insulators, although its price was L1000 cheaper than
a local tender, the total amount of which was L3281/6/8 a
thirty-three per cent. preference being given against
the work of an allied nation.
In the meantime the N.S.W. Government
found their system of State Socialism so expensive
that the Treasury began to rapidly empty. The
war, with its upsetting of the British money market,
stopped the usual method of loan-raising, but some
smart English capitalists, more experienced in finance
than the average labor politician, offered to take
over the public works of New South Wales if they were
paid 10 per cent. on their expenditure.
They ’cutely pointed out that
by the system of State Socialism, the N.S.W.
Government had gathered an immense army of laborers.
It had built up an enormous civil service, and if
men were thrown on the market consequent on the State’s
lack of funds, they would make it uncomfortable for
the Government. That action would bring home to
the workers the utter fallacy of State control of
industries. They also whispered, with their tongues
in their cheeks, that “private enterprise”
would then become prosperous and the Labor movement
would be thrown back for “years and years and
The temptation proved too strong and
the compact was signed.
“Of course,” said the
Government, “you will give preference to unionists,
the maximum wage, and all that?”
“Oh, of course,” said
the Syndicate, rubbing its hands with glee.
It was getting 10 per cent. on all the expenditure!
What though the men loafed through
the work, the percentage of the outlay went on just
So the N.S.W. Government signed
the compact, practically threw over State Socialism,
so far as public works were concerned, thanked goodness
for the riddance, and sat back for a while, stripped
of responsibility, a Syndicate’s collection
of “rubber stamps.”
Some of the Ministers, however, tired
of the “nothin’-doin’ policy,”
hankered after the tinpot glory they had when in charge
of men, so they began to look for new fields of enterprise
not touched by the Syndicate.
They saw an opportunity in Government bread-making.
The Government had heard a good deal
about the profit possibilities of great American “combines.”
Why not introduce the thing into Australia as a great
Government scheme, and combine all the small bakery
establishments into one big concern, in which great
automatic baking machinery would supplant the small
ovens of the small employers?
This would not only knock out the
“hated employers,” but it would capture
all their profits and the Government wanted
money rather badly.
So, immense bread-making factories
were built. A standard price was put on wheat
the Government wanted, which knocked the farmer rather
hard and hundreds of employees were thrown out of
It was an awkward situation for a
Government pledged to Socialism. The unionists
had shouted for Socialism, yet when Socialism brought
in labor-saving machines, when, in fact, it hit the
chap who shouted, he objected. Socialism seemed
alright “for the other fellow.” It
was like the old story of the Irishman’s pigs.
He believed in sharing alike, except regarding pigs he
happened to have a few.
The Socialist Government was in a
quandary with its mob of unemployed baker unionists,
till the voice of the tempter came again.
The Syndicate quietly whispered, “Give
us a little more power and we’ll absorb them.”
They got it, and got further power
as the Government installed labor-saving machinery
into other concerns; and for a while the Syndicate
proved a fine “haven of rest” for the out-of-work
unionists, so that the Government encouraged it even
to the extent of absolving it from having to pay income
“You see,” whispered the
Syndicate in the ear of a harassed Premier, “it
would be unjust to have to pay you income tax on what
you have to pay us.”
The “syndicate” idea began
to appeal to the Governments of the other States,
which were now all Labor ruled. The fact that
the British Government had taken over private factories
and distributed all profits over 10 per cent., gave
Socialism such an advertisement that before the war
had ended, Queensland and Victoria had joined the other
Australian States and declared for Labor.
The Syndicate idea appealed to Labor Governments.
It seemed an easy way to get rid of
responsibility. Of course, the time would come
when the bill would have to be paid but
that was a matter posterity would have to look at and
besides, as one Minister blatantly shouted: “What
has posterity done for us?”