Thursday, 17th April 1924

17th April, 1924


Dear Mr. Bruce,

Senator Wilson [1] has informed me that he has received a cable from you about the duration of my work here, and a suggestion that I should return with him on May 14th.

I presume that you anticipated that the Economic Conference resolutions would have been dealt with in Parliament before that date. As far as I can find out that will not be the case. The Government have, apparently, not finally decided what action to take, and the general impression among members that I have met is that the preference questions will come on in two separate debates, firstly on those that require no increase of duties and secondly those that would require fresh taxes.

Under these circumstances it would appear to be important for me to remain here until the questions are finally settled. I think I can confidently say that I am doing useful work which no one else can, at this stage, take over. I think I can also claim that I am being sufficiently tactful to avoid giving any offence to any party. This is, I think, illustrated by my being asked to meet Free Traders as well as Protectionists and also Labour people.

This educational work will, I feel confident, bear fruit. It may not have very much effect in the Division lobbies on the immediate question but even there, if we can get ten or fifteen Liberals and as many Labour to vote for the proposals, we may be able to get some of them carried.

As regards the more permanent effects of this propaganda, if we can get an Empire Group formed in the Labour Party, it will be worth a great deal of labour (it’s taking a good deal). The Labour people I am seeing are very interested, are commencing to realise the urgent necessity for migration, but are also very nervous of the implications of ‘Imperialism’. To overcome this requires educational propaganda. If the Labour Empire Committee is formed, I hope Australia will be able to arrange for effective information to be placed at its disposal and I very much hope that the intercourse with the Labour Party, including the entertainment of Labour members on which I have been so keen, will be continued in some form after my departure. This work requires a man with an open mind. It is quite useless to approach Labour with dogmatic assertions.

I was very interested to see in to-day’s Times a brief cable giving an outline of your speech at the Royal Agricultural Show, Sydney. I assume that this speech is the beginning of a definite scheme for the organisation of, and assistance to, Australian primary production. [2]

So far as I can see there are three great objectives which Australia requires to attain on the economic side.

1. Preferential advantages in Britain through (a) Duties on articles that are not necessities.

(b) Other forms of preference on essential articles through the medium of the proposed Imperial Economic Committee.

2. The organisation of marketing so as to assure to the producer the highest possible share of the retail price paid by the consumer, and to enable the price to the consumer to be reasonable.

3. The settlement of the Exchange problem which is, at the present moment, an intolerable burden upon trade. [3]

I hope that I shall be able to assist you in some small measure in the first and second objectives.

Yours sincerely, F. L. MCDOUGALL

_1 R. V. Wilson, Honorary Minister and Australian delegate to the 1923 Imperial Economic Conference; Australian Commissioner, British Empire Exhibition, 1924.

2 Bruce had announced that part of tariff revenue would be used to improve marketing and transport of Australian goods. See the Times and, for a fuller account, the Sydney Morning Herald, 17 April.

3 The remission of currency between Britain, Australia and New Zealand was subject to heavy and fluctuating bank charges. A subcommittee of the 1923 Imperial Economic Conference had recommended several solutions, including a return to the Gold Standard and the development of central banking institutions.