2nd Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
SirLANGDON BONYTHON presented a petition from the corporation of the city of Adelaide and the corporations and district councils within the Adelaide metropolitan area, praying the House to amend the Lands Acquisition Bill, so that nothing contained in the Act will authorize the acquisition by the Commonwealth of any land dedicated, held, or reserved for the use and enjoyment of the public.
Petition received and read.
– I should like to know from the Minister of Home Affairs whether the Commonwealth has not power to acquire any land needed for public purposes? Does the Lands Acquisition Bill confer any additional power in that respect?
-We ask in the Lands Acquisition Bill for the powers contained in the Property for Public Purposes Acquisition Act, under which we can acquire land for public purposes from both public and private persons. The Bill is only a re-enactment of the Act in that respect.
– Is the Minister aware that in October, 1901, when the Property for Public Purposes Acquisition Bill was being discussed, I drew attention to the fact that division 2 of part 2 gave the Commonwealth power to take over dedicated lands, such as the Adelaide Park lands, and that several honorable members expressed surprise that such a power should be held to be within the meaning of the provision? Is not the Lands Acquisition Bill a halting and inadequate admission that the giving of the power conveyed by the Act of 1901 was wrong?
– I have not looked up the debate, but I have no doubt that what the honorable and learned member has stated occurred. The opinion is that the Commonwealth has power, under the existing Act, to acquire such land for public purposes, and that that power is essential for the national welfare. Thepublic interests are as safe in the hands of the Commonwealth Administration as in any others.
– In view of the very general anxiety which seems to be felt regarding the general power of resumption, which has been referred to in preceding questions, I desire to ask whether the Government contemplate resuming lands for purposes other than defence, or for the public buildings of the Commonwealth?
– Under the Constitution we are empowered to resume lands only for the public purposes of the Commonwealth.
– The Minister has not understood my question. I wish to know whether, in view of the anxiety which has been expressed regarding the exercise of the general power of resumption, the Government contemplate the resumption of lands for purposes other than defence, or to enable them to erect necessary public offices ?
– So far, the Government have acquired lands only for Customs, postal, and defence purposes. We have no intention of exercising powers other than those which! are essential to the acquisition of lands for public purposes,, and which we have always exercised.
– I should like to know whether, in the Bill relating to the acquisition of property for public purposes, it is proposed that the Commonwealth shall take powers, which are not vested in the States Governments, with regard to the acquisition of land?
– I am afraid that before that question could be answered the laws of six States would have to be studied. I am inclined to think that the States have powers under their laws to acquire any land for public purposes.
– Not by Executive authority.
– I shall look into the matter.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister the following questions: -
– Although,_ on arriving here this afternoon, a copy of the questions was placed in my hands, I am not prepared to reply to them in detail. We seem to be approaching a state of affairs which will call for legislative or other action to secure the only remedy for rumours such as are now current, and for the dangers to which they point,by requiring that no fund shall be employed for political purposes by any party unless the names of the subscribers to it, and the amount of their donations, are made public. I have not had time to give the subject the consideration it deserves, nor the opportunity to lav my opinions before my colleagues ; but publicity seems the only safeguard. It would be satisfactory and highly desirable in the public interest, judging by the amount of money now being expended, or, rather, by the number of paid agents now acting for political purposes. The arrangement would be fair to all partiesalike. It would allow the public to decide whether the expenditure was in the interests of the country or in the interests of a sectiononly.
– Is the honorable and learned gentleman aware that the following report has appeared in the Sydney newspapers ? : -
The Minister for Customs says that in all probability the Government will this week appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the truth or falsity of the charge made in the Federal
Parliament that money has been improperly spent on behalf of anti-Socialist candidates in various electorates. Sir William Lyne says that the charge is that the shipping ring, the tobacco trust, the sugar company, and the squatters have contributed largely to a fund which is being used in a campaign against the Government and Us supporters.
Does he know that persons and firms who expect to be benefited by the foreshadowed fiscal polity of the Ministry are providing money for the support of the Ministerial cause and party ? Has he heard, too, that the labour leagues have collected a large sum for political purposes?
– No such luck. Whatever has been collected by them has been published in the Worker.
– Is the honorable and learned gentleman further aware that the labour leagues have outlined a plan for collecting still larger funds for election purposes?
– It has been done openly, anyway.
– The action of the labour leagues is not more open than that of other parties.
– The Australian Mutual Provident Society’s funds are being used to fight the Labour Party.
– Will the Prime Minister assure the House that the Crown will not be involved in party conflicts by being used for the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the source and expenditure of funds by opponents of the Ministry only, and that, if a Commission be appointed, its investigations will cover the whole ground, its inquiries being made into the funds and expenditure of organizations supporting any cause or party? If he does that, I shall not object to the appointment.
– The Ministry have not yet considered the desirability of appointing a Royal Commission ; I shall presently reply to a question on the notice-paper in that regard. No Royal Commission will be appointed which will not have an absolutely free hand, and be under the express obligation to inquire into the resources of all parties, and the names of those who have supplied them.
– What about the Australian Mutual Provident Society?
– The Australian Mutual Provident Society has no power to devote any part of its funds to electioneering purposes.
– Senator Walker is collecting funds in New South Wales, and he is a director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society?
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the following appeal which appeared in the Brisbane Worker, of 18th August : -
THE FEDERAL FIGHT.
An Appeal to Queensland Labour Supporters.
Ladies and Gentlemen, - ‘
In view of the approaching Federal Elections, which it is anticipated will take place about November next, it is necessary that the friends of the Labour movement in this State should prepare themselves for the fight in order that the best possible results may be achieved.
The Central Political Executive have been intrusted with varied responsibilities in connexion with the campaign, and to carry these out efficiently it is imperative that they should receive the active moral and financial support of the organizations and the unnattached friends of the Labour movement throughout the State.
– Order. It appears to me that the reading of long extracts prior to questioning Ministers as to whether they are or are not aware that certain statements have been made is a distinct evasion of the principle of the standing order governing questions, which reads as follows : -
In putting any such question, no argument or opinion shall be offered, nor any facts stated except so far as may be necessary to explain such question.
It is quite evident that if the practice which I have described is followed it will be possible to ask Ministers whether they have seen certain statements published in the newspapers, and to read the whole of an article or of a number of articles. Therefore, I must ask honorable members to refrain from reading long extracts, and to content themselves by making a short explanation as to the purport of the statement to which they wish to call attention.
– I do not propose to read the whole of the article, but only such portions as are necessary to explain the purport of my questions. The additional paragraph which it is necessary for me to quote, reads as follows: -
The organizations in the several divisions, through the respective divisional executives, will finance the candidatures of those whom they have selected, or purpose selecting, to contest the seats in the House of Representatives. Upon the C.P.E. devolves the important work of financing and conducting the Senatorial campaign, for which three candidates (Senators Dawson and Higgs and J. H. Lundager) have, in accordance with the decisions of the May (1905) Convention, been finally selected.
Then an invitation is extended to sympathisers to send in money orders, postal notes, or cheques. It will be observed that this is not an impersonal appeal for funds to carry out propaganda work for a cause, but an appeal for money to be spent on behalf of specified candidates, a very different thing. I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether, in the course of any investigation that may be made, he will bear this notice in mind, and cause special inquiry to be made into the disposal of moneys which it is stated are to be expended on behalf of certain candidates, some of whom are mentioned.
– Under certain circumstances the expenditure df public money in the interests of political parties may be perfectly legitimate. Under, other circumstances such expenditure would be obviously illegitimate. As I have previously indicated, the only way in which legitimate purposes can be distinguished from those which are illegitimate is bv giving complete publicity to the whole of the facts.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that a similar manifesto was issued in connexion with the last election for the Senate, and that three senators were returned for the State of Queensland at a total cost of ^146?
– I do not remember the circumstances.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether his attention has been directed to a speech which, last election, was- delivered by Mr. T. E. Bostock, vice-president of the Employers’ Federation, and ia which, according to the report of the Bellarine Herald, he said -
Every candidate could expend up to £100 in election expenses, but this would not be anything like a sufficient sum. It was therefore necessary that branches of the federation should be formed to assist the elected candidate.
Would not the action contemplated constitute a flagrant breach of the Electoral Act?
– The suggestion is one which, if practical effect were given to it, might easily involve a breach of the Act.
– I wish to know whether the Prime Minister is aware that certain pamphlets which contain more square lies to the inch than any document that I have ever read with reference to Socialism and the policy of the Labour Party are being widely circulated throughout the country districts of New South Wales? These pamphlets, which are intended to deceive the bucolic mind, represent that the Labour Party and the Government desire to impose a Federal income tax, and that the Labour Party propose to impose a progressive land tax of is. in the £1, and to nationalize all monopolies and industries. I wish to know whether the circulation of these pamphlets does not afford evidence that money is being obtained from some source for the purpose of carrying on party propaganda work?
– I have not had an opportunity to peruse the documents referred to, nor do I desire any.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether he is aware that representatives of Melbourne Punch have been canvassing the whole of the cities of Australia for large advertisements with a view to enabling that journal to put into circulation 80,000 copies of anti-socialistic literature, and whether such action does not involve an abrogation of the provisions of the Electoral Act?
– I have no share in the proprietary of the journal in question, but if I had, should be very much obliged to the honorable member for having given me such an excellent advertisement.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether, under the circumstances, it would not be wise, from the stand-point of those who are opposed to the policy of the newspaper in question, to offer a subsidy to the enterprise.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether, in view of what has taken place here to-day it would not be well to make the contemplated legislation to which he has alluded provide that no opposition shall be offered to the members of the present Parliament?
– The following information has been supplied in reply to the question asked by the honorable member for Wentworth on 6th inst : -
The Minister is not aware of any recent changes in Defence Administration, unless the honorable member is referring to the appointment of the Deputy Adjutant-General to perform the duties of the Inspector-General, in addition to his present duties, pending the completion of Major-General Finn’s term of engagement. This appointment was rendered necessary by the fact that General Finn’s engagement as Inspector-General does not expire until the 31st December, up to which date he has been granted leave on full pay in terms of his agreement.
– I desire to ask the Minister of Home Affairs -
– The officers of the Lands Department in Sydney are now preparing the maps, which I believe will be issued very soon. These maps will have the whole of the polling places marked upon them for the guidance of candidates and electors. As regards the rolls, the manuscript is now in the hands of the Government Printer in Sydney, and- I think that the whole will be printed by the middle of October. That is the information that I have up to the present time.
– That wil’l not allow very much time for electors to ascertain whether their names are on the roll, and have any deficiency made good.
– The rolls will be issued at an earlier date than upon previous occasions. I am not in a position to answer the third question of the honorable member.
– I desire fo know whether, in view of the fact that the New South Wales rolls will’ not be ready until the middle of October, the Minister will allow sufficient time between the publication of the rolls and the issue of the writs for electors to see the rolls, and if necessary take steps to have their names added. I am sure that even with a collection such as has been made in New South Wales, a large number of names will have to be added ?
– The honorable member knows that we have not been able to go to press with the New South Wales rolls at an earlier date, because we are including the names collected by the police for the purposes of the State rolls. The work of printing has been commenced, and as the rolls are being completed they are being sent out. The date I mentioned was that fixed for the final completion of the printing. I believe that arrangements are being made for the printing and distribution of the rolls relating to the more remote localities before those affecting .the larger centres of population. I think that ample time will be allowed between the publication of the rolls and the issue of the writs for electors to insure the inclusion of their names. Enrolment can take place right up to the date upon which the writs axe issued.
– In view of the short time that will probably elapse between the publication of the rolls and the issue of the writs, I should like to know whether the Minister of Home Affairs could arrange for the enrolment of electors up to the date of election?
– The honorable member’s suggestion could not be carried out without an amendment of the law.
– I should like to know whether the Minister of Home Affairs could see his way clear to introduce a Bill during this session to provide that the deposit forfeited by a candidate failing to obtain the statutory number of votes shall be paid over to the successful candidate?
– I presume that the honorable member’s question is intended to have a personal application, and that it relates to certain contingencies in his own electorate.
– Referring to the proposal of the Prime Minister that the sittings of the House shall commence at 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, I should like to know whether the Government have made any plans with regard to the disposal of the remainder of the business of the session ; that is to say, whether they have considered what business we shall be able to get through before the session closes, and whether they ‘have been able to cut down their proposals in any particular ?
– Although the measures on the business-paper are numerous, they are comparatively short - in some cases involving only two or three clauses, and I still hope that we shall be able to deal with each and all of them during this session.
– The Prime Minister is doubtless aware that the Minister of Trade and Customs, who is absent again to-day - absent in his own constituency, where he is engaged in electioneering - has, amongst other things, announced himself as an ardent advocate of a Federal land tax. On the other hand, his honorable colleague the Treasurer has just as ardently denounced a Federal land tax. I should like to know which of these views represent the corporate mind of the Government?
– Speaking from memory, the remarks made by the Minister of Trade and Customs related to a Federal land tax, which would take the place of the States land taxes.
– Oh no; he referred to the land tax proposed by the Labour Party
– I” da not think so. Moreover I do not know whether that was the land tax referred to by my honorable colleague the Treasurer. At any rate, there will not be the slightest room for doubt as to the policy of the Government, which will be clearly set forth in regard to land taxation and every other matter of importance immediately prior to the elections.
– In the absence of the Minister of Trade and Customs, I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether - in view of the fact that the Tariff proposals, which were recently under consideration, contemplated the imposition of an increased duty of ,£18 upon harvesters, and that a number of machines upon which the increased rate was charged have been sold to farmers - any means can be devised for securing to the purchasers a refund of any additional duty charged which has not been authorized by Parliament?
– It appears to me that the question of the honorable member is based upon a mistaken assumption. The proposal for an. increased duty upon harvesters was coupled with an announcement of the reduction in price intended ‘to be proposed. Under such circumstances, I cannot understand how any purchaser of a machine can have paid a higher price for it.
– The reductions referred to were not to come into force until next year.
– But it was announced at once that the reduction in price would be authorized by the measure legalizing the collection of the new duty.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister, in the absence of the Minister of Trade and Customs, when the return ordered by the House relating to the preference which the Government propose to extend to the goods of the United Kingdam will be laid upon the table?
– I had anticipated that it would be to hand to-day. In any case, it will be ready almost immediately.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. Upon Friday morning last, whilst the House was in Committee discussing the proposed duty upon harvesters, the honorable member for Bland, in addressing himself to some charges which had been made respecting the administration of the Customs Department by the Minister, declared that when such charges were made they ought in all honesty to be followed by action challenging the position of the Government. I naturally replied that it would be useless to challenge the position of the Government if objection were entertained to only one member of it. I hold that under “the system of Cabinet responsibility, we could not very well challenge the position of one Minister, and, pointing to the Minister of Trade and Customs, I said, “ We have to put up with this Minister because we have not adopted the system of elective Ministries.” The honorable member for Bland replied that the House might have to put up with the honorable member for South Sydney - referring to myself. Thereupon I retorted, “ In that case honorable members would have to put up with an honest man.” I do not deny the accuracy of the report, which has appeared in several newspapers, but I do wish to say that the very clear inference to be drawn from my statement was not in my mind. I sincerely regret having made the statement, an’d wish to apologize to the Minister. I have always been opposed to the levelling of charges against Ministers. When a charge is made, it ought to be brought forward in a proper form. I do not believe in the policy of the Minister of Trade and Customs, or in his administration of his Department, but I had not in my mind at the time - and I wish entirely to remove - the idea that his administration is in any way dishonest.
– i wish to congratulate the honorable member upon his very straightforward and manly statement, and to say that, at the time, I was under the impression that he had misunderstood the remark of the honorable member for Bland. The latter’s reference to him was distinctly complimentary, because it implied an anticipation of his early appearance upon the Treasury benches, where we should all be happy to see him.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice - >
– In replyto the honorable member’s questions, I have to state that inquiries are being made, and answers will be furnished as soon as possible.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– This is a matter within the province of the Public ‘ Service Commissioner, who has furnished the following reply : - 1 and 2. No; the officers in Western Australia, in common with all Commonwealth officers, are, as regards long service leave, subject to section 71 of the Public Service Act, the State provisions herein having been superseded by the Commonwealth law.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– I think that the honorable member is responsible for pulling the string which has resulted in such a shower-bath of questions in this connexion. In one form or other I have already answered this question half-a-dozen times, and trust that the honorable member will not take it as discourteous if I refer him to my previous replies.
– The honorable member for Parramatta on the 6th inst. asked the following questions : -
The reply is as follows : -
No order in the terms mentioned appears to have been issued. It was, however, found that in some cases it was the practice for a number of officers to remain on duty frequently till 6.30 p.m. and receive payment, as tea money. It was considered that this was a straining of the Regulation, and that it would be preferable and more conducive to expedition, when arrears of work had to be overtaken, if officerswere kept on duty up to 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., untilthe work was finished, rather than theyshould remain frequently on duty till 6.30 p.m. only Instructions were issued accordingly.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin) proposed -
That leave be given tobring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Pacific Islands Labourers Act 1901.
.- Seeing that the business-paper is already so congested, it seems to me that proposals to introduce new Bills ought to meet with close criticism. It has already been admitted by the Prime Minister that the session is rapidly drawing to a close, and that it will probably be necessary to remove some business from the notice-paper. If we are to sanction the introduction of new measures, I do not seeany prospectof the session terminating within the period mentioned by the honorable and learned gentleman. Of course, it may be that the Bill which he now wishes to introduce is of a formal character, and will not involve much discussion. But, generally speaking, we ought to be very chary about granting leave to introduce any further Bills this session, unless it can be shown that they are absolutely necessary.
.-I presume that this is a Bill which is absolutely necessary. The honorable member for Lang, and the members of his party would be the first to complain if we did note exercise the greatest care to prevent injustice being done to those Polynesianswho may be illegally in the Commonwealth after the 1st January next, and who cannot be properly deported. He must also recollect that we have no meansof ascertaining who are the Polynesians who have the right to remain here under certificate. The Government are taking the proper course in seeking to introduce this Bill to insure that justice shall be done to all.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented, and (on motion by Mr. Deakin) read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin, on behalf of Mr. Isaacs). agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for anAct relating to the registered offices of certain companies.
Debate resumed from 4th September (vide page 3865), on motion by Mr. Deakin -
That the Bill be now re.v.l a second time.
– Tt is a matter of some surprise to me that the Ministry, at almost the end of the Parliament, should have light-heartedly entered upon proposals to amend the Constitution. It would seem almost as though the sections of the Constitution were tobe rolled over like ninepins whenever the Ministry considered that it would serve their own immediate purpose, and whenever the whirligig of party politics required some bolder action than usual. I take it that the Constitution so recently framed is not to be played with lightly, nor to be altered to suit any mere passing phase of party politics. Here we are with the elections immediately upon us, and no less than five definite proposals for the alteration of the Constitution under consideration. For three of these the Government have taken responsibility, while for at least two others private members are responsible. Those of which the Government have charge relate to the time of holding the Senate elections, to the transfer of the States debts, and to an alteration of the Constitution to enable the Parliament to pass an ordinary piece of - I was going to say party legislation - an ordinary piece of social legislation. It was not contemplated by the framers of the Constitution that it would be so readily alterable, and altered for any such purposes as these. It was for that reason that its alteration was not made so easy as is an amendment of an ordinary Act of Parliament. It was expected that, in fixing the constitutional relationships which were thenceforward to exist between the various States, finality had been reached for at least some time. But here we are, less than six years after the establishment of the Federation, proposing to rip up that constitutional document, and to make three distinct alterations. all more or less having to. do with the mere facilitation of the ordinary legislative business of this House. In my judgment, no alteration of the Constitution ought to be undertaken, except-bv a Government sure of the confidence of the country, and representing a majority of 1he members returned to this Parliament; it certainly ought not to be undertaken by a Government which, in making any such proposals as these, cannot command the votes of even one-fourth of the members of this House. We are told that these Bills for the amendment of the Constitution are of small moment. So trivial, apparently, are they considered, that in moving the second reading of the two now before the House Ministers spoke in each case for only about ten minutes. We were told bv the Prime Minister that they were questions not so much for us as for the electors generally to decide, and that we were now to ask them in the most offhand way whether they were agreeable to the making of these serious alterations. I do not wish, however, to push that point to an extreme, because I admit that it would be fair and reasonable to make one of these amendments; but a specific proposal for an amendment of the Constitution, with a specific object in view such as this, is of far more serious import than is one relating merely to the fixing of the time -for holding the general elections. Every amendment that is made in our constitutional document necessarily modifies the relationships existing between the various States of the union, as well as between the States and the Commonwealth. It occurs to me that it is time to emphasize the fact that we need to honour in its limitations, as much as in its privileges, the instrument under which’ we operate, and which is set for the government and control of purely Australian affairs. The Constitution represents a compromise of the opinions of the i States. It represents, moreover, a contract between the various States, which ought not to be alterable as the outcome of am’ temporary feeling that may be wafted through this Chamber.
– And it is not. Any proposed alteration must be indorsed by the people.
– I am aware of that, but we should be very much better employed in betaking ourselves to the closing of the session - in discharging the business which we have constitutional power to undertake - rather than in dealing with these proposals which, if carried, will have a far-reaching effect upon not only the financial relations of the States, but the taxpayers generally. No Government ought to make serious proposals for the modification of the existing relationships and the existing compact between the various States unless it has behind it a solid majority of the members of the Parliament, and is secure in the confidence of the people.
– The Government will need a majority to secure the passing of this Bill.
– I am quite; aware of that ; but may I remind my honorable friend that majorities in this House are not always secured on the merits of the particular question under consideration. They are often secured by means of compromises.
– That would not affect the taking of a referendum.
– Certainly not; but. having regard to the fact that, in addition to the ordinary business of a general election, several Federal referenda, as well as others which it is said will be submitted by some of the States, are proposed, does not the honorable member think that at the general election more or less confusion will arise.
– Does not the honorable member think that the proposal now before us is far more important than is one relating to the question whether the general elections shall take place in December or June ?
– Most certainly, if this were the only method of providing for old-age pensions. As a member of the Old-age Pension Commission, the honorable member suggested another scheme. In my judgment, there are alternatives to the proposal suggested by the Government, and, as our ordinary legislative powers and financial resources are not exhausted, we ought not to take this drastic step.
– Our financial resources could not provide one-third of the sum required for a Federal scheme of old-age pensions.
– I shall deal presently with that point. The very fact that we are. asking for an alteration of the Constitution ought to be prima facie evidence that we have exhausted our existing legislative powers and financial’ Resources in respect of provision for old-age pensions. Until we have we ought not to ask the people for further constitutional powers in regard to them. The proposed’ step is one that should be taken only, in the last resort, and when we have no power otherwise to give effect to our desire, and, it may be, to the wish of the general community. In moving that the Bill be read a second time, the Prime Minister said, “ Hitherto the Commonwealth has walked in financial fetters.” This proposal, even if adopted, will not relieve the Commonwealth of those fetters so far as the Braddon section is concerned; I take it that, at the present time, the Ministry would not think of bringing in a Bill for the abrogation of that section. I understand that their proposal is to allow the time fixed in the Constitution for its operation to expire before taking any further step in regard to it. However, “even if constitutional authority for the proposed step be given, the Commonwealth will still walk in the financial fetters imposed by the Braddon section. She walks in those fetters because she walks at the same time in functional
fetters. Her financial powers are supposed to be in proportion to her functional powers. In other words, we have a Federation and not a unification - a Federation with its powers strictly delimited, and working within those limitations, which ought strictly to be observed
– For the time being.
– Of course; but how long would the honorable member say those limitations ought to be observed ? For only five years?
– For only one year if they were found unsatisfactory.
– The honorable member is begging the question. I have just pointed out that we have no right to seek further constitutional authority of this kind until we have exhausted our existing powers. The moment they are exhausted we certainly have the right to ask the people for further powers if they are necessary to the good government of the Commonwealth. Everybody admits that, if it is necessary, we should appeal to the people on this question. But the point is, is it necessary to ask for this further grant of power in order to finance an old-age pension scheme? The Federation, I repeat, , walks in financial fetters, and must continue to do so for the reason that she walks in functional fetters. We have taken over only certain functional powers. The rest are left to the States. In that respect our Federation differs! largely from the Canadian Federation, whose Government has much larger powers than this Government possesses, only a few being left to the States. Our financial fetters must correspond exactly with the functional limitations which have been placed upon us, which we should be as ready to honour as we are to exercise the privileges which have been at the same time conferred. The Constitution has strictly limited our functions and our financial powers to correspond. Even after the Braddon section has ceased to have effect, the Commonwealth will be under the moral obligation of honouring the moral ant extra-legal relationship which will remain. Although it will then possess the technical and strictly legal right to impose what tax* tion it pleases, and to dispose of its revenue as it thinks fit, it must have regard to the financial conditions of the States. I dislike immensely the proposal to impose specific duties for specific purposes, or to earmark taxable resources with a view to their appropriation for any particular object, scheme, or policy. The Bill does not allocate the proposed specific duties. It merely provides for the alteration of the Constitution to empower the Commonwealth to raise specific duties, without saying how they are to be allocated. Therefore, the money obtained from them may be used for purposes other than those indicated by the Prime Minister, while there can be no imputation of bad faith, because it can be said that the measure contains sio provision stating how the revenue derived from the duties raised under it is to be disposed of. It would be well, therefore, to insert a provision making it obligatory to employ the money raised under the proposed specific duties for the purposes which have been indicated. When the Prime Minister was speaking, the honorable member for Moreton asked if it would not be possible, supposing the Bill passed, to make all duties special, to which the honorable and learned gentleman promptly replied “ No.” But there will be nothing to prevent the reduction of the present duties and the raising of specific duties.
– Paragraph c of clause 2 will prevent that.
– I do not think that the Commonwealth, once it has the general constitutional power proposed to be taken, can be held to be bound bv the provisions of the Bill, unless the limitation has been specifically affirmed by the people.
– If the amendment were approved by the people, the earmarking could not apply to anything else.
– Is this question to be submitted to the people? In any case, it will be within the power of the Commonwealth to reduce the existing duties.
– That will not improve our financial position.
– Our financial position could be improved’ by the levying of special taxation. The honorable member for Moreton was right in suggesting that we could reduce our present taxation, and make up any deficiency by means of special duties. Apart from that, I do not think that we should earmark revenue of any kind. If the provision of old-age pensions is a social dutv devolving upon the able-bodied members of the community in regard to the aged, incapable, and poor, it would be to degrade it below the level of other social duties to earmark or allocate revenue in the way proposed. Why should they not be as much a charge on the general revenue as any other social obligation, Why should they be singled out and put on a lower plane, by being made dependent on the raising of specific duties? If we recognise them as an ordinary social obligation, which, is the view which must be taken in, Australia to-day, they are as much chargeable on the general revenue as any other.
– How would the honorable member provide for it at the present time?
– I shall come to that matter in a moment. I do not intend to repeat the objections to the earmarking of duties already urged with so much force and pertinence by the honorable member for Mernda. He stated clearly the other day commercial reasons of the utmost importance which tell against this proposal. For instance, he showed that the revenue derivable from special duties would be variable, and, therefore, might either be used extravagantly or might be deficient, in which case further duties would have to be levied, which the public would be able to anticipate, and so would not yield a proper return. Other objections were urged with equal force by the honorable member for North Sydney. He pointed out that, while our obligations in respect to old-age pensions might tend to increase, the revenue from special duties might, for some reason, temporary or otherwise, tend to decrease, and thus there would be a constant need for readjustment. These reasons against earmarking generally tell with tenfold force against earmarking in respect to a supreme social obligation. I have always believed absolutely in the justice and wisdom of the old-age pensions system. We owe to those who have borne the heat and burden of the day, who by their ungrudging labours have helped to build up the prosperity of the Commonwealth, or who in the future will do so, the duty of providing for their old age a decent and comfortable livelihood. Regarding this as a moral obligation, I think that it should be broad based on the general revenue, instead of being met bv the earmarking of special duties. The Prime Minister told us that a proposal such as he is making coincides with the unanimous suggestion of the States, all the Premiers being agreeable to it. No doubt they are, because it relieves them of the obligation of finding revenue for expenditure on old-age pensions. It is not surprising that they should consent to be relieved of an obligation which, in many cases, they do not recognise. At the last Convention, they generously consented to waive their claim to three-fourths of the revenue from any duties levied for special purposes. That was very kind of them, as it is always. kind of people to forego that which they cannot under any circumstances expect to receive. Moreover, the honorable and learned gentleman said that the States, if special duties were imposed, would not be in a worse position than they are in now. I am afraid that some of them will be in too good a position. Surpluses are often as bad for a community as are deficiencies, and perhaps, in their ultimate effects, worse. I do not know what surplus the Victorian Premier will announce this afternoon, though I think that it will be over , £500,000. The Premier of New South Wales, in his Budget speech, showed that there was a surplus upon last year’s financial operations of , £846,000, and he predicted that next year the surplus would amount to , £1,444,000. It is quite safe to say that the Victorian Treasurer will have a surplus of , £500,000 or £600,000. These estimated surpluses are built up upon the statements of the Federal Treasurer, and any one who has studied his figures cannot help arriving at the conclusion that he has under-estimated the financial resources of the Commonwealth, so far as the surplus available for return to the States is concerned. I. believe that some of the other States also expect to have surpluses. So that this special proposal means that the two larger States will be relieved of all obligations in regard to the amounts which they now pay in the shape of old-age pensions. A gift of , £500,000 will be made to the Treasurer of New South Wales, who, if relief came this year, would be able to announce a surplus of , £2,000,000, instead
– The New South Wales Treasurer could do without borrowing for a short time.
– We cannot control him; that is the trouble.
– The public probably will do so.
– Ifwe had something to say as to the disposal of the surpluses of the States we might enter upon legislation of the character now proposed with a light heart. But when we know that they have rolling surpluses to distribute as they like, we ought not to pay too much attention to them when they suggest that we should raise special duties in order to relieve them of some of their obligations. Victoria and New South Wales together pay between £700,000 and . £800,000 annually under their oldage pension schemes, and we may assume that the amount that would have to be paid in respect to old-age pensions for the whole, of the Commonwealth would not exceed , £1,500,000. Thus the two largest States are at present paying half the amount required to be raised under a Commonwealth old-age pension scheme, and under a Federal scheme would pay two-thirds of the whole. The Treasurer announced that there would be a surplus of , £800,000 in connexion with the one-fourth of Customs and Excise duties which the Commonwealth is entitled to spend. Thus one-half of the amount necessary is being contributed by two States, and the other half is represented by the balance in the hands of the Treasurer. In view of these facts, it should be possible to so arrange matters with the States as to render it unnecessary to resort to special taxation. I know that there are difficulties in the way of unifying the sum required upon a population basis, or upon the basis at present adopted ; but surely these could be overcome by business men. The difficulties are not insuperable. If the States are willing that old-age pensions should be paid, an arrangement should be easily possible.
– Easier now than at any previous time.
– Just so. I cannot conceive of a more convenient time.
– The honorable member has great faith.
– I am trying to indicatethat there is a great reason, other than great faith, behind the statements I am making. There was never a time in the history of the States when they were in a better position to stand the strain of old-age pensions, and with the prospects of swelling revenues in the future, we ought not to resort to special taxation for the purpose of discharging a single obligation.
– We cannot give to Queensland her full three-fourths share of the Customs and Excise revenue.
– I know all about that. I am aware also that this year the revenue ot Queensland is better to the tune of ^250,000 than during any year since Federation. I admit that Queensland has had her difficulties, and that she has been heavily hit by the Tariff ; but at present, her finances are in a prosperous condition.
– There is not the least possibility of Queensland agreeing to give up revenue for old-age pensions.
– Then the question arises whether the State Government should not take the responsibility upon its own shoulders. Are we to be governed by the States? Are the States Premiers to decide for us in this matter? If they will not agree to a reasonable proposal, they will have to reckon with their constituents, the same as we shall. The tax-payers of the Commonwealth are the tax-payers of the States, and if it be shown that the States Premiers will not sanction an arrangement by which surplus moneys available would be devoted to the payment of old-age pensions, but prefer that special duties shall be imposed, they will surely be brought to book. At any rate, I do not think we ought to adopt the course proposed, merely because of the refusal of the States Premiers to accept their proper responsibility. Although at the last Conference the Premiers came to a unanimous agreement upon this point, it must be remembered “that at the Hobart Conference twelve months before, New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia agreed to give up their proportion of the special duties on tea and kerosene. . Tasmania and Queensland have been subjected to a great deal of financial stress during the last two years, and naturally do not care to part with any more money than they can help. But if we are going to finance the whole of the States to (he extent that we would finance the weakest, that is to say, if we are going to permit the weakest State to call the financial tune for the wealthier States, we shall have large surpluses in some States, whilst other States will be merely comfortably financed. I admit that this kind of thing can be obviated only bv negotiation between the Premiers of the States and the Prime Minister.
– If the surplus were distributed upon the basis of population, the who’le trouble would be overcome.
– I have no doubt that it would, and I believe that the sooner we adopt that plan, the better it will be for the finances of Australia. I am not sure that it would not be preferable to. adopt the per capita basis of distribution, rather than to resort to special taxation. If special taxation be the alternative, the remedy will be worse than the present financial disease. It seems to me that this is peculiarly a matter for negotiation and arrangement.
– I can assure the honorable member that it is hopeless to expect any negotiation to be successful.
– I doubt it.
– I have met the States Premiers and have communicated with them, and my clear impression is that it is hopeless to expect any arrangement of that kind.
– The Prime Minister, whilst telling the people that it is hopeless to do anything with their Premiers, is proposing to take a course of his own. May I suggest that there is another course open to him, namely, to put these facts before the people, and to ask them whether they agree that their State Premiers shall continue to expend these surpluses whilst we are compelled to tax them still further?
– That would be an interference with State rights.
– There would be no interference with State rights as such, and none is suggested. There is a very simple course open to the Government, if they care to accept responsibility for it, and one which it is within their constitutional rights to take without infringing the Braddon section.
– What course is that?
– I admit that to take the course which I have in my mind without conference with the electors of the States would be an extreme step.
– What is the step to which the honorable member refers?
– It is for the Commonwealth to foot the bill.
– We have not the money.
– We have the money. There are more than enough funds available - over and above what the
Commonwealth is compelled to return to the States - to foot the bill.
– No; there is only £300,000 in excess of the amount which we are bound to return to the States.
– I am speaking not of the Treasurer’s estimates of expenditure, but of the position as it might be. The interjection of the Prime Minister reminds me of another point. The Government propose to ask. the people to empower them to impose further taxation, and yet they contemplate remitting to the States £209,000 annually in the shape of postage dues. I say that we should first look to our obligations. We ought to be just before we are generous.
– The duties upon tea and kerosene which were remitted only amounted to , £541,000 annually.
– If we added the estimated annual loss of , £200,000 upon penny postage to the , £300,000 proposed to be carried forward, we should then have only £500, 000 to spend.
– May I suggest that an alternative to this proposal might also be submitted to the people. The Government might ask them to say whether they are in favour of empowering the Commonwealth to levy special duties, for special purposes, or whether they favour the Commonwealth paying old-age pensions out of the revenues which it already has.
– We cannot do that by law. We cannot take a referendum except upon a “ proposed law.”
– What is to binder us from taking a referendum? All that we require is that an arrangement shall be made with the States Premiers such as they have hitherto refused to enter into with the Prime Minister. Why not ask the people whether they are in favour of the imposition of special taxation, or of some proposal which would obviate the need for such taxation, and which would permit the Commonwealth to appropriate some of the surpluses which are already in existence in most of the States?
– Which of the two proposals does the honorable member prefer?
– I prefer an arrangement which would permit of the disposition of some of the present surpluses by the Commonwealth rather than the imposition of special duties.
– The honorable member will be afforded an opportunity to vote upon that matter under an amendment which I propose to submit.
– I shall hear what is the nature of the honorable member’s amendment in due time. I do not think that I have much more to say. To my mind, this is a matter of grave importance, and one which ought to give us some concern. It surprises me that at the end of the Parliament the Prime Minister can light-heartedly throw two or three proposals for an amendment of the Constitution upon the table, seeing that there is no supreme difficulty confronting us, and that we have not already exhausted the powers which we already possess under that instrument of government. In my judgment, we should be impelled to seek fresh constitutional powers only when we are able to go to the people and say, “ We have exhausted all the powers conferred upon us by the Constitution, and we find that to make the Federal scheme a just and workable one to the units of the Australian people, we need a further delegation of power such as we ask you to confer.” That time has not yet arrived, and, until it does, I do not think that these proposals are justified.
.- I cannot sympathize with the general view which has been advanced by the honorable member for Parramatta, who argues that we should not consider the desirability of altering the Constitution, under present conditions. In fact, the tenor of his speech was that we should not touch the Constitution at all.
– Not until we are old men.
– I hold the view that the Constitution is only valuable to the people in so far as it responds readily to their wishes. If it will not so respond, it is a drag upon them. I admit that it is always desirable to insure, by every possible means, that the wishes of the people shall be definitely ascertained, and that they shall be clear beyond doubt. But with, that limitation, I see no objection to consulting them upon these matters of grave importance, especially where it can be shown in the light of experience that the Constitution is working with difficulty, or that it refuses to work satisfactorily. The honorable member for Parramatta has urged that before we take any stepof the character proposed by the Government, we should exhaust all the possibilities of the Constitution in its present form. In regard to old-age pensions in particular, I was under the impression that all the possibilities of the Constitution had been exhausted
– Except direct taxation.
– I admit that. To raise the sum required to pay old-age pensions by means of direct taxation is a task that I for one would not care to face under, present conditions. We should require a very large sum indeed, and its collection - by reason of our interference with the powers of taxation of the States Parliaments: - would create greater antagonism than will any proposal such as that under discussion. We must recollect that the right honorable member for East Sydney, in conjunction with the right honorable member for Balaclava, did their best to induce the States to enter into an arrangement to establish a Federal old-age pension scheme. The previous Government took steps in the same direction, and the present Government have taken similar ac tion.
– But the honorable member will admit that the financial position! is very much easier now than it was then.
– I admit that it is easier in all the States except Western Australia. There the financial position is much worse than it was. The revenue of that State has been falling rapidly, while its commitments upon the side of expenditure have increased. Western Australia is not as well able to forego revenue now as she was eighteen months ago. It seems to me that if we have to wait for an old-age pension: scheme until we have induced the Premiers of the States to make a voluntary cession of certain rights which they now enjoy, we may as well make up our minds to defer action until the Braddon section of the ‘Constitution expires in 191 1. I do not think that it is proper for us to wait till then. I am of opinion that we should do something at once in respect of the payment of these pensions. The people of Australia will not be satisfied with this Parliament until some tangible step has been taken in that direction. Upon the present occasion I do not wish to discuss the merits of the question. The payment of old-age pensions is admitted by members of this Parliament, as well as bv the general community, to be just. The suggestion of the honorable member for Parramatta that New South Wales and Victoria should practically provide the pensions which would be payable in the remainder of the States seems to me an outrageous one, unless we abolish the bookkeeping system altogether, and put the whole of our expenditure upon a -per capita basis. I am not prepared to do that at the present time. It would not be fair, especially in the case of Western Australia.
– We might make a special allowance to Western Australia.
– -Even assuming that we did that, I do not think we have reached the point at which the bookkeeping system can be abolished. While that system continues, it seems extraordinary that the hon.orable member for Parramatta should suggest that New South Wales and Victoria should continue their present payments for old-age pensions and should also contribute their proportion of the cost of providing similar pensions in the other States.
– They would be relieved of their State obligations.
– They would be relieved not only of their obligations, but of the surplus that now finds its way into their pockets. The relief suggested by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie is of the kind which the footpad offers to his victim.
– The States would not have the trouble of carrying it.
– Exactly. They would be “ eased,” as that term is applied in the criminal world. If the honorable member for Parramatta intends to refrain from taking any action in regard to establishing a Commonwealth system of old-age pensions other than attempting to convince the Premiers of New South Wales and Victoria that they should give up their share of the surplus derived by the Commonwealth from its one-fourth of the Customs and Excise revenue in order to facilitate the payment of pensions throughout Australia, he has a very big task ahead of him. The States Premiers have given no indication that they will agree to such a proposal, and I doubt whether the people of New South Wales would be prepared to sacrifice an additional £200,000 or ,£300,000 annually in order that old-age pensions might be paid in the other States. I do not think it is fair to ask them to do that. The degree of sacrifice should be proportionate all round, and therefore the honorable member’s suggestion does not appeal to me as a reasonable one.
– I did not make that suggestion.
– As I understood it, the honorable member’s suggestion was that negotiations should be entered into with the States Governments with a view to insuring that the .£1,000,000 which is at present being disbursed in old-age pensions in NewSouth Wales and Victoria should continue to be paid-
– Not at all. I said that those two States were at present paying more than half the amount required for a Federal system of old-age pensions.
– The total sum necessary to permit of the establishment of a Commonwealth system of old-age pensions is £[1,500,000 annually. At the present time New South Wales and Victoria are contributing ,£750,000. The cost of such a scheme to the Commonwealth upon the basis of the payment which is made in New South Wales - which I regard as quite low enough - would be very much more than it would be upon the basis adopted in Victoria.
– And the Treasurer has a surplus of .£800,000 odd.
– But at present that surplus is mainly returned to New South Wales and Victoria. If it is to be devoted to the payment of old-age pensions in the other States-
– I did not suggest that. I said that the Prime Minister might make a strong appeal to the States Premiers to enter into some arrangement in respect of the disbursement of that surplus.
– If the honorable member examines the allocation of the surplus, he will find that if we devoted it to the payment of old-age pensions, in conjunction with the expenditure now incurred for the same purpose by New South Wales or Victoria, those States would contribute largely to the cost of the pensions in the other States.
– There is no hope of that.
– I do not think that there is.
– It is too variable a quantity to deal with.
– As I pointed out during the Budget debate, the Commonwealth is faced with obligations, which, apart altogether from the cost of a Federal old-age pension scheme, exceed the so-called surplus that we now have. If we relied upon our surplus to provide for old-age pensions we should find ourselves in a short time compelled tq either forego the system or some other items of expenditure absolutely essential to the proper development of the Commonwealth. If we undertook those obligations which every Australian desires to do, the surplus which the Treasurer estimates for the current year would be swallowed up without any provision being made for old-age pensions.
– If we paid interest on the transferred properties nothing would be left.
– I referred to the various items in the course of the Budget debate, and have no wish to repeat them; but there are many duties which we should properly undertake, and which for a considerable time would constitute an unremunerative charge upon the revenue of the Commonwealth.
– Our revenue is steadily rising to meet those additional charges.
– I am very doubtful whether it will rise sufficiently to enable us to meet all the operations to which I allude.
– As compared with the returns for the previous year, we had last year an increased revenue of nearly £300,000.
– I admit that. We had a time of prosperity which I hope will continue.
– We shall have still greater prosperity next year.
– I sincerely hope that we shall.
– But the honorable member has in mind the possibility of increased protection causing a reduction of revenue.
-Honorable members opposite appear to have resigned themselves to the inevitable in that regard. With the exception of one or two old-time enthusiasts, like the honorable member for New England, and, perhaps, the honorable member for Lang, they appear to accept the view that there is to be an increase in the protective duties, and consequently a decrease in revenue.
– We do not resign ourselves to that.
– Some honorable members opposite slipped when certain duties were recently under consideration, and I take that as an indication of what is likely to happen in the future.
– The honorable member should speak for himself.
– I am merely accepting the statements of honorable members opposite.
– I never slipped.
– I think that the honorable member slipped in connexion with the proposed bounty on the production of condensed milk. He did not call for a division’.
– I did not slip; I was away at the time.
– I believe that I slipped on three or four items owing to the fact that I was asleep when the question was put.
– I referred to that matter merely to point my argument that it seems probable that if, as appears likely, the Customs duties are largely increased, they will yield a reduced revenue.
– There is no hope of their being increased.
– There is not only a hope, but, from the honorable member’s stand-point, a dreadful certainty that they wiK be increased. In any case, it seems to me that they will yield in the future a smaller sum per head of the people than they do at present. If our Australian industries are to expand, surely even from the free-trade stand-point there is no escape from that possibility.
– We desire them to expand, but we object to the honorable member’s method of assisting them.
– The natural expansion of local industry must result in a diminished revenue from the Customs duties.
– What I object to is the blowing of them out as veal is blown out.
– Since I do not eat veal, I cannot appreciate the honorable and learned member’s objection. Honorable members must agree that we are likely to obtain less than we have been receiving from Customs duties. I am not specially enthusiastic over the particular proposal put forward by the Government. I for one object, and always have done, to the system of ear-marking revenue. It is altogether undesirable that any function of Government shall depend solely upon one source of revenue. If this were a proposal to absolutely ear-mark certain revenue, I should be opposed to it, but I do not regard it in that light. As I understand the proposal, it is not intended to make the payment of old-age pensions dependent solely upon the revenue derived from special duties.
– The Prime Minister indicated as much in answer to a question put to him the other day.
– If that be so, I cannot conceive of any Parliament within our time imposing special duties such as would’ raise a revenue of £r, 500,000 per annum. I think it is almost impossible to impose duties on articles other than those now taxed that would yield such a revenue. That being so, any Government bringing in a proposal to deal with old-age pensions, if this alteration of the Constitution were made, would still have to rely to some extent upon the consolidated revenue for the necessary funds.
– And I suppose the honorable member will agree that whatever the special duties might be the two larger States would provide the bulk of the revenue derived from them.
– They would secure the greater benefit.
– In one way they would. Upon the receipt of such revenue the amounts which they now devote to their respective systems of old-age pensions would become available for other purposes, and they could, to a large extent, construct public works out of revenue, rather than loans. I think that it would be far better for New South Wales to adopt that course. She has made a very great error in depending to such a large extent on loan moneys for the carrying out of public works, and there is room for great reform in that direction. But I do not desire to see imposed upon the people of any State more taxation - especially taxation of an indirect character - than is absolutely necessary. I. welcome the suggestion made bv the honorable member for Parramatta that we should adopt an alternative course, and the only alternative that presents itself to me is that the Braddon section should be so amended as to enable the Commonwealth Parliament to devote to the payment of old-age pensions some proportion of the three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue now returnable to the States. I think that nearly all the States are fairly prosperous, and I fail to see what objection could be urged on their behalf to power being given ‘to the Commonwealth to deal with this matter in the most direct manner. I certainly think that the people should have placed before them the alternative of giving to the Federal Parliament power to take the amount required ‘for the payment of old-age pensions out of the three-fourths of Customs and Excise revenue now returnable to the States.
– If that proposal were accompanied by one for the distribution of the revenue on a per capita basis, with a special allowance for Western Australia, we should possibly overcome the objection of the smaller States.
– My view of the Constitution is not that it is so sacred that it should not be amended if necessary, and honorable members who desire to secure the establishment of a Federal scheme of oldage pensions can prove their earnestness only by taking some steps to secure its amendment or by declaring for direct taxation. There are only two ways by which old-age. pensions can be established within the next four years. We must either resort to direct taxation for revenue purposes, or secure an amendment of the Constitution. I, for one, am not prepared to say that we should, or could, raise by direct taxation as much as will be required to provide for old-age (pensions.
– The land taxation necessary to raise the revenue required would not burst up enough estates.
– No; I do not anticipate that the “ bursting-up tax “ would, if carried, produce permanently a very large revenue. The alternative is to amend the Constitution, and when the people are asked to agree to that amendment they should have the other proposal put before them.
– The honorable member speaks as if he thinks that we shall require both.
– I think that we shall. I do not hold that reasonable duties on tea and kerosene would produce nearly enough to pay for old-age pensions.
– Probably they would not produce half enough.
– I do not think that they would. The revenue derived from such duties, therefore, would have to be supplemented from other sources. I hope that we shall raise a certain amount bv -means of direct taxation, and that we shall secure a proportion out of surplus revenue, and. perhaps, by effecting economies in other directions.
– I said that the honorable member appeared to favour both the proposals indicated by him.
– I see no escape from both o’f them.
– Not if we are to obtain that for which the honorable member argues.
– If the honorable and learned member can point out how the necessary revenue can be raised other than by resorting to some . measure of direct taxation, or by altering the Constitution with respect to the Braddon section, I shall be very much interested to hear his suggestion.
– The honorable member for Parramatta has pointed out that two of the States can pay old-age pensions without taking either course.
– The honorable member for Parramatta has pointed out that, if the mane)’ now paid for old-age pensions by the States referred to were paid by the Commonwealth, and the existing surplus distributed amongst the other States, the difficulty could be met. But does the honorable and learned member think that the people of New South Wales would agree to hand over £[200,000 or £300,000 for the payment of old-age pensions in other States? I do not think so. Therefore, if we are fo preserve the bookkeeping system even in a modified form, we shall require some new method of raising money, or must break into the threefourths returnable to the States under the Braddon section. I think that that alternative should be placed before the people. Side by side with the proposal of the Government, allowing new taxation! to be raised for the payment of old-age pensions, the people should be allowed to vote upon the alternative of amending the Braddon section to the extent necessary to enable old-age pensions to be paid out of the three fourths returnable to the States.
– Would the honorable member favour an arrangement under which the States now paying old-age pensions would transfer the payments to the Federal authority ?
– No. That is what I object to. It would not be fair.
– If that is not done, the money goes to swell the surpluses of the States.
– The alteration of the Braddon section would not’ affect New
South Wales in the slightest degree. Instead of receiving £500,000 as her share of the Customs revenue, and paying it out in old-age pensions, she would cease to receive that amount, and the old-‘age pensions would be provided by the Commonwealth. Victoria, too, would be affected only in a minor degree ; but one or two of the other States might find themselves in an awkward financial position. The two alternatives should be placed before the electors, so that, as taxpayers of Australia, they could recognise both their Federal and State capacities, and choose which of two courses was the better suited to their requirements, by saying, either that the States Governments should economize, or that new taxation should be raised, and how that should be done.
– Will the honorable member state his alternatives, briefly, so that I may understand how they could be framed as an amendment of the Constitution.
– I think that two separate amendments would be required. The people should be asked to say -whether section 87 of the Constitution should be amended to the degree necessary to permit of the payment of old-age pensions by the Commonwealth out of the three-fourths returnable to the , revenue, or whether it should be done in the manner proposed in this Bill.
– To prevent confusion, should not Parliament decide which alternative should be placed before the people?
– I think that that must be done. The Constitution gives no general power of referring questions to the people. Parliament must first pass a law. ,
– I admit that; but the effect will be the same as if Parliament approved, and the people affirmed or rejected. In my view, it is hopeless to leave this matter to further negotiation with the States. Some of the States are willing to come to an arrangement, but the majority are not.
– They have not yet had a chance.
– They have been approached each year for the past five years.
– Thb way in which the Governments of the States have treated the question is a public scandal.
– How does the honorable member account for the fact that three of the States have not provided oldage pension systems?
– Perhaps their Governments do not desire to do so, or their people are not sufficiently emphatic about it.
– They tell the people that the Commonwealth will do it.
– In one or two instances they have evaded responsibility by saying that this is a Federal function.
– They say that because they think that the Commonwealth will pay the piper.
– In any case, they have been able to prevent the fastening of reproach upon them for not having done anything in the matter. This responsibility was placed or. the Commonwealth Parliament, and we are to blame if we do not shoulder it. I admit that in the absence of Federal legislation, the Parliaments of the States can provide local old-age pension laws; but that does not remove our responsibility. If we are in favour of the cldage pension system, as most of us have professed to be, we should exercise our powers, instead of seeking to place the responsibility upon the shoulders of other persons.
– Does the honorable member not think that we should wait until we find that the States desire a Commonwealth old-age pension system before exercising our Federal functions?
– There are other reasons for exercising our Federal functions. Many of the most deserving men and women in New South Wales, who have borne their share in the development of Australia, are not eligible for pensions because they have not resided long enough ii* that State, and, no doubt, in Victoria,, others are in a similar position. I have met in my electorate a number of extremely desirable old people, who have spent a good’ deal of their time in Queensland, Victoria, and South Australia, and are not able to> obtain pensions in New South Wales because they have not resided sufficiently longin that State.
– The separate Statesmight prefer to amend their Acts rather than have this made a ‘Federal function.
– Yes; but, so far aswe can gather from those who act as themouthpieces of the States, they think thatwe should exercise our functions. The last Premiers’ Conference, which was held at:
Sydney, resolved that old-age pensions should be provided by the Commonwealth, and passed on to the Commonwealth Parliament the question of financing the system.
– New South Wales and Victoria refused to reciprocate in this matter.
– There was such a refusal. We have been told in so many words> “ Do your own work, and take the responsibility.”
– No public man in any of the States would say that he is against this.
– And no one here says so. But we should do more than say that we are in favour of it. We should clear away financial entanglements, and I trust that the’ Government will consider the possibility of taking a vote upon alternative propositions, allowing the people to say which course shall be followed.
– I do not think that the course suggested by the honorable member for Bland can be adopted. At the Convention the Honorable B. R. Wise suggested that a general referendum should be provided for in the Constitution, or, at all events, that’ the method of settling deadlocks shoul’d be by reference to the people. Section 57, however, provides that should a deadlock arise there may, under a certain contingency, be a double dissolution, and, on the popular mandate being inferred from the result of elections, in default of agreement, the two Houses at a joint sitting shall settle the question at issue. Section 128 provides, not for the submission of the question to be subsequently legislated upon by Parliament, but for the submission of a propose’d law agreed to by the two Houses by certain majorities. In other words, .the people are given the power to veto a proposed law relating to the Constitution. How two alternatives could be provided for in such a law I do not know. Section 128 provides that the proposed law must be passed by certain majorities, and referred to the people for acceptance or rejection. If iti is accepted, it goes to the Governor-General for the Royal assent. I do not see that we can get out of the difficulty created by the fact that no referendum is provided for in the Constitution. A proposed law providing for an alternative would not be a law at all. lt is only by passing a proposed law that a subject can be referred to the people. If the people are asked to affirm one of two alternatives, and a law is subsequently passed adopting that proposal, we shall get a sort of bastard amendment of the Constitution.
– Would it be possible to submit two proposed laws, leaving the people to choose between them?
– I do not know that we should stultify ourselves by passing twoproposed laws, one contradicting the other, and ask the people to choose ‘between them.. AVe ought not to tamper with the Constitution in the foolish manner proposed, and shall be the laughing stock of the world if we add to it a series of amendments of this kind.
– We shall be the laughing stock of the world if we allow ourselves to be tied up unnecessarily.
– That is not the only alternative. We must regard the Constitution as a fundamental instrument of government. Whenever, upon any particular question of policy, the Constitution stands in the way, we may ask the people for permission to remove the obstruction, but we should not ask them to amend the Constitution in such a way as to enable us to deal with matters of legislation upon which neither they nor ourselves have arrived at a decision. We have before us several suggestions contradictory to one another with regard to dealing with the debts question, and we cannot remit any definite question to the electors.
– We cannot get beyond a plain “ yes “ or “ no “ in the case of a referendum.
– And, therefore, it seems to be ridiculous to remit to> the electors complex questions relating to. the finances of the Commonwealth for their- acceptance or rejection. We should not: attempt to introduce legislative provisions; into the Constitution in the manner now being attempted. Three Bills for the amendment of the Constitution, in addition to a machinery measure, are now before us, and I do not think that we should sustain any loss if the whole of them were rejected.
– That is what all the conservatives say. .
– The honorable member professes to be a democrat and a radical. I always understood that it was the object of radicals not to increase the burdens upon the necessities of the poor. The true radical idea of democratic policy is that revenue should be raised by direct taxation rather than by burdening the poor with Customs duties. The honorable member, however, has such a wonderful regard for the sanctity of property that he will not go beyond a certain length in levying direct taxation.
– I am glad that I am regarded in some quarters as having a regard for the sanctity of property.
– The honorable member by imputing Conservatism is raising a matter of prejudice which will not conduce to decorum in debate. Constitutional amendments should be confined to broad matters. As was laid down by Judge Marshall, in the case of McCulloch v. Maryland, the Constitution is nothing more than, a body of broad outlines. We are endeavouring to add to these outlines a number df specific matters of legislation upon which we do not seem to have made up our minds, but which we expect the public to settle for us. We have suddenly come to the conclusion that the public are experts in financial matters, and ought to be able to give instructions to the Government in respect to the taxation they are to impose in order to meet the financial necessities of the Commonwealth. There is no reason why we should amend the Constitution in order to bridge over a period of three years.
– There will be a lot of people dead before three years are past
– It is absurd for the honorable member to talk in that way, in connexion with ami old-age pension scheme. He is assuming that no other course is open to us than that which the Government propose. Notwithstanding his marvellous anxiety in regard to the welfare of the aged poor, the honorable member apparently is not prepared to impose direct taxation with a view to providing the necessary ‘funds.
– Is the honorable .member prepared to impose direct taxation?
– I shall be perfectly prepared to announce my intentions when the proper time comes. I have spoken freely enough in public upon the question of direct taxation. I do not think it is necessary for us. bv means of a constitutional amendment such as that now proposed, to anticipate the power that we shall have in 1910 to deal with the question of old-age pensions in a manner that will not interfere with our finances. There is no need to mix up the old-age pension question with a proposed amendment of the Constitution. A report was presented by the Old-age Pensions Commission, which was never properly considered by the House. If there had’ been any special anxiety to introduce an old-age pension system, some proposal might have been submitted, without involving the necessity of a referendum involving hustings elucidations, nine-tenths of which will relate to old-age pensions and one-tenth to the amendment of the Constitution. In 1902-3 we returned to the States £1,145,000 beyond the three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue to which they were entitled. In other words, we gave them back £150,000 beyond the amount estimated by the Statistician of Tasmania to be necessary for the payment of the Commonwealth old-age pensions. If urgent necessity had existed, why could not that surplus have been’ absorbed in making, the necessary provision for old-age pensions, instead of being returned to the States. Next year the surplus returned to the States was £745,000, and in 1904 £577,000. The tea and kerosene duties, which were surrendered in 1901, realized only £541,000 per annum, and it is questionable whether they would yield any more, if even as much, at the present time. It is true that our population has slightly increased, but so also has the taxation upon the necessities of the poor, whose purchasing power has been reduced. In other words, it is now proposed to further tax the necessities of the poor in order to provide against their destitution in old age. It is estimated that the surplus returnable to the States this year will be only £311,000; but it is proposed to throw away £150,000 in connexion with the adoption of the penny postage system. It is doubtful whether the relief which the poorer classes will receive in this direction will compensate them for the extra burdens which it is proposed to impose in other directions. It is intended to devote £150,000 to lessening the cost of running the business concerns of the community, and at the same time to impose fresh burdens of unequal incidence upon the people, in order to provide funds for the payment of old-age pensions. Then, again, if seems to me that we have been devoting about £200,000 per annum to expenditure in connexion with our defences, which we may reasonably look upon as nonrecurring.
– Even supposing we had to reimpose the duties upon tea and kerosene, I do not know that the States would be any better off. I do not think there is anything in the statement of the States Premiers that an old-age pensions scheme cannot be established because revenue cannot be provided except by an amendment of the Constitution. The estimate arrived at by the Premiers’ Conference of the amount that would be required to pay oldage pensions throughout the Commonwealth - assuming that the pension were fixed at ?17 a year - was a little under ?1, 000,000. I believe that the estimate framed by the Old-age Pensions Commission was about , ?1,500,000. How we can provide this amount by re-imposing the duties upon tea and kerosene, which would yield only about . ?550,000 annually, I fail to understand. I would further point out that it is a great mistake to set aside any portion of the Customs revenue for a particular purpose. I do not know of any case in British history in which it has been done, although I think that something of the sort has been done in Germany.
– It has been done to satisfy the money-lenders.
– But no writer who has studied constitutional questions has indorsed as a method to be copied the system which has been adopted in Germany. In addition, under our Constitution the revenue has to be paid into a consolidated fund. In England there is one consolidated fund for all purposes. Even loan funds fall into the general expenditure and revenue accounts. The proposition under consideration is that we should depart from that method of simplicity-
– Where is that proposed? Mr. GLYNN.- The proposal is that special Customs duties shall be exempted from the provision ‘Under which the net Customs revenue is apportioned between the States and the Commonwealth.
– I understood the honor able and learned member to be arguing that in England all these duties were paid into the consolidated revenue. I would point out to him that under the proposal of the Government they will be paid into the same fund.
– But it will no longer partake of the character of the consolidated revenue.
– There is a great distinction between the Imperial method of doing anything of this character and the method which is proposed by the Government. Though there is no special provision made in this Bill, the Government have declared that the object of imposing special duties is to ear-mark the revenue derived from them.
– The Bill itself states that the duties are to be imposed for a specific purpose.
– Yes. It they are not definitely ear-marked now, we are going to tell the electors that they will be earmarked for a specific purpose. From the report of the Premiers’ Conference in Hobart in 1905, I gather that the right honorable member for East Sydney merely pointed out that this suggestion had been made for a solution of this difficulty, but he did not put it forward as part of the policy of his Government.
– I mentioned that fact when quoting him.
– I did not hear the Prime Minister say that. It seemed to me that he was relying upon the fact that the righthonorable member for East Sydney had introduced this proposal.
– He introduced it with that qualification, but afterwards put it to the Premiers directly.
– But it was never accepted. Upon page no of the report of the Conference I find the following: -
The PRIME MINISTER.- Do the members of the Conference say that if we put on such duties as tea and kerosene duties for the purpose of finding money for a national scheme of old-age pensions, they will, sofar as the present members of the Government are concerned, facilitate that by passing such Acts as are necessary to enable us to retain the whole of such duties for that purpose?
Mr. KIDSTON and Mr. JENKINS. Certainly not.
Mr. KIDSTON. This is a matter for the Federal Government to deal with, and not this Conference….. The Federal Parliament have the power to raise whatever revenue they may require.
The PRIME MINISTER. - You mean direct taxation? We can do that, but we mayonly keep one-fourth of the Customs revenue. Shall I minute thatthere is a difference of opinion in the Conference on the question whether a system of national old-age pensions should be established at the present time?
Mr. BENT. No; that is too general. There are three favorable to it.
Mr. KIDSTON. The agreement of New South Wales and Victoria simply means that they are prepared to allow the Commonwealth to raise more revenue by additional duties under the plea of an’ old-age pension scheme, because in New South Wales and Victoria the extra duties will go into Slate revenue ; but in Queensland none of the revenues will be available for State purposes.
The PRIME MINISTER. - Then you are opposed ?
Mr. KIDSTON. Of course I am opposed to so inequitable an arrangement.
The matter was again brought forward at the Premiers’ Conference which was held during the present year. Upon page 34 of the report of the proceedings of that body, I find that Mr. Kidston submitted the following motion, which was agreed to: -
That it is incumbent upon the Federal Government, if it adopts an old-age pension scheme, to provide the revenue required to finance it, without trenching upon the Customs revenue now returned to the States.
But the Premiers never declared that the Commonwealth should set aside a portion of the Customs and Excise revenue for that purpose. As a matter of fact, when they were questioned upon the point, Mr. Swinburne asked them to allow the resolution to stand.
– But at the Sydney ‘Conference they reversed their view.
– I was not aware of that.
– I quoted the report of the Sydney Conference.
– Then the Prime Minister has tacked on to the remarks which were made by the right honorable member for East Sydney in 1903 what was said at the Conference in 1906, when he was not Prime Minister. I would point out that at neither of those Conferences was a resolution passed affirming that the revenue for the payment of old-age pensions should be raised in the way proposed. I do not believe in the principle of earmarking revenue, and I think that an old-age pension scheme could be financed without resorting to that course. Instead of introducing a multiciplicity of taxes, it would be far more honest if we asked the people to agree to the abolition of the State land taxes with a view to imposing a Federal land tax.
– The honorable and learned member would raise more than ?7.500,000 by the imposition of that tax.
– I am not linking it with this matter at all. I merely say that, instead of making confusion worse confounded by dealing in a piecemeal fashion with the Customs duties, and proposing, as some do, progressive and direct taxation on the top of that of the States, it would be far Better to simplify matters by imposing a uniform land tax in lieu of those of the States.
– One people, one tax.
– Surely we cannot have five or six different direct taxes running contemporaneously throughout the Commonwealth and the States.
– We should have to levy a very heavy tax to cover all the expenditure now covered by our Customs duties.
– I am not suggesting that, but merely dealing with the desirability of securing simplicity instead of complexity. 1 say that simplicity would be obtained by substituting for return to the States a Federal land tax for the direct taxes at present in operation in the various States.
.- The honorable and learned member has pointed out the difficulties which will have to be faced if this measure be agreed to. He has also emphasized the wrong which will be inflicted by the imposition of indirect taxation, and, in that connexion, has mentioned the duties upon tea and. kerosene. It is within the memory of the House that the honorable and learned member himself supported a duty upon tea. Consequently, if his argument upon the present occasion be sound, it can scarcely have been sound upon a former occasion. The only difference, it seems to me, between the position then and now is that formerly it was not proposed to raise revenue with which to pay old-age pensions.
– Why does the honorable member say that?
– Because it is a fact.
– The vote cast by the honorable and learned member for Angas was registered to avoid the imposition of other taxes.
– I do not wish to put the honorable and learned member in a false position. He has declared his readiness to impose direct taxation, and I am in accord with him upon that point. But, he asks, “ What does it matter whether old people secure pensions for two or three years or not ?” That is not a fair position to take up. This Parliament ought not to have allowed a single session to pass before establishing a Federal system of old-age pensions.
– The honorable and learned member for Angas merely asked why the honorable member’s party did not think of that at the inception of the Parliament.
– Many of us thought of it, and voted for it. But Sir Edmund Barton, who was then Prime Minister, declared that he would be no party to direct taxation,, and the right honorable member for East Sydney, who was the leader of the Opposition, concurred in the statement. Consequently, we are helpless.
– The honorable mem. ber’s party exercised the same control as they do now.
– We exercised no control whatever, except for a few weeks. During that period the other parties in the House were afflicted with intense anxiety lest we should remain there.
– It was four months !
– My recollection is not as good as is that of the honorable member. Some honorable members opposite began to tremble lest we might remain in office ton long.
– When the honorable member’s party were in office they did nothing.
– Then they were very much like another party which was in power some time ago. This is a proposal to enable the Parliament to do justice to the most helpless section of the community. We are told, however, that the Constitution is sacred, and must not be amended. The aged poor, who have made the Commonwealth, may die as paupers, but we must not touch the Constitution, although, when on the hustings, we pledged ourselves to a Federal scheme of old-age pensions. The representatives of New South Wales and Victoria, where old-age pension systems are in force, are not so anxious as are others to secure the adoption of this proposal, but what about the position of the representatives of Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania, where such a law cannot be enacted by the States’ Parliaments?
– If the people of those States are in favour of the system, why cannot the States’ Legislatures establish old-age pension schemes?
-They say that the power to deal with old-age pensions has been delegated to this Parliament.
– Not at all.
– When the Constitution Bill was before the people, the Government of Queensland stated that they were in favour of old-age pensions, but that as the power to legislate in regard to them had been delegated to the Federal Parliament, they considered that that Legislature should be left to deal with them.
– And that was the position taken up in South Australia.
– Quite so. The aged poor have not the influence possessed by other sections of the community, and cannot indulge in lobbying.
– There are two State Labour Governments in power to-day.
– That of Queensland is nor a Labour Administration. Even if there were Labour Governments in power in more than one of the States, we should not be relieved of our responsibility in this regard. As the honorable member for Bland has said, even if all the States had a separate system, much ground would still remain uncovered. There may be thousands who have laboured to build up the Commonwealth, but who are excluded by conditions as to residence from participation in the old-age pensions of the States. It is humiliating to have to confess that in this matter New South Wales and Victoria have not seen their way to reciprocate. Their attitude in regard to the residence conditions is a reflection upon us as a people.
– Hear, hear.
– And yet the honorable member for Parramatta assumes that the position would be satisfactory if each of the States had an old-age pension scheme in force. As a matter of fact, if they Had, many anomalies would arise, and the provision thus made would be most imperfect. I do not think that honorable members wish to make this a party question, but there seems to be a tendency on the part of some of them to sail as close to the wind as possible, since they appear to be disposed to oppose this proposition merely because it involves an amendment of the Constitution. I am with those who say that the Constitution ought not to be needlessly amended, but no one canseriously urge that the alteration now proposed is unnecessary. I take the view that the question now before us is one ofurgency.
– The honorable member and his party have been silent for the past eighteen months or two years.
– Something like eighteen months have elapsed since a Select Committee, afterwards converted into a Royal Commission, was appointed - very quietly and skilfully - by the honorable member’s leader, when he was in office, to deal with the question of old-age pensions. While that Commission was at work it was impossible for us to raise Ihe issue.
– Did the honorable member oppose its appointment?
– I plead guilty to a want of watchfulness. The present PostmasterGeneral, . who engineered its appointment, is entitled to all credit for his skilfulness. As a matter of fact, the Select Committee was unnecessary. Apparently what was thought necessary by the Government of the day was to do something that would skilfully shelve the necessity to provide at once an old-age pensions scheme.
– Does the honorable member say that the appointment was made in order to shelve the question ?
– I quite believe that it was. It was engineered by the present Postmaster-General, whose sinfulness has been warmly eulogised by the leader of the Opposition. It was entirely unnecessary, and was not brought into existence to facilitate the passing of an old-age pensions scheme.
– The honorable member says that this is an urgent question. What did the Government of which he was a member do in regard to it?
– We stated clearly that our policy, which included provision for an old-age pension scheme, would be directly placed before the people.
– And that Government also said that it was necessary for it, first of all, to deal with the question which had led to its coming into power.
– Certainly. No Government so situated could have done otherwise. We desire to ascertain whether the people are prepared to agree to the imposition of special duties to enable the Government which faces the next Parliament to provide for a Federal system of old-age pensions. Are we to agree to this proposal or to wait until after 191 1 before approaching the consideration of this vitally important question? I dislike indirect taxation as much as does any one, and I object still more strongly to promise help to the aged poor of Australia and at the sam: time to do nothing practical in that direction. The Government proposal presents to us a way out of the difficulty, and, whilst I believe that it will not be sufficient, I think that with the assistance of direct taxation we shall be able to raise the requisite revenue. If a majority of members have pledged themselves to the passing of an Old-age Pensions Bill as a matter of urgency, that measure should be passed, and the Treasurer of the day -should be called upon to provide the ways and means to meet the demand so made upon the revenue. That is my idea of the lines on which we should proceed. Unfortunately, at this stage in its history, the present Parliament cannot give effect to that proposition, but it is invited to provide the ways and means for a future Parliament to take action. I do not believe in the system of ear-marking duties for a special purpose; but our hands are more or less tied by the Constitution, and we cannot avoid taking action in the way proposed by the Govern- ment. As a matter of fact, special duties are not unknown in the political history of Great Britain. Honorable members will - recall to mind the coal export duties that were passed by the British Government to provide funds for special purposes. As to the remarks made by the honorable member for Parramatta regarding the prosperity of the States, and their ability to provide for old-age pensions, I would point out that the position of Queensland this year will be slightly worse than it was last year.
– There is a means of assisting them this year.
– I do not know what the honorable member has in mind. I would point out, however, that at page 82 of the Budget Papers for 1906-7. it is shown that the Treasurer estimates that the surplus returned to New South Wales this year will be ,£242,115; and that to Victoria, .£101,375 ; whilst Queensland will lose £[83,887.
– What was she minus last year?
– A smaller amount.
– And yet the honorable member is supporting the continuation of the bookkeeping system.
– Order ! That question cannot be dealt with at this stage.
– It is useless for the honorable member to endeavour to “side-track” me. When the question to which he refers is submitted to the House I shall be prepared to discuss it. South Australia gets a credit of £4,626 ; Western Australia is to receive £61,993; and Tasmania will lose £14,994. Therefore, two of the States will receive less than the three-fourths mentioned ‘ by the Braddon section, because of a construction placed on the Constitution which has made its meaning different from that given to the draft Bill which the people were asked to vote upon. The reason why we must have more revenue is clear. The Queensland revenue for 1906-7 has been estimated by the State Treasurer at £3,841,200, and the expenditure at £^3,837,897, leaving am estimated surplus of £3,303. How could a State in that position provide for old-age pensions without imposing extra taxation? Queensland has of late years endeavoured to do without the old device of raising loans to cover public expenditure ; but I have known Parliaments - and so, no doubt, have other honorable members - -which, if in a position like that of the Commonwealth Parliament at the present time, would not hesitate to raise a loan rather than allow an injustice to continue. How would that suit honorable members opposite?
– Would the honorable member support a loan?
– I could not do so, though I have known loans to be raised for much less beneficial objects. I mention the matter to show the hollowness of the statement that we cannot get over the constitutional difficulty. There is nothing in the Constitution, which would prevent us from doing what I suggest. I do not think that the Government have brought this measure forward as an election placard, nor do members of the Opposition think so. I make no complaint regarding the attitude of the Opposition to the measure. They are bound to criticise an important departure of this kind, to point ou£ its defects, and to show that injury may be done to the Constitution, or to the public, if the course proposed is followed. At the same time, we must all face the Question how to provide for an old-age pension scheme without passing a measure such as this. Personally, I am in favour of the imposition of direct taxation, though I do not think it likely that a majority will be returned to the next Parliament’ holding that view. Regarding indirect taxation, I think that a duty on kerosene would be a most iniquitous tax. because it would fall chiefly, not upon those who live in comparative luxury in the cities and towns, but upon the pioneers in the country who have now to pay large sums for the carriage of the kerosene which they use. But, rather than allow aged persons to continue to suffer, I would agree to almost any injustice in the way of taxation, in order to put an end to the anomalous and wrong position in which this Parliament finds itself. Its members were returned pledged to do a certain thing; but they have not done it, and are now seeking to excuse themselves for their neglect.
– The honorable member for Wide Bay would, no doubt, think me unjust if I said that the State from which he comes, and the party in that State with which he is associated, are not in favour of old-age pensions, and have proved by their actions and neglect that they are absolutely opposed to them. I do not make that assertion, but there would be much more justification for it than there is for his statement that the Reid Ministry appointed the Old-age Pensions Commission to shelve the old-age pensions question. We had no such object, and the honorable member’s statement was a reflexion upon his party, since they allowed the appointment to go without protest or question.
– It was a Committee which glided into a Commission after the prorogation’ of Parliament.
– I think that the State old-age pension system is grossly unjust to many of our citizens, since men who have toiled hard and suffered misfortune, but have moved from State to State, are left unaided, while, others no more deserving are given a small competence.
– It is probably the more enterprising who are suffering.
– Yes ; probably the men who move from State to State are more enterprising than those who remain in any one State. This injustice should be removed at the earliest possible moment. But the question with which we are dealing is one not of principle, but of ways and means. We are getting into an extraordinary financial confusion. If this sort of thing is to continue it will reflect - if not upon the capacity of the Parliament - on the attention of its members to their duties. Certain important financial considerations - I do not mean only those which have been brought forward by individual members - are being forced upon us by reason of the approaching expiry of the bookkeeping period. We are refusing to deal with the position thus created, and are adopting this as one of the methods of shelving consideration. That is not creditable to the Parliament. Whatever decision we may come to, these financial questions should be faced. We are simply letting things go, adopting arrangements to meet special and temporary conditions. How are we treating our revenue and expenditure? We recognise that the old-age pensions question should be dealt with by the Commonwealth at the earliest possible moment; but how are we facing the situation? It might seem to those who give attention to the matter, that we are not in earnest, since, when money is wanted for this purpose, it is proposed to increase our expenditure for this year by £[500,000, and to reduce our revenue by £200,000 per annum, to carry out what would be a desirable reform, if .we could afford it - the establishment of penny postage throughout Australia and with the world.
– That proposal will be knocked out.
– I mention it to show the absurdity of the situation, and how little forethought and commonsense is being exercised. Then, in addition to that loss of ,£700,000, we have before us certain preferential trade proposals which will probably involve a sacrifice of £[150,000 per annum revenue.
– I do not think any one knows or cares.
– If we had a superfluity of revenue, we could face the prospect with a light heart. But when we profess to desire to improve the condition of our aged people throughout the Commonwealth by distributing among them annually a large sum of money, and at the same time abandon revenue and increase expenditure, it shows that matters have not received the consideration that they should have done at the hands of the Government and of Parliament. We are threatened with further reductions of revenue by the imposition of higher protective duties, and it is thus doubtful whether, even with the amendment of the Constitution proposed, we shall be able to raise the amount necessary to provide for old-age pensions. I think the Minister should give us some information as to how he expects to raise the sum required, and as to the articles he proposes to subject to special duties.
– If the articles were indicated, would not the importers be able to lay up large stocks in the anticipation of the imposition of duties?
– An indication such as I am referring to would not be of any great value to importers. Thev could not take any advantage of knowledge upon such a subject until permission had been given to amend the Constitution, and it was definitely known that an old-age pension scheme was to be carried out.
– We could circumvent them by imposing Excise duties upon the goods in stock.
– That would be introducing an entirely new principle ; and I do not know that we should be entitled to impose any duty upon goods that have already passed the Customs. I was pointing out that after having actually proposed to increase our expenditure and to sacrifice revenue we are beginning to look round for more revenue, and proposing to alter the Constitution to enable us to raise it. I should have preferred to see the Constitution altered - if it is to be altered - in a manner different from that proposed. If we had faced the question of the continuance or non-continuance of the bookkeeping section, and had grappled with the question of the debts, I believe that we should have been able to effect our purpose under better conditions, and to avoid the necessity for an amendment cf the Constitution merely for a temporary purpose.
– We should have had to increase our powers in regard to the taking over of the States debts.
– That might or might not have been necessary. If any one or two States had objected, as some of them might object, we could still have gone to the people with the proposal to abolish the Braddon section. I quite agree that the States would have every right to object to and to fear the abolition of the Braddon section unless an arrangement were made by which they could secure a sufficiency of revenue without the protection of that clause. But with such an assurance, seeing that the abolition of the bookkeeping system would benefit States that are suffering most-
– Not Western Australia.
– Western Australia is not suffering financially to the same extent as some of the States. Certainly, her finances are not in the same flourishing state that they were. Her receipts would have gone down even under her old Tariff. However, I do not say that she should not receive the fullest consideration. In all these matters we must consider the financial position of the States - as we are empowered to do under the Constitution. If we gave consideration to Western Australia, and maintained her present receipts, and devoted the rest of our revenue to a per capita distribution amongst the other States, Queensland, South Australia, and Tasmania would benefit largely.
– But they must benefit at the expense of some other State.
– Yes, they would benefit at the expense of the larger States, whose finances are flourishing, and at the end of the bookkeeping period it should be the duty of any flourishing State to bear some of the burden of the less flourishing.
– The Premiers of both Victoria and New South Wales have condemned any such idea.
– They did so only when they anticipated very heavy losses and possible deficiencies in their own States. They would be in a better position under my proposal than they are to-day.
– In time they would.
– They would as soon as we dea,lt with old-age pensions, because, whilst they would lose some proportion of the amount now being returned to them by the Commonwealth, they would be relieved to a much larger degree by the Commonwealth taking over the responsibility of paying old-age pensions. We are losing a favorable opportunity to effect a financial adjustment which would be satisfactory to the States and ourselves. We are about to create a new condition, of things, and when, at some future time, we strive to end the bookkeeping system, we shall not be able to make an adjustment such as is now possible.
– The States will then have the money, and will not give it up.
– Just so. New South Wales will have over £500,000, and Victoria will have over ,£200,000 per annum. They will be using for other purposes the money now devoted to old-age pensions, and will not give it up. As the honorable member for Wide Bay has pointed out, the finances of some of the States are not in as favorable a condition as they might be, and the effect of adopting a per capita basis would be to give great relief to those States which are most hardly pressed, and thereby render it easier for the Commonwealth to adopt an old-age pension system without inflicting serious injury.
– But the honorable member admits that injury will be done unless some special provision is made for Western Australia.
– Certainly. I say that we have not yet reached the position that it is intended we should attain under Federation, namely, that of having one common purse. The bookkeeping period was intended merely to tide us over a certain time, and to enable us to obtain information. That period has practically passed. We know the position, and we realize that the abolition of the bookkeeping system involves about £300,000 or £400,000 in the nature of a special allowance to Western Australia. By making that allowance, and by reducing it gradually, as the revenue of that State approximates to the level of the revenue of other States, we should get rid of the troublesome bookkeeping system without injury to any State, and with benefit to those States which under Federation have suffered most from a financial stand-point.
– It is doubtful whether a proposal of that sort could be carried in the larger States.
– I thinkthat it could be carried, especially if the States Ministeries were favorable to it. as they probably would be, if they saw that their own Treasurers would be placed in a better position financially, bv relief from old-age pension payments. “ A per capita distribution-
– That proposal is very unpopular in some of the States.
– The Prime Minister must recollect that various proposals have been brought forward. As a matter of fact, I submitted some figures which showed that after making a spec] a allowance of ,£300,000 to Western Australia, a per capita distribution would mean a loss ot from £[200,000 to ,£300,000 in the case of New South Wales, of a much smaller amount in that of Victoria, whilst it would mean a considerable gain to Tasmania, South Australia, and Queensland. In other words, it would relieve two of the States which urgently need relief. Of course the objection might be raised by the larger States, “ Oh, it is our money which is being expended.” But if we were able to say to them, “ We will not place your Treasurers in a worse position, because we are going to undertake the payment of old-age pensions which will relieve New South Wales of an annual expenditure of, say, .£500,000, and Victoria of an expenditure of £[250,000,” we should be putting forward a very strong argument for the acceptance of our proposal, and our appeal to the .country for any necessary alterations of the Constitution, backed up by the States Ministries, would, no doubt, receive the indorsement of the people.
– We must have a special arrangement in the case of Western Australia.
– But we should still have to impose fresh taxation in order to raise sufficient money with which to pay old-age pensions.
– Before the honorable member entered the Chamber, I stated that there should be’ a fixed amount annually returned to the States after the abolition of the Braddon section. Extra taxation would require to be imposed, but we should not require to raise four times as much revenue as we could use.
– The honorable member would simply obviate the ear-marking of the revenue?
– I would point out to the honorable member that we could then make use of the whole of the revenue derived from our present duties above the sum agreed to be returned to the States, without having to return three-fourths of it to the States. The plan of earmarking the revenue does not find favour with me. I am aware that at the Hobart Conference the right honorable member for East Sydney asked the State Premiers whether thev would agree to some such arrangement in order that the Commonwealth might be enabled to initiate a scheme for the payment of old-age pensions, but he specially stated that he did not wish it to be considered as a Ministerial proposal. Personally, I do not like the system at all. I think that it cuts right across what should be the basis of Federal finance. In a Federation such as ours, I do not think there should be the opportunity of financial prosperity in the case of the Commonwealth, and of adversity in that of the States. We should not establish the position that the Commonwealth “special” revenue might be flourishing, whereas the revenue returnable to the States might be upon the wane. We ought to have a community of interests. We should not create rival interests, and to some extent we do that when we allocate the receipts from different duties to different Governments - the proceeds of certain duties going to the States Governments and those of others to the Commonwealth. I quite admit that if it is an absolute necessity, .some expedient of the kind might be adopted. I have endeavoured to show that it is not z> necessity. We ought not to amend the Constitution by altering the Braddon section, but by abolishing it. If we adopted the course which I have suggested I think that we would obtain the assent of nearly all the States Ministries to the amendment necessary, and that assent would be indorsed by the electors. I have already pointed out that a particular duty which was not earmarked, and which was returning a revenue to the States might cease to be productive by reason of some article being substituted for that upon which it was levied. For instance, we can readily imagine that a duty upon ohe oil might cease to return a revenue on account of some other oil upon which no dutv was collected practically taking its place. The Commonwealth might then impose a duty upon the new article, and retain the revenue thus derived for its own purposes. Again, the interests of the Commonwealth and of the States might be diverse. For example, if the Commonwealth depended for the funds with which to pay old-age pensions upon the duty levied upon kerosene, it might be disinclined to abandon the dutv. say, upon denatured spirits, which might be advantageous to State industries, upon the ground that, by so doing, it would interfere with the consumption of kerosene. It is very undesirable to create these rival interests as between the Commonwealth and the States. We must further recollect that, when we are dependent upon one or two duties, we are handicapped, because of the utter absence of elasticity which is the salvation of a Treasurer. If honorable members will peruse the Treasurer’s returns of revenue yielded by the duties upon a particular class of articles, they will be astonished to note how equally in the total those returns work out. They will observe that year after year the variation in the total revenue derived from them is very small, although the variations between the amounts yielded by the items which form the total may be very considerable. This fact evidences the evenness which is produced by the distribution of duties over a large number of articles. When we confine ourselves to one or two articles, we shall be faced with serious inequalities in the revenue derived during different years.
– It cannot be supported at all on general principles.
– That is why I maintain that we should have endeavoured to arrive at a better arrangement, which would have dealt with the States debts, with the bookkeeping system, and with the Braddon section. I do not at all favour the ear-marking of duties. Further than that, it is most pitiable that we are not displaying, a larger grasp of the whole financial question. Seeing that we require to raise£1, 500,000 annually for a specific object, what reason, can be urged for expending£500,000 more than was spent last year, for sacrificing , £200,000 to bring about penny postage, and for abandoning probably not less than . £150,000 under the preferental Tariff arrangements proposed by the Government?
– My reason is that we should think Imperially in financial matters.
– It is all very well to think Imperially when we have enough in our pockets to warrant us in doing so. A man who will think of his neighbour when he has enough for himself,may not otherwise do so. Whilst the introduction of penny postage and the extension of a real preference to Great Britain may bevery good schemes in their way, we are faced with the practical difficulty that we wish to establish a Federal system of old-age pensions which will necessitate an annual expenditure of £1.500,000. In my opinion, the Government were afforded a splendid opportunity of accomplishing what we could not accomplish before. The reason why we could not accomplish it previously was that the end of the bookkeeping period, when some financial change might be made, had not arrived. It will arrive next month. The additional power which we can then exercise will be an inducement to some of the States to enter into a satisfactory arrangement. The fact that we, propose to take over the payment of old-age pensions, and thus to afford relief to two large States, would also have facilitated a settlement, as would the approach of the time when the Braddon section will cease to operate, for the smaller States are beginning to realize, and rightly, that some scheme must be evolved to secure the annual return of a reasonable sum to them. I believe that by making provision for a reasonable payment, and arranging the other adjustments to which reference has been made, we could have accomplished that work. Had we done so, we should have done far more for the future stability of the finances of the Commonwealth and of the States than we can possibly do under the present proposal.
.- Having regard to the lucid addresses to which the House has had the pleasure of listening during this debate, I do not propose to speak at arty length. In submitting the Bill to the House, the Prime Minister failed to show that there is any urgent necessity for an amendment of the Constitution in the direction desired by him. Apart from all other considerations, I fear that as the result of the several referenda on other questions to be taken at the next general election, the electors will be greatly confused, and I fail to see why we should add to the difficulties of their position by submitting still another question to them. ‘ Even if the House thinks it desirable that the Commonwealth should concern itself with the payment of old-age pensions, and thus relieve the States from their obligations in that regard, they can do so without imposing additional taxation. The necessary funds can be provided out of ordinary revenue. It must be remembered that the ‘ Government are proposing to sacrifice a very large amount of income. In some respects, there is room for the practice of greater economy in expenditure, especially upon public works, which in some cases do not appear to be absolutely necessary. We have recently dealt with a programme of Works and Buildings providing for the expenditure of a very large sum, and I think that, with a view to effecting savings, we should in future more closely scrutinize our outlay in such directions. If, combined with the practice of economy, we could arrange to take over from the two States which have old-age pension schemes in force; the amount which they now devote to that purpose, we should be able to establish a fund sufficient to provide for the major portion of the expenditure which this system would involve. If in the absence of any such arrangement the Commonwealth undertakes an old-age pension scheme, it will at once relieve those two States of a large annual expenditure, and so help to swell their already accumulating surpluses. I do not think that that is desirable. To my mind, the most satisfactory position is secured when the ordinary inevitable expenditure and revenue can be made to balance ; but I am strongly of opinion that it is better for a State to have a deficit than a surplus. A surplus invariably encourages extravagance, whilst a deficit renders it necessary for economy to be practised.
– If a State devotes its surplus to the reduction of its indebtedness, no fault can, be foundwithit.
– I am afraid that there is a tendency on the part of Treasurers, no matter what their political beliefs may be, to expend any surplus in hand in other directions than the reduction of indebtedness, and that in distributing such moneys, regard is had mainly to enhancing the popularity of their Governments. As matters stand at present those States in which old-age pension schemes prevail, have to provide for them out of the three-fourths of Customs and Excise revenue returned to them by the Commonwealth, and if the Federal Parliament relieves them of their liability in that respect, it is only fair that they should allow it to deduct the amount paid in respect of their old-age pension funds, and unless some such arrangement is made I think it would be better for the Commonwealth not to trouble itself, for the present, at all events, with an old-age pension scheme ; that it would be better to leave the matter in the hands of the States until the expiration of the Braddon section.
– That, at all events, is a straight-out statement.
– I advocated the same course at the last general election. It is a singular fact that in the three States which are most completely under labour domination no old-age pension, scheme exists.
– New South Wales only secured such a scheme during what the honorable member would describe as a period of labour domination.
– But a number of freetraders, including myself, favoured the system.
– I have no desire to disparage those States which are practically controlled by the Labour Party, but it struck me as singular that, in spite of all their enthusiastic clamour for such legislation, no effort had been made by them to provide for the payment of old-age pensions. This is an omission which, in the circumstances of their all powerful position, is, at all events, worthy of notice. My objection to the proposal to levy special duties to provide an old-age pensions fund is that they would necessarily fall upon those sections of the community which already have to bear the heaviest burdens of taxation. The increase of taxation would press most severely upon the poorest section of the community. The Government contemplate raising alarge proportion of the revenue necessary for this purpose by imposing duties on tea and kerosene. They may well be described as washerwomen’s duties.
– The foreigner will not pay them.
– The “ foreigner “ who has to stand all day over the washtub, and the seamstress who has to bend over her’ needle until far into the night will pay the larger share of these duties. I do not think that the Treasurer could expect to derive much more than , £500,000 per annum from such duties.
– At any rate the honorable member would not assist him to pay oldage pensions during the life of the next Parliament?
– I have not said anything of the kind, but what I have said and stillsay is that unless New South Wales and Victoria agree to allow the Commonwealth to deduct from the threefourths of Customs and Excise revenue now returnable to them, the amount which they at present devote to thepavment of oldage pensions, it would be better for us to defer taking action until the expiration of the Braddon section. Attention has already been drawn to the fact that the Government propose to surrender a large amount of revenue. For instance, they contemplate a surrender of over ,£200,000 per annum in connexion with the establishment of penny postage throughout the Commonwealth.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.30 p.m.
– Then in connexion with the preferential trade proposals, we shall] probably be asked to give up revenue amounting to at least ,£150,000.
– I do not estimate the loss at so much. I do not think that it will reach any such sum or anything approaching it.
– I have gone very carefully into the figures.
– Any calculation of the kind must involve novel features, inasmuch as duties are raised only against certain countries, the rates remaining unchanged so far as Great Britain is concerned.
– Allowing for that, and largely because of the decline in the volume of foreign trade from increased duties, I have reckoned the loss at from £100,000 to ,£150,000 ; of course, the figures are not authentic, though I think they are a reasonable estimate. Then, last year we returned to the States £[829,000 over and above the three-fourths due to them under the Braddon provision. This could be saved. Furthermore, New South Wales now pays for old-age pensions about £[600,000 a year, and Victoria about ,£220.000 a year. If by an arrangement with them, or by an alteration of the Constitution, the control of old-age pensions were given to the Commonwealth, we might set aside amounts now surrendered or proposed to be surrendered, totalling nearly £[2,000,000, or, deducting the estimated loss on penny postage, £[1,749,000, out of which to meet the cost without raising a penny in additional taxation. The amount could be increased if we effected some much-needed economies in administration and expenditure on public works ; but I do not propose to go into details on the subject just now. I shall, however, be ready to do so at a later stage, if necessary. New South Wales this year has a surplus of £806,124, and the estimated surplus for next year is £[1,444,000; while the Victorian surplus announced to-day is £675.846, and a surplus is estimated for next year. The surpluses of Victoria and New South Wales alone amount to £1,571,970, which is more than the total sum required for Federal old-age pensions. The two largest States would in any case have to find two-thirds of the whole amount, and as we had a balance last year of ,£829,000 over the three-fourths, the matter is only one of arrangement. I have already said that I regard a succession of surpluses as a sign of over-taxation, and when they occur schemes should at once be propounded for relieving the community of excessive taxation, and making the revenue and expenditure more nearly equal. For the present rather than have recourse to extra Customs taxation, it would be better to leave the States to deal with the old-age pension system themselves, providing the money by means of direct taxation. If the amount required were obtained by land value taxation, it would be drawn from a fund created by the expenditure of the community, and would be in no sense a class tax ; though, of course, the matter is one for the States to deal with. I shall oppose any proposal involving extra. Commonwealth taxation, and the increase of duties for this or any other purpose.
– I do not agree with the honorable member for Lang that we should postpone the consideration of this question until the expiry of the Braddon section. If we do so. we shall not be able to deal with it until two or three Parliaments have been held. I am opposed to the proposal of the Government to ear-mark revenue for this purpose. I think that the honorable member for North Sydney has indicated the proper course to take. I have paid close attention to the evidence taken by the Old-age Pensions Commission. Every officer connected with the administration of old-age pension, schemes. _with one solitary exception, has declared in favour of the administration of the system bv the Commonwealth, and I believe that if the reasons for the proposed change are placed before the electors, together with the suggested amendment of the Braddon section, we shall be more likely to do what we desire than if we propose to ear-mark these duties. New South Wales now provides £[600,000 per annum for old-age pensions, and it would be unfair and unjust lo tax the people of that
State to the extent of £600,000 more by a system of ear-marking the revenue to provide for Commonwealth pensions. There seems to be a disinclination on the part of the Premiers of the States to allow sufficient revenue to be taken by the Commonwealth to provide for a Commonwealth oldage pension scheme, and therefore the best thing we can do is to put the matter before the people at the next general election. I believe that those who are fully seized of the importance and the necessity for the proposed change will vote for it, and will carry it, but that if the Government ask for power to raise special duties their proposal will be rejected. I do not know why the Premiers of the States will not allow the Commonwealth to carry out an old-age pension scheme, seeing that every year we return to them some hundreds of thousands of pounds in excess of the threefourths to which they are entitled. This is a national matter, in regard to which they might very well trust ais. I do not agree with the honorable member for Lang in the suggestion that the £200,000 which it is alleged will be lost if penny postage is adopted shall be ear-marked. I do not know how those figures are arrived at. Senator Pulsford, who is a financial expert, estimates the probable loss at £154,000. I notice that the estimate of the PostmasterGeneral is £157,000. I believe, however, that the loss will be smaller than that. Penny postage is very desirable, and I think that the residents in the country are entitled to every consideration that we can give them, especially in view of the fact that we are already deriving sufficient revenue from the Post Office. If the States Premiers would only apply themselves to the solution of the difficulty, we should have verv little further trouble. Any fresh duties that might be levied, would have to be imposed upon articles such as tea and kerosene, which are now admitted free. The revenue likely to be derived from the duty on tea could be easily estimated, but it is difficult to say how far a duty upon kerosene would prove effective, because it is just possible that under the operation of the legislation recently passed for the protection of Australian industries against the operations of monopolies and trusts, importations of kerosene bv the Standard Oil Trust might be prevented. If anything of that kind should occur, it would be necessary to impose a very heavy tax upon tea to supply the amount of revenue required. I believe that the best way of meeting the situation is to abolish the Braddon section, and to permit the Commonwealth to retain the amount of revenue necessary to provide for old-age pensions. I am opposed to increased taxation which would press heavily upon the poorer classes of the community. The people of New South Wales are already taxed up to the hilt, and the Treasurer has a very heavy surplus. I trust that the Prime Minister will give the remarks of the honorable member for North Sydney most serious attention. He proved most conclusively that there was no necessity for fresh taxation, but that the difficulty might be overcome bv readjusting the financial relations of the Commonwealth and the States.
Mr. WILKS (Dalley) (7 .49]– This measure is one of three that it is proposed to submit to the electors at the next election. Those who go to the poll will be required to make their choice in regard to the candidates . for both Houses, and will then be called upon to give their verdict with regard to three matters upon which they cannot be other than imperfectly informed. I believe that the smaller the number of questions upon which the electors are called upon to give a decision the better, and that no matter should be submitted to them by referendum except it is of the most urgent importance. It may be bopular to say that the people of Australia can express an intelligent opinion upon any subject submitted to them ; but in view of the fact that they will have five distinct ballotpapers placed in their hands, I think that thev will be rather inclined to curse than bless those responsible for the position df affairs. The chances are that great confusion will arise, and that the percentage of informal votes will be exceedingly large. In New South Wales matters will be further complicated by the holding of the shire elections on the same day. The question of amending the Constitution should not be submitted to the electors until a thoroughly good case has been made out. and I do not think that the Prime Minister Kas shown the necessity for the measure. He regards it as merely a matter of expediency to raise money for old-age pensions by imposing special duties.
– There is no other way out of the difficulty unless we are prepared to wait for four years.
– I do mot agree with the Prime Minister. New South Wales and Victoria already provide for old-age pensions, and there is no reason why an arrangement should not be made with the other States in order to tide over the period referred to. New South Wales and Victoria would probably be willing to hand over to the Commonwealth the amounts which they now disburse in the way of oldage pensions.
– But what about the other four States?
– They could empower the Commonwealth to deduct from their share of the Customs and Excise revenue an amount sufficient to meet their liabilities.
-They would not do it.
– I believe that some reasonable arrangement could be arrived at. It appears to me that old-age pensions are being made a stalking horse. Mr. Chamberlain used a proposal for old-age pensions to appeal to thesentiments of the British public, and gain support for his fiscal proposals. Sir Edmund Barton also made use of the cry of old-age pensions. Now the. Prime Minister wishes to ear-mark special duties for the purpose of providing the funds necessary to pay old-age pensions. We have passed through six years of our history without having the. necessity of old-age pensions specially urged upon us. and I do not see why we should not wait for three years longer. If the whole of the revenue in the hands of the Treasurer had been exhausted, there might have been some excuse for bringing forward a proposal of this kind, but we know that the Commonwealth has returned to the States a sum largely in excess of the three-fourths Customs and Excise revenue to which they are entitled. The Treasurer of New South Wales has declared a surplus of , £846,000, and the Treasurer of Victoria has announced that he has a surplus of£675,000. This isvery pleasing news, and we should all be glad to hear that the other States were in a similarly fortunate position. But there is no special advantage to be gained bypiling up large surpluses. If the government were carried onefficientlv. the smaller the surplus the better it would be for the community. I believe that the less taxation we have the better. The Prime Minister now proposes to hand over to New South Wales £600,000 per annum, and to thus enable her to increase her already large surplus. The Treasurer of that State estimates that next, year he will have a surplus of , £1,446,000, and if the Prime
Minister’s proposal be carried out he will have another £600,000 to add to that amount. Therefore, the people of New South Wales will be taxed to the extent of £2,000,000 more than is necessary. At the time that Federation was established, we were told by the Prime Minister that although the people would in some cases be taxed to a greater extent than formerly the whole of the money would go back to the States. The States Treasurers are undoubtedly receiving a large share of the money raised by Customs and Excise duties, but the people are not being recouped the money which they have paid into the Treasury. The States Treasurers are being encouraged by their large surpluses to enter upon a course of political debauchery. The Treasurer of New South Wales, however, is endeavouring to make good use of his surplus, and has added another large item of expenditure to his already heavy responsibilities. Not only does New South Wales contribute £600,000 annually to old-age pensions, but the Treasurer of that State has set aside a further sum of , £25,000 per annum as an invalidity fund. My own opinion is that the creation of such afund can be as well defended as can the payment of old-age pensions. Mr. Carruthers is also providing , £18,000 out of his surplus to assist the friendly societies - another wise and prudent provision. Therefore, the total expenditure in this connexion is , £643,000. I desire to know whether the Prime Minister is willing to take over the whole of that scheme from New South Wales?
– Personally, I am not afraid to face the task, but the decision of the question rests with the next Parliament.
– That is a sympathetic way of dealing with the matter. The Government propose to ear-mark certain duties for the purpose of paying old-age pensions throughout the Commonwealth. Those who have addressed themselves to the Bill from this side of the Chamber have assumed that those duties would be confined to tea and kerosene. But there is no proof that their anticipations are correct. If the Prime Minister is to ear-mark any duties for this particular purpose, I think that he should ear-mark those which are levied upon intoxicants, the excessive use of which have in many cases been responsible for the poverty which exists. I could understand him taking up that position. But he proposes nothing of the sort. If he intends to ear-mark the duties levied upon the necessaries of life, I shall feel bound to oppose him. The funds with which to pay oldage pensions throughout the Commonwealth should come out of the ordinary Consolidated Revenue. The honorable and learned gentleman would think it ridiculous if I were to suggest the ear-marking of certain duties for the purpose of carrying on any of the services with which we are empowered to deal under the thirty-nine articles of the Constitution. Under the proposal of the Government, the taxpayers of New South Wales will be called upon to contribute £1,200,000 annually more than they should contribute. That State is fast becoming one of the most heavily taxed in the Commonwealth.
– Its people retain the right to reduce their taxation as they choose.
– If the Prime Minister says that we are to ear-mark any duty for a specific purpose, I claim that all our duties of Customs and Excise should be ear- marked.
– The honorable .member is too good natured to mean that.
– The honorable member himself took a very broad view of this matter this afternoon. He declared that old-age pensions should be a direct charge upon the Consolidated Revenue, and that he did not favour a system of ear-marking duties. Yet he will vote for this Bill.
– I will do so because I see no other way of securing pensions for our old people.
– In New South Wales and Victoria old-age pension systems are already in existence. Surely some arrangement could be made by the States Parliaments for the payment of such pensions in the other States. The Prime Minister has stated that the people can dictate to their Premiers what action they shall take in this connexion. If that be so, let them insist upon their States Parliaments establishing old-age pension schemes during the next four years. I admit that there are financial difficulties in the way of giving effect to a Commonwealth scheme. At the same time, I hold that if we were to submit to the electors a proposal to alter all the financial provisions of our Constitution a lot of the troubles which we now experience would be overcome. Ever since I entered this House I have opposed the imposition of duties upon” the necessaries of life. I hold that those articles should be non-revenue producing as far as possible. Yet I am now asked to sanction a proposal to levy a special duty upon tea. During the last Parliament I fought against a similar proposal, and I was assisted by the Prime Minister and the AttorneyGeneral. The latter made a powerful speech against the imposition of a duty upon tea. Notwithstanding these facts, the Government now propose an alteration of the Constitution, which will carry with it a duty upon tea. I think that the funds with which to pay old-age pensions could be honestly provided by other means than those proposed. Economies might be effected in our Federal service, and money might be raised in other directions. To my mind, the question of establishing a Federal scheme of old-age pensions has been prostituted for political ends. The proposals of the Government amount to statecraft, and not to statesmanship. The Prime Minister has affirmed that the financial provisions of the Constitution require to be altered. Need I point out to him that in New South Wales at the forthcoming elections no less than six ballot-papers will require to be marked by the elector. That proceeding must result in a large number of informal votes being cast. I am one of those who believe that we shall not increase the percentage of those who exercise the franchise by confusing them when they go to the polls. For the reasons I have given I am opposed to this Bill. I do not think it will prove effective. There is no reason why a special arrangement should not be made to overcome the difficulties in regard to the position of the smaller States. I do not feel disposed to subject the people of New South Wales and Victoria to further taxation, in order that we may carry out our powers under the Constitution. As a matter of fact, the position of South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania could be dealt with by a special arrangement; Western Australia has to-day a special Tariff.
– Which she will enjoy for about ten days longer.
– She has enjoyed it for five years.
– And the people would have preferred the construction of the Transcontinental Railway to the granting of that special Tariff.
– I am confident that when the honorable member addresses himself to this question he will say that the people of Western Australia are prepared to accept a continuation) of the present special Tariff.
– They will certainly require a continuation of the bookkeeping system, for otherwise between ,£400,000 and £’500,000 of Customs and Excise revenue now collected in. that State would be distributed amongst the remaining States of the Union.
– I agree with the honorable member that, if a special Tariff had not been granted to Western Australia, she would have been unfairly treated; but my point is that, if special provision could be made to meet the position of Western Australia in that regard, there is no reason why we should not make a special arrangement to overcome the difficulty of the necessitous States in regard to the provision of old-age pensions. At the present time, New South Wales is expending ,£600,000, and Victoria ,£200,000, per annum by way of old-age pensions.
– In Victoria the brothers and sisters of an old-age pensioner have to contribute to his pension, if they are able to do so.
– And I think it is only right that they should do so.
– They should need no compulsion.
– I agree with the honorable member; but I know that there are well-to-do people who, to their standing disgrace, allow those who should be dear to them to take State aid in this direction. If we impose special duties, and raise additional revenue, for this purpose, whilst at the same time we relieve two of the States of their present liability in this respect, we shall probably have a revival of that reckless expenditure which has already been experienced in New South Wales. The cry of old-age pensions has been used as a political stalking-horse for many years. I would remind honorable members that the Select Committee - afterwards converted into a Royal Commission - appointed to deal with the question has not yet submitted its report for adoption by the House. The Postmaster-General was chairman of the Committee, which recommended that the necessary funds should be provided, not by means of duties on tea and kerosene, but out of the Consolidated Revenue.
– It will be interesting to see how the Postmaster- General votes on this question. >
– His whole position in regard to it is interesting. If rumour be connect, it was on the occasion of his visit to Western Australia as Chairman of the Commission that he evolved the scheme which led to the destruction of the ReidMcLean Government-
– I must ask the honorable member not to debate that question.
– I should not think of doing anything so unkind, sir. 1 have no desire to labour this question, but must say that I feel compelled to vote against the Bill. I see in it no proposal to relieve my constituents of any portion of their present burden of taxation. I am not prepared to impose additional taxation even to provide for old-age pensions, since I believe that provision could be made in a different way for such a scheme. I trust that, in the near future, the Prime Minister will bring in a Bill to remodel our financial position, and to enable us to carry out this scheme without ear-marking any revenue. If it is right to place a tax upon the necessaries of life, then there is nothing in the principle of free-trade. I have always fought against such duties, and certainly shall not agree to their imposition on the passing of this Bill. I trust that honorable members will not think that I am opposed to old-age pensions. The principle is one that I supported many years ago when it was not as popular as it is to-day. I was a member of a Commission which prepared a scheme, and as a member of the State Parliament of New South Wales I fought for the principle, and saw it adopted. I should be glad to see a Federal scheme, subject to proper safeguards, in operation, but I fail to see why the Constitution should be amended for that purpose. Let us introduce the financial reforms suggested by the honorable member for North Sydney. Our resources are not yet exhausted, and if New South Wales and Victoria hand over the money they now devote to old-age pensions, economies will be effected as the result of Federal administration, and it will only remain for the Commonwealth Government to provide an additional £[700,000 per annum to enable a complete scheme to be carried out. The question is not a fair one to put before the public. The electors will simply be asked whether they are in favour of old-age pensions, and will be told that if they are they should agree’ to the proposed amendment in the Constitution. They will not be told that if they vote for this Bill they may have to pay ‘ duties on tea and kerosene. As I have said, we have had a system of oldage pensions in force in New South Wales for some years, and whilst I am prepared to fight for the adoption of a Federal system, I certainly am not in favour of the scheme propounded by the Government.
– In common with other honorable members, I recognise that it is impossible to advance any new opinions upon this subject. I have listened to the debate during the afternoon, and have profited from it in many ways. I have profited particularly by observing that all those who favour this Bill have failed to advance any valid reason why it should be passed except the emotional and electioneering one that it is a means whereby the placard of old-age pensions can be put before the people at the approaching campaign. I recognise that the present position is a very grave one. We are asked to pass a Bill indirectly involving, not merely an expenditure of £1,500,000, but also one of no less than three proposals’ to amend the Constitution. I have heard the Constitution spoken of this afternoon if not in a light and airy way, at all events in a manner which was hardly desirable. The leader of the Labour Party said, for example, that there was ‘ ‘ nothing sacred about it.” In one sense there is not, but in another sense there is. It is our constitutional Bible. It is a contract into which the six States have entered for the distribution of certain income of the Commonwealth, and the management of its political affairs. We ought to think more than once before we embark upon any amendment of the Constitution which has for its primary purpose an escape from a present financial difficulty, due to the bookkeeping system, in regard to the best way to obtain money for an old-age pension fund. I do not propose to go into the question of old-age pensions, because I apprehend that that course is one, which, if adopted by every honorable member, would suit the object of the Government, in giving undue prominence to that proposal. I do not care at any time to say unpleasant things about a Government or an Opposition. I try, as I think we all do, to discuss these questions, as far as possible, without party feeling. But when I remember that the Prime Minister has held office for about five years out of six, it seems extraordinary that upon the eve of the termination of the present Parliament he should suddenly come forward with a measure which exactly fits the situation. He knows very well that he cannot say to the people of Australia, “ I have passed a Bill to give you an old-age pension scheme for the whole Commonwealth.” But he can by passing this measure say, “ I have passed a Bill which will enable the Constitution to be amended, if you approve, so that we mayprovide an old-age pension scheme for the whole Commonwealth.” In my opinion, the primary purpose of this measure is, not to amend the Constitution, nor to provide a Commonwealth old-age pensions system, bur to furnish- a good placard for the coming election. I make that statement without feeling, because I sit neither on the front Opposition benches nor behind the Government, and feel absolutely impartial. Anyone who does not take a strong party view of this question can come to no other conclusion than that the primary purpose of the Government in its corporate capacity is to be able to go before the people of Australia at the coming election and say, “ We cannot give you old-age pensions, but we have passed a Bill which will enable us to. amend the Constitution in such a way that, if yOU approve, we can provide them hereafter.” I do not think “that we should assist the Government in putting forward its political placards. Even those who sit on the Ministerial benches should regard the more serious side of this question. The Constitution of the United States, America, has been amended only fifteen times in 115 years; but, although our Constitution has been in existence only five years, there are now on the table no fewer than three proposals for its amendment.
– The people of the United States complain that their Constitution is too cast-iron.
– They have been able to amend it fifteen times, and, no doubt, if a sufficient case for its further amendment were made out, there would be no difficulty in getting it done. Now, I do not think that the Government will be able te find an absolute majority of the two Houses in favour of its proposal ; at any rate, I hope that they will not. It is not that I wish to block a Commonwealth old-age pension scheme. I have never been an outandout advocate of unconditional old-age pensions. I have always advocated a thrift vote, and the imposition of stringent provisions preventing persons from becoming recipients of public charity whilst relatives upon whom they have a claim are earning a good income, and are able to support them. Some honorable members may be a little afraid that if they negative the Bill it may go forth to their constituents that thev voted against the old-age pensions principle. I am not afraid of that, and I do not think any other honorable member should be, because it can easily and justly be contended that there are more ways than that proposed for getting at the result if the establishment of an old-age pension system is our primary purpose. The Constitution is sufficiently sacred to throw upon us the obligation not to amend it unnecessarily. It is proposed to amend it, not because it’ prevents something being dene which the Parliament thinks it desirable to do, but because it prevents that from being done in a particular and undesirable manner. No one can reasonably contend that there is anything to stop this Parliament from passing an Act for the establishment of a Commonwealth old-age pensions system. The point taken at the early stages of Federation was that, inasmuch as three-fourths of the Customs revenue must be returned to the States, if we established a Commonwealth old-age pension system, we should have to raise four times as much revenue as is necessary to provide ‘for it. But there are other ways of doing what is desired. The honorable member for Bland has suggested an alternative which he thinks has a claim upon the attention of the people equal to that put forward by the Government. He has suggested as an alternative that the people should be asked whether thev approve of the alteration of the Constitution: to enable the required amount to be deducted bv the Commonwealth from the three-fourths; in other words, to modify the effect of the Braddon . section before the expiration of the ten years. There is a third course, namely, to approach the States, and to make an arrangement with them.. So far as New South Wales and Victoria are concerned, it must be a matter of absolute indifference whether old- age pensions are provided for their citizens directly or indirectly ; we have to regard only the position of the four smaller States. A great many references have been made to the Hobart Conference, and the Prime Minister has attached great importance to what was said there by the representatives of the States as to their willingness or unwillingness to take a particular course. I followed the proceedings of that Conference with great care, and know that of the thirty or forty questions brought forward none was discussed as fully as its importance required. Matters were hurried out of the way because the time at the disposal of Ministers was very short. Even during the Sydney Conference the same haste was observed. Has the Prime Minister satisfied the House that it would not be possible to induce the States to make some arrangement if they were told, “ “Unless you find an alternative with regard to the financial arrangements in which you participate, the very grave step of altering the Constitution must be taken”? Further, how is this question to be put before the people? I do not underrate the public intelligence, but I know that it is almost impossible to place before the electors an abstract question of this sort in such a way that the highest and lowest intellect will thoroughly grasp and understand it, so that Parliament may know that the result of the referendum is an honest and intelligent expression of the will of the people. The Bill does not bind the Government to any form of stating the question. That will be a matter largely in the hands of the Executive. Of course, it will be open for the people to be asked, “ Are you in favour of altering the Constitution to enable the Federal Parliament to deal with the old-age pensions question?” But that would not be a fair way of putting the question, because, in order that the subject mav be fairly considered, the people should be shown that there are other methods bv which the desired result could be achieved.
– Only a proposed law can be put to the electors.
– No doubt that is so. Of course, if the man in the street is asked simply, “ Are you in favour of an alteration of the Constitution for the purpose of providing for old-age pensions,” he will say “ Yes “ ; but if you could point out to him the gravity of such a course - proposed to be taken, not because the Constitution prevents the establishment of an old-age pension scheme, but because it blocks the adoption of a particular method which is not the only one available - he might take a different view. The Constitution is our bible, and we should not alter it unless there is the utmost need ‘for doing so.
– Will not the candidates put before the people the various aspects of the question?
– No doubt. But many electors do not attend the meetings of candidates to hear their eloquent speeches.
– The newspapers will also present the different aspects of the matter.
– They will be filled with articles, some saying one thing and some another. In some instances oldage pensions will be placed in the forefront, and it will be made to appear, both by the newspapers and by the candidates, that the only question for the electors to consider is whether the Commonwealth should establish an old-age pension scheme ; while no doubt some of the abler journals will recognise their responsibility, and deal more fully with the alteration of the Constitution. But will you get a clear-cut issue on a question, put simply and rationally before the public, in such a way that, having considered all the pros and cons, it can grasp the gravity of the situation, and give a clear and intelligent answer? The High Court may be the guardian of the Constitution in a legal sense; but we are also its guardians in the sense that proposals for its alteration cannot be submitted to the people until we have adopted them. We must remember when it is proposed to make the first inroad into its integrity that it is a compact between a number of communities, some only one-tenth of the size of others, which have federated in the belief that no. rifts would be made in the charter except under the most urgent circumstances. If you can satisfy me that this is an occasion upon which much-needed legislation is absolutely blocked, I say by all means alter the Constitution. But we should be bound to say that it was not a block to legislation, but a block to the adoption of the particular method which suits a particular party and we should prostitute our positions if we consented, in such circumstances, to alter the Constitution.
– That is too strong.
– I say that any one who is bringing ‘forward this matter primarily for electioneering purposes, and is placing old-age pensions in the forefront, as a placard, is making an altogether improper use of his position. The Government have asked us to take a grave step, and have’ told us at different times of the purpose they have in view. It is generally accepted that the object of the alteration of the Constitution is to provide for old-age pensions by levying specific duties upon, at least, two commodities - tea and kerosene. We know that, according to a rough calculation, a Commonwealth old-age pension scheme would involve an annual outlay df £1,500,000; but that a duty of 3d. per lb. upon tea, and of 6d. per gallon on kerosene would yield only about £500,000. Again, have the Government told us anything with regard to their further intentions There has been some suggestion with regard to a land tax. Is that a part of the Government policy? Under the Government proposal, New South Wales and Victoria would be freed from their present obligations in regard to old-age pensions. New South Wales would have added to her credit account for surplus purposes a further £600,000, and Victoria would be benefited to the extent of £230,000 or £240,000. The Government are asking the House to consent to what I have al read v undertaken to call an unnecessary alteration of the Constitution. They have told us how they are going to raise £500,000 bv tewing special duties ; but thev have said nothing definite about a land tax, and we are entitled to know how the balance of the sum required is proposed to be raised. One million pounds would still be wanting. Why does not the Prime Minister tell us what are the intentions of the Government? The honorable gentleman is quite capable of explaining his scheme if he has one. If he states that the £1,000,000 still wanting is to be raised by a direct land tax, then the question submitted to the people ought not to be merely : “ Are you in favour of old-age pensions, and an alteration of the Constitution to enable a scheme to be carried into effect”? but the whole position should be placed specifically before them. They should be asked, “Are you in favour of altering the Constitution to enable us tt raise the money necessary for old-age pensions bv imposing further Customs duties and by duplicating the land taxes of the States ?” Honorable members will see how impossible it would be to submit to the public fairly and impartially the questions involved in the Bill. Any question submitted by referendum should/ to make a referendum really desirable, be put forward in the purest judicial spirit. The public should not be asked whether they wanted this or that, but whether they were in favour of this or that, and the pros and cons should be clearly suggested. It is not necessary merely to say “ Are OU in favour of altering the Constitution to enable us to raise a fund for the purpose of paying old-age pensions “ ? It would be necessary to go further, and ask the electors whether they would be in favour of raising money by imposing duties on tea and kerosene, and by means of a land tax, in order to establish an old-age pension scheme?
– I am afraid that the honorable member is discussing order of the day No. 3.
– Not intentionally, Mr. Speaker. I am commenting on the absence of information as to how the old-age pension scheme is to be carried out. The Government will have to secure an absolute majority of votes, and the mere fact that the Bill is thrown out will not imply that any party spirit has. been displayed. The obligation is placed upon us to see that the Government do not~ take this grave step until we are fully satisfied that proper methods are to be adopted. Two schemes have been mentioned - one by the Prime Minister, and the other by the leader of the Labour Party. The latter suggested that if the Constitution is to be altered, we should ask the people whether thev are prepared to have it amended in such a way that we can retain some portion of the three-fourths share of Customs and Excise revenue now handed back to the States, and thus place ourselves in a position to provide for old-age pensions. A third suggestion has been made by the acting Opposition leader, namely, that we should make some arrangement with the States. My objection to the method proposed by the Government is this : When Federation was accomplished, we were told by its advocates, of whom I was one, that the extra cost to the people of Australia would not exceed ,£300,000 over and above the amount previously spent upon the transferred services. We were sanguine enough to believe that when the New South Wales Government obtained control of their share of the increased Customs and Excise revenue, there would ‘be some remission of taxation in order to place the people in a position similar to that occupied by them prior to Federation. Every one .knows that the Tariff in New South Wales prior to Federation was of a free-trade character ; that the Government depended for revenue upon land and income taxes, and that it had managed to do without even these imposts under a much milder protective policy than is now in vogue throughout the Commonwealth. Therefore, it was reasonable to suppose that when the protectionist policy was re-established, the Government would have been able to dispense with land and income taxation, amd rely solely upon the Customs and Excise revenue. Under this Bill, New South Wales would be relieved of obligations involving an outlay of ,£600,000 per annum, and, as a representative of that State, I object to any legislation which would throw that further amount of money, which has been taken out of the pockets of the people, into the hands of the State Government. I think, as I have said, that it would be quite possible to bring the leading men of the different States together, and tell them that the alternative to their making some financial arrangement would be an alteration of the Constitution. The Government could afterwards come down to the House and say, “ We have done all we could to arrive at some arrangement, but the States have refused to agree to a fair solution of the problem.” We should then be much more inclined to adopt the alternative.
– That has already been done.
– I am thoroughly well aware of what was done at the Hobart and Sydnev Conferences. At the Hobart Conference, the number of questions brought before the Premiers was so great that the business was practically scampered through.
– The right honorable member for East Sydney put the two alternatives before them.
– But the whole question was not properly considered. The Premiers said that they could not deal with the matter definitely before they had consulted their respective Parliaments. The time has arrived for taking a much more serious step, and that is to go to the States and say, “ There is a Bill before the Federal Parliament, the object of which is to establish old-age pensions, and to provide the necessary funds by levying specific duties, and, unless you are agreeable to come to some arrangement-
– I think I can say that they would not, under any conditions, consent to sacrifice any portion of their threefourths share of Customs and Excise revenue.
– I do not think the Prime Minister is in a position to saydefinitely what the people of New South Wales or Victoria would do.
– Not the people.
– This debate will have the good effect of drawing attention to the fact that we are at the parting of the ways. It is a question of amending the Constitution or of inducing the States to toe the mark, and assist us in evolving a solution of the difficulty. Of course, there is a fourth means of dealing with the matter, and that is to wait until the termination of the Braddon section. The Prime Minister has been in office, either as head of the Government or as a Minister occupying a prominent and influential position, for nearly five years out of the six over which the history of the Federation has extended, and could not honestly say that he has never had an opportunity to bring this matter before his colleagues or the House. Even if he could do so, it is suggestive that we should have it brought before us within three weeks of the termination of this Parliament.
– This is the most convenient time to take a referendum.
– I think that it is not. The people will be called upon to decide very grave- issues, in some cases the issues between free-trade and protection, and in others that between Socialism and anti-Socialism. In addition, they are to be asked to deal with three proposals to amend the Constitution. I contend that the time is most inopportune. If I were asked to choose between the Government proposal, the alternative suggested by the honorable member for “Bland, and the proposal that we should wait until the Braddon section ceases to operate, I should say that the last course was the most desirable to adopt. The next desirable is that suggested by the honorable member for Bland, and the least desirable is the one which the Government proposes.
– There was no mention of this matter in the GovernorGeneral’s speech at the opening of Parliament three months ago.
– That strengthens, my contention.
– Mention was then made of the receipt of the report of the OldagePensions Commission.
– That fact still further strengthens my argument. Though, the Government have had in their possession the recommendation of the Old-age Pensions Commission since February last, they have never attempted to give effect to it until now, when we are within three weeksof the closing of the Parliament, and when we are all getting our placards ready for the coming election. I can quite imagine the unction with which some honorable members will proclaim : “I supported the Government proposal to amend the Constitution so as to grant old-age pensions.” But we have other duties to our constituents beyond that of preparing placards for the forthcoming election. We are the guardians of the Constitution, and I ask honorable members - seeing that the whole question of the Braddon section must come up for review within three years, when we shall be called upon to settle generally what ‘is to be done with our Customs revenue - whether they think it is wise or statesmanlike to consent to the proposed alteration of the Constitution for this particular purpose, and at this particular time?
.- In my opinion it will be a bad day for the Australian people when they fear to amend the Constitution.
– The question is whether it is necessary to amend it.
– I am surprised at the stress which the honorable member for Parramatta has laid upon this proposal. It is true that six sovereign States entered into a Federation under a written Constitution; but it would be a bad day for us al! if we declined to remedy its imperfections upon that ground. We have been told by the honorable and learned member for Parkes that the payment of old-age pensions ought to be a matter for arrangement with the States. I need scarcely point out that there is evidence before us that there is no hope of the States falling into line with us in this connexion. I have in my mind’s eye a case which is typical of many, and one which ought to have appealed to
The sympathy of the States Governments. It is that of an old lady who is a native of New South Wales. She is 72 years of age, and bears an irreproachable character. She has lived forty-seven years in Victoria and twenty-five years in New South Wales, and, although she has now utterly losther hearing, she has failed to obtain a pension.
-i know of similar cases in New South Wales, in which aged persons are receiving money, although they are not receiving it under the old-age pension scheme.
Mr.SPENCE.- Victoria declined to enter into a reciprocal arrangement in the case of the lady to whom I have referred. That reflects the attitude of the States in relation to this question, and evidences the urgent need which exists for this Parliament taking the matter up. To my mind no weight attaches to the objection which has been urged that the electors will probably be confused by the number of issues submitted for their determination at the approaching elections. Where does the trouble arise? I cannot see that any harm will result from the announcement that the special duties which will be levied by the Commonwealth will be allocated to the payment of old-age pensions. The simplestminded elector must realize that they will involve additional taxation. I was surprised to learn that the honorable member for Dalley would deny State assistance to the aged poor of the community, because it would necessitate extra taxation. We have already provided sufficient safeguards against the amendment of the Constitution. In order to secure such an amendment, it is necessary to secure the approval, not only of a majority of the electors, but of a majority of the States. I admit that it would be well to entirely abolish the Braddon section, which the States Governments are so anxious to retain. It seems to me highly desirable that we should impose some time limit during which we should levy any special tax upon articles which may not be included in the Tariff in January next. I might then entertain less objection than I doto the imposition of duties upon tea and kerosene. At the termination of the Braddon section of our Constitution, the whole question of taxation will come under review.By limiting the operation of. the special duties to that period, we should overcome the objection that has been urged to the ear-marking of duties for a particular purpose. Since the establishment of Federation, the people of New South Wales have enjoyed a revenue of millions in excess of that derived under its old State Tariff. Under the Government proposal, her peoplewill be taxed even more heavily than they now are. In the past, the unpleasant duty has devolved upon this Parliament of imposing taxation, and the States Governments have had the pleasant experience of spending the proceeds. Naturally, they desire to continue in that groove, so that they may be in a position to find fault with the Federation. Our relationship with the States is not at all satisfactory in this connexion. I am aware that it cannot be placed upon a sound footing until the termination of the Braddon section. When that period arrives, we shall of course be able to abandon any special taxation which we may now impose, and to re-cast our whole system. Viewing the matter from that stand-point, I shall not vote against this Bill, even if the Government press it in its present form. At the same time, I think it is desirable to avoid unnecessary taxation. Both Victoria and New South Wales pay old-age pensions at the present time, and the institution of a Federal scheme would relieve them of their existing liability in that respect. If, therefore, they decline to transfer to the Commonwealth the moneys now paid by them in this connexion, they will have to take the responsibility of forcing upon the whole people more taxation than is absolutely necessary. But the Federation ought not to be debarred by the attitude of any of the States from doing that which is desirable. If we believe that this proposal is a good one, we ought to support it, so that the new Parliament will be free, as soon as it assembles, to take steps to establish an oldage pension system. When we have taken control of the system, we shallsoon be able to right the finances. I think that the opposition on the part of the electors will be muchless than that which has been shown in this House. They will not raise any quibbles ; they will simply ask themselves whether or not the proposal is a sound one,’ and I feel confident that they will agree that it is necessary that the Federation should provide for the aged poor. I am not at all alarmed at the prospect of several referenda. I have sufficient faith in the intelligence of the electors to believe that they will have no difficulty in voting; on all these questions, and
I think that the objection which has been raised in this regard is an absurd one. It would be far better for those who have advanced it to say straight out that they are opposed to old-age pensions. I doubt, however, whether any honorable member has the temerity to take up that attitude. As a matter of fact, although we may honestly differ as to the best means of giving effect to the principle, I do not think any honorable member will say that we ought not to assist the aged poor, who have done so much to build up the nation to which we are proud to belong.
– I have carefully listened to the speech just delivered by the honorable member for Darling, and have arrived at the conclusion that, so to speak, he does not know’ where he is. He says that he is in favour of old-age pensions, but that he is opposed to this Bill ; and I agree with him that the Constitution is not so- sacred that we ought not to think of amending it. The sooner we allow such a consideration to pass from our minds the better. At the same time, I hold that we should not attempt to secure an amendment of the Constitution unless there is grave reason for doing so. I fail to see that there is any necessity to amend it in the manner now proposed. It has been intimated that the Government contemplate raising the funds necessary for old-age pensions by means of duties on tea and kerosene. The Royal Commission estimated that a Federal scheme would involve an expenditure of about £1,500,000 per annum, and on the basis of last year’s imports a duty of 6d. per gallon on kerosene, and of 3d. per lb. on tea., would raise a sum of £739,000, or less than half the amount required. The remaining half would have to be obtained by other means, and I think the House is entitled to know how the Government propose to make good the deficiency. If I could fall into line with those honorable members who believe that the more the people are taxed the richer they become, I should be disposed to vote for this Bill. But I do not believe anything of the kind, and my opposition to the Bill is due to the fact that it will lead to increased taxation for no good purpose. I do not wish honorable members to assume that I regard” old-age pensions as undesirable. My sole contention is that the funds necessary to provide for them could be secured in a way different from that proposed by the Government. The effect of imposing the duties to which I have referred would be to increase the revenue from Customs imposts by 2 2
– I suppose that the honorable member would be prepared in suchcircumstances to take office as Treasurer of New South Wales.
– If I were Treasurer of a State I certainly should not object to a large surplus. As a matter of fact, however, surpluses are not advantageous to thepeople. They develop reckless expenditure rather than a desire for economy on the part of the Government. The people should be allowed as much as possible to expend their money for themselves. Whatever we take from them by means of taxation reduces their advantages in other respects, and the money is not used as well as it would be if expended by themselves. It is, to say the least, remarkable that the only two States in which old-age pensions are paid are those inwhich a conservative feeling is alleged to prevail.
– The existing Government* did not introduce them.
– May I tell the honorable member that the Government which established the system in force in New South Wales was similar to that which is in power to-day. The so-called Conservatives supported the principle, although they could have prevented its adoption. And so with Victoria. Had the so-called Conservatives chosen to oppose it there would have been no force to compel them to withdraw their opposition.
– What about public opinion ?
– What about public opinion in the States where so-called radical Governments have never carried even a resolution in Parliament in favour of oldage pensions? The Labour Party where they have the greatest power have done nothing in this direction.
– They carried the principle of old-age pensions at the last general elections, and they are going to have old-age pensions passed by the next Parliament.
– But in the States where they have the greatest power they have never attempted to give effect to the principle. It is just as well that the public should be reminded of this fact. Those who tell us that they love the poor do nothing for them.
– We do not wish to feed them on peanuts.
– Nor do I. I voted against the bounty on the production of peanuts, because I did not desire the. money of the people to be spent in a way that would not prove advantageous to them. I should be prepared to put the money which the Government propose to give as bounties into old-age pensions. It is extraordinary that in Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia, where the Labour Party has such great power, no attempt has been made to establish old-age pensions.
– A private member of the Queensland Parliament has tried each session to have an old-age pension system established in that State.
– The Labour Partyare the controlling power in Queensland.
– That is not correct.
– In South Australia, there is virtually a Labour Government in power, but nothing has been done in this direction.
– Does the honorable member favour the establishment of old-age pensionsby the States?
– Is he also in favour of a Commonwealth scheme?
– Yes. I think that the four States which have not provided for old-age pensions should do so, either out of the revenue returned by the Commonwealth, or by direct taxation. When that has happened, the Commonwealth can take over all the States systems without injury to any one, and place all on an equal footing. What is now proposed is to increase the taxation of the two States which already have old-age pension systems. The Labour Party are afraid to tell the people of Western Australia that they ought to make their own arrangements in this matter, as the so-called conservative States of New South Wales and Victoria have done. They wish to throw the responsibility on the Commonwealth, and to increase the taxation of the other States. A great deal of confusion will be caused by asking the electors not only to vote both for the House of Representatives and for the Senate, but to answer “Yes” or “’ No “ in regard to three or four proposed amendments of the Constitution. What is desired could be done by bringing pressure to bear on the States. The suggested duties on kerosene and tea would not raise a sufficient amount of revenue for Commonwealth purposes, but the Government have not explained howthey propose to obtain the balance. We should have some information on that point before the Bill leaves this Chamber. I shall oppose the measure because it will increase the taxation of the people of New South Wales and Victoria. and will not benefit the Commonwealth as a whole.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
In Committee :
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
Section eighty-seven of the Constitution is altered -
by inserting after the word “Excise” the words “ (other than special duties of Customs and of Excise)” ;
by inserting after the word “balance” the words “ of the revenue from those duties (other than special duties)” ;
by adding at the end of the section the following paragraph : - “A special duty of Customs or of Excise is a Customs or Excise duty upon goods of a description not liable to Customs or Excise duty on the first day of January One thousand nine hundred and seven, and imposed expressly for specific purposes.”
.- I intend to move an amendment which will divide the Committee on the question whether a Commonwealth old-age pension system should be provided for by means of special and additional duties, or from the ordinary Customs and Excise revenue.
– Surely not before 191 1? Did not the States accept the Constitution, believing that there would be no alteration of the financial basis until then ?
– If it is right to amend the Constitution in one direction, no exception can be taken to any other amendment. In any case, we are appealing to the people who brought the Constitution into existence. It cannot be said that they accepted the Constitution because of anyone provision, though I have heard the honorable member for New England say that the people of New South Wales accepted it because of the provision that the Federal Capital is to be situated in that State.
– At any rate, the honorable member has given that as the chief reason why they accepted it:
– Nothing of the kind.
– I have also heard the honorable member suggest that Western Australia entered the Union because her people thought that they would get the transcontinental railway.
– I have heard the representatives of the State say that.
– As I read the Constitution, no part is more sacred than any other. If we have a right to propose the amendment of any provision, we have the same right to propose the amendment of any other provision. The amendment under discussion has been proposed to allow a necessary policy to be carried into effect, without imposing additional burdens on the people of the State, and I therefore ask the Committee whether the Commonwealth was institutedmerely to raise money to enable some of the States to build up big surpluses? Would it not be fairer to pay for old-age pensions out of the Customs and Excise, and to compel the States to resort to other and more desirable methods of taxation to meet any deficit created by this action ? I amdistinctly opposed to the ear-marking of specific duties. I was a member of the Commission whose report was quotedby the Prime Minister, and we were unanimous that the revenue required for this purpose should not be raised by means of specific duties. We should regard it as one of the legitimate functions of the State to provide for old-age pensions, and I think that the fund for such a purpose should be drawn from the Consolidated Revenue. If we adopted the Government proposal the imports may decrease, and we might be placed in the humiliating position of having to make good a deficiency in the ear-marked revenue, or of reducing the amount of the pension paid to the aged poor. It has been urged that negotiations should be entered into with the States Governments, but I think that it would be absolutely useless to adopt the suggestion of the honorable and learned member for Parkes, because it would be impossible to induce the States Premiers to part with any portion of the revenue they now receive from Customs and Excise duties. I propose that we should ask the people to say whether they are prepared to allow a sufficient proportion of the Customs revenue to which the States Governments are entitled to be devoted to the purpose of establishing an old-age pensions fund. I am entirely opposed to the idea of imposing further burdens upon the foodstuffs of that section of the people who are least capable of bearing them. If we raised additional revenue in the manner proposed by the Government we should place in the hands of the Governments of New South Wales and Victoria additional surplus funds for injudicious expenditure.
– There should be no large surpluses.
– No. Big surpluses are not in the best interests of the community. When the revenue shows that it is more than sufficient to meet the, cost of Government, the burdens of the people should be lightened as far as possible, particularly in the direction of removing the duties upon the necessaries of life. Surpluses lead to injudicious expenditure and extravagance. I am not in favour of imposing duties upon kerosene and tea. I agree with other honorable members that a duty upon kerosene would bear most heavily upon those who live in the country districts, and who are denied the advantages and comforts arising from the use of gas and electric light. Although I am prepared to admit that a duty upon tea would stand upon a slightly different footing, because a larger number of members of the community use that article, the impost would be oppressive to those who are least capable of paying extra taxation. Mr. Wickens, the Government Statistician of Western Australia, estimated that in the event of a duty of 3d. per lb. being imposed upon tea, and of 5d. per gallon being levied upon kerosene, the revenue derived would amount to only ,£800,000, or little more than half the amount required for old-age pensions.
– lt has not been indicated that it is intended to raise the whole of the amount required by imposing duties upon the two commodities mentioned.
– No other items have been mentioned. The whole debate has turned upon the question whether duties should be imposed upon tea and kerosene. The Government do not seem to have any definite idea as to what should be done. They have asked us to take a grave step without enlightening us as to their intentions. They have not indicated, except in the verv vaguest way, the articles upon which they consider it necessary to impose duties.
– If they did so, it would have a very queer effect upon the country.
– I think that it will have a very ill effect upon the country if we ask the people to consent to bear further indirect taxation to the extent of £[1,500,000 per annum. If the scheme that I have indicated be adopted, it will effect the purpose aimed at without inflicting injury upon any one. It will not involve any breach of faith with the people, it will not be necessary to add to the burdens of indirect taxation, and we shall not need to hamper the States by curtailing their means of raising revenue for their own purposes. In those States where old-age pensions have already been provided for, the money now devoted to that purpose will merely be transferred to the Commonwealth, and no injustice will be inflicted upon other States by asking them to meet their share of the liability incurred in connexion with the payment of old-age pensions. I move -
That the words “ ‘ Excise,’ the words ‘(other than special duties of Customs and of Excise),’ “ paragraph a, be left OUt, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words : - ‘* ‘ expenditure,’ the words ‘ other than expenditure for a national scheme of old-age pensions.’ “
Section 87 of the Constitution would then read -
During a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth, and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, of the net revenue of the Commonwealth from duties of customs and of excise, not more than onefourth shall be applied annually by the Commonwealth towards its expenditure, other than expenditure for a national scheme of oldage pensions.
.- If the honorable member’s proposal would not abolish the Braddon clause, it would modify it to the extent of taking away £[500,000 or £[600,000 per annum, perhaps much more, from the sum which has been granted to the States by the Constitution. The honorable member is perfectly correct in stating that eur power of amendment of the Constitution is absolutely unlimited. There is no legal obstacle to an amendment of any part of the Constitution. But when he contends that there is no other obstacle in the way of the proposed change, I disagree with him entirely. If there was one provision in the Constitution express in its intention, and so accepted by the people who voted upon it, this was the undertaking given in this clause that during the first ten years of Federation threefourths of the revenue from Customs and Excise should be set apart for the purposes of the States.
– That is all Customs and Excise duties. .
– Yes. The question as to the duties of Customs and Excise to be imposed was considered after Federation, with due regard to the revenue of the States and to the revenue of the Commonwealth. One of the greatest difficulties encountered by us in 1901-2 was to so shape the Tariff as to foster Australian industries and at the same time provide for the States an amount of revenue which should approximate as nearly as possible to that which each had enjoyed under its own Tariff. Owing to the wide contrasts between the schedules of duties previously in force in the States, it became impossible for us to obtain anything more than an average, and consequentlycertain States have suffered a decrease of income. One State in particular - NewSouth Wales - has derived a very much larger sum than she previously received from her Customs and Excise duties. But the great object of Parliament in 1901-2 was to arrive as nearly as possible at an average return. That, in a rough and ready way, with the exception mentioned, was accomplished as closely as party differences would permit. Since then no duties of any moment have been proposed, or are likely to be imposed. It is recognised that, although that approximation was not as near to the necessities of the case as many of us would have liked, yet, having been adopted, it should be accepted as representing the Federal levy which should be made for ten years. Consequently the Stateshave come to recognise that they could no longer look forward to amendments, of the Tariff being introduced for the purpose of providing them with further revenue. Indeed, at the present time, in some of the States, there is no need for- any provision of that kind. But all the States, practically without exception, have admitted, through their legislators, that they regard the Customs revenue of the Commonwealth, of whichthey are entitled to threefourths, as having closed their claim, and that in futurethey canonly look forward to receiving three-fourths of whatever sum the existing duties may yield. It was upon this account that, in moving the second reading of this measure. I laid such stress upon the fact that twice the representatives of all the States have considered the position in conference. Upon the first occasion one half of them consented to an appropriation of a special character being made, not out of the existing Customs and Excise revenue, but out of new Customs and Excise duties, for the purpose of paying old-age pensions. At the last Conference which was held inSydney - some twelve months had elapsed since the previous gathering - having maturely considered the question in all its aspects, the whole of the representatives of the States adopted a resolution which, so far as I know, has not been challenged inany of the States in a distinctive fashion. They approved the proposal to set apart special duties of Customs and Excise for the paymentof old-age pensions.
– What were those duties ?
– Those most frequently mentioned were duties upon tea and kerosene, but several of the Premiers declined to commit themselves to any particular imposts. They preferred to leave the selection of the means by which the money should be raised to this Parliament. But the fact remains that the Premiers of all the States have agreed, and have been allowed to agree, without challenge in their Parliaments since, and without any public challenge from their own people, that it would not be an interference with their rights under the Braddon section if new duties were imposed for a special expenditure upon old-age pensions.
– I think that the Premier of Tasmania objected.
– I mentioned his assent to the proposal with an objection against its present application upon the ground that the time was inopportune. Consequently, the way has now been cleared by their consent for a consideration of the proposition which the Government have submitted - a proposition which cannot finally be dealt with by this House, and which must be submitted to the electors. It has been pointed out again and again during this debate that the revenue likely to be raised by indirect taxation - by duties levied upon new subjects for Customs and Excise - will probably fall upon those who are possessed of’ small means, and to whom new taxation, however light, must be a matter of grave concern. No doubt that assertion contains a large measure of truth. But it must be remembered that these duties can only be imposed with the consent of the very people proposed to be affected. If the referendum should sanction the imposition of new duties for this purpose, it can only be by the votes of a majority of the whole people, which must include a majority of the electors of the several States.
– The Prime Minister will not suggest what duties he will levy?
– That is another question altogether, and one upon which I am not even remotely touching at the ‘present moment. In my opinion, there is a broad distinction between the vote by which our Constitution was adopted and the means for amending it open to us to-day. When the Constitution was adopted, it had to be accepted by the vote of every State. Now, however, the circumstances differ. Under the Federal Tariff, some States have suffered a loss of revenue. Tasmania is a special instance of that.
– Still she allows a few landlords to monopolize half the island.
– That, again, is apart from the line of argument which I am pursuing. This proposal must be carried by a majority of the whole of the people and a majority of them in the States, but there may be two States whose pecuniary circumstances will compel them at present to vote against it upon the ground that it will trench upon the three-fourths of the existing Customs and Excise revenue upon which they depend. These two States will obviously be placed in a worse position than they were when they accepted the Constitution. It certainly appears to be only equitable that we should not trench upon the three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue dedicated to them within the period specified in the Constitution, namely, ten years, at all events until they agree. . We have not the consent of a single State to that proposal, and, although they are not entitled to be consulted except through the votes of a majority of their electors, I take it that thev have a fair claim to be considered in this special case. We should cer.tainly be over-riding the general idea entertained at the time the Constitution was adopted, if before the expiration of ten years we stepped in and dealt with the three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue made returnable to the States under section 87. But for that obligation, I can assure honorable members that a proposal to establish a Federal system of old age pensions would have been submitted to them years ago. If I had not felt that the Braddon section was such a great feature of the Constitution at the time of its adoption - a feature upon which so much turned in several of the States, and not always in its favour, because the people of New South Wales were strongly opposed to it - we should have dealt with the question of old-age pensions long ago.
– A feature of the present position is that the New South Wales representatives now urge that it would be acceptable.
– It might be to them. But honorable members must recollect that, so far as we can accept the opinion of that State, expressed through its responsible Ministers by the present Premier, it has been emphatic in claiming that the sum returnable to the States under the Braddon section, instead of being reduced at all, ought to be guaranteed to them in perpetuity.
– Does the Prime Minister claim that Mr. Carruthers represents the feeling of the people of New South Wales in these matters better than do the Federal representatives in thi? House?
– I d0 not, and have never said so. The proper answer to any demand which may be put forward by State Ministries as to what ought to happen after 1 9 10 will be given by this Parliament alone. The generally accepted opinion at the time the Constitution was adopted was that until 1910 three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue was guaranteed to the States. It was upon that basis that the Braddon section was so strongly upheld. Consequently the States have a moral and equitable claim for consideration! at our hands, and, in mv opinion, it would be an un-Federal act if we were before 191 1 to interfere with the return out of existing duties of the three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue to them.
– The proposal of the Government is just as objectionable upon that ground.
– No. ‘ The proposition which was assented to by all the Premiers in conference was -
That it is incumbent on the Federal Government, if it adopts an old-age pension scheme, to provide the revenue required to finance, it, without trenching upon the Customs revenue now returned to the States.
– Does not the Prime Minister recognise that that Conference was held for the purpose of referring back for the consideration of the States Parliaments questions which, under the Constitution, had been specially delegated to this Parliament ?
– I think not.
– I always regarded the Conference as an unconstitutional gathering, because it dealt with questions which had been delegated to this Parliament.
– Honorable members will perhaps recall that I am so much in sympathy with that view that I took no part in the summoning of the Conference which was held in Sydney. It was called by the Premiers themselves to consider matters of interest to them. I was invited to be present, and was glad to attend, to have the opportunity of discussing certain questions with them, not unconstitutionally, but extra-constitutionally. T was able in this way to gather their sentiments concerning certain proposals. Except as a visitor, I took no part in that Conference, gave no vote, and moved no resolution. I was present simply to take part in a friendly discussion, and bound nobody except this Government.
– It was the business of the Prime Minister to tell the Premiers that they had invited him to take part in the discussion of matters which had been specially delegatedto this Parliament.
-If this were the proper time, I could refer the honorable and learned member to remarks of mine, in which I pointed out the extra-constitutional character of my presence there, and my entire disagreement with any suggestion that any such Conference was clothed with authority, so far as the Commonwealth was concerned.
– The honorable gentleman will admit that the Commonwealth Parliament ought not to be guided by the opinions expressed by States Premiers at their Conferences.
– It should not be bound by them ; but honorable members would pay as much attention to their representations as they would to those of men holding responsible and representative positions outside the Federal sphere. As I have said, I was in no sense committed to the resolution passed at that Conference, and did not even see it.
– Western Australia was not representee at it.
– The Premier of Western Australia embodied his sentiments on certain subjects, including that with which this resolution dealt, in a memorandum. Therefore, on this question, the Conference represented practically the views of all the States. If my first point be conceded - that the Braddon section has a particular significance, as being, so to speak, part of a compact or bargain indorsed by the people that was not intended to be set aside, and ought not to be set aside, until after 1910 - I ask honorable members to paysome attention in regard to the Braddon section, and in that regard only,to the terms of the resolution unanimously carried by the Premiers -
That it is incumbent on the Federal Government if it adopts an old-age pension scheme to provide the revenue required to finance it without trenching upon the Customs Revenue now returned to the States.
– Raise it by means of a land tax.
– It is open to us, under that resolution to raise the revenue by any tax; but I have quoted the utterances of various Premiers, showing that they contem plated the raising of the necessary revenue by means of further duties of Customs or Excise.
– I think that the honorable and learned gentleman complained at Adelaide, on 1 2th April, that they had not passed the necessary resolution.
– I believe that the honorable and learned member is mistaken.
– I think not.
– Who moved and seconded the resolution?
– The motion was proposed by Mr. Kidston. I have read the remarks of the Premiers showing that they contemplated fresh duties of Customs or Excise, and therefore ask the Committee to pause before accepting the proposition made by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie.
– Does the Prime Minister indorse every other resolution carried at that Conference ?
– No; I have limited myself strictly to an indorsement of the remarks affecting the Braddon section in this one point, because of the peculiar circumstances surrounding it.
– And not because they agree with the honorable and learned gentleman’s views?
– No; except that they agree with my view as to the terms and conditions under which the States gave their assent to the Constitution. The ten years period was then pledged to them. The proposal submitted by myself differs from the terms of the Premiers’ resolution, but not from the opinions expressed by different Ministers at that Conference. These indicated generally that they would not bind themselves to the imposition of duties on tea and kerosene, or any other specific duties, but so far as my recollection goes, the idea uppermost in their minds was that the only source of revenue for this purpose was to be from duties of Customs and Excise. As the honorable member for Barrier has pointed out by way of interjection, their resolution covers direct as well as indirect taxation ; but all the references throughout the debate were to the imposition of indirect taxation. Consequently, although the deputy leader of the Opposition may deprecate it, I trust that honorable members, considering that the States have relied, and are relying, upon the three-fourths of Customs and Excise Revenue returnable to them till1911, will recognise that we are bound to take into consideration, not only those that are wealthy and prosperous, but those which have practically no surplus. The question to them is serious. The Premier of Tasmania read a table in which his Statist calculated the cost to the different States of an old-age pensions scheme involving an expenditure of less than £1,000,000 per annum. Taking the Royal Commission’s estimate of , £1,500,000, the Tasmanian calculation contemplates an average payment of 50 per cent. less than that made under the New South Wales system, and recommended by the Commission. In applying it to the scheme which occupies the minds of honorable members to-night, it is therefore necessary to add half as much again to the Tasmanian Statement of the estimated cost to the individual States. That would mean an increased payment of about , £60,000 by Tasmania, , £85,000 by Western Australia,£136,000 by South Australia, and , £186,000 per annum by Queensland.
– And they would be relieved of duties on tea and kerosene as well as of a land tax.
– I am speaking not of what they might be relieved, but of the proportion which they would have to contribute to old-age pensions. New South Wales presumably would pay the same as she is now doing; I have not estimated theportion which would be paid by Victoria.
– She would pay double the amount she is now paying.
– Not double the amount, but I dare say that she would pay an additional £80,000 or£90,000 per annum.
– Does the Prime Minister suggest that the system which now costs , £508,000 per annum in New South Wales could be financed in Victoria for £280,000 per annum?
– And it is proposed to treble the Victorian cost?
– No. The cost of administration in New South Wales is greater, but I recognise that my calculation, made off-hand, is under the mark. The total cost to Victoria would not be , £400,000 per annum. An extra £150,000 would probably have to be paid by her, and that would be a serious matter even to a flourishing and prosperous State.
– Other countries are able to support, big armies. We have not to do anything of the kind, and yet we cannot pay a decent old-age pension.
– If the Bill be accepted as it stands, we shall have power to impose any new duties which may be thought desirable to provide for oldage pensions. Speaking for the Government, I have said, and say again, that although nothing appears in the Bill limiting our appropriations of these duties - because in my opinion the Constitution is not a proper instrument in which to provide a. limitation of that sort - we have no other object in making this proposal than to secure a means of providing for old-age pensions if we have an opportunity in the next Parliament. In these circumstances it will be recognised that it is not a question between the scheme suggested by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, which has been treated by some as one not to displace that offered by the Government, but to be submitted as an alternative-
– Does the Prime Minister think that would be constitutionally possible ?
– I doubt whether it is constitutionally possible to put the question in an alternative form to the electors. The only course open for us would be to submit it to the people by Bills authorizing different means for the same purpose. They would then be asked by those interested to vote for one or the other.
– Could we pass two contradictory laws?
– They need not be contradictory in expression. I hope that the honorable member will not lose sight of the point that I am merely answering a question as to our power, and am not dealing with the wisdom or propriety of offering alternatives. As a matter of fact, I object to the proposition made by the honorable member, because it seems to me to depart from the compact on which the Federation was founded ; but, replying off-hand to the question whether it is legally possible to submit alternative proposals, I say that I think Bills could be so framed as to enable that to be done.
– Although the one law would be contradictory of the other ?
– They need not necessarily contradict each other. We could offer the people two courses, and unless they assented by the required majorities to both of them, only the one accepted would become law. If both were assented to we should have two powers instead of one.
– Would the honorable and learned gentleman describe them as “ YesNo ‘ ‘ powers ?
– If the people accepted both, we should have in the Constitution two means of providing for old-age pensions. They could approve both proposals if they were carefully framed so as not to be contradictory. I am deprecating such a course, not advocating it. What I ask the Committee to do is not to block this matter, especially at the present stage, by introducing very vexatious questions, materially affecting the finances of the States, and likely to promote bad feeling on the part of those who relied upon the ten years’ guarantee as one of the provisions of the Constitution that, having regard to the importance attached to it by the States when the Constitution was adopted, we should not attempt to amend.
– We have not the legal power to amend the Constitution. The question rests with the people.
– It is necessary before the proposition reaches the people that we should assent to it. We’ ought not to accept the honorable member for Kalgoorlie’s proposal until after 19 10, when the hands of the Commonwealth Parliament will foe entirely free. The Government proposal is put forward now because we believe the question of old-age pensions is -too urgent to remain undealt with until after 1910. We have brought forward a scheme that we hope will meet with the approbation of Parliament and of the people. It has already had the approbation of the States Premiers, who, of course, have no constitutional voice in the matter, but are surely entitled to be heard. They are surely entitled to say, at all events, what they understood the Constitution implied when the Braddon section was embodied in it. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie takes so strong a view of this matter that I presume no appeal to him to withdraw his amendment would have any effect. If, however, he studies the interests that we all desire to serve - if he recognises the possibility of obtaining old-age pensions during the first year of the next Parliament, and four years before the expiration of the Braddon section : if he takes into account the feeling which may be aroused by his proposal which, whatever its merits mav be, will be looked upon as unjust - he will admit that the Government proposition offers a better prospect to those who wish to establish a Federal old-age pension scheme.
– Each State has the power of negativing this proposed inroad upon the Constitution.
– As long as four States agree, the objections of the remaining two will be of no avail.
– It may be a hardship to them.
– Yes. Why inflict a hardship? Why create unnecessary friction ? Why embarrass ‘the consideration of the main question ? Why not be content with the Bill as it is, conferring upon us a power, and yet leaving the hands of Parliament free?
– I am not in favour of the amendment, but I fail to see that the Prime Minister has raised an objection to it that could not be taken against the Bill. He contends that the adoption of the amendment would break faith with the States, which accepted the Constitution because of the Braddon section. But that ground could be taken in regard to any proposed alteration of the Constitution. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie desires to take from the revenue returnable to the States the amount requisite to provide for a Commonwealth old-age pension system. The Prime Minister says that to do so would be to break faith” with the States ; but I shall show that the same result could be brought about under either proposal. Let us .suppose that it is intended to raise the money necessary for old-age pensions by means of duties on tea and kerosene, that £[1,000,000 would be sufficient for the purpose, and that it could be obtained from that source. If that taxation were thrown into the general revenue, and used for the purpose intended, there would be no difference between the two proposals. The object of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie is to get the States to forego the return of threefourths of the Customs revenue, in order that the Commonwealth Government may establish an old-age pension system, and, if they agreed to the arrangement, they would have to give up the same amount. But the Governments of the States would continue to get their three-fourths if you added to the general Customs revenue a sum sufficient to make up the amount required for old-age pensions. I do not regret that I did not speak on the second reading. Had I done so, I could only have repeated some of the arguments so forcibly used against the Bill. But I wished to have an opportunity to vote against it. Not that I object to Commonwealth old-age pensions. I have advocated them from the first, and have been sadly disappointed that means have not been established for providing for them. It seems to me, for reasons which have been urged over and over again, that the duty of providing a pension for the poor and aged who have spent years in developing the country is one which should be undertaken by the Commonwealth, and not by the Governments of the States, since these people move from State to State, and it is wrong to debar them from pensions because they have lived for twenty years in one State, and then have moved to another State, living there for fifteen years. It is said that, although we on this side claim to be in favour of old-age pensions, we are not in earnest, because we will not vote for this specific proposal ; but I have been from the first prepared to vote for the imposition of direct taxation to provide for a Commonwealth old-age pension scheme. There is no need to alter the Constitution. We can get all the funds we require for this and any other purpose by direct taxation on land and on incomes. Reasons similar to those which apply for the making of oldage pensions a Federal charge hold good in regard to Federal direct taxation. By it we should secure uniformity, and such taxation is best imposed by a wide authority. In Tasmania it is almost impossible to collect taxation in an equitable manner, because of the smallness of the community; but if this taxation were Federal, it would be recovered more easily in all the States. I venerate the Constitution as a wise instrument of government; I do not make a fetish of it, and I am prepared to amend it when there is serious reason for doing so. But I object to tinkering with it, and the proposal in this clause seems to be a proposal for tinkering withit. We are breaking a fly upon the wheel. We have all the resources of direct taxation, and the means of making arrangements with the Governments of the States which can get us but of the financial difficulties in which we are placed. The Government have foreshadowed some proposal for taking over the debts of the States, but if we carried’ out a grand financial scheme for consolidating those debts, and reaping the benefits, re-allotting the responsibilities of the Governments of the States and of the Commonwealth, we should not need to alter the Constitution in a minor respect. If we carried out some such scheme as that foreshadowed by the Treasurer, we could afford to give the States as much as they are now receiving. Indeed, I would give them still more. I do not believe that we have reached the ultimate development of our Tariff. It is going to grow. We have passed through some of the worst years which Australia has known, and are making our calculations accordingly. It would be a good bargain for the Federal Treasurer to agree to give to the States, not only the three-fourths and the surplus which they have received in the past, but even something more, taking over the debts. It would then not be long before we could provide for old-age pensions by direct taxation, which would be fairer than the present States imposts. The finances of Australia would be in our own hands, and we could give uniformity of conditions in regard to taxation. I hope that nothing will come of the Bill, because I am against tinkering with the Constitution. It is most desirable that a Commonwealth old-age pension scheme should be provided, but this is neither the only nor the best way to obtain it. No less than three proposals have been brought forward for the amendment of the Constitution, including a proposal for the consolidation of the States debts. This grave measure, which will require more consideration than it is likely to receive this session - I refer to that relating to the consolidation of the States debts. The other measures relate to questions upon which there is the widest divergence of opinion, and it would not be wise for us to ask the electors to give their decision upon a number ofsubjects of so much complexity, and requiring such careful consideration.One honorable member has suggested that each Question relating to the amendment of the Constitution should be placed before the electors in alternative forms. If this plan were adopted voters, in addition to having to select candidates to represent them in both Houses of the Parliament, would have placed in their hands three sets of alternative proposals for amendment of the Constitution.
– In moving -
That the House do now adjourn,
I may say that to-morrow we shall take up the proposal for the reciprocity treaty with New Zealand.
.- At the opening of to-day’s sitting the Prime Minister was bombarded with questions with regard to political organizations which had been spending money in connexion with the forthcoming elections. The replies given by Ministers would indicate that only the Anti-Socialist and Free-trade Parties were spending large sums in order to improve the chances of their party at the forthcoming election. I shall take this opportunity to read a circular issued by the party to which the PrimeMinister belongs, which is as follows: -
Corner Castlereagh and Huntei-sts.,
As you are aware, the Federal Elections are fast approaching, when the fiscal struggle will once more be renewed at the polls.
In some respects this may be regarded as the most critical period in the history of theTariff legislation of the Commonwealth, inasmuch as the reports of the Tariff Commission will be under review, as will also the removal ‘of the many anomalies, and possibly the readjustment of the Tariff itself. In the hands of our party the recommendations are safe; in the hands of our opponents they will either be unceremoniously dropped, or receive but scant attention.
Under these circumstances, it behoves all those who are sincerely interested in the encouragement of Australian industries to come to the assistance of the Party, and give it their loyal support in the coming campaign. We need a fighting fund to organize the electorates. Our opponents are hard at work. We need not only financial assistance, but also your moral help to combat the efforts of our opponents, who are, as usual, side-tracking the main issue. If every elector only considers what it means, not only to himself or herself, but to the rising generation, by our victory or defeat, all will rise to their responsibility.
Let us have as’ generous a donation as you feel it is in your power to give, so that we may push forward the work of our organization. Mr. A. McGuire has been appointed canvasser on behalf of the Australian Party, and will call on you in reference to the matter.
Hoping to receive your active and practical support.
This document emanates from an organization of which the Minister of Trade and Customs is the president, and Mr. A. McGuire the paid canvasser. The complaints of members opposite, and particularly of the honorable members for Gwydir and Riverina, gave one the impression that their organizations had not engaged in operations similar to those attributed to the Anti-Socialist and Free-trade Parties. Butnow we find the Australian Party appealing for monetary assistance. I do not for one moment object to the use of party funds for legitimate party purposes. I do not believe in the expenditure of large sums of money upon one candidate or in flooding an electorate with cash. It was in order to prevent such abuses that provision was inserted in the Electoral Act limiting the expenditure incurred by a candidate in securing his return. In the case of my electorate, no money is spent, but we rely entirely upon moral support and personal energy. I trust that the Minister, when he appoints the Royal Commission which has been foreshadowed, will direct special attention to the action of Mr. H. Sparks, the general secretary of the ‘Australian Party. This man asked the manufacturers of Sydney to put up £100 against the honorable member for South Sydney ; and they actually called on the honorable member’s partner, and asked him to subscribe, which he naturally refused to do. And this is the party with which the Prime Minister, the Minister of Trade and Customs; and other honorable members opposite are connected, and which professes to be annoyed because it is alleged that large sums are subscribed to fight the battle of antiSocialists !
.- I think that the matter referred to is one deserving of investigation by the Government. I have a letter in my possession from a reputable citizen in Brisbane, who in-‘ forms me that money is flowing into the coffers of the “ anti-sosh “ party, and the conservative crowd in Brisbane, from the tobacco monopoly ; and it is further stated publicly that Senator Walker is using his position as a director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society in the interests of Conservatives in Queensland.
– I ask the honorable member not to refer by name, or to allude in any way by which identification can take place, to members of another branch of the Legislature.
– Well, then, I will say that a joker in another place - ifI may not use bis name - who is a director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society, is doing what I have described.
– The Prime Minister is another director.
– But the man to whom I am referring is in New South Wales. We have had reports from America describing the way in which Tammany has been working in New York with funds obtained from insurance societies. I hope that no such thing will takeplace in Australia in connexion with institutions like the Australian Mutual Provident Society.
– Nothing of the kind is taking place here.
– How does the honorable member know ? What I am stating is public talk throughout Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland. I am certain about that.
– The Prime Minister denied it, and he is a director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society.
– The Prime Minister has nothing todo with the New South Wales Board of the Society.
Mr.KELLY( Wentworth) [10.52].- In reply to the honorable member for Maranoa, I think it is only right to state that the Prime Minister, who is also a director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society, said to-day, in the most unqualified terms, that no such thing could possibly take place as the honorable member has suggested in connexion with the Australian Mutual Provident Society.
.- I wish to draw the attention of the Prime Minister to a matter connected with the Customs Department in Brisbane. I am informed that a junior officer has been promoted over the heads of several who are his seniors, and that thereby dissatisfaction is caused amongst the staff. I trust that the Minister will see that the claims of these officers for preference are duly considered.
– I wish to point out, for the information of the honorable member for Maranoa, that the Chairman of the Australian Mutual Provident Society in New South Wales is a protectionist.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.54 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 September 1906, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1906/19060911_reps_2_34/>.