2nd Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m. and read prayers.
Mr. GLYNN presented a petition from 8,366 inhabitants of the city and suburbs of Adelaide, praying the House to exempt the park lands and squares of that city from the provisions of the Lands Acquisition Bill.
Petition received and read.
– I wish to know from the Minister of Home Affairs whether the Government have decided to amend the Lands Acquisition Bill to meet the objection of the petitioners?
– I have already intimated that there is no justification for. the anxiety expressed in the petition, because the Property for Public Purposes Acquisition Act does not confer upon the Commonwealth any power beyond that given in the Constitution, and the Bill will not do so; butto put the matter beyond doubt, I yesterday had prepared an amendment which I think will give satisfaction.
-Is the PostmasterGeneral yet in a position to inform the House what action is being taken to improve the telephonic appliancesin use in Bendigo and other country centres?
– The action promised some little time back, in reply to a question by the honorable and learned member, is being taken, tenders having been invited for the supply of new instruments. These will be substituted as quickly as that can be managed, for the old instruments which are now complained of.
– I notice that the extension of the 3d.-in-the-slot bureaux has been a great success in New South Wales. When will the Minister make the charge1d., in fulfilment of a promise given some weeks ago?
– We are now arranging for the alteration of the instruments, and at the earliest opportunity I shall introduce1d.-in-the-slot machines and other improvements.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral sec that in substituting Ericcson for Adet-Berthon instruments, preference is given to those’ who have for many years been subscribers to exchanges, and have frequently to speak over long-distance lines? At the present time the improved instruments are being given only to new subscribers.
– In the sub, stitution now taking place, preference is being given to subscribers who have to speak over long-distance lines, because the old instruments are very inconvenient for such conversations. I hope that before long we shall have replaced with new instruments all the old ones in Australia.
– Can the Prime Minister say definitely when the consideration of the Estimates will be proceeded with?
– Next week.
Sir JOHN FORREST laid upon the table the following papers : -
Statement showing the saving which could be made up to1952, assuming that the Commonwealth could float loans at¼ per cent. less interest than that charged to the States, and that this¼ per cent. were accumulated at 3 per cent. per annum compound interest.
Transfers of amounts approved by the GovernorGeneral in Council under the Audit Act, financial year 1905-6 (dated 1 8th September).
– Yesterday the honorable member for Kalgoorlie asked these questions : -
Is it a fact that an additional 25 per cent. over Perth rates is paid to such officers when they are travelling on the gold-fields?
The Commonwealth Public Service Commissioner has furnished the following information : -
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable and learned member’s questions is as follows : -
Debate resumed from 6th September (vide page 4224), on motion by Sir John Forrest -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
.- There is more justification for the proposed alteration of the Constitution to allow of the taking over by the Commonwealth of all the debts of the States than there is for the other two proposed constitutional amendments. It is unfortunate that any alteration is needed so early in our his tory, but I admit that it is necessary to provide for some solution of the financial problems which concern the Commonwealth and the States. I have always considered that the framers of the Constitution deserve great credit for their work, which, notwithstanding some depreciation of late, was fittingly characterized by a distinguished politician as a monument of legislative ability. But they seem to have been unable to provide satisfactorily for the adjustment of the financial relations of the Commonwealth and the States, and particularly for the transfer of the debts of the States to the Commonwealth. I agree with the Treasurer that the arbitrary distinction drawn between what I might call pre-Federation arid postFederation debts is unnecessary, and creates difficulties as time goes on. The framers of the Constitution perhaps thought that the financial question would be solved very rapidly by the exercise of the powers conferred upon this Parliament, but the reasons for distinguishing between debts incurred prior to, arid those incurred after, Federation, will become less and less apparent as State loans are renewed. The Commonwealth should have power to deal with the whole or any part of the debts of the States as they mature. It is important that the limitation imposed by section 105 of the Constitution should not be lost sight of. Provision is made for equality of treatment in connexion .with the transfer of the debts of the various States. No doubt it was believed that we should ultimately have to fall back upon a transfer of responsibility upon a per capita basis. It is conceivable that the Commonwealth Parliament might have wished to take over the whole or part of the indebtedness of a single State. Section 105, as now proposed to be amended, would impose no restriction in that respect, arid I would suggest to the Treasurer that the enlarged power which he is now seeking should be accompanied by a provision that equal treatment shall be meted out to the various States by the Commonwealth.
– Parliament, and not the Government, will exercise the power conferred by the section.
– I quite recognise that ; but I am pointing out that under the section as it is proposed to be amended, the Commonwealth Parliament would be empowered ro take over the debts of one State without dealing with those of the other States. For instance, it might decide to take over the debts of New South Wales and ignore those of Victoria. I am quite sure that there is something in the point which I am asking the Treasurer to consider. Whilst we should probably be justified in trusting to Parliament not to make an invidious distinction between one State and another, it is only right that the attention of the Treasurer should be drawn to the fact that it is proposed to remove the qualification now contained in the section.
– There is no restriction in the case of our taking over the whole of the debts.
– It is proposed to omit the words - “As existing at the establishment of the Commonwealth, or a proportion thereof, according to the numbers of their people, as shown by the latest statistics of the Commonwealth.
– But we could not take over the whole of the debts of any one State.
– I wish to show that it is proposed to remove the qualification which now exists.
– The qualification does not exist if you take over the whole of the debts.
– But power is being taken to enable the Commonwealth to take over a part or the whole of the debts of the States. I think that we are quite justified in taking that power.
– The words “ or any part thereof “ are intended to relate to the debts as they mature.
– My point is that power is being taken which would be capable of being used to differentiate between the States. However, I shall now pass to another point. I have consulted Mr. Speaker, and I find that it will not be possible for me to embody in the measure now before us a proposal which I made some time ago in another form. I should like to insert a provision to the following effect : -
That a Convention Or Royal Commission, to include members of the Commonwealth Parliament and of the States Parliaments, be appointed for the purposes following : -
To draft a scheme for the transfer of the whole or part of the State debts to the Commonwealth.
To make recommendations as to what constitutional amendments and statutory powers are necessary.
To advise as to the desirability of establishing a permanent Financial Council or Commission to undertake the future management of the public debts.
Mr. Speaker informs me that it would not be practicable to introduce such an amendment in this measure. To mv mind, it is urgently necessary that there should be an analysis of the debts which it is proposed to take over, and that can only be satisfactorily done by such, a body as I suggest. I do not think that the framers of the Constitution paid sufficient attention to the purposes for which the various debts were incurred. Whilst they strove to equalize the conditions as between the various States, they should have paid some regard to the manner in which loan moneys had been expended. I have had a series of statements prepared, and, by the courtesy of the Treasurer, have had them subjected to the revision of his able acting secretary. I do not wish to trouble the House by reading these statements in detail, but I should like to hand them to Hansard for publication. Perhaps you, sir, will inform me whether I may adopt that course?
– Are the statements very long?
– No, but they are very important.
– The honorable member may, of. course, read the whole or any portion of the statements. I should not like to give a formal ruling that any matter which has not been read in the House should be included in Hansard.
– What I wish specially to emphasize is that, in taking over the debts of the various States, we should differentiate between debts which are payable in Australia, and debts which are payable in London. I find that the public debts of New South Wales, which have been incurred in London, aggregate £64,000,000, and those which have been incurred in Australia £18,000,000, and the municipal debt of that State is only ,£2^41 ,000. Victoria has incurred in London debts amountin? to ,£44,710,000 and in Australia debts totalling ,£12,105,000, in addition to municipal debts aggregating £13,182,000. I do not wish to trouble the House with similar details in. respect of .Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania, but they are set out in the following statement, which speaks for itself :-
I merely desire to emphasize the fact that when the debts of the various States are taken over - in order to insure a just distribution of advantage or disadvantage - some regard should be paid to the purposes to which those funds have been applied. ‘ For instance, as I have already pointed out, there is a municipal debt in New South Wales of only £2,041,000, whereas Victoria has a municipal debt of £I3, I 82,000. The reason for this disparity, is to be found in the fact that in Victoria we had a very complete local Government organization that undertook responsibilities which in New South Wales and the other States were incurred by the Government. In Queensland, for example, the Government have advanced large sums to sugar refineriesThe mere arbitrary taking over of the “debts of the States at any fixed period demands that we should go a considerable distance further-
– There are no municipal debts in Queensland, apart from those which have been incurred by the Government.
– Exactly. . The Government of that State shouldered the responsibility of providing the necessary funds for municipal purposes. I have no doubt whatever that the electors of Australia will sanction the proposed amendment of the Constitution, because it is so manifestly necessary in order to permit of an equitable arrangement being arrived at as between the States and the Commonwealth. So far as Victoria is concerned, I claim that unless her municipal indebtedness is allowed to participate in any advantages which may flow from the transfer of the States debts to the Commonwealth a great injustice will be done.
– Probably some of those debts could not be taken over without the consent of the parties concerned.
– Who are responsible for them ?
– Not the Government of “Victoria.
– The Government have never paid the interest out of the revenue.
– That is perfectly true.
– Each State has to pay interest upon its own indebtedness.
– But the time will arrive when the scheme proposed by the honorable member for Mernda will, in essence, come into operation, and therefore it would be wise for us now to establish the principle for which I arn contending. I mantain that we shall require to make an analytical examination of the debts of the various States, and of the purposes to which those funds were devoted, in addition to deciding upon an arbitrary adjustment of the amounts which may be transferred. If honorable members will do me the favour to read my remarks in Hansard, I think they will recognise that there is considerable force in my contention. I venture to think that Victoria has a right to participate in any advantage which may ultimately attach to the imprimatur of the Commonwealth being placed upon the States indebtedness.
– We can only equalize matters bv a process of exclusion.
– I quite agree that we may arrive at an equitable basis by that process. Believing, as I do, that it is wise to differentiate between the States debts which, are payable in London, and those which are payable in Australia, I have prepared the following statement showing the amounts maturing in Australia up to 1920 : - 1
In another table I have set out the public debts of the various States which! mature in London. I think it would be a disaster if the Commonwealth were not able to convert those debts at 3 per cent. The table to which I refer is as follows: -
On a 3 per cent. basis, it will thus be seen that we could effect a saving of £5, 3 19,000 by taking over those debts as they mature. That saving does not include any compound interest. We should not only differentiate between debts which mature in London and loans which mature in Australia, but between the manner in which the proceeds of these loanshave been applied. I may tell honorable members that I should have been in a far better position to submit close figures in connexion with this matter if I had been in possession of the last Budget speeches of the States Treasurers. Nevertheless, I have endeavoured to show what would be the effect of allowing the whole of the debts which mature in London to be transferred to the Commonwealth, and permitting those incurred in Australia to remain under the control of the States. The power to do this will be secured if the people of the Commonwealth agree to this amendment of the. Constitution. In this way many restrictions now imposed upon us by the Constitution will be removed. I had intended to elaborate my argument on this point, but find that I shall have to leave almost immediately to introduce an important deputation to the Postmaster-General. I rose chiefly to say that, whilst we may regret that, at this early stage in our history, an alteration of the Constitution should be necessary, it must be recognised that no amendment is more justifiable than that now proposed. It will remove manydifficulties, and I earnestly hope that the proposal of the States Treasurers to meet with a view of taking steps to protect their own interests in this matter will be carried out. It would be a mistake for this Parliament to place itself in a position of antagonism to the States. We must carry them with us. Any highhanded determination on our part to do this or that would lead to confusion, discontent, and disaster.
– Under the Constitution the States have no voice in regard to the transfer of the debts incurred prior to Federation.
– I recognise that, but surely we do not wish to ignore them.
– They have been approached on many occasions, and since they have failed to arrive at a reasonable agreement it is time we took independent action.
– The States Treasurers are beginning to recognise that in their own interests they must meet in conference and deal with this question. I am glad that such a conference is about to be held, and feel that, sooner or later, it will be recognised that my proposal for the appointment of an authoritative body to deal with the various suggestions that have been made in regard to this financial problem is the only means of bringing about an equitable arrangement. As the first step in that direction the proposed amendment of the Constitution will justify itself. It is now proposed to place in the hands of the Commonwealth unlimited power to differentiate between the States as to the debts which shall be taken over. The framers of the Constitution held that, in taking over the debts of the States, we should have regard to their population.
– Not when we take over the whole of the debts existing at the establishment of the Commonwealth.
– I agree with the right honorable gentleman, but a large proportion of those debts have since been renewed. The Treasurer of Victoria is arranging, in June next, to take up loans amounting to ,£4,000, 000. He will be entitled to say that, having arranged to pay off that amount, his State is entitled to regard it as a pre- Federation debt
– Having paid it off by further borrowings.
– He will borrow some proportion of the amount. The question becomes more and more complicated every year, and will demand the careful consideration of a properly constituted authority having some continuity of policy. During this Parliament we have had three different Treasurers, each of them, doubtless, having distinct policies in these matters. What we need in this connexion is to secure continuity of purpose by appointing a body of capable and experienced men to deal with this question. I have already referred to a phase of this question affecting Victoria, which is worthy of consideration. The imprimatur of the Commonwealth will be given to the States debts when taken over, but Victoria will be left with obligations in respect to debts incurred by municipalities for works such as have been carried out in some of the other States by means of Government loan moneys.
– We have no power under the Constitution to take over the municipal debts.
– Unless, as suggested by the honorable member for North Svdney, we, in effect, do so by a process of elimination. The Victorian Government could overcome the difficulty by raising a loan to pay off the indebtedness of the municipalities. I regret very much that I have only this limited opportunity to address myself to this question. I can only say that T shall support the proposed alteration of the Constitution.
.- I do not think it is necessary to discuss this Bill at length, since practically all who have given any attention to :t are agreed that our powers under the Constitution to take over the debts of the States are not sufficiently elastic. The proposal . of the Treasurer, so far as it goes, meets with my approval. His desire is that the Fe deral Parliament shall be given power to take over all debts, whether incurred prior or subsequent to the establishment of the Commonwealth. That is a highly laudable object. The most important feature of the amendment, from my stand-point, is that it will enable the Commonwealth Parliament, probably through the Treasurer, to take over loans as they mature, without being compelled, at the same time, to take over - perhaps without making any profit - a similar proportion of the loans of every State. Another very important aspect ofl the question, however, still remains to be settled. I refer to the limitation of the power of the States to continue to borrow.
– There is nothing in the Constitution in that regard.
– But there is no reason why some provision relating to it should not be inserted in the Constitution. The Commonwealth is scarcely likely to .make a success of the taking over of the States debts on a large scale, if, at the same time, the States are to be allowed to continue to pile up their local indebtedness, and to compete with the Federal Treasurer in the London market.
– We might make a bargain with them. It would not be fair to say to the States,. “ You shall not borrow.”
– The ,right honorable gentleman is undoubtedly entitled to his opinion, but we find, as a rule, that while some States Ministers “recognise the unwisdom of a number of separate authorities entering the London money market, there are always one or two who, for the sake off their own dignity, insist upon local autonomy in this regard. Thev say that they will please themselves and that the general interests mav go hang. They refuse to bind themselves to agree to any limitation.
– T - They will find that they can not take separate action - that it will be cheaper for them not to -do so.
– Without an express prohibition in the Federal Constitution, the States Governments could, and some of them would, take independent action. The testimony of the right honorable member for Balaclava. Mr. Coghlan, and a number of others who have even much attention to this question, is that the only war- to secure any real measure of benefit from the transfer of the States debts to the Commonwealth is to provide that only one authority shall approach the London money market. I do not say that it would be wise to attempt to prevent the States from borrowing “ locally, or to control all their powers, apart from taxation, of raising money.
– When the honorable member speaks of “ the London market ‘ ‘ does he mean the London money market or that outside the Commonwealth.
– That outside the Com- monwealth. We are so accustomed to speak of the London market that I overlooked the distinction.
– - It is the source at present, but may not always be.
– I admit the possibility of the financial centre of the world shifting to either Paris or New York. What I intended to convey was that outside borrowing should be in the hands of the Commonwealth authorities. It would conduce to economy and convenience if but one authority, whether State or Commonwealth, were able to pledge the resources of Australia in outside markets.
– The arrangement would be unmanageable otherwise.
– What the honorable member proposes would prevent the States from competing against each other, and from thus reducing prices.
– Yes. If there were not one supreme authority, a State Treasurer might cause considerable inconvenience by going into the money market at a time considered favorable by the Commonwealth Treasurer for the renewal of £6,000,000, £7,000,000 or £10,000,000 worth of loans.
– At the Hobart Conference the States agreed to that arrangement.
– The more reason why an amendment should be made to prevent the agreement being abrogated later. An agreement between the Premiers of States binds1 them only. To-morrow, new Governments may be formed which will be free to act as they please.
– A Government is bound by the agreements of its predecessor.
– I do not think that a Government should always be considered to be bound by such agreements. It is for each Government to determine what it thinks is right in the interests of the people represented.
– We should go step by step.
– I do not believe in making two bites at a cherry. I agree that we should not be perpetually asking the people to amend the Constitution, and, therefore, when an amendment is proposed it should be sufficiently comprehensive to provide for such contingencies as we foresee. The Government, I understand, have discerned this possible source of trouble. The interjection of the Prime Minister is in consonance with the view which, at different times, he has expressed throughout Australia, that the Commonwealth should have a controlling voice in regard to the raising of money outside Australia. The Treasurer has given utterance to similar opinions, and he has just told us that the Premiers of the States have agreed that if the debts are taken over under reasonable conditions, there should be some limitation of competition.
– That is among the proposals of the Government.
– It is in the memorandum circulated by the right honorable gentleman a short time ago. As there is this agreement among all who have given attention to the subject, why not express it in the Constitution in such terms as will put its existence beyond doubt?
– For ever ?
– The mutability of human affairs is such that we cannot be certain that any arrangement ‘.will last for ever; but if we alter the Constitution, we shall make the conditions as fixed as it is possible to make them. It is generally admitted that, if any serious attempt is to be made to deal with the loans of the States, it will be most undesirable to allow the Governments of the States to compete in outside money markets.
– We can arrange about that.
– The right honorable gentleman may be able to make a satisfactory arrangement to-day, and utterly unable to make one to-morrow. Unless the arrangement is embodied in the Constitution, the Commonwealth may be met with competition by one or two States Governments when loans to a large amount are being converted or redeemed.
– The States will keep faith with us.
– That is not the question. Succeeding States Governments could not be held to have broken faith with us if they did not adhere to the course agreed upon by those of the present day. We should put into the proposed law to be submitted for the consideration of the electors a provision limiting the power of the Governments of the States in regard to future borrowing to the Australian money markets. I think that their legitimate requirements will be fairly met if they are allowed tb retain khe power to borrow within Australia.
– And in outside markets through the Commonwealth authority.
– I do not object to that, though the Treasurers of the States seem of late to agree that all reasonable requirements will be met if they are given power to borrow in the local markets.
– I think that they are averse to that limitation now.
– There are one or two big renewals coming on which, could not be undertaken locally ; but if the Treasurer’s proposal were carried into effect these would be undertaken by the Commonwealth authority.
– Not necessarily.
– Not necessarily, but probably. It is not conceivable, if the Commonwealth credit were better than that of a State, that the Treasurer would not take advantage of it to renew States loans. The least he should do, if the proposed alteration of the Constitution is sanctioned, will be to’ take over all maturing loans. Although there are other directions in which he could do more, that is the minimum. Such action would relieve the Treasurers of the States from the necessity of having to find money for renewals, and the local markets would be available to them for new loans, which, I think, would meet all their requirements. Therefore, I regret the absence of a provision to limit the borrowing of the States in outside money markets.
– The States authorities may day that we are coercing them before we have proved the superiority of the. Commonwealth security in! outside money markets.
– The whole is greater than a part, and I think that the security of Australia will be accepted in preference to that of any State. Although the Com monwealth credit may mot be much better than that of any State, there will be a considerable saving, if the difference is only per cent.
– The Treasurer has shown that the; saving would be large if the difference were only per cent.
– I agree with the honorable member, but the States authorities may not.
– The States authorities admitted the truth of what I say when they indicated their willingness to confine their borrowings to the local money markets. They have practically admitted that the credit of the Commonwealth will be better than that of any State.
– They agreed at the Hobart Conference to confine their borrowings to the local money markets; but I do not think that that agreement was repeated at the last Conference.
– That statement bearsout what I said a few minutes ago. In view’ of the constant changes of Government, we cannot rely upon mere agreements.
– Practically all the Treasurers who were present at the Hobart Conference afterwards met in Sydney
– Yes, with ‘the ‘exception of those representing South Australia and Western Australia.
– There must be some permanent sanction to a great undertaking of this sort.
– Yes. I hope, therefore, that in Committee the Treasurer will insert a clause which will restrict the Governments of the States to borrowing in the local money markets.
.; - There is not much to be said, about the measure at this stage. All parties must be agreed as to the wisdom of introducing it. though there is no dire necessity for the step which it is proposed to take. The Treasurer has done well in confining his, proposal to the acquisition of power to take over the debts of the States. I do not agree with the honorable member for Bland that we should seek in the Constitution to prevent the States from borrowing in outside money markets. It might be necessary for them -to do so, under circumstances of national stress, and I do not think that they would consent to be bound in the manner suggested. We must not forget that the powers of the States authorities are very large, and the quantum of the functions transferred to the Commonwealth very small. Therefore, the States must be allowed to meet the pressing emergencies which may from time to time arise in the exercise of their powers.
– - The States have large powers, but are not sovereign.
– I do not intend to quibble about terms. The Commonwealth cannot trench upon the powers’ of the States, and the States cannot trench upon the powers of the Commonwealth. Therefore. I am of opinion that the States would not agree to a provision such as that suggested by the honorable member for Bland, and that if the Bill were amended, as he thinks it should be, the purposes which the Treasurer .has in view would be defeated. I would point out that the proposal of the honorable member for Bland would involve a very radical departure from the original compact. The Treasurer proposes to make only a slight departure.
– It is merely a variation of the compact.
– Exactly. The proposal of the honorable member for Bland, however, would involve a surrender by the States df a large grant of power, which it would not be wise to take from them, in view of the fact that they have so many governing functions to discharge.
– The States Premiers and Treasurers agreed to the proposal at Hobart.
– On terms.
– Just so; it is one thing to agree upon terms which are shown to be of mutual advantage as applied to a given period, and another thing to surrender large powers for an indefinite term.
– Besides, at Hobart, the States Premiers obtained something in return for their consent.
– In this case, the people of Australia will gain something.
– They might gain something immediately, but they would surrender large powers for all time - powers, the need of which might, in times of emergency, cripple their financial resources. I hope sincerely that what the honorable member suggests will be carried into effect. I trust that no arrangement will be made by the Treasurer except on the basis of the States keeping out of the London money market.
– That is a sine qua non.
– It seems to be the very first condition of the establishment of a national credit. We shall never have a national credit so long as the States compete with the Commonwealth in the London market.’ That matter may, however, be made the subject of a mutual arrangement, the States making concessions on the one hand, and the Commonwealth offering them some tangible benefit, on the other. The terms of the arrangement should be embodied in a Bill for submission to this Parliament, and we should all know exactly the extent of the temporary limitation of States powers and exactly what was being given in return. That would be a fair arrangement to make, and would accomplish the end in view.
– Except that it might be broken at any time.
– We should not contemplate the breaking of agreements by either the States or the Commonwealth. Before we attempt to adopt any scheme, it is absolutely necessary to obtain the proposed extension of power. If we take up the scheme which was so boldly outlined by the honorable member for Mernda, and which becomes the more striking the more it is examined, we shall require enlarged powers, the more tentative and gradual proposal of the honorable member for Kooyong would involve the exercise of greater powers than we now possess, and the scheme suggested by the honorable member for North Sydney as well as that put forward by the Treasurer, would also depend for their success upon the amendment of the Constitution. We must eliminate the provisions which now crib, cabin, and confine us at every turn. I cordially agree with the” proposal of the Treasurer to seek enlarged powers, and I should not think very much trouble would be experienced in obtaining the approval of the States. The statement which has been circulated by the Treasurer is, of course, a purely hypothetical one. It assumes that we shall make for ourselves better credit than the .States now possess; but whether the improvement will be such as is indicated remains to be seen. No one can forecast the effect of Federal legislation upon our credit in the London market. I notice one fact which is very gratifying, namely,, that the States in their separate relationships have been able to borrow a very large sum at the low rate of 3 per cent. I presume that the price of these stocks was something below par, and that in reality a little more than 3 per cent, has to be paid for them.
– It will be very difficult to make a profit upon that rate.
– I am not very sanguine that we shall make any profit upon the 3 per cent, stocks - at any rate, for some years to come. We can hardly expect that we shall ever be able to obtain quite the same terms that Canada does. There may always be a slight difference in favour of Canada owing to her smaller indebtedness.
– But the Dominion has not got behind its debts railways such as we have.
– I was just about to say that. In consequence of the Canadian Government, having had little or nothing to do with internal services, such as we possess ; in other words, by reason of the greater extent to which what is called States Socialism has- operated in Australia as compared with Canada, we shall always appear to be much more heavily indebted. We know that in the London money market even appearances go for something. At any rate, if we rival Canada’s credit, and I hope we may, we cannot hope to make any profit upon the present 3 per cent, stock. Therefore, the Treasurer’s assumption that we shall be able to ultimately make a saving over the whole of the existing debts of % per cent, means-
– That is taking into consideration the whole of the debts.
– Other expert’s estimate a greater saving than per cent. - that is a verv modest estimate.
– I see no reason why we should not ultimately convert the whole of the debts into 3 per cent, stock, and perhaps make a larger saving than i per cent. The Treasurer’s statement is hypothetical, and I am not sure that he was wise to issue a forecast covering fifty years. A large amount of the States debts is bearing interest at 4 per cent., and it mav not have been discreet to contemplate a saving of only i ner cent, over a period of fifty years.
– If I had counted on a larger saving, I should have been told that my estimate was - excessive. It was better to be moderate.
– Yes, but the moderation of the Treasurer does not place his proposal in the most attractive light, particularly in the eyes of those whom we are most anxious to propitiate. I heard what the honorable member for Kooyong had to say concerning the difference between the indebtedness of Victoria and that of New South Wales. It is quite true that a great proportion of the indebtedness of the latter State has been incurred for municipal purposes, and is not really part and parcel of the national debt. That is why the indebtedness of that State always appears so large compared with that of Victoria. On the other hand, while there are differences between New South Wales and Victoria, there are considerable divergences between the debts of the other States. There are large differences in the per capita amounts, and the task of unifying the debts and placing them upon a per capita basis will be no light one. It will tax the ingenuity of any Treasurer who may have to deal with it. The problem will have to be dealt with upon a general give-and-take plan. It will be impossible to scrutinise every figure, dot every “ i,” and reckon every halfpenny and farthing in assimilating’ the debts of the States. Therefore, while the honorable member for Kooyong was right in mentioning that Victoria would labour under some disability as compared with New South Wales, it should be remembered that the latter State will stand in just the same relation to other States. I’ have not been able to follow the doings of the Conventions which resulted in fettering limitations being embodied in the financial clauses of the Constitution. I suppose that consideration for States rights caused a compromise to be brought about. Whatever may have been the initial cause, we can see, even after this short lapse of time, that the continuance of the limitations will be detrimental to all the States as such as well as to the Commonwealth. After all, what affects the Commonwealth credit must necessarily affect the States’ credit. The two things are really inseparable, because the indebtedness of one is the indebtedness of the other. Therefore, whatever mav affect their credit in one relationship must certainly react upon them in their other relationship.
– One people, one destiny and one debt.
– That is not quite the object that we have in view. The trouble is. that whilst there is only one people they discharge two quite different functions.
– I mean one outside debt.
– I quite agree with the Prime Minister. That seems to be a condition precedent to any successful financial operations on the part of the Commonwealth. My own view is that we might very well begin with a tentative scheme. The amount of our indebtedness upon the London register to-day corresponds with the amount of the loans upon which the three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue which we are now returning to the States would pay interest. Consequently we could at once determine the present financial relationship between the States and the Commonwealth by the simple method of “cutting the connexion “ as between the States and . London, and by monopolizing the London market for our Federal credit. In my judgment, many of the objections which have been urged against the details of schemes for the conversion of the States debts will solve themselves the moment we begin to establish a better credit for the States. The’ latter will be only too glad to come to us, and ask for that better credit. But we cannot hope to begin at that point until the Constitution is amended in the direction now sought by the Treasurer, because the amount of our indebtedness to the London market is subject to those limitations to which reference has already been made. I therefore think that the Treasurer is acting wisely in asking for the additional grant Qf power which will be conferred by the Bill.
.- Of course, every honorable member must view the proposal embodied in this measure from the stand-point of the way in which it will affect the State of which he is a representative. Before Federation was accomplished the Customs revenue of Tasmania was considerably in excess pf the amount necessary to pay her annual interest charges. Unfortunately, since the Union was consummated - owing to the establishment of Inter-State free-trade - it has very considerably declined. The result is that if the proposal of the Treasurer be accepted bv the people of the Commonwealth the Tasmanian Customs revenue will be insufficient to pay interest upon the English portion of her indebtedness. When honorable members are called upon - as they will be very shortly - to address their constituents, they will naturally be expected to have the fullest information in respect to this question. Consequently, I desire to call the attention of the Treasurer to the fact that up to date he has made no suggestion as to how any deficiency in the interest charges for which the States are liable will be met. For instance, will he be prepared .to accept the assurance of the Tasmanian Treasurer that he will provide for any such deficiency?
– We propose that the States should pass an Act indemnifying the Commonwealth for any deficiency.
– I understood that the right honorable gentleman desired te obtain the railway revenue of the States as security.
– Oh, no.
– Then the proposal of the Treasurer appears to be a fair one. At the same time I do not for a moment believe that the credit of the Commonwealth! will be very much better than that of some of the States.
– Quite a contrary opinion is entertained in London.
– When we talk about the Commonwealth being able to obtain money , at cheaper rates than the States, it seems to me that we neglect to consider the liabilities of the latter in their individual capacities. I submit that those States which have smaller financial obligations to meet ought to be able to borrow upon better terms than those which have larger liabilities.
– But the Commonwealth possesses exclusive powers of Customs and Excise taxation.
– I admit that. At the same time the Treasurer must not forget that the States have power to levy taxation in every other form.
– It is not easy to obtain revenue.
– It is easy to get it up to a certain point.’ Need I remind the Treasurer that the legislation which has been enacted by this Parliament has not tended to enhance the value of the Commonwealth security in the eyes of those who control th’e London money market. This Parliament consists of two Houses which are elected practically upon the same franchise. But the members of our Legislative Councils are usually elected upon a property qualification, and there is no doubt in my mind that the existence of these bodies is calculated to induce the London money lenders to look with a more favor- able eye upon the security of the States than upon the security of the Commonwealth’, whose legislation is largely tinged with Socialism. Consequently, it seems to me that the Treasurer is taking altogether too sanguine a view in respect of the flotation of future loans. At the same time, I recognise that it is advisable to consolidate the debts of the States if it is possible to do so. Under these circumstances, I do not propose to offer any opposition to this Bill. There is, however, one point to which I should like to direct attention. Some honorable members, have urged that the States Governments should in future be prevented from borrowing upon the London market. But, assuming that some such restriction is imposed upon them, what will be the position of a State which may desire to raise several millions sterling for the purpose of constructing a railway or of carrying out some other very important public work? Would it be dependent upon the sweet will of a majority of this Parliament?
– How can we guard against that?
– The States Governments would not require to spend several millions each year, and, therefore, small loans raised upon the local market would be sufficient to meet their requirements.
– But let us suppose that the Victorian Government found it necessary to construct an important railway at a cost of £7,000,000. If it were obliged to raise that sum, what would the Federal Treasurer do? Again, let us as_sume that two of the States required to raise a substantial sum to undertake important public works.
– If those works were absolutely necessary, the Treasurer would probably give them authority to raise the money.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the people of the States are willing to allow the Federal Treasurer to decide whether the construction of a railway or any other public work is necessary? In some cases money has been so tight that it has been found absolutely impossible to float a large loan in Australia.
– When money is tight it is time to rein in financially.
– I have no desire to import any heat into this discussion, but
I should like to know whether the representatives of New South Wales, for instance, would presume to dictate to Victoria or any other State as to what she ought to do. The question is a very difficult one to determine. Is the Treasurer prepared to take the responsibility of saying that the States shall not borrow in the London market? Would he say to a State that desired to raise money for urgent public works, of which the people approved, “ You shall not be allowed to raise a loan for that purpose “? I do not know whether he has given consideration to that phase of the question; but I am sure that he will do so when we are dealing with the Bill in Committee.
.- I desire to congratulate the Treasurer upon th’e very clear, masterly, and adequate manner in which he has placed this question before the House. He is entitled to our warmest praise for the great attention he has evidently given to the question, of the conversion of the States debts, and to the framing of a scheme to be substituted for the Braddon section, which will shortly expire. I take it that the two questions of the disposition of the surplus and the transfer and consolidation of the States debts are inseparably associated, and must form part of one common scheme. The right honorable gentleman has placed before us the whole of the data and the various phases of this question in a way that will enable the House and the country to grasp the situation. One of the disappointments of Federation is that the questions of the consolidation of the States debts and the means of effecting the savings that were anticipated to flow from the Union have not been properly tackled by the Parliament. We were led . to expect that substantial financial savings would be Secured. It was said that’ Federation would lead to savings bv the centralization of certain Government institutions in the Commonwealth, permitting of a corresponding reduction of expenses in the State governing institutions, whilst we were also promised that economies would be effected by the conversion and consolidation of the States loans into one national debt. This inaction on the part of the Federal Parliament has been a source of great disappointment to the warmest friends of Federation, and we should not be doing’’ justice to ourselves or to the Parliament if we allowed the forthcoming general election to pass without giving the people an opportunity to express a definite opinion upon the question. I am glad that, although we are not agreed in matters of detail, there is a consensus of opinion upon the general question. Whilst, no doubt, the Federal Parliament has power, under section 105 of the Constitution, to take over the loans existing at the establishment of the Commonwealth, I am of opinion that the Government should not . undertake to deal with such a great and delicate financial operation, without the cordial cooperation of the States, and before arriving at some common plan of action. We need not rely merely upon our legal right. That being so, I think that the Government and its predecessors acted wisely, in consulting the States Treasurers upon this important matter. The result may be the formulation of a plan which will eventually be found to work well. I do not think that the States will stand in the way of the execution of this great national scheme, provided that their right to receive the surplus revenue contemplated by the ‘Braddon section is adequately guaranteed and secured. When the States handed over to the Commonwealth that vast source of revenue - the power to impose Customs and Excise taxation - it was never anticipated that they would ever cease to be a partner in that surplus. When the Braddon’ clause was passed by the Convention, it was unlimited in its operation. The ten years’ restriction was imposed by the Conference of Premiers in Melbourne upon the suggestion and at the request, I believe, of the Government and Parliament of New South Wales. As the clause left the Convention, the States were treated as having a permanent interest in the Federal surplus. How could we contemplate .their being left saddled with the enormous debt of £202,000,000 existing at the inception of Federation, whilst they were deprived at the same time of one of their principal means of securing the revenue necessary to enable them to earn’ on the work of government and to pay the ‘ interest -on their national debts. The Convention never contemplated the annihilation of the right of the States to share in the surplus, either by a direct grant or by the Commonwealth taking over a certain proportion of their indebtedness, the interest upon which would be paid out of that surplus. I notice that at the Conference held at Hobart on the 15th
February, 1905, the Premiers of the States did not assume an attitude antagonistic to the Commonwealth taking -over the management of their debts. They merely desired to be secured after the expiration of the Braddon guarantee. The following paragraph from the Treasurer’s summary of the history of the negotiations’ gives the views of the States Treasurers : -
That pending a better provision being embodied in the Constitution to secure the States against deficiency, the 87th section of the Constitution Act should be amended by the omission of the words, “ during a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth, and thereafter until Parliament otherwise provides,” in order to secure the constitutional right of the return to each of the States of three-fourths of the net revenue of the ‘Commonwealth from duties of Customs and of Excise, as provided by that section.
All the States’ demanded was an adequate provision to take the place of the Braddon section. In default of a better scheme, they desired that the section should be continued in perpetuity. I take it that this shows that they were willing to consider any proposal that would be an improvement upon the present system of returning to them three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue. That amount is a fluctuating one, dependent upon the results of the Federal Tariff for the time being. The Treasurer has come forward with a provision equally as good as, if not better than, the Braddon section. His proposal is evidently a well-considered one. It is in the direction of a guaranteed fixed annual payment for ten years to each of the States on the basis of the three-fourths of the net revenue from Customs and Excise which they received during the five years preceding the 31st December, 1910. That is a fair and adequate solution of the problem. It is based upon constitutional principle, and also upon the precedent to be found in the Canadian Constitution. Upon the adoption of the Confederation and the surrender to it of the smaller sources of revenue of the provinces, the latter received fixed sums guaranteed by the Constitution. These fixed sums were arrived at bv approximate estimates of the value of the revenue surrendered. The Treasurer has proposed a scheme of arriving approximately at the value of the revenue surrendered - an estimate based upon the net revenue received by the several States from Customs and Excise under the Federal system during the last five years. His scheme goes an to provide that -
If three-fourths of the total net revenue from Customs and Excise in any year (not earmarked) exceeds the aggregate of the guaranteed fixed payments to all the States a -per capita return of such excess shall take place. The amount to be returned therefore is to be determined partly upon the basis of the five years’ receipts and partly upon the per capita principle. That is a very fair substitute for the Braddon guarantee, and will admit of certain variations based upon a per capita allowance. It is founded upon principle and precedent, and as such I think it ought to be taken into fair consideration by the representatives of the States. - Sir John Forrest. - New South Wales has accepted it.
– So I understand.
– Will the honorable member pardon me. By permission of the House, I desire to move -
That a seat on the floor of the House be accorded to His Excellency the Admiral Sir Wilmot Fawkes.
As the honorable and learned member for Bendigo was speaking when I interrupted him, I shall ask him to second the motion.
– I do so with pleasure.
– A motion is not necessary. Is it the pleasure of the House that leave be granted?
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear.
– The Premier of New South Wales has approved of the return to the States by the Commonwealth of a fixed and determined sum, instead of the three-fourths df Customs and Excise revenue returnable under the Braddon section, and, no doubt, the arrangement will be indorsed by others when it is realized that it is a fair and reasonable one. Assuming it to be deemed satisfactory by the States, we have the assurance that they will offer no objection, but, on the contrary, will facilitate, the taking over of the whole of their debts by the Commonwealth as soon as arrangements can be made. Subject to the framing of a satisfactory scheme, the Governments of the States have agreed that future State loans should be raised through the Commonwealth authority. Therefore coercive legislative action, such as has been suggested by the honorable member for Bland, would bc unnecessary. It will be far better tQ have a friendly understanding with the Governments of the States than to try to dragoon them into agreeing to something to which they may be opposed. All thev desire is their adequate and proper proportion of our surplus revenue. If that is secured, they will be willing to agree to the transfer of their debts to the Commonwealth, and to the conduct of future borrowing through the Commonwealth authority. I realize the importance .of limiting the borrowing powers of the States, and much is to be said in favour of it. But the Commonwealth should not assume a stand and deliver attitude. The States have heavy and serious obligations to meet, and there should be no conflict between Commonwealth and State interests.
– All public expenditure comes out of the same purse.
– It is all provided for by the people. I am resolved to do all that I can for the cultivation and maintenance of friendly relations between the Commonwealth and the States, and to give no support to the unnecessary invasion of State rights ; because it would be a most unfortunate thing if the Governments of the States were fighting the Commonwealth Government. Therefore I see no objection to the forthcoming Conference of State Premiers. I hope that they will give favorable consideration to the Treasurer’s scheme, and will facilitate the proposed alteration of the Constitution to bring about the consolidation of their debts, and the establishment o’f Australian consols having a standard value both here and on the London money market. The profits flowing from the conversion or redemption of old loans and the flotation of new ones, as the result of borrowing at a lower rate of interest) than the average of that now paid, will go, not to the Commonwealth, but to the States, which are therefore interested in bringing about a satisfactory arrangement. I protest most strongly against the suggestion that the States should be prohibited by a provision in the Constitution from floating loans without the consent of the Commonwealth. The Treasurer has given a great deal of consideration and attention to this matter, and is of opinion that the Commonwealth should be empowered to raise loans for the States upon terms and conditions mutually agreed upon. I concur in that suggestion. He goes on to say that he thinks it inadvisable to ask the States to undertake for all time not to borrow on the London money market except through the Commonwealth. To do that would be to ask the States to tie their hands most unjustifiably, and no selfrespecting State Government would consent to such an arrangement. But, as the result of friendly discussion and negotiation, the States may be expected to enter voluntarily into an undertaking not to borrow on the London money market during a certain limited period, except through the Commonwealth. The period fixed upon by the Treasurer would expire on the 31st December, 1920, which is the date when the period during which fixed returns will be made to the States would expire. But it would be a mistake to enter upon any plan smacking of finality, because we cannot anticipate the changes which may occur ten or twenty years hence. Consequently, the Treasurer is wise in proposing a period of temporary duration. He suggests that a fixed sum should be returnable to the States during a period of ten years. That would give the Government of the Commonwealth and of the States an opportunity to study the working of the arrangement. I heartily approve of the Treasurer’s scheme. There is nothing absolutely new in it, its principles being a development of proposals considered by the Finance Committee of the Convention. These proposalswere not embodied in the Constitution, the Braddon provision being adopted in their place, but they might have been worked out to produce similar results. I hope that the Government and the Treasurer will persevere in this matter. According to the figures given in a return laid upon the table by the Treasurer last night, if the saving of interest is only1/4 per cent., by 1952 New South Wales will have saved £5,548,604; Victoria,£3, 506, 711 ; Queensland,£2, 674,915; South Australia, £1,975,302 ; Western Australia, £1,179,670; Tasmania, £761,114; or a total of£15,646,016. That is a solid and substantial result worth realizing. Personally, I am under great obligation to the Treasurer for the clear, able, comprehensive, and practical manner in which he has launched his scheme, and I have no doubt that the verdict of the country will be in favour of its adoption.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through Committee without amendment.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a secondtime.
It has frequently been pointed out in this Chamber that it would be more convenient to the electors, especially in agricultural districts, if the Commonwealth elections were held in March or April instead of in November or December, and the Bill provides for an alteration of the Constitution which would enable the change to be made. It is proposed to alter the date for the commencement of the term of senators. The desire of both Houses seems to be to hold the elections for the House of Representatives and for the Senate simultaneously. It is not possible to have simultaneous elections in the month of March, unless the period for which senators are elected is extended. The Bill provides that section 13 of the Constitution shall be altered -
The term of office of senators whose period will not expire until the end of the year 1909, and those senators who are returned at the forthcoming elections, will be extended for six months. Therefore, they will” hold office for six years and six months. All senators subsequently elected will hold office only for the usual term of six years. The proposed amendment will have the additional effect of enabling the members who are returned to this House at the next elections to continue in office for the full period of three years. The Constitution provides for triennial Parliaments; but, in order to permit of simultaneous elections, the term of office of members of this House has been cut down by a certain number of months before the end of the three years from the date of meeting. The next House will be the first to expire by effluxion of time, and the elections will probably take place in March or April.
– Will not the next House of Representatives be elected for a term of more than three years?
– Parliament begins from the day on which it assembles, and continues for a period of three years from that date. As a matter of fact, this Parliament will be dissolved, as was the last Parliament, several months before the proper term has expired.
– The members’ are elected from the date of the declaration of thepoll, and therefore the members of the next House will represent the people for more than three years.
– Yes. Assuming that the elections are held in the first week of December, and the Parliament assembles in February, they will hold office until February three years after. If the next Parliament expires by effluxion of time, the term of office of members will be exactly three years from the date of meeting. Of course, they may be thrown out by a penal dissolution. Even in such a case, it is quite possible that the conditions may be harmonized subsequently, to enable simultaneous elections to take place. By making the term, for which senators are elected begin on the 1st July, instead of on the 1st January, we shall be able to hold the elections at a time which is ‘considered most convenient for the majority of the electors.
– I think there can be no possible objection to the Bill. There is a general consensus of opinion that the period of the year at which elections have to be held under present conditions is about the most inconvenient that could be selected. It is very undesirable that elections should take place just after the close of a session, because, as our experience has shown, very important business has to be postponed indefinitely or rushed through without due consideration. The objection that no finality can be secured because this House can be dissolved at any time would apply to any arrangement that might be made. So long as this House is subject to penal dissolution it would not be possible to make any provision by which the two Houses would always go to the country at the same time. I think, however, that the occasions upon which the House will be penally dissolved will be very rare indeed. I know that the opinion is gaining ground that the period of three years for which honorable members are elected to this House is altogether too short, owing to the fact that the whole of Australia has to be canvassed and the elections are very expensive. I know that if the term for which members are returned were extended to four years it might be necessary to elect senators for eight years, and that would be too long a period. Perhaps, however, even that difficulty might be overcome.
– I think that the provisions of the Bill are in accordance with the general feeling of honorable members in both Chambers. My only regret is that so many proposals for the amendment of the Constitution should be remitted to the electors at one and the same time. I am afraid that under the circumstances there will be a large number of informal votes. I think that we are all agreed that the maximum of convenience would be achieved if we selected an earlier period of the year for holding the elections. Every one knows that harvesting operations are being pursued in December, and that that season of the year is a busy one for most classes of producers. Under the varying conditions of the Australian climate, with a season beginning in one part of the Continent and closing in another at the same time of the year, it is impossible to choose a date for the elections that will suit the convenience of every one. All we can do is to con-‘ fer the greatest good on the greatest number, and I think that the Bill will serve that end.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through Committee without amendment.
Motion (by Mr. Groom) agreed to -
That the Bill be recommitted for the purpose of reconsidering clause 6, and forms A, B, and c of the schedule, and also with a view to inserting a new clause, 31A.
In Committee: (Recommittal).
Clause 6 -
The Governor-General maycause to be attached to the writ a copy of the proposed law, or a copy of a statement certified to be correct by a Justice of the High Court setting out -
the text of the proposed law,
the material parts of the Constitution proposed to be altered by the proposed law, and
. the material parts of the Constitution as they would be if the proposed law were passed and assented to.
– I move -
That the words “ certified to be correct by a Justice of the High Court” be left out.
The feeling of the Committee was adverse to a Justice of the High’ Court being asked to certify to the mere textual alterations of the proposed law, or to give what might appear to be an opinion upon the proposed alteration. Accordingly, it is proposed that the Governor-General shall simply publish a statement setting forth the text and textual alterations proposed. When -the referendum was taken, the vote was taken on the Constitution itself.
– Do I understand the Minister to say that he proposes to leave this matter in the hands of the Governor-General ?
– The proposal is to enable the whole of the section of the Constitution which it is proposed to alter, to be printed together with the textual alterations which it is desired to make.
– Is the amendment framed upon the lines that were suggested upon a previous occasion ?
– Who is to certify to the proposed alterations?
– The Crown Law officers will prepare it.
– Would not the proposalof the Minister make the ballotpaper a very complicated one?
– The proposal does not relate to the ballot-paper. It is proposed that a copy of the section of the Constitution which it is desired to alter shall be issued when the writ is issued. In addition, the textual alterations proposed to be made will be printed for the information of the electors. The amendment is designed to make the mean ing of the clause perfectly clear. It is further intended to advertise the alterations desired to be made in the Constitution in certain newspapers of the different States, so that the fullest publicity may be given to them.
– What does the Minister mean by “certain” newspapers?
– At the present time the Commonwealth electoral officers in the various States have authority to advertise electoral information in at least two newspapers circulating in those States.
– The Minister’s proposal will mean that the advertisements will appear in the two metropolitan newspapers in every State?
– Not necessarily. It is quite possible that in a State like Western Australia it may be found necessary to insert one advertisement in a metropolitan journal and another in a provincial newspaper.
– Is it not possible to advertise the alterations proposed in more, than two newspapers?
– That matter is dealt with in a clause which we have already passed.
– I understood that the object of the restriction imposed by this clause was to eliminate all extraneous influences from the plain statement which it is proposed to submit to the electors regarding the effect of any proposed amendment of the Constitution. It was considered that the High Court Justices should be kept out of the political cauldron, and that their opinions shouldnot be subjected to the ordinary rough-and-tumble criticisms of our political conditions. I think that that is a very proper thing to do. On the other hand, the Minister suggests that a mere statement of the law proposed to be amended shall be submitted to the electors, together with a further statement showing the nature of the proposed amendment. I presume that some sort of explanation showing how the two things would dove-tail or read should accompany those statements. We all know that in this Chamber it is the almost invariable practice to read any clause of a Bill which it is desired to amend in the form in which it would appear if the amendment were adopted, so that honorable members may get a grip of it. Does not that indicate the necessity for some amendment which would make the whole position understandable- by the electors quite apart from the statement of the textual alterations proposed to be made? For instance, will section 105 of the Constitution be printed upon a separate paper, and with it the eliminations and the additions proposed by the Treasurer?
– The section itself will be printed, and it mav also be printed in the form in which it would appear if amended in the direction proposed.
– All I have to say is that a great many votes, both for and against the proposal to amend the Constitution, will be recorded without much idea on. the part of the electors of the nature of the amendment proposed to be effected. Would it not be better for us to authorize the issue of a short statement by the Clerk of the Parliaments?
– Exception was- taken to any officer issuing such a statement.
– Exception was taken to anybody issuing it to whom political bias might attach.
– Would not the Clerk of the Parliaments naturally consult the Law officers of the Crown in a matter of this sort?
– Then why not leave it to the Attorney-General ?
– Because he is a party politician.
– He is a law officer.
– Take the case of the present Attorney-General. Is there a keener party, politician in this Chamber?
– He is not a party man upon questions which involve an amendment of the Constitution.
– I am not suggesting that any conscious bias would taint his statement. I know he would endeavour to keep that as far removed from him as possible. But I doubt whether he is more superhuman in that respect than the rest of us. All these dangers would be obviated if we authorized the Clerk of the Parliaments to issue a short statement such as I have suggested.
.- Perhaps the Minister will explain how it is in- tended to enlighten the voter as to the purpose and character of any proposed amendment of the Constitution.
– That is dealt with in paragraph a.
– But if we strike out the words “ Justice of the High Court “ there will be no provision as to who shall certify to the statement to be submitted to the electors.
– The Governor-General will issue it.
– I do not know that that is the best way of dealing with the matter, because the preparation of the statement issued would be within the control of the Cabinet.
– It would not partake of a party character.
– It would be issued by the Governor-General acting upon the advice of the Cabinet.
– Probably there would be a consultation with the Electoral Department and Crown Law officers.
– If the Electoral Department were consulted perhaps so much objection could not be urged against the Government proposal. But if the statement were issued by the Governor-General acting upon the advice of the Cabinet, it might be more or less coloured by the opinions of the Ministry.
– We have considered the matter very carefully, and the amendment represents the best means of submitting an explanatory statement to the electors.
– I am rather inclined to approve of the suggestion that the Clerk of the Parliaments might be deputed to discharge this duty. Under the amendment the matter is left in a very vague form. I have no amendment to suggest, but it seems to me that there is a difficulty to be overcome. All that I desire to do is to insure that there shall be put before the electors an absolutely unbiased statement.
– There is no doubt that that will be done.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Mr. Groom) agreed to-
That paragraphs * and c be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof, the words - “ (i) the text of the particular provisions (if any) of the Constitution proposed tobe textually altered by the proposed law, and the textual alterations proposed to be made therein.”
– - I move -
That the following new clause be inserted - “ 31A. No referendum and no return or statement showing the voting on any referendum shall be avoided on account of any delay in relation to the taking of the votes of the electors or in relation to the making of any statement or return or on account of the absence or error of any officer which is not proved to have affected the result of the referendum.”
A similar provision to this is to be found in the Electoral Act. The clause is designed to prevent a referendum being voided by the occurrence of immaterial errors.
– Who will determine whether or not an error is immaterial ?
– The High Court, which also deals with such matters arising under the Electoral Act.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
– I move -
That in Form A, in “ Instructions to Elector,” the word “ thus,” twice occurring, and the two following lines, be left out.
When the Bill was previously under consideration it was said that confusion was likely to arise from printing in these instructions to the elector two squares, each containing a cross, as an illustration of the way in which votes should be recorded. A promise was then given that the schedule would be recommitted, and that these illustrations - the two sets of squares - the one opposite the word “ Yes,” and the other opposite the word “ No “ - each containing a cross - would then be struck out. This amendment will carry out that promise, and will not interfere with the instructions given in the schedule.
– I think it would be better to revert to the old system, under which the elector would record his decision by striking out the word “Yes” or the word “No,” instead of placing a cross in the square opposite either of those words.
– Under the Electoral Act we have adopted the cross system of voting, and the discussion which took place on this question on a prior occasion showed that the sense of the House was that this system should be retained.
– It seems to’ me that the old system is the simpler and better one.
.- I trust that we shall not revert to the old practice of striking out the name of the candidate for whom an elector does not desire te vote. Our experience of that system’ in Queensland was not satisfactory, and I do rot think that we could dp better than to stand by the new plan, and vote on the square.
Amendment agreed to.
Forms B and C consequentially amended and agreed to.
Schedule, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with further amendments.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin) agreed to -
That the Standing Orders be suspended to enable the Bill to pass through its remaining stages without delay.
Motion (by Mr. Groom) proposed -
That the Bill be now read a’ third time.
– I recognise that every Bill providing for an alteration of the Constitution must be submitted to the electors, but I should like to know whether a statement of the purport of the proposed law is to be issued.
– No statement is to be made. I suggested that .a statement should be prepared by the Clerk of the Parliaments.
– We have just amended clause 6, which deals with this question in accordance with a promise made to the House.
– It will be quite impossible for the electors to appreciate the significance of a proposed amendment of the Constitution if the course now proposed be adopted.
– Copies of the proposed amendments will be posted at various public buildings, and will also be advertised.
– Apparently the text of the section of the Constitution proposed to be altered, and the actual alteration to be made, are to be advertised
– That is so.
– The advertisement will show the section as it stands, and also as proposed to be altered.
– Yes. It was said that if a statement of the effect of the proposed alteration were prepared it might not represent the exact construction! to be placed upon it.
– Serious difficulties are likely to arise, since the average elector will be unable to understand from what it is proposed to put before him the effect of a contemplated amendment.
– In the House exception was taken to any statement being prepared by a Justice of the High Court as to the effect of the proposed alteration being published.
– A referendum might be taken on a proposed alteration, the desirableness of which the electors would admittedly be unable, in the absence of authoritative information, to determine.
– The document circulated would show what the amendment was. The electors would know, for instance, whether, under the Bill with which we have just dealt, thev were asked to give the Commonwealth power to take over the whole, or only a portion of the States debts.
– One proposed amendment may be much simpler than another. We must not overlook the fact that this Bill is to apply to every referendum. If the text of a proposed amendment, without any explanation, be circulated amongst the electors, it will be very hard for them to appreciate it. Different parties will place different interpretations upon it.
– There could not be much doubt as to what purpose the amendment was to serve.
– The aim of a referendum is to get an intelligent expression of opinion from the people, Parliament being deliberately passed by. But if that opinion is to be of any value, the electors must be placed in possession of sufficient, authoritative, and unprejudiced information as to the intention and effect of the proposed alteration. It is not enough to rely upon the partisan information which will be given in the press and from the public platforms.
– Sometimes a proposed alteration may have an ulterior object. An alteration of the Constitution might be proposed to sanction the imposition of special duties for some ulterior end.
– If an alteration were so framed that the special duties which could be levied could be ap- plied to only one, two, or three objects, those objects should be named; but if the alteration allowed the collection of special duties, which could be used for any purpose, it should not be stated that they were to be used for some particular purpose only. In connexion with the proposed alteration to permit of the raising of special ear-marked duties, one party may declare that the object is merely to provide revenue for the payment of old-age pensions, and may lead the electors to vote for it on that ground, - whereas if the electors knew that the special duties could be used for any purpose, not only now but in the future, they might hesitate about supporting it. Many electors, if an authoritative and unprejudiced statement of the purpose of a proposed alteration were placed before them, would act on their own discretion, and the value of the referendum will be enormously reduced if the people have to depend wholly upon the views instilled into their minds by political parties and the press.
– The point to which the honorable member has referred was fully considered. It was originally provided that the Chief Justice of the High Court should make a statement of the effect ot trie proposed law. That provision was discussed at some length.
– I would point out that the third reading is an order of the day, and therefore no reply is allowed. Furthermore, as the Question that the Bill be now read a third time has now been put, the measure cannot be recommitted or amended by any process, so that nothing would be gained bv waiving the Standing Orders relating to the right of reply.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
– I promised last night to recommit the items relating to ammunition and watches if honorable members desired me to do so, and I am ready to carry out that promise if I see that it U the general wish of honorable members that ive should reconsider them.
.- I hope that the Minister will give an opportunity for the reconsideration of f’ae duties on certain kinds of ammunition. The more t look into the matter the more satisfied am f that they should be reconsidered, and if the Minister does not move for the recommittal of the item, I shall do so.
– I understood from the Minister last night that fete would agree to a recommittal of the item relating to ammunition, in order to give honorable members an opportunity to obtain information as to the use of explosives in mining districts ; but as we did not get away until 7 o’clock this morning, and then had to go home to obtain much-needed rest, it has been impossible for me to find out, in the interval, what I want to know. I have telegraphed to competent authorities in my constituency, but I do not expect to receive a reply from them until to-morrow morning. In the absence of authoritative information, if the Government proceed now with the item, I shall feel compelled, in order to be on the safe side, to vote against the duties on explosives. As I stated last night, the safety of hundreds of men who use explosives in conducting mining operations depends largely upon our determination in this matter.
– In what way ?
– It may be that the proposed taxation would fall too heavily upon mining communities, and it might also have the effect of preventing the importation of safe ammunition.
– - Is not the ammunition imported from Great Britain considered safe?
– The honorable member for Newcastle stated last night that in the coal mines in his district a certain powder, which, I think, comes from Switzerland, has been proved by years of experience to be the best for blasting purposes.
– He referred to the Nobel powder.
– That is an English powder.
– He referred to powder from Switzerland. I understand that there are factories in many places. I believe that foreign blasting compounds are largely used in the mines of Western Australia, and the Minister should give us until tomorrow to properly inform ourselves on the whole subject. There are other measures on the notice-paper with which we could in the meantime proceed. There is, for instance, the Postal Rates Bill.
– The honorable member is not anxious to earn’ that measure.
– No.; but we might very well dispose of it while waiting for information in regard to explosives. It should be our object to provide miners who have to use these dangerous explosives with the cheapest and best article that can be procured, and I would again appeal to the Minister to give us time for consideration.
– I understood last night that the Minister agreed to make an inquiry into these items. Indeed, as to powder, the Minister said that he would very likely make the concession asked for, but that he would like, first of all, to look into the matter.
– I did not say that I would make the concession, but I consented to recommit trie item “Explosives,” and one or two others.
Motion (by Sir William Lyne) proposed -
That the resolutions be recommitted for the reconsideration of item 136, item 115 (as to watches), item 85 (A) and (B), Division VII. (d), and (;’)
– - I - I would ask the Minister to consent to recommit the item “Paris green.” This article is used more largely by fruit growers than by painters.
– I understand that a large quantity of Paris green comes from England, and therefore the increased duty will not affect the price of the article.
– The effect of the preference must be to enhance the price. I do not think that we should do anything calculated to increase the cost of Paris green to orchardists, or to discourage them in their efforts to keep their orchards free from insect pests. Paris green is one of the most effective spraying materials that can be used for the destruction of the codlin moth and other orchard pests, and if the price were increased it would certainly be most inimical to the best interests of the Commonwealth. I move -
That the motion be amended by the insertion after the words “Division VII. (d) “ of the words “(/) (as to Paris green).”
Amendment agreed to.
Question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.
That in lieu of the duties of Customs imposed by the Customs Tariff 1902 on the items shown in the attached schedule, duties of Customs shall from the 30th day of August, 1906, at 4.30 p.m., Victorian time, be imposed as follows : -
– There was a considerable debate upon the subject of explosives, last night, and although I have not had much time to obtain information upon the subject, I am able to furnish honorable members with some particulars with reference, more particularly, to explosives used for blasting purposes. The following information has been supplied to me: -
Explosives, n.e.i., being explosives for blasting, are made chiefly by Nobels, Glasgow. There are also the National Explosives Company, of Cornwall: Kynochs, Essex ; British Explosives Company, Glasgow ; Curtiss and Harvey and Chilworth, England. Foreign makers include the Hamburg DynamiteCompany and the Phoenix Explosives Company. Detonators are made both in England and on the Continent. Mr. Hake, the Chief Inspector of Explosives, could not say offhand as to respective proportions, but believes that the larger quantity comes from England. Fuse known as safety fuse, is all of British manufacture, and is made bythe following firms : - Messrs. Bickf ord, Smith and Company, Cornwall ; Nobels,
Glasgow ; Bennett, Cornwall ; and Brunton, Wrexham. Mr. Hake states that all the above explosives (which include gelignite, gelatine, dynamite, &c.), are used exclusivelyby miners, and none of them are made exclusively on the Continent. There are no American explosives or fuse. Of the explosives for blasting imported into the Commonwealth 75 per cent. are of British manufacture; 75 per cent. of the detonators are of British manufacture; and all the fuse is of British manufacture. Mr. Hake says that he is quite sure Great Britain can supply all the explosives required in mining, &c, in Australia. Re complaint of Perry Company, as to non-supply of fuse powder, I am assured that British manufacturers can and will supply such powder. If there is any attempt to operate injuriously against any Australian industry in this respect, we could probably deal with such under the Anti-Trust Act.
I mentioned to the Comptroller-General the cases which were prominently brought forward by the honorable member for Newcastle and the honorable member for Kalgoorlie respectively, and asked him to obtain all the information he possibly could. The following return has teen compiled : -
Return of Explosives (English and Foreign) imported into Victoria during period 1st July, 1905, to 31st August, 1906.
All safety fuse for blasting imported into Victoria is of British manufacture.
– It is ‘ time that the Minister took some action.
– Without mentioning any names, I may remind honorable members that last night reference was made to the’ existence’ of a combination in Great Britain - a combination which extended to the. Continent. I have made inquiries in respect of that matter, and I find that a firm had an explosive factory here, which was eventually bought, I think, upon the understanding” that the owner should not start operations again. He has not done so, but there is some person or persons–
Mr.- Thomas. - Is the Minister speaking of explosives or of fuse?
– I am talking of the manufacture of explosives. Some person, however, who is supposed to be his representative, has established works near Melbourne.
– Near Williamstown, or on the Williamstown line. A meeting of the manufacturers of explosives was held in London at which this matter was discussed, and it was in consequence of the understanding which they said had been arrived at, that they refused to supply the local factory with powder.
.- In view of the statement of the Minister, it appears to me that if we remit the proposed duty of 10 per cent, upon foreign explosives, we shall not improve matters from a local stand-point. Concerning the other subject mentioned by the Minister, I cannot say of my own knowledge that a powder combination exists in the old country, but the general impression in New South Wales is that the supply of that article is controlled by a trust. Certainly the price which the miners are called upon to pay for it is very high. I trust that the Minister will make further inquiries with a view to ascertaining whether its manufacture is controlled by any such combination. If a combine exist, it is in a position to raise the price of powder under any circumstances. If it does not exist, a 10 per cent, duty upon foreign powder might be used by the English manufacturers as a lever by which to raise their prices to the level of those of their foreign competitors. I think that that view is well worthy of consideration. I should like to know from the Minister whether he will agree to again recommit the Bill if we pass the schedule in its present form?
– The schedule will again come under review when the Bill is under consideration.
– Do I understand that I shall have an opportunity of dealing with the matter then?
.- I am very much interested in this item of fuse powder. Only to-day a represent tative of Nobel waited upon me and informed me that it is a fact that an English firm of fuse makers - I do not wish to mention their name so as to unnecessarily prejudice them - who are large competitors in the Victorian market, having had a dispute with a local manufacturer of fuse, have induced the powder combine in England not to sell any powder to him. To my mind, their action constitutes a most unjust conspiracy against the local manufacturer. I hope that nothing which the Minister has said can be accepted as an indication that he sympathizes with such a combination. I desire to know whether he is still determined to impose a dutv of 10 per cent, upon Continental fuse powder? As a. matter of law, I am absolutely convinced that if we agree to the item “ Explosives, n.e.i., ad valorem, 10 per cent.,” it will cover fuse powder from the Continent, and that the Victorian firm to which I have alluded will have to pay that duty upon the supplies of powder which it obtains from there.
– I cannot see the logic of that position at all. If what has been told me be true, the local manufacturer deserves the treatment to which he has been subjected.
– But it is not true. In addition, the dispute which arose was settled by means of litigation. Further, both firms appeared before the Tariff Commission, and asked for the imposition of a duty of1d. per coil upon imported fuse, The Minister should not assume that his information is true until he has heard the statements of Messrs. Perry and Company, of Footscray.
– My officers have heard their statements.
– Why should one firm be allowed to obtain its powder free and another - whose supplies from the mother country have been cut off - be compelled to pay a duty of 10 per cent. upon powder obtained from the Continent ? Will the Minister be a party to such an unfair thing ?
– I am not a party to anything.
– Then I ask that Messrs. Perry and Company shall be allowed to obtain their powder free.
– I am informed, that they can already get their powder from Great Britain free.
– If I can be assured of that I will withdraw my opposition to the item.
– I have the statement of the Comptroller-General that British manufacturers will supply them with powder.
– I should like to know what control the Comptroller-General can exercise over the British powder combine?
– If there be a combination, he can exercise great control over it under the provisions of the Australian Industries Preservation Bill.
– Will the Minister undertake to force the British manufacturers to supply the local fuse factory with powder ?
– If there be a combination of any kind in existence I will go to almost any length to stop its operations.
– I do not blame the Nobel trust in this matter. I am alluding to another firm in Great Britain and Aus tralia which is responsible for the action of this combine. I say that it has been guilty of most unfair tactics - tactics which ought not to be tolerated. I am glad to learn that the Minister will deal with the matter.
– If there be a combination in existence, as far as the law allows me to do so, I will deal with it.
Mr.Joseph Cook. - The Minister will warm them up.
– He will if there is a combination.
– No attempt has been made to manufacture fuse powder in Australia.
– So far as I know it is not asserted that such an attempt has been made.
– It has to be imported. Fuse making is a local industry deserving of protection, and it ought not to be victimized by this powerful combination.
– No one having any knowledge of this question can doubt that much of these explosives are controlled by large trusts. I would point out,’ however, that most of those imported into Australia come from the Glasgow branch of Nobel and Company, and consequently would not pay the higher duty. No doubt the Minister has before him information bearing out my statement. There is a powerfulGerman combination, a Russian combination, and also, I think, a French combination, and all are practically working under the same patent ; but I repeat that most of these explosives come chiefly from the Glasgow branch of Nobel and Company.
– The honorable member is speaking of dynamite and gelignite, not blasting powder.
– Nobel and Company make all sorts of explosives. I am strongly of opinion that the Minister would be justified in resisting any attempt to bring the Australian manufacturer into a position in which he would be able to co-operate with the big trusts in the old world who control prices ; but my experience leads me to believe that it is incorrect to say that all these explosives come from the Continent.
– The discussion which has taken place upon this item shows how absurd it is to speak of it as being a real preference to Great Britain. We find on inquiry that nearly all the explosives used in our mines are manufactured in Great Britain, so that she already holds the bulk of the trade. I agree wilh the honorable and learned member for Bendigo that something has led to a serious quarrel between two manufacturers of explosives in Victoria, and that each of them is trying to secure an advantage over -the other. I understand that a local manufacturer’s business was acquired by a well-known firm of British fuse-makers, subject to the condition that the vendor should not resume operations here. We are told - although I cannot say whether or not the statement’ is correct - that through the agency of some of his relatives, the latter once more set up in business, with the result that the British firm, which had established its business here, and which is a large user of fuse powder, induced the sellers of that explosive in Great Britain to refrain from accepting any further orders from their local opponent. That was a, wrong position to take up. but the peculiar feature of these proceedings is that as soon as the Tariff Commission was appointed, the two firms sank their differences and united in an effort to secure an increased dutv of id. per coil. This serves to show what takes place in connexion with a proposal of this kind, and how necessary it is to make careful inquiries before taking action. So far as mining explosives are concerned, it is immaterial whether we grant or refuse a preference to Great Britain, since the bulk of our imports are already drawn . from that quarter.
– When I left the Chamber early this morning this item was under consideration, and the futility of all-night sittings is demonstrated by the fact that it has not yet been disposed of. The Minister promised last night to consider a request made by me that rifle cartridges, which are used very largely for the destruction of vermin, and are included in this schedule, should be dealt with on the existing Tariff basis. I wish to know whether he is prepared to make that concession.
– I cannot. It is not a big item, but if I agreed to the honorable member’s proposal, I should practically destroy the whole compact. I think that a certain class of cartridges are on the free-list, while others are not. A very considerable proportion of our imports of cartridges come from Great Britain.
– Quite so. I do not think that a strong case has been made out on behalf of the miners who object to this item. The honorable member for Newcastle has told us that he considers this schedule has been introduced not to give a preference to Great Britain, but to grant increased protection to certain local industries. If the sole object which the Government have in view is that of granting more protection to certain- industries, while exempting the honorable member’s constituents from some taxation, then this cannot be said to be a proposal to grant preference to Great Britain.
– Does the honorable member describe it as a preferential scheme ?
– On the face of it, it is, but the preference is to be granted by penalizing the foreigner and not by reducing our duties as against British imports. The honorable member wishes high duties to be imposed, not for the purpose pf inducing Great Britain to enter into a reciprocal agreement, but to establish Australian industries which will reduce our trade with the old country. That is not the treatment which England expected from her Colonies when she asked us to do something for the cause of Empire.
– Great Britain’ never asked us to grant her a preference.
– Preferential trade was favoured by the late Prime Minister, who, as the result of its advocacy, lost his seat. His first lieutenant, Mr. Chamberlain’, also left the Cabinet to go forth, as he said, as a missionary in the interests of Empire, and did his best to popularize the policy.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.4.5 p.m.
.- No doubt the Minister Of Trade and Customs has been assured bv his responsible officers that it is not necessary to import explosives from foreign countries ; but last vear over £90,000 worth were so imported, and I take it that foreign instead of English supplies were drawn upon because the foreign blasting material has been found especially suitable under certain conditions. I reiterate the request I made this afternoon, that the matter shall not be pressed until we have an opportunity to learn from those who use explo- sives. in their daily work what effect the proposed duties will have. The lives of men depend upon the nature of the blasting material which they use, and we shall not be justified, in order to gain additional revenue, in jeopardizing their safety by compelling them to use explosives which may not be thoroughly suitable for the work which they are doing.
Motion (by Sir John Forrest) put -
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– As this is a Bill to amend the Constitution, it is necessary that the House shall be counted. I therefore direct that the division bells be rung.
The House divided.
Majority … … 47
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Motion (by Mr. Groom) proposed -
That the Bill be now read a third time.
.- This Bill was presented, I think, yesterday morning, and was passed through its second reading and Committee stages this afternoon before 10 per cent. of those present had an opportunity to read it.
– The honorable member should join the Opposition. He is a good man wasted in his present position.
– If the Opposition had performed its proper functions, it would have enlightened the country in regard to the provisions of this measure, and it might then have been unnecessary for me to speak. The point I am about to take is, in my opinion, a serious one. It is provided in the Constitution that senators shall take their seats upon a given date, which is fixed at present as the 1st January. Under the Bill, however, the Senate would have to meet in July. Therefore, senators who are elected for the first term under the new arrangement will not be able to take their seats until July. If the House is dissolved in November or December, we shall have to meet in February, unless under extraordinary circumstances the Governor-General extends the time allowed for the return of the writs.
– In March.
– I say February.
– The honorable member is wrong.
– The Constitution provides that the writs shall be issued within ten days of the dissolution of Parliament. Therefore, if the House is dissolved in November, they will have to be issued at all events at the end of November, or early in December. We should have to meet within sixty days of the issue of the writs, unless under special circumstances the Government intervenes - and I do not think that this would be desirable.
– No, we should not. The writs must be returned within sixty days, and it is after the return of the writs that we must meet.
– Very well, I am prepared to accept the most unfavorable case that can be put. Suppose that the House was not required to meet until March. In what position should we be placed? The Senate would also have to meet in March, or within thirty days of the return of the writs. The newly elected senators would not be able to take their seats until July, and therefore their places would have to be filled in the meantime by senators who might have been rejected at the polls. I do not think it is desirable that we should be called upon to rely upon the services of senators rejected at the polls to assist in transacting the business of the country. My view of this matter is indorsed by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Home Affairs. I appeal to the Prime Minister to say whether senators elected in March, 1910, could take their seats before July.
– No, they could not, nor could they take their seats before the 1st January under present conditions.
– I agree with the view that the new senators would not be able to take their seats until the 1st July, and that we should in the meantime have to fall back upon the services of senators who had been rejected at the poll.
– Would not the same thing happen in connexion with an extraordinary election ?
– The same thing might happen.
– They have the same anomaly in the United States.
– Neither that fact, nor the possibility of the same thing happening 111 connexion with an extraordinary election, affords any reason why we should provide that it must happen. The Bill should be recommitted with a view to insert a provision to get over the difficulty. All that is necessary is to provide that this House may be carried on for three months longer.
– That could be done under the Constitution as it stands.
– The only method by which it could be done at present would be by extending the time for the return “of the writs, and I do not think that that is a desirable course to adopt. We should not leave it to the Ministry to do as they please in a matter of that kind. Suppose that the members of the Government were rejected at the general election. Would it be fair to allow them to obtain an extension of the time for the return of the writs, and so delay the meeting of the Parliament in opposition to the wishes of the people?
– Under the honorable member’s proposal, would not Ministers remain three months longer in office, although they might not have the confidence of the people?
– Yes, but they would remain in office only with the will of a Parliament in existence.
– Then we should all be in the same boat.
– Possibly so. That would be infinitely preferable to permitting the Government to extend their term of office by delaying the return of the writs. I would strongly urge that the Bill be recommitted in order that we may make an amendment in the direction I have suggested.
– I should like to point out to the honorable member that section 28 of the Constitution meets all the difficulties that he has raised. It is therein provided that the House of Representatives shall exist for three years from the date of its first meeting. If we met next March we should continue to exist for three years. If the House were dissolved in March, 1910, there would be ample time under the Electoral Act to do all that was required.
– One hundred days is the maximum.
– That would carry us over until the end of June, and there would be no difficulty whatever under normal circumstances.
– The honorable and learned member is talking of normal circumstances, and yet is referring to the extreme possibilities of the case.
– And the time allowed would be two or three days short of that required to meet the difficulty.
– Then the period allowed for the return of the writs could be extended for three or four days. I believe that the Constitution would stand such a strain.
– I congratulate the honorable member for Kalgoorlie upon having unearthed a grave constitutional anomaly. In my opinion, he is already qualified for the leadership of the Opposition, and, so far as I am concerned, I am ready to abdicate my position immediately he can see his way to take up the role. I do not at all subscribe to his constitutional theory-
– That is because the honorable member has not looked into it.
– I do not subscribe to his constitutional theory that the only function of the Opposition is to put right the wretched proposals of an incom- petent Government. The Opposition has an obligation of quite another kind. Instead of trying to patch up legislation which is detrimental to tlie interests of the people, it is the duty, of the Opposition to try to put an incompetent Government off the Treasury benches, and put more efficient Ministers in their place. My honorable friend has adopted quite a novel reading of the position. He is now suggesting that instead of exposing ourselves to the risk of having to rely upon rejected senators to carry on the business of the country, we should extend the term of office of men who ought to be rejected. I fail to understand what difference in broad results to the people would be brought about. The honorable member suggested that we should Insert a provision which would enable us to sit longer, although we might be eligible only for rejection by the people.
– My proposal relates to the alteration of only one term.
– I should be very glad if the honorable member would submit a proposition, which would enable us to overcome the difficulty. To my mind, it is a very small one.
– Will the honorable member admit that under this Bill we are extending the tenure of office of members of the present Senate for six months?
– I will.
– Is there any difference between extending the term of office of senators and extending that of members of the House of Representatives?
– There is not an atom of difference. But the honorable member proposes to remedy one anomaly by re-enacting it in another form. His suggestion does not meet the case.
Mr. FISHER (Wide Bay) r8.i8].- It is an old game for senior Members of Parliament to pooh-pooh any suggestion which is made by a younger member. I think that the matter which has been brought forward by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie is a very proper one for our attention, and his charge that this Bill has not re’ceived adequate consideration cannot be gainsaid. Now that the anomaly has been pointed out, it should be remedied immediately. The honorable member for Parramatta indicated that grave dangers would be encountered if we proceeded in a common-sense way to declare exactly what we mean.
– I did nothing of the kind.
– Under the Bill it is proposed to extend the term of office of members of the Senate for good and sound reasons. Why should we not say that the term of office of members of this House should be similarly extended, seeing that Parliament could always be dissolved before it had expired by effluxion of time, and that consequently no difficulty could arise ? The honorable member for Corinella, with Eis splendid intellect, has pointed out that if we proceed to the last extremity of our constitutional powers we may keep within the four corners of the Constitution itself. That ought not to be the object of a Parliament or the aim of a democratic Government. Nobody knows better than does the honorable and learned member, that under the most favoured conditions, the Government will be at their wits’ ends to keep within the Constitution. This is not one of those occasions when a haphazard statement clothed in indefinite language will explain the situation. The Government are not absolved from the duty which they owe to the country of discussing this matter-
– We were quite willing to discuss it this afternoon, and we are prepared to do so now.
– In my opinion, it would not have been derogatory to the dignity of the Government if one of its members had followed the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, and had stated the exact position.
– I rose to speak when the honorable member himself rose.
– I am prepared to give way now. If the Government are clear upon the matter, thev will surely be able to explain to the satisfaction of the House the contingencies which are provided for in this Bill.
– As honorable members are aware, this Bill was introduced because the Government were, assured that the month of. December - and even of November - was an exceedingly inconvenient time of the year at which to hold the general elections.- We were pressed to bring forward a measure which would enable them to be held in. March. The matter was fully discussed, and some honorable members suggested that they should be held in April. This Bill, I contend, gives effect to the desire of honorable members. Under it, if Parliament be convened during the first week of March next year - that was the month in which the present Parliament was convened - it will expire by effluxion of time three years later. If the measure be passed into law, senators who are elected during the present year will continue to hold office until the 30th of June, 1913, and the members of the Senate who were returned at the last election will continue to hold office for six months longer than they otherwise would have done - that is to say, until the 30th of June, 1910. Should the Parliament meet next March, it will - as I have already stated - expire by effluxion of time in March three years later. Within ten days thereafter the writ for the holding of the elections must issue. That writ fixes the date of nomination, which must be not less than seven nor more than twenty-one days after the date of the writ. The polling most be not less than seven, nor more than thirty, days after the nomination. Upon the declaration of the poll the candidates are duly elected, and upon their election they are de facto members of Parliament.
– The Minister is referring to members of this House only.
– I would point out to the honorable member that candidates for the Senate will also be returned at that election, because the idea is that we should have simultaneous elections. The writ must be returned within sixty days of its issue, and the Constitution requires that, within thirty days of its return, ‘ Parliament must assemble. But we have power under the Electoral ‘ Act to extend the period for» the return of (he writ. In order to avert what the honorable member for Kalgoorlie regards as’ a possible calamity - the fact that one or two months may elapse during which it would be possible for the old representatives to take part in the deliberation of Parliament-
– It would be grossly improper if they did take part in its deliberations.
– No. The same thing is done in the United States.
– For good and sufficient reasons. A Government might be in power which has been absolutely defeated at the polls.
– The contingency to which the honorable member for Kalgoorlie refers could only arise once, namely, after the election which is to be held three years hence.
– I am of that opinion myself.
– Surely there is no need for us to go through all the processes of introducing another Bill-
– Does the Minister say that my proposal would necessitate anything of the (kind ?
– This measure has already passed through the Senate, and if we agree to it now, it is ready for submission to the electors. The matter to which the honorable member refers has been most carefully considered, and I am sorry that he was not present this afternoon, because it is most desirable that these questions should be fully discussed.
– Probably I should have been present if I had not been obliged to sit up all last night.
– I recognise that the honorable member gives very close attention to the business which comes before this House. But the position to which he has referred does not constitute a serious anomaly.
– When does the Minister say that it will be possible to hold the elections after those which are now pending?
– They could be held at any time in March, or during the first fortnight of April. After the first election under the amended Constitution they could be held at any time in May if desired. This matter has been carefully considered by the- Government.
– Will the honorable member give us an assurance that he will see that the anomaly of rejected senators taking part in the proceedings of the Parliament is not permitted?
– I can assure the honorable member that if I am still in office I shall be prepared to take action if I think that any evil is likely to arise. I can say no more than that.
– I would point out to the honorable member for Kalgoorlie that if it were provided that tho next Parliament should not expire until 15 jo the result would be that even in the event of our failing to secure a workable Legislature a dissolution could not take place before then. We should then find ourselves in a more curious quandary than that to which he has referred. This ought to be sufficient to convince him that he ought not to proceed with his proposal.
.- By way of personal explanation, Mr. Speaker, I desire to say that when the bells rang for the division on the motion for the third reading of the Constitution Alteration (States Debts) Bill, I was engaged in writing in the Opposition corner, and was in the act of crossing the floor when I was nominated as a teller for the noes. As a matter of fact, I am not opposed to the Bill, and had, intended to vote for its third reading.
.-I should have liked the Minister of Home Affairs to intimate when it is proposed to hold the next general election under this measure. When it was first mooted that the general elections should be held in March, I pointed out to him both privately and in the House that such an alteration would seriously affect the position of candidates for election as representatives of Queensland.
– The point has been overlooked, and the Government know it.
– Given an ordinary season, during the months of February and March and well into April, the country in the north-west of Queensland is practical ly impassable. It is a common thing at that time of the year to see mails stacked up on both sides of rivers for weeks at a stretch, and to find sheets of water 20 or 30 miles in width.
– But if the elections were held in the middle of April?
– Under ordinary circumstances, the next Parliament will expire in the month of March, and if the elections do not take place until May, there will be an interval of six or eight weeks. On the last occasion only four weeks elapsed between the dissolution and the date of the elections.
– If Parliament expired in March, only six weeks would elapse before the holding of the general elections in the middle of April.
– During that time the Commonwealth would be without a Parliament. That would be a very undesirable state of affairs. The facts which have been brought to light during this debate show how unwise it is to attempt to hurriedly pass legislation in the closing hours of a dying Parliament. In such circumstances it is not possible for honorable members to give proper attention to the various measures submitted to them. It seems to me that there has been a desire on the part of the Government to overcome the difficulty without introducing a second Bill relating to the Senate. I did not rise to argue the constitutional point. My only desire was toshow that if a general election be held in March or April, fully onehalf of the electors in the north-west of Queensland will be disfranchised.
.- Both the Minister of Home Affairs and the deputy-leader of the Opposition admit that the honorable member for Kalgoorlie has pointed out an anomaly.
– I said that an anomaly might arise if it were necessary to convene Parliament before a certain time, but that I did not think it would be.
– The deputy-leader of the Opposition, who is an authority on constitutional law, distinctly stated that an anomaly had been brought to light by the honorable member. The honorable and learned member for Angas indicated that he held a similar view, but urged that the condition of affairs described by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie was not uncommon in the United States. Is it to be said that we should agree to an anomaly simply because it is tolerated in another country ? The difficulty could be overcome without running the risk, as suggested by the Minister, of having to extend the time for the return of the writs. The honorable and learned gentleman admits that if the Constitution be amended as proposed, it may be necessary to extend the time for the return of the writs for a month or more in order that the elections for the two Houses may take place simultaneously. That being so, it must be recognised that there is a flaw in this Bill. The incident serves to show how undesirable it is to have all-night sittings. When honorable members have to attend here day and night they cannot be expected to properly discharge their duties. Such a procedure undermines the work of the Parliament, and usually results in the passing of ill-considered legislation. Some of the worst laws on the statute-book of New South Wales were passed in. the small hours of the morning when honorable members were so fatigued as to be unfit to discharge their parliamentary duties. I regret that as I had to attend to a large volume of correspondence from my constituents I was unable to be present this afternoon. Had I been in attendance I should have endeavoured to secure the amendment of this Bill.
– The honorable member would have found it almost impossible to amend it.
– I think the Opposition are to be blamed for not securing an amendment providing for an extension of the life of this Parliament for another two years. They frequently claim credit for having improved what they describe as the ill-considered measures introduced by the Government.
– On the contrary, we say that the honorable member and others have insistently frustrated our efforts in that direction.
– The Opposition should have endeavoured to amend the Bill in the way I have indicated, and at the same time to secure the insertion of a provision for an increased allowance to honorable members. The Government do not deserve any credit for having brought forward such a patch-work measure at a time when there was an opportunity for them to do something which would have caused their names to stand out boldly in the history of the Commonwealth.
Question resolved in the affirmative, those voting being -
Bill read a third time.
– The Bill has been passed by the required statutory majority.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin) proposed-
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– Although opposed to the raising of special duties of Customs to provide a Commonwealth old-age pensions fund, I recognise that a large number of honorable members, who, I hope, will be returned at the forthcoming election, are not, as are the members of the party to which I belong, in favour of direct taxation for this purpose, and, as the Bill provides for the amendment of the Constitution, and must therefore be passed by an absolute majority of the House, I intend to vote for the motion. While opposed to the raising of duties to provide a pensions fund, which I shall not advocate when before the country, I intend to give an opportunity to the electors to say whether the course proposed shall be taken. If the poor are willing, in order to secure a Commonwealth old-age pension system, to allow the revenue necessary for its establishment to be taken out of their pockets, I cannot prevent that being done.
.- Like the honorable member for Hindmarsh, I am not in favour of imposing special duties - probably on tea and kerosene - to provide a Commonwealth old-age pensions fund. I should have been glad to have the amendment of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie carried. That would have made it necessary to provide the money out of the general revenue. I recognise, however, that the Braddon section, which now prevents the Commonwealth from spending more than one-fourth of the receipts from Customs and Excise, will shortly cease to have effect, so that next Parliament, or its successor, will have power to say exactly how the money so raised shall be expended. It is, however, highly desirable that we should have a workable system of Commonwealth old-age pensions, and remove the anomalies which exist under the New South Wales, and, I understand, the Victorian old-age pensions ‘ law. To bring that about, I intend to record my vote for the third reading.
.- As I intend to record my vote against the Bill, I wish to put my views on record. I oppose the measure, because I know that the Government have power to raise the money necessary for the establishment of an oldage pensions fund by means of direct taxation. I object to obtaining revenue for this purpose from duties on tea and kerosene, which are the chief articles it is proposed to tax. If the Bill is passed, I shall try to persuade those electors with whom 1 come into contact to vote against the proposal which it embodies. The Government could raise by direct taxation the funds necessary for the payment of old-age pensions, and it is from this source that the money should be obtained. The reason why most persons are obliged to come to the State for assistance is that the wealth now enjoyed by the rich has been extorted from them, leaving them without means in their declining years. Therefore the rich should be called upon to bear the taxation necessary to provide for the aged poor. As I feel strongly that the money required should be obtained only by direct taxation, I shall vote. against the measure.
.- I_am opposed ito the [proposal that unlimited power shall be given to the Government to raise revenue for purposes which are not specifically stated in the measure. We are told that power is being sought to enable the Government to establish a Commonwealth old-age pensions system; but we have only a bald statement on that point, and it is probable that the power when obtained will be used to raise revenue for other purposes.
– Nothing can be done until Parliament passes an Act.
– -I am aware of that If. there had been no ‘other, or no more equitable, proposal than that put forward, it might be necessary to support the Bill as a means to an end ; but I hold that a Commonwealth old-age pensions fund should be provided out of the revenue returned by the Commonwealth, to the States. New South Wales has practically paid her old-age pensions out of the surplus given to her by the Commonwealth over and above her three-fourths of the Customs, and Excise revenue. Therefore, a more equitable arrangement would be to allow the Parliament to deduct from the sums returnable to the States under the Braddon provision enough to provide for a Commonwealth old-age pensions system. The States obtain a large amount of revenue from the Commonwealth compared with what they got prior to Federation.
– Only some of them.
– Most of them have done very well. Trouble has arisen be cause some of the States have neglected their duty to the old and infirm, and, being less advanced than the other States, have no provision for the payment of old-age pensions. They cannot be expected to be ready to agree to a deduction being made from the three-fourths returnable to them by the Commonwealth. But in objecting to this method they are not showing a Federal spirit. A parochial spirit seems to permeate some honorable members. New South Wales paid old-age pensions to her people before receiving any of the large benefits which she has since received from Federation.
– If the representatives of the small States did not look after their interests, they would receive very little consideration from the honorable member.
– The State represented by the honorable member for Maranoa has received more support in this Parliament from the representatives of New South Wales than from any others. It ill-becomes the honorable member, who is always bursting out in fresh places, to chide a representative of New South Wales. No State has had so much consideration as has been received by Queensland in- connexion with the action taken by the Commonwealth to obliterate the black blots’ with which the legislation of that State has disgraced Australia.
– Queensland does not receive even the full amount of her threefourths of the Customs and Excise revenue.
– It ill-becomes the representatives of that State to find fault with the representatives of New South Wales.
– It is the honorable member who has been finding fault.
– I was merely answering an interjection, when the honor-, able member interfered. He is always putting in his oar when it is not required.
– It was required.
– I do not know what would become of Queensland were it not for the duty on bananas. In my opinion, the Government proposal is’- inequitable, and it would have been fairer to create an old-age pensions fund by making deductions from the money returnable to the States under the Braddon section. But Governments never like to lose revenue, and the consequence is that whenever a new piece of legislation is placed on the statutebook it is made an excuse for increasing taxation. I shall not vote for the Bill.
– The honorable member should give the people the chance to declare their opinions on this subject.
– If the Bill is rejected, the Government will have an excuse for not bringing into existence a Commonwealth old-age pension system.
– This Government easily finds excuses for going back on their promises and their principles. In justice to New South Wales - and some one should stand up for that State, since the Opposition seem to have neglected it of late - I enter my protest against the imposition of additional duties for practically any purpose that the Government may have in view.
– As I did not speak on the second reading, I should like to say a few words in regard to this measure now. I am in favour of the establishment of a Commonwealth old-age pension system, and I shall not oppose the measure, because it provides for bringing that about. The Government have gone about this business in a left-handed way. If they had desired to adopt a straightforward method, they might have proposed to repeal the Braddon section, and have provided for old-age pensions out of the present Customs revenue, and perhaps by also imposing special duties upon tea and kerosene. If they had adopted this course, the smaller States would not have felt the strain of the extra taxation. The system of ear-marking special revenue is primitive and unsatisfactory. But I suppose thatthe Government have adopted the only course that was open to them, in view of their refractory following. I am strongly in favour of old-age pensions, and, failing a better scheme, I shall vote for that proposed by the Government. I know of a man who has lived in Australia for forty years, and who has proved himself an excellent citizen; but, because he has not lived for twenty years in the State in which he is spending his old age, he is not eligible for an old-age pension. Such anomalies would be removed under a Federal scheme.
– I do not believe that the Government method is the best that could be devised for providing for old-age pensions, and I shall vote against it. I believe that there are resources within the compass of our constitutional powers which would enable us to make all the provision necessary for old-age pensions, without inflicting any great injury upon the States. I did not vote for the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, because I regarded it as involving too great an inroad upon their financial resources. If we had practised a little economy, and utilized the balance available to us out of our one-fourth share of Customs and Excise revenue, we might have made the simplest of arrangements with the States Premiers, who share with us the responsibility for old-age pensions, and have thus avoided the necessity for adopting a huge scheme of taxation.
– What responsibility have the States Premiers in regard to oldage pensions? They would tell us that it was our business, and not theirs.
– That would not absolve them from their responsibility, which is as much theirs as ours. It is their duty to assist us in making such financial arrangements as would obviate the necessity for taxing the people in the manner now proposed. We already have the necessary financial resources, and these are susceptible of arrangement in such a manner as to render it unnecessary to impose a crushing load of taxation upon the poorer classes. If I believed that the method now proposed was the only way of providing for old-age pensions, I should vote for it without question; but I decline to approve of an amendment of the Constitution unless the necessity for it is obvious.
Question put. The House divided.
Majority … … 34
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
– The Bill has been passed by the required statutory majority.
Consideration resumed (vide page 5057).
.- Since this matter was last under discussion, I have had an opportunity of obtaining some of the assurances I required as to the probable effects of this proposal upon the industries in which blasting powder is principally used. I have been assured by the representative of a firm in this city, whose name I am not at liberty to disclose, that the statement recently made by the honorable and learned member “for Bendigo that the supply of explosives is controlled by a huge trust is not quite correct. I am told that in Great Britain there are six separate firms which compete keenly for the trade of the world, and that on the continent there are other firms which compete with the British manufacturers. Consequently, the possibility of a combination being able to raise the price to the consumers in Australia is decreased very considerably.
– Does the honorable member know the proportion of trade which is done by the ring?
Mr.FRAZER. - I am assured that the number of those who are competing for the world’s trade in these materials is sufficient to remove all possibility of prices being forced up by any internal combination in the United Kingdom.
– Is a person in the trade the honorable member’s authority for that statement ?
– Yes. He is a gentleman who was placed upon his honour before he supplied me with that information, and he is one who would not mislead me as to whether there was a trust in existence or not. Upon the question of whether the explosives imported into the Commonwealth from foreign countries were of a sufficiently high quality to safeguard the lives of those who use them, I may mention that this afternoon I wired to Mr. Dodd, the representative of the Miners’ Association in Kalgoorlie - an association which represents about eight-tenths of the undergroundworkers upon that gold-field - asking him. whether his members considered that the foreign explosives used upon the Western Australian gold-fields were superior to British explosives. I have just received from him the following reply, which is addressed to me from Boulder -
I do not consider foreign-made explosives any advantage over British.Rather the reverse, especially fuse and blasting gelatine.
Under these circumstances my opposition to the proposal of the Government is withdrawn.
Amendment (by Sir William Lyne) agreed to -
That the word “watches,” item 115, be left out.
– I am anxious that the articles mentioned in item 85 should be eliminated from the schedule, because I am satisfied that the taxation which it is proposed to levy upon them will seriously affect the employment of painters throughout the country. As honorable members are aware, there are a number of painters who are accustomed to enter into contracts for painting weatherboard and other small houses. These men provide all their own materials, and if those materials are taxed in the manner proposed they will be placed in a very serious predicament. The preference which it is proposed to extend to the goods of the mother country under this heading is scarcely worthy of consideration. I feel sure that the Minister, recognising that these proposals will interfere with the livelihood of men who are already pushed to make ends meet, and realizing that they are unimportant to the schedule as a whole, will consent to their excision. Consequently I move -
That item85 be left out.
Amendment (by Sir William Lyne) agreed to -
That the word “dyes,” Division VII., be left out.
Amendment (by Mr. G. B. Edwards) agreed to -
That the words “ Paris green “ be left out.
Amendment (by Sir William Lyne) agreed to -
That the words “ Ultramarine blue “ be left out.
Resolutions reported with further amendments, and adopted.
That Mr. Deakin and Sir William Lyne do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolutions.
– In moving -
That the House do now adjourn,
I do so at this early hour in consideration of the protracted period which honorable members were good enough to devote to their duties last night, and of the progress which has been made to-day. My honorable colleague, the Minister of Trade and Customs, will to-morrow proceed with the Harvester Duties Bill and schedule, and the Bill covering the schedule which we have just been considering.
.- I desire to bring under the notice of the Prime Minister a patent magazine for rifles which will fit the Lee-Enfield, the Lee-Metford, and the new service rifles which are now being used by the Commonwealth Defence Forces. The advantages gained by the use of the new magazine are - that a rifle can be charged with eight cartridges almost as quickly as single loading one cartridge by drawing back the spring to its full extent and pouring the eight cartridges into the magazine.
The inventor, who is an Australian, residing in Melbourne, writes -
When starting firing one has only to release the spring and it will force the cartridges into the breech. By working the magazine in the way described, fifty shots a minute can be fired, and no time is lost in re-charging the magazine, in addition to which cartridges can always be held in reserve when desired without using the cut off.
I may explain that on the side of the weapon there is an appliance by which the magazine can be cut off, so that it may be used as an ordinary rifle, and the supply retained in the magazine for an emergency. The inventor points out in his letter that -
I have also a sight which can be fitted to the rifles with my magazine, which would make the rifles at present in use equal to the new Service rifles.
The ladder, when fitted, can be placed at any elevation, and cannot be knocked down if at an elevation of 1,800 yards. It has the vonier and wind-gauge, which can be simply worked and adjusted.
In the ordinary rifle the ladder has to be turned up, and it often happens that the rung which marks the number of yards falls down, with the result that the accuracy of the sight is interfered with. The inventor continues -
I am prepared to allow the Defence Department to fix the patent on a number of rifles to give it a fair trial (which includes the magazine), and to give them any test they may think fit.
Appended is a report received from the Commandant of Victoria, also replies to some objections raised. Trusting the report to be explicit in all detail.
John H. Matthews, Sgt., “E “ Co. 5th A.I.R.
This is a remarkable invention by a member of the Defence Force. I have seen it myself, so that I am able to express an opinion as to its value. Sergeant Matthews has already offered his patent to the Commonwealth Government, but has been told by the Minister of Defence that it cannot be accepted unless the British Government approve of it.
– The military authorities have never done anything with inventions offered to them.
– We have to pay hard cash to the Imperial Government for our rifles, and I fail to see why we should not avail ourselves of any Australian invention calculated to improve them. When a patent is offered to the Defence Department, the inventor should be given every facility to prove its effectiveness.
– The authorities will give an inventor every chance to prove the effectiveness of his patent, but they invariably declare that he has not proved that it is of any value.
– From what I know of the Prime Minister and the Ministry generally, I am confident that this man will be given a fair show.
– But he will secure no good result.
– If I am returned to the next Parliament, I shall take care that if the man’s invention is a good one, he does secure a satisfactory result.
– I speak from experience.
– I know that the honorable member is not indulging in carping criticism. My contention is that any man who claims that he has invented something that will make our weapons more effective than they are ought to receive every encouragement from the Department. Sergeant Matthews submitted his invention to the Commonwealth military authorities and ultimately received the following letter from Mr. S. A. Pethebridge, Acting Secretary of Defence : -
With reference to your letter of the 3rd of May last, relative to an improved magazine for Lee-Enfield rifle, I beg to inform you that the Commandant, Victoria, reports as follows : -
Is it not absurd to say that the brazing of a piece of steel on to the magazine would be a costly process. The inventor says that it would cost only a few pence -
I consider that if the magazine would take ten or at least eight cartridges with the same method of charging, it would be a great improvement on the present pattern.
Sergeant Matthews makes the following reply to the objections contained in this letter : - 2nd clause, re number of cartridges - The improved magazine is charged with eight cartridges. 3rd clause, re platform - The fault found in the platform not working freely has been overcome in present pattern. 4th clause, re build of magazine in reference to the brazed side pieces - It was not intended that the magazine would be made with brazed side pieces, but could be stamped out in the required shape and size, and at a very low cost.
This man has patented his magazine and sight in every country except Japan. The Consul for Japan in Melbourne is so pleased with it that he has offered to send him to that country in order that he may submit it to the military authorities there.
– They are always ready to accept any effective invention.
– If this invention is of any use to the military authorities of Japan, I can only say that the Commonwealth authorities must be bigger fools than I take them to be if they refuse to accept it.
– During the remarks made by the honorable member for Maranoa, I referred by way of interjection to the attitude taken up, not by the Ministry, but by the military authorities in respect to matters of this kind. I have had a very bitter experience in connexion with an invention of a somewhat similar character which was submitted to the Department. A captain of one of our rifle clubs who had given a great deal of attention to the subject, invented a method of loading magazines which was reported by those who had had actual experience of it to be of very great value. The military authorities, how ever, received it very coolly. Under instructions from the Minister of Defence facilities were given the inventor to bring his patent under their notice, but the reports in each case were against its adoption. I understand from the statement made by the honorable member for Maranoa that an invention that may prove of inestimable value has been submitted to the Department, but that the inventor, as usual, has received but scant encouragement. We all know that the inventor of the Brennan torpedo had to leave the country to achieve success elsewhere, and notwithstanding that, owing to the crass stupidity of responsible officers in our military organization, all kinds of inventions have been lost to us. I hope that the representative of the Minister of Defence will see that this invention is submitted to a fair trial.
.- I should like the Prime Minister to intimate when the reciprocity agreement with New Zealand is to be further considered. One of the items in the schedule - that relating to timber - has an, important bearing on the mining industry, and if steps are to be taken to ratify it we ought to be so informed. I hope that it will not be agreed to.
– The Committee to which the agreement was referred by the New Zealand Legislature has not yet reported upon it.
– I shall be very glad to know whether the Prime Minister intends to proceed further with the matter, and, if so, when?
.- I should like to again direct the attention of the Prime Minister to a matter which I brought under his notice some time ago. I have not yet received a reply to the inquiry I made on the occasion in question, and perhaps the honorable and learned gentleman has not had time to consider it. I refer to the question which I put to him as to the employment of Australians upon the subsidized war ships.
– I have given consideration to that question.
– On 16th August last I asked the Prime Minister -
In reply; I was informed that the complement of these ships would be about 1,200, and Australia’s proportion about 1,000. It was also stated that no Australian officers, but that 408 men, were engaged upon them. At this rate something like ten years will elapse before we shall obtain our proper complement. I was also informed by the Prime Minister that -
The Naval Commander in Chief has stated that “ the recruiting of Australian seamen is, of necessity, very gradual, and it is not possible to at once fill up to the full numbers authorized till those already serving have received sufficient training to allow of them replacing home-trained men.”
One would think that a training extending over three years would be sufficient to enable them to replace the home-trained men. The Naval Agreement is only for ten years, and my desire is that the Prime Minister shall take action to protect the interests of Australians in connexion with this matter. I am afraid that our efforts in this direction are being reduced to a farce, and that, as a matter of fact, the Imperial authorities do not desire Australians to be placed upon these vessels. About twelve months ago 160 men submitted themselves for examination. One of them had been a fisherman for three years, and another, the son of a lighthouse keeper, who had lived by the seaside from his childhood, was anxious to enter upon a seafaring career. I can supply the
Prime Minister with the names of four men who on the occasion in question submitted themselves for examination. As a matter of fact ‘the examination was of a purely perfunctory nature. The men simply were stripped to the waist and their chest measurements, as well as their height and age, taken. The chest measurement of men whose names I can supply, was, apparently, sufficient to comply with the regulations, but as yet they have not been engaged. I do not know whether it was due to the action taken by the Prime Minister that the following advertisement was published in the Age of Monday last : -
The following will be required by H.M.S. Psyche on arrival on Monday, the 17th inst. : - 13 Seamen. 6 Stokers, 2nd Class. 1 Engine-room Artificer, 4th Class.
Applications should be made personally on board H.M.S. Psyche, at Port Melbourne. Further particulars may be obtained on application to Registrar, Royal Naval Reserve, Williamstown.
R. Creswell, Captain, Registrar R.N.R.
Among those who responded to this advertisement was a man who has been engaged as a fisherman for three years, and who knows as much about boats as a man who has not been to sea could be expected to know. As soon as he was handed over to the recruiting officer he was asked, “ Why don’t you join the Naval Brigade?” He was not submitted to any medical examination, but was simply asked his name, address, and occupation, and was told that he would be communicated with in due course. Was the advertisement a farce, or is the Prime Minister going to take action to see that the agreement is properly carried out, so that the expenditure now being incurred in this direction by the Commonwealth and New Zealand may result in the training of men who will form the nucleus of an Australian naval force? I am glad to have been able to bring under the notice of the Prime Minister facts which deserve, and, I am sure, will receive, his attention. So far as the man’s attendance to-day is concerned, I am speaking only from his information supplied to me ; but my knowledge of him leads me to believe that information. Inquiries should be made, and reasons should be furnished why his ambition, and that of many other
Australians to serve in the Australian Navy cannot be gratified.
– Every one who supports the idea of an Australian Navy, and is anxious for the extension of Australian national sentiment in that regard, will regret that an honorable’ and learned member, under the guise of trying to push ahead this, in some ways, very laudable ambition, has made insinuations as to the integrity of a people and a Government to whom ‘ we owe much, and as to the honesty of the British naval officers on this station. The bona fides of an advertisement in the daily press has, on the honorable and learned member’s own admission, been called into question merely on hearsay evidence,, and the benefits accruing to Australia from the Naval Agreement and the Agreement itself, have been dragged through the mud on the mere statement of “a man who is said to know something about boats.” I do not thinkthat conduct of this kind will benefit the Australian Navy agitation or the honorable and learned member for Corio. We have on many occasions been told that efforts are being made by Great Britain to evade the responsibilities and ignore the principles underlying the Agreement; but any one who cares to examine the facts for himself will see that the statements will not bear investigation.
– No sane man would make such charges.
– No; and no sane man would believe them. The making of these charges over and over again does not reflect credit upon the honorable and learned member for Corio or the cause which he and others espouse. In view of the statements which have been made, I recommend the Prime Minister te ascertain how many Australians are serving as officers, not only under the Naval Agreement, but in the Imperial Navy generally. A large number of men of my own acquaintance are doing so, the service being one of the most honorable in which any man could serve. The information which I suggest should be procured would be easily obtainable from the Admiralty, and its publication will do good. I have never looked at the Agreement from the narrow, selfish point of view, trying to determine the exact value of the monetary quid fro quo; but those who care to do so, and wish to know pre cisely the advantages which Australia obtains under it, should be interested to hear that, while our contribution is only about £200,000 a year, the British authorities spend £700,000 per annum, or three times as much, in Australia, and, in addition, we get a large number of men trained in the finest naval service in .the world.
Mr. DEAKIN (Ballarat- Minister of External Affairs [9.50]. - I have recently looked through the figures relating to the employment of Australian seamen under’ the Naval Agreement, though I cannot charge my memory with the exact number now employed upon the training ships. It is true that there are a number of vacancies on board, but most of them are not for ordinary A.B.’s. but artisans and others whom it is almost impossible to obtain in Australian ports. I hope to inform honorable members before the end of the session of a proposal now under .consideration, which will allow Australians now serving under the Naval Agreement to go through the technical schools in the mother country, to fit themselves for the duties of petty officers, and procure advancement according to their abilities and devotion to duty.
– That arrangement will be of great value to Australia.
– I think so. The men who go Home will do so voluntarily, and will greatly, benefit both themselves and Australia by taking advantage of the opportunities offered. If the honorable and learned member for Corio has not received’ a reply to his request for information, there has been some oversight. The figures to which I have referred were not prepared in response to his inquiry, but others came before me which, speaking from memory, were intended for him. As to the New Zealand preferential proposals, the Committee of Trade and In- dustry is to report to the House of Representatives to-night, and- probably tomorrow’s newspapers will contain telegrams showing how the agreement is regarded by its members. If approved, I shall expect to receive very shortly an inti- “mation from the Government of the Colony as to the date when the treaty will probably, be assented to by them. I shall have pleasure in looking into the matter to ‘ which the honorable member for Maranoa has called attention. The hesitancy: of the local military authorities to adopt innovations, no matter how promising, is due to the fact that we are continually receiving supplies of arms from Great Britain.
– What I speak of is merely an attachment to the present rifle.
– We cannot, of course, afford to lose touch with the improvements made at Home from time to time, but, no doubt, the attachment to which the honorable member refers is especially worthy of consideration. He asks, not for its universal adoption, but for a fair test, to encourage men of ability to use and give us the benefit of their brains. In all attempts at mechanical invention, more failures than successes must be expected ; but every likely invention should be thoroughly tested. If the testing costs a few pounds, the money will be well spent, because of the possibility of an occasional brilliant discovery. I shall ask my Honorable colleague to view the matter in this light, and am sure that he will be pleased to do so.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at9.54 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 September 1906, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1906/19060920_reps_2_34/>.