3rd Parliament · 4th Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers. -
– It is stated in this morning’s Argus that yesterday, when the quorum bells rang, seventeen Oppositionists and twelve Ministerialists assembled in the
Chamber. I wish to know from the Prime Minister if that statement is correct, and to ask him whether he thinks that the inability of the members of his party to .form a quorum an hour and a-half later than-the usual time of meeting is evidence of any strong desire on their part to get on with public business ?
– With the comment of the honorable member I have nothing to do. I was present in the chamber when the House was called together, but left it for a moment to inform honorable members. It was expected that the bells would ring fox a longer period. Four or five of my .colleagues were engaged in discussion in the Ministerial room at the time. We found the door closed. While it may be true that when Mr. Speaker took the chair there was in the chamber only the number mentioned by the Argus, there were actually twentysix Ministeralists in the building.
– They were not here.
– The honorable member for Perth.
– Every man of them was here.
– Does the honorable member think that any one believes that?
– The honorable member for Barrier has asked his question, and received an answer. This is not the time to ask another, nor to make a statement.
– I have not asked another.
– The honorable member’ is interrupting the proceedings. I have called upon the honorable member for Perth.
– The honorable member for Bourke also interjected. Why has he not been called to order ?
– I do not desire to single out any honorable member-
– You have singled me out. Why was not the honorable member for Bourke referred to?
– It is not necessary for the Chair to give reasons, but for the information of the honorable member I may say. that I singled him out because he was speaking after I had risen in my place.
– Because I do not sit on the Ministerial side; that is the real reason.
– I have called on the honorable member for Perth. I ask honorable members on both sides, if I may be permitted—
– You will be permitted if you do the square thing.
Honorable Members. - Chair;
– Honorable members may cry “Chair!” if they like; but why not be fair to both sides ?
– I ask honorable members on both sides to allow questions to be put and answered without comment, and without attempts to put further questions, except in the ordinary way.
– In to-day’s Age appears the following telegram from Perth, Western Australia : -
In connexion with the funeral yesterday of Francis Perara, the cadet who was accidentally shot on Saturday at the Karakatta rifle ranges, it is stated that when the volley was fired by the cadets over the grave several rifles refused to act owing to ill-fitting cartridges. Perara’s death was due to an explosion while a comrade was examining Bis rifle, which had missed fire.
Will the Minister of Defence institute an inquiry as to why defective rifle cartridges are being served out in Western Australia, and into the whole of the circumstances connected with the sacrifice of this young life?
– The honorable member may rest assured that the fullest inquiry will be made into this most regrettable occurrence.
– Will the Minister, when he has made the inquiry, acquaint the House with the names of the makers of the rifle and cartridge responsible for the accident, and the date when they were made?
– I shall feel it my duty to inquire into all the circumstances of the case.
– We wish to know the facts.
– Will the Prime Minister indicate when the report of the Commission appointed to inquire into life assurance matters is likely to be presented? I wish also to know whether the Commissioners have been instructed to inquire into the working of the provident fund of the Colonial Sugar Refining. Company. If not, will the Prime Minister take into consideration the ad visibility of suggesting to them that they should give the matter attention ?
– I cannot furnish even an approximate date, but shall call the attention of the Commissioners to the matter and obtain information regarding the probable date of the presentation of their report:
– A time limit was fixed.
– Has the Prime Minister any further information, regarding the proposed Royal Commission to inquire into the sugar industry ? When does he intend to appoint it?
– The draft of the matters to be inquired into has been prepared, and is under consideration. It should be settled in a few days.
– Is it the intention of the Government to arrange for a nonparty reception of. Lord Kitchener on his. arrival in Australia ?
– Lord Kitchener visits us as. one of the most distinguished officers of the British Army, on an invitation conveyed through the Governor-General. No party or other political significance can be attached to the invitation or the visit.
– Is not an invitation issued through the Governor-General really the invitation of the Ministry of the day ?
– Invitations of this nature issued by the Governor-General are given on behalf of the Commonwealth.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are : - 1.I have read the proposal with interest, but it does not appear to me to be practicable at present.
With reference to the latter portion of this question, at one penny per word, 90 words a minute for 10 hours daily and 365 days a year, would produce a revenue of £82,125; but this is no measure of the commercial earning capacity of such a telegraph line.
Military Clerks - Port Curtis. Mr. CROUCH asked the Minister of De fence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are : -
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
Whether he will cause inquiry to be made and a report to be laid upon the Table of the House, as to the suitability of Port Curtis (Queensland) , for naval purposes, and upon the quality and quantity of smokeless coal available in the neighbourhood of that port?
– Yes. I shall be glad to have inquiry made, as suggested.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 1 2th October, vide page 4400):
The Constitution is altered by inserting, after section eighty-seven thereof, the following section : - “ 87A. - (1.) Notwithstanding anything in sec tion eighty-seven of this Constitution, the Commonwealth may, in the year beginning on the first day of July, One thousand nine hundred and nine, out of the net revenue of the Commonwealth from duties of Customs and of Excise, apply towards its expenditure for the service, of that year any sum not exceeding Six hundred thousand pounds over and above one-fourth of the said net revenue. “(2.) From and after the thirtieth day of June, One thousand nine hundred and ten, section eighty-seven of this Constitution shall cease to have effect.”
.- I understood the Prime Minister to state some days ago that he proposed in Committee to reply to the criticism to which the Bill had been, subjected during the debate on the motion for leave to introduce it, and on the motion for the second reading. I desire to know whether he proposes now to make a statement as to the position of the Government, and as to whether, in his opinion, their proposals have been successfully attacked.
– I recall a remark I made to the effect that the specific questions raised could probably be best dealt with in Committee, and that I should avail myself there of an opportunity to make a rejoinder so far as was necessary to any criticism that has. been or may be offered. No objection, however, so far as I recollect, was taken to the clause now under consideration. It simply authorizes the Commonwealth to retain £600,000 more than it could otherwise do, and repeals the Braddon section six months in advance. It is not one on which an answer should be made to criticisms relating to other parts of the measure.
– This clause may well occupy the attention of the Committee for a few moments. The Government require a certain sum of money, and the States immediately concerned have raised no objection to the retention of a sum of £600,000 to provide for the cost of services which would otherwise have to be borne by the States. The Government policy has caused the expenditure of the Commonwealth to exceed the one-fourth of Customs and Excise revenue, which we are entitled to retain. There are two avenues to a settlement of the financial question on more equitable and just lines than is proposed in the Melbourne agreement. The first of these is that the States might pass legislation indemnifying the Commonwealth in respect of the extra amount required for Commonwealth purposes, and also in respect of the sum of £600,000 for which this clause provides. If that were done, it would be unnecessary to amend the Constitution. The States would permit the retention of the additional money that is required by the Commonwealth, and which is equal to 10s. 9d. per head of the population. In this way we should secure a continuation of the Braddon clause, as first approved by a majority of the people of Australia, subject to its present limitations. It will be remembered that subsequently, at the suggestion of the Premie- of New South Wales, the Premiers of the States met in conference, and agreed to a variation of the Braddon clause, as passed at the Convention, providing that it should remain in operation for only ten years. The end of that ten years’ term is within sight, and it has been found that the Braddon section, instead of being a “ blot “ on the Constitution, secures to the States the revenue which is indispensable to some of them. Under my suggestion, that section would continue in operation, together with the agreement, until the people were called upon to sanction an alteration of the Constitution. I come now to the second avenue open to us. The Government propose to retain this sum of £600,000 at the beginning of next year to liquidate the deficit that has occurred in connexion with the payment of old-age pensions, but I contemplate a furtherstep The Government have said that they require an additional sum, amounting in the aggregate to £2,373,100, to cover their expenditure, and that amount could be secured by inserting in clause 2 a provision for the retention for a periodof ten years of a further sum of 10s. 9d. per head of the population. Subject to this amendment this Bill might well be passed. No State would suffer under my proposition. The necessity for an alteration of the Braddon section has arisen from the fact that we have taken over certain services that were formerly provided for by the States, and which are better managed by the Commonwealth than they could now be managed by the State. No harm would then accrue to any one, and the finances would be adjusted for a further period of, say, ten years. It is contended that the States are afraid of the Commonwealth ; but there is no need for them to be afraid, seeing that both State and Commonwealth Parliaments are returned by the same people. Men who have managed the affairs of the States come into the Commonwealth Parliament, and take leading positions here. They are taking a prominent part in legislation, and now have a broad view in contradistinction to the narrow parochial view they formerly took. The environment of the National Parliament has made them regard affairs from a different stand-point, and rendered them patriotic and more useful. Formerly, they represented small communities, but now they feel that they represent the whole of the Commonwealth. We are the same people - one people, and inseparable - and the representation is as safe in the hands of this Parliament as in the hands of the State Parliaments. An argument used in favour of an alteration in the Constitution is that the bookkeeping period would cease, and much annoyance, trouble, and expense be saved. The bookkeeping data was not availed of to any very great extent in “arriving at the decision at the Premiers’ Conference, and the data that is now being collected might continue to be collected, and at the end of a further period of ten years might be more used than on the present occasion. At the Premiers’ Conference it was resolved in a haphazard way that the Commonwealth should pay to the States 25s. per head of the population. There was no sound basis for that- decision. I had an interview the other day with Senator Pulsford, who has looked into the financial question very thoroughly, and the whole burden of his argument, set forth in his letter to the Sydney Daily
Telegraph, shows that the States will not lose. That is what we all say - that the States cannot possibly lose by what is done in the Commonwealth Parliament, seeing that we represent the States, and will see that justice is done. There is nothing in the contention of Senator Pulsford to show that any injustice will be done; and he has proved, what I have proved, that one at least of the States will suffer very materially in consequence of the haphazard decision to which I have referred, and that is the State of New South Wales. The Melbourne agreement having been arrived at without any fixed data on which a calculation can be made, has, at least, one objectionable feature; and it is a very farreaching defect, inasmuch as it is undoubtedly inequitable. This fact in itself is sufficient to justify a review of the situation. When the calculations were made - such as were made - it was shown that the Commonwealth would return to the States under the three-fourths distribution, as follows : - New South Wales, £2 os. 4d. ; Victoria, £1 12s. ; Queensland, £1 16s. 6d. ; South Australia, j£i ns. 6d. ; Western Australia, £2 5s. pd. ; and Tasmania, j£i 4s. 10d. If the 10s. od., which would be the per capita throughout Australia, were deducted, as I propose, the payments would be : - To New South Wales, £r 9s. 7d. ; Victoria, j£i is. 3d. ; Queensland, £1 5s. od. ; South Australia, £1 os. od. ; Western Australia, £1 15s. ; and Tasmania, 14s. id. It will be noticed that Western Australia loses ros. per head - that is, she is getting 10s. less than her equitable share of the distribution - and the Premier and other representatives of that State stated that, in consideration of the loss, they would require .£3,250,000, which they regarded as the equivalent. New South Wales is losing 4s. 7d. per head, but no consideration whatever is given to that State in consequence. Queensland comes very close to the quota of 25s. inasmuch as the payment to her is £1 5s. 9d. ; that State will lose but 9d. per head under the proposed arrangement. We can understand that the Premier of Queensland, having virtually nothing to lose, is quite agreeable to the adoption of the agreement, and that Western Australia, having her loss made up by the payment of a lump sum, is also satisfied. Considering that New South -Wales contains more than one-third of the population of Australia, her loss will make up for the gain by Victoria. In the case of Victoria, the gain is the difference between is. 3d. and 5s., that is to say, 3s. 9d. per capita ; in the case of South Australia, it is 4s. 3d. ; and in Queensland, it is the difference between -f.i 5s. 9d. and 25s. Honorable members can work out the figures for themselves. Four States stood to gain, and have gained, at the expense of New South Wales. When Federation was established, it was said that the bookkeeping system would give to each State what it was justly entitled to; but New South Wales made a greater loss than any other State when one-third of her revenue was taken from her. That was the price that New South Wales paid for Federation ; but it was before she had made such a loss, and before there was a possibility of a greater loss owing to a high Tariff, that the Premier of the State, at the clamour of the people for a review of the Braddon section, insisted on a Conference, so that at the end of ten years any injustice might be righted. But now we have a proposal to perpetuate the injustice, inasmuch as the State of New South Wales, instead of getting all she is entitled to, is to have another slice of her revenue taken from her.
– Has Federation done New South Wales any good?
– Yes; and it has also done a great amount of good to Victoria. In proportion to population, the gain by Victoria is quite as much as that by New South Wales, and, therefore, I ask why the latter State should be called upon, as she practically is, to pay the Victorian old-age pensions? South Australia is another State that, in proportion to population, has gained quite as much as New South Wales or Victoria. Why should South Australia benefit as she has done, to the extent of 4s. 3d. per head of population, at the expense of New South Wales? The honorable member for Indi has touched the only point that can be urged on behalf of the States that are seeking to benefit ; but as to the making of concessions, both Victoria and South Australia should bear their share if any State is unfinancial. It is claimed that New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia have benefited very largely at the expense of Tasmania ; but seeing the smallness of that State, the gain is infinitesimal. Tasmania stands to gain the difference between 14s.1d. and 25s., but it was always known in the beginning of Federation that if a State were impecunious, it might be relieved. That situation, however, does not arise, because Tasmania is far from being impecunious.If Tasmania says she must have relief, relief will be given her, but she puts in no such claim. She seeks only for fair play. Let it be said on behalf of Tasmania, that from the very beginning she said she would always refuse to ask any State of the Union to give up to her anything to which she was not entitled. It was that spirit that brought about Federation, and the people of Tasmania to-day, if they were consulted, would not sanction any proposal by which their State would take from any other State what she was not entitled to. The special allowance proposed for Western Australia, to be paid at the rate of £250,000 a year, amounts, when capitalized, to a lump sum of £3,250,000. New South Wales, again, must be the source from which that money will be derived. The amendment which. I propose, therefore is -
That after the word “ pounds,” line 12, the following words be inserted : - “ and a further sum of ten shillings and ninepence per head of population shall be retained during a period of ten years from the thirtieth day of June, one thousand nine hundred and ten.”
I do not expect any antagonism to this proposal from the Prime Minister. It really settles the financial policy of the Government. It gives the Government twelve pence for every shilling which they would get under their agreement, and the States can take no exception to it, because every State will get under it four farthings for every penny they would receive under their own proposal. But what I ask for is a fair and honorable” adjustment, and a re-arrangement of the agreement, by which the State of New South Wales shall be satisfied and have justice done to her. This is the place where I should speak, if I speak at all. I hope my speaking is not censurable, for if I do not speak now, I should for ever hold my tongue. The Government, therefore, can have no quarrel with me for moving this amendment, and, if they make a quarrel of it, it will be a quarrel of their own seeking. Honorable members should remember, however, that the fate of no Government depends upon the carrying of this measure. Even if we throw the Bill out, we shall, by leaving things as they are, and taking an indemnity from the States by way of legislation, accomplish all that the Government propose to do in the adjustment of the finances.If the Commonwealth fails to do justice to the States, they can repeal their legislation at once, but if they withdraw it without reason the Commonwealth can at once terminate the Braddon sectionand secure its finances. The whole matter depends on mutual trust. For my part, I would sooner see the Bill withdrawn.
– We must have some settlement.
– That is not disputed. I fear that I have not made myself clear to the honorable member, but that is my loss. I think it will be clear in Hansard that no alteration of the Constitution is at all necessary, and that ample safeguards would exist if this Bill were defeated. This Parliament expresses- the voice of the people of every State of Australia. If the voice of the people is expressed here rather than in six different places, let us accept that voice, and let it be decisive. If, however, a majority of the House says that this Bill must be taken to a division, then my “ amendment would be a just solution of the situation. No heartbunings would be caused by it.
– Would it come to the same thing as the Government Bill ?
– The effect would be exactly the same-
– Then, as the honorable member says the Government Bill is altogether wrong, how can his amendment be a just solution of the difficulty ?
– It will come to the same thing, inasmuch as the Government would receive 20s. for every pound that they would get under their own proposal. The States also would collectively receive the same sum in surplus revenue, but more equitably distributed. I appeal to the right honorable member to support me, seeing that it was he who suggested the holding of a Conference of Premiers nine years ago, because he regarded the Braddon clause as unjust to New South Wales.
– That was not the basis of the Conference.
– There were several other reasons, one of which was the Federal Capital site question. The right honorable member wanted the Braddon clause to be altered, because as it left the Convention it was to be permanent. He wished it to be reviewed in ten years’ time - a most excellent arrangement. But did. the right honorable member himself ever think that when it was reviewed at the end of a decade, New South Wales would be called upon to pay oldage pensions for Victoria ? It was the very opposite reason that caused public opinion in New South Wales to insist upon a review of the Braddon clause, as proposed in the Constitution Bill, and the right honorable member very ably and effectively caused it to be altered.” The burden of my argument is that the present proposal- of the Government is not just to New South Wales. While there will be given, under my proposal, to the Commonwealth every protection that the Government ask for in their scheme - because the King’s Government must be carried on - and the Commonwealth will have no cause to complain, every State will also receive to the fraction the sum that is offered under the Premiers’ agreement, and, therefore, the States will have really no cause for complaint. My point is the inequitable distribution of. the surplus revenue under the Government scheme. I put in a claim for equity, and for justice to be done to New South Wales, and this proposal of mine will do it.
– No one can take exception to the action of the honorable member for Robertson who holds a strong view upon the method of settlement he has himself evolved, for placing it once more before the Committee in a clear fashion ; but the fact stares one in the face that, while the honorable member proposes this amendment in the interests of the States, no State has accepted it, or recommended it for consideration. When the honorable member says that we should take an indemnity from the six States, instead of proceeding to legislate ourselves to replace the Braddonsection, by payments to be made to the States, surely he remembers that his proposed indemnity can only be granted by the free consent of each State,, and that no State has shown the slightest disposition to take such a step. The honorable member makes his appeal on behalf of the State of which he is a citizen and representative. So far as concerns the disposition of the sum intended to be allotted by the Commonwealth, the allotment as between the States has been made by the direct representatives of the States, their Premiers and Treasurers, presumably authorized to speak on this subject for their Legislatures, and for a very large proportion, if not for thewhole, of their citizens. The honorable member considers that New South Wales will suffer under the proposed arrangement, and I understand that the Premier of the State, in putting the case for the agreement before its Legislative Assembly, laid stress upon what he termed the sacrifices to be made. But at no time has he or either branch of the State Legislature protested against this.
– The honorable member knows his reasons.
– I can infer some, but he may have others.
– He fears that he would be worse treated next time.
– While the honorable member complains for New South Wales, his is a voice crying in the wilderness. Apparently his proposal has not the support of the State Government or Legislature, nor, so far as I know, of any body of public opinion.
– That does not prove it to be wrong.
– Of course, not.
– It shows that the politicians of New South Wales have not as much confidence in this Parliament as I have.
– The point I urge is that they appear to be accepting their sacrifice with equanimity. At any rate, there has been no official protest against it. Consequently, whatever the merits of this proposal, it is not practical. To secure its adoption, the honorable member would have to satisfy the Committee, not only that the proposal of the Government should be rejected, but also that his scheme should be accepted. However well he may be satisfied with what he has termed an actuarial method of distribution, as a practical proposal the amendment is not one which we should be asked to examine since, under existing circumstances, this could not yield a profitable result. The honorable member considers his scheme more generous to some of the States - because under it some of them would benefit more than others - than is the arrangement provided for in the Bill. He also urges that his proposal is more advantageous to the Commonwealth than that of the Government. According to the stand-point from which our future is regarded, it may or may not be to the advantage of the Commonwealth that the Braddon provision should be extended for ten years, subject to the payments to which he refers. In his opinion the extension would benefit the Commonwealth as well as the States; but I do not think that he has obtained support for that view from members of this Parliament or any others who are considering the matter from the Commonwealth stand-point. While it is in every way to the honorable member’s credit that he has made an independent investigation, the character and reception of his proposal are such that it does not appear that we should gain anything by debating it at length. The honorable member has made his statement fairly. I think the Committee understands that the acceptance of the proposal would imply the passing of six Acts of Indemnity by the State Parliaments, an extension of the Braddon provision, subject to aper capita payment of 10s.9d. for ten years, and a distribution of Customs receipts which would vary in each State, instead of being the same in all, as provided in the Bill.
– The honorable member proposes that the States should be taxed equally, and that the distribution should be in proportion to the amounts contributed to the revenue.
– He would continue the present system of dealing with the States as separate entities. Practically he asks for the continuation of the present system. The proposal of the Bill is to substitute perfect equality, abolishing State boundaries, and treating the finances of the Commonwealth from an Australian stand-point wholly and solely. It is this scheme which I hope will commend itself to a majority of honorable members.
.- The criticism of the Prime Minister of the proposal of the honorable member for Robertson is fair. The mind of the latter always deals in a practical fashion with financial questions, and in this instance he has paid particular attention to the fact that the State from which he comas will not be as well off under the proposal of the Government as some of the other States. He, therefore, proposes to continue the Braddon section for ten year.-., asking an equal contribution from each State to provide the money necessary for new services.
– He would continue the bookkeeping system, too.
– He would continue everything consequent upon the present arrangement. Both his proposal and that of the Government practically mean the amendment of the Constitution.
– I do not think that the proposal of the honorable member for Robertson would require the amendment of the Constitution.
– Of course, the Braddon section will continue, even without an amendment of the Constitution, if the Parliament takes no action regarding it.
– But then we should not get the revenue that we require.
– I take the view that it is the duty of this Parliament to terminate the Braddon arrangement at the earliest convenient moment after the end of 1910. This the Prime Minister proposes to do in one way, and the honorable member for Robertson in another. The Prime Minister used what seemed to me somewhat strange arguments. I agree with him that we should deal with the financial question in a broad or general way. But he objected that the proposal of the honorable member for Robertson had not received the support of the Government and Parliament of New South Wales.
– The honorable member contends that the State will be injured by the Government proposal, and my reply was that its leading men have made no protest.
– I do not think that the Parliament or Premier of a State can speak for the electors of the Commonwealth. This Parliament was constituted to look after the interests of the whole people, which undoubtedly comprise those of the people of the States. But the Prime Minister should not lay it down as a proposition that a question is not to be seriously considered in this Parliament unless supported by the Government and Parliament of a State.
– I am sorry for those who so interpret my statement. In a matter between State and State, surely the action of the State authorities is the best evidence of State feeling.
– I am not usually accused of twisting the language of opponents to a meaning different from that which would ordinarily be placed upon it. The impression left on my mind by the speech of the Prime Minister was that the position of the honorable member for Robertson would have been sound had it been supported by the Government and Parliament of New South Wales.
– The honorable member stated the question as one affecting the relations of State and State, not ©f State and Commonwealth.
– Is the determination of this Parliament to be set aside because a proposal has the support of a State Government .and Parliament? That is not a sensible and statesmanlike argument. We represent interests different from those represented by the States, and take a broader view. It is true that the Commonwealth “and State Parliaments represent the same people, but the more you subdivide on national questions, the less likely you are to get efficient and economical government. The actuarial accuracy of the honorable member’s proposal is, perhaps, the best thing about it. But Federation was notagreed to so that each State might be credited with revenue and debited with’ expenditure exactly according to population. In my opinion, those living in the larger centres have benefited more by Federation than those who live where population ls more scattered. For that reason the honorable member’s proposal does not commend itself. An equal contribution to the expenses of the Commonwealth is just and1 equitable ; but it may be asked - Is not the sum contributed by a distant State more than the equivalent of that paid by those living in the larger centres? I think that it is. It would not be unfair for the larger centres to contribute more per capita tothe expenses of the Commonwealth. I ant in favour of making the whole community as nearly as possible one contributing body, not defining particularly what percentage of the cost of government shall be paid by persons living in any one part of the Commonwealth. If we are going to break down State boundaries we ought to nationalize Commonwealth expenditure and demand an equal contribution, as far as possible, from each and every one. It will be found - and I make the statement by way of illustration - that the larger centres of population contribute less to the revenue of the States than do outlying districts, where the population for the most part consists of males; and it might be argued inthe State Parliaments, just as effectively as the honorable member has argued in support of his proposal, that there should be complete financial separation so far as some districts are concerned, and that since their contributions to the revenue are much higher than the average for the State special concessions should be extended to them.
– They have insisted upon it.
– That is quite possible. There are larger issues involved in the Government proposal than that put forward by the honorable member for Robertson. When we reach clause 3, which will demand graver consideration, I hope that I shall be able to assist the honorable member. The proposal that he has submitted will undoubtedly involve an amendment of the Constitution. I am not going to debate at present the Government proposal embodied in this clause as the result of the agreement made at the Conference of Premiers, but I would point out to honorable members that it does not provide for an equal contribution from all the States towards the sum of £600,000 which the Commonwealth is to retain. If the whole of that amount is required at the end of the financial year, the Government may retain it, withholding from the pension States - New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland - 3s. per head of the population, and from the non-pension States - South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania - only 2s. per head of the population. The Government proposal is more inequitable than is that submitted by the honorable member for Robertson ; hut there was a desire on the part of the Premiers to differentiate between the contributing parties according, presumably, to their ability to pay this amount. The honorable member has the privilege of representing a very wealthy State, which has derived from Federation, considerable advantages. I regret that I cannot support his amendment, because, if it could be dealt with from a general point of view, and the whole question could be reopened, something might be said for it. We know, however, that there is a much larger issue involved in this Bill, and that is as to whether or not this Parliament is to continue to exercise the powers that were delegated to it by the State Parliaments in the first instance in passing Bills accepting the Constitution, and by the action of the people themselves in giving to this Parliament power after 1910 to deal with its own revenue in its own way.
.- The attitude of the honorable member for Robertson on this question is somewhat perplexing. On 5th August last, in this House, he objected to the .proposed payment, on the ground that it was too large, and on the 9th October, in the course of a speech delivered at Mudgee, in his own electorate, the honorable member most emphatically objected to an amendment of the Constitution. Five days later, on 14th October, the Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Wade, made an attack upon him, and threatened him with opposition at the next general election if he did not moderate his attitude towards the agreement. On 20th October, the honorable member wrote a long letter to the Sydney Daily Telegraph, in which he completely reversed his position. His complaint then was that it was proposed to return to the States, not too much, but too little, and that New South Wales should receive £1 9s. 7d. instead of £1 5s. per head of her population. He also desired that there should be an alteration of the Constitution covering his proposed re-arrangement of the financial scheme for an additional period of ten years.
– Did he make himself clear ?
– In order that there may be! no misunderstanding as to the honorable member’s attitude, I propose to make one or two quotations from speeches delivered by him. Speaking on the financial agreement in this House on 5th August last, he said, as reported at page 2143 of Hansard -
When we have fulfilled all our obligations, and taken over further services, there will be a balance of perhaps £2,000,000 which can be paid to the States. But there should be the stipulation that that payment is but tentative, and made on the condition that the States would do something national and satisfactory for the people.
On that occasion, he thought that the States should receive £2,000,000. He now desires to give them something over £5,000,000.
– What has altered his opinion ?
– Evidently the crack of the party whip.
– It is a magnetic variation brought about by the approach of something.
– Quite so; the elections. In the course of the same speech, the honorable member said, as reported in Hansard, page 2144 -
We are not justified in raising as much as we do ; but as we do raise it, let us be responsible for spending it.
On the 9th August, the honorable gentleman, when speaking at a commercial travellers’ dinner in his constituency stated, as reported in the Sydney Daily Telegraph -
He would advise them to never put in theConstitution anything they might wish to have removed therefrom. The financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and States could be satisfactorily adjusted without an alteration of the Constitution.
Mr. Wade then came on the scene, and, in an interview with a representative of the Sydney Daily Telegraph, on 14th October, indicated that the State Government would in all probability take a hand in tha next general election, and that, if the honorable member persisted in his attitude of hostility to the agreement, they would be called upon to oppose him. The honorable member then went from one extreme to the other, and on 20th October, published a lengthy letter in the Sydney
Daily Telegraph, in which he explainer1 a new scheme, by which a sum of over £5,000,000 would be distributed among the States under the system of distribution at present existing. He explained that under his scheme -
The Commonwealth will get the full sum asked for (£2,373,100) and the States collectively will not suffer. The results will give New South Wales £19s. 7d. per head of population, as against £1 5s. under the Melbourne agreement. Security for the States revenue will rest in the Commonwealth having to raise a certain sum for her requirements under the one-fourth provision remaining in the Constitution for, say, ten or more years
The honorable gentleman, running from one extreme to the other, proposed that the States should receive over £5,000,000 per annum, and that that amount should be so distributed that New South Wales would receive £19s.7d. instead of £1 5s. per head of the population. The other States were to receive a corresponding amount lower. He also desired an alteration of the Constitution to enable that payment to be made for a period of ten years.
– Is this hisfinal opinion ?
– The honorable member has no final opinion on any question.
– It is his opinion up to date.
– That is so. The honorable member was evidently suffering intensely, because the honorable member for Brisbane was sent to England instead of himself.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman must not refer to that matter.
– The honorable member for Flinders has said that the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Robertson would not involve an alteration of the Constitution. As a matter of fact, it would, although not in the form proposed by the Government. The Bill proposes to alter the Constitution in the words of clause 2 as follows: -
The Constitution is altered by inserting, after section eighty-seven thereof, the following section : - “ 87A. - (1.) Notwithstanding anything in sec tion eighty-seven of this Constitution, the Com monwealth may in the year beginning on the first day of July, One thousand nine hundred and nine, out of the net revenue of the Commonwealth from duties of Customs and of Excise, apply towards its expenditure for the service of that year any sum not exceeding Six hundred thousand pounds over and above onefourth of the said net revenue.”
The honorable member for Robertson moved an amendment as follows : -
Sub-section (1) of 87A. In line,14, after the word “pounds” insert the following words: - “And a further sum ofTen shillings and ninepence (10s.9d.) per head of population shall be retained during a period of ten years from the thirtieth day of June, One thousand nine hundred and ten.”
Line 14 of the Bill, is line 8 of clause 2. Clause 2 if amended as proposed by the honorable member for Robertson, would read as follows : -
The Constitution is altered by inserting, after section eighty-seven thereof, the following section : - “87A. (1.) Notwithstanding anything in section eighty-seven of this Constitution, the Commonwealth may in the year beginning on the first day of July One thousand nine hundred and nine, out of the net revenue of the Commonwealth from duties of Customs and of Excise, apply towards its expenditure for the service of that year any sum not exceeding Six hundred thousand pounds, and a further sum of Ten shilling and ninepence (10s.9d.) per head of population shall be retained during a period of ten years from the thirtieth day of June, One thousand nine hundred and ten, over and above one-fourth of the said net revenue.”
It is quite clear therefore that the honorable member for Robertson now proposes to amend the Constitution, the difference between the Government and himself now being merely one of detail and not of principle. It is quite clear that the honorable member for Robertson has turned a complete somersault in connexion with the amounts, and also on the question of the alteration of the Constitution.
– The virtue of a complete somersault is that we fall on our feet just the same !
– The honorable member for East Sydney has been fortunate in landing on his feet many times during his long political career ; but I doubt whether the honorable member for Robertson is so capable a political acrobat. It is certainly difficult for parliamentarians, whose business it is to observe the attitude of honorable members on various questions, to know the direction that the honorable member for Robertson is taking, and in order to assist his constituents in locating him, I have addressed these few remarks to the Committee.
.- The Prime Minister has said that he does not think this is the proper time to reply to the criticism on the Premiers’ agreement, as he does not remember any particular criticism being directed to this clause. It seems to me, however, that this clause is the essence of the whole agreement. It has been described by the honorable member for Flinders as an “Esau” clause - as representing the miserable mess of pottage for which the future of the Commonwealth is to be sold - and, therefore, I think that any reply ought to be made now. If the clause be passed, how is the Committee, having proposed to take from the States £600,000, to which they are entitled, going to refuse to give the States that which they make the price of the surrender of the £600,000 ? Those who are opposed to the agreement, must vote for the excision of this clause, which, to my mind, is the most humiliating ever submitted to a national Parliament. The Constitution provided originally that for ten years the States should be given three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue. The Commonwealth is now short of funds, but instead of waiting until the ten years have expired before we alter the original agreement, the Ministry, not having the courage of their opinions, or the pluck to face the difficulties of the financial situation, are going down on their hands and knees to the States, and offering to sell the whole future of the Commonwealth for the miserable mess of pottage of £600,000. It is a wretched proposal from beginning to end. It is marvellous how men who pose as Liberals and Nationalists, and who have taken up the position that the Treasurer and others havein previous Conferences, could, in this instance, go on their hands and knees to the Premiers, in secret conference, and ask them to provide the funds to meet the exigencies of the next twelve months.
– “ Hands and knees “ - talk sense !
– The Commonwealth representatives at the Conference did go down on their hands and knees, and that is why they shut the door - so that the public could not see them.
– What was worse, the Ministers changed their opinions as soon as they got into the Conference.
– They changed their opinions, and we have never yet been told the reasons why. In the case of all previous Conferences, we knew the arguments on both sides, but now we can only conclude that the Ministers representing the Commonwealth did go down on their hands and knees, and surrender the national birthright for a paltry £600,000. All we are told is that the arguments used forced the Prime Minister to the situation he has since taken up, but we have not been told what those arguments were. Even now, it would be interesting to know them, but it would have been infinitely more interesting if the whole of the discussions had been reported. Take, for instance, the argument used by the Prime Minister just now, in reference to the proposal of the honorable member for Robertson, that no one State had accepted this proposal or recommended it for acceptance. But how do we know what the States recommended for acceptance? Does any one imagine that the agreement was arrived at without numbers of proposals being put forward? When the honorable member for Wimmera interjected about the £600,000, the honorable member for Flinders, with that feeling of national spirit which we all ought to have, said, “I do not wish this Commonwealth to have the name of ‘ Esau ‘ attached to any of its agreements.” We ought to be prepared to say straight out that we will have none of this begging of money from the States. We are told that the States require all the money they have for themselves, and yet, without giving them any notice, we propose at once to ask them to find money which we could find for ourselves if the Government had the pluck and spirit to introduce the necessary measures. We ought to reject this clause, and stick to the letter of the bond made ten years ago; we ought not to sell our national birthright simply in order to relieve our difficulties for twelve months.
– The honorable member for Gippsland is perfectly right in saying that this clause is an essential part of the Premiers’ agreement, and that the final adoption of it would mean the final adoption of that agreement. But this is very far from being the most convenient portion of the agreement on which to test the question of whether it is to be accepted or not.
– Why not postpone this clause?
– I was about to suggest that this clause be postponed until after the consideration of clause 3, on which the vital point of the agreement turns.
– Nothing would be gained by postponement.
– If the suggestion is not palatable to the Government, I shall not press it, because we can pass this clause and get to the real question on clause 3. No amendment can be moved on this clause to test the question, and for that reason I now ask honorable members to allow it to pass, so that we may reach clause 3.
– I quite agree that clause 3 is thekernel of the Bill, and the one on which an amendment could be proposed.It seems to me, however, that honorable members may place themselves in an awkward position if they vote for the retention of clause 2.
– It is not final.
– Quite so; but. if honorable members vote to retain this clause, they will be in an awkward position if, at a later period, they endeavour to have it removed from the Bill. If it is intended that the test shall take place on the next clause, and the Government are fair, they will accept a suggestion for a postponement. So far as I am concerned, I shall be compelled to vote against the clause.
– When I spoke some days ago, I expressed the opinion which the honorable member for Gippsland has just expressed, namely, that the provision for the retention of the £600,000 is open to the construction that it is a quidpro quo for the bargain made between the States and the Commonwealth. I still hold that opinion ; but whether such was the intention I am not going to say, not having the benefit of knowing what took place at the Conference. I certainly think that the £600,000 looks very much like what the lawyers call the “consideration” for the promise which is offered for the agreement at the Premiers’ Conference. With the honorable member for Gippsland,I am of opinion that it is highly desirable that this clause should be postponed, and that the debate should take place on the next clause, on which I myself am anxious to speak. I am quite sure that if it is the wish of the Committee that clause 2 should be recommitted in order to harmonize it with any altered determination we may come to on clause 3, no difficulty will be raised. We shall then get to the crux or the pons asinorum of this proposal, and have an opportunity to discuss the broader question, leaving other matters to be dealt with hereafter.
.- Is if of any use appealing to the Prime Minister?
– An amendment has been moved in the clause.
– What does that matter ?
– It does matter.
– Of course, the Prime Minister is playing his own game ; but as a matter of convenience-
– It does not really count.
– I think it most important, and that it does count. Of course, if the Prime Minister is determined, I must vote against the clause because I should not think of sanctioning a contribution of the kind, which undoubtedly is open tot he worst construction.
.-I regret that the Government cannot see their way to accept the suggestion of the honorable member for Flinders and postpone this clause, because, otherwise, we shall be compelled to vote against it. Personally, I am absolutely opposed to the proposal to pay 25s. per head; and that I take to be the crux of the question. I deeply regret that the people of Australia have not the power of the referendum, because then the Government would be compelled to face the music.
Question - That the clause be agreed to - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 15
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 -
The Constitution is altered by inserting, after section ninety-four thereof, the following sections : - “94A. From and after the thirtieth day of June, One thousand nine hundred and ten, sections ninety-three and ninety-four of this Constitution shall cease to have effect. “94B. From and after the first day of July, One thousand nine hundred and ten, the Commonwealth shall pay to each State, by monthly instalments, or apply to the payment of interest on debts of the State taken over by the Commonwealth, an annual sum amounting to Twentyfive shillings per head of the number of the people of the State as ascertained according to the laws of the Commonwealth. “ 94C - (1.) The Commonwealth shall, during the period of twenty-five years beginning on the first clay of July, One thousand nine hundred and ten, pay to. the State of Western Australia, by monthly instalments, an annual sum which in the first year shall be Two hundred and fifty thousand pounds and in each subsequent year shall be progressively diminished by the sum of Ten thousand pounds. “ (2.) One-half of the amount of the payments so made shall be debited to all the States (including the State of Western Australia) in proportion to the number of their people as ascertained according to the laws of the Commonwealth, and any sum so debited to a State may be deducted by the Commonwealth from any amounts payable to the State under the last preceding section or this section.”
.- It is with some feeling of responsibility thatI rise to move an amendment on this clause. The clause is really the kernel of the whole Bill, and upon it the principle of the agreement, and the question of its duration, may be with advantage discussed. Let me say at once, on behalf of those gentlemen who think with myself on this question, and who sit on the Government side of the House, that our desire is, as far as possible, to meet the Government, and to enable them to carry out an agreement which they, doubtless, entered into as being, in their view, the best obtainable in the interests of the Commonwealth. The amendment which I propose represents the least offensive or objectionable way of impugning any of their actions. I move:
That the word “ The,” line 1, be left out.
The idea is that upon that amendment we shall be able to test the opinion of the Committee as to whether the agreement as embodied in the Bill shall be carried as an interminable arrangement, or be made terminable. That, I take it, is really the great question which we have to consider. I understand from the Government that, should the omission of this word be agreed to, they will accept it as an indication of the opinion of the Committee that there should be a limitation of the term of the agreement, either by fixing an amount or by limiting its duration to a certain number of years or otherwise.
– We do not undertake to accept the amendment, but we undertake to accept the vote on it as indicating that intention.
– I am also able to say that the Government are prepared to regard the amendment, and permit of its discussion, as in no way a motion of want of confidence in them, or affecting their position.
– Well, what will follow?
– I do not propose, to answer interjections. I wish to state in as few words as possible the reason why I and others have taken this course. I intend to leave to a large extent on one side at present the financial question, which we discussed fully on a preliminary stage of the Bill. The proposal of the Government is a most important matter financially, because if the agreement is carried out it will involve the committal of this Parliament to the payment to the States for all time, or until the Constitution is again altered, of 25s. per capita of the population without any control over it to meet changed circumstances, or to provide for requirements which may arise in the future. That is a most serious position. But the form in which the proposal comes before the House is open to an even greater objection than that of the unknown financial obligations which we may have to assume. It seems to involve the position that by a constitutional amendment, we shall re-insert in the Constitution the principle, if not the details of an arrangement which was there originally and was removed. That is to say, we shall place in the Constitution a provision for paying 25s. per capita to the States for all time instead of the Braddon section, which, as originally drawn, meant the payment of three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue to the States for all time. That proposal was carried at the first referendum, and was altered subsequently at the instigation of a meeting of Premiers. That alteration was afterwards ratified by the electors, and, as the Constitution now stands, the operation of the Braddon section is limited to a period of ten years, and thereafter until this Parliament otherwise provides. That means that at the end of the ten years of probation, if I may call it so, this Parliament is to be placed in full control of the disposal of the revenue of the Commonwealth. The proposal contained in this Bill involves our going back upon that, and reinserting in theConstitution a provision which will bind us to pay 25s. per capita until such time as the Constitution is again altered in that regard. It seems to’ me that this House will be wanting in its duty to the Commonwealth and to the electors of this country if it accedes to such a proposal. I feel that in this matter we are entitled to speak our minds, and I am pleased, therefore, that a form of amendment has been adopted which places us, with the consent of the Government, in such a position that each honorable member, wherever he sits, may say what he thinks and vote for what he believes to be right.
– Is it not always so?
-It is so inthis case, because any party obligation is set at once on one side. We ought to look on this matter in a calm and dispassionate way. I fully admit that the Premiers must watch over the rights of their States. In consenting to an agreement insuring the payment to the States of 25s. per capita, they were clearly within the line of their duty. But in asking this Parliament to provide for the amendment of the Constitution by the insertion of a provision which will continue to have effect until withdrawn by another vote of the people, they clearly wentbeyond their province. The Prime Minister toldus in his opening speech that the influence which would amend the Constitution would be equally effective in bringing about a second amendment if necessary ; but, in my opinion it is inconceivable that an arrangement which confers pecuniary advantages on some of the States would ever be altered with their consent.
I have the utmost respect for the opinions of the people, but looking at this as a purely business arrangement affecting State interests, and remembering that the Constitution cannot be altered unless the consent of an absolute majority of both Houses of the Parliament, and subsequently of a majority of the people voting as a whole, and of a majority of the States, is obtained, I say that to ask States deriving a direct and positive advantage from the agreement to consent to its alteration would be to ask them to do more than they could be expected to do.
– The three smallest. States could always prevent a second! amendment of the Constitution.
– Yes, because the remaining three would not constitute a majority. One has only to consider the matter for a moment to be convinced of the unlikelihood of getting three of the States to agree to a second alteration of the Constitution, notwithstanding that the great majority of the people of the Commonwealth might be of opinion that it should be made. As a member of this Parliament and a Federalist, I regard the stipulation that the arrangement should be inserted in the Constitution as a direct reflection on the good faith of future Parliaments. If those elected by the people of Australia are not to be trusted to act in the interests of the Commonwealth as a whole, God help the Federation ! By agreeing to the insertion in the Constitution of an arrangement which we shall be powerless to alter subsequently, we shall be involving f utureParliaments in difficulties which we cannot measure. Why should we make their position inferior to ours? Why should we say that they are not to be trusted to deal fairly with the interests of the States and. of the Commonwealth? If they will be unfitted to do so, there is a poor look-out for the Federation. I do not object to the agreement as drafted, although I do not think that it provides the best settlement of the question. My view has always been that the Commonwealth, when the time came, should take steps to settle all the financial questions once and for all, leaving this Parliament in the position which it is intended by the Constitution to occupy. The obligation of the States would then be fairly met and protected, while we should be free from entanglements in our electoral or financial arrangements. That, however, seems impracticable at the present time.
The public mind is not ready to deal with the whole question. Therefore, the agreement is one which we can accept in the main, provided that there be a limitation to its continuance. I wish to make it evident to the Premiers and to the country that there is a majority of honorable members who, while ready to sanction the agreement, wish to limit its duration, so that a subsequent Parliament may review the position in the same way that we are now able to do. Should my amendment be carried my idea is that the arrangement shall continue until the payments to the States aggregate £7,500,000 per annum - which is somewhat in excess of the interest payable, on the money borrowed by the States up to the time of Federation - and thereafter until Parliament otherwise provides. That is an equitable proposal. The Premiers of the States are given the security which they say is necessary by inserting the arrangement in the Constitution.
– Why put it in the Constitution and refuse to allow the Government proposal to be put into it?
– I think it would be better if it were not put into the Constitution, because the States would be sufficiently protected by an Act of this Parliament; but I accept the position of the State Premiers. While the arrangement would be embodied in the Constitution, it would have force only for the period to which I have referred, after which Parliament would again have full authority to deal with the matter.
– The honorable member asks us to accept the dictation of halfadozen men outside.
– Of half-a-dozen members who are here.
– I have no desire to force any man to vote against his conscience. I consider it my duty to my constituents to see that the provisions of the Constitution are observed, not only in the letter, but also in the spirit. I am not getting my own way, and do not desire to do so. I desire that this question shall be settled, and wisely settled, not for today, but for all time. If a majority agree to this amendment, with the intention which I have distinctly outlined, the Government will take it as a direction from the Committee as to what they ought to do in order to remove from the Bill the blot on the existing arrangement. I have no responsibility in the matter other than my desire to do my duty as a member of this Parliament ; and I ask honorable mem” bers on both sides not to lose sight of the fact that this is not and has never been a party question.
– The honorable member is making it a party question.
– I am not.
– The honorable member is trying to take the business out of the hands of the Government.
– I am not. The Prime Minister will be able to assure honorable members that whatever line of action the honorable member for Robertson may have taken in regard to the Government, that taken by me, and those who are acting with me, has been straightforward and fair. We have intimated to the Government our difficulty and have been loyal to them to the core. I cannot say as much for the honorable member for Robertson.
– Caucus secrets !
– There are no caucus secrets involved. I have seen the Prime Minister in his room at various times, and have explained to him the difficulties under which I and those associated with me in this matter labour. I must say that we have been met by him in the most courteous and conciliatory manner. ‘ Before taking this step, which we felt it our duty to take, we made the honorable gentleman thoroughly cognisant of what was to be done; and, consistent with his duty to those with whom he entered into this obligation, he has given us the fullest liberty to state our views to the Committee and to endeavour to give effect to them without being hampered by any conditions that would involve party considerations. The honorable gentleman, indeed, has left us absolutely free to act.
– Would the honorable member kindly recapitulate his statement as to the proposed payment of £7,500,000?
– I suggest that after the sum returnable to the States amounts to £7,500,000 or thereabouts, it shall continue to be paid until the Parliament otherwise provides. I cannot understand how the Premiers of the States could object to such a proposition which, on its face, is ahsolutely fair. We have the constitutional right at present to direct how this revenue shall be disposed of, and under our proposal we would voluntarily agree to an amendment of the Constitution binding the Commonwealth to return to the States up to ,£7,500,000 per annum or thereabouts, and thereafter, as this Parliament may determine.
– But the amendment now submitted does not involve the acceptance of that particular scheme.
– No. 1 thought that I had made that point clear, but let me state it again. The amendment for the omission of the word “The” would be id.otic if no further meaning attached to itI propose, however, that the word “ The” shall be omitted as an indication to the Government that in the opinion of the Committee there should be a limitation to the agreement. In response to a natural request on the part of honorable members, I have indicated the character of the limitation that has suggested itself to those who have thought it their duty to move in this direction ; but if this amendment be carried, it will be open to the Committee to determine the form that that limitation shall take. We cannot at present discuss that matter, since it does not arise in connexion with the amendment that I have submitted. I do not wish to trespass further on the time of honorable members, save to say that I submit this amendment with the gravest sense of personal responsibility. I submit it because I believe that the agreement, if carried as it stands in the Bill, will be fraught with evils that may be of the most serious character, and will be derogatory to this Parliament. I believe, also, that it would be a surrender on the part of this Parliament of the rights of the Parliaments that are to follow; and I hope, therefore, thai mv proposition will be agreed to.
– The honorable member who has just resumed his seat feels the responsibility of his position ; and I am sure that he, and those associated with him, will ‘ realize the responsibility that rests upon my colleagues and myself. As the honorable member has said, there has been no attempt on our part to coerce the freedom of action and independent judgment of honorable members on this side of the House; but ye have made many efforts to adjust, if possible, any difference of opinion existing amongst us on this most vital question. I greatly regret that we have been unable to satisfy the anxious Questionings, or to dissipate the gloomy forebodings, to which the honorable member for Mernda briefly alluded. We had to recollect, however, the circumstances under which we took upon our shoulders, as responsible Ministers of the Commonwealth for the time being, what we believed to be a duty - that of settling, in the interests of the Commonwealth^ the financial relations to be established between the Federation and the States. In so acting, we went beyond the proposals made when the present Government was formed. They provided for a temporary financial arrangement in order to prepare the way for the settlement of this question on a basis as permanent as anything political can be. This we had made an important part of the platform of our party. When we found that an opportunity offered enabling us to anticipate that second and larger proposal, so as to settle our financial relations at once upon a just basis, we took upon our own shoulders, deliberately, and with our eyes open, the responsibility of action. We have no desire now to withdraw from that responsibility. Having listened with the utmost patience to the debate in this House, and particularly to the criticisms of the honorable member for Mernda, and others on both sides of the House who have made a more or less ample study of this issue - whether it be because of an inveterate attachment to one’s first convictions, or because, as it seems to me, the objections raised are answerable - I have been unable to alter the opinion formed during the Conference. This opinion was that when looked at in all its aspects, the present agreement, so far as it goes, is as near an ultimate and equitable arrangement as it is possible to attain in practical affairs. I admit that if the Premiers could have given us another week or ten days, we might have given this proposal a more comprehensive shape. Not only the exhaustion of time, but the absolute physical exhaustion of most of the members of that Conference, and particularly of myself, made difficult what we accomplished. The honorable member for Mernda has correctly stated that, having regard to the circumstances in which we entered the Conference, to the magnitude of the proposals, and their far-reaching influence on Commonwealth and State affairs, the Government has hesitated to appeal to its friends for anything more than the natural solidarity of those who generally think together, and who should act together, in a matter of this national importance. There has been, as he said, no attempt to coerce. We had boldly stepped beyond the plat- form to which honorable members agreed when the Ministry was formed. Though this responsibility was assumed since, we have now something more than the duty of endeavouring to induce the Committee to adopt the view that commends itself to us. If we fail to agree new situations may be created, which will have to be met with a full sense of the Ministerial responsibility then attaching to us. At present, we desire, if it can be obtained, a practical expression of the judgment of honorable members on a proposal which, reckoning its indirect influences, is probably the gravest this Parliament has yet met. I pass now to the brief reference made by the honorable member for Mernda to our unknown financial obligations in the near future of the Commonwealth. He did not develop that aspect of the question into which he entered fully in his original speech on this Bill, being content to briefly summarize and dismiss the very serious and complicated set of questions that arises when we attempt to peer into the future. In explaining the agreement in the first instance, I endeavoured, in several parts of my argument, to make it clear that the only judgment we can be expected to apply to the determination of such problems, is that which we should employ as business men. if we were risking our joint fortunes in some great commercial or industrial undertaking. We should necessarily exercise all the prudence we possess in examining all the factors. Then, as men who enter into these great undertakings do every day in this city. we should rely upon common sense and judgment, as fallible human beings must. No one can speak with absolute positiveness of th°. complex events before us. International relations, over which we have no control, may gravely alter the whole current of our national fortunes. Again, the financial markets of the world respond to influences operating on them from every portion of the globe; and these might have a serious effect on our revenues. Still, we claim that the conditions of this agreement are elastic, and more elastic than many of those offered as substitutes. Having regard to the necessary and natural limitations of human judgment we must make our choice. Though I attach weight to the opinions of many of my honorable friends who take a contrary view, having re-read their speeches and re-examined the figures - I see no reason to qualify my expectations. So far as the ordinary current of human affairs permits forecasts, we are justified in believing that the payment of 25s. per head to the States will involve no burden that this Commonweal fh, ought not to be well able to carry for at least the next twenty years. Beyond that, one need ‘ not look. It is said - and this is the gravamen of my honorable friend’s whole argument - that there should be some fixed term, determined either by the amount of payment made on the per capita arrangement - which he, in a general way, fixes at £7,000,000 or £8,000,000 - or, as it has also been suggested, by the numbers of our population, or a fixed period of years. Each of these methods of determination has something in its favour. Let me quote one of the State Premiers on the duration of the proposed agreement. Mr. Kidston is reported in the Brisbane Courier of the 22nd inst. to have said -
It has been argued that there should not be a fixed agreement because it is not known how it might suit twenty or thirty years hence. Instead, these objectors would have a fixed agreement for twenty or thirty years. Now, if they make a fixed agreement for that length of time, no matter how badly it suits, it will be unalterable until the end of the term. But instead, if they simply embody the agreement in the Constitution, and find in ten years or more that it does not suit the circumstances of the day then the men of that time will just have the same power to alter it that we have to-day. It is not binding matters in the future in any way ; it is leaving the people of the future at perfect liberty. This gives a manifest advantage to the adoption of the agreement as it standi and the embodying of it in the Constitution. No man can say with certainty that any agreement made to-day will suit the circumstances of Australia ten, twenty, or thirty years hence. But if you make an agreement for twenty years it will be out of the power of the Federal Parliament, with all the people of Australia behind it, to alter it until the end of the term.
As I pointed out in anticipation, when previously addressing honorable members, that statement as to the inalterability of a fixed term is not legally sound. That is to say, if we made an agreement nominally foi one hundred years, and the peop’e were satisfied that it ought to be altered- in five years, they would have the power to al.er it. Mr. Kidston overlooks that. What he means is clearly that, when there is a fixed term, there is a moral obligation or a political obligation - it is a mixture of both. By fixing on a term, we indicate the period for which we expect the agreement will run ; that element must not be ignored, because there is such an implication. Butno implication’ of the kind is absolutely binding on a self-governing people. They remain masters of their own affairs. Large numbers - quite sufficient perhaps to make a minority into a majority on that ground alone - would consider that a fixed term meant an obligation for that period, not to be departed from except in face of a national calamity such as war. But this agreement is placed in the Constitution simply and solely subject to the conditions on which the Constitution is alterable; it may be altered at the very next general election after the one at which it is adopted. Certainly its binding force will tend to disappear as times change and with every succeeding general election. Still this is the highest security which is in the power of this Parliament, providing its project receives the approval of a majority of the electors collectively and in a majority of the States. The question- now is, whether by the proposed limitations we are really securing any substantial gain or extra freedom for future Parliaments. Even taking into account the fact that any term indicated has an implied obligation against its alteration, except in case of some utterly unforeseen national calamity, we are trusting wholly to our present prevision. The question to those of us who take this position assumes _a different aspect from that which the honorable member for Mernda submitted this afternoon. If I recollect the tables correctly, his proposal means that £7,500,000, taking our present increase of population, would become payable by the Commonwealth some sixteen years hence.
– Fourteen to sixteen years.
– Let us take fifteen years as the mean. It is probable, and I hope it will prove actual, that the population will increase at a faster rate; and, in that case, the proposal might apply for only twelve years. It would be safe to say, therefore, that this proposal, put into its equivalent in time - and I am far from denying its advantages over the mere time proposal, because it does adjust itself to circumstances - means twelve or fifteen years. Our proposal reaches no . fixed period, except by convincing a majority of our electors and a majority of States. Honorable members, of course, realize that to fully argue this question would occupy too long; and there are other matters to which I must refer. I am rather surprised, however, that it should have escaped, not only the honorable member who spoke to-day, but all our critics who dwell upon the insuperable difficulties of convincing our electors in sufficient numbers of the need for constitutional amendments. Why we ourselves have been living witnesses of a far greater transformation of public opinion in Australia, in a Federal direction, than any referendum for an alteration of the Constitution ever can require. We, who took part in the Federal campaign from, its inception in 1890, know only too well to what a handful of people in two or three States the proposal then appealed. As we went on year by year, it seemed as if the additions to our ranks were too inconsiderable to be worthy of note; and what was the task? We had to conquer the electorates in every single State in Australia; we required to capture every Legislature and every Legislative Chamber in every State before we attained the goal. Federation was ultimately adopted by a special referendum in every State. On the present occasion honorable members are dwelling, reasonably enough, on the difficulty of getting four States out of six to agree; but for Federation we had to capture the whole six through Legislatures whose powers were being curtailed, whose authority was being diminished, and whose revenues were being transferred. We had, therefore, every obstacle that could possibly weigh against a future amendment of our Constitution in the strongest four Legislatures, not elected for Federal ends, but on local party platforms, with Ministries that saw their dominance displaced; and j;et in ten years every single State was brought into line.
– There was then a great ideal.
– It was pure sentiment to which the appeal was made at that time.
– The appeal is now to the pockets.
– It was then sentiment, and now it is pounds shillings and pence.
– I think, first, that we never shall have a campaign turning merely on pounds shillings and pence; there will be what an honorable member is pleased to call sentimental considerations associated with the purposes for which the pounds shillings and pence are to be employed. So far as the Commonwealth is concerned, regarding it for a moment as separate from the States, it will always appeal to national sentiment. Again, T say, if we look at the history of the Commonwealth, and measure the growth of national sentiment throughout Australia in the last nine years, so far as it means the growth of public confidence if the Federal Parliament, we have progressed .by leaps and bounds. It is stronger to-day than ever, and will remain a potent factor governing the destinies of the Commonwealth.
– This is the battle of national sentiment for the supremacy of the National Parliament.
– The honorable member has, inadvertently, entirely shifted his ground in the last four minutes. First, this was to be merely a matter of pounds shillings and pence; and now it is one of mere sentiment-
– It is our battle now of national sentiment, and the Prime Minister’s battle is one of pounds shillings and pence.
– Nothing is more likely to stir the taxpayer to a just use of the suffrage than questions of pounds shillings and pence. When they have to pay, or not to pay - when they have to make a choice, if it be a choice, between financing the Central Government or several State Governments - pounds shillings and pence may prove most active agents in bringing them to sound views.
– To get £1 the honorable member will have to tax them £2 under his scheme.
– The honorable member is in error. Under the scheme that stands in the Constitution to-day, we raise £4 to get j£i. Under our scheme we pay ’25s. per head to acquire absolute freedom, both in taxation and in the disposition of our funds.- I shall not fall a victim to the temptation to unduly develop these points. They must be left to operate upon each of our minds in the light of our reading and experience. In arguing that an amendment of the Constitution under the conditions which at present exist is not the gigantic task supposed by many critics, I have said as much as is necessary on that head. Looking first to the steady growth, of national feeling, next to the fact that the matters at issue will often mean pounds shillings and pence, and then to the growing unity which must obtain since the electors of the States are also the electors of the Commonwealth, what have we to fear? Those pounds shillings and pence come out of the same pair of trousers, although there is one pocket for the States side and one for the Commonwealth side. ‘ Happily it will become impossible to breed any lasting discord, permanent misunderstanding, or angry feeling between two sets of Government agencies chosen by the same people, and of whom the same people remain masters. In these circumstances we may rely upon the healthy British practice of reasonable compromise to enable us to face difficulties of that kind in the future as we have successfully surmounted many in the past. One argument used by the honorable member for Mernda, in passing, requires considerable qualification. He said that the proposal to embody the agreement with the States in the Constitution amounted indirectly to an imputation upon this Parliament. But this Parliament consists, in the first place, of two Houses, one of which is chosen by the States as single constituencies, its members being accredited with their representation in1 a particular sense, because they are returned by the whole of the citizens in each State. It is argued that we already have the representation of the States as such and of State interests in another Chamber. How then can it be an imputation upon this Parliament which represents at once the majority of the people and the majority of the States, both Houses chosen by the same electors, to unite with their own electors in precisely those dual capacities? In what sense, having regard to the dual character of this Parliament, and to the fact that it is the same electorate that is appealed to, are you doing anything more than entering into, perhaps rather more formally than otherwise, what might be termed a deed of partnership sanctioned by your electors in two counts, as well as by their two sets of representatives? If, as the honorable member for Mernda suggested - although I was glad that he did not propose to contend for it - our financial relations with the States were to be merely a matter for members, any such Act would be capable of alteration in any Parliament at any time without notice if the majorities in both Houses thought fit. Why should we fear to consult the electors’, too? How would it be possible for State Governments to enter with confidence into railway extensions or similar undertakings for local development, if, from Parliament to Parliament, and from year to year, there was no security as to the return to be made to them from Federal sources? Are they not justified in expecting that, as they had one financial agreement for a period of ten years embodied in the Constitution, they shall receive for some period an equal security in order to allow them to look ahead in their undertakings? To those of us who believe in the reasonable probability of obtaining necessary amendments of the Constitution, the assumption is that, if this agreement has to be altered, it will be in consequence of some change in our circumstances requiring it to be altered. It is admitted that the 25s. per head agreement will be fair while theCommonwealth returns continue normal. For so long we can, without hardship to our people, finance our national enterprises, and at the same time paythat amount to the States. While we can do that, no one will suggest that there should be an alteration. When, therefore, does the time come at which an alteration will be sought? It is when the Commonwealth or the States begin to be pinched, and that means when the people of Australia begin to be pinched. Until there is such a change in our revenues or expenditure that the conditions proposed in this agreement, which are reasonable now, and will be reasonable for years, become unreasonable and commence to press upon the population, no alteration will be necessary or sought for.
– But the States may begin to be pinched, too, and we put ourselves at the mercy of three interested minorities.
– Rarely will that pinching be confined to a few States. With the improvements of communication and the multiplication of our relations, Australia is becoming more and more one industrial, economic, and financial whole. More and more will adverse conditions affecting one part re-act on every other part. If even three States are pinched, then, so far as numbers go, one-half of them will be pinched, and one-half the Commonwealth is entitled to be heard. Weonly foresee or forecast the necessity for alterations when circumstances make alterations desirable. Then who are the judges as to whether an alteration has become necessary?. Surely the people as a whole are competent to express an opinion in that regard. They are the taxpayers, who, being one nation, will become more and more mutually affected by economic and industrial variations. The honorable member for Mernda, and others, foresee the time when financial difficulties will arise which can only be disposed of, and ought to be disposed of, by an amendment of the Constitution. Well, then is the time when an amendment of the Constitution will become relatively easy. Idonot say it will ever be easy to move the whole of the people and to carry four States, as well asthe majority of the people; but if the circumstances are severe enough - I hope they never will be - it will then become easy to alter the Constitution, and so national necessities will be met. Just in proportion to the pressure of the circumstances of the time upon the citizens of Australia will be the feeling of the citizens in favour of an alteration of terms which they find have become onerous. Surely this natural relationship must be kept in view. Unless bad times come, there is no necessity to change. When the bad times come, we shall have a powerful motive operating, on a large portion of the people, and consequently the path to an alteration of the Constitution will be cleared. Then, remember that we are still under the Braddon section. The clause which we have passed if this Bill goes through, terminates it six months earlier than the Constitution does; but if the Bill does not go through, or if it goes through and is not accepted by the people, the Braddon section remains, and can only be altered by an Act of this Parliament. An election is about to take place for both Houses of this Parliament - half the Senate, and the whole of this House go out. Is any question more likely to appeal to the electors at the forthcoming ballot than the financial relations of the Commonwealth and the States ? Is there any reason now existing why the electors should seek to penalize either of their agencies, or impose an undue burden upon them? Will not the aim of the electors as a whole be to ‘adopt some means which will finance the States for the present? This plan, even with the 25s. per capita, only finances several of them with extra taxation, and extra burdens to be borne. It will appear fair for the future, as far as they can see. The chances are that this agreement, as it stands, will last at least from ten to fifteen years, asthe case may be. Then, of course, we have the great advantage that the whole of my honorable friends on the opposite side, pledged at Brisbane, up to the hilt to an arrangement for all time, will be solidly behind us in the country.
– That is an untrue statement.
– I plead with my honorable friends on our side to realize the position in which they find themselves. Isolated, unhappily, from those stalwarts opposite on account of that unfortunate Brisbane engagement, they will be also temporarily withdrawing themselves from us.
– The honorable member knows that the statement he has made that the Brisbane scheme was to be for all time is not correct, although he repeats it.
– I know that the honorable member for West Sydney said so on the floor of the House, because I heard him.
– That does not make it correct.
– Order ! I point out to honorable members that we are in Committee, and that every honorable member will have an opportunity of replying if he desires to do so. I ask honorable members not to continue these interjections.
– The time to nail a lie down is when, it is uttered.
– The honorable member must not interject after I have called him to order.
– I quote first the honorable member for West Sydney as reported in our own Hansard.I quote Mr. Holman of New South Wales, who was a member of the Brisbane Conference; and I also quote Mr. Bowman, Leader of the Labour party in Queensland, and a member of the Conference. I put aside other honorable members who belong to the Labour party in New South Wales, and have already indorsed the principle of our agreement. I understand that some Labour members in other States have done the same.
– I am informed that Western Australian members are indorsing it.
– Supposing they all did?
– Then it would show that I have taken a natural interpretation of the Labour intentions. All those members regarded the Brisbane Conference scheme as being, to use the words of the honorable member for West Sydney, “for all time.” I am therefore justified in pointing to the strong support which our proposal derives from the fact that those gentlemen, quite independently, and without coercion from any other party, and sitting before the Premiers’ Conference met, arrived at this conclusion. That is a point which should be kept in mind.
– It is only fair to the honorable member for South Sydney to re member that he thought that it was to be for thirty-five years only !
– That is not correct. The statement was not made in his speech.
– Another unscrupulous interjection by the honorable member for Corio.
– I ask honorable members not to interject across the chamber.
– I do not wish to detain the Committee, because it may be necessary to consider the subject from aspects other than those suggested by the honorable member for Mernda. I am endeavouring to reply to his arguments as far as may be necessary, and have travelled very little beyond the orbit of his remarks. We are in Committee, and the proposal is not to be determined at this moment. The more it is debated, the more will the gravity of its issues weigh upon honorable members, and the more likely will they be to see justification for the strong step which we have taken in agreeing with the Premiers for an arrangement whose duration may be anything exceeding ten years. I think it unlikely that it will be altered for at least three general elections to come. If the circumstances of Australia continue to resemble those of past years - and every present indication justifies us in expecting that - the agreement will last for considerably more than ten years. But it will continue only so long as it remains advantageous to the people of Australia. As it has been argued that, under it vested interests will spring up, I would remind the Committee that at an early date the sum returnable to the States will be used in payments by the Commonwealth on their behalf in connexion with their loans, though, of course, that will be as directly to their benefit as if the money had been paid into their coffers. But this agreement will not establish vested interests as great as those of the States prior to Federation, when they raised the larger part of their revenue by means of Customs and Excise duties. Under the Braddon section most have been receiving only from forty to sixty or seventy percent. of what they previously obtained.
– That is not so in regard to New South Wales.
– That State is the exception.
– South Australia has received from the Commonwealth more than she formerly levied by indirect taxation.
– In gross, but not always in percentages. Under the Braddon provision, the States gave up one-fourth of their Customs and. Excise revenue, and now, under the present agreement, they will lose £2,250,000 per annum of their share.. It is suggested that any future re-arrangement will probably still further reduce their revenue from indirect .taxation. It is rather significant that no one has ventured to suggest that payments to some -of them may be increased. I do not affect the role of a prophet, but there are more unlikely things than that in the future the Commonwealth may grant to some, if not to all, the States a larger measure of financial assistance. We have hitherto shut our eyes to that prospect, although the circumstances of Australia hardly justify us in doing so. If the Northern Territory be transferred to the Commonwealth, a large national expenditure must take place there, while if the transfer he not agreed to, there must still be a large national expenditure in support of that of the State. A close scrutiny of the statistics, particularly those of New Zealand, does not justify any unfavorable inference regarding the Australian Tariff, in respect to either its protective incidence, or the revenue which it will return. The circumstances of Australia to-day, and the prospects of the coming years, abundantly justify the proposal to pay to the States 25s. per capita. We give them a security which can be obtained only by embodying it in the Constitution, so that it cannot be altered without the consent of a majority of the States, and of a majority of the people. Honorable members opposite seem to forget that unless a majority of the whole people is behind it, this agreement cannot get into the Constitution at all. It must not be forgotten first, that there is another Chamber to be considered now, and next that the Government is absolutely pledged to the agreement. It was not entered into casually, or by accident, or under duress, but deliberately. There was great pressure, by reason of the insufficiency of time and the magnitude of the interests affected, but none of the imaginary personal pressure which has been suggested. We were so occupied with figures and questions of fact that, even had we wished to take other considerations into account, we had not time to do so. While not proclaiming the proposal ideal, I think that our critics find it hard to suggest a better. I hope that the Committee will not undo what has been done, and throw away this great opportunity for financial stability, which, if it lasts for only ten or fifteen years, will prove of incalculable value to Australia. Except in regard to the Federal Capital, the railway to Western Australia, and the Northern’ Territory, the Commonwealth is not directly charged with those works of development upon which the future of Australia so greatly depends. They must be undertaken by the States, and, in financing them, we are taking a course which the national interest requires.
– We cannot increase our population unless there is such development by the States.’
– We cannot obtain the population we need, or increase it at the rate we desire, unless this development takes place. At the same time, it must be remembered that the present payment to the States is to be reduced by £2,250,000 a year, and the amount available for the Commonwealth is to be increased accordingly. Is it not, then, unwise to consider at this juncture the putting aside of an agreement which will guarantee the new enterprises of the States, and enable them to push on with developmental works upon which the prosperity of the Commonwealth so largely depends? It is not for us to alter -the agreement. Should it be altered, it ceases to exist. Unless a new one can be framed, and that under circumstances of disadvantage and natural irritation, making it unlikely that anything would be done during the present Parliament, we shall have failed. Should we go to the country with the agreement, there are great possibilities before us. The proposed arrangement may be defective in the eyes of some, but would it not be more dangerous, in the public interest, to appeal to the people without some arrangement “for securing the financial position of the Commonwealth and State Governments? We should not be able to give the States any security for the next three” years beyond that contained in an Act of Parliament, which could be repealed by a succeeding Parliament. Shall we bring into the already tempestuous Federal arena more State issues, its parties fighting each for its own hand, to achieve local purposes? Is it not best and wisest to establish a national basis for our future finance? We can then appeal to the people, not as individuals, nor as parties, but in the interests of the Commonwealth?
– Sacrificing the nation !
– In saying that, the honorable member forgets that our Constitution requires for its amendment the consent of not only a majority of the States, but also of a majority of the electors as a whole.
– If the arrangement be embodied in the Constitution, we shall never get it out again.
– What about getting it in? My honorable friends will not permit the majority of the people of Australia to embody this arrangement in the Constitution, even if they wish to do so. Although an overwhelming majority may desire its adoption they are not to be allowed the opportunity to say so.
– Put it the other way round. A majority of the people may desire a second alteration, but a majority of the States containing a minority of the people might defeat that desire.
– The agreement cannot be embodied in the Constitution unless a majority of the people accept it. That is a condition imposed by the Constitution. My honorable friends opposite have no right to impose extra-constitutional restrictions to defeat the will of the majority. Honorable members will recognise how unfortunate it would be from a national aspect if we were unable topresent to the people some definite agreement settling the financial relations of their two governing bodies until national circumstances justify them in altering it. What happier event could there be for Australia than regulation of its finances during the ensuing years of development, anxiety, and increasing responsibility? I ask honorable members to weigh any defects they discover against the injuries and losses that will result if no agreement is put to the electors. This is the only agreement that we can be sure of putting - the only agreement that we have a prospect of putting - to the people. If it is to be altered in only a slight particular, it is no agreement.
– There is nothing in the agreement to prevent our varying it.
– Any serious alteration would render an agreement impossible. These are considerations that appear to be forgotten. Do not let us forget that we have before us a clear, straight path. Any apprehensions for the financial future of Australia during the next twenty years or more are necessarily speculative, as all forecasts must be; yet on them’ we are asked to base an important alteration of the agreement that will probably shipwreck it. I am sure that honorable members realize the gravity of the position. The Government will carry this agreement to the country if they are unable to carry it in this House. That will be very small satisfaction, and bring with it trials and discords of its own. We have now a straight course. I hope that upon full consideration honorable members will realize that we have in this agreement a workable, reasonable, and practicable scheme, that has already behind it great support, not only in this House, and in another place, but throughout the Commonwealth.
.- We have been privileged from time totime to listen to able speeches by the Prime Minister, and the one that he has just delivered was in his best form. The last statement made by the honorable gentleman was different from that made by the honorable member for Mernda, who declared that this was not a party question. The Prime Minister has just said that if the Government fail to secure the acceptance of the agreement in this House, they will carry it to the country. Obviously that means, if anything, that the Government are wedded to the agreement, and mean to stand by it, both in Parliament and before the people.
– The statement about going to the country has been published for a month.
– I must take the statement as made by the Prime Minister in this Chamber.
– I am restating it here.
– Had I quoted a report of such a statement made by the honorable member outside he might have said that it was incorrect. I am confident that if this were a non-party question, not twenty members would vote for it. The side that I am taking is not a popular one, whereas that taken by the Prime Minister and his colleagues would appear to be undoubtedly popular, since it will have the support of all the State Governments.
– Of to-day.
– I am speaking of today, and of the next general election. What would be said of a representative of the people who thought more of his own political position than the future welfare of his country - who would sacrifice the national welfare for temporary place and power? If there are such men in this House, they can have all the credit of the position they occupy. Undoubtedly the Prime Minister, in elaborating this question, showed that the Government had the support of all the State Ministries. But what does that amount to? The State Governments were naturally looking for the best agreement possible in the circumstances; but did our representatives make the best agreement they could for the Commonwealth? I hold that they did not. The Prime Minister, in his own words, entered the Conference opposed to the making of a permanent agreement to be embodied in the Constitution.
– I entered the Conference “ without having arrived at a conclusion as to the terms to be fixed. I am free to confess the fact.” Those are the words I used.
– I have in mind the honorable gentleman’s correspondence with the Premier of New South Wales, wherein he stated more than once that his Government thought that nothing more than a temporary arrangement was necessary. The Prime Minister now says that he agreed with some reluctance to an arrangement providing for an alteration of the Constitution. He also states that the agreement made with the Premiers might be of no longer duration than it would be if. amended as proposed by the honorable member for Mernda. If that is so, why does he object to the amendment? To say that what purports to be a permanent agreement made with the State Premiers may be altered within ten years is to go as near a political violation of pledges and obligations as possible.
– I read what Mr. Kidston, Premier of Queensland, said.
– And then the honorable gentleman explained it away.
– The honorable gentleman said that the proposal made by the honorable member for Mernda meant an agreement for ten, - fifteen, or twenty years, and went on to argue that the permanency of the agreement made with the Premiers of the States could be varied at any time if the people so desired. Does he seriously believe that if the agreement as it stands is embodied in the Constitution, it will be altered within the next ten or twenty years?
– If the circumstances require it. most decidedly it will.
– In what circumstances would an alteration be made? The Prime Minister enumerated one or two, such as war, or fear of foreign aggression, or stress of any kind. What does that mean? It means that at a time of disaster - at a time when the States would most need the money that they were entitled to receive under this agreement - the Commonwealth would propose to take it from them. The States might be impoverished at . the very time that it was proposed to take from them that which they were entitled to receive under what is assumed to be a permanent agreement. Surely the Prime Minister does not want us to accept that proposition. Then he tells us, in his own inimitable style, that it is open to the people to insert this agreement in the Constitution, as proposed by him, and later on to omit it. It is true that the Constitution provides that a” proposed amendment of the Constitution must be approved by a majority of the people and a majority of the States. It is equally true that, with the co-operation of the State Governments for the time being, the proposed amendment of the Constitution may be carried. But it is not true to say that a majority of the electors of the Commonwealth can afterwards alter that. At the last general election the voting was as follows : - New South Wales, 381,336; Victoria, 381,185 ; Queensland, 124,539; South Australia, 70,517; Western Australia, 52,712 ; and Tasmania, 48,879. If the people of New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland voted solidly in the same numbers for an alteration of the Constitution, and were supported by a bare minority in the three smaller States, we should have 973,113 persons voting for that alteration, but it could be defeated by the votes of the remaining 86,055 persons in the three smaller States. In other words, the desire of nearly 1,000,000 people in the six States for an alteration of the Constitution could be defeated by the votes of 86,000 persons in the three smaller States. While the population of the States remains in the same proportion as at present, that will be the position as long as the Commonwealth exists.
– On the same basis, it can be argued that the people will not embody this agreement in the Constitution.
– That deceives no one. The Government have entered into a compact with all the State Governments which, as the Prime Minister has said, is partly political and partly financial. It may be found convenient for certain political inter- ests at one time to have a new provision inserted in the Constitution, and it may be absolutely impossible later on to take out that provision, although the vast majority of the people desire that it shall be omitted. The Prime Minister said that if there had been more time at the disposal of the Conference, a better agreement would have been drawn up.
– A more complete agreement.
– Then why not take more time ? Where is the urgency ? This question was not before the people at the last election, and it was never contemplated that it would be dealt with in this Parliament ; certainly it was never contemplated that it would be dealt with by means of an agreement of this character. ‘ The Prime Minister seems to suggest that the people are incapable of returning representatives able to do justice to the States ; but in that he is mistaken, and I think that the people ought to be consulted before the agreement is completed. The honorable gentleman read with great gusto an extract from the speech made by Mr. Kidston, who, with much subtlety, said that, if the agreement were made for a fixed period, that period would have to be adhered to, whereas if it were made for all time, it could be altered next year. If the Prime Minister knew Mr. Kidston as well as some of us do he would know that he never believed in Federation, and has never ceased to attack Federation, and all its works - that, while desiring to protect the interests of the States, he would like to cripple Federation as much as possible. There are bigger issues than even the payment of 25s. per head to the States. The Prime Minister towards the close of his remarks said it was intended not to make a contribution of 25s. per capita, but to credit the States with the money towards the.payment of the interest on the debts; and he certainly conveyed the impression that, after the principal and interest had been paid, the obligation of the Commonwealth would cease. Does the Prime Minister agree with Mr. Wade that, even after the Commonwealth has taken over -the State debts, and paid the whole of the principal and interest, the States will still be entitled to the 25s. per head ?
– The arrangement for the payment of 25s. per head will stand until it is altered. The honorable member is looking forward to a period of, at least, sixty to eighty years.
– We have to deal with this question as it affects the financial relations of the Commonwealth with the States, and Mr. Wade has laid down the principle I have indicated.
– The honorable member is looking forward to eighty years, or, per-, haps, over a century hence. If no arrangement is made in the meantime the payment of 25s. per head will go on.
– The Prime Minister agrees to an interpretation which shows that the agreement is faulty, and ought to be modified. I have no desire to challenge seriously the statement cf the honorable gentleman as to the instability of Acts passed by the Federal Parliament; but I remind him that the sugar-growers of Australia, and the white workers in the industry, could not exist except on the good faith of this Legislature. The Prime Minister should be the last to accuse the Commonwealth of any desire to flout an agreement.
– The Senate will protect the rights of the States.
– Quite so; every State has equal representation in the Senate. I regard the agreement as a bad business pro position, the worst ever submitted in this Parliament, and one we shall live to regret.
– We are always wrong when we follow the Labour party !
– It may please the Government, or others who have no political principles, to say that they are following the Labour party in the scheme proposed at the Brisbane Conference; but, as a matter of fact, it is not so. When I met the Premiers at Hobart they were particularly desirous that I should say the agreement was of a permanent character; but I said nothing of the kind, and there was no intention on the part of those who drew it up that it should be permanently embodied1 in the Constitution. The Labour party was determined to declare to the country what their financial policy was, among other reasons, in order to prevent their views* being wilfully misrepresented. We desire to credit the States with the money towards the payment of interest on the debts, because, associated with the distribution of the revenue, there should always be the taking over of the debts, or a portion of them.
– They are two distinct points.
– That is what I complain of ; the payment to the States is mandatory, while there is merely to be an investigation into the question of taking over the State debts. The Prime Minister spoke of dealing with the State debts, and making a profit ; but we search the agreement in vain for any direction about the debts. All that is stated is, that there _ will be an investigation.. .
– That is not all the agreement said ; why not quote it ?
– The paragraph is as follows : -
That to fulfil the intention of the Constitution by providing for the consolidation and transfer of State debts, and in order to ensure the most profitable management of future loans by the establishment of one Australian stock, a complete investigation of this most important subject shall be undertaken forthwith by the Governments of the Commonwealth and the Stales. This investigation shall include the question of the actual cost to the State of transferred property, as defrayed out of loan or revenue moneys.
That does not bind the State Governments one way or another ; but the Commonwealth is to be bound by the Constitution to the payment of the 25s. per head. It is quite true, as the Prime Minister says, that we are all the same people and the same taxpayers; and the only way we can save money is far the Commonwealth to take over the State debts. We may collect and distribute the revenue on any terms we like, it will not make a penny difference to the people; but if we associate with the distribution of the revenue, the control of the debts, there can be made at least a profit of £1,000,000 a year, cr £25,000,000 in a quarter of a century. Yet we find this Government of all the talents going into the Conference and making the question of the States debts a merely speculative one. The Government have dealt with this financial business as a pedlar deals with his wares, bargaining national interest for a little temporary advantage.
– The honorable member has all the virtues !
– The Treasurer is quite wrong, if he means there is any special virtue in a man acting on his own convictions, whether these be popular or not, because it only requires manliness to do so.
– The honorable member does not know everything.
– I do not pretend to; but I do know exactly what I propose to do myself. I cannot regard this agreement as a good one for either the Commonwealth or the States, and the Government .are quite wrong in holding that it is the same1 as the Brisbane scheme. If the Government have come to such a pass that their best weapon of defence or offence is to quote the talk of some Labour members about the scheme, I have only pity to bestow on them ; because I am sure that if they had not said so, their bitterest poli-i tical enemies would not think they possessed no ideas of their own on the subject. I was Chairman of the Brisbane Labour Conference ; and there was never any expectation that the proposed agreement was to be made binding as part of the Constitution.
– The Brisbane Conference proposed a fixed sum.
– I do not wish to go into the details. It might, of course, be a great compliment to the party to say that they were able to suggest the scheme which me* with the approval of the combined wisdom of the State Premiers and the Commonwealth Government. I wish to say with respect to the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Mernda that unless it is intended that the honorable member’s proposal shall be given effect the amendment means nothing. The honorable member says that if the amendment is carried it will be an indication to the Government, the State Premiers and the people that, in the opinion of this Parliament, it is not desirable to embody the proposed- agreement in the Constitution without any limitation as to time. It will be an indication that the Commonwealth Government is to credit the State Governments with an amount equal to between £7,000,000 and £8,000,000 per annum for all time in payment of interest on the State debts. That is a much better proposal than that submitted by the Government, and I hope it will be carried, but no honorable member on this side is bound to vote, either for or against that proposal. I should be sorry to find any of my honorable colleagues voting to secure the permanency of the provisions of this agreement. I hope that this Parliament will rise superior to considerations of personal or party political advantage in dealing with this matter, and will deal with it from a national point of view. I agree with the Prime Minister that the national sentiment in Australia has grown within the last ten years. We are all delighted to know that it has grown in the way it has; but the Government proposal strikes a blow at the very root of the tree of national senti- ment. It proposes to strengthen and further entrench the six separate powers in the States that are opposed to the development of a national sentiment. Its effect must be to weaken the national cause and to weaken the representation of the people in their National Parliament. If the Constitution is altered by the embodiment of the proposed agreement an agitation will at once be commenced to take it out again, and the present Government will be remembered, not for any good they may have done, but by their paltering with national questions for paltry political reasons.
– We cannot allow this clause to pass without some reference to the statement made by the Prime Minister this afternoon. I have never listened to a greater effort on behalf of the States as against the Commonwealth. The honorable gentleman, in September last, said that if the States cannot carry out their great undertakings they should hand them over to the Commonwealth, and that the authority that raises the money should have the spending of it. I thoroughly agree with that. The honorable gentleman also said that if this agreement is embodied in the Constitution it can be taken out again. No one knows better than does the Prime Minister that when he says so he is simply trying to mislead the electors. The fallacy of that statement has been exposed over and over again, and I am astonished that the honorable’ gentleman should have repeated it this afternoon. What will happen if the amendment is agreed to? I trust that it will be an indication that the agreement is set aside. It is an agreement which ought never to have been entered into. It was entered into by parties who received no authority from any one to make it. What did we say to the people when we advocated the establishment of the Federation? I took a stand with the Prime Minister and his colleagues in favour of the Federation of Australia, much against the wish of many of those with, whom I am associated. 1 thought that was the right course to pursue, and I am to-day a stronger Federalist than ever. I believe that we should maintain every power that we have. The Prime Minister is prepared to sacrifice the best interests of the Commonwealth for a party advantage extending over three paltry years. Of what use was it for the honorable, gentleman to refer us to the Federal
Capital and the proposed transfer of the Northern Territory? He said that the State of South Australia would have to develop the Northern Territory if we did nothing with it as a Commonwealth, and the State Government will require money for the purpose. If the States intend to develop any part of their territories they must find the necessary funds for the purpose. Who can say what the obligations of the Commonwealth will be in the near future? Who could have said three, let alone five, years ago that they would have grown to their present magnitude? Who can say what they will be in another five years ? Even though we might be able to do so this year, who will say that we are in a position to tell the State Governments that we can continue to hand over to them every year 25s. per head of the population of the States ? I do not say that we might not be able to finance our undertakings for next year, but our financial position at the present moment does not warrant the anticipation that we will, when we are going cap in hand to the State Governments to assist us over this year.
– We are returning three- fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue to the States this year.
– I am aware of that, but we have not yet attempted to carry out one of the great undertakings which confront us. How does the Treasurer expect that we can build the proposed transcontinental railway to connect the State from which he comes with the other States bf the Commonwealth ?
– Does the honorable member think that we can build that railway out of revenue?
– I do not know that it will be possible for us to build it out of revenue, but it certainly will not be possible for us to do so if we are going to give the States 25s. per head of their population, even if they do not require it. I come back to what the Prime Minister said, and contend that the authority that raises the money should be the authority responsible for spending it. We are not raising more than we require at present. I should be sorry to suggest that, after the end of next year, we should not return a single sixpence of the revenue from Customs and Excise to the States, but if we decided not to do so, what could be said? I am willing to give to the States all surplus revenue - all that we do not require for Commonwealth undertakings.
– We have to do so.
– If we required all the money we raised, will the Treasurer say what we should have to do then ? The honorable gentleman says that we must give the State Governments all the money which we raise and do not require for our own purposes, but it is equally true that we must have all the money we require to carry out Commonwealth undertakings, or leave them unaccomplished. I am anxious that during my lifetime some of these great undertakings will be on the way towards accomplishment. We have to raise that money. The Treasurer says that he will have nothing to do with direct taxation. Another Ministerial supporter says that the Government can take , £3,000,000 out of the pockets of the poorest section of the community, who use the cheapest goods. Other honorable members opposite will go to any length rather than vote for a land tax. But the Government will have to choose which alternative they will follow. They must either go to the London market and borrow, or they must leave great Commonwealth undertakings untouched ; or they must tax the poor. The Prime Minister has referred to Western Australia, but it is a remarkable thing that he makes no reference to those States in which the Labour party is completely in accord with the opposition in this Parliament in regard to the agreement made with the Premiers. I am glad to say that the Labour party in South Australia, and in Victoria, have no sympathy with the action of part of the State Labour party in New South. Wales. They recognise that this is a matter for the Federal Parliament, who can be trusted to do a fair thing for the States. The Prime Minister tried to mislead the country into believing that the Government are simply carrying out the Brisbane scheme. But what was proposed by the Brisbane Conference was that weshould give a fixed amount to the States to be divided per capita. That is a very different matter from putting a provision into the Constitution. I challenge the Prime Minister to find a single word in the reports of the Brisbane Conference that would convey the impression which the honorable gentleman sought to convey to the country in his speech to-day. Why does not the Prime Minister relate how the Brisbane scheme was interpreted by those who. were mem bers of the Conference which adopted it? I can thoroughly understand some members of the New South Wales Labour party misinterpreting what was done by the Conference.
– What stamp of men are they ?
– Men with whom I have no sympathy - who deliberately misinterpret the views of the Conference in order to secure an advantage to their State.
– Were not those members of the State Labour party also present at the Conference?
– No, not one of those who have misinterpreted the agreement was at the Conference.
– If the Brisbane Conference did not mean the agreement to last for all time, why did they not put a limitation upon it?
– What the Brisbane Conference proposed should last for all time was the payment of a fixed sum, specified in black and white. Not a word was said about putting a provision into the Constitution.
– What is the difference in effect ?
– The difference is this : Under the Prime Minister’s proposal, the Commonwealth would pay to the States 25s. per capita, no matter how much revenue is raised through Customs and Excise. Under the Brisbane Conference scheme, the States would have received £5,000,000 per annum, to be divided per capita, irrespective of the amount of revenue raised by the Commonwealth. Under the Brisbane scheme, if the population of Australia rose to 10,000,000, the States would still get no more than £5,000,000 per annum. But under the Prime Minister’s scheme, if the population of this country reached the proportions to which the population of the United States has attained, the Commonwealth would become bankrupt, or the direct taxation would be so heavy that the people would revolt. The States would not require all the revenue which they would receive from the Commonwealth, and would be too pleased to keep the Commonwealth near to bankruptcy and put it in bad odour.
– The people can make a right adjustment if they see that they, have made a mistake.
– But does not the honorable member understand that 80,000 electors, or thereabouts - that is, a bare majority in the three smaller States - could nullify the votes of a million of people? What necessity is there for putting the provision in the Constitution ? If at any time the Commonwealth found that it had more money than it required it would not do an injustice to the States. Have we done any injustice to the States up to the present ?
– The people of the States are not foreigners?
– The right honorable member means to make the Commonwealth a foreigner. It is because the party opposite have had the running of the affairs of this Commonwealth from the commencement, with the exception of a few months, that we are so short of cash to-day, and that our services are so deficient. The fact that there was handed back to the States £6,000,000, which was badly needed for Commonwealth services, and £2,000,000 of which the PostmasterGeneral would be glad to get hold of for his Department- and if he were to speak his mind, he would say that to part with that money was the biggest blunder the Commonwealth ever made - is the greatest proof of our generosity to the States ; but now we are told that the States cannot trust us any further, even to do them justice. I am one of those who are anxious to deal fairly with the States; and I am sure, if the people were polled, they would be quite willing to trust the Federal Parliament. The question should not be left to the decision of a few interested politicians; yet who else drew up the agreement? The Premier of South Australia, for instance, has only eight followers in a House of forty-two, and that House contains twenty Labour members. Yet Mr. Peake pretends to speak for South Australia, and takes part in a caucus to settle the future financial position of the Common wealth. Precisely the same thing obtains in Queensland, where Mr. Kidston has no following outside of those who were his bitter opponents only a few months ago.
– Then is it not a wonder that they made him Premier ?
– He is after the stamp of the right honorable gentleman, seeing that he usurped the Premiership. Certainly that is what Mr. Peake did. The position of the latter is so precarious that he may cease at any hour to be Premier. Two opportunities for deposing him have been lost quite recently. He is not even in the position of the Prime Minister, because he cannot rely upon a Fusion. The parties at present supporting him will not fuse. They say they do not believe in him ; but they believe in the Labour party less, and so they support him as the less of two evils. That is one of the men with whom the’ Prime Minister negotiated an agreement as between the Commonwealth and the States. The Premier of South Australia does not represent the opinion of the people of South Australia, and never did represent it. He thought the Labour members were splendid fellows when they were working hand-in-glove with him, and went from one end of South Australia to the other lauding the Labour party ; but to-day he is travelling over the State denouncing them. That is the kind of man whom we are asked to trust to arrive at an agreement which will be fair to both the States and the Commonwealth. The Premiers, of course, were glad to take advantage of the present situation in Federal politics. They seized their opportunity to squeeze the Government, and the Prime Minister, after hearing them, replied, in his affable and courteous way, “ Anything to oblige you, gentlemen, so long as it does not hurt us,” meaning by “us,” not the interests of the Commonwealth, but the interests of his own Government. I hope, on national grounds, that the honorable member for Mernda will carry his amendment. I do not know what may take the place of the present agreement if the amendment is carried ; but the Prime Minister has distinctly stated that every member sitting behind him is free to support the honorable member for Mernda. That means that every member is free to express his own opinion, without fear of injuring the Government. I hope that every honorable member who thinks the agreement is not in the best interests of the Commonwealth will exercise the freedom given him by the Prime Minister, and vote according to his convictions. I shall vote according to mine, for I have just as free a hand as has any honorable member on the Ministerial side. This is not a party question with us. If every honorable member votes according to his convictions, I am sure the amendment will be carried by a large majority, to the great advantage of the Commonwealth, and without the least detriment to the States.
.- The present attitude of the Government towards their supporters calls for special attention. The Prime Minister said this was not a party question, but the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out that, according to the Prime Minister’s own statement, the Government propose, in the event of the agreement being defeated, to take it to the country. It is, therefore, perfectly clear that any honorable member who is not prepared to accept the Government programme will not be put on the Government ticket. In the face of that, it is absurd to say that every honorable member has a free hand. It is perfectly clear, in view of the attitude taken up by the Age and the Argus, which represent in this city the two opinions on the question, that opposition of no ordinary character or virulence will be offered to any man who does not favour the particular view put forward by those respective journals. The honorable member for Mernda has claimed the right to have a free hand on the question, and has tabled an amendment to test the feeling of the Committee. That right has been accorded to him by the Prime Minister in words, but if his amendment is carried, and the Government take the question to the country, as they say they will do, what will the honorable member’s position be? Can he, in honour, stand upon the Government ticket, or, if he is prepared to do SO can the Government accept him? Most emphatically they cannot. But, in my opinion, the Government are more likely to take the question into another Conference with the Premiers, if the agreement is rejected, than to take it to the country. They are looking for an easy way down, and so are honorable members who sit behind them. Having regard to -the Ministerial policy submitted to Parliament on the 20th July of this” year, the statement of the Prime Minister that this was to be a financial session, and his assertion this afternoon that nothing could be so important as the financial question, we must naturally assume that every member sitting behind the Fusion has certain ideas on this subject. Yet not one of them has had the courage to rise this afternoon and say, “ I believe in the honorable member for Mernda’s amendment.” or “ I do not believe in it,” as the case mav be. They are saying nothing, ami waiting to see what turns up.
Last night the honorable member for Batman asked us to trust the people, but now that . we desire to obtain their views in regard to a matter which is infinitely more important than the question whether the Federal Capital shall be at Dalgety or Canberra, he is as silent as the grave. So, too, are others who yesterday were furiously of his opinion. The reason is that, while their desire to serve the Democracy is great, their desire to retain their seats is greater. We, on this side, are not afraid to trust the people, and it is not our fault that this and several other questions were not settled by the constituencies four months ago. We wished to go before the electors, and were not allowed to do so. Under the proposed agreement the people will ,be deprived of their right to deal with this question. Democracy means the rule of the majority ; but if the agreement be embodied in the Constitution the majority will no longer be able to enforce its will in financial matters. That is why we oppose the proposal. We declare that the right of people to govern is inalienable; that it is not intermittent, but persists continuously. The people have the right to repeal tomorrow the law which they make to-day. It is to be assumed that the Prime Minister has made the best defence that can be made for this proposal. He declared that a better arrangement could have been come to if there had been sufficient time, but that the Committee should accept the proposal of the Government. Is there any reason why those who believe that the national sentiment should be expressed by this Parliament should agree to a proposal which would hamper it, and is antagonistic to the basic principle of Democracy? The honorable gentleman says that an amendment of the Constitution requires the consent of a. majority of the whole people. I do not deny that. But a majority would accept to-day what three years hence it would reject. If the electors were given the opportunity, they would insist upon fundamental amendments of the Constitution. Many thought .that a necessary consequence of Federation would be the abolition of the State Parliaments, and others that those bodies would be shorn of their chief powers.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.4.5 p.m.
– I think that we should have a quorum present. [Quorum formed.)
– In my opinion the proposal to embody this agreement in the Constitution is a wrong one. It is distinctly unfederal. It presupposes that this Parliament is unfit or unable to exercise those functions which have been intrusted to it by the people. Whatever doubts may exist as to the extent of our powers there can be no doubt that we are empowered to legislate upon matters of taxation, and more” particularly in respect of Customs and Excise taxation. In the plainest possible language, the Constitution defines our powers, and it certainly assumes that we shall retain sufficient revenue from Customs and Excise to enable us to exercise those powers. The chief reason why many electors in New South Wales opposed the acceptance of the Constitution was that under it a Chamber would be created in which the people would not be represented according to numbers, but in which the States would have equal representation. The argument adduced in favour of the adoption of that undemocratic provision was that it was necessary for the protection of State Rights. That Chamber exists to-day, and it exists primarily to safeguard State Rights. It is in no respect a Chamber analogous to the House of Lords, or to those amusing parodies upon it which are to be found in Australia - I refer to the Legislative Councils of the States. The latter are admittedly Chambers whose purpose it is to revise, delay, and obstruct legislation, whereas the function of the Senate is primarily, if not wholly, to safeguard the interests of the States. That being so, I contend that both States and people are represented in the fullest and most effective way in this Parliament. In the House of Representatives they are represented upon the basis of one adult one vote, and one vote one value, whilst in the Senate, Tasmania, with a population of 180,000, enjoys equal representation with New South Wales, which possesses a population of 1,600,000. Why was the principle of equal representation of the States in the Senate adopted? To protect State Rights. Yet, in the face of this, an attempt is being made to foist upon this Parliament an agreement which has been arrived at between the self -constituted representatives of the States for this particular purpose. The State Premiers were never authorized by the people to represent them upon this question. They had no mandate upon it. As has been pointed out by the Leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for Hindmarsh, the position occupied bymany of them is humiliating in the extreme, and almost ludicrous. Some of them hold office by very slender majorities. The Premier of. South Australia holds office by a majority of one.
– The Premier of Queensland had a majority of only one prior to the recent election.
– The beginning and end of the State Rights party in Queensland was Philp. Mr. Kidston was put forward as a convenient peg upon which the members of his party might hang their reactionary robes. He has just gone to the country and returned with a majority which is composed exclusively of Philpites. He betrayed the party which floated him into power, and the verdict of the country has been that it is better to have a straight-out reactionary than a traitor. He has returned with a solid phalanx behind him, consisting wholly of the advocates of State Rights, Conservatism, and black labour.
– Who put them there?
– I do not deny that the people put them there, just as they have put the honorable member in the position that he occupies. I do not blame them for that. They are making their way towards the light in exactly the same fashion as a drunken man finds his way home. He makes many slips en route, he does many things for which , he is sorry, but ultimately he gets there, and in the morning he looks back with horror and with a nasty, indescribable taste in his mouth, upon what took place the previous evening. The honorable member for Capricornia is one of those incidents which happened the previous evening. We know the State Rights party in Queensland for precisely what they are. From the beginning the Philp party has been the black labour party.
– The honorable member is talking nonsense.
– A little while ago there were gentlemen who now sit upon the Ministerial side of the Chamber who stood up valiantly as champions of white labour and of a White Australia. But to-day they are allied with the black labour party of Queensland.
– This is finance.
– The agreement is merely a pretence at finance. If honorable members who now sit upon the Ministerial side of the Chamber were in Opposition, whatever they advocated would be taken up with enthusiasm by those who are alleged to be .representatives of the States. In every State we shall find that those who are in favour of the settlement which is embodied in this Bill are bound together in an inflexible determination to prevent reform. They propose to hamper and cripple the National Parliament in everything that it does or attempts to do. My point is that we ought not to consider an agreement between the State Premiers and the Commonwealth Government in respect of an adjustment of the financial relations between the States and the Commonwealth, for the simple reason that there exists a Chamber clothed with ample power, and created only to preserve the interests of the States as such against those of the people as such. Are we to assume that the Senate has fallen so low as to be unable to exercise those functions for which it was called into existence? I do not believe it. The Prime Minister spoke of the necessity of embodying this agreement in the Constitution, saying that it could be done only by the ,approval of a majority of the people. That is one of those half truths that amount to a misstatement of fact. While it. is true that we cannot amend the Constitution without the approval of a majority of the people, it is equally true that once it is amended a majority of the people may vote a hundred times over to remove that amendment, but without effect. The people have a right to go wherever they like, but they have no right to retrace their steps. It is one of the basic principles of Democracy that the people have a right to do whatsoever they please. It has been pointed out by the Leader of the Opposition, and the honorable member for Hindmarsh, that it would be possible for 1,000.000 voters in the States to endeavour to repeal the -Constitution in some particular, and for 86,000 voters, or a bare majority, in the three smaller States to prevent effect being given to their will. I do not propose to dwell upon that fact ; the figures speak for themselves. A statement has been made as to the advantage of including this agreement in the Constitution, since we should thus give to the States an assurance that they would not possess if it were passed in an ordinary Statute. In a Democracy, we have no right to try to make anything more permanent than the people desire. Directly the people are unable to do what they desire, the Constitution,, that prevents them doing it, ceases to be Democratic. Therefore, when we speak of a thing being permanent in a .Democratic community, we mean, that it is permanent because the people approve it. When the people cease to approve it, it may be permanent, but it is no longer Democratic. Let us consider whether there is anything in the argument that the States would have a better, assurance if this agreement were embodied in the Constitution than they would if it were embodied in a Statute. Literally, millions of pounds sterling of capital are invested to-day in protected industries in Australia upon no other ‘assurance than that which this Parliament from time to time can give by Statute It would be possible for this Parliament, within twenty-four hours, to repeal every duty in the Tariff Act, and so to bring thousands of men in manufacturing industries to the verge of ruin. It would be possible, yet does any one believe that it would be done? Is not the assurance which the manufacturer possesses based upon that general approval th,at the people in this country give to the policy of Protection? Whether it be right or wrong, .so long as the people approve it, the position of the manufacturer is assured. Does any State need a better assurance in this regard than any citizen has? The Leader of the Opposition has pointed out that sugar-growers have invested much money in the industry under cover of a Statute for promoting the production of sugar by white labour. They have no assurance from day to day other than that given by the approval of this Parliament, and the tacit understanding that the Statute in question shall not be repealed for a certain time. Again, take, if honorable members please, the White Australia policy. What assurance have the people, with whom we have. made a bargain of the most solemn kind, that this Parliament will not repeal the White Australia legislation? They have exactly the same assurance that we have that a Judge, in the exercise of his judicial functions, will be guided by reason, intimate knowledge of law, and an inflexible rigid adherence to that which he believes to be right; which make judicial decisions acceptable, or, at least, worthy of the consideration and respect of the people. It is because this Parliament reflects public opinion in’ this country th,at the States of Australia may always rest assured that it will deal fairly by them. It is not this Parliament that speaks; it is, rather, the States themselves speaking in their national capacity. What is this ridiculous twaddle - I can call it nothing else - that masquerades under the guise of State Rights? A Commonwealth elector is asked to so tie his hands that he must for all time dip into his pocket every year- for 25s. to hand over to himself as a State elector. He must tax himself to that extent whether he desires or does not desire it. We must never forget, as the Prime Minister reminded us recently, that the Federal elector and the St.ate elector are one and the same. We are asked to say to the State elector, in his Federal capacity, “ You must pay yourself 25s. per annum to the end of time, and if you change your opinion you must nevertheless continue to make that payment.” When the Treasurer brought in his Budget Statement I contrasted the scheme of the Government as then proposed with the scheme propounded at the Brisbane Labour Conference and said that, whereas one was a tentative proposal, the other was a settlement for all time. The Ministerial statement - dated 20th July last - quite a long time ago now, when the Fusion Government set sail with banners flying, trumpets blowing, and the sails bellying out to catch every capful of breeze - contained, amongst other things, the following : -
A temporary arrangement for a term of years to replace the existing distribution, in which the obligations of the Commonwealth are recognised, is being prepared for submission.
The understanding was that some substitute for the Braddon section was to be introduced, limited to a term of years. The Brisbane scheme laid down the principle that the relations between the States and the Commonwealth were to be discharged on the basis of a provision for the then existing expenditure, plus the expenditure on defence, transcontinental railways, and similar purposes, the residue to be divided amongst the States -per capita. What the per capita payment was to be was not set forth, and that it was to be embodied in the Constitution, I absolutely deny. The party to which I have the honour to belong have always been seized with the importance of the principle, without which Democracy cannot exist, namely, that people have the right always to govern themselves. It was that principle which actuated us, prior to Federation, in opposing the Constitution
Bill, because it contained a provision which prevented Democracy having unfettered control of its own destinies. That a party constituted as this is would appoint delegates to a Conference, and that those delegates would agree to perpetuate such a violation of the basic principle of Democracy, without setting forth this abandonment of principle in plain terms, is unthinkable. I do not believe that they ever intended to do so ; and I think we shall be able, in a little while, to provide the Chamber with absolute proof, which even the Treasurer will be constrained to accept, that the Brisbane Conference never meant anything of the sort. 1 have here the statement by Mr. Holman, that he did not say the agreement was to be embodied in the Constitution, but that the Brisbane Conference said it was to be embodied. Of course, this is a matter which can only be decided, first, by the probabilities of the case, secondly. by the environment or circumstances under which the delegates were selected, and, thirdly, by a reference to the delegates themselves as to what they did mean. An inquiry is being made; and the result will be published at a very early date. As the Brisbane scheme did not contemplate embodiment in the Constitution, I feel in no way bound - and in this matter we all speak for ourselves rather than for each other - to depart from the attitude I have taken up in regard to the constitutional restrictions on the rights of Democratic government from the very inception of Federation. I have always regretted that the majority of the people were prevented from having their way ; but, at the same time, I have to face facts. We must seek to amend the Constitution if we wish to extend our powers. I shall never agree to deliberately re-shackle this Parliament by imposing other constitutional restrictions, now that the restrictions under section 87 are running out. It is perfectly well known to honorable members that there is another reason why we should not agree to this proposal ; and that is that we cannot afford to do so. The responsibilities and liabilities of this Parliament are every day increasing. If it is the intention of the Government to carry out the pledges they made he-i fore they took office, ‘when some of their members were engaged in pointing out each other’s shortcomings, I venture to say that this Parliament cannot, for any length of time, with the present revenue, afford to pay 25s. per head to the States. We shall be compelled to resort to further taxation ; and, as the honorable member for Hindmarsh asked, “ In what direction shall we turn?1’ ‘ Shall we impose revenue duties ? There seems to be a general concensus of opinion against those who call themselves State Righters, but who are, as I have said, really reactionaries in a very flimsy disguise, that we ought to impose revenue taxation. I shall never agree, and I hope that no one who calls himself a Democrat will ever agree, with such a policy. The people of Australia are the highest taxed through the Customs in the world, and the classes of this country are the lowest taxed in the world through direct taxation. The classes of England pay half the taxes, and the Lloyd-George Budget is asking them to pav more; while here timidity marks us for its own when we propose to even reach to the height that Conservative England has long ago scaled. But if the Government rivet this agreement on our necks, I warn them that one of the immediate consequences will be the imposition of direct taxation. The people of the country will not be fooled twice running. They may agree to the 25s. petcapita proposal. I venture to say that, if the question of who should pay it, the classes or the masses, were put to a referendum, there would be an answer that would cause astonishment opposite. I challenge the Government to put to the referendum the question whether the shortage in what is necessary to meet the Commonwealth and State liabilities shall be made up by direct or indirect taxation, and to get their answer.
– We shall put the question to the electors !
– We shall put the question individually; but .1 ask the Government to let the people have a chance of saying whether they realize what this payment of 25s. per head means. If we are to have the defence scheme of the Government, we cannot have it with the present taxation. We are to have a transcontinental railway, and the development of the Northern Territory. A number of honorable members the other day went on a visit to the Territory, and came back speaking of an El Dorado abounding with plants 7 and 8 feet high, and bringing marvellous stories rivalling those of De Rougemont as to the resources of that wonderful land. We shall shortly hear these honorable gentlemen pathetically spinning romances as to what could be done if we spent a little money in developing that country. Where is the money to be obtained from? Is it to be derived from duties on sugar, tea, kerosene, rice, and calico? Is the poor man to pay again ? No, sir. If the people of this country are to be trusted where they have only a’ chance to empty their pockets, they should be trusted where they have a chance to put the taxation upon the shoulders of those who ought to bear it - those who are the most lightly taxed class in the world. The masses of Australia are the most heavily taxed persons in the world at the Customs House. The honorable member for Mernda has moved an amendment, but it is merely of a verbal character. I was unable to gather his precise ideas as to an arrangement between the States and the Commonwealth which, in his opinion would be satisfactory. I was not present when he was speaking. He has put his matured ideas in the form of a memorandum, and I believe that what he proposes now is that the arrangement should take the shape of the payment ultimately of an amount equal to the interest on the preFederation debts of the States. What that means in money I do not know, probably an annual payment of over ,£7,000,000. I decline to commit myself to an approval of that proposal. I shall want to know the conditions ‘ on which that obligation is to be imposed upon the Commonwealth. I shall never agree to the astounding interpretation put upon the agreement by the Premier of New South Wales, that if the Commonwealth assume the State debts and bv its superior credit in the money market is able to reduce the amount of interest payable and at length extinguish it, it is not to reap the advantage of that bargain, but that the States are to get the benefit of our better management. I decline to assent to that proposition.
– That is how all the State Premiers interpret it; they are fighting with that object
– If we take over the State debts we should take them over on the distinct understanding that the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States must cease for ever. Mr. Wade says that, if at the end of fifty or sixty or seventy years the Commonwealth should make a profit or extinguish the debts, it should hand over the profit to the States. That is a most astounding proposal. I cannot understand the frame of mind of a man who would make it, and the attitude of the Prime Minister is most unsatisfactory. I cannot gather now whether he is in favour of the proposal or not. No doubt in the fullness of time, when there shall have been evolved in the House a sufficient chorus of public opinion to make it worth his while to utter a definite statement, he will do so. Until then, however, we must hear him speak with that variety of voice which is so charming and yet so unsatisfactory. I hope that the Committee will accept the amendment, and, in doing so,, express its disapproval of the proposal to embody the Premiers’ agreement in the Constitution. My opinion is that the Premiers’ Conference is a body not at all authorized to deal with these matters. There exists a Chamber capable and clothed with the authority of the people for that very purpose. The Senate exists for that purpose, and for that alone. It will be a shameful reflection upon that Chamber to assume that its members are unable to exercise the very function for which they were elected. I shall not believe that they are so incapable or so unreliable that the people cannot trust them. But if that day has come, then one thing it. proves, and that is that the time has come when the Senate should be abolished, and the second Chamber should be a peripatetic Premiers’ Conference, meeting as occasion may arise. On the horns of this dilemma the Prime Minister is impaled, and he may choose whichever horn he pleases. But that the Senate and the Premiers’ Conference should dictate to this House is intolerable. That the people of this country should be told that the
Premiers’ Conference is to decide what the relations between the States and the Commonwealth shall be, and that, although at the next election one half of the Senate will be clothed with the authority of the people, each State returning the same number of senators, yet they will not be capable or authorized to determine what the financial relations of the Commonwealth ‘ and the States shall be, is a thing which I never will believe. I hope that the amendment will be carried, and that in any event the Premiers’ Conference agreement will not be embodied in the Constitution. I trust that it will be clearly understood that we object to this proposal, because it is in the last degree undemocratic. We object to any interference with, the principle of government by the majority of the people, and this is in its essence an infringement of that great principle.
.– An amendment has been moved by the honorable member for Mernda which meets with my full approval up to a certain point. I understand that the Government will take its acceptance as an intimation that Hie Committee desire that the principle of the Commonwealth making an annual payment of 25s. per capita to the States shall not be implanted in the Constitution for all time. I know that the argument has been used that the Bill is merely a referendum to the people, and that no one should object when they will have the power, if they think fit, to make the desired alteration. I believe that I was the first man in Australia to lecture on the referendum. I hold in my hand one of the latest books published on the subject, and I challenge any honorable member to cite a parallel to the present case. There is only one country in the world which stands preeminent for its use of the referendum, and that is the country which is said to be the school-house of the European world. I allude to Switzerland. According to this book forty-two referenda have been taken in that country, and I challenge the Prime Minister, with all his genius and diplomacy, to cite a single instance where so iniquitous a proposal as the one before the Committee was sought to be embodied in a Constitution by means of a referendum. He will not deny that under article No. 118 the Swiss Constitution can be altered at any time. The argument is used that whenever the people desire to alter this agreement, if embodied in the Constitution, they can do so. There was never a more cunning device than that which the Prime Minister has put forward in this case. It astonishes me that any Ministry or any Parliament should in these days have the audacity to propose to bind unborn generations with a law which, like those of the Medes and Persians, is never to be broken. Tt is an insult to the Democracy of Australia, who possess the widest franchise in the world, to suggest that the proposed agreement shall continue to operate for all time. Under the Braddon section of the Constitution if the Commonwealth Parliament requires to spend £1 it has to raise revenue to the extent of £4. It is necessary to overcome that difficulty, and a tentative proposal for the purpose to operate over a term of ten years might be accepted, since that would give four Parliaments of the Commonwealth an opportunity to consider the best course finally to adopt.
There is no country in the world in which the people have a better knowledge of the referendum than Switzerland. But the referendum they know is not the kind of referendum which is sought here. Why do not the Government come forward like men and say that they will trust the Australian citizens as the Swiss Government trusts the Switzers, and give them the right to alter this arrangement, if they should think it desirable to do so by the exercise of the initiative and referendum? Much as I loathe this proposal I should be willing to swallow it if it were accompanied by such a provision as that. It is proposed that the operation of sections 93 and 94 of the Constitution shall cease to have effect, and that after the 1st July, 1910, the Commonwealth shall pay to each State by monthly instalments, or apply to the payment of interest on debts of the State taken over by the Commonwealth annually, a sum amounting to 25s. per head of the number of the people of the State. Does the Prime Minister or any honorable member who is supporting this iniquitous Bill, dare to contend that our revenue from Customs and Excise will continue to be sufficient to permit of such a payment? The expenditure of the Commonwealth is continually increasing’. We shall have to find money for the Defence Force, for the payment of old-age pensions, and I hope shortly for the payment of a pension to every Australian babe coming into the world to provide it with food, shelter, and clothing. We derive a total revenue from Customs and Excise of £,2 1.0s. per head of our population. As the Age newspaper, in its splendid and trenchant leading articles on this question, stated, with the exception of New Zealand, and one or two other small States, there is no country in the world that derives a revenue from Customs and Excise of equal amount. Even the mighty Republic of America, which is, perhaps, to-day, the brightest example of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic civilization, does not derive such a revenue. Those who object to the embodiment of this agreement in the Constitution are met with the argument that the people can alter it. Let me tell honorable members that in Switzerland it was found for decade after decade, as the result of plebiscites continually held, that certain of the Cantons in that country, which correspond with our States, objected to the domination of the Federal Government, and in the same way I venture to prophesy we shall find that certain of the smaller States of the Commonwealth will continue for a long time to be opposed to the will of the majority of the people. I propose to make one or two small quotations from a work by Sir F. O. Adams, who was British Minister Plenipotentiary to Berne, as showing the difficulty of altering the Constitution -
Extreme measures, whether radical or reactionary, have no chance whatever of being accepted by the people, who, while in a manner fulfilling the functions of a second Chamber, have infinitely more weight than any such body usually possesses, even if it be thoroughly representative and chosen by universal suffrage.
Radical measures which the Democracy of Switzerland eventually accepted were refused again and again during the period covered by the forty-two referenda to which I have referred. I say that these were radical measures, but I challenge any one to quote a more reactionary proposal than that now presented to this House. The Prime Minister of the Commonwealth proposes to lay his power at the feet of six . men who are merely Premiers of today. Two of them, I understand, are Premiers by virtue of very small majorities in their State Parliaments. I believe that one of them was kept in power by a majority of only one. We are to hand over our power to Parliaments that are not elected upon the wide and splendid franchise . which distinguishes and honours the Federation. Some of these State Parliaments have second Chambers that represent an insult to the Democracy of Australia. Let me mention the second Chamber of the State Parliament of Victoria. One of the best international lawyers that England has produced - I refer to Sir Charles Dilke - has in a standard work stated that on two occasions the second Chamber of the Victorian Parliament brought the people of the State nearly to the verge of civil war. The Legislative Council of Victoria represents only a class in the State. Fashioned in God’s likeness, though you may be, if you are not possessed of property you cannot become a member of it, and unless you rent or own property you cannot vote for a member of it. Even today, as the Age newspaper has pointed out ostensibly, in order to save the State an expenditure of .£7,000 or £8,000, this second Chamber has refused to accept the Federal roll because it is more Democratic than the State roll, and would give the citizens of Victoria _ some chance of being fairly represented in the State Parliament. Refer- ence has been made to questions of sympathy and sentiment. I give full value to the power of sentiment ; it real])’ moves the world and raises the human intellect above sordid considerations, and the strife for selfish gain. But when it is a question of controlling the expenditure of money, we know the efforts made by shires and municipalities to get money from the State Governments, and we know how the State Governments endeavour to obtain every penny piece they can from the Federal Government. Let me give an instance of the conservative tendency of the Swiss referendum. It was at one time proposed to extend the sphere of the Swiss Legation at Washington, largely for the benefit of the people of the world in general. The difference in expense to the Swiss people would not be more than £400 a year. Yet the Swiss people at the referendum rejected the proposal. I venture to prophesy that if this infamous agreement, made by the States, be implanted in the Constitution, it will remain there, and every one of’the members of this Parliament who assist to place it there will’ be held in contempt for his action. It will be almost impossible to change the constitutional provision, because the referendum provided for in the Constitution is not a true referendum at all. The Age and the Sydney Baily Telegraph, at the time the Constitution was adopted, advocated a true referendum, but the form of referendum that was embodied in the Constitution does not enable the real will of the people to be registered. I do not suppose that there is a single member of this House who would dare to move an amendment with the object of maintaining for a further period of ten years the section of the Constitution to which the word “ blot “ has been appropriately attached. But it would be better to renew the Braddon section than to embody in the Constitution a provision based upon the agreement made by the Prime Minister with the States. Let me quote to the Prime Minister an example of the evil of entering into arrangements affecting the interests of the people, even for a long period of years. When the Melbourne Tramway Company was about to commence operations it was suggested thai it should have rights over the streets of Melbourne for all time. It was only in consequence of the exertions of the late Mr. G. D. Carter and the late Sir Thomas Bent that the company’s rights were limited to thirty-three years. But is there a single citizen in Melbourne to-day who would not prefer that the tramways were owned by the municipality or by the State, as is the case in Sydney ? I render my meed of praise to the Age newspaper for the splendid articles upon this subject which it has published. I have had to fight the Age very bitter i v at various times during the last twenty years; but I have to admit that in respect to the policy of Protection, and in regard to this financial agreement, the Age has rendered valuable service to the country. I only regret that the Prime Minister has not followed the lead of the Age in this matter, as he has so loyally followed it on many other occasions. I would rather sacrifice my seat ten times over than see this infamous provision inserted in the Constitution. What would be the effect upon our manufacturers? Is our policy of Protection, and its corollary of new Protection, a mere piece of “ hifalutin,” humbug, and cant? ls the policy of this country to he changed from Protection to revenuetariffism, in consequence of the evolution of this Fusion Government? My right honorable, friend, the honorable member for East Sydney, was honorable and manly enough to state plainly some time ago that the question of Protection and Free Trade had been decided by the electors. But if the agreement with the Premiers be carried out, the present and succeeding Governments of the Commonwealth will be compelled to go for a revenue Tariff. The honorable member for -Maribyrnong will agree with me that a revenue Tariff would be of no use to the manufacturers of this country. The honorable member has devoted his political life to the cause of Protection, and I know him to be really sincere in regard to it. How, then, can he vote for a proposal which will mean, sooner or later, the introduction of a revenue Tariff? I do not believe that he will be able to vote for the Government policy. His conscience as a loyal Protectionist will tell him that he will be neglecting his duty i f he does. No real Protectionist wants a revenue Tariff. The honorable member knows that under Protection thousands of women and girls are being employed at decent work with fair wages. The occupation of those people will be imperilled if the proposal to return 25s. per head to the States is carried, because the Protection which enables them to obtain employment will be lost, and a Revenue Tariff will take its place. Only to-day an offer has been made to the Minister of Trade, and Customs to start immediately with 500 girls to manufacture handkerchiefs in Australia.
– Order. I ask the honorable member not to pursue that line ot argument.
– Is there anything in this relating to the financial question? It is absolutely sickening.
– Does the honorable member for Indi ever do anything but snarl and growl?
– I ask the honorable member for Indi to withdraw his remark, and not to continue these interjections.
– I withdraw it.
– I withdraw also anything that I said regarding the honorable member. If this agreement were to end within a certain time, there would still be a chance of preserving the policy of Protection. How dare any Prime Minister or Government or Parliament impose upon successive generations laws which they will have a difficulty in amending, or find it impossible to remove? No King, no Government, no generation has a right to impose laws upon futurity. The dead hand of the past has no right to grip the throat of the living. Dare we, who are here merely as puppets for three years, attempt to embody this provision in the Constitution by a subterfuge? I strongly resent any such policy. I never thought that the Prime Minister would have done this thing. He is a man brilliant in intellect and equalled in oratorical gifts by no member of this House, and, so far as I know, by no member of any other Parliament, yet when he goes into a Conference with six men continually nagging at him, I believe that for the sake of peace he would part with his very soul. I am certain that if he had been thicker between the ears he would not have given way to the Premiers. After all, who are the Premiers to whom he has given way ? Can any of them claim to hold a position such as he occupies? Let him reflect how Premiers come and go. Where are those who were in the Convention that met before Federation was accomplished? Where are the nominees from Western Australia, who were not even dignified by being elected on the restricted franchise of that State? Only one of them remains in the person of the right honorable member for Swan.
– Is this in clause 3?
– If the honorable member for Indi desires to take exception to the remarks of the speaker, it is his duty, out of respect for the Chair, to rise in his place and submit a point of order, and not to pass remarks in the way he is doing.
– That would take so much time.
– In proposed new section 94c there is a sop to Western Australia, because that State raises a far larger amount of Customs revenue per head of population than does any other State in the Commonwealth, but I do not think that the voters of Western Australia will be induced by that means to support the agreement. I look forward to a very trying fight over the matter, but I do not want to see such a contest, with one side desirous of imposing this iniquitous tax upon the Federal Government for ever and ever, and the other holding it up to ridicule, scorn and loathing. Can the Prime Minister name a solitary country where such a provision as this has been inserted in the Constitution ? Can he point to any place where even 10s. per head of population is returned to. the States as a fixed contribution for all time ? Would the 90,000,000 people of the great United States of America stand such a proposition for a moment ? Where would their revenue be? Even at £1 per head the amount would be ^90,000,000 straight away, and certainly could not be drawn from the Customs revenue. Even England, which draws more per head from Customs duties than any European nation, except Denmark, Norway, and Portugal, could not make a payment of this sort without increasing her national debt. I purpose, if no other honorable member does so, to move in proposed new section 94B an amendment which will limit the agreement as to time. If the Committee thinks fit to support the Prime Minister with regard to the amendment now before the Chair, I shall give it a chance to vote against a definite time limit later on. I wish to appeal to the Prime Minister, in view of his splendid record in Victoria, and the commanding position which he holds in the eyes of the people of Australia - for he has practically any post that he cares to ask for “at his command if he only holds up his little finger - whether it is worth while to endeavour to put such a provision into the Constitution. Is there not some way by which he can limit it ? I speak with some knowledge of the many years that he spent in the State Parliament, where he never ran after or sought office, rather refusing it time and again when it was offered to him, and I appeal to him not to end up a great career by trying to brand the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia with this proposal. Can he not look a little further ahead, to the time when the history of this period is being written? Will not the historians in those days blame hire.- for trying to insert such a reactionary clause in the Constitution, which, I am sure, he wishes in his heart to make as democratic as any in the world? He knows that in Australia we have not the initiative and the referendum, as the Swiss have, and that if this provision is inserted in the Constitution it will require an upheaval like the terrible revolution that swept the United States with blood and fire, to alter it. I have only to add that, inasmuch as the agreement is to pay to the States for all time 25s. per capita, that amount must be found, no matter how the revenue from the Tariff may diminish. Therefore, those who support the agreement must be prepared later to vote for a land tax. With a population of 4,000,000, we must, under the agreement, pay £5,000,000 yearly to the States, and if we cannot afford to do that, and at the same time meet the Commonwealth expenditure, we must make up any deficiency by means of a land tax. That is the “silver lining to the cloud. If this proposal be stamped and branded on our Constitution, we have the consolation of knowing that the imposition of a land tax must surely follow.
– - After the eloquent appeal of the honorable member for Melbourne, I feel that nothing will cause the Prime Minister to relent. I rise merely to enter my protest against the proposal to break the promise made to the electors when they were asked to vote for Federation. The Prime Minister is now holding out a helping hand to the drowning State politicians. In their hour of trial, they ask him to save them-, and in trying to do so, he is putting a blot upon our Constitution, and postponing the grand work of the future. I am one of those who took part in urging the people to accept the Constitution. Those who did so pointed out to them the value of a National Parliament, and promised economy and reform in regard to the State Governments and Parliaments, whose expenditure was to be reduced to a minimum, and the abolition of that abominable Tory institution, the Upper House, which is based on the principle of the House of Lords, which has ever kept back progress. The State Governors were to go, and many other expenses were to cease. We were to have a National Parliament, which would look after the interests of the people as a whole, and a death-blow was to be dealt to parochialism. To-day, after eight years of Federation, the storm is breaking which will give the people their rights. The avowed object of those who wish to embody this proposal in the Constitution is to give security to State politicians, and to uphold the iniquities which Federation was to abolish. But, should they succeed, a fire will be lighted which will destroy what they wish to preserve. The people, when appealed to in the right way by those who possess the national spirit, will understand the iniquity of having fourteen Houses of Legislature. They know how necessary is defence, the taking over of the Northern Territory, and the construction of transcontinental railways, and will not permit the hands of the Federal Parliament to be tied by a system- of parochialism which would prevent the progress of Australia. I am not an advocate of centralization. It would be a mistake to try to govern the Commonwealth wholly from one centre. I believe in the extension of local government, and hope, to see that come about as the result of this attempt to uphold the present system. When the British flag was planted c.n these shores, only one Colony existed, but later, Victoria was separated from New South Wales, and then Queensland, while other Colonies were established in the west. The time has arrived when there should again be a shuffle of the cards, and a subdivision of the large States. That would remove the curse of centralization from New South Wales, which drags everything to Sydney.
– Will the honorable member connect his remarks with the question ?
– I do not wish to discuss this matter in detail, but it is necessary to give reasons why we should not vote for the proposal of the Government. It is as plain as daylight to me that the Government is being influenced by those who are anti-Federal, and wish to put the interests of the States before those of the Commonwealth. At the present time, practically our only source of revenue is the Tariff. I regret that its return is so large, and that its incidence is not more protective. But should the proposal now before us be carried, the Government, to obtain more money, will have to impose revenue duties, and to abandon Protection. That would be a reasonable outcome of the Fusion, and of the watering down of Australian sentiment by those who brought it about. As a sturdy Protectionist, I shall oppose any attempt to impose revenue duties upon the people of Australia. I take it that whatever Government may be in power after the next general election will be compelled to grapple with the question of direct taxation. But can honorable members repose any confidence in a Ministry which is so un-Federal in its attitude as is the present Ministry ? When the fight over direct taxation takes place, and the States exclaim, “ The Commonwealth must not trench upon our prerogative,” what can we expect from the Government but an ignominious climb down ? ‘ That is the time when revenue duties will be imposed upon such articles as tea and kerosene. Of course, I recognise - as did the Brisbane Labour Conference - that at the termination of the Braddon section of the Constitution, the Commonwealth cannot fairly retain all the revenue that is collected from Customs and Excise. A portion of it must be returned to the States. But surely the necessities of the Commonwealth should be considered before a single penny is returned to them. I am. quite prepared to support a proposal to annually hand back, to the States a per capita amount of the Customs and Excise revenue; but I am not prepared to tie the hands of this Parliament in that connexion for more than a very brief period. I might countenance an agreement under which the States would be returned a per capita contribution of 25s. annually for a period of five years. But I could not go further. If the proposed iniquity, in the form of this agreement, is sanctioned by honorable members, I feel satisfied that the electors, at the earliest opportunity, will remember the expenditure to which they are subjected in maintaining the State Parliaments, the State Governors, and the State vice-regal- establishments.
.- The Prime Minister prefaced his speech with the assurance that he experienced considerable trepidation in addressing the Committee upon this question, in view of the very great importance of the issue which it involves. Like him, I, too, feel considerable trepidation in speaking to the amendment, in view of the attitude which I and other honorable members have assumed upon this question. Equally with the Prime Minister, I regard the present as one of the most important junctures in the history of this Parliament. I feel my responsibility quite as much as does the Prime Minister, if I may. judge him by the speech which he delivered this evening. For the tone of that speech, I have nothing but admiration. In his opening, sentences, the honorable gentleman very straightforwardly admitted that the honorable member for Mernda had addressed himself to his proposal in terms of the most measured and conciliatory character. I, too, recognise in the speech of that honorable member every indication of a desire to divest his utterance of any words which might create even a suspicion of any sinister purpose. He feels, I take it, just as I do - and as does every honorable member upon this side of the Chamber who differs from the Government upon this question - that it is only upon the most serious ground that he would take up the attitude which he has assumed. I cannot, moreover, allow the Prime Minister’s speech to pass without saying that I regard it as a splendid tribute to the Liberalism of the party which sits upon this side of the Chamber, and as a complete answer to the charge which is frequently made by honorable members opposite. Not only have certain Ministerial supporters intimated their intention of taking exception to the course which the Government propose to follow, but the Prime Minister has very nobly and magnanimously admitted that he cannot reasonably complain of certain honorable members who have given a great deal of attention to’ this question, adopting an attitude in accordance with their personal views of its importance and its possible far-reaching consequences. I say, therefore, that the formal amendment for the elimination of the word “ the,” with a view to further amendments at a later stage, has been submitted by the honorable member for Mernda, after full deliberation,, and with a view to vindicating the position which he, and those who are associated with him, have assumed upon this question. The Prime Minister has very properly responded to the speech of the honorable member by intimating that this question is not to be regarded by the Government as a party one. Of course, I cannot forget the words - and they were somewhat in the spirit of the advocate - with which he completed his speech, when he stated that if the. proposal were carried a ga inst the Government they would consider it their duty to go to the country upon - the question. 1 am sure that the Prime Minister has quite sufficient composure not to have said anything at the termination of his speech which was. inconsistent with his opening words. For my part, I interpret his concluding words, not as an intimation that if. the vote be carried against the Government there will be war in the camp, but merely as a rhetorical phrase, the use of which might give rise to the impression that effect is not to be given to the attitude which he took up in the first portion of his utterance. I have too strong a belief in the coolness of the Prime Minister in delivering such an utterance to imagine that he meant in his concluding remarks to indicate any other course than that which he had suggested in his opening observations. I do not propose to repeat the arguments that I used when this question was before the House on a previous occasion, but I do desire to take advantage of the opportunity to vindicate myself before my constituents and those honorable members on this side of the House who may not see eye to eye with me as to the effect that this agreement may have upon the convenience of the Government. A great deal has been said on this question by the State Premiers and the press. In many cases the press, in dealing with it, has adopted an unmistakably rabid tone, and, therefore, I pass over its criticisms, believing that when criticism reaches that stage it is best left untouched. I do not hesitate to say, however, that some of the State Premiers have gone far beyond their legitimate functions. One or two of them have been positively aggressive in their phraseology. There has been, in one or two instances, what I consider an offensive attempt to dictate to members of the Federal Parliament how they should vote and act with regard to this matter, which affects them at present in a highly important degree. It is natural that the State Premiers who are seeking to obtain from the Commonwealth as large a portion as they can “of the Customs and Excise revenue should take up a different attitude from that adopted by the majority of members of this Parliament. I hope that I shall not be suspected, however, of desiring, on behalf of the Commonwealth, to cut down as much as possible the amount that the States wish in the future to receive. So fully do I recognise the great stress that the State Premiers have displayed in desiring to accommodate the Commonwealth, that I think they have reduced the amount per capita for which they originally asked, because of the belief that they would obtain for all time the reduced amount. Instead of desiring to cut down that amount, as much as the Commonwealth could do, I should have been willing to agree to its being raised to 30s. per capita for a limited period. It is perfectly natural, however, that the State Premiers should not see eye to eye with all the members of this Parliament. We have to look to the needs of the Commonwealth and its probable revenue, whereas they are concerned, not with such problems, but rather with the desire to obtain from the Custom? revenue a sufficient sum to enable them to carry out their State enterprises according to their own particular policies. I have followed with some interest the statements made by the Premiers of the States at different times, and have noticed invariably that in their endeavour to swell the category of the needs of their particular States, they have included many items of expenditure that are of a purely loan character. The Premier of New South Wales, for instance, spoke recently of the necessity for extending the railways and tramways into various parts of the country. I do not think that we ought to allow such an item to pass criticism, as if we regarded it as a legitimate ground for acquiring from the Commonwealth a larger amount. We know very well that New South Wales itself - and I take it as being merely typical of, although not absolutely parallel with, the other States in this regard - is to-day receiving from an expenditure of £66,000,000 on railway, tramway, and other enterprises, no less than £4 7s. 6d. per cent. The Premier of New South Wales’ boasted of that fact only a few weeks ago. That being so, a State Premier has no right to include in his category of needs, certain forms of expenditure that are unmistakably to come out of loan money, and to place them before this Parliament, or the people of Australia, as a justification for requiring from the Commonwealth a larger sum than might otherwise be given to the States. The Conference itself affords sufficient proof that the States and the Commonwealth, apart from discussion and compromise, do not see eye to eye on these questions. The Premiers of the States have claimed from time to time that they are entitled to a very much larger sum than 25s. per head of the population, whereas there are, in this House, honorable members so impressed with the future needs of the Commonwealth, and the probability of a reduced revenue in the future, that they are not in a mood to make even that return. The amendment which the honorable member for Robertson put ‘before the Committee this afternoon, showed that, whilst approving of the Government’s scheme, he was actually proposing that the Commonwealth should make a further, deduction of 10s. od. per head of the population, for something like ten years. Evidently he thought that 25s. per head was too much to return to the States.
– The honorable member did not understand my proposition.
– Then it was the honorable member’s fault for not explaining it accordingly. I listened attentively to his speech, and understood him, bv his amendment, to propose that, in addition to the ,£600,000 to be retained by the Commonwealth, the States should make a concession to the Commonwealth, for ten years, of 10s. od. per head of the population.
– That was to take the place of the Government proposal.
– That was to be a concession by the States to the Commonwealth, and would have had the effect of reducing the amount of 25s. per head which it is proposed to return to the States. But whether I understood the honorable member rightly or not, I think that I am correct in saying that there are honorable members whose minds are so concentrated upon Commonwealth needs and the probability of a reduced revenue, that they would prefer a proposal to return to the States even a smaller amount than 25s. per head per annum. I mention that merely to show that the needs, or, rather, the alleged needs of the States and Commonwealth are not harmonious - that there are two different points of view, as shown by the Conference itself, and that some days of debate were required before the conflicting needs could be harmonized. Having that in view, it is surely a piece of impertinence for a State Premier to say in effect, “ In addition to my having charge of the affairs of my particular State, I am going to take certain steps with regard to Commonwealth candidates, and try to force them to adopt a course which will harmonize with my State views.” If any attempt of the sort were made in my State I should certainly resent it, and I should trust to the people who sent me here, not only ,to resent it also, but to vindicate my action. I desire to say a further word in vindication of myself ; and I say it rather to the members of my own party and my constituents, than to honorable members on the other side. I heard the honorable member for Corio say yesterday that he recognised only four points as constituting the basis of this Fusion ; and he referred to the well-known four points which were arrived at in order to bring this congregation of parties together. Although the statement which was read in the House by the Prime Minister, was one in regard to which I had never been personally consulted, I readily assented to it, after reading it over, as a sort of supplementary basis for the party. I, therefore, have considered myself, since the Fusion, as being bound by the four original points, and by the statement of policy which the Prime Minister put before the House. That being the Fusion agreement, we have to look at the view which the Fusion party took of this question. The members of the Fusion assented, only a few weeks ago, to a proposal that the questions between the States and the Commonwealth should be settled for the time being - by a temporary proposal, covering only a few years. After that was done - and I say this in no spirit of complaint, but. merely to justify myself to my constituents and the members of my party - I heard no more until I was told, as we were all told, that the Prime Minister had been in conference with the Premiers of the States, and had entered into an agreement binding on the Parliament, but subject to the Parliament’s approval, in which the temporary proposal, for a few years’ duration was thrown on one side, and a permanent agreement made, to be incorporated in the Constitution. Naturally, I recognised that there was going to be a. very distinct party perplexity evolved for me at least. I had, in my own constituency, taken a ‘similar view to that which had been incorporated in the supplementary party programme, and I had announced it, not merely because it was in the programme, but because I thoroughly believed in it, seeing that I was against any introduction into the Constitution of an alteration of the financial question which was likely to impose finality. I recognised, os I recognise now, that the question of the allocation of the Commonwealth Customs revenue is only one of a number of financial problems which have yet to be settled. We all know that it is intended in the future, if the States will agree, that the whole of the existing debts shall be ultimately taken over by the Commonwealth. It is equally recognised that it may be desirable that the whole of the interest on the debts shall be paid by the Commonwealth, and that the debts shall be consolidated, with a uniform debenture stock for the whole of Australia, instead of having six separate issues of debentures and a further issue for the Commonwealth. The commonly-accepted proposition is that, by concentrating the whole of the State debts, in the Commonwealth, and adopting a uniform debenture stock, the Commonwealth will be able to borrow from those who lend us money in the Old Country, at a lower rate of interest, and so save a considerable sum per annum for the whole of the States. But there is the further aspiration that, when putting our finances, for the purpose of borrowing, upon a final and permanent basis, we should make some provision by which a sinking fund could be accumulated in order to ultimately pay off the debts. Here, then, are all those financial problems outstanding; and, beyond an intimation in the agreement that the Premiers will consent to an investigation, there is not a single word as to whether or not any one of the States will consent to any of these steps being taken in the interests of the people of Australia.
– Mr. Wade says that he is not bound”.
- Mr. Wade then has already said that he is not bound ; and any one who has seen the report of the debate which took place in the New South Wales Parliament on the last Budget, can read between the lines that the politicians of that State are not in the mood to grant one tittle of concession to the Commonwealth in regard to the finances. These were the reasons which actuated mv mind in resolving that, so far as I could help it, no alterations should be made in the “Constitution until” some of these questions had gone beyond the stage of a mere agreement as to an investigation. To agree to an investigation is about as definite and binding as the promise of a Minister that he will give consideration to the request of a deputation, and is to be relied on just about as firmly. I have always been, and shall always be, against treating the Constitution as a battle ground for the people. My own opinion of the Constitution is that it is our Magna Charta. I think we should take off our hats to our Constitution whenever we approach it, and should regard it as the basis of our national life - as the deed of partnership of the Australian people one with another, with a High Court to watch over it, and see that there is no encroachment on one side or the other, by either people or politicians. Such thoughts bring me to the conclusion that it is undesirable to be constantly calling on the people to settle questions with regard to the technical wording of the Constitution. In the first place, the people do not possess copies of the Constitution. They may have had copies ten years ago, but we know that in the usual course of events such papers are lost. For us to call on the people - on the average man and woman - from time to time to provide himself or herself with a copy and to look into the technicalities of it, to study the measure before Parliament ; and see how far it involves an alteration of the Constitution and ascertain the effect that it is likely to have on the body politic, is an absurdity of the first order. We should, I contend, treat the Constitution as a very sacred document. We should make as few alterations in it as possible, and should avoid making it a battle-ground for politicians before the people. We should endeavour always to bring proposed amendments of the Constitution up to such a point of agreement that we may be able to say to. the people, as we did in connexion with the last Constitutional amendment proposed, that all parties are practically agreed upon the suggested alteration. We have before the two Houses of this Parliament at the present time no fewer than six Bills, each involving an alienation of the Constitution. I ask honorable members to consider for a moment the position in which we should place the average elector in town or country if we asked him to decide first of all with regard to the election of three senators, to choose between the Labour party and the anti-Labour party in a general election, and, in addition to these two problems, to form a judgment upon two proposed alterations in different parts of the Constitution, in order to decide whether the finances of the States are in such a condition as to justify a contribution from the Commonwealth revenue of 25s. per capita for all time or for (a limited number of years. I say that, as practical men, as men of business, and as men of the world, we must admit that that would be propounding something which would be absolutely impracticable. I repeat that we should, tas far as possible, avoid Constitutional alterations, except in cases where political parties have arrived at some sort of a compromise which would enable them to say to the people that they are practically unanimous in believing that it is desirable that the Constitution should be altered in a particular respect. Addressing myself now particularly to the members of the party with which I am associated, I wish to say that, notwithstanding these strong, and, to my mind, almost overwhelming, objections to Constitutional alterations, I have still been willing to waive that feature of this agreement. To do so has required a considerable strain upon my personal convictions, because, as a student of Constitutional history and practice, and of Parliamentary work generally, I have come to a’ very strong conclusion against it. Rather than jeopardize some satisfactory arrangement of the financial relation between the Commonwealth and the States, I have been willing to forego my objection to the agreement involving a Constitutional alteration, but I take my stand against its being a permanent one. It is all very well to say that the Braddon section provided for the allocation of the Customs and Excise revenue, and left a blank which we have now to fill in. That is perfectly true, but it has to be remembered that, whilst under the Braddon section the distribution of the Customs and Excise revenue was one of proportion, so that the State Governments and the Commonwealth Government were similarly interested side by side in the rise or fall of the revenue, we are asked now, not merely to alter the proportion while retaining copartnership of interest, but to fix upon a definite per capita sum, irrespective of what the Commonwealth revenue may be, and to bind ourselves for all time to the payment of that sum to the States, no matter how rapidly the population may rise or how quickly our Customs and Excise revenue may fall. We heard from the honorable member for Flinders, in the speech which he made on this subject some weeks ago, a statement of an economic law of very great interest in the consideration of this matter. It was to the effect that if we review the financial history of any Protectionist country we shall find that, although the population and the Customs revenue may increase in volume by leaps and bounds, the per capita revenue diminishes. If we take the examples of South Australia, New Zealand, and Victoria, three Protectionist States very closely approaching the position of the Commonwealth, we shall find that over a period of thirty or forty years, whilst their population and their Customs revenue in the aggregate increased in a rapid ratio, the per capita payment of the people towards the revenue decreased. I have the figures compiled by the Statistician before me, but I need not read them to the House. They show that, whilst the population of South Australia, Victoria, and New Zealand forty years ago was only one-third or one-fourth, of what, ih each case, it is to-day, the per capita contribution represented by the aggregate Customs revenue is, in the case of each of these States, less to-day than it was thirty or forty years back. There is a very important inference to be drawn from that fact in dealing with the problem, now before us.
– The New Zealand Tariff has been reduced a good deal of late years.
– My point isthat the per capita revenue return has come down, although the aggregate revenue hasgone up very considerably. These are thefigures: In 1867 New Zealand had &. population of 218,000; in 1906 the population had been increased to 888,000. That: is to say, that during the interval mentioned’ the population of New Zealand increased’ four- fold. The total- revenue from Customs in 1867 was ,£843,000, and in 1906,. forty years later, it had increased to- £2,899,000, or to nearly four times the revenue derived in 1867. But the per capita revenue return came down from £3 17s. 2d. in 1867 to .£3 5s. 3d. in 1906.
– The honorable member is not including Excise
– No; I am not: taking the Excise revenue into account.
– The earlier period mentioned by the honorable member was thegoldfields period, when adult malesformed a greater proportion of the popu- lation than they did at the later period mentioned.
– Unfortunately, I did not hear all that the honorable gentleman said, and I should require many hours to deal with all the fluctuations which took place in the history of the States to which 1 have referred. It is sufficient to say that the figures clearly indicate that, side b) side with a four-fold increase of population and of Customs revenue in the aggregate, the per capita return of revenue came down. lt is proposed that, no matter whether the Commonwealth revenue falls or rises, the Share Governments shall be paid a fixed per capita amount. No matter what may happen to o”r revenue, the total payment to the States under this agreement must always ‘be an increasing amount. 1 may be somewhat pessimistic, whilst the Prime Minister may be optimistic, and the truth may lie between our respective views. But I have to decide this question according to my lights, and my own opinion is that I am fairly optimistic, if not quite as hopeful as is the Prime Minister. I believe that the future of the Commonwealth, so far as revenue and population are concerned, will be very remarkable, but I also believe that, in accordance with the economic law I have mentioned, the per capita proceeds will be reduced. If they come down from what they are at the present time - about £”2 1 os. - it means that we shall be giving in the near future more than half our revenue to the States. If we place no time limit upon the arrangement, one can hardly say what the proportion might become ten, twenty, or thirty years hence. Seeing that we have no indication - or, at all events, a very doubtful one - as to the States agreeing to settle the other financial problems so as to make one work of future alterations of the Constitution, I hesitate very much to give everything without knowing what we are going to take in return towards the solution of those several financial problems in the interests of the people of the Commonwealth. The Prime Minister said he thought we were regarding the future with somewhat unnecessary fears, and that if this matter were not dealt with as the Government proposed it might mean “ shipwreck.” My view, however, is this : The agreement, in the first place, has been entered into without any previous authority from Parliament, and is now subject to the approval of Parlia ment. The Premiers of the States must have known, and, according to what they have said, do know, that the whole thing is subject to what this Parliament may decide. We have seen reports of many interviews with the Premiers, and they seem to me to indicate that, although those gentlemen are trying hard to impose upon the Commonwealth an obligation to pass the agreement as it stands, they have grave doubts in their hearts whether this Parliament will approve of it in its unmodified form. My own belief is that there will be no “ shipwreck,” or anything like a shipwreck. If a clear intimation ls given to the Premiers that the Commonwealth Parliament, which is really the only party concerned so far as regards concession, is not prepared to give up for all time this proportion of the Customs revenue, they will naturally say, “ Well, the Prime Minister has fought for us, and done all that he could; he has made a strong appeal when the amendment came before the Committee, and the result is obviously the best that we can get. We will take it in one form or another.” The honorable member for Mernda had the choice to propose either that the agreement should be limited to a term of twenty years, or that a maximum amount should be fixed. I think he has chosen the least objectionable course. He has proposed that the 25s. should be granted, and be continued until the total payment reaches an amount equivalent to the interest upon the State debts as existing at the time of Federation. That comes to something like £7,250,000, but the honorable member has proposed that a round sum of £7,500,000 shall be inserted in the Constitution as the maximum amount which the Commonwealth can be called upon to contribute to the States on a 25s. per capita basis. The honorable member does nol propose that that payment shall then stop for all time, because he has inserted in his amendment words with which we are familiar in several of the sections of the Constitution to the effect that thereafter it shall be as the Commonwealth Parliament may determine. Consequently, when the aggregate amount of the contribution of the Commonwealth to the- States reaches the sum of £7,500,000, the question would come back, as it has done now, to us as a Commonwealth Parliament to decide what provision shall be made for the future. The advantage of that to my mind is that it provides 25s. per head until the population has reached 6,000,000. At present the population of the whole of Australia is about 4,500,000, and that proposition, therefore, means that the payment of 25s. per head will be continued by the Commonwealth until Australia has acquired 1,500,000 more people than at present. The States cannot justly complain of the way in which the Commonwealth is dealing with the matter. There are, at all events, a few honorable members in this Chamber who would like to see the whole of the Customs revenue taken from the Commonwealth.
– The honorable member may not hold that view, but he cannot speak for the whole House. I have heard some very significant statements made in this Chamber as to what the Commonwealth ought to do with its revenue. Whether that is typical or not, the States have a sufficient assurance in our action to-day, seeing that even when the Commonwealth has the power to take the whole of the Customs revenue, it has not desired to do so, but rather recognises that the people who contribute the taxes to the States and those who contribute the taxes to the Commonwealth are one and the same. It is simply a question of the allocation of money between the two interests. Naturally the States consider first their local interests, and the Commonwealth considers first its Commonwealth interests. We are now giving an assurance - in making this provision in its per capita form for a number of years, until the population reaches 6,000,000 - that we are not dealing with our revenue with a niggardly hand. The State Premiers when they come to consider whether this is not a very fair substitute for the all-time proposal which was embodied in the agreement, and whether, after all, there is any need to be anxious, will, I am sure, readily accept it. I think, therefore, that the Prime Minister’s little exhibition of rhetoric with regard to a possible shipwreck is one of those exaggerations which one is justified in incorporating in a speech when advocating a certain course. The Prime Minister is quite justified in appealing to any members of his party who might be in a half-and-half mood, in order to try to win them over to his view of the matter. He believes that it is in the interests of the Commonwealth to carry the agreement as it stands from beginning to end.
– He did not always believe that.
– I am not concerned with ancient history. We, on the other hand, believe that it is much safer for the Commonwealth to limit itself to something like fifteen years. When the Prime Minister indulges in rhetorical-‘ figures in order to affect those who are hesitating as to which course to take, I am equally justified in trying to cut down their effect by showing that, by looking at the matter in a calm, quiet, and composed spirit, and remembering that the Premiers of the States are practical men, who want to get on with their State business, and not to provoke a quarrel between the States and the Commonwealth, so far from there being any possibility of shipwreck, the State Premiers will at once accept the situation, saying, “We will take what you suggest; it will last our time.” Very few Premiers in office at the present time can count on being there for more than fifteen years. The probability is, then, that they will say, “ This will suit our time, and therefore we will accept it.” There is another aspect of the question with which I should like to deal. The Prime Minister to-day, and on a previous occasion, talked of the ease with which a reversing amendment of the Constitution could, if necessary, be obtained; but no one knows better than he that, should we agree to make this substantial contribution to the States for all time, it would be no easier to obtain a rearrangement than to get butter out of a dog’s mouth. The States would reply, “ The agreement is for all time. There is no intimation in the Constitution that it should be for a limited period.” An alteration could be secured only by the consent of a majority of the electors in a majority of the States. It is easy to turn a windlass forward, but, when you do so, the little paul at the foot drops into its place with a click, and you cannot turn it back again. If, in the same way, the Commonwealth wishes the States to forego this contribution, they will reply, “ No.” Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia, although their populations may aggregate only one-fifth of that of the Commonwealth, would be able to prevent any alteration of the Constitution.
– By the time that an alteration has become necessary, some of those which are now classed as the smaller may have ‘become the larger States.
– That may be so ; but I am reminded that when the States to which the honorable member refers have reached the enormous proportions which he anticipates, the others will have been. left behind, and will be the smaller States. The inference to be drawn from the Prime Minister’s speech was that an aggregate majority of the people can. secure an alteration of the Constitution. Nothing of the kind. If, fifteen or twenty years hence, we find that we have gone too far, it will be impossible to secure an alteration of the Constitution without the consent of a majority of the States. Therefore, we say, make the agreement for a limited time, giving the States to understand that at the end of the period fixed, the matter will be reconsidered. As I said the other day, we are wiser now regarding the financial relations of the States and the Commonwealth than we were eight years ago. My present views on the) subject are infinitely clearer and more exact than they were in 1901. Is it not fair to assume that in 1920 we shall be a« much wiser than we are to-day as we are now than we were in 1901 ? Why should we give to the States all that they ask, and all that they can ask, while they merely agree to “an investigation “ ? Were a man to say to me, “ I shall give you £10 if you will agree to consider the propriety’ of giving me £1,000 at the end of the year,” I should certainly accept the money, because it would cost me nothing to consider the proposal. Similarly, it will cost the States nothing to agree to an investigation regarding the future management of the debts, the unification nf the securities, and the establishment of a sinking fund. The Commonwealth then should limit its gift to a reasonable period-. The proposed amendment saves the situation, without affecting the States prejudicially, and is compatible with the adoption of the agreement. Should the amendment be carried, the only effect upon the agreement will be to limit its duration. It will clearly indicate that there is no desire to alter the terms of the agreement in a way which would necessitate another Conference, but that this House thinks that ‘ the agreement should be for a limited period only. It would allow the States to pursue any policy of development and immigration until their population numbered 6,000,000, when it would have a currency only until the Parliament otherwise decided. I strongly deprecate any reference to shipwreck. It should not be suggested that the Premiers are able to produce a shipwreck. I believe that they will welcome the amendment, and that it will cause most honorable members to be satisfied with the agreement, while it will not in any way interfere with the financial security of the States.
.- It. was very refreshing to hear the honorable member for Parkes say that he is wiser now than he was eight years ago regarding the working of the Constitution.
– Is not the honorable member?
– I believe so. The party to which I belong strenuously opposed the provision of the Constitution which the honorable member has been condernning to-night. We maintained that the provision which requires the consent of a majority of the States to any alteration of the Constitution was undemocratic, because it prevented the people from making any change which they considered desirable. The honorable member for Parkes says that he does not think that the Prime Minister meant what he said at the end of his speech, because it differed so much from what he said at the beginning. One is surprised that the honorable member should have fallen into the same mistake. In endeavouring to take credit to himself, and those who are associated with him, in their opposition to the proposed agreement, the honorable member alleged that they were free and uninfluenced by any caucus. Yet, in the concluding portion of his remarks, he admitted that he joined the Fusion party on the distinct understanding that, upon the question of the adjustment of the future financial relations of the States and the Commonwealth, an arrangement of only a temporary character should be made.
– The honorable member heard that statement read in the House. I. would not tell him any secrets.
– When the Fusion party came into existence, what did its members do? They drew up a platform to which they swore allegiance. The honorable member for Parkes entered into a compact by which he is bound just as tightly as members of the Labour party are bound to their platform. He cannot escape from his position as a caucus-bound member by declaring that he is free in regard to this agreement.
– I did not boast of anything.
– The honorable member endeavoured to fasten an imputation upon the Labour party, and to put a halo around his own head. However, I am very pleased to know that there are men in this House who are prepared to act independently in a matter of this kind, because their action will result in the defeat of one of the most infamous proposals that has ever been put forward by any Government in a free community. I compliment those honorable members upon their attitude in coming forward to save Australia from one of the most serious obstacles which could be placed in its path of progress. In his speech this evening the honorable member for Parkes repeated the arguments which he advanced upon the motion for leave to introduce the Bill. ,1 agree with the statement that the adoption of the agreement would mean a death blow to Protection, and a resort to a revenue Tariff. It is because I realize that in its incidence, the agreement would lay heavy burdens upon the people that I cannot support the proposal to embody it in the Constitution. What can we think of a Prime Minister who, in his opening sentences, tells the House that this question is not a party one, and who, in the concluding portion of his utterance, cracks the whip over the heads of his supporters? 1 never read a speech of his in which I cannot see three or four ways of escape from any position that he may have taken up. This question was exhaustively discussed by honorable members upon the motion for leave to introduce the Bill. But the Government frequently tell us that in the initial stages of a measure, we ought to confine our criticisms as much as possible to general principles, and to leave details to be settled in Committee. That is the course which I have followed on the present occasion. But we have now reached the Committee stage; and, in the circumstances, I do not object to discontinue my remarks in the interests of those who wish to make an appearance elsewhere. I shall continue my observations at a later period.
– In moving -
That the House do now adjourn,
I desire to say that we have every hope that the debate on the amendment moved on clause 3 of the Constitution Alteration (Finance) Bill will be concluded by tomorrow evening.
.- The debate on the amendment referred to is veryimportant, and it would be advisable to arrive at an understanding as to when the vote shall be taken. A snap vote would be of no value, and it may be possible to proceed to a division some time after dinner to-morrow night.
– I should like to know when the Government propose to proceed with a Bill relating to the Public Service which has been on the stocks for some time. In the last Parliament I brought forward a Bill to repeal the provision in the Public Service Act that telegraph messengers, if they have failed to pass an examination for a higher position, shall retire on reaching the age of eighteen years, but at the request of the then Postmaster-General, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who was dealing with the matter, I withdrew it. At the beginning of this session, I again proposed to move in the same direction, but was informed that the Government had on the stocks a comprehensive measure in which they intended to incorporate the proposal made bv me. I have refrained from taking action in order to give the Government an opportunity to introduce the Bill, and desire now to know whether they intend to proceed with it. There are one or two other important matters, including one relating to Public Service appeals, which the honorable member for West Sydney has taken in hand, that might also be dealt with in such a measure.
– We had prepared a measure of some length dealing with a number of matters relating to the Public Service, but it recently became clear that having -regard to the state nf the business-paper “it could not be passed this session.
– It is not a contentious or party measure.
– We propose to take from that Bill and to incorporate in a short measure two or three urgent provisions, including those relating to telegraph messengers and the pay of public servants voted by this Parliament, but requiring legal authority. That Bill will be introduced at as early a date as possible.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.19 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 November 1909, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1909/19091103_reps_3_53/>.