3rd Parliament · 4th Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 3 p.m.,. and read prayers.
Mr. SPEAKER reported the receipt of a message from His Excellency the GovernorGenenal, recommending an appropriation for the purposes of this Bill.
– Is it the intention of the Minister, when the Federal Capital question has been finally settled’, to offer premiums to induce the leading architects of the world to submit plans for the laying out of the Federal city and designs for the erection of - some of its prominent buildings?
– I . hope, . to . attend, tortus matter in the course of a day or two, when the business relating to the Federal Capita] now in hand has been settled.
– I desire to . ask the Minister of . Home Affairs if there is any chance of the territory required for the purposes of a Federal Capital being ceded to the Commonwealth before theclose of this session, and, further, whether there is a possibility of some practical step being taken this session towardsmaking final arrangements for the establishment of the Capital?
– With the assistance of the House, whichI am sure I shall have
I hope to succeed in passing the Seat of Government Acceptance Bill in the course of a day or two. As soon as that Bill has become law, and the necessary steps have been taken by the State Parliament in New South Wales, those suggested by the honorable member will be taken by us.
– I wish to know from the Minister of Defence if his attention has been drawn to the following statement relating to the recent fatal accident at the Karrakatta, rifle range, which has appeared in a Western Australian newspaper: - “ Quite 90 per cent, of these cartridges,” Mr. Mackenzie asserts, “ won’t enter the breech, and have to be forced in and the shell ejected by a steel bar driven by a hammer. Two of my boys are expert rifle shots, but I never- allow them to go to the butts until I have first examined, weighed, and. fitted the whole of their cartridges.”
Will . the honorable gentleman ascertain whether the . cartridges have the defects referred to?
– I have seen a statement such as that to which the honorable member draws my attention. There will be the fullest and strictest inquiry into the circumstances of this case. I think that we get all our ammunition from one place.
– Where is it ‘obtained ?
– I take it that it is all supplied by the company which makes it here.
-It is all Australian made?
– I think so, but I shall have the matter inquired into.
– Now that the honorable member for Brisbane has returned from England, I ask the Prime Minister whether he can inform the House that he proposes to introduce a measure, or to move a motion, or to make a Ministerial statement, regarding naval defence before Parliament is prorogued?
– It Is intended to deal with the question, and later I shall give the honorable member information as to the exact date and manner.
– I wish to know from the Minister of Defence if it is a fact that the religious exercises which have been much appreciated and enjoyed by the troops and the public in the past, are to be abolished. Is it the intention of the Government to do away with church parades?
– Not so far asI am aware. I hope not.
-i am very pleased tohear it.
– Has the Minister anv information as to the date of the arrival of Lord Kitchener?
– I have already stated that he will arrive at Port Darwinon the zoth December.
– Has the honorable gentleman yet made arrangements for the progress of Lord Kitchener through Melbourne? If he has not, I ask him to remember that the citizens of Prahran are most anxious that Lord Kitchener should’ accept their hospitality.
– We have been awaiting the arrival of Lord Kitchener’saidedecamp, and as that gentleman is now in Australia, we hope soon to have the itinerary arranged. Nothing has yet beenmapped out.
– Is it the intention of the Government to put Lord Kitchener on exhibition - which appears to be the desire of some honorable members - or totreat him as he should be treated, without parading him all over the country?
– Lord Kitchener will not be on exhibition. He is coming here on a very serious business visit.
– I wish to ask the Minister of Defence whether Lord Kitchener is coming to Australia to inspect the troops or to assist the Department in formulating a national scheme of defence? If his object is that first named, will he, on his journey down the coast, inspect various detachments of troops,- and if so, will the Minister request him to inspect all the troops along the northern coast ?
– I am unable to give precise details regarding what will be the doings of Lord Kitchener upon his arrival in Australia. The details have not been arranged. Generally speaking, he is coming to give us the best advice he can offer with regard to the organization of an adequate defence of Australia.
– I desire to ask the Minister of Defence a question based on a report in this morning’s newspaper. The Minister is showing activity in searching for a’ suitable site for a naval depot, and I notice that he has paid a visit to Williamstown. Does the honorable gentleman propose to give the same close attention to the facilities afforded in Port Jackson at the Woolwich Dock, Mort’s Dock, Cockatoo Island, and other places?
– It is my intention to look further into the matter. I may say that I am very fairly acquainted with the facilities in Port Jackson.
– I desire to correct a statement appearing in this morning’s Age, which I am sure has been made inadvertently. Last night I referred to the honorable members for Wimmera and Kooyong as having spoken in one way on the Constitution Alteration (Finance) Bill and voted in another. The Age makes me to refer to the honorable member for Wentworth.
– I wish to know from the Minister of Home Affairs whether it has yet been decided whether a divisional returning officer, residing out of the electorate for which he acts, is entitled to give a casting vote in that electorate, in the event of the voting at an election being equal ?
– An opinion has been obtained from the Attorney-General, to the effect that a divisional returning officer can give a casting vote under the circumstances indicated by the honorable member.
– And can he vote in his own electorate, too?
– I ask the Prime Minister when he will be able to give an hour for the introduction and consideration of the amending Old-age Pensions Bill which has been promised?
– The measure is being drafted, and after revision will be available for the first opportunity that presents itself.
Survey - Gauge
– As the Minister of Home Affairs, judging by his reply to my question regarding the dissent of one of the engineers who reported on the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway survey, seems to think the matter one for the South Australian Government, I ask him if he will obtain from that Government a report and a full statement of the reasons for the dissent of the Engineer-in-Chief of the State.
– I understand that the Prime Minister is now in communication with the South Australian Government in reference to the matter.
– Will the Minister of Home Affairs be good enough to lay on the table of the House the reports received from South Australia with reference to the railway-gauge question?
– I said that I understood that the Prime Minister was in communication with the Premier of South Australia in regard to the matter. As soon as I receive from him the required information, I shall be glad to put it before the honorable member.
Prohibition of Medical Correspondence - Grading of Post-offices - Telephone Subscribers, Adelaide - William Creek Post-office.
– I wish to draw the attention of the Postmaster-General to a communication which I received this morning regarding the prohibition of certain correspondence, and to ask him if he has any information relating to the firm to which it applies ? The communication which I received was accompanied by the following official announcement -
Forbidding money order and postal correspondence for H. Sinclair <& Co., Sydney.
The Postmaster-General of the Dominion of New Zealand having reasonable ground for supposing that the firm whose name and address are shown in the schedule hereunder is engaged in advertising the treatment of diseases of the sexual organs, it is hereby ordered, under section 28 of the “ Post and Telegraph Act 1908,” that no money order in favour of the said firm shall be issued, and. that no postal packet addressed to the said firm (either by its own or any fictitious or assumed name), or to such address without a name, shall be either registered, forwarded, or delivered by the Post Office of New Zealand.
Dated this 29th day of September, 1909.
John. G. Findlay,
Has the Postmaster-General any knowledge of the firm which is referred to, and will he, in any case, cause inquiry to be made as to whether its correspondence should be transmitted by his Department?
– I have no knowledge that the firm in question is engaged in a nefarious business, but I am aware that the New Zealand legislation enables the Postmaster-General of the Dominion to prohibit the transmission of postal matter connected with the treatment of certain diseases. No such legislation has been passed by the Commonwealth.
– We ought to have it.
– The New Zealand law was brought under my notice to-day, and I wrote a minute directing the attention of the Secretary of the Department to it, and requesting him to prepare a draft measure which would enable this Parliament to consider similar legislation at the first available opportunity.
– For some time past the Department of the PostmasterGeneral has been reducing the status of official post and telegraph offices in country districts to that of semi-official offices, without giving the public any notice of the intended changes. Will the PostmasterGeneral promise that in future the public shall have such notice? Will he say what rule the Department follows in the matter, and when an office is considered to be not sufficiently important to be called official ?
– The Deputy Postmasters-General have power to deal with the grading of minor offices, and the public are informed of alterations by advertisement in the Gazette. I myself have frequently heard of contemplated changes only from honorable members. When a change is seriously objected to, and_ the matter is brought under my notice, it is generally suspended.
– Following up the question I put to the PostmasterGeneral, and his reply that he was not aware that certain offices had been regraded and reduced until he saw the notification in the Commonwealth Gazette,I should like to ask him whether he will arrange to give honorable members an earlier opportunity of obtaining such information. The regrading is based, I understand, on the revenue which each office produces. Will the honorable gentleman, in accordance with a promise that he made some time ago, have the annual return, the last issue of which was for 1907, brought up to date, so that honorable members may know what offices are likely to be regraded, and will have an opportunity to take whatever steps they desire in regard to the matter.
– I shall be happy to take into consideration the suggestion of the honorable member.
– Has the PostmasterGeneral yet obtained from his officers a report respecting a number of telephone subscribers to the Adelaide Exchange who have to pay a higher rate than do subscribers to a similar system in other States, and, if so, has he yet decided that the injustice shall be removed?
– I have not yet obtained such a report, but in any event I can hold out no hope of a partial treatment of the telephone rate question.
– Does the PostmasterGeneral not think that the telephone subscribers in South Australia have suffered under partial treatment long enough, and that it is about time to give them impartial treatment?
– It would be most unfair and impolitic, on public grounds, to deal in a piecemeal manner with the telephone rates; and that is what I meant by the use of the word “ partial.”” I cannot pick out one group of subscribers and say that I will redress their grievances in regard to rates, without also redressing the grievances of others who may require consideration.
– Apparently I did not make my question clear. The position is that at present partial treatment is meted out to subscribers in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne to such an extent that subscribers in Adelaide are subjected to very great injustice. I am not asking for partial or piecemeal treatment, but, seeing that a comparatively small amount of money is involved, merely desire to know whether the Postmaster-General will place the Adelaide subscribers on precisely the same footing as the subscribers in other large centres ?
– I cannot possibly undertake to deal with the telephone rates until I have received the report of the experts appointed to inquire and advise the Postmaster- General on this important question.
– I wish to direct the attention of the Postmaster-General to certain facts, and to ask him a question with reference to them. I understand that at a place called William Creek, in the Northern District of South Australia, the postal service is conducted in a railway building, and that for some time considerable friction has existed between the stationmaster and the postmaster. So intense has the feeling become that the State Railway Commissioner has, I understand, on several occasions asked the Commonwealth to provide a separate office for its own officer, . but up to the present that request has been refused.’ I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether he will obtain the papers, and see whether something can be done to remove the unpleasantness ?
– I shall be pleased to accept the honorable member’s suggestion, obtain the papers, inquire into the matter, and inform the House of the result of my investigation.
– I notice that the Northern Territory Acceptance Bill is thirteenth on the list of Government business on the notice-paper, and I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether he will ask the House to proceed with that Bill immediately after the Constitution Alteration (Finance) Bill has been disposed of.
– I have already informed the honorable member for Grey that if we can arrive at an understanding to deal in one sitting with the two or three important issues still outstanding, challenged by amendments of which notice has already been given, I shall be glad to fix a date for the further consideration of the Bill. The order in which the Bill appears on the notice-paper will not prevent that being done.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether it was not understood that we should proceed with the further consideration of the Northern Territory Acceptance Bill immediately after the Constitution Alteration (finance) Bill had been dealt with?
– The reply I have just given to the honorable member for Boothby is in no way a qualification of my previous statement that I was prepared to arrange a date on which the further consideration of the Bill should be proceeded with. It is necessary to make arrangements with those who have already given notice of amendments, and who might object if the Bill were taken without sufficient notice.
Subject to their . convenience, and to the further consideration of the Bill being disposed of in one sitting, I am prepared to fix a date.
– After the Constitution Alteration (Finance) Bill has been disposed of?
– Under the conditions I have named.
– No such conditions were imposed when the matter was mentioned on a previous occasion.
– The honorable member is in error. On two or three occasions, I have expressed the opinion that we can not afford time this session to bring on the Bill merely on the chance of being able to dispose of it. I asked that arrangements should be made to enable the crucial amendments to be dealt with at one sitting. We should then be able to send on the Bill to another place without delay.
– I should like the Prime Minister to say whether it is not a fact that I reported to him that the Leader of the Opposition would offer no objection to the Bill being taken immediately after the Constitution Alteration (Finance) Bill had been dealt with ; secondly, whether I did not advise him that the only amendments of which I had any knowledge were those of which notice had been given ; and, thirdly, whether he expects me now to go round the House and to ascertain what honorable members intend to offer opposition to the Bill before he will consent to bring it on again?
– The answer to the first two questions put by the honorable member is “Yes.” As to the third, I do not expect him to do anything of the kind. I thought I had made it perfectly clear that all I desired. was to abbreviate the discussion. I did not askthe honorable member to do what he suggests. He may or may not, as he thinks fit, take that action. We shall endeavour to obtain the information to which he refers. My undertaking was that as soon as we say a prospect of having the Bill dealt with promptly, we should bring it on again.
– Amongst the cable messages published, in yesterday’s newspapers was one to the effect that the King’s medal for bravery on the part of the police was to be granted to certain selected applicants. I had some correspondence with the Prime Minister in re- gard to the question about three months ago, and I should like to know whether the names of those selected in Australia for this distinction are known to him or were recommended” by him ?
– No, but they may be known to the State Governments since the police . are under their control. After the honorable member called attention to the matter I communicated with the Colonial Office, but so far as I am aware have not yet received a reply.
– In view of the widespread importance of the question of Elective Ministries, I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether the Government are prepared to give the electors an opportunity to express their opinion with regard to it?
– The honorable member suggests that a referendum should be taken on the question of Commonwealth Elective Ministries. That could.be arranged only by a Bill providing for an alteration of the Constitution, which would have to be passed by both Houses, and would be debated at length.
– We are nearly unanimous on the point.
– I doubt it.
– I wish to ask the Minister of Defence whether the torpedo boat destroyers that are now being built to the order of the Commonwealth have yet reached the christening stage, and if so whether he has discovered suitable names for them. I desire further to ask whether it is a fact that they are to be named after notable members of the Liberal Reform movement, and, if not, whether he will consider the advisableness of making a selection from euphonious aboriginal names?
– It is a fact that we shall require names shortly for these vessels. They are nearing the christening stage, but I have not yet been able to discover names for them. I shall be much obliged for any suggestion that may be offered, provided that the name proposed is pronounceable.
– Following up the reply just made by the Minister of Defence, I would direct his attention to the fact that there is a very euphonious native name - “ Mudgee “ - and I would ask him to consider the advisableness of applying it to one of the new vessels.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are : -
Mr. SPEAKER reported the receipt of a message from the Senate, requesting that leave be granted to the Honorable Hugh Mahon to attend, if he thinks fit, and give evidence before the Select Committee on the Press Cable Service.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin) agreed to -
That the House authorizes Mr. Mahon to attend accordingly, if he think fit.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin) proposed -
That the report be now adopted.
.- We are in the unfortunate position that, although there has been considerable discussion on the main principles of the Bill, very little time, indeed, has been available for the discussion of the principles involved in the details of the measure; and, undoubtedly, much has been overlooked that might profitably have, been considered at greater length. I do not propose to enter into the difference of opinion amongst legal and constitutional authorities as to the drafting and meaning of the various clauses, but no doubt considerable difference of opinion prevails, which ought to have been cleared up before we arrived at the report stage. However, I have another object in rising. We ought to embrace every opportunity to discuss the important effects of this Bill, so that, not only Parliament, but the people outside, may acquire as much knowledge of what we propose as is possible under the circumstances. I cannot commend the Prime Minister and the Government for the way in which they have proceeded with this measure. The Prime Minister and the Chairman of Committees know that there is an absolute majority against the proposal of the Government; and as the welfare of Australia is involved, I propose, for the purpose of future reference, to read the names of those who voted for and against the amendment of the honorable member for Mernda, and make clear the actual opinions held by the representatives of the people, both present and absent. The following is the division list on the second amendment proposed by the honorable member for Mernda -
Ayes … … … 32
Noes … … … 33
Majority … … 1
Including those honorable members who paired, we find thirty-five for the amendment and thirty-six against, leaving four honorable members to be accounted for. Those four honorable members are the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who is ill and not paired; the honorable member for South Sydney, who, I admit, is away on private business ; the Chairman of Committees, and you yourself, Mr. Speaker, who, following the custom of your office, did not vote. I claim that at least two of the absentees, have absolutely declared, and would have voted, for the amendment of the honorable member for Mernda. I cannot speak for the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, but it has been publicly announced that he would not have supported the Government proposal, though he declined to pair against the Government because of his personal relations with the Prime Minister. Of course, your own position, Mr. Speaker, ought not to be canvassed ; and, therefore, I do not further refer to it. What I say is that, although this Bill has, by the barest of bare majorities, reached the report stage, the Government would not have a majority if the full number of representatives of the people in this House had voted.
– And four honorable members who voted for the Government “went back” on their expressed convictions.
– I shall not discuss that matter now ; those honorable members have voted, and I presume they have done so in accordance with their later convictions.
– And after deliberation.
– After deliberation, and a great deal of persuasion. I am not in Parliament for the first time, and I have no need to ask what has taken place ; any one could see with a blind eye the amount of attention that was paid to certain honorable members who wished to vote according to their previously expressed convictions, but who were swayed by the eloquence of their immediate political and other friends to act differently. It would be interesting to know the mind of the Government in a matter of such momentous importance, seeing that, with all the influence and weight they could bring to bear, and after tremendous exertion, they have been able to carry their proposal only by the barest of majorities. What do the Government really think of the position? In my opinion, they have gone as nearly as possible to a violation of the first principles of’ good government. Members should have voted, not reluctantly, but cheerfully and willingly, for the referendum, without any doubt as to the proposition to. be submitted to the people. How can we expect the people to understand the question and give an intelligent verdict, when honorable members in this House are almost equally divided ?
– That is how the country will be - equally divided.
– That may be; but the honorable member can see what I am aiming at. The people cannot possibly be so well informed on the subject as we are ; and,’ even here, where we have all the influence of the Government, all the eloquence of the Prime Minister, and all the ties of party allegiance, only a bare majority has enabled the Bill to reach the report stage. I therefore ask whether the Government feel justified in going on with the measure? Of course, if the Government go to the country on the question, without submitting a referendum to the people, they will have all the case they could desire for a return of Government supporters who believe ‘in the principle which has been enunciated. In the meantime we should have a platform campaign on political lines, which would educate the people, and at the second election they would undoubtedly be surer of their own views on the question, and able to give a more intelligent verdict than would be possible in present circumstances. By adopting that course the Government would be in the position of having endeavoured to carry out “their agreement with the Premiers. No Premier can complain of what the Prime Minister has done to try to carry the agreement through. Indeed, the honorable gentleman has done more than carry out his promise to advise Parliament to pass it. He has done everything that one man could do, and has used his persuasive powers as he alone can use them, to obtain the very small majority which he has succeeded in obtaining. I am dead against the principle of the Bill, which is wrong, and will be mischievous. If the appeal to the country is successful, and the principle is embodied in the Constitution, it will mean binding the intelligence of the people of Australia for years, if not for generations, by the dead hand of this year and next year.
– It is .the first step in the direction of unification.
– That interjection is rather enigmatical, but I believe the honorable member has in his mind the idea that if the agreement is embodied in the Constitution there will arise in Australia a young militant and determined party which will sweep away all such stumbling “blocks in the way of true national progress. “This determination to secure for the States rights which are not good for them, will not assist them in any way, but will ultimately react against their interests, and. as. the honorable member for Robertson “indicates, help largely to increase that section of the people who ‘believe that we should have, a National Parliament with much greater powers, and State Parliaments with greatly diminished powers. I said last night that I am not a unificationist. I believe in the Federal principle, but it is well to remember that experience is likely to tend all in one way. That is to say, every question that becomes of national importance, and has a national scope, is likely to be transferred to the National Parliament: Let me illustrate. “The present deplorable struggle between the employers and employes in the Newcastle district of New South Wales shows that the State industrial machinery has absolutely broken down, and the effect will probably be, not only an industrial -disturbance in a local centre in one State, but a dislocation of the whole of the industrial and commercial life of the Commonwealth. In contradistinction to that, let me refer to the great struggle of the shearers and rouseabouts with the Australian pastoralists. That was settled only because we had a Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act that enabled the whole of the industrial workers concerned to get a verdict under a Commonwealth law. In consequence, that industry has since then proceeded in peace and quietness for nearly five years. That is what I mean by larger powers which have a national effect, and are a national necessity. While the States should continue to possess the powers necessary to carry on their own self-government, wherever larger powers can be given to this Parliament for the national advantage the people of the Commonwealth will not hesitate to invest this Parliament with them. I hold, however, another view regarding State Rights and functions and the scope of State effort*. I believe that the States, as at present delimited, will not continue for a great length of time, but that New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia, instead of being managed as they are at present by one local Parliament from a capital in one corner, will be split up into smaller States each with its own local Parliament.
– Then the honorable member is a unificationist, because that is what the unificationists propose.
– I do not understand the interjection. It is just as difficult for the Queensland Parliament, sitting at the southern end of the State, to manage the northern part of “Queensland as it would be for the Federal Parliament to manage it from Melbourne.
– The State must be cut up.
– When one leaves Melbourne and reaches Brisbane, he is practically only half-way to Cairns, which is still considerably south of the most northern part of Queensland, and the means of communication as one goes further north from Brisbane are less , effective than between Brisbane, and Melbourne. So far from being a unificationist from that point of view, I think there should be a larger number of . local Governments capable, of transacting the immediate local business, which would be completely under their control, while all large national questions should be left to the Federal Parliament. That could be brought about cheaply and expeditiously. I differ from many of my, friends who want to reduce the State Parliaments’ to the status df glorified municipal councils, exercising only limited local powers. I think the State Parliaments can possess legislative powers - I should prefer them to consist of one House each - and be capable of performing their duties expeditiously at a reasonable cost, within their own ambits.
– When we have more Federation we shall hear less of “ Socialism in our time.’’
– “ Socialism in our time “ means better methods of governing the people and enabling those who produce the wealth of a country to get a greater share of it. The creation of a number of smaller States out of the present’ large ones, each with a local Parliament dealing effectively with local affairs, and the investment of this Parliament with larger national powers - a policy with which the honorable member for Robertson evidently agrees - would help to a greater distribution of wealth. I am not afraid of a National Parliament such as this becoming an aggressive institution that would protect monopolies and destroy the interests of the worker. I think the Federal Parliament, founded as it is on a broad franchise, is capable of doing justice to all. It is still hampered by many of its Constitutional limitations, and my objection to this Bill is that, if given effect to, it will hamper it more than ever. One would have expected from the Prime Minister and the Government a broadening rather than a narrowing of the national powers. From his previous speeches, and some of his actions, the Prime Minister might well have been expected to proclaim to the people that this Parliament could be trusted to do justice in every instance; but this Bill declares in effect that it cannot be trusted with financial affairs, and that its probity cannot be guaranteed to the States. He and his Government are prepared to lay down definitely in the Constitution what the Federal Parliament must do, and to cripple it in order to secure to the States rights which up to the present they have not possessed. In that way the honorable gentleman is doing a great injustice to the Parliament and people of the Commonwealth. Any one who takes the trouble to look into the matter must arrive at the conclusion that the people of Australia cannot benefit from the proposed financial arrangement, unless the Commonwealth takes control of the public indebtedness. The weakest feature of this measure is that it does not assist in bringing that about. Instead of helping the transfer of the debts from the States to the Commonwealth, it hinders it. It provides for an annual per capita payment of 25s. from the Commonwealth to the States, and leaves the transfer of the debts to be further investigated. The States, being sure of the payment from the Commonwealth, need not, and will not, be anxious to transfer their debts. It is true that there if. si Bill now at its third-reading stage for an amendment of the Constitution, to enable this Parliament to take control of the whole of the debts of the States when it chooses to do so. But it is possible that the people may agree to the amendment relating to the payment from the Commonwealth to ‘the States, and may refuse to agree to the amendment relating to the State debts. I think that the Prime Minister should have first referred the State debts question to the people. Had they approved of the proposed alteration, we could have proceeded with greater safety in regard to the allocation of the revenue. I am ‘more convinced than ever that the last clause of the Bill will really make the Commonwealth merely the agent of the States in regard to transactions connected with the debts. Although the Commonwealth may pay the interest and the principal of the State debts, a Commonwealth stock which will’ be to its advantage cannot be created. Those who drafted the Constitution, and those who approved of it, no doubt thought that during the first or second session of this Parliament the State debts would be transferred to the Commonwealth, and that a Commonwealth stock would be created, any accruing benefit due to a reduction of interest going to the Commonwealth. That was the view taken by many of us who advocated the acceptance of the draft Constitution in Queensland, where it was not popular, and it was the view of those who voted for it in that State. Had not the people thought that the Commonwealth would take over and manage the State indebtedness, and thereby make a profit, they would not have supported Federation as they did. Now it is proposed to put that out of the power of the Commonwealth. In my opinion, to do so will destroy the influence of the Federation. Apparently, there are still to be six borrowing States. Even when a State borrows through the Commonwealth, its loans will be placed on the money market as specifically intended for their purposes, and credited and debited according to the terms on which they are floated, while if the Commonwealth requires money for its own purposes, it must borrow it in its own name. The AttorneyGeneral said ‘this morning that a mare’s nest had been discovered, and that the objections which were then raised do not entirely apply ; but he did not completely set aside my position. The Prime Minister freely admits that the Commonwealth will have to continue to pay 25s. per capita In the States after it has paid off the whole of the debts, principal and interest. But no provision is made for a sinking fund. The Government have not explained this omission. No doubt Ministers do not consider an explanation necessary. They are content to allow this matter to go through without placing their views on questions of detail before the House. That is not a creditable way to’ act ; but it is their method, and we must submit to it so long as they continue in office. I hold that the Commonwealth should be empowered to take over the whole of the public indebtedness of Australia, to constitute an Australian stock by the conversion and renewal of old loans and the issue of new, and that the States should have absolute freedom in respect to borrowing, subject to the control of an advisory Board established by the Commonwealth.
– No provision is made for that.
– It would be easy to appoint Treasury Commissioners, and I am sure that the State Governments would readily avail themselves of the advice which could be obtained from them. Directly the Commonwealth credit becomes better than the best State credit, the electors will demand that the public borrowing shall be done by the Commonwealth. In my opinion this is most desirable, but the Bill makes no provision for it, and the Government have not shown that it is provided for. It is pitiful that we should ask for larger powers regarding the taking over of the debts, and yet be limited in the way I am speaking of. No doubt it is useless to debate the matter now, because honorable members, having discovered that the numbers are up, have ceased to take a serious interest in the Bill, which they regard as practically passed. If this were an ordinary measure, it could be amended by a subsequent one, but an amendment of the Constitution can be secured only by the vote of a majority of the people and of a majority of the States. While at a particular time it may be easy to get the electors to take a particular course, it may not be easy to subsequently get another amendment carried. As I have already said, if five out of six of the electors wished for an amendment of the Constitution, they could be foiled by the action of the minority. Even the admitted eloquence of the Prime Minister will not enable him to explain away that difficulty. He wishes us to ask the people to do something now which future generations may regret. It is conceit to think that we are wiser than those who will follow us fifteen or twenty years hence will be. The proposals of the Government and of the Premiers evidence their mistrust of the future electors df Australia, and, in my opinion, amount to a wilful, open, and base betrayal of the National interests. They give away powers which were fought for in the Convention by far more capable and far-seeing men. I cannot help repeating again the statement of
Sir Henry Parkes that, although New South Wales had more to lose from Federation than any other State, he was ready to join the union, trusting the National Parliament with the absolute control of finance and the Tariff. He was prepared to leave it to the wisdom and justice of future representatives of the people to deal properly with the questions which came before them, and thought it unnecessary to bind their actions by the Constitution. Smaller-minded men have followed him. The great blemish upon the Constitution is its financial provisions, and the Government propose to make that worse. I hope that the people will not agree to the proposed amendment. The newspapers and the Premiers have threatened to oppose those who vote against the acceptance of the agreement, and the press, at any rate, has considerable power, especially in regard to the party which I have the honour to lead. But, after all, these threats are vain, and will not influence any manly person. They may influence and terrorize political jellyfish, who are always watching which way the wind- blows, and are ever ready and anxious to set their sail to catch every passing breeze that may tend to their political advantage. It may suit them to dp that, but a country does not make progress by having in charge of its affairs men of that kind. There is no special virtue in standing by the principles in which one believes, but there are times in the political history of a nation when the men most useful are perhaps those who decline for the time being to be dragged with the’ majority. This agreement, in my opinion, is wholly and solely a political one.
– If it is, it will break down.
– I agree with the honorable member that it will break down, but there is a danger that, while the present political arrangement between the State. Governments and the Government of the Commonwealth exists, it may find its way into the Constitution. The honorable member knows what that will mean. The Constitution cannot be altered by a majority of the people. If it could, I should say at once, ‘ ‘ Send this agreement to the people by way of referendum.” The Attorney-General early this morning cited the Swiss Constitution in reply to the arguments that we put forward. His argument, however, had no application. The procedure to amend the Swiss Constitution is practically the same as that neces- sary in the case of an amendment of the Commonwealth Constitution, but in Switzerland every question submitted to a referendum of the people is not a constitutional one.
– I am aware of that, but I was speaking of the double referendum on a constitutional question.
– Is it necessary that the question to be submitted to the people in this instance shall take the form of a proposed constitutional amendment? Why not ask the people to say “yea” or “nay” to the principle involved? Why not submit it to them in . the ordinary way, and not as a constitutional amendment of a binding character requiring a majority of the States as well as a majority of the people to remove it from ‘ the Constitution? If the Attorney-General would take up that position I should be with him. I should cheerfully support the Government if they proposed a fair referendum to the people, by which a majority would be able to carry or reject this proposal.
– They will not agree to that.
– The Attorney-General is essentially a fair man, but last night he seemed to endeavour to convey the impression that under the Swiss Constitution there must be a referendum-
– No. I was speaking only of an amendment of the Constitution. I pointed out that there were eleven in eighteen years that went to a dual referendum, a referendum of the people and of the States.
– For all practical purposes, a referendum in regard to an alteration of the Swiss Constitution is practically the same as that for which our Constitution provides. But there are other questions that are sent to a simple referendum.
– No doubt.
– This proposition ought to be submitted to a simple referendum of the people.
– Provision is made in the Swiss Constitution for such a referendum.
– If it were proposed that there should be a simple referendum, by which a majority of the people could accept or reject the agreement, I should accept the Government proposition; but, as it is put, it is fatal. Those who take the view that this is only the beginning of further pressure to be applied to Federal Governments by the States have some cause for that opinion. In the words of the honorable member for Flinders, it means, perhaps, the destruction of effective Commonwealth progress. I am not given to taking a very pessimistic view of matters; I prefer to be optimistic; but I do say that the proposition is one to abrogate certain rights possessed by the Federal Parliament. The Prime Minister, who is the leader of the movement, is the last whom I should have suspected, even twelve months ago, of taking this action. I cannot recall a single utterance of his which indicated that he was likely to favour any such action as he now proposes. No one was endeavouring to take the step that he has taken. No party sought an alliance with the State Governments, until he himself solicited their aid. Although the honorable gentleman assisted to frame the Constitution, he is the first to desert its principles, and to seek an alliance with the State Governments, the effect of which will be to take away powers that have been given to this Parliament. It is a deplorable exhibition of weakness; a singularly unfortunate action in the course of a rather long and distinguished Parliamentary career. I hope, however, that the matter will not end here. I trust that the people will reject the agreement, and that every qne who feels that the Bill may afford a temporary advantage and security to the States will yet recognise that unless the National Parliament can be trusted to deal fairly and equitably with the States, it will be impossible to build up a national sentiment. If we are to begin to distribute our powers in the way now proposed, it is only a matter of time when the Government, to’ be logical, will have to propose to distribute those which we now possess with regard to industrial legislation, and they might as well take the same course with respect to our power to deal with the question of defence. I shall take my stand against this proposal here and in the country, and regret that we were not able to brock the passing of the Bill. I repeat that those who voted for this agreement have had no mandate from the people to do so. The agreement has been sprung on the people without notice and without warrant, and honorable members who support it are prepared, without the authority of the electors, to indorse a policy which, I feel assured, will be disastrous, speaking generally, to the people of the Commonwealth.
Mr. DEAKIN (Ballarat- Prime Minis member that a brief reply should be made to those portions of his remarks-
– I should not take it amiss if no reply were made.
– I still feel my obligation to recognise the honorable member’s position, and also to endeavour to reply to his arguments. Brevity appears to be justified by the present state of the Chamber.
– This is very kind ! When the show is over, no one desires to hear more.
– I hope the honorable member understands why, apologizing in advance, I proposed to deal only briefly with his arguments. I should have preferred to move the recommittal of the Bill for the purpose of inserting the definite article at the beginning of clause 3, but that would imply a loss of another sitting. In existing circumstances, the tension occasioned by the divisions that have been and have yet to be taken can be prolonged only at the cost of further sacrifices on the part of honorable members that are, under present circumstances, capable of being dispensed with. We are now faced with the report of the ‘Committee. I have not to undertake at this stage an exposition of what, from my point of view, is the consistency of the present proposal with those submitted by previous Governments with which I have been associated, or to previous Conferences of Premiers. I may claim to have been among the first to draw the attention of the Commonwealth Parliament to the grave importance and ultimate magnitude of the financial relations of the Commonwealth and the States. I have availed myself of every opportunity, when attending Conferences of State Premiers, or associated with them in any other way, to impress upon State Governments the wisdom of their facing the very contingency which has now- arisen. I urged them to prepare in advance some welldigested and complete scheme which should, as far as possible, dispose of the many causes of friction that will exist until we have established complete financial relations securing the utmost independence on both sides, or where there is mutual cooperation, that this should be strictly defined. If we had been successful in the endeavour to induce them to grapple with this subject more thoroughly at an earlier stage, we could have dealt at the recent Conference with not only one or two of our cen tral financial relationships, but probably with the whole of them. At present that still remains an ideal ; but I submit with confidence that the present proposals depart in no way from the main principles laid down at the various Conferences. If they are not, as they are not, as complete as we desired, they, at all events, represent the utmost possible advance found practicable at this time. The Leader of the Opposition, at the outset of his speech, criticised the Government proposal ; but, of course, he is well aware that an Administration is necessarily placed at a great disadvantage, when, against the one scheme to which it has given its adhesion is ranked every other scheme, and all their supporters. In the present instance it has not been a choice between two rival schemes. The honorable member himself confesses that he, and a majority of those voting in Opposition, have approved proposals emanating from the honorable member for Mernda, and others, only because they appeared preferable to the scheme which the Government has submitted - not as embodying the proposals which they themselves would have carried if they had possessed H:e requisite strength- There, apparently, aro some differences of opinion on the subject amongst the members of the honorable member’s own party, and there are certainly considerable differences amongst independent members who have united withthem. All these, collectively, approach very closely in strength to the number that have rallied round the scheme submitted by the Government. But this discussion has really shown that, as against any other scheme taken on its own individual merits, that embodied in the Bill commands a larger support than any rival scheme. That appears obvious. Consequently, although honorable members have voted the Government scheme by a bare majority, we have, as a fact, every reason to believe that it has a very much stronger support behind it than any other scheme yet laid before this Chamber. The honorable member repeated some criticisms upon the attitude of members on this side who exercised their undoubted liberty of taking exception to the Ministerial project; twitting them because, nevertheless, on the divisions they have cast their votes with the Government. But, surely, under the circumstances, of all criticism that could be offered, this is one of the most futile. As the Leader of the Opposition and his party voted for a- proposal submitted from this side by those who differ from the Government, not because they approved it in itself, but because it was less venturesome than ours, he surely cannot deny to individual members of the Ministerialparty the same right of choice. Practically, the question was - what scheme is attainable reconcilable with our principles which will meet the present circumstances of the Commonwealth, and be likely to secure the support of the majority of the whole of the electors, as well as the majority of the same electors reckoned by their voting places in their several States. That is the scheme we require. It is not the only scheme possible, but it is just such a scheme as is essential at this critical period of our national history. This scheme is evoked, not as a consequence of any search by the Government for one electorally advantageous in filling up a meagre progranime. We had to face the House and the country with some financial scheme of this character. Under the terms of the Constitution, on the cessation of the Braddon section in 1910, it became absolutely necessary, no matter how short the time at our disposal, or how great the pressure on us, to prepare and propose some arrangement which, after criticism in Parliament, could be submitted at the general election as the best we could agree upon for the needs of the Commonwealth. The search was no choice of ours. Already overburdened with other important measures, the Conference had to meet in the midst of a strenuous session, and the measure is brought forward at this time simply because some scheme had to be proposed. This agreement is the result of our threshing out the question with the representatives of all the States concerned, proving to be the one practical and practicable measure which we were able to submit for the consideration of Parliament.
– Why propose a temporary arrangement if it had to be permanent ?
– That has been answered several times already. Under circumstances of pressure, and in the short time at our disposal, we had supposed it impossible to arrive at a permanent settlement. But when we found we could arrive at an agreement in regard to what moy be termed a complete scheme, so far as it went - not the full, complete financial provisions of which I have been speaking - we believed we were acting in the interests of the Commonwealth, as well as in the in terests of the States, in undertaking the Ministerial responsibility of submitting thi* proposal to Parliament. It must be remembered - and I merely say this in passing, in reply to criticism, that the Govern ment will go to the country, if this scheme, be sanctioned by both Houses of Parliament, deriving no direct electoral advantage from its submission. It will be dealt with, not as the honorable member suggested, as a party question, put to the electors as a main ground for returning us to the next Parliament. While offering many temptations, as well as many opportunities of a party character in this way, it is put aside so that it may be dealtwith independently of the candidatures of persons or parties. The electors, no doubt, in a number of constituencies, will accept or reject this measure, quite apart from their acceptance or rejection of particular party candidates.
– There is nothing practicable in that.
– I think the rest of the House see the point, and recognise the irrelevance of the comments that are being made. My point is that, if we had followed the course favoured by the honorable member for Wide Bay, of taking this to the country as the first proposal in the Government platform, we should undoubtedly have had, on that ground, and, perhaps on that ground alone, a special backing throughout the Commonwealth. Of course, it would have opponents as well ; but I believe the backing we should have gained by that course would have been far and away beyond the opposition which it would have evoked. Under the circumstances, we are parting with an electoral advantage - we are not taking the course which would have given us the greatest voting value out of this question. On the contrary, we are following a course which enables the people to reject us and accept the scheme, or to accept us and reject the scheme.
– They will do tha first.
– They are perfectly free to do so. For my own. part. I confess that I look forward with a further interest to this appeal to the people. We have yet to learn how responsive the electors as a whole will prove to an appeal on a question of this kind. I trust and believe that this particular issue will not only evoke an enormous response from those who go to the poll to vote for candidates, but will result in bringing many thousands more who might not otherwise take any part in the election. I look forward with the greatest interest to the educational value of this direct appeal to the people, their attention being directed in the most pointed way possible to the financial situation of the Commonwealth - to the financial requests of the States and the financial relations which must exist between the two bodies. These are matters which we have done well to discuss here ; which will be discussed at large throughout this country until polling day. and will, I trust, result in the creation upon this subject of an educated public opinion of great advantage to the Commonwealth and its coming Parliaments. I trust that, in future, we shall find these appeals to the direct judgment of the people on great issues become more frequent. That will depend in part, as I said, upon the numerical response we obtain, and its character. The honorable member for Wide Bay commented upon the exercise of Ministerial influence upon members unnamed in recent divisions. If any such influence was exercised, it was but a fraction of that used every day by the honorable member himself and those associated with him, not only upon each other, but upon any others whom they can bring within its sphere. I make no objection to their doing so, but contend that anything of that kind which may exist on this side is but child’s play to the steady, consistent, scientific manner in which it has been developed by my honorable friends opposite. The proof of this particular pudding is, as usual, in the eating. There is not absolute unanimity on this side, but a great deal of independent criticism. There is on the Opposition side absolute unanimity, and no independent criticism.
– Have the honorable member for Bass and the honorable member for Perth joined the Fusion party?
– Neither of them is a member of the Labour party. Although they have sat on the Opposition side, they have, from the first, frequently voted on questions of importance with the Government. They have been independent members. The Leader of the Opposition suggested that we had still a great many State Rights to sweep away. I think the expres sion was unfortunate, because rights which deserve that name ought not to be swept away.
– I do not think I used that phrase.
– I took it down at the time, but do not think the honorable member intended to employ the words in that sense. I took him to mean that therewere a considerable number of State powers which ought to be transferred tothe Commonwealth.
– Is the honorable member sure I used the words “sweep away “?
– I think the honorable member will find them in his proof.
– I should have thought it would be impossible for me to use them in that connexion.
– I lay no stress upon the phrase. The honorable member gave us practically but one illustration of his meaning. He referred to the unsatisfactory condition of State industrial legislation and its incapacity to grapple with some of the serious disturbances at present visible in Australia. That may be so, but the honorable member’s remedy for it followed the line of his argument. He implied a dominance by the Commonwealth which meant the sweeping^ away of the authority exercised at present by State tribunals, and the creation of a central control by the Commonwealth of all industrial matters and industrial disputes. I should prefer to take an exactly opposite point of view. I should say that the difficulties with which we are confronted are due, not to the existence of the State tribunals, nor to the limitations upon the exercise of State authority which are inseparable from State legislation in such matters, but to the fact that they lack that crown and completion which would make them harmonize with each other, and permit Federal action over the whole of Australia wherever Federal action is necessary. To obtain that would not destroy or cripple the State industrial systems. On the contrary, it is to encourage their development to the fullest extent that their Legislatures can sanction,, and then, by means of their work, in each part of the Commonwealth, assist to bring their conditions into line where Federal interests are involved or Federal action is necessary, by the exercise of powers which are or can be vested in the Federal Parliament. In fact, the industrial campaign which the honorable member pro- posed starts from exactly the opposite point to that from which the industrial movement in its national aspect should cornymence. The conclusion at which one would arrive, from hearing this and other speeches of the honorable member, is that the gain to the Commonwealth in the future, the gain to what he calls national interests, is to be obtained by the pruning of State powers and the reduction of their authority and activities. He seems inclined to take that view, branding as antinational those who do not see in this . reduction of State operations the one means of developing the national power and authority. Here again I find myself in profound difference with my honorable friend. My colleagues and I claim to be thorough and sincere Nationalists who recognise that in a continent of these dimensions, and in particular at this period of our history, Nationalism can be built up and buttressed only by a complete development of State powers. It is not in taking advantage of the weakness of the States that the strength of the national movement will come. It will arise with a perfecting of State powers within their own limits, and their subsequent union and completion by national powers.
– Does that mean that the Commonwealth is to have no further powers ?
– The Commonwealth will gain its full authority, not by depriving the States of power, but by a natural growth and increment, as it develops in accordance with the necessities of the country.
– Then what about new Protection? How is that to be brought about?
– Without using the words “ new Protection,” I answered that question within the last few minutes. It must arrive first by perfecting State tribunals and laws on industrial questions, and then through their harmonization and completion by Federal laws.
– Larger national powers ?
– I have already said that, but the honorable member seems to be always three or four minutes behind my argument.
– The honorable member’s argument is very specious. It is good electioneering material.
– I am not seeking for -compliments, but if the honorable member will look at the whole position that I am putting he will find the question he has asked already answered.
– Nobody ever knows where the honorable gentleman is; he is so anxious to have two interpretations of his words.
– Even that depends to some extent on the powers of scrutiny of the critic. The honorable member may be long or short-sighted. I am not vet sufficiently acquainted with his trouble to be able to supply him with the particular pince-nez which will best suit his- complaint. Nothing could be more pernicious at the present juncture than for those who are Nationalists, as I think most of us in the Federal Parliament are or may become, to manifest their Nationalism by hostile criticism of and antagonism to the State Parliaments and the States themselves. I should like to see the terms “parochialism” and “provincialism” fall into disuse in the National Legislature^ - not merely that we should exhibit no qualities of that kind, but that, if ever they were exhibited by smaller bodies or from any quarter, we should pursue our way confident that the people will not be led aside into petty disputes between their several agencies, when they see before both such vast areas of unutilized territory awaiting their attention. There is not only room for both Federal and State authorities in Australia, but Australia badly needs them both in a fuller development than they have yet attained. The harmony to be established between them cannot be petrified upon a statute-book. It must arise out of a mutual recognition of each other’s duties and difficulties, and a sympathy for each other in the common tasks which lie before them in this country of immense undeveloped potentialities. The honorable member for Wide Bay would probably feel that I had not done justice to his argument if I made no reference to his line of thought with regard to taking over the debts. Yet I have pointed out to the honorable member that the Commission of Inquiry, alluded to in our agreement with the Premiers, has nothing to do with the taking over by the Commonwealth of the State debts. It has to do, as explained when the agreement was first laid on the table, with the arrangement to be made hereafter between the Commonwealth and the States in respect fo-*> : the issue of future loans, under a Commission conserving the interests of Australia as a whole, on the London money market. That needs a Commission of Inquiry first, because it. requires a settlement of the conditions upon which priority as to certain loans must be granted, and . under which the money market will be approached when either the Commonwealth or the States are saddled with the heavy responsibility of redeeming large existing loans. . If honorable members look at the Statist’s record, they will find that within the next seven or eight years there are, perhaps, three in which the accumulated amounts to be dealt with are quite sufficient to occasion anxiety, and to . require prevision, if we are to cope with fresh loans at about that time without injuring any replacement of existing loans by the issue of new stock. This complex question should be dealt with by an expert financial body. The inquiry proposed in the agreement is for the purpose of establishing such a body, and not in connexion with the mere taking over of the State debts. That, up to the amount of about£200,000,000, already rests within the power of this Parliament, while I hope that the passage of the measure which accompanies this one will shortly place in our hands the power to take over the whole of the debts. The institution of a sinking fund, to which my honorable friend alluded, is a Treasury matter, which must be the subject of a specific proposal, made probably under the advice of the Financial Commission. Few questions are more critical than some which may be associated with the sinking fund.
– The Commonwealth will not go far wrong if it copies Western Australia in respect to the establishment of sinking funds.
– Western Australia has done remarkably well in that matter.
– Can the Commonwealth be anything more than the agent of the States under this Bill-?
– A certain amount of agency work is involved in the mere transfer of the debts provided for by the Constitution, but there is an opportunity for much more than that, and I have always hoped that more will be done.
– It is not provided for here.
– It cannot be provided for until the terms have been settled. Such subjects cannot be considered in more than outline. They are extremely intricate, and are viewed from different stand-points by the various State authorities. All the criticisms which are being levelled at the Government scheme are confessedly- based on forecasts, and, so far as the State debts are. concerned, on forecasts of a very distant future. Those who contemplate the abolition of the State loans look forward to periods regarding which the best financial experts in the world to-day would not venture to speak except in most qualified, cautious, and general terms. It would be difficult to predict the future of Australia fifty years hence, but to determine the relations of its public and private finances with the money markets of the world at that time is far beyond the power of any of us. That consideration does not relieve us of the responsibility for exercising prudence and caution. We must, prepare . for the future, but, inasmuch as it is so distant, we can discuss it only tentatively, and in an abstract fashion.
– Will not the credit of the Commonwealth always be better than that of the States?
– A short interval may be required to establish the Commonwealth stock, but afterwards, according to the opinion of the most expert financiers in London, the Commonwealth will always obtain better terms than the State stocks. Until this Bill has passed from our hands,’ we shall not be relieved of the most serious responsibilities which we have yet encountered, and we cannot forget that at every stage we are dealing with political possibilities and probabilities that ‘ defy estimation by the most skilled seer. We know how the opinion of the honorable member for Wide Bay and his friends regarding the prospects of parties at the coming election will differ from that of my friends and myself. If, a week before the polling, our comments are collected, as no doubt they will be, there will be a wide discrepancy between them, and yet we shall have travelled the country, have tested public opinion at many points, and made up our minds that the stream will flow in one way or the other. One forecast will be very wrong, and the other will probably be a good deal wrong. Such being the lesson we receive at almost every election, how can we expect to forecast with certainty the political future of Australia, either with or without this agreement? Without it, we should be at sea when appealing to the electors. Without some plan, a variety of schemes would be propounded to perplexed audiences. A host of complications would arise, one member being returned for his financial opinions, another in spite of them, and , a third for some quite different, yet, to his constituents, sufficient, reason. Parliament would then have to do the best it could to frame a scheme likely to be approved by the constituencies three years later. Now we propose a definite financial arrangement. Having this agreement, we take to the electors a clearly-defined programme, which will be explained again and again by every newspaper, and from every platform, in every town and hamlet in the Commonwealth.
– If the views of those who oppose the acceptance of the agreement were published at the same length as the views of those who support it, the position would be -satisfactory.
– The honorable member’s party has a press of its own, newspapers more or less in sympathy with them, and other means which make it certain that their views will reach quite as many, though not the same, electors as we hope to reach.
– The Melbourne Age is the only newspaper which is opposing the acceptance of the agreement..
– And the Sydney Daily Telegraph.
– I should ‘be glad to discover that there are no exceptions. .
– Without the support’ of the newspapers, the Government would be in . a hopeless minority on this question.
– I have had the press with me, and, for a considerable portion of my career, pretty strongly against me, and, no doubt, will have it against me again, should I remain in politics’ much longer. The country will now have a scheme submitted whose merits and defects - especially the latter - will be fully dealt with. We ‘ shall have its decision for’ or against. That will be a great advance, worth much. Those who have sunk their personal opinions”, after having done their best to give effect to them and now enable a definite and specific scheme to be submitted for the popular verdict, will be repaid, by the great gain which will follow, for the anxiety and labour which the- problem has cost them.
– Why did not the Government submit an alternative?
– The best alternatives are “Yes” and “No.”
– The alternative is a bald negative.
– Yes. If the people are not satisfied with this scheme, it will be best for them to return to the new Parliament men who can prepare one of which they will approve. I have spoken already about the submission of issues to the people, and the conditions under which this is possible, and have expressed . my hope that referenda will increase. But the increase must be gradual, and the subjects submitted must be such as reallv evoke public interest. The consolation which we must take to ourselves when we hear our proposals travestied, turned upside down’, presented in false lights, and misinterpreted is that after all thev are being discussed and considered. We must trust to those who hold other opinions to correct misapprehensions.
– Will all the members of the Ministerial party advocate the acceptance of the Government’s scheme?
– I am not aware, though I assume that the members of the Labour party will speak with one voice. Their solidarity gives them a great advantage.
– They are not bound on this question.
– They will be by the time the election comes.
– The honorable member for Wide Bay has said that we have no mandate to submit a scheme to the people, but the last two Parliaments at least have been instructed, in general if not in specific terms, to hasten the settlement of the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States.
– Does- the honorable member think that the matter has been seriously discussed?
– Many of us have dealt with it from time to time for a long while past. Whether we have a mandate or not now is immaterial, inasmuch as the acceptance or rejection of the proposal by the people is specially provided for. Having regard to the fact that during the next four or five months the attention of Australia will be focussed upon these . financial pro- pbsals, and the issues relating tothem, we may confidently expect to obtain the deliberate and thoughtful . judgment of’ the electors. Notwithstanding prophecies of risk and disaster, we may be confident that the situation is being greatly simplified by a proposition so fair that, except in regard to its duration, no difference of opinion upon its merits exists in this House. It goes to the country indorsed in every detail by an unanimous approval of the House of Representatives given to everything except its duration, and the method of securing its duration by placing it in the Constitution.
– That is the most important point.
– It is certainly important, but it is something to be able to send to the people a proposition on which we are otherwise united. Such harmony is almost unknown in this Chamber. It is extremely rare to find such a consensus of opinion obtaining at so early a stage upon a question critical and provocative of feeling, or in which interests are so keenly touched, and so much involved, as they are in this. Let it be matched by any measure of the same character and effect within the memory of honorable members, and then, I venture to say, that we start with a greater degree of unanimity in its support than has been associated with any measure of like magnitude passed since Federation.
– That is because the Government have the best strategists on their side.
– I am speaking of questions of which the honorable member, strategist though he is, considering him from his own personal stand-point, has generally approved. But some honorable members desire to have an opportunity of refuting me. I commend to this House with confidence a practical proposal which, whatever its defects, has already met a large measure of commendation. The root of our confidence, after all, lies in the fact that if it be erroneous, it can be amended by the people of Australia, if not at the first, at the second, time of asking. The voice of the great bulk of the people of Australia, if it were defeated at any time by a combination of local interests, while the population in some of the States continues to be relatively much smaller than in others, must ultimately prevail. If, in the light of circumstances, at which we can now only guess, but which would then be actual, there should be anything in this proposal requiring to be corrected, as inevitably there will be at some dat<! - it may be five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years hence - the inevitable force of public opinion will amend it, and re-shape it to meet the circumstances of the time, and the wishes of the electors. We have laid a good foundation, and I firmly believe, speaking as one forming an opinion on the materials before us, that in the circumstances, we could not have framed a better or more acceptable scheme.
.- We have just listened to a characteristic address from the Prime Minister, who commenced with an elaborate- apology for his desertion of Nationalism, and then indulged in a mass of contradictory arguments such as we are accustomed to expect from him. I am confident that if any person were to examine the speech just made by the Prime Minister, he could find in it either side of the argument that he desired to obtain. The honorable gentleman, for instance, spoke of the submission of this issue to the people as offering no electioneering advantage to the Government, and declared that it would be entirely dissociated from the interests of candidates in the various constituencies. Later on, however, he told us that if the people did not favour this agreement, they could return men who would be prepared to substitute something else for it: If the people refused to accept the scheme put forward by the present Government, who have a majority, and desired some other arrangement, how could they obtain it unless they returned to the Treasury bench a different set of men? The remarks made by the Prime Minister on that one point amounted to a tremendous contradiction. As a matter of practical politics, the honorable gentleman knows that candidates for the various constituencies will not be able to dissociate themselves from this issue. It is in its very nature a complex and farreaching proposal, and it will be demanded of every candidate that he shall explain it to the best of his ability. He will not be able to take up the “ Yes- No “ attitude adopted in regard to Federation by the honorable member for East Sydney. He will not be able to say to the people: “ Ladies and gentlemen, the truth of the matter is this - my opinion is so-and-so. I voted one way, but I advise you to vote the other.” Is it possible for those who have deliberately expressed themselves as opposed to the placing of the agreement in the Constitution to advise their constituents to accept the Government proposal ?
– And they made that statement with almost sacred deliberation.
– I call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
– I can well understand that after the contradictory speech made by the Prime Minister, which no one could comprehend, members of the Ministerial party had to repair to their own room to discuss it amongst themselves and to endeavour to determine what it really meant. The Prime Minister took me to task because of one or two interjections that I made with the object of ascertaining what he had in his mind. But it must be remembered that the right honorablemember for East Sydney, and the Prime Minister’s right hand supporter, the Minister of Defence, were in Opposition for years ; that they complained time after time from this side of the House that speeches made by the Prime Minister were quite beyond their comprehension, and that one could find in them arguments on both sides of the question. I have no doubt that in the future, when questions are put to the Prime Minister with regard to some of the points dealt with in the speech which he has just made, he will be able to point with equal facility to the “Yea” and the “No.” The Prime Minister set up a man of straw in order that he might have something that he could readily knock down. He replied to a number of statements an regard to uni- fication, which he professed to believe had come from this side of the House, but which had never been uttered. He wished it to go forth that there was a desire on the part of the Opposition to belittle the States and the power of the States. There is nothing of the kind. There is, however, a. desire on the part of our party to preserve the national sentiment from belittlement and degradation such as that to which it has been subjected by that erstwhile Nationalist, the present Prime Minister. Take, for instance, the question of the new Protection, on which the Prime Minister has, varied his opinions very considerably. This Parliament cannot give effect to that policy except by an enlargement of its powers. Some powers in that regard are at present being exercised by the States, and to enlarge the power of the Commonwealth in this connexion would be to restrict the power of the States. There is no desire on our part to belittle the States ; but there is a desire to take to the Com- monwealth Parliament sufficient power to enable some far-reaching issues, such as that of the new Protection, to be dealt with on national lines, and effect to be given to the will of the people. It is absolutely absurd to say that because a man desires to see an enlargement of certain specific powers possessed by the Commonwealth there is on his part a concurrent desire to belittle the States; but it is quite in keeping with the Prime Minister’s present attitude that any proposal which would appear to involve an enlargement of the national side of the Commonwealth should be thought by him to be a mere scheme for belittling the” States. That is his present attitude; but it is a. tremendous departure from the noble Nationalism which he so eloquently expounded in the days gone by. I know of no one on this side of the House who advocates the centralization of all governmental control in Australia. The Labour party certainly does not. To do so would be to advocate that which is ridiculous. If effect were given to such a proposition there would be a great agitation in the Commonwealth for home rule in respect of certain matters. There are some governmental functions that can best be controlled and developed by the central authority ; there, are others that can best be controlled and developed by the State authority. There is a difference of opinion as to what powers can best toe exercised by the National Parliament and the State Legislatures respectively ; but to say that there is any authoritative opinion on the part of the leaders of the Labour movement, in the direction of the complete centralization of all the purposes of government, is, either from ignorance or party design, to invent a statement which is untrue. I agree with the honorable member for Wide Bay that even the powers now exercised by the States will have to be further distributed as the States themselves develop. Some of the States comprise huge areas. For instance, the Northern Territory, a proposal for the transfer of which has lately occupied the attention of this House, is nine times as large as England, Ireland, or Scotland ; and since there is in Ireland, notwithstanding its comparatively small area, a clamour for Home Rule, - surely, in the immense areas of Australia, a centralized form of government for all purposes could only be the forerunner of a great agitation for decentralization and home rule. There is no one on this side of the House who takes any other view.
– Oh, yes.
– I say there is not, though it suits the honorable member and- some of his colleagues to seek support- by making an assertion in which there is no truth. There is only one honorable member on this side who advocates complete unification, and even his ideas may be qualified to a considerable extent by the meaning which he attaches to the word. Some believe that there should be one supreme Governmental authority, delegating powers to the local governing bodies, while others advocate Commonwealth and State Governments, each exercising sovereign rights within its jurisdiction. The suggestion that there is a movement to centralize the whole of the Governmental authority in Melbourne, Sydney, or the Federal Capital, is a bogey erected merely in order to be knocked down; and yet that is what has engaged the eloquence of the Prime Minister thic afternoon. In re ferring to the question of the debts, the honorable gentleman spoke of the futility of predicting conditions in future years. No one asserts that it is possible to forecast the operations of the money market thirty or fifty years hence; but, in making preparations for dealing with the public debt of Australia, we can lay down a correct basis for future transactions. The proposals of the Government are fundamentally wrong, and will prevent the effective management of the debts, no matter what may be the conditions in the money market in the future. If it is impossible to make predictions of the kind, why does the Prime Minister desire to lay down a cast-iron basis for future operations? Why should there not. be some elastic arrangement, capable of meeting the changing circumstances of the future? As a fact, the Government propose to leg-rope the Commonwealth for all time, in regard to the revenue and the public debts, and so deprive us of the advantage of that elasticity which the Prime Minister himself has shown to be so important. In his peroration the Prime Minister urged that there was one part of the Government scheme in regard to which unanimity prevailed ; but he omitted to tell the House that that part has been plagiarized from the scheme-, drawn up by the Labour party at their Brisbane Conference. That is information which the Prime Minister did not afford to the public through the pages of Hansard;- but we know- that his speech of- to-day is nothing more than an electioneering device, and no doubt it will be printed in pamphlet, form, and distributed broadcast… The’ honorable gentleman did not tell us that, the Labour party were the first to suggest that method of distributing the surplus revenue; and there is no real departure from the principle of the Brisbane scheme, except in regard to the amendment of the Constitution.
– -As a matter of fact, I did not know the Labour party’s scheme when. I went to the Conference ; I had seen merely a newspaper report which was unintelligible to me.
– But the State Premiers, who dictated the present agreement -to the Prime Minister, knew the Labour party’s scheme. As a matter of fact, before the Hobart Conference, Mr. Kidston sent to me for a reprint of the scheme which I put forward here in October last year, -in order that he might supply it to the Premiers. In any case it was not necessary for the Prime Minister to know anything - he did not go to the Conference to learn, but simply to accept the dictation of the State Premiers, and he did so very humbly and subserviently. The honorable gentleman might have beenhonest enough to thank the financial experts of the Labour party for formulating the scheme which the State Premiers instructed him to accept on behalf of the people. The action of the present Government is quite consistent with that of the Liberals for some time past. When the- Labour party, which is composed . of the rank and file of the people, draft proposals or measures which are found to stand the test of public criticism, the so-called Liberal party adopt them, and impudently take all the credit. Notwithstanding the fact that members of the Government and some of their supporters have, . for some years past, denounced the Labour, party and its work’s, they have abandoned their election pledges to such an extent that some of the most vital points of their policy have been takenfrom the Labour party’s platform. At the same time, they’ always contrive to associate with such measures some conservative principle which completely nullifies any beneficial effects. The particular scheme under discussion was adopted by the State Premiers as a means ‘ of dishing the Labour party, and it is now being forced on the Commonwealth to meet the exigencies of party warfare, set forth by the so-called’ Liberal party as their very own. I have no doubt that that portion of the scheme which the Labour party originally suggested will be accepted by the people, whilethe other part, which means interference with the Constitution and the degradation of the Commonwealth - which means a disgraceful admission by this Parliament of its inability to exercise the powers conferred Upon it by the people - will meet the fate it deserves. I trust that a party will be returned to power able to evolve a constructive scheme equal to all the exigencies of the situation, and thus bring lasting good to the Commonwealth. It is a sorry sight to find gentlemen opposite, who are well qualified to rouse the national sentiment of the people, departing, .some of them in the evening of their career, from their ideals of days gone by. They then endeavoured to foster Australian ideals, whereas now they have allied themselves with a parochial, small-minded section, whose object is to limit the powers which the people gave to the Commonwealth Parliament” under the Constitution. The honorable member for Flinders told us that the Commonwealth has now to choose between the high road and the low road, and that the choice will determine our line of development. Is it to be the high road of Nationalism, or the low, dusty road of petty parochialism? I hope that the issue, when placed before the people, will be given by the press that fair play which its sacredness deserves. When we show the public that this move on the part of the Government is not only a Conservative move to limit the present powers of the Commonwealth Parliament, but also a desire in the interests of the wealthy section of the community to have hea’vy burdens of Customs taxation” placed on the shoulders of the masses in Order to save the landlords of Australia from taxation, and to prevent the effecting of any real reform in the basis of our taxation, or the wiping out of the public debt in a reasonable time, I am confident that they will rise to a full sense of their responsibilities, and not only reject the Bil) at the polls, but return the Labour party to “occupy the Treasury benches in this Parliament .in such number’s as to enable it to put forward its great constructive national proposals’ and administer them in the spirit in. which they have been framed.
– The honorable member means “ destructive.”
– They have been sufficiently constructive- for the State Premiers to plagiarize them, and dictate the result- to - the Commonwealth’ in regard to this-., agreement. - . I hope that the people will see through this device to shackle anc? fetter future generations. I think the brand which might appropriately be applied to the party sitting on the other side of the House is “ Fusion and Fetters.”
.- Not having addressed myself to this matter in Committee, I may be allowed to say a few words before the Bill passes to another place. ‘ It seems to me that the Prime Minister is now reaping the harvest of trouble sowed through all his years of office, by his recognition of ‘State Premiers in (Federal affairs. It was not unreasonable to expect those gentlemen, pampered* as they have been with the notion that they have some right to shape the affairs of the Commonwealth, to attempt to dictate to this Parliament at this stage with regard to the division of Commonwealth revenue. They have been encouraged in their usurpation of national functions by the Prime Minister’s extreme affability - -‘I will’ not say weakness, although it is doubtful whether any other leader would have submitted to the discourteous and contemptuous treatment he often received from some of the Premiers. Whatever his object was, the result has not been conducive to the interests of Federation. A charge against the Opposition^ of being afraid to trust the people comes with very ill grace from. -the Prime Minister, who was a party to the’ recent secret caucus of Premiers. He permitted the doors of the Conference room. to be shut in the: face of the public, deliberately excluded the press,, and up to the present moment has kept trie public in the dark as. to the real grounds for the agreement. In the circumstances, . the Prime Minister might ‘ have allowed” that charge . to ,b.e m,ade by’ somebody else, if there ‘ were any reason for making it at .all. .J am. not at all afraid. to trust th> people, but before .we send the. Bill to them, for their opinion, we ought to. have from .the. Prime Minister the real reasons which induced him to change the attitude that he had taken up for years with respect to the financial question. We have a right to expect him to tell us why he dissevered the question of the division of the revenue from that of the taking over of the State debts. He has told us nothing about -that. The honorable member1 for Gippsland .asked for those reasons la!st evening, but no reply was vouchsafed. While I am prepared to trust the -people with every confidence to deal with this amendment of the Constitution, being satisfied that they will refuse to enact a pro- vision which would -hamper the majority in the future, we must not forget that if the change is made in the Constitution a minority of the people will be able to keep it there. The honorable member for Parkes showed that 80,000 people could prevent any alteration of the Constitution, even if 900,000 people wanted it. I cannot see why an arrangement could not be made with the States whereby the revenue would be divided for another period of ten years, at the rate of 25s. per head, leaving a future Parliament to make any alteration that might be necessary, just as the Braddon section does with us. The Parliament of that day could, if it so desired, send the question to the people. We have in the Braddon section a basic principle which may be followed with advantage. It must be supposed that the men who framed the Constitution, and the people who adopted it, knew what they were doing when they passed that section in its present form. They knew that no Parliament could see very far into the future, and that a term of ten years was long enough for any arbitrary arrangement to exist. We have, therefore, a precedent to go upon, and we have- the experience of the past, which shows the inadvisableness of attempting to legislate too far into the future. I was much interested in the phase of the subject touched upon by the honorable member for Batman, and other sincere Protectionists. I can readily understand that if the Protective Tariff which the Prime Minister devised and induced the House to pass is to be as effective as he anticipated, and if other duties are to be imposed later on, or existing duties increased, the Customs revenue will considerably diminish, even though the population increase. I notice that the Prime Minister has not developed his argument in regard to New Zealand. He has not been able to prove his wonderful theory that, despite the incidence of a Protective Tariff, the tendency of our revenue would be to increase per capita.
– I had further figures ; but they were partly quoted by the honorable member for North Sydney.
– The Prime Minister gave us certain figures in his original speech ; but they did not establish the law which he then attempted to evolve.
– They strongly indicate that tendency.
– Only in one country in the world - New Zealand - and it has been booming largely on the strength of borrowed money for the .last ten years.
– And they show the same tendency for several other Protectionist countries.
– The honorable member did not show that the per capita return of revenue increases under a Protective Tariff.
– Out of the three countries quoted by the honorable member for Flinders - Germany, the United States, and Canada - two showed that tendency strongly.
– There may be temporary local reasons which would account for a large increase in revenue ; but to be of any value as a guide to the House in a momentous matter of this kind, the comparison should cover a long series of years. I may take it, therefore, that the honorable gentleman has not established that very important part of his case. Although he set out to demonstrate it with all the certainty that one solves a problem in Euclid, he did not succeed, and now even he appears to be in doubt about the existence of any such economic law. I think we are entitled to say out of our common sense and common experience, that a Tariff, if it is Protective, must reduce revenue.
– On the Protective duties.
– Yes ; and I presume that the ideal of the Protectionist section who follow the Prime Minister is to produce in this country everything that it requires. If that ideal is ever fully accomplished, of course we shall have no Customs revenue. At any rate, in proportion as that ideal is realized, in like measure will the revenue be reduced. That being so, the time must be close at hand when the Commonwealth will be faced with inability to pay to the States 25s. per head out of Customs and Excise revenue. When that happens, there will be two courses open. One is to impose direct taxation. There will be some difficulty about that, because by that time the States will probably have both land and income taxes, and any Federal tax must be superimposed upon them. The other course open to it is to impose revenue duties on articles of common consumption which are now admitted free. This will place an additional burden on our pioneers, on those who are carrying civilization to the remoter parts of Australia. Revenue duties are not worth much unless they are levied on commodities in general use, and presumably kerosene will be the first thing to be taxed.
– A tax on kerosene would be very unfair.
– Of course it would be. and I hope that the honorable member will not hesitate to vote against it should it be proposed. Doubtless taxes on tea and kerosene would furnish the money necessary to make up the deficit created by the payment of 25s. per capita to the States. While the imposition of revenue taxation may give no concern to a section of the House, there are honorable members to whose principles it is absolutely opposed. I have heard one of those who is supporting the agreement denounce revenue duties In the most contemptuous terms. But in supporting the agreement he is probably compelling Parliament to impose revenue duties in the near future. Thus his position is illogical and difficult to defend. Now, as to the position of affairs should this measure pass, I confess that I do not wholly share the alarmist apprehensions that have been expressed. The power of this Parliament over taxation is not menaced. We shall still be able to raise whatever money is required, even if our share of the Customs revenue should prove insufficient. If a majority of the people are determined to vote for an arrangement which will place them at the mercy of a minority later on, have we a right to intercept them ? Certainly, it would have been better to follow the Braddon precedent, and make an arrangement for another ten years; a period quite far enough to look ahead, especially in matters of finance. I do not disguise from myself that certain sinister influences are at work, and will operate at the coming election to induce a majority to bind themselves to a compact which a small minority can always maintain against the wish of the majority. The true position will, however, be placed before the electors by the Labour press and party ; and my hope is that the national sentiment may dictate a settlement which posterity may have no cause to regret.
Mr. THOMAS (Barrier) [6.81.- I do not intend at this stage to occupy much time, but I feel obliged to state briefly my reason for voting against the proposed agreement. Whilst unification is not part of the platform of the Labour party, and I believe an overwhelming majority of its members, including the honorable members for Wide Bay and West Sydney strongly oppose it, I personally am in favour of it. When a member of the New South Wales
Parliament, I stated, during the discussion of the draft Constitution Bill, that in my opinion we should go further towards unification. I said then that I was in favour of substituting a National Parliament for the existing State Parliaments, and of constituting that Parliament of one House, consisting ‘ of members elected on an adult suffrage. I still hold those views. Had effect been given to them, neither the State Parliaments nor the Senate would exist. Many objections have been raised to unification, - and no doubt the people are against it. Were the public feeling otherwise, we should have had it. It has been pointed out that Victoria and Queensland were at one time part of New South Wales, and that there was only one Parliament for the whole of the eastern portion of Australia, but that . the centralization of government in Sydney caused so much irritation that the creation of other Parliaments was agitated for, and separation took place. But it must be remembered that that happened before the general use of telegraphs, telephones, and railways. To-day we can communicate more easily and quickly with Perth and Brisbane than we could with Adelaide and Ballarat fifty years ago. The electric wire and the railroad have practically annihilated distance. This makes unification possible. I am opposed to the imposition of Customs duties of any kind for the obtaining of revenue. Had I my way, no Government would raise revenue by that means. I would abolish all revenue-producing duties.
– Would the honorable member impose duties to keep out products ?
– I might impose protective or prohibitive duties, but I would not have revenue duties. The solvency of th; Commonwealth and the States does not depend on the Customs revenue. In my opinion, it is not the foreigner who pays our Customs taxation. At one time the Ministers of Defence and Home Affairs shared that view with me.
– We have to pay some of these duties now.
– I take it that the honorable gentleman still holds that the foreigner does not pay the Customs taxation.
– He pays it, and passes it on.
– So that’ ultimately we pay it. There are some who honestly believe that the foreigner pays the Customs duties. But the Ministers to whom I have alluded, and the Attorney-General, do not hold that view. If we are correct, the solvency of the Commonwealth and of the States does not depend on the Customs and Excise revenue levied to pay for the services of Government. T recognise, however, that I am in a hopeless minority.; that the majority of the people of Australia believe that certain Customs duties should, be imposed, and that it is therefore necessary for us to deal with the revenue derived from that source. The State Treasurers ought to be able to tell with some degree of precision what amount they are to receive from the Commonwealth from year to year. I recognise that they are placed in an awkward position if, in preparing their Budgets, they are unable to ascertain until the last moment what they are likely to receive from the “ Commonwealth, and that it is only fair to the States that some definite arrangement should be made. I have no objection to the proposed per capita payment of 25s. per annum. That is a fair and reasonable amount to return to the States, and’: I should not object to giving some measure of stability to the agreement in order that the Treasurers of the States might know fromr.year to year what they were likely to receive from the Commonwealth. But the objection which ‘I hold, in common with’ those who have supported the amendments moved by the honorable member for Mernda, is that if this agreement is embodied in the Constitution -the difficulty of removing it will be practically insurmountable. We have a perfect right to trust the people; but whilst I am in favour of this or’ any other agreement being submitted to the will, of the majority, I’ feel that it is unjust, to thosewho come after us that a minority may be- enabled^ against ‘ the will- of - the. majority, to. retain, this agreement in the ‘ Constitution once - it is placed . there. It is somewhat interesting to look , up the ‘ views expressed by some ‘ honorable members, and ‘more especially by representatives of New. South Wales, on the Constitution Bill - when “it was’ being” submitted to.- a re ferendum df the people. In the Sydney
– Not necessarily.
Mr.THOMAS.-Does’ it mean that that amount to be . returned to the. States -can be raised by “land taxation or.’ from any other ‘source?
– That is so’
– Do the State . Trearsu’i.ers imagine 4hat this amount will be raised . by the . imposition of. a land tax.? Is it not understood that it is to be deriyejd from Customs duties ?’
-What is understood is immaterial. The money must come out of “the ‘general revenue.
– If the people’ of. Australiacan clearly and definitely understand that : the . agreement ( does not . necessarily, mean that the money to be ‘handed to ‘the
States is to be obtained from Customs taxation, then I am very pleased. But it is generally understood that it will be necessarvto raise it in that way. I am glad to have . the Postmaster-General’s interjection, and if his statement is correct, then one of my objections to the agreement is somewhat modified. Still, I do not think it fair to posterity to place this agreement in the Constitution, and to say that this money must be found for all time, by. means of Customs, land, or any other taxation. The people of Australia to-day may favour such an agreement, but it is unjust to insert it in the Constitution, knowing, as ‘we do, that it will compel the people twenty-five or thirty years hence to raise revenue in a . specific way. Whilst I might be more ready to support a referendum to the people on a proposal to return to the States 25s’. per head of the population out- of revenue raised by means of land taxation, yet, however much I favour land values taxation, I should still oppose the insertion of such a provision in the Constitution. We ought not to dictate to posterity how revenue shall be raised. Much of the difficulty that has arisen could have been obviated if, instead of proposing that this agreement should be. placed in the Constitution without any limitation as to its duration, it had been proposed that it should operate for a period of ten or twelve years, and that it should then be automatically submitted once more to the people, and, if not reaffirmed,- should lapse. Notwithstanding my views in regard to direct taxation and unification, my main objection to this agreement is that once it is inserted in the Constitution by the will of a majo rity of the people, a minority . maykeep it there, despite the wish of the majority.
– A minority can also keep it out.
– But a majority cannot take it out once it is inserted.
-I should have liked a national referendum. Some honorable members opposite have been accusing our party of being afraid to trust the people; but they are not. If it were proposed simply to appeal to the people of Australia, irrespective of the States, to express their approval or disapproval of this agreement, and not to deal with it as a Constitutional amendment requiring a majority of the people and a majority of the States either to put it in or to take it out of the “ Constitution, there would be nothing to cavil at.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.45 p.m.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin) proposed -
That this -Bill be now read a third time.
Bill is to enable the Federal Parliament, at any time it may be desired to do so, to take over the whole of the State debts, and I have expressed my view entirely in favour of the measure. It was, 1 think, a serious oversight on the part of the Federal Convention not to provide for this in the Constitution itself ; but doubtless the members, of the Convention thought that one of the first acts of the Parliament would be to take over the debts, though, as a matter of fact, it has been one of the last things thought of. Recent discussions show that some of the Premiers of the Statesare not favorably disposed to the Commonwealth taking over the debts ; but, in my opinion^ this is a desirable amendment of the Constitution, and I shall do all I can to facilitate its being carried into effect. It is not necessary to discuss the measure at length ; and I hope that we shall have the unanimous verdict from the people.
Debate (on motion by Sir John Quick) adjourned to a later hour of the day.
Debate resumed from nth November (vide page 5478), on motion by Mr. Fuller -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
.- There are one or two amendmentsof which I have given notice, but my object in rising now is to say a few words in regard to the administration of the Act. I give the Department credit for a desire to see every qualified person enrolled, but it must be admitted that, in some cases, at. any rate, there is a want of care in this respect. For instance, when a claim is put in, there is no means by which the claimant can know whether it has been granted until the rolls are printed. Of course, there are registrars and registrars - some are careless, or may have personal or political ‘ predilections - and in view of their small remuneration we cannot wonder that there is a certain amount of laxity. When a claim is sent in, it is supposed to be entered in a book; and I suggest that that book shpuld be open to inspection during reasonable office hours.
– That will be so when the Bill is brought into operation.
– I am glad to hear of that desirable amendment. In regard to offences under the Act, my experience during the last election shows that while many are committed, great difficulty is experienced in having any action taken. In one case I submitted the most conclusive evidence, but the Department refused to take any steps, though it is hard to see where else the responsibility can lie. If a man commits a burglary, the police take action, and the sufferer is merely a witness in the case; and a similar policy should be pursued under the Electoral Act. The then Minister of Home Affairs told me that the Department was quite unable to do anything in the matter, and I was informed that I or anybody else could prosecute; in fact, the Department itself seemed absolutely helpless. When a penalty is provided for an infringement of the law, it surely ought to be the dutv of the Department to see that the law is upheld. I also desire to say that I am very sceptical as to the value of postal voting. The Labour party have been twitted with being instrumental in securing postal voting, and to that we must plead guilty, because, as a matter of fact, we were most anxious that those who could not get to the poll on election day should not be disfranchised. Unfortunately, like many other good things, postal voting has been most grossly abused ; and I have come to the conclusion that the disadvantages of the system far outweigh its advantages. I intend, if no one else moves in the matter, to propose that the whole of Part X of the Act be deleted. The frauds committed under the system were very glaring at the last election; and in the State elections in Queensland - where, however, the system has now been abolished - the abuses would have convinced anybody as to the necessity for reform.
– It must be remembered that postal voting in Queensland was not safeguarded by any regulations.
– That is so; but evenunder the Commonwealth Act, which, provides for regulations, there is a great deal of what I may term corruption.
– What sort of” fraud could there be?
– As a case in point, I may say that a gentleman and his wife, who were living within 300 yards at mostfrom a polling booth, obtained postal voting papers, on the plea that they might be unwell or something of that sort on polling day ; but, as a matter of fact, they were in perfect health, and both of them, in a manner that looked like “ rubbing it in,” passed the booth several timeson the day of election.
– There was nofraud there. They only voted once, I hope.
– That is so; but I regard it as nothing else but fraud.
– Will the honorablemember guarantee that these people voted’ only once?
– I would not guarantee it, but I believe that they did not votemore than once.
– Did they do any particular harm?
– I do not say they did, but a great many cases of the kind” would do harm. I may say that this casewas not brought under the notice of theDepartment, though others of a moreglaring character were; and I desireto know who is to take action.
– I’ was anxious to takeaction in several cases, but found all sorts of difficulties in the way.
– That is whatI am complaining of, and I contend that” these difficulties ought to be removed. It is very difficult to make the conditions, sufficiently stringent to prevent abuses, and’ I am willing to admit that it is better torun a little risk in that direction than that people who are honestly entitled to a voteshould be deprived of it.
– If women who live twenty or thirty miles from a polling booth in bigcountry districts, are not allowed postal’ votes, they will be deprived of all opportunity of voting.
– The cases where electors live at such great distances from polling booths would be very few, and if they did occur a difficulty would arise in securing a qualified witness to sign the postal ballotpaper. I know that our regulations are much more stringent than those under the State law, but I have seen so much abuse of the postal voting system in State elections that I feel it would inflict no great hardship if it were done away with altogether. When the Labour party asked for the introduction of the system in the first place it was on behalf of seamen and others who were prevented -from voting by circumstances over which they had no control. If necessary, the case of the seamen could be met by making every coastal steamer a polling booth. I wish to refer also to the question of hired vehicles, with regard to which I have given notice of an amendment. In an access of virtue which was very commendable this House declared that no hired vehicles should be allowed to be used under certain pains and penalties, but unhappily we find that they are still very frequently used and in such a way that it is almost impossible to discover who are paying for them, although there can be no doubt that they are paid for. Motor cars are also largely used. I suppose in most cases they are not hired, but are lent. Still, that is an infringement of the spirit if not of the letter of the Act, and as the chauffeur must be paid for his day’s work, and petrol supplied, and possibly repairs effected, some charge is probably made in an indirect way. The fact is that some of us are very severely handicapped indeed by the law as it now stands. At the last election friends of mine offered to provide cabs for me and pay for them out of their own pockets without cost to my committee or myself, but I was afraid to avail myself of the offer lest I should find myself prosecuted. Although, as I have said, the Department is very lax in some cases, I feared that if I did anything of that sort they would come down severely upon me. Another amendment which I have circulated has reference to newspapers. There has teen an outcry that I desire to muzzle the press. I freely admit that I desire to muzzle it for a limited period - from nomination day until after polling-day. But I would point out that the press of to-day does not live up to the tradition set to it by the press of earlier days. At onetime the press was the redresser of wrongs, and held the scales of justice fairly between party and party and man and man. Today it has descended from its high pedestal and actually crawls in the gutter.
– Not in South Australia.
– Other honorable members from that State say that thepress there is just as virulent and just as culpable as that of any other State. The press wilfully misrepresents things.
– It does so all round.
– The honorable member, of course, is referring to the. Age.
– Probably to The Worker.
– If the right honorable member thinks The Worker is as bad as any other paper, I will agree to shut it up as well as the others for a certain period. All I ask for is fair play.
– In South Australia the press shuts us up. It gave us one report only.
– If a man had a long; purse, and was willing to pay advertising rates for reports of his speeches, he could secure publication; but by doing so he would probably exceed the limits of expenditure allowed by the Act. The Treasurer has the reputation of being fair and honorable, and a sportsman, and I appeal to the sporting instincts of the men on the Ministerial benches to see that we have fair play in this matter. Even the honorable member for Maribyrnong, when he went up to the Cyclorama building on Eastern Hill, would, I am sure, be shocked to see an eight-stone man enter the ring with a. twelve-stone man. But that is exactly analogous to our position. The party to which I belong goes into the political fight, with both hands tied behind its back. The honorable member for Maribyrnong, on the other hand, has his case putbefore the public by a paper which has a daily circulation of over 100,000, and is read, possibly, by 500.000 or 600,000 people every morning. But what means have we to put: our case before the public?
– The Worker.
– The Worker comesont only once a week, and has a circulation of 20,000 at the most. I shall havemore to say on the matter when I move my amendment, and am merely now indicating’ the lines upon which I intend to appeal tothe Committee in the interests of fair play and manliness. We ought, at any rate, tohave the concession made to us that, for a few days prior to polling day - the period’ might be made as short as the Government please - the newspapers should make nocomment on any political matter whatever-
In South Australia candidates are not allowed to address meetings for a . given time prior to polling day. That is an acknowledgment of the principle for which I contend. The idea underlying the restriction is that the electors should be allowed to make up their minds in peace and quietness, before they go to the poll, on the arguments that have been put before them.
– They are not allowed to do so in practice, because others, who are not candidates for the particular electorate, come in and address meetings.
– Everybody could not be prevented from speaking ; but in South Australia, as far as possible, certain people are prevented from speaking, and, so far as it goes, that is a recognition of the principle for which I contend. I do not suppose that I shall be able to carry the amendment; but when I move it, I shall give honorable members on the Ministerial benches an opportunity of showing whether they possess those sporting instincts, and that love of fair play, with which the Australian is generally credited. . I hope that 1 shall get some support, at any rate, from that side.
– This measure is of considerable importance to the electors generally.
-It is only a machinery Bill. No principle is involved in it.
– It involves the important principle of postal voting, which is now exciting considerable attention. The system was introduced first by South Australia, and the Commonwealth followed her example shortly afterwards. lt was originally intended that the principle should be limited to exceptional cases.
– It was introduced by us to deal with seamen only.
– The reason was that it is not always possible for seamen who are following their vocation to record their votes at a polling place. The only alternative would be to adopt the suggestion of the honorable member for Herbert, and to proclaim each coastal ship a polling place. It was considered that this provision should be made to meet cases of sickness and ill health, and to allow those to vote who were too far from polling places to be able to attend there. The tendency has been to extend the privilege. The distance from a polling booth at which it is now necessary for an elector to reside in order to be able to vote by post is less than was at first provided for.
– Under this Bill, a postal voting certificate can be obtained on the ground of distance only by electors living 7 miles from a polling place,, whereas, formerly it could be obtained only by an elector living 7 miles from the polling place for which he was enrolled.
– The increase of facilities has disclosed serious weaknesses in the provision, and this will be emphasized as it becomes more largely used. It lends itself to the exercise of undue influence by those who wish for the success of particular candidates. Such” persons, sometimes bring pressure to bear to induce electors to vote by post who, if left to follow their own inclinations, would go to the poll. Queensland has followed the lead of the Commonwealth in this matter, but has gone much further, and the experience of the election before last there showed that, unless an alteration was made,’ vote by ballot would be seriously interfered with.
– In Queensland, every woman has the right to vote by post.
– Practically any woman can vote- by post under our legislation. All that it is necessary for a woman to do to secure a postal voting certificate, is to sign a form declaring that she’ has reason to believe that she will be unable to attend the polling booth at which she is enrolled, because of ill-health, or absence. On election day, she may neither be ill, nor away from home, and in a number of cases, votes are recorded by post, although the voters were able to go to the polling places. Some vote by post for personal reasons apart from distance, or the state of their health, and others because of the pressure put upon them by interested parties. Abuses might be prevented by confining postal voting to seamen, persons who are ill, and, possibly, persons who are living at a great distance from polling booths. In the country, 7 miles is not a great distance. Many of the difficulties in the way of recording votes have been removed by form “ Q,” which enables an elector who is away from home to vote anywhere within his State at certain specified polling booths, and under conditions insuring the supervision of properly appointed officials. In every sub-division, there is at least one polling booth where persons who are not enrolled for it may record their votes.
– The honorable member refers, to booths where there are subdivisional returning officers.
– Where there are divisional or subdivisional returning officers. The electoral districts are subdivided, with a view to working the polling places from a common centre, and each subdivision contains at least one polling place where voting can be done under the “ Q “ form. That largely meets the difficulties for which the postal voting is provided, and is not . so liable to abuse. Any person can obtain a postal voting certificate by signing a mere declaration. It has to-be witnessed by some one belonging to certain authorized classes. But the witnesses are often strong partisans, and take advantage of their position to advance the cause of their friends, in a manner which would be impossible in a polling booth. Whilst a partisan may secure some immediate advantage for those whom he is supporting, the improper use of electoral machinery is an abuse which may cut both ways. The purity of our elections will be maintained only by eliminating, as far as possible all opportunities for abuse, and it is the duty of all who desire that the voting shall be the true expression of the popular feeling to see that everything is done to this end. There are some who practically advocate the substitution of postal voting for the method of voting at polling booths. Some of these are supposed to represent large political factors. 1 was a member of a Committee which was appointed to investigate the conduct of the first Federal election. The possibility, of abuse under the postal voting provisions’ was made evident to us, but a witness who represented a large political party, connected with the Kyabram movement, I believe, thought that the amending legislation should be so drafted that every person should have the right to vote by post -without restrictions. He advocated that the conditions surrounding the recording of a vote of that character should be made as easy as possible. One of the reasons advanced was the difficulty experienced by political parties in obtaining a representative vote. It was pointed out that at every election a large number of’’ electors, either because of conditions over which th’ev had no control, or because they were indifferent to the citizen rights conferred upon them, failed to record their votes, and it was urged that the provisions of the postal voting system should be extended and made as -easy as possible to meet such conditions. The experience of that system in connexion with both Commonwealth and State, elections has beensuch that any extension or easement of the- facilities must be viewed with a jealous eye, particularly on - the part of those who wish to preserve the purity of the ballot. It was pointed out that an election for the great city of Melbourne- was declared void because of irregularities, and that a great abuse of this system obtained..
– And the honorable mem- . ber’s leader, and others, advocated it strongly even after that.
– It. was originally advocated by the Labour party; to meet the case of seamen- and others whom I, have indicated.
– The Leader of the Opposition . based his advocacy- of the principle on a much broader ground. He put it that it was the natural corollary of universal suffrage.
– He has learned a lot since then, and I am glad to know that he is ready to profit by experience. The honorable member for Wide Bay has had, since then, the experience of an election in his own State.
– Under a different set of, conditions. ‘
– The only’ difference is that the facilities for voting by post in that State are a little easier than they are under the Commonwealth law, and the Minister seems to be travelling in the direction of removing the conditions that’ surround the use of the system in connexion with Commonwealth elections. To the extent that he does so, to that extent . will he cause a repetition in Federal politics of the undesirable experience of the States, which has led. the Leader of the Opposition to desire that the system should be hedged about with more safeguards.
– He has not so expressed himself.
– If the Minister proposes to follow Queensland legislation in this regard, he will find the Leader of the Opposition’s vote against him.
– This is quite different from the legislation of Queensland.
– Only to the extent that more safeguards are proposed than exist in connexion with the system in force in Queensland. The original Commonwealth Act embodying this principle was hedged about with more safeguards than are now proposed, yet the inquiry to which I have referred showed that even under it gross abuses had occurred. It was said that an army of canvassers, popularly known as “ the flying angels,” visited the ‘ residences of electors, and that a large number of votes were secured in contravention of the Act. “ It was pointed out that, in one case, the canvassers were accompanied by a police constable, who witnessed the signatures of the voters, although he was not empowered to do so by the Act. Since then the provisions in this regard have been extended, and, if I mistake not, it would be competent for a constable, under this Bill, to witness signatures to postal votes. The experience of both the Commonwealth and the States should make the Minister wary in proposing to give greater facilities for the abuse of the postal voting system. When abuses are discovered, the offenders should be severely punished. One of the peculiarities of the Act is that it provides that certain things shall not be done. Certain actions are declared to be illegal, and punishable in a certain way, but the Department holds that it is no part of its duty to put the legal machinery into motion. It is wellknown that in connexion with elections unprincipled people are prepared to publish circulars damaging to the character and general reputation of candidates to whom they are opposed.
– I can show the honorable member some real gems that were circulated against me by a Labour candidate.
– And I can show the honorable member some fairly strong ones that his crowd circulated against me.
– Very likely.
– Not only can I show the honorable member some gems of the kind referred to, but I was followed by them.
– That was very bad.
– Tt was bad for me, but those who distributed such circulars did not accomplish their object. It was to prevent practices of the kind that, in an amending Bill, it was provided that such circulars should bear the authority of the person issuing them and the imprint of the printer. Tt is a punishable offence, to publish circulars that do not comply with those provisions, yet, although the abuse is as great as ever it was. there has not been a single conviction. The attention of the Department has been directed to these abuses, and its reply has been that it is no part of its duty to put the law in motion. That may be an easy way of escaping a difficulty, but the Department would have acted more honorably had it refrained from proposing such legislation. When the provision in question was inserted in the amending Bill, the Minister in charge of it said that he would not take the . responsibility of enforcing such legislation. I am convinced, however, that every honorable member who voted for it did so on the understanding that if the Department discovered an abuse, it would vindicate its own legislation. If that had not been understood, some other method would have been devised to deal with such offences. Does the Minister propose in this Bill to remedy the difficulty?
– The matter is not dealt with, in this Bill.
– Now that the matter has .been brought under the notice of the Minister, I trust that he will see that there is inserted in the Bill, before it leaves the Committee, a clause giving the Department power to enforce the provisions of the original Act. It will only be necessary to make one or two examples, and a very grave abuse and miscarriage of justice will be removed with much benefit to the community. Earlier in the day I questioned the Minister of Home Affairs in regard to the powers of the divisional returning officers, and, although I speak only as a layman, I take exception to the legality of the exercise of such powers. The reply seemed to me to indicate that the new practice introduced in the Department is perfectly legal. If that be so, the Minister should make some provision in his machinery Bill for meeting the new state of affairs. First of all, it is laid down as a constitutional principle, that an elector shall vote only once at an election; and, apparently in order to keep within the spirit of the Constitution, the Electoral Act provides that a divisional returning officer shall not exercise a vote as an elector, but shall have the power to give a casting vote if necessary.
– That is, providing the divisional returning officer lives in the division in which he acts.
– But according to the new practice, a divisional returning officer need not be a resident of the division in which he exercises his functions ; and in that case he ‘may vote as an elector even in the polling booth over which he presides.
– There are only two cases in the whole Commonwealth, one in Melbourne and one in Svdney.
– But it is possible for there to be as many cases as there are divisional returning officers.
– We cannot expect them to live in the citv.
– Does the Minister say that in the great cities of Melbourne and Sydney there are not to be found competent resident divisional returning officers? Under the circumstances it is possible for one man to exercise two votes - his vote as an elector and a casting vote.
– It is not probable, and there is no danger.
– But it is possible, and I do not know that there is no danger. I understand that the legal opinion is that one vote is exercised as a man and an elector, and the other vote is exercised by the officer merely as a machine or instrument of the Department to determine an election. But if that advice is good, why not give the officer who lives in the electorate the same right?
– What the honorable member is suggesting is that we should takeaway from a man his original vote.
– But the Minister is taking away the original vote from every other divisional returning officer.
– The opinion quoted is that of the law officers in regard to the old Act.
– That may be so; but when the Minister finds that there is a practice which does an injustice, it is his duty to provide a remedy.
– I do not see the necessity in these cases.
– But a multiplicity of instances is possible. Will the Minister undertake to say that there will be no more?
– I shall not prophesy ; but the position arises under an Act for which the honorable member is equally responsible with myself.
– I desire provision made to meet an inequality which has arisen, not so much as the result of special legislation, but rather as the result of legal interpretation. While I do not pro fess to be able to give a legal opinion, I think there is not only an injustice, but an infringement of ; the ‘ Constitution; However, I have done’ my duty in calling at-, tention to” the matter. If two officers can be singled out and clothed with extra power, all officers ought to be dealt with similarly. There is no need” to introduce special legislation, because we have before us a machinery Bill by means of which justice could be done. What I suggest is that the postal -voting system ought to be hedged round with safeguards, that the Department be armed with the necessary power and the obligation,, to enforce the punishments provided in the Act for offences, and that the officers shall be treated fairlyall round. I undertake to say that the divisional returning officer who resides outside his division is not more intelligentor impartial than the officer who resides in the division where he performs his duties.
.- I happened to be away at Oodnadatta when the Bill was previously before the House, and, therefore, I should like to take the present opportunity to say a few words. I think I may say, without egotism, that my experience of matters electoral is just as valuable, if not more valuable, and is, at any rate, more bitter than that of any other member of the House. The honorable member for Calare has dealt generally with the subject of postal voting. I was one who assisted to pass the first Electoral Act, and it was with pleasure that I voted in favour of postal voting, innocently thinking that the right would be honestly and legitimately used. I have learned, by experience,, that the system is not used but abused; and while I do not desire to decry my own State, I must admit that, in some quarters, the electors there are pastmasters in all kinds of discreditable electoral practice.. ;I am sorry to say that my electorate seems to be. so to speak, the nursery of all kinds of fraud, from land acquisition in the early davs to the manipulation of State elections later on, and, still later, the exploiting of Commonwealth elections. I heard the honorable member’ for Barker say that these things could not be done in South Australia. I hope they are not done there, but however carefully we may hedge the postal voting system round with restrictions. I venture to say. that fraud is always likely to take place.
– South Australia is not free from it.
– The testimony of another member from that State rather dims the halo placed around its head bv the honorable member for Barker. The election frauds that took place in the early days in the States led this Parliament to embody in its electoral law restrictions which we thought would prevent similar occurrences in Commonwealth elections, because I am sure. that every honorable member, no matter what his political convictions are, desires that the vote cast shall always be a true reflex of the opinions of the people. But the safeguards provided in the Bill with regard to postal voting, while theoretically very strong, in practice are as weak as tissue paper. Let me show how the fraud comes in, and how there is no cheek upon it.If Brown, or some one renresenting himself as Brown, sends an application to the divisional returning officer for a postal certificate, the returning officer, instead of being compelled to send it direct to the applicant, can send it to an agent who is acting, not only for Brown, but for others.
– It is sent only to the care of the agent.
– That is exactly where the fraud comes in, because Brown may be represented by some other Brown, and may never see the certificate.
– The people in the honorable member’s electorate are up to every move.
– The Treasurer knows that well. When he was Minister of Home Affairs. an incident took place, perhaps by inadvertence on his part, which did the Commonwealth a great injury. It happened in connexion with the disputed election for Riverina. When I took my seat in this House on the 4th June, 1904, I asked for the production of all the papers in connexion with that election in order to prove to- the House and the country the frauds that had taken place, but the right honorable gentleman informed me that the whole of the papers had been -burnt!
SirJohn Forrest.- I did not burn them. ‘
-I did not say that the right honorable member did.. I merely mention the case so that the present and all future ‘Ministers of Home Affairs may know what to avoid in the future.
– How ‘were the papers burnt?
– They were ordered to be destroyed.
– By whom?
– I presume by the Minister. At’ any rate, his answer to me is on the records of Hansard. I am not imputing anything ‘improper to him, but am pointing out a danger. When I pursued the matter a little further my attention was called toa section in ‘ the Act providing that the papers should be retained until the election could be no’ longer questioned. I suppose the Minister or his officers regarded the election as closed, seeing that the matter had been decided by the Court of ‘Disputed Returns. Technically that was right, but the ‘result was to deprive the House of evidence which would have enabled many of the frauds that were perpetrated at that election to be effectively prevented for the future.
– The papers could not show them, could they?
– The papers’ would have become public documents if laid on the table of the House.
– Not ballot-papers, surely ?
– Yes, undoubtedly. Those papers were shown not only to myself, but to a number of others, including officers in the Home Affairs Department. They saw the evidences of fraud, and can bear out my statements to-day. The production of some of the rolls, ballotpapers, and postal voting-papers in connexion with that election, would possibly have put some of the persons responsible for. what took place in. gaol. There were a large number of. complaints in regard to that election, every one of which would have been amply verified by . the papers. One of the cases was as follows : - An individual whose name I need not. mention was the manager of a number of stations, and also ajustice of the peace, and, therefore, an authorized witness for postal ballot-papers. He had a large number of employes under him. He applied for certificates in ‘their names. He received them, took them to the employes, and got them filled up without any other witness being present. He received their votes, arid was supposed to post them back to the divisional returning officer. He indicated to his employes the way in which he wished their votes to be cast, and they ‘were practically under duress to vote as he directed, or lose their employment. T believe most of them voted accordingly for the candidate whom he favoured, although they really wanted’ to vote another way. The Department, knowing what had taken place, but finding that it could not obtain sufficient proof to enable it’ to mete out punishment, refused, after that election, to trust any individual in the electorate to conduct its affairs there, but sent up one of its own officers. My experience and knowledge of the postal voting system leads me to the conclusion that the safety of the Commonwealth and its electors lies in the direction of restricting its use to cases of actual illness or absence at sea. In all other cases, if the elector cannot find time or make arrangements to cast his vote at a polling place, it may be better that he should lose his franchise for the time being than that present conditions should be allowed to continue. Arrangements could be made by which those who were not entitled by illness or absence at sea to obtain a postal voting certificate, could apply for “Q” forms at the nearest polling place on the day of election.- If an elector were in the district of Calare, and made a declaration on a “Q” form that he was enrolled for a particular subdivision in Queensland, Western Australia, or Tasmania, the returning officer should be empowered to let him vote for that subdivision, holding back the vote until he could communicate with the returning officer for the subdivision for which the vote was cast, as is done under the absent voters’ provision.
– That procedure would be less liable to abuse than is postal voting.
– Yes ; ‘ because no vote would be counted until if was made pretty certain by reference to the roll for the subdivision that it had been rightly cast. I was informed the other day that only assistant or divisional returning officers are empowered to accept declarations under form “Q” that the absent voter cannot go into any polling booth. I do not know why it should be necessary for absent voters to go to polling booths where there are assistant returning officers. Before the amendment of the Act, the “ Q “ form could be used by any one voting outside his district ; and, in some cases, outside his State ; and it seems to me that if it could be used in the manner which I have suggested, it would meet many of the requirements for which postal voting was instituted. In Committee, I shall move to restrict postal voting absolutely to those who are incapacitated by ill- health from- visiting a polling place, and to those who are at sea.
– The “honorable member would not allow those who are living at a distance from a polling place to vote by post?
– I would not. The honorable member spoke so fully on this subject, that I have not verv much more to say. In regard to the collection of the rolls, I was under the impression that it was arranged with the State authorities that police officers should be told off to visit every house in allotted areas with application forms. I understood that it would be their duty to act as authorized witnesses, and see that application forms were properly tilled in, afterwards forwarding them, through the post, or in some other way, to the registrar for the district. Cases have come to my knowledge, however, in which the police have been content to call at houses, asking who the inmates were, and who were entitled to be enrolled by reason of age and length of residence. It was left to the individuals concerned to fill up the forms to the best of their ability, or to allow them to remain unfilled. The Minister asked me to mention a specific case. That I am prepared to do now, though privately, because I do not wish to get a policeman into trouble by making his name public. The honorable gentleman will be satisfied, after hearing my statement, that there is ground for an inquiry as to the extent to which what I complain of has been done. What we all desire is to ascertain the true opinions of the people of the country. For that purpose, it is, first of all, necessary that all duly qualified electors shall be enrolled. Electors must be protected against their own carelessness or indifference; and if they will not put their names on the application forms, the police should do it for them, after asking the necessary questions. I -hope that there are not many cases of the kind to which I have referred. If there are, a great many persons will be disfranchised throughnot knowing how to deal with the forms.
– There are . many cases in which the.police say that they have sentinnames, but the names do not appear in the rolls.
– I do not know how that can be prevented ; but strict inquiry should be made to ascertain whether the fault-lies with the Police Department or with ‘the registrars. Another suggestion ‘I wish to make . to. the Minister is that after each election, lists should be compiledof those who have voted by post, both men and women. They should be filed in the head-office of each State, and after they have been carefully checked, made public. Of course, no intimation will be given as to how the votes have been cast ; but this publication would lead to a scrutiny which would have the effect of scaring those who now use the postal-voting provisions improperly. I do not wish to mention names, because the papers have been burnt, and I cannot prove my assertions ; but I know of many cases in which this provision has been abused. Had the names been published, it would not have happened a second time. It is not illiterate persons, or those in the lower social ranks who commit this abuse, but persons who ought to be patterns of virtue. There would be no violation of the secrecy of the ballot if what I propose were done; but a very salutary check would be exerted to prevent abuse of the postal-voting provisions. I have had to pay dearly for my experience in electoral matters. Parliament made the law, and I had to pay for its interpretation, I found that when I had abundant evidence to convict persons of fraud, and was prepared to lay a charge, the Department, following the advice of the AttorneyGeneral of the day, would not initiate a prosecution. It wished to put the whole trouble and cost on me. I think that it is the duty of the Department - and the Bill should be amended to make that clear - to prosecute in every case in which a candidate or other person declares that fraud has been perpetrated. I hope that the Minister will take a special note of this matter. No honorable member cares to institute a prosecution except in the defence of his rights. The Act provides for various penalties, but the Minister knows that, although cases in which fraud has been clearly proved have been remitted to him by his own officers, no prosecution has been initiated.
– The Department holds that it is no part of its duty to initiate prosecutions.
– I join issue with the Department in that regard. When it obtains proof of fraud it should initiate a prosecution.
– It ought to be responsible for such prosecutions.
– Exactly. The Minister of Home Affairs is a member of the legal profession, and I hope and believe that he will look carefully into the matter, with a view of making provision in this Bill for the initiation of prosecutions. The refusal of the Department to initiate prosecutions is the result of a decision given by the Chief Justice of the High Court in my own appeal case. Those acting for me in a professional capacity had abundant proof that certain electoral offences had been committed, ‘but His Honour, although the head of the Court of Disputed Returns, said that he had no power to deal with them. He declared that they had to be brought before a lower Court. The knowledge of the absence of machinery to punish offenders has led to the committal of offences which would not otherwise have taken place.
– People understand now that there is nothing to fear.
– That is so. Men who used to shake in their shoes now say, no doubt, “ The Chief Justice of the High Court cannot punish us if we abuse the Act ; the only man who can is So-and-so, and he dare not touch us for reasons which need not be stated.” I come now to the question of the rolls which are now being compiled. A new system is being introduced in that a large number of polling-places that were previously individualized are now being dealt with under a collective system. The rolls are accompanied by maps showing the boundaries of the subdivisions, of which there may be twenty or thirty in a large country electorate.
– And also the parishes.
– The honorable member has evidently jumped at the conclusion I at first formed that various names shown on the maps were those of parishes, whereas in reality they are the names of sheep stations.
– The maps are the most up-to-date that can be obtained from the Lands Departments.
– I do not deny that ; but I do say that they are of no value for electoral purposes. What object is served by placing on the map .the names of various places at which there are no polling booths? The object of supplying with the list of voters a map of the electorate should be to furnish more information to the electors, but, as a matter of fact, a great deal of useless information is supplied. A man who is living on the borders of a subdivision wants to know primarily the name of the nearest polling-place at which he can record his vote. I recognise that the cost of altering these maps in the direction I have suggested would be very great, but the maps as now issued are of no value for electoral’ purposes. Some time ago I suggested that list of the names of polling places within each subdivision should be printed and should immediately precede the map and the list of voters. I am told, however, that there are objections to the adoption of - that course. It is said that the Attorney-General thinks it might lead to complications, since after the rolls had been printed and distributed new- polling places might be proclaimed.
– And others might be struck out.
– Quite so, but the difficulty . is not serious. The great desideratum is the supply of information as to the location of ‘polling places. After the final rolls have been distributed very few additional polling places are likely to be proclaimed or withdrawn. If additional polling places were created or others were withdrawn the interests of the Department could easily ‘be protected by a proclamation in the Government Gazette, which would be just as binding as an Act of Parliament. Every citizen is supposed to be familiar with the law of the land, ar.d the contents of the Gazette. My suggestion, if adopted, would protect the Department against any action which might otherwise lie against it for not having notifies the addition or subtraction of a particular polling place. If immediately a notification to that effect were published in the Gazette and circulated throughout the Commonwealth, it would be ample for all protective purposes.
– That would hardly get over the difficulty of a polling place not appearing on a map, and a sufficient number of voters being misled by its nonappearance to affect the result of an election.
– The honorable member has not quite caught what I wished to convey. I do not “ desire to put the Department to any expense.
– It is not the expense to the Department, but the effect upon an election which T am thinking of.
– I have not said that I want the names of the polling places to appear on a map. I merely remarked that that would be a better plan to adopt. What I desire is that the map should be taken away, bbecause, in my opinion, it gives no information. A simple list of the names of the polling places should be attached, as it always has been, to the Federal roll, so that any person buying a roll for a subdivision or a division, could find out that within that area there were certain polling places. It would be a very simple matter for the Department to arrange, and if there were any additions or subtractions to be made after the printing of the rolls, that could be easily dealt with by a notification in the Gazette. I know that on the border line between Riverina and Hume many electors do not know whether they belong to one electorate or the other. At the election held in 1903, in one case no less than ten persons presented themselves to the nearest polling place, which happened to be in the Hume electorate; but, unfortunately, the officer did not know his duty, and refused to allow them to vote. He could have allowed them to vote on the “ Q “ form, as other officers did. They- took the information for what it was worth, and would not go to the trouble of travelling to the proper polling place, and the consequence was that not one of them voted. What matters it to the Department whether a man lives in an adjoining electorate. Let an elector be given the privilege of recording his vote at the nearest and most convenient place. That is an easy matter to arrange. As rolls are supplied to officers, no trickery or fraud could be committed. I hope that the Minister will look into these points and indicate his intentions before the Bill is taken into’ Committee. I have had a bitter experience of the’ administration of the Electoral Act, and I am speaking tonight with the object of trying, as far as I can, to protect the interests of every honorable member, and to guard against fraud being perpetrated in their case, as, - unfortunately, it has been in mine. ‘
.- Like the honorable member for Riverina, I have had to suffer to some extent from vagaries, or peculiarities, in the working of the Electoral Act. The system which is being introduced differs from that which was in vogue at the last election, when there was a. separate roll for every polling place. A number of polling places are now grouped, and a common roll applies to every polling place therein. That appears to me to offer a very fertile means of committing fraud, if persons are anxious to defeat the. ends of justice and exercise a power which the law never contemplated that they should have. There is nothing to prevent persons from voting at one of the polling places- within a group, and then visiting the others, their- names appearing on the common roll. They would make their claim to vote, and though they would undoubtedly be called upon to state whether they had voted previously at the election, there would be no means of detecting them if they did vote, unless it chanced that some person had seen them enter ‘ different polling places and record their vote. That, in my opinion, is a very serious defect indeed. In Victoria we have a system which has very much to commend it, from my point of view, and that is the numbering of the ballot-papers. 1 should like to see it adopted for the Commonwealth. Of course, I know that it is urged that it affords a means of learning how persons voted, but in actual practice no one has ever been injured, to myknowledge, by the operation of the system. If there should be a scrutiny, and anybody should have committed an offence, it would be a very simple thing to obtain the proof and bring the culprit to justice. . hope that the Minister will consider the advisability of embodying the system in the Bill. In my case the presiding officers were found to have committed a number of very serious errors. Indeed, it was owing to an error of these officers that I was unseated on petition. It came out in evidence that they had committed the error not only in my case, but also in regard to the Senate elections. I venture to think that there was not an election in the Commonwealth which could not have been upset on petition on like grounds.
– How did the honorable member suffer?
-I had to foot a considerable bill to the lawyers. In the case of the second election which I had to con test, the returning officers were compelled to sign a declaration that they had read and fully understood their instructions, and it had a remarkably good effect. 1 do not know whether the regulations to be adopted for the Commonwealth contemplate that course ; but I certainly think that if they do not, they should.
– Yes they do.
– I am glad to hear that; because it affords a very good security for the efficient conduct of elections. Another matter to which I desire to refer is that of objections to voters By scrutineers. The Act provides that a presiding officer, at the request of a scrutineer, shall note any objection to the right of a person to vote and keep a record of the note ; but it appears to me that a great deal more is needed. I have it from various persons who acted as scrutineers in my case,, that though they protested against certain votes, those votes were allowed, and there was no means of identifying the votes afterwards.
– That matter is provided for in the Bill.
– I should like to say that my experience of the Court of Disputed Returns is that, though it is designed to prevent unnecessary expense, it results in very heavy charges; and I have come to the conclusion that an Elections and Qualifications Committee, with whom justice rather than law would prevail, would be. preferable. I feel somewhat warmly on this subject, because, although I do not care to cast a reflection on any court of law, . I am forced to the conviction that a Court of Disputed Returns is notlikely to inspire the same confidence as would a tribunal representing the various parties and sections in- the House. There is a sense of fair play amongst honorable members which would lead them to decide matters justly, while the cost would be comparatively infinitesimal. I offer these observations in the hope that they will have some effect.
.The honorable member for Riverina has suffered some disability through the fault of servants of the Commonwealth. As head of a previous Administration I had intended to extend to the honorable member some consideration ; and I hope that he will not be overlooked by the present Government.
– I shall undertake to look into the matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative
Bill read a second time, and considered in Committee pro forma.
Consideration resumed (vide page 5733)..
– Having put the question, I find that there is no call for a division, but, as the Bill is one which’ has to be carried by a statutory majority,..
I shall direct the bells to be rung, and ask honorable members who are in favour of the motion to take their seat’s on the right of the Chair.
The names of honorable members voting in the affirmative were reported by the tellers as follows : -
– It appears from the list submitted by the tellers that there are fifty-one Ayes, and I, therefore, declare the third reading of the’ Bill to have been carried by the majority required by the Constitution.
Orderof Business - Speech by Leader of the Opposition.
– In moving -
That the House do now adjourn,
I desire to intimate that to-morrow, we propose to proceed with the Constitution (Finance) Bill. I trust that honorable members will assist us to bring that business to a conclusion ; and 1 hope that the conclusion will be as happy and unanimous as that just attained.
.- During the afternoon of the present sitting the Prime Minister made a quotation, : is he thought, from a speech by me which I challenged. He represented me as saying that we wanted to do away with State Rights. I challenged the accuracy of his statement, and he said that he had made a note of my words, and there could not be any doubt about them. I then invited Hansard to produce an uncorrected proof of my speech. I have read it, and find that there is nothing in it to justify the Prime Minister’s statement. I have shown it to the honorable gentleman, and he cannot find the passage. It is seldom that I make a correction of this kind, but I feel justified in doing so on the. present occasion. The right honorable member for East Sydney also said the other night that I had stated that we, as a Commonwealth, could do as we liked with our money. I challenged that statement, and have been unable to find it in the report of my speech. The right honorable member said that he was not positive about the point. I find that a report of . the statement was sent to Brisbane without a qualification, and that some political capital is being made out of it. I am sorry that the Prime Minister was so persistent in his statement to-day, especially as . he must admit that the Hansard report does not give him a leg to stand upon. I wish to inquire what the business will be for to-morrow and Tuesday?
– I desire to say that while the statement of the Leader of. the Opposition is correct, nevertheless, while he was speaking on the occasion referred to, I took down the expression as I thought it fell from his. lips. It was, as I understood, a statement about “ sweeping away” State . Rights.
– The word “ sweep “ is in the report.
– I took it as a convenient text to hang some remarks upon, in reply to the honorable member. He has since shown me the Hansard proof of his speech, and I find that there is no such’ precise expression in it. There is an allusion to State Rights, but I feel sure that the word “ sweep “ was used in some way.
– The word “sweep” is there. Will the Prime Minister be kind enough to read the passage, if there, is still any doubt?
– I am not in any doubt after the honorable . member’s assurance, but cannot comprehend how I came to misconceive the expression.
– The suggestion about sweeping away State Rights is not justified by the passage. Will the Prime Minister be good enough to read it?
– The following is the part referred to -
There willarise in Australia a young militant and determined party which willsweepaway all these stumbling-blocks in the way of true national progress. This determination to secure for the States rights which are not good for them, will not assist them in any way, but will ultimately react against their interests,and, as the honorable member for Robertson indicates, help largely to increase that section of the people who believe that we should have a National Parliament with much greater powers, and’ State Parliaments with greatly diminished powers.
This is evidently a correct report, and I am not disputing it. But in some way I took the word “ sweep “ and the term “ State Rights “ down together. Of course, I do not challenge the Hansard report, and regret that I made the mistake. I have been asked to mention the business for Tuesday. On that evening we shall endeavour to arrive at a final determination with regard to the Northern Territory agreement, and I ask honorable members to then dispose of the Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.9 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 November 1909, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1909/19091111_reps_3_53/>.