4th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
The following members made and subscribed the oath of allegiance : -
– In view of the evidence which is in his possession as to the unsuitability of Yass-Canberra as a site for the Federal Capital, is it the intention of the Minister of Home Affairs to authorize the payment of any further moneys for opening up that site?
– I found no evidence of its unsuitability when I was there.
– Has the Minister of Home Affairs been correctly reported in the press as stating that he does not anticipate that the Federal Capital will be built for twelve or thirteen years? Did the Minister make that remark, or did he indicate any disposition on his own part, or on the part of the Ministry, to refuse to go on with the construction of the capital ?
– I said we were going to build the most beautiful capital in the world there, and, in reply to a question as to whether we would not put up temporary buildings, I said that we would not. I asked what were five, seven, ten or fifteen years in the life of a nation. I said that the people of Melbourne had treated us well, but I did not say when we would go to the Federal Capital.
– I beg to give notice that it is my intention to move : -
That this House is of opinion that the Commonwealth should have a horse-breeding establishment to insure the provision of a sufficient number of suitable horses to horse the Australian Military Forces, by buying suitable stallions and allowing owners of mares the use of the stallions on payment of a fee sufficient to cover expenses.
– It may relieve the honorable member if I tell him that we have already decided on that course.
MINISTERS laid upon the table the following papers : -
Audit Act - Treasury Regulation 96(d) Amended - (Provisional) - Statutory Rules 1910, No. 40.
Defence Act -
Regulations amended, &c. (Provisional) -
Landing of Sailors and Soldiers from Foreign Men-of-War and Transports. - Statutory Rules 1910, No. 29.
Military Forces -
Regulations amended -
No.106a. - Statutory Rules 1909, No. 134
No.106a (h) - Statutory Rules 1909, No. 142.
No.110a - Statutory Rules 1909, No. 143
No. 298 (2) - Statutory Rules 1909, No.
No. 540 - Statutory Rules 1909; No. 145.
No. 135a - Statutory Rules 1910, No. 9.
No. 200a - Statutory Rules 1910, No. 10.
No. 421 - Statutory Rules 1910, No. 21.
Nos. 414-416 - Statutory Rules 1910, No. 28.
Nos. 160 (a)-(f) - Statutory Rules1910, No. 30.
No.106a - Statutory Rules 1910, No. 31.
No. 35 - Statutory Rules1910, No. 38.
No. 141 - Statutory Rules1910, No. 39.
No. 106A - Statutory Rules1910, No. 45.
Financial and Allowance Regulations amended -
No. 77 - Statutory Rules1909, No. 138.
No. 95 - Statutory Rules1909, No. 139.
Nos.90, 108, 117-117b,118a - Statutory Rules 1909, No. 140.
No.90 - Statutory Rules1909, No.141.
No. 74 - Statutory Rules1910, No. 1.
No.98 - Statutory Rules1910, No. 8.
Nos. 168, 172 - Statutory Rules 1910, No.11
Nos. 88 (a), 93 (e)- Statutory Rules 1910, No. 12.
No. 95 - Statutory Rules1910, No. 22.
No. 206 - Statutory Rules 1910, No. 27.
Nos. 160-161 - Statutory Rules 1910, No. 50.
Naval Forces -
Regulations amended -
Nos. 4, 5 - Statutory Rules1910, No. 49.
Financial and Allowance Regulations amended -
Nos. 49-51 - Statutory Rules1910, No.
Defence of Australia - Memorandum by Lord Kitchener relating thereto.
Public Service Act - Recommendations, &c, in cases of promotions in the Department of Defence, of -
Telephone Charges - Reports on, by -
Committee of Accountants, 15th February, 1910.
The Chief Electrical Engineer, 30th June, 1910.
Debate resumed from ist July (vide page 50), on motion by Mr. Scullin -
That the Address-in-Reply to His Excellency’s Speech, as read by the Clerk, be agreed to by the House.
.- The debate on the Address-in-Reply has some uses, and more abuses. Nevertheless, especially at the opening of a new Parliament, it does fulfil a distinct function, and, to use a familiar phrase, assists us to clear the decks before entering upon the specific business of the session. The outlook after the recent election appears to deserve special consideration at the hands of honorable members. An examination of the Speech itself need not detain us at any length. Seemly references are made to the great loss sustained by the Empire owing to the death of the late King, and our congratulations upon the accession of his son, both events having necessarily filled of late a large space in the reflections of all our people. I should have been glad if there had been added an expression of gratification at the creation of the new Dominion of South Africa. The Provinces of that country haying now united, complete the establishment of Federal Governments in all the several groups of contiguous colonies hitherto unrelated, except as portions of the British Empire. They are thus making for the efficiency of their administration of local affairs ; providing a means by which all the Dominions may join with the Mother Country in the protection of their common interests, and in a common policy, growing, I trust, more and more consistent and effective year by year. The heartiest good will of the people of this Commonwealth goes out to our fellow citizens in the new Dominion, with our best wishes for them in the development of their large portion of one of the great continents of the world. The mover and seconder of the motion for the adoption of the AddressinReply may be congratulated upon the manner in which they discharged the more than formal duties devolving upon them. They have introduced themselves to the House in a manner that will commend their future utterances to our consideration. Coming to the Speech itself, the greater number of the proposals are outlined in such brief and vague terms that the substance of the actual measures can be but dimly discerned. This is mentioned, not that I regret- it, but as an explanation of my reason for passing comparatively lightly over a number of matters merely alluded to in a way that affords no clues to the actual distinctive proposals intended to be made. If, indeed, we had been presented with no more than a catalogue of the subjects proposed to be treated, there would have been little ground for complaint, so far as the Opposition is concerned. Our desire is that this should be a business Parliament; that whatever the Government have to lay before us shall be dealt with in a business way. There is no reason why this session should not be brief and brisk, even though’ devoted to a full consideration of all the matters alluded to in the Speech. Let me, at the outset, indicate that, so far as the Opposition are concerned, there is no suggestion of obstruction. Our object will be not only to facilitate the passage of wise measures, but to throw into stronger relief by our brevity whatever criticisms or objections we may offer. Our verdicts need not be burned under mountains of accumulated or unnecessary matter rendering them undiscoverable without .research. We shall fulfil our duties as an Opposition effectively without undue heat or prolixity in debate. The Governor-General’s Speech, to deal with it in a very rudimentary arithmetical manner contains thirty paragraphs, of which more than one-half simply consist of an index or catalogue, without exposition. In the remaining half, most of the Bills are familiar friends, calling for little or no comment. It would have been difficult for the Government to say less in reference to the Federal capital, the Western Australian transcontinental railway, or the establishment of trade relations with other Dominions. Each of these themes will afford us ample reflection when the actual proposals are before us. There is not even a clue to the order of business. This I specially regret in regard to the proposal to introduce a Bill for the rectification of Tariff anomalies. That measure has special claims upon not only the earnest, but the earliest consideration of the House. If it is to be dealt with satisfactorily the sooner members are placed in possession of the schedule of the Government proposals the more rapidly will they be able to satisfy themselves whether it includes all the anomalies they have had in mind in pressing for it. If we had been sitting on the opposite side of the House such a measure would certainly have been, if not the first, at least, one of the very first submitted. We should have taken that course with an object that should appeal to the present Government - a desire that the schedule should not be allowed to drag till towards the close of the session, or be dealt with in circumstances of duress and haste. It can be more speedily disposed of if on questions involving so many technical considerations, honorable members are given a proper opportunity to supply themselves with these details in advance. We should not be dependent upon the gratuitous offers of information frequently made in the lobbies. No honorable members who have dealt with Tariff provisions in this House desireto see such interventions during the coming discussion. We wish the question of Tariff anomalies, like everything else, to be dealt with in a business-like fashion, and without delay.
– What is the honorable member’s definition of anomalies?
– It would be distinctly unbusiness-like in opening a debate on the Address-in-Reply, that I should commence to define terms that Ministers must define for themselves. They are perfectly capable of interpreting the term, “and the honorable member himself has sufficient experience to enable him to do so.
– The honorable member has not answered my question.
– Nor do I propose to answer it by coining definitions for Bills for which I am not to be responsible. No doubt any definition will be debated. Then honorable members will decide whether it meets the necessities of the case. The honorable member is too old a soldier not to have known that perfectly well before he put the inquiry. There is a gratifying reference to dealing with the State Debts - gratifying to most of the Ministers - and I trust that the preparatory steps in this regard will be taken at once.
In fact, from indications which the Prime Minister has already supplied, the sooner all the financial measures are tabled, the better it will be for the transaction of our sessional work, in which finance must occupy a most important place. Due consideration can be much better afforded if Ministers at once disclose exactly what it is they intend to ask this House to do in order to meet the financial exigencies of the Commonwealth, which also affect those of the related Governments of Australia. Coming to the important financial agreement now proposed - this is perfectly good so far as it goes. The term of ten years is to commence on the 1st July, on the basis of 25s. per head.
Is that intentional?
– Does it surprise the honorable member?
– Assuredly, since there is a section in the Commonwealth Constitution which continues, until the end of 1910, the operation of what is known as the Braddon section. I see no proposition in the Governor-General’s Speech to amend the Constitution in this regard.
– Does the honorable member say that we cannot commence this payment before the 1st January next year?
– I say that the Government cannot ignore the Braddon section as proposed or before the end of the calendar year.
– I am prepared to tell the State Treasurers that that is all they are going to get.
– Of course, after the expiration of this calendar year, there is an absolute power in this Parliament in respect to all Customs receipts. The Prime Minister, with the support of his colleagues, can take any action he thinks fit. But it appears to me to be rather an unfortunate augury that an express provision of the Constitution is to be set aside, in fact if not in form, by a procedure of the character proposed. After the close of 1 910 this Parliament has not only the power, but the right, to dispose of all its revenue. But I take it, that we should carry out, not only in the letter, but in the spirit, the terms of the Constitution which the people of Australia accepted, and under which we are living.
– The honorable member, as Prime Minister, did not propose to do this at all.
– We proposed, with the consent of the seven Governments, and of the whole of the people of Australia, voting as citizens of the Commonwealth, and as citizens of the States, to make another agreement which would have fulfilled all requirements. The new proposal will be a matter for subsequent debate. I am dealing now with the manner in which Ministers propose to carry out their financial intentions, and suggesting that this is not only ungracious, but suggests a suspicion of illegality - an attempt to get around the Constitution. Such action is unnecessary j and with this deprecation I pass it by.
– How. can the honorable member say that, when the people deliberately rejected his proposition and accepted ours?
– What the honorable member’s proposal was I do not know, except as conveyed in the statement of the Prime Minister that he approved a term of ten years. Statements made by some of his present colleagues and members of the Labour party, named a still longer period for the payment of this 25s. per head.
– The honorable member knows perfectly well what the proposals made were, because he criticised them in detail at Tamworth, as I shall have the honour of showing, if I have an opportunity this evening.
– The Attorney-General may easily refresh the memories of honorable members. Not only at Tamworth, but at a dozen other places, I criticised the proposals of the head of the party at length, and stated my objections.
– They were not always the same objections.
– There were so many good ones. But the Attorney-General must separate his two statements : first, that our proposals were rejected, which is indisputably true, and. next, that his or some other person’s proposals were accepted, which is indisputably unproven, and also untrue. To count all the votes against a particular scheme in support of some other scheme is quite unwarranted. The subject need not be further discussed. The Government could have achieved whatever end they have in view without putting into the mouth of the Governor-General a threat which can only be executed by might rather than legal right. However, to proceed, the old-age proposals merely involve questions of dates. The allusion to the
Northern Territory transfer appears to be entirely satisfactory ; and, if I can trust its phrasing, there is no fault to find withthe paragraph relating to immigration. Sofar, there has been nothing fresh, or anynew departures of moment to detain us. I take it that the repeal of the Loan Bill isa necessary result of the recent voting. The News cable subsidy looks trifling in the absence of explanation or comment. Uncertain of its nature, it passes without reference. But for the interjections I should, have almost disposed of the Speech. Atr any rate, we have reduced the thirty paragraphs to three; and now approach what appear to be the ‘ cardinal points of the policy of the Ministry. But before going; further, we ought to notice, a few curiousomissions ; and I use the word ! ‘ curious ‘ ‘ because it does not follow that the absence of mention means an absence of intention to deal with the matters omitted. But we ought to be. informed. Among the propositions which we pressed very strongly, and to which a number of honorable members opposite drew the attention of the electors, was a group of proposals under the heading of an Agricultural Bureau. This was to be founded with the object of equipping the producers of Australia - farmers, cultivators, and pastoralists - with better means of coping with insect or vegetable pests, with a - better knowledge of Australian soils and circumstances, new products, and new methods of cultivation, in order to arm them for the battle waged’ successfully in the settled areas of the continent, and about to be extended beyond them, especially under the relatively novel conditions to be found in parts of the interior, and in the north df the Northern Territory. These propositions were probably approved elsewhere as unanimously as at every one. of the many meetingswhich I had an opportunity of addressing. Side by side with that, propositions in respect to unemployment were given a very large space in many places by many df us, and received a similarly favorable reception. We indicated that advantage would be taken of the work of Labour Bureaux, and studies made’ of the possibilities of insurance against unemployment, the registration of unemployed, and a variety of other assisting measures. We undertook that a commencement would be made at anearly date to deal with what has been described as one of the greatest evils, if not the greatest, of our modern industrial’ system. Knowledge was to be gained and: action taken under an Inter- State Commission clothed with industrial powers over Wages Boards. References were made to successes achieved, in America more particularly, by means of agricultural bureaux, and in Europe by other modes of organization, from which Australia had reason to hope for similar gains. These great genera] non-party proposals were cordially welcomed on every hand, and will be similarly welcomed in this House when the Government thinks fit to submit measures for giving effect to them. The fact that we laid exceptional stress on them is not, I trust, a reason why Ministers should not take them in hand; because, as I have insisted, they are nonparty, and have received the support of persons of all shades of political views. In relation to employment, we relied upon the bearing of investigations into the agricultural development of the Commonwealth and also upon the application of a fiscal stimulus to rural and civic industries. There was to be such a continuous study of foreign methods and markets, and such a comparison of ours with theirs, as would fit Parliament to judge of any proposition submitted regarding the encouragement of better methods of production. If it were found that the position of - an industry was due to any neglect to adopt the most improved machinery or the most efficient methods, a different attitude would be taken towards its appeals for duties from that adopted with regard to one which, to the best of its powers, had put itself in the front rank in these respects. If a proper spur is to be applied to our production by the application of new methods and a greater use of the inventive capacity of our people, a great deal must be done to enable those engaged iri any industry to familiarize themselves with the latest and best results of the world’s intelligence in respect to its output. All this is truly Federal and national work. We come now to three paragraphs in the speech which appear to demand a closer examination. They relate to the note issue, the land tax, and sundry amendments of the Constitution. The proposal regarding a Commonwealth note issue’ cannot be profitably discussed until we know what is to be the limit of the issue, the convertibility of the notes, and the gold support to be given to them. It is a question of safeguards, and, so far as I understand the situation, of nothing else. A note :issue may be made indisputably se cure, or it may be left in doubt ; that is, it may be insufficient to sustain the stress of a crisis such as that through which Australia passed some twenty years ago. We shall require to look with the greatest caution at any proposals for a future multiplication of the notes. Until we have before us the details of the Government measure, and know what safeguards are to surround the issue, it can only be casually mentioned. An issue such as is proposed would, of course, have this advantage, so far as the Ministry is concerned - it would tide the Treasurer over certain immediate difficulties, by giving him a loan at a low rate of interest, on which he could draw more largely for a longer period than he can hope to draw upon the Trust Funds.
– When I first stood for the Federal Parliament I was in favour of a Commonwealth note issue.
– No doubt. I am not suggesting that this is a new proposal so far as the Prime Minister is concerned. It is not. I have heard him discus’s it over and over again in this Chamber. However, we must wait until we see the measure. A Bill for the imposition of a Commonwealth land tax was the first Ministerial measure of last session ; I do not know why a similar measure does not take first place on the programme for this session.
– Just now the honorable member desired that the remedying of Tariff anomalies should be made the first business of the session. How many measures does he think ought to be put first?
– I said that Tariff anomalies should be among the very first things dealt with. It is so short a time since that statement was made that the honorable member, however much he may wish to forget, can hardly have done so. I did not say that the rectification of Tariff anomalies should be the introductory measure of the session; I said that there were strong grounds for making it one of the very first measures of the session.
– The honorable member has not been so successful as usual in wrapping up his meaning in a maze of words.
– My failure to do that would not be for want of example in the honorable member’s speeches. For years past I have been amazed at the neglect of other Australian Governments, both prior to, and since, Federation, to impose fair and reasonable land taxation. With exceptions, they still remain blind to the opportunities afforded by this legitimate source of revenue, and to its other promises of development. Many times during the last nine or ten years have we called the attention of the Premiers to the fact, and, on one occasion in particular, I remember coming into conflict with State Ministers on the subject. In consequence of the hesitancy and delay of the State Governments in respect to land taxation or their imperfect use of their powers in this respect, the verdict of the last election was distinctly in favour of the Commonwealth’s exercise of the powers in that regard ‘which it has always possessed. In common with many others, I still think that these could be better exercised by the State Governments, since Commonwealth legislation must make one set of conditions apply to the vast area of this great continent. There are inevitable difficulties and inherent inequalities in the imposition of land taxation, even when applied to comparatively small areas, because of differences in conditions which it has hitherto been found impossible to meet adequately. A rough-and-ready rule is applied, which presses unduly on some and is unfairly easy for others. In the imposition of a Commonwealth land tax, these inequalities and difficulties must be much greater than if it were undertaken by each State. I trust that when we have an opportunity of examining the Government measure we shall find that at least every endeavour has been made to apply the tax, not merely as a means of raising revenue, but as a method for the development of- the country. Those who are putting the soil to its best use should not be treated in the same way as those who are content to shepherd it, leaving it almost unproductive. Questions of valuation, rating, and special conditions must present many problems, and the application of one tax to the whole continent make all of them greater than if adjusted to smaller areas. I trust, for the sake of the taxpayer, that all necessary and just discriminations will be made.
– Is the honorable member going to support the tax?
– We must see the Bill. None of us like to announce our adherence to measures until we have read them.
– I refer merely to the general principle.
– There is no principle ‘in the Government proposal.
– I am partly answered.
– If the honorable member is partly answered to his own satisfaction, the achievement of answering him is one on which I congratulate my honorable colleague. If we can trust the newspapers, the proposed rates of taxation have already been altered ; they may be altered again. We have now arrived by easy stages at the thirtieth and last paragraph in the speech. It may be described as the kernel of the document. Being worded with the careful inexactitude that characterizes other parts of the speech, it is capable of covering even more contentious matter than the other twenty-nine paragraphs. I say “may,” because, if ever a draftsman’s skill was shown in drawing a circumference somewhere beyond our powers of vision in every direction, the writer who drew up this clause may be complimented on his success. The paragraph, as it stands, is comprehensive enough to occupy several sessions. Every one of its six and a half lines is studded with hooks. These are proposals for the amendment of the Constitution. Such, I trust, will never be regarded as on the same footing as ordinary legislative proposals, will never be put forward except in cases of necessity, and then circumscribed to meet the particular objects in view. The amendments proposed by the Government are to enable the Federal Parliament “ to legislate effectively.” Admirable phrase ! If there be three words capable of comprehending all that is in the heavens above, on the earth beneath, and in the waters under the earth, these are they. Using the phrase “to legislate effectively “ at the beginning, and the words “ in relation to “ in the middle of a group of vague descriptions, the Government has bracketed together a most extraordinary series of subjects in a manner sufficiently expansive to make even the most hardened member opposite shudder.
– The words were taken bodily out of the speech of the honorable member at Ballarat.
– It is possible that these terms have been collected simply for the textual enjoyment of the compiler, so that when the measures themselves take concrete shape, we shall not be as startled as if we construe the paragraph with an endeavour to discover the boundaries that ought to be somewhere outlined in it. For instance, the very first flight of his pen brings in corporations. I can quite imagine recent judgments and obiter dicta in the Courts calling for a consideration of” “corporations,” as subjects of Federal legislation. But I am utterly unable to understand, if it is these obiter dicta - or judgments - that are aimed at, how or why the word comes into this particular galley. Why is it linked with “ trusts, combinations, and monopolies,” which may or may not be corporations, but are distinguished by the possession and probably by the exercise of powers extremely dangerous to the community, and requiring to be coped with? Why the whole class of corporations, of which, I suppose, ninety-nine hundredths are blameless -and innocuous, should be brought into this relation, I do not know.
– The Crimes Act is worded in exactly the same way. Ninetynine out of every hundred citizens are peaceful and law-abiding. It is the hundredth that we want to get at.
– The honorable member refers to the only Act that touches his personal interest. Here we find the corporations in very bad company, and naturally very uneasy, because anything “ in relation to” trade manufactures, or production, industrial matters, or navigation, can be used to rope them in. What is it that does not come, or cannot be made to come, within the scope of this blessed phrase? The word “ Mesopotamia “ cannot be compared with it.
– I see no reference to the totalizator, or the marriage law.
– But, if some of the honorable member’s friends had their way, they would bring them under “ combinations “ if not under “Trusts.” We are all at a loss to understand what purposes the Government can be cherishing which could not have been expressed in less ambiguous terms, and in a manner less calculated to arouse the greatest amount of doubt and apprehension. The AttorneyGeneral will not deny that, with this preamble, he could follow it with measures of the wildest extravagance. If the intention is, as now suggested, of quite another character, why raise this needless alarm?
– The law is a terror only to evil-doers.
– Is it? As one who used to be a practitioner, I am glad to hear that. I have heard sentiments less generous expressed, and congratulate the honorable member on his experience. In this regard, let me again express the hope that these measures also will be tabled promptly, and that we shall be afforded an opportunity of considering them in all their aspects before we are asked to debate them. It will mean a saving of time, and is no unreasonable request, in matters of such vital moment to the whole Commonwealth. Ot course, Ministers are not to be held even to their own pre-election speeches, still less to some of the other speeches lately delivered by their supporters, although it is in the light of some of those that the public will be inclined to interpret thecircumnavigations in this one clause. It brings us tothe very brink of complete unification. If corporations of all kinds, and all bodies, corporations or not, which enter into agreements justifying their classification as “ trusts or combinations,” or bring themselves within the wide range of the word “ monopolies “ - if these are brought under Commonwealth control in regard to all trade manufactures, production, industrial matters, and navigation, what will be left of the States will be the rind.
– Would it not be advisable for the honorable member to wait until he sees the Bills?
– I think it would. Now to come to some phases of the present situation. The authority under which Ministers are acting is that of majorities in both Chambers to which they submit this programme of legislation As has already been remarked, both by the mover and seconder of the Address-in-Reply, the present Government finds itself happily in a position farsuperior to that of any of its predecessors, the two with which the Prime Minister was associated, and those with which we were associated. No previous Ministry in this country has been able to stand alone, or to deal with its business independently. Although all of them had long views, every one of them had to take short steps. Our majorities were always free and fleeting, and there was no assurance that any plan commenced would be able to be completed by any particular Cabinet. The fact that we have seen eight Administrations in nine years tells its own tale. Steering through choppy seas and changeable gales, Ministers of the Commonwealth in the past have held no sinecures while they occupied those benches. I congratulate my friend, the Prime Minister, and his colleagues, upon commencing their present voyage under conditions absolutely different. If they have realized all that these liberties imply, it is clear that a very large section of the public have not yet understood how completely Ministers have been relieved of hosts of disabilities that paralyzed our political action in preceding years. There is nothing in Parliament, and nothing out of it, short of the electorates, that can prevent this Government from carrying the whole of the programme of its party in this Parliament. Realizing that, we drop a sympathetic tear for the past Governments, which, with the largest hopes and the most ambitious aims, had never the shadow of such an opportunity. In these new circumstances, and with a majority fixed and fast-bound, we can understand the pleased content which must become habitual with Ministers opposite. One question, however, which we are still entitled to put is : How far can the authority recently given to them fairly be said to extend ? To refer briefly, but I hope with sufficient accuracy, to the recent election and our own experience in it as a political party, plain prose seems insufficient, and I resort to poetry. Kipling’s lines which appear to me to sum up the situation have been, I think, in part already quoted -
Let us admit it fairly, as a business people should,
We have had no end of a lesson; it will do us no end of good…..
Let us approach this pivotal fact in a humble yet hopeful mood ;
We have had no end of a lesson ; it will do us no end of good.
– Hear, hear. Not a doubt about that.
– If it has done us no end of good, what kind of good has it done my honorable friend? Even poetry will not express that.
– It requires to be expressed in algebraical formulae.
– Then it must be one which opens out towards the infinite. Still we, as an Opposition, realize that, under our system of politics and of government, parties are always made in adversity. Honorable members opposite know that. It is in prosperity that another series of tests is applied, under which our parties often go to pieces. I shall not disturb Ministers with any anticipations in that regard, but we intend to apply the lesson so that it will do no end of good to ourselves, and also, we hope, to that immense number of the citizens of Australia who, with all our real defects - and they were very small compared with the imaginary - yet gave us a great total of votes. I notice in a corner of the Governor-General’s Speech a reference to an Electoral Bill. It may be a mere machinery corrective; it may be a measure of large scope. It ought to be a measure of large scope. After a little while, when a more philosophic view can be taken of the incidents of the recent contest,attention can be profitably drawn, not only to the principles upon which our elections have been conducted, but to a number of practices that are springing up, which, unless checked, promise to prove most injurious to the public interests of Australia. An Address-in-Reply is not the occasion to broach these. When we face the consideration of the possibilities’ of improving our electoral system, we shall be compelled to take into account, not only its principles, but also those practices, if we wish to preserve the reputation of the country and to insure the proper working of the processes by which members of this House and of the Senate are chosen by the electors. Of fundamental principles one at least deserves mention, and that is the principle of fair, or something like fair, representation. This, I take it, is the basis of the whole elective system in a Democracy; if it goes, all goes. Now even the most superficial consideration of the voting at the late general election shows results so extraordinary that they cannot by the widest extension of terms come within the meaning of “ fair representation.” For instance, to pick out a few figures–
– Why pick them out?
– Picking out a few of the figures contained in an official return about to be circulated, of which I have obtained a proof, I find that there is still a great deal necessary in order that the peoples voting at the polls may be represented in some fair proportion in this House. Let me take two illustrations. In Queensland - using round numbers - 85,000 votes seated six members of the Labour party ; whilst 80,000 votes for the Opposition seated only three representatives. No one can say that there is any proportion in that case between the votes of the electors and their representation in this Chamber. In New South Wales labour with 252,000 votes obtained seventeen representatives, whilst the Opposition with 230,000 votes have but eight representatives.
– Will the honorable member give us the figures for Victoria ?
– I have selected, of course, the two glaring instances. None of the figures for the other States approach them. If there is an unfair balance of representation in the smaller States, in Western Australia and Tasmania particularly, it is on our side, but it does not amount to more than one member in each case. In fact, one would have to divide a member into fractions; that is why we are compelled to turn to the figures for New South Wales and Queensland, which are shocking examples, as every honorable member will admit, of the defects of the electoral system.
– And which have existed since thu Constitution was passed.
– Some of them.
– All of them.
– In every Parliament we have been patching the Electoral Act and apparently we shall have to patch it again.
– The honorable gentleman when in office did not try to touch this point.
– We remedied many defects. I am not aware that any such results as these were exhibited at previous elections.
– The position was about the same at previous elections.
– If that is so, let us have proof of it, for it must strengthen the case for such an amendment of the electoral law as will make such occurrences impossible. That is all I urge. I am not attaching blame to a particular Act, party, or person.
– Will the honorable member give us the figures for Victoria?
– I had taken them out, but to curtail my remarks put them aside. Speaking from memory, ten members ot the Labour party and eleven members of the Opposition were returned for Victoria, and the votes secured by the eleven members of our party in this Slate were only a few more than the total votes cast for the ten Labour members returned. As in the case of the other smaller States, it was only a question of one member. Of course, we are now concerned with cases in which it is shown from the votes recorded that there is no proper proportion between the poll at the elections and the representation in. this House.
– Is there no other lesson to be drawn from these figures?
– There is ; but I think it can be drawn better from a consideration of the voting for another place. In Tasmania, 30,000 electors have three senators, and 24.000 have none. In Western Australia 42,000 electors have three representatives in the Senate, and 36,000 have none. In South Australia, 57,000 have three senators, and 49,000 have none, whilst in Queensland, 81,000 electors secured the return of three senators, whilst 80,000 are wholly unrepresented. In New South Wales, 245,000 electors have three senators, while 243,000 have none.
– Put it the other way round.
– That was done in Victoria, where 216,000 electors have three Labour representatives in the Senate, and 230,000 electors, who voted for other candidates, have none. It is impossible to defend a system that permits 667,000 Labour electors to have forty representatives, and 662,000 of ours to have only twenty-nine in this House, or worse still,, while giving 671,000 electors eighteen senators, leaves 662,000 voters (only 9,000 less) without a single representative in the Senate to-day.
– The honorable member should not forget that he and his party would have the block vote. We pointed out at the time that there were certain probabilities.
– The honorable member is under a misapprehension.
– I have myself been opposed from the first, both in this Parliament and in the State Legislature, to the block vote, and in favour of a form of preferential voting.
– The Government of which the honorable member was a member, passed and supported the principle of the block vote in its entirety.
– Not in its entirety, even then. I am reminded by one of my late colleagues that in the first session of the last Parliament we endeavoured, though in vain, to mitigate the block vote system. What I now put to the House is that these figures alone, without debate or argument, point to the absolute necessity for amendments of the electoral law that will render such a state of affairs impossible. Let us have representation of the electors in some proportion, at all events, in both Chambers. As to the Senate figures, I doubt if there is a record of any constitutionally governed country in which such a result can be shown.
– And this in a Democracy.
– The honorable member’s party also insisted upon the block vote to save their colleagues from New South Wales in the Senate.
– Will the honorable member support preferential voting.’
– Order. I must ask honorable members not to converse across the chamber.
– However, this Parliament has been chosen, and for this Parliament there is no remedy except to invite the attention of the public, as well as of the House, to the necessity for a drastic change in our methods of election. Meantime, we on- this side, by the very fact of our smaller numbers, are necessarily compelled to acquiesce for the time in the condition of affairs that has deprived us of our fair representation. But while the overwhelming advantages enjoyed by the Prime Minister and his colleagues place them in a position of enormous advantage, they do not deprive the Opposition of its obligations however unjustly diminished in numbers. We have a constant obligation to criticise in Parliament, and out of it.
– Does the honorable member remember how, when he was in office, he stopped our criticism by the application of the “gag”?
– I speak without personal reference.
– Do not forget the “ gag.”
– And I hope the honorable member will not forget how richly it was deserved before it was applied. If ever we are guilty of the same mere timewasting devices to hamstring Parliament without even a pretence of an intention to advance business, we shall deserve to be treated in the same manner. What is more, we shall not complain of it afterwards.
– Why does the honorable member make incorrect statements?
– The honorable member never makes a statement that is not challenged by some honorable member. Ministers have obtained authority from the country to pass certain measures. They have no authority to alter our mode of government. We have the perpetual duties of all Oppositions - the duty of criticism, of assisting in public education, as a matter of course, but we have now cast upon us the further duty of maintaining, as far as in us lies, the spirit of our Parliamentary institutions and of responsible government. In this, I fear, we shall not receive much assistance from our friends opposite. On the contrary, it is against them that we are forced to defend our priceless political heritage.
– This is the first time that we have had responsible government in the Federal Parliament.
– It is the first time we have had irresponsible government.
– It is the first time we have had responsible government. The honorable gentleman, when in office, never moved except when we or some other party moved him.
– Order !
– If the honorable member-
– I would remind the honorable member for Parramatta that when the Speaker rises honorable members must be. silent. I ask the Attorney-General to cease interjections.
– I do not even imply that constitutional government is sacrosanct, that it is above amendment or adaptation. On the contrary, the different methods employed in the different countries under constitutional rule afford a sufficient illustration of its applicability to different peoples. But, so far as its vital principles are concerned, established by centuries of experience in the Mother Country, we can never impair them without loss to Parliament and grave risk to the country. Consequently we may be excused if we regard with extreme anxiety the effects of innovations which strike at the root or the root principles of the system. It is because we are faced to-day by a series of innovations of this character, which, if they do not undermine the whole, at least undermine in part, the main structure of responsible government, that special responsibility is cast on the present Opposition. Unhappily, we can hope for no assistance from honorable members opposite. They have settled their attitude in Parliament outside its walls, apart from us, and in secret.
– What of the Fusion caucus ?
– That is the customary red herring. It cannot be disputed that, for the first time in our history, the parliamentary action of a majority of the members in Parliament, in all its details, not merely upon general principles, or some particular issue of policy, but as a whole, and in detail, is now decided beforehand outside this House. One result is that we have lost the great advantage of a free expression of opinion by honorable members of that party.
– The late Government applied the gag.
– What gag did we ever apply to any one comparable to that now applied to the whole of the Labour party by its own members, and against our protests ? It is not denied that out of these strange parliamentary methods may come some discoveries useful, perhaps important, in constitutional government; at present there seems no such prospect. Even if departures of this drastic nature appear to offer a temporary advantage, we must realize that it may be too dearly purchased. In the words of the German proverb, we should “ take care not to throw out the baby with its bath water.” There is grave danger, that in the endeavour to make short cuts to party unity, some of the essential principles of responsible government will be sacrificed. Is it possible to carve off this or that limb from the body corporate - from our constitutional government - of every feature of which we know the historic origin, and to which some of us have paid allegiance for many years without profoundly altering the character and relation of the whole, and perhaps destroying it? Under present circumstances, we on this side may no doubt be plunged in many difficulties. We have to convince the general public of the peril of a departure known nowhere else in the Empire, or in any constitutionally-governed country. Our hope is that the whole of our part in the legislative work being done in the public eye, and within the public hearing, open to criticism, in this fashion we may make the whole of the electors, friends or foes, partners in all we do, and in all we aim at, whether we succeed or fail. This will be amongst the heaviest of the responsibilities resting on the present Opposition. The best way to convey my sense of the cumulative effect of the innovations for which honorable members opposite are responsible, is to ask them to run over in their minds a few words, each with a long history behind it and a meaning attached by generations of experience. Let them, having run over in their minds the words “ Ministry,” “Cabinet,” “Executive,” “Party,” “Caucus,” and “ Parliament,” now ask whether, if they use them hereafter when referring to our own; government, they realize that they are compelled to impart to them a significance which they possess nowhere else all the world over. Neither in Great Britain, in any of the British Dominions, nor in any of the States of the Dominions, do we find these words used in the sense in which we are bound to employ them when referring to honorable members opposite and their organization. The chief resemblance it supplies is to the methods of continental autocracies. Our Federal system is equally endangered. I should be the last to discourage experiment, even in these matters - the last to reject an innovation because it was an innovation, or to find fault with it on that ground. If only one of these terms required a fresh translation, little need have been said; but here we have words which denote realities ot most potent influence. Grouped together they cover practically all the operations of our Parliament and all Government agencies, and now every one of these has to be understood, or rather interpreted in a new sense. If the transformation with which we are confronted, prove in the future to the advantage of the electors and to the Government of the country, honorable members opposite will enjoy a fame they will deserve ; but we believe that these surgical operations will prove fatal to the life of constitutional government, as we know it. They may inaugurate another kind of government, of which, as yet, we have had even in part little experience, and that little of a most discouraging character. Henceforth, in communicating with the Mother Country, or any of our sister Dominions, we shall require to provide them with a glossary. Confusion will be worse confounded if they attach the old meanings to institutions -or gatherings retaining the old names.
– Does “ Opposition “ mean the same?
– “Ministerial side” and “Opposition side” remain. But no “party” that I know of elsewhere imposes anything like the same conditions upon its members, in order to obtain unanimity that the Labour “ party “ do. It is much more than and different from all “ parties “ elsewhere.
– We are making history.
– Honorable members opposite are making history in trying an experiment; whether they will be praised or otherwise in the future is another question.
– The honorable member will not be blamed.
– I am taking special precaution to prevent any such misunderstanding, though I shall not be surprised to be charged with it by honorable members opposite.
– In a sense, it is the honorable member’s fault.
– In a sense, everything is my fault ; and if accepted as the scapegoat of past Parliaments, I am prepared to assume that undesirable office. No Caucus ‘ ‘ I know of, or have heard of elsewhere, elects its Ministers and shares their Cabinet responsibilities as ours does. No other “ Caucus,” so far as I know, controls both Houses and the Executive. The original Labour Caucus always conducted its business in some respects very like a Cabinet. It met in secret, was one and indivisible, acting as a whole, no divisions were recorded, and every one of its members was bound by any decision. Ministers leave Cabinets to assert their personal principles ; but how rare are the occasions when similar independence has been exhibited in any Caucus in Australia.
– Is the honorable member describing his own Caucus, or ours?
– Ours is a meeting, and our.- differences become public. I am describing the only “ Caucus “ - the Labour Caucus. Why shut the mouths of your minority ? In the majority is wisdom, but in a minority there is some wisdom, sometimes even more than in the majority. That is the case at present. Why should the minority of your Labour Caucus have their mouths closed in this House instead of retaining the same freedom as any minority of the party on this side? Outside the Commonwealth there is no political body of this character which shares Cabinet and Executive responsibilities. Here we see a levelling up of all members and a levelling down of all Ministers, who remain heads of Departments only. Your “Prime Minister” is liable to be outvoted in his own “Cabinet,” while the whole “ Cabinet “ is liable to be outvoted in “ Caucus “ by a majority which dees not openly assume the responsibilities of office.
– I have seen that happen in this House.
– What happens in the House in the public eye and in the public hearing, is very different from the happenings in a “ Caucus ‘ ‘ outside, away from the public eye and hearing, and confined to the members of a particular section. lit view of these cumulative changes in your Cabinet, Executive, Ministry, and party, through your “ Caucus,” what we are nowgetting may be constitutional government, but it is of a new pattern, with a new distribution of power, and a new employment of the method of secrecy. So far as I know anything about the “Caucus,” though that is very little, I do not know why such strict secrecy is observed. The cumulative effect of these changes upon the government of Australia is certain to be potent, both in legislation and administration. I make no attempt to assume the prophetic office or to determine whether there will be any compensating advantages. Frankly, I do not know ; but I am certain that constitutional students all the world over, when they are apprised of this new departure, will take it into account. This may put honorable membersopposite on their better behaviour, because they certainly will be subjected to very close scrutiny in regard to their policy from all parts of the world. Theirs will be the credit of inventing and putting into force a new kind of government which is responsible in a sense, and constitutional in a sense, but in no accepted sense - in a novel sense - whose value can only be tested by its effects. I do not think that honorable members opposite can complain if we judge their new system by its fruits. We cannot judge them in a day ; but in time they will declare themselves. The spirit and form of our Constitution, if it resists those innovations, will deserve even the highest encomiums that have beers lavished upon it because of its elasticity, its possibilities of adaptation to new circumstances and conditions. Our Constitution cannot- be praised enough if it endures this strain without losing its essential characteristics. Constitutional government, as we know it, has hitherto been the topmost achievement in the organization of civilized peoples, the greatest agency of political freedom, social evolution, and popular government the world has yet disclosed. Necessarily those who treasure it may be forgiven if they speak of it with something more than an intellectual appreciation. This form of human union for broad purposes has done more for humanity than all other systems of government together. If honorable members opposite succeed Lit proving that this Parliament, while retain- ing so many of the symbols of the old constitutional government, can be entirely transformed and yet maintain its efficiency, they will surprise many. After thirty years spent in assemblies governed by the old practice and principle, I may be pardoned if it still seems to me the one direct way in which men of our time, amid modern developments, and with broad democratic aims, can associate effectively for the accomplishment of public purposes. I view, therefore, with some apprehension a departure so decided. You are leaving the high road, and taking an abrupt turn to the left - retracing your steps, going backwards and downwards. We may be refuted by experience, and shown that this track, though circuitous, can lead us onward. Exceptions excepted, honorable members opposite have the same general aims as ours, and however the electors may be divided as to the means by which fundamental objects are to be reached, and as to the men to be trusted to reach them, they, too, are broadly at one in their reverence for those principles of constitutional government which are now receiving an entirely new and experimental
Application. We are united as to the ends w; ought to achieve. But let me repeat again, it is possible to achieve our immediate social, industrial, and legislative objectives, and yet to buy them too dearly. We cannot afford to permit the destruction of the spirit of the Constitution, so as to prevent further similar achievements in the future, and prove these to be the last fruit from an old tree - fruit such as it will not be capable of bearing again. I fear that we are striking too near to the heart of that tree ; that in these changes we shall be cutting too deeply, thus, impairing its ancient, traditional, but still vigorous life. If this be not so, let us face the experiment. Let us trust that it may not be too expensive to the country; that in the three years of absolute power which my friends opposite are about to enjoy, and with their uncontrolled capacity of translating into Acts of Parlia ment the whole of their policy and programme, it will stand the. strain put upon it. In any case, surely we may feel confident that the people of Australia will continue to preserve and revere the old traditions of the free Parliaments of free peoples, whether in the old or the new form.
[4.45J - Though unable to .agree with all his conclusions, I offer my congratulations to the honorable member for Ballarat, who lias favoured us with one of his best efforts.
Like him, I congratulate, too, the mover and seconder of the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply to His Excellency’s speech. Though I have not heard so many speeches of that character as the honorable gentleman, I can say I have never heard two clearer utterances from new members. The House is to be congratulated upon having two new members able to acquit themselves in such a manner of the duties allotted to them. I was interested in the historical references of the Leader of the Opposition, to whom I offer my congratulations on his election to that position, which is the right of a displaced Prime Minister. The House.will gather from the tone of his remarks that the criticism of the Opposition will not be unduly fierce or vindictive. The Ministry will welcome the keenest criticism, and the closest examination of its proposals. Ministers will listen to the arguments offered, and decide questions on their merits. No attempt will be made to use the power of numbers vindictively, or to humiliate the Opposition. There will be no display of force so long as Opposition members desire to use arguments. I have never been a party to the application of the powers for curtailing debate which are given by the Standing Orders, and I hope that I shall never need to take advantage of them. Whilst interested in the sketch of the development of responsible and constitutional government given by the Leader of the Opposition, I do not agree with his presentment of the case. His contention was that constitutional government is something apart from the members whose support has enabled Ministers to carry their measures through Parliament. Nothing of the kind. May I remind the honorable member that that great Liberal leader, the late Right Honorable W. E. Gladstone, frequently called his party into councils where they discussed in secret the policy to be brought before “ Parliament, without the press being present, and without informing the newspapers of their decisions, or the manner in which they were arrived at. May I remind him, too, that that stout old Conservative and exceedingly capable man,the late Marquis of Salisbury, was compelled by the younger Tory party to meet in caucus again and again, and to take from the party his lines of policy?
– This is a good precedent for the honorable member to quote !
– I am answering the honorable member’s leader, who tells us that the fabric of the Constitution is’ about to tumble about our heads because a party elected by the intelligent voters of Australia meets together to discuss matters of public interest, and by its united wisdom comes to the best conclusions, after hearing all opinions on the subject.
– The honorable member is quoting as a precedent what was done by the Tory party in England !
– I quoted, first, what was done by . the most distinguished Liberal which Great Britain produced during the last century, and I then instanced what happened under the Marquis of Salisbury, who, on forming his second Administration, was compelled by the action of the late Lord Randolph Churchill to take into his Cabinet two members to whom he had no intention of giving portfolios. It is known that, in Australia, Premiers have been compelled to take into their Cabinets members with whom they did not wish to be associated. Is that the kind of constitutional government which the Leader of the Opposition prefers to that which we have here? Happily, the constitutional position is not now in issue. With a free franchise and open Parliamentary discussion, no harm can come to the Democracy of Australia. While we have a free press, and decisions must be arrived at after open discussion in Parliament, the electors may be allowed to say how they will be governed. I leave the matter to them. While certain innovations may have taken place, none has gone further than I desire. In fact, there are many more which I hope will take place, because I believe that they would improve our methods of administration and legislation. The Leader of the Opposition spoke about the effect of our methods on administration. I wish to ask him what he meant. Is he afraid, as was hinted during the last session of the last Parliament, that it is dangerous to permit the Labour party to administer the affairs of the Government?
– I think that there is certainly a very great .danger. -
– The honorable member for Ballarat is reported to have said, at Brisbane, that if the people had made up their minds to return a majority of Labour members, he hoped that they would give him and his colleagues time to get away from Australia.
– I made no such statement about myself and my colleagues.
– The press which supports the honorable member will say anything.
– I am quoting from memory what appeared in the Brisbane Courier, and am glad to have the honorable member’s denial. It would have been a pity if, after thirty years’ Parliamentary experience as a State member, as a member of the Convention which framed the Constitution, and as a Commonwealth member, and having distinguished himself by his legislative efforts, the honorable member for Ballarat had expressed such an opinion on the eve of the most momentous election that has ever taken place in Australia. I am glad to have given him an opportunity to correct the. report.
– I contradicted it almost immediately.
– I had not the pleasure of reading the contradiction. I may safely leave the question of the proposed amendment of the Constitution to the AttorneyGeneral. The Labour party takes the position that the Commonwealth should be able to deal justly with every citizen, and larger powers will be asked by referendum, so that this Parliament may protect the workers as effectively as it has protected the employers and the manufacturers.
– We are all in favour of that.
– The Leader of the Opposition referred to three subjects as the most important in the Governor-General’s speech. He defined these to be the note issue, the land tax, and the amendments of the Constitution. The note issue is to be on recognised safe lines, which have been adopted in Queensland for over seventeen years. The Bill will disclose the same principles. When discussed in that Parliament, it was condemned by nearly all the banking authorities there, and statements were made in general terms that if a State issue were brought into operation, there would be fewer notes in circulation in proportion to the number of people than* there were before. They also predicted loss, and even ruin. None of these things has taken place. As a matter of actual fact, three times the number of notes are in currency in Queensland compared with the average of the rest of Australia. The Bill will deal with currency only. I may remind the honorable member for Ballarat that although it may incidentally help the Treasury over a financial difficulty, it will not be brought forward for that purpose at all.
– Will it do that even incidentally ?
– Yes, I hope so; because I know of no other way in which we can so safely and effectively preserve and safeguard the money that the Commonwealth will be obliged to hold against the notes which the people will willingly and cheerfully put into circulation. Let me say, in general terms, that no person will be compelled to take any of these Australian notes unless he desires to do so.
– Are they not to be legal tender ?
– They will be legal tender between person and person except in one instance - that the Federal Treasurer will not be able to pay a note with another note. He will be compelled to pay in gold whenever the notes are presented.
– Supposing the notes drop in value?
– It will be time enough to consider that contingency in the dim and distant future when we shall be no more concerned about Parliament.
– Where will the notes be payable?
– At the Treasury.
– Does the honorable member mean that the notes will not circulate from there?
– I mean that paper money will, not circulate at the Treasury .
– Will they be payable in each State?
– If I want to get change for them in Western Australia, where shall I get it ?
– I will give the right honorable member the same reply as Sir Hugh Nelson gave to myself in the Queensland Parliament, when I put the same question - that every self-respecting financial institution will give its customers the medium that they require for their convenience. It is absurd to suggest that the Commonwealth, which has at the present time a debt, including the indebtedness of the whole of the States, of over ^250,000,000, will have its credit endangered by having a note issue as part of its currency.
– May we take it that the honorable member proposes to go no further than the Queensland Government did?
– Practically not, as regards the method and form of the Bill.
It will relate entirely to currency. As regards the amount of the issue, of course, that must be larger. It must have an absolute gold backing, and the- notes must be redeemable at the Treasury whenever presented.
– In gold?
– If a bank in Western Australia wants gold for a lot of those notes, how will it get it?
– I presume the financial institutions will have gold sufficient for the amount of notes which they may hold from time to time.
– They may get too many notes.
– Then those will be sent back to the Treasury.. I am very glad to give any information at this time, because it will save trouble later on.
– Do the Government propose to issue any of their notes themselves, irrespective of the banks?
– Not to pay oldage pensions?
– No. Let honorable members understand that they need not take one unless they voluntarily ask for it. The banks will not be asked to take one unless they come forward voluntarily and leave the gold. The notes will not be forced on them. The banks are absolutely free to take them or leave them. Therefore, honorable members must not get it into their heads that we are going to force a paper currency on Australia.
– There will be a great deal of trouble in getting them changed.
– I took the same view seventeen years ago, when the matter was discussed in the Queensland Parliament; but wiser heads told me that no difficulty would arise in those circumstances, and I am free to confess now that 1 was in error on that occasion. The usual banking conveniences will meet any little exigencies that may arise when people desire to have gold’ instead of notes. The issue will be a very great convenience to the people of Australia, altogether apart from the small profit that will be derived from it.” Further, the notes will be absolutely safer than those of any private company couldpossibly be. Statements have appeared in the press as to the enormous amount of gold reserve held by the banks against their note issue, and the fact that the notes are- a first charge on their assets - as they should be. But what protection does that give to the holder of the notes? I venture to say that, substantial and sound as all these banking institutions are, not one of them has more gold in reserve than would meet the demands of those who have current accounts with them, and persons holding their paper have just as much chance of losing as those who have current accounts there, in the case of a run.
– The States have had to come to their rescue three times already.
– The honorable member has properly pointed out that whenever the private institutions failed, the Government, representing the people of the Commonwealth, would have to come to. their aid. Speaking generally, I should not hesitate to come to their aid in a case of that kind. But it is the bounden duty of the Common- wealth Parliament, and of the Government, in view of the powers possessed by it as representing the people, to put the whole of the currency on a sound basis before we start any “other arrangements regarding banking or anything else.
– What benefit are the people to get by the change ?
– The people will get a convenient Australian medium in the shape of a paper currency.
– It will not be as convertible as the present notes arc.
– It will be.
– A man will have to come to the Treasury, at Melbourne, to get gold for the notes.
– They will be convertible at the Treasury. Where are the notes of Western Australian and South Australian banks convertible? Western Australia is bigger than Tasmania, Victoria, and New South Wales put together, but the paper which circulates all over that State is convertible in Perth, while South Australian bank notes, which circulate in the Northern Territory, are convertible in Adelaide.
– But any branch bank will take them.
– I venture the opinion -that they are only convertible into gold at -the head office. “
– But the branches do give gold for them.
– Certainly, and every honest and legitimate banking institution will give gold, if it has it, for the Commonwealth notes. If they did not, then, if I were Treasurer, I should keep an eye on them to see exactly what they meant by it, because the notes are legal tender.
– Why should they do it if they do not like to do it?
– They are not compelled in any way to do it, and no one would penalize them for not doing it. But I should keep an eye on them, because it would be an evidence that they would not be above causing a rush on the Treasury to try to deplete its resources. A great deal of hostility arose in Queensland in this matter from the banks. They tried to defeat the Treasury note issue to begin with, notwithstanding the fact that the Queensland Parliament had come to the rescue of some of them. It is no breach of confidence for me to say that practically the whole of the banking institutions in Queensland are in favour of a Commonwealth note issue. I recently had the honour of a rather lengthy interview with the leading bankers of Australia, and it is no breach of confidence for me to say that, after a very long discussion, they offered no serious opposition to the proposal which is to come before this Parliament.
– Did the Prime Minister tell them what gold backing he proposed ?
– Yes ; never , less than 25 per cent, at any time. Thus, if there was ;£1,000,000 worth of paper in circulation, the Treasury must keep not only ^250,000 in gold, but also a margin above that to meet any presentation of paper for conversion into gold at any time.
– The original proposal was to meet them in Commonwealth debentures.
– That proposal has never emanated from this Government. I think that Mr. Watson, when in office, had a leaning towards the Canadian system, which is rather a different one.
– Gold bonds.
– Yes. Not only will these notes be. covered by the gold deposit, but the Government will take a double precaution, by asking Parliament toauthorize the issue of Treasury bills equal to the whole of the amount of notes in circulation, in case of panic at any time. These Bills will be unsigned, and held by trustees, and may be launched in the money markets of the world at any moment in case of a financial crisis, and in that way we should be able to meet any run. If the whole of the notes came in with a rush, the Government would then be able, within a reasonable time, to pay them all in gold.
– It will be very much like a loan.
– If it is a loan, it is a loan that gives absolute security to the person holding the Commonwealth paper. The honorable member must admit that to begin with, and admit also that the Commonwealth will have the use of two- thirds of the money deposited with it in the meantime, and, by simply holding the credit of the Commonwealth in convertible paper, it will be absolutely certain that only such a catastrophe as the destruction of the Commonwealth by an earthquake could prevent people from receiving gold for the paper that they hold.
– I suppose the Treasurer will not let go of the notes, which are to be legal tender, unless he gets sovereigns for them?
– I thought I explained earlier that the banks would not get_ a single note until they came with a sovereign for it. The issue will not be forced upon anybody.
– How many notes will the Government issue?
– -I am of opinion that the amount will not be perhaps more than £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 to begin with, but I think that very soon there will be about £7,000.000 worth of notes in circulation in Australia.
– And will the onefourth provision apply to all?
– I am quite open to hear opinions regarding any amount issued over ^7,000,000. I should’ not like to see an issue far in excess of the requirements of the Australian people. It might perhaps be a safeguard to say that, if an issue of above £7,000,000 was demanded, the Treasury must hold gold against the whole of that excess of issue, because it might come in at any time. Thus, if there were an excess of issue of, say, £2,000,000 for some special circumstances, that £2,000,000 of notes would come in again when the emergency was over, and then the amount would return to its normal proportions. It would be just as well to hold the full amount of gold against the excess issue.
– To have an additional reserve in respect of the excess issue ?
– And to hold the 25 per cent, reserve against the issue of £7.000,000. That precaution would be taken te meet any rush. May I remind honorable members that in Australia, as the honorable member for North Sydney, who has read up this subject, will know, there is no period during which there is a specially large demand for circulation. The largest excess at any period does not exceed 10 per cent, or 12 per cent. The position is different in the United States of America, where the demand for currency of any kind at one period is double what it is at another. When so much is said of the danger of a rush on our gold reserve, and the incapacity of Australia to meet a demand for gold, I feel constrained to ask where there is a country which is better able to meet such a demand. Here we have practically a production of over £1,000,000 worth of gold every month, and if one were able to see ahead only a month or two, one could make any reasonable* provision for an extraordinary rush or for any timidity on the part of the people. I commend (his fact, not only to the House, but to our supporters outside.
– Will the honorable gentleman tell us what he proposes to do with the sovereigns in excess of the 25 per cent, reserve when he gets them?
– I do not think the honorable member heard what I said a fewmoments ago. We must have not only a gold reserve of 25 per cent., but a margin to enable the Treasurer to convert notes intogold.
– But where is- the surplus gold to go?
– We shall employ it. We shall obtain interest from it, and in so doing advance the best interests of the Commonwealth, I trust. I have dealt rather lengthily with this question, and I shall, therefore, refrain from reading the quotation from the Brisbane Courier to which I referred just now, and which I now have in my hand. I shall simply hand it to the Leader of. the Opposition.
– I contradicted the statement.
– I accept the honorable member’s assurance. I have now dealt with the main points of the charge which the Leader of the Opposition has made against the Government. He spoke against the Constitutional position of our party, and said that he was apprehensive of our financial proposals, and even of our ability to administer the affairs of the Commonwealth.
– Did the Leader of the Opposition say that he was opposed to the financial proposals of the Government?
– The honorable gentleman said this evening that the proposal of the Government to return to the States 25s. per capita from the 1st July of this year was almost illegal, and certainly improper.
– I said that the Government’s proposal was good so far as it went ; but I took the further point that the new financial arrangement should really begin on the 1st January, 1911. That was another point altogether.
– I interjected at the time that I preferred to notify the State Treasurers at once of our intention. Does the honorable member now. say that, because the people did not accept the agreement which he, on behalf of the Commonwealth entered into with the State Premiers last year - because we were able to defeat that agreement and’ to preserve the Commonwealth as a unity - the State Premiers who entered into it would desire a larger return for the reason that the agreement was not inserted in the Constitution?
– Certainly I should say so.
– I do not say that. All that I say is that the Government should start with the new arrangement as from 1st January, 1911, and their position would then be clear.
– I notify the State Governments that during the present financial year we shall be compelled to obey the provisions of the Constitution, and to return to them not less than three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue up to the end of December next, but that during the last six months we shall deduct such an amount as will enable us to make to the Treasurers of the States a net return of 25s. per capita for the financial year. That is perfectly clear and just.
– The Braddon section is to operate until the end of 1910.
– Then the Government during the last six months of the financial year will take back some proportion of what they have paid over under the Braddon section during the first half of the financial year.
– Why should we not do so ?
– I do not think it is fair.
– Last session we had the honorable gentleman pleading most eloquently for the adoption of that which we now propose. He said, further, that the States were prepared to reimburse the Commonwealth not less than£600,000 towards making good the then estimated deficit of£1, 200,000. The late Government went to the country on that very proposal. Their sponsors and advocates said that unless the agreement were put in the Constitution there was no guarantee that the States would obtain any return from the Commonwealth when the Labour party came into power. We objected to the proposed agreement being inserted in the Constitution, and the Premier of Queensland, who claimed to be the author, as well as the newspaper behind him, said that a great victory had been won. The newspaper in question declared that the agreement was a great victory for a great statesman. What was that agreement? It was that from 1st July of this year until the Constitution was amended there should be returned annually to the States not less than 25s. per capita. What is the difference between that proposal and our own?
– If there is no difference, why did the honorable member oppose the proposal of the late Government ?
– Because we wished to preserve the power of the Commonwealth to control its own destinies. At the time we were opposed by the Commonwealth Fusion Government, with a large majority behind them, and a solid phalanx of State Governments. The late Government went to the country with all the power and influence of the State Governments behind them, but they lost, and lost badly. I am glad that they did.
– We did not lose very badly.
– I hold that the right honorable member’s party did. They had against them only the despised Labour party, and we heard croakings from them as to our party being divided on the question.
– So they were.
– They were in my State.
– All the more credit to the rare talent of honorable members sitting on this side of the House, who raised their voices against the placing of the agreement in the Constitution, and urged that the
Commonwealth should be first. We hear nothing to-day of that charge.
– Was that the sole cause of the victory ? The honorable member knows better.
– It was a large factor in the victory. Nothing was more unpopular a.t the time than the action taken by the Labour party, when in Opposition, in opposing the agreement. Only one metropolitan newspaper in this State thundered out its denunciation of the agreement, and the Commonwealth is indebted very largely to it for its attitude. I think that nearly every influential metropolitan newspaper in Australia thundered forth denunciations of our action with respect to the late Government’s proposal, and never failed to point out the little disagreements and differences amongst us. Notwithstanding that, the national sentiment and the soundness of the position taken up by our party prevailed, and support was won by us, I am glad to say, even outside our own ranks. That being so, when I hear the principal spokesman for the agreement under which a payment of 25s. per capita was to be made annually to the States from the very date proposed by us, and was to continue until the Constitution was altered, asserting that our proposition is unreasonable, improper and almost illegal, I feel that he is not taking into careful consideration the language he is using.
– I spoke of nothing but the six-months’ period. The Government cannot get behind the Constitution, which says that the Braddon section shall continue to operate until the end of the present year. After that, they may do as they please.
– I do not wish any misapprehension as to what I now say. The agreement entered into with the State Premiers allowed the Commonwealth Parliament to propose an amendment of the Constitution with respect to the payments under the Braddon section, and provided that the new arrangement should come into operation at the end of June last.
– Quite so. But had that agreement been accepted by the people, the Constitution would have been amended, and the proposed payment would have been legal. As it is, the Government’s proposal will not be legal, because the Constitution remains unamended.
– We did not seriously object to the proposed per capita payment of 25s. per annum, but we did object to the agreement being embodied in the Constitution, so that a majority could not take it out again. That was the point at issue-, and the honorable member knows it. We said that, having regard to the voting at the previous general election, nine-tenths of the people might be in favour of removing the agreement from the Constitution, and yet would be unable to do so. We declared that we were prepared to sanction such a payment for a reasonable time, but the Government of the day would not listen to any compromise, and, therefore, we had to appeal to Cesar. Caesar, I am glad to say, has adopted our view. Will any injury be done to the States by our asking Parliament to pass a measure guaranteeing for ten years a return to the States on the same basis as was proposed in the agreement?
– No. I say that that is good, so far as it goes.
– It is exceedingly generous. We have stood by our promise to the very letter. Is it not a fact that many of the State Premiers, as. well as other advocates of the insertion of the agreement in the Constitution, declared that one reason why they wished that to be done, as against our proposal, was that if it were placed in the Constitution it could be taken out again next year? On the other hand, we were told that if we fixed ten years we should be in honour bound to keep the agreement for that period. The present attitude of the Opposition is, in my opinion, most ungracious; but I think that when the Leader of the Opposition considers this matter, he will agree that if this Government is at fault, it is in the direction of generosity. I had expected the Leader of the Opposition to say a few words about the troublesome deficit-
– The finance question will come on afterwards.
– That is so; but I point out that this deficit was a legacy from a previous Government.
– If the agreement we proposed had been carried, there would have been no deficit.
– We realized that the promise in regard to the £600,000 was rather an awkward part of the agreement. I said, as nearly as I can recollect, that if the agreement then proposed was a political bribe, it was unworthy of men who had taken part in the Conference, but that, if it was called for by the national necessities, all honour to its promoters.
– The promise was given because we relieved them from the payment of old-age pensions.
– Are our obligations not now just as great as they were then?
– Yes; but they were coupled with the condition as to the agreement being placed in the Constitution.
– It was pointed out by honorable members opposite then, that the States would be less secure than under the arrangement proposed by the present Government, seeing that the Constitution could be at any time amended. ‘ I can refer the Leader of the Opposition to statements made again and again to the effect that in placing the agreement in the Constitution we were only doing something that could be undone next year.
– It is not so easy to alter the Constitution !
– That is exactly what we said, and that is the view we have held all along. In my opinion, to insert this agreement in the Constitution would have been eating into the very heart of our Federation. When it was sought to again amend the Constitution, it would have been necessary to fight every interest that had grown up under the agreement, and, as a matter of fact, an amendment would have been impossible without a mild revolution. I desire to correct an impression which may arise in the minds of honorable members, and of people outside, in regard to the action of the Government in respect to the States Governments. Some of the Premiers say that if the Commonwealth Government had taken them into its confidence, there would have been no difficulty in financing this difficult period. Let me relate the history of the whole affair. As soon as we came into office, I publicly stated that I should be glad to .co-operate’ with the States Premiers, and meet them in conference,, if so desired. The Premier of Victoria saw me, and we talked over the terms, and, after seeing me on a second occasion, he went to Sydney, and had a conversation with the Premier of New South Wales. He informed me that the 17th June would be a convenient date for a Conference on the terms indicated. I pointed out that it would be most inconvenient for Commonwealth Ministers, but that we were willing to meet them. Nothing took place for a few days, until Mr. Wade wrote stating that the tentative date was a most inconvenient time, and suggesting that the Commonwealth Government should outline their policy for the Premiers to consider, and that, if they thought fit, they would afterwards convene a Conference at which the matter could be discussed. On receipt of that letter, I stated briefly to the press that the policy of the Commonwealth Government would be first indicated to the Federal Parliament through the GovernorGeneral j and I regard that as a proper attitude to take up under the circumstances. Practically the same terms as those we are asking Parliament to indorse were put forward as a basis for the friendly Conference which I suggested j and I think that no terms could be more favorable or generous. I have reason to believe that even honorable members on my own side thought I had gone too far in order to conciliate the Premiers. I felt, however, that as the people had given us numbers and power, we could afford to be generous, and for that reason I was exceedingly anxious to meet the States. I had hoped that the Premiers would have stated their readiness to deal with the present Government as fairly, as generously, as they had proposed to deal with our predecessors.
– They did not deal generously with us - they did what they thought was fair, but they certainly were not generous.
– Surely I was entitled to expect the State Premiers to deal as fairly with this Government as with the late Government ?
– The Premiers. will give this Government exactly the same terms they gave us - that is the trouble.
– Has the honorable member been reading the statements of his own press lately?
– I have.
– Then they give me very different news from that seen by the honorable member. This Government is going to ask Parliament to adopt practically the terms offered to the Premiers. The amount of the deficit will be debited to the States out of the 25s. per head ; and, of course, the special arrangement in regard to Western Australia will be carried out. As to the temporary borrowing of some £37,000 from the Trust Accounts - not a Trust Account specially authorized by Act of Parliament, but little Trust Accounts for the purchase of goods and so forth, principally in London - that was in order to balance the accounts on the 30th June, and it was repaid the next day. There is a doubt whether that arrangement was legal or not.
– I thought the amount was £50,000.
– The amount of £50,000 was credited to London, but only £37,000 was actually borrowed from the Trust Accounts, and we also held back £400,000 odd that ought to have been paid over to the States. I remind the honorable member for Swan, however, that, when he was Treasurer, he also held back money from the States for adjustment purposes.
– Do you think it is a fair argument to say that what one Treasurer has done–
– No one knows better than the honorable gentleman the merit and capacity of the permanent heads of the Treasury. They do their best; and I may say, without reflecting on other branches of the service, that the Commonwealth has reason to congratulate itself on the work done by these gentlemen.
– In the case the Prime Minister quotes, there was no deficit ; the holding back of the money was only a matter of arrangement.
– I remind the right honorable gentleman that that unhappy position was bequeathed to me. As soon as he found he no longer had a surplus, but a deficit, he disappeared rather hurriedly, though whether he did so willingly or unwillingly I do not know. Some newspapers and politicians chuckled mightily about the embarrassment the Labour Government would have in dealing with the financial problem; but the people of the country knew better.
– The Prime Minister, when in Opposition, did the same thing - he tried to embarrass the Government in power.
– The honorable gentleman may search in vain for any record of my having at any time sought to injure the Commonwealth and a party at the same time.
– What about the proposal to reduce the qualifying age for women’s old-age pensions to sixty, when you knew we had no money for the purpose?
– I propose to so reduce the age at a very early date.
– But the Prime Minister then knew that Ave had no money, and was trying to embarrass the Government.
– That is rather a new subject, which I shall deal with at the proper time.
– Was the criticism the Prime Minister speaks of in the Victorian or the New South Wales newspapers ?
– I think the criticism was general; I know that I scanned a number of newspapers from places further north than New South Wales and elsewhere. The honorable member for Parkes is a severe critic, but I am sure he has no sympathy with people who would place their country second in their anxiety to hit a party.
– I saw no such criticism in the Sydney newspapers.
– The Leader of the Opposition was quite cognisant of the fact, because he appreciated my remarks on the subject.
– There seems a great deal of confusion as to the Government’s proposal in regard to the States. Do I understand that the Government are going to carry out the Conference agreement except in two particulars, namely, to make the agreement for ten years instead of in perpetuity, and not to embody it in the Constitution ?
– Yes. The present agreement will be under an Act of Parliament, granting the States 25s. per head for a period of ten years.
– For a period of nine and a half years actually.
– I know that the honorable member for Parkes understands, if die honorable member for Parramatta does not.I do not think I need trespass on the good nature of the House further than to repeat that the measures will be brought down in as concise a form-
– And as quickly, I hope.
– As soon ‘as the Opposition are ready to go on with business, we shall proceed with it. No doubt a number of the new members will wish to say a few words, but the Government desire to proceed with the greatest expedition. As to my action regarding the sum of £37,000 which has been referred to, I shall ask for leave to Bring down a Bill at once to indemnify what has been done, lest a violation of the Audit Act may have occurred.
– That is the right course to pursue.
– In every matter of this kind, whenever there is the slightest doubt as to the legality of anything that may be done, I shall at once take Parliament into my confidence in regard to it.
– I do not think that the Audit Act covers what was done. There is a reference in it to surpluses, but I do not think that it covers this particular action.
– There are certain Trust Funds, of which, in my opinion, the Treasurer can make temporary use without violating the Audit Act.
– There is a special provision regarding some surpluses.
– The Treasurer can transfer amounts from one account to another.
– Section 37 provides for the transfer of amounts from one vote to another under certain circumstances, but in this case the prescribed conditions were not complied with.
– Where there is doubt as to the legality of administrative action, Parliament alone has to decide. In the Bill which I propose to introduce, we shall probably ask for a much larger sum than has been mentioned. There is available not less than £500,000 which may be conveniently used, and is required, in connexion with the payment to the States of their three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue. We propose to borrow £500,000 during the first half of the current financial year, to be repaid during the second half.
– Will legislative consent be obtained first?
– Yes. I am now indicating the course which I propose to pursue. The States have a right to, and will demand, their full pound of flesh, and it will be paid cheerfully. The right honorable -member for Swan told us that his fault was only a little one.
– I said that we had no deficit. There was merely a manipulation of the amounts payable to the States and to the Commonwealth.
– There was, in my recollection, an occasion in which the July adjustment, so far as Queensland was concerned, was much larger than it will be this year, notwithstanding the present deficit.
– The Treasurers have always prided themselves on making these adjustments very small.
– No doubt they did their best. We are at no greater disadvantage in this matter now that there is a deficit than they when there were surpluses. I compliment the Leader of the Opposition upon the absence of violent political antagonism from his remarks. May I express the hope that he will enjoy vigorous health, and be able to satisfactorily perform the duties of his office? It is thirty years since his parliamentary career commenced in this chamber. This is a long time. As for the Ministry, and the party behind it, we shall be glad to hear him and any of his supporters at any time. The most severe criticism regarding any measure we may submit to the House will be welcomed.
– Before proceeding to deal with the measures outlined in the speech of His Excellency the Governor-General, I wish to refer to the introductory paragraph informing Parliament of the great loss the nation has sustained by the lamented death of His late Majesty King Edward VII. The sympathy of us all is with the Queen Mother and the Royal Family in their sad bereavement. It seems strange that when expressing sorrow at the death of one Sovereign, we necessarily have to immediately afterwards offer our congratulations to the new Monarch. We all wish a long and beneficent reign to His Majesty King George. V., and feel sure that he and his beloved consort will do their best for the people of the United Kingdom and of the Dominions beyond the ‘Seas, of which Australia forms part. Coming to another subject, it is extraordinary that to pass from the Opposition to the Treasury bench should create a marked change in the manners and demeanour of many politicians. On the present occasion this change is a very agreeable one. It was a pleasure to .me to listen to the speech of the Prime Minister ; he was so fair spoken, and so full of good sentiments. He seemed to wish to please every one, and to pay compliments to all. Remembering his attitude a few months back, it is difficult to believe that he is the same man as we knew leading the late Opposition. I hope that a similar change has operated in his first lieutenant, and that the Attorney-General will give up his pretences at ill-temper and vituperation to which we are so much accustomed. The members of the present Opposition are not here to find fault unless there is something of which to complain. I have been a member of a Government during a considerable portion of my parliamentary life, and am therefore more accustomed to defend administrative action than to attack Ministries. I felt, when in Opposition for two or three years, some little while ago, that I have not the same aptitude for attack as I seem to have for defence. It is indeed easier, in some respects, to defend than to attack, because a Minister is always able to possess himself of the exact facts of a case under discussion. But, while the Opposition will not find fault unnecessarily, I do not think it part of my duty to compliment Ministers on anything they have done. I am here to criticise the Government, when I think that it is not managing the affairs of the country in a straightforward and proper way. During the last fortnight I have constantly noticed reports in the press of interviews with the Treasurer, in which he speaks about the deficit inherited from his predecessor, and apparently wishes to make it appear that, during the two months for which he has held office it has been considerably reduced. However clever the honorable gentleman may be, it is impossible that anything he might have done could have reduced the deficit. Had the late Government continued in office, the result would have been the same. We knew before the last House was dissolved that the Postal and Customs revenue was increasing, and I made a speech informing the country that, taking into consideration£600,000 which we expected to get should the Financial Agreement be carried, there would be a deficit of only£350,000.
– The mistake which the right honorable member made was in underestimating the deficit of his successor.
– I did not under-estimate it. Every honest Treasurer tries to make as true an estimate as is possible. He estimates the revenue at what he thinks it will be. We estimated our revenue at the amount which we thought we should receive. Australian conditions have improved since then, and, as a consequence, the revenue from Customs and Excise, and from Postal, Telegraphic, and Telephonic services has increased beyond the estimate, so that the deficit is now lower than we thought it would be. There has been a further saving of which I do not approve, though I cannot hold the present Government responsible for it;
I refer to the saving due to the holding back of votes which should have been expended on works and buildings authorized by Parliament. The Fisher Government has had no more to do with the present condition of the public funds than have you, Mr. Speaker, or any other honorable member; therefore, I do not know why the Prime Minister should have so much to say to the newspaper reporters about the reduction of the deficit. The honorable gentleman almost disarms criticism by his readiness to do what may be right should there be a doubt as to the legality of the action regarding the Trust Funds. In my opinion, without question he has done wrong, and the sooner he rectifies it the better. He seems to have no regard for law or Constitution, and to think that, because he has a majority behind him, he may dip his hands into the Trust Funds. Surely the Labour members are not like dumb driven cattle, to do what they are told, and to remain silent when the Constitution is being violated ! Ministers have been impeached for less than the Treasurer has done in laying hands on Trust Funds despite the express prohibition of the law. Apparently, while he has a silent and subservient majority, he does not care what he does. Section 61 of the Audit Act 1901 says -
It shall not be lawful for the Treasurer to expend any moneys standing to the credit of the Trust Fund except for the purposes of such fund or under the authority of an Act.
– Has the Prime Minister taken money from the Trust Funds?
– He has said so.
– He made certain qualifications. What has been done has been a mere adjustment by the Treasury officials.
– Nothing of the kind. Current revenue adjustments have nothing to do with the taking of money from Trust Funds. Section 87 of the Constitution provides that the Commonwealth shall not spend more than one-fourth, and that the remaining three-fourths of the net Customs and Excise revenue must go to the States. That has to be adjusted at the end of each financial year, and in this large territory it cannot be arranged to a pound or two at the end of the year. It takes a week or two afterwards to absolutely adjust the current accounts, but it is simply an adjustment, as the revenue is there, and there is no deficit. The only question is, “ How much will the threefourths amount to? How much is our onefourth that we have to keep ? “ In my time the Treasury officials have always been very pleased with themselves because they have got the adjustment down to practically nothing. Sometimes it is a matter of only two or three thousand pounds.
– When did the right honorable member make the adjustment?
– The accounts have to be closed at the end of June, and the adjustment was made in July.
– That is what I am doing.
– But the making of that adjustment has nothing to do with the Trust Funds.
– I admitted that.
– Would the right honorable member say that there was ever any moment of practical time when there was a deficit of £37,000 odd in those particular Trust Funds?
– The Prime Minister said there was. There is no doubt whatever that he had no right to touch one penny of the Trust Funds. The second charge which I bring against the Treasurer and the Government is that they have spent £406,000 of money that, by the law of the Constitution, belonged to the States. I saw, with surprise, that the Prime Minister told the Premier of Queensland that the Commonwealth had not touched a penny of” the States’ money. If so, the money must be there. Why, then, have not the Government returned to the States their threefourths of the net Customs and Excise revenue ?
-I said we had not spent the States’ money.
– That money belonged to the States. The Government have taken a part of the States’ three-, fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue to the extent of ,£406,000, by the Prime Minister’s own admission. In doing so they have broken the Constitution. It must have been broken, or that money would have been there to return to the States. The Commonwealth Government have no power to touch any of the States’ three-quarters of the Customs and Excise revenue. All that they can expend is the Commonwealth’s one-quarter. Section 87 of the Constitution says -
Of the net revenue of the Commonwealth from duties of Customs and Excise, not more than one-fourth shall be applied annually by the Commonwealth towards its expenditure.
If the Commonwealth Government have not applied more than one- fourth towards their expenditure, the remaining three-fourths should be there to give to the States. Where, then, is that amount of £406,000? It has been spent by the Commonwealth in addition to the one-fourth. Any one can see that. Therefore, not only has the Prime Minister spent money belonging to the Trust Funds illegally, without authority, and contrary to the express terms of the Statute, but he has also violated the Constitution by expending more than onefourth of the Customs and Excise revenue for Commonwealth purposes.
– Neither of those statements is in accordance with fact.
– The honorable member has no right to say that. I know more about the matter than he does, and his assertion is utterly wrong. The honorable member need not think that ignorant bluster can controvert me. I know too much about the question, having been Treasurer for years. To show that the Prime Minister has done wrong, he intends now to bring in a Bill to authorize him to use money standing to the credit of the Trust Funds, and to pay the States what he has illegally taken from them. Where is the £406,000 which has not been paid to the States ? It has been illegally spent by the Commonwealth, contrary to the terms of the Constitution.
– It has not been illegally spent.
– Order ! The honor- . able member will have ample opportunity to reply when the right honorable member for Swan has spoken.
– I have read through the Speech, and, with the exception of two or three paragraphs, nearly the whole of it might have appeared in any Speech made at the present time, seeing that the matters dealt with are all in course of being carried out. The last fifteen paragraphs relate to questions that have already been before us, or that, at any rate, we know all about. They may serve very well to fill up the Speech. I have no objection to that, for I think these Speeches are very useful as giving information, and even when they do not tell us anything new, they bring matters to our minds again. I do not think, however, that honorable members will find in the greater part of the Speech anything that is important in the sense of being new.
– Is not penny postage new ?
– No. We said we were going to bring in penny postage for each State in Australia, and I understand that that is what the Government propose. The result of the election has been referred to by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. I shall say no more than that the election has turned parties upside down.. It has put us where the Labour party were, and put them where we were. When they remember how they acted when they were on this side; how much noise, and how many long speeches they made; and how much obstruction they practised, and how ill-tempered they were, they should be pleased to know that we do not intend to follow any. tactics of that sort. There is a general impression abroad - I do not know whether it obtains in this House, but I should hardly think so, because honorable members should be in closer touch with the real facts than arc the bulk of the people outside - that the verdict of the country has been overwhelmingly in favour of the Labour party. It has certainly had the effect of giving them a majority in both Houses, but I submit that it .was not so much in their favour as, some think. I remember a very good admonition in the good Book, to this effect: “ Let him who thinketh he standeth take heed Test he fall.” With a very small swing of the pendulum the position of advantage gained by honorable members opposite may easily be changed. I hope, therefore, that they will not indulge in any bluster or undue arrogance, because they have not much to boast about when all is told. I find from these figures, which have already been published, that the Labour party in this Parliament represent only 30 per cent, of the electors. Only 673,697 voted for them, while 1,584,785 either voted against them, or did not vote at all. The Labour party in this Parliament are, therefore, representative of only 30 per cent, of those on the roll. One good feature about tHe position, of which I am sure that all of us on this side are glad, is that in the past we have always suffered through the promises made by the Labour party, which they have not had an opportunity of carrying out. Many reckless and unscrupulous people, when they know that they have no chance of carrying out a promise, are not so particular how much they do promise. That difference is often noticed between men not likely to be, or not expecting to be, in power and those having, or expecting to have, power and responsibility. The Labour Opposition promised all sorts of things, but thought they would never be called upon to carry out their promises. They have now an opportunity of doing so, and we shall see how they fulfil the task in the next two or three years. The Prime Minister referred to what the Financial Agreement meant, and what it did not mean, but if he had been in Western Australia, and heard his own party defining it, he would not have understood what were the real views of the Labour party. They said that there was no difference between the proposals of the two parties ; that the Brisbane proposal was better even than our own ; and the Gympie proposal better than both. They said anything, except where the forces were too even, and in those cases they declared themselves in favour of the agreement as it stood. Honorable members who have looked at the returns know that a great many of the Labour party voted for the Financial Agreement. The agreement, after all, was lost by a very small majority. Three States were in favour of it and three against it; and although 1,316,352 votes were recorded, it was lost by only 25,324. We recognise that the majority must rule, but it may reasonably be said that there was only a bare majority against the agreement. We accept the result of the referendum as the decision of the people, although practically one-half of the electors of Australia who voted favoured the proposals of the then Government, while 854,506 electors did not take the trouble to vote at all. In the circumstances, it is idle for honorable members of the Labour party to ride the high horse, and to say that the country at the last general election was wholly in favour of their policy. On the Financial Agreement there was almost a drawn battle between the two parties, and 854,506 looked on and did not vote.
– If the 25,000 majority had been on the other side, what would have been said by the present Opposition?
– Such a decision would have had to be accepted by the Labour party, just as we have had to accept the actual result, as the verdict of the whole people, though it is not, as only 670,838 out of the 2,258,482 on the roll voted for it. The Prime Minister appeared to think, when speaking this evening, that the proposal outlined in His Excellency the
Governor-General’s speech, with respect to the payment to the States, was in accordance with that for which the Labour party had always contended. I have before me, however, certain quotations from letters written by a member of the present Government which tell a different tale. I refer to letters written by an honorable senator who held office in the last Labour Administration, and who is to-day Minister of Defence. I invite honorable members to bear in mind that these quotations are taken, not from the report of a speech made by the honorable senator - if they were, it might be said that he had been misreported - but from two letters addressed by Senator Pearce to the editor of the West Australian, on the 22nd and 25th February last. The honorable senator, who was then the leader of his party in that State, and who is looked upon as the guide of his party in Western Australia, wrote in the first letter, dated 22 nd February -
On 25th February - three days later- he wrote as follows : -
I will stand by my original contention, viz., that the Labour party is in favour of paying 25s. per head to the States and the special grant to Western Australia, and if the agreement is kept out of the Constitution, is pledged to embody it in an Act of Parliament for a fixed term of, say, 25 years.
That is what we were told by the Labour party in Western Australia.
– Where the financial agreement was popular.
– Quite so. It was accepted there, but not by a very large majority, for, to a great extent, the Labour party and their supporters voted against it. Were not the statements that I have just quoted responsible declarations by a member of the Labour party who holds office to-day as Minister of Defence? I think so, and we expect him to try to carry out his promise. He said that the Labour party were pledged to adopt a certain course, and we wish now to know what has become of that pledge to embody the Financial Agreement in an Act of Parliament for twenty-five years. As to the result of the referendum with respect to the consolidation of the State debts, no one party can take any credit for it. 1 advocated the consolidation of the State debts, and voted for the* proposed amendment of the Constitution with respect to them, just as I voted for the Financial Agreement. The credit for the result of that referendum must be shared by all parties. I come now to die question of old-age pensions, and invite the House to note the difference between the attitude of the Labour party tol day and that which it assumed a few months ago. When I, as Treasurer, had charge of a small Bill designed to liberalize the Old-age Pensions Act, I was met by the full force of the Labour party, who desired to reduce to sixty years the age at which a man might become entitled to a pension.
– Not men, but Women.
– The honorable member is in error. The Labour party, on the motion of the member for Wide Bay, now Prime Minister, desired to reduce the age in the case of women to fifty-five years, and in the case of men to sixty years. The honorable member forgets what he did.
– I know what I voted for.
– If the. honorable member was present when the division took place, he must have voted to reduce to sixty years the age at which men might become entitled to a pension. I told the Labour party then that if that proposal were pressed I should be compelled to abandon the Bill, since it would make upon the revenue of the Commonwealth a greater demand than it could bear. They did their best, however, to embarrass the Government. They simply desired, for their own political purposes, to place us in a monetary difficulty, although they say now that they did no such thing. The honorable member for Maranoa, who laughs, knows that that was not fair dealing, for the Labour party knew at the time the financial position of the Treasury. I do not recollect how my genial friend, the honorable member for Grey, who is also smiling, voted, but I should not be at all surprised if he walked out of the Chamber and refrained from taking part in the division. Here we have another illustration of the difference Between the tactics of the Labour party when out of office, and their professions now that they are in office. In the one position, the Labour party, led by the present Prime Minister, were trying to harass the Government, and in the other they make no attempt to do that which they called upon us to do. As a matter of fact, they could’ not do it. The Government have not available the money necessary to give effect to such an alteration of the law. Do honorable members think that I would vote for a proposition merely to place the Government in a difficulty?
– I should be ashamed of my colleagues on this side of the House if they took such a course knowing that there was not available the money necessary to give effect to their proposals. The action taken by the Labour party on the occasion in question was simply an electioneering dodge, and it was certainly a most unworthy one. I am surprised that the present Attorney-General should have voted as he did on that occasion to reduce to sixty years the age at which a man may obtain a pension.
– That is one of the proposals I made before.
– The Government cannot afford now to carry out such a proposition. There are two important measures to which I shall refer, the one relating to the proposed note issue, and the other to a Commonwealth progressive land tax. Bills dealing with both of these propositions will be placed before us presently, so that I need not make detailed reference to them at this stage. May I say, however, that I hope that the Note Issue Bill will provide for adequate gold reserves. As to the land tax, I read this morning that the South Australian Government also propose to impose a progressive land tax. A similar tax is proposed by the Victorian Government, and we shall have the Commonwealth land tax operating all over Australia. That is a strange way to encourage settlement - to tax land, regardless of whether or not it has been improved. The object of the Government in submitting this land tax is to encourage closer settlement and to burst up large estates. The Government propose to tax a man who has done his best to improve his property, just as they tax a man who has done nothing to improve his land. As the object of the land tax is to promote and insure the better use of land, it is unfair that a man who has used his land in the best way possible, should be taxed in the same way as a man who has done very little with his property. The desire to tax land seems to be a sort of fetish with some people. There is, first of all, the municipal or shire council tax, then there is the State progressive land tax, and now we are to have a Commonwealth progressive land tax. What is the object of this triplicate taxation? The only reason I have heard advanced is that it is designed to compel persons to put their land to the best use. Let us take the case of the owner of a small piece of land in, say, Flinders Lane, who has erected upon it a six or. seven story building. How could he put his land to better use? Then, again, take the case of the owner of 200 or 300 acres in the Colac district, who is devoting it to the production of potatoes and onions. Could he put it to a better use?
– He will not be taxed. He will come under the proposed exemption.
– Land in the Colac district is worth £40 per acre, or more. The proposed tax is said to be designed to compel people to put their land to the best use. Whilst I do not think that land taxation, in a new country like this, is a good thing, I recognise that we need to encourage men to go on the land and to build their homes upon it. We need to do all that we can to encourage and entice men to “become rural settlers. I am, however, and . have always been, a strong ‘believer in closer settlement. In Western Australia, some years ago, I brought in a Bill to compel the improvement of freehold land. Ever since 1887, when Western Australia was a Crown colony, the regulations which I then brought in, haveprovided that there must be improvement of land before the fee-simple was issued; but there was a lot of good land taken up before then which, at that time, was not being put to its best use. It was ex post facto legislation, but I brought in a Bill providing that those who had acquired freehold land prior to 1887 should improve it to the same extent as those who had gone on the land since then were required to do. That Bill passed through the lower House, but did not become law. That action on my part shows that I am quite in sympathy with those who say that we should en,deavour to closely settle and improve the land ; but, to my mind, the system proposed by the Government is not the right way to bring that about. It suggests the action of a man who, having ‘a grudge against unjust people, proposes to tax both the just and the unjust. Those who have done their best with their land are to receive no better treatment than is to be meted out to those who have not done as well as is desired with their property. The land taxation proposals of the Government are unscientific, and are based on a wrong principle. I do not object to the compulsory improvement of land, but I have always said that a man has a right to hold that which he has lawfully obtained - that no one should be able to take jit from him; but that if the State requires land so obtained in order to improve the conditions of the State generally the Government should buy it from him. I see no harm in that. It is a fair stand .to take up. It is fair for the State to say to a man, “ As you obtained your land under the law, so’ you must sell it under the law.” But to tax a man’s land for the express purpose of depreciating its value - of reducing, perhaps, the value which he _ has actually paid - is absolutely immoral ; it is robbery. Such a proposal is not open to logical discussion. But besides, this proposition, on the part of the Government, is an invasion of the constitutional rights of the States. It is an attempt to do indirectly that which they could not do directly. 1 admit that closer settlement, especially along railways, is desirable, and should be encouraged, but let that encouragement be extended in a direct and straightforward manner. Let the object of this Bill be clearly stated in the preamble. I ask the Attorney-General whether that will be done. I am sure that it will not. It will be left to the people to infer the object of K the Bill. The honorable gentleman will allow the people to talk about the object; he has told us himself that the object of the Bill is to burst up estates, but he will not dare to state that object in the Bill itself. If the Prime Minister wishes to act straightforwardly, as he is so continually posing in this House, let him say that the Bill is introduced for the purposes of closer settlement, and further occupying and improving the lands of Australia. The Prime Minister will not do that, because he knows that, if he inserts those purposes, the measure is not worth the paper it is written on. He introduces a measure ostensibly with one object, but really with another.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.4.5 p.m.
– I now come to another matter which is closely associated with the question of the land tax, and which is set forth in the following paragraph of the Governor- General’s Speech : - “
In view of the urgent necessity for encourag- ‘ ing an influx of suitable immigrants to the Commonwealth in order to more effectively develop its great resources and defend it against possible invasion, My Advisers intend to adopt a policy which it is confidently believed will, by making fertile land available, speedily induce very large numbers of people of the right kind to settle on the lands of the Commonwealth.
That is a -very well-constructed paragraph, and it meets with my entire approval so far as it sets forth the desirability of adopting a policy which will make “ fertile land available “.and induce “ large numbers of people of the right kind “ to settle in this country; but as one who knows something oi the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth, its meaning is difficult to understand. I suppose that not only the .Government, but all members of the House, know very well that the Commonwealth Constitution was framed by the States, giving up certain of their powers to the central authority. The States, before Federation, were practically sovereign States, leaving out the Royal veto and the British Parliament. There was one power, however,, that the States did not transfer; that is, they never gave the Commonwealth any power over the lands of the country.
– They gave the Commonwealth a general power of taxation.
– Does the honorable member think ‘ that I am not aware of that fact? The only power in regard to land which was given to the Commonwealth was to take an area in New South Wales for the purposes of a Federal capital, but even that had to be granted by the State or acquired by the central- power. The Commonwealth does not own an inch of land, so that if it desires to erect a post-office or a drill shed, it has to buy the land, either from a State or some private individual. There is no power given to the Commonwealth to interfere with the sale, occupation, or development of the land; and if this Parliament passes a law with any such object as that indicated in the paragraph, that law will not ‘be worth the paper it is written on. There is power given to the Commonwealth to impose taxation for revenue purposes. But it has been said in this House and all over Australia during the last three years that the main object of (he proposed Land Tax Bill is not revenue, but the bursting up of large estates.
– What is the main object of protective Customs taxation?
– I am not dealing with that matter now.
– Has the Commonwealth power to encourage manufacture?
– The honorable gentleman nine times out of ten does not mean what he says, and I am not going to trouble to reply to him. Howis the Commonwealth going to make “ fertile land available” so as to “speedily induce very large numbers of the right kind to settle on the lands of the Commonwealth?” Is it proposed to purchase the land ? So far as I can see, the Commonwealth cannot buy the land except for public purposes, and I question whether land for the purposes of settlement can be regarded as for a “ public purpose “ under the Constitution. According to the Prime Minister this is one of the most important paragraphs in the Governor- General’s Speech ; but he has not told us how effect is to be given to it. Then, what are “ people of the right kind “ ?
– The kind that will vote against the honorable gentleman.
– For many years endeavours to induce people to vote against me have been made by the Labour party, but on each occasion my majority increases. The Government do not tell us how they propose to settle the people on the land, or when they propose to start. As I have said, the Commonwealth does not possess an acre of land, and is not likely to do so unless the Constitution be changed.
– There is the Northern Territory!
– I do not think that immigrants who belong to the Labour party will care to go there; and altogether the proposal of the Government’1 is rather too much to ask this deliberative assembly or the people of Australia to swallow.
– Does the right honorable member say that the proposed land tax is not legal ?
– I did not say that a land tax is illegal, but for the object set forth it is thoroughly illegal. The Government say that, while they have no land of their own, they may succeed in bursting up some of the big estates, and thus make land available. They seem to forget, however, that when these estates are burst up the lands will remain under the control of the States. It is in the Governments of the
States that the land of Australia is vested. It is they who have the disposition of it, and the ability to facilitate occupation. No doubt the Commonwealth could arrange with them for the increased settlement of the country by means of immigration. The Deakin Government offered to bring immigrants from the Old Country, and to land them at the principal ports of Australia free of charge, if the Governments of the States would promise to give them land, or to look after them on arrival, but the offer was not accepted. Statements such as that which I have read should not be put into’ print. It is a gross misrepresentation to say that the Government will put people on the fertile lands of the country, seeing that the Commonwealth has not control of the lands of Australia, and under the Constitution is powerless to make them available for settlement. In Western Australia, where there are but few large estates, the bursting-up of large estates by means of a land tax has been advocated ad nauseam by the Labour party. Those who advocated it seemed to think that the Commonwealth has power under the Constitution to impose a tax with that object. They seem to be unaware that a tax with that avowed as its object could not be imposed. They know that the whole business is a dishonest one. An attempt is being made to bring about by a side wind what cannot be done directly.
– Is that remark in order?
– I ask the right honorable member to withdraw what he said.
– 1 withdraw the remark, if you desire me to do so, sir ; but it was not applied to members of this House, and I referred to political, not to personal, dishonesty.
– The right honorable member must not impute improper motives to other honorable members.
– Surely that rule does not apply to those outside the Chamber ! It is hard to find any other word to apply to this conduct. I cannot understand those who are envious of others’ possessions to such a degree that they would violate the Constitution to injure them. Nodoubt the best of us are at times enviousof what others have, or because others have received preferment; but such envy is the meanest thing in our composition. Let us try to get rid of it. We should not advocate a public policy contrary to our private actions. I know that the representatives of Western Australia are taking up land as fast as they can. They are acquiring large estates, and I commend them for doing so. But why should they say that what is good for them is not good for others? I do not wish to impute motives, but there are those who, when addressing an audience believed to have nothing, are willing to gain a temporary success by suggesting that the possessions of others should be taken from them.
– The right honorable member has always acted on that principle.
– What does the honorable gentleman mean ?
– When the right honorable member was in Opposition before, he was not happy until he had shifted the Labour Ministry then in power.
– Because Min isters had not a majority to support them. It was not for the sake of money that I voted against die Administration ; it was because I thought that the Ministers were’ never in a constitutional position. I would, do again what I did then ; but I would not act unfairly.
– The right honorable member cannot do again what he did then.
– The honorable gentleman thinks that he is on a hill now, and can afford to gibe. The paragraph to which I refer is most misleading, because it holds out hope which cannot be fulfilled unless the Constitution is altered. I come now to a matter which affects Western Australia more intimately than do many of the other measures in the Government programme - the paragraph which refers to the construction of a railway from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta. That paragraph is as vague as it can be. . Ministers merely say that they are taking all necessary preliminary steps towards the construction of the line. What preliminary
Steps are they taking? Have they taken any ?
– Perhaps the honorable gentleman, when he speaks, will tell us what they are ?
– An artesian bore has been put down.
– That was done by the Government of Western Australia. The route had been surveyed, and the plans of the survey were ready just before the prorogation. It has been said by leading members of this wonderful party, which is always in the right, and ready to attribute bad motives to every one who is against them, that last session I ought to have seen to the passing of a measure authorizing the construction of the line. It has been said, too, that when the Right Honorable Sir George Reid was in power with a majority of only one - the late member for Wilmot - I should .have availed myself of the opportunity to coerce him into doing what was wanted. Those who think that I am a man of that sort have a very low opinion of me. It might be politics to coerce one’s leader and colleagues when in a difficulty’. Such conduct is contrary to the course which I have mapped out for myself. I have been charged by members of this wonderful, omniscient party, which never does anything wrong, with not having done what I could at the end of last session to pass a measure authorizing the construction of the line. Any misrepresentation seems to some permissible at election times. Senators who know me well, with whom. I have worked for years, and against whom T Have not said a word, never even mentioning their names, told the electors that I had done less for this project that any other man in either House of this Parliament, and that the line had not been sanctioned because of my inaction. That is the sort of treatment to which I am expected to submit quietly. I have never said anything during election times against any member of the Labour party, and I do not intend to say anything against any one now. What I wish to know is what preliminary steps have been taken by this Government for the construction of the line. The people throughout Western Australia were told that if they returned the honorable member for. Ballarat and his supporters to power, the line would never be made, but that if the Labour party won, it would be made. I am willing to assist the Government in constructing this line. Seeing that the Labour party got votes all over Australia, by promising to make the line, it is its duty to give effect to its promise. Candidates for Parliament should not promise to do certain things if they cannot do them. It would be better to say’, “ We shall do our best.” But, seeing that the honorable members representing Western Australia have made promises in regard to this matter, they ought to redeem them. I do not suggest that they should put their colleagues in a difficulty, or do what is unfair, but as telegrams stating that the Labour party were in favour of the construction of the line were despatched to all parts of Western Australia, and as the people were led to believe that if the
Labour party got into.power the line wouldbe made at once, the Government should say what it is going to do in the matter. If nothing is to be done this session, Ministers should say so, but if the railway is to be made, we should know. The electors of Western Australia are tired of the shillyshallying which has taken place in regard to the railway, and the Acting Premier of the State said the other day that he would build the Western Australian portion if the South Australian Government would construct the remainder. Many people seem to think that the line will run chiefly through Western Australia, but, as a matter of fact, there will be only 450 miles of it in that State, and 650 miles in South Australia, and it would be ridiculous to construct the Western Australian portion without an undertaking that the South Australian portion would also be made. Of course, the people of Western Australia would prefer the Commonwealth to construct the line. They know that the railway would not be a losing concern ; but so much money is required to pay for the public works which are required by a State whose population is increasing rapidly, that it is not easy to obtain between £1,300,000 and j£i. 500.000 for a project like this, without retarding the construction of other necessary and pressing public works. The suggestion that the line will not pay is, to my mind, unreasonable. We have no doubt about that, but our difficulty is that we have another State alongside us which will not do its share. I do not know whether the Commonwealth would undertake to build the South Australian part pf the line, and let us build our own, but let us know something one way or the other. The matter has gone on now for ten years, and it is time we had something definite. When Western Australia entered the Federation, I was- practically promised that the work would be carried out at once. That was the bait that was dangled in front of us. Sir- Josiah Symon said that the railway would be. the outward visible sign which would bind Western Australia to the other States, and that if we entered the1 Federation one of the first Acts passed would be one authorizing the building of the railway. He was like the spider, and we were like the fly. It was a case of “ Walk into my parlour,” but what has he done since? He has obs’tructed it and voted against it every time he has had an opportunity. That is the way innocent people are treated. Western Australia has been long-suffering and badly treated over this matter, and the sooner Parliament settles it one way or the other, so that we may have done with it? the better. I only hope the Government will make up their minds about it, and be definite.
– Unless the honorable member doubts what is in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech, he must admit that we have made up our minds that the line is to be gone on” with.
– I am glad to hear that; but the speech does not say when or how. There is another matter with which I wish to deal. I have not seen anything in the Speech about the extension of the telegraphic, telephonic, and postal systems throughout the country. I was under the impression that one of the most important things that we had to do was to extend these systems on a scientific and practical basis; that all over the country - away in the. back-blocks and wherever there was settlement - we were to have telegraphs and telephones - the latter especially - established. ‘ Along the” Great Southern railway, where settlement is going on at a rate unequalled in the rest of Australia, I promised that, if returned to power, although it was not in my Department, I would make the matter one to which I would give my personal attention, so that these people who were struggling, opening up the country, and clearing it by tens of thousands of acres almost monthly, would be given facilities for telephonic communication. Every time I spoke I said I believed that, if the matter were taken up all over Australia by a good, experienced man who understood it - and he would probably have to be imported from Canada or the United States, where similar undertakings have been faced - we could, without any great increase of cost, have a self-supporting scheme, giving settlers and producers the greatest comfort, saving their time and money, and doing for them the one thing which, apart from means of transit, they require more than anything else. I do not see even a mention of that great question in the speech. I do not mean to say that the Government must put into the speech everything that they intend to do, but this matter is so important to the development of the country, and sp vital to the welfare of people living, away from the centres of civilization, about whom we are so fond of talking, that I can only regard the absence of any mention of it as a serious omission.
– It is not to be taken that it is not- the Government’s intention to do that work.
– But the extension of telegraphs, and especially telephones, throughout the length and breadth of Australia is one of the greatest and most important works with which we are faced, if we are to make this country what it ought to be. I do not think it will be done by any man now in thiscountry: I do not want to disparage my own countrymen, but I believe that if we want to do this work properly we must get a man who has been used to dealing with immense areas and scattered populations.
– The honorable member must admit that it must be put on a businesslike and payable basis.
-If I had been returned to . power, I had intended to set myself to work with the Postmaster-General to bring it about, but I was not, and so I appeal to my honorable friend to do what I had intended to do. He can get a great deal of credit and kudos for it - which is what he likes - and at the same time will be doing a great good to the country:
– I shall not get any credit from the honorable member.
– I shall give the honorable member kudos and credit when he deserves it, but that is not likely to be often. Another matter is that of new Protection. I have heard that question talked about in this House for years, especially by the Labour party. Even my old friend, the honorable member for Hume, talks about it at times, but no man has ever yet told me what it meant. I thought it meant that wageearners should get the highest wages that the industry could afford to pay them - that if an industry received protection of so much per ton or per pound manufactured here, all the profits should not go into the hands of the manufacturer, but that the labourer or artisan should get his fair share of them.
– Another convert !
– Then my definition is right. Why has not the worker got that return ? Have not we been passing arbitration laws, and have not the States established Arbitration Courts and Wages Boards all over the country? Surely those bodies have given the worker, the artisan, the labouring man - the people who do the work - the fair wages to which they are entitled. I do not know much about it personally, but I understand that in Victoria there are Wages Boards consisting of delegates or deputies from both sides, who meet and discuss the question, and settle the wages for different industries. Why have not those Boards given the men the new Protection ? Is there some legal reason why they cannot? Why have they not given the workman his proper wages?
– That is a question that ought to be put to the Wages Boards.
– But I understand that they are representative of both sides.
– Men get the sack if they open their mouths.
– But surely representative men on the Wages Boardsknow the facts, and do not have to be told them? If a hundred of us elected halfadozen men to go to an Arbitration Court and fight our battle for us, surely those that we sent would know themselves what was right and fair, without having to take evidence.
– We have not got Wages. Boards in every industry, nor in all the States.
– They exist inVictoria and in Western Australia, and I think in some shape or other in every other State except Tasmania. How, then, is thisstate of things to be altered? There must be some tribunal to settle these matters, and if the Wages Boards system is not good enough, why not create a better? But I believe that all this trouble has come about, and that all the dissatisfaction shown throughout this House and other Houseswhere the Labour party are in force, has been caused through a judgment of Mr. Justice Higgins, which was said to be–
– I ask the right hon orable member not to pursue that subject.
– I wish to show that ever since that decision, which wasthought to be favorable to Labour was given, there has been dissatisfaction. If the decision had been the other way, I do not believe that there would have beenso much keenness about it. In this country, where men and women all have the right to vote and send representatives into the local Legislatures, surely those Legislatures are competent to alter the existing state of affairs.
– The workers have not representatives in both Houses.
– Has the Lower House passed measures that the other House has thrown out?
– Yes, often.
– In regard to wages ? In my own State the Upper House has. scarcely thrown out any measure of that kind.
– It is a common practice in South Australia for the Upper House to throw out proposals for Wages Boards.
– Then the Labour party in that State should make up their minds to get representatives into the Upper House. I might just as well say that the Federal Constitution is of no use, because it has allowed to be returned to this Parliament a majority of representatives of the Labour party. I do not mean a majority of men who work with their hands, for most of them work no more with their hands than I do. I believe that new Protection is simply a cry which no one explains but which is used for the purpose of getting votes. I am absolutely in favour of the best wages that can be given being given to men in any industry.
– The right honorable member will be joining our party soon.
– If I did, I should insist on three things; first, that there must be no misrepresentation at election time; second, that there should be no personal abuse; and, third, that there should be no discrediting of decent people. I can assure the honorable member that there would be good reason for making those rules.
– Hear, hear ! Plenty of it in the right honorable member’s party.
– There was plenty of it in my own State from the Labour party. We did not say anything against them, although they deserved a lot. We had something else to do. The cry of new Protection has done very well for the Labour party. Those who listen to the arguments in favour of it are led to believe that there are no Wages Boards or Arbitration Courts in Australia, but that the man who has the business gives his employes just what he likes, and that if they will only vote for the new Protection, of which no explanation is given, more than a fair share of the profits will go to them instead of to the employer. That is what people are told all over the country. If it had been anything else than a political cry got up for a purpose, and useful at election time, some attempt to bring it about would have been made. As a matter of fact it is in force already all over Australia. One great feature about the Labour party - it is not a virtue, but the opposite - is that, however outrageous the statements of their supporters or confreres may be, however much they abuse others, and however much they omit to denounce wrong and wrongdoing, never a word is said against the offenders. It is all accepted either by continuing active support, or by being passed over in silence. Until those tactics are changed, I am afraid that, even with every desire to meet the wishes of the Minister of Trade and Customs, I must decline to join him or his party. I wish to thank honorable members for the kind attention which they have been good enough to give me.
.Although the legislation for the. session has apparently already been decided, if we can trust the press reports, it is necessary that members of the Opposition, being free and unfettered, should pronounce their opinion upon the measures outlined in the Governor- General’s Speech. It is a great misfortune that the business to be submitted by the Government has apparently been decided in a secret caucus - a method of procedure that was roundly denounced by the Labour party when the Financial Agreement was before the House last session. If that system is continued, Parliament will be degraded to the position of merely registering the resolutions of the caucus, in order to give them constitutional authority or the force of law. That is a most unfortunate state of affairs, and will strike at the very basis of Democracy upon which our Parliamentary institution is founded. Coming to the results of the last general election, I think that it has not been without its uses. It has taught this Parliament some lessons, although, unfortunately, from my own stand-point, it has led to the present Government being placed in power. It has shown that the people of Australia will not tolerate any reactionary conduct in politics. The two parties went to the country with liberal democratic programmes. The Liberal party put forward a programme identical in many respects with that put forward by the Labour party. As a matter of fact, all the practical planks in the Labour party’s platform were identical with those in the Liberal programme. Indeed, they were proposals that had been initiated and enunciatedin the first place by the Liberal party. The fundamental differences between the two programmes related to those parts of the Labour platform which dealt with the nationalization of monopolies, and a graduated tax on unimproved land values. Coming to the GovernorGeneral’s Speech, I think that, as has already been said by the Leader of the Opposition, and those who have followed him, we shall all enthusiastically applaud its references to the death of the late King, and to .the accession of his son to the throne. Allusion is made in the Speech to the two referenda at the last general election, and satisfaction is expressed that the Financial Agreement was lost. When before my constituents, I expressed the opinion that the non- limitation clause in the agreement was a defect, but that that one defect was not sufficiently important to warrant the destruction of the whole agreement. I am pleased to learn from the Speech that the basis of allocation as set forth in that agreement is .to be preserved by the present Government, and that it is to have a ten years’ tenure. As to the extension of. our power to take over the State debts, I hope that the present Government will give effect at the earliest possible moment to the people’s confirmation of the Bill to amend’ the Constitution. The proposition of theGovernment in regard to a Commonwealth note issue has much to commend it, although there is undoubtedly room for a considerable difference of opinion with respect to it. We do not expect, more especially in regard to our legislation, to lag behind any other country, and we find that in France, Germany, Canada, and the United States of America, the Government, in some form or other, have exercised legislative control over the paper currency. I believe that with proper legislative safe- guards there is no reason why the Parliament should not undertake the control, to whatever extent it may think wise, of the issue of the paper currency of the Commonwealth. If such a basis of currency is to be adopted by the Commonwealth Parliament, a more favorable time could not well be chosen. For a series of years, we have enjoyed unprecedented prosperity, and now is the time to introduce such a system as is proposed, provided, as I have said, that it is hedged about with proper safeguards, and is based on a sound foundation, such as the abundant experience that can be gathered would suggest. In the land tax proposals of the Government, we have a far more debatable matter. In the Governor-General’s Speech, there are two paragraphs referring, apparently, to a tax on unimproved land values. One states that it is the intention of the Government to impose a land tax with an exemption of £5,000, whilst the other expresses the hope that some form of legislation will lead to land being made available for immigrants. It does not explain how that is to be done, but we may presume that the land is to be made available by the imposition of a land tax. Whether such a method will be held by the High Court to be constitutional .is a matter that we cannot determine, but probably the Government is wisely separating the ‘.’ bursting-up “ policy associated with its land tax from the direct imposition of the tax itself . I believe that the land tax will lead to “considerable complication and difficulty if applied, as it must be, uniformly throughout Australia. We have within the continent very many large areas, the value of which would be materially sweated down by a tax of 6d. in the £1, and which would thus be, so to speak, burst up. Those, however, are only fit for cultivation purposes. By the application of a uniform tax, an attempt will be made to burst up areas in remote parts of the continent, which it is impossible to use for cultivation purposes. How do the Government expect to deal with those areas? If this tax is to have the desired effect of bursting up large estates - in other words, if, by the imposition of an absolutely confiscatory tax on the larger areas, large estates are to be burst up, and thrown on the market, how will it be possible for men of very moderate, or scarcely any, means to obtain any portion of them? Our experience of subdivisions in Victoria - and the system has been carried on fairly extensively in this State - is that the land, whenplaced on the market, is purchased in most instances by fairly well-to-do farmers in the neighbourhood. A very small increase in settlement has been the result of that system of private subdivision. Any land tax must fail that has not associated with it power on the part of the Government to step in, purchase, and subdivide certain areas into convenient sized, holdings, and to give such terms as will enable the thrifty, industrious, and economic man to take his family on to the land, and to make a success of his holding. I wish to know how the Government propose to make the land tax effective in applying it to the valuable lands within our city areas. I am prepared to admit that in large and wealthy cities like Melbourne and Sydney this tax will bring in an enormous revenue, but the result will be an increase of the rentals of large warehouses, and finally the consumer will have to pay the tax. The wage-earners are in the majority, and the tax must eventually fall upon them. As to the proposal to secure an amendment of the Constitution to enable the Commonwealth Parliament to deal with monopolies, and to have control of industrial legislation, there is a good deal in favour of the view that we should have large powers in certain directions. The Government would, have done much better had they proposed something more effective in connexion with the very basis of legislation - the land - than the mere imposition of a land tax. The Ministry, however, being chiefly the representatives of the unions throughout Australia, naturally direct most of their attention to dealing with industrial laws. If it is proposed to enlarge the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament, I believe that there are more effective ways of assisting in the development of our resources than that of amending the Constitution solely in respect to industrial legislation and monopolies. The Government propose an amendment of the Constitution to enable the nationalization of certain monopolies, and to permit this Parliament to assume control of industrial legislation. I was pleased to observe, in this morning’s papers, a statement by the Prime Minister that it was not proposed to abolish those State tribunals which, whether they have or have not fulfilled the aspirations and ideals of the people generally, have done a great deal to assist the wageearners of the community. Whether the Wages Boards have fulfilled the requirements of the unions - whether they have caused a proper distribution of those profits to which allusion has been made - is a question that we cannot determine until we have more knowledge before us; but I think we might reasonably try the proposal put forward by the late Government before seeking to obtain from this Parliament complete powers in respect to industrial legislation. I am not prepared to urge at this stage that there is not a great deal to be said in favour of some’ kind of general control by the Commonwealth Parliament over the fixing of wages in the various trades and industries; but I believe that the Inter-State Commission would have .fulfilled the true Federal ideal. Under the proposal of the present Government, it seems to me that we are going in for a system of straight-out unification. I can understand that the desire on the part of the Government to secure an amendment of the Constitution enabling this Parliament to take over the control of industrial legislation is quite consistent with its general” policy. .Its policy is avowedly one aiming at the nationalize 1 tion of monopolies. So far the term “ monopoly “ has not been defined. If the first dozen great monopolies within the Commonwealth are nationalized, there will yet be another dozen to be nationalized, and the final and logical result of this system will be the nationalization of every private interest within the community. Inevitably the first step towards that system of nationalization must be the unification of the whole of the legislation of the Commonwealth, and its concentration in one Parliament. That must be the first step to any system of Socialism. I am pleased to learn from the Speech, that the proposal to take over the Northern Territory is again to be dealt with; but I regret very much that the Bill to be introduced, according to the press reports, will embody the same proposals- in respect to the running of a railway through the . centre of Australia as were contained in the Bill brought before the last Parliament. If these railway conditions are retained, the Commonwealth will be committed to an outlay of something like £7,500,000 in constructing a line for which there is absolutely no present justification, and which’ will give no material aid to the great work of the settlement of the Territory. I have travelled through a portion of the Northern Territory, and I am satisfied that ‘ the speediest and most economic way to settle it is to do what has been done in every other State of Australia, namely, run the railways from the coast-line inland for purely developmental purposes. I understand that it is now said to be unnecessary to construct this line through the centre of the country ; but that certain deviations may be made. Be that as it may, the Government will have to take over the present railway from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta at a cost of £2,500,000, and at, or nearly at, the latter point, connect the line with that from Port Darwin to Pine Creek. I hope that the agreement will not be accepted under these conditions. I am pleased to observe that uniform postal rates are to be adopted. It is a disgrace to the Commonwealth that, while at present, a letter may be sent within the limits of one particular State for one penny, a resident on the border, who desires to send a letter to a neighbour on the other side, has to pay twopence. I am glad to find that the Pacific Cable, which is largely the property of the Government, is to be made greater use of in the future. Like the Leader of the Opposition, I regret very much that the Government has not done anything towards reintroducing an Agricultural Bureau Bill. Australia is a large territory, with great agricultural possibilities, and the primary producers should be considered in every possible way. I have searched the GovernorGeneral’s Speech from beginning to end, and I fail to see any proposal to materially assist the great primary productions of Australia.
– Let us have a Department of Agriculture.
– I regret that there is ho provision to establish an Agricultural Bureau, which would be of the highest value.
– The Government cannot steal all our clothes !
– They would have been welcome to that suit, at any rate. An Agricultural Bureau Bill was introduced last session; and if the late Government had been returned to power, it would have been speedily passed. According to the vague reference in the Speech, immigration, I understand, depends on land being made available; and this absolutely fails to meet the great needs and requirements of the Commonwealth. The question of immigration is absolutely the most important that this Parliament could be called upon to deal with. Without more people to occupy our vast spaces, and develop our resources in every conceivable way, we can- not expect to build up a great nation or be in a position to defend ourselves if the teeming millions of Asiatics feel disposed to invade and annex the country.
– I have heard that before!
– And it should be reiterated by every honorable member. In 1900 the population of the Commonwealth was3,765,000, while in1910 it is 4,335,000, an increase during the period of Federation of570,000. In Canada, in 1901, the population was5,371,315, as compared with a population of8,000,000 this year. In Australia we have an area of3,000,000, while Canada has an area of 3,619,000 square miles. The total production of Canada is about£200,000,000 as against£164,000,000 for the Commonwealth, Canada showing something like £25 per head, and the Commonwealth £39 per head. The export trade of Australia is larger than, that of Canada, being £70,000,000, as against£50,000,000, and yet Canada has been advancing in the way of population for several years by immi-. gration at a rate of something like200,000 per year, compared with an increase in Australia last year of about28,000. This is a deplorable state of affairs, favoured as we have been since1902 with a prosperity unparalleled in the history of the country. Of all the nations on earth Australia requires population, not only for developmental purposes, but for adequate defence ; and yet we have this slow rate of increase.
– A great portion of the increase is the natural increase.
– I am now speaking, of immigration.
– The Canadian Government give land, do they not?
– I am quite willing to admit that the State Governments in Australia have been dilatory in making land available. Although there is required the highest form of statesmanship, in order to deal with the land problem as it ought to be dealt with, the State Governments have not given it the attention they should.
– Even so, only 10 per cent. of the Canadian immigrants go on the land.
– That is so. Notwithstanding the fact that the States should have done much more -
– To which States does the honorable member refer?
– I should have said some of the States. I should also like to point out that, in the Commonwealth, only 6 per cent. of the3,000,000 square miles has been alienated, while we have a rainfall which would sustain a population over, two-thirds of the Continent. In Queensland, I understand, there are lands which can be, and are being, made available very rapidly. In New South Wales the Government have repurchased a good many estates, while in Victoria, I am pleased to note, the Government are awakening to a sense of their responsibility. In my opinion, it is through a system of Government purchase that the best form of settlement can. be secured, because the people are placed on the land on easy terms, which enable men with very moderate means to make homes.
– What country was ever settled successfully in that way?
– Denmark, one of the most closely settled countries in the world.
– The land there was taken from the landlords.
– The land there was settled through the instrumentality of the Government, and, in many instances, with the co-operation of large land-owners.
– The whole of the lands of Denmark were owned by 100 men, and it was a revolution that made the change.
– To further illustrate our position in regard to population, I maysay that in Europe there are111 people to the square mile; Asia, 55; Africa, 13; America; 10; and in Australia less than 1½. According to the Official Year Book for 1908, if Australia continues to increase in population at the present rate for the next forty years, there will be less than 8,000,000 people in 1950. We are thus giving the Chinese and Japanese nations forty years to equip themselves to annex this great Australian prize, and even then they will have to face a population of less than 8,000,000. This is a serious state of affairs which should awaken the Commonwealth Government - which has the administration for the next three years - to a sense of their responsibility.
– What is the honorable member’s opinion of the terrible industrial law suggested?
– I am not going to offer an opinion on the question at the present time. I am quite conscious of the fact that in several of the older countries of the world, the central Parliaments have legislative control over all industrial matters ; and I am willing to admit that it is necessary that the Commonwealth should have certain appellant and final control. I am not satisfied so far, however, that the proposal of the Government will prove any better than that of the late Government for ah Inter-State Commission. This Commission would have given the Federal body control over all industrial legislative matters, and resulted in harmonizing wages and industrial conditions throughout the States; and this would have been carrying out what may be called a true Federal function. I am not amongst those who regard the Constitution as some sacred parchment that must not be amended. As a matter of fact, there is provision made in the Constitution itself for amendment if it be necessaryto carry legislation to the greatest advantage. In my opinion, there are directions in which the Constitution might be, and should be, amended in the near future. For instance, the railways throughout Australia are controlled by the States, and cannot be touched by the Commonwealth without the consent of the States. I represent a constituency which runs for 200 or 300 miles along the border between New South Wales and Victoria ; and I know the difficulty there is in coming to anything like a proper agreement as to the distribution of the waters of the great river. . I should be prepared to support any amendment which would give the Commonwealth the control of the waters of the Murray. Then great difficulties exist on the borders between two States in respect of railway construction. On the New South Wales side, for example, we have railways running down within easy distance of the Murray, and stopping at a certain point, in order that traffic may be diverted into the capital of that State. We have also two States - namely, South Australia and Victoria - discussing the question of whether they ought not to be linked up by certain railways which run near to their border, because such a course of action might possibly permit of the produce of the primary producer being taken - as it ought to be taken - to the nearest seaport. I believe that when our Constitution was framed by the Federal Convention, it was well understood that certain amendments would require to be made in it before it could be perfected, and before it could be made to meet the requirements and aspirations of the Australian people. I shall exercise my right to vote in accordance with my convictions upon any measures which may be introduced by the Government, regardless of the fact that I am sitting in opposition to them.
. -I think that a debate upon the motion for the adoption of the AddressinReply to the Governor-General’s. Speechespecially during the first session of a new Parliament, when there has been, anentire change of Government,as wellas fresh phases in political development-may , well be excused. The present discussionwill afford new members, as well as members who were formerly representatives in this House, an opportunity of making known to each other the views which they hold, and of defining their attitude in regard to the many changes which have taken place. So far, I think that the debate has been characterized by the promise of very much better things in the future; Even where honorable members entertain very great differences of opinion - as in the case of the honorable member for Swan - those differences have been voiced with the greatest good-humour, so that the House has enjoyed their recital rather than otherwise. Personally, I am rather disposed to deprecate references to “old far off unhappy things and battles long ago.” I prefer to look forward to the duties that immediately confront us, with a view to seeing how far we, as an Opposition^ can cooperate with Ministerial supporters in doing something to promote the best interests of Australia. For the first time in the history of the Commonwealth we have an opportunity of accomplishing something. Irrespective of whether those who now occupy the Treasury benches be friends or foes, they certainly have the right to claim that, for the first time in our Federal history, we have a really responsible Government in office. All previous Ministries have been representative of only about one-third of the strength of the House, and, consequently, have had to depend upon the support of some other party for their continuance in office. That circumstance prejudicially affected not only the measures which they put before the House, but also the passage of those measures “through it. Up till the present time we have not had anything in the nature of truly responsible government since the inauguration of the Commonwealth. So far, I welcome the change because of what it may give to us in the future. Whether the present occupants of the Treasury benches will be able to retain office for a sufficient time to enable them to give effect to their proposals, may be a matter of doubt. Personally, I believe that, though they possess the strength of a giant, they will use it with discretion. John Stuart Mill, in his celebrated book on Representative Government, says -
Those who are supreme over everything, whether they be one, or few, or many, have no longer need of the arms of reason. They can make their mere will prevail, and those who cannot be resisted are usually far too well satisfied with their own opinions to be willing to change them or to listen without impatience to any who tell them they are in the wrong.
That is the position of the occupants of the Treasury benches. They constitute an overwhelming majority of the House, and they have all sorts of proposals, which, at present, are in a more or less nebulous condition, to put before it. But we, who are inclined to go more slowly than they, need not apprehend the submission of any very revolutionary measures. Our friends are naturally jealous of the honour of their positions, of the power which they are enabled to exercise, and of the kudos appertaining to political life. They have one price to pay for the continuance of the possession of the Treasury benches. That price is moderation and caution, and I am inclined to think that they are prepared to pay it, and that, consequently, they will remain upon those benches for a considerable time.. Upon their part, honorable members on this side of the House will loyally follow our leader, but will indulge in no factious opposition. I do not think that I can be charged with ever having offered factious opposition to any Government when I was formerly a member of this House. I was prepared to accord reasonable support to a Ministry with whom I disagreed whenever I felt that they were acting in the best interests of Australia. I can promise the Government a willing support upon all occasions upon which I can follow them, but when I differ from them they must expect honest, fearless criticism from me. I disagree with my leader regarding the nature of the speech which has been placed before us by the Governor-General. To me that deliverance appears to be quite as full and explicit as any Vice-Regal utterance framed by the honorable member for Ballarat, or by any Government which has held office since the inception of the Federation. Vice-Regal speeches are merely intended as an index to the measures which will come before Parliament, and the speech which was delivered by His Excellency last week contained quite as much detail as we had a right to expect: Moreover, I congratulate the Ministry upon having laid down in that speech a programme which is an ample justification of their promises to the electors during the recent campaign. It contains all that we who followed their deliverances- from the public platform apprehended that it would contain, whilst it does not include anything which we did not expect to find there. Consequently, I compliment the. Government upon their evident desire to carry out their pledges to the electors. How far I agree with the policy which they have put forward is quite another matter. There was just one point which I could not help noticing in connexion with the Vice-Regal utterance, because it has been a subject of mystification to me. So far as I am aware, all other Vice-Regal speeches have contained paragraphs- which were specially addressed to the members of this House. Of course, the bulk of these deliverances is directed to the members of the Parliament, but, nevertheless, two or three paragraphs have always been specifically addressed to the members of the House of Representatives. This is a matter to which I may specially call your attention, sir, as the custodian of the rights of honorable members, because I think that inquiry should be made as to the reason why this practice has been departed from, in view of the possibility qf constitutional developments.
– It is two or three years since we discarded that practice.
– I know of no reason why it should have been dropped, and I think it was unwise to drop it. Section 53 of our Constitution provides that measures appropriating revenues or moneys, or imposing taxation, shall not be originated in the Senate. Further, it declares that the other branch of the Legislature may not amend such measures, and it adds that “ Except as provided in this section, the Senate shall have, equal power with the House of Representatives in respect of all proposed laws.” That section declares that under the Constitution this House possesses rights and privileges in dealing with matters of finance, of the imposition of taxation, and of the appropriation of moneys, which do not belong to the Senate. I do not know why the practice which was formerly followed has been departed from. It seems to me that this House should very jealously guard its powers and privileges, in view of the circumstance that, as yet,, we have had no serious disagreement with the other branch of the Legislature in respect of legislation. But, sooner or later, such a disagreement must come. Consequently, we. cannot be too careful in safeguarding the rights and privileges which the Constitution has conferred upon us. I do not intend to indulge in details regarding the results of the recent elections, or to offer .any explanation of why the party with which I am associated was defeated at the polls. To do so would be merely to beat the wind. But, irrespective of whether an honorable member sits upon the Opposition or the .Ministerial side of the Chamber, I say that if he is conscientious and desirous of giving to the people that absolute control over elections which they ought to possess, he is bound to consider, in connexion with any amendment of our electoral law, some new system of voting which will enable the views of the electors to be more readily expressed, so that we may obtain a more honest representation. I am not now alluding to the disparity between the size of various electorates, or to the fact that one honorable member may represent 20,000 voters whilst another may represent 30,000 or 40,000. I am referring more particu larly to the system of voting. When the principal Electoral Act was. submitted to this Parliament, I recollect that discussions took place in both Houses upon the question of whether or not we should adopt the preferential-voting system, the contingent vote, or proportional representation. There were full-dress debates in both Houses, but the result was that the Bill merely provided for the old-fashioned system of a simple majority.
– The honorable member supported the block-vote system.
– I was always in favour of proportional representation.
– But the honorable member voted for the block system.
– I do not think that a vote was taken upon it.
– Yes, I have it here in liansard.
– I recollect that the honorable member for Angas spoke strongly in favour of the system of proportional representation’ which had been tried in Tasmania, and that that system was also warmly supported by the late Sir EdwardBraddon. However, we could not secure proportional representation, and the system proposed left us the privilege of plumping, to which I was opposed. Consequently, I had to vote for the lesser of two evils. But I am not here to fight old battles over again. I am here to point out what I think are the defects of the present system, and, further, to state that since that time, there has- been a development of what we know as the machine in politics. Not only has the Labour party further developed its political mechanism, selecting its candidates, but the party I belong to also does the same thing now. I am not speaking for my own side alone. I do hope that honorable members will not be influenced by the fact that a sitting member may get an advantage out of the present situation, but will look at the matter in the light of justice to the electors, and not to themselves. If a candidate is not a sitting member, or even if he is a sitting member, in some cases, he has to run the ordeal of selection by some form of voting, more or less complicated, perhaps, first by his party supporters, and subsequently by election. I had to go through these two ordeals.
– It was only a common canter.
– Had I been defeated, I should have kept my mouth shut, but as I was successful, I am prepared to say that I condemn the system, because it is utterly wrong and rotten. It subjects every man to two elections; the first of them is not governed by any law whatever, and may be manipulated.
– That is owing to there being amateurs on the honorable member’s side.
– I am not making these remarks about my own side only. There are honorable members on the other side who had to meet the same demand, and there are candidates on both sides who experienced the same thing with the utmost dissatisfaction. We ought to alter this system. If, under the necessities of the Constitution, we cannot get any. system of proportional voting, because the difficulties are very great, for we have to alter our electorates frequently by reason of the varying demands of the population, at least we can get, in this session, an alteration in favour of a preferential voting system, which would enable as many candidates as liked to stand on either side, and not prejudice the chance of any political party by reason of the accidental number of its candidates. Whether your party is successful or not, you could hope to have a fair run, as the sportsman says, for your money. Each side should have a fair run, and the best side should win. But, under the present system, the best side will not win, if it should happen to have two candidates in the field. The feeling throughout Australia, taking it by and large, is pretty evenly divided, and if. one side is represented by two candidates, and the other side by only one, it is a hundred to one chance that the latter will win.
– How many cases were there ?
– There were several cases in New South Wales, and, I think, there must have been others elsewhere. In any case, the system ought to be altered, as it is manifestly unfair and unjust. We should give a fair field to the candidates to poll in the order of their constituents’ liking. The Leader of the Opposition has referred to the developments which have resulted from the advent of the Labour party to power, that is, in the direction of the caucus defining the policy of the Government, and electing its members. I hope that this introduction of the electoral principle in appointing Ministers may be carried one step further. If that were done, and the election conducted in the House in the open light of day, and with the press represented, and both sides taking part, I should welcome the change which has been made by the Labour party, as the beginning of a reform fraught with the greatest good to the development of the Commonwealth. But if the system is to continue, and to be adopted by other parties, of selecting Ministers by election in a cellar or caucus room, it must be fraught with evil in the form of an arrested development. Anything which is done behind the scenes is not likely to give the best results. Moreover, it is, viewed from my stand-point, a deprivation of the liberties of this side of the House.
– How many Ministers does the honorable member think his side would have got into the Ministry if that system had. been in vogue?
– I think that the division of opinion on the other side must have been pretty equal in regard to some of the Ministerial appointments. If this side of the House had had a say in those elections, in the open light of day, we might have helped the better men on the Ministerial side to make a choice, in one or two. instances, which would have been more acceptable to the nation, and more beneficial to the Government. I hope that that reform will be achieved, and if what I consider the ill practice on the part of my honorable friends on this occasion leads to the fuller reform, I, at any rate, shall be thankful for it. With regard to one of the measures foreshadowed in the Governor-General’s Speech, I find myself at variance with honorable members on my own side, and more in accord with the occupants of the Treasury benches. When the Prime Minister was speaking this afternoon withregard to the Governmental control of the paper currency - that is, the issue of notes - some of my interjections must have led honorable members to understand that I support that proposal; indeed, I have advocated it for many years. I see no danger or difficulty, provided that the issue be severely limited, placed under proper control, and made sufficiently elastic to meet the demands of commerce. I think that a nation which is honest enough to be able to take control of£250,000,000 worth of debts to creditors all over the world, may be safely trusted with £4,000,000 or£5,000,000 worth of paper money. I hold that a Government which carries on such a business as this as honestly as it has been carried on in the past, may be safely trusted, with due checks by a critical Opposition, to have control of a paper currency of the fullest magnitude required by the States. I believe that the demandfor paper currency in Australia is really much greater than the figures show. I do not know of any country in the world where private cheques are so much used as they are in Australia. In other parts of the world it is a rare thing to see a private individual presenting a cheque to almost an utter stranger, but here you will see that happening every day.
– And you will see it in London, too.
– The manner in which this form of paper currency passes from hand to hand in Australia is really appalling. I often wonder that there is so much trust exhibited between men when one man knows so little of the other. I think that with a system of Government notes, a great many of these cheques will not be issued. I believe that a system of Government paper currency will give us all that we require, and lead to less possible chance of fraud than we have at present. It has been argued by some of the opponents of the Government proposal that the present system of currency provided by the banks is entirely satisfactory and eminently safe, and that we should not seek to alter it in any way. It may be satisfactory - I believe it is. But that it is eminently safe I deny. On three conspicuous occasions it has failed, and the State has had to step in and defend the banks notes. By merely guaranteeing the notes, it enabled people to accept them and pass them from one to another. Directly after the issue of a proclamation by the Dibbs Government in New South Wales, protecting the notes of two or three of the banks, notes which had been selling a day or two previously for 16s., 17s., and 18s. each, immediately rose again to the value of 20s. So long as you have an honest Government, so long as you have the ordinary safeguard of a sufficient reserve in gold to meet any demand made on the Treasury to convert the notes, and so long as you do not force them on the public, but only give them as the Government propose to do. in such number as they may be demanded, there is no reason for apprehension. Further, if you increase the issue beyond what is considered a safe amount, you should hold pound for pound on the surplus that is issued to meet the sudden expansion required by what is called the moving of crops, or any great demand of business. Say that a limit of£5, 000,000 is considered safe. Then we empower the Treasurer, with the co-operation of certain Commissioners who will work with him, to issue £5,000,000 worth of notes, and to hold his reserve of 25 or 30 per cent. in gold as against the notes. And if for any reason the Commissioners find it desirable to issue 1,000,000 or 2,000,000 more notes, he must hold£1,000,000 or £2,000,000 in reserve, because that amount is issued in excess, and intended to be withdrawn atthe moment that the need for the expansion of the paper currency declines, and it is time to retire the extra issue of paper.I see no chance of any wrong happening.I hold that the Government should exercise all the powers it has under the Constitution, and one of these powers is the complete control of the currency. I contend that that power was taken with the intention on the part of the framers of the Constitution - many of whom were able, experienced business men - that the Government should sooner or later make use of it. Some of the banks will suffer to a small extent from the proposed change. Many of them will not suffer at all. Some of them have told me that they would welcome the change, as it would relieve them of some troublesome operations. Other banks which lock up their own notes in far-away branches in various parts of the continent, not issuing them until such time as there is a local demand for money, and only then paying the tax, would no doubt lose by the change. But in dealing with questions of public expediency, or the necessities of private individuals, even in dealing with questions of absolute safety, we cannot afford to be influenced by such considerations. All the critics argue as though they were the only persons who were striving for absolute safety. If honorable members want absolute safety, it cannot be obtained from the banks. During the last few years the present system has been safe, but a few years ago it was not. We have seen that in New Zealand, Queensland, and New South Wales, it has not been safe, and that will occur again. In those cases the Government had to step in and tide over the time by becoming responsible for the note issues. Our national Government should take over the whole currency under stringent provisions for regulating and limiting it, and for burning the notes as they pass out of existence - because that is one of the most troublesome things which we shall have to deal with - so that the Parliament may feel that it has done everything to make the system safe. We can trust in what we know to be the honesty of the ordinary average Government in Australia, and issue within the limits of the necessities, of our currency. I hope that when this proposal is being carried out the Government will see their way to issue some notes of the value of i os., and that when they do so they will withdraw all the half-sovereigns at present in circulation, and will avoid the loss on half-sovereigns which will in future have to be borne by us now that we are taking the profit” on the issue of silver coinage. This is a measure I advocated before in this House for six years. Various Treasurers denied that there was any profit to he. got out of the proposal, while I claimed that there was a profit of probably £35,000 to be derived from it. Now I see that the profit is estimated at from £60.000 up to £100,000, but those who make these estimates are, I think, wrong, as they are taking for one year the profit which should be spread over a number of years. I always pointed out that if we secured the “ profit on silver coinage we would have to take up the duty of repairing the wear and tear of our gold coinage, which has hitherto fallen upon the Imperial authorities. I understand that we have now to undertake this duty, and very many of the half-sovereigns at present in circulation are quite below what is known as legal toleration, that is to say, they are much below their proper weight. We shall have to recall and replace them by recoinage at a considerable loss, and at the same time a certain loss will be going on in connexion with our sovereigns, which, in future, we shall have to meet. If we adopt a paper currency we should make use of it to avoid the loss on half-sovereigns. The loss on these coins is four or five times as great as that on the sovereigns, because, in proportion to their value a much larger surface is exposed to wear and tear. Further,, a half-sovereign is not desired at all by the man in the street. The use of the coin leads to mistakes. One is apt to mistake it for the sixpence, and, as a small coin, it is frequently lost. Any honorable member who has travelled abroad will know the convenience of two-dollar bills, and how very handy they are. I hope that the Treasurer, when establishing the new system of currency will issue as many Treasury notes of the value of 10s. as may be required.
– I have already agreed to do so.
– And will withdraw the half-sovereigns, on which we are bound to lose a considerable sum of money. I regret that the Government have not seen their way clear in submitting their currency proposals to propose the adoption of the decimal currency. Honorable members may take it for granted that the best time to introduce a change from our present system to the decimal system is when we are printing and coining new money, and must incur the expense of new dies. Really the only question to be settled is whether the alteration is desirable.
– We have made a start In doing away with the half-crown.
– Yes, I am glad to see that the Treasurer of the day put his foot down against the coinage of the half-crown, because it would block the way to the adoption of the decimal system, the half-crown being no part of a decimal system based on the sovereign. If Parliament is against the adoption of the decimal system we cannot have it, but I remind honorable members that the House of Representatives, in two preceding Parliaments, indorsed proposals for its adoption. In the face of that we had one Government after another failing to carry out the will of this House. I hope that when so many political developments are promised we shall have one which will give us Governments responsible to the will of the House. When the will of Parliament has been definitely expressed the Government of the day should carry it out, particularly in a matter of this kind.
– I am in favour of decimal coinage.
– This House, and I believe this Parliament, are in favour of it ; the present Prime Minister says that he is in favour of it ; I believe that 70 per cent, of the people are in favour of it, and yet we cannot give it effect. Why ? Because there are no votes to be gained, and no log-rolling to be done by its adoption, because the proposal was introduced only by obscure private members who induced the House of Representatives to accept it, and because it will be left only to obscure private members to again bring it under the notice of Ministers. I hope that before this session ends this House, as its predecessors have done, will pa”ss a motion in favour of making our system of money and currency the decimal system. I notice that the Government have not promised the introduction of any law dealing with marriage and divorce. I do not know whether the Prime Minister thinks that the matter was not of sufficient importance to be included in the Governor-General’s Speech, but when the Commonwealth Parliament is endeavouring to unify procedure in the different States we should have one law of marriage and divorce in operation in all of the States at the earliest possible moment. The Government have promised the introduction of quarantine legislation, and legislation of that character, which is probably not so necessary as a Commonwealth marriage and divorce law. When the Government do introduce a quarantine law I hope they will propose to abolish the quarantine station at Manly. There, in the finest position, and at the very gate of Sydney, a very large portion of land which would make one of the most magnificent parks for the adornment of the city is locked up for the purpose of accommodating, about once in three years, the passengers on some ship in which yellow fever or something of the kind has developed. I think that in any Quarantine Bill submitted the Government might very well provide for handing the site to which I refer back to the New South Wales Government to be made a park, and might adopt some less valuable and less beautiful position for quarantine purposes.
– Is there such another position to be had ?
– There may not be so readily accessible a site from the point of view of those interested in shipping, but I do not see why the most readily accessible site from that point of view need be selected for a quarantine station. Would the honorable member for Ballarat be in favour of taking over the Treasury Gardens in Melbourne for a hospital site ? The Treasury Gardens is a very beautiful park, but no one would suggest that it should be utilized as a hospital site merely because it is readily accessible. At Manly we have a most beautiful site, at the very gate of Sydney, and overlooking the ocean, and it is used, on an average, only once in every two and a half years as a quarantine station.
– Has the honorable member any place in mind which might be substituted for it?
– There are many such places. Places could be found in Broken Bay better adapted for the purpose, and it would be better to select a site on Botany Bay than to continue the quarantine station where it is. I contend that to retain a site like that of Manly for a quarantine station is an absolute scandal.I should like to deal with the proposed land tax as shortly as possible, as I wish to make my attitude towards it understood. I have always been a believer in land taxation. When the honorable member for Barrier used to sit on the Government cross bench in the early days of the Federal Parliament, when we were putting the Tariff through, I heard him call out that a tax on land would make up some of the deficiency in revenue anticipated from the duties proposed on certain goods. I used always from my seat on this side to tell the honorable member that J would be with him in introducing a national system of taxation in the Commonwealth. With society as it is at present constituted, I believe it is impossible to have any honest system of taxation without calling upon land tobear some proportion, and a very considerable proportion, of the general burden of taxation. I believe that by adding land taxation to our other proposals, we might have remitted much of the heavy taxation we placed upon the shoulders of the poor of the country by the Tariff. But the right time to consider the question of land taxation was when we were considering the wholefiscal scheme of the country. It should not have been put off until we had burdened every one as heavily as possible with Customs taxation. It should not be introduced as something in addition to the already heavy taxation imposed upon the people. I was told during the election campaign that the Government proposal is not intended as a measure of taxation at all. The same thing was said in this House years ago, and was said by leaders of the Government party on the hustings. It is stated that it is intended as a measure of land reform, a measure for the bursting up of large estates. I say that it is not intended for anything of the sort. It is a delusion to think that the sole object of the proposed legislation is the bursting up of large estates.
– I have never said it was.
– Mr. Watson said so.
– Prominent leaders on the Government side have said that the sole object of the proposed land tax is the bursting up of large estates.
– That was said by members of the Labour party everywhere in Western Australia.
– According to the Governor-General’s Speech, it would appear that this is the only means which the Government can devise for increasing the population of the country.. It would appear that those who drafted the Speech look forward to the adoption of this proposal as a means of making the lands of the country available, in order to induce a larger stream of immigration. If the intention is to burst up large estates, why should this taxation be imposed upon urban properties. Can we improve the position in any way by bursting up large estates such as bank premises, or Hordern’s buildings in Sydney.
– We cannot differentiate.
– Is there any need for a denser population on the sites of those premises? Is there any need to induce more people to live in our cities, that we should impose this tax upon urban properties ? I say that the idea underlying this taxation - and we shall see it disclosed more and more clearly as time goes on - is toprovide a constantly increasing revenue for other purposes. The £5,000 exemption will be reduced from time to time, until we have a severe system of land taxation superadded to the already heavy system of Customs taxation we have adopted. I do not say that this is wrong or conceivably unjust. I think that land taxation is the essence of a just system of taxation; but to make use of the lever of agrarian reform in order to secure increased revenue for purposes we at present know nothing of, is a subterfuge and a sham. There is another phase of the question which must not be overlooked. If we are to give the States 25s. per head of their population, and take from them, stage by stage, all the powers of taxation at present reserved to them, the 25s. per head will not be a fair return. If we are going to consider this scheme of land taxation as a new branch of taxation by the Commonwealth, we should postpone consideration of the amount which ought to be returned to the States until we have definitely decided upon our taxation policy. We ought to leave this class of taxation to the State Parliaments, who are in a better position to deal with the question of settling vacant lands and bursting up large estates than is the Commonwealth Parliament.
– They have been a long time doing it.
– The honorable member might tell me something that
I do not know. I understand how long State Government after State Government have delayed the adoption of proposals of the kind I am well aware that one State Minister after another has failed to redeem promises to introduce legislation of this kind into the State Parliaments. But did those who sent honorable members opposite into this House, and sent others into the Senate, expect them to give us a proper land policy?
– They sent us here to do it.
– When the Postmaster-General sat in the Ministerial corner some years ago and was in the habit of talking about land taxation, I used to shout from the Opposition corner, “ I am with you.” I amwith him all the time, as long as land taxation is part of our general fiscal scheme. But I am not with him when it is proposed to tack on to a protective fiscal scheme another social and agrarian scheme, when we know that the ultimate intention is to make it a fiscal scheme, and to derive a large amount of revenue by means of it. That means practically filching money from the States, if we are not going to give them more than 25s. per head per annum.
– It is the old cry. “ The time is not ripe.”
– The time is ripe, but this is the wrong place.
– There is no Legislative Council obstruction here.
– And there need be no Legislative Council obstruction elsewhere. If my honorable friends show the same force and the same power of cooperation in State elections as they have shown in connexion with Federal elections they can have their own way there as they have it here.
– What about the franchise ?
– The franchise is free enough to secure the abolition of ail the Legislative Councils in Australia if need be. However, I am not going to detain honorable members all night by answering interjections.
– Is the honorable member in favour of doing away with the Legislative Councils?
– I am, in the States.
– The honorable member should come over here.
– No, I will not go over there, because I disbelieve in the policy of my honorable friends. I have not said so much in order to secure their favour. In the words of Sir Walter Scott -
I speak not to implore your grace,
Well knowing for one minute’s space
Successless might I sue.
I am well aware that if I had to fight for my political life in North Sydney tomorrow I should be beaten down and thrust out if honorable members opposite could have their way, no matter how much I might agree with them. I hope for no quarter from them in any future battle on that score. Nevertheless, just as in the past when I have agreed with them I have not hesitated to say so, I hope that I shall pursue the same policy in the future. 1 think that if in dealing with these vexed questions we could put them together and approach them in a proper frame of mind we might find a way of solving the whole lot of them at once. The difficulty of solving some of them arises from approaching them piecemeal. For instance, we have proposals before us for dealing with the sugar industry. It is not my intention to say much about that. We have other proposals for dealing with land taxation, with the Financial Agreement with the States, with the Northern Territory, the transcontinental railway, the Federal Capital, and the State debts. We have heard very little about the State debts question in this House, and nothing about it from the Government beyond the mere reference in the Governor-General’s Speech. In connexion with the two referenda the Ministerial party took credit for having supported the State debts proposition and defeated the other. I voted for both, and wanted both. I am glad that the referendum on the State debts question was favorable. I hope that the Government will not merely content themselves with a reference to it in the Governor-General’s Speech and then leave it over to be an election cry three years hence. I trust that they will set to work upon the problem, will use their best intelligence, and will endeavour to evolve some method of dealing with it before the next election. What I was proceeding to say was that it would be a good thing to put all these questions together and have them solved at the one time. Let us look at them. The right honorable member for Swan has referred to the transcontinental railway pro ject and Western Australia’s interest in it. We have heard” a good deal about that subject before. The right honorable member says : ‘ ‘ Something must be done : why do you not do something?” Something, I suppose, will be done. But as soon as something is absolutely done we shall have lost one of the levers which we at present control for dealing effectively with a great national question - the transfer and nationalization of the State debts. It is the same with the Northern Territory. The moment we settle that question we shall have lost another lever that we could bring to bear upon the consolidation of the debts. The honorable member for Wimmera this afternoon submitted a motion in favour of the Commonwealth taking over the River Murray and its tributaries for the purpose of promoting a large national scheme of water conservation and irrigation. I recollect that we had a debate upon that subject some years ago by means of an abstract motion. I was immediately seized of the importance of it, and think that I spoke lengthily upon it. I regard the River Murray as a great national asset, if we could only deal with it in a national way and not leave it to be squabbled over by the various States - if we could throw this question into the cauldron with other great questions - we should have one more lever by means of which we could settle , the State debts problem. Take again the sugar question. My honorable friends, the Queensland representatives, come here again asking for a renewal of the agreement which was made some years ago, when, I recollect, I was instrumental in securing the framing of a sliding scale by means of which I hoped the bounty would glide out of existence altogether. I argued that the time would come if we fixed the bounty for five or six years, when, just before the end of the time, an application would be made for a renewal for five or six years more. I thought we should deal with the matter as we dealt with Western Australia in regard to the uniform Customs Tariff, and that in that way we might accommodate every one to the new order of things. But I find that before the tapering-off process has commenced we have the Queensland representatives, headed by the Prime Minister, not only asking for the matter to be reconsidered, but for this burden on the people of Australia to be again imposed.
– It is not a burden at all.
– The honorable gentleman knows full” well that he and I differ widely on this question.
– The bounty does not add a penny to the price of sugar.
– I maintain that to continue to pay this bounty involves the imposition of a serious burden on the poor of this country, whilst it is also aheavy tax on various manufacturing industries. I was quite willing that that burden should be borne in the beginning, because it was the price which we were paying for a White Australia. But I said that the time must come when the burden must be lifted. The price has now been paid. But we are still paying a bounty. What for? We are paying it for sugar that is not produced by black labour. But we ought to be paying it for all sugar produced if we pay it at all. I will tell the House why. We have deported the kanakas from Queensland. Only a few are left. Why then, in the name of God, are we going to penalize the men who employ them and persecute the “few who remain? If a bounty is to be paid let these growers share with the others. Let the bounty be paid indiscriminately for the production of sugar, whether by black, yellow, or white labour. I helped my honorable friends opposite to get rid of the kanakas. We have got rid of them. Why then impose any special disabilitiesupon any of the growers ? But we ought to remove this burden from the taxpayers of the country.
– It does not protect the sugar industry one iota.
– Not a whit. We should pay the bounty, irrespective of whether the labour employed is white or black. We should still produce the same amount of sugar; probably much more, because there would be fewer harassing regulations governing the production. If the bounty be necessary - I am not saying whether it is or not - let it be paid without reference to black or white labour. We finished with that question when we deported the kanakas, and said that we would have no more coming in.
– There is an Excise duty of £4 per ton and a bounty of £3. .
– We have placed a very heavy burden on an article of universal consumption, an article used more largely by the poor than by the rich, and an article which constitutes the raw material of a number of industries. We did this in order to pay for our White Australia policy: I maintain that if that policy was to be a burden upon any one it should not rest exclusively upon the poor. I have mentioned the subject, because this again is another lever which we could bring to bear upon the solution of the different problems which are facing us. Our difficulty in regard to the State debts is that there is a difference in the indebtedness per head of the populations of the different States. The only way of solving that difficulty is to take’ either a proportion of each State’s national debt, or to give the States a quid po quo for the difference which they seem to suffer by reason of our taking the debts over. The States which will suffer chiefly are those to which we have nothing to offer under any present proposal, namely, Victoria and New South Wales. They are not directly interested in the transcontinental railway, or in the Northern Territory, or in the sugar bounty. But those States are largely interested in two questions, the settlement of which will involve the expenditure of some millions of money. One of these is the conservation of the waters of the Murray, on which some millions could be advantageously spent, and the other is the question of the unification of railway gauges. Sooner or later we must have a unified gauge throughout Australia. It is almost a suicidal policy for any Government to contemplate the construction of large railways whilst we have different railway gauges. But while it remains a question of whether New South Wales shall alter her gauge or Victoria hers, each of these States will never take the necessary step. If we could throw these questions into the general cauldron’ of questions for solution the National Government would be able to offer a quid fro quo to the State Governments for making the necessary changes. The National Government could say to each State, “ We will, subject to your consent, carry out a system of conservation and irrigation in connexion with the River Murray.” To appease South Australia, we could make some arrangement as to her navigation rights ; and in the same way the National Government could deal with the gauge question. If we could proceed in this manner ten or twelve of the big Australian questions could be solved at once. If the present occupants of the Treasury bench could manage to solve these difficulties, and at the same time resisted the clamour which I believe we shall hear” directly for undoing the decision arrived at in regard to the Capital site, they would earn the gratitude of Australia, and I for one should not be sorry that they had occupied office for, at any rate, three years. Their difficulties are not those that the Opposition will raise. My honorable friend, the Leader of the Opposition, has told the Government plainly - and I believe that he spoke for the party behind him - that there is no intention to obstruct the business of the Government in any way. There is no intention to do more than to offer such criticism as the Government must expect in any well-constituted Parliament. It is not from the Opposition, therefore, that the difficulties of the Government will arise. If my honorable friends can resist the clamours of the sections within their own ranks, if they can resist the clamours of their own Left, they will hold office for the next three years, and probably for the three years succeeding them.
Debate (on motion by Mr. LairdSmith) adjourned.
Telegraph Poles - Size of Sacks - Duty on Hides.
Motion (by Mr. Fisher) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I wish to bring under the notice of the Postmaster-General a practice which obtains in his Department, I presume through all the States. Where telegraph or telephone posts have been erected on an erroneous alignment, and the subsequent making of roads by municipal or shire councils requires the alteration of their positions, the alteration is made subject to the councils paying the cost. I have in mind a particular case to which I draw the special attention of the honorable gentleman. The Sutherland Shire Council has asked the Department to move the poles between Sutherland and Cronulla, because they have been placed in the water table of a road which is being made. I understand that the Department is willing to move the posts, and, I believe, has commenced to do so; but it asks the council to pay the cost of the work, on the ground that in the erection of the posts an alignment was followed which, to the best of the knowledge and belief of the Department, had been approved by the then existing council. It happens, however, that there was no shire or municipal council in existence when the poles were erected ; conse quently the council is not responsible for the alignment followed. Telegraph poles in the roadway are a danger to traffic, and it is only right that the Department should alter their position, and pay the cost of doing so. I ask the PostmasterGeneral to look into the matter, and to see that a council which has not too large a revenue is not put to the expense of rectifying a departmental blunder.
.- I wish to know if it is the intention of the Minister of Trade and Customs to enter into an arrangement with the State Governments, whereby the ordinary cornsacks may be imported so long as no weight exceeding 200 lbs. is put into them. Such an arrangement would be in the interests of producers, distributors, and those who have to handle the bags. The producers should be able to get whatever sized bags they need. If the Minister could induce the Governments of the States to get their Parliaments to enact that any one putting more than 200 lbs. into a bag should be penalized, or to sanction differential railway rates which would have that effect, it would be possible to allow any sized sack to come in. The present small sack is useful for many kinds of produce, but there are some kinds of produce of which it will not hold more than 1 cwt. The Minister will benefit the farmers and the business community, and will not injure those who have to dp with the handling of bags, if he brings about this change.
.- I hope that the Minister will not do anything to increase the weights which men have to carry, or to give an opportunity for the increasing of them. Every medical man in Australia will say that the heart and other organs must fail when men are employed for eight hours a day in carrying bags containing 200 lbs. each. I have nothing but loathing and contempt for those who have tried to increase the weights which may be put into bags. To my knowledge, three as fine men as ever stood on God’s earth broke down because of the loads they had to carry. I think that bags weighing 100 lbs. are heavy enough to be carried minute by minute on human backs.
– Too heavy.
– I cannot gainsay that. I believe that the best work could be done with bags holding only 50 lbs. each . I hope that the Minister will not be influenced by the arguments of interested individuals to give permission to any farmer, or any one else, to increase the weights put into bags beyond 200 lbs. The honorable member for Wilmot will agree with me that when a larger weight of produce than 200 lbs. is put into a bag it should be confiscated.
– I do.
– I expected to hear the honorable member say that. I am informed by men who lump on the wharves that they have now to carry weights exceeding 200 lbs.
– That is too much.
– Yes. Every man in this House, and every medical man in Australia will say that the health of the workers would be better if they had less heavy weights to move.
– I ask the Minister not to depart from the present regulation respecting weight in regard to the contents of bags. I agree with the honorable member for Melbourne as to the medical aspect of the question. I suppose that one-fourth of the wheat which has been sent from the ports of South Australia has gone away in bags holding more than is allowed by the law of the Commonwealth.
– The Commonwealth has no law on the subject. A Customs proclamation prevents the importation of bags greater than a certain size.
– Then I appeal to the Minister to see whether it is not possible to pass a law which will prevent the using of bags for the conveyance of weights exceeding 200 lbs. Of what use would it be to appeal to the Governments of the States? We might wait till the Day of Judgment, and they would do nothing.
– Then things must stay as they are.
– I hope that they will not. It is not necessary that they should. The honorable member is introducing the thin edge of the wedge in asking that bags larger than the recognised size shall be admitted. The result will be to break down the present arrangement, which ought to be strengthened.
– If what I propose were done, men putting more than 200 lbs. into a bag would be fined. That cannot be done now.
– How is he to be fined ?
– The State can make a law to that effect.
– The whole point is that the State will not make such a law.
Mr. Atkinson.i am simply requesting the Minister to ask the States to do so.
– I am making a strong appeal to the Minister to adhere to the standard sack. The States have had an opportunity to act, and I believe that only Queensland has moved in the matter. New Zealand wisely made the question the subject of railway regulation increasing the rate of freight on bags over 200 lbs. in weight. That was a sensible, intelligent, and practical method of doing it, and I believe that Queensland has pursued a similar course. In these circumstances, I earnestly appeal to the Government . not to weaken in their determination in this respect, but, if anything, to strengthen the law.
– They cannot make a law.
– There seems to be a difference of opinion as to the powers of the Commonwealth in that regard. If we can make a law, the sooner an attempt is made in that direction the better, but the Minister of Trade and Customs has power to do a great deal by administration. It the matter is debated on a future occasion there will be no difficulty in showing that, onthe principle of common humanity, the standard ought to be adhered to. Anyone who knows the waterside workers of Australia must recognise that a man who carries the heavy bags for a few years is broken up.I believe that, in this House, in spite of party differences, we are all actuated by principles of common humanity, and in the name of humanity we ought to see that the use of the large bags is stopped, and the sooner the better. I have no hope of a successful appeal to the State authorities. During the debate this evening reference was made to the weakness of the States in dealing with industrial legislation. The answer is obvious, that the States have Legislative Councils elected on a fancy franchise, and with’ power to veto the popular Houses of Assembly. In those circumstances, it would be a sham and a farce for the Federal Government to appeal to the State Governments to do anything in the matter.
.- I wish to call the attention of the Minister of Trade and Customs to a matter that is creating considerable uneasiness in the minds of producers. I refer to the proposal to impose an export duty on hides and skins. The Minister would he well advised to let the country know his intention in regard to that important matter, and I appeal to him to make a statement accordingly.
.- -Prior to and during the election I made it my business to inquire of hundreds of farmers on ‘ the question of the size of bags. I did so in consequence of statements appearing in the press to the effect . that they were not satisfied with the standard. In every instance they said, “Leave the bags alone.” They looked on the introduction of the standard as one of the best reforms ever made in connexion with the handling of their produce. I also submitted to them the proposition that there should be a railway regulation imposing extra freight on bags weighing over 200 lbs. The moment that was suggested the farmers said, “ We’ should have to have scales in our paddocks to weigh every bag before it leaves there.” Those who are familiar with the way in which wheat is handled know that it is not weighed until it reaches the railway station or the port. The moment the standard size is departed from there will be trouble. I trust the Minister will maintain the regulation, which will always stand to the credit of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who introduced it. It was one of the greatest things ever done for the relief of men on the wharfs and in the holds of ships, and even of the farmers themselves, who now admit that they would. not go back to the old conditions on any consideration.
.- My electorate is largely interested in the question of an export duty on hides. Tn the district of Botany there are large mimbers of men out of employment’ from the fact that they cannot get the hides. Foreigners come into the markets, buy the hides, and export them. We intend to place before the Minister some facts on this matter, and, therefore, I hope he will keep an open mind, and not accede to the request of the honorable member for Echuca to make a pronouncement straight away. The matter is most important to the industrial life of this country, and will have tn be dealt . with” in the House sooner or later.
– I have taken a note of the statement of the. honorable member for Lang in regard to telegraph poles, and will have an inquiry made. L am sure that the Department is not at all anxious to do anything unfair or unjust.
– With regard to the question raised by the honorable members for Echuca and South’ Sydney, it is not my. place, or that of any Minister, to announce what action is to be taken regarding the taxation of any article before he lays the ‘ necessary measure on the table. Any import or export duties to be proposed will be dealt with then. I have no intention of altering the size of the standard sack. Every day I receive two or three letters accompanied by petitions on the subject. There is a printed petition going the round of the Commonwealth asking that the size of the sack be increased, and reaching me daily with a varying number of signatures. I have answered every one of my correspondents, that I have not the slightest intention of altering the size of the standard sack.
– We are not asking the Minister to alter the size. We are asking him to allow others to come in.
– I have no intention to allow others to come in that may be used for carrying wheat.
– If they are so used, the users are breaking the law. Cannot they be fined?
– They cannot be fined with our present powers, but it is the intention of the Government’, as stated in the Speech, to introduce a Bill to amend the Customs Act, which will give us, over exports, the same power to a certain extent as we have over imports. It will then not be possible to export wheat , in bags over the standard weight. . That will meet the case mentioned by the ‘honorable member for Hindmarsh. I believe a great number of backbreaking second-hand bags are in use, and if anything can be done’ to prevent that, it is my intention to do it.
– -That is ‘where the States can come in.
– The States could, if they wished, take action to prevent the large bags being manufactured. We are informed Chat they are being manufactured in the States to-day, of a size greater than the standard. Unfortunately, we have no. control over that, .although we have control over the imported stuff. The grain merchants to-day are practically unanimously, in favour of the standard sack, and do not desire any alteration.
– And the farmers are in favour of it.
– I feel sure that the majority of the farmers are in favour of if.
– No one wishes to get rid of it.
– Andit will not be got rid of. It is not my intention, at all events, to do away with it, and I trust that if any alteration is made while I am in office, it will not be in the direction of adding to the weight which the men have to carry.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.16 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 6 July 1910, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1910/19100706_reps_4_55/>.