4th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– It has been brought to my notice that last week a policeman called at a house in the electoral division of Brisbane, and asked if a gentleman whose name is on the Federal electoral roll, was living there. The lady of the house replied, “ Yes,” and requested that her daughter’s name might be placed on the roll. I am informed that the policeman said that he had orders not to put any names on the roll, but to knock off as many as possible. Will the Minister of Home Affairs say if this action is being taken with his authority? If it is not, will he take steps to prevent its continuance?
– The mission of the Department of Home Affairs is to see that names are kept on the rolls. The matter will be looked into at once.
– Has it been brought to the notice of the Minister that it has been discovered, as the result of private investigation, that roll stuffing was largely practised in the Lang division in connexion with the last election. A canvass in connexion with the State campaign has disclosed the fact that fictitious enrolment has been systematically practised in certain quarters. Will the Minister take steps to guard against action of this kind in the future, not only in the Lang division, but throughout the Commonwealth?
– I cannot understand how it is that the names of thousands of dead persons should remain on the rolls.
– The persons to whom I refer are very much alive, but they are not living at the addresses placed opposite to their names on the rolls.
– I ask the honorable member to give notice of his question. I must have some definite information to go on.
– Then I shall deal with the matter shortly in another way.
– I wish to know if the attention of the Minister of Home Affairs has been drawn to the fact that the names of a large number of persons were removed from the Western Australian electoral rolls before the last elections. The names of persons in the Murray district who have lived continuously for fifty years in the same place were improperly removed, and this occurred also in other districts.
– I am aware that thousands of names have been left off the rolls. I know that that is so in connexion with the electoral division which I represent.
– Has an honorable member the right to make a statement whenasking a question? The honorable member for Swan said that the names of certain persons had been left off an electoral roll. That is not a question.
– I understood the honorable member to be trying to make his question clear.
– Does the PostmasterGeneral know whether a hitch has occurred in connexion with the erection of wireless telegraph stations at or near Sydney and Fremantle, for which contracts were to be let in March last?
– A slight difficulty has arisen regarding the sites, the Defence Department not yet having agreed as to where they should be. Immediately this matter has been settled, the work will be proceeded with.
– Has the PostmasterGeneral seen the report in to-day’s Argus of an interview with Dr. Bell, the inventor of the telephone, in which Dr. Bell states -
Your service is so cheap that I do not know how you can get atelephone service at all. . We have two systems of paying for telephonesflat rate and tollage.The tollage system is the only equitable one, but Americans do not like it. They would rather pay a flat sum. Under the flat system, the burden of the expense falls upon the little users. Under tollage, the people who use itmost have to pay most.
In view of these statements, does the Minister still intend to bring Regulation 7 a into operation on 1st September next?
– I have read the statements referred to, not with “ grim satisfaction, “ but with the greatest amount of pleasure. They confirm my view that the rates which it is proposed to enforce on 1 st September are fair and equitable.
– In determining the new rates, did the Postmaster-General pay heed to the rates in vogue in Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand, and other countries where the telephone developments are ahead of those in other parts of the world, and the rates for service are low, or did he consider only the practices and conditions prevailing in countries controlled by trusts and combines?
– I did not consider the New Zealand rates, because there the telephone systems are nothing like so large as those of Melbourne and Sydney. As for the other countries which the honorable member names, I might mention that in Stockholm telephone attendants are paid £36 a year, whereas we pay£110. If the honorable member for Parramatta wishes to reduce the pay of our telephone attendants to £36 a year, we may take into consideration the reduction of the telephone rates.
– Has the honorable gentleman paid regard to the proportion of the cost of attendance to the revenue of the telephone system, and will he inform the House whether he has discarded his old theory that cheap wages do not mean cheap production?
– There appears tobe a tendency on the part of honorable members to abuse, by the introduction of argument, the privilege of asking questions. This should not be done. It makes my position uncomfortable, because, not knowing what an honorable member is about to say, I cannot intervene to prevent what I regard as improper.
– I should be glad if the honorable member will give notice of this question.
– Was Dr. Bell aware, when making the statements which have been read, that in Victoria alone the profits of the telephone system since Federation have amounted to£142,000?
– I cannot say.
– The PostmasterGeneral having indicated that he has examined the rates prevailing in the countries I have mentioned, will he inform the public what they are?
– I shall be happy to do so, and in reply to a question upon notice, to be asked by the honorable mem- ber for Bendigo, shall furnish most of the Information sought for.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Can he give any information as to the scale of telephone rates in force in Stockholm (Sweden), and particularly the rates paid by small users ?
– The latest information available is to the effect that the charges made by the Stockholm Telephone Company are as follow : -
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are: -
asked the Prime
Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In order to maintain the principle of a citizen before a soldier in connexion with the Defence Forces of the Commonwealth, will he consider the suggestion that a citizen soldier shall always have the right of appeal to the Civil Courts of the Commonwealth from any Court-martial, and that such principle should be incorporated in our Defence Acts?
– I ask the honorable member to give notice of this question for Tuesday. May I be allowed to suggest that honorable members do not give notice on Thursday of questions for Friday, unless the questions be very urgent?
Debate resumed from 14th July(vide page 451), on motion by Mr. Fisher -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
– This Bill is receiving considerable attention, especially from honorable members on this side of the House, and all will agree that it deals with one of the most important questions that could come before Parliament, namely, the proper division of the Customs and Excise revenue as between the States and the Commonwealth. I do not propose to go into the details of the history of this most important question, because honorable members are, no doubt, well aware of the facts. At the FederalConvention of 1897-8 the division of this revenue presented one of the most difficult problems to be solved, and it was termed “ the lion in the path.” Eventually an arrangement was come to for a perpetual - that is, so far as we can make perpetual anything under the Constitution, every section of which is subject to alteration at the will of the people - payment to the States of three-fourths of the revenue, the Commonwealth retaining one-fourth. The Constitution Bill as it left the Convention with this provision in it was accepted by a referendum of the people in Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia. It was not submitted to the people in Western Australia or Queensland, the latter not being represented at the Convention. In New South Wales the Constitution with this provision was accepted by a majority of 70,000, but, in the interval between the passing of the Bill by the Convention and the submission of it to the people, the statutory majority in New South Wales in order to pass it had been altered from 60,000 to 80,000. Eventually, as honorable members know, the Constitution Bill was passed by all the States limiting the arrangement to ten years, in accordance with a suggestion made by the then Premier of New South Wales, Mr., now Sir George Reid, and agreed to by the other Premiers at what is called the Premiers’ Conference of 1899. The Bill became law in that shape, and the Commonwealth was proclaimed and this Parliament elected. During the ten years since then there has been constant difficulty between the States and the Commonwealth over the future division of the Customs and Excise revenue; all the disagreement and friction may be traced to this cause. We all desire an amicable and effective settlement. It isof no use trying the sledge-hammer kind of politics under Federation. The same people elect both the State Parliaments and the Commonwealth Parliament, and there arises difficulty from the fact that there are two sets of agencies responsible to the same people, though not exactly in the same way, because the constituencies are not of the same size. There is the Commonwealth agency and the State agency, and it is most desirable that the two should work harmoniously. There was a meeting last year, following several previous similar gatherings, with the object of bringing about an amicable arrangement, and one was arrived at, submitted to this House, and then referred to the electors for approval or otherwise. The people of Australia, by a small majority, expressed their disapproval of the agreement thus made between the representatives of the States and the Commonwealth. I do not think I have ever said I was particularly wedded to any arrangement in perpetuity ; in fact, uptill the last Conference I had not been much in favour of such a plan.
– Hear, hear ; and the honorable member said so.
– The difficulties were, in my opinion, so great that we required much experience in order . to guide us to a just conclusion. Honorable members will find that when, on the 31st July, 1906, I, as Treasurer, submitted to this House what, I believe, was the first, and, indeed, the only definite and complete proposal dealing with the whole matter that has been submitted, I said that the”” scheme I suggested was not in perpetuity, and I repeat that when I use the word “ perpetuity “ I mean an arrangement subject to alteration as provided by the Constitution, and only in that way. The scheme I then submitted was, as I say, not in perpetuity, but for a period of ten years’; and if honorable members will turn to page 2035 of Hansard of 31st July, 1906, they will find that in my report to the Prime. Minister I said -
I would suggest that the period during which the Comomnwealth should undertake to guarantee an annual payment to the States (on the basis hereafter mentioned) be ten years, viz., after 31st December, 1910, up to 31st December, 1920, and thereafter until Parliament otherwise provides. By that time we should have had twenty years’ experience of Federation, and would necessarily have acquired-‘ during that period a greater and wider knowledge of the -question, which would assist the Parliament in making arrangements “ on such basis as it deems fair” for the future.
– Then the honorable member voted differently.
– The honorable member is always interjecting some rude remark.
– It is not# rude to tell the truth !
– I think the honorable member ought to hold his tongue, and not make a laughing stock of himself.
– It does not matter so long as I do not. make a laughing stock of the honorable member - a thing he often does himself.
– I was converted to an approval of the Agreement, being placed in the Constitution - a step I was not in favour of at the Brisbane Conference - because the terms seemed to me to be very much better than those to which I had hitherto, expected the States to agree. I make the statement in the full knowledge of its truth, that the reason the States were willing to accept 25s. per head was that they were guaranteed that amount until the people should otherwise direct, and that it did not depend on a chance vote >of Parliament as on the present occasion. However we m’ay desire to keep faith, no one can deny that the Bill now before us may be repealed next year by another set of members or by another Parliament. I hope that that will not occur ; but if there be a cataclysm, as at the last election, it is possible. However much in earnest we may be about the observance of the terms of this Bill for ten years, the present proposed arrangement is not in the same category, or so binding on future Parliaments, as was that proposed by ‘the late Government. The latter could not be altered except in the same way as it had become law, namely, by a vote of a majority of the people of the whole Commonwealth voting on the question.
– A referendum can be held at any time.
– Quite so. I am not proposing to go behind the will of the people or the Constitution. However much the Minister of External Affairs and his party may mistrust the people, as -they did by opposing the Financial Agreement being referred to the people, I have never by any word of mine shown that I share that mistrust. The vote of the people is binding on us under the Constitution; and to say that we do not trust them, or that we know better than they do, is simply to say that we do not believe in the Constitution itself. As to the Bill, my observations will be made in no carping spirit, but in order to warn the Treasurer that in its present shape it will not, I think, attain the object he desires. Clause 4 provides that the Commonwealth, for a period of ten years from the 1st July of this year, shall pay by monthly instalments, or apply to the payment of interest on the debts of the States- taken over by the Commonwealth, 25s. per head of the population; and I submit that that cannot be done during the six months of this year, because the States are entitled in that period to three-fourths of the net Customs and Excise revenue.
– I have never denied that.
– But the Bill does not say so.
– The Constitution says so.
– Why put into a Bill words which are absolutely opposed to the clear reading of section 87 of the Constitution ?
– They are not.
– I submit that they are. If the Prime Minister desires to act openly and in the light of day, he should state in the Bill what he proposes to do. The measure as it stands does not make it clear to any ordinary person, not acquainted with the provisions of the Constitution, what is the full meaning of the proposal. It is shown that £450,000 is to be deducted during the financial year from the amount paid to the States, but the Bill does not say that, after paying over three-fourths of the revenue for six months, say, about .£4,250,000, there will be about £1,500,000 of that amount deducted from the amount paid during the next six months. Why is that not set out in the schedule ? Where is the sense in paying people money and then taking it back again? It is much better to say plainly what it is proposed to do. Any one reading this Bill would think that a mistake had been made as to the payment of the 25s. per head from the 1st July, seeing that there is no power to legislate in this regard until the 31st December. Then, again, I desire to know why - and the Bill would certainly be misleading to me if I did not know what I do know - the period is said to be ten years when, as honorable members know, it is nine and a half years, with some subtractions. First the sum of £450,000, and then an amount of about £1,500,000 that will be overpaid beyond the 25s. per capita during the six months that the Commonwealth is bound under the Constitution to return to the States three-quarters of the net Customs and Excise revenue, are to be subtracted. Why, then, has not the Treasurer put nine and a half years and also the subtractions in the Bill, to let people know what he is doing? He is always posing as a man who is anxious to show everything to everybody ; he is almost a Don Quixote in these matters.
– He did not show everything.
– He did a great many foolish things, but I would not charge the honorable member with foolishness so much as with astuteness with the object of making this Bill appear to be what it is not. It is not worthy of the honorable member. In not making the Bill say what it really means - a nine and a half years’ term and certain subtractions for the first year - the honorable member is not treating the House fairly. The honorable member for North Sydney referred adversely to paragraph 6, but that paragraph is necessary in order to divide the surplus revenue under section 94 of the Constitution. That section gives the States any surplus revenue for all time, or until it is altered by the people. I do not know what the Treasurer means by surplus revenue in this case. It will not amount to much when my honorable friends opposite have done with it. They will take it by some means or other, in the same way that they took certain money before under the name of surplus revenue. Their action then was a clear breach of the Constitution, morally, and ‘I thought at the time legally also.
– It was the present Leader of the Opposition who did that.
– That does not alter my opinion, nor does it alter the fact that the Labour party all subscribed to it, and rejoiced in it; and because I was not in favour of it I have been placarded by the party all over Western Australia as being opposed to old-age pensions, whereas I simply did not approve of what I considered to be an illegal action as well as a grave breach of faith with the States. One of the main reasons why the Financial Agreement was acceptable to the States was that it gave them security, and could not be altered except by a vote of the people, and the States were willing to take much less on that account. The Treasurer, after taking away certain amounts - I should like to use a stronger term if I could - makes a virtue of having followed the Agreement as nearly as possible, with one exception, but the cases now and then are not the same. In the first case the people alone could alter the arrangement, but in this case a vote of this Parliament can alter it. I subscribed to the Agreement and thought it fair. I did not regard it as unalterable, like the laws of the Medes and Persians, and as lasting for ever. That would be too much to expect of any law that we pass now. Different circumstances and different interests will arise as time goes on, and I thought that it the Financial Agreement were carried it would be in consonance with the Constitution itself, because the vital matter of finance would have been left in the hands of the people themselves. If honorable members look at the Constitution they will see that there are practically no powers, or, at any rate, no vital powers, which interfere with the relations of the States and the Commonwealth, left in the hands of this Parliament. The reason is that this Parliament is not a proper tribunal to judge between the interests of the States and Commonwealth, and so nearly all the important matters which affect the States are left to the will of the people. I thought that if I voted for the Financial Agreement as submitted last year it would last until the people were tired of it, or wanted something better. I thought I was doing afair thing, and justified myself in the belief that I was leavingthe matter in the hands of the people who gave us the Constitution. I thought that I was doing nothing undemocratic, or adverse to the wishes of the people themselves, in leaving the power to change the arrangement as circumstances arose to the people who sent us here. By that I mean a majority of the whole of the people voting, and a majority voting in four States.
– The right honorablemember had often spoken of the difficulty of getting the Constitution altered.
– I saw no insurmountable difficulty. What was in my mind was that the taking of a referendum presented some difficulties, because it usually meant a general election, and required those interested on each side to place their views before the people. There is no difficulty in the referendum itself.
– It is always a difficulty to get back money which you have given to the people for all time.
– Given to what people? The people of the States and the Commonwealth are the same, and there was no “ all time “ about it. That phrase has been used by the Labour party as much as by us, but it does not mean “ for ever and ever.”
– That was the object of putting it in the Constitution.
– I submit that it was not the object. We left the question in the safe hands of those most capable of looking after it. Not even the most rabid Labour Socialist in Australia can allege that I said anything against democratic or radical principles when I said that I would trust the people to do in the future what we were asking them to do then. I believe that when the shoe pinches the person who wears it knows most about it, and when it came to pass that the Financial Agreement was found to work unfairly or not sufficiently well, the people would have soon set about remedying it.
– Why not trust the people’s representatives ?
– I do not trust the people’s representatives as I do the people themselves.
– Will the right honorable member trust the people irrespective of State boundaries by having a proper national referendum - a referendum to be decided by a majority of the whole people ?
– The right honorable member will not be in order in discussing that question, and the honorable member for Barrier must not interject.
– Will I be in order in saying that the referendum which has been taken on this matter necessitated a majority of the whole of the people first ?
– Could the agreement have been removed from the Constitution by a majority vote of the whole people only ?
– It could not, according to the Constitution, nor could any other provision in the Constitution.
– I rise to order. Do you, sir, rule that no honorable member can refer to the referendum that has been taken with regard to the Financial Agreement?
– No. The honorable member for Barrier interjected with regard to a general referendum, and desired to know whether the right honorable member for Swan was in favour of it. I ruled that that had nothing to do with the question now before the House.
– In everything, I did I showed that I was prepared to trust the people, and that is more than honorable members opposite can say. They thought they were wiser than the people, and to my regret the majority of the people who voted acquiesced in that opinion, for the Financial Agreement was not carried. Honorable members opposite have said that the Financial Agreement was a complicated question, but there could not be a greater misuse of words. Leaving out the contribution by the States of £600,000 before the ten years’ period began, what could be more simple than the payment of 25s. per head to each State and a bonus of£250,000 to Western Australia in the first year, diminishing by £10,000 a year until it was obliterated ? Where is the complication about that?It is the simplest proposition possible, and its very simplicity was a great advantage. Every one could understand it, and yet honorable members opposite, and also the honorable member for Parkes, have beer referring to it as a complicated matter.
– It is easy enough to pay 25s. per head, but the complication comes in when we have to go to the people to get it back.
-The honorable member said that the Financial Agreement was complicated, whereas it was the simplest agreement, and was contained in only a few words. I hope I have made it clear that the reason why I was in favour of the Financial Agreement “ in perpetuity,” as honorable members opposite call it, was first, that the amount to be paid to the States was smaller on that account, and that they were willing to take it, and secondly, that I knew I was handing the matter over to the safe keeping of the people themselves. I have no hesitation in saying that under the altered circumstances, to which I shall refer later, 25s. per head is not sufficient to pay to the States, but first I wish to refer to the defeat of the Financial Agreement on which this Bill is based. Let me tell honorable members opposite that they have nothing very much to boast about as regards the referendum recently taken, and no certainty that if it were repeated the same result would be obtained.
– If we had had half the newspapers on our side that the other side had, the right honorable member would have been left in no doubt about the result.
– We had some of the press on our side, but there were some influential journals on the other side, including, in Victoria, a very powerful metropolitan newspaper. The Financial Agreement, which is said to be the basis of this Bill, was defeated throughout Australia by a total of 25,324 votes, and I have prepared a concise statement showing how the people voted. This I propose to read, because I believe that it is not only interesting, but that its insertion in Hansard will be useful for future reference: -
It will be observed that out of 2,258,482 electors on the roll no less than 942,130 did not vote, and that while in the three States of New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia there was a majority of 69,309 votes recorded against the agreement, in the remaining three States of Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania there was a majority of 43,985 votes recorded in favour of it, giving a majority of 25,324 votes for the whole Commonwealth against the agreement.
– Has the honorable member made allowance for the number of informal votes?
– The number of informal votes was 82,437. New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia contributed 65,389, and Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania contributed 17,048.
– It is very important. The honorable member is assuming that all the informal votes were in favour of the agreement.
– Not at all. It is my belief that if the 82,437 informal votes and the 5,187 ballot-papers issued but not accounted for had been effective, the Financial Agreement would have been carried. There were 2,258,480 on the rolls, of whom 1,316,352 voted effectively, whilst no less than 942,130 did not take the trouble to record their votes. Having regard to the figures I have quoted, I do not think it can be fairly said that the result of the referendum was satisfactory. They show that the referendum, despite all the virtues claimed for the principle, does not necessarily give a true record of the will of the people.
– The referendum on the Financial Agreement shows that all who voted were in favour oi the proposed per capita return of 25s. per annum. Both sides appear to have favoured that.
– I do not say that it shows anything of the kind.
– There were thousands in New South Wales who opposed the agreement because it was not liberal enough.
– I am not endeavouring to read into these figures the thoughts of the people.
– Some Labour candidates in New South Wales made it a strong point that the agreement was not sufficiently liberal.
– The referendum does not show that the majority of the people of the Commonwealth were against the Financial Agreement, because, whereas 670,838 voted against it, 1,587,644 were either in favour of it or refrained from voting.
– What calculation would the right honorable member make on that basis? He knows why so many people” refrained from voting.
– I do not know what influenced so many to abstain from voting. These figures are used by me to emphasize and confirm my argument.
– We did not want those who refrained from voting; we had quite enough, without them, against the agree- ment.
– I do not think that that is an accurate statement. - The Labour party did their very best in opposition to the agreement, just as we did our best to secure its adoption. I certainly did my best to secure its acceptance by the people, and I am not going to tell the people of my State, as the honorable member .appears to be ready to inform his constituents, that I did not try to secure their favorable verdict.
– I am always a “ trier.”
– Then what did the honorable member mean by his interjection? I say, without reservation, that I did my best to secure votes for my party and for the Financial Agreement. In my own electorate, and in the electorates of Perth and Fremantle, we were eminently successful, but we were defeated by the votes of the two gold-fields constituencies. There is one point that I desire specially to emphasize. Representatives of New
South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, where a majority of the people who recorded their votes, voted against the Financial Agreement - although in the case of South Australia the majority was only 1898 - may fairly say to their constituents, “ We have acted in accordance with the will of the majority of the people who voted at the referendum in our respective States “ But what can be said of the representatives of Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania, where the Financial Agreement was approved, if they vote for this measure, knowing that it does not carry out the wishes of the majority of those who voted at the referendum?
– But in voting for the Bill we shall vote exactly as we promised on the platform to vote?
– The majority of the people who voted in Western Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania were against the honorable member and his party,
– If they were I should not be here.
– The majority of the electors in Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania were in favour of the Financial ‘ Agreement, and therefore opposed to the proposal now before us. They favoured the Financial Agreement as il stood. I do not know how honorable members, regard this point, but I hold that it is a most important one. I recognise that the majority rule, but at the same time it would appear that these referenda destroy the will of the States as entities. In the case of the referendum on the question of the transfer of the State debts the people of New South Wales, by a majority of two to one, decided against the proposal. Are the representatives of New South- Wales going to vote against the will of the people of New South Wales as expressed by the referendum ?
– We are not complaining.
– What will the honorable member do when the proposal for taking over the State debts is brought forward ?
– I shall vote for it.
– Yet there was a majority of two to one against the proposal in New South Wales. A referendum destroys the influence of the States, as entities, in respect of matters in which they are vitally interested. In Western Australia the Financial Agreement was carried by a considerable majority, and yet we find that the two Labour representatives of that State in this House are prepared to vote against what the majority of their State favoured. I shall stand by what I advocated, and that which the people of Western Australia have approved, although members of the Labour party representing that State intend to act in accordance with their own wishes, irrespective of the views of the State which they tell us they so well represent. In this connexion I shouldlike to say we have cause to complain of the actions of the Labour party at the last general election. Honorable members, perhaps, will find it difficult to believe that a Labour senator, whose name I can mention, argued in Western Australia that the Financial Agreement was adverse to the interests of the State, and that the proposed per capita allowance of 25s. was too small. He urged that Western Australia was growing by leaps and bounds, and that as there must be a corresponding expansion of the revenue collected in that State the proposal to make a per capita allowance of 25s. was totally inadequate. That view was pumped into the minds of the people as the opinion of the Labour party, of which he was a member. It was also urged constantly by the members of the Labour party that the Financial Agreement was not nearly so liberal to Western Australia as the Brisbane Labour Conference scheme, and the resolution passed by the Brisbane Labour Conference was quoted -
That in view of the exceptional position of Western Australia a further capitation grant should be made to that State to gradually diminish upon a sliding scale until its share of the Federal revenue coincides per capita with that of the other States.
Is that the present proposal of the Labour party? This Bill provides for an arrangement that is to operate for only ten years, during which time the special grant to Western Australia will amount to £2,050,000, instead of £3,150,000 for the twenty-five years under the Financial Agreement, a difference of £1,100,000. As honorable members know, the Prime Minister himself has declared that the Brisbane Labour Conference proposals are binding upon the Labour party during the life of the present Parliament. Now the Conference decided that the special grant to Western Australia should “ gradually diminish on a sliding scale until its share of the Federal revenue coincides per capita with that of the other
States.” I repeat that some time ago the Prime Minister affirmed that the decisions of the Brisbane Labour Conference were not binding upon the Labour party until after the general elections had been held, and the honorable member for Gwydir made a similar admission. Therefore, I am justified in asking whether a proposal to make the Financial Agreement operative for ten years complies with the determination of the Brisbane Labour Conference?
– Surely the honorable member will allow the Labour party to frame its own programme.
– I am merely criticising its programme, and I have a right to do that. I also wish to ask whether the Government proposal will be as good for Western Australia as it was stated during the recent election campaign that the Labour party’s scheme would be. It will be recollected that in another branch of the Legislature last session Senator de Largie moved that the agreement submitted by the Deakin Government should be limited to a period of twenty-five years, and that every member of the Labour party supported the proposal. We know, too, that in this Chamber the honorable member for Mernda proposed a limitation of fifteen years, and that the Prime Minister and his colleagues and every member of the Labour party voted for it.
– We never voted for a fifteen years’ period, because we were never given an opportunity to do so.
– But the honorable member’s party would have voted for it, would they not? I think that my honorable friends must admit that they supported the proposal of the honorable member for Mernda.
– We would have voted for any proposal except that to embody the agreement in the Constitution.
– Surely. Do the members of the Labour party repudiate the following letter, dated 22nd February, 1910, which was written by the present Minister of Defence to the West Aus tralian ? -
I might be allowed to say that when Senator deLargie moved in the Senate last session to limit the present agreement to twenty-five years he had the votes of every Labour senator, so that though there is no time stated in the Brisbane Conference scheme, that warrants me in saying that in any Act passed to determine the question the Federal Labour Party would be prepared to give it a currency of that length of time.
That letter contains definite statements to the people of Western Australia by a man who was the leader of the Labour party in that State, who is now a Minister of the Crown, and who might fairly be expected to voice the intentions of his party. Surely when he writes to the newspapers in such definite terms, he writes only what he knows to be true.
– Still he belongs to the caucus.
– That does not, or should not, help him. In another letter, a day or two afterwards, Senator Pearce said -
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.
Had the author of those letters no authority to make the statements which they contain ?
– Had he any authority ?
– Is the Labour party going to repudiate him? If he had no authority to make them I shall tell the electors of Western Australia that his own party repudiate him. It was a cruel thing 40 mislead the people in this way. It is almost criminal for any person in deliberate terms to fool the electors in such a fashion. The written statements of a man who was the Leader of the Labour party in Western Australia, and who has twice been a Minister of the Crown, ought not to lie passed by as if they were mere electioneering squibs. They should either be acted upon or explained away. But my honorable friends opposite treat them with contempt.
– The Minister of Defence can defend himself.
– If he were present I would make the statements which I am now making. I have no desire to make them behind his back. He misled the people of Western Australia. I do not think that it is fair and honorable dealing for any one speaking with apparent authority for his party to make such definite statements without any authority. Senator Pearce has been a member of this Parliament for nine years, he has filled the office nf Chairman of Committees in the Senate, and has been twice a Minister. When, therefore, he makes such statements without authority, his own party should call him to account l.or having misled the people. He took an unfair advantage of the party to which I belong during the recent campaign if he had no authority to speak for his party.
– Shall we court-martial him? Will that satisfy the honorable member ?
– I merely desire fair play. During this debate much has been said by honorable members opposite which was intended to convey the impression that this Parliament has all the legislative functions of importance to the Commonwealth to discharge. But I would ask, “ Does the legislation of the Commonwealth Parliament touch the daily lives or the homes of the people as closely as does that of the State Parliaments?” Do any of its acts enter into the lives of the lowliest people of this country ? As a matter of fact they do not know what goes on here. They have enough to do to focus their attention upon earning a livelihood, and they have not the time at their disposal to study Federal politics. They are too intent upon looking after their daily needs.
– Order. I must ask the honorable member to confine himself to the question before the Chair.
– On the other hand, the functions which are discharged by the State Legislatures intimately touch the daily lives and needs of the people, and the policy of the Government under this Bill is to deplete the revenue of the States, thereby limiting their power to carry out satisfactorily their great and numerous functions. The statement was made yesterday that honorable members- opposite are not unificationists. But the South Australian Labour party have placed the principle of unification in their platform-
– To attempt to deplete the revenues of the States in the way that is contemplated under this Bill is tantamount to destroying the national interests of this country. I ask, “ What are the Government giving the people of Australia in exchange for what they are taking from them?” They propose to reduce the payments to the States from Customs and Excise during the present financial year by £3,500,000. .
– The States have had a very good innings.
– I honestly believe that the honorable member hates the States politically speaking. The Government propose to reduce the payments to the States from Customs and Excise revenue by £3,500,000 during the current year, to deprive them of £100,000 which they now collect by way of a tax upon bank notes, and to impose a land tax which will yield approximately £2,000,000 annually. It will thus be seen that during the present year they intend to take £5,600,000 out of the pockets of the people of the States, either in the form of revenue which the States are already enjoying, or in the form of revenue which they could have enjoyed whenever they thought fit to do so. There is £5, 600,000 which the Government are taking out of the pockets of the States in a manner that the States have not been levied upon during the last ten years. I ask again, what are the Government going to do with this money? They say that they are going to pay for naval defence out of revenue. That is a very good thing to do if it were necessary, but it would be possible to give the country quite as good a scheme of naval defence as they are now going to give, in the manner suggested by the Deakin Government last year, and pay for it gradually by instalments. That is to say, the Government could establish a sinking fund of £298,000 a year, and pay for the navy by instalments, as I proposed in my speech when introducing the Naval Loan Bill, on the 1st December last year. Therefore, it was not necessary to raise the £3,500,000 by taxation, for it is unwise to do so. Then, again, why are the Government anxious to take the £450,000? It is a very large sum to take from the States, who want, it to develop their territory, to make homes for the people, to subjugate the wilderness, and to populate the land.
– Is the right honorable member against paying pensions to invalids ?
– No, certainly not ; but how many millions are the Government going to spend in that direction? As to the other functions of government which we control, posts and telegraphs are practically self-supporting, or can be made so. Lighthouses and quarantine have hitherto been paid for by the States, and it is true that we shall save them a little money in that direction. But what else is there? I suppose that the defence scheme will cost a few extra thousands a year. But why take ,£5,600,000 out of the pockets of the taxpayers- an immense sum that is either available now, or would be available at call. The Government will not want the money for the purposes of the laws they intend to pass - good laws and bad laws. We do not want bad laws, and the good ones need_ not be expensive to administer. But the States do not want us to invade their arena by fresh legislation, as I regret to say there has been a tendency to do on the part of honorable members opposite ever since the Commonwealth was established. I acquit . those, honorable members who have just come into the House of the charge, although they are of the same kidney as the older members. There has been, I repeat, a desire ever since Federation was established, not to be content with the powers intrusted to us under the Constitution, but to invade the province of the States, to belittle them, and even to ruin them. If it were not that this Labour party is bound together by hoops of steel, its members would never dare to take up the stand they do in this House. They can almost ignore public opinion, because iri the constituencies they have a number of people banded together, not for political purposes only, but to secure industrial advantages, and who support them in all they do. But for their outside organization, honorable members opposite would never dare to make the statements they do in this House adverse to the States. One would think from what the supporters of the Government say that the States ought not to have any power, but that all power should be vested in us. I should like to know what we have done during the last ten years to improve the condition of the country, to make it more habitable, and to provide comfortable homes for the people. How much have we done? Honorable members opposite would not allow any more people to come into the country if they could help it. I intended to quote before - and the passage is too important to pass over even though I quote it out of its proper place in my argument - a passage from a statement made by the Minister of Defence in Western Australia. It reminds one of the nursery rhyme, “Will you walk into my parlour said the spider to the fly?” The Minister said -
In the first place let me point out that if this agreement be rejected the Braddon clause will continue operative.
In that case the States will receive a larger share of Customs revenue than under the Fusion agreement.
Is that true?
– Of course it is true.
– How will the Braddon section be operative when this Bill is passed?
– The Minister said that the Braddon section remains law until we alter it by an Act.
– When this
Bill is passed, how will the Braddon section be operative, in view of the fact that the Government intend to take after the 31st December money paid to the States in the preceding six months? Was what I have quoted a fair statement to be made by a responsible leader? The Minister of Defence said that the States would receive a larger share of the Customs revenue than under the Fusion agreement. He would have told the truth had he gone on to say that the States would receive a larger amount up to the 31st December, but that after that date the Government would take back what they had given. That is the truth, butthat is not what the Minister of Defence said. After the 31st December anything that has been paid in excess of 25s. per head is to be taken back again. That is not fair dealing as between man and man, or between Commonwealth and States, and the Minister’s assertion was an absolute misrepresentation.
– Very like the confidence trick.
– Many people believe statements such as the above when made, although not based upon any sound foundation. I do not propose to say anymore on this matter, except that when we get into Committee I shall object to clause 4, Perhaps in the meantime the Prime Minister will consult his legal advisers and let us know exactly what he proposes doing.
– They are quite satisfied.
– If we do not get into the High Court over this clause, I shall be surprised. The Prime Minister’s advisers may be able to read law into the clause, but why not state plainly what the Government mean to do ? Why not say that the arrangement is to operate for nine and a-half years after the 1st January, 191 1? Why not say that the Government intend to deduct so many hundred thousand pounds that they will havepaid in excess of the 25s. per head during the preceding six months? Then they would be able to say that they had placed clearly before the public what they intend to do. I feel pretty certain that many members of this House, on both sides, who have not looked into this subject carefully, do not quite understand what is proposed. When I first saw the Bill I thought there was a mistake, and that “ 1910 “ should be “ 1911.” But it seems to me that the Prime Minister is inclined to stick to a course, even if it be shown to be unwise, instead of at once offering to rectify the error. This thing is wrong, and he has been told that it is wrong - not in such strong terms as I have used, perhaps, but still clearly enough. Moreover, I believe that what is proposed is unconstitutional. I do not believe that we can legislate in regard to aperiod prior to the term mentioned in the Constitution. After that date we can, no doubt, do as we like. But it is now proposed to pass legislation to take effect six months prior to the date fixed in the Constitution, namely, 31st December, 1910. What sort of business is that? I am sorry that I have taken up so much time, and have to thank you, Mr. Speaker, and honorable members, for the consideration and attention extended to me.
.- The right honorable member for Swan said something to the effect that honorable members on this side of the House are bound together by hoops of steel, and that because of that steel binding we are able to defy the people.
– He meant s-t-e-a-l !
– Perhaps he was alluding to the Trust Funds !
– I am sure that the right honorable member did not refer to that kind of stealing. He argued that the Government party are defying the people in matters of finance. Well, as far as I understand the situation, those persons who are members of the Labour party are, at all events, citizens of the Commonwealth. I know that in the opinion of the right honorable member we are not in the confidence of the public; and he is enraged because this party, having been in adversity for many years, now constitutes a majority in this Parliament. We have been informed by practically every speaker on the Opposition side, in respect of this financial arrangement, that the Labour party are proposing to do something which is radically wrong. Nevertheless, I venture to say that no honorable member opposite can show that for the next ten years there will be a penny of difference in State and Federal finance on account of the Bill introduced by the present Government, as distinguished from what would have happened had the Financial Agreement been approved of by the people and the Deakin Ministry remained in power. «
– How can the honorable member say that when there is a difference, to begin with, to the extent of £150,000?
– The honorable member favours me with the interjection that there is a difference to the extent of £150,000. I presume that he means that the deficit is not £600,000, and that consequently, being only about £450,000, there is a difference of £150,000. £ am grateful for the interjection; but surely the honorable member has forgotten the terms of the agreement of which he himself approved.
– Not at all.
– If the deficit had been less, even had the Deakin Ministry been in power, the States would have reaped the benefit of that lower amount. That is stated as clear as daylight in the Financial Agreement. If the shortage amounted to £600,000 the various States were to meet it on one basis, but - if such said shortage be less than ,£600,000 the contributions shall be reduced proportionately.
Wherein is the difference? There is surely no difference. The deficit presumably would have been what it is to-day, irrespective of what Ministry was in power, and consequently the amount to be returned to the States would have been £450,000 less instead of the £600,000 the States agreed to put up had the deficit been that amount or over.
– Even that does not follow.
– The deficit might have been more.
– Perhaps ; we should not have starved the Departments as this Government has been attempting to do.
– Under such circumstances the deficit would have been greater, and consequently the amount to be deducted from the sum returnable to the States would have been greater. Consequently the strength of the argument of the other side falls heavily to the ground when they state that we are starving the Departments, whereas the Deputy Leader of the Opposition asserts that if his party had been in power the deficit would have been larger, and consequently the deprivations of the States would have been greater.
– I did not say that honorable members were starving the States.
– That has been the strength of every argument from the other side. The Financial Agreement proposed the payment ot 25s. per head to the State* indefinitely. The payment under it wai to start on the 1st July. Under the Bill now before the House provision is made for the payment to the States of 25s. per head of their population from the 1st July. In that respect the two proposals are identical. Under the Financial Agreement, the States, if the necessity arose, were to make good the Commonwealth deficit to the extent of £600.000. Under the Bill now before honorable members, they are asked to make good a deficit amounting to £450.000, and the amount, if the necessity had arisen, would b’e £600,000. To that extent also the two proposals are identical. In the circumstances, why (he right honorable member for Swan, who has conveniently escaped, should roar at honorable members on this side, and denounce this Bill in unmeasured terms, as calculated to deplete the revenues of the States, is to me quite incomprehensible. The right honorable gentleman asserted that the people do not understand these things, and that they are being hoodwinked, misled, and deliberately deceived by this party. Only a moment or two ago he used just such extravagant terms in asserting that we are proposing to deplete the revenues of the States, when he should have admitted that, as a matter of fact, for a period of ten years from the 1st July, there is not a penny of difference in the amount which the States would receive under the proposals submitted by the twosides of the House. There is in this Bill no proposal to rob or deplete the revenuesof the States. So far as the first year is concerned, the right honorable member for Swan asserts that we are proposing to take £3:50°>°°° from the States, and even if that be true, it is to a fraction precisely what he would himself have taken from them if he had remained in power. It iswell that there should be some reply when such extravagant language is used, and I venture to carry the war into the enemy’scamp, and say that it was used for a purpose which the right honorable member for Swan dare not fully disclose. It is somewhat strange that, merely because the honorable member, by the will of the people, has been placed in Opposition instead of in power, he should assert that a financial proposal which, covering a period of ten years, is identical with one to which he was himself a party, is fraught with danger and catastrophe to the States, because he and his friends will not have the opportunity to administer it. In the circumstances, I think we can leave the right honorable gentleman to the anger he displays, in the hope that time may allay it. Some reference has been made to the financial proposal suggested by the Brisbane Labour Conference, and it has been said that the Prime Minister is greater than the Brisbane Conference. I can leave the Prime Minister to answer that for himself. It is asserted that the Ministerial party are not giving effect to the policy approved at the Brisbane Conference. 1 ask honorable members opposite, and perhaps the Deputy Leader of the Opposition will favour me with a reply, whether they prefer the proposal of the Brisbane Labour Conference to the Bill now before the House. Presumably that is the attitude of the honorable members for Angas and Swan. They complained that we are not observing the terms of the policy approved at the Brisbane Conference, and they would have the country believe that some violation of that policy to the detriment of the States is now proposed.
– I think the present Bill a departure from the Brisbane Labour Conference proposal in the direction of greater generosity to the States.
– I thank the honorable gentleman for giving expression to what I intended to say in a moment or two. He has answered completely ‘ and effectively the two ex-Ministers on his side,who sought to convey the impression that this party was now submitting a proposal which would be less beneficial to the States than that suggested at the Brisbane Labour Conference.
– Is it not equally a violation even if, under it, the States will receive more than they would under the Brisbane Conference proposal ?
– That may be so, but it should not then be a source of complaint from the other side.
– As I understand it, the Brisbane Conference proposal guaranteed only a fixed sum of £5,000,000, and the Bill guarantees an increase.
– Under this Bill an increase of population would involve an increase in the payment to the States. In that respect, it is distinctly more generous to the States than the proposal of the brisbane Labour Conference, and the difference between them ought not to be a matter of complaint for the other side. Honorable members opposite should not attempt to induce the people to believe that, in this Bill, we are proposing to treat the States less generously than they would have been treated under the Brisbane Conference proposal when, as a matter of fact, the. reverse is the case. I have had no conversation with Senator Pearce, and I do not know what prompted the honorable senator to write to the Western Australian newspapers in the way he did.
– The same thing that prompted other Ministers to say other things in the other States.
– I have no doubt that Senator Pearce is able to reply effectively to the criticism levelled against him. I am satisfied that, when he wrote the letter referred to, he conscientiously believed that he was stating what would happen.
– How could the honorable senator do that in the face of the declarations by the Prime Minister?
– I have not compared dates, but I understand that the manifesto issued by the Prime Minister and signed by himself and the secretary of the Federal Labour Party did not reach South Australia until a week or two before the date of the election. It was so late that we in - South Australia issued a manifesto of our own. I shall be pleased to supply the honorable member for Parramatta with copies of both, in order that he may compare them. It is possible that they do not agree. The Prime Minister’s manifesto probably did not reach Western Australia until a week after it was received in South Australia, and Senator Pearce may not have seen it until after his letter was written.
– The fact is, the policy of honorable members opposite is put into a local mould in each State.
– We know that each member has local, matters to attend to just as the honorable member for Parramatta has.
– The honorable member for Parramatta issued a separate manifesto for New South Wales.
– I say that I believe Senator Pearce conscientiously considered he was doing the right thing in writing the letter which has been referred to, but it is only a further proof that no one man binds the Labour party.
– Hear, hear ; honorable members put the snuffer on him in the caucus.
– There was no snuffer put upon Senator Pearce. I say that he conscientiously believed that he was doing right in writing as he did to the Western Australian press, but the statement of no one member binds the . Labour party any more than the statement of the exPrime Minister and the different statements of the present Deputy Leader of the Opposition in respect to finance and defence bind the whole of the members of their party. The honorable member for Ballarat frankly admitted that when he went into the secret caucus of Premiers, the opinions he held on this subject were entirely different from those which he_ held when he emerged from that caucus. Why, then, should Senator Pearce be girded at because he happened to give expression to an opinion that the time fixed for the payments to the States should be twentyfive years, when, as a matter of fact, the majority of his party considered that the payment should be limited to ten years? The right honorable member for Swan conveniently escapes after making one of his attacks, and declines to listen to any reply, but if he were present, I should like to ask him why, in this connexion, he did not quote Senator Stewart, who thinks there should be no term fixed, and who, at the most, would not continue the payments for more than five years if he could have his way.
– Then the Bill is not the result of a national decision, but of a sort of compromise.
– It is not a question of compromise, but of what the majority believe is right and proper.
– A majority of the Labour party.
– When the honorable gentleman went into the secret conference of Premiers, he found that it was a question of what the majority considered right for their purpose.
– The honorable member now says that a majority of the Labour party determined this policy, and not a majority of the country, and I agree with him.
– I remind the honorable gentleman that the country gave the party having a majority in this House absolute power to do as they pleased in this matter. Honorable members on this side might, if they so desired, have proposed to give much less to the States, and they could claim that they had the mandate of the people to. do so. I hope the honorable member for Parramatta will admit that he has been answered.
– I do not admit any such thing.
– The people said that the party in power in the Federal Parliament should have the right to deal with the finances as they thought best in the interests of the Commonwealth. That was the national decision. When it is said that we are proposing to deplete the revenues of the States, we might reply that we are proposing to be far more generous to them than many people anticipated. Then there is this additional safeguard from my point of view - that at the end of the ten years’ period this Parliament and the country will have the right of reviewing the whole situation, free from any trammels of constitutional ties such as would have been the case had the other side won in the contest, and precisely as at present we are reviewing what was the Braddon blot. In those circumstances, rather than denounce the attitude taken up by this side, rather than seek to allege that we are depleting the State revenues, it ought to be admitted that they are being dealt with in an exceedingly generous manner. I want to touch that point only in reply to some statements which have been made from the other side. Suppose that we put aside the agreement made by the State Premiers and the ex-Prime Minister. Suppose that we discard the question as to whether a deficit should be made up and for what purpose, or whether there should be a per capita payment of 25s. or less, and taking the cue given to us by the people on the defeat of the agreement, say that on the 31st December, this Parliament will have a free hand to do with the finances as it may desire. We could then retain the whole of the revenue. But we are exercising our power in an exceptionally generous manner by returning to the States 25s. per head, or, to put it in brief terms, doing precisely what the State Premiers claimed should be done, except that the payment is to be limited to a period of ten years, at the end of which term the State Parliaments, together with the Federal Parliament and the people generally, can review the situation. In those circumstances, sir, I sincerely hope that we on this side will not be denounced again in terms similar to those which were used today by the honorable member for Swan.
– The honorable member for Adelaide has very cleverly put a view which is apt to take the House unless it is scrutinized a little. In his defence of one of his own leaders, who made some utterances during the late campaign, he was very ingenious. But really he gave the case completely away in the statement which he made. He said that Senator Pearce wrote what he believed, but that no one man binds the Labour party. Clearly, therefore, Senator Pearce conscientiously advocated a view of National finance before his constituents, which, according to the honorable member, he has had to stifle.
– Oh, no.
– That was the statement of the honorable member for Adelaide. According to Senator Pearce, that is what ought to have been done. That is what was fair to Western Australia, and therefore, that is what he advocated. When he was away from the rest of his confrères, and in the absence possibly of the celebrated manifesto of the Prime Minister he was free, it seems, to promise Western Australia, on behalf of himself and his colleagues whom he led through the campaign, that for twenty-five years the State would receive a guarantee of this description.
– He will be free to advocate that at the end of ten years.
– I am glad to hear that. This Bill does not guarantee what Senator Pearce promised to the people of Western Australia should be done. Why? Because as the honorable member for Adelaide said, “ no one man binds the Labour party.” Senator Pearce has been in the caucus since then, and has had to knuckle under. Here is a clear case in which the caucus disfranchises a member’s constituency, and therefore destroys representative government in its very essence.
– Order. I must ask the honorable member not to follow that line of argument. He is now getting somewhat outside the matters which are before the House.
– I am replying to a statement made by the honorable member for Adelaide.
– I did not hear the honorable member for Adelaide make any statement which would justify the remarks the honorable member is now making, but if he did he was distinctly out of order.
– I made a note of his statement at the time: - “Senator Pearce wrote what he believed, but no one man binds the Labour party.”
– The Honorable member will be in order in taking exception to that statement, but not in going into too much detail. In my opinion, he was getting rather far away from the question before the House.
– My point all through, sir, is that the agreement submitted by the Prime Minister does not comport with the statement made by various Ministers during the recent elections. I am seeking to show that this measure, so far from carrying out the undertaking of Ministers in their individual statements, completely contravenes them. While Senator Pearce was telling the people of Western Australia these fairy tales about the Financial Agreement, what happened in other States? Where is the Minister of Home Affairs? I do not see him in the chamber. He used to tell the people of Tasmania that our proposal, if ratified, would starve that State, that it was not sufficiently liberal to them. In New South Wales various statements were made by gentlemen who are now in the position of responsible Ministers. Of course, the fact is that they simply attuned their statements to the kind of constituency which they had to address. As regards that part of the agreement which concerns the transfer of the State debts, we had the Attorney-General saying “ No,” when the Prime Minister was saying “ Yes,” and so it was to the end of the chapter. Who does not remember the Attorney-General standing at the table last session, as I am now doing, and declaring that£1 per head was more than the Commonwealth could afford to give to the States? He claimed that the Commonwealth was entitled to take the whole of the revenue, and that it was a traitorous thing to give the States any such amount as 25s. a head. He went into elaborate computations to show that we would not have the money to give the States. He said that by the time we had developed the Northern Territory, constructed railways and other works, and established a system of national defence, we would not be able to give the States£1 per head, and that we ought not to do so. Here is one of the statements which he then made -
It is obvious, I venture to say, that under the 25s. per head arrangement, we can do none of these things. The very most we can give to the States at the present time, and pay our way, is £1 per head.
Immediately afterwards another statement was made by this honorable gentleman who is all the while searching my career to test my political consistency. That is his stock-in-trade. He not only does it in the Chamber, but week by week he earns money in the capitalistic press of Australia by attempting to show up my inconsistencies.
– The honorable member must not follow that line of argument. He must know that he is getting away from the question before the House.
– I submit, sir, that I am entitled to reply to the utterances of Ministers on this very important question.
– Yes; but when the honorable member was called to order he was dealing with something which was totally foreign to the question.
– Quite incidentally, sir.
– The honorable member was going further than that.
– This hon- able gentleman rushed over to Sydney almost immediately after he had declared here that £1 per head was too much to give to the States, and made this statement -
In regard to New South Wales, it certainly alters the position for the worse, and one is at a little loss to understand exactly what part Mr. Wade played in the Conference. No proposal that could have been submitted could have dislocated the finances of this State more, and the result can hardly be one upon which Mr. Wade may be congratulated.
He taunted Mr. Wade with having given his State away, and declared that direct taxation by the State would be necessary because of thesurrenders which Mr. Wade had made. Yet he comes here now and says that it was all wrong, and that a payment of 25s. per head is generosity to the States. He advocated last year, a payment of 20s. a head when he sat on this side, but he advocates to-day a payment of 25s. a head, when he is sitting on the Treasury bench. At one time he denounced Mr. Wade for the parsimony which he displayed in his negotiations, and so the thing goes on. A number of Labour members in New South Wales de nounced the Financial Agreement, because it was not sufficiently generous to the States. I remember some of my opponents declaring that they would not be able to get their roads and bridges if the agreement were ratified. So the propaganda was differentiated according to the time and the circumstances. What are the facts? A gentleman who exercised a very considerable influence in the defeat of the agreement was the honorable member for Parkes. Did he say during his argumentation on the public platform that it was too liberal to the States? Quite the contrary.
– Did the honorable member say that I said the agreement was too liberal to the States?
– No. I asked, “ Did the honorable member say that it was.” His arguments in New South Wales chiefly consisted in the fact that it was not sufficiently liberal to that State.
– No. Ipointed out that it would be very unwise to make a provision for so long a period until we knew where we were.
– The honorable member pointed out more than once how New South Wales would suffer under the agreement.
– From having it in perpetuity ?
– No; from the per capita distribution of the revenue.
– 25s. ?
– No; the honorable member is wrong.
– I assure the honorable member that I am not wrong.
– I did say here that if the agreement were made for a period I should be prepared to agreeto a payment of 30s. per head.
– Exactly, and on the platform the honorable member said that he would agree to the payment of 30s. a head.
– I said so here last night, too.
-Do not honorable members recollect that the honorable member for Flinders, and other staunch opponents of our proposal, also advocated much more liberal terms than are contained in this Bill ? So it was all through.
– If the honorable member compares the votes recorded in those constituencies, he cannot say that it was the fact at all.
– My point is that you may not interpret a general mandate of the people given at a general election in the precise terms in which you can interpret a mandate given by the electors on a specific question. Honorable members know that this agreement was only part of the propaganda which won at the general election. I venture to say that if the people had been asked to say whether in their opinion a payment of 25s. per head was too much or too little, the Labour party would have had a very different result from that which they got at the general election. I make that statement without the slightest hesitation.
– But apart from the general election the Financial Agreement was specifically submitted to the people.
– Yes, but it was not submitted apart from the general election ; it was a part of the propaganda. The honorable member’s constituents were all advised to vote his way, and they did so right loyally.
– And it was good advice which they received.
– I arc.’ glad that my electorate gave the largest percentage majority against the ratification of the agreement.
– 1 am making no quarrel about that. But the honorable member will not suggest for a minute that every man who voted for himself and against the agreement had sat down and thoroughly studied it out.
– Oh, I admit that. I do not think that it could be said of the supporters of the honorable member’s side either.
– My point .is that you. cannot argue too much into the general result of the general election.
– I am surprised at the honorable member doing so.
– I am replying to the honorable member for Adelaide, who declared that inasmuch as the Labour party had won they had a mandate to make whatever terms they liked so far as the States were concerned.
– There was no specific mandate, but there was perfect liberty given.
– The honorable member is right,- but only in a general sense ; he is right in the sense that the Labour party won at the elections and got possession of power, and that no other constitutional safeguard being left to the
States, they are in a position to dictate to them as they please, but the moral obligation of the situation and of the Constitution too, remain with the Government, I hope, even though the technicalities are for the time being removed. The spirit, and indeed the letter, of the Constitution require us to be fair to the States, and this obligation remains, notwithstanding the results of the elections. It is nonsense to say that the people gave a distinct verdict on this subject, because most divergent views were expressed by the various members of the party that has been returned to power. Senator Pearce, in Western Australia, said that he regarded a term of twenty-five years as a fair proposal, while the Attorney-General, in Sydney, declared that 25s. would not be liberal enough, and the Prime Minister made another declaration.
– Senator Stewart objected to any term being fixed.
– The caucus having composed the different views of its members, Ministers are trying to fasten the compromise on us as the verdict of the country. I am not going to say anything about the conference with the Premiers.
– The honorable member has not told us anything of that.
– There is nothing to tell.
– I wish we had been told that.
– The honorable member has been told all that there was to tell.
– No. I am absolutely in the dark.
– The practical results of the Conference are embodied in the memorandum which honorable members have read. So far as I am concerned, I should not have cared had everything said in the Conference been made known.
– A paper has been published purporting to give the result of the Conference, but on reading it one learns nothing.
– It was carefully censored before publication.
– The honorable member for Parkes might allow the bitter feeling of last session to cease. Under the circumstances his speech was most ungracious.
– I have just been reading it, and regard it as most amiable.
– It was the speech of a judicious investigator.
– It satisfied the present Ministry.
– I cautioned the new members that it was not delivered to placate them.
– The honorable member declared - and in this he was in strict accord with honorable members opposite - that if the Financial Agreement were embodied in the Constitution it would be impossible to take it out again.
– Not impossible.
– Singularly enough, this is a view put forward by some of those who were most active in striving for the acceptance of the Constitution. Now they tell us that the instrument which they persuaded the people to accept was not sufficiently elastic; that, to borrow a phrase, it ties them up, and leg-ropes them. In saying this I reflect, not so much on my honorable friend, as on some others. He has told us honestly that he thinks that the Constitution ought to be rigid and almost unalterable.
– I think that it should be capable of amendment, but only after great deliberation on the part of the people, and in respect to matters upon which all parties are practically agreed.
– The honorable member for Riverina, the new convert to the caucus, argued against the embodiment of the financial agreement in the Constitution, on the ground that that would destroy our nationalism ; but he is apparently satisfied with the Constitution, and thinks it sufficiently easy of alteration so far as laws concerning the industrial life of the community are concerned. He has pledged himself to his electors to do all he can to secure for the Commonwealth the right to control the industries of Australia. He thinks that the Constitution can be amended to enable that transfer of power to be made, and yet he says that it is not sufficiently elastic to enable an alteration to be made subsequently regarding the Financial Agreement. There is no consistency in that position. The Attorney-General said the other day that the people would spew out of their mouths the provisions relating to the amendment of the Constitution and the equal representation of the States in the Senate. Those may not have been his exact words, but he used the strongest terms in his armoury of contempt. Honorable members denounce the Constitution as tyrannical and undemocratic.
– The honorable member is going back ten years.
– I am replying to what was said not ten weeks ago. While it is argued that the Constitution could not be altered to expunge from it the Financial Agreement, were it embodied in it, it is agreed that it can be altered to give to the Commonwealth power to control all industrial relations. If Ministers believe that the Constitution is not democratic, what are they going to do about it?
– The honorable member is now going further than is permissible in a speech relevant to the Bill under discussion.
– I am showing that it would not be difficult to alter the Constitution to expunge the. Financial Agreement should that ever be ‘ considered necessary. No one can foresee the future, and there might be such an increase in prosperity, or such a descent to poverty, as would necessitate an alteration of the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States. Were the Financial Agreement in the Constitution, when a readjustment became necessary the electors would not be such fools as to vote against an alteration of the Constitution to permit it to be made, and thus to enable them to escape further taxation. If the taxpayers can be shown that the alternative to further taxation is - the amendment of the. Constitution, they will cry out for its amendment. Reference has been made to the future of the small States, but the taxpayers there will not any more escape taxation than those in the large States, and are as much concerned in the readjustment of an inequitable financial arrangement as those in the large States. The moment a pinch came, all the taxpayers would be interested in securing a readjustment.
– I said, not that the people of the small States would be wise in objecting to an alteration of the agreement, but that they would object. The honorable member must remember the speech of Sir Joseph Carruthers on this point.
– The view of ray honorable friend seems to lose sight of the ordinary workings of human nature. He and others seem to think that the interests of the taxpayers in the small
States will be different from those of the taxpayers in the large States, whereas, when a financial readjustment becomes necessary, it willbe as much in the interests of the people of the small States as of those of the large States to have it made.
– Did the honorable member not hear it demonstrated that 80,000 could negative 800,000 ?
– I did; but human nature, rather than pay additional taxation, will alter the bond. That will appeal equally to the 80,000. Matters will be perfectly safe, and an alteration easy, if ever need arose, and need can only arise when a general pinching of the States occurs. If things remain as they are there will be no need for alteration for ten, twenty, or one hundred years, and whenever the pinch does come there would be the machinery and the motive in the direction of an alteration so as to escape further additional taxation. There has been a great deal of mouthing during the debate about the national view. We have heard that view ad nauseam from the honorable member for Gippsland, whose attitude seems to be, “I have been returned to this Parliament, and, therefore, the national view has been developed and maintained.”
– So it has.
– The honorable member for Gippsland seems to regard himself as representing the national point of view, but we shall see what his view is when we come to deal with the Federal Capital. I venture to say that we shall see that his national point of view concerns the Gippsland mountains.
– Is this in order?
– A reply is never in order with honorable members opposite. The honorable member for Gippsland was crowing like the matutinal emperor of the hen roost last night about the national view, and, when he is done crowing about the national view and making himself a mere phonograph for a certain newspaper in this city, he falls back on that ogre Cook. It seems quite sufficient for . the honorable member, when he has no merits of his own to stand on in his electorate, to declaim the demerits of that fellow Cook. Let me remind the honorable member that he will not be able to live on my demerits all his political life.
– It would be too monotonous.
– The honorable member is quite right; it is getting very monotonous already. When the honorable member makes that quip he need not raise his eyes to the ceiling to see if that particular newspaper is taking it down, as I have no doubt it is. If that pleases the honorable member, I have not the slightest objection; but really we have had just about enough of the honorable member monopolising the national point of view. I can only regard the honorable member as the purest of provincialists, because I can see nothing but provincialism in the views he puts forward three parts of his time. As I say, we shall have a practical demonstration of his nationalism and his national point ofview when later on we come to deal with the Federal Capital question ; we shall see how far his views extend beyond his own back yard.
– Is the honorable member in order in discussing the Federal Capital site on the Surplus Revenue Bill ?
– The honorable member is not in order ; but I understand him to be merely making a passing reference to the subject.
– The honorable member for Riverina also posed as a champion of the national view last night. When every other argument fails, those two honorable members harp on the one string of the national view. The honorable member for Riverina has just joined the caucus, whose only view of the national affairs of Australia is to make the National Government an industrial concern pure and simple, yet he prates about nationalism week by week and month by month.
– I must ask the honorable member to confine himself to the Bill.
– I am trying to do so, and only making a very brief reply to the statements made last night by the two honorable members I have mentioned. We heard about the triumph of the national view at the recent election. If ever the time comes when this Commonwealth needs an assertion of the national view, it will not be those who have mouthed the word most who will be there to maintain it - it will not be the men who have traded on the cry for political purposes who will do most to uphold the dignity and status of the Commonwealth. For my part I shall do nothing to undermine that status, nothing to interfere with the strength and dignity of this National Parliament. A Federal Parliament connotes also a State Parliament; Federal rights connote reason- able State rights. National rights under Federation imply and require that there is a fair State Rights view. We get the reason of the thing when we try to compose these two views and preserve the dignity and status of each of the subscribing agencies to the bargain. That is my view of this question of nationalism. I say again that it is about time we heard less of this mouthing of the national view concerning every matter of legislation that comes before this Parliament. These views are uttered day by day by men who are sectional in the extreme, who concern themselves only with a portion of the population) caring nothing for the broader view which takes in all.
– I have repeatedly asked the honorable member to confine himself to th£ Bill, but he continually goes beyond the question before the Chair.
– This is an Opposition “ stone- wall !”
– The next time honorable members opposite begin mouthing about the national view, I shall see if we cannot raise a point of order or two. Last night, I was abused right and left by the two gentlemen I have referred to on this very point ; and I regret that they were not ruled out of order as well as myself to-day.
– That is a distinct reflection on the Chair.
– I intended no reflection.
– If the honorable member intended no reflection, he ought not to have used the words.
– I had no intention of making any reflection on the Chair, but was merely suggesting that you, sir, had overlooked the statements made last night with reference to myself by those two speakers. I hope I am entitled to make some reply to allegations made against my want of national feeling; that is all I an’i trying to do or suggesting.
– I do not wish to curtail any remarks the honorable member may desire to make in reply to statements concerning himself. I listened very carefully to the honorable member for Gippsland yesterday, and beyond a casual remark now and then concerning the national aspect of the question, I heard no attack on the honorable member for Parramatta.’ However, that is for the honorable member himself to consider ; but I do not think he is justified in going away from the question before the Chair.
– My objection to the Bill is chiefly as to its form. I think it ought to say staightforwardly what is intended, but it does nothing of’ the kind. The Bill does not embody an agreement for ten years, but an agreement which expires in June, 1920. I do not say that the arrangement necessarily expires then, but for all practical purposes it does, following ing the language of section 87 of the Constitution, unless it be then renewed. That, of course, leaves only nine and a half years from the end of this year; and I fail to see how it can be regarded as an agreement for ten years. What the Bill really means is that the States are to be paid 25s. per head for nine years, and at the rate of 5s. 2d. per head per annum for the re-: mamma half-year. After the constitutional obligations for the next six months have been discharged, then the Commonwealth begins to pay, not 25s. per head per annum, but at the rate I have mentioned, and there is nothing straightforward about such a proposal. 1 am not taking exception to the 25s. per head, but arguing that it should begin from the time that the constitutional obligation is imposed by section 87. The Government say they are taking a generous view ; but are the Government trying to be generous, or are they really trying to finance a deficit? Is that not the real reason that moves the Prime Minister to shape the Bill in this way? The object is not to be generous to the States ; and I point out that this Bill does not merely carry out the agreement arrived at by the late Government. That would have been even more favourable to the Government than the present proposal so far as the £600,000 is concerned, seeing that it would have given the Treasurer £150,000 more.
– Only the balance - not exceeding £600,000.
– I see; the honorable member is quite right. I cannot help thinking that there has been a curtailment of expenditure in the various Departments during the past few months. I hope I am wrong, but if there is one thing more than another that ought not to be, it is the curtailment of the ordinary expenditure of the various Departments. I would rather come square up to a deficit than keep back money that ought to be spent in the conduct of current affairs.
– Does the honorable member know of any instance?
– Yes, the Prime Minister boasted that he had saved money in this way when in office before, and I make the remark in view of the fact, as shown in the figures, that £375,000 has been saved in this direction this year; that is to say, there is £375,000 that the Government either have not been able to spend or have not spent.
– Approximately ; we could not spend it profitably.
– What the Prime Minister has done is to frame his Bill so as to compass the end he has in view, namely, to avoid a deficit, and, therefore, to avoid anything in the nature of accommodation or borrowing. The honorable gentleman seems to have a holy horror of borrowing, and would do almost anything rather than resort to it.
Silting suspended from1 to 2.15 p.m.
– I was endeavouring before lunch to reply to the allegations which are constantly being made, both in this Chamber by some members and also outside, as to the narrow State view which I am supposed to take with regard to matters of national concern. I have submitted quietly to this for a long time now, and passed it by, and if I do speak a little warmly on the matter honorable members will recollect that, year in and year out, I have been charged with taking this narrow parochial view of national functions and obligations, and with having an imperfect and inadequate conception of what the Constitution ought to be. I propose to show that, so far from taking that view, I have consistently adopted an attitude which makes for the strength and stability, as well as, for the purity, of the Federal view. For instance, for the last four or five years I have been asking on this side of the House for the cessation of the bookkeeping system. . I should think there was nothing provincial about that. If I and those who have acted with me could have had our way, the bookkeeping System would have been abolished several years ago, notwithstanding all that it meant to my own State. Here I should like to quote figures to show what sacrifice the abolition of that system means to New South Wales. For the first time we proposed to make the allocations of revenue upon a per capita basis, and there can be no true Federation until that plan is adopted. While the bookkeeping system continues, it is a standing and constant negation of the Federal idea.
– We shall close it at once after this Bill is passed.
– I am glad to hear it. While my own State will make a very large sacrifice by the adoption of the per capita method, I still think the sacrifice is necessary if the Federal spirit and the Federal view are to be maintained. The adoption of the per capita system will mean a loss to the State of New South Wales, on the estimates contained in the Budget papers, of £387,408 this year. It will mean a gain to Victoria of £227,917, a gain to South Australia of £85,371, and a gain to Tasmania of £100,675. New South Wales loses 4s. 9d. per capita, Victoria gains 3s. 7d. per capita, South Australia gains 4s. 2d. per capita, and Tasmania gains 10s.9d. per capita. Our own State is the one that has to bear nearly the whole of this loss. Queensland has a slight loss - so slight as scarcely to be worth mentioning - of £26,555.
– Are those last year’ s figures ?
– Yes, based on the estimates in the Budget papers.
– There must be some mistake.
– I have no doubt the figures will be slightly altered by the actual results. A view of that kind ought not to be designated as provincial. It is an enormous sacrifice to the Federal view, and I have advocated it in my own State for some years past as being necessary in order that the Federal view may be maintained. I believe that in the long run New South Wales will be the gainer for it, but there is the immediate loss, and it is a very severe one. Honorable members must remember always and also that the result of the new arrangement which the Government are making, and which, in that respect, is not dissimilar to the arrangements that we made, will mean a total loss to my own State, as the honorable member for Parkes has pointed out, of£1,000,000 or £1,200,000 per annum.
– There is a difference between New South Wales and Queensland of only 6d. per head.
– The honorable member is taking the whole account into consideration.
– Does the Treasurer mean the per capita distribution as compared with the bookkeeping system?
– He means the effect of the whole operation.
– Under the 25s. per capita arrangement this year. New South Wales will receive 16s. 4d. per head less, and Queensland 15s.10d. per head less, than they received in the last financial year under the three-fourths arrangement.
– The largest sacrifice, no doubt, is in those two States, but I was simply showing what the abolition of the bookkeeping system in itself will mean to New South Wales. I was not referring to the whole loss, but simply mentioned in passing the calculation which the honorablememberf or Parkes submitted. Our own State gathers more revenue per head than the other States, and as it will be only accounted as of the same revenue-earning capacity as the other States under the new arrangement, the loss that I speak of will come about. It is, however, a loss which my State ought to incur for the purpose of putting the Federal finances upon a Federal basis, but it does not lie in the mouths of honorable members to charge us, when we are doing this kind of thing, with being provincial in our views. Actions speak louder than words, and against all this mere talk about the national view, I put this one action alone which we are taking in a practical way to abolish the bookkeeping system, pool the Federal finances, and so make a real financial Federation of it. I notice that in the Bill the Treasurer proposes to be very generous to the States by giving them, in addition to 25s. per head, the benefit of any surplus that may be left over after we have done our spending. But he was frank enough to tell the House that he did not anticipate that that portion of the Bill would mean anything. For all practical purposes, he might as well have left it out. However, it is there, and he says he is going to be generous to the States in distributing to them any little plums that there may happen to be over and above the 25s. per capita. It reminds me very much of the street arabs, one of whom was eating an apple, and told his hungry mate who asked for the core, “ There ain’t going to be no core.” So with this proposal of the Treasurer, “ There ain’t going to be no surplus.”
– There might be.
– Yes, but the honorable member was careful to tell the House last night that there is not likely to be.
– If the honorable member’s party ever get back again there will be a chance for them to be liberal.
– But the honorable member says that our party will never get back again to power. Judging by the speeches which have been made, the Labour party are going to control the finances of Australia for ever and ever. We shall see all about that in due time. I have no criticism of an adverse character to make otherwise on the terms of the Bill. My only objection to it is that it is not straightforward. It would have been better for the Treasurer to write upon its face exactly what it is. It is a Bill,not to pay the States 25s. per capita for ten years, but to pay them 25s. per capita for nine years and atthe rate of 5s. 2d. per capita for six months. That is all that it means, and the Treasurer would have been more straightforward with the House if he had so expressed it, instead of making it appear that he is carrying out his pledge to the electors to pay the States 25s. per capita for ten years. The Bill is a clear departure from the commitment of the Treasurer to the country.
– It is not so.
– I assure the honorable member that it is. He and all his Ministers pledged themselves to the country that if the agreement was defeated they would give the States 25s. per head for ten years.
– As a substitute for the agreement.
– Yes, but the honorable member is proposing to do nothing of the kind. We proposed to pay the States 25s. per capita, less, in a certain contingency, £600,000. The honorable member was more generous in the amount than that upon the public platform, and pledged himself to give the States 25s. per head for ten years. Why, therefore, does he depart from it now ?
– I do not.
– He does. He did not tell the people that he was going to begin the operation before the expiration of the Braddon section.
– I did.
– I accept the honorable member’s statement thathe did.
– On the same terms and conditions and time.
– Even that is departed from to a slight extent.
– Yes. We give the States better terms by £150,000.
– Quite right: but there is one little element left out of the honorable member’s proposal which meant pretty well everything to the States, from their point of view, I say frankly that that element of perpetuity was appraised by the State Premiers at a very much higher value than it need have been. They appraised it far more highly than I did, for I never thought that the agreement was to last for ever. When it was made - and here I speak for my two colleagues who were also in the Conference - I believed that later on there would be a further readjustment of the finances whenever, some years hence, the great question of the State debts was satisfactorily dealt with.
– Tell us what took place in that Conference.
– I am telling the honorable member now everything of moment that I can tell him. There was nothing to hide in the Conference. The honorable member for Riverina should ask his leader why he does not tell us what took place at the secret caucus of bankers? I invite him to take the beam out of his own eye and then look after the mote in ours. The Labour party declaim against the secrecy of the caucus which they say was held, and then pay us the compliment of imitating us by calling together a secret caucus of the bankers of Australia.
– “ Evil communications corrupt good manners.” Let me finish the sentence for the honorable member. He admits, then, that he has been corrupted.
– It takes us all our time to prevent that.
– I do not wish to pursue . the matter further. I shall offer no objection to the Bill except in Committee, where I shall try to make it stand for what the Prime Minister promised the people of Australia, which I submit it does not do at present.
.- I congratulate the Government on, making this attempt to carry out our promise to theelectors at the late campaign. I told my constituents that I was opposed to the Financial Agreement being embodied in the Constitution, but that I favoured the passing of a Bill providing that the agreement should operate for ten years. We were met by our opponents with abuse and the charges that we were insincere and that no confidence could be placed in us. The Ministry at the earliest opportunity now gives the lie direct to that statement by introducing a Bill to give effect to the agreement for a term of ten years.
– Queensland was in favour of the Financial Agreement.
– That is true of the majority of the voters in our State, but I submit that their decision was due to the wrongful expenditure of Government moneys in placing before the public an appeal by the Premier of Queensland.
– Hear, hear ; State money.
– State money was used for party purposes in making an appeal to the electors to carry out the Premier’s agreement. I believe that if die matter were taken into Court the Premier of Queensland would have to make a refund.
– What was the amount expended?
– The honorable member will know just as well as I do the cost of the advertisement in question. We have the singular circumstance that the honorable member for Swan’s party in the Federal Parliament, and the Premiers and their political parties in the States, were using not their own but Government money - money contributed by the whole of the public - to support one side, whereas those who objected, as the Labour party did, to the agreement being placed in the Constitution so as practically to make it in perpetuity, were unable to use Government moneys to support their views. I do not lose sight of the great obligation which confronts the State Treasurers and Parliaments. They have a railway as well as a roads policy to carry out, and in Queensland at the present time roads are even more urgently required than railways. Roads and railways cost a great deal, and the States have also to administer an Education Department, a Mines Department, and a Department of Agriculture, as well as to exercise a number of powers involving a large expenditure which we have not under the Constitution to carry out. I am not sure that the Federal Parliament should not give the States at the present time more than a per capita allowance of 25s. per annum. No one can foresee what the revenues of the Commonwealth are likely to be. Owing to the better distribution of wealth as the result of the action of our party and those who sympathize with us, no doubt the public of Australia, as the years roll by, will buy a considerable quantity of goods which will bring large revenues to the Commonwealth. But what was the attitude of the honorable member for Swan and his party ? They knew very well the powers of the States, yet they deliberately forced the Premiers at the secret Conference to accept a per capita allowance of 25s. per annum, because, without doubt, the State Premiers agreed at the secret Conference to support them during the coming Federal election. As the Argus and other newspapers at the time pointed out, it was a purely political agreement.
– I say that that was not so, and I was there.
– The honorable -member was there, but since he and his late colleagues cannot tell us what took place at the Conference, we are forced to judge by the results. We find that although the State’ Premiers, prior to that Conference, were asking for as much as :30s. per capita, they were compelled to accept a proposal to pay 25s. They agreed to accept that payment, because evidently there was a combined attempt on the part of Federal and State political parties to oppose the particular policy of the Labour party. I advocated a ten years’ period for the operation of the agreement, because I felt that no one could foretell what Australia’s revenue would be at the end of or even during that term. Even such an expert financier as the’ honorable member for Swan, estimated that on the operations of the .last financial year there would be a deficit of £1,200,000, whereas the actual deficit was only some £450,000. I should not like to suggest that the honorable member under-estimated his revenue because he wished to persuade the Premiers that it was necessary to enter into the Financial Agreement; but had he told them at the secret Conference that the deficit would be only £450,000, no doubt they would not have consented to accept 25s. per capita for all time. I have heard honorable members here speak of the States accepting the agreement made at the Premiers’ Conference. As a matter of fact, it was only an agreement with the State Premiers, and the whole of the present financial trouble would appear to me to have arisen from the fact that the honorable member for Swan and his party, together with the various Premiers of the States, were not prepared to tackle the question of direct taxation. It was a ques tion of who should attempt to get the extra revenue required by means of additional taxation. The honorable member for Swan and his party were not prepared to make an effort to secure it by means of a land tax, and the State Premiers also were unprepared to support a policy of direct taxation. They were anxious to make air agreement with the Commonwealth which would probably compel the Federation to impose revenue instead of protective duties. With portion of the Bill I do not agree, although I am pleased that it has been introduced so early in the session. I think that it is a badly-constructed measure. In expressing that opinion I mentally prostrate myself before such legal talent as the honorable member for Parkes and other lawyers in the House; but whilst I do so. it seems to me that in matters of common sense the ordinary layman is just as well able to construe a measure as are any of the members of the legal profession whom I have seen in various Parliaments. Upon a question of legal procedure - what one ought to do in the Courts - no doubt the ordinary layman must stand aside ; but my experience of the Senate, at a time when there were a dozen barristers among its members, convinced me that on matters of common sense the ordinary layman is able to form quite as good an opinion as a lawyer.
– It is the boast of the law that it is the essence of common- ‘ sense.
– I was going to remark that the honorable member for Parkes was the essence of common-sense, but I recognise that that would not be’ an accurate statement. It is with a certain amount of trepidation that I advance the opinion that this is a badly-constructed Bill; but I hold that it is the duty of every honorable member, whether new to the House or not, to give utterance to his thought on this subject and not to be deterred from doing so because some one has expressed it before, or because he has doubt as to its wisdom. I do not wish in the 3’ears to come to have to blame myself for having failed, because of timidity, to give utterance to an opinion upon this men - sure, on the ground that the principal question involved concerns a matter of legal interpretation. Section 87 of ti E Constitution provides -
During a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth, and thereafter until Parliament otherwise provides, of the net revenue of the Commonwealth, from duties of customs and of excise, not more than one-fourth shall be applied annually by the Commonwealth towards its expenditure.
The balance shall, in accordance with this Constitution, be paid to the several States, or applied towards the payment of interest on debts of the several States taken over by the Commonwealth.
To a layman the meaning of that section is clear. It declares that , for a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth we shall pay to the State Treasurers three-fourths of the net Customs and Excise revenue, and it is a matter of wonder to me whether we can deal with this question at all until the ten years’ period has elapsed.
– We have to get over the word “ thereafter.”
– It appears to me that under this section we have to reach the end of the ten years’ period - that during that term and thereafter, until the Parliament otherwise provides, we must return to the States three-fourths of the net Customs and Excise revenue. Instead of waiting until the end of the term, we are now, practically six months in advance, dealing with a Bill to provide that from July, 1910, there shall be paid to the States a sum of 25s. per head per annum.
– Does the honorable member say that we cannot legislate in advance ?
– We have in section 87 the words “ until the Parliament otherwise provides.” That would appear to bear this construction : that, while we may pass a Bill declaring that, in future, the Commonwealth shall return to the States 25s.per capita, in lieu of three-fourths of the net revenue from Customs and Excise to which they have hitherto been entitled, we must insert in that enactment a section providing that it shall come into operation by proclamation on 1st January, 1911. Such a course of procedure would harmonize with the terms of the Constitution. But, assuming that at the present moment we are at liberty to effect an alteration of the Braddon section, I ask, “Is it possible for us at this stage to assent to a measure declaring that the Commonwealth can return to the States 25s. per capita from the 1st July of this year?” It has been said that the Crown Law officers have advised that the course which is being pursued by the Government is perfectly legal. If that be so, I would strongly urge the Prime Minister to take the opinion of outside counsel upon the matter.
– There is not the shadow of a doubt as to its constitutionality.
– Let us examine the position for a moment. If it be legal for this Parliament now to declare that after the 1st July of the present year 25s. per capita shall be returned to the States, it was perfectly competent for it, in May, 1901, to have said to the States, “ Instead of returning to you three-fourths of the net Customs and Excise revenue for a period of ten years, we will return you only 25s. per capita. ‘ ‘
– The honorable member cannot have considered the matter.
– That remains to be seen. Common sense suggests that, if we now have power to alter the Braddon section of the Constitution which provides for the return to the States of three-fourths of the net revenue from Customs and Excise, we equally had power to alter it in May, 1901. Of course, it is urged that it is not proposed to do that. Clause 4 of the Bill reads -
The Commonwealth shall, during the period of ten years beginning on the first day of July, One thousand nine hundred and ten, and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, pay to each State by monthly instalments, or apply to the payment of interest on debts of the State taken over by the Commonwealth, an annual sum amounting to Twenty-five shillings per head of the number of the people of the State.
If we can now do what the clause purports to do, why could we not, in May, 1901, have passed a Bill containing a similar provision, and thus have retained from the net Customs and Excise revenue any amount in excess of 25s. per capita, in lieu of our one-fourth share?
– Because the Constitution would have prevented us from doing so.
– If, in May, 1901, the Constitution would have prevented us from anticipating the ten-year period, it equally forbids us from anticipating that period in July, 1910.
– The States will receive more than 25s. per capita from the Commonwealth during the first half of the current financial year.
– Of course, I must respect the opinion of the Prime Minister, especially when it is supported by that of the Crown Law officers. At the same time, I hope that he will not take offence because I venture to express my view upon the matter. The Bill does not define the intentions of the Treasurer, although we all know what he proposes to do. I think that he is perfectly justified in deducting from the amount to be returned to the States after 31st December next, the £450,000 which he proposes to deduct. The State Premiers were quite willing to forego £600,000 if the Financial Agreement submitted by the Deakin Government had been embodied in the Constitution, and consequently I hold that they have no right to object to the Commonwealth deducting from the payments to be made to them- in 191 1 the amount which I have indicated. But it seems to be that it is necessary for us to declare in the Bill what we intend to do. If the measure be carried in its present form, at the end of some years we may find ourselves at the mercy of strong opponents of Federation, like the Premier of Queensland, who .may allow the Commonwealth to go on for a period paying that State 25s. per capita, and then state a case for the decision of the High Court, based upon a demand for the return of three-fourths of the net revenue from Customs and Excise, because this Bill will have been passed in violation of the terms of the Constitution. And while we may reasonably suppose that the majority of the people would deprecate any course taken with the object of placing the Commonwealth in difficulties, if the High Court decided against it, we should get very little sympathy from the general public.
– Does the honorable member agree with the view which was expressed by the right honorable member for Swan?
– The right honorable member for Swan said so many things that I do not know.
– He said that the clause did not express the intention of the Parliament, and that the High Court might possibly compel the Commonwealth to return the full amount of three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue to the States during 1910.
– If he said that, I do -agree with him. There is no reason why we should not state distinctly in the Bill what we propose to do. Let us say definitely that, for the remainder of the cur-
Tent year, we will return to the States three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue to which they are entitled under section 07 of the Constitution.
– In other words, let us be honest.
– I attach the proper value to any encouragement which I may re ceive from the honorable member for Lang. I have been surprised that the legal members of the Opposition have remained silent upon the constitutionality or otherwise of clause 4 of this Bill. Why have they not expressed their opinions? Do they agree with the Crown Law officers? It has been left to laymen to point out the unconstitutionality of* this procedure. I should have liked to hear the opinions of the honorable member for Parkes, the honorable member for Illawarra, the honorable member for Darling Downs, the honorable member for Bendigo, and the honorable member for Ballarat upon’ this question.
– How much notice would the honorable member have taken of our opinions?
– All those honorable members have had a legal training. Do they desire to allow this Parliament to fall into an error in order that at a later stage they may sit back and smile at our mistakes? If, as the Leader of the Opposition has declared, they do not intend to offer any obstruction to the transaction of business, and are desirous of helping us to pass good legislation, why do they not give us the benefit of their opinions? There is only one other point to which I take exception in this Bill. Under clause 6 it is proposed to’ pay to the States all surplus revenue in the hands of the Treasurer at the close of the financial year.
– That is unavoidable.
– I must ask the honorable member not to discuss the details of the measure upon the motion for its second reading. He will have an opportunity of doing that in Committee.
– Honorable members know how much thanks this Parliament received for its action in returning to the State Treasurers £6,000,000 in’ excess of the amount which it was constitutionally bound to return to them - money which might profitably have been devoted to Federal purposes. Instead of returning to the States any surplus revenue which may be in the hands of the Treasurer at the close of the financial year, I would prefer that that revenue should be used to purchase State Government debentures or inscribed stock. In that way we might later on be able to relieve a State like Tasmania, if we so desired.
– Does the honorable member think it is likely that there will be any surplus revenue in the hands of the Treasurer?
– As I have already pointed out, nobody can tell what our revenues are likely to be.
– But we know that there will not be a surplus. ‘
– The honorable member cannot know that. The fact that the right honorable member for Swan made a mistake of something like £750,000 in his estimate of the revenue which would be received last year illustrates that it is scarcely possible to form a correct estimate. It is just as likely that there will be a surplus in the hands of the Commonwealth Treasurer as that he will be called upon to face a deficit.
– In 1904, I suggested that all these payments should be made as instalments towards the liquidation of our obligations in respect of the transferred properties.
– Any business-like method which can be adopted in dealing with this revenue should be adopted by the Parliament in preference to handing over the money to the State Treasurers. If we do not think that there will be any surplus revenue in the hands of the Commonwealth Treasurer, why leave the State Treasurers to suppose that they are likely to receive some? Section 94 of the Constitution reads -
After five years from the imposition of uniform duties of customs, the Parliament may provide, on such basis as it deems fair, for the monthly payment to the several States of all surplus revenue of the Commonwealth.
If that provision were mandatory, the word “may” would not be used in it. The use of that term clearly shows that the section is intended to be permissive. Until I am told that “may” means “shall,” I shall take the liberty of believing that the Commonwealth is not bound to hand over to the States any surplus revenue.
– The Courts have often held that the word “may “ must be interpreted as “shall.”
– Many honorable members appear to think that for all time the Commonwealth will have no surplus revenue. But, in spite of that, I think we ought to protect ourselves. We told the electors that we quite agreed with the view expressed by the s State Treasurers that there should be a complete severance of the financial relations of the States and the Commonwealth. We said, “ You know what you are to get, and that will be an end of the matter.” In putting this clause into the Bill, we simply revert to the formecondition when there was not a severance of the financial relations of the States and the Commonwealth; and, although I may appear to some honorable members to have spoken very emphatically on this question, I do not desire to show a lack of deference, either to the opinion of the Prime Minister backed up by the Crown Law officers, or ‘ to the opinion of any other member. I simply do what appears to me to be my duty ; so that if any trouble occurs later on, the public in my electorate, cannot- say, “ When you saw that a mistake was being made, you did not do your duty in pointing it out.”
.- The honorable member for Capricornia made a remark during the progress of hisspeech that seemed to indicate that, in connexion with the referenda in Queensland, things occurred of such a nature as to cast discredit upon the conduct of the election. I think that I had as intimate a knowledge of the election as the honorable member; and I do not think that there is the slightest; foundation in fact for the suggestion that he has made. He certainly has not, by word, hint, or suggestion, stated anything which would indicate that anything discreditable took place. He has merely made a general statement. It is only right that I should say, from my knowledge of the facts, that; on the whole, in Queensland the election was contested on both sides in an exemplary manner. Speaking particularly for my own constituency, there was an absence of personalities, and the contest was conducted in a straightforward fashion on both sides.
– Did not the honorable member see the advertisement signed by Mr. Kidston, asking the people to votefor the Financial Agreement?
– I saw many advertisements ; but there was nothing to indicate the source from which they came, or the funds that paid for them. They may have been paid for out of party funds; but I do not know for certain. I saw quite as many advertisements on the other, side.
– The honorable member should confine himself to the question:
– I was led to make these remarks by a challenge from the other side. As regards the Bill under consideration, criticism may be urged against its form.
The first clause, providing for the cessation of the Braddon section of the Constitution, is followed immediately by the substantial clause of the Bill. Doubts night naturally arise as to the effect of these provisions when read with the Con- stitution; but when a Court came to contrue the Act, it wouldlook at the sub- stance of what Parliament was legislating for. The Court would say that a section which appeared to be in conflict with the Constitution should be construed, in case of ambiguity, in the view most favorable to its constitutionality. As the Prime Minister stated, it may be possible for him to work this Bill so as absolutely to comply with the Constitution. May I say, generally, as regards our Commonwealth Acts, that the drafting of them has been a model for the rest of Australia. In this respect, our legislation reflects great credit upon the most able draftsman who is responsible for the work. The language which he employs i s clear and concise; and, as a rule, there has been very little question in respect to interpretation and construction of the Statutes themselves. But it is quite possible that it would have been better, as a matter of form - so that the public, as the Bill was read, might understand it - if the purpose had been set out somewhat in the phraseology suggested by the honorable member for Flinders. As regards this piece of legislation itself, the Prime Minister was under a moral obligation, by virtue of the Constitution, to introduce a Bill of this description. We are living under a Federal Constitution, and the very nature of that Constitution implies that there are States with whom powers of legislation rest, and that we as a Parliament possess powers which have been delegated. We have to establish our powers affirmatively ; but the reserve powers of legislation in regard to all other matters rest with the States. What does that imply? It implies that under this Constitution - which is meant both for us and the States - there shall be with the States such powers of taxation and of raising revenues as shall be adequate for the functions left to them. At the same time, there are vested in the Commonwealth great national powers of the widest importance. We have vested in us powers of taxation quite equal to our purposes. But, from the nature of the Constitution, the need for uniform Customs laws, the Commonwealth Par liament has vested in it the greatest revenueproducing Departments which the States controlled before Federation, namely, Customs and Excise; and it was well understood and appreciated by persons of all shades of political opinion that, from the very structure of the Constitution, from the very nature of the powers committed to us, and of necessity, the States should participate to a large extent in the revenue raised from these sources. If any one will takethe trouble to read the debates that took place at the Conference of the Labour party held at Brisbane, he will see that it was recognised there that the States ought to have left to them a fair share of the revenue from Customs and Excise. The power over those revenue-producing Departments having been taken from the States and vested exclusively in the Commonwealth, there also passed to the Commonwealth complete power over the whole range of taxation, absolutely unlimited as regards the selection of objects, of amounts, of their destination. But, at the same time, although the Constitution was framed in that way, the mere fact that we had given to us these powers of taxation, and especially those of Customs and Excise - which, roughly speaking, at the date of Federation represented about 75 per cent. of the revenue of the States - of necessity implied that we should make a fair return to the States. I think that when we come to consider the relations of the Commonwealth with the States, we ought to be sympathetic to them, seeing that we have the whole power of taxation, and that their powers of taxation are so restricted. Therefore, I think that the Prime Minister, independent of having issued a declaration, in the form of a manifesto, binding on himself and his party, was under an obligation to bring down a proposal to give fair and reasonable consideration to the States. That is the position in which we are to-day. The people have decided that the Constitution shall remain unaltered ; and, after the ten years mentioned in section 87, this Parliament is left with power to decide what shall be done with the large revenues under its control. But that power was intended to be used fairly. I think that the speeches of those who had anything to do with the Convention, clearly recognised the duties which pertain to the States. Those duties are far reaching. The States have extensive spending Departments under their control. They have a number of employés who are entitled to have their claims considered. . If the States have not adequate revenues, the State employés cannot receive adequate remuneration. From that point of view aone we have to consider the position of the States. No matter what party was in power, the States would require to have this consideration given to them. I recognise fullythatthePrime Minister has come to this Parliament and guaranteed that for the next ten years the States shall receive a return of revenue to the extent of 25s. per capita.I take it that the Prime Minister was not merely making a speech on his own behalf and on behalf of his Government, but that he was able to speak for his party.
– What for?
– When the Prime Minister stated that this Bill would remain in operation for ten years, I take it that he was making that statement on behalf of the whole of his party.
– He is the Leader of the party.
– Quite so; and I take it that he, and every individual member of the party, recognise the pledge he gave and will stand by him.
– I did not say so much as that, or use that language; nor did the Leader of the Opposition say that I did.
– Of course, the Prime Minister spoke for himself.
– I was speaking for a very large number.
– That is the point that I want to make clear. Let me quote the actual words of the manifesto that was issued on behalf of the Commonwealth Labour party, and which was signed by Andrew Fisher, as chairman, and David Watkins, as secretary. I will read the whole passage relating to the ten years’ guarantee -
We have been told that some guarantee of reasonable stability of this arrangement is due to the States. We do not deny the reasonableness of such a demand, and have always been prepared to concede it. Andwe are prepared to give a guarantee that, for a period of ten years, we will do nothing to disturb the proposed arrangement. At the end of that period, if the Parliament so decides, the matter may be submitted toa simple referendum of the people to determine whether the scheme should be accepted for a further period. In this way an effective assurance of stability would be assured to the states, the financial arrangements of the Com- monwealth fixed for a definite period, and the rights of the people to make what laws they please remain unimpaired.
I take it that that is a guarantee that is binding on honorable members opposite. I do not desire to carry the matter any further than that.
– We are now introducing a Bill to carry out that pledge.
Mr.GROOM.- That is what I say.
Mr.Thomas. - We are fulfilling our promise.
– I take it, therefore, that even if the next political Labour Conference - which is to be held, I believe, in 1914 - decided differently, that could not affect the position as far as the Political Labour party in this Parliament is concerned. They gave their guarantee, no matter what the Conference may decide, that they will stand by the agreement under the arrangement that has been made.
– We gave that pledge at the election.
– The honorable member is quite right ; and I believe that he will honour his word. When they stood for election, although this matter may not have been in the platform of their party, honorable members opposite gave an assurance to the electors that they would be bound by that obligation.
– Hear, hear!
– We are told that now that this Bill is introduced, the States are perfectly secure. But I would point out that something more is wanted as regards security than the mere passage of this Bill, because, under the Constitution, as has been pointed out, although the Commonwealth has the whole fringe of taxation vested in it, the States, on the other hand, have a more restricted area of taxation.
– Everything but Customs and Excise.
– The Commonwealth Parliament covers the whole range of taxation, including Customs and Excise, whilst the State Parliaments are restricted in their powers of taxation to sources other than Customs and Excise.
– Everything but Customs and Excise.
– I remind the honorable gentleman that prior to Federation 75 per cent. of the revenue of Australia was raised from Customs and Excise.
– We are going to alter that now, I hope.
– It is a pity the honorable gentleman was not as eager to reply to the remarks of the ex- Postmaster- General. The public are waiting anxiously for some statement from the honorable gentleman in reply to the honorable member for Bendigo with respect to telephone rates. What I am endeavouring to point out is that the Commonwealth Parliament has the power not only to impose the. taxation, from which, prior to Federation, 75 per cent, of the revenues of Australia were derived, but the power also to levy upon the sources from which the other 25 per cent, was raised. Obviously from the terms of our Constitution, giving the Commonwealth such unrestricted powers of raising revenue, it was implied that the Commonwealth Parliament should have due regard for the financial position of the States, and would respect the area of taxation that was left to them’. It should not be forgotten that the State Parliaments render services to the people just as much as the Commonwealth Parliament docs. They make themselves responsible for assistance to settlers, the establishment and maintenance of schools, and the endowment of hospitals, all of which activities affect the people quite as nearly as do the operations of die Defence and Post and Telegraph Departments of the Commonwealth. There is every reason why we should have due consideration for the States, and should refrain as far’ as possible from invading the specific areas of taxation left to the State Parliaments to enable them to raise the necessary revenue to properly fulfil their functions. ‘ Perhaps the Prime Minister will be able to give us some little explanation of the fol.fowing passage from his speech. After dealing with the proposed payment of 25s. per head to the States, the honorable gentleman said -
If there is any necessity for further revenue, Iv’e can seek other means. One of the complaints of the States has been that ‘the Commonwealth is overlapping their field of taxation. That may be so, but if we assure to the States this permanent return, they carmo; in justice complain of the Commonwealth seeking necessary revenue in the other fields whether in competi-Mon with them cr not.
That practically means saying to the State Parliaments, “ Now that we are giving you 25s. per head of the population of your States, you may look forward to the tune when, if the Commonwealth should require more revenue, we shall invade the domain of taxation which you now enjoy.” That is a fair interpretation of the Prime Minister’s statement. Let us consider the position of the State Parliaments in regard to their powers of taxation. We must recognise that under the Bill before us the States will get* a very much reduced return from Customs and Excise.
– Was not that in the agreement to which the honorable gentleman was a Party ?
– I admit that. If the honorable gentleman will follow me he will see the point I desire to make. If we had carried the Financial Agreement, the obligation would have been upon us to consider the interests of the States, and see that we did not unduly invade their fields of taxation. I do not say that the present Prime Minister has any intention to unduly invade them.
– I hope I shall escape the necessity.
– I am only raising a note of warning. I am suggesting that the States may not be able to remain in a sense of complete security under the terms of the Government proposal, because the PrimeMinister has stated that the Commonwealth may have to invade the domain of taxation to which they are restricted to raise the revenues necessary to carry out their functions.
– Would the honorable gentleman not have done the same thing if he considered it necessary ?
– So far as State taxationis concerned, it has, since Federation, largely increased. In 1901 the States raised £2,685,645 by taxation from sources other than Customs and Excise, such as land taxation, income tax, dividend tax, and so on. In 1909 the revenue so raised had increased to £3,512,355- If we consider the States separately, the only one that has beer, able to reduce State taxation has been New South Wales, and in that State the local taxation fell from 16s. id. per head in 1901 tons. 5c. in 1909. In Victoria it rose from 12s. 4d. to 16s. nd. in thesame period; in Queensland from 16s. 11d. to 19s. 4d. ; ‘in South Australia from 14s- 8d. to £i 2s. id. ; in Western Australia from 17s. J id. te £1 2s. 2d. ; ana” in Tasmania the State taxation had gone up from 13s. in 1901 to £1 7s. in 1909. lt may be very necessary hi the future for the States to increase their taxation, and I wish to preserve to them the opportunity to -do so. State operations are every day expanding, and require increased expenditure. We have taken from the States the most fruitful source of revenue. It is proposed now to cut them down to a revenue of 25s. per head of their population from that source; and it is implied in the statement I have quoted from the Prime Minister that, so far as he is concerned, the States must be prepared to expect that their realm of taxation may in future be further invaded by the Commonwealth.
– The honorable gentleman does not contend that there is any limit to the taxation powers of the Commonwealth?
– None whatever. I made that absolutely clear; but I am convinced that while, as a matter of law, there is no such limitation, there is a moral obligation cast upon the Commonwealth authority under the Constitution.
– I shall not fail to recognise it.
– I am glad that the honorable gentleman has made that statement, and 1 would like to impress his followers with its significance, because I find that on Monday last, in Sydney, Senator Stewart said -
The Federalland tax with its proposed incidence will also be producing a decreasing revenue as the larger estates are broken up. To produce the necessary revenue for the future the exemption under the land tax must be considerably reduced and the rates increased.
– How that was denied when honorable members opposite were before the electors.
– Senator Stewart added that he believed in both these reforms.
– That is only the expression of an individual.
-I am very glad to hear that it is so regarded, because, on the one hand, we have the Prime Minister saying that it is possible that the sources of revenue still remaining to the States may be further invaded, and, on the other hand, a prominent member of the Labour party saying that the exemption provided for in the proposed land taxation of the party will be reduced, and the field of land taxation open to the States further invaded. The State Parliaments might well view the honorable senator’s statements with serious apprehension.
– Individual opinions.
– I am afraid they may become the general opinion of the party opposite. The question is how many individuals on the other side hold these opinions. There is one other point I would liketoimpress on the Prime Minister, and Isaythisinnopartyspirit.Ihopehe willconsiderseriouslythesuggestionmade thatthepaymentundertheBillbeforeus shouldbeginfrom1stJanuary,1911.
– I will consider it seriously. No one in my position would do any more than that.
– I think he would. The honorable gentleman invited the fullest criticism to perfect his measures. When the Labour party were putting their views before the Commonwealth, the point at issue was whether the Financial Agreement should go into the Constitution or not. The people decided that it should not. It was pointed out to them that after the expiration of the operation of the Braddon section the Commonwealth Parliament would have full power to deal with the matter. Theywere assured that if the Financial Agreement were rejected there would be a guarantee for ten years of 25s. per capita to the States.
– For twenty-five years.
– I am aware that in some of the States it was said that the payment would be made for twenty-five years.
– To be perfectly clear, the assurance was that it would be for ten years in substitution of the agreement.
– I take the Prime Minister’s word for it if he says that that is what he put before the people.
– The party manifesto says so.
– The honorable gentleman has just read it from the manifesto.
– I think that it is not stated in the manifesto that it would be in substitution. I say that what naturally was in the minds of the people was that the ten years’ period referred to would commence after the Braddon section ceased to operate. The suggestion was that the States would continue to receive threefourths of the Customs and Excise revenue until the Braddon section expired, and after that would for ten years receive 25s. per head.
– I stated the particulars and conditions of the agreement.
– I accept the honorable gentleman’s assurance, but whether the Prime Minister put the matter to the people specifically or not, I am satisfied that the impression in the minds of the electors was that the ten years’ period would begin after the expiry of the Braddon section. The Prime Minister shakes his head, and we must remain at issue on the point. I accept the honorable gentleman’s assurance as to what he told the people, but I cannot agree that all the electors understood him as he suggested.
– No responsible man could have uttered any such nonsense, knowing the financial position of the Commonwealth.
– That the agreement should begin to operate after 1910? Why not?
– Because on that condition it would be impossible to finance the affairs of the Commonwealth.
– For six months of the current financial year the honorable gentleman must pay the States three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue under the Braddon section, and after that we can do just as we please. I should like to hear from “the Prime Minister what would be the probable effect of beginning the payment to the States on the 1st January,
– It would be necessary to have a special arrangement for the first half of the financial year.
– I should be very pleased to hear further from the Treasurer on that point. There is only one other matter which I wish to mention, and that is in regard to the clause dealing with surplus revenue. I think that the honorable gentleman was quite right in putting the clause in the Bill. “
– Because the disposal of the surplus revenue is in the hands of this Parliament. At the same time, I think that it will not mean much, for this reason, that the Bill repeals the Surplus Revenue Act, with the exception of one section dealing with Trust Funds. The Audit Act empowers the Treasurer to create any Trust Funds which he may please. Now the section of the Surplus Revenue Act dealing with Trust Funds is to be retained. Should it appear that there is going to be a surplus of ,£500,000 it will be easy for the honorable- gentleman to create a Trust Fund, and if the money is paid into a Trust Fund and appropriated to meet the legitimate expenditure of the Commonwealth there will- not be a surplus. I do not propose to detain the House any longer, as I shall have an opportunity of discussing the Bill in Committee.
– Will the Prime Minister now agree to an adjournment of the debate?
– Oh, dear, no. We want to get the Bill put through to-day.
.- I do not wish to address myself at any length to the question before the House. It was fought out very fully at the general election, and as one who believed that the agreement as arranged between the States and the Commonwealth was a fair and equitable one to both parties I cannot help but approve generally of the distribution of the revenue as proposed in the present measure. I think it is very complimentary to the late Government that their successors on the Treasury bench have adopted their plan of distribution almost wholly. When it was submitted for our consideration last session I said that I believed that the Financial Agreement was eminently fair in respect to the distribution of revenue, preserving as it did to every instrumentality the funds necessary for carrying out their important functions in a way which would be best for the people whom they represented. I believed that it would have been a better agreement if it had contained a time limitation, but that. I considered was a subordinate issue to the inherent equity of the proposal in respect to the distribution of revenue. It was taken to the people by referendum, anr] was not approved of. Considering that it dealt with a very complex question, one which . affected the foundation of Federal finance, and concerned very largely the finances of the States, it is not an extraordinary thing, I think, that the people refused to give their assent, especially when we recall the experience of other countries. If we look at the results of the referenda which have been taken on many questions in the United States, , and also in Switzerland, we will find that the rejection of the Financial Agreement by the small majority of 25,000 votes was certainly in one sense a very great triumph for the Government which submitted it to the electors of the Commonwealth. With regard to the Bill itself I was impressed by the arguments put forward by the honorable member for Capricornia in respect to its possible unconstitutionality. I believe that it would have been very much . better had the Government proposed that the Bill should come into operation on the 1st January next, when the Braddon section of the Constitution will expire, and the right to legislate on this question will accrue to this Parliament, than to begin its operation from the 1st July of the present year. A doubt has been expressed as to the operation of the measure for the full term of ten years. I hardly think that there is any room for doubting the loyalty of this Parliament to any agreement for a fixed term which is embodied in a measure. There does not seem to have been any disposition on its part to abrogate or repeal the Sugar Bounty Act, which certainly was given a currency for very .nearly the period which is specified in the present measure. I feel satisfied that any provision fixing a definite time for the payment of money to the States will be honorably observed by succeeding Parliaments to the end of that term.
– They are now proposing to alter, the Sugar Bounty Act.
– I understand that that alteration is being sought in order to meet a contingency which will arise next year - the reduction of the bounty.
– They are seeking to alter’ the Act.
– The currency of the bounty will end in 191 2.
– But they are seeking to alter the Act two years before that date.
– The Government propose to alter the Act, not to take away a certain amount, but to make the payment of the bounty either permanent or for a longer period than at present fixed. The proposed legislation, therefore, will not take away anything, but rather improve the position- of the sugar growers.
– It will take away something from the taxpayers.
– That is another question which can be discussed when the Bill is submitted for our consideration. When I was interrupted I was instancing the good faith of Parliament in honorably carrying out any transaction into which It had entered with the States, or with any body of people, for a fixed term, either in the sense of making the payments which “‘had been promised or of, perhaps, making things a little better. A good deal of satisfaction appears to have been expressed on the part of the present Govern ment, and of those who were against the Financial Agreement at the general elec tion, because it was rejected by the small majority of 25,000 votes. A substantial majority was cast for the agreement itv Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania ; an almost even vote was recorded in South Australia, and small- majorities were given against its ratification in the populous States of New South Wales and Victoria. If we trace the history of Federations in which the referendum has been used to any great extent we shall find that the verdict of the people on any important or intricate question has generally been to leave things as they were, and to cast the duty of settlement upon Parliament itself. That is exactly what the people of Australia did in connexion with the Financial Agreement. Those who advocate the use of the referendum, as a democratic institution to settle difficult questions which the Parliament itself thinks it should not take the responsibility of settling, have made a great mistake, because it has been used in a conservative fashion in those countries where it has been applied to any great extent. I believe that the referendum, as an instrument for framing Constitutions, for delegating to particular Assemblies, power, under a written Constitution,’ to carry out the will of the people, is a good thing. The people must first of all give, in a written document, their authority to carry out certain legislation. There is no other way in which a Constitution can be properly framed on a democratic basis, except by the submission of it to the people, in order that they may express their approval or disapproval. In America the referendum has been chiefly used by the States for the purpose of making or amending Constitutions. To some extent it has been used for those purposes, too, in Switzerland. The history of the latter country shows that where difficult political questions have been submitted to the people the result of the referendum has invariably been to send the questions back to the Parliament for final settlement. Certain business propositions have been submitted to the people, such, for instance, as the enlargement of the powers of the Federation in respect to taking over the streams for power purposes, taking over the forests, and purchase of various railways. These are definite political questions which the people could easily understand, because their salient features could be grasped without diffi- culty, and, in many instances, they met with popular approval. But whenever the people have been asked to decide a question which involved the intricacies of a financial problem they have referred the question back to the Parliament for settlement by the experts who were elected to unravel important and intricate financial questions.
– Less thanone-third of the voters on the rolls voted against the Financial Agreement.
– Nevertheless, a majority of the electors voted against its ratification.
– I accept the verdict of the people at the referendum as a direct mandate to the Parliament, and, in submitting this measure, the Prime Minister was quite justified in stating that, in rejecting the agreement, the people instructed the majority whom they returned to settle the question. It is interesting to note that between 1894 and 1898, in Switzerland, ten important referenda were taken, some onthe initiative of the Deputies and others on the initiative of the people. The results were overwhelmingly conservative. In 1904, there were three important references to the people, one on a question very similar to that involved in the recent Financial Agreement. The people were asked to demand that a portion of the Customs dues, amounting to 2 francs per head, should be assigned to the Cantons for their use, but it was considered that this would weaken the Confederation, and the proposal was rejected by 347,000 votes to 145,000. That proposal was rejected because it involved very important financial considerations, and the people thought that the responsibility of dealing with it should be assumed by the Deputies who had been elected to settle these matters. Generally speaking, the Bill has met with little opposition. As it carries out in the main the agreement submitted to the people by the last Government, which met with my approval, I shall support it. But, as has been mentioned by the honorable members for Fawkner and Darling Downs, it must not be forgotten that it is proposed to introduce a measure providing for a uniform land tax, which will return from £1, 500, 000 to , £2,000,000 per annum, and to issue a paper currency which will considerably deplete the revenues of the States. In framing a financial scheme, we must consider the probable growth and expansion of the Federation. There are directions in which I think it will be necessary for the people to extend our constitutional powers. I have on the noticepaper a proposal for the federalization of the great streams of the continent, which I hope will ultimately come about. It may also be necessary to ask the people to give this Parliament the control of the railway systems. If that is done, the Commonwealth will have to expend large sums in opening up undeveloped territory, and in paying deficiencies on unprofitable lines. Taking these,and other circumstances, into consideration, I think that the measure before the House is reasonable, viewed in the light of the present and future necessities of the Commonwealth.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Mc Williams) adjourned.
MINISTERS laid upon the table the following papers -
Public Service Act - Recommendations in connexion with the appointment on probation as Deputy Examiner, Patents and Trade Marks B ranch, of Mr. E. J. Howells.
Lands Acquisition Act -
Land retransferred under, at Leongatha, Victoria.
. -I move-
That the House do now adjourn.
The debate on the Surplus Revenue Bill has been very interesting, but there seems now to be a disposition on the part of honorable members to drag it out somewhat.. I hope that that will not be done, and am sure that the Leader of the Opposition concurs in the view that we should come to a decision on this matter as soon as we conveniently can do so.
.- Having regard to its duration and to the length of individual speeches, this is the briefest debate I have heard on a measure of this importance. My own efforts have been directed to inducing honorable members to sever the remarks which they must make on particular points in Committee from the general observations which must be made now in the House. The discussion on the measure, like every other debate, has disclosed fresh aspects, and this has induced members to speak who originally had no intention of doing so. Altogether, we have made marvellous progress. The debate, in view of the number who have spoken, establishes a record for brevity. If, as I think, we shall be able to agree to the second reading on Tuesday next, that will mark an achievement.
– In some of the suburban offices near Sydney, where there is a large amount of business to be done, the postmasters have hitherto had an office partitioned off from the general room occupied by the stamp sellers and other clerks, but I understand that instructions have been given - I do not know on whose authority - to remove the partitions, in some cases, at any rate, leaving the postmasters without the privacy necessary for the proper discharge of their duties, and the efficient safeguarding of the property of the public. It is said that this will allow them to exercise better supervision over the work of their staffs. But, in reality, there is now better supervision on the part of everybody who goes into the office, not only by the employés, but the public generally, of what a postmaster is doing, and the amount of cash he may be handling at any time. It often happens that when postmasters are handling large sums, they are calledaway on other business. Under present circumstances, they can lock up the private office during their temporary absence, but, with the proposed change, the money will have to be left exposed, without anybody in charge, though postmasters are responsible in many cases for the safe custody of sums totalling in the aggregate many thousands of pounds annually. Will the PostmasterGeneral make inquiries, and ascertain who gave authority for the removal of the offices, and see whether these valuable additions, made at a large cost, cannot be retained, thus securing greater privacy for the postmasters, and greater security to them as the custodians of the revenue ? The new arrangement will do away with that necessary privacy and security ; and any further movement in thisdirection ought to be arrested. I am perfectly certain that later on it will be found necessary to re- erect these offices, and the PostmasterGeneral, I hope, will look into this matter, and cause full inquiry to be made before the postmasters’ private offices are closed or removed.
– I desire to direct the attention of the PostmasterGeneral to a telegraphic report from Sydney in one of the Melbourne newspapers, whichspeaks of the secrecy of the recent Radio- Telegraphic Conference. I should like the Postmaster-General to make it plain that the proceedings of the Conference have been made public since’ February last ; because it is a reflection on the Conference, and on myself, as the then Postmaster-General, to say that the proceedings were secret. I gave instructions that the report should be supplied to members of the public and all press writers; and I cannot understand the suggestion of secrecy, when the report has been published, and can be obtained through any member of this House, or on application to the Government Printer. I hope the PostmasterGeneral will refute any imputation that the Conference, or the report, is in any way secret, because the more the recommendations are known the better it will be for the public.
– I shall have inquiries made into the matter laid before us by the honorable member for Lang. As to the Radio-Telegraphic Conference, I am surprised that the honorable member for Bendigo should take notice of anything that appears in the newspapers. . However, his remarks show how absurd is the statement that the Conference held was secret, seeing that the report was given to the press in February last. I shall have great pleasure, now that the honorable member’ has drawn attention to the matter, in speaking to the reporters on the subject.
– I have already spoken to the Age reporter.
– Had it not been for the fact that the honorable member . for Bendigo has drawn attention to the matter, I should not have taken the slightest notice of what has appeared in thepress, because I think the time has gone by when we should do so.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 July 1910, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1910/19100715_reps_4_55/>.