10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Is the Minister for Defenceaware of a strong agitation to secure something in the nature of justice for the veterans of the Permanent Military Forces, who have borne the heat and burden of the day? These aged soldiers, by the accident of dates, have been deprived of all benefits which otherwise might have accrued to them under the superannuation scheme and under the Defence Retirement Act. Is the Minister for Defence prepared to do something to alleviate the distress of these old and faithful servants who have done their duty to the country so well?
– I recognize the extreme value of the services rendered by the men to whom the honorable gentleman refers, and I have already received a deputation from them, and have given their claims the greatest consideration ; but in view of the honorable gentleman’s further representations, I shall again go into the matter, though. I regret that I am unable to hold out any hope that I shall be able to do any more than I have already undertaken to do to meet the claims of these men.
Proposed Agreement with Local Authorities.
– As many shire councils in New South Wales are bitterly opposed to the attitude adopted by the Premier ofthat State towards the Federal Aid Roads Grant, will the Prime Minister take into consideration the advisability of making agreements with the Shires Association, or with associations of shires in New South Wales that favour the proposed Commonwealth roads grant, in order that Commonwealth money may bo made available to them on the same terms as those in the agreement with the States, namely, the expenditure by the shires of 15s. for every £1 granted by the Commonwealth?
– The Commonwealth’s relations must be with the respective State Governments. The attitude of the Government towards assistance for the carrying out of a national roads policy has, I think, been made very clear in this House.
– As I have seen in today’s newspapers some suggestion of an alteration of the programme of the Duke of York’s visit to Australia, I should like to know whether the Prime Minister has had any official notification of such an alteration, and whether it will involve any later date for the visit of His Royal Highness to Canberra than that which has already been mentioned, and which is itself,in my opinion, too late?
– I am not in a position to make any official statement as to the itinerary of His Roysl Highness for his visit to Australia. I can, however, assure the honorable gentleman that there is no intention of postponing to a later date than that already fixed the ceremony of the opening of the Federal Parliament at Canberra.
– In a cablegram appearing in the Melbourne Herald of Saturday evening, this statement is made -
The Duke’s own inclinations definitely favour the utmost economy. He would have travelled to Australia with the minimum of ceremony and expense consistent with the importance, dignity, and prestige of the mission. There is no question that the Renown was chosen in deference to the emphatic wishes of Australia expressed in the speeches in the House of Representatives.
I ask the Prime Minister whether the Duke’s wishes and desires have been set aside as the result of any representations made by the Government?
– No ; and there is no authority for any statement in the press of the character of that which the honorable member has quoted.
– Will the Prime Minister, before leaving Australia for the Imperial Conference, endeavour to get into touch with the meat interests of the Commonwealth with a view to creating an authority that may be the mouthpiece of the industry in Australia? Will the right honorable gentleman also, in collaboration with representatives of the dominion of New Zealand, get into touch with the British authorities with a view to the more favorable entry of meat from dominions into the British market as against that of our foreign rivals? Will he also inquire concerning the great disparity there is between c.i.f. prices in London of Australian meat and the very high retail prices?
– Since it became obvious that the Meat Council would have to be disbanded, I have made many inquiries about the formation of some organization that would be able to speak on behalf of the industry, but the information I have at present is that it is quite impossible to get the meat interests to come together to form any sort of organizaion tospeak on their behalf. As to the position in Great Britain, and the honorable gentleman’s suggestion that Australia and New Zealand should co-operate with a view to securing more favorable terms of entry into the London market for Australian and New Zealand meat, I remind him that the Imperial Economic Committee has held an investigation regarding meat, and has issued a report quite recently on the subject of the meat industry and the interests of the dominions. The disparity between the c.i.f. prices and the wholesale and retail prices in London, has also been the subject of investigation by the
Linlithgow Committee, and all the facts and information on the subject can be obtained from the report of that committee. I further remind the honorable gentleman that at the last Imperial Conference I drew attention very pointedly to this very important matter, and I have no doubt that during the ensuing conference I may find opportunity to refer to the matter again.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Willthe Minister request the Council for Scientific and IndustrialResearch to publish, for the benefit of the public, a statement setting forth the advantages gained by exploring the North and South poles?
– The matter will be referred to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research for its consideration.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice-
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The amount advanced by the Commonwealth was £24,500, the whole of which has been repaid, with the exception of £595, which will shortly be received.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of the opinion that is rapidly gaining ground that cancer of the digestive tract is caused by chemicals being used to preserve foods, does the Minister for Health consider it would be advisable for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to devote portion of their time to inquiring into the preservation of foods and drinks, the colouring matterof sweets, and the flavouring essences, &c., in order to assist in preserving the health of the community?
-The chairmen of the State Committeesof the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research have already been asked by the council to submit reports on the whole matter of food preservatives. As soon as these reports are received, the matter will be further considered by the council.
asked the Minister for Markets and Migration, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
– On the 5th August, the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt)asked whether I would lay on the table of the House the correspondence in relation to the Locarno Treaty. I have looked through all the documents which the Government has received in connexion with the Locarno Treaty, and I find that all the really essential negotiations which preceded the signature of that Treaty are comprised in the papers I have already laid on the table of the House. I do not think that the remaining documents could be published. They consist largely of reports of conversations between the diplomatic representatives of the countries concerned, and, obviously, could not be made public without the consent of those countries.
.- I lay on the table the Annual Report of the Tariff Board for the year 1925-26. There are numerous annexures to the report, but most of them relate to the previous tariff and have already been laid on the table of the House, while others refer to classification items, and have already been printed in the public press and the Government Gazette. Therefore, although I lay the annexures on the table together with the report, I merely move -
That the report be printed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 6th August (vide page 5044), on motion by Mr. Hill -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– So much criticism has been levelled against the Government from both sides of the Chamber that I think Ministers must feel that they occupy an unenviable position. I doubt if any other Government has been made to appear more ridiculous in the eyes of the public than this Government has been since the introduction of this measure. The procedure of the Government, in commencing at the wrong end, by seeking to pass this bill before the States have ratified the agreement, reminds me of the practice of the cleargyman, who puts on his collar back to front. The Government has its proposals back to front. Much has been said by Government supporters to justify the over-hasty action of the Ministers. Everything done by the Government this session has been characterized by an over-hastiness which is inadvisable in the best interests not only of the legislation itself, but also of the people of this country. In dealing with some of this criticism, I wish to refer to a very unfair statement made on me by the the Attorney-General. When he was speaking on the bill he laid himself out to attack certain people who did not see eye to eye with him in regard to these proposals. It would be very hard to see eye to eye with the honorable member, without becoming cross-eyed in the endeavour. He quoted a speech I delivered last year on the Main Roads Development Bill, in which I said that the whole of the money proposed to be spent by the Commonwealth Government could very well be spent in the Hume electorate. To-day I am just as anxious as I was then to have good roads in Australia, but I am opposed entirely to the method adopted by the Government to bring about the construction of these good roads. There is nothing contradictory about my present attitude. The Government’s proposals to-day are entirely different from its previous proposals. The Attorney-General, because of the very anomalous position he has taken up on many questions, may perhaps be forgiven for trying to get as many people as possible into his own boat. When he was speaking with his individual mind, and not as a member of the Cabinet, he opposed the export control of butter and dried fruits; but later, as a member of Cabinet, he was a whole-hearted supporter of similar legislation dealing with canned fruits.
– That was his composite mind.
– Speaking with a composite mind, he can see many virtues in the proposal which he cannot see as an individual.
– He has now a Government brief.
– Yes. As “was said in the Chamber last Friday, we cannot accept the advice of the AttorneyGeneral on these matters unless we know whether he is speaking with a composite mind as Attorney-General and a Minister of the Cabinet, endeavouring to help the Government out of a difficulty, or whether he is speaking with the individual mind he * passessed when he’ had not ministerial responsibility. To-day I am as much in favour of the provision of good roads as I was in the last Parliament, but the imposition of a ^special tax in order to create a special roads fund is entirely different from the granting of money from a Federal surplus ito assist the State Governments in the construction of main roads. If the Govern.ment were again proposing to make available to the States portion of its surplus revenue for the construction of roads, I would support the proposal. Indeed, at the last election, the Labour party promised that it would assist the State Governments, as far as possible, in the construction of better roads, but it did not propose to raise money for the purpose by means of special Customs duties. I believe that if honorable members were free to vote as their judgment dictated, this bill would be rejected. The Government Whip has given an indication of what will happen when a division is taken. He was reported in the Melbourne Herald of Friday last as laving said that, although several ministerial supporters were opposed to this bill, many of them would be conveniently absent when the division was taken. If members are to be whipped into support of Government proposals in “this fashion we shall not get an honest expression of opinion upon any measure. Of those ministerialists who have spoken against the bill, some will vote against it, whilst others will either support it against their convictions or, in the words of the Government Whip, be conveniently -absent when the division is taken. The position of the Prime Minister is particularly unenviable. I have never seen him to worse advantage than he was last week, when he lashed the oil trusts that he had suddenly discovered to be a menace to the Australian people. Although he declared that he would not back down from these proposals, he has since agreed to forgo the duties on tires and chassis, and to exempt from the duty of 2d. per gallon petrol not consumed upon the road ; in fact, he has climbed down so far that I expected on arriving at the House today to find that he had abandoned this taxation entirely. I do not know which part of the composite Government is responsible for this proposal, but I am inclined to believe that it has emanated from the brain of the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page), or the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Hill). If so, the Prime Minister was very ill-advised to allow them to put him in the unenviable position he occupies to-day. He has been forced to abandon a big proportion of this roads scheme, and I believe he would abandon the rest if he had not found a means of saving his face by attacking the oil trusts. Now, in order to maintain the pose of a strong man, he intends to adhere to the petrol duties, giving as his excuse that it is necessary to cut the wings of the insidious trusts. No honorable member on this side of the chamber holds a brief for the great corporations or trusts. We have given evidence of our desire to clip their wings, but on all previous occasions we have” been opposed by the right honorable the Prime Minister, and the fact that there are many other combines operating in Australia, against which he proposes to take no action, is proof that there is not much sincerity in his attack upon the oil combines. In fact, the two foreign oil corporations which he specifically attacked could have continued until Kingdom Come, levying toll upon the people without any interference by the Prime Minister, if he had not needed a justification for the petrol duties and a means of saving his face. Hearing him speak, last week, one might imagine that he intended to devote the rest of his life to trying to bring the trusts to heel; but a few days before they had offended him by saying that they would withdraw from him their financial support at election time, he did not regard them as a menace to the people. In proof of that, I quote a question asked by tha honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lister) on the 28th July-
If, in view of the increasing demand for petrol, the Government has considered the necessity for duplicating the plant of the Commonwealth Oil Refining Company?
That would be an effective’ means of counteracting the influence of the trusts, and stemming their growth in Australia. The Prime Minister replied -
The whole question of the refining of oil in Australia had been seriously considered by the Government, but at present it was not proposed to duplicate the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited plant in Victoria, or to establish plants in the other States.
Two days before the right honorable gentleman made an attack upon these great commercial trusts, which he said were levying such a heavy toll upon the people of Australia, he was asked if the Government proposed to do anything to increase the output of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited plant in Victoria, and he said that it was not proposed to duplicate the plant or to establish plants in the other States. His sudden attack upon these corporations was doubtless due to the fact that they had stated that if a petrol tax were imposed the financial support which they had previously extended to the Nationalist party would be withdrawn. If the right honorable gentleman were really in earnest, it would be easy for the Government to restrict the operations of these combines by increasing the output of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. If the Government had been in possession of the powers- which the Labour party endeavoured to obtain for the Commonwealth in 1913, combines acting in restraint of trade could be controlled, and in the absence of such powers the Government should duplicate the plant of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, and provide for an extension of its operations to Nev/ South “Wales, South Australia, and Queensland, as honorable members on this side of the House have frequently suggested. If that were done, the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, instead of supplying only 6 per cent, of Australia’s requirements would be able to produce a much larger quantity of liquid fuel, a.nd thus counteract the insidious influence of these combines. If the Prime Minister denies the logic of that statement, he should admit that
Ifr. Parker Moloney. only the other day he discovered that these companies were acting to the detriment of the trade and commerce of the Commonwealth, and that the operations of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited should be extended to enable it to meet the increasing demand- for its product. One has only to peruse the speech of theright honorable gentleman to see that he has adopted a most peculiar attitude. At the outset, he went to considerable’ trouble to show that prior to the last election hestated that it was proposed to raise money for main roads construction from motor users, but before he concluded, he said that these great companies would pay the tax and not pass it on to motor users. I have never known a Minister to makesuch contradictory statements. When-, quoting from a Nationalist electioneering pamphlet he used these words: “In my policy speech I made a definite statement that the money would be raised, through the Customs from motor users.” Later on he said, “ These companies “ - he was referring to corporations which he mentioned - “could sell petrol at the present price and pay the proposed duty of 2d. per gallon, and still do extraordinarily well in this country without passing it on.” But if the motor users wereto pay the impost, the companies clearly were not expected to do so. I have never known a Government to be in such an untenable position. The Treasurer, in endeavouring to defend the Government, said that as Queensland and two of the other States had decided to sign the agreement, the Government intended to proceed with the bill. What would be the position of New South Wales, which apparently is not likely to sign the agreement, if the tax of about £15 per motor user is imposed upon the people in that State ! The State would not gain the slightest advantage from the impost, which would mean a tax of £300,000 upon them. Instead of awaiting the ratification of the agreement by the States, the Government is proceeding with the bill, and placing itself in such an untenable position that it will be compelled to drop it. The Treasurer repeated the Prime Minister’s statement that all the opposition to the measure had originated with the big oil companies, and added that he could not find any real opposition to it from the genuine motorist. But the day following the publication of the Prime Minister’s speech I saw press comments on behalf of organized motorists in both Victoria and New South Wales, which were strongly hostile to the measure. Mr. H. Witty, general secretary of the Commercial Motor Users Association of Victoria, according to a newspaper report, said- -
Mr. Bruce’s statement to the effect that the whole of the agitation in connexion with t’.ie recently-imposed duty on petrol, tires, and chassis was coming from the oil companies could not be substantiated, and was incorrect-. The meeting of protest, recently held in tlie Exhibition Building, had been organized jointly by the C.M.U.A. and the Chamber of Automotive Industries - the oil companies had hail nothing to do with the meeting, which had comprised motor users from all sections of the community. Their sole object had been to give members of various organizations an opportunity of voicing their protest. None of the speakers hod any connexion with importing oil companies. It had been felt that with the additional burden of 2d. a gallon, imposed through the Customs, the commercial motor users had a genuine grievance, which had been voiced on their behalf by speakers at the meeting. The Prime- Minister was wrong when he stated that motor users would have fallen into line “but for the insidious propaganda of the oil companies. Had the commercial motor users not been so highly penalized by the State Government’s action, by which the registration fees had been heavily increased under the power, weight, and unit system, the position might not- have ben so pronounced. It simply meant that the impost money would come out of the pocket of the motor user. . . . The C.M.U.A. was collecting statistics for the purpose of placing them before the Federal Government, if it persisted in its proposed action: and they would be compelled to send a deputation to Mr. Bruce, asking that commercial motor vehicle owners should be exempt from the Customs duties.
Mr. J. C. Watson, a former Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, in his capacity as president of the National Roads and Motorists Association of New South Wales, commented on the Government’s proposals, in the same newspaper, as follows : -
Tor the Prime Minister to assert that the widespread protest raised against the proposed additional taxation on motorists were the outcome of insidious propaganda by the oil interests was childish. The objection had neon voiced unanimously ‘by all the motoring organisations throughout Australia that had no association whatever with, nor were influenced in the least degree by, the petrol companies.- ‘Die attitude of the National Roads and Motorists’ Association, with an active membership of nearly 20,000, hail been adopted with entire spontaneity and without the least regard for the interests of any commercial concerns. They at least tried to make it perfectly clear that there could not lie the least justice in the throwing on Australian motor owners of an additional burden of £1,500,000 a year through Customs duties, while they were already paying £3,500,000 annually through the same channel, and that huge total of £3,500,000 expanding so rapidly that during the ten years’ currency of the proposed Federal road finance scheme it might become two or three times as great, with the additional £1,500,000 impost going up in proportion.
Mr. Watson went on to point out that, although the additional taxation would cost motorists in New South Wales about £15 per head per annum, on the .average, that State would reap no advantage whatever from the scheme, for it had decided not to participate in it. If the Government persists in its proposals, it will act most unfairly. One of my chief objects in rising was to refute the argument of the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) that, because I voted for the various main roads development bills when they were before us, I should vote for this measure; but this -is an entirely different scheme, and an iniquitous one at that, and I shall not be at all inconsistent in voting against it. If the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited needs fostering, and the Government canshow that it is a legitimate industry, which merits consideration,’ I shall be quite prepared to extend to it the protection that I have assisted in granting to all legitimate Australian industries; but, before I should be willing to do that, I should require a close investigation to be made to reveal the extent of control exercised over it by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. The matter should be referred to the Tariff Board for report. Even though the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is suffering from the competition of the two big importing oil trusts as stated by the Prime Minister, I am not favorable to taking this method of granting it relief. Apart altogether from the unconstitutionality of’ this measure - and it has already been attacked on that ground by an eminent constitutional authority from whom the Victorian. Government sought an opinion - I submit that the financial side of it is wrong in principle. I, with all the members, of my party, believe in the construction and maintenance of good roads, but I complain that the money previously voted by this Parliament for that purpose has not been spent to the heat advantage. It has been used to improve roads that run parallel to and compete with out railways, whereas more of it should have been used to construct roads that would feed them. The fact of the matter is that, so far, the man out-back, who is in most need of good roads, has had very little benefit from the Commonwealth money that has been expended in road construction. For the reasons given, I intend to oppose the bill.
– Throughout this debate we have heard with almost wearying reiteration, the statement that we want good roads. I suppose there is no harm in repeating it bo long as there is no one in Australia misled by it. But there is reason to object to its being used so frequently in connexion with this bill, because of the implication that if we want good roads we can only hope to secure them by wholeheartedly supporting the measure If it were true that we had to choose between this bill and good roads, or no roads at all, there might be some justification for continually harping upon this theme. But this is not the only method by which we may obtain a solution of our transport problems. The passage of this bill will create greater difficulties in other directions, and lead to such grave abuses that it would be better to abandon altogether this proposal, and consider what is the right and proper method to meet the road requirements of the Commonwealth. The axiom that the end justifies the means does not hold good in this case. This bill does not provide the only means by which we may obtain an improved system of road transport. The original grants under which money was given for roadmaking purposes were in an entirely different category. To begin with they were paid out of accumulations of surplus ‘revenue which the States had complained were not being returned to them. Therefore, when a proposal was made to return the surplus revenue, and that it should be devoted to -roadmaking, the States accepted it gladly, not only because it enabled them to provide roads, but also because it was in conformity with their demands as_ to the return of surplus revenue.
– Who would not take unconditional grants?
– Those were- not unconditional grants; but were very different from those now proposed. Road-making is properly one of the functions of a State Government. I could not state my view on this- subject more forcibly than was done last week by the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt)’, who- raised this* question from a mere- mercenary level into the atmosphere of constitutional propriety and political justice. He put the; case so admirably that I do- not propose’ to go over that ground again; but I do> wish to emphasize that the States alone’ should determine the urgency of theirroads problems as compared’ with otherdifficulties with which- they may be faced. For example, in my own State it might be of far greater importance and lead togreater development if, instead of spending so much money on road construction, there were undertaken a large and? comprehensive system of drainage in thesouthern portion of Western Australia, where large tracts of sour or salt land, would become sweetened and fit for intensecultivation and the production of enormous wealth. Whether that scheme -would.! commend itself to the Government of that’ State I do not know. I simply use it asan illustration, that a State Government should have the right to determinewhether other important proposals should; take precedence over road construction. It is urged in support of this bill that hitherto the States have not devoted sufficient attention to road’ transport problems. That is not strictly true. As a matter of fact, the States haveall done a good deal, and are planning Todo a great deal more. In recent yearsthey have established main roads boardswith a view to tackling this problem “.u a more comprehensive way. If they havenot done as much as was expected of them it is because of the drainage of financefrom the States to the Commonwealth during the last ten or eleven years. Forsome years now we have been slowly and’ painfully recovering from the effects of” the war. We know by experience that if we are to make good the loss and wastageof war we must conserve our resources by limiting taxation. It takes time torecover from the war. The States could not at once resume functions that were temporarily abandoned owing ta> the exigencies of the war. Their recovery has been rendered the more difficult because of the extravagant expenditure of the Commonwealth, which has imposed taxation beyond all reasonable bounds. This taxation has drained revenues from the States to the Commonwealth, and has seriously handicapped the States in the carrying out of developmental schemes. It is well understood by every one who has studied political economy that the imposition of unnecessary taxation leads to the curtailment of enterprise and the consequent diminution in the demand for labour. To retain revenues as the Commonwealth has done, and to return them to the States on condition that the States spent the money in conformity with Commonwealth policy is, I submit, an unwarrantable assumption of State functions. That is why the States have not been able to do what they wanted to do. Revenue raised by the Commonwealth has been spent in directions which, although approved by this Government, do not in many cases commend themselves to the States. That is one great objection which I have to this bill - that it permanently takes from the State Governments functions which they are prepared to fulfil, and could fulfil if the Commonwealth, instead of usurping their functions, left them free to attend to their own development. I also do not like the method by which this legislation is being forced through. The bill should not be passed until the attitude of the States has been determined. Not one State Parliament has approved of it. We have been told over and over again that three States have approved of it; but they have not. Three governments have said that they will submit the agreement for ratification by their Parliaments.
– And they have majorities in those Parliaments.
– That may be so ; but it remains to be seen whether they have majorities on this question. There are two Houses in each of the State Parliaments except that of Queensland, and each may have its say. The Governments of the three States think they have majorities. The State Governments, in submitting the matter to their Parliaments, will simply be carrying out their part of the agreement; but the State
Parliaments are not committed to anything. The proposal is very incomplete It seems to me that the Government is playing off the State Parliaments against the representatives from those States in this House - tactics to which I, for one, will not submit. We have been told that governments which have so far refused to accept the scheme will be bound bo adopt it later. What is the object of making those statements if it is not to influence the opinions of honorable members?
– Did not the honorable member receive a telegram from the Western Australian Government asking him to support the scheme ?
– Honorable members are here to do their duty according to their opinions and knowledge, and not to vote at the dictates of any body outside. It I do not agree with the Western Australian Government on this or anyother matter, I shall vote according to my own opinion. I am not here to actas a marionette, operated by strings fromoutside this Parliament. It will be a great pity if honorablemembers relinquish their liberty in a matter of this kind, and act merely as delegates of the State Governments, with whose views they may or may not personally agree. If questions are determined in that way, what will be the use of this Parliament? Honorable members are sent here with certain duties to perform, and they should perform them without fear or favour.
– The honorable member is here to represent the whole of Western Australia, not merely the city of Perth, which already has good roads.
– Iam the direct representative of the electorate of Perth, but I can also speak, to a certain extent, for the whole of the State of Western Australia. That, however, is not the right way to look at the matter. There are very much larger considerations than that, which have governed me in making my decision. We are asked to pass this bill in anticipation of certain action by the States. There is no need for hurry. There is no reason why the Government should not wait until the States have definitely declared their attitude. The States have been placed in a very difficult position. To vote money, collect taxation, and establish a trust fund,is to offer a tempting bait to the recalcitrant States. One cannot ignore trie method by which the money will be raised. If the statement of the Treasurer is correct that the abandonment of the chassis and tires duties, and the collecting only of the petrol tax, will provide enough money for the scheme in the three States which have agreed to it, what will happen to the others if they agree to participate later! How will the money for them be raised 1 The Treasurer’s statement can hardly be correct. Most honorable members understood that of the three duties proposed the petrol tax would provide by far the largest amount.
– It will provide about two-thirds of the total amount.
– And only half of the States will participate in the expenditure of it. It is obvious that more money will be raised than will be required in the three States where the scheme is likely to be accepted. We heard much, during the debate on the referendum of the inadvisability of Parliament handling industrial matters, because such matters may be used for purposes of political bribery. I agree strongly with that view, but I see little difference between influences of that kind and the using of money power as it is proposed to use it under this bill. It seems to me that the scheme is - and I hope the term is not offensive - also an objectionable method of political bribery, which should not be resorted to. I remind the Government that history shows that success could be achieved by bribing the Praetorian Guard, but that there were two great weaknesses in the method : one was that success brought dishonour on “ the purple,” and the other was that it showed to rivals an easy way of achieving success in their turn. If the other States do not come into line, what will happen ? Will the proceeds of the tax be placed in a trust fund, which, when it becomes sufficiently large, will be a temptation to the States? That is a dubious and undesirable procedure, which is likely to undermine the unbiased judgment of the States. It is an unfair attempt to embarrass members representing the States. The State of Western Australia has been hampered in its policy by dependence on Commonwealth finance; and I have endeavoured, in this House, to state a case for the liberation of its finances and for a greater amount of freedom being given to it. I have been asked. ‘ What are you complaining of ? Your State will benefit very materially under this scheme.” My advice to my State is - and I leave it to events to decide whether that advice is right, but in any case I accept the responsibility for itdo hot sell your birthright for a mess of pottage, however appetizing its fragrance may be. I can see that if this bill is passed the State will have no opportunity of recovering that independence and autonomy for which its representatives are striving. The old grants were made for a year at a time ; but in this bill it is proposed to make an arrangement to last for ten years. No Government and no Parliament of the Commonwealth can bind itself or a State to an arrangement of this kind extending over ten years. Our defence programme, of course, is drawn up for a period of years, because two or more years are occupied in the building of a cruiser, which is not paid for in the year in which it is ordered; but, under the present bill, it is proposed to tie the States down to ten years’ vassalage, restricting them in their financial arrangements during the whole of that term. One argument advanced by the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) seemed to me below, the standard of the rest of his speech. He said that, under this proposal, money raised in one State, without a return being given for it, would be spent in another State. That argument has been used in Victoria, but it is not so convincing as that advanced by thePremier (Mr. Allan).
– The right honorable member for Balaclava was entitled to draw attention to the fact that Victoria does not enjoy good roads, and that charity should begin at home.
– Although his argument was perfectly sound from certain points of view, it seemed to me that in the other portions of his speech he took a much broader outlook. It can be contended, and will, not doubt, be said in Western Australia, that the collection of money in the larger States, and the expenditure of it in the smaller States, will merely give a measure of compensation to the smaller States for the uneven distribution, in other directions, of the benefits of federation. But I do not regard the matter from that viewpoint. I propose to deal with it on higher principles than that when I return to my own State. I do not intend, at this juncture, to touch at length upon the method by which the tax is to be raised. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) dealt fully with that aspect of the matter, and in everything he said I concur. The way in which the Government has changed ground on this bill is extraordinary. First of all the users of the roads were to be taxed; subsequently, a. proportion of the road-users were to provide the money; and now we are told that road-users are not be taxed at all. I was surprised to hear the Minister in charge of the bill interject the other night to the effect that the Government has adhered to the original principle, since the Prime Minister stated distinctly that he would not allow road-users to be penalized to finance the proposal. The only way in which they could be compelled to provide the bulk of the money would be by the oil companies passing on to them the Customs levy. If those companies have taken an unjust toll from the country, action should be taken against them, but the attack upon them by the Prime Minister was foreign to the object of the bill. Personally, I consider it regrettable that such a red herring was dragged across the trail. An effort has been made to arouse antipathy to foreign companies in order to hide the real weakness of the measure. Another feature to which objection may be taken, is the exclusion of the municipalities, particularly those in the outer portions of the metropolitan areas, from the benefit of the grant. That- matter has been “frequently raised, and the Government apparently declines to entertain the proposal that those municipalities should participate in the scheme. If the argument that money raised in one State should not be spent in another is to be used in opposition to the bill, it is equally reasonable to take the objection that 60 or 70 per cent, of the tax will be collected from people in the metropolitan areas, and that, therefore, they should have the benefit of improved roads leading from the cities to the country. After all, the roads in the outer suburbs are only the terminal portions of the principal country highways, and it is there that the maximum damage to them is done, because of the concentration of traffic at those places. It is un fair that the municipalities should be put to the- heavy expenditure of maintaining the roads in their districts for the benefit of outside road-users, and receive no assistance from the grant. I wish to make my attitude clear, because I am possibly in a more difficult position than most other honorable members. I represent one of the poorer States, that would derive considerable benefit from the grant. When I return to Perth, many persons may complain that I have neglected the interests of my own State in not seizing an opportunity to level off some of the disadvantages under which Western Australia labours under federation. If I support the bill, I vote to give my State a considerable sum of money. Whether the money will be .spent to the best purpose is not my responsibility any more than it is that of the Federal Government; that is a matter for the State Government to determine for good or ill. A large monetary grant would be gratifying to a large section of the people of Western Australia. But if I oppose the bill, I vote for the retention ot Western Australia’s right to self-development, and freedom from unfair financial shackles - for the recognition of her proper place in the federation. Knowing as 1 do the feeling of the people and the state of Western Australia’s finances, I consider that I should be conferring a greater boon on that State if I voted for those things than if I voted for a mere temporary monetary grant. I want to be able to fight on behalf of my State with clean hands ; and I cannot do that if I agree to this bill. I believe that this legislation, if passed, will place a permanent encumbrance on the finances and on the autonomous development of the State which I represent. I regard this bill as one concerning which honorable members must get down to fundamental principles and declare where they stand. For me to agree to it would be to agree to make my State pass under the yoke, and place her neck under the heel of the Commonwealth Treasurer. If I voted for it I should never again be able to vote freely and independently for the maintenance of those principles for which my State expects me to stand, and which, in my opinion, are far more important than a temporary monetary Fain
- Prior to the introduction of this bill I was of the opinion that all honorable members desired to see good roads constructed throughout Australia. I had certainly not heard any of thom speak in opposition to good roads. In order that good roads may be provided, money is necessary. Who is more bound to contribute to the cost of constructing and maintaining them than those who use them? Honorable members should, therefore, ask themselves whether they can justify their opposition to this measure. The honorable member for Perth (Mr.Mann), unlike myself, is not an optimist regarding the future of the State he represents. He has never heard me decry New South Wales, nor has he at any time heard my voice raised in opposition to the imposition of any tax which will benefit that State. I have at times expressed concern regarding the manner in which the taxes raised have been spent. My constituency comprises about one-half of the city of Sydney, where many of the residents are wage-earners, on the basic wage of £4 2s. 6d. a week. Many of them are not in constant employment, and consequently they find it difficult to maintain their families. These are the people, not the well-to-do ladies who spend their time fondling lap-dogs, who are assisting in the development of this country by increasing its population. How am I to ask them to support a road tax, seeing that th:y never ride in motor cars? For tho most part, in the desire to save tram fares, they walk to their work. During the last election campaign, honorable members of the Country party, particularly the honorable members for Swan (Mr. Gregory) and Forrest (Mr. Prowse), stated that they agreed with the policy enunciated by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce). One can easily understand that attitude ; they ‘ believed that the State of Western Australia would benefit from the revenue received as Customs and excise duties. So long as the revenue was to come from that source, they made no protest, although they must have known that it would be contributed by the people least able to pay it. In Customs and excise duties, every adult contributes, on the average, 10s. a week to the revenue. But when the wealthier classes, who drive about in luxurious motor cars, are to be taxed, those honorable members raise their -voice in protest. It would seem that the spirit which animated the great men of the past - men like Sir Edmund Barton, and Sir Samuel Griffith - is no longer present in this House. Instead of thinking: nationally, most honorable members today view the various matters which nomebefore us in a parochial spirit. Legislation is viewed from its effect upon thoparticular State which they represent,, whether it will result in one State getting, more than another, or in a more prosperous State having to assist a struggling: neighbour. They appear to have lost thetrue Federal spirit. Are we not onepeople, with one destiny 1 Even the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) seems to have departed from his ideals. Some time ago a statement appeared in the press that, in view of the projected early transfer of the Seat of Government, the right honorable member for Balaclava, because of his business interests in Melbourne, would probably not again contest a seat in this House. Knowing the political situation in Victoria, I predicted that it would not be long before theright honorable member for Balaclava became again Premier of Victoria. But when the appeal was made to the electors the right honorable member again sought their support. He is still with us. The capital cities of the Commonwealth will not benefit from this vote. The residents of Collingwood and Richmond and of Woolloomooloo who, for themost part, are struggling to make a living, will be called upon to contribute to this road tax, although they will not travel over the roads. Reference has been madeto some remarks attributed to Mr. Lang, the Premier of New South Wales. We must remember that in New South Walesthere are thirteen railways which do not pay interest on their capital cost; it has: been said that they do not even pay for the axle grease used. The loss on those railways - about £2,000,000 per annum - has to be made up by those who use the metropolitan railways. That is probably the reason for the statements which have been attributed to Mr. Lang, although 1 doubt the accuracy of many of the reports of statements attributed to him from time to time. We must remember that,, whether we like it or not, the interest onthe capital cost of our railways must be paid, and that good roads will fur- ther interfere with the railway revenue. Developmental roads are essential to the welfare of Australia. We must provide facilities for road transport to enable the primary producers in the outback districts to take their produce to market. Having travelled practically throughout Australia, I know that, under a proper roads policy, this country would be capable of producing ten times as much as it is producing to-day. Our outback producers are taking full advantage of fertilisers and modern agricultural machinery, but they are sadly handicapped by the lack of good roads. Honorable members supporting the Government are opposed to socialism, but I would point out that the adoption of this principle has, in many cases, conferred great benefit on the people of Australia. I refer to our systems of education, railways, post offices, and the fire brigades, and especially to the Commonwealth Bank, whose operations have been considerably retarded under the régime of the present Government. I am at a loss to understand the opposition to the bill. It originated from a conference convened last February by the Prime Minister, between the representatives of the Commonwealth and the States. At that conference a draft agreement was submitted, to which the representatives of the States then took no exception. The opposition to the agreement did not arise until the Commonwealth disclosed its taxation proposals. The Prime Minister has pointed out that in his policy speech he indicated that a tax would be placed upon motor users to meet the Commonwealth’s commitments under the agreement. A petrol tax is no novelty. I learnt in my youth that there is no new thing under the sun. Petrol taxes have been levied both in America and Great Britain. The revenue from the tax after three years’ operation in Great Britain, enabled splendid roads to be constructed throughout the length and breadth of the land. Under the bill the Commonwealth does not propose to carry out the construction of roads. The agreement provides that the work of construction shall be carried out by either day labour or contract, whichever is the cheaper. Most of the States, from actual experience, favour the day-labour system. In one case the departmental estimate for certain work was £150,000, and the lowest tender received was £227,000. The Government had the work carried out departmentally at a cost of only £136,000. Underthe bill the Commonwealth will simply raise revenue through taxation, and pay it to the States in accordance with their requirements. The States are not compelled to accept the Commonwealth grant. The opposition shown to this bill by certain honorable members opposite, would lead one to think that they were shareholders in either rubber or oilcompanies operating in Australia. I, myself, having no interest in such concerns, am a free agent in this matter.
– The honorable member must not impute motives to honorable members.
– I am merely pointing out that there seems to be some motive underlying the opposition to the bill. The best safeguard that we can have against foreign monopolies is to supply our own requirements, and I trust that this proposal will lead to the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited trebling its output of motor spirit. Ithas been said by one honorable member that the extra duty will penalize the average motor car user to the extent of £15per annum. I have sons and sons-in-law who use motor cars, and I am sure that they do not use as much petrol in a year as, if taxed at the rate of 2d. per gallon, would produce £15.
– They would have to travel 36,000 miles in a yeartodoso. That is not probable.
– I have read a letter which was written to the press by Mr. Wagstaff, the general manager in Australia of the British Imperial Oil Company, but I was not at all impressedb y it. He would not faithfully serve his company unless he closely watched its interests. Not many of my constituents will be called upon to pay the extra duty, because the localities in which they reside are so closely settled and the land is so valuable that it is too expensive for them to runa car, as it would be necessary for them to garage it elsewhere. The proposal of the Government is to have good roads constructed throughout Australia, and that is not possible unless a sufficient amount of money is made available. If additional revenue is not obtained by the imposition of the petrol tax, the ordinary Customs duties will have to be increased to make good the deficiency. We must not rely too much upon those duties, because, as Australia becomes more self-contained, it is natural that our revenue from that source will become less. I should welcome a substantial drop in Customs revenue, because it would indicate that Australia was depending less upon other countries to supply her needs. I believe that the people of Australia are becoming alive to the necessity of enlarging the field of our manufactures. If the consumption of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries product is increased, employment will be found for a large number of men. I can see open to me no course other than to assist the Government to pass this bill, and I shall therefore give it my support.
.- I should not have spoken upon this measure but for the fact that I represent a South Australian electorate, and events that have occurred in that State recently render it necessary for those South Australians who have stable ideas to give expression to them. I was interested in the speech of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann). He objected to the bill on the ground that it was absolutely impossible for this or any government to pledge itself to a ten-year policy. He supported the Government at the last election when one of its principal proposals was that over a period of ten years the States should be advanced the sum of £20,000,000 for the construction and maintenance of roads. Presumably, when the honorable member recently removed his political cloak he also discarded his political ideas, and, politically, he now stands before us naked and unashamed. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) has evidently swallowed a lot of figures without understanding their meaning. He advanced the contention that the average motor user in New South Wales would have his petrol expenses increased by the proposed tax to the extent of £15 per ‘annum. For that to be, the mileage travelled would have to be 36.000 annually. I am not acquainted with any motorist who travels that distance in the course of a year. I understand that the average mileage totals only 5,000 a year. There fore, the figure of the honorable member is an exaggeration. The probability is that the remainder of his arguments were proportionately exaggerated. He also said that Ministers reminded him of the clergy, who wear their collars back to front, because their policy in this matter was back to front; but they must regulate their conduct according to the requirements of the position. I strongly protest against the honorable member’s statement that the money which the Commonwealth Government has so far advanced to the States has not been spent on out-back roads for the benefit of country people. That statement is absolutely contrary to fact. The stipulation has always been made by the Commonwealth Government and accepted by the States that the money granted must be spent on country roads, particularly those in the out-back. That has been done in South Australia, and I have reason to believe that a similar practice has been followed in the other States. It is quite erroneous for the honorable member to argue otherwise. I have been in a portion of the honorable member’s electorate where I found thatmany roads have been improved as the result of Federal grants, and the people spoke loudly in praise of the Federal aid roads policy. The honorable member for Hume is probably very busy about two or three of the larger towns in his electorate in which he gains his majority; but I suggest it would be well for him to visit other portions . of the electorate and find out what, the producers think of this policy. The right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) told us that the Federal authority in the United States of America is gradually giving up the policy of Federal aid to the States for national road construction, and he said that we should follow the American example. He also informed us. and it is a fact, that the American Federal Government initiated this policy ten years ago. Having now brought the national highways into a more or less perfect condition, the American Federal Government is discontinuing that policy. I agree with the right honorable gentleman that we would do well to follow the American example, but in order to do so we should first of all enable the State Governments to cope with the road construction problem by assisting them to the greatest extent possible. When our national highways in Australia are in as good a condition as those of the United States of America, as a result of Federal assistance in their construction, it will be time enough for us to talk of withdrawing that assistance. I take strong exception to some of the advertising on this question in the press of the cities and some of the country districts during the last few weeks. I read an advertisement recently in the South Australian newspapers by what was called “ The Town and Country Union,” with an address in Melbourne,- which dealt with the petrol tax associated with this bill. In this advertisement people were invited to -
Write or telegraph to your Federal member, and then watch and see how he votes.
That sort of thing reminds one of some of the unsavoury sidelights on American politics, and I should like to say for the honour and credit of the constituency I have the honour to represent, that I have not been insulted by having letters or telegrams sent to me on this question. This may be because I am considered so hard headed that I would not take notice of such communications, or possibly because I am not worth taking notice of. I assume that the first is the real reason why I have not received these communications. My constituents elected me to this Parliament, and it is not the practice of South Australians to at: tempt to browbeat their representatives and dictate to them as to how they shall vote. One gentleman stopped me in King William-street, Adelaide, and in great distress asked me whether the Federal Aid Roads Bill and the petrol tax were likely to be passed. We carried on a conversation for a few minutes, and I then said, ‘ What line are you in ? “ The reply was, “ I am working for one of the petrol firms.” I then said, “ I understand your argument, and I shall give full consideration to the matter when it is brought before the House.” This man was the only resident of the electoral division of Angas to whom I have spoken who has raised any objection to the Government’s policy for the construction of good roads. Referring again to the remarks of the right honorable member for Balaclava, I may say that whilst America spends £1 per head per annum in Federal aid for the construction of roads, the Commonwealth Government is proposing to spend only 6s. 8d. per head per annum. We have still a long way to go before we plunge into this policy in tha way the American Federal Government has done, and perhaps it would be as well if we did so. Representatives of suburban electorates are complaining that construction of roads in the cities and their suburbs is not getting the support that it should have, and they further complain that the residents of cities and their suburbs will be called upon to pay their share of the Commonwealth grants for road construction in the country districts. I do not think that that is unfair. I have lived for some time in a large country town, ‘ and I speak from experience when I ‘ say that business centres in the larger towns and cities should be considered. But although the residents of the cities and larger towns, will have to go on paying for the upkeep of their own roads, they will indirectly reap immense advantage and profit from the construction of better roads .in the country districts. As a result of the improvement of country roads people from the country districts will be able to travel in the winter, as well as in the summer months, into the cities .nd towns and spend their money there, and that is what the residents of the cities and towns desire. It is complained that the money that will be spent under this bill will be spent in the country districts and not in the cities. That is a very narrow view to take of the matter. The purpose of national roads is to develop the country districts and not the cities, and if we consider the question carefully we shall find. that the country districts have a perfect right to expect to get some share of “the revenue raised in the. cities. The great cities in this country have been built up” by the tariff, more than anything else. I raise no ob’jection to the tariff, beca’use I believe in protective duties. The “large cities have, been built up as the ‘result of the development of secondary’ industries by the protection afforded bv ‘ the tariff. Un* doubtedly, the tariff has increased the, cost of production in the country ‘districts,and it is not unreasonable that, in their turn, the residents of the large cities should pay their fair share of the Federal grants for the construction of- national roads. In doing so they will be merely paying something back to the people of the country districts. It is right that. they should pay their just and lawful debts, and I am certain that true Australians living in the large towns and cities, sio- matter how they may be appealed to by selfish, interests, will not begrudge their country cousins some little assistance in the development of main roads, so needed in the outback districts. One contention on this question is that the money raised within a State should be spent within it. The Leader of the Opposition in the Victorian Parliament has said that he is prepared to agree to the Federal roads policy on condition that the money raised in Victoria is spent in this State. Let us consider that suggestion for a moment. If it be a reasonable one, then all the money raised in a city should be spent in the city. The money raised in a particular municipality should be spent in that municipality, and, carrying the argument a step further, the money raised in a particular street should be spent in that street. Again, there are some streets in every city in which there are a greater number of motor garages than in others. Consequently, a greater proportion of petrol will be sold in those streets, and it might just as well be contended that the money raised in those streets should be spent in those streets, and then the argument might be completed, and . we would find that the largest supplier of petrol would be entitled to have a pavement laid in gold in front of his business premises. The contention is absurd. We should look at these matters- from a broad Australian standpoint. If the poor municipalities about which we have heard so much would like to know how to raise money for roads, I advise them to write to the clerk of the Burnside District Council. Only a few years ago the worst suburban roads around Adelaide were those of the Burnside district. To-day, they are the best roads around Adelaide. This has been brought about by the imposition of a special arterial roads rate. The money derived from this rate was earmarked for the construction of these arterial roads, and, to-day, there are no main roads troubles confronting the Burnside District Council. I would remind honorable members that the State Governments have raised no particular objection to the expenditure of Commonwealth funds in the payment of bounties to different industries.’ The Government of Queens- land has certainly raised no objection to the bounty on cotton, although the money for its payment is raised throughout Australia, since it is paid from the general revenue. We have not heard of many objections from New South Wales to the iron and steel bounty, although the money is raised throughout Australia. We have heard no grave objections from South Australia to the wine bounty, although that is paid from moneys raised throughout Australia. In these circumstances I cannot understand why so much objection is raised in connexion with this measure to the expenditure of money in the smaller States, because most of it will be raised in the more thickly populated States. Since 1918 £2,077,000 has been collected in excise on fortifying spirit for wine, but I have heard no squeal because this money raised from excise has not been spent in South Australia. Yet, practically the whole of this money was raised in South Australia. Let us get the Australian view of these matters. We are considering a proposal for the development of the national roads of the country, and not of the half-dozen gaslit areas represented by the chief cities of Australia. I cannot understand the attitude of the States to the Government’s proposal. For three years the State Governments have willingly acepted money from the Commonwealth for the purpose of road construction. They have accepted nearly £2,000,000 for this purpose, and apparently did not consider the Commonwealth grants illegal. Now we are told that they consider it illegal to accept any money for road construction from the Commonwealth, because road construction is not a Commonwealth function. Do the State Governments propose to return to the Commonwealth Treasurer the £2,000,000 they have already accepted for this purpose? I trow not. If they are honest in the belief they now express, and have accepted money to which they had no right, they ought to hand it back to the Commonwealth. I do not think they will do so. They may say that the money granted them by the Commonwealth was paid out of surplus revenue, and without any stipulation at all. I combat that statement, because that money was given for the specific purpose of the construction of certain roads, in country districts. Although the present proposal i* more detailed, in principle, the previous grants were made on exactly the same terms. . They were not given to the State Government to do as they liked with the money, but to spend it on particular loads. To-day they are making a great :noise, and complaining that the Commonwealth Government is laying down what the State Governments shall or shall not <do. Did not the Prime Minister take into ^consultation the Premiers of the different States? Did they not sit down together and thrash this policy out? Did they not -decide that this policy, which the State Governments now say is illegal, was to be carried out? Did not the representatives of the States say that they would return to ‘their States and would recommend the adoption of the policy to their Parliaments? They started making all the noise a few days after a certain proposal was submitted to provide for the way in which the money to be granted by the Commonwealth was to be raised. There were three things to be taxed, petrol, tires, and motor chassis, but we have heard very little about tires and the motor chassis tax. One would think from the commotion that has been made that petrol only was to be -taxed. We saw the advertisement, “ Watch and see how your Federal member votes; telegraph and write to him.” Then we learned that a celebrated aviator had been informed that when flying over Australia he must not use Austraiian refined petrol, but must use petrol which is 60 ner cent. Dutch. All of these things make me wonder where this opposition comes from, and when I read about monopolies associated with another proposal, like the priest of the parish, I put on my considering cap. I come to the conclusion that these gentlemen who are stirring up so much noise have very little of the real Australian sentiment, and are really thinking more of the probable effect of the proposed duties on their own pockets. Any honorable member who is doubtful about the Wls dom of the Government’s proposals should go out into the back country where roads are badly needed - where it takes a man all day to drag half a load of wheat to the nearest siding over almost impassable sand-hills. And he should then pass on to localities where Commonwealth money has been spent on the construc tion of main roads - where some of the bad sand-hills have been topped, and a man can take two full loads of wheat a day where formerly he could take only half a load a day at the risk of breaking the hearts of his horses and his own back. Having seen what ought to be done, and what is done by means of the expenditure of Commonwealth money, an honorable member would have nothing but praise for the Government’s present proposals. His only comment would be not to put a brake on the spending of Commonwealth money in this direction, but to urge the expenditure of even more money on the construction of main roads. I am pledged to the Government’s road policy. On 70 different platforms I told my electors what’ the Commonwealth Government proposed to do for the construction of main roads; I repeated the Prime Minister’s statement in his policy speech that £20,000,000 was to be spent on a national roads policy at the rate of £2,000,000 a year for ten years, and in every district, suburban and country,, where that policy was outlined by me, it was received with acclamation. It was regarded as a sound, sensible scheme. I regret that I am unable to follow the wobbly course of the South Australian Government in regard to these proposals. A Melbourne newspaper said that I was wobbling on the question, but all I can say is that rather than follow the wobbly course of the South Australian Government I prefer to follow the straight furrow ploughed by the Federal Government.
.- I rise more for the purpose of making my position clear than to attack that taken up by the Government. It is, however, inevitable that I must comment upon the Government’s policy. May I be permitted, at the outset, to remind the House and the Ministry, that the policy of assisting the States in the construction and maintenance of roads was initiated by the previous administration, over which I had the honour to preside, and, hitherto, the present Government has followed the course then laid down. It is not to be expected, therefore, that I should appear as a critic of the Government’s policy, in so far as it involves assisting the States in this very necessary and national way; but I am surprised that the
Government has posed as an economic and political Columbus - as the discoverer of some new continent - whereas, in truth, it has merely followed a well-beaten track.
As to the constitutionality of the measure, my view and policy always have been to interpret the powers of the Commonwealth as widely as possible. It has been with the utmost reluctance that I have admitted that there are limitations to those powers. Of course, it is obvious that there are limitations, and I took the earliest opportunity open to me to appeal to the people to give the Commonwealth wider powers. But I have never regarded the Commonwealth’s powers of taxation as other than plenary. I have proceeded on the assumption that the Commonwealth is at liberty to do what it likes with its own money. There may -be, however, limitations to that power. Where, in the Constitution, there happens to be a direct prohibition against the expenditure of money by the Commonwealth in any particular way, the Commonwealth’s power over expenditure is not plenary, but, otherwise, I take it, the Commonwealth has power to spend its money as it pleases. On that assumption I acted when, in 1921-22. I made an arrangement with the States whereby they were to have the use of £250,000 for road construction, upon the condition that they should make available a similar amount. I regard this measure, therefore, from the standpoint of one who is pre-disposed to consider anything done by the Commonwealth in the expenditure of its own money, as constitutional. Now, let me say a word upon the bill, as distinguished from similar measures that have preceded it. The Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) sees in the present proposals of the Government something entirely new that distinguishes this from previous measures. I see nothing new in them. It is asserted by the honorable member that the agreement which it was fondly imagined had been arrived at between the Commonwealth and the States, created an entirely new situation, making constitutional that which otherwise would not have been so. But, so far from there being anything new in this bill, its provisions follow the beaten track. On the first occasion on which money was made available to the States, it was made available only on conditions which pre-supposed, implied, and demanded an agreement. Not one pennypiece was paid out to a State Government until it had agreed to the conditions required by the Commonwealth. Consequently, although it may be true that the terms of the present agreement with the States differ from those of previous agreements, it is not correct to say that this measure differs from previous measures, because, in this instance, there is an agreement with the States, and in the other there was not. An agreement with the States is the basis upon which both rest. If the present proposals are constitutional because there is an agreement with the States, so also were those others, including that of 1921-22. But while in this respect the present proposals are identical for all practical purposes with those of the government over which I had the honour to preside, they differ from previous, proposals in another way. The moneys made available to the States under the previous proposals was not taxation deliberately collected for the purpose, but part of the surplus of revenue over expenditure. There had been an error, as there nearly always is, in the calculations of the Treasurer of the estimated revenue and expenditure for the next financial year. An ideal budget would be one based upon an estimate so nicely adjusted as to leave no balance, but that ideal, of course, is rarely, if ever, realized. It so happened that at the end of the financial year 1921-22, there was in the Treasury a balance of unexpended revenue which we conceived could be well expended upon the great national work of road construction. It must be remembered that the demand for roads is one almost of yesterday. Even ten years ago the need for roads was not so obvious or so urgent as it is to-day. When the need. became obvious and, as we conceived, urgent, and when it appeared to us that the States were not endeavouring to supply that need as rapidly and effectively as we should have liked, we made money available to them, on condition that they spent it subject to such regulations as we laid down. That was the position under the previous agreements, and in essence it is the position under the present agreement except that in this instance the Commonwealth Government has imposed taxation for a specific purpose not included amongst the enumerated powers of the Commonwealth, and so not a purpose for which it is entitled to tax the people. That establishes a clear distinction between the two proposals. Has the Commonwealth power to construct roads? The Constitution is silent on that point. Roads and bridges have always been regarded as the prerogative of the States, but communications are clearly within the ambit of this Parliament. Trade between States is declared by the Constitution to be free, and all things necessary to ensure freedom of trade may fairly be done by the Federal authority. One of the things necessary is that trade should be permitted to proceed economically and expeditiously, and the High- Court might fairly hold - I do not say that it will - that the construction of interstate roads, where to-day none exist, or, if existing, are in a state that is a positive scandal - might be constitutionally undertaken at the instance of, if not directly by, the Commonwealth. I do not contend that the Federal authority could construct an interstate road directly, but its power in that respect can be ascertained. If the States had persisted in their refusal to proceed with the unification of railway gauges, it was my intention, had I continued in office, to test the legal position, for I contend that the power of this Parliament, and both the letter and spirit of the Constitution, are reduced to a farce if trade between States, being free, is blocked and strangled at the borders.
– Those are not the roads specified in this bill.
– I am speaking of interstate highways. It might be contended, with great force, that it is within the defence power of the Commonwealth to build a railway of uniform gauge to connect all the strategic points of the Commonwealth if the States failed to do so, or deliberately prevented such work from being carried out. A similar claim might be made in respect of the making of roads - interstate highways or strategic roads for defence purposes - with moneys which the Commonwealth has at its disposal; but when a special tax is levied the onus is thrown upon the Commonwealth to prove that the object for which the levy is made is directly within the powers of this Parliament. In my opinion, the success of this claim will depend upon whether the roads are interstate highways or merely local thoroughfares. When the Treasurer was speaking last week I asked of him what classes of roads are to be constructed under this bill. He said there were several classes of roads, and then went on to give an account of the extent to which road making has been carried out in the United States of America. Neither he nor any other honorable member has realized the importance of stating clearly in the bill what kind of roads are to be made. Those that have been constructed in the United States of America are of concrete. I motored from Chicago to Spokane, through to Portland, and thence on to Los Angeles and back to Vancouver; and, with the exception of 150 miles, travelled on concrete roads for the whole of the distance. In respect of permanency, a concrete road will compare favorably with a railroad, or a national work like the Hume weir and the locking of the river Murray. A concrete road is permanent, but the roads that have been made, and are being made, with Commonwealth money are not. I hope that the Minister will tell the House how much money has been granted to the States for road construction since the Government of which I was leader initiated this policy. I estimate the total at about £1,750,000, and what have we to show for this great expenditure? Practically nothing. Clearly the primary interest of this Parliament is in interstate highways. The road from Melbourne to Canberra is a positive disgrace. On Monday last I started from Canberra for Melbourne, and within the first 16 miles I was held up by two creeks 4 feet deep. Next year an historic ceremony will he performed at Canberra by Hig Royal Highness the Duke of York; and probably 60,000 or 70,000 people from all parts of the Commonwealth will -desire to be present. Many of them must proceed to Canberra via Yass, but if the weather is wet they will not reach their destination.
– A concrete road from Melbourne to Canberra would cost, approximately, £10,000,000.
– T do not know what the cost would be, but I endorse the statement of the Treasurer that we cannot afford to have bad roads. Yet the
Government with its eyes open is proposing to make had roads. A good road is a permanent work. Once made it lasts, costing very little for maintenance. A bad road may be cheaply constructed, but. it is ruinous to maintain, and it never is a road, but, at best a makeshift. They are now making a good road between Mittagong and Moss Vale. A section is complete, but it is already showing signs of wear. I passed over it a few days ago, and it was as wavy as the ocean. Upon roads of that description, Federal money is being wasted. I believe motorists are prepared to pay for real roads, but to put money into these alleged roads is as futile as throwing it into the sea.
Mr.Watkins. - Should the Commonwealth build roads without controlling them?
– The Commonwealth should have control over interstate highways, and it is its duty to link up the capital cities, including Canberra, by good concrete roads. If the Commonwealth will set such an example, the States will be compelled, by public opinion, to follow suit. We should at once turn our backs upon these wretched make-believe roads that swallow millions of pounds, and demand annually for their maintenance further millions. A well made concrete road has a life of from ten to twenty years, and I believe that statistics would show that the maintenance of the permanent way of a railway is more costly than the upkeep of a similar length of concrete highway. So strongly am I in favour of good roads that I am not inclined to examine too closely the means by which we get them. I shall not criticize the Government’s manner of doing things, if they are well done when they are done. I have motored over the Melbourne to Albury road five or six times, and its condition is beyond the power of words to express; it is terrible. Yet the road from Yass to Canberra is even worse. We have heard some honorable members declare that expenditure by the Commonwealth upon the construction of roads would be unconstitutional. I do not care two straws whether it is constitutional or unconstitutional. If the Commonwealth’s exercise of power is wrong the High Court will soon tell us so. It is not for a member of this Parliament to whittle down the powers of the Commonwealth. Those things which are necessary to promote the wealth of the people should be done by somebody; and if they are not being done by the other instrumentalities of government they must be done by the Commonwealth. If the Federal authority has no power in this or any other direction, the sooner the court has an opportunity to so declare, the better, so that we may know where we are, and can appeal to the people to give to this Parliament whatever additional powers may be necessary. It is unfortunate, however, that a special tax has been levied for the creation of a roads fund. It is unfortunate in many ways that a. special tax has been levied before the ratification of the agreement by the States. Now that three States have refused to ratify, it is still more unfortunate that the proposals are to be forced upon the country. Originally the proposals provided for taxes upon petrol, tires, and chassis. It will not be long before imported chassis will be comparatively rare. Ford, General Motors - an organization which manufactures among: others the Buick car - and Dodge Brothers, are now assembling chassis in Australia, and seven out of every ten cars seen in the streets are either Buicks, Dodges, or Fords. I am informed, too, that the makers of the Chevrolet intend to assemble their chassis in Australia. Of tires, 64 per cent. are locally made; but the taxes on tires and chassis are to be repealed. As to the tax on petrol, I, as a motorist, am prepared to pay it; but I want more for my money that I have had in the past. I am astounded at the statement of the Prime Minister that the two big oil distributing companies will pay the tax. They will not do anything of the sort. To do it would be an open and shameful admission that they have been exploiting the community for years.
– The right honorable member knows that they have.
– Have not I always said so ? I have never for a moment been mistaken for one of their friends. My withers are un wrung. But they cannot go to the extent of exploiting the country to the amount of 2d. per gallon one petrol. The profits would be enormous. I do not know how many gallons are consumed annually in Australia.
– About 120,000,000 gai– Ions.
– The Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was established during my term of office, despite the opposition of gentlemen who used to adorn the corner benches, and may now, if they have time in their busy lives, read what they then said. If they deny those statements I may. in committee, remind them of the printed record against them. The Commonwealth Oil Refinery was established because the Government of the day believed that the importing companies ought not to be in a position to impose what toll they pleased. But if, notwithstanding the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited their position is impregnable, and they can afford to nay the tax of 2d. a gallon and yet make a profit, it is a pity that the Government has not proposed a tax of 4d. a gallon, because twice as much would be obtained from them then. I ask Ministers to consider this point. It is proposed to collect revenue, and to hold it in suspense, for a specific purpose which falls outside the province of the Federal Government. This revenue is to be collected for a purpose which may never be achieved. New South “Wales, for instance, will contribute 45 per cent, of the £1,500,000 to be raised, and, although the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) said that the legislature of that State would eventually ratify the agreement, we have no assurance that it will. In the meantime, motor users there will be paying an extra 2d. per gallon for petrol on the off chance that some of the money may be expended on the State’s roads. It is unsound finance to tax except for necessary expenditure. Taxation should not be collected on the assumption that some day it may be found useful; it should be imposed only when there is no alternative. If there is an alternative the people should not be taxed. The more populous States have declined to sign the agreement, and I sympathize with the Prime Minister in his resentment at their attitude; it does not astonish me. As Prime Minister I have made many arrangements with the States on behalf of the
Commonwealth, and, at the moment, I cannot recall one which they have honoured. I made an arrangement, the provisions of which I explained on thefloor of this House, under which all theStates agreed to support this Parliament in asking, by means of a referendum, for an amendment of the Constitution; but New South Wales alone passed thelegislation needed to give it effect. I somewhat exaggerate when I say that none of the States had kept any agreement into which they have entered with the Commonwealth, because there was the Immigration agreement; but about that there was, indeed, a good deal of trouble. The Prime Minister has had a good deal of provocation, but, in the circumstances, it would have been better if he had abandoned the proposals and put the onus on the States. The people of the Commonwealth would then have been confronted with this position, that, the Commonwealth Government was prepared to do something in a matter whichwas daily becoming more important and urgent, and the States refused to cooperate with it. This is the petrol age,, and the internal combustion engine is* likely to solve a number of problems which: otherwise could not be solved. The State* need good roads, and the CommonwealthGovernment says, “ We will help you.”” There is no obligation on the Commonwealth to do this. The States, however, after their representatives have accepted the agreement, some of them in writing, now calmly say they will not ratify it. That is very annoying, but I think it would have been better for the Government to have dropped the bill. His persistence places some of the Nationalist party in a most embarrassing position. I ask the Prime Minister, what ought to be the attitude of a representative of New South Wales, like myself, representing a metropolitan constituency in a State where 45 per cent, of the special taxation will be raised, and not one penny of it spent?’ Even if New South Wales were party to> this agreement, none of the money would be spent in Sydney and its environs.
– Large sums of money have been spent there in the past.
– More money has been thrown into the Newcastle Harbour than would pave all Sydney.
– Newcastle has progressed in spite of Sydney.
– The effort to make Newcastle a port is a reflection upon the Almighty, who, from the beginning of time, has decreed that it shall not be one The position in which New South Wales is placed is most invidious, and I think the Prime Minister should not overlook that aspect of the matter, particularly as his majority in this Parliament consists largely of members from New South Wales and Victoria, who are in the same position as I am. The right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) is in a position analogous to my own. The Minister (Mr. Hill) asked whether I knew that it would cost £10,000,000 to construct a concrete road from Melbourne to Canberra. I do not know how much it would cost; but I say that sooner or later a concrete highway must be laid down between Melbourne and Canberra. The arguments which the Minister is now using against concrete roads were used by the Treasurer against the unification of the railway gauges. He said, “Why spend all this money? How is itpossible for the unification of the railway gauges to help the man on the land ?” But how better can he be helped ? The Treasurer and the other members of the party to which he belongs have now 3een the light, and the unification of the railway gauges has been commenced in the electorate of the chief critic of the proposal. A concrete road is a permanent work. What principle has guided the governments of this country in connexion with permanent and temporary work? Permanent works have been paid for largely out of loan money and temporary works out of revenue. If we are satisfied that motor vehicles will provide one of the chief means of transport of the future - if not ousting the railway, but supplementary, and in some cases preparing the way for railroads - good roads must be constructed. Motor transport has many advantages; it can go where railways cannot be economically built; it is flexible, economical, and adaptable to an extent that railways cannot hope to be. A permanent way for motor traffic should be laid down on the same basis as a railroad. If it will cost £10,000,000 to construct a concrete road from Melbourne to Canberra, it will cost £16,000,000 to build one from Melbourne to Sydney.
– It would cost about £20,000 a mile, according to the width.
– Yes. On what width does the Minister base his estimate?
– I suggest 20 feet.
– I do not pretend to be an authority on roads. All I know is that the people of the United States of America have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on building roads, and that it has been the best investment they ever made. Nothing, not even its policy of protection, has done so much to bring the United States of America to the front as her concrete roads. They have solved her problem of, land settlement in the more remote parts of the country, making it possible where it was thought to be utterly impossible. This Government should develop a national policy of road construction, which would commend itself to the whole of our people. It will be of no use for us to attempt to make any except first class roads, and the only road that is worth mentioning is the concrete road. We shall never get good roads by beating down the contractors from £1 to 17s. ; we shall only get them by building them as they should be built. It does not follow that because the advisor of a shire council recommends that a road should be built in such a way and at such a price that his advice should be taken. Road engineering is now a special science. The very best possible advice should be obtained before we adopt any policy of road construction. There is a road in North Sydney, running from Pearce’s Corner to Chatswood, which has been down for three and a half years, and not one pennypiece has been spent on it since it was constructed.
– It is the best road in Australia.
– It was built by the man who built the Columbia River highway of 365 miles, along which I have driven. Whatever our roads cost, let us make them with the object of permanence. If we cannot get money for them out of revenue, then let us get it by loan. It may be said that this is a new departure. So is the motor; but it has come to stay, and we must act accordingly. The motor has revolutionized this country, and it has revolutionized country life. It has made tolerable that which was intolerable. The farmer is no longer like a dog chained to his kennel; he can now go abroad if he desires. He can share the benefits that civilization showers upon modern man. The advantages of the city are now open to him. Only by making good permanent roads shall we encourage land settlement in this country. When good roads are available, it will not be necessary to holdout special inducements to mcn to get them to go on the land; they will go readily, for, other things being equal, tho man on the land, as everybody knows, lives a free and independent life and calls no man his master. If we can once banish isolation and give to the country people the advantages of city life, we shall do something to make Australia what it should be, and render certain that influx of population into this country, which is so necessary.
My attitude on the bill may be put briefly. As to its constitutionality, I have already set out the facts as they appeal to me. The present position of the measure is most unfortunate. As things are it will not apply to more than one-third of the people of the Commonwealth, it will leave the States of New South Wales, Victoria, andSouth Australia untouched, which places honorable members who represent divisions in those States in a most invidious position. Those of us who support the Government are asked to vote for the measure; but I ask the Prime Minister what ho would do if he were in my place ? So far as I can see, the bill is being persisted in simply to save the face of the Government. What about the faces of honorable members who are anxious to support the Government, but find themselves in the position of being called upon to vote public moneys, collected chiefly in their own States, for expenditure in other States?
.- I do not intend to cover the ground that previous speakers have traversed, and I would not presume to add anything to the admirable remarks that have been made by two or three honorable members in particular. I have always had sympathy with the Government in endeavouring to stimulate the construction of good roads in the States, for I have recognized that some of the States particularly, are quite unable, with their own limited resources, to embark on a big road construction policy. But I wish to get to the heart of the situation which now faces us. I am favorable to assisting the States in road construction, so long as in doing so we do not trespass beyond our own preserves, and undertake work which is entirely outside our constitutional authority. I shall have very little to say on the constitutional aspect of the matter, but I am sorry that the Standing Orders will not permit me to give free and vigorous expression to my opinion of the speech of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) in this regard. The right honorable member said, “ Let the courts decide.”’ The courts, of course, will decide if the measure is passed ; but I submit that we should be guided by our own constitutional lawyer, the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), for whom I have the greatest admiration and esteem. I have followed with interest his very delicate references to the constitutional position of this bill, and the most conclusive word he has said on the matter was published in the Adelaide Register on Thursday morning last. In the course of an interview the honorable gentleman is reported to have said -
He understood that the objection was put upon the ‘basis of interference with State rights. That objection was equally open in February last, “but not a word was then said about it.
I am afraid that the attitude adopted by the States is not being put in its true light. It is being strained. A few representatives of country constituencies in various States, of whom I was one, were present, at the invitation of the Government, at the conference with the States to which so much reference has been made. So long as we were there it appeared that the object of the conference was simply to decide whether the assistance that had been given by the Commonwealth Government to the States for road construction work in the last two or three years should be continued, and whether in the public interests it was desirable that the Commonwealth should be given a little more authority to supervise the expenditure of the money it granted. A lot of valuable suggestions were advanced by members of the conference, and ultimately nearly everyone agreed that it would be a distinct advantage if the expenditure of Commonwealth moneys were subject to a keener oversight. That was the basis of the agreement that was subsequently made, and I think the Treasurer strained it a little bit when he submitted his budget proposals to the House. Previously the assistance that the Commonwealth Government has granted to the States for road construction purposes came from surplus revenue. I admit that the Prime Minister in his policy deliverance said that future contributions for that purpose would be made from Customs duties on motor chassis and accessories, but I think very few Government supporters understood that this would involve the imposition of heavy new duties. At any rate, the Government of South Australia did not, nor did I. It was thought that the Commonwealth intended to take a portion of the present Customs revenue from these sources, for the purpose of assisting the States to build roads. I have had the advantage of supervising the expenditure of some of the money the Commonwealth has made available for road purposes in the States, and at that time the co-operation between Commonwealth and State authorities was complete and satisfactory. The first advances were made with the distinct object of assisting the States to provide work for their unemployed. Practicallyno objections were made to that policy, but all the old harmony and co-operation have now gone, for three of the States have definitely intimated that they will not participate in this new scheme. Dealing with the constitutional position, the Attorney-General added the following remarks to those that I. have already quoted : -
The Federal scheme involved legislation by the State accepting the precise agreement that the Commonwealth proposed. Did anyone, lawyer or layman, seriously suggest that if the Commonwealth Parliament and the six State Parliaments passed an act in substantially “identical terms, providing for the payment of money by the Commonwealth and the acceptance of it by the States, there should be a serious doubt as to the validity of such a scheme ?
If the Prime Minister will build his project on the basis laid down by the Attorney-General, and if all the States will fall into line with it, I shall have nothing to say. I regret that I have to say anything that might in any way hamper the Government in this very worthy project for assisting the States, and at the same time stimulating national development. If, however, Mr. Latham’s statement of the constitutional position is correct, the Government cannot proceed with this proposal until all the States come into line. If the Ministry will accept Mr. Latham’s exposition of the law, I shall gladly assist the Minister to pass this bill, providing the Prime Minister gives us an assurance that the scheme will not become operative until all the States have signified their acceptance of the proposals. Three of the States approve of the scheme and three oppose it. I say, with the greatest respect, that two of the States which are in agreement with the Government on this matter are dependent States ; that is to say, their financial position is such that the Commonwealth has properly to make grants from year to year to help them overcome their difficulties.
– Which are due to disabilities under federation.
– Well, add that to the statement.
– I shall be only too happy to accept the honorable member’s suggestion. Two of the States, as I have said, are dependent States. Why has the third State, Queensland, come into line?
– It wants money.
– Undoubtedly Queensland is short of money. If we are going to provide considerable sums of money for expenditure by the States, we should insist upon getting an equivalent for every £1 of Commonwealth money voted. Do honorable members think that we are likely to get back from Queensland even 10s. for every £1 spent in that State. Since we are not likely to get an equivalent we should not complain too much if all the States are brought into line. Rather should we regard it as providential that something is preventing us from going on with the proposal until some of the States return to a condition of sanity in legislation and are safe to deal with. The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Parsons) said something about the wobbly attitude of the Government of South Australia towards this proposal, and that, having a definite opinion of his own on the measure, and rather than vote against the bill, he would be inclined to tell the South Australian Government to go to a certain place that is not mentioned in polite society. It was not the Government but the Parliament of South Australia that rejected the proposal.’ South Australia has always been a solvent State, and even when a Labour Governmentis on the Treasury bench there it is relatively careful in the expenditure of public moneys, so the opinion of that State, with regard to these proposals, should be respected. Clearly, they are not wanted.
– Everybody that I saw said that they were wanted.
– I am sure that the honorable member for Angas did not consult the members of the State Parliament. They told me definitely that they were opposed to the proposals. Victoria is undecided, but it is a blessing that New South Wales will not come in.
– New South Wales will take the money all right.
– That is what I am afraid of; hut I can assure the honorable member for South Sydney that if Commonwealth money is put into these proposals, we shall not get a quid pro quo.
– The honorable member does not want roads in his State?
– We do, and we have the men to build them. We have four of the best modern road plants in the Commonwealth, and three more on order. Some of our suburban local governing authorities are now sending representatives to the other side- of the world to get the most modern mechanical road-making appliances for the carrying out of this work in my State. If Commonwealth money is to be expended on this work, the Government, to ensure efficiency and the economic expenditure of public money, should insist on the State Governments employing only the most up-to-date methods of construction. I earnestly urge the Government to consider carefully the statement made by the Attorney-General in Adelaide. We should have a definite expression of opinion as to the correctness of his views before we take the vote on the second reading of this measure.
– What newspaper published that interview?
– Both the Adelaide Register and the Advertiser published a long interview with Mr. Latham. The Minister touched upon nearly every phase of the road-making problem, because he was anxious that the people of South Australia should be put right. His interpretation of the law sustains the position that is taken up by South Australia. I should like to know what the legal members of this House and another place have to say about it. If Mr. Latham’s statement of the case is correct, I stand by the attitude of the South Australian Parliament and the other States that have refused to join in the proposal.
– The Attorney-General is wrong.
– The fact that the honorable member for Richmond has said that Mr. Latham is wrong convinces me that he is right. Our Constitution, like that of Switzerland, is difficult to alter, and is the most conservative instrumen in the world. The people of Switzerland nine times rejected one proposal to amend the Constitution, but, at the tenth attempt they became sick of the whole business and accepted it. I would sooner have our Constitution as it is to-day than a constitution that could be amended at the will of the Government of the day, which might run riot all over Australia, and spend money like water.
– Did the honorable member take that stand when he was Minister for Works and Railways?
– I did, and this Government knows it. It has undone many things which I did, and the result has been a most reckless expenditure and waste of public money.
– On what items?
– I can give the honorable member the particulars. This expenditure has not been confined to Melbourne.
– Is the honorable member ref erring to the wine bounty?
– I am glad that the honorable member has raised that issue. The River Murray agreement has also been mentioned in this debate. The proposal to construct locks on the River Murray was taken up first by Sir Joseph Cook, who made representations to the States concerned. The agreement to join with the States in that expenditure was ratified by this Parliament. That great work was undertaken because an immense volume of water, representing a source of great potential wealth, was being lost every year. Now as to the wine bounty. The money for the payment of that bounty is drawn from excise, and it is being utilized to assist returned soldier settlers, who were induced to engage in the cultivation of wine grapes, and were only getting a bare subsistence from year to year. There were in the great distilleries millions of gallons of grape spirit for which no market could be found. Through the wine bounty provided by the growers themselves, we exported during the last twelve months more wine, both in volume and value, than we did during the previous ten years. These distilleries have enabled the fruitgrowers on the Murray to receive this year not less than £5 per ton for their grapes.
– Because of the wise encouragement given by the Government.
Mr.FOSTER. - The honorable member for Indi, whom everyone likes, has, unfortunately, a somewhat restricted vision. I do not like this constant sneering at the wine bounty.
-What has the wine bounty to do with the roads?
Mr.FOSTER. - Everything. The Prime Minister referred to the wine bounty as justification for the imposition of a petrol tax. No other country imposes an excise duty on spirit distilled from grapes. They make their spirit from decomposed potatoes, wood pulp, and other refuse unfit for consumption even by pigs.
– Is that the spirit with which they fortify their wines ?
– Yes ; and people drink it as if it were new milk.
– Before a vote is taken the Prime Minister should make a statement as to the real position. If he can satisfy me that the Government intends to act in accordance with the law, as explained by the Attorney-General, I shall vote for the bill; if not, I shall oppose it.
Sitting suspended from 6.24 to 8 p.m.
.- I should not have troubled to speak on this bill, but that I think I ought to make clear my attitude towards it as a representative of Western Australia. I have always been in favour of Federal grants for main roads, because they enable needy States to obtain revenue that would otherwise be denied them. I represent a State that is not financially strong, and I make no boast of being influenced in this matter by ethical considerations. I realize that from a business point of view Western Australia will do uncommonly well under this measure, and I propose to accept it with both hands. My State will receive £380,000 per annum for ten years, and, so far as I am aware, no assistance comparable with that has been offered to Western Australia during the period that I have been a member of this Chamber. I entirely disagree, however, with the method to be adopted in raising the money. The petrol tax, as it has been termed, will operate unjustly in many respects, even with the modifications proposed by the Government. I shall suggest another means of financing the scheme. We were told that under the States Grants Bill, which the Government has abandoned for the time being, there would be made available to the States £1,500,000 more than the amount of Customs revenue previously returned to them. The special grants that were to have been made to Tasmania and Western Australia under the States Grants Billamounted to £828,000, and since the Government would receive only £850,000 from the petrol tax, it would be very little out of pocket, if it decided not to impose that tax. I draw attention to the peculiar position that one-third of this continent will be in if the money is raised in the manner proposed. At the beginning of 1925, the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Hill) informed me that the amount paid to Western Australia in main road development votes for the two financial years 1923-25 was £384,000, of which only £32,000 was spent in 900,000 . square miles of country in the northern portion of that State ; that is to say. ten-elevenths of the State received only one-twelfth of the grant. The people in the north-western portion of Western Australia, who got £10,000, or one-thirty-eighth of the total grant, are, therefore, greatly concerned about the petrol tax. They know that even if a large grant is made, they will not receive an appreciable share for the construction of roads in the sparsely-populated country north of the 26th parallel of latitude. Consequently, I am not surprised that I have received scores of telegrams from roads boards and municipalities protesting against the petrol tax. The people of this district, which comprises a large portion of my electorate, are opposed to the bill, because they believe that the money will be raised by way of a petrol tax in accordance with the original proposals of the Government. I am in favour of the bill so far as it affects Western Australia as a whole, although a large part of my electorate will get practically no benefit from it. Under the circumstances, I suggest that the sum that would have been set aside, had the States Grants Bill been proceeded with should be made available for main road construction; then the States would lose very little. A petrol tax is not new. Western Australia has one in operation to-day ; but, of course, it would be withdrawn if the Commonwealth decided to impose a tax of this nature. Since Western Australia is a very large State, the northern portion of which is very sparsely populated, the State Government finds it difficult indeed to develop the southern portion. I may say, in passing, that, contrary to the general opinion that prevails among my own friends there, I think that the north-west should be financed by direct grants from the Commonwealth Government. Despite the local feeling that Western Australia should retain the whole of its territory, I cannot escape from the conviction that the development of the north-west is a national work, and that this Parliament should undertake the financial responsibility for its settlement. Returning to the subject now under consideration, I contend that, since the State Government considers it inequitable that the people north of the 26th parallel should be required to pay the locally-imposed petrol tax, it would be unfair for the Commonwealth to collect such a tax from a district in which no roads are to be constructed. But there is a difference between a State levying a petrol tax and the Commonwealth Government imposing it. The State Government can discriminate between one district and another, but the Commonwealth Govern ment cannot discriminate in that way. Therefore, I am opposed to this method of raising the revenue. I do not agree with those honorable members who gauge the merit of the proposal by the benefit that particular States would get out of it. I do not desire to secure any special advantage for Western Australia ; but one honorable member, when reminded that South Australia had received considerable assistance by means of - the wine bounty, heatedly pointed out that returned soldiers, on the verge of starvation, had been thereby assisted. He hinted that, while those men were entitled to assistance, settlers in other States should not receive similar benefits. I willingly supported the wine bounty for the benefit of returned soldiers and other primary producers, because I realized that the industry was in difficulties. As a protectionist, I am a warm supporter of Australian* industries generally; and when I ask for assistance for sparsely populated portions of Australia, it should be remembered that the settlers in those districts assist the thickly populated areas by contributing their share towards the £40,500,000 raised annually through the Customs. In that way, they help to establish infant secondary industries in the eastern States. Although a number of people in Western Australia clamour for freetrade, I shall always be found endeavouring to convince my electors that Australia must ultimately establish her own secondary industries. Up to January last, the Commonwealth had paid in bounties, since 1916, the sum of £1,301,000, and I hope that honorable members from the eastern States, whose electorates benefit immensely from the establishment of secondary industries, owing to the beneficent operation of the tariff, will be prepared to help the outlying parts of the Commonwealth, if they, appear to be getting rather more than their fair share of the main roads grant. This is the first opportunity that I have had to support the granting of a considerable sum for the development of an outlying portion of the Commonwealth. 1 should be entirely in the clouds if I ignored the benefit that the States will receive from the scheme. My only hope is that the Government will obtain the money, not by a petrol tax, but from the same source as that which was to be set aside from the State Grants Bill. In the circumstances, I have very much pleasure in supporting the bill.
.- As I regretfully feel compelled to vote against this bill, I consider it necessary, in -a very few words, to state my position exactly. I do not wish to give a silent vote on such an important matter. In the first place, the constitutionality of the -measure is, at least, doubtful. Since the House adjourned on Friday last I have read .carefully the speech which the -honorable the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) delivered in this House on the Main Roads Development Act of 192a, :in which he stated his considered opinion that the measure was unconstitutional; -and I listened carefully to him on the 28th July, - when he gave reasons for holding that the present measure, on the other hand, is constitutional. He absolutely failed to convince me. It ‘seemed to me that he did not show any fundamental distinction between the act of 1923 and the bill now before the House. We also have it on the authority of ^eminent counsel who “have made a special study of constitutional law that the bill is unconstitutional, and I am, therefore, justified in saying that its constitutionality is, at least, doubtful. What is “the history of this scheme? First the Prime Minister gave an intimation, in his policy speech before the last election, of the intentions of the Government. He told us that the Government had formulated a scheme of national roads development, and that the intention was to call “the States together to consider the matter. He also foreshadowed that the financing of the scheme would be from funds collected from the users of the roads, on the principle that it was only fair that those who use the roads should pay for them. The next step was to convene a conference of the States, and about that conference we have heard much. It seems that the majority of those present at the conference favoured the Government’s scheme as outlined by the Minister representing the Commonwealth. The Prime Minister, in his speech last week - which I had not the pleasure of hearing, but which I have since carefully read - quoted a motion moved by Mr. Cann, one of the New South Wales Ministers, to the effect .that the conference was in favour of the Commonwealth providing £2,000,000 per annum for ten years, the money to be voted from revenue. Tho members of the conference evidently expressed themselves as favorable to a national scheme as outlined on the understanding that it would be financed by an appropriation from the general revenue of the Commonwealth. The Prime Minister was then under the impression that the States concerned would ratify the agreement, as they evidently undertook to submit it to their respective Parlia-ments with a view to ratification. The next fact that concerns us is that three of the six States renounced the agreement. From my point of view, it is quite immaterial whether the States which have repudiated the agreement have gone back on their word or not; and the reason for their repudiation is also immaterial. The important fact is that they have refused to participate in the scheme. In the course of this debate it has been suggested from several quarters that public opinion, even in those States where the governments have repudiated the agreement, is in favour of it; in other words, that the governments which have repudiated the agreement do not represent public opinion in their respective States. I submit that it is very dangerous for us to go behind any government and appeal to the people as against their government. The government of a State is, for the time being, the executive of the people of that State, and it is with the governments of the States that the Commonwealth ought, to deal, and with them only. When they take a certain attitude on a measure of this kind, we ought to assume that it is for the time being the attitude of the State concerned. This scheme, which was propounded originally as a great national scheme of road development, in which the States were prepared to co-operate, is no longer a national, but only a partial, scheme of development. It is participated in by only three States, and those the less densely populated. For the Commonwealth to seek to impose its will upon the non-participating States is contrary to the Federal spirit. I maintain, and feel very strongly, that originally the people of the States refused to give the Commonwealth authority to deal with roads and bridges; that function was reserved to the States.
If the States were to co-operate sympathetically with the Commonwealth in a great national scheme of road development, it would be proper for the Com.monwealth to assist them in so far as it could; but we are seeking to force Upon the recalcitrant States our own Federal will, and that we have no right to do. “We say, in effect, to those States, that although we have no power to compel them to accept this national scheme, we can apply indirect pressure to induce them to do so. And what is the indirect pressure? It is taxation. The Commonwealth Government says to those States which are not prepared to participate in the scheme, but prefer to do their own road development, “We cannot compel you to accept our scheme, but we are going to impose upon you a tax, which we have the power to do. We are going to raise from you, a section of the people, money to finance the remainder. We shall assist those States that remain in the scheme by imposing a tax on you. If, as a result of this tax, a larger amount accrues than is required for the scheme as it at present exists, we -shall pay that money into ‘a fund where it can accumulate until such time as you reach a better frame of mind and determine to come in and share with the others.” We have no right to do that. We have no right to seek to impose our will upon the States. We are practically taxing the people to compel them to do something which we have no right directly to compel them to do. The States that remain outside the agreement must not only raise money within their own borders to carry out their own schemes of road development, but we compel them also to contribute money to enable us to carry out our pet scheme in three other States. From my point of view that is an absolutely unconstitutional thing to do. If the quotation made by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) this afternoon correctly represents the views of the honorable the AttorneyGeneral, he evidently held at one time that unanimity of the States on a scheme of this kind was essential to constitutionality. I am asked, as a member representing a State that refuses to participate in the scheme, to’ acquiesce in the imposition of a tax, in the spending of which my State does not participate, and in which it does not believe.
– Does the honorable member believe that unanimity by the States would make this bill constitutional if it were not otherwise constitutional ?
– That would seem to be the opinion of the Attorney-General. I should say that if the States were unanimous in something that was believed to be for the benefit of the whole of the Commonwealth, and if the Commonwealth held that some of the States were necessitous, the scheme might be brought under that section of the Constitution which gives us power to devote some of our revenue to the assistance of necessitous States. But that is a totally different proposition. Let me give a valid illustration bearing upon the constitutionality of this bill. On the States entering into the federation the subject of education was reserved by the States for themselves, and the Commonwealth therefore has no power to legislate in regard to it. Suppose that the Federal Government came to the conclusion that, in the interests of the whole of the Commonwealth, we ought to have a national scheme of education. No one can dispute that an educated people is absolutely essential to the welfare and prosperity of Australia, and is of infinitely more importance than good roads. Suppose that the Federal Government, in its wisdom, said, “We want to formulate a national scheme of education, so as to ensure the effective education of every citizen of the Commonwealth.” Suppose it formulated a scheme and summoned the States to a conference to consider the matter, and that after considering it three of the States were enamoured of it but the other three said, “No; we think we ought to look after the education of our people ourselves; we do not want to participate in the scheme.” Could it then be contended that the Commonwealth Government had the power to say to the States that did not desire to participate in the scheme, “ We are determined to go on with it. We are determined to have this scheme in those States that are willing to participate, and we are going to impose a tax on the non-participating States to enable us to do so.”
– It is not a parallel.
– It seems to me to be an exact parallel, and I should like the honorable member to point out wherein it fails. Would any honorable member say that such a step on the part of the’ Federal Government would be constitutional ? The instance that I have given is on all-fours with the scheme for road development. According to the words that I quoted from Mr. Cann’s motion at the conference, I should say that evidently the members of the conference were under the impression that this scheme was to be financed from the genera] revenue of the Commonwealth.
– That is not so.
– The only meaning that I can attach to the words used by Mr. Cann is that he thought the money was to be voted from the general revenue of the Commonwealth and that there was no suggestion of the imposition of a special tax. I shall now deal with the way in which the Commonwealth proposes to finance this mutilated and socalled national scheme. The Prime Minister laid down the principle that in order to construct and reconstruct roads it was only fair that the burden should be placed on the users of roads. That is the principle as I understand it, which the Prime Minister enunciated, and by which it is sought to justify the imposition of a petrol tax. First of all we were told that the tax would be imposed on tires, chassis, and petrol. The tires and chassis proposition has been abandoned, and even the petrol tax has been modified, because the Prime Minister has said that he is prepared to exempt from the operation1 of the tax those who use petrol for purposes other than road usage, thereby again restricting the area of the tax to a section of people. One could hardly imagine a more unfair tax. It is certainly not true to the principle that the user of the roads should pay for them. Let me take a simple illustration. I am the unfortunate owner of an orchard abutting on a road that would be a Federal aid road in the event of the passage of the bill. I have a neighbour whose property also abuts on this road. He has a butcher’s shop in the township, 3 or 4 miles away. He does his slaughtering on his property adjoining mine, and he uses a motor lorry to convey his goods to the township. On the other hand, instead of a motor I use a buggy and a two-horse lorry. Now suppose I discuss with my neighbour this splendid scheme of road development, expatiate on its national character, and say that it is in (he interests of the people of the Commonwealth that this road should be kept in excellent repair. He, in turn, says to me, “ That is all very well; it is a splendid scheme, I admit, but where do you come in ? I use a motor, and I am taxed to keep this road in repair ; you are using the road equally with me, but because you use a horse-drawn lorry, instead of a motordriven lorry, you go scot free.” He has to pay municipal taxation, as I do, and, in addition, pay this tax, which is imposed on the principle that the road user should pay for it. The tax. does not act equitably.
– The Prime Minister afterwards abandoned the principle of the road user paying; he said that the oil companies would pay the tax.
– 1 read carefully and with interest the splendid speech delivered by the Prime Minister last Tuesday night. It was excellent from some points of view, but it did not meet the difficulty, nor my objections to the bill. .What answer is it to say that the tax of 2d. per gallon on petrol imposed by the Federal Parliament will not be paid by the road user? In effect, the Commonwealth Government comes to me and my neighbour, as users of the road that I have referred to, and says, “You need not discuss this matter, because the oil company that supplies the motor user with petrol is going to pay the tax.” That is a complete change of ground. I sympathize with all my heart with the Prime Minister’s philippic against the iniquities of the great trusts that bleed the people, and I, for one, would do everything in my power to curtail their operations and to bring them within reasonable limits. It would have been a different matter had the Prime Minister come forward with his national road scheme find said, “Here is our chance to make these rich oil trusts pay; they are making exorbitant profits, and we will impose a tax that will compel them to make our roads and thus put to good use part of their ill-gotten gains.” If the oil trusts are to pay the tax, well and good, but there is no guarantee that they will. I do not believe that the oil companies will pay the tax. It is imposed primarily on the motor user of roads, and, being confined to a practically small section of the people, is therefore absolutely inequitable. A great deal has been said about the need for good roads, and we all agree that, in the interests of the whole of the Commonwealth, we should develop our roads system; but the question is how best to do it. The Prime Minister, after formulating his policy and placing it before the representatives of the States, who at first accepted it and, on second thoughts, changed their minds, should have at once said to them, “It is now impossible to carry out the policy that 1 outlined to the people of Australia on the eve of the last election, and on you must rest the responsibility for its rejection. The fact that you have rejected it makes it cease to be a national policy, and in no other way can we, as a Federal Government, carry out this policy, unless it he national in character. The Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page), in his interesting speech on Friday last, did not touch upon the real crux of the question. He wound up his remarks by saying, “ The duty of the Government is plain, and its course is clear.” Because I consider that the principle of this bill is vital, I say likewise, “ My duty as a representative of the people is plain, and my course is clear.” My duty is to do everything within my power to prevent the passage of this bill, and my course is to vote against it, which accordingly I propose to do.
– I shall not say much respecting this measure, because it has already been exhaustively debated. Whatever merits the Government’s proposal may have had originally, when it apparently possessed the unanimous consent of the six States, the fact that three States have now rejected the scheme certainly makes it unacceptable, because the collection of taxation in States that are not to participate in the distribution of what the Government is pleased to term financial assistance, is not only legally questionable, but also distinctly immoral. Other objections have also been raised to the bill. It has been said that the proposed distribution of moneys is inequitable, and that the tax is an invasion of the sphere of the States. In view of the present position, I am surprised at the Government proceeding with the measure. Its conduct this session savours of running amok. First of all the States Grant Bill was abandoned, and now this bill has been greeted with a storm of protests and a good deal of suspicion. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) to-day suggested that the question of the constitutionality of the bill did not enter into the debate. To my mind, as was pointed out in the pregnant words of wisdom that fell from the lips of the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), the question of the constitutionality of the proposal is easily of paramount importance. No doubt, had the whole of the six States accepted this agreement, possibly its constitutionality would nothave been challenged ; but since three Statesare opposed to it there is every prospect of a challenge. The point has been raised whether this form of financial assistance is governed by section 96 of the Constitution. I understand that that section was included in the Constitution to provide for assistance to States in financial need. The very meaning of the word assistance implies necessity. In this instance, the Government proposes to make a voluntary grant of money, although no application for assistance has been made by the States.
– No application by whom ?
– I contend that no application has been made by the States for financial assistance within the meaning of section 96 of the Constitution. In this instance, the Commonwealth Government has taken the initiative in submitting itsproposals to the States.
– It is a case of forcible feeding.
– That is so. Section 51 of the Constitution which enumerates the powers of this Parliament, not only does not make specific reference to road construction by the Commonwealth, but expressly confers power in relation to the corollary to roads - railways. Paragraph xxxiii provides that the Commonwealth may, with the consent of the States, acquire railways; and paragraph xxxiv that it may, with the consent of the State concerned, engage in railway construction and extension within a State; Therefore, those who drafted the Constitution clearly contemplated that it would be necessary for the Commonwealth to participate in railway construction. It must be conceded that roads were a factor which came within the purview of public discussions when the Constitution was drafted, and were then almost equally as important as they are now in the development of Australia. Had it been contemplated that the Commonwealth would undertake the construction of roads, that power would have been enumerated with the other powers in section 51 of the Constitution. As has been stated, the opinion of counsel indicates that not only is the Commonwealth proposing to enter a sphere for which the Constitution does not make provision, but that there will be discrimination in the aggregate if not the individual collection, and in the distribution of the money that is raised by the new taxation. That is to say, the total of the sum that is raised in, for instance, Victoria will not be spent in this State. Section 99 of the Constitution lays it down that the Commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation of trade, commerce or revenue, give preference to one State or any part thereof over another State or any part thereof. It is a matter for argument before the High Court of Australia whether this is a form of preference. I submit that it undoubtedly is, because some States will receive financial assistance, whilst it will be declined by others.
– And some portions of States will not receive assistance, whilst others will.
– Elaborating the argument along the lines adopted by the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), the expenditure will not be equitably distributed even within States.
– What has the honorable member to say regarding the contributions that are made by the States of Queensland and Western Australia towards the expenditure on theRiver Murray Waters scheme ?
– I have no desire to enter upon a general debate. All I say on that point is that the Constitution contemplated this Parliament assisting schemes of that interstate character. In any case, the agreement in reference to the River Murray Waters scheme has been tacitly accepted by every State. In some of the States, not only is there no tacit acceptance of these road proposals, but, on the contrary, there is open rebellion against them.
– What reply has the honorable member to make to the argument that this Government was returned to give effect to these proposals ?
– It is all very well for the honorable member to claim that . the Government was elected on this issue. These proposals were not outlined in the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce).
– They were very definitely outlined.
– I challenge that statement. As I said at the commencement of my remarks, I rose more particularly to suggest that the constitutionality or otherwise of this legislation is a matter of paramount importance. I am convinced that it will be challenged. If it is, I feel sure that yet another blunder will be added to the many that this Government has committed since it returned from the polls intoxicated with political success. In these circumstances. I intend! to vote against the bill, and I hope that the majority of honorable members will see the wisdom of doing likewise.
.- It is my intention to vote against the second reading of this measure.
– Another Victorian.
– Another metropolitan representative.
– Although I very much regret that I am unable to follow the lead of the Government, I make no apology for the vote that I intend to give. I cannot adopt the suggestion that any member of this House was elected to vote for the bill in its present form. It is true that I accepted the general principles of the roads scheme outlined by the Prime Minister in his policy speech at Dandenong. Had the bill followed the lines then indicated - had it been proposed that the taxation under the measure should be on an equitable basis; had the suggested allocation of the money been fair; had it not been proposed to add to an already excessively overburdened people additional taxation to the extent of £1,500,000; had the proposal been for Australia as a whole to benefit from the scheme - I should have no trouble in deciding my attitude towards the measure. But if it had been understood at the last general election that the incidence of this taxation would be most inequitable, that the allocation of the money would be grossly unfair, that additional taxation amounting to £1,500,000 would be imposed, and that the benefits of the measure were to apply to only three States, and to only twosevenths of the total number of electors, very few people would have advocated the scheme, and the support given to it would have been small indeed.
– It is not the fault of the Government that only three States have accepted it.
– But the Government still adheres to this mangled remnant of its original measure ! I, with every honorable member, believe in having good roads ; but I cannot advocate the adoption of a standard of roads that Australia is not able to afford. The only standard which this or any other country is entitled to have is that which it can afford. I cannot understand the mentality of those who in this matter attempt to draw a parallel between Australia and the United States of America. No useful comparison can be drawn between the roads of the two countries. It is fantastic to assert that Australia can be intersected with roads equal in quality to those which form a network in the great republic of the United States of America. In our area of 3,000,000 square miles we have a scattered population of 6,000,000. On practically the same area in the United States of America there are 114,060,000 people. Our 6,000,000 people are crushed by debt and taxation to an extent that is the lot of no other 6,000,000 people in the world. The 114,000,000 people in the United States of America, on the other hand, are the lowest taxed and the wealthiest in the world to-day. The quality of our roads should be dependent upon our capacity to pay, and they will improve as our population increases and our wealth grows. Those who advocate a quality that is ahead of our general development are merely inviting economic trouble. Since my election to this Parliament, that which has most impressed me has been the disposition of the Government, backed by the House, to hand out millions of pounds as though we had all the wealth of the world behind us. We have had submitted for our approval a succession of bills, each of which has been on a- more lavish scale than its predecessor, rendering it necessary to extract additional revenue from people who are already overburdened. I believe in public expenditure for the development of Aus- tralia. But our two greatest needs in the wretched financial state to which the Great War has reduced us are, first, economy in administration, with a resultant reduction in taxation; and, secondly, expenditure upon schemes that are nearly and soundly reproductive. In the last few months I have witnessed the passage through this House of a succession of bills authorizing expenditure, none of which will be nearly reproductive, add to our production, or lead to economy. This, the culminating measure, authorizes the expenditure of £20,000,000. No peace-time measure has authorized a greater expenditure. If I speak strongly on this question of finance it is because I feel that the Commonwealth is drifting along the line of rash and irresponsible expenditure. I am frank, because I think the situation demands frankness. The- Government makes a loud boast of having reduced income taxation by 47 per cent in four years. That is a notable performance; but actually what is the net result? In that four years, apart from this petrol tax, the per capita taxation in Australia has been increased by about 3s. Had this proposal gone through in the form in which it was introduced it would have added another 5s. per head to the taxation in Australia. Only a very remarkable scheme could justify such a considerable increase. I cannot find in this measure sufficient merit to warrant it. We have been repeatedly asked, “ What, after all, is 2d. per gallon on petrol ? Why make such a fuss about a trifle?” That is the irresponsible talk of the intoxicated spendthrift. In the case of the individual it always marks the direct track to the bankruptcy court. If a tax of 2d. per gallon on petrol is such an unsubstantial thing, wily not carry this good business further and impose additional charges of pennies and twopences in respect of postage stamps, telephone calls, and telegrams ? Why stop at an additional charge of 2d. per gallon on petrol to enable us to construct macadamized roads, or concrete roads, as suggested by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) ? Why not impose additional charges of pennies and twopences on the other things I have mentioned; and why stop at concrete roads ? Why not go in for rubber roads, with jewelled milestones ? I say that it is the piling up of these twopences in this happy-go-lucky method of taxation that has placed us in the luckless financial position in which we find ourselves to-day, that despite the fact that the war has been over for eight years, our taxation and debt are still rapidly mounting. If there is one old fairy tale in politics that one might have hoped had been buried, it is that the foreigner- can be made to pay our Customs duties. If there is one substantial argument which can be used in regard to the new petrol duty, it is that, the oil companies will have to pay it. The importers have never paid any import tax, and they never will. It is the consumer who always pays such taxation, and the consumer, and no one else, will pay this tax. If the tax is passed, and it happens that the price of petrol does not go up 2d. per gallon, it must be that, but for the tax, the price of petrol would go down 2d. per gallon. Then there is to be considered the incidence of the proposed tax, and the allocation of the revenue to be derived from it. I subscribe entirely to the belief that one of the greatest needs of to-day is that the residents of the cities should be encouraged to develop a deeper consciousness of their obligations to the countryside.
– The honorable member is not helping in that direction.
– This bill will not help in that direction. There should be developed a deeper consciousness of what we who live in the cities owe to those who live on the land. This measure is not calculated to bring about a better relationship between town and country. Under the Government’s proposal, 70 or 80 per cent, of the petrol tax will be raised in the metropolitan areas that will derive no direct local benefit from the Government’s road policy. This is making it too strong against metropolitan dwellers, and instead of improving the relations between the country and the towns, it? effect will be rather to antagonize town dwellers against those of the countryside, and so defeat the very object which the Government professes to have in view. My honorable friends in the Country party corner break into laughter when I express sympathy with the people on the land; but I should be false to my supporters if I represented a country constituency in this House and, as have Country party
Ministers, agreed to the imposition of taxation on petrol used in all kinds of farming machines. This is an extraordinary proposal to have come from the champions of rural interests. I am glad to learn that it is suggested that users of petrol other than road users, will be entitled to some rebate or exemption from the proposed tax; but if, as the Prime Minister says, the oil companies are going to pay this tax, I should like to know why there ia any sort of necessity for giving a rebate of the tax to farmers, fishermen, and other people who use petrol for purposes apart from motoring. If, as we are promised, the oil companies will pay the tax under this scheme, it surely becomes entirely unnecessary to make rebates to petrol users who do not use the roads. Another point to be considered in the incidence of the - tax is that it is proposed to exempt from it those who use Commonwealth Oil Refineries petrol. It has been again and again denied that this is a protective duty. Why, then, should those motorists who use annually 6,500,000 gallons of Commonwealth Oil Refineries petrol to run over the. roads be exempt from this special taxation? Why should a motor bus company, with a dozen motors on the road between here and Geelong, using Commonwealth Oil Refineries petrol and knocking the roads to pieces, contribute, nothing to this special taxation, while at the same time an unfortunate little grocer or trader in Brunswick or Northcote is to be heavily taxed for every mile he covers, if he uses any petrol other than that which is supplied by the Commonwealth Oil Refineries? If this is not a protective tax, it should in justice apply to all petrol. Even as a
Victorian I protest in equity against the special exemption from the tax of Commonwealth Oil Refineries petrol, although all, or nearly all of it is used in this State. Before I conclude I should like to say a few words on the fact that three States - New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia - possessing some five-sevenths of the total population of Australia have at this stage re used to have anything further to do with the Government’s scheme. I can scarcely believe, even now, that in view of the defection of these States, the Government intends to persevere with this measure.
I am unable to understand why the Government, if it is really going on with the scheme, and believes that the three States to which I have referred can be compelled by force of public opinion to come into the scheme, has dropped the proposed duties on chassis .and tires. As I understand, the amount required to carry out the road construction scheme in the contributing States of “Western Australia, Queensland, and . Tasmania, is about £850,000 per annum. The revenue expected from the tax on petrol alone is about the same amount. In addition, there is a sum of £500,000 which is to be contributed out of the general revenue to the carrying out of the scheme. As the scheme stands to-day, there is to be raised £500,Q»)0 more than is required in the three States that will participate in the proposed grant, and by dropping the tire and chassis taxes, an insufficient amount will be derived to give effect to the scheme in the other States, should they come in. I wish to make myself perfectly clear in this matter. I should vote against the bill if for no other reason than that these three States have failed to ratify the agreement. I cannot believe that the Government will long persist under its scheme in. taxing the petrol of motor users in Victoria against the expressed determination of the Victorian Government not to take any part in the scheme. What is to be done with the money if it is raised for roads, and not applied to roads? Will the Government have power to allocate it for any other purpose? I do not think the. Government will have the temerity to spend in the other States the whole of the revenue derived in Victoria and New South ‘ Wales from the petrol tax. As a Victorian, I do not at all mind being charged with being a Statesrighter, because there are such things as States rights under the Federal Constitution, and I am not ashamed to stand up for them. Even if, under the earlier scheme, the Victorian Government had subscribed to the proposal, I should not have been content that within ten years £2,000,000 should be taken from the taxpayers of Victoria and spent in any of the other States. Since the war the taxpayers of Victoria by the exercise of a good deal of self-denial, have made a sincere effort to carry on economically, and, as a Victorian and a member of this House, I deny altogether the justice of taking some of the money derived from Victorian taxpayers and passing it over to a State which has been living as Queensland has been living. I say that without any apology whatever.
– What about the River Murray Waters Scheme? Does not Victoria benefit from that?
– Honorable members have referred to reciprocal payments between the States, and I say that the conscience of Victorians is quite clear as far ‘ as the northern State is concerned.
– Queensland will ask us to-morrow to pay a cotton bounty.
– Yes, a cotton bounty of £900,000; and yet we are asked what we have done for Queensland. My final word is this : I do deplore, and I am sure the whole House would deplore, anything in the nature of a conflict between the Commonwealth and State Governments. It would be sheer tragedy for us to get into conflict with the governments of any of the States, if such a conflict could possibly be avoided. There is no doubt that the trouble that has developed over the Federal Aid Roads Bill is largely due to other well-known Government proposals of a financial character which were recently submitted to this House. This is the first retaliatory kick of the States against those financial proposals. Out of war with the States no good can come for the Government, this Parliament, or Australia. As showing the undesirability of quarrels with the States, we have only to reflect upon all those measures which have gone- through this House, and are being passed this session, whose success or failure depends upon harmony between the Commonwealth and State Governments. There have been some relatively small bills for the payment of bounties, for oil and metal prospecting, and some very important bills, such as the Development and Migration Bill and the Science and Industry Bill, and the success of all those measures must depend upon the maximum amount of goodwill between the Commonwealth and State Governments. Therefore I deprecate the passage of this bill at this stage, because it will go a long way towards making trouble between the
Commonwealth Government and the Governments of the States. On that and other grounds I have mentioned I shall vote against the second reading of the bill.
.- From the remarks of many honorable members, particularly those who sit on the Government side, one would think that by the waving of some magic wand we could have good roads brought down from the clouds. Every one wants good roads, but some people would like to get them for nothing. We have heard honorable members on the other side of the Chamber discussing the constitutionality of the Government’s proposals. These honorable gentlemen knew full well that in his policy speech the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) promised to give the States £20,000,000 for roads, yet not one of them on the hustings took exception to that particular proposal. In the circumstances, therefore, they are rather late in raising the cry of unconstitutionality. The time for them to protest and obtain the opinion of their electors was when they were seeking election. If they could not endorse a part of the policy speech they should have told their electors so.
– They were not game to do so.
– How does the honorable member know?
– The honorable member for Wannon did not raise any objection to the roads grant.
– I qualified my support of the Government’s financial proposals.
– We are now talking of the roads grant. Not a single Government supporter had a word to say against the proposal of the Prime Minister to make a grant of £20,000,000 to the States for road construction. Some honorable members say that Australia should no,t take cognizance of what is done in the United States of America. My chief complaint against the Australia Constitution is that it follows too slavishly the Constitution of the United States of America, which at the time of the formation of the Commonwealth was about 115 years old. But we can have no better example than America in the matter of a Federal Government granting assistance to State
Governments. In 1916, the United States Government passed a bill to enable assistance to be given to the States for ‘ making roads, and from 1916 to 1926 $690,000,000 has been voted from the Federal Exchequer to assist the State Governments to carry out this work. The right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) quoted only a portion of President Coolidge’s message to Congress.
– The part that suited him.
– I do not go so far as to say that the right honorable member quoted only that part of the message that suited his case, but T propose to quote another paragraph preceding that which he quoted. It reads as follows: -
Since the inauguration of the present plan of Federal aid for road construction, the States have changed their methods of financing their portion of the expenses. A large majority of the States now exact a gasoline tax, thereby distributing the cost of road construction and maintenance to those who benefit by their use. The construction of roads within a State is purely a State matter, and ultimately should be financed by State funds. Without further legislative enactment the States would carry on their construction to an amount which they can afford to spend on it. But the National Government is committed to the policy of assisting in the building of good roads. Commitments have been made both by the States and the nation in this direction. It is necessary to continue them for the present.
The paragraph read by the right honorable member for Balaclava was as follows : -
I do, however, recommend for the consideration of the congress that future legislation restrict the Government’s participation in State road construction to primary or interstate highways, leaving it to the States to finance their secondary or intercountry highways. This would operate to diminish the amount of Federal contribution.
Despite these words, President Coolidge recommended to Congress for the financial year, 1926-27, a bigger vote than ever from the national Parliament to assist the States, and the great bulk of the expenditure was for road construction. It is now six months since that message was sent to Congress, but I regret that there are no records available in our Library to enable me to ascertain what action was taken by Congress. I am inclined to think that Congress is constituted very much like the Australian Parliament - that being wedded to a policy for the construction and development of good country roads, it would no doubt pay as little regard to this message as it has paid to many of his other messages. Except for the hint in the President’s message, -we have no information that Congress has any intention of decreasing its grants to the States for road construction. Some honorable members in the Chamber are complaining that money raised in Victoria will be spent in other States, but that is not an innovation. It has been done before, and no objection has been taken. It will be done again. It is also dene in America. According to the World Almanac for 1925, only $3,663,105 was allocated from the Federal grant for road construction in the populous State of New York, against §4,410,169 for Texas, whose population does not nearly approach that of New York. Quite evidently the amount of revenue contributed by the various States is not taken as the basis of distribution. A great many people in Australia declare that a national Parliament should not dabble in roads and bridges affairs. In the past no one could say anything more disrespectful of a politician than that he was a roads and bridges member. To my mind the development of arterial roads is a national policy. No doubt our railways have developed Australia wonderfully, but the great cry in our country districts is : “ Give us good roads.” Transport has been revolutionized. During the last ten years the national government in America has found it necesary to spend $690,000,000 to assist .the States in making roads. As a matter of fact, the Federal Government’s contribution towards the expenditure on roads is nearly half.
– Is the Federal Government’s contribution derived from general revenue ?
– I have not studied the source from which the money is obtained, but as President Coolidge in his message refers to the fact that the States have adopted a tax on gasoline, the honorable member is probably correct in assuming that the contribution of the Federal Government comes from general revenue.
– It would be more equitable to make the road users pay.
– That is a debatable point. Many people are very dubious about the equity of the Government’s proposals in that regard. Many people say, like the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), that the importer always passes on the tax. However, later on we shall have an opportunity to discuss the proposed taxation. The World Almanac summarizes the position in the United States of America as follows : -
In the seven years ending the 30th June, 1923, the sum of $407,704,641 was spent in building 23,297 miles of roads in this country, of which the Federal Government contributed $174,044,674. New roads built under way or approved, in the year ending the 30th June, 1924, total 26,491 miles, at an estimated cost of $505,626,454, of which the Federal Government pays $227,311,475. The Federal Aid Highway system, provided hy the Act of 1921, consists of, approximately, 170,000 miles of road, and has been designated by the States and approved by the Federal Government. At the beginning of 1924 it was estimated that 60,000 miles of the system had been surfaced, about 8,700 miles graded, leaving 110,000 to be surfaced. Some of this work had beer done by the States independent of Federal aid. The $75,000,000 appropriated by Congress to the States as aid in road-building in the year ended the 30th June, 1925, was divided as follows: -
The quotation then proceeds to enumerate 50 -different participants, including the distant possessions of Hawaii and Alaska.
– In respect of roads through Crown lands, the Federal authority provides the whole of the cost.
– I am not aware of (hat, but in no instance is the expenditure upon a population basis. In 1925, Texas, which has a very much smaller population than the State of New York, received the biggest vote, namely, $4,500,000. The Commonwealth proposals follow very closely on the lines adopted by the Federal authorities” in the United States of America. I call the attention of honorable members to the statement that the American highways upon which the expenditure is incurred are “ designated by the States and approved by the Federal
Government.” Practically the same policy is followed in Australia. Victoria controls the selection of the roads to be constructed, subject merely to’ the approval of the Federal Minister for Works and Railways, but the actual construction work is handed over to the Country Roads
Board, which, in turn delegates it to the shire councils. Thus, the final control of this expenditure lies with the State and its instrumentalities. The Commonwealth Government will not call for tenders for the construction of 1 inch of roads. It will merely grant money to the States, which will carry out the actual work with the aid of their own authorities. According to President Coolidge’s message to Congress, the United States Government has budgeted to expend more money upon the States in the current financial year than in any previous year. From £16,000,000 to £20,000,000 is voted annually by Congress as grants in aid to the States.
We have heard a good deal of protest against the duty of 2d. per gallon on petrol. Recently I was supported by honorable members on both sides of the House when I protested against the importation of petrol pumps and an unwarranted increase in the price of petrol by 2d. per gallon. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) referred to-night to the Federal Parliament as a great taxing machine, but its activities in that direction are insignificant in comparison with what is done by the big combines in Australia. Recently, without previous warning,the Australian managers of the two oil trusts met in. solemn conclave, and, although professing to be bitter rivals in business, agreed to impose a tax of 2d. per gallon on all petrol users in Australia. In other words, two private business managers were able to tax petrol consumers to the extent of £1,000,000 per animm - exactly the amount which the Federal Parliament hopes to . collect from the importers of petrol.
– And very little fuss was made about it; the people had simply to pay.
– Yes; they had no representation at the meeting at which the tax was imposed, and they could make no protest. I am glad that the two oil combines made that mistake, and I believe that if they could retrace their steps they would not repeat it. They placed the Commonwealth Oil Refinery on its feet; to-day the company cannot supply the demand for the spirit it produces, and that spirit isused by some of the shrewdest business people in Australia, including the Yellow Cab Company. We are warned that the Vacuum Oil Company and the British Imperial Oil Company will pass the petrol duty on to the consumer. They may; but if the speech of the Prime Minister last week means anything, it means that he will fight these combines to the bitter end. If he falls down on the job he and his supporters will cut a sorry figure. The fight has been commenced, and no half measures will suffice. These trusts are seeking to impose their terms on the national Parliament and the people of Australia, and if they increase the price of petrol by 2d. per gallon it will be the duty of the Government to establish other refineries in Australia, and, if necessary, import large quantities of refined spirit. That can be done. Many people tremble with fear that, if we offend the Vacuum Oil Company and the British Imperial Oil Company, they will cut off our supplies of petrol. We need not fear that. I am informed on the best authority that if they resorted to such tactics Australia could promptly be supplied from other sources with all the petrol it requires. I am glad that the Prime Minister spoke as he did last week, and I hope that he will not stop at mere words. The Labour party has been preaching the same doctrine for years; but it aims at, not only the oil monopolies, but all trusts and combines that batten upon the Australian people. I notice that in its leading article to-day the Argus rails against the Government on account of its roads policy, and that, to my mind, is one indication that the Government is on the right track. Often in reading the news columns of a journal one gets a view that is very different from that expressed in the leading article. The following extract from the commercial column of the Argus indicates the immense profits that are made by the Shell Transport and Trading Company: -
For the year 1925 the Shell Transport and Trading Company earned trading profits amount in to £4,859,970, which compares with the previous return of £4,858,594. Deducting certain expenses, net earnings aggregated £4,818,355, or slightly higher than in 1924. The balance available was £5,049,979, and the ordinary dividend free of income tax was at the rate of 22½ per cent. The company has increased its holdings in subsidiary concerns by £426,654,and the total now amounts to £23,929,707. The company’s investments in gilt-edge securities appears at £7,452,311. The reserve is £5,000,000, and the surplus of current assets over current liabilities is £12,0/2,013. If cash be added to gilt-edged investments a total of £8,000.000 is provided. The report of the Royal Dutch Petroleum. Company, the associate of the Shell Company, for the same term shows a net profit for 1925 of nearly £S,000,000, a substantially larger sum than in the previous year. The increase in profits is 7.4 per cent., and the dividend on the ordinary shares is at the former rate of 23 per cent. The progress of the- Royal Dutch Shell group is shown by the report to have been well maintained. Refineries have beer extended and equipped with the latest processes. The carrying capacity of the tanker fleet is now 1,600,000 ‘tons. Production of oil in the Dutch Bast Indies field has been reduced, and in the United States and Venezuela it has been increased. The larger output in the last field is one of the satisfactory features of the report of the company.
That statement covers only two of the companies included in the Shell group; I do not know how many more there are, but I should- like to know what were the total profits of all the allied companies. I contend that the oil companies were not justified in increasing the price of petrol by 2d. per gallon recently, and they will not be justified in passing on the new duty. If they do that, I expect the Government to fight them to the bitter end. Some of us were opposed to the Commonwealth Government entering into partnership with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, because we feared that it might become just as dangerous a combine as the Shell and Standard Oil groups, but later developments have thrown a new light on that agreement, and although the Anglo-Persian Oil Company may in some respects co-operate with the other big companies, I believe that the fact that the British Government has a half-interest in the main company, and the Commonwealth has a half share in the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, is some assurance to the Australian consumer. At any rate, the Commonwealth has its own directors on the board of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, and if they do not do their duty to the people they should be removed and others appointed in their stead. The petrol importing companies are making such huge profits that there is no reason why they should pass on the new duty. They may attempt to do so, but the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited are well informed in regard to oil movements throughout the world, and, with their advice, the Commonwealth should be able to counter any move made by the trusts. I intend to support the bill although its constitutionality may, as the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) said, be tested in the High Court. The Supreme Court of the United States of America interprets the Constitution of that country as does the High Court our Constitution. It has been said that Chief Justice Marshall, of the United States of America, was once asked to give a constitutional decision (which would in effect have shattered the Constitution. He felt, however, that he should give a decision in favour of the nation, which he did, and that principle, I believe, has been followed in other countries. Some may say that the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States of America are more of a political than of a legal nature, but Professor Channing once said that the decisions of that court are generally in favour of the people. I suppose the High Court of Australia, to a large extent, adopts the same methods. In one case the original High Court of Australia gave a certain decision in regard to State instrumentalities, but that decision was subsequently reversed by the present High Court, whose decision was more . in consonance with the aspirations of the people. In conclusion I desire to say that in this case as in relation to other construction works the Government should have a continuous policy. This Parliament cannot, of course, bind succeeding Parliaments; for instance, a Government of which I was a supporter repealed a Naval Li.an Act passed by its predecessors. A continuous policy in regard to road and railway construction and other public works should however be adopted in order to avoid waste of money and delay. If I were a member of a State Government I should not be concerned if the passage of such measures as this reduced the status of the. States. I say, unhesitatingly, that the State Parliaments should be put in their proper place, and the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament should be extended in such a way that works of national im- portance could be proceeded with uninterruptedly in the interests of the whole Commonwealth. Notwithstanding the. decisions reached by some of the State Governments, I believe that in the end they will all take advantage of this proposal. The Premier of Victoria, Mr. Allan, has displayed great weakness. In the first place, he said that his Government would accept the scheme, and then, when a little political turmoil arose in the House, he turned it down. If such men fall down on their jobs they deserve to be left by the wayside. I intend to support the bill, and hope that, as the result of its passage, we shall have a permanent continuous and progressive system of road construction that well ensure Australia’s development and generally be in the interests of the whole of the p people.
.- I do not propose to discuss the constitutional aspect of this matter beyond saying that, as the Attorney-General has definitely stated that this measure is within the constitutional powers of this Parliament, we are justified in supporting it. It is true that a leading King’s Counsel in Melbourne has expressed a different opinion, but he added that it was extremely probable that the High Court would disagree with the view he had expressed.
– Is the honorable member referring to the opinion given to the State Government?
– That opinion was not given by a King’s Counsel.
– That is what appeared in the newspapers. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) stated that. the Attorney-General had expressed two opinions, but that is extremely improbable. I do not suggest that the honorable member for Wakefield wished to convey a wrong impression - he merely repeated a statement which appeared in one of the newspapers - but it is most unlikely that the Attorney-General, who has a duty to perform to this Parliament, should express one opinion within the’ House and a contrary opinion outside. I am satisfied with the legal opinion of the Attorney-General, as expressed in this House, but the constitutionality of the bill may eventu ally have to be tested before the High Court. I have heard honorable members who are privileged to live in the metropolitan area, speak of the necessity for good roads, and I have wondered if they have ever been delayed for even half an hour, because they could not cross a stream. People in the electorate which I represent are sometimes held up for two weeks, or even more, owing to the state of a watercourse. In the Kennedy electorate, which consists of about 300,000 square miles - it is nearly three and a half times the size of Victoria - I know of only three bridges. As a representative of a country constituency, I recognize the urgent necessity of improving our means of transport in the country. It is true there was a time in Australia when we desired roads that were good enough for only bullock drays, but those days have passed. With motor transport and internal combustion engines, the need for improved roads is imperative. In the sparsely settled portions of Queensland, and, of course, in the other States, the local authorities carry on the work of road construction and maintenance to the best of their ability, but in those areas, there are comparatively few taxpayers, the holdings are large, and they are not particularly productive. In many cases the land-holders are very heavily taxed, and with the limited funds available an attempt is made to keep the roads open for traffic so that vehicles can at least bump over them. There are, however, occasions when rivers and small watercourses render progress impossible. In the electorate of Kennedy, as I have said, I know of only three bridges, and the people there would not think of asking for concrete roads 20 feet wide, as has been suggested. We should be content for some time to come with the roads the shire councils provide, if we could have bridges and culverts. When the streams and rivers are not running, the beds are covered with sand, and it is a common occurrence for cars to be held up for days at a time; but if bridges or culverts were constructed, these difficulties would be overcome. The necessity for improved transport has been stressed by honorable members. In this connexion I should like to place before the House some figures showing the im- portance to Australia of primary production. The values of our primary exports for 1924-25 were as follows: -
Every ton of that produce has been carried over roads, some of which are very poor, or over tracks that would absolutely appal persons living in the metropolitan areas. The total value of our manufactures exported in the same period amounted to £4,109,478, nearly 30 per cent, of which represents primary products which have been worked up, and which must be added to the total primary production of £154,343,601. Taking the total value of our manufactures, we find that the value of the Taw material used in them is £197,038,726, and the value added by manufacture £141,242,417. or a total of £338,281,143. Over £197,000,000 worth of this represented raw material, mostly produced in Australia - again primary production. Manufacture itself is rendered possible under our economic system, by a high protective tariff. In the more sparsely populated portions of the State, we pay’ heavily under, but do not protest against, this policy -f protection, as we recognize that Australia must develop its secondary industries, but we have also to remember that every article used in primary production is rendered more expensive by the high protective tariff, which establishes industries and makes the cities of Victoria and New South Wales more prosperous. We do not protest against that prosperity; but we hope that the people of the city areas will exhibit the same spirit of generosity towards us, and not forget that . it is through us that they are able to carry on their industries in such happy, easy and comfortable circumstances. We trust that they will recognize that it is now their turn to shoulder a part of our burden, and try to help us. Every motor cai that is running on the roads, and every gallon of petrol that is used represents some profit for people who live in the cities. The motor importing companies carry on their business in the cities, and not in the country. They have a measure of profit, and so also have the distributors of the cars. All this is paid in the last resource by the primary producer, who must sell his products in the markets of the world without the benefit of a high protective tariff. I heard the Prime Minister deliver his policy speech in the Exhibition Hall, Brisbane, and he made it quite clear that the Government proposed to spend £20,000,000 over -a period of ten years on a comprehensive roads policy. He said that that amount would be subsidized by the States, and that the Commonwealth portion of it would be raised from motor users. I came to this House as a supporter of that policy, and I intend to support it. It’ is difficult for me to understand how some honorable members on this side of the Chamber who on the hustings supported the Prime Minister’s declaration of policy in this respect, find now, after a’ few short months, that they can support it no longer. The Government’s road policy was a cardinal plank in its platform. I understood the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) to say that the Commonwealth Government had for many years been assisting the State Governments to make roads, and I know for the last two years the States have, without exception, accepted Commonwealth aid in road construction. The policy enunciated by the Prime Minister was generally acceptable to and welcomed by the people as a recognition of the principle that Australia does not consist of two or three capital cities, and that country development is essential to our national well-being. Somewhat slighting references have been made to the “ poverty “ of Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland; but it should not be forgotten that prior to federation these States were not poor. Our high protective policy has hurt their primary industries, and they have no secondary industries that need the support of our protective tariff. People in New South Wales and Victoria should not forget that it is the primary producing States that have enabled them to build up their secondary industries. Federation has been wonderfully good to New South Wales and Victoria, which have benefited by the sacrifices of those who have born( the heat and burden of the day in remote places. The people out back have carried their full measure of taxation, £1 for £1, with the people in the cities, have enabled our manufacturers to make good, and have not complained. In these circumstances there should be no objection to a little of the money that is raised in these flourishing centres being spent to assist the people out back. I supported the policy of the Prime Minister in my election campaign, and I did not hear one voice raised against it. The division of Kennedy is now suffering from a drought of almost unprecedented severity, and motors are being used there more than ever before, for the pastoralists are obliged to carry water as well as food to their starving stock, and,, therefore, petrol consumption is abnormally high. If the proposed petrol tax is agreed to, I trust that the Government will find it possible to make some provision to meet their case. They are facing ruin,, and it would be a calamity to them if this additional burden were placed upon their shoulders. They have no desire to avoid their fair measure of taxation in normal times, and are prepared to assume their full burden of citizenship, but it would be harsh to expect them to pay this tax under present circumstances. After the road policy of the Government had been ratified by the people at the polls, a conference of representatives of the six States was held to consider the matter. It is quite obvious that the Prime Minister could not have told the conference in express terms that the necessary revenue would be raised by a tax of so much on this item and so much on that. He could only indicate, as he did in October last, that it would be raised by taxing motor users. And, after all, it is just that motor users should pay it. I know it is quite easy to argue that it is inequitable to levy a tax on one class of the community and to spend the money on another class, but that practice has been followed ever since the consummation of federation. The primary producers have been heavily taxed in order to benefit the manufacturers in Melbourne and Sydney, and no considerable protest has been raised against it ; but now that the shoe is being put on the other foot, there is an outcry. I cannot see any difference in the principle, however; one tax is, to my mind, just as fair as the other. It is necessary that our secondary industries should be protected until they become self-supporting; but it is also essential that our primary producers should be given some measure of assistance in marketing their produce, and, unless they get it, the country will stagnate. In these circumstances I intend to support the bill. At the same time I recognize that a petrol tax would be a severe burden on pastoralists ‘who are working hard to carry water and food to starving stock, and who, after all, are not using the public highways so much as they are using their own runs. I hope that the Government will give some special consideration to their case.
.- It is not my intention to deal with the constitutional aspect of this measure. As a layman, since entering this chamber, I have been content o leave tq the members of the legal fraternity who grace it with their presence the threshing out of constitutional questions, and have come to the conclusion that there is on their part perfect unanimity only in their disagreement. I am satisfied to pin my faith to the statement made by the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) that the bill is constitutional and that we can deal with it on the assurance that. the High Court will in all probability uphold the posi- tion taken up by the Commonwealth Government. I, therefore, have no difficulty in supporting it. During my election campaign I spoke strongly on this plank of the Ministerial platform, and whilst I was at. listing my friend, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Perkins) in his campaign, I dealt with the subject at Mossvale. On that occasion I was asked by interjection if I could state the probable source from which the revenue required under the Commonwealth roads construction policy would be raised, and I had no hesitation in saying that, as indicated by the Prime Minister, it would be raised by a tax on petrol. I am at a loss now to understand how honorable members on this side of the House can justify their opposition to it. It was a pleasant surprise to me to hear the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) speak as he did this evening. He may be regarded as one of the practical men of the- House, a man who knows his own mind, and is never at a loss to express it. It is pleasing to contrast his speech with the utterances of those honorable members on this side who may be described as “ wobblers “ on this issue. They were quite content, during the election campaign, to live in the reflected light of the Prime Minister’s policy, but they get cold-footed whenever an actual test of their loyalty is required of them. I was much interested in the speech of the honorable member forWimmera (Mr. Stewart). It was almost agonizing to hear the honorable member, with tears in his voice, practically weeping for the fuel corporations as he read an extract from a letter written by Mr. Wagstaff, who, as every one knows is compelled, as general manager of the British Imperial Oil Company, to adopt a policy of vilification of the Government. It is a great pity that Mr. Wagstaff, when he wrote his epistolary effusion to the press, did not explain the extraordinary attitude adopted by his company towards Mr. Cobham. Nor did he mention that 60 per cent. of the shareholders of his company are Dutch and that 60 per cent. of the profits wrung by it from Australians go to Holland, so that it cannot be said to be entirely devoted to the development of either our secondary or primary industries. We should try at least to be fair to those who undoubtedly give an indication that they have at heart the welfare and economic independence of Australia in regard to liquid fuel. This proposal is more than a petrol tax. This super tax, as it has been malignantly called, is also a protective duty inasmuch as it will be equivalent to a bounty of 2d. a gallon on the production of fuel from those raw products which we are now exploiting, and which we hope will one day make us independent of outside supplies of liquid fuel:
– Now we are getting it.
– And the honorable member deserves to get it.
– So this is protection.
– The tax will have a protective incidence.
– But the Prime Minister said it was not imposed as a protective duty.
– The right honorable gentleman did not say that.
– Yes, he did.
– It is imposed primarily to raise funds for road construction purposes, but it is also protective in its incidence. Already we have voted a comparatively large sum for the development of the shale oil industry which, despite the fact that there are large deposits in Tasmania and in Newnes, New South Wales, has been languishing for many years. Only recently, as honorable members know, another enormous deposit, even larger than that at Newnes, has been located at Grafton. This extra tax of 2d. a gallon of petrol will, it is anticipated, assist in the development of that industry. It should also assist materially in the development of the production of power alcohol from our vegetable products, including sugar cane and, as the honorable member for Batman suggests, by way of interjection, the prickly pear. I make no apology for that, because scientific research has shown that we are rapidly coming within reasonable distance of the exhaustion of the world’s petrol supplies. American authorities estimate that 40 per cent. of the flow oil supplies of the world have been extracted, so that if internal-combustion engines are to play the part expected of them in the development of our national life we shall have to look elsewhere for an adequate supply of the raw material for the production of liquid fuel. For this and other reasons, I join with other honorable members who are supporting this measure. One would think, from the references made to it, that it had been introduced as a private bill, and that the Prime Minister was bludgeoning it through Parliament. Nothing could be further from the truth. The bill had its genesis in a conference, at which all the States were represented. The proposal was agreed to by the States and then repudiated by some, for the reason, apparently, that the method by which the necessary revenue would be obtained had not been clearly indicated. As far as New South Wales is concerned, we can almost expect that under the present regime that State will be opposed to Commonwealth schemes. Mr. Lang, it will be remembered, withdrew from the Loan Council. Was that action in the interests of New South Wales? I venture to say that no honorable member will have the temerity to suggest that Mr. Lang’s withdrawal from the Loan Council was a credit to his Government, or that his action benefited New South Wales. In South Australia the proposal was accepted by the Government, and then, for some obscure reason best known to Mr. Gunn, that State withdrew its support from the proposal. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) says that the measure is unconstitutional so long as one State stands out. Should the three who are honouring the agreement be penalized because of the vacillations of the others ? That is an equitable basis on which’ to apply the principle of constitutionality as argued by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell). He is a learned and able counsel, and I was surprised to hear him, when offering an apology for his attitude, state that after the methods of taxation had been made clear to the conference, the representatives of the States withdrew; and he concluded by saying that as the Premiers had failed- to ratify the agreement, the Prime Minister should jettison a bill which gives effect to a plank of the Nationalist platform at the last election. The honorable member was misguided in offering such advice, for it was a contradiction of his previous statement. The action of Victoria is to be expected. Unfortunately, the Government of this State is using criticism of this Government as a means of accounting to the people of Victoria for its stewardship. I hope that the passage of this bill will not be unduly delayed, so that those States which are willing to ratify the agreement will have the benefit of it in the immediate future.
.- I find no difficulty in justifying the vote that I intend to cast for this bill. I recently received a large number of telegrams on this subject. It is a singular fact that only from one part of my electorate have I received anything in the nature of protest against this bill, and that locality is at the end of 50 miles of the worst piece of main road I know of in Victoria. I fail to understand why the people of that district can be satisfied with their roads. Enough has been said of the necessity for good roads, and we may accept that principle without further comment. The electorate of Bendigo is perhaps more interested in good roads that any other part of Australia. The road from Melbourne to Bendigo is good as far as Sunbury; but thereafter it is bad, especially after one enters the Bendigo electorate. Beyond Woodend there are from 40 to 50 miles of as bad road as I know in Victoria. As I have to travel it weekly, I know that there are many holes in it that need filling in. . If we have hopes of the States giving us a real national road policy, we can bequeath those hopes to our grandchildren. I say “ our grandchildren,” because that is as far as the law allows us to bequeath anything; but even our grandchildren will have to wait long for it. Those who motor between Melbourne and Bendigo will be only too glad to pay 2d. per 20 miles for a decent road. Bendigo is practically the gateway to the north of Victoria and the Riverina ; so if this scheme is important to Bendigo, how much more important is it to constituencies like Wimmera? I was astounded that the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) opposed this bill. If there is a constituency that needs good roads, that constituency is Wimmera. Several persons who sent me telegrams opposing the scheme said that in their opinion there ought to be a wheel tax. That proposal is all right from a State standpoint, but those who express the opinion ought to know that the Commonwealth has no power to tax wheels. Certain objections have been raised to this scheme. The first is as to its constitutionality. I do not think I need add anything to what has been said on that aspect of it. Reference has been made to the advice which the Victorian Ministry received from a leading barrister in Melbourne, who, I notice, hedged quite a lot in the last part of his opinion. He said, in effect, that he was not sure whether his opinion was correct.
– He did not say that.
– He said that the trend of decisions of the High Court was towards constitutionality, especially in regard to action taken under section 96 of the Constitution. Mention has been made of the delicate position in which representatives of New South Wales find themselves. That, however, is for them to determine; it has nothing to do with me. But it may be said that Victorian members are in exactly the same position. I do not find that so. My State Premierwent to a conference of representatives of the States and agreed to this proposal, and the Prime Minister was quite justified in assuming that he had a majority of members of the State Parliament behind him. Having ratified the agreement at the conference, the Premier should have done his best to carry it into effect. I believe that Victoria will soon come into this scheme, because it is too good to lose. It has been said that we are invading State rights; but unless there is some co-ordinating authority, such as the Federal Parliament, a national roads policy will never be obtained.I am pleased that the Federal Parliament has taken this matter in hand, and I hope that it will go through with it to the end.It has been said that there is great objection by motorists; but, except in the one locality, which has sent me a large number of telegrams, I cannot discover any substantial opposition to the tax, not even among garage proprietors. It has been said that certain of my constituents have “ intimidated “ me. I do not think so. Any one of my constituents has a right to make his views on any matter known to me. They have not exceeded their rights; but I wish that instead of making me open so many telegrams they had sent me one telegram saying that the soandso club, of 140 members, strongly objected to the bill. That would have saved my time and theirs. I had to open every one of the telegrams, because I thought that the next one might contain something more important. I naturally wonderedwho was responsible for them, and after making inquiries I found that the secretary of the local motor club was not a local representative of an oil company, but an employee of the post office. The amount of revenue thereby brought to the department was considerable, and I suggest to the Postmaster-General (Mr. Gibson) that when he is marking out officers for promotion he should consider the claims of that individual. If the senders of those telegrams had expended a similar sura in payment of the petrol tax of 2d. a gallon, assuming that they travelled 20 miles to the gallon, they would have made a journey of 99,600 miles.
Question - That the hill be now read a second time - put. The House divided.
Majority . . 26
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
The following paper was presented: -
Post and Telegraph Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1926, Nos. 72, 91, 92, 93.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until 11 o’clock to-morrow morning.
– In moving -
That the House do now adjourn,
I desire to announce to the House the names of three of the members of the Development and Migration Commission. Mr. H. W.Gepp, the general manager of the Electrolytic Zinc Company, has been appointed chairman for a period of seven years at a salary of £5,000 per annum. Mr. C. S. Nathan, the managing director of Charles Atkins and Company, of Perth, has been appointed vice-chairman. When invited to join the commission, Mr. Nathan indicated that his personal and business arrangements precluded him from accepting a position for an extended period. He has, however, agreed to join the commission as vice-chairman for a period which at present is limited to one year. In the circumstances, he has asked that he be not paid a salary in respect of his services, but that some allowance be made to him to cover the cost of his transfer to Melbourne, and the incidental expenses which would be entailed by his living here. For the year which be has agreed to serve on the commission the Government proposes to make him an allowance of , £1,000. The third commissioner is the Hon. J. Gunn, Premier of South Australia, who has been appointed for a period of five years at a salary of £2,500 per annum. The act contemplates the appointment of four commissioners, but as yet only three have been selected. The Government anticipates being able to announce the name of the fourth commissioner at an early date.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.47 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 9 August 1926, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1926/19260809_reps_10_114/>.