12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and offered prayers.
The following paper was presented : -
North Australia - Report on Administration for year ended 30th June, 1929.
Ordered tobe printed.
– Numerous letters I have received from the PostmasterGeneral’s Department recently regarding applications for telephone services have contained the statement that even if the applicants are prepared to make good any deficiency in the revenue from such services “ the department is not in a position to provide the facilities at the present time.” I ask the Postmaster-General whether that last paragraph means that all applications for telephone facilities are to be refused)
– Owing to the financial position, the department finds it extremely difficult to grant facilities which otherwise would he provided. In the. circumstances, the only policy it can adopt is to give preference to the most important and urgent services. The amounts available from both revenue and loan are limited, and if the department were to grant all applications for new or extended services it would be obliged to exceed the funds that Parliament has voted to it. After the most urgent works have received attention others will be dealt with in the order of their importance as funds become available.
– I ask the Treasurer what amount of money will be made available by the Commonwealth Bank to assist primary producers and those operating in secondary industries to stimulate production immediately ? When will such money be available and how will the advances be made.
– The amount that will he available is unlimited, but as was indicated by the Prime Minister, advances will be made only to cover the cost of cropping additional areas, or to assist financially industries which require additions to their working capital or plant in order to take advantage of assured remunerative markets. Arrangements are nearing completion and the scheme should be in operation at an early date. The money will be made available by allowing the State rural banks and the private trading banks to draw against credits with the Commonwealth Bank.
– The Assistant Minister, Mr. Beasley, with the approval of the Prime Minister, attended a conference of the representatives of the coal-mining industry in Sydney on Monday last. I ask the honorable member whether he advised the miners to accept the compromise recommended by their leaders in November last?
– The advice I tendered to the miners was of a private character and I am not disposed to disclose it to the honorable member.
– The Prime Minister stated during the recent recess that the Government intended to give £7,000 to the miners on the northern coal-fields and their dependants. I ask the right honorable gentleman to whom the amount was handed and how it was distributed?
– At Christmas timeit is customary for people to make gifts to those in necessitous circumstances.
– Usually people give their own money.
– There was more distress on the northern coal-fields than in any other portion of the Commonwealth; and as. nearly all the people were in need and unable to make gifts to one another, the Government made available the sum of £7,000 as a Christmas offering. As to the interjection of the honorable member for Perth, those honorable members who wish to challenge the action of the Government may do so. It was actuated by good motives and owes no excuse or apology to anybody. The money was made available to the shire presidents and mayors of the district, and was distributed amongst the people who were most in need.
– Has the Treasurer read the newspaper report of a statement by Mr. Bavin that the Commonwealth Government isexperiencing financial difficulty partly owing to the fact that the customs revenue will probably be £12,000,000 less than was estimated? Is there any ground for that statement?
– The statement, if it was made, is a gross exaggeration. Customs receipts have shown a heavy decline, and I do not anticipate that my budget estimate of revenue from this source will be realized, but the deficiency will not be so great as Mr. Bavinis reported to have said.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.Can the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs inform honorable members whether arrangements have yet been completed for making a rebate of duty to those who use petrol for other than road transport?
– About three or four years ago the Bruce-Page Government made provision for a remission of duty to such petrol users, but no remission was made because it was considered by. the department to be impracticable to makeit. The Deputy Leader of the.
Opposition, when Minister for Trade and Customs, took action to have the provision removed from the tariff schedule. Asa result of further representation to this Government, the whole matter is now under consideration with a view to devising means whereby farmers and others who use petrol for machines other than road vehicles may receive a rebate.
– Will the Prime Minister inform honorable members whether any loss sustained as a result of the payment of 4s. a bushel at sidings to. farmers who are members of a compulsory wheat pool will be made good from the Consolidated Revenue, or be loaded on to the price of bread?
– Should loss be sustained after the realization of the wheat it will be made good from Consolidated Revenue on the basis of50 per cent. by the State Governments concerned, and 50 per cent. by the Commonwealth Government, Any adjustments made by the Pool Board on the sale of wheat will be quite another matter ; the Commonwealth Government will stand up to its obligations. I wish to point out, however, that even if there is some increase in the price of wheat as a result of the operations of the pool it need not involve an increase in the price of bread. If honorable members compare fluctuations in the price of wheat with the price of bread they will see that very often although the price of wheat has come down, the price of bread has not dropped.
asked the Minis ter for Works and Railways, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Works Committee on 28th October, 1922, 24th September, 1925, and 23rd May, 1927.
Mr.TULLY asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Unsold Stocks in London.
asked the Minister for Markets and Transport, upon notice -
What was the quantity of Australian wine remaining unsold in London at the 31st December, 1929?
– It is regretted that it is not possible to furnish the quantity of Australian wine remaining unsold in London at 31st December, 1929, but, for the honorable member’s information it may be stated that the quantity of such wine in bond in London at that date was 2,035,000 gallons.
Rebate for Non-road Users.
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
In view of the fact that2½d. of the 4d. duty which is being levied on the importation of petrol is to be applied to the construction and maintenance of roads, will ho make provision for a rebate of at least2½d. per gallon on petrol used in tractors and stationary engines on farms?
– The payments of such a rebate so as to ensure the money reaching the right quarter is a matter of considerable difficulty. For three years the last Government had provision in the tariff for allowing remission of duty to non-road users, but it was never made effective, and was removed from the tariff by the same Government on the grounds that it was impracticable. The matter is now being reconsidered, and any helpful suggestions that the honorable member has to make would be appreciated.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether he will consider the advisability of supplying the House with a brief report of the work of theR.S.S. Discovery?
– Yes. I will give the suggestion favorable consideration.
Supply of Moth Machines
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
How many motor car bodies wore imported into the Commonwealth by the Ford Motor Company of Australia Proprietary Limited during each month of the half-year ended 31st December,1929?
– It has long been the established custom for the Minister or the department not to furnish information which discloses the individual transactions with the Customs of any particular importer. The fairness of this attitude will be obvious to the honorable member, and it is regretted that the information sought cannot be given.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
In view of the successful method of the French Government in handling their national finances, as illustrated by the fact that the note issue of France has increased from 50,000,000,000 francs in1927 to68,000,000,000 francs in 1930, without increasing prices, thereby resulting in the disappearance of the unemployed problem and of depression in industry, will the Treasurer consider the wisdom of ascertaining to what extent the adoption in Australia of the French method will benefit the Commonwealth?
– I shall be glad to have inquiries made in regard to the methods of finance adopted by the French Government.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be given to the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews) on the ground of ill health.
Debate resumed from 14th March (vide page 187), on motion by Mr. Scullin -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- No more important proposal could be submitted to this Parliament than that contained in this bill, which is described as “ a bill for an act to alter the Constitution by conferring upon the Parliament full power to amend the Constitution “. It is really a measure to destroy the Constitution completely, as I propose to show. The Constitution is the fruit of the enthusiasm, skill and knowledge of the fathers of federation. It is the result of years of work and thought by men who had, many of them, spent long years in the public life of Australia - men who were well qualified to judge what powers should be committed to a central legislature, and what to the legislatures of the States. The Constitution distributed powers between the Commonwealth and the States - national powers to the Commonwealth and others to the States. The Constitution is more than an instrument of government administered by this Parliament, and by the Government responsible to this Parliament; it is a compact between the States - an agreement between the States themselves, and between them and the Commonwealth.
One of the most important terms of that compact is the condition that the Constitution shall not be altered except in the manner set forth in section 128. This section requires that before the Constitution can be amended an absolute majority of both Houses of the Parliament must approve of the proposed amendment. In determining the wisdom of constitutional amendments, therefore, each House has a definite responsibility of its own. It is not sufficient for either House to say that, as any particular proposal is merely a proposal for a referendum, it may be passed through Parliament whatever it may be. The Constitution imposes upon each House of the Parliament the duty of giving consideration to the specific amendment proposed. In the first place, then, the proposed amendments must be agreed to by an absolute majority in each House. The section next provides that if one House persists in rejecting a proposal for the amendment of the Constitution, which has passed the other House, such a proposal may, after three months, be submitted to the people notwithstanding that that House will not agree to it. I call particular attention to that provision because I have seen certain threats in the press about a double dissolution.
– We have not made any threats.
– I am glad indeed to have that assurance. Section 128 also provides that after a proposal for an amendment of the Constitution has been agreed to twice by either House though rejected by the other House, and a certain period has expired, it may be submitted to the people notwithstanding the dissent of one House. The possibility of a double dissolution does not arise in relation to constitutional amendments.
– A double dissolution has never been suggested by the Government.
– The section also requires that any referendum submitted to the people under the conditions I have described must be answered affirmatively by a majority of the voters in a majority of the States. This means that at least four States must be favourable to the proposal. It is further provided that a majority of the total number of voters must agree to the proposed alteration before it can be made. The Constitution therefore, contemplated its own alteration by a method which was carefully designed to ascertain the will of the majority of the people of Australia, and also to protect the interests of the smaller and less influential States.
I do not say or suggest that the Constitution is sacred and that it should never be altered. Every proposed amendment should be considered on its merits. I therefore intend to consider this proposal on its merits. I recognize that we should be prepared to learn from experience, and that it is both our duty and our opportunity to make the Constitution as effective and successful an instrument of government as possible. This proposed amendment is more radical than any other amendment that could be conceived. It really mean’s the abolition of the Constitution. There is a fundamental distinction between the Constitution and all other laws which are in force in Australia, namely, that other laws may be made, amended or repealed by parliamentary action alone, but the Constitution cannot be so altered. The concurrence of the people in any proposed alteration must be obtained by referendum. In this connexion the following statement appears in The Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, the well-known work of Quick and Garran: -
The disability of a federal legislature to alter the Federal Constitution is one of the organic features and a prominent characteristic of every federal system.
It is now proposed to remove this organic feature from the Commonwealth Constitution. The very object of a federal constitution is that the distribution of powers between the Commonwealth and the States shall not be alterable at the will of Parliament only. The provisions of section 128 really re-impose, so far as possible, for the alteration of the Constitution the process by which the Constitution was originally made. The Constitution was considered, in the first place, at a convention representative of the colonies, and it was subsequently submitted to the people by referendum. Section 128, in effect, carries out that process in respect to any proposed alteration. Before an alteration may be made there must be obtained the concurrence of this House, which is representative of the people; of the Senate, which is representative of the States upon an equal basis; and also of the people, by way of the referendum. It is now proposed to insert after section 128 the following section : -
Notwithstanding anything in the last preceding section, the Parliament shall have full power to alter the Constitution in the following manner: -
The proposed law for the alteration thereof must, after the lapse of one mouth from its origination in a House of the Parliament, be passed by an absolute majority of each House of the Parliament, and be assented to by the Governor-General.
This procedure would entirely leave the people out of the procedure of altering the Constitution, for it provides that the Constitution may be amended by parliamentary action only. All that would be necessary would be an absolute majority in both houses and a delay of one month. This amendment means that this Parliament would have unlimited legislative power. The form of the amendment suggests that there must at least be an amendment of - the Constitution before there could ‘be legislation under a power not now possessed by the Parliament ; but that would not really be the case. If this amendment were made in the Constitution, this Parliament would be able to pass any legislation whatever, by including in the bill, or introducing with it, a clause conferring the required new power, and waiting for a period of one month.
The proposal is, therefore, far more than a proposal to give power to amend the Constitution ; it is a proposal to confer unlimited power upon any party which may control this Parliament, and to deprive the people of any voice in the matter by way of referendum.
If the amendment is carried the Commonwealth Parliament will have the power or right to govern the whole of Australia from Canberra. Of course any such intention is disclaimed, but the disclaimer is not satisfactory. Had the Government any clear idea of the precise powers which it wished to exercise it could make precise proposals for the amendment of the Constitution. That, however, is not what is being done. It is plain that the object of the Government is to obtain power to do anything which may be popular politically. That will certainly be the effect of this proposal. The inevitable result will be- either that the States will be suddenly killed or that they will wither away as their functions are diminished and their powers and prestige decreased. There is already ifr. Latham. objection in New South Wales and Victoria to government from Sydney and Melbourne. Government in all matters from Canberra would be disastrous for Australia. What argument did the Prime Minister advance in support of this revolutionary proposal? It must have struck honorable members that the Prime Minister rather assumed his case than attempted to prove it. He recited a list of lost law-suits, assuming that the Commonwealth authority must always have been right. If honorable members will refer to the evidence given by the’ Solicitor-General (Sir Robert Garran) before the Royal Commission on the Constitution, they will find that in nearly 30 years there have been only eight cases in which any federal legislation or any part of such legislation has been declared invalid on account of the absence of power. This Parliament has passed over 900 statutes, and in only eight cases has there been a successful challenge on the ground of defect of power.
I believe that the State Parliaments and Governments are much better qualified than is this Parliament to deal with the great mass of subjects which they handle. It would be a disaster for this Parliament to endeavour to do most of the work now done by State Parliaments ; yet it is certain that, if this amendment is carried, the Commonwealth Parliament will find itself dealing with every subject which promises political popularity.
There is not even the suggestion of any new plan for the Government of Australia. Had the Government thought out a scheme for governing Australia under a new distribution of powers; had it a scheme for the Revolution of powers upon States or provinces, it would be possible to discuss it. But there is no such plan. This is simply a political catchascatch.can proposal, with no clear ideas behind it. This, I suggest, is not the way in which to deal with so impOrtant a matter as the scheme of the government under which the people of Australia live. It would be possible to make definite proposals for the amendment of the Constitution had the Government any definite ideas.
There are some proposals for the extension of federal powers which would be supported by both sides of the House, find which would probably, almost certainly, commend themselves to a large majority of the people. The following are subjects requiring amendments of the Constitution that are desirable, and in regard to which amendments could readily be obtained : - Aviation ; navigation, without any’ exclusion of intra-state shipping; films; wireless; defence factories, in relation to business operations; the interstate commission ; and certain matters appertaining to judicial power. These are almost non-party proposals, and if accepted by the people would relieve actual difficulties under which the Government feel that is is labouring. It would be much bettor to make definite proposals than to avoid the responsibility of thinking out u plan of government. That is the real significance of this proposal.
It is vaguely suggested in some quarters that unification will greatly reduce the cost of government. Some people appear to believe that the cost of State parliaments, State governments and State departments will disappear if unification is brought about and a system of government from Canberra is introduced. Of course, that is not the case. All the work now being done by the States must continue to be done in the future. It is absolutely impossible to abolish these various agencies of government. Under unification there would be a federal authority added to the existing authorities, with further overhead charges. The result of unification, so far as it could be effective, would be to increase centralized control by adding an authority at Canberra ; but ‘ it would involve the continuance nf the existence of the necessary local authorities. The chance of any reduction of cost by adopting any scheme of unification in government activities is, at the best, highly remote and most speculative. The departments of government in which centralized control is most desirable are the Defence, Customs and Postal Departments, and these are already under exclusive federal control. The Government makes no definite proposal for adding to these great federal departments, but proposes simply to chip bits out of State authority from time to time, whenever it may appear politically profitable to do so.
Reference has been made to the constitutions of other countries. New Zealand cannot be compared with Australia in size and in the distances which separate centres of population of the dominion. Therefore, the unitary method of government, which is perfectly satisfactory for New Zealand, may fail in Australia. South Africa is a country almost unique in character. It has problems of a racial nature which radically distinguish its requirements from those of Australia. A closer analogy is to be found in Canada and the United States of America, which are countries of comparable size and with problems somewhat similar to those of Australia. Both those countries have a federal system. Varying precedents can be found all over the world in respect of both the unitary and federal systems. We have to make up our minds upon this question, as an Australian question, in the light of our knowledge of Australian facts and conditions. I believe that the judgment of the people of Australia was sound when they reserved to the States the right to deal with local problems requiring a knowledge of local conditions, which the Federal Parliament cannot possibly possess.
The proposal before the House would make it possible for this Parliament, on a party vote, to over-rule any decision upon any subject deliberately made by the people or the Parliament of any State, even though the subject was one of exclusive concern to the citizens of that State. It would be possible to bring on to the floor of this House any issue upon which the party in power in. this Parliament had been defeated in a Stare, and by the predominant power of this Parliament to over-ride the decision of the people of that State. If this amendment were carried, all the safeguards of local government could be destroyed. Section - 106 of the Constitution provides in express terms that the constitutions of the States shall continue until altered in accordance with the provisions of those constitutions. If this amendment is passed those provisions could be repealed by the Federal Parliament. It could alter the constitution of any State as it pleased without the consent of that State, and even against the will of the overwhelming majority of the citizens of that State. Section 99 of the Constitution forbids the giving by this Parliament of any preference to a State or part of a State by any law of trade, commerce, or revenue. That safeguard could be abolished by a majority of this Parliament if the proposal of the Government were adopted.
Section 51 of the Constitution provides that, in its taxation measures, this Parliament shall not discriminate between States. If the proposed amendment were made this Parliament could immediately remove from itself that restriction.
This proposal goes far beyond even the policy of the Labour party itself. An official representative of the Australian Labour party, Mr. Kenneally, M.L.A., of Western Australia, gave evidence on behalf of that party before the Royal Commission on the Constitution. Honorable members who desire to refer to a summary of his evidence will find it at page 235 of the report of that commission ; and by referring to the transcript of evidence they will be able to read the whole of what he said. The policy of the Labour party, as officially stated by Mr. Kenneally, was that the Federal Parliament should have power to amend the Constitution, but subject to very definite and important restrictions which are not included in the proposals of the Government. Among those restrictions is to be found the provision that the life of this Parliament shall not be extended without a referendum. Without a restriction of that nature, any Parliament could extend its term indefinitely. The Labour party outside of this House is in favour of imposing such a restriction upon this Parliament, even though full power to amend the Constitution were ‘ given to it. Further, it is the policy of the Labour party that the qualification for the franchise shall be similarly protected, that it shall not be alterable by Parliament without a referendum of the people. It is also the policy of the Labour party that the last paragraph of section 128 of the Constitution shall be preserved in full force and effect. One of the results of this proposed amendment, if the Government succeeded in having it passed, would be to get rid of that paragraph.
Section 128 is that which deals with an alteration on the Constitution, and its last paragraph is in the following terms : -
No alteration diminishing the proportionate representation of any State, in either House of the Parliament or the minimum number of representatives of a State in the House of Representatives or increasing, diminishing, or otherwise altering the limits of the State or in any manner affecting the provisions of the Constitution in relation thereto, shall become- law unless the majority of the electors voting in that State approve the proposed law.
That provision is a most important and valuable protection to the smaller States. The official Labour party recognizes that it should be preserved; but the Government proposes to abolish it.
– It will still remain in the Constitution.
– I recognize that it will still remain in the Constitution ; but it will be useless, meaningless, and impotent. If this proposed amendment were carried, and became effective, the last paragraph of section 128 would no longer have force and effect.
– Why does the honorable gentleman assume that an extreme use will be made of these powers ?
– The honorable member’s interjection is irrelevant. It is important that the House should realize the meaning and effect of these proposals ; and they can be understood only if they are examined in detail. Accordingly I am examining their true significance. I find that the official Labour party outside of this House considers that this protection should be preserved to the smaller States, and that the Government has introduced into this House a proposal which removes and destroys it. I am not referring to any extreme proposals, but am dealing with a provision the effect of which will be to deprive the last paragraph of section 128 of the Constitution of any force, effect, or operation. That is incontestible, and the interjection of the honorable member is entirely irrelevant to what I have said.
A question of particular importance arises in relation to the last paragraph of section 128. The amendment proposed by the Government affects the provisions of the Constitution in relation to the matters referred to in that paragraph, in the sense that it makes it possible to alter them without obeying the conditions of section 128. If the proposed amendment were carried, the important provision contained in the last paragraph of section 128 would be affected in its application and operation. Therefore, the question arises whether the amendment which is now proposed must not, in order to become effective in any State, be carried by a majority in that State. If this proposed amendment is - and I suggest that it is open to the High Court to hold that it is - itself a provision affecting the provisions of the Constitution in relation to the matters referred to in the last paragraph of section 128 because it affects that paragraph itself, it would not come into force in any State unless it was passed by a majority in that State. This subject is discussed at pages 228 and 229 of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution. Obviously, a very difficult question would arise if the proposed amendment was not passed by a majority in all of the States. It is at least probable that in that event it would not, to use the words of the section, become law in the States in which it was not passed. The result would be that, with respect to the States in which the proposed amendment had been passed, the Constitution could be altered by parliamentary action, but that it would be necessary, in the case of the States in which it had not been passed, to have a referendum, and to obtain a majority of the whole of the people, as well as a majority in four of the States. The resultant confusion and uncertainty would be disastrous. It is most unwise to persist with a proposed amendment in relation to which there is that degree of uncertainty. I am not venturing to predict what the High Court would decide; but any person who reads that part of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution, to which I have referred, must recognize that there is involved a very serious question, which demands the careful consideration of honorable members.
I conclude my observations on the first bill by saying that, for the reasons which
I have given, and others to which I am unable to refer because of lack of time, this proposal should, in the interests of the whole of the people of Australia, be decisively rejected.
The second . bill relates to industrial matters, and proposes the widest possible extension of the powers of this Parliament. At the present time the Parliament can legislate only with respect to conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State. The bill proposes that this provision should be repealed, and that there should be inserted in its place a. provision that the Parliament should have power to legislate with respect to the following matters : -
Industrial matters, including -
employment and unemployment;
terms and conditions of labour and employment in any trade, industry, profession, occupation, or calling;
the rights and obligations of employers and employees;
strikes and lock-outs;
the maintenance of industrial peace; and
the settlement of industrial disputes.
I donot propose to review the history of the vexed question of industrial legislation in Australia. Honorable members are, I think, all familiar with it. I do desire, however, to refer to the Prime Minister’s statement, that in the first Federal Parliament Mr. Justice Higgins submitted, and the Parliament agreed to, a motion in the following terms : - “ That this Parliament shall have full power to make laws as to wages, hours, and conditions of labour.” The motion that was actually carried was in very different terms indeed, as honorable members will find by referring to the first volume of Hansard. It was in these terms -
That in the opinion of this House it is expedient for the Parliament of the Commonwealth to accept (if the State Parliaments see fit to grant it under section 51, sub-section 37 of the Constitution Act) full power to make laws for Australia as to wages, hours, and conditions of labour.
It will be seen that that resolution stated that the Commonwealth Parliament would accept those powers if the States were prepared to confer them.
There has recently been an election at which the main issue was the distribution of industrial powers between the Commonwealth and the States, and the people voted against the proposals of the late Govern-, ment. These were not based on any idea of abolishing arbitration, as was so .persistently asserted by our opponents; they were a revival iri principle, and almost in detail, of proposals made at the 1922 election by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who was then Prime Minister, and they were supported then by every Nationalist candidate. They involved .the withdrawal by the Commonwealth from the sphere of non-maritime industries, leaving those industries to be dealt with by the States under their arbitration or other industrial legislation. Those proposals wore rejected, but I still believe that if they bad been accepted they would have given satisfaction to both sides in industry and to the community. I recognize that in view of the verdict of the people it is useless to discuss that proposal now. The decision of the people was in favour of the existing system as against the proposals of the late Government. It remains to be seen whether the people believe in any extension of federal powers at all, or any extension to the degree proposed in the bill now before the House.
There is much agreement between all parties in this House upon some aspects of this matter; but this agreement i3 not found among the people generally. Mr. Bruce, when Prime Minister, claimed on several occasions that the Commonwealth should have further industrial powers. He had defined, and this party has defined, in clear terms what it is thought the federal powers should be;. as to that there can be no misapprehension. This was done in 1926, when the people were asked to confer those powers, carefully and fully defined, upon the Parliament, and the people refused to grant them. 1 submit that the 1926 proposals constitute a better mode of approaching this problem than those now urged upon us. The 1926 proposals were based upon, first, a recognition of definite defects in the existing powers which ought to be removed, and secondly, a strong opinion that it would be unwise for this Parliament itself to legislate directly upon industrial matters. I still believe that this is the better method of approaching the subject.
Now what are the defects of the present powers? They are so familiar to honorable members, and have been so often discussed and canvassed, that I can summarize them shortly. The present powers cannot be exercised unless there is a dispute, a requirement that is unfortunate and undesirable from every point of view, industrially, economically and psychologically. Further, the dispute must be interstate, and it can be dealt with only by the particular methods of conciliation and arbitration, with the result that it, is not possible to prescribe a common rule. The 1926 proposals would have removed all of these defects. Another serious defect in our present system of industrial legislation in Australia is the existence of a dual system - Commonwealth and State. This is perhaps the most radical defect. It is the worst feature in the economical and industrial system of Australia to-day. It produces uncertainty in the law, and consequent disrespect for it. It causes enormous expense which diminishes both wages and profits, and it is responsible for persistent economic and industrial friction. It imposes the most serious handicap on our people. In 1926, it was proposed not only that Federal authorities, as distinct from the Federal Parliament, should have full power to deal with industrial matters, without the limitations to which I have referred, but also that the State authorities, so far as retained, should be invested with. federal jurisdiction. The result; would be that they would operate, if at all, as federal authorities. The consequence would be that the dual system, would be abolished, and undertakings to abolish duality were given by the government of the day.
In 1929, after all other proposals had failed - I have not time to enumerate them - Mr. Bruce proposed to the State Premiers that. either the Commonwealth or the States should have sole and exclusive control of industrial matters, so that the defects of a dual system might be brought to an end. The proposal was rejected, and the whole subject comes before us again. The proposals now before the
House are radically different from any made by the previous Government, and it is important, in order to avoid misunderstanding, that they should be clearly understood. They are not confined to dealing with the defects to which I have referred, and there is no sign of any intention to abolish, in practice, the dual system.
– There will be power to abolish it.
– Yes, but there is no evidence of such an intention.
– The late Government in the previous proposal to amend the Constitution did not say that it so intended.
– In 1926 the Government gave a clear undertaking, and outlined a system that would necessarily abolish all duality. In his evidence before the Royal Commission on the Constitution, Mr. Justice Higgins said that in his opinion the federal industrial powers should be exclusive. It is important to realize that that is not the proposal of the Government. There is every reason to fear that if these bills are passed and approved by the people, the Government will in this respect leave things as they are. For example, if a New South Wales unionhas what it regards as a favorable State award, will the Commonwealth Government force it under federal jurisdiction? Unless the Government is prepared to answer in the affirmative it stands committed to the maintenance of a dual system.
There is no indication of what the Government will do if it obtains the . additional powers for which it is asking. In 1926 the then Government indicated the use it would make of the new powers if they were granted, but from the present Government we have had nothing to guide us. There is only a vague suggestion that if it had full power it would settle the coal dispute. From time to time the Prime Minister and other members of the Ministry have observed that the present position of the coal industry is a striking example of the need for increased federal powers. Everybody knows by this time that if the present Government had stood out of the way, the coal dispute would have been settled long ago, the mines would have been work ing, the miners would have been earning more money than before, the price of coal would have been reduced, all industries would have benefited, and employment generally would have been increased. So far the Government has acted constitutionally, and I have been interested and amused in reading the lavish praise which the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General have bestowed upon themselves for having done so. Had they done otherwise, they would have been liable to a civil action for trespass or would have stood in the dock to answer a criminal charge. They were well advised by the Law Department to act constitutionally, andI am glad for personal reasons that they have done so. But they had no option. The State law in regard to assault, trespass, and more grave offences is clear, and the Government, therefore, can claim no credit for having abided by the Constitution.
The Government has never been prepared to say what it would have done in regard to the coal dispute if it had full constitutional powers in relation to industry, and therefore we can only speculate on this point. It would, I assume, have insisted on pre-stoppage rates of wages. The owners could not have carried on under those conditions as they have not only asserted, but also proved by their action in foregoing any chance of profits for over twelve months. What then would have been the action of the Government? In accordance with the policy of the Labour party, it would probably hare nationalized the mines to enormous cost. Pre-stoppage rates of pay would have been maintained and the high price of coal, which is such a tremendous burden to industry, would have continued. All this would have been done at the cost of the public, and the last state of the industry and of other industries would have been worse than the first. Until the Government produces some practical proposals it cannot reasonably ask for support for this amendment.
The Government asks that this Parliament shall have further power to legislate directly upon any industrial matters. That is unwise, for reasons that were fully given during the debates in 1926. I can see no need for this Parliament to have full power to legislate directly in regard to shops and factories, apprenticeship, hours and wages, workers’ compensation, employers’ liability, early closing, and an infinity of other industrial matters. These are better dealt with by the States, and any power vested in the Commonwealth is best exercised by a nonparliamentary authority.
I call particular attention to the power which is sought to make laws in regard to “ the maintenance of industrial peace,” and I invite honorable members to note the far-reaching character of that vague phrase. It attempts to define a legislative power by reference to the purpose of its exercise and not by reference to its subject-matter. Any legislation which could reasonably be alleged to be directed towards the maintenance of industrial peace would be held to fall within the scope of this power. The phrase is so wide in its terms that almost any legislation having an economic or industrial effect could be brought within it. I frankly am opposed to the socialization of industry which is a leading plank of the Labour platform. I am glad to see that the Labour party in both the Commonwealth and State Parliaments has enough common sense when in power to forget this plank. I regret, however, that at election time also Labour candidates seem to forget it, and, therefore, the electors do not realize the difference between the ideas of many reasonable Labour members in this Parliament and those which are imposed upon them by their organizations. It would be interesting to have an opportunity to crossexamine even members of this House who are skilled in Labour principles regarding the difference between the nationalization of industry and the socialization of industry. This policy of socialization, even if understood by three or four members from time to time, has become more and more discredited in recent years. However, if the people deliberately wish to adopt even the disastrous principles of Communism, they are entitled to do so, but they should know what they are doing. If they want socialization of industry, let them say so by a direct vote, but let them not be trapped into it by a constitutional amendment referring to the maintenance of industrial peace. Socialization is regarded by some honorable members on the Government side as the basis of what they consider industrial peace, and it would ‘ be difficult for the High Court to hold that projects of socialization did not fall, within the constitutional power. Such an objective as the socialization or nationalization of industry should be approached directly and not indirectly. I fear that the phrase “ maintenance of industrial peace “ would enable a whole programme of socialization and nationalization to be effectuated. That is one reason why I shall oppose the Government’s proposals.
It is clear that one of the motives for their introduction is to get the Government out of a serious difficulty and save its face. The elections in 192S and 1929 were fought with a full realization by all parties of the precise nature of federal powers and their relation to industry. The Prime Minister, without suggesting that any amendment of the Constitution would .be necessary, promised that the Labour party, if returned to power, would legislate to substitute for the present Arbitration Court “ a business-like system of arbitration free from entangling legalisms “. If that promise can be performed what is the need to introduce these proposals for the amendment of the Constitution? The Government, when in opposition, had no discoverable industrial policy. There is nothing to show that it has any to-day. It is proposing to take these referendums to the people, but I doubt whether it really hopes that they will be successful, because it will not know what to do if the additional powers sought are granted by the people.
No information has been vouchsafed the House as to what the Government would do if the referendum proposals were carried. They have every appearance of being a political device to save the face of the Government. These industrial amendments would go far beyond remedying the defects in the present Constitution. They would have the effect of diverting the attention of this Parliament from the important national subjects which are entrusted to it to the details of industrial legislation. The Commonwealth Parliament would be swamped with a mass of detailed legislation which is far better handled by the States, and, apart from vague generalities, no evidence has been adduced that these additional powers would enable the Government to do anything which would promote the interests of industry. In all these circumstances, it is impossible for me to support either of the referendum bills.
– I recognize the responsibilities resting upon a gentleman occupying the important office of Leader of the Opposition, and I appreciate to some extent the difficulties under which he labours, but, making full allowance for what, unhappily, in any circumstances appears to be due to party management, I frankly confess that, for the sake of Australia’s future, I am deeply disappointed with the address of the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham). I confess that I had hoped that upon this subject in respect of which the honorable gentleman may justly lay claim to be something of an authority, and in respect of which he must accept a great measure of responsibility, he would have raised himself above party recriminations and party by-play in an endeavour to establish Australia as a working Commonwealth upon the basis of a practical, commonsense constitution. I have been, deeply disappointed.
The honorable gentleman referred, as others before him have done, to the great men whose names have been associated with the framing of the Constitution in its original form, and he led us to infer, as have others with less excuse, that those great men, with regard to the disposition of power, the scheme of government, and its future adaptation to circumstances, were wiser in their generation than we can possibly be, and that, therefore, we must respect their work as being the final word on the framing of Australia’s Constitution.
– I said the contrary.
– I, too, have great respect for the great names which he indica’ted, but did not mention. I, too, would like to join in doing them honour, but I should conceive myself as doing them not honour, but dishonour, if I were to suggest that they were so narrow and crabbed in their outlook as to believe that they could legislate finally for all succeeding generations. The honorable gentleman, stated that it was clearly intended that national powers should belong to the national Parliament, and that local powers should be operated by State Parliaments.. What kind of playing with words is this ? Why, the honorable gentleman has gilded his distinguished career in the course of discussions on this very question as to what are local powers, and what are powers for a national authority. The honorable gentleman spoke of the destruction of the Constitution. He knows that the Constitution prescribes its own method of amendment. He knows, or’ ought to know, that those methods are open to the people of Australia to employ in their wisdom whenever they see fit, and there is no limit to their right to exercise that power as need arises. He was staggered, he said, by the discovery, upon a minute examination of this bill, that an amendment of the Constitution could, under the bill, he brought forward in association with a bill in the Federal Parliament. He need not tremble at this discovery of the simplicity and commonsense of the proposals we- are submitting to Parliament. He ought rather to applaud us on account of them. But worse than that, the honorable gentleman stooped to say that we could employ these powers, if granted, for doing anything which might be politically popular. What is the meaning of this phrase, “ politically popular “ ? Let us have from a leader in Parliament, and an equity lawyer, some measure of exactitude in the use of terms. Does he mean by “politically popular “ something which the people demand? If not, what does he mean by the expression ? The mere use of a contemptuous phrase does not vitiate an argument unless it is, supported by reason, and if this phrase, “ politically popular,” means anything, it means something which is demanded by the majority of the people. The honorable gentleman went on to say that, after all, the Commonwealth Parliament, in striving to express itself in legislation, has not always been wrong, and that out of a very large number of enactments comparatively few - only eight, I think he said - had been declared ultra vires and invalid. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. McTiernan) rightly interjected with the obvious remark that surely Parliament must be given credit for a little knowledge as to what would probably be declared invalid or ultra vires if passed. The measure of our impotence as a parliament is not the legislation we have passed, and which has been declared invalid, but the legislation we would have desired to pass, and which we never attempted to pass, because of constitutional limitations. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) spoke of local parliaments, and the need for them. If he meant local governing authorities I agree with him. If he meant that there was need to perpetuate all the existing governmental paraphernalia, with a Governor in each State, a full dress parliament, separate executives and separate .civil services; if he meant the perpetuation of the elaborate and costly form of government which we have imposed upon ourselves, I” disagree with him entirely. But if he meant that we should apply ourselves to the local government of Australia, effecting reforms as wise men to the full measure of our necessities, he can rely on the hearty co-operation of the Labour party in giving effect to his proposals. One more observation made by the Leader of the Opposition challenges a reply at once. It is a very curious thing that, in regard to the industrial powers we are seeking, the honorable gentleman gives us full credit for the intention to do all the foolish things we shall have power to do, but no credit for the wisdom to do those things he would desire us to do. If that is the way in which we are to approach the amendment of the Australian Constitution, if that is the manner in which we are to lay down the foundation for succeeding generations to work on, I despair for the future of Australia altogether.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) seemed to forget, when he spoke of promises made and programmes outlined by my distinguished leader, that reference was also made to a proposed amendment of the Constitution. My leader pledged his party, and he now pledges this Parliament to the utmost of his power, to achieve an amendment of the Constitution, without which any amendment of our industrial laws would be impracticable, and it is well for the people of Australia to understand this. If it is riot our boast, it is at least our claim, that Australia is a nation. Although she is content, and rightly so, to be regarded as a partner of Britain for the purposes of peace’ and war, Australia has insistently asserted, and still asserts, her status among a commonwealth of nations. Speaking through her duly appointed representatives in this Parliament, and as a nation in a commonwealth of nations, she claims that she is entitled, somewhere in Australia, to have a sovereign parliament legislating for Australia as a whole. She claims that it must be a parliament moved and operated under popular direction, and exceeding the bounds of that popular direction at its peril.
Thirty years of Commonwealth history have unfolded a record of extraordinary development in all phases of human activity. Art and science have been applied wonderfully to the development of an incomparably rich and productive country, and in that space of 30 years have effected a silent revolution. I have more than once spoken on this subject. We are now confronted by the fact that men in one State converse freely with men of affairs in any other State; that on the limitless waves of ether the representatives of one State may have audience with the whole people of another State; and that by methods of transportation, undreamed of by the framers of the Constitution, we can move rapidly and swiftly from State to State. Even the vast undeveloped areas of Australia are, at the moment, if not being conquered, at least awaiting the coming of conquest by the aviators. In consequence men are being more closely linked together in societies, organizations, and corporations which are the inevitable result of rapid and regular intercommunication. I take leave to say that these dazzling achievements are linking us ‘together in spite of ourselves. Unhappily, the rigid and rusty structure of our constitutional legislative machinery alone impedes our progress and hampers our development.
Even the High Court itself has responded unconsciously to the publicopinion of our times, and has moved with it. The High Court is the interpreter of our Constitution. It is not a maker of laws ; but merely an interpreter of them. It has no obligation whatever to track after a reluctant and unwilling people to compel them to do, by its own expanding decisions, what, by their own voluntary action, they are free to do. Let me illustrate my point. The system of the distribution of powers between two sovereign legislatures has advantages and disadvantages. The interpretation of a written constitution is not a fixed thing. It changes, develops and progresses with the changes and development of institutions and ideas. In the 30 years of Commonwealth history this tendency has been very marked, and the development has all the time been in the direction of increasing the power of the central government. The first few years of High Court history are marked by a very high degree of respect for what are known as State rights and the reserved powers of the States. I quote, for example, Barger’s case, reported in 6 C.L.B. 1908, in which it was held that the grant of power to the Commonwealth must be interpreted with reference to powers reserved to the States. In the case of Huddart Parker v. Moorehouse, reported in S C.L.B. 1909, it was held that the Commonwealth power to make laws with respect to companies was very limited. In these and other cases the interpretation of the Constitution in respect to the specific subjectmatters upon which certain power was given to the Commonwealth was influenced by reading into the words used an implied reservation of power to the States. “With the lapse of time and the increase in the number of judges of the court, the tendency has been to give a wider interpretation to the power of the National Parliament. A notable instance of this was the Engineer’s case, reported in 28 C.L.R. 1920, in which the doctrine of an implied reservation of power to the States was discredited, and it was held that the language in which legislative power was given to the Commonwealth on any specific subjectmatter must receive its full and natural meaning. It was there decided, overruling previous decisions to the contrary, that the industrial power- of the Commonwealth is applicable to industries carried on by a State. Even the judicial interpretation of the Constitution has, it will be seen, been affected and influenced by public opinion.
In the framing of the Constitution of the United States of America, the Staterights feeling was strongly expressed. The Congress of the United States of America was given specific power over a few matters of national concern - much less power over a much more confined area than the power conferred on the Commonwealth Parliament. For some years it was generally acknowledged that the federal power of the United States of America was very weak, and that the union was in danger of disruption. But the strong national interpretation which has since been given by the courts, and particularly by that statesmanlike judge, Mr. Justice Marshall, has had a beneficial effect. Those interpretations of the Constitution, supported by public opinion, have greatly strengthened the federal power in the United States of America.
I suggest that if democracy requires for its success an instrument of government readily responsive to the will of the people it is quite impossible to reconcile the Australian Constitution with any known theory of democratic government. It is also quite impossible to reconcile it with the idea of nationhood, inasmuch as Australia is made up of a number of separate parts*,, formerly known as colonies, but now known as States, each one of which has .a sovereign government and enjoys a measure of indefinite power far in excess of the measure of power which has been given to the Commonwealth Parliament. The truth is that there is no coherent or corporate character in the relations of the Commonwealth and States, and there is no unity of action between them. They clash far more frequently than they co-operate. The only bond of co-operation between them is that extra-constitutional body known as the Premiers’ Conference.
It is quite wrong, I suggest, to assume that we safeguard the interests of the people by making it difficult to amend the Constitution. The limitation of freedom cannot, in that case, be regarded as a guarantee of freedom. I remind honorable members that nothing could be done by the method of altering the Constitution now proposed, which cannot be effected by the existing slow and cumbersome method. Conversely there is nothing which can be done by the existing method, which could not also be done by the altered method now proposed. Our self-imposed difficulties differ from the difficulties that are imposed upon a hobbled horse in that the hobble is placed upon the horse by an external force to prevent it from straying, while we don our own hobbles in the name of liberty, and by that means guarantee ourselves against straying. “What would naturally happen if this proposed amendment were agreed to ? A Government, in appealing to the people for their suffrages, would foreshadow its policy just as governments do to-day.
– It would educate the people.
– A government like this would certainly educate the people. At all events, it would expound its policy and in doing so indicate the extent, if any, to which it would be necessary to amend the Constitution to give effect to its proposals. In other words a referendum would be taken at the election upon the policy and upon those matters in respect to which it was thought desirable to alter the Constitution.
– I rise. to a point of order. Is the Attorney-General in order in turning away from the chair, and in twisting about in making his speech.
– Honorable members are required to address the Chair; it is a minor offence to twist or turn in delivering an address.
– As a matter of fact I have been standing most of the time with my back to the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) who understands this question, and I have been addressing myself, for the most part, to honorable members opposite who do not understand it. The honorable member took the point not because he could not hear my remarks, but because they were, like our constitutional difficulties, outside the ambit of his understanding. If the people thought that a Government was proceeding upon dangerous ground, or if they considered its policy too. drastic, complicated, or objectionable for any other reason, they would record their view at the ballot box in due time. It might be said - “ Ah, but a government might say nothing about its intentions. It might be returned upon dissimulation and, having a majority behind it, might proceed to alter the Constitution at its own sweet will.” But the people have a way of dealing with governments which exceed the mandate they receive. That accounts for the fact that the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) is now occupying a seat in this chamber which was occupied in the last Parliament by a much more comprehending statesman. The very simplicity of the procedure by which a Parliament may err has its counterpart in the simplicity of the procedure by which the error may be corrected. It is true beyond doubt that Governments do not habitually go beyond their mandate. On the contrary, with the best intention of doing all that they under.take to do, even the most industrious governments usually fall a little short of carrying out the full programme upon which they were elected.
It may be said that the Constitution should not be constantly in the melting pot. There is not the slightest reason to assume, from history or from logic, that that would occur if this bill were passed. It is true that we have attempted to make a considerable number of amendments to the Constitution, but only three have been effected in 30 years. During the first decade of the Commonwealth history the only proposals for the amendment of the Constitution were the first one submitted in 1906 relating to Senate elections, and two others relating specially to the Braddon clause, and the peculiar circumstances associated with that period. So it cannot be said that the people manifested any extraordinary activity in seeking amendments of the Constitution during the first years of federation. It is also true that no amendment of the Constitution has been attempted except as the result of costly and bitter experience on the part of the people. No amendment has been submitted which would prejudice the smaller States in any particular. No attempt has ever been made to deprive them of their minimum representation, nor has any attempt been made to interfere with their equal representation in the Senate, although on the basis of pure democratic government neither of these provisions in the Constitution can be justified. Supposing that these proposals had been carried years ago, and were now in operation, could any one visualize that kind of hare-brained casuist who would set about replacing the simple method which we are now suggesting by the cumbersome method which is at present imbedded in the Constitution? If one looks at the question in that way, one will appreciate at once the fact that the proposal to revert to the existing condition would be a retrograde and unthinkable step among sane men accustomed to operate a Parliament responsive to the will of the people.
– Has not the Constitution been made cumbersome by the cumbersome attempts to make it do what it was not intended to do?
– That begs the question entirely. I take up the challenge of the honorable member, by again stating that we have never attempted an amendment of the Constitution except as the result of costly and bitter experience on the part of the people. Only in cases in which the limitations of the Constitution have jarred, and the people have been hampered and cramped and their activities reduced and partially paralysed, have amendments of the Constitution been sought. Take for instance trade and commerce, which is the life blood of the people, which ebbs and flows through the States of the Commonwealth with no more regard for the purely State boundaries than the dingo has for the tropic of Capricorn. This is not a theoretical question, but a practical question. The words “ trade and commerce “ have kept the expensive luxury of bench and bar fully exercised, and, as I stated previously, have helped very greatly to add to the lustre of the brilliant career of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) at the bar.
I turn now to industrial powers. There is no more depressing sight than that of a free people struggling to use machinery totally inadequate for their purposes. This Government - and the Leader of the Opposition admits it - has been returned to power to make arbitration effective. He knows, as Ave know, that it cannot be made effective without extended powers, but what he does not know is the extent and limit of the alterations necessary, short of the absolute power, to make arbitration effective in this country. The people expect an alteration of the Constitution, so that in submitting these proposals we are responding to the mandate of the people to make arbitration effective by the only method available to us for the purpose. By various devices the working people of this country have in the past hobbled along in their chains threading their way through all kinds of legal difficulties, selfimposed and increasingly troublesome. This country is said to suffer greatly from industrial unrest. I admit that it does, though the extent is greatly exaggerated for political purposes by some honorable members opposite. One wonders, having heard the declaration of the Leader . of the Opposition, how honorable members opposite are going to embrace this responsibility of curing industrial unrest, knowing that the people have sent us here to do this thing, and knowing that we are asking their co-operation to make it possible that it should be done. I repeat that this is not a party question. With almost unbelievable loyalty to arbitration, the working men of this community, standing to the principle of the orderly adjustment of their wages and conditions, have toiled on under this imperfect system, and have built up for themselves a standard of living appropriate to the conditions and possibilities of this country.
– That is pretty good for men who are hobbling along in chains.
– Despite their difficulties and impedimenta, they have been able to build up the standard of living and of wages in Australia. It is almost unbelievable that they should have remained loyal to the arbitration principle in spite of the difficulties that have been placed in their way, and the legal machinery from which they have had to extricate themselves. It is not any disloyalty on the part of our working men, hut the dual and treble systems of arbitration, the legal and constitutional difficulties, and the faults that we have applied to simple problems, that have brought about industrial unrest in this country. My honorable friend opposite knows that; if he does not, why did he down tools and say that he would have nothing more to do with arbitration ? He knows that amendments of the Constitution, partiicularly in regard to industrial powers, are absolutely necessary to make arbitration effective. He said that the country applauded us, and that we applauded ourselves in that we would not violate the Constitution. Where does the honorable gentleman find any phrase of my leader or of myself flattering ourselves because we would not violate the Constitution? All he will find is our bare statements that we would not violate the Constitution. There is no self-flattery in that. It is a declaration of firm policy, and instead of finding fault with us for our , self-congratulation, he ought to congratulate himself and the country on the fact that this Government is not so foolish as lie attempted to make the people believe. We pledged ourselves not only to keep the Constitution inviolate, but also to strain every nerve to amend it. Although there was much talk by sorely tried and irritated men who urged us to do violence to the Constitution, we would feel ourselves disloyal to the other sections of the community if we failed to make good our pledge to equip ourselves with powers, as representatives of the people, in order to preserve their interests in this country. The truth is that the suggestion of violating the Constitution would never have been made had there been available to the Parliament of Australia machinery to deal with this great Australian problem - the distribution of powers and the difficulties arising therefrom. These include the difficulty of specifying the limits of the two sets of powers in a satisfactory way, the uncertainty which must always exist as to the interpretation of the powers as specified in the Constitution, and the fact that what ought to be a political question decided according to the will of the people has become a judicial question decided according to the form which is given to the document by judicial interpretation. All these difficulties become greatly increased and rendered more acute when the Constitution is made so difficult to amend that the distribution of powers cannot be readily adjusted to meet the changing needs of the community. No one can, on democratic grounds, defend the present method of amending the Constitution, inasmuch as a minority of 690,000 people may prevent a majority of 2,900,000 people from giving effect to its will. It may be argued that only on those terms would the smaller States enter the federation; but are we to suppose that the conditions which were necessary to induce the smaller States to enter upon the experiment of federation 30 years ago, are to continue as permanent conditions during the whole life of the Commonwealth?
Honorable members know the present method of amending the Constitution. Bills must pass both Houses by absolute majorities, and when submitted by referendum must be passed by a majority of the people in a majority of the States, and by a majority of the whole of the people. By that method a comparatively small number of persons may defeat the desires and intentions of a very large number, not only with respect to a proposed amendment that particularly affects the smaller States, but also in a matter that very slightly affects those States, and is of importance to the larger States. How can that be supported by any argument on the part of those who stand by the principle of one vote one value, or the application of any other democratic principle? It would indeed be sad if, after 30 years of federation, we were obliged to consider this question as an invidious contest between the larger and the smaller States. There has never been a time in the history of the Commonwealth when any’ Commonwealth Government or Parliament has manifested a disposition to act unjustly towards one of the smaller States. I make that concession to all Parliaments and all shades of political opinion. I have already given particulars of cases “ in which the Commonwealth Parliament, in violation of the principles of democracy, has extended to the smaller States ‘ a considerable amount of generosity. In that spirit succeeding Commonwealth Parliaments, recognizing the peculiar disabilities of the smaller States, have held out to them the right hand of fellowship and support. It cannot be charged against either this or any other Government that it has used its power harshly as against any State.
But it would be infinitely more sad if these proposals were viewed from the party aspect. I am old enough to have recorded a vote in favour of the establishment of the federation, 30 years ago. I voted enthusiastically for unity, and in the intervening years I have voted for every proposal to extend the national power, including those that were put forward by the late Prime Minister, Mr. Bruce, which .1. advocated from u hundred platforms, but which were defeated. It would be tragic if we were to look at this question from the point of view of party. It has nothing to do with party. The proposal is to lay foundations upon which parties shall build, to clear the arena in which political contests are carried on, and to build up Australia. We are presuming only to lay the foundations of the building; it will be for succeeding governments to determine what class of building shall bc erected on them. Whatever amendments ave made will be operated by succeeding governments. In the life of a nation, what is the life of a government or an individual; it is but a “fleeting gleam of sunshine.” But the laying down of the Constitution is a matter of immeasurable importance, and should be approached dispassionately. If anything is calculated to evoke a spirit of patriotism, the work of Constitution building should evoke it. We have but one watchword, and that is to trust the people - neither more nor less than that. Every three years, at the longest, we have to face the electors; every three years a referendum is taken in regard to proposed legislation ; every three years opportunities are given to correct and, if necessary, to undo, the work of the previous three years. That is all that we ask by the major proposal which is now submitted to this Parliament. We do not submit these proposals believing that the first will not be carried, but hoping that the second may be. I fervently hope that this liberal, this full measure of power will be given to the national Parliament. There is no parliament in Australia, except Australia’s Parliament, that should have full power. It is idle for any person to prate about Australia as a nation, and its status in the world, until she has a really sovereign Parliament. That Parliament must be elected by the whole of the people of Australia.
– This is a subject in which, needless to say, I am deeply interested. No other subject that has come before the Federal Parliament during the seven and a half years that I have been a member of it has interested inc more greatly, or made a stronger appeal to my imagination. For several years I have patiently awaited an opportunity to discuss this very question, and I admire the courage that the Government has displayed in bringing forward such a far-reaching and sweeping proposal. Although I shall criticize it in what, I hope, will be a friendly and constructive spirit, I consider that it is the duty of every honorable member to approach its consideration from the point of view of their responsibility to the whole of the people of Australia, not in any narrow, parochial party spirit, nor with the idea of reaping from it a party advantage.
I deprecate, to some extent at least, certain statements of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham). While I greatly admire the ability of that gentleman, and’ have no doubt that he is a learned constitutional authority and a first-class lawyer, I believe that he was misguided in the manner in which he approached this question. It ‘appeared to me that he displayed towards it not a warm, but a cold and hostile attitude - an attitude different from that which he adopted towards the 1926 referendum. There was not in evidence to-day the broad, statesmanlike attitude that I, in my youthful exuberance, considered tha: he adopted in 1926. I greatly fear that his speech will go a long way towards making this a more narrow party question than it otherwise might have been. Of course, the Opposition has certain rights, the fundamental one being to criticize the Government, and, if possible, to secure the acceptance of its views by the people. I daresay the object of the Leader of the Opposition was to feel his way, to see what would happen. He must be somewhat cautious, because there has been no development of public Opinion upon this issue. During the campaign that is to be held, the probability is that his attitude will be largely modified. We know that he possesses considerably developed powers of logic, and his record in this House has shown him to be a reasonable man. If he does not modify his attitude, he and the party that supports him will be forced into an unfortunate position before the campaign reaches its zenith.
Unquestionably, this is the most momentous issue that has been placed before the people of Australia since federation was established, and for that reason alone it is entitled to the sympathetic consideration of those honorable members who sit on this side of the House, not necessarily with the idea of supporting it, but so as to see where it may lead us. No honorable member of this House can predict where this proposal, if agreed to by the people, will lead Australia. There have been other occasions when terrible consequences have been foreshadowed because of certain action taken by different governments; but the people have soon become reconciled to conditions that, at the outset, appeared to be absolutely impossible, and eventually have regarded them as the ordinary every-day conditions of their existence. If the first question is carried the whole basis of the federation will be altered.It may be contended that we shall still have a federation ; but, if we accept the constitutional and legal definitions of federation, it is obvious that, upon the carrying of this proposal, the federation as it is generally understood will no longer exist in Australia. I shall quote a definition that was presented to the royal commission on constitutional amendments by Sir William Harrison Moore, because it appears to me to sum up the position very clearly. It is to be found at page 230 of the report of the commission, and reads -
A “ federal government “ exists where, in a political community, the powers of government are distributed between two classesof organization - a central government affecting the whole territory and population of the sovereignty, and a number of local governments affecting particular areas and the per sons or things therein - which are so far independent of each other that the one cannot destroy the other, or encroach upon the sphere of the other as determined by the Sovereign in the Constitution. Both are completely subject to the State. Either may be changed or abolished at will by the State. It appears to involve, also, the existence ofsome authority recognized by the central and local parts as competent todetermine the conflicts which arise as to their respective powers.
That, in a nutshell, means that the federal system pre-supposes two sets of organization, each independent of the other, under a written charter; one dealing with certain defined powers and functions, and the other dealing with other defined powers and functions; and when there is any conflict between the two there is, or should be, some authority to arbitrate - such as, for example, the High Court of Australia.
Those who have studied the history of the federation campaign in Australia must have been struck with the deep knowledge that the framers of the Constitution had of all aspects of federal and unitary systems. It is quite a mistake to suppose that unification was not considered by them 30 years or more ago. As a matter of fact, our knowledge of the two systems of government has advanced little since then. The great men who framed the Constitution for us considered allaspects of federation. It is clearly stated in the report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution that they approached it from the angle that at that particular timeit was impossible to impress on the people the necessity for a central unified form of government; any movement based on that theory would have been laughed out of court. It took 30 years or more to induce the people to be even mildly interested in the subject of federation, because Australia was divided into six separate colonies. The founders of the Constitution were confronted with the task of persuading people who were essentially parochial in their outlook to look at the problem of government from a national angle. The only possible way of getting six sovereign States to come together was to offer them a charter by which their functions and powers would be sufficiently safeguarded. When, after 30 years, they decided to take federation seriously, they asked for a scheme in writing. Conventions were elected, and we all know how arduous was the work of those bodies. It will not be suggested that the personnel of those conventions was in any degree inferior to that of similar bodies that might be appointed to-day. It is doubtful whether we could muster men of such statesmanlike character as that of those who comprised the conventions at the end _ of last century. It was admitted at th’e time that the framers of the Constitution could not see very far ahead; they were legislating practically for their own generation.
I have never thought that the Constitution is so radically defective as to make it almost an unworkable instrument of government. The very fact that we have worked under it efficiently for 30 years, despite its defects, shows that there must be some basic merits in it. The first merit is that the agreement at which the six consenting parties arrived has been absolutely honored. The States entered the federal partnership on the definite understanding that the terms of the Constitution could be altered only by means of the machinery provided, in it. The States have seen that the bargain they made was a sound one; the people certainly did well out of the deal. The Commonwealth Parliament has carried out its functions successfully. Despite all handicaps under the Constitution, it is the most powerful Parliament of the seven. Its prestige is very much higher than that of the State parliaments., It has been entrusted with .numerous extra powers which the framers of the Constitution did not contemplate would be exercised by it;: but most of the powers- so exercised are national in character. The Commonwealth has not endeavoured to encroach on State rights or functions. Now, however, we are asked to accept a proposal that would completely alter the basis of federation. If the people adopt, it, the agreement made 30 years ago can be broken at any time at the will of this Parliament. It may be said by the present Government that that does not matter, because the people are supreme, and Parliament is the voice of the people. We may be assured that if the people agree to the alteration the Parliament will be merely interpreting their will, and acting for them. But I point out that the people, owing to inadequate education on this subject, may accept the proposal. It may be carried by a very narrow majority in all the States, because the people may not be able to look sufficiently far ahead. Once this is done, the federal structure will be destroyed for all time. There is less chance of correcting a mistake such as that might prove to be than there is .of remedying the defects in the Constitution as it stands. No parliament would be ready to surrender such a power as that proposed once it had been granted.
It would be most dangerous to delude the people into believing that it would he in their interests to surrender to this Parliament the power to alter the Constitution. It has been said that the people are not a satisfactory agent to be entrusted with the power of altering the Constitution. Once the people agreed to confer this power on the Parliament itself, constitutional issues would not be put to the people at general elections, but would be merged into the general policies of parties. They would not he examined from constitutional, but from purely political angles. If the people surrendered this power, they would be adopting a dangerous course, because they would be transferring it to an authority over which they have little control. It is true that Parliament submits itself to the suffrages of the people every three years.
– To determine purely party issues.
– That is so. Last year, for instance, on a purely party issue a radical change took place in ihe character of this Parliament. If the proposed power were conferred by the people, the party opposite*, with its large majority, would say that the people had given it tie right to make any alteration of the Constitution that it desired to bring about. Although that party obtained the reins of. government virtually on a single issue it would have the right to abolish the’ State Parliaments^ if it were game to do. it-
– Has not the British Parliament power to amend the British Constitution ?
– Yes ; but there is a great difference between the governmental conditions in Australia and in
Great Britain. There is no written Constitution in England. The practice of the British Parliament has been built up over centuries; it governs according to tradition. There are no State Parliaments ingreat Britain.
– The British Parliament surely governs according to the needs of the people, rather than according to traditions of, the past.
– The parliamentary system there has developed in an entirely different way from that in Australia. Here, for the best part of a century, six sovereign States were allowed to develop, and then they were invited to establish another sovereign authority to act as their agent. Therefore, the Commonwealth Parliament is but the agent of the States. If it is desired to alter the Constitution, as now proposed, we must obtain the consent of the States. Those who made the federal bargain are the only authorities who can alter it.
– But this bill provides for the submission of the proposal to the people.
– If the people in all the States agreed to the proposed change,it could be properly made; but it would be a dangerous issue to place before them in its present form, because the people would not have had a chance to look all round the subject; they would be liable to make a mistake.
I do not think that the proposal will be carried. It is too vital a change in the political and national life of Australia. Judging by the results of various referendums, the people have developed a flair for cautiousness in the matter of alterations of the Constitution which may have effects beyond their immediate ken. That is why we have not been able to amend the Constitution in the past in the way that has been desired. Australia is passing through a period of depression, and thedistress may be even greater when the referendum is taken. In those circumstances advocates of this proposal may delude hundreds of thousands of electors into the belief that the cause of their troubles is the constitutional conflict between the Commonwealth and the States, and that the remedy lies in giving to the Commonwealth Parliament complete powers. No honorable member seriously believes that the carrying of these proposals would have any effect on the economic conditions in Australia. In ordinary circumstances this proposal to give the Commonwealth Parliament unlimited power would not have much chance of success, but in a time of depression the people may be misled into adopting any remedy presented by political quacks.
– The people want a change.
– Suppose that the referendum is carried by a majority of the electors and in a majority of the States? If two States record a negative vote a complicated situation will be created which may defeat the effective operation of the powers which the Commonwealth has obtained. Assuming the contention to be sound that the original federal compact can be broken only by the unanimous consent of the six parties to it, what will be the value of an affirmative vote in only four States? The High Court may decide that the enlarged powers of this Parliament cannot operate even in the four accepting States. On that phase the people may be seriously misled by partisan advocates because constitutional lawyers will not be avail able to advise them. The Constitution will be explained by party speakers.
– They all will be constitutional lawyers.
– No doubt. And I am very glad that the Government has introduced this proposal, because although the referendum will cost a lot of money which we cannot afford,and is not likely to be successful, it will do much to educate the people in regard to the Constitution, so that when a safer proposition is put before them it will have a better chance of succeeding than this has to-day. If only four of the States carried the referendum the court would have to determine whether, even in respect of them, this Parliament could operate under its radically altered Constitution.
– Did not the six States agree to the Constitution?
– Yes, and authorities contend that it can only be set aside by the whole six.
– Did not the six States agree to the sections providing for the alteration of the Constitution by referendum ?
– Yes. But it is el oar that there can be no alteration affecting the representation or boundaries, Of position of a State in relation to the Commonwealth, except by the will of the majority of the electors in that State. It is questionable whether four States can give to this Parliament authority to alter the Constitution without the approval of i he other two. If section 12S means anything, it means that those States which do not confer that power upon the Commonwealth can ignore it. They will have two alternatives; they can either decide that because the original compact, has been broken they will withdraw from the federation, or they can elect, to continue under the Constitution, subject only to such alterations as ‘ their people, by re t orend u m, accept t.
– In regard to that there is a difference of opinion.
– That is so, but the majority report of the Constitution Commission expressed the view that this power could be conferred upon the Federal Parliament only with the consent of all six States. That view Mr supported in a pamphlet called TinMisfit Constitution, by Mr. A. P. Canaway, who makes it clear that the alteration of the union from the present basis to a new basis can be effected only with the approval of the six parties to the original compact. If that is not a correct interpretation, and only four of the States need approve of the Government’s proposal, how is the new power to be operated? Any legislation based upon that alteration of the Constitution can he flouted by the other two States. Obviously, it would be impracticable for this unified Parliament to function even in the face of only passive resistance on the part, of two States; it cannot function in only two-thirds of the Commonwealth, because the Constitution provides that there shall be no discrimination between different States. The fatal defect, in the proposal of the Government is not only that, it proposes to destroy the whole basis of federation, but, if approved by the people, if. will produce an unworkable scheme of unification. I arn surprised that the Government has not brought forward a straight-out scheme of unification.
Its failure to do so convinces me that it does not expect this proposal to he carried. For many years the Labour party has not disguised its unification intentions. Various members of the party. have differed in their statements as to the extent to which unification would be carried, but I have not discovered one dyed-in-the-wool labour mau, who is not in favour of the Commonwealth Parliament having complete and absolute power. No doubt many speakers, believing that, the people favour unification, will tell them that the adoption of the Government’s proposal will bring about what they desire. I am convinced that only a small proportion of the people believe in unification, or even like the sound of the word.
– They may not understand the word, but. many people believe that Australia is over-governed.
– Yes, and some may be deluded into the belief that the magic term unification offers a sovereign remedy for all the evils of government, hut when they look into the matter mons thoroughly they will discover that no party has put. forward any practicable cure for those ills. Advocates of the Government’s proposal, however, will say to the people, “You want unification; vote for this and you will get it.” But they will not get it. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) that if the Government is granted the power it is seeking it will not know what to do with it. The States represent vested interests much more vast than those of the Commonwealth. The States own lands, railways, highways, and harbours.They have built up tremendous assets over a period of 130 years, and the roots of their vested interests go deep into the soil of Australia. They have created large capital cities, containing immense government buildings; one recently built in Sydney cost £2,000,000. On every side we are faced with the ramifications of Stale assets, influence and power. Are these things to be destroyed by the few words which the Government wishes to be inserted in the Constitution? Is this Parliament to be given power to take over from the States - to use a mild term - whenever it feels inclined, all their vast assets and vested interests? Advocates of unification, and the proposal of the Government as a means to that end, will tell the people that immediately the Federal Parliament is given the necessary power it will serve notice on the States to surrender their assets, and that the walls of the State citadels will he shattered by one blast of the national trumpet. But the States, although they are amenable to public opinion, would resist such action, and this Parliament would find that it could not wipe them out. If it is said that the Commonwealth Parliament, merely seeks power to legislate in regard to certain urgent matters, and will not alter the Constitution in any fundamental way affecting the vested interests of the States, what is the value of the Government’s proposal? If the people realize that they are not going to obtain any reduction in the cost of government they will not give this proposal five minutes consideration. They do not want to make the position worse. They do not want complications between the Commonwealth and State Governments; there is enough of that already. Are those who will speak to the people in favour of this proposal going to tell them that it will have the effect of relieving taxation, of reducing the number of parliamentarians and of simplifying procedure, when they know, on the admission of the Government, that1 it will have no such effect? The unificationist has a programme for wiping out State Governments, and establishing provinces, and he is logical in his proposals. When he propounds that doctrine he is putting before the people something they can understand, and if they accept it, well and good. There is nothing definite in this proposal at all, merely something that will give the unificationists an excuse for deceiving the people. I am doubtful, personally, that the people will be deceived, but the attempt to deceive can be made under this proposal.
If the Government wishes to give the people an opportunity to understand the issue, it ought to postpone the referendum. We cannot deal properly with a question like this in three months, just because the Prime Minister wants to rush off to the Imperial Conference. The same thing happened in regard to a previous referendum. The whole campaign was slummed because the. Prime Minister desired to leave the country. The people did not understand the proposal, and took the safe course of turning it down. The Prime Minister said that we are facing critical times, and should have full powers. We know, however, that the High Court can grant full powers to this Parliament in times of emergency. It was done during the war, and such powers would not be confined merely to defence matters. Under the War Precautions Act, Parliament at that time performed many functions not relating to defence. They were simply attached to the subject of defence as an excuse. If this country were again to find itself faced with a terrible crisis, the High Court could grant to Parliament the necessary powers to deal with it. Is it fair and democratic, it may be asked, that an outside body like the High Court should be superior to Parliament? That was the basis of federation. It was necessary to have an umpire to settle matters at issue between the Federal and State Governments. I think it will be admitted that the umpire has been a good one. The personnel of the court has changed from time to time, but the people of Australia have always had the fullest confidence in it. There has not been a- case yet in which we can honestly call in question any constitutional judgment of the High Court. The trouble is, not that the High Court has prevented us as a parliament from doing what we wanted to do, but that the constitutional limitations have been so severe that our freedom of action has been restricted. There is an obvious way of getting over these difficulties. Under section 51 of the Constitution, the Commonwealth Parliament is given power to legislate on certain matters. The commonsense way to overcome our present limitation is to submit to the people for their approval a” further list of powers to be added to section 51. Two Labour representatives on the royal commission on the Constitution furnished a report containing the following words : -
Should the above recommendations not be accepted, wo recommend that the Constitution should be amended to give full power to the Commonwealth Parliament on the following subjects, in addition to those recommended in section xxiii. of this report: - Health, indus- trial matters, trade arid commerce, railways, aborigines, fauna and flora, fisheries and forestry.
The only power we have ever attempted to get, outside State debts, has been the control of trade, industry aud commerce, so that we have not felt such a vital need for other powers. If we went as a united Parliament before the people, and sought from them such powers as we think are necessary, we should have not the slightest difficulty in obtaining their approval of anything short of the complete annihilation of the federal principle. On the two occasions when that course has been followed the people have very willingly granted the power asked for. The first occasion was in 1906, when they agreed, by a huge majority, to a proposal for altering the date of the Senate elections. The other occasion was at the recent referendum, when the people agreed to grant this Parliament control over the finances of the States. -That was a tremendous departure from the original basis of federation, but the people did not cavil to grant that power when Parliament went before them as a united body and asked for it.
– Does the honorable member think that there is the slightest possibility of securing agreement among all parties in this House to the present proposal ?
– I think there might have been a big possibility if any willingness had been shown to secure that agreement. Honorable members on this side of the House have not been approached by the Government at all. No steps have been taken to secure our agreement. “We have been treated with contempt; we have been flouted.
– The honorable member is not quite fair. A fortnight’s adjournment was given ou the secondreading debate of this bill, so that honorable members might have an opportunity of considering the matter.
– Surely the Treasurer does not suggest that any proposal emanating from this side of the House would have been accepted by the Government. The main reason why the non-Labour parties have not been considered in this matter is that the Labour party has all along been wedded to a scheme called unification. It has assumed that such a scheme is the one remedy for all the ills arising out of our present complex system of government. It was assumed that we, on this side of the House, would never accept such a proposal, and that it was not worth while considering anything we might have to suggest. I have been actively associated with the New States movement for the last ten years. From time to time we have held large conventions - as large as any gatherings of the Labour party - and these conventions have been attended by representative men from all parts of the country. “We have considered the matter of new States from every possible angle, and have gone out of our way to invite the presence of representatives of the Labour party. We have had Labour men at these conventions, and they have always asked us *O invite representatives from the Australian Labour party. We have invited them, but we have never had any response, and never once has a representative of that organization come to our meetings.
– The honorable member is forgetting the Assistant Minister for. Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde).
– The honorable member for Richmond reminds me that one of the greatest New State stalwarts in this House is the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs. I regret that I did not make an exception in his favour just now. He has come to two of our meetings, and is one of the champions of the movement. He is not a unificationist at all. I, as a new-stater, am not prepared to say that I would not agree to the principle of unification if I could only see what the scheme is. Up to the present it has never been clarified. If the Labour Government hat-3 been courageous, if it had acted up to ica promises, and had said that it wanted to cut Australia up into provinces, to reduce the cost of government, to delegate certain powers to provincial authorities, leaving the federal Parliament supreme, many honorable members on this side of the House would have been tremendously interested, and some might have supported the proposal. A great deal of interest would have been aroused throughout Australia, and although the proposal might not have been carried the first time, the way might have been paved for the ultimate adoption of the scheme.
– Does not the honorable member think that the main principle might have been lost in the details?
-I am grateful to the honorable member for the interjection. I think that the Government is really taking a short cut to unification. It wishes to save itself the trouble of formulating a scheme, and of putting details before the people. It says that there is nothing to fear; that it would have power to do certain things if it liked, but had no intention of exercising such powers; that it might never exercise them. Not long ago the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr.Blakeley), when asked to explain the Labour party’s unification proposals said, “If we get power to amend the Consituation we may not interfere with the States for 30 years. It may take that time to make the necessary adjustments. Get it out of your head that we want to do it straight away.” His was the first authoritative Labour voice to declare that it would take such an inordinately long time to introduce the blessings of unification. If this bill is passed the people will be asked to sign a blank cheque.
– The honorable member seems to presume that there will be blessings from unification.
– That is a logical assumption, for the Commonwealth Government will be able, if this proposal is accepted by the people, to fashion a unification plan that will prove a blessing.
– The Labour party has always stated that blessings would flow from unification. Personally, I must see the details of the scheme before I will express any definite opinion upon it. I do not agree with the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) that unification must necessarily be a blessing. It all depends on whether practical expression can lie given to the theory that unification will reduce the cost of government and simplify the machinery of it. Apparently all the Government intends to say at the moment is : “ If you want unification, accept these proposals. We shall then be able to give you what you want, although we may not do so. It depends upon how we feel “.
If this proposal is accepted by Parliament and the people it will be one of the most amazing things that has occurred in British history, for the
British people are admittedly reluctant to make constitutional changes of such a revolutionary character. If the Government has a scheme of unification to submit to the people, the details of it should be placed before Parliament before this debate concludes. Neither the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) nor the Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan) has given any indication that the Government has formed any concrete proposals for unification. So far as we knowat present, no one on the Government side of the House has any definite ideas on the subject. If they have, the details should be put before us during this momentous debate. I am sure that the rank and file of the Labour movement will demand a definite scheme. Possibly during the campaign the Government may formulate some proposals and. say “ Here is our plan for unification. If the people will accept it we will go ahead with it “.
I have no particular objection to the Government holding the referendum along the lines suggested; but I think that it will be a waste of money. It is a great pity that we cannot go to the country with a united front on a great issue like this. I suggest that this proposal should be withdrawn and that the Government should submit certain definite amendments to section 51 of the Constitution designed to equip this Parliament with the power it needs, and that ii should also submit an amendment to section 128 to give the Commonwealth Parliament power to subdivide the existing States.
– The honorable member would submit a list of questions “as long as a rabbi’s curse “.
– In any case Unpeople will. not. read the proposals. They will rely upon the platform explanation of them. If we were granted specific additional powers under section 51 and also authority to subdivide the States under such terms and conditions as the Commonwealth thinks fit, we should have all that is necessary under the existing conditions, and we should be able to counteract the effort of the States to block further progress and decentralization in government. We should also be maintaining the federal principle. As a matter of fact the Commonwealth Parliament does not require a great deal more power except in regard to finance and trade, commerce, and industry. It would be better for us to move along those specific lines than to attempt to delude t he people with the present remarkable proposals. If we did as I suggest we should not ask the people to take great risks in regard to unification nor should we jeopardize the interests of the coming generation.
I wish the Government success in respect to its industrial powers proposal, though I do not think that this is by any means ideal. It would have been better had we adhered to the propositions that were submitted in 1926. Many members on this side of the House would have agreed to the re-submission of those proposals, and they could have been put to the people without any party fighting.I supported the 1926 proposals to amend the Constitution to give the Commonwealth full power over industry and commerce. Mr. Charlton, who was then Leader of the Labour party, also supported them, for he said that they were on all fours with the Labour party’s proposals in 1913.
– The honorable member did not get a big majority for them in his own constituency.
– It was carried by 5,000 in my constituency. Of course, we expect, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) to oppose everything that represents progress. It is a pity that he is not a little more liberal in his views, though, of course, he is entitled to his own opinion, and will no doubt resist these proposals in the interests of his own State.
– I had the country with me last time.
– That is so, but the proposals were carried in New South Wales. I do not expect the people always to refuse to give the Commonwealth more power; but unless we can approach the people in a non-party spirit we shall waste our time and money and invite the electors to reject the proposals. Until I have heard the debate on the industrial powers bill, I shall withhold a definite announcement of my position. My feeling at present is that if the proposals of the Government are sufficiently comprehensive to equip Parliament with full power over industry I shall support it; but I shall require to be absolutely satisfied that if the proposals are adopted there will be only one industrial authority in the Commonwealth. I do not want to crayfish on this proposal, like some honorable members on this side of the chamber. I supported the 1926 proposals, and if the proposals of the present Government are along similar lines I shall support them.
Mr.Francis. - Why does the honorable member say anything about crayfishing?
– There is noneed for him to lecture us as to what we should do. Let him tell us where he stands.
– That is my own business. I certainly shall not fight these proposals simply because they have been introduced by the present Government. I do not want to be jeered at by any honorable member on this side of the chamber on the ground of inconsistency. I advise some honorable members who are opposed to these proposals to read the speeches they delivered when the 1926 referendum proposals were before this House. If they do so before they speak in this debate they may be a little more careful in what they say. At any rate, they will find it difficult to resist the industrial powers proposal of the Government.
My present intention is to support the Government on this bill, but I shall not support the industrial powers bill unless I am fully satisfied that it provides for the granting of absolute control over industry to the Commonwealth.
.- I listened with great attention to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham). He adopted the attitude ofa defending barrister, and attempted to put the Government in the position of a plaintiff. He also showed a disposition to display his knowledge of constitutional questions.’ I have a great respect for his opinions in that connexion. But I remind him that as the people were responsible for the adoption of the present Constitution they should not be denied the opportunity of altering or amending it as they desire. The Leader of the Opposition seems to think that every obstacle should be put in the way of the people to hinder them in expressing their opinion on these issues. I entirely disagree with him in that connexion, lt might be thought from some remarks that have been made during this debate that we are dealing with an entirely new subject ; but that is not so. Twenty-five years ago, at a Labour conference ‘held in Brisbane, these very issues were debated on a motion, which read -
That, owing to the duplication in the federal Constitution and in the sovereign powers held by State Governments, which still continues with increased effect to create a heavy burden of taxation with no equitable progress, an amendment of the Constitution be submitted to a referendum of the people to vest unlimited legislative powers in Australian affairs in the Commonwealth Parliament, with delegation of adequate local powers to subordinate legislative bodies and municipalities.
I have given notice of my intention to move at a later hour to-day, if the opportunity is afforded me, a motion’ couched in identical language. If the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) will support the Government on this bill, he will find that it will become comparatively easy for him to push ahead with his New States movement. That statement should be a sufficient reply to all the arguments raised by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) this afternoon. [Quorum formed.) I have often been questioned about the opinions of the founders of federation, and, as I was intimately acquainted with them, I was, of course, familiar with “their ideals and aspirations. The framers of the Constitution were faced with a difficult task. They had to remove State barriers and overcome the objections of the State representatives, who feared that under federation the States would lose some of their sovereign powers. After conferences held in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, the conflicting interests were reconciled and federation became an accomplished fact. The view was taken at the time that as Australia progressed its legislators would alter the Constitution from time to time, so as not to restrict the freedom of the people and the trade and commerce of the country. The ideal of men like Deakin, Kingston, Burton and O’Connor, was that the people of Australia, as a nation, should speak with one voice. When I was in New Zealand, in 1874, that country wa3 governed by provincial councils, but they were later superseded by one parliament, sitting at Wellington. When the people of South Africa proposed to enter into a federation, they sought the advice of Alfred Deakin and Chris Watson. In fact, Mr. Fisher, when Prime Minister of Australia, visited that country. Their advice to South Africa was not to adopt the Australian federation, because of the limitations of its Constitution. Fortunately for the people of that country, that advice was accepted, and to-day their Constitution is immensely superior to ours. Even the Constitution of Canada gives its Federal Parliament . wider powers than are enjoyed by the Commonwealth Parliament. The people of the United States of America do not hesitate to amend their Constitution, and Congress at all times is ready to make any alteration that will benefit American citizens, and add to the glory of their country. Why should Australia be deprived of similar rights?
This Government proposes to ask the people for full constitutional powers. If those powers are granted, any State that desired, for instance, to remove its upper legislative chamber because of over-government, conflicting interests, stagnation in industry or unemployment, would be able to place its request before the Federal Parliament and, if no opposition were forthcoming, it would be given effect. Usually, when we submit referendums to the people, we receive a sort of abstract mandate, which no one seems to understand. Honorable members opposite have on various occasions failed to give the people even a clue as to the real intention of referendum proposals. Their only desire was to make confusion worse confounded in order to assist their friends, the members of the legal profession. The Government’s proposals will be submitted to the people in a way that will make them clear and understandable. When the referendum arising out of the Constitution Alteration Railway Disputes Act had been defeated, I met two ladies in William-street, Sydney. One of them said to me, “Mr. West, we did not vote for the referendum.” I asked, “ Why not ?” She replied, “ We thought that the idea was to take up our railways and to put them in Melbourne.” On another occasion, a friend of mine, who was later killed in a railway accident, asked me for my opinion about certain referendum proposals. After listening to my explanation, he was quite satisfied that by voting “ Yes “ he would be acting in the best interests of Australia. The people of Australia have long ago awakened to the fact that this country is over-governed. Many persons have informed me that this Government is doing the right thing in endeavouring to reduce the various State bodies in Australia. We have six State Governors, although there is no real necessity for them. I have no objection to the Governor-General, because he is the representative of His Majesty the King and, like His Majesty, has no personal voice in parliamentary affairs. The people of Australia are quite satisfied to have a Governor-General as a link between Great Britain and Australia. Why should we, by permitting duality of control to continue, allow differences to arise between one authority and another, and thus furnish material for litigation in the High Court? There should be some means of avoiding this expensive litigation, which interferes with the commercial and industrial life of the community and impedes the welfare and progress of our people. More than twenty years ago, I advocated the establishment of a loan council to stop over-borrowing. We have overborrowed to suchan extent that we have reached the breaking point. If we have learned the lessons of the past we shall drop those stupid practices that have brought us to our present position, and clothe one central government with full powers. In Great Britain there is a population of 46,000,000 people who are satisfied with one Parliament. That Parliament makes the laws, and they are administered by local governing bodies, such as the London County Council. The British Parliament does not concern itself with small details such as the imposition of a tax on cartwheels, or stipulating the size of cowsheds. Under that system the expenditure of government is considerably lowered.
It is my aim to have a united people, and that will not be possible so long as we have seven governments legislating in different spheres upon similar matters. If the proposal of the Govern ment is agreed to the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson), and others who are similarly minded, will be able to set up new States. That is not possible under the existing system. Why should members of Parliament have to take the platform whenever it is desired to have an alteration of the Constitution ? If this proposal is carried, the Government of the day will be in a position to bring forward measures for an alteration of the Constitution. Those measures will not become law unless a majority in each House of the Parliament is in favour of them ; and there will be the additional safeguard that a stipulated number of persons can petition to have the legislation vetoed. The utterances of some persons would lead one to believe that some members of Parliament are unmitigated scoundrels and ought not to be trusted. No honorable member is likely to do anything that may cause him to lose his seat. That is a complete safeguard against any outrage being committed at the expense of the people. Every member of Parliament is a seeker after popularity, and must, therefore, be respectable and honest in all his dealings. These proposals will have to be approved by the people before they become law. Those who view the matter without bias must admit that the object of the Government is to lay the foundation of an Australian Parliament that will be worthy of the people of Australia. Why should not the Australian people be placed on the same footing as those who live in Great Britain, New Zealand and other countries? Honorable members of this Parliament, I believe, are a fair sample of the Australian people, and are actuated by a desire to increase the prosperity of the country and make the standard of living higher than that which has been reached in any other part of the world.
It cannot be denied that the time has arrived when our industrial laws should be administered by one authority. The present practice is intolerable and cannot be justified. Under it every honest attempt to regulate industry is frustrated. Cannot honorable members realize the need for so altering the Constitution that this Parliament will not be prevented by decisions of the High Court from taking whatever action it deems necessary to bring about harmonious relations between employers and employees? Why should we have seven governments, six of which have no love for the National Parliament?
-Does the honorable member consider that a single government is sufficient for the whole of Australia?
– I believe that we should have one National Parliament, with local autonomy in administration. That is what the British Constitution provides, and it has stood the test of centuries of experience.
Sitting suspended from6.14to8 p.m. [Quorum formed.]
– The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) apparently thought that he and other members of the party opposite should have been consulted regarding the Government’s proposal. During the recent election campaign the Labour party made no bones about its intention to seek an extension of Commonwealth powers if it were returned to office. Owing to the difficulties of the industrial situation, the public of Australia realize that some radical change in the system of government is required. The instrument drawn up over 30 years ago was merely a compromise in order to bring about sufficient agreement, among various schools of political thought to enable federation to be accomplished. There were so many conflicting opinions at the federal conventions that it is remarkable that unanimity was reached at all. The States were naturally chary about giving up any legislative powers that they bad enjoyed, and it is not surprising that difficulty was experienced at the federal conventions in arriving at a compromise. It was never contemplated at that time that the Constitution then drafted would completely meet the needs of the people for an indefinite period. The present bill is submitted because it has been found desirable to alter the Constitution. When one hears a lawyer arguing as to the meaning of a particular section of it. one can only imagine that his object is to cause confusion. It is the duty of honorable members to act as educators of the electors as tothe manner in which they should vote on this issue. Under present conditions honorable members cannot be teachers of the people, because, even if the meaning of the Constitution were expressed in as few words as possible, few persons would understand it. Intelligent business men, no matter how high their mental qualifications may be, have as much difficulty in understanding this act as the man in the street.
When the Constitution was drawn up a number of prominent public men favoured unification. The late Sir George Dibbs propounded strong reasons in its favour. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) had an able opponent at the last election in Mr. Windeyer, a noted criminal lawyer, who also advocated unification. The present Government does not ask for that reform; it merely says that the present lawshould stand until altered by the Parliament. Who is in a better position to interpret the wishes of the people than the Parliament itself?
– The people themselves.
– Is the honorable member for Swan not a leader of the people?Do they not look to him for guidance? I venture to say that my words carry weight with the electors of East Sydney. It is the duty of a representative of the people to know what they require. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) was rather enthusiastic about an alteration of the Constitution when the last referendum was taken, but to-day he proceeds with great caution as though he fears that something serious would happen if the present Government induced the people to agree to the proposed change. I cannot help remarking upon his altered attitude. The bill provides the necessary machinery for the alteration of the Constitution in a proper manner by the people through their elected representatives.
I am sure that every honorable member will admit that it is necessary to enlarge the trade and commerce powers conferred under section 51. The British Constitution is an unwritten one. That of New South Wales has about four sections, one of which provides that the naval and military authorities shall not be charged customs and excise duties. Men like Gladstone and Palmerston would not have framed a constitution on the lines of that of the Commonwealth. They were broadminded and had faith in the elected representatives of the people.
This bill presents an opportunity for honorable members to show their love of Australia and its citizens. Wo cannot have prosperity without good government, and good government is impossible while the National Parliament is subject to the restrictions of an obsolete Constitution. The principle of the bill is essentially democratic. I have supported every referendum for an enlargement of the constitutional powers of the Common wealth Parliament, though I voted against conscription when it was referred to the people. The last referendum was submitted to the people at a time when the Bruce-Page Government had introduced into the arbitration act criminal offences, and that was so resented by many thousands of electors that they refused to grant additional powers to the Commonwealth Parliament. No such circumstances surround this proposal, and there is an excellent prospect of an affirmative vote being recorded. Any fears that the Commonwealth Parliament will thereupon embark on an iconoclastic policy are unfounded. It will not set out to abolish State Parliaments by a stroke of the pen, but will address itself to the cutting out of superfluities, and the removal of duplications. We may decide that in the interests of Australia State governors are no longer necessary, and that the Crown could be adequately represented by the GovernorGeneral. We may propose the amalgamation and co-ordination of the activities of the various State and Commonwealth bodies now engaged in scientific teaching and research. There are many ways in which the increased power could be exercised without causing any sudden disruption of the existing governmental systems. The pioneers of federation never anticipated that difficulty would be experienced in altering the Constitution to meet the changing needs of the people. The frequent reiteration by the High Court of the constitutional limitations imposed upon this Parliament has created the impression amongst the people that the country is governed by that tribunal. There is no way of removing that impression while conflict con tinues between the States and the Commonwealth regarding their respective in >isdictions. When the Federal Parliament has complete powers the people will no longer doubt that it is the dominant factor in the public life of Australia.
The Constitution should be brought up to date. Since it was framed a world war was waged for four years, our nation has grown in status, and the mentality and outlook of the people have altered. The Constitution has not kept pace with changing circumstances. The result is that almost everything this Parliament seeks to do or should do is prohibited on the ground that it is unconstitutional. The word “ unconstitutional “ has become almost a’ parrot cry; it is heard in the workshops, in the home, and oven in the pulpit. The time is over-ripe for an amendment of’ the Constitution, aud I advise honorable members to bo courageous and realize that the people desire a change. If this Parliament is given the power to alter the Constitution as required, even the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson), the high priest of the new States crusade, will be able to realize his lifelong dream of having a glorified municipality- with all the paraphernalia of local administration in his own district. If the members of all parties in Parliament unite to recommend this change to the people, it will probably he accepted. We must make the people trust the Parliament. I believe that the Federal Parliament stands very high in the opinion of the people of Australia, and if Parliament presents a united front in asking for wider powers those powers will be granted.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- This afternoon the Attorney-General (Mr.. Brennan), in a speech which was clever rather than logical, was pleased to take as his text the words, “ Trust the people.” I think we can all take that as our text. The founders of federation - the men who framed the Constitution - had in mind the fact that there might be violent changes of government. They recognized that, perhaps, a socialistic government might at some time endeavour to destroy the Constitution completely.
Therefore they deliberately refrained from giving Parliament power to alter the Constitution. They proposed . that the people themselves should be the ultimate arbiters as to whether the Constitution was to stand or not. They meant to ensure that the Constitution should not be the plaything of politics. I believe they were opposed to unification. The balance of opinion among the royal commissioners on the Constitution was also against unification, as is shown by the following words: -
It seems to us that the concentration of all legislative and executive functions in one authority would be likely to produce that paralysis at the centre and anaemia at the circumference which has been referred to by some writers on political science.
Australia is of such huge dimensions that a parliament functioning at Canberra could not possibly do justice to all the outlying parts. Therefore, the framers of the Constitution created that instrument substantially as we have it to-day. In that they were wiser than we sometimes give them credit for. At the present moment we have a government, “ clothed with a little brief authority “ endeavouring by legislative action to abolish the Constitution. The Prime Minister pointed out that there is no constitution such as ours in Great Britain, nor in New Zealand, nor in South Africa. That is true, but in these countries there are not separate State governments such as ‘ we have. The States here are definitely partners to the federation agreement, and must be consulted before alteration can be made to that agreement. The only case which is almost analogous is that of the United States of America. There the Constitution is somewhat similar to ours, which, we are told, was modelled upon it. In South Africa powers were conferred primarily on the Union Government, and certain of those powers were afterwards delegated to the provincial authorities.
The Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan) asked us to treat this in a non-party way. One speaker attacked the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) for allegedly dealing with the subject from a party point of view. Is it possible, however, to approach it in any other way when one considers what this Government has done during its brief tenure of office? By making plausible promises during the recent election campaign, the Labour party was returned to power. Immediately it destroyed the existing democratic system of national defence. It piled on customs taxation in many cases ‘without reference to the needs of the industries concerned, and ignoring in a great measure the expert advice of the Tariff Board. It now endeavours to save itself by pointing out that these are desperate times, and, as part of an anaemic official statement, has asked the wheat-growers to produce more wheat. That is’ a sound request because the more we grow for export the better; but does it not imply that production should also be increased in other industries, and that there should be more work and harder work all round ? It cannot be denied that the appeal to the farmers to grow more wheat is also an appeal to them to do more work and for longer hours, although the farmers are even now as hard-working a section as there is in the community. Yet the Government did not urge the coal-miners to hew more coal. During the election campaign the Treasurer said that under a Labour Government disabled soldiers would be given posts in the Civil Service. No more despicable promise was ever made for political purposes. No attempts has been made to put this into effect; but on . the contrary there have been dismissals. He also said that the coal-mines would be opened within a fortnight. Not only did he make that promise, but on the strength of it he obtained funds from the miners, thus preying on the hopes of workless men for his own political purposes. In view of these things, how is it possible for honorable members on this side of the House to treat the Government’s proposal in a non-party manner? Recently, the Prime Minister told a handful of wine-makers, “We are. the Government; you will do as we say.”
– Would the honorable member allow the wine-makers to dictate the policy of the Government?
– No, but to be. consistent, why does not the Prime Minister use similar strong words to the coalminers? Why does he not say, “These are desperate times; you must face economic facts, and take the work that is offering.”
– What has that to do with the bill?
– It has this to do with it: Members of a government who are capable of such things must be viewed with suspicion when they sponsor a proposal seeking a grave extension of existing powers. If the Prime Minister had told the miners to go back to work it would probably have meant his demise as a Labour leader, but it might have marked his debut as a statesman.
The Government finds itself in trouble, and must blame some one. It is like the Chinaman who, when things are going well, praises his Joss, but kicks it when they are adverse. Now that matters are going badly with the Government it blames the Constitution, and has advanced proposals which, at a cost of £100,000, are to be put before the people. These referendums will fail, and then the Government will be able to attribute its shortcomings to its limited constitutional powers. Extravagant promises are always suspect, but to no previous Government is the aphorism of Rochefoucauld so applicable -
Wo promise according to our hopes, and perform according to our fears.
The Government is asking for full power to legislate in respect of a wide range of subjects, and is seeking the complete control of industry. We must ask ourselves, is this Government capable of settling industrial disputes? Were the coal-mines opened within a fortnight of the Government’s elevation to office? I suggest that had a Nationalist Government been returned at the last election the dispute would have been settled by now. A Nationalist Government was not returned, because of the misleading propaganda issued by the Labour party. This Government has pursued a furtive and futile policy, and Ministers have run here and there to conferences, at the beckoning of so-called Labour leaders outside Parliament. The Prime Minister has admitted that a grant of £7,000 was made to the dependants of coal-miners at Christmas time. He said he thought they deserved it, and nobody will deny that those in need are deserving of all they can get at Christmas time. But what right has the Prime Minister to give the people’s money to one section of workers in one State, when others might be in great need elsewhere? The dependants of waterside workers in Port Melbourne are just as needy as a result of strikes as are those of the coal-miners. The Prime Minister also promised to make up the difference in pay between what the miners demanded and what the owners offered. What authority had he to do that? I am glad to know that both the miners and the mine-owners were sufficiently highprincipled to refuse the offer.
We can thank the Bavin Government in New South Wales for standing firm over the coal strike. It would-be interesting to know what would have happened if the Federal Parliament had had full power during this time, and the State Govrnment had had none. It was the action of the Government of New South Wales in standing firm that prevented this dispute from developing into a national disaster. The Prime Minister, the Treasurer, and other Ministers who have been rushing around the country attending conferences, seem to have achieved very little; but if they, or any honorable member on that side of the House, had offered counsel contrary to the views of the miners, they would probably have been declared “black.” This declaring of men and things “ black,” which should be treated with shouts of laughter whenever it is mentioned, has developed into a tyranny in trade union circles, and particularly on the coal-fields..
– I must ask the honorable member to connect his remarks with the bill before the House.
– I submit that my remarks are in order, for they bear upon the Constitution Alteration Industrial Powers Bill. To show how pernicious and tyrannical the system of declaring things “ black “ has become; I quote the following case’s which are typical: - The Rev. W. E. Birkett, Church of England clergyman at Branxton and an ex-chaplain of the Australian Imperial Force, was declared “ black “ because he conducted church services in the police camp, w hich was part of his parish. His church was also declared “ black.” Constable Kenning’s family at Greta was declared “ black “ by the local miners because the constable gave evidence against a man who was charged with removing rails from the Rothbury-Branxton railway. The Greta storekeepers were so intimidated that they refused to supply Mrs. Kenning and her children with food. At that, time Constable Kenning was doing duty at Branxton several miles away. Another is the case of a visitor to the district who was seen reading a newspaper other than a labour one and which had been declared “ black “. She was ordered to leave the district and did so to avoid trouble.
– I rise to a point of order. I submit that the honorable member’s remarks have no relation to the billunder consideration.
– At the commencement of this debate I indicated that honorable members would be in order in dealing with the subject-matter of the Constitution Alteration Industrial Powers Bill and that the greatest latitude would be given in this debate. So far the honorable memberhas been in order.
– I do not suggest that all the depression in Australia should be laid at the feet of this Government. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) attributed all the blame to the Bruce-Page Government. It is a pity he should allow his disappointed hopes to warp his judgment. The principal factor is that there is a world-wide depression at present, and Australia is. feeling the pinch because of the low prices that are ruling for wheat and wool, which means a large decrease in the national income. This Government could, however, do a good deal to restore confidence in Australia if it dealt firmly with the industrial trouble-makers in the Commonwealth, who are at present doing everything possible to prevent our industries from prospering. Prance has shown us what can be done by a nation which makes a determined effort to put its house in order. She suffered severely from the devastation of war, but took her industrial position in hand with such success that to-day France is prospering and has very little unemployment within her borders. If this Government could avoid taking a narrow and parochial view of industry it could do a good deal for Australia; but it must get away from the iron-bound principle of government by the unions for the unions in the name of the working class.
Honorable members generally will admit that our export coal trade was of great value to us a few years ago, and was of considerable importance in our trade balance. If the Government would concern itself with this re-adjustment of our trade balance, and seek to restore peace in the coal industry by urging the coal-miners to resume work and increase their output it would do a great deal for Australia; it is not only the wheat-farmers who should be called upon to increase their output. A study of the figures in relation to our coal production is enlightening. In 1925 we exported 1,770,000 tons of coal, but in 1928 we exported only 1,130,000. The exports of coal from New South Wales to the other States in 1925 totalled 3,000,000 tons, and in 1928 only 2,270,000. The consumption of coal in New South Wales in 1925 was 6,600,000 tons, and in 1928 it was only 6,000,000 tons. Those figures reveal a decrease in consumption of over 2,000,000 tons per annum. On account of the coal trouble during 1929 the output was considerably less. If normal conditions had prevailed, the 6,000 odd men who will be left unemployed when the trouble is settled could have been kept employed. We all hope sincerely that this unfortunate trouble, which has caused so much misery and has had such a disturbing effect on the economic life of the community, will be speedily settled. But conditions are such now that the demand for coal has decreased very seriously from various causes. Had the demand not dropped, these men could have been absorbed in the industry.
It is ridiculous for some honorable members to argue that more production mean more unemployment. One of the important factors that has brought about the decrease in the demand for coal is price. In 1916 coalwas 12s. a ton in New South Wales, and in 1927 it was £1 6s.1d. From being the world’s cheapest in 1911, it became the highest in 1927. The popularity of electric power has, of course, had an adverse effect upon coal consumption, and so has the use of oil fuel which is now largely used in ships and in oil furnaces in foundries. .But when all is said and done, the plain fact remains that these unfortunate strikes and the uncertainty of supply have been the principal factors in reducing output and consumption. For many years, the manufacturers of Victoria were practically under industrial vassalage to the NewSouth Wales coal industry, but that has now been adjusted, except in regard to high grade coal for certain specific purposes, through the development of the Yallourn coal deposits in Victoria under the superintendence of Sir John Monash.
Since 1919 £8,562,000 has been lost in wages in the coal-mining industry through strikes. If the levies that have been paid by unions were added to that amount it would be found that 24,000 coal-miners have lost no less than £9,700,000 since 1919, which is equal to about £400 per employee. If some of that money had been put into coal-mining shaves through the miners’ organizations or otherwise the workers would now have a substantial interest in the industry.
– And there would have been no need for this referendum.
– That is so. They would have been a contented community, and would not now be listening to industrial Neros fiddling the same old class-war tunes. Many of the miners would have become little capitalists through having a direct financial interest in the industry. It is well-known that some unions in the United States of America own mines and other properties. Their members arc, in most cases, well above the bread line instead of being impoverished through industrial agitation. In addition to the losses that have occurred in the coal-mining industry through stoppages there have been enormous losses in other avenues of trade, though the actual losses in coal production through the present stoppage exceeds £3,000,000. New South Wales has lost about £300,000 in railway freights alone. These figures arc astounding.
– What has all this got to do with the bill ?
– If the honorable member for Herbert- (Mr. Martens) were given the opportunity I suppose that he also would be rash enough to promise to re-open the mines on pre-stoppage conditions in two weeks. He would doubtless promise to seize the mines and do other equally foolish things. It is interesting to learn that in the last timber strike the Gas Employees Union, only a small body, paid £8,000 in levies; the Iron Workers Union contributed £8,230, the Road Transport Workers Union £6,4S0, the Amalgamated Engineers Union £5,900, and the Tramway Employees Union £5,300.
– What about Rothbury?
– I visited the Rothbury colliery shortly after the miners’ clash with the police, to investigate on my own behalf. Notwithstanding the remarks of the Prime Minister to the effect that it took more than a few hours in a coal-mine to make a coal-miner - I agree with him. by the way, as to that - I consider that it is’ advisable that men who take part in public affairs or are leaders iri any way should visit the scene of such trouble as that which is occurring in the coal-mining industry to inform themselves of the facts. That is a good deal better than engaging in long range vocal efforts in Parliament.
– Was the honorable member declared black?
– It is likely enough that Labour would declare white “ black “ or “ black “ white for that matter. I understand that about the time when the Prime Minister’s name appeared in the list of honours, he being made a P.O., the Labor Daily wrote that I may add the letters B.L. to my name, which, I understand, means “ black-leg.” From such a quarter I consider this a compliment. One of the difficulties in the situation on the northern coal-fields has been caused by the dole system instituted by. the previous Labour government of New South Wales. The time came when the Government had to take stock of the situation. It appointed a royal commission to inquire into the whole industry. But as royal commissions are necessarily slow, a preliminary inquiry was instituted into the profits of the colliery-owners, which were found to average 2s. per ton. The royal commission reported later that the profits averaged 2s. lid. per ton. In an endeavour to stabilize the industry and prevent drastic wage reduction and unemployment a proposition was made to reduce the price of coal for local consumption by 4s. This was to be brought about by the New South Wales Government reducing the cost of handling by 2s. per ton, the mine-owners foregoing ls. per ton of their profits, which meant a reduction of approximately 50 per cent., and the miners foregoing ls. per ton, which in the case of contract workers meant 12$ per cent, and in the case of wages men 6d. per day. That proposition really started the trouble, although the industry had not been in a flourishing condition for some years. In 1928 most of the miners on the northern field were working only seven days a fortnight. Every one but the miners could see that if the price of coal could be reduced the consumption would increase and more work would be provided. With a reduction in price it would have been possible to regain some of the lost export trade. This proposition was accepted by the coal-owners but rejected by the miners, and the mines were closed. Many conferences have been held since. A levy was made on the trade unions to keep the miners in idleness, and a compromise was agreed upon by their leaders including members of this Government, but the men refused to accept the terms offered to them. As a result, this unfortunate industrial dispute dragged on, accompanied by much lawlessness and this Government has no feasible proposition to put forward to end it. The members of the Ministry dare not get up in this House and tell the miners to go back to work.
– The coal-owners broke the award.
– I disagree with the honorable member. The best legal brains say that there is no award operating in the northern coal-fields.
– -Who constitutes the best legal brains?
– The High Court has recently ruled that the interim award was bad in law, and Judge Beeby himself has said that no award is operating. It is not necessary for this Government to have greater powers. If New South Wales were allowed to deal with its own industrial affairs, it would settle them well and efficiently. Interference in industry on the part of the Federal Government has caused a good deal of the present depression. For that reason T strongly oppose this bill.
Judge Beeby when giving his last award in the metal industry said -
The far-reaching changes asked for made necessary exhaustive inquiry and the exploring of all available avenues of information. As the hearing proceeded, the claim made by employers that vital changes had occurred since the first award was made became irresistible. …
Except in favoured industries, which amidst the general depression continued to prosper, Judge Beeby said that increases in wages were for the time’ being impossible. The real concern of industrialists for some time to come would be to maintain existing wage rates. . . .
Coining to the question ot payment by results, Judge Beeby said that the employers’ contention that if Australian manufacturers were to hold their own in the markets of the world they must adopt the methods of their competitors was irresistible. Eis appeals to the unions to submit to the court practicable schemes for the regulation of payment by results in place of their claims for prohibition were without avail . . . and until the unions were prepared to assist in devising schemes lie could not undertake the task of prescribing regulations for the control of systems of payment by results.
When an employer offered an additional wage as an incentive to output above the average, why should not the man above the average capacity bc free to make a bargain on some system which would not injure those of average or less than average capacity or diligence?
With all modern restrictions on individual action, individualism within its new boundaries was still the driving force of civilization. The unions’ desire to prevent all systems of payment by results, as an aid to their retaining control of members beyond the limit contemplated by legislation, could not influence a court in making its awards. The present policy of unions would ultimately lead to union disintegration. Large numbers of men were working on piece-work or received time bonus increments. Many others wished to do so. Union prohibitions were steadily losing force. Economic pressure was convincing many out of employment or partially employed that there was something in employers’ pleas for reduced production costs.
I ask honorable members to consider the wages that the miners were receiving in comparison with the wages of men in other industries. I do not say that the miners alone are culpable ; because the blame for any arrangement made to increase the price of coal would have to be shared by the parties to it. In any case there has now to be some adjustment of the conditions ruling in the coal industry because of the economic position of Australia generally. I have mentioned already that I went to Rothbury and investigated the conditions of work there on my own behalf. I do not claim to be an authority on the subject of coalmining, but I found there that the mine was being operated by a more or less scratch crew, and although the State member for the district had said that the mine was dangerous and hard to work, I found that the men were hewing on an average about 14 tons a day. They were being paid at the rate of 4s. 4d. a ton, the miner receiving 2s. 7d., and the wheeler ls. 9d. That would be the equivalent of from £7 to £10 for a working week of 43 hours.
In spite of the utterances of Judge Beeby that the workers must not expect higher wages, the miners have served a new demand for increased wages, a working week of 40 hours, and a minimum wage of £5 10s. a week, even if they work a few days a week. Is not that an insane’ action in view of the known economic difficulties that exist ? The Prime Minister has been applauded in the press and elsewhere for not acceding to the demands of the extremists. I do not think that that is any occasion for congratulation. The crazy suggestions that the Federal Government should despatch troops to Rothbury mine to fight the State police, or seize the closed mines, and other wild proposals put forward by leaders of the Labour organizations, would not be heeded by any man in his senses. Yet the Government remained inactive while the New South Wales Government saved the nation. The Treasurer and the Assistant Minister (Mr. Beasley) went hot foot to conferences whenever the union officials beckoned. There was no need to have increased powers to meet that emergency because the law of trespass was quite sufficient. Why did not the Government devise some means of settling this trouble? Until it is settled, the people are still more unlikely to give the Government power to alter the Constitution as it thinks fit. There is no need for the Commonwealth Parliament to have greater industrial powers in order to place Australia in a position of financial stability. I have quoted figures showing the wages paid at Rothbury during the period that I was there, and I shall now give figures showing what they have earned since.
– Under what award was the honorable member working ?
– I should like to know under ,what award the honorable member was working when he was doing manual work. The following statement sets out the earnings of individual miners at Rothbury: -
Those are the present rates of pay which thousands of miners have refused. How many workers in other industries receive anything like these rates, and how many thousands of our unfortunate unemployed would be willing to work for half these rates. Yet the Treasurer at the last elections preyed on the hopes of these unemployed men by promising them that the mines would be open within two weeks of the Labour party taking office. They are still waiting, and unfortunately there will be no work for thousands of them when they do resume.
– The honorable member has omitted to include the charge for explosives in the rates that he quoted.
– That charge .amounts to only a few pence per ton, and I can quote it if required. Some comment was made in the press to the effect that I was alleged to have said that the work of coal-mining was not hard. The opinion that I gathered from my own small experience, and that of the many miners whom I questioned, was that coal-mining was no harder than other labouring work. I admit, of course, that a skilled miner will do much more than an unskilled one, and work with greater safety, but the hours are shorter, the rates higher, and the conditions for health and safety are well considered and applied. In fact, most miners prefer to work underground in a safe and well-ventilated mine, rather than engage in any class of work on the surface. The coal in the seam is drilled with a hand drill, and the coal brought down by explosives fired by shot firers employed for this purpose. After that, it is shovelled into skips and brought to the surface. A much greater output could be obtained with power drills ana the work made less laborious. But I understand that, except in a few mines, these are objected to, as also were safety lamps in the Rothbury mine in the incident of the strike previously mentioned. Yet even in this crude fashion the rates that I have quoted are being obtained. I promised to make an explanation of my Rothbury visit at the earliest opportunity owing to inaccurate press reports. I have done so. I consider that it is much better to gain actual facts and figures than to theorize on a subject. The Prime Minister, at one time during the coal trouble, had a controversy with the Premier of New South Wales. Mr. Bavin telegraphed asking what the Prime Minister intended to do in respect of the “ workers’ defence army “ that was being drilled and marched to certain mines on the coal-fields, and the Prime Minister wired back that he had no cognizance of anything of the sort happening.
– That was not the text of the wire.
– At any rate he said that he had no information on the subject, or words to that effect. The Premier of New South Wales, not satisfied with the reply, repeated his question, but received no satisfaction. Yet to-day the Federal Government is asking for more power, although it had sufficient power at that time to enforce peace on the coal-fields. Under Section 27 of the Crimes Act 1914 the Commonwealth Government could have issued a proclamation. That section reads -
Any person who -
Any person who … is trained or drilled.
Penalty: Two years.
For what purpose is the Government now asking for more power? It has made a sorry mess of tilings in the industrial world up to date, particularly on the coalfields and also in the waterside and timber industries; yet it is asking for greater industrial powers even though there is more unemployment to-day than there was when the last Government was in office.
– We are not now dealing with the timber- workers.
– In regard to the timberworkers, let me say that the members of the Government when in opposition, and you, yourself, Mr. Speaker, signed a document congratulating the timber-workers on defying an award of the Arbitration Court. This Government is asking for increased powers which will undoubtedly bring about a bigger muddle than we have at present. It is asking for power to interfere with the terms and conditions of labour and employment in any particular industry, profession, occupation or calling. It wants to interfere still further with the harassed businessman and manufacturer. It would be far preferable if the Government would get out of business and try governing the country. Why should it interfere with the rights and obligations of employers and employees? Any business man who has had anything to do with the Arbitration Court knows what a benefit that institution has been to the lawyer and union advocate. The real people concerned, the employer and employee, are scarcely in evidence, and the academic decisions given by the court based mainly on evidence as to the cost of living instead of upon the economics of the industry have almost precipitated an economic crisis in this country. This Government asks for more and more power, particularly in regard to disputes and lockouts. Its further interference in industry will bring about not only trouble on the coal-fields, but also disputes in every other industry. The Government claims that its object is the maintenance of industrial peace. Such a claim must give rise to laughter. When the Government was in opposition it, was the fat man and the Nationalist Government who were blamed for industrial unrest. To-day we have aggravated industrial unrest, and according to the
Government, it has been accentuated by the limitations imposed under the Constitution. The Government has no case; we all can safely say, in the words of the Attorney-General when he spoke this afternoon, “Leave it to the people.” We can trust them, because the people do not want Parliament to be the arbiter of industrial affairs. They are jealous of their rights as citizens of the Commonwealth, and 1 arn certain that both the proposal for full powers to enable the Government to wipe out the Constitution if necessary, and the proposal to enable” the Government to deal with industrial affairs, will be soundly defeated when they come to a referendum of the people.
.- -This proposed legislation is of outstanding importance. Question No. 1 was so ably explained by the- Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan), that it should meet with the support of all sections of this House. The fact that there has been no violation of the Constitution for the last 29 years is a great tribute to the intelligence and foresight of its framers. They evolved, according to their wisdom, the Constitution under which we have since worked. If they were here to-day and realized the manner in which the conditions have altered, they would agree with this Government that the time has arrived for a change to be made.- The outlook has completely changed, even in the lifetime of the young men who sit on this side of the House. Those old gentlemen about whom we have heard so much to-day did some queer things. They were responsible for the laying down of railway systems with five different gauges. If they were here to-day they would agree that it is a sound proposition to expend even £23,000,000 in unifying those systems.
I am confident that if the people were asked to vote upon the question of unification to-day, 85 per cent, of them would approve of it. The underlying motive in the establishment of federation was to have an Australian parliament working under an Australian constitution. The protagonists of federation said, “ If you give us that, we will abolish the five State Parliaments that are now constituted.” When the people voted for federation, they believed that that would be done. To-day the Leader of the Opposition ( Mr. Latham) said that unification would not decrease the cost of government. Could there be anything more unbusiness-like than the running of our railways? The co-ordination of the six different sets of management, with all that they imply, under a unified system, would certainly result in an enormous saving in overhead costs. Great Britain, South Africa and New Zealand possess the powers that we are asking the people of Australia to entrust to this Parliament. It may be said that we are flouting the will of the people by withdrawing from them the opportunity to express their views by way of a referendum. My reply to that is that any party which altered the Constitution to the detriment of the people would pay the price at the ensuing election. I could quote flagrant examples of the defeat of desirable legislation because of the existence of a weak constitution. In 1906 the High Court of Australia ruled that 123,000 railway men had no legal right to approach the Federal Arbitration Court. That position continued until 1920, when the decision was reversed. Since 1920 the biggest transport service in this country has run uninterruptedly. But under the existing Constitution the position can be altered at the whim of a High Court that is differently constituted. These men may be told at any time that they are denied the right, which is enjoyed by other citizens of the Commonwealth, to have their case adjudicated upon by the Federal Arbitration Court.
I was greatly struck with the comments of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) with respect to the second question that it is proposed to place before the people. When I wish to know anything about meat I ask the opinion of a butcher. In military matters I seek the advice of a military officer; and in industrial matters I go to a man who has had experience in industry. In his oration this evening the honorable member for Balaclava flagrantly abused his position.
– Order! The honorable member is not entitled to comment in that way upon the speech of another hon orable member, and I ask him to withdraw the expression he has used.
– I withdraw it. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) spent a day or two. in an investigation of the coal-mining industry, and this evening has endeavoured to bolster up an untenable position by reading uncorroborated figures. I am disappointed at the attitude of honorable members opposite towards the proposal of the Government in relation to industrial powers. For many years they have been urging us to bring about industrial peace. I believed that they were sincere, and looked to them to give us their hearty support. I respect the legal knowledge that is possessed by the Leader of the Opposition, hut I challenge his industrial knowledge. Honorable members who sit opposite have not worked in any industry, nor have they at any time been compelled to join an organization to protect themselves; yet when they were in office, they endeavoured to foist upon the working people of Australia, legislation that was so harsh that they failed to survive an appeal to the people in October last.
– Why ask the people, at a cost of £110,000 to grant powers that they have previously refused to confer on this Parliament?
– I want the people to give this Parliament the power to prevent what is occurring to-day on the northern coal-fields of New South Wales. An award was made by a legal tribunal, but it was flouted by the owners, who, during the past fifteen months, have locked out12,000 men. Those men have put up an epic fight. The coal-mine owners have done what the honorable members opposite castigated the waterside workers and timber workers for doing ; they have broken an award of the court. An interim award was made by Judge Beeby with a view to overcoming the difficulty. The owners were told that if they got the industry moving the court would later go into the details of their case. They refused to do so, but instead approached the High Court, which declared Judge Beeby’s award to be invalid. The latter, sitting in arbitration jurisdiction, made another award. Again the owners, although professing a desire for peace, issued a challenge, andthe award was upset. What better illustration could one have of the futility of our powers when a coterie of men can, with the assistance of the High Court, starve 12,000 men for fifteen months? That .is an answer to those who say that greater industrial powers are not needed by this Parliament.
– What would the Government have done if it had had greater powers?
– If we had had greater powers we could have prevented the High Court from upsetting Judge Beeby’s award. We could have told the owners that they were breaking the law, and that
Ave would deal with them to the fullest extent allowed by the law. That is not possible under the existing Constitution. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) read extracts from the judgment of Judge Beeby in support of the argument that payment by results must be introduced if Ave are to save industry. It will be generally admitted that in regard to industry, America is the land of “ speed up “ and “ frame up.” Being the home of mass production, it is able to compete more successfully with other parts of the world than can any portion of our Empire. According to the American Year-Booh of Labour, from 1918 to 1926 its production in manufacturing industries alone increased by 40 per cent., although 1,000,000 fewer workers were employed. In all industry, including manufactures, the production in the same period increased by 29 per cent, with 2,000,000 fewer workers; and there were 5,000,000 unemployed. No man who has any industrial knowledge, or a sincere regard for his fellow beings, can argue that a greater amount of work will be done if the workers are engaged for a longer number of hours.
– The number of unemployed in the United States of America i3 less than 5 per cent, of the population, while in South Australia at the present moment it is 17” per cent.
– If the honorable member believes that by men working longer hours, the economic position of the mass of the people will be relieved, he has yet to learn the A B C of industrialism. According to the trend of affairs in the world to-day it will not be long before men are working not 44 hours, but 25 hours a week; otherwise half the people in the world will be out of work. There has been a change throughout the world from the use of coal to the use of oil, and that has displaced tens of thousands of coal-workers. There has also been a change from coal to electricity, with the result that more men have been thrown out of employment. The introduction of electric traction reduced the number of steam-driven vehicles in use throughout the world, and the change from railway transport to road transport is displacing tens of thousands of railway men. We are now threatened with a further change from road transport to aerial transport, and that, again, will mean the displacement of a vast army of workmen. Owing to the elimination of horse-drawn vehicles, the demand for chaff has practically ceased, with the result that great numbers of men have been deprived of their former employment. Under mass production in the engineering trade it is possible for machines consisting of 26 different parts to be assembled and driven by unskilled men. This means the disappearance of the skilled engineers that we once knew. Schools throughout Australia are turning out numerous lads fully trained and equipped for trade occupations, but when they have completed their school course no jobs can be found for them. In Victoria alone, 900 boys are trained in this way every year; but many of them cannot find employment. The man with the shovel and the barrow is not required to-day in road-making; he is supplanted by the scoop and the steam shovel. If any honorable member opposite contends that the solution of the unemployed problem is to be found in longer hours of work, he has not learnt the rudiments of industrialism. Judging by the rate at which industry is being organized and changes are being effected, one-third of the workers of the world will be unemployed within the next five years.
One of the industrial powers sought under the second bill relates to employment and unemployment. I am not sufficiently extreme in my views to say that while capitalism lives unemployment wil! be found; but I do assert that the problem of unemployment should be approached in a practical manner. Unemployment relief cannot possibly be given as a State measure, because it will surely meet with opposition from the employing classes, who will say that it might handicap them in competition with industries in another State in which unemployment does not obtain.
– It would be helpful in Queensland.
– But it would not afford a solution of the problem. If power to deal with employment and unemployment were granted to the Commonwealth Parliament, the Government could handle the problem on national lines. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister announce in his statement of the Government’s policy t hat an unemployment relief bill would be introduced. I shudder to think what is likely to happen in this country in the next twelve months. I believe that, apart from the disabilities I have enumerated, the industrial position will demand full and complete control by this national Parliament. It will be the responsibility of members on both sides of the House to see that no person is left without means of sustenance during periods of unemployment. I do not suggest that the present position has been brought about by the late Government. I believe that it is due to some of the factors that I have mentioned, together with the unprecedented trade depression. I am most concerned about the relief measures to be adopted, and I am firmly convinced that, if this Parliament is armed with the industrial powers mentioned in the bill, we shall have gone a long way towards dealing with the problem on national lines. We shall then have the power to legislate with respect to every class of industry in Australia. On this matter I join issue with the Leader of the Opposition. In the discussion on the arbitration proposals last year, and again in. the debate to-day, be referred to what he called the great evil due to the overlapping awards of dual tribunals. But once a union becomes registered in the Federal Court, it has no right to go to a State Court for an award.
-The Western Australian timber-workers case is a very recent one.
– Those workers were included by J udge Lukin, not at the request of the Western Australian branch of the Timber Workers Union.
– But at the request of a federal organization.
-Which request was later the subject of a High Court judgment. But that cannot be advanced as an argument against federal arbitration. In New South Wales, some 300 State awards still remain on the statute-book; but practically80 per cent. of them have been replaced owing to the unions going to the Federal Court. In Victoria, a similar condition of affairs has come about in the railway industry. The Railways Commissioners objected that the railwaymen’s union was already covered by a State award, and they demanded that the employees should either remain under that award or accept an award of the Federal Court. The judge said that they had the option of adopting either course, but could not have it both ways. I maintain that that option can be exercised by every federal union in Australia. If the proposed increased powers are granted, the unions can be given the right to go to the Federal Arbitration Court, which is the natural corollary of a federated Australia. That court has done great work in the interests of the employees of this country. I would scrap every State court, and have one federal tribunal to deal with every aspect of industry from the lowest class of labouring man to the highest class of professional man.
– Is that the intention of the Government?
– That would be a matter for the unions whowould appear before the tribunal. I suggest that that is the practice adopted to-day by the Federal Arbitration Court which was established by the party opposite. Strikes will occur and so will lockouts. The timber-workers went on strike, and the coal-owners of Newcastle locked out their employees. Some power must be given to the National Parliament to ensure that the business of the country will not be held up. Such a power would enable the Parliament to secure proper industrial organization.
On the 31st May, 1913, a proposal for an alteration of the Constitution was submitted to the people, who were invited to grant industrial power identical with that. now under consideration. That proposal was defeated by only the small majority of 26,000 votes. As a new member, that strikes me as being an amazing aspect of the voting on that occasion.
– The proposal will be defeated by a. larger majority this time.
– A lot of water has flowed under the bridge in the last seventeen years. This issue was discussed at the election held on the 15th October, 1929, and wo know that the people of Australia almost unanimously supported the party that stood for the preservation of federal arbitration as an Australian institution. This Government wishes to amplify that system by making it workable in the interests of not only the trade unionists, but also of every citizen of the Commonwealth. I think that members of the Opposition should have admitted that this proposal was on all fours with the policy advocated by it for years. In 1925 the party opposite declared that it stood for industrial laws that would give peace in industry. We know what a mess they made of the amending legislation.It was drafted by clever legal men, but they had no human outlook on industrial matters. Last year the Nationalists asked the people to sanction the abandonment of the federal arbitration system. The Labour party advised the people not to allow the Nationalist Government to do that wrong, but pointed out that the Arbitration Act in its existing form was not operable to the satisfaction of either employers or employees, and that in order that it might be rendered effective the Commonwealth should be invested with full powers to legislate in relation to industrial matters. I am sure that the existing defects in the arbitration system can be remedied. The first proposal to give to this Parliament complete power to amend the Constitution is warranted by precedents, for that power is enjoyed by other Parliaments in the Empire. The exercise of it will not be an infringement of the rights of the people, because any government that induces the Parliament to sanction an alteration of the Constitution must face the people, and if, in their opinion, it has acted wrongly it will crash as the Bruce-Page Government crashed last year. In regard to the second bill relating to industrial powers, I remind the House that the last election was fought on the question of retaining the federal arbitration system. All parties were agreed that the existing act is unsatisfactory. The Labour party supported the retention of the act, but said that before it could be effectively improved greater power should be given to this Parliament to function as the great minds which framed the Constitution intended it to do. In 29 years changes have taken place, and the Constitution must be brought, into conformity with the conditions of industry to-day. I support the bills.
.- The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane) has dolefully forecasted an increase of unemployment and greater industrial troubles, and his only remedy is increased legislative interference. One would think that Australia, which has approximately the area of the United States of America, and is endowed with great and varied natural resources, could support four or five times its present population. The honorable member must be made to realize that if we discontinue political interference with industry, set the people to work, and teach them that only by the production of wealth can they expect to enjoy good conditions, greater prosperity in the near future will be their reward. The honorable member spoke of the hundreds of thousands of pounds that would be saved if the railway systems were unified. What is the curse of the railways to-day?
– Union secretaries.
Mr.GREGORY. - I do not say that. It is political interference from all quarters. If we compare the conditions in Australia with those under which the railways in other countries operate we need no longer wonder why primary industries cannot be conducted at a profit. The honorable member for Bendigo would place the Arbitration Act beyond the jurisdiction of the High Court. Has heno respect for the provisions of the Constitution ? The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) said that I am opposed to progress. Much depends on what he means by progress. The progress I want is that which is the result of the initiative of the people. I have only contempt for those who are always running to Parliament for special consideration, regardless of how it will injure others. We have had an illustration of that recently in connexion with the wine industry. This evil is partly due to the selfishness of members of Parliament who run about their constituencies offering favours and concessions, careless of what harm may be done to other sections of the community so long as they win votes for themselves. No proposal ever submitted to this Parliament could be more fitly described as a confidence trick than the bill introduced by the Prime Minister to give to this Parliament full power to amend the Constitution.
– The honorable member is not in order in describing proposed legislation in that way.
– I am surprised that the Prime Minister, for whom I have a very high regard, should submit a proposal of this kind without making clear to the people what it means. The Constitution contains special safeguards for the smaller States. Its framers knew that, as time went on, alterations would be required to adjust the Constitution to changed conditions, and the necessary machinery for amending it is provided in section128. In recent years tremendous advances have been made in regard to aviation, wireless, and other scientific developments, and I have little doubt that, if this Parliament applied to the people for greater power to deal with those matters, it would be willingly given. But alterations of the Constitution should be made, not by Parliament, but by the people. I appeal to the representatives of South Australia and Tasmania to visualize the probable effects of the Government’s proposals. The Imperial Parliament when it passed the Constitution Act agreed that a majority of the electors and a majority of the States should have power to amend the Constitution, except in regard to the minimum representation of the original
States, the equal representation of the States in the Senate, and State boundaries. These could not be altered except with the consent of the people of the State concerned. Because of these three reservations the people of Western Australia were induced the join the federation, and I resent that the Prime Minister, when introducing the bill, did not frankly ask for the repeal of section 128, for there is no doubt that that will be the effect of his proposal to add these words in section 129 -
Notwithstanding anything contained in the last preceding section, the Parliament shall have full power to alter the Constitution in the following manner: -
The proposed law for the alteration thereof must, after the lapse of one month from its origination in a house of the Parliament, be passed by an absolute majority of each house of the Parliament and be assented to by the GovernorGeneral.
Not only does that destroy one of the safeguards which induced the smaller States to federate, but it is a departure from one of the guiding principles of the Labour party that the people should be consulted in regard to any change of the Constitution. In future the people are not to be consulted. I contrast the attitude of the Government with the statement of Mr. Bavin that he would not violate the Constitution by asking the Parliament to reform the Upper House without consulting the people. The New South Wales Parliament had the power to effect this change but as a vital principle was involved Mr. Bavin insisted upon it being submitted to the people of his State. Yet the Labour party in this Parliament is asking the people to agree to an amendment of the Constitution whereby this Parliament may, in future without consulting the people, make any drastic changes in the Constitution that the majority party for the time being may desire. Clearly this proposal means unification, and the Government should frankly declare that its objective is to make this Parliament supreme, so that it may be able to dictate to the States, and even abolish the State Parliaments if it thinks fit. We must not forget the size of Australia and the diversity of its conditions. Upon approximately the same area in the United States of America 120,000,000 of people are living in prosperity. Australia, too, could be prosperous. If we repealed the legislation that hampers industry, and induced the people to realize that their progress and comfort must depend upon their own exertions, Australia would make the same progress as Canada has made. According to the last budget statement of the Canadian Minister for Finance, that dominion, which has the lowest tariff in the world, and whose people enjoy. good wages and industrial conditions, is able to boast that its exports of secondary products last year exceeded the whole of its exports in 1914. And this notwithstanding that Canada is competing with the United States of America, which has the advantage of greater development and mass production. The explanation is that the Canadian people do not attempt to interfere with economic laws in the stupid manner that we do. It is time the people of Australia resented the interference of flattering but self-seeking politicians. In 1926 a powerful section of the American people urged President Coolidge to seek greater power for the National Parliament. I quote from the World’s Work of July, 1926-
The President of the United States went to Williamsburg, Virginia, where he made a plea for the power of State governments and the limitation of federal activity to its proper sphere. The most salient part of his speech was -
No method of procedure has ever been devised by which liberty could be divorced from self-government. No plan- of centralization has ever been adopted which did not result in bureaucracy, tyranny, inflexibility, reaction, and decline. Of all forms of government those administered by bureaus are about the least satisfactory to an enlightened and progressive people. Being irresponsible they become autocratic, and being autocratic they resist all development. Unless bureaucracy is constantly resisted it breaks down representative government and overwhelms democracy. It is the one element in our institutions that sets up the pretence of having authority over everybody and being responsible to nobody.
While we ought to glory in the Union and remember that it is the source from which the States derive their chief title to fame, we must also recognize that the national administration is not, and cannot be adjusted to the needs of local government. It is too far away to be informed of local needs, too inaccessible to be responsive to local conditions. The States should not be induced by coercion or by favour to surrender the management of their own affairs. The Federal Government ought to resist the tendency to be loaded up with duties which the States should perform. It does not follow that because something ought to be done the national government ought to do it.
That is the opinion of the President of the United States of America after three years’ experience in office. He urged the people of the United States of America to retain their Constitution which gave the federal authority full control of national affairs and left to the State the control of domestic affairs. Under the Constitution of the United States of America, the Federal Government has less power than has been given to this Parliament. We have, greater power than the Canadian Central Government has under the Canadian Constitution. A great many powers have been conferred on the Australian- Federal Parliament under section 51 of the Constitution, and of these how many have we ever tried to avail ourselves? Nevertheless, we are all the time stretching out for further control of industry, trade, and commerce which, under the Constitution, have been left entirely to the States. All the evils of bureaucracy and official control outlined by President Coolidge would operate from Canberra under these proposals. The people have frequently been asked to grant wider powers to the Federal Parliament, but- on only three occasions have those powers been conceded. The reason is that the people have not trusted this Parliament. The Federal Parliament has not lived up to what the people expected of it when it was created. If it had come up to expectations, I am confident that when extra powers were wanted they would have been granted, but not such supreme powers as are now requested.
I wish to enter an appeal here on behalf of the smaller States, particularly Western Australia. We know what it would mean to the smaller States if these drastic powers were conferred on the Federal Parliament. A decade ago South Australia had many thriving industries. Where are they now? The result of a further extension of powers to the Federal Parliament would be tragic for the smaller
States. If the affairs of the whole Commonwealth were dominated by New South Wales and Victoria, as they would be under a supreme national Parliament, conditions in the smaller States would be bad indeed. As regards Western Australia, I wish to make it quite clear where I stand. If these extra powers are granted, and the Federal Parliament breaks faith with Western Australia, I shall get out and spend the rest of my life trying to induce the people of that State to secede from federation. During the last three or four months I have received a great number of letters from people in Western Australia, urging that we should retire from federation. It i» true that we agreed to become part of an indissoluble Commonwealth, but it was on certain conditions, and if those conditions arc not fulfilled, the contract is broken, and we are free to act as we think fit.
The Government is seeking power to alter the Constitution in any way it pleases. It is seeking to take away from the States the control of trade within the States, and to give supreme power over such matters to the Federal Parliament, even to the extent of controlling the issue of a pedlar’s licence.
– Can the honorable member not trust the people?
– I can, but the Government has shown that it docs not. If it did it would be content to leave to the people power to effect such alterations in the Constitution as they desired, instead of which it seeks that power for itself. Even the Labour party’s own representatives on the Royal Commission upon the Constitution were not prepared to grant the powers asked for under this proposal. Those representatives were not in favour of granting Parliament power to extend its own life, nor to alter the principle of adult franchise, but if this amendment to the Constitution is carried the Federal Parliament will have full power to do both those things. It, will also have power to interfere with the land settlement policy of the States, and with the minimum representation of the States in the Senate. Section 7 of the Constitution provides that representation in the Senate shall be as follows: -
Until the Parliament otherwise provides, there shall be six senators for each original State. The Parliament may make laws increasing or diminishing the number of senators for each State, but so that equal representation of the several original States shall be maintained, and that no original State shall have less than six senators.
Under these proposals, while, it might not be possible to get rid of the Senate at once, it would be possible for the Federal Parliament to alter the basis of representation so as to give the representatives of Victoria and New South Wales complete control by allowing representation on a population basis for the Senate with the ultimate intention of doing away with the second chamber.
The second proposal of the Government is very different from that submitted by the Bruce-Page Government in the referendum of 1926.
– Did the honorable member support the 1926 proposal.
– I did not support it. If the honorable member knew anything of parliamentary - proceedings he would know that two members, the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) and myself divided the House on that issue. There were 70 members opposed to us including the whole of the Labour ni embers, but we judged the wishes of the people better than they. The BrucePage Government on that occasion did not ask for nearly so drastic powers as ure being sought now regarding industrial control. It merely asked that Parliament have power to create courts to deal with industrial legislation; but this Government is asking that the Federal Parliament should have power to pass legislation to control conditions in any trade or calling. It is asking that Parliament should have power to pas; legislation for a working week of 22 hours, as advocated by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane).
– The honorable member for Bendigo said nothing of the kind.
– Well, he said it was coming to that. At any rate, it is proposed that this Parliament should have power to fix the hours of labour in various industries. Do we really want such power, or do we want to leave it to the court? Personally, I do not believe in the Arbitration Court at all. It has been the cause of a great deal of trouble in industry. Is it, desirable that this Parlia meat should have power to pass legislation fixing the hours and conditions of industry ? If it has such power, it is quite possible that some parliament in the future will exercise it.
It has been said that the people decided in favour of Commonwealth arbitration at the last election. I deny that. It is true that the Bruce-Page Government desired the election to turn on the arbitration issue, but, unfortunately, many other questions were raised during the campaign. For instance, the move to discontinue the office of Public Service Arbitrator antagonized the Public Service. Then the budget proposals, which provided for the imposition of additional taxation upon the motion picture industry, caused every theatre in Australia to be used in a campaign against the Government. Proposed increases in taxation on motorists antagonized a large class of electors, and the publicans and brewers were also aggrieved by certain proposals of the Government. In addition to that, the Labour party promised to do all kinds of things to restore peace in the coal industry. The result wasthat the people did not give a verdict upon the retention or abolition of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court.
However, this subject has been considered by the electors. In 1926, the Bruce-Page Government submitted certain proposals to the people with the object of enlarging the Commonwealth power in connexion with industry and commerce. These were endorsed by the Labour party. I believe that 70 members of this House voted in favour of them Mr. A. S.Rodgers, who was then the member for Wannon, and myself divided the House on the subject. Indirectly, if not directly, the Labour party announced that although it desired to secure other alterations to the Constitution, it would do its utmost to get the people to accept the proposals submitted by the Government. What was the result? In the division of Dalley, 12,411 electors voted in favour of the proposed law, and 24,455 against it.
– I think the representative of that division was the only Labour member who voted against the proposals.
– That is not so. No Labour member in either House voted against the Bruce Government’s proposal.
I give the following details of the voting in other strong Labour divisions in New South Wales: -
– But New South Wales returned a majority in favour of the alteration.
– That is so; but it was a small majority. The figures were : For, 566,973; against, 533,284. I come now to Victoria. The Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) has, as we all know, a big influence in the division of Yarra. Yet. the voting in that constituency was 24,148 in favour of the proposed law and 24,741 against it. Figures for other Labour constituencies in Victoria were as follows : -
I could give similar instances of the defeat of the proposals in strong Labour constituencies.
– What does the honorable member conclude from those facts?
– That the people do not desire the Commonwealth to have full control over industrial affairs, even though the Labour members so strongly supported the proposal, or is it a fact that they were not sincere on that occasion. I quote the following returns from South Australian Labour constituencies : -
The result in my own constituency was very satisfactory to me, for 10,268 persons voted in favour of the proposed law, and 26,593 against it. The total affirmative vote in Western Australia was 46,469, and the total negative vote was 112,185. This vote was taken less than four years ago. If the people were not prepared at that time to give this Parliament power to set upcourts to determine the wages and conditions that should prevail in industry, it seems most unlikely that they will now clothe it with absolute power to control industry throughout this great continent.
I should like a responsible Minister to inform me what is meant by the words “ terms and conditions of labour, and employment in any trade, industry, profession, or calling.” It seems to me that if this Parliament is to consider matters of that description honorable members will be pestered by lobbyists to a greater extent than they are now pestered with them in regard to the tariff. “We shall have the representatives of every small industry making requests to us for special consideration. The whole thing is utterly absurd. Parliament to a great extent is to take the place of an arbitration court. I should also like an explanation of the term “ the maintenance of industrial peace.” What more does the Government think it can do to maintain industrial peace if this proposed alteration is agreed to ? The phrase seems to me to be very far-reaching and to my mind would give the Government power to nationalize industries if it thought that doing so would maintain industrial peace.
I am firmly convinced that the people refused in 1926 to clothe this Parliament with additional power because they lack confidence in it. This Parliament has caused a great deal of ill feeling to grow up between the States and the Commonwealth because of the manner in which it has encroached upon the State authority. The entry of the Commonwealth into the sphere of industrial legislation was an encroachment on State rights. It was never intended by the framers of the Constitution that the Commonwealth should have authority over industry except in relation to shipping and other work of a similar national character. The fact that the Commonwealth has assumed power to determine the working conditions of State railway employees has also caused a great deal of ill feeling. An arbitration court judge rode on a locomotive some time ago with the object of gaining some knowledge of the work of enginedriving. It is abominably and contemptibly absurd for us to authorize judges to fix the conditions of work on the State railways. The Canadian system of agreement between the employees and those in control is well worth examination. Practically every State railway system is to-day working at a big loss. In New South Wales many employees have been dismissed, and others are working on short time in order to provide employment for a greater number of men and to a big extent this is due to federal interference.
– The working conditions on the railway system of Western Australia are not governed by Commonwealth awards.
– That is so; and the Western Australian railway system is the only one that is paying expenses.
– Not all the trades and callings in the railway systems of South Australia, Queensland, or New South Wales are subject to Commonwealth awards.
– It cannot be denied, however, that Commonwealth awards have greatly interferred with railway operations in all the States. It is an encroachment on the rights of the State, a violation of the Constitution, and so impracticable and absurd a method that I wonder at it being tolerated for a moment. The Commonwealth also encroached upon State rights in connexion with the new ‘protection and the savings bank business. A special condition was inserted in the Constitution to ensure that the States would continue to have the benefit of the State Savings Bank business after federation. But the Commonwealth Government took away the goodwill that had been created through the post-offices doing State Savings Bank business and robbed the States of the control of the savings of the people.
When we are in committee on the Constitution Industrial Powers Bill I intend to move an amendment which will give the people the opportunity of indicating clearly whether they desire Commonwealth arbitration or State arbitration. They cannot have both.’ It must be one or -the other. The people have never had these alternatives clearly submitted to them at the same time. My amendment will give honorable members opposite a good opportunity to show whether they are really prepared to trust the people. This is a question for the people of Australia to decide. They should be given an opportunity of saying whether full control should be given to the Commonwealth in respect of. industry, or whether the Commonwealth should retire from the industrial field and leave its control in the hands of the States.
– Even in regard to interstate disputes?
– Questions like trade and commerce which, as explained by the Leader of the Opposition, affect seamen, should be controlled by the Commonwealth and this can be done under Trade and Commerce powers, but outside of that and so far as the industrial laws are concerned, the control should be left in the hands of the States. I have placed an amendment on the notice-paper, which will give the electors an opportunity of saying which power should control industry - Federal or State. It has been given publicity and I propose to move it when we are in committee. If this Parliament accepts the proposal to alter the Constitution and it is approved by the people of Australia, Western Australia will consider that it has been treated disloyally and dishonorably by the Federal Parliament, and there will be such a cry for secession that nothing on earth will stop it, and the destruction of the federation of Australia will inevitably follow.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Martens) adjourned.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Duty on Fortifying Spirit.
– I move -
That the resolution moved in the House of Representatives on the twelfth day of March, One thousand nine hundred and thirty (that the Schedule to the Excise Tariff 1921-1928 be further amended as set out in that resolution), be amended by adding at the end thereof the following proviso: - “ Provided that in respect of the fortifying spirit contained in any wine sold in fulfilment of a contract in writing which is proved to the satisfaction of the Minister to have been entered into on or before the twelfth day of March, One thousand nine hundred and thirty, and which is still subsisting, the duties of excise shall be as follows: -
Spirit for fortifying Australian wine, distilled wholly from the fresh juice of Doradillo grapes, subject to regula tions per proof gallon . . 5s.
Spirit for fortifying Australian wine, n.e.i., subject to regulations per proof gallon . . 6s.”.
I have moved this motion in order to give effect to the promise made by the Prime Minister in his statement of the 21st of this month, to safeguard those wineries that had sold large quantities of wine under written contract under the assumption that the old rates of excise duty would apply.
.- I presume that this motion, together with the original resolution, will form the subject-matter of a single debate?
– That is so.
The following papers were presented : -
Audit Act - Transfers approved by the Governor-General in Council - Financial Year 1928-29- Dated 13th March, 1930.
Commonwealth Bank Act - Treasurer’s Statement of combined accounts of the Bank and Savings Bank at 31st December, 1929; together with the certificate of the Auditor-General.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Ordinance of 1930 - No. 2 - Church Lands Leases.
Workers’ Homes at Keswick.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin ) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I wish to bring before the Government the plight of a number of the inhabitants of Maple-avenue, Keswick. They have been the victims of a flooded drain running through the showgrounds to the railway line and through the Military Hospital grounds at Keswick. This flood caused great havoc in that area and considerable inconvenience to the inhabitants. It occurred on the 27 th December last, two days after Christmas. Similar floods took place in October, 1924, February, 1925, and May, 1925. On each occasion the inhabitants suffered severe damage to their properties. The houses concerned are workers’ homes and were built, by the State Bank. “Whether these houses should have been built by the State Bank in that, particular locality is another matter altogether. The question now is - who is going to compensate these unfortunate persons for the damage done to their properties? The previous Government built the drain through the military grounds at Keswick in order to carry water through State property. But instead of building an open drain, the Defence Department built a closed in drain with two cylinder concrete pipes. I am not. an engineer, but. I should say that it should have provided an open drain like that which carries the water from the showground on to the military hospital grounds. After the 1925 flood, and when the Federal Government placed the drain through its property, the inhabitants on the flooded area were given an assurance that there would be no more trouble from storm waters, yet, as I have related, on the 27th December, 1929, the drain overflowed, and a number of the residents living in the neighbourhood were flooded out. The names of those who suffered most were Mrs. Cummings, a widow with a large family, Mr. G. G. Donaldson, Mr. W. Hankwell, Mr. A. Foura and Mr. W. Harris. The water flowed right through their houses, and on the day of the flood when I visited the site I saw their furniture floating about in the rooms. In. the case of Messrs. W. E. Surman, H. Kiley, Joyce, and Henderson, the flood waters filled- their backyards, came up to the houses and caused considerable damage and inconvenience. In the case of Mr. R. Becker, who lives on the opposite side of Maple Terrace, the water crossed the road, flooded his garden, and came right up to the foundations of his house. This is a very important matter to those concerned. All these residents are living in State bank houses. They are workers who have been struggling to make homes for them- selves and their families. The flood has caused them no end of expense, which they can ill afford, and I regret to say that many of them are unemployed and have been so for many months. I want to pay a tribute to the Minister for Defence (Mr. A. Green) for the prompt action he took on receipt of my telegram. On his way to Western Australia he was good enough to visit the Keswick Military Hospital and see the position for himself. In addition, he instructed his responsible officers to give him a full report. He has replied to all my correspondence, but it does not seem to meet the case, because the same old drain built by the’ previous Government is being reinstalled. I take up the position that someone, whether it be the Federal Government or the State Bank, ought to pay compensation to these unfortunate householders. I have just received a letter from the Unley City Council asking me to arrange for the Minister to meet representatives of the council and those concerned on the spot. I realize that that cannot be done while the House is in session, but in the meantime I feel that the responsibility to pay compensation should be shouldered by some one, and I ask the Government to give the matter its earnest attention.
– I was on my way to Western Australia on the day prior to the flood referred to by the honorable member. Three inches of rain within twelve’ hours in a place like Adelaide, situated as it is within a circle of mountains, caused a serious flood, and as the channel provided to carry away the waters from the Keswick Barracks was designed to meet ordinary conditions, the Defence Department disclaims any responsibility in connexion with what happened. The engineers of the department claim that they have taken every precaution by providing two drain pipes, approximately 5 feet in diameter, under.ground for a considerable distance, and that this provision will cops with all the water that is likely to pass over the ground. They blame the municipal council for not providing a clear getaway. There is no proper drain to provide an outlet for the waters that leave the Defence Department’s property, and consequently there is a block, as I saw for myself when I passed some distance along the channel. It is claimed that it was a mistake to build houses in a low area which has been flooded from time to time; but the department has built up an embankment to try to dam back the water in future and protect the houses that suffer. The engineers claim that if the local council will open the drain below the defence property the drainage already provided by the department is sufficient to carry off any ordinary storm water. I hope, therefore, that the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) will have no occasion for further complaints as far as my department is concerned, and that thecouncil, the representatives of which he is anxious for me to meet, will accept the view of the departmental engineers and provide a proper outlet for the waters below the Defence Department’s property. If they do so, there should be no trouble in the future.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.49 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 26 March 1930, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1930/19300326_reps_12_123/>.