12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. NormanMakin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and offered prayers.
Assent to the followingbills reported : -
Seat of Government (Administration)
Customs Tariff Validation Bill.
Solar Observatory Fund Bill.
Successor to Lord Stonehaven.
– Is it the intention of the Government in the appointment of a successor to the Governor-General, Lord Stonehaven, to depart from the practice which has been adopted since the establishment of federation?
Mr.SCULLIN. - I shall he interested to hear what the honorable gentleman refers to as “ the practice that has been adopted since federation.”
– I base my question upon press reports to the effect that it is the intention of the Government to appoint an Australian as the next GovernorGeneral.
– I have yet to learn that it has been laid down that an Australian may not be recommended for the office.
– I made no such suggestion.
– I should be astonished to learn that to be an Australian would be a disqualification for the position. However, the question whether the fact thata man has been born in Australia or some other part of the Empire is a qualification or disqualification does not at present arise.
– By way of personal explanation-
– The honorable member may make a personal explanation only if he has been misrepresented.
– It is because of misrepresentation that I wish to say a word. I had no other purpose in asking my question than to seek information about an extraordinarily interesting and significant matter.
– Is it the intention of the Government, upon the expiration of Lord Stonehaven’s term as Governor-General, to discontinue the practice that has prevailed since federation of arranging the appointment of an imperi al Governor-General ?
– The Government does not appoint the Governor-General.
Mr.Archdale Parkhill. - I said “ arrange for the appointment.”
– Then the honorable gentleman suggests that, if we do not actually make the appointment, we tell some other authority what it must do in the matter.
– Why fence? The question can be answered by a plain yes or no.
– I am endeavouring to elicit the exact meaning of the question.
– The Prime Minister knows very well what it means.
– I certainly thought that the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) knew, as most other honorable members know, that it is His Majesty the King who appoints the Governor-General. I have not the slightest doubt that the appointment will be an imperial one, inasmuch as the appointee will be some one resident within the Empire.
– I ask the right honorable the Prime Minister, if, in connexion with the appointment of a new Governor-General, he intends to perpetuate the system of selecting brokendown English politicians and office seekers and pensioned military and naval officers ?
– I ask the honorable member not to reflect upon any person who has occupied the high and honorable position of Governor-General of this Commonwealth.
– I am not proposing to do so.
– The terms of the honorable member’s question were such a reflection.
– I referred to future appointments. I do not think that there is anything in the Standing Orders to prevent me from using the words that I have used in connexion with future appointments.
– It is for the Speaker alone to determine whether such words constitute a reflection upon any person. I ask the honorable member to frame his question in such a way as not to reflect upon or deal discourteously with that high and honorable office.
– On a point of order. I understand that the Standing Orders provide that an honorable member may not in debate reflect upon the Governor-General, but I submit that my question related to a future appointment, and that I did not reflect in any way upon the present GovernorGeneral. I therefore ask, sir, if you rule my question out of order on the ground that I am reflecting upon the person who may be appointed to the office of Governor-General?
– I did not rule the honorable member’s question out of order because he referred in certain terms to a future appointment, but I shall rule him out of order if he persists in prefacing his question with such words as those which he has used.
– Then I ask the right honorable gentleman if the Government proposes to recommend the appointment to the position of Governor-General of a retired or broken-down-
– If he proposes to recommend for future appointment-
– I rise to order. I submit that an honorable member is grossly out of order in any reflection cast-
– It is unworthy of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) to raise a point of order at this juncture, as he knows that T have already intervened to keep the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch) in order.
– But the honorable member is persisting in his disorder.
– I shall deal with the honorable member for Corangamite if he persists in disregarding my direction. -Should I fail in my duty, it will be for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition or other members to direct attention to the fact; but while I am seeking to direct the conduct of the business of the House in the right way, I do not think the Deputy (Leader of the Opposition is justified in raising a point of order. I ask the honorable member for Corangamite not to transgress again.
– I do not think I deserve that rebuke. In the circumstances I shall not ask the question.
– I ask. the Prime Minister if it is not a fact that the Governor of every Canadian province is a person of Canadian birth?
– I frankly confess that I do not know. I deprecate, however, the raising at this stage of the question of nationality. None of these inquiries will cause me to disclose any confidential advice or recommendation that I, as Prime Minister, may have made to His Majesty the King.
– Perhaps it would satisfy the anxiety of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) and other honorable members if the right honorable the Prime Minister will state if in recommending the appointment of a successor to the present GovernorGeneral, it is the intention to recommend the appointment of an Australian citizen?
– The Government will take the responsibility of tendering certain advice to His Majesty the King.
– The right honorable gentleman told me that he would not.
– I said that the Government did not make the appointment.
– The right honorable gentleman said that the Government was not going to arrange it.
– The Government will at the proper time take the responsibility of tendering certain advice to His Majesty the King, and when the appointment has been made by His Majesty, an announcement will be made.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether, in the event of the Government advising His Majesty to appoint an Australian citizen as the next Governor-General, he will before such an appointment is made, give this House an opportunity of discussing a change of policy of such far reaching importance to the Empire?
– One might expect such a question from a mere tyro in politics, but not from one who has been one of His Majesty’s Ministers in this Parliament. The person recommended for the new appointment will be one worthy to fill the position, irrespective of his place of birth. The Government will not, however, submit to this Hou3e the recommendation which His Majesty will be asked to consider. Any recommendation will be based, not upon the birth-place of the person concerned, but upon his suitability to occupy the high and honorable position to be filled. The matter cannot be discussed in this House, because the appointment will be- the act of His Majesty the King.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Blakeley) been drawn to an article which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald of the 25th March concerning a scheme, proposed by a Mr. Potts, formerly of the Hawkesbury Agricultural College, for bringing a large number of Maltese to
Australia to engage in farm work? Will the Minister assure us that preference will not be given to Maltese?
– I have seen statements to the effect that Mr. Potts, as representing the Maltese Government, has a scheme for the bringing into Australia of a large number of Maltese immigrants; but no official information has yet been received from Mr. Potts on the subject. Should any such request be made to the Government, it will most certainly not allow large numbers of Maltese to enter Australia under the conditions which prevail at present.
– Statements have appeared in a section of the press to the effect that there is no accommodation in Canberra for visitors, and that therefore tourists should arrange for accommodation outside the city area. I believe that those statements are untrue. If they are, will the Minister deny them?
– There is ample accommodation for tourists visiting Canberra.
– It is stated in the Sydney Morning Herald that a loan which has been on the market for some time will close on the 7th of this month. Is that being done because the Government has got sufficient money subscribed? The loan, I understand, is for the conversion of an earlier loan which matures on the loth December next.
– The whole of the amount falling due in December next has not been subscribed, nor was it contemplated that we should raise now an amount sufficient to convert the whole of that loan. The purpose of the Treasury was to invite those who had the money to subscribe to a loan of £10,000,000 for the conversion of a loan maturing in March, and to subscribe towards the conversion of the December loan. The fact that more than half of the money required has now been subscribed has dispersed a heavy cloud which was overshadowing Australia’s financial position. The loan has been closed because it was felt that it was opportune to close it. The money subscribed will make the December conversion very much easier. We shall have to go on the market for more money to meet the requirements of the Commonwealth and the States for ordinary public works, and it would be unwise to have that loan and a conversion loan on the market at the same time.
– Is it the intention of the Government to proceed with the debate on the tariff schedules before the E aster ad j ournmen t ?
– I do not think there will be any opportunity for the tariff schedules to be considered by Parliament before the House adjourns for Easter.
– In view of the rapid manner in which the tariff schedule was amended and the influence upon primary production of higher duties which have not yet been approved by Parliament, can the Prime Minister sav what is the earliest date on which the tariff schedule can be discussed?
– I am anxious to give Parliament the earliest opportunity to discuss the tariff schedule; but the date on which that can be done will depend largely upon honorable members themselves.
– As honorable members have not had any opportunity of discussing the various tariff schedules which have been introduced since last August, I ask the Prime Minister if he will make provision for such schedules to be discussed as soon as they havebeen introduced ?
– The honorable member refers to a tariff schedule brought down in August, but this Government did not table that schedule and several have been tabled since that date. This Government came into office in October, and submitted its first schedule in November. Only two or three weeks of the session remained before Christmas. It is rarely that a new government faces Parliament, except to obtain an adjournment, but this Government met the Parliament for a few weeks, and carried certain emergency legislation. Only another fortnight remains to deal with the urgent measures that we desire to pass before the Easter adjournment. It is not the Government’s wish to keep tariff schedules on the table without full parliamentary discussion.
– What will the Government do in the future?
– We shall give Parliament the earliest opportunity to discuss any schedule submitted.
Con ference - Royalcomission’s Report.
– Does the Prime Minister intend to make a statement to the House as to the outcome of the coal conference over which he presided in Sydney during the week-end?
– I have nothing to add to the statement that I gave to the press for publication after the conference rose on Saturday. I called the conference for the purpose of bringing the coalmine owners and the miners together to see if they could find a solution of the deadlock. I drew their attention to the seriousness of the continuation of the dispute, pointed out its effect on Australia’s credit abroad, and left the members of the conference to thrash matters out among themselves. There were certain proposals and counter proposals, and it was mutually agreed that none of these should be made public. The parties went back to their respective organizations, and there the matter rests.
– Will the Prime Minister make the full text of the report of the Coal Commission available, and give Parliament an opportunity to discuss it?
– I think that it should be made available to honorable members, and I shall make every endeavour to have that done. As to when it will be discussed, I am not in a position to say. We have a very largo legislative programme awaiting consideration, and unless legislation is contemplated in regard to the commission’s report, the mere discussion of it would not take us any further. The report and recommendations of the commission generally would seem to involve State rather than Commonwealth legislation.
– I ask the Prime Minister if the Government will cause an announcement to be made requesting directors of banks and other individuals to discontinue theirpessimistic utterances concerning Australia’s financial position. Will the right honorable gentleman also make an early announcement concerning Australia’s credit?
– I propose to make a statement shortly on financial and other subjects. I have never had any doubt concerning the soundness of Australia’s credit.
Questions on notice called on.
– I rise to a question of privilege. I feel that my rights have been interfered with. At all times since you have occupied the chair, Mr. Speaker,I have shown the greatest respect for you as Speaker; but as in your predominant position you warned me, as you did just now, not to transgress again, I feel that I have a right to the protection of the House. I shall relate the circumstances to which I refer. I directed a question to the Prime Minister, and on your declaring that it was not in order, I withdrew it. I then proceeded to ask another question, which you accepted as being in order; but the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) objected to it. You reproved him for some remark that he made, and, turning to me, warned me not to transgress again. I submit that I was thus subjected to indignity, and that that reproof was an abuse of your position. I say this with respect, but I think that it was not right for you, as Speaker, to say what you did to me, an ordinary member of this House. If I transgressed in the first instance, I had withdrawn the remark to which objection was taken, and to be warned that I must not transgress again was not fair to my position. I had not the slightest intention to transgress again, and I did not do so. I amended my question to meet your requirements, yet, when the Deputy Leader of the Opposition interposed, you warned me not t.o transgress again. 1 feel that an indignity has been put on me. I understand that on a question of privilege it is usual to conclude with a motion.
– Not necessarily.
– I do not wish to submit a motion. If I were to do that I would ask the House to declare that I had not done anything to warrant the Speaker’s rebuke.
– A speech on a question of privilege must conclude with a motion.
– Not necessarily.
– Only when it arises out of some newspaper statement. I am not ignorant of parliamentary procedure. I have been appointed to the very honorable position of a Temporary Chairman of Committees. I do not think that I have ever been guilty of such transgression as that of which I have been accused, and I think that I have a right to defend myself. I respectfully leave the matter in your hands.
– I feel it my duty io state the position as I see it as the presiding officer of this House. I desire to show uniform impartiality in the exercise of my duties as Speaker. No matter who the member may be, if I consider that he is transgressing any rule of debate, I shall seek to direct him into the proper course. The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch) rose to ask a question of the Prime Minister, and in framing it he used words which I thought were certainly offensive, and calculated to bring a high office into public contempt. I sought to bring him to a realization of -what those words might convey, and, therefore, I called him to order. He rose to ask the question a second time, and on the latter occasion, lie used the term “ broken-down “, which I regarded, taken with the other words employed in his first question, as undesirable. At that moment the Deputy Leader of the Opposition rose to a point of order, but, whether he had risen at that juncture or not, I would have called the honorable member for Corangamite to order because of the terms in which his second question was framed. I intimated to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that I felt it was unnecessary for him to rise at the moment when I was seeking to correct the honorable member .for Corangamite. I have no desire to humiliate that honorable member, but 1 do not intend to allow anything to be done or said in this chamber that is likely to bring discredit upon it, by a reflection on a high and honorable public position over which we exercise a certain amount of jurisdiction. I have no wish to treat the honorable member differently from any other honorable gentleman in this House. If I have erred at all I have done it unconsciously. I have endeavoured in the most fair and impartial way to carry out my duties as Speaker, and I feel they should be discharged to the honour and credit of this Parliament.
– It would be improper for me to enter into a discussion with you, sir, on this matter, but since I was permitted to continue my question, and, apparently you, Mr. Speaker, were under a misapprehension, I shall ask it now.
– No; the opportunity has gone. The honorable member will either have to give notice of the question or ask it without notice to-morrow.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
(a) £795,801 ; (6) £320,084; (c) £.1,239,094.
The above figures cover the period from the inception of the League of Nations to 31st December, 1929, i.e., ten years, and include the cost of the International Labour Office and the Permanent Court of International Justice. The monetary unit of the League budget is the gold franc, but for purposes of comparison ( 1 ) and (2) (a) and (c) above have been converted into sterling at par rate of exchange. The amount of the Australian contributions (b) represents actual payments.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained and a reply will be furnished to the honorable member as early as posible.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Is it a fact that Australian Aerial Service Limited is ceasing operations?
– The Defence Department has no advice of any intention on the part of the company to cease operations.
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Compensation to Staff.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The matter brought up by the honorable member is already receiving the attention of the Government. Inquiries are being made as to the basis upon which payments of compensation were made, the authority which determined the basis, and other particulars which will enable complete information as desired by the honorable member to be furnished at a later date.
Listeners’ Licence Fee
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: - 1, 2 and 3. A Board of Works loan of £250,000 falls due on 1st April, 1930, but I have no information as to the charges payable in respect of the loan, other than the interest payments. The loan is being renewed at the rate of interest now current for securities of this kind. The original loan, on which a lower rate of interest was payable, was issued at a time when interest rates were lower. I cannot agree with the view apparently taken by the honorable member that the cost of loan is to be ascertained by adding to the principal of the loan all the interest payments made during its currency. It must be remembered that moneys borrowed by the Board of Works are expended on services which earn interest.
Mr.WEST asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Mr. THEODORE (through Mr. Scullin). - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Will he have inquiries made into the statement published in the Adelaide press, rela tive to a consignment of fauna, that “Mr. A. L. Turner, of Sydney, is in charge of the consignment, which includes about 100 kangaroos, wallabies and paddy melons (a type of wallaby from the North Coast districts of New South Wales) “, seeing that the Minister has stated that Mr. Turner secured permission to take five kangaroos only, bred in captivity?
– The information is being obtained.
Conditions of Contract
– On the 20th March the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) asked the following questions, upon notice -
With reference to the letting of the contract for the Commonwealth Bank, Perth -
Does the accepted contract price in clude the piles on which the foundations will rest?
Is any part of the building undertaking omitted from the accepted tender; if so, what are the items and the estimated cost thereof?
Was any provision made for tenders for prime-cost items?
Has the supply of strong-rooms been allocated to Chubbs, and, if so, why was no opportunity given to other firms to tender?
Will the strong-rooms be of Australian manufacture?
Has any provision been made or assurance given (i) that Western Australian suppliers will have an opportunity to tender for materials required for the building; and (ii) that, other conditions being equal, the materials will be procured in Western Australia?
The Department of Works has furnished the following replies : -
The Commonwealth Bank has furnished the following replies: -
Promotion of Officers
– On the 28th March the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch) asked the following questions, upon notice -
I am now able to furnish the following information : -
All have met the requirements referred to.
I am advised that, owing principally to the excellent grounding obtained by Royal Australian Navy officers at the Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay, the result and consequent acceleration of promotion obtained by them compare more than favorably with those of their contemporaries of the Royal Navy.
– On the 28th March, the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch) addressed to me the following questions, upon notice -
I am now in a position to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
The following papers were presented: -
Defence Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1930, Nos. 26, 29.
Naval Defence Act-Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1930, Nos. 22, 30, 31.
Northern Australia Act - Ordinances of 1930-
Central Australia - No. 3 - Coroners.
North Australia - No. 4 - Coroners.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Scullin) read a first time.
Debate resumed from 28th March (vide page 704) on motion by Mr. Scullin -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- Two proposals have been submitted by the Government, one seeking power to amend the Constitution, and the other seeking power in relation to industrial matters. The debate so far has somewhat confused the two measures submitted by the Government for the amendment of the Constitution, and their relation to each other. Legislation of this kind should be approached from a non-party stand-point; but, unfortunately, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), by the calamity howling in which he indulged last week, has not set a good example.
– They were brought forward as party measures.
– It is true that on this occasion, as on former occasions, the proposed amendments of the Constitution have been brought forward by the Government for the time being in office. The political system under which we operate necessitates the Government in power assuming the responsibility for the submission of such questions. The only alternative would be to have a constitutional convention. On this occasion, time will not permit of the consideration of that alternative, for the serious economic position of Australia makes urgent the consideration of these proposals. I compliment the honorable members for New England (Mr. Thompson), and the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), on the tolerant and constructive criticism which they proffered to the Government. Their speeches were in refreshing “contrast to those of the Leader of the Opposition and his followers.
– Who is raising the party issue now ?
– I am merely mentioning a fact. The Government would do well to consider the advisability of submitting a third question to the people, in order to exhaust every means of ascertaining public opinion in relation to. the alteration of the Constitution. In making this suggestion, I realize that it might be contended that the introduction of a third question would further confuse the people; but I submit that public opinion would be crystallized if a question relating to trade and commerce, and the control of corporations were placed before the people. By such methods it would not be difficult to convince them that Parliament is practically helpless in the matter of con stitutional reform, and that some alteration is urgently necessary. It should be the object of this Parliament to give the people the utmost freedom in determining the future constitutional policy of Australia. The people should be allowed as many alternatives as circumstances demand. The addition of this third question would give every element in the community an opportunity to determine its attitude towards the Constitution. There are four main sources of public opinion in regard to the constitutional limitations of this Parliament. There is, first, that big section of public opinion represented by the Labour party, which demands unlimited legislative powers for this Parliament - unification, if honorable members prefer that designation. Secondly, there is that section which favours additional specific constitutional powers being granted to this Parliament, preserving the federal system of enumerated powers. That section favours this Parliament being given additional power over trade and commerce, corporations and monopolies. A third section favours vesting this Parliament with full industrial powers. Lastly, there is that section of public opinion represented in this House by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), which favours leaving things as they are; or, preferably, further whittling away the federal authority in favour of the States and destroying the federal spirit of the Constitution. For my own part I hare definitely declared in favour of full power being vested in this Parliament, and I purpose addressing the remainder of my remarks to that aspect of the subject. I believe, however, that the people should have alternative proposals submitted to them for their consideration, because so often have we unsuccessfully experimented in the submission of referendums to ascertain to what extent they will vest in this Parliament additional power that on this occasion we should explore every possible avenue.
The Leader of the Opposition accused the Prime Minister of inconsistency. I dismiss that charge by reminding him that in its political youth the Labour party as a federal movement pioneered the agitation to secure additional powers for this Par- liament. In his policy speech at the last election, the Prime Minister made it clear that, if returned to power, he would ask for unlimited legislative authority for the Commonwealth, and such delegated powers to the States as the Commonwealth Parliament might determine from time to time. Because of this definite pronouncement, which also is contained in the Labour party’s platform, this Government cannot now be charged with inconsistency. The arguments advanced by the Leader of the Opposition were characteristic of the assumption of melancholy which has been his leading political attribute when addressing himself to proposals brought forward by this Government - an attitude warranted possibly by the circumstances in which he now finds himself. The honorable gentleman now has an ability to visualize unpleasant, but imaginary, probabilities in relation to the proposed constitutional amendments introduced by this Government, which were not apparent to him when he supported the 1926 referendum proposals of the BrucePage Government. This Government’s proposals are, at all events, simple and straightforward. There is about them a directness - an audacity if you-like - that challenges public opinion, and indicates with remarkable clarity the distinct cleavage that exists between the Nationalist and Labour parties concerning constitutional policy. The power to amend the Constitution, which it is sought to vest in the Parliament, will enable this Parliament to alter the Constitution as changing needs and changing circumstances demand. Whatever may be said by the opponents of the Government’s proposal, the fact remains that, whether we call it unification or by any other term there is an overwhelming body of public opinion which believes that Australia is over-governed. At present the people are groping, so to speak, in constitutional darkness, seeking to be led into the light of political and constitutional freedom. They are weary of the litigious and farcical uncertainties of the present constitutional system, and, I think, they will be prepared to accord this Government a full measure of support when these questions are submitted to them. I do not share the pessimism that has been expressed concerning the first proposal. The Govern ment, instead of tinkering with the Constitution, instead of trying to patch it up, instead of endeavouring painfully to unravel the tangled skein of constitutional uncertainty, seeks boldly to cut the Gordian knot. It gives the people an opportunity to free this Parliament for all time from the difficulties which to-day prevent it from functioning for the entire nation.
It might well be said that we stand at the cross-roads in the evolution of our constitutional history. We are at the moment facing a grave crisis. During the war period, the people of Australia endured much travail, suffering and sacrifice, and the High Court, by resorting to .legal fictions and by widely interpreting the defence powers of the Commonwealth to meet the national emergency vested in this Parliament something in the nature of sovereign legislative authority. To-day that power is lacking, and yet Ave are confronted with a serious economic position that calls for united action and the co-ordinated effort of the entire nation with a view to extricating it from its peril. The Government could have taken three courses. In the first place, it could have adopted the doctrine of laissez-faire. the policy endorsed by conservativeminded public men, such as the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) by leaving things as they are. But no one, apart from the honorable member mentioned, is disposed to allow the present uncertain constitutional position of the Commonwealth to continue. With the exception of the honorable member for Swan, all honorable members, I think, agree that additional powers should be conferred upon this Parliament. Even the Royal Commission on the Constitution grudgingly suggested that certain additional powers were necessary. Such a conclusion is inescapable, because unquestionably we have outgrown the constitutional clothes which were tailored for us 30 years ago. Remarkable developments in aviation and in the provision of other public utilities in the evolution of civilization have found the legislative authority of this Parliament seriously circumscribed. Consequently, . almost every one realizes that additional power is now needed. The Labour party differs from the party represented by honorable members opposite as to the precise nature of the amending measures that are necessary. It declares that it is better to cure the disease than to drug the patient. There are in Australia still a few misguided people, mainly in “Western Australia and Tasmania, who talk secession.
– Hear, hear!
– They forget that it is outside the realm of practical politics.
– No, it is not.
– They forget, too, that federation postulates an indissoluble union, and involves certain duties and obligations. We can, I think, afford to disregard that section of public opinion, but in doing so we must take into consideration the reasons which have caused those people in the States mentioned to become dissatisfied with the federal system. The cure for this discontent, .in my opinion, is a new orientation of powers from the States to the Commonwealth. I have said, and I repeat, that there is need for a co-ordination of public utilities and services, and for the elimination of duplication and waste. That can be overcome by vesting sovereign legislative power in the Commonwealth. If a business were faced with heavy losses, “due to bad management, it would be reorganized on proper lines. We have a business with six branches under divided control. How can we hope to pay a national dividend in such circumstances? In the face of this, the lazy doctrine of laissez faire must bc abandoned.
The second alternative which confronts the Government is to accept the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) to re-submit the 1926 Constitution proposals, or seek power in respect to certain specified subjects. I have, for the reasons that I have given, proposed a compromise, namely, that we should give consideration to the submission of a third proposal. At the same time, I can see no justification for the re-submission of the proposals of the Bruce-Page Government, which were so decisively rejected by the people. Those proposals were rejected, in my opinion, because they involved the vesting of power in authorities outside of Parliament. This would have led to the undermining of the doctrine of par liamentary sovereignty for which the Labour party stands. This party accepts it as an axiom that parliamentary sovereignty is a fundamental principle of responsible government, as we have inherited it from Great Britain. Because the 1926 proposals sought to undermine this principle they were rejected.
The seeking of power in respect of specific subjects is, I submit, an awkward method. It is objectionable also because it involves an irrevocable transfer of power. It would not make the Constitution flexible. It is the rigidity of our Constitution which is its greatest defect. On the one hand, Parliament has vested in it powers that it does not exercise, and has never sought to exercise; on the other hand, it sorely needs other powers in regard to cinemas and things to which I have already referred which the States, because of jealousy of the Commonwealth, will not voluntarily surrender. I arn against the second alternative, because it, would still leave this Parliament in a position of vassalage, more or less, to the States.
It might be said that we could reall b.mit the Constitution alteration proposals of the Fisher and Hughes Governments. Those proposals were submitted in the form of five or six questions, whose multiplicity and complexity caused a confusion of public opinion. There was a hesitancy and a Tearfulness on the part of the people to grant the additional powers, and there was also a recognition by them that if they transferred the power to the Commonwealth it would bc irrevocably transferred.
My general criticism of the proposal to submit specific questions asking for additional power along defined lines is that it would not alter or determine the power of constitutional interpretation possessed by the High Court of Australia. The High Court has the power to determine the constitutional limits within which this Parliament may function. To my mind it is the pre-eminent position of the High Court in interpretation which is the real weakness of the Constitution. The High Court has been given a position of judicial infallibility. It exercises an authority which is foreign to any other British institution. In no other British self-governing dominion does a court exercise the same measure of constitutional veto, by interpretation, as the High Court of Australia. But the High Court has not been even consistent in its decisions. It has, as a matter of fact, helped to cause the instability of constitutional principles under which Australia labours. In its early days the High Court affirmed certain principles, among which was the doctrine of the immunity of State instrumentalities - implied prohibition and necessary implication were the terms used - under which it limited the power of the national Parliament to legislate in regard to State undertakings. In recent years the court has abandoned that doctrine and reversed its earlier constitutional views, for, unlike other systems of British jurisprudence, our High Court i? not bound by the judicial decisions of preceding justices. The only other exception to the principle of invoking precedence is the Privy Council, which also is not bound by its earlier decisions. The right of the High Court to continue to exercise this dominant constitutional power and the retention by it of the power to veto the manifest expression of the people’s will, is something that can only be changed by the conferring upon this Parliament of sovereign legislative power.
I have heard honorable members opposite talk about the danger of vesting complete power in this Parliament. Some of them appear to have had a wild vision of what might happen if this Parliament had power to legislate as the changed needs of the situation required. They forget that that danger exists to-day. If an unscrupulous or revolutionary government were returned to power it could pack the High Court bench, and the court, by virtue of its sovereign authority in regard to interpretation,’ could stretch the Constitution far beyond its recognized natural limits. That is an answer to some of the criticism of the Government’s proposals by honorable members opposite.
The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) suggested that even to-day the High Court could help this Parliament, in the event of a grave economic crisis arising, by overlooking the existing constitutional limitations. He suggested that it could give Parliament certain increases in its legislative power. That shows the lack of constitutional knowledge with which some honorable members approach this subject. The High Court has no power, no matter how grave an economic crisis may be, to extend the authority of this Parliament, except through the channel of interpretation. Only in war time can additional power be exercised by the Parliament.
What is the position to-day? Our primary industries are clamouring for relief from depressing conditions.But we can do nothing to give them relief without bearing in mind the possibility of having to face appeals to the High Court on the subject of our jurisdiction. In war time we could create pools,, arrange marketing schemes, and organizeproduction, with a view to helping the nation to victory; but in peace time we have no such power. It is proposed tocreate a wheat pool in order to save the Australian growers from disaster ; but our effort to assist the primary producers in this way may be checked by a decision of the High Court challenging our power unless we can secure the complete co-operation of all the six States and every wheat-grower. This shows conclusively the inherent weakness of the Federal Constitution.
I would not hesitate to destroy the federal character of the Australian Constitution. I would say from every platform in Australia, and be proud to say it, that the existing federal system, in its rigidity and unalterability, is something entirely foreign to British democracy. We limit our legislative powers within very narrow confines. The federal character of our Constitution is detrimental to the smaller States. I make that statement in spite of arguments that are frequently advanced to the contrary. To-day, if this Parliament desires to apply remedies to the problems which are facing Tasmania and Western Australia, it is limited to a system of monetary grants. We have no power to do anything in a general way to encourage the economic development of the smaller States, except to make monetary grants to them. Our Constitution lays it down that there must be no discrimination between one State and another, and that there must be absolute interstate freetrade. Many remedies could be applied to the troubles of Western Australia and Tasmania, if it were not .for our constitutional limitations. Let me give a hypothetical case, although I do not suggest that it is within the realm of practical politics. Parliament might consider it desirable to assist Tasmania by a system of special bounties, and Western Australia by a system of modified duties, so as to encourage production and to relieve those States from the economic dependence upon the Commonwealth under which they are at present chafing. Naturally they are indignant at having to come to the Commonwealth cap in hand for monetary assistance. But, even if we felt it wise to use either of those methods to inspire the residents in the States concerned to take up with renewed enthusiasm their great task of developing and building up the nation, we could not use them under existing constitutional conditions. Consequently, it is proposed by this Government to vest in Parliament sovereign legislative power to do what it considers to be the best thing for Australia.
We should look at this subject, not as federalists nor as State-righters, but as Australians with a broad Australian outlook. Let this Parliament, drawing as it does its rights to govern from the hearts of the people, be directly responsible to the people. Let it not shelter behind the fact that narrow constitutional limitations prevent it from giving assistance where that should be given. The talk of secession is, in itself, evidence of the unsatisfactory working of the Constitution. An analysis of this dissatisfaction shows that it is based upon the inability of this Parliament to apply to Western Australia, Tasmania, and the smaller States generally, a proper and adequate measure of relief, which will enable them to balance their position in relation to the other States of the Commonwealth. We shall deliberately stultify ourselves by preserving the present system. We have in Australia the ridiculous paradox of the part, as representative of the States, being greater than the whole, as represented by the Commonwealth. Are we to recognize an inferiority complex in regard’ to the States? Are we to affirm that we are to be less trusted than the members of the State Parliaments, and that we are devoid of a sense of responsibility and a proper understanding of our legislative obligations to the people? That surely is fallacious reasoning for men to resort to. Those who take that stand show themselves to be unworthy of the great responsibiilty that was vested in them when they were called upon to assist in the government of this nation.
The State Parliaments possess sovereign legislative power within the ambit of their constitutional jurisdiction. They can amend their Constitutions by a simple act of Parliament. They can do anything in their own legislative domain, though they cannot trespass upon the exclusive power vested, in the Commonwealth in relation to Defence, Customs, and the Department of the Postmaster-General. There are certain concurrent powers exercised by both the States and ourselves; but within the legislative domain which is exclusively their own, the States can do as they like, even as I have said, to the amending of their Constitutions. The States secure their constitutional rights from the people, and exercise them with the knowledge that the people will punish them if proper limits are exceeded. Who will say that the duplication of health and other such services in Australia is desirable? A majority of the Australian people are ignorant of our political helplessness, and we should as a Parliament approach this subject in a non-party spirit, tear away the mask of political prejudice and distrust, and show them the limitations within which this Parliament functions. Whether the present coal dispute is considered from the viewpoint of the conservative or of the advanced radical, it is a serious factor in connexion with Australia’s economic depression. What has been the” position ? The Commonwealth Parliament is practically helpless. The lockout on the coalfields might easily have resulted in a vast industrial conflagration, and this Parliament, because of its limited powers, would have been helpless. Our helplessness has been accentuated by decisions of the High Court, which has laid it down that there must be a real interstate dispute before the authority of the Federal Arbitration Court can be invoked. For over twenty years this court has recognized the existence of artificial or paper disputes, but the High Court, by its recent decisions, has helped to undermine the industrial peace and stability of the Commonwealth. In future if the workers want a federal award they will virtually be compelled to create an interstate strike. If the people tolerate a continuation of the limits of authority of this Parliament, I am sadly misguided in my judgment of them. The bogey has been advanced by honorable members opposite that if this Parliament is vested with sovereign legislative powers, it will abuse its authority. This Parliament can abuse its present powers. It has plenary powers in the matter of taxation, and by imposing coercive taxation can undermine the powers of the States. “What is it that checks all parliaments and governments when they begin to abuse their authority? It is the wrath and votes of the people. It will, therefore, be seen that there is nothing behind the suggestion that this Government would abuse additional constitutional power, because the Parliament and the Government are directly responsible to the people. If the Government’s proposals were adopted it would mean - this is an aspect of the matter which appeals to me - that future elections, instead of being fought upon catch cries and political issues of passing significance, would be fought on great constitutional questions. This Parliament would then be regarded as a standing constitutional convention, consisting of federalists, unificationists and Staterighters. The representatives of the people would be able to legislate in such a way as to meet the claims and needs of the nation as they arise and to represent the people’s opinions as viewed from every aspect. “What is the difference between electing members to a convention to discuss constitutional amendments, and electing members to this Parliament pledged to a certain constitutional policy? In my opinion, there is a difference only in name.
– The party spirit would be evident.
– So it would be in a constitutional convention. If this Parliament could deal with big national issues, by legislating for the whole continent without any limitation of its authority, it would be acting more in keeping with the traditions that we have inherited from the mother of parliaments. There is nothing revolutionary in asking the people for power to amend the Constitution, because similar power has been possessed by the British Parliament for centuries past. Arguments against the proposal such as are urged by Oppositionists were advanced in connexion with the union of Scotland with England over 200 years ago. As honorable members opposite are so often asking us to follow British examples why do not they consider the position of the British Parliament, and study this matter from that view point. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. .Latham) referred to the method of government of South Africa, and when these examples are quoted, he airily replies, “ Of course, that is different.” In South Africa there aru two racial groups animated by divergent interests and deep-seated antagonism, but they nevertheless agreed to subordinate their respective racial interests, and to establish a Union Parliament vested with sovereign legislative power which they have to-day. Surely the reasons which actuated the South African people to form a Union Parliament should apply with infinitely greater force in Australia, where the Parliament is controlling the destinies of an entire continent peopled by the one race. If they do not, we are unworthy of the heritage for which wo were supposed to have fought during the world war. Our Constitution is the weakest in the British Empire.
– “What does Dicey say?
– He deals with the weakness of the Federal Constitution in this way. He says -
A federal state is a political contrivance intended to reconcile national unity and power with the maintenance of “ State rights.”
He refers to the distribution of powers, the authority of the courts to act as interpreters of the Constitution, and says that every legislative body existing under .a Federal Constitution is merely a subordinate law-making body. He further says that our Federal Constitution is virtually
Federation lastly means legalism - the predominance of the judiciary in the Constitution - the presence of a spirit of legality amongst the people. Federalism substitutes litigation for legislation.
Is that not true of Australia? For 30 years we have had endless litigation in connexion with the Federal Constitution. Dicey goes on to say -
The distribution of all the powers of the State amongst co-ordinate authorities necessarily leads to the result that one authority can wield the same amount of power as under a unitarian Constitution is possessed by the sovereign. A scheme again of checks and balances in which the strength of the common Government is, so to speak, pitted against that of the State Governments leads, on the face of it, to a certain waste of energy. A federation, therefore, will always be at a disadvantage in a contest with unitarian States of equal resource.
– He does not say that our Constitution is weak.
– He says all federal constitutions are weak. Our Constitution is the weakest iri the British Empire. In spite of the fact that there is in. eastern Canada a large French population which ought to be jealously anxious to preserve a large measure of local autonomy, the Canadian Government exercises greater power . than does this Parliament, the Canadian people having adopted a political system in advance of our own.
– That does not prove that the Australian Constitution is not superior to that of Canada or America.
– Dicey admits that our Constitution is advanced in the sense that it provides power of amendment. Dicey deals with the fact that we can amend- our Constitution, which he says is in it favour, but that is the only material difference to which he refers. Still the opinions of Dicey should not necessarily affect the judgment of this Parliament in considering the real problems of the situation confronting us. It is mere hyperbole and humbug for the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) to say that if we give Parliament the power to amend the Constitution this will have the effect of destroying the Constitution. Is the Leader of the Opposition opposed to the policy of allowing this Parliament to give expression to the impulses of the people? That is the only difference between the policy of the Labour party and of the anti-Labour party. The Labour party believes that sovereignty should be vested in the people and contends that they should not be subjected to control by judicial decisions or by the votes of Upper Houses elected on a property franchise. I believe that there is a reasonable prospect of the people throwing off the shackles which are now impeding the progress of this nation, and that they now realize that by limiting the powers of this Parliament they are stultifying the nation, and consequently themselves. The effect of this proposed amendment if carried would be to enable this Parliament, if it so desired, to abolish the State Parliaments, and also the Senate. This Parliament would be able to do any of those things when it. had a mandate from the people to do them, and no government dare act without a mandate.
The British Parliament could abolish the Monarchy. Why did not the Leader of the Opposition mention that as a dangerous extent of power? It could extend the life of the Parliament, and do almost anything except interfere with natural laws. If Great Britain, with a Parliament influenced by the power df public opinion and the fear of political consequences, can be governed satisfactorily under sovereign legislative power, why should the Parliament of the Commonwealth be limited as’ it now is? The same objections that are raised by honorable members opposite to the present proposal could have been taken to the 1926 proposals of the Bruce-Page Government. We should approach the criticism of the bill with sanity and an appreciation of political realities. Why object to the submission of this question to the people? After all, the Government has a mandate. There is a difference between opposing the submission of proposals to the people-
– We are not opposing their submission; we are objecting to the inherent provisions.
– Honorable members opposite virtually say, “ We will not allow the people to decide these matters.” That attitude is entirely wrong. They ought to facilitate the submission of these matters to the people, and oppose them, if they so desire, on the public platform. Australia spoke as a united nation in time of war, and why should it not now speak with one voice in time of peace? Faced as it is with a grave economic crisis, I feel that the Government has every prospect of having the present proposals agreed to at the polls. Owing to the multiplicity and cost of governments in Australia, the people are crying on every hand, “Abolish the State Parliaments. Remove the things that hamper the application of remedies to meet the requirements of the community.”
We should disregard artificial State boundaries and legislate for Australia as a whole. The maintenance of the theory of State rights is an absolute fetish. It is recognized, even by honorable members of the Country party, that there should be a more scientific geographical division of the Commonwealth. This Parliament should have the power to re-subdivide Australia, disregarding the present boundaries that were arbitrarily fixed in certain cases without regard to community of interests. The submission of specific proposals to the people asking them to consent to a re-subdivision of States would be doomed to failure because of their arbitrary character. It would be far better for this Parliament to have power to re-subdivide the country with a view to promoting its economic development.
There is another phase of the subject of the transfer of powers by the submission of specific proposals to the people to which I must refer. Assuming that we induced the people to agree to give this Parliament additional trade and commerce power, or power over corporations, that power would still have to be construed in relation to other sections of the Constitution, and, therefore, within the limits there imposed. Even though we might think that the amendments were couched in simple and unequivocal language, the interpretation of such limitations would rest with the High Court, and not with this Parliament. Therefore, we should remove that court from its dominant position regarding constitutional interpretations, and allow this Parliament to function without artificial restrictions.
The point has been raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), whether this Parliament has the right to qualify section 128 of the Constitution by the insertion of the proposed new section 129. The Royal Commission on the Constitution quoted the opinions of Mr. Justice Dixon and Sir Robert Garran, that the Constitution could be amended in this regard, and, in the circumstances, the Government has no doubt also secured the advice of other eminent legal men, which justifies it in pressing on with this proposal.
The measure in which the Government seeks powers over industrial matters is a subsidiary proposal. Such power would not perhaps give the Parliament authority to legislate, for instance, for a complete system of national insurance; the power sought would still, no doubt, be subject to High Court appeals, and a considerable amount of litigation would take place before fundamental principles of interpretation were settled. Therefore, I appeal to the people to sweep away all the obstacles with which the path of progress is strewed, and allow this Parliament to legislate for the people as Australians by giving it power to amend the Constitution.
.- I am entirely opposed to the first of the Government’s proposals, which I believe has been brought forward not for a national purpose, but with the object of driving home a temporary party advantage gained at the polls. I believe, too, that it is calculated to deprive the States of that measure of self government that was expressly retained by them when the federal union was consummated. The measure which has to do with industrial powers, however, falls within a different category. I recognize that if the Commonwealth Arbitration Court is to be retained, it is desirable that it should be a workable tribunal. The experience of a number of years has brought to light defects that ought to be remedied. There must be a dispute before the court can act ; it must be a dispute extending beyond the boundaries of a State; and, further, the court is unable to make a common rule. It seems to me that the Government should enumerate these defects, and ask the people for power to remedy them. But the Government is not satisfied to make the court efficient ; its idea is to go the whole length of its ambitions and seek to control every activity within the Commonwealth. I am glad that the Government ha3 openly made its proposals known, because I am inclined - to think that when they have been fully considered by the people they will be seen in their true perspective.
We have been told that this subject should’ be approached as a non-party one. I entirely agree that it is regrettable that a national issue should be dealt with on other than non-party lines. The failure of the referendums taken in the past was due to the party bias displayed in submitting the proposals to the people. On the only two occasions when the electors agreed to constitutional alterations all parties were in unison in regard to them. The ‘most striking example of the influence of parties was given in 1926, when it was desired to grant additional powers to the court by going some distance in the direction sought to be followed under the present proposals. It is somewhat remarkable that the electorates that then cast the heaviest majorities against the proposals were industrial districts. In my opinion, matters such as this should be considered first by conferences or conventions. I think that it would be a good plan if the Government appointed a committee consisting of an equal number of members from’ both sides of the House, the Prime Minister of the day to be chairman and have a casting vote, to make recommendations for alterations on those matters upon which Parliament is -agreed that there should be amendment of the Constitution. At present, however, it looks as if the Government’s proposals will meet the same fate as the majority of those of the governments that have preceded it.
The main objection to the first bill is that it is desired to obtain for this Parliament pow;er that is inconsistent with the bargain into which the States entered when they agreed to the Constitution which established federation. There were six independent colonies enjoying responsible government; but recognizing that Aus- tralia should speak with one voice on certain national matters, and. that it was desirable that there should be uniform laws on certain subjects, delegates were chosen by those colonies to frame a federal Constitution, which was subsequently ratified by their peoples, and became law by an act of the Imperial Parliament. That Constitution is in its nature the bond into which the six colonies entered. I do not intend to touch upon the right of five States to deal with a recalcitrant State - that is a matter that cannot be settled in this House - but a useful analogy can be drawn from what happens when six private persons enter into and draw up articles of partnership and sign them. It is not competent for five of the partners to alter the articles of partnership without the consent of the sixth partner. But if the proposal now put forward by the Commonwealth Government becomes law, it will be competent for the representatives of the two largest States of the Commonwealth so to alter the terms of the bargain entered into by the people when they agreed to federation as to affect the interests of the other four States. New South Wales and. Victoria have 48 members in the House of Representatives out of 75, and in many respect3 the interests of the two big States are opposed to those of the less populous States, particularly in regard to tariffs and bounties for the purpose of building up industries which are conducted almost entirely in the great capital cities. Even now a combination of the representatives of the two most populous States can carry anything they choose against the wishes of the representatives of the other four States, which is a condition of affairs that was never contemplated by the people when they agreed to federate. Western Australia has five representatives in a House of 75, and those five are weakened by party division. For 25 years the people of the State have suffered from their association with the Commonwealth, and so far have not been able to> obtain relief under a constitution which gives restricted powers to the Commonwealth Parliament. How much worse would their position be if all the powers - at any rate all that count - were handed over to the Commonwealth Parliament?
The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman)has suggested that if these unlimited powers were granted to the Commonwealth, Western Australia might be allowed to impose its own customs duties. If that suggestion came from the official representatives of the Labour party, the people of Western Australia would grasp at it, because if they were given the power to impose their own customs duties, their discontent would be forever silenced. The tariff protection they need is against Eastern Australia. Honorable members may laugh at any suggestion of secession, but that is not impossible. A determined decision on the part of the people of any one State could bring it about, because the right to permit any State to secede from the federation is reserved to the Imperial Parliament.
– What about the word “ indissoluble “ in the Constitution ?
– The Constitution was intended to limit the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament, and to protect the rights of the States, but if the present Commonwealth Government’s proposals are carried into effect, it will no longer have the characteristics of a federal pact. Thepresent proposals practicallyamount to “scrapping the Constitution.”
– The trouble is that they do not go far enough.
– They cannot go any further. The Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) did not give very strong reasons for making these sweeping amendments. He certainly enumerated a number of the powers which he thought it desirable that the Commonwealth Parliament should have, but they were not of very great importance. Incidentally, the Commonwealth Parliament already has certain powers which it has not seen fit to exercise. For instance, it has not enacted uniform marriage law. There are, no doubt, many matters such as company law upon which it is desirable to have uniform legislation for Australia. Why cannot we, as a Parliament, set out these matters, and ask the people to give us the power to deal with them?
– What does the honorable member suggest?
– I suggest that the people should be asked to give us what we want, but that we should not ask them for an open cheque or a roving commission. I have already mentioned what power I propose to ask the people to give to the Commonwealth Parliament in regard to arbitration. I think that we should ask for specific powers.
We can only surmise what is likely to happen if the Commonwealth Parliament is given the powers for which the present Government is asking. I agree with previous speakers that we must not take too seriously the suggestion that terrible trouble is likely to arise in Australia if the Commonwealth Parliament gets this full power of amendment; but judging from the utterances of responsible Ministers and members of the Parliament and delegates to trade union congresses, certain things are not only possible but also quite probable. State Parliaments might be abolished and replaced by provincial councils. The position in Great Britain has been quoted because that country has a central government with urban and county councils. That, apparently, is the scheme to be put before the people in Australia for their acceptance. The Labour party might seek the abolition of the Senate, which was created to protect the small States. There is no doubt that the promise of a Senate, in which all the States would have equal representation, was one of the most effective reasons for appealing to the people in the less populous colonies to enter into the federation. Another important change that might be proposed might be in the method of appointing the justices of the High Court, and the judges of the Arbitration Court. Our judges now enjoy security of tenure, so that their decisions may not be influenced by the desire to please the dominant political party of the hour; but under this proposed amendment of the Constitution they will no longer have security of tenure. We have already had instances ofjudges of inferior tribunals being dismissed by incoming governments, because their decisions have not suited the policy of the party to which the government belonged, and only a few days ago I saw a statement, which has so far remained uncontradicted, that it was the intention of the Labour party to get rid of the Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Adrian Knox, and the Chief Judge of the Arbitration Court, Judge Dethridge. We all remember the demand made by the Timber Workers Union for the dismissal of Judge Lukin, and it is within our recollection that that judge was burned in effigy. The action of the union was by resolution approved by the whole of the members of the Parliamentary Labour party, including all the members of the present Commonwealth Government. The changes I have mentioned may be not only possible, but also, probable. The Commonwealth Parliament may proceed to put into effect a great many of the hopes of the Labour party. It may so alter the Constitution as to give the right to vote to persons under eighteen years of age, a proposal which has been seriously discussed at Labour conferences; and we know that the platform of the Labour party is drawn up by Labour congresses, and that a Labour Government has to give effect to theplatform of the party. Other things that are possible are the “ socialization of the means of production, distribution and exchange.” I am quoting the words used in the Labour platform. Trades Halls may be invested with the exclusive rightto say what employees shall be engaged. The Labour proposals provide for the abolition of employment registries, and for giving preference to financial unionists sent to employers by officials of the unions; also for the prohibition of press advertisements for situations vacant.
– Hear, hear !
– The honorable member’s “ hear, hear “ assures me that these ideas are in the minds of many honorable members who are sitting behind the Government. It may be said that the present Ministry would not attempt to make these changes, but that is no guarantee that they may not eventually be made. The Prime Minister is certainly a moderate man, but we know that Mr. Charlton, his predecessor as Leader of the Labour party, got the “ push “ for his moderation. And we know what the present Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), and the Communist representative in the present Ministry have had held over their heads.
– Who is the Communist representative in the present Ministry?
– The Assistant Minister, Mr. Beasley.
– The honorable member should not make such ridiculous asser tions. I ask that the honorable member be called upon to withdraw his misrepresentation.
– I cannot take notice of the statement unless a Minister objects to it as offensive.
– I was proposing to treat the honorable member’s words with contempt, but, in view of your remark, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I ask for a withdrawal of the statement. There is certainly no Minister in the present Government who is a representative of the Communist party.
– I ask the honorable member to withdraw his statement.
– I readily withdraw it. but the fact remains that the Treasurer and the Assistant Minister have had held over their heads the threat that their nominations will not be endorsed at the next election.
– What connexion has that with the Constitution alteration now proposed?
– It is useless to say that the members of the present Ministry are responsible persons who are not likely to try to gain extraordinary ends; there is no guarantee that they will remain in control of the affairs of the Commonwealth ; and I cited the example of the predecessor of the present Leader of the Labour party, who undoubtedly was pushed out, because he would not go so far as the more advanced members of his party wanted him to go.
– I rise to a point of order. Is an honorable member in order in reflecting on the late leader of the Labour party by saying that he was turned out because he was too moderate, when, in fact, he resigned on account of ill-health?
– I ask the honorable member to withdraw the statement.
– I withdraw it.
– On a point of order. Is it out of order for an honorable member to refer in any way to a gentleman who is no longer a member of this Parliament?
– A reflection was cast upon a gentleman who was once the Leader of the Opposition in this
House, and as exception was taken to what was said, as being offensive, .1 asked that it be withdrawn.
– I hope that I may be permitted to say that the late Leader of the Labour party (Mr. Charlton) retired from the leadership of the party a heartbroken man, because of the treatment he received from the members of his own party.
The second proposal of the Government in connexion with arbitration goes further than the declaration of the present Prime Minister, when, as Leader of the Opposition, he announced the Labour party’s policy. His scheme then was for an amendment of the law to provide for a system of sound and business-like administration along the lines of the Industrial Peace Act. The scheme put forward by the Government to-day bears no semblance to the scheme then propounded. The Government cannot claim that it has a mandate from the people to introduce this legislation. It is said that in 1926 the Nationalist Government submitted similar proposals to those now before us. That is not so. In 1926 two proposals were submitted to the people - one relating to industry and commerce, and the other to industrial matters. The proposals in respect of industry and commerce were chiefly for the establishment of uniform company laws. The proposal in respect of arbitration was to leave out the provision that a dispute must extend beyond the limits of any one State before the Arbitration Court could interfere, and to add three paragraphs to section 51 of the Constitution : -
Those proposals fell far short of those contained in this bill. They merely meant tightening up the arbitration laws to give the Arbitration Court increased authority to deal with legitimate arbitration matters generally, and also power to enforce its decisions. The present Government wants power to legislate in respect of industrial matters, including labour, employment and unemployment. The Arbitration Court has nothing to do with unemployment. It is not concerned, as a court, with the causes of unemployment, or their removal. The problem of unemployment is one for governments, not courts. The only reason for the inclusion of the word “ unemployment “ is that the Government desires to empower Parliament to grant an unemployment dole, and to authorize the Arbitration Court to determine what imposition shall be made on industry to provide funds for the purpose. If the reason for its inclusion is other than I have stated, 1 should be glad to hear the Government’s explanation.
The Government seeks power to alter the Constitution to give Parliament control of the terms and conditions of labour and employment in any trade, industry, profession, occupation or calling anu the rights and obligations of employee and employees. Those are very wide powers. Evidently, the Government, wishes the court to have power to control every phase of industrial activity. Under those powers, it would be competent for Parliament to pass a law to instruct the court that no award shall contain a provision for a working week of more than 44 hours. Indeed, that proposal has already been made. Before long we shall have requests for a working week of 36 hours. Moreover, those powers would enable Parliament to say that no award may provide for a wage less than the basic wage in 192S, irrespective of any subsequent changes in economic condiditions. Such powers are beyond the proper sphere of the Arbitration Court, and should not be granted to any government.
– Of what use would the court be if it could not do that?
– Inferentially, the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) suggests that such directions should be given to the court. He, apparently, overlooks the possibility of conditions in Australia changing. It would be well if the basic wage of 1928 could be raised still higher; on the other hand, the necessity for a reduction of that wage might arise. It would be utterly wrong so to restrict the court. Again, in paragraphs / and g of clause 2, dealing with the maintenance of industrial peace and the settlement of industrial disputes, the wording is as wide as possible. That power, if granted,’ would enable any government to do whatever it considered necessary for the maintenance of industrial peace or the settlement of industrial disputes. It would, for instance, have enabled the Government to take over the coal mines at Newcastle.
– When the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) asked for extended power, I imagine that he wanted power to take possession of some of the mines. If that was not his purpose, I should like to know what was in his mind.
– The honorable member is unfair.
– Honorable members opposite know better than I do the pressure which has been brought to bear upon the Government in connexion with the coal dispute. I certainly am of the opinion that the Government desired the power to take possession of the mines and to work them at award rates. If I am wrong in my view, I trust that some honorable member opposite will set me right.
– The Government wanted the power to compel the mine-owners to observe the court’s award.
– No Arbitration Court could have compelled the owners to reopen the mines, so that the only remedy would have been for the Government to run the mines at the expense of the Commonwealth. No government should have that power. The powers sought in this bill would enable any government in office to nationalize the mines, the factories, the farms, the shops, the newpapers, the employment registries and other businesses of this country - in fact, to introduce a complete system of socialization of industry.
The second referendum proposal, although not so comprehensive as the first, goes a long way towards the introduction of a complete system of socialism; and for that reason the people should reject it. I agree with the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman), that the Government’s proposals are audacious. I regard them as an audacious attempt by the Government to hand over the control of every activity of the Commonwealth to organized labour. On that ground, I am of the opinion that none of the powers sought by the Government should be granted.
.- The Government is to be commended for having, so early in the session, introduced these bills to provide for referendums on amendments to the Constitution, and I commend the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) for the clear and definite language which he employed in urging their acceptance. The object is to seek full industrial powers for the Commonwealth. I believe it is generally agreed, notwithstanding the interjection made by one honorable member opposite when the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) was speaking, that in respect of certain of its provisions the Commonwealth Constitution is exceedingly weak. I remind . the House that when the Prime Minister stated that it was the weakest in the world he was expressing not only his own view, but also the opinion of the present Chief Justice of Victoria (Sir William Irvine). As we all know, it is modelled on the Constitution of the United States of America. But neither the Commonwealth Constitution nor that of the United States of America contains any provisions under which the High Court of either country has authority to say that any act of the Federal Parliament shall be null and void. Such action by the High Court is, I submit, a usurpation of power. The Constitution of the United States of America specifically provides that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Yet the New York State legislature passed a law forbidding a man to keep a revolver in his own home, and although a New York lawyer fought that law in the highest tribunal of the republic, he was defeated. The Constitution of the United States of America provides further that every citizen may freely speak, write and publish .his sentiments upon all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right, and no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or the press. Although nothing could be more explicit than that, certain of the State legislatures of America have passed what is known as a criminal syndicalism law under which, at the present time, no fewer than 70 persons are undergoing sentence in gaol, merely because they gave voice to their political opinions. One man was placed in confinement for three weeks in California for having taken his stand on a vacant piece of land from which it was his intention to read a copy of the Constitution of the United States of America. I do not suggest that the High Court of Australia has gone so far as that, but, as the court is constituted, anything may happen to a citizen of the Commonwealth ; because the court has the right to interpret the Constitution, and declare whether acts passed by this Parliament are in conformity with it.
There should be no doubt about the authority of the Commonwealth Parliament to legislate for the people. The national legislature should have at least as large a power as that enjoyed by the New South Wales Parliament which, by the passage of a simple act, may entirely alter the Constitution. The only difference between an act to alter the Constitution and an ordinary legislative measure is that the former must be reserved for the King’s assent. This Government also is asking for exactly the same measure of power as is vested in the British Parliament. Surely it is not too much to urge that the people of Australia should give to the Commonwealth Parliament authority to amend the Constitution. Is it not an axiom that the whole is greater than its part?
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) seems to fear that if these proposals are approved by the people, the Commonwealth Parliament will have too much legislative authority. Why should any citizen of the Commonwealth be afraid of the fullest constitutional functions being vested in this Parliament ? As the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) pointed out last week, any government that attempted to play fancy tricks with the Constitution would soon be destroyed, and the right honorable gentleman instanced the fate of the Bruce-Page Administration which sought the abolition of the Federal Arbitration Court. As the result of the appeal to the people the Labour party was returned to power with no fewer than 47 adherents in this House.
The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn), suggested that this Government was trying to force constitutional amendments on the people merely because, as he put it, the Labour party had had a temporary and fleeting victory at the polls. Let me tell the honorable member that it will be a long time before the party of which he is a supporter again takes up the reins of office. Non-Labour forces may one day return to power in the Commonwealth, but they will not be under the name of the Nationalist party. The last general election clearly .demonstrated that the people demand the retention of the federal system of arbitration. In 1926, when the Bruce-Page Government introduced a measure to submit to the people constitutional amendments dealing with industry and commerce, the Right Honorable W. A. Watt, whose remarks will be found on page 2605-6 of Hansard of 3rd June of that year, said this of the bill : -
If the referendum proposals are adopted the three men who will be appointed to constitute the established authority with full control over all industrial matters will have larger power than even this Parliament, and larger power than has ever been entrusted to any men in normal times in British history. They will hold in the hollow of their hands the fortunes, prospects, and careers of at least SO per cent, of the Australian people. They will he in charge of a machine which they will be tempted to operate until it makes them veritable industrial autocrats. Even if they were angels from heaven I should hesitate to repose in the three new jurists the enormous power which must be given under this extension of powers.
On that occasion the people rejected the proposals. They realized that if the Constitution were amended in the way proposed the three jurists appointed would be more powerful than the Parliament itself. Speaking to the same bill, the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) said -
If proof of the necessity for this constitutional amendment be needed, it could be found in the state of affairs in New South Wales during the last three months. The New South Wales Parliament has deliberately passed an act providing that, no matter what the number of working hours determined by a Commonwealth award may be, the number of working hours in New South Wales shall not exceed 44 a week. . . .
By passing that act the New South Wales Parliament precipitated the trouble. Twofifths of Australia’s population is resident in New South Wales, a great many of our secondary industries are established there and fully two-fifths of our industrial workers are employed there. . . .
Everybody can - sec what a stupid position we shall get into . . . because those in power in one State appear to have gone mad.
When the question of the validity of the 44-hour week was referred to the High Court in April, 1926, it was made plain, much to the chagrin of the Nationalists, that federal awards prescribed 48 hours as the maximum and not the minimum number of working hours a week. It was also made clear that the Federal Parliament had no power to enact legislation concerning labour for people within a State, and that such power was reserved to the State legislature. The position as revealed by the High Court was, in short, that it was no breach of the federal awards for employees to work less than 48 hours a week, and that in working 44 hours for 44 hours pay, they were simply exercising the contractual rights which they possessed.
I wish also to direct attention to the following statement made by Sir Granville Ryrie concerning the constitution alterations sought by the Bruce-Page Government in 1926. Speaking at Neutral Bay on the 18th August, 1926, Sir Granville Ryrie said -
The Bruce-Page Government was seeking power, per medium of the second referendum proposal, to do exactly what the British Government did during the recent general strike.
During that strike the Baldwin Government declared a state of emergency, and mobilized the military and naval forces on a war footing to protect scab workers. Naval ratings were employed as strike breakers. ‘ The Labour party’s rooms and trades halls were raided by the police, union property was confiscated or destroyed, union officials were arrested in wholesale fashion, and civil and military officials were promised indemnity for any action that might be taken. Sir Granville Ryrie furnished another reason why the proposals of the Bruce-Page Government were rejected by the people.
In speaking on the 26th July of the same year on the Essential Services Referendum, ex-Senator Drake-Brockman, who was then Nationalist campaign director, said -
This means that the Commonwealth Government is asking the people to give the Commonwealth Parliament power to take the same kind of action in Australia as was taken in Great Britain during the recent general strike.
In other words, he said that if the second referendum proposal of the Bruce-Page Government were carried, the Government would introduce legislation similar to the Emergency Powers Act in operation at that time in Great Britain.
Honorable members opposite have suggested that if this bill is agreed to something outrageous will be done, and that the people will be robbed of their inheritance. That is foolish. This Parliament was elected by the Australian people who, years ago, approved of the Constitution, and I cannot see any substantial reason why the same electors should not be asked now to agree to or reject this proposal. If the people want unification, let them say so. If they want to give this Parliament additional power” over industry, or if they want to give it full power over trade and commerce, let them be given the opportunity to do so. They should have the fullest possible opportunity to express their opinion. If they do not want unification, they will say so ; and if they do not desire to extend the power of this Parliament in the directions indicated they will also leave us in no doubt on the subject. I would use the ballot-box to answer all these questions.
The existing federal system is, in my opinion, absurd. A change in the personnel of the High Court bench may easily bring about a change in the interpretation of the Constitution. As a matter of fact, the court has reversed some of its earlier decisions. It is high time that we had a simpler method of altering the Constitution. If the first proposal of the Government is agreed to, it will be easy, at any time, to make such amendments to the Constitution as may be thought necessary to meet the needs of any particular situation.
As the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) pointed out, every political party in Australia has, at one time or another, declared itself to be in favour of an amendment of the Constitution. The Nationalist party has committed itself definitely to this policy on numerous occasions. The Prime Minister indicated clearly that there were many absurdities and anomalies in the Constitution. He pointed out that, although the Commonwealth Government owned Cockatoo Island Dockyard and desired to do some work in connexion with the Bunnerong Power House scheme, the High Court ruled that the dockyard was only a war-time en terprise. The whole position is absurd. If the first proposal of the Government is accepted by the people it will mean that Parliament will be supreme. Under the existing provisions, political matters become judicial, and Australia is governed not by the Commonwealth Parliament but by the occupants of the High Court bench.
The Prime Minister pointed out that, although the Commonwealth Parliament was given power to make laws with respect to -
Conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State, it had cost at least £1,000 to determine the meaning of each of those words. The right honorable gentleman also showed that although we are supposed to be a democracy, 650,000 people could, under existing conditions, dictate to 2,000,000 people on constitutional subjects. Because it is necessary to secure a majority of four States to alter the Constitution, a four-to-one favorable majority might be secured, and yet it might not be possible to effect the alteration. If we are a democracy we should have a democratic constitution alterable at the will of the people. The Constitution of the Union of South Africa can be altered by the Union Parliament. If the South African Parliament has such power, I cannot see why it should be denied to the Australian Parliament.
The honorable member for Perth .(Mr. Nairn) referred to the Assistant Minister (Mr. Beasley) as the communist Minister. I was astonished to hear a gentleman of such gentle appearance and character make such a statement. It is possible, of course, for some honorable members to make a remark of that kind and laugh up their sleeve at the joke of it, but I did not expect the honorable member for Perth to indulge in that practice. Apparently it was so much talk for newspaper publicity purposes, for it had nothing to do with the bill.
I hope that this measure, and also the Constitution Alteration Industrial Powers Bill, will have a speedy passage through Parliament, and that the people will answer the first question affirmatively. It will not matter then what they do with the question in the second bill.
– In introducing this bill, the Prime Minister made some remarks on certain legal aspects of the Constitution, but it can be said, in general terms, that his speech contained no justification whatever for the drastic proposal which we are now considering. The right honorable gentleman informed us that Sir William Irvine, now Chief Justice of Victoria, said on one occasion that the Australian Constitution was one of the weakest constitutions in the world. If that gentleman is acceptable to the Government as an authority on one branch of this subject, I trust that he will be equally acceptable and authoritative on another branch of it. Speaking in this House in 1912 on certain Constitution alteration proposals, he said -
We have heard a great deal about unification and federation. But I say that when you come to deal with this proposal, then you are directly bringing about unification. As long as you have the several States in complete independence in their governments, you adopt a scheme which is consistent with the federal idea, and, therefore, is not unification. But when in effect you give this Parliament complete -control over the acts of administration of the most important functions of the State Government, you are bringing about unification.
These remarks should be given the weight that seems to have been given to Sir William’s opinion on the weakness of the Constitution. But I should like to know how long Sir William Irvine has been accepted by the Labour party as an authority upon whom it may rely. At the very time he made the remark which the Prime Minister has quoted with such approval, he was being abused by the Labour party from one end of Australia to the other as a reactionary, because he had described the old-age pensions scheme as “ soup kitchen “ legislation.
By quoting Sir William Irvine, the Government has not added strength to its arguments for the support of this proposal.
I now submit to honorable members an opinion on the Australian Constitution by one of the world’s greatest constitutional experts ; I refer to Viscount Bryce, who made a life study of constitutional questions. His opinions are accepted throughout the world as thoroughly authoritative. Viscount Bryce referred to the Commonwealth Constitution in these terms -
It is at least ahead of European or American theory; ahead of European or American practice; so also it represents the high water mark of popular government; it is more democratic than that of the United States of America, and compared with the Australian Constitution the American is old-fashioned and the Swiss archaic.
That is an opinion against which, I submit, that expressed by Sir William Irvine fades into insignificance. Although the greatest constitutionalist in history has referred to the democratic character of our Constitution, the Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan), when speaking on this measure, said that our Constitution was foreign to the elements and aspects of democracy. To quote one sentence from a speech of Sir William Irvine, as an expression of his opinion of the Australian Constitution, is merely a libel on the Constitution.
What did the Attorney-General mean when he said that the workers of Australia were hobbling along in chains? Was it a feeble paraphrase of the remarks of Karl Marx, who .some years ago said, “ Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains”? How utterly inconsistent and inapt is a remark of that kind in this period of our history. It is capita], not democracy, that is hobbled now. To-day democracy rules this and practically every other country. There was a time when the workers were attacking their rulers and asking for some part in the government of the country in which they lived; but such a position does not now exist. I remind honorable members that an ordinary man is president of the German Republic, that Masaryk is in control of what was part of the realm of the Hapsburgs, that Mussolini is in authority in Italy; that a Labour Government is in p(ower in Great Britain, and a Labour Government is also in office in the Commonwealth. Does not that show how absurd it is for the Attorney-General to say that the workers are hobbling along in chains? Democracy is enthroned, and it is time for those who represent the democracy to cease mumbling and juggling with ancient shibboleths, and to put into operation the programme which they have promised their supporters. This “ hobbling along in chains “ is mere political hypocrisy which does not deceive anybody, not even the Minister, as it bears on its face both contradiction “ and inaccuracy.
Before dealing with a number of the cases in which the Prime Minister said that the Constitution is defective, I wish to quote the opinion of Sir Robert Garran upon our Constitution. He shows that the Commonwealth Constitution is by no means the weakest in the world. There is no man in Australia to-day who has a more intimate knowledge of our Constitution and the effect of its operations than Sir Robert Garran. When before the Royal Commission on the Constitution, he said -
On the 1st January, 1901, when the Commonwealth Constitution was established by an act of the Imperial Parliament, there was not very much to show in the way of Australian union.- The Constitution, then, first, came into force as a legal document. It was a document which had been framed by the leading Australian statesmen and constitutional lawyers. Many of them were men not only of great experience in public affairs, but were keen students of constitutional matters, especially of the federal systems of the world. They had studied the United States Constitution ; they had studied what was then practically a recent work of Lord Bryce; they had studied the commentaries on the American Constitution by the great jurists - Storey and others - and also the more modern commentaries by the leading American lawyers. Further, they were familiar with the Constitution of Canada, which was a more modern example, and, in one way, more relevant to the subject, because it was an example of federation, under the Crown of the United Kingdom. They had also studied the Constitution of Switzerland, and the Commonwealth Constitution bears evidence of some borrowings from that Constitution. Above all, they were familiar with the political institution of Australia, which they had been working themselves, and with the various principles and practices of those institutions. Therefore we must say that the main sources of the Constitution which was brought into force on the 1st January, 1901, were the American Constitution, the Canadian Constitution, and to a less degree, the Swiss Constitution, and to a very large degree, the Constitution of the various Australian colonies.
I have read that opinion to show that the Australian Constitution is not in any sense the weak instrument which some consider it to be, and that it was framed and brought into operation by men who had made a close study of the constitutions of other countries. The Commonwealth Constitution is a monument to Australia’s public men who framed it, and I deprecate the action of vandal hands which seek to destroy it.
The Prime Minister, in giving reasons why, in his opinion, the Constitution should be amended, referred to the Harvester judgment and the new protection, the use of the naval dockyard for general purposes, Commonwealth Arbitration and State instrumentalities, the difference between the judgments in the Poggitt and Duncan cases, the variability of the interpretation of the High Court, the acquisition of land, and the definition of “ industrial dispute.” In regard to all those matters the right honorable gentleman contended that the powers of the Commonwealth under the Constitution had been found to be inadequate. He made much of the fact that there is a portion of land required for a sewage farm which the municipalityof Queanbeyan, wishes to surrender, but the Commonwealth has no power to accept. He based his demand for an amendment of the Constitution on a trivial matter of that nature; one which is too absurd to mention in connexion with such important issues.
– The honorable member is deliberately misrepresenting the position.
– The honorable member for Werriwa is not in order in saying that an honorable member is deliberately misrepresenting the position.
– The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) is not stating a fact.
– I heard the Prime Minister make the statement, and I have also read it in his speech in Hansard. The Royal Commission on the Constitution recommended that the Federal Parliament should have power to legislate with respect to the following:-
Aviation, interstate commission, judicial powers, life tenure of judges, new States, imposition of excise duty, domicile, double taxation, trade and commerce between States and territories, wireless transmission and broad casting, cinematograph films, freedom of trade and commerce and intercourse among the States, financial assistance to States, preferment to States, registration of doctors, dentists pharmacists and nurses, drugs and standard of food, adoption of legitimation, probate and letters of administration, election of senators defence, resignation of members of Parliament life of Parliament, surrender of area of territory to a Stateor Commonwealth, civil rights and company law and other matters.
I think honorable members on both sides of the House agree that those are matters upon which this Parliament should have power to legislate. I have mentioned the matters upon which the Prime Minister based his demand for an amendmentof the Constitution, and those which the royal commission recommended should be handed over to the federal authority.I believe that if the Government submitted a proposal embodying an amendment of the Constitution to enable this Parliament to deal with those subjects about which there is general agreement there would be practically no opposition. If, for the time being, the Government discarded its first proposal, possibly some agreement between the parties with respect to industrial powers could be reached, with the result that a scheme acceptable to all could be submitted to the people. Ina ministerial statement delivered some time ago, the Prime Minister said that this Parliament should become an economic conference to consider the economic and financial position of Australia. Surely it might be regarded as a conference to consider the amendment of the Constitution. If there is one subject above all others upon which there should beno party feeling, it is that. Nevertheless the Government and its supporters have regarded this matter in a party light.
It is not claimed by honorable member on the Opposition side that the Constitution should be regarded as sacrosanct Its framers recognized that it was likely to require amendments, but they endeavoured to provide that amendment should be made only when there was a settled conviction on the part of a substantial majority of the people in favour of it.
The late Chief Justice Griffiths, who was a member of the Federal Convention in 1891, said-
It is well to have a Constitution so elastic as to allow of any necessary development that may take place.
Sir Richard Baker remarked on the same occasion -
I do not care in what way you frame the Constitution, the people of Australia will mould and modify it in accordance with their ideas and sentiments for the moment, although its outward form may remain the same.
In this Constitution, although much is written, much remains unwritten, and has to be supplied out of our experience of our own people, and we have no doubt as to how and whence the forces of union will be supplied. . . . After all, and much as it accomplishes, this Constitution is but the framework and ground plan of the nation that is to be. It is, perhaps, by a wise discretion that we have insufficiently and inadequately dealt with the difficulties with which we are at present perplexed. It is enough that we have provided the means of enabling those to deal with them who will be far better qualified for the task than we are.
Mr. Deakin spoke with that modesty that so much became him in all his utterances.
Other constitutions have been spoken of as worthy of study with a view to their adoption. It has been suggested that because certain things are done under them Australia should discard the federal nature of its instrument of government; but we have to remember that the conditions in this dominion are entirely different from those in countries such as South Africa, which have been cited by the Prime Minister and the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman). Our population is 98 per cent. British, and we are a homogeneous people; but in the South African Union, out of a population of 7,000,000, no less than 5,250,000 are black, and 1,750,000 are white. Surrounding the South African Republic are the two British protectorates of Bechuanaland and Swaziland, which comprise an area of 300,000 square miles and contain an additional coloured population of 750,000. With such a huge black population, within and immediately round its borders, how could South Africa have adopted any other Constitution than that under which it is working? That country to-day is endeavouring toevolve a British method of governing both the white and black races that are living in the same dominion. I sympathize with it in the great task in which it is engaged, and on that account I make some allowance for the attitude of General Hertzog, who is engaged in political pioneering work in a new form of government for a portion of the British Empire. I assert that no analogy can be drawn between the conditions in South Africa and Australia. New Zealand has also been cited as having a unified system of government; but that country cannot be compared with Australia. Comprising about 100,000 square miles its area is little larger than that of the State of Victoria, less than one-third that of New South Wales, and one-thirtieth that of Australia. The physical and social conditions of New Zealand and South Africa do not admit of the constitutions of those countries being regarded as examples that Australia should follow.
– What about the British Constitution ?
– Leaving out Ireland, Great Britain comprises less than 100,000 square miles. The country is densely populated and easily capable of being governed from one centre. Surely there is a great difference between the conditions in the Motherland and those in Australia, with its vast distances and its population scattered round the seaboard. Out of its 6,250,000 people, 2,500,000 live in two of the big coastal cities.
The. Government’s proposal is that we should change the present method of making an alteration of the Constitution so that “ after the lapse of one month from its origination in a House of the Parliament “ it must be “ passed by an absolute majority of each House of the Parliament and be assented to by the GovernorGeneral.” That would be a most drastic step to take, and it has been described by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) as almost audacious. And it is. Let me point out what it would actually mean. At the present time certain procedure is laid down in the Constitution as to how an alteration may be effected. A proposed amendment must be agreed to by a majority of the votes cast in the aggregate, and a majority must also be secured in a majority of the States. Thus the power to amend the Constitution is left to the people. But, by the bill that power is to be taken entirely from the people, and is to repose in the Parliament, which is to decide on any alterations it chooses, and later on, if it so decides, submit its proposals to the people. It is a catch cry with honorable members opposite who have spoken on this measure, that all legislative power comes from the people; that the people are allpowerful. If so, let the people decide these matters before Parliament adjudicates upon them, instead of turning the position round and allowing the Parliament, without authority from the people, to alter the Constitution as it wishes. Under the Government’s proposal, an alteration would be submitted to the people after it had been made, and at the next general election. That is an undemocratic proposition, and one that no sound constitutionalist would admit. It is also one that no Labour Government, prior to the present Ministry, has ever brought forward. Until now it has never been suggested by the Labour party that this power, inherent in the people, should be taken away from them and vested in the Parliament. I submit that the attitude of the Government will require a good deal of justification before the electors will be prepared to endorse it. They will wish to know why this power should be taken from them, why any clique for the time being, why any oligarchy, why any section that may be returned to power for three years, should arrogate to itself the right to say that a power previously vested in the people should be placed in its hands. That is one aspect of the matter that will demand the keenest consideration of the electors, when these proposals are submitted to them.
We have been told that members of the Labour party are reasonable men, and the electors might well entrust them with this power. The Prime Minister, when speaking on the proposals, remarked: “What did we do in regard to the roads? Did we not give the States full power under the Roads Agreement?” Certainly, but that was purely a minor matter. That surely does not indicate to the people that, because the Government gave back to the State a power that should never have been taken from them, everything that the Prime Minister and his party may do in the succeeding years will be of the same simple character.
Sitting suspended from 6.13 to 8 p.m. [Quorum formed.]
– The reply to the statement from the ministerial side that if the power of amendment were conceded to this Parliament it would be used legitimately and moderately is to be found in the Labour party’s platform. The pride and boast of honorable members opposite is that theirs is the only party which knows where it stands and whither it is going; that its whole policy is to be found in the official platform. That has been confirmed by the statements of honorable members during this debate that the constitutional policy of the party is clearly and definitely stated in its platform, the planks ofwhich will be given legislative effect as soon as possible. The constitutional planks of the Labour platform are -
Complete self-government for Australia as a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Apparently the Labour party does not like the word “ Empire “ -
No Imperial federation.
Administration on advice of Australian Ministers only, subject to the control of the Commonwealth Parliament. All legislation, except such as appears inconsistent with Imperial treaty obligations to be assented to on the advice of Australian Ministers only.
What follows seems peculiar in view of a recent happening -
No further imperial honours to be granted in any circumstances to Australian citizens.
Those general principles of the constitutional objective of the party are elaborated in these terms -
The Commonwealth Constitution to be amended to provide -
Unlimited legislative powers for the
Commonwealth Parliament, and such delegated powers to the States or provinces as the Commonwealth Parliament may determine from time totime.
The clear meaning of that paragraph is that the States are to be abolished ; indeed, that was frankly advocated by ministerial speakers in this debate. To-day the States control the judiciary, police, and education ; to-morrow, on the mere motion of two chambers in this Parliament, they can be denuded of all authority in respect of those services. Other powers also could be filched from the States by a political section temporarily in control of the Commonwealth Parliament, and that section would not have to face an election or test public opinion until the Parliament expired by effluxion of time -
I do not propose to debate that proposal at any length, because it is idle to discuss the creation of new States when the continuance of even the existing States is menaced and their exclusion threatened -
I am impressed with the extraordinary inconsistency of the Government in regard to trusting the people, and I refer to it again. Apparently the Labour party is prepared to permit the people to initiate legislation, and, in certain circumstances, express their will by referendum, but in regard to the alteration of the Constitution, the people are to have no voice. That power of amendment is to be exercised by the people’s masters - the Commonwealth Parliament, forsooth! The proletariat, from whom, honorable members opposite tell us, all power comes, is to be subordinated to this Parliament, and will be able to express itself at the periodical elections only after the elect of the people have done their will with the Constitution. One of the greatest obstacles that the Labour party will have to surmount, when supporting the referendum bills on the hustings, will be the proposal to make the Commonwealth Parliament paramount over the people. Parliament is to amend the Constitution as it thinks fit, whittle away the powers of the States, alter the whole constitutional face of this continent and then, two or three years later, go to the people and say, “ This is what we have done.” This is not in accord with the democratic spirit of the Australian people, and is opposed to the democratic professions of the Labour party. Honorable members supporting the Government will have difficulty in defending this proposal, particularly in Labour electorates.
The Labour platform provides distinctly for the abolition of the Senate, and both the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) and the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) frankly admitted that to be the objective of their party. I invite the electors of the smaller States to note that clear enunciation of the Government’s policy. The shield and buckler of the smaller States is equal representation in the Senate, and so greatly did they prize that protection that they insisted upon a provision being inserted in the Constitution that it should not be altered without a referendum of the people. The Labour party proposes now not only to destroy that safeguard, but to do so without consulting the people by referendum. Giving evidence before the Royal Commission on the Constitution, Professor Shann, of the Western Australian University, said “ that at the present time there is a consolidation of power in the three small States to veto any amendment which would enlarge federal authority, but that veto will hold good only till New South Wales and Queensland be divided into new States.” In other words, the protection of the smaller States is in the present composition of the Senate, but it will continue only until new States are created.
As further evidence of the real danger that threatens these States, I cite the remarks of the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) at the recent Eight Hours Day dinner in Melbourne and the speech of the Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan) in this House when defending the two referendum bills. Both emphasized the enormity of 600,000 voters in the three small States being able to prevent the carrying of a referendum. Nothing could be clearer than the intention of this Government to destroy the safeguards and protection which the small States were conceded when they consented to enter federation. The Government cannot justify this policy, because, so far, referendum proposals have been defeated, not by the small States, but by the aggregate vote of the Commonwealth.
The preamble to the Constitution refers to the federation as “ an indissoluble bond “. That phrase is used because the union was an honorable contract made by the various States, assuring all parties to the union of certain specified safeguards.
– How long ago?
– Apparently the honorable member conceives honour to be subject to a time limitation. I submit that a promise or a contract should be faithfully kept whether it was made yesterday or 30 years ago. Sir Henry Parkes was one of the great progenitors of federation, and I quote his words as evidence of the terms of the contract by which the States agreed to federate. At the National Australasian Convention, held in Sydney in 1891, he moved the following resolution : -
That the powers and privileges and territorial rights of the several existing colonies shall remain intact, except in respect of such surrenders as may he agreed upon as necessary and incidental to the power and authority of the National Federal Govern ment.
Nothing could be clearer than the words in which that great statesman sets out the honorable understanding upon which federation was agreed to. That was the basis upon which the States agreed to enter an indissoluble union. The States would not have come into the “ indissoluble “ union unless they had been assured of that measure of protection, and this Parliament has no right to put before the people proposals which would involve the breaking of that compact. .
I do not think that the Labour party itself is unanimous on this subject. The Australian Workers Union Conference, which met at Hobart in January, 1928, expressed its opposition to this proposal of the Government for the alteration of the Constitution. Mr. Collier, the Premier of Western Australia, is also opposed to the plan now sponsored by the Commonwealth Government. I quote from the Melbourne Herald of 28th January, 1928, in which Mr. Collier made the following statement: -
When federation was decided upon, and Western Australia, after protesting that what has happened would happen, joined the union, everybody hoped, perhaps believed, that the Federal Parliament would be the cement to bind the States together, leaving them to fulfil their proper functions without interference from a body that had its circumscribed area of government.
How different it has turned out! We have six States, poor and needy, and a rich, bloated Commonwealth ending each year with fat surpluses that are the sign manual of bad government.Bit by bit the Federal authority is growing at the expense of the States. We are drifting, as sure as fate, towards unification. That means ruin. This enormous country cannot be governed from a political centre by men almost entirely ignorant of conditions in the far corners of the land.
Not only did he say that in 1928, but in his policy speech during the election campaign which is now taking place he said that “ the Western Australian Government would resist illegitimate encroachments on the rights of Western Australia, no matter the source from which they emanated “. In the article I have quoted he clearly and emphatically sets forth the illegitimate demands which he considers the Commonwealth is makingupon the States. The Commonwealth Labour party contains some representatives of the small States, and I cannot see how they can face the electors after voting for a proposal of this kind, in view of the statements I have quoted, and the arguments I have advanced showing what the abolition of the Senate would mean to those States. This proposal to alter the Constitution, so far as it affects the small States, is a dishonorable breaking of the federal compact.
– The honorable member is not in order in referring to the measure as dishonorable.
– I think I am ; I am not applying the expression to an individual.
– It is not in order to reflect on any legislation of this Parliament.
– I think, in the circumstances-
– I have ruled that the use of the word “ dishonorable “ in this connexion is not permissible.
– This is, in addition, a gross violation of the promises made at the time of federation. If this proposal goes through, it will be a political crime of unparalleled magnitude in the history of federal politics.
This proposal for the alteration of the Constitution is not even in accord with the Labor party’s own platform. Mr. Kenneally, President of the Australian Labour party, and member for Perth, when giving evidence before the Royal Commission on the Constitution, agreed that power to alter the Constitution should be on the lines proposed in this bill, but added a number of provisions. He said that there should be power to alter the Constitution by an absolute majority to give effect to the will of the people declared at a general election ; and that uo alteration diminishing the proportional representation of any State, or the limits of a State, should become law unless a majority of the electors of the State concerned approved. It will be noted that there is no reference to a general election in the Government’s proposals. The Labour party outside this Parliament obviously desires to protect the rights of the small States ; but no provision to that effect is included in the Government’s bill. Mr. Kenneally also stated in his evidence that there should be no extension of the life of Parliament without referendum. There is no provision to that effect in the bill before the House. He also said that there should be no alteration of sections 8 or 30 of the Constitution without referendum ; that there should be no conscription for military or naval purposes; that all alterations should be submitted to the people at a general election not less than- two, or more than six, months after passing Parliament. There is a further proviso in his evidence that, if the Senate disagrees, the Governor-General shall put the proposed law at a general election by way of referendum. That is the declared policy of the Labour party, and it differs from the proposals which the Government has placed before the House as chalk differs from cheese. The two policies arc as wide apart as the poles, and I invite honorable members of the Government to explain the difference.
With regard to the position of the small States under federation, I propose to quote some evidence given by Mr. Maurice Blackburn, of Victoria, before the Royal Commission on the Constitution. I do not suppose that there is a man in Victoria who is more trusted, or whose word is more readily accepted, than Mr. Maurice Blackburn. He said -
My great objection is that two States are all the time out for financial concessions. It is quite possible for the Government to attach them to it, irrespective of the merits of the Government’s proposals. I would not give additional power to the Commonwealth as at present constituted, because I think the smaller States have too much say. I have the opinion that Tasmania and Western Australia are largely influenced’ by the prospects of financial concessions from the Commonwealth Parliament - and I do not think it good for Australia for them to have one-third of the power of the Senate.
– Does the honorable member know that Mr. Blackburn is supporting both these bills?
– I do not know; but, at all events, that is the evidence he gave. On the point of trusting the people, -he was asked -
Do you think that referendums are instruments of progress? and he replied - [ do not know: but my idea is that the people should govern. I do not care whether they govern radically or conservatively, so long as they govern themselves.
The proposals of the Government mean unification in its entirety.
I can best sum up my attitude by quoting the evidence of Sir Robbert Garran before the Royal Commission on the Constitution. This is what he said -
I do not sue any signs of what some people fear, or hope for, according to their political views: that i3, a tendency to depart from the federal form of government towards the unitary. I should rather describe what. 1 think the general feeling is at present, as being that in some respects it would be desirable to extend the federal powers with a view to obtaining more effective control over thu matters of federal jurisdiction; but I do not see any signs of such a weakening of State patriotism as would suggest that there is any desire on the part of the people of Australia to abandon the federal form and adopt the unitary form of government. Summing it up, V should say that, on the whole, the general scheme of thu Constitution is one which, both as to its federal nature and as to the principles by which the powers are distributed, and also as to the structure of the organizations of government, has worked satisfactorily, and docs not require any fundamental alteration; but thu points to which the commission might be well directed as regards amendments aru those questions as -to the allocation of powers in the directions that have been mentioned.
That is the view I take. The phenomenal progress made by Australia during the last 30 years is clear and unmistakeable evidence of the satisfactory nature of the Constitution under which we have been working. When the history of the Commonwealth comes to be written, historians will stand aghast at the courage and fearlessness of 6,250,000 people and their achievements. All that is needed is means to amend the Constitution as required in directions upon which we can all agree. On the question of industrial powers, I am prepared to admit that national questions should be legislated upon by the National Parliament. That is a line of demarcation which can be definitely adhered to. I am impressed with the views expressed by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), in his speech on the 1926 referendum proposals. He pointed out that the proposal to create organizations which would deal with arbitration and industrial questions was far better than one that would permit Parliament to do it. I have no desire to see every Commonwealth election turn on industrial questions to the exclusion of everything else, as would be the case if this full power of amendment for which the Government is asking were conceded. I would rather have some authority outside this Parliament dealing with industrial matters in a purely impartial and judicial way, free from the political atmosphere of this Parliament. This is not the body to decide whether a 44-hours working week should be adopted or not.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time. has expired.
.- Listening as attentively as I possibly could to the debate on the Government’s proposals for the amendment of the Constitution, I have been deeply interested but not at all convinced, by the arguments put forward by honorable members opposite. One would think that the Government was proposing something likely to revolutionize Australia. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) is alarmed at the possibility of the administration of the affairs of the Commonwealth passing into the hands of a few individuals. If Labour were’ in power in the State of New South Wales to-day, its activities would be restricted by an Upper House, commonly called the Legislative Council, not one member of which is responsible to any one elector. The whole of the legislation passed by the Legislative Assembly in New South Wales is at the mercy of a nominee chamber. Labour did attempt to remove this anomaly, but the party to which the honorable member for Warringah belongs supports its retention, and yet he suggests that he is alarmed at what is likely to happen if the present Commonwealth Government succeeds in having its proposals carried by the people. There is no cause for alarm in these proposals.
Australia is at the present time in a state of stagnation. The present Government cannot be blamed, seeing that it has not been in office for more than a few months, but the party to which the honorable member belongs and which he applauds on every occasion, held the reins of office for six and a half years. That party is now in opposition, and we hear from it the cry that always emanates from an opposition when Labour proposes to do anything - that it will be detrimental to the best interests of the country. I wonder if honorable members opposite are actuated by any real regard for the bes interests of the country, or by their hatred of the Labour party. I believe they have satisfied themselves that no good can come from a government composed of members of the Australian Labour party. The present Government has already gone as far as it can under an obsolete Constitution, and now it is doing the next best thing. In a democratic manner it is asking the people to give it power to enact the legislation that it promised on the hustings would be enacted when Labour was returned to power. As to the fear of the honorable member for Warringah that the administration of affairs may pass into the hands of a few individuals, is it not better that the destiny of every man, woman, and child, and of every industry in the Commonwealth, should be in the hands of this deliberative assembly rather than in those of the justices of the High Court o’f Australia? It is absurd that such arguments as we have listened to against thi? proposal should be advanced by men who are supposed to be learned. I should like the bill to be amended so that the following question may be submitted to the people: -
That this Commonwealth Parliament elected by the people be given full power to control trade and commerce in Australia.
The Commonwealth Government must be put in a position to assert its authority. It can not do so to-day except in a very limited field.
The first convention to consider the establishment of the Commonwealth was held in 1891 with Sir Samuel Griffith as chairman. After quite a number of sittings, the convention appointed a committee to draft a constitution for Australia and that committee consisted of Sir Edmund Barton, Mr. R. E. O’Connor and Sir John Downer. That was in 1898, I believe. Will any honorable member suggest that those gentlemen could draft a constitution to suit Australia for all time; or that if they wei-e living to-day, they would not be prepared to cast it aside and replace it by another more adaptable to the circumstances of to-day? Is it not the rule in all walks of life that what has become obsolete is replaced by something that better meets the new circumstances that have arisen?
– But the trouble is that nothing is being put in its place.
– If that be the case, the honorable member has exploded the whole of the opposition to the bill. If the Government is not putting anything in the place of the Constitution as it exists to-day, why the need for all the debate, why the need for fear? It is, however, quite obvious that it is the intention of the Government to seek power ‘ to put in its place something which will be more beneficial for the people and more in the interests of Australia, something which will permit more equitable laws to be placed on the statute-book, and enable! this Parliament better to deal with circumstances as they arise.
– Does not the present Constitution enable that to be done?
– Apparently it did not enable it to be done when the late Government was in office, because although it passed legislation to deal trenchantly with workers no action was taken against employers who were flagrantly breaking the law. Those are matters we have to set right in the interests of the people.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) said that Labour was departing from issues which were considered fundamental, and he introduced words which, in my opinion, should be left unsaid in this chamber. The issues he considered fundamental were the franchise, conscription and religious liberty. Why should any honorable member introduce as a subject for discussion something which should be left severely alone? There is a time and place for everything, but this is certainly not the place for that sort of thing. Admitting, however, that they are fundamental issues, is there anything in the Government’s proposals to suggest that they will not still remain fundamental? The Federal Constitution is by no means sacred. It is merely an agreement made by the people to protect more effectively their interests, and to extend their selfgoverning powers. There is nothing wrong with that. The proposals of the Government amount to this: that as conditions change, so also may the Constitution be changed. In industry, art or science, in fact, in every walk of life, the conditions of 30 years ago are no longer applicable. Would any one suggest that the original motor car built by Henry Ford would meet the requirements of modern motor transport, or that Stevenson’s “Rocket” would handle the locomotive transport of the present day? I can speak with a practical knowledge because I am by trade, a boiler-maker of many years’ experience, and I would not suggest that the boiler of twenty years ago would meet the requirements of the trade to-day.
– ‘But the modern engine has a definite specification.
– And so have the proposals of the Labour Government.
Let us take another aspect of this question. With the other dominions the Commonwealth is part and parcel of the British Empire. South Africa, Canada, and New Zealand are self-governing powers, but Australia, which it is claimed is the brightest jewel in the Empire’s crown, is to be deprived for all time, according to honorable members opposite, of these self-governing rights. The position is absurd. If honorable members opposite were not such little Australians in sentiment and ideals, they would stand wholeheartedly behind this Government in its endeavour to place the Commonwealth Parliament in a stronger position to legislate for the people. It has been argued, and perhaps with some force, that, from the outset, the Constitution was drafted on entirely wrong lines. If the Constitution at the inauguration of the Commonwealth was inadequate to meet the needs of the time, how much more must it be inapplicable to present day needs. It is an anomaly that the central Government, which is supposed to be the supreme legislative authority in the Commonwealth, has not the power to deal with trusts, combines, or monopolies, and, as I have already remarked, it has not the power to legislate effectively with regard to trade and commerce. I, therefore, hope that the Government will consider the advisability of incorporating an amendment to ask for more complete legislative authority over trade and commerce.
– The honorable member’s suggestion will receive consideration.
– This Parliament cannot legislate to protect the consumer, nor can it ensure for the worker fair and reasonable wages and conditions of labour. It cannot even enact a uniform company law. The Commonwealth Parliament is supposed to represent the democratic ideal. I refute that statement, and say that the present Government is democratic in its ideals, but honorable members opposite are so obsessed with the obsolete Constitution under which a government supported by them attempted to govern for six and a half years that they are determined now to deny this Administration an opportunity, through these referendum proposals, to give effectto its policy. Their attitude is, I suggest, dictated more by a strong desire not to see anything accomplished by the Labour party rather than by a fear that the additional powers may be derogatory to the best interests of Australia. Tinder existing conditions, State Parliaments are unable to legislate in respect of certain industrial matters and the national Parliament also is powerless. Surely honorable members realize how unwise it is to maintain a costly National Parliament working under an obsolete Constitution that makes it subject to the dominion of the High Court ? How can any one suggest that with its restricted legislative powers the Commonwealth is an expression of our democratic ideals?
So absurd is the present position that if a man wishes to obey the law he is not absolutely certain to which he must- give his allegiance - whether a statute of the Federal Parliament or a law passed by a State Parliament. On the other hand a man who does not intend to obey the law is encouraged to evade his obligations of citizenship by dodging from one jurisdiction to another. “We have evidence of this evasion of State laws almost every day of the week in our law courts.
The position in other countries is much more satisfactory. Germany, a country which a few years ago Ave were all supposed to despise and which some people would have us still despise, is governed by a Parliament with far greater constitutional powers than those enjoyed by the Commonwealth Parliament, although as I have said, Ave are supposed to represent the democratic ideal.
Effective control over trade and commerce is a national matter. Commerce, therefore, should fall within Common wealth jurisdiction. State laws are totally inadequate to deal with it. Notwithstanding the provision in the Federal Constitution giving authority to the Commonwealth Parliament to make laws in respect of corporations, the High Court has ruled that the Federal Parliament had no such poA-er. Where does the honorable member for Warringah (M!r. Archdale Parkhill) stand now g Appar-entry he stands behind the party that upholds the system under which a nominee chamber dominates legislation in New South Wales, and yet he finds fault with this Government because it is asking the people to vest the national Parliament with greater powers to deal with trade and commerce.
I propose now to direct attention to the Government’s proposal that the people should grant greater industrial powers to the Commonwealth Parliament. In the first place I refer honorable members to a statement made by an eminent gentleman who for a time was ;i member of this Parliament; I refer to the late Mr. Justice Higgins, who was the first President of the Federal Arbitration Court. When he was a member of the House of Representatives, he is reported in Ronsard, of the 28th June, 1901, to have moved the following motion -
That in the opinion of this House it is expedient for the Commonwealth to accept full power to make laws for Australia as to wages, hours, and conditions of labour.
The late Sir Edmund Barton, who was one of a committee of three to consider the final draft of the Constitution, speaking to -this motion, said -
The grant of interstate free trade is likely to bc crippled unless the Commonwealth has power to deal uniformly with the conditions of employment throughout Australia.
Three years after the federal arbitration system was established, the late Mr. Alfred Deakin said -
To restrict the powers of the Commonwealth to the mere imposition of duties while conditions under which the manufacture of protected articles is carried on differ so widely in the different States, would be to permit inequality, discrimination and discord. . . . Effective and useful as State industrial laws have, in many cases, proved, their operation is circumscribed by State boundaries, and it can hardly be claimed for them that they cither do or cun secure uniformity in the conditions of manufacture throughout Australia. No authority but the Commonwealth can do this. As the power to protect the manufacturer is national, it follows that unless the Parliament of the Commonwealth also acquires power to secure fair and reasonable conditions of employment to wage-earners, the policy of protection must remain incomplete.
– In what year was that said?
– In 1904. No one will deny that there is a great deal of industrial unrest throughout Australia to-day. The objections raised by honorable members opposite to the Government’s pro:posals were, I believe, effectively answered by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Tully) when he said that the principal reason for the rejection by the people in 1926 of proposals to extend the industrial powers of the Commonwealth was that they feared an oligarchy, in the person of three High Court judges, would really control the industrial conditions of the Commonwealth.
– Did the present Prime Minister support those proposals?
– I am not concerned so much with the attitude of the present Prime Minister on that occasion as I am with the bills now before the House. Although honorable members opposite affect to see certain danger in the present proposals, they were prepared in 1926 to hand over sole control of all industrial matters to three members of the High Court Bench. All that we are now asking is that the people should vest this power in the national Parliament, which at present is absolutely powerless to legislate effectively in respect of industrial matters.1” Nobody knows this better than the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page). The limited power vested in the Commonwealth Parliament has been reduced to a mere shadow by the decisions of the High Court. If we value industrial peace it is essential that we should vest the national Parliament with fuller powers to legislate for the settlement of industrial disputes. It must have the authority to prevent disputes from arising and spreading. It must also be able to deal with conditions that give rise to disputes, and it must have the power to make a common rule. It is necessary too, that the Federal Parliament should have full power to secure uniformity in industrial conditions throughout the Commonwealth.
Some honorable members opposite take the view that it would be absurd to apply to Tasmania conditions obtaining in Victoria, or to make the industrial conditions of New South Wales applicable to Western Australia. When they raise such objections as these, they merely reveal their own lack of understanding of what is really the objective of the Government. I challenge any honorable member opposite to point to any Federal Arbitration Court judgment that has not been based upon the conditions governing industry in the particular State concerned. The court has always taken care that one State has no advantage over another. Unless our system of democratic government is to be a complete sham, the national Government must be vested with full legislative authority to come at once to death grips with those mighty organizations of capital which, on occasion, seek to impose unfair conditions upon their employees. The second of the Government’s proposals is closely related to the first. If the Government had power to deal with monopolies, combines and trusts, and had authority to legislate for uniform industrial conditions throughout the Commonwealth, I am firmly convinced that we should not have anything like the industrial unrest that exists to-day. When honorable members opposite want something from the Australian worker, he is a fine fellow; but in other circumstances he is everything that is bad. I defy contradiction when I say that the organized body of Australian workers is equal if not superior to any other organized body of men or women in any part of the world. It ill becomes the Opposition to criticize this Government for endeavouring, in a straight-forward, manly way, to improve our constitutional position, and so make it possible for our people to get a little more of the good things of life to which they are justly entitled. A good deal has been said in this Parliament since I have been a member of it, about patriotism and loyalty to one’s country. There can be no greater disloyalist than an honorable member of this House who stands in his place here and disparages the men and industries of Australia. Our people are doing their utmost to develop this great country, and they should be encouraged to continue their good work.
The object of this bill is to clothe the Government with more adequate power to deal with the problems that confront the country. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) attacked the constitution of the Labour party, and accused it of departing from its platform. He also said that the Labour party proposed to extend the franchise to youths of eighteen years of age. I can find no reference to that in our platform, but I quote the following from it: -
Is there any thing wrong with that? If we could give effect to that policy, we should do a good deal to advance Australia, but it is difficult to make progress under an obsolete Constitution. This Parliament is, at present, to a considerable extent impotent.
When honorable members opposite were sitting on this side of the chamber in the last Parliament they had a good deal to say about co-operation. Now they have an opportunity to show their bona fides, if they really desire the advancement of Australia they will support this bill. It would do us good to see a little of the patriotism, loyalty and adherence to democratic ideas which we are so often told are characteristic of them. We invite them to co-operate with us in this move to strengthen the constitutional position of the national Parliament. There never was a time when Australia needed harmony and a co-operative spirit more than she does to-day. On the 12th October last, the people indicated in no uncertain way what they thought of the previous Government’s endeavour to tinker still further with their industrial freedom, and gave a definite opinion on the notorious Maritime Industries Act. In these circumstances one would expect the Opposition to assist the Government to carry out the policy of which the people approved. We look for a little more co-operation and expect a little less talk about the necessity for the workers working harder to produce more. It is absurd to say that our economic situation calls for more production. Production overtook consumption years ago. The country is crying out, not for more production, but for more consumption.
– If we do not need more production, why has the Government asked the farmer to grow more wheat?
– For one reason it desired to vary the old cry to the workers to work harder; and for another reason, it desired to stimulate our export trade. We cannot export our workers, our industries, or our railways, but we could export more wheat if we had it. It is ridiculous to ask the workers to work harder to produce more goods to put into warehouses and stores that are already packed from cellar to garret. This policy has placed men and. women on the verge of starvation in many parts of this great land.
I am wholeheartedly behind the proposals of the Government, and hope that they will be carried. If the people will approve of these alterations in the Constitution, they will do something that will lead to the advancement of Australia.
.- Several Government supporters have urged that these proposals for the alteration of the Constitution should be considered in a non-party spirit, but the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) set a very bad example in his second-reading speech by accusing the previous Government of a breach of faith. He said -
The failure of the late Government to honour its promise has made it necessary for us to appeal to the people for increased power.
Undoubtedly his -remarks had reference to a statement .in ado by Mr. Bruce in 1926 to the effect that he was in favour of the holding of a special constitutional session of Parliament. I deny that either Mr. Bruce or the previous Government was guilty of a failure to redeem any promise to hold a constitutional session, in 1927, the Bruce-Page Government appointed a royal commission to inquire into all matters affecting the Constitution. This was a necessary preliminary to a constitutional session. The commission consisted of representative mcn of great, ability. As might have been expected, their report was most valuable, but, unfortunately, the findings were not unanimous. It was impossible for the last Government to make any announcement of the dato on which a constitutional session would be held until the report of the commission was available, and it was not tabled until the 21st November, after the last general election. The Labour Opposition in the last Parliament no doubt felt that it was doing its duty in making it awkward for the Government to find solutions for our industrial troubles, and it was responsible for the failure to arrange a constitutional session.
The report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution contains a vast amount of valuable information, but there is no finality in it. One can find in it arguments to support almost any measure of constitutional reform. The report shows beyond all question the necessity for a more exhaustive examination of the economic position of the Com monwealth. It seems to me that that could only be made by a properly constituted constitutional convention. Honorable members opposite have said that no more representative gathering can be secured to debate such a subject than is constituted by the members of this House.
– Who said that?
– I understood the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) to make such a statement in reply to an interjection by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks). A convention such as I have suggested should consist of representatives of all branches of industry, of employers and employees, of trades and professions and also of consumers. It is almost impossible for this Parliament to discuss these problems without party bias. In the past, if a referendum asking for increased industrial powers has been proposed by the Labour party it has been opposed by the Nationalist party, and if proposed by the Nationalist party, it has been opposed by the Labour party. A properly constituted convention could deal with the subject on non-party lines, and, I think, to the general satisfaction of the people.
– Would not the matter still have to come before this Parliament?
– That might be so ultimately, but the members of this House would be more likely to accept advice from such a convention than from any other authority, because the convention would be able, to a large extent, to sink the party feeling that we all pretend to deplore. The late Government has been charged with a breach of faith for failing to hold a constitutional session ; but this Government has the opportunity of employing any similar method to discover what the people desire. A few days ago I asked the Prime Minister the following question : -
Whether, in view of the growing importance of industrial legislation, he will consider the advisability of calling a parliamentary conference of representatives of all parties in the Parliaments of the Commonwealth and of the States for the purpose of considering the respective industrial powers and relations of the Commonwealth and States, before any referendum is authorized by the Commonwealth Parliament?
The Prime Minister replied -
The questions involved have already been fully discussed in the various Parliaments, at Premiers’ Conferences and on other occasions, and the proposals now before the House will provide a further opportunity for an examination of the matter in all its aspects. The need for an early adjustment of the existing unsatisfactory” position is pressing-, mid it is not considered that there is justification for the delay which the course suggested by the honorable, member would entail.
The proposals now before the Parliament were mentioned by various Ministers as early as January last, and Ministers in the various States have raised the question of whether these proposals are in the best interests of the people. _ The Minister for Labour and Industry in Queensland, Mr. Sizer, said -
That the outstanding need, is the solution of the industrial problem, but that the introduction of the wider question of unification would only confuse the issue and delay solution. In these circumstances the Prime Minister would bc well advised to confine the appeal he promised to make by referendum to that one question. There was a possibility that, if the 1 ‘rime Minister had called representatives of the States into conference with him, agreement might have been reached as to the questions to be placed before the people, and upon which all parties might agree. Previous experience allowed that that, apparently, was the only way to effect a change in the Constitution, and that to introduce the wider question of unification would only confuse the issue and would delay a solution of the problem. Ho did not think there was any likelihood of the Commonwealth Government succeeding in its wider appeal for unification.
It was, I think, in February last that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) made a suggestion similar to that of Mr. Sizer, and strongly advocated consultation with the State governments. The Government has not paid honorable members the courtesy of consulting the members of the Opposition in any way. The serious significance of the proposals will not be thoroughly understood by the people. The Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) in his speech said that the Government was asking that the Parliament be given power to amend the Constitution in accordance with the programme submitted to the people prior to the last general election; but I am sure that very few people believed at that time that the present Government would ask for such drastic power. It is possible that the majority of people when asked to vote on the first proposal will not realize that they are giving to the Labour Government the power to carry out the whole of the Labour programme with which we are familiar, notwithstanding what the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Long) said.
– We should give Parliament the power it ought to possess.
– As it was agreed 30 years ago that certain powers should repose in the States, surely the proper method is to consult the people on each additional power required, and not to attempt to tear up our Constitution in one act. The first proposal to be submitted to the people reads -
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 month from its origination in a house of the Parliament, bc passed by an absolute majority of each house of the Parliament, and be assented to by the GovernorGeneral.
That seems to be a short method of adopting the Labour party’s policy in its entirety. It is absurd for the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) to say that, if such powers were given to the present Government, nothing of a revolutionary nature would happen.
– I said to this Parliament; not to this Government.
– That is a .distinction without a difference. I do not wish to unduly criticize the present Government, because I believe that its members, and those supporting it, are honorable men; but we have- to remember that there is an extreme element outside this Parliament which exercises unyielding pressure upon the party represented by honorable members opposite. Evidence of that pressure is seen on many occasions. One of the first lines of the Labour party’s platform relates to the socialization of the means of production, distribution and exchange. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) has dealt very fully with the Labour party’s programme and I feel certain that the people of Australia are not prepared for the adoption of the Labour party’s policy in its entirety. That is exemplified by the words I have quoted. It is true, of course, that unification could be brought about if this proposal were adopted. The Senate could be abolished, the life of Parliament extended, and a dictatorship established.
I now wish to quote the remarks of the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Blakeley) who, when passing through Adelaide on his return from. Broken Hill in January last, explained the proposals of the Federal Government in. relation to the abolition of State Parliaments. He said -
If the people by referendum supported the move for an early abolition of the State Parliaments, it would not necessarily follow. The proposal would be gradual. Australia would be divided into areas each with complete local autonomy. State .’Pari in ments and State Governments with their retinues would disappear.
That was regarded by the State Governments and by the people as an official announcement and it was one which received a good deal of publicity in the press. The Premier of Queensland, Mr. Moore, in an interview with the Brisbane Courier. said -
I have not heard of any public demand for such a broad measure of unification, and I do not think there is any possibility of such a proposal being carried. 1. am emphatically not in favour of the unification proposals as outlined by the Federal Minister for Home affairs (Mr. A. Blakeley).
He went on to say that -
He had no objection to some functions., which wore purely federal, being handed over to the sole control of: the Commonwealth.
That statement is evidence that a request from the Commonwealth to the States would be favorably received ; but the Premier of Queensland leaves no doubt as to his attitude on the first question now before the House. Mr. Moore continued -
But centralization, generally speaking, could only mean great delay and trouble in administration, and finally a chaotic state of inefficiency. Already the States had had experience of the long delays and difficulties that arose out of the fact that the Commonwealth was a party to their many activities. That was particularly noticeable in regard to schemes arising from the migration agreement, sis a great deal of uncertainty existed as to the Commonwealth Government’s intentions.
– Does not the honorable member think that a majority of the State Premiers hold a similar opinion ?
– Yes, and they have just cause for fearing undue interference with State powers.
– At the inception of federation did the people believe that the State Parliaments would be retained?
– I shall have something to say on that later. I do not think for a moment that when the Federal Constitution was framed it was thought that it would never require amending, and provision was made accordingly. It was never supposed that new problems would not arise which would have to be considered-in the light of current events.
Every organization is susceptible to the opinions of its supporters, and in this connexion I would remind honorable members of a prosecution in one of the capital cities where an ex-Rhodes scholar was charged with uttering these seditious words. He said -
If the workers shed a little blood in their own interests, as they did for the capitalists in the war, they would be emancipated. They should take the law into their own hands, although I hope I will not have to shed any of my blood. If the necessity arises I am willing to do so in conjunction with workers as a whole, but before I do so the workers would have to be thoroughly organized to have a successful issue. There was no harm in the spilling of blood in the tate war in capitalistic interests, so why should it not be spilt in the workers-‘ interests, who could not bo much worse off than they are now.
It is very unfortunate that there is even one man in this free country who dares to speak in such terms.
– Particularly a Rhodes scholar.
– Yes, I have quoted tins expression of an extremist who is sheltering under the wing of the Labour party, and I do not suggest that honorable members opposite sympathize with such utterances. It is not to the credit of the Labour organization that its leaders do not condemn the extremists who advocate crime.
– There is nothing very dangerous in that statement, as he said that he would not shed any of his blood.
– Like the Minister, this man would, I suppose, look after his own skin. I now wish to direct the attention of honorable members to an amendment moved by a delegate of the Timber Workers Union in Victoria to the Trades Unions Congress held in Melbourne, when a question relating to the objective of the Labour party was under consideration. The amendment reads -
That the methods adopted shall be those of the class struggle -
An economical industrial strike.
A political general strike.
Armed insurrection for the overthrow of capitalism.
The co-operation of the political party of the workingclass in all the methods stated.
– That amendment was defeated by a large majority.
– Yes, the amendment was defeated. There are, unfortunately, many men such as the Rhodes scholar to whom I have referred, and also among those representing the timber workers, who use discreditable language and who advocate violence. Many of these men are admitted to the councils of Labourorganizations.
Reports of the proceedings of the Labour Council in New South Wales show that the extreme element is gaining the upper hand in the counsels of the Labour party, and my complaint is that the professed political leaders of that party will not attempt to suppress it. As further evidence of that, we have the conduct of the present Labour Government during the dispute in the coal industry. I suggest that the action of this Government on that occasion was not such as to give the people an assurance that it would act wisely if consent were given to its proposal to mutilate the Constitution. It is regrettable that the Government failed to give its moral support to the New South Wales Government when a “Red army “ was formed, and there were great possibilities of evil happenings in Australia. Under present conditions, when t he people are dissatisfied with a Government, they simply defeat its candidates at the polls. One can imagine the confusion that would follow if there we’re a change of government following three years of administration by a Labour government that had been authorized to mutilate the Constitution, and was subject to the dictation of the extremists who are, undoubtedly, strongly represented in the Labour organization.
– Are there not extremists on both sides?
– Yes; and, if the leaders on both sides would speak out frankly and condemn them, it would be to the advantage of the people generally. If it were possible for a government to amend the Constitution in any way it desired from time to time, it could do almost anything. It could extend the life of the Parliament indefinitely, and eventually set up the dictatorship that we hear so much” about. The people must have grave doubts as to the way in which the proposed power would be used when they read in the press that the present Government has consented to the admission into Australia of a representative of Soviet Russia. In the Sydney Sun of the 26th instant, the following paragraph appeared : -
The Commonwealth Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) has asked, through the British Foreign Secretary (Mr. Henderson), that a Soviet consul be appointed in Australia.
– Is the honorable member for Lilley in order in referring to a matter that is not relevant to the bill before the House?
– I was on the point of asking the honorable member how he proposed to connect his remarks with the subjectmatter of the bill. I now ask him not to import into the debate any matter foreign to the subject of the Constitution.
– I would have no difficulty in connecting my remarks with the bill. We are all well aware that the Government, under the present proposals, is asking for authority to amend the Constitution in any way it desires, and I am pointing out, that if that power were granted, there would be hardly anything that this or any other government could not do. I do not suggest that the present Government in particular would be guilty of extreme action, but I am warning the people as to what might happen if complete legislative power was handed over to any government.
– I have allowed honorable members the widest latitude in discussing the bill, and I ask them not to seek to take advantage of it by importing into the debate matters that cannot, by the widest stretch of the imagination, be regarded as relevant to the Commonwealth Constitution.
– In justice to the Prime Minister I should like to add that, speaking in this House recently, he gave quite a different version of the Government’s attitude to the consular representation of the Soviet. He said: -
The Russian Government inquired through the British Government, whether wo had any objection to the appointment of a Consul. Our reply was that we would be prepared to accept a Russian Consul, subject to the usual conditions that the person to be appointed was acceptable to us, and subject. also to a formal reciprocal undertaking in respect to propaganda.
-The honorable member will not be in order in further discussing that matter.
– I bow to your ruling. Unification has for a long time been one of the planks of the platform of the Labour party, but I think that it would be cowardly of any government to attempt to seek full legislative powers in an indirect way. According to my reading of the first bill, the people would not be given a proper realization of all that is desired by the Government. It would be much preferable to ask the people in a straightforward way for specific powers, stating exactly what the Government wishes to accomplish; the electors would then know what to expect. I recognize that the federal compact of 1900 was only a compromise. Few people regarded it as a grant of the whole of the powers to be exercised by the Commonwealth. It was understood that the arrangement then entered into must stand the test of time, and be modified according to the needs of the people.
I am satisfied that extended powers arc needed by the Commonwealth Parliament, but I regard the present proposals as ill advised. They are bound to he defeated, particularly in the small States. Evidence of that is furnished by the following statement by the Premier of Western Australia in his policy speech: -
We arc out to resist illegitimate encroachments upon the rights of Westralia, no matter the source from which they emanate.
The Leader qf the Opposition, Sir James Mitchell, remarked -
I declare myself entirely opposed to any proposal that would take further powers from the State and hand them over to the Commonwealth Government. If Western Australia was to be faced with unification, it should first be given an opportunity of withdrawing from federation.
I feel sure that Queensland will not regard the proposals favorably, . and I think that the same may be said of South Australia, Tasmania, and “Western Australia, because those States are completely out-voted in this Parliament. New South Wales has 28 representatives, Victoria 20, Queensland 10, South Australia 7, and Western Australia and Tasmania 5 each. It will be seen that the large States of New South Wales and Victoria have a preponderance of voting power, and it is natural that the small States would regard the proposals with suspicion.
I am prepared to admit that there is a growing feeling in favour of unification, but the people will not be ready for the determination, of that issue for probably 20 or 30 years. When our population has reached, say, 15,000,000, and our empty spaces are filled with settlers of our own kith, and kin, there may bc some justification for a more unified form of government; but, while the population is scattered over vast areas, it i3 premature to suggest the tearing up of our Constitution. I am inclined to think that the Government might have more suitably framed the questions to be submitted to the people, so that they would “have had a better chance of acceptance. In his ministerial statement, when Parliament assembled recently, the Prime Minister referred to the serious difficulties confronting the people, and said that a proper realization of them should result in the whole-hearted ‘ co-operation of all sections. I think that the Opposition has given considerable evidence of its desire to assist the Government. A few days ago, the Prime Minister referred to the large amount of business that had already been done, and that result was undoubtedly achieved -with the sympathetic co-operation of the Opposition. That fact, apparently, is not fully appreciated on the Government side. On the contrary, we have this attempt by the Government to obtain authority to tear up the Constitution, and carry out contentious Labour policies. I do not imagine that these tactics will.be successful.
The second measure under discussion is also one of great importance. Clause 2 states -
Section fifty-one of the Constitution is altered by omitting from paragraph (xxxv. ) the words “ Conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State “, and inserting in their stead the words - “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 em ployers and employees;
strikes and lockouts.
the maintenance of industrial peace: and
the settlement of industrial disputes “.
The great difference between these proposals and those which were submitted to the people by referendum in 1926 is that the present Government seeks full legislative power for this Parliament in regard to industrial matters, whereas the previous Government asked for power to refer them to an authority. In my opinion the 1926 proposals were preferable, because the people would not appreciate industrial matters being made a bone of contention at a general election. If that happened the party that bid highest in regard to hours and conditions of employment would probably be successful at the polls, although its policy might not be in the best interests of the people.
All political parties are agreed that an extension of the industrial powers of this Parliament is urgently needed. The allegation has been made that the last Government did not attempt to deal with this problem; the truth isthat it made not less than six attempts to find a solution. The first was the referendum in 1926, which was defeated by the extremists on both sides, some representatives of Labour on one side, and some employers on the other side. If the members of this Parliament had actively cooperated and given a lead to the people the proposal of the then Government would have been carried. The second effort made by the Bruce-Page Ministry was the sending of a delegation of representatives of employers and employees to study industrial conditions in America. Heavy expenditure was incurred and every opportunity was afforded the delegation to obtain the latest information and study industry from the points of view of the employer and the employee.
Although reports were submitted by the delegation to Parliament, they failed to discover a solution of our difficulties. The third attempt was the convening of an industrial peace conference of representatives of workers and employers. But the Australian Workers Union, one of the strongest Labour organizations in the Commonwealth, refused to participate and the conference failed. The Government next introduced a comprehensive amendment of the Arbitration Act,but unfortunately its merits were never fully tested. The fifth endeavour of the BrucePage Government was an appeal to the State Governments to surrender voluntarily to the Commonwealth the necessary industrial powers. That the States refused to do, and the only alternative remaining was to endeavour to induce the State Governments to take over from the Commonwealth the greater part of the federaljurisdiction in industrial matters. The Government took what it believed to be the proper course, but the electors did not appreciate the merits of this action and Mr. Bruce and his ministry were defeated. It is clear, however, that the last Government explored every possible avenue to establish peace in industry, and it did something which so far the present Government has failed to do; it consulted with the then Opposition with a view to the framing of a question that both sides in politics could recommend to the approval of the people. Honorable members will recollect that in 1926 the Bruce-Page Government consulted the then Leader of the Labour Opposition in regard to the questions to be submitted to the people; certain amendments were made to the Government’s proposals, and in their altered form they were carried almost unanimously in both chambers.
– That may yet be done in this case.
– The Government has deferred that step until rather late in the day. If it desires the support of all honorable members in the constituencies - and that appears to offer the only chance of the referendum being successful - it will be wise to consult with the members of the Opposition. A proposal framed by the Government and Opposition in collaboration will have a better chance of success than will the proposal which the Ministry has submitted.
Members of the Opposition have been asked by Ministers to consider these bills in a non-party spirit. That appeal was first made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) who, in February last, issued this statement -
At, the last election Mr. Seullin declared that the industrial policy of the Labour party was to introduce “ a business-like system of arbitration, free from entangling legalisms.” This was to bc done without alteration to the Constitution.
Several Federal Ministers have recently made statements which are evidently intended to test public opinion upon the question of an amendment of the Commonwealth Constitution upon this subject. I do not wish, however, at the present time to comment upon the change of policy which is thus foreshadowed. The history of the question indicates the difficulty of the problem. In 1011, 1!U3, lilli), and 1920 the people were asked to make changes in this respect. livery referendum failed. In each case the Government brought down its proposals in Parliament, and after the usual parliamentary discussion, the referendum took place. In each case thu decision of the people was substantially upon party lines, except in ID2H, when both sides in politics were divided, ft is ut least doubtful whether new proposals will meet any better fate than those of the. past.
He then made this common-sense suggestion -
I suggest that the matter should he approached from a new angle. In the first place, T appeal to the Government to bring about a conference of representatives of employers and employees, in order to explore the question thoroughly, with thu possibility of arriving at some measure of agreement us to whether any, and if so, what alterations in the Constitution should be made. lt was the announced intention of the Government to do this, but tho proposal was abandoned on account of the opposition of what is called militant industrialism. I venture to ask the Government not to allow this relatively small section of the community to influence the Government in a matter so important, but to take steps at once to bring about a conference of employers and employees.
In the second place it must be recognized that the States are vitally interested in the distribution of industrial powers between the Commonwealth and the States. 1. suggest that past experience has shown that it would bc wise to consult the States upon the particular amendments proposed, before placing them before the Commonwealth Parliament.
It docs not appear to me to be a sound objection that the proposed course has not been followed on previous occasions. All the previous referendums failed. If the steps which I have suggested ure taken, the chances of agreement will be increased. Ti’ some such steps an; not taken, the chances of a successful appeal to the people will be prejudiced. It. is not out of place, in the present financial circumstances, to mention that the direct cost to public funds of a referendum is at least £100,000, in addition to all the expense and disturbance of the campaign. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to m>’ suggestions.
We are all agreed that some amendment of the Constitution is urgently needed in the interests of the people and even at this late hour the Government might reasonably follow the precedent established by the Bruce-Page Government, and consult with the Opposition, so that any question submitted to the people will have the undivided support of this Parliament. Honorable members are capable of influencing public opinion. In 1926 wo told the people that the proposed increase of federal powers would save the country; our opponents adopted a hostile attitude, and the proposal was defeated. If on this occasion the position is reversed, and those who previously supported this appeal for increased powers now oppose it, the people will become disgusted with the parliamentary institution. The Government might reasonably act upon the advice of some of its supporters that constitutional amendments should bo considered from a non-party stand-point. So far the Government bas not consulted the people by means of n convention, or attempted to ascertain the views of the State Governments or convened a gathering of employers and employees in order to reach a decision as to what proposal would be most acceptable to all interests. I see little possibility of the power of amendment referendum being carried, and the success of the second proposal will be gravely imperilled because of the opposition that will necessarily arise from a section of the House. It would bc a great pity if the money expended on the referendum were wasted because of the absence of unanimity amongst the parties in this chamber. Naturally, those who are politically opposed to Labour will say that the Government wants its own way, just, as in 1926 the Labour party said that the Nationalists wanted too much of their own way. Surely a compromise is possible by which the proposal to be submitted to the people will have a better chance of being carried, thus introducing a reform which will be of lasting benefit to Australia.
.- The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) displayed a better spirit than was manifested by earlier speakers on the Opposition side. The speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) was a great disappointment to me; it was wholly hostile, and lacking in constructive suggestion. His attitude was much less generous than that adopted by the then Opposition in 1926. On that occasion nearly all the Labour members signified their willingness to recommend to the people the increase in the industrial powers of this Parliament that was being sought by the then composite Government. [ regret that many Labour supporters in the country did not follow the advice of their representatives in this chamber, but 1. can claim to have supported every proposal to extend the constitutional powers of the Federal Parliament. Therefore, it is with more than ordinary pleasure that [ approve these bills to ask the people to empower this Parliament to make all laws that are necessary for the good of the nation. Much has been said of the wisdom of the framers of the Constitution, which would lead one to assume that they brought to their task minds that were free and unfettered, but commonsense tells us that that was not so. They had to contend with violent criticism by many sections of the Australian people, by whom federation was regarded as a revolutionary step. Those men who framed the Constitution were not able to give effect to what might have been their own personal feelings. The report of the Commission on the Constitution deals with that point. On page 74 of the report, it states -
The main grant ot powers to the Commonwealth Parliament is in section SI. The grant is not based on abstract principles, but is the practical solution which commended itself to the framers of the Constitution in the light of the history and circumstances of Australia, and the need for compromise in order to reconcile divergent views and obtain agreement.
That does not suggest that the framers of the Constitution enjoyed unfettered powers, but rather that the Constitution as it stands represents not what they would have done, but what it was possible for them to do in the circumstances. It was a compromise, a reconciliation of divergent opinions.
It is said that this proposal represents a revolutionary change, but to regard a great change as something catastrophic and fraught with dire danger is not always a sign of wisdom; it is more often a sign of a parish pump mind. Those who have spoken against the proposal have done so mostly out of jealousy for the preservation of State powers. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) said that the carrying of the proposal might mean the death, or withering away, of State Parliaments. So far as my State is concerned, I hope he will enunciate that opinion from the house tops. It would do more than anything else to gain support for the measure. Honorable members should realize that there is a great change coming over the minds of the people. The last election, apart from showing what the people thought of our opponents, was a clear indication that they were not prepared to agree that any power should be taken away from this Parliament. Is it not possible that it also showed that the people are prepared to grant even wider powers to the Cornwealth Parliament?
A great deal of time has been spent in involved arguments and academic discussions about what might or might not happen if this proposal is carried. If it is carried, however,’ it will not be because the people have been influenced one way or another by those arguments, but because the seeds of national unity, which were planted at the time of federation, have at last come into flower. It will be because the people realize that their material interests, as well as their national aspirations, can be best served by giving the Federal Parliament full power, so that the man in the street, seeking to know upon whose shoulders he can place the responsibility for his troubles, and to whom he may look for a remedy, may be able to turn to a legislative authority possessing full and undivided powers. If the people feel the need of such an authority all the thundering of all the pessimists will beat itself to pieces on the solid wall of public opinion. It will be on that issue, rather than on hair-splitting arguments, that this proposal will be decided by the people. If it is carried it will be because the people feel that at last an opportunity has occurred to give to the National Parliament full and complete power, so that it may accept full responsibility for the government of the country.
It has been said that the needs of Parliament, and of the people, can be best served by making specific amendments to the Constitution. The changing needs of the country, however, and the varying interpretations of the High Court, have left the people and the parliamentarians, no matter how experienced, in some doubt as to where the powers of this Parliament begin and end. It is possible for the opinion of a single judge of the High Court to decide an issue as to whether a law of this Parliament shall be declared null and void. If a High Court Bench of six judges, when dealing with a constitutional interpretation, divide equally on the point, the opinion of the Chief Justice is then the deciding factor ; so that his opinion alone may be sufficient to nullify the wish of the majority of the people of Australia, and, possibly, the unanimous wish of both Houses of Parliament. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), in dealing with the proposals we are now considering, suggested that, in certain circumstances, Western Australia might secede from the Commonwealth. He seemed to suggest that there was no federal spirit in Western Australia. But it might be well to remind him, and others who might be influenced by his views, that Western Australia has been one of the most insistent advocates of increased federal power. In 1913 Western Australia was the only State which carried a majority for the proposals submitted. In 1913 Western
Australia carried the whole six proposals for giving increased power to the Federal Parliament. The honorable member for Swan further suggested that the effect of the tariff had turned the people of Western Australia against federation, and one might presume from his remarks that the protectionist policy is not viewed favorably in that State. Prior to federation, however, Western Australia was the greatest protectionist State in Australia. In 1898 the customs revenue of Western
Australia was £5 8s. 8d. per head of population, compared with £1 12s. lOd. per head in Victoria, which was regarded as a protectionist State. Prior to federation the tariff schedule of Western Australia contained 1,042 items, compared with 917 in the Victorian schedule. Even after federation Western Australia continued to retain its customs duties for some time. The contention, therefore, that the Protectionist policy of the Commonwealth is likely to prejudice the success of the Commonwealth Parliament’s request for greater powers: does not seem to be so well founded as the honorable member for Swan suggests.
I do not wish to dwell on the need for giving the Commonwealth Parliament greater industrial powers because during the last Parliament I spoke somewhat lengthily on the subject. I think it is generally, recognized, as the right honorable member for North. Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has said, that every party in this House at one time or another submitted to the people proposals intended to give this Parliament greater industrial powers. Whatever differenceof opinion there may be as to the form in which the question should be submitted to the people, there can be very little difference of opinion about the urgent need for giving this Parliament thesegreater powers. There are, however,, other powers which this Parliament should have. I could enumerate quite a number, but one that stands out is the power to enact a. uniform company law. The decision in the case of Huddart Parker & Coy. v. Moorehead has raised doubts as to the right of the Commonwealth Parliament to enact such a law, but it must be admitted - at any rate it is recognized by all who have any knowledge of the subject - that there is urgent need for uniform legislation in this direction.
When he was speaking on this bill, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) digressed from the main points of his argument to suggest that sinister motives were actuating the Labour party in its desire to secure increased powers for the Commonwealth” Parliament; but in the next breath he said that it was all bluff and that if the Labour party had the power it was seeking it would not know what to do with it. I do not know how he can reconcile the two statements. He also mentioned that the present Government had been a constitutional Government since it assumed office, but that it could not claim any credit for it. The slogan of the Bruce-Page Government at the 1925, 1928, and 1929 elections was that it was a constitutional Government, and that the Labour party could not be depended upon to observe the Constitution and the law. But now that Labour is in office, it is, according to the Leader of the Opposition, a constitutional Government, although it cannot claim any credit for it. Seeing that the honorable member now admits that what he told the people during those three campaigns was said with the ulterior motive of deceiving them, and in order to make them believe that the Labour party could not be entrusted with the task of administering the law, I think that for political decency’s sake he owes some apology to Labour for having slandered it in the way he did. He said the other day that if the present Government had not intruded into the coal dispute it would have been settled long ago. My reply is that if his Government, backed by the State Government of New South Wales, had not intruded into the issue by definitely bestowing its sympathy upon, and throwing its support behind the coal-owners, the dispute would never have started. Had Labour governments been in office in the Commonwealth and in the State of New South Wales, and the coal-owners had been without that governmental sympathy they received from the Bruce-Page Government and the Bavin Government, there would have been no lockout. The honorable member’s statement, therefore, falls to the ground, because if it had not been for the action of his Government and that of the Bavin administration, there would have been no dispute.
It has been suggested by an honorable member opposite that the deficits in the State railways are in some way due to the operation of federal arbitration awards. But the honorable member who made that suggestion displayed very little knowledge of the financial position of the State railways. Not half of the railway employees in New South Wales work under federal awards, scarcely any of the railway employees in Western Australia, and very few of those in Queensland. The best test of whether the State railways have been crippled by federal awards is the figures issued by the various Railways Commissioners. There are about 23,000 railway employees in New South Wales operating under federal awards, the biggest proportion of State railway employees who work under those awards, but last year the proportion of working expenses to revenue earned in New South Wales was lower .than it was in any other part of the world. According to the last figures supplied by the New South Wales Railways Commissioners, the proportion of working expenses to revenue earned was 76.36 against 78.20 in Victoria, 78.9 per cent, in the Canadian National Railwayssupposed to be one of the most efficiently controlled railways in the world - and 80 per cent, in New Zealand - where they are not troubled by federal awards - Western Australia, and the United Kingdom. What actually happens in New South Wales is that the annual interest bill absolutely prevents the railways from showing a profit. The railways are crippled not by the operation of federal awards, but by the effect of State legislation, and because of the manner in which the State Government has controlled its system. For instance, last year the total revenue earned by the service in New South Wales was about £19,500,000, of which amount £14,900,000 was spent in working expenses. The balance of the revenue was not sufficient to meet the interest bill, which amounted to £6,150,000, approximately half the cost of working the system. These figures give honorable members some idea of where the money is going. The State railways are not crippled by the operation of federal awards, but because of the Government’s legislation, and because the railways have been controlled and in many cases built for purely political purposes.
We should consider these questions not from the point of view whether the people are likely to accept them, but rather whether it is expedient and desirable, as well as in the interests of the nation, that these extended powers should be given so that the National Parliament may be unrestricted in its legislative authority. It must be apparent that the governmental functions exercised by this Parliament have their roots right down in the economic heart of the nation. This is the Parliament which decides the tariff questions that are designed to assist our secondary industries; which decides the payment of bounties for the assistance of our primary producers ; which exercises supreme control over banking; and many other functions that vitally affect the lives of the people. In the circumstances, is it not desirable that this Parliament should have full legislative power in respect of all those industrial issues which have an important bearing upon the general welfare of the community, and should not the people now be given an opportunity to say whether the time has not arrived when this Parliament should be permitted to discharge its legislative functions without any hampering restrictions? If honorable members w111 peruse the report of the royal commission which inquired into the coal-mining industry in New South Wales, they will find that that body has made extensive recommendations to the Government. That commission, I remind the House, was appointed with the consent, if not at the instigation, of the Bruce-Page Government. Because of our limited constitutional powers, this Parliament could not give effect to its recommendations if it wished to do so, I agree with many and disagree with some of the recommendations made by that body, and I feel sure that honorable members opposite will receive a great shock when they realize fully the nature of the recommendations made by the commission appointed with the approval of the Government of which they were supporters. The commission has recommended that the selling price of coal should be decided by a tribunal; that mines should be , closed down when necessary; that a levy should be struck on every ton of coal produced, and that action should be taken to restrict excessive profits being earned. It does not declare that evidence was adduced to show that excessive profits were or were not being earned, but the suggestion that control should be exercised to prevent excessive profits from being earned is a clear indication that at least there was strong presumptive evidence that some of the colliery-owners at all events, were making excessive profits.
Whatever may be our differences of opinion as to how far these proposals for increased constitutional powers should go, I believe every member of this House is agreed that this Parliament should be vested with additional powers. If he does not subscribe to this view, he is not fitted for his position as a member of this Parliament, because, with the excep tion of that of Queensland, this is the only Parliament in Australia that is instantly responsive to the wishes of the people. The legislatures of all the other States are dominated by Upper Houses, the members of which are appointed either on the nominee system or are elected on a restricted franchise, and do not represent the views of the people. I submit, therefore, that this Parliament, which is instantly responsive to the people, should be vested with complete authority to legislate in respect of industrial matters. The people themselves will judge whether this Parliament acts wisely or unwisely. They Will give their verdict just as they did on the 12th October last. Within eleven months, large numbers of the people had completely changed their opinion as to the wisdom of their action in 192S, with the result that this Parliament immediately responded to the change in public opinion.
I understand that something has been said about this Government courting political popularity in regard to these proposals. Are not members of this Parliament elected to give effect to the wishes of the people, and if they make a mistake, are they not held responsible? We are here to tell the people, when the opportunity offers, what we think is best for them, and we leave the issue to them. Every member of this House is returned because the policy he advocates or the party which he represents is more closely in accord with the wishes of the people.
I hope these proposals will be approved by the House and accepted by the people. I do not know what amendments honorable members opposite intend to submit, but I hope that during the remainder of this debate the speakers from that side will show a fuller understanding of the intention of the Government. My views on this subject are well known, but they are not necessarily the views of every member of my party. I favour the abolition of State Parliaments and greatly extended powers being given to local governing authorities. I have stated my views on the public platform throughout my electorate on many occasions, and I shall do so again. I realize, of course, that wc ure not likely to obtain the objective in a day, but I believe that whenever an opportunity offers, steps should be taken in this direction, so that eventually the Commonwealth Parliament may be vested with full authority to legislate in all matters affecting the general welfare of the people, and that purely domestic and local affairs should be dealt with by local governing authorities.
I hope that these proposals will commend themselves to the people of Australia. It has been said that this Government has been too cautious. Now the same people are saying that it has become too reckless ; but they .are confusing courage with recklessness In spite of what the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) has said, there is nothing obscure about this issue. The simple question is, in effect, “ Are you prepared to give the Federal Parliament full power to make the laws which it considers to be necessary in the best interests of Australia?”
Debate (ou motion by Dr. EARLE Pack) adjourned.
The following paper was presented: -
War Service Homes Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1930, Nos. 9,
House adjourned at 10.32 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 April 1930, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1930/19300401_reps_12_123/>.