12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chairat 2.30 p.m., and offered prayers.
Resignation ofSir Adrian Knox.
– According to newspaper reports, Sir Adrian Knox has resigned the position of Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. Can the Prime Minister make any statement to the House regarding the appointment of his successor.
– No decision has yet been reached.
Mr.CUSACK.- With regard to the question asked by the honorable member for Richmond, will the Prime Minister
– The honorable member is not in order in basing a question on one already asked.
– I wish to know whether the Prime Minister, when making an appointment to the vacancy caused by the resignation of Sir Adrian Knox, will consider the expediency of appointing to the High Court bench some person who will see eye to eye with His Honour, Sir Isaac Isaacs, on arbitration questions?
Question not answered.
– As entries for the award of merit for films and scenarios produced in Australia closed a couple of days ago, will the Minister for Trade and Customs soy how many entries have been received ?
-I hope to be able to make the information available to the honorable member at alater hour to-day.
– Is the Treasurer aware that since the 26th September, 1929, the Bank of England rate has fallen from 6½ per cent. to3½ per cent. ? Is he aware that since the 1st November, 1929, the New York Federal Reserve bank rate has fallen from 6 per cent. to3½ per cent.? Is he aware that this fall in the bank rate is reflected in a reduction in the interest returns on gilt-edged securities in the London and New York markets, and a rise in the market prices of those securities? As the Commonwealth had recently to offer interest at 6 per cent. on its conversion loan, does the Treasurer consider that the reduction in interest rates overseas will be followed by a reduction in the Australian rates, or that the Commonwealth will be compelled to raise its loans at 6 per cent. for some time to come?
– I am aware that the bank rates in England and America have fallen, as stated by the honorable member. My view is that lower interest rates in Australia will follow the reduction that has taken place overseas. I am hopeful that, very soon, it will be possible to effect Commonwealth borrowings at a lower interest charge than 6 per cent.
– Is the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs prepared to consider the advisability of extending the. scope of the bounty payable on crude oil obtained from shale to include crude oil obtained from browncoal?
– Any representations on the subject which the honorable member chooses to make will receive most sympathetic consideration.
Opposition in England.
– Has the Prime Minister seen a circular addressed to members of thisHouse, in which is enclosed a copy of the Natal Mercury containing a letter signed “ Equity,” and stating inter alia -
Some English towns, hard hit by Australian duties, have flatly prohibited the exhibition of Empire marketing posters, urging the British public to buy Australian wool, raisins, mutton, &c. As a taxpayer, I pay for these posters, and I pay a heftysum yearly for the upkeep of that British Navy, which seems the only effective protection against a congested Japan looking longingly at a continent, which the Australians fail to populate.
Does the Prime Minister know of any British towns that have refused permission to exhibit Empire marketing posters ?
– I have seen a copy of the letter ; butI am not aware of any towns that have acted in the manner described. I do not pay much regard to the statements contained in the letter. Any person dealing with such an important subject as the trade relations between Great Britain and the Dominions and desiring his views to be regarded seriously should at least append his name to them.
– In yesterday’s Melbourne Age appeared a sub-leader under the heading “ Protect our timber in dustry,” in which the following statements occur : -
At a time when more than half the timber mills in Victoria are closed down and thousands of men are out of work owing to the lack of demand for local timbers, there is an almost unbroken procession ofships arriving at Australian ports from overseas and discharging large cargoes of timber at the wharfs. During the last financial year the timber importations, including furniture, into the Commonwealthreached a total value of £4,885,000, and of this large sum undressed timber accounted for £3,084,000. . . . Although Australian timbers such as our oaks, blackwood and myrtle are unsurpassed in grain and figure marking for the manufacture of beautiful furniture, we are importing for furniture purposes comparatively large quantities of Pacific maple, Japanese oak, Borneo cedar, and kauri from Noumea. These imported timbers are dressed by cheap labour, and therefore are able to undersell Australian timbers iu our market. . . . Under present conditions Australian timber-workers are idle while Australia’s importations of foreign timbers give employment to cheap labour in other countries. . .
Has the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs any comment to make regarding this matter?
– The protection of the Australian timber industry is one of the most complex problems with which my department has to deal. I have received deputations on this subject from many quarters. At the present time a conference is taking place between representatives of various interests, and possibly this conference will be able to make uniform representations to the Government. Meanwhile, I assure the honorable member that the Government appreciates the seriousness of the timber position, and will give the fullest consideration to it at a very early date.
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House of the reasons which actuated the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Fenton) in refusing an invitation to the King’s levee at Buckingham Palace last week?
– The Minister for Trade and. Customs is in London representing the Commonwealth Government at the Naval Conference. While he is there he is free to attend or not attend a levee, to wear what clothes he likes, and to refuse to wear any which he does not like.
Export to Canada.
– Can the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) inform the House if Australian raw sugar is supplied to Canadian refineries, and if not, has it been sought after? Furthermore, if not, from where is raw sugar sent, and by whom is it sent ? Will the Acting Minister take steps to encourage the export of raw sugar from Australia to Canadian refineries?
– The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) notified me that he intended to ask these questions, and therefore I am in a position to supply the answers. During the last five financial years the following quantities of Australian raw sugar have been exported to Canadian refineries: -
The imports of raw sugar into Canada have been as follows: -
It will be seen that there is room for extension of the export of raw sugar to Canada. I propose to make suitable representations to the Queensland authorities, who are responsible for the marketing of Australian sugar, with a view to encouraging its export to Canada.
– Is the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) giving attention to the need for the imposition of sufficient duties on wool tops brought from other countries? Does he realize the pressing urgency for such tariff protection as will “assist to right our foreign exchanges by reducing the importation of a commodity which is made in Australia? If the wool-tops industry were encouraged sufficiently, it would give employment to large numbers of persons. If the Acting Minister has given attention to this matter, when may we expect him to make a proposal in regard to it?
– As the result of representations made to the Government, when the tariff schedule was introduced on the 22nd November last, a duty was imposed on wool tops, and this duty is now considered by the trade to be prohibitive. Unfortunately, Japan for some time has been making her own wool tops, and there has consequently been a falling off in Australia’s large trade in wool tops with that country. Any additional representations that may be made on this subject will receive the Government’s most sympathetic consideration.
– Can the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) state when he considers that the financial position will be sufficiently relieved to permit of Australia borrowing from Great Britain again, if such a course should be considered desirable or necessary?
– It is impossible at the present time to forecast when it may be opportune to go into the overseas money market with a view to placing Australian loans. The position is being carefully watched by the financial advisers of the Government with a view to making that approach at a convenient time.
– Will the Treasurer consider the advisability of making a comprehensive statement upon the financial position before the Easter adjournment?
– It would be more convenient to defer the making of such a statement until after the Easter adjournment. I shall then be in fuller possession of the facts relating to the loan position, and the decisions of the Loan Council regarding loan allocations.
– Is it the custom of the Trade and Customs Department, in connexion with the export of primary products, to allow a rebate of the full amount of duty on shooks or timber used for making boxes?
– There is a drawback of the duty paid on shooks for the manufacture of containers for export purposes. That concession is already enjoyed by the primary producers.
– I realize that the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs obtains a certain amount of publicity by answering questions which are addressed to him ostensibly without notice, though he is informed beforehand of the intention to ask them. I desire to know whether he will extend the same courtesy-
-I ask the honorable member not to reflect on the Minister.
– I am merely asking that a privilege that is apparently granted to members opposite, should he extended to members of the Opposition.Will the Acting Minister also let the Opposition know by what process replies to such questions can be obtained?
Question not answered.
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What was the amount of duty paid by each of the oil companies trading in Australia during the past two years?
– The long established practice is that neither the Ministerfor the Customs Department may disclose customs figures that, would give information as to the business of a particular importer. The fairness of this practice will be readily appreciated. The honorable member will see that I cannot furnish the information sought.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– Information to the effect stated has recently reached me, and I should be glad to receive further details and to discuss them with the parties interested.
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information will be obtained.
Taxation of Natives - Conference of Missionaries
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
askedthe Prime Ministe r, upon notice -
Will he place on the table of the library the report of the conference of missionaries of New Guinea, dealing with the conditions and treatment of natives in the Mandated Territories?
– A copy of the report will be laid on the table of the library.
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions areas follow: -
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information will be obtained as far as possible.
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
– On the 25th March, the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) asked me the following question, upon notice: -
Whether, in view of the resignation of Mr. Haynes from the position of Australian Commercial Representative in Canada, and the appointment of Mr. McGregor in his place, the Dried FruitsExport Control Board is still prepared to carry out its former intention of paying £2,500 per annum towards the cost of Australian commercial representation in Canada, or will the Government now require to bear the whole of the cost?
I am now able to advise the honorable gentleman that the arrangement entered into between the Dried Fruits Export Control Board and the Commonwealth, referred to in his question, will be reviewed at the end of the financial year. In the meantime the present arrangement will continue.
– On the 25th March, the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) asked the following questions upon notice -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
– On the 1st April the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch) asked the following questions, upon notice -
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member as follows : -
All recommendations of Sir John Salmond not involving increased expenditure were given effect immediately.
Motion (by Mr. Theodore) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to provide for a Central Reserve Bank of Australia and for other purposes.
Bill brought up and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Theodore) agreed to-
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to amend section 3 of the Land Tax Assessment Act 1910-1930 and for other purposes.
Debate resumed from 1st April(vide page 753), on motion by Mr. Scullin -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- There is an old Latin proverb to the effect that nature does nothing by leaps. The present Government has brought forward a hill which asks Parliament and the people to take a most unnatural leap in the direction of destroying the Constitution under which Australia has carried on for the last 30 years, and to be foolish enough to. take that leap in the dark. Every one must agree that the changes that have taken place in Australia during the last 30 years have necessitated some readjustment of the Constitution. But a readjustment of the Constitution is quite a different matter from the complete scrapping of it. I hope to be able to show that we can change our Constitution by gradual steps, which will enable us to take full advantage of the experience gained here and in other countries in the working of constitutions. Our Constitution is very nearly 30 years old. Since federation, the population of Australia has increased from 3,750,000 people to approximately 6,500,000. The Commonwealth, which had no debts in 1901, has now a debt of its own amounting to £380,000,000, and it has assumed the liability for the debts of the States. The problems of Australia have become much more complex than they were 30 years ago. Modern invention has brought in its wake telephones, aviation, wireless and motor cars, which all tend to make State boundaries of less importance and raise new problems that cannot be dealt with without a readjustment of the Federal Constitution. Industry has also acquired new complexity. Interstate free trade has permitted the interstate ramifications of industry, with the result that new systems for regulating industry all over the Commonwealth are required. The present system of arbitration has practically been built up since federation, although it is true that; it was pioneered in New South Wales before 190:1. The need for these re-adjustments is generally recognized, but the present Government has not clearly enunciated what re-adjustments are actually required. Catch cries have been used, but no definite plan has been put forward. No proposal yet submitted to the House contains anything which makes it certain that the gains Australia has already made will be safeguarded to the people. The Government’s policy is simply one of despair - to throw the Constitution into the melting pot without any thought of providing safeguards. For instance, the Government’s proposal that Parliament itself should have complete control over the Constitution means that if a party is in power which says that it will abolish the Seriate, and proceeds to carry chat policy into effect, it can do so; but another party, when it succeeds to power, may restore the second chamber, establishing either one elected on a property franchise, or a nominee house of limited numbers. If that should happen it will bc impossible to abolish that second chamber again, because any motion or bill to abolish it must be passed by the chamber itself. It is quite evident that under the Government’s proposals there is to bc no safeguard for the public interest. Honorable members supporting the Government have failed to realize that if these powers are granted to t lie Commonwealth Parliament a future government may alter the Constitution in such a way as to provoke strong protest from the Labour party. The members of the Labour party outside this House have recognized that danger, because, in framing the constitutional reform platform of that party, they have insisted upon the protection of adult franchise.
The Bruce-Page Government recognized the necessity for constitutional adjustments, and it tried to make certain that when the House, during a constitutional session, approached the question of constitutional reform, it would have. marshalled before it all the facts that could be gleaned from the experience of the last 30 years. Accordingly, in 1927. that Government appointed the Constitutional Commission, the personnel of which was drawn from all parties in Australia. The members of the Labour party in the Federal Parliament were asked to nominate some of the members of that commission, but they refused to do so. Fortunately we were able to secure the services of men who are highly distinguished in the Labour movement of Australia. I refer to Mr. Duffy of Melbourne and Mr. MacNamara, the secretary of t lie Australian Labour party in Melbourne. Other distinguished gentlemen in various walks of life wore also appointed to the commission. During tinlast two and a half years its members examined from every angle the manner in which the Constitution has operated in the past, and its report was made available actually during the last elections. Although the Treasurer subsequently suggested that its findings were paltry and futile, I suggest that that report crystallized the whole position. lt showed clearly ibo defects of the Constitution and also the opportunities for revision. Its members, drawn from all classes- of the community and representing every opinion, were able in agree about no fewer than ten major points in which they suggested the Constitution needed alteration. Those tcn points should form the subject of it third bill, and if such a measure were placed before this House and passed unanimously it would be adopted overwhelmingly by the people of Australia. In that way we could eliminate the duplication and overlapping that is at present causing a great loss to Australia. That report recommended not only many amendments on which there was universal agreement, but also very necessary amendments on which there was sometimes agreement and sometimes disagreement. It showed also a definite line between two currents of thought in Australia, first, that the Constitution should bc amended radically, and secondly, that it should be amended only in part. In addition the report indicated in no uncertain way the essential basis that should underly any reconstruction of the Constitution.
I regret very much that the Government has ignored those recommendations, especially those which were unanimously adopted by the commission, and, instead, has brought down a proposal to scrap the Constitution as a whole. The Government has no faith in that proposal, because it has brought down at the same time a proposal, as the second shot in its locker, to increase the industrial powers of the Commonwealth. ‘Chat is the real proposal that the Government is submitting to the people, and it has already been the subject of five referendums put before, ibc people by different political parties. Unfortunately, it has always been made more or less a party question and, therefore, has been defeated on every occasion. There is no doubt that if this proposal goes before the people again as a party question it will be defeated. Prior ro the last referendum the Bruce-Page Government invited the co-operation of thu Opposition in respect of the form of the proposed amendments, and we were finally able to bring before this House, ami to put before the people, proposals which were practically unanimously accepted by this Parliament. I therefore m12:get that upon this occasion, and particularly with respect to the ten major points referred to in the report of the royal commission, the Government should ask the co-operation and collaboration of all members of this House in order to ascertain at this juncture whether those particular defects in our Constitution cannot be cured. If that were done the money to be expended on the referendum campaign would not bc entirely wasted. If the amendments unanimously recommended by the Constitutional Commission arc adopted by the Government and put before the people, we shall establish a line of evolution .that will enable us to secure the other results which the Government; is now hoping to bring about by means of the present proposals.
The ten points to which 1 have referred, with one exception, concern matters which closely affect the everyday life of the people. The Constitutional Commission recommended that aviation should be under Common wen Hh control. Some eighteen months or- two years ago the State Premiers, with one exception, were prepared to take action to place aviation under Commonwealth control, but since then nothing has been done. If that question were incorporated in the referendum proposals, it would be settled definitely. The royal commission recommended that not only wireless and broadcasting, but also the question of the standard and purity of food and drugs throughout Australia should be under Commonwealth control. That latter recommendation affects the health of the general community its well as the manufacture of foods and drugs in Australia. With a uniform standard for food and drugs we would bc able to manufacture most of the foods and drugs that we at present import, and also to compete in the markets of the world with other countries who manufacture such goods. That at present is not possible, because of the increased expenditure occasioned under different State laws. The royal commission also dealt with the registration of doctors, nurses and others connected with the health of the community. Surely we should take action at this time to enable us to enter into reciprocal arrangements with other countries, and to make certain that the health of the people of Australia is in the care of thoroughly qualified persons. The legitimation and adoption of children should also be under nation-wide control. The retiring age of judges is a small matter, but it should bo faced. Every State Parliament during the hist 30 years has introduced legislation to ensure that their judges shall retire at. a certain age. This Parliament carried, almost unanimously, a similar provision in an endeavour to adopt the State practice, but we wore unable to do anything in the matter simply because the Constitution provides for life tenure, lt is absolutely essential that there should bc security of tenure, but there should also bc a definite age for retiring as there is in the States. The next question is that of the transfer by the Commonwealth of territory or land to lbc States. The Prime Minister in his opening speech said bow ridiculous it was that, we were unable to transfer to the Queanbeyan municipality certain land that it required for a sewage farm. That is a matter which might well bc settled at this juncture. The royal commission also dealt with the necessity for providing some effective method of securing the subdivision of the larger States of Australia. It is interesting to note that, when this subject was examined by the Royal Commission on the Constitution - which body, I may add, was representative of the Labour, Nationalist, and Country parties - the commission recognized that it struck at the root of the whole of the constitutional reforms that were contemplated. The commission really endorsed the views expressed by the late Sir Henry Parkes in 1891, and later by the late Mr. B. R. Wise, who, in his book, The Making of a Commonwealth, in 1912 stated that an essential preliminary to any large extension of Commonwealth powers was the division of Australia into smaller States, as contemplated by Sir Henry Parkes in 1891, because no federal system could work smoothly when the partners to the union were few in number and widely disproportionate in population. In the concluding portion of his book, Mr. Wise wrote -
Remedy of defects of the Constitution is to he found rather in the extension of federal powers with an extension of local government by subdivision of the large States. By this means will bc secured that enlargement of the powers of self-government of the people of Australia which was the declared object of the Constitution.
Practically all students of the federal system of government, prior to the inauguration of the Commonwealth, were satisfied that the subdivision of large States was really a precedent preliminary to the extension of federal powers. This view is taken by Mr. Ashworth, Mr. Duffy, and Mr. McNamara, three members of the Royal Commission on the Constitution. On page 243 of the report of that body, they say -
We find it impossible to arrive at separate disconnected conclusions in respect of each of these compartments of national activity. We believe that, logically, we should first formulate the conclusion at which we have arrived, as the result of the evidence submitted to us and our deliberations thereon as to the major and determining problem of where the sovereign power of the people of Australia should reside. Subordinate problems of how that power should be exercised depend for their solution upon the answer to the major problem. The adoption of this course immediately raises the item of “new States” - one nf the questions specially referred to the commission - to its proper position, as involving and carrying with it the answer to many other items. We believe that the question of new States cannot be determined without considering the question of a general redistribution of governmental powers between the Commonwealth and local bodies (whether called States or provinces). Consequently our recommendation on the item of “ new States “ must, at the same time, supply our answer to the questions raised as to the allocation of governmental powers in respect of any and all national activities.
On page 247, the same commissioners say-
We believe that ‘the prosperity and development of Australia call for a redistribution of the areas of existing States - for the creation of new States.
After a careful examination of the position of the United States of America, with special reference to the trade and commerce powers of Congress, the commission came to the conclusion that an increase in the number of States in a federation, approximating to one another in size and population, was really the determining factor in any proposal for the extension of federal powers. The commissioners point out that, although the Commonwealth Constitution, so far as concerns its trade and commerce powers, is almost identical with that of the United States of America, the larger number of states in the latter federation has added to the status and importance of the Federal Government which exercises its trade and commerce to a much greater extent than is possible in Australia. On page 141 of the report, the Commissioners state -
The powers of the Commonwealth Parliament, with respect to trade and commerce, are similar to those of the Congress of the United States of America; but’ as the States of the Commonwealth are, on the average, larger than those of the United States and have their own coast line, and as much of the trade and commerce of Australia in manufactured goods is in the capital cities of the States, which are large centres of population, and between the capital -city and the rest of a State, the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament are, in fact, more restricted in this respect than those of Congress. In the United States of America it has proved, in some instances, so difficult to draw a distinction between interstate and intra-state commerce, that federal legislation had superseded that of the States. This condition is not so likely to prevail in Australia, and has become less likely as the concentration of the population in the great cities of New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia has increased.
This view, I believe, meets the point raised by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) yesterday when he urged that the Government should also ask for a further extension of trade and commerce powers. All authorities, it will be seen, agree that an increase of the number of States is really an essential preliminary to a redistribution of Federal and State powers. This view also was taken four or five years ago when this subject was discussed in the New South Wales Parliament. Mr. McTiernan, speaking on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition, said -
Before we begin to deal with this problem we shall have to attack the question at its very base, and we must first of all reform and rc-fashion the Constitution of the Commonwealth. We have arbitrary, unnatural, and unscientific boundaries for the States. These boundaries do not represent community of local interest, and they are not drawn on any scientific plan, and they have no reference whatever to the exigencies of trade, commerce and industry. When this basis was adopted for the State boundaries, the system which was built upon that basis was, as a logical consequence, unnatural, and contained very many anomalies. The existence of these anomalies is being recognized at the present time, and is driving the people of the Commonwealth into the consideration of a more scientific and a more economic system of government.
This opinion bears out the prediction made by the’ late Sir Henry Parke3 in 1891. When this issue was raised by Mr. Macrossan in the Federal Conference, Sir Henry Parkes said -
As enunciations of doctrine and theory on the founding of new States,’ Mr. Macrossan’s views may be accepted as laying down as a fundamental principle that excessive area is not necessary, but positively detrimental, to national growth and development. In that general view, I entirely concur, though I have been, and I am still, quite prepared to leave territorial divisions as they now exist, rather than create new obstacles to federation. As a matter of reason and logical forecast, it cannot be doubted that if the union were inaugurated with double the number of the present colonies, the growth and prosperity of all would bc more absolutely assured. It would add immeasurably to the national importance of the now Commonwealth, and would be an immense advantage to Western Australia, South Australia, and Queensland themselves, if four or five new colonies were cut out of their vast and unmanageable territories.
Sir Henry Parkes went on to say that one of the first reforms, after the inauguration of the Commonwealth, would be in the direction of subdividing the large States, thereby making possible an extension of federal powers. I therefore suggest 1 ‘. fc in bringing down its proposals in their present form, the Government is guilty of a breach of faith with the electors, because in a pamphlet which has been repeatedly published by the Labour party, the definite statement is made that when a proposal for the unification of Australia was presented to the people, Labour would at the same time submit a definite scheme defining the powers and duties of the State or provincial Parliaments. A pamphlet published by Mr. Archibald Stewart, secretary of the Australian Labour party, Trades Hall, Melbourne, and printed by the Labour Call, sets out that the policy of the Labour party is in the direction of unification. In the concluding paragraph there appears the following passage : -
The powers and duties of provincial legislatures will bc fully defined when the referendum asking the electors to agree to the Constitution alteration is being put to the people.
That is not what we are being asked to do here : We are being asked to sign a blank cheque. If the Government has a scheme, let us see what it is ; what powers are to be handed over to provincial legislatures, and what areas are to be allotted to them. Such a scheme would stand a better chance of being accepted than the present one, which appears, on the face of it, to he put up simply for the purpose of being knocked down.
– Does the ‘ right honorable member think that the amendment of the Constitution ought to he done gradually, or all at once?
– I think that Mr. Wise’s dictum should be followed. The essential preliminary for constitutional reform is the formation of new States. In the United States of America, the trade and commerce powers under the constitution are practically the same as ours ; but because the States are more numerous there is more interstate trade, with the result that federal trade and commerce powers have been given a wider interpretation by the High Court and by the legislature. The same thing would occur in Australia if, for instance, both New South Wales and Queensland were divided into three States. Interstate trade of these States would then be much greater than intra-state trade, and this would tend to force the control of trade and commerce into the hands of the Federal Parliament. As the royal commissioners have unanimously suggested a definite alternative method of creating new States - a method more simple, more elastic, and more easily applied than the present -I urge that a proposal to give effect to their recommendations he included among those putbefore the people by way of referendum.If that were agreed to, we could then extend federal powers in the same way, and at the same time, as we dealt with the problems of local government.
That such a step would be to the advantage of Australia I propose to show by quoting some statistics. In considering the development of Australia, we arrive at the remarkable result that the smaller the State the better the facilities it provides, the more intelligent and sympathetic the administration, and the greater the production and population per square mile.
-Does that apply to Tasmania?
– It does. As a result of having a government in close touch with the area over which it has control, a much more effective occupation of that area is achieved, and effective occupation is the outstanding need of Australia to-day. If Australia were occupied as it should be be, if all the areas as fertile as Victoria were as well settled, we should have no occasion to fear foreign aggression. For the year 1923-24 the production of Victoria was valued at £1,163 per square mile, of which secondary production amounted to £494 per square mile. There were 50 miles of railways per 1,000 square miles, and a population of eighteen persons to the square mile. At the same time, the total production of New South Wales was £427 per square mile, of which secondary production accounted for £157 ; there were 18 miles of railways per 1,000 square miles, and a population of seven persons to the square mile. In South Australia the total production was £79 per square mile, and secondary production amounted to £25 per square mile. The population was one person to the square mile, and there were nine miles of rail ways to every 1,000 square miles. In Queensland the total production was £75 to a square mile, of which secondary production amounted to £18. There were ten miles of railways to every 1,000 square miles, and one person to the square mile. In Western Australia the total production amounted to £21 to the square mile, and secondary production to £4 per square mile. There were five miles of railways to every 1,000 square miles, and the population was one-third of a person to the square mile. In Tasmania the total production was £375 per square mile,of which secondary production amountedto £94. There were 39 miles of railwayto every 1,000 square miles and the population was eight persons to the square mile. These figures show that there is a definite association between effective occupation and the closenessof touch between the Government and the governed. In the northern part of New South Wales there is an area admittedly the most fertile in Australia, and acre for acre as fertile as any land in the world. It comprises 100,000 square miles and, including Newcastle, carries a population of 350,000 persons, or three and a half persons to the square mile. If we had a government, on the spot there is no reason why it should not carry as great a population as Victoria with its eighteen persons to the square mile. With such a population the financial position of Australia would not be nearly so bad as it is to-day. There would be less unemployment and a greater local market for our primary products.
Not only would the creation of new States stimulate development, hut it would also have a most important influence on representation in this Parliament. Since the inception of federation ruralrepresentation in the Federal Parliament has been steadily declining. In 1901 there were 49 electorates classed as rural, and 26 as metropolitan. After the 1922 re-distribution there were only 39 country electorates as compared with 36 city, a loss of ten country electorate?. I have no doubt that after the next redistribution there will be a further loss of rural representation. The result will be that the country electorates, which are already too big for proper representation, must he further enlarged. The electorate of Darling, which contained 100,000 square miles before the last redistribution was enlarged to 200,000 square miles by it. It is a physical impossibility for a man to cover so wide an area. As a result of carrying an amendment permitting two or three new States to spring into existence, as I am certain they would, there would bo eight more senators and twice that number of representatives, ‘of whom half would bc rural. Because elections are run on party tickets there has been in the past practically no rural representation in the Senate at all. It is generally admitted that the Senate should be representative of all sections of the community. It is a chamber of review, the duty of which is to conserve the interests of Australia as a whole. If there were more States, representatives from those rural States would have a place in the Senate and this would have the effect of improving the position of the smaller States in Parliament. At the present time three of the smaller States as regards population, can be hopelessly outvoted in the House of Representatives and can just hold their own in the Senate. Their difficulties are exactly the same as those in undeveloped portions of’ the larger States. In referring to the necessity of bringing about a better national equilibrium the late Sir Henry Parkes said -
If the union were inaugurated with double the number of the present colonies the growth and prosperity of till would be more absolutely assured.
The effect of the local development would be reflected not merely in this Parliament, where there would bo greater local representation, but in the general prosperity of the Commonwealth. The honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey), for instance, represents an electorate equivalent to four-fifths of the area of South Australia; but after the next census has been taken his area of representation may be further increased. Quite apart from the question of federal representation we have to consider the necessity of subdividing the larger States to provide for more intelligent and sympathetic local administration, and to assist more effectively the development of rural areas. I have always been impressed by the paradox that exists in connexion with the settlement north and south of the river Murray. Travel ling by aeroplane or by motor car along the southern side of the river one sees a settlement maintaining a family on every fifteen acres, but on the northern side, where the country is exactly the same, there is only about one sheep to every fifteen acres.
– More than that.
– Not on the lower portion. The settlers on the Victorian side of the River Murray are from 150 to 250 miles from their administrative centre, but those on the New South Wales side are from 400 to 600 miles from their capital city. This means that they do not receive the consideration to which they are entitled in the solution of the problems confronting them. To secure national equilibrium, easy working of the Constitution, and increased representation of the great rural interests, so that the people will have a more effective voice in this Parliament, and for various other reasons, a change on the lines I have indicated should be made. What is the method suggested by the Royal Commission on the Constitution in connexion with this matter? At present, as honorable members are aware, the subdivision of a State can be brought about only as the result of action by a State Parliament. If a State Parliament moves in the matter and a majority of the people in the area concerned, as well as a majority of the State, favour the proposal, a subdivision can be made. There is, however, no provision for the electors of a State to take the initiative. Various commissions have suggested as an alternative that in the creation of new States the initiative should be taken by the Commonwealth Parliament. If provision were made in that direction, a referendum could be held in an area comprising a proposed new State, and if a stipulated proportion of the people in the State affected and in that area were in favour of the proposal a new State could be brought into being. There was some difference of opinion among the members of the commission, but all agree as to the necessity of introducing the alternative method of allowing the Commonwealth to take the initiative. If we were to incorporate in another constitutional measure the additional powers unanimously suggested by the commission it would, I think, receive the support of every political party in Australia. It will be remembered that in 190C the people agreed to an amendment of the Constitution in connexion with the Senate; in 1910, we were able to secure the approval of the people with respect to State debts, and in 1928 the Commonwealth was empowered to validate the financial agreement entered into between the Commonwealth and the States. Those proposals were adopted because practically every party in Australia was behind the Governments which submitted them. The proposition I am now making is one which I am sure would receive the support of the people, and remove certain difficulties which exist under our present Constitution.
– This is a fine opportunity for the Government to move in that direction.
– Yes. We are in a. unique position inasmuch as this is the first occasion on which amendments of the Constitution have been discussed immediately after an exhaustive investigation has been conducted by an impartial body. The Royal Commission on the Constitution has recommended certain amendments which, if adopted, would eliminate duplication, unnecessary expenditure, and generally assist in building up the nation. The Constitution of the United States of America has been amended eighteen times in 150 years, and of that number about ten were made within five years after the union. We have now an opportunity of embodying in our Constitution amendments which, if adopted, would enable us to overcome many of the difficulties which at present are retarding national development. It is the duty of the Government to grasp this opportunity to obtain the approval of the people to amend the Constitution in the direction I have suggested instead of submitting proposals which virtually mean the scrapping of our Constitution, and which will meet with the hostility of a very large section of the community. Even some who usually support this Government have said quite plainly that there is not the slightest chance of the people giving it a blank cheque. The Government should submit proposals which would be acceptable to the parties represented in this House, and enable the representatives of all sections to set their feet on a road that would lead to prosperity. At present the Government is dividing the whole community into two bitterly hostile camps, and its proposals run the risk of being discussed in the most violent manlier. The Government should confer with the two sections of the Opposition and endeavour to determine whether it is not in the interests of the people to submit a third constitutional measure covering the powers which I have already enumerated. What has been the real, cause of nearly all the difficulties which Australia has experienced? It is that we have been working from the top downwards instead of following the practice adopted in Great Britain and America of working upwards.
The system of government in Great Britain and America has grown from local government ; but in Australia we have commenced with a centralized system of government and worked downwards. That is the method suggested in the “ Constitutional Alteration Power of Amendment Bill, which in effect provides for one central authority which can do what it pleases in the disposal of subsidiary powers to other bodies. The Government’s proposals are in direct conflict with . the statements made on the public platform and contained in electioneering pamphlets. What would be the scope of these subsidiary bodies? Would the Federal Parliament have power at any time to alter their duties and powers ? The real fight will be as to whether we are to have a federal system by which local bodies will be safeguarded in their policies for the development of their own areas, or a system of Unification by which the States can be completely obliterated at the whim of a temporary majority in this Parliament. If we have unification Ave shall experience, as every other unified body has experienced, paralysis at the centre and anaemia at the circumference. The bringing about of the present Constitution occupied 50 years, and during the 30 years it has been in operation we have managed to knock off some of its awkward angles.”
It was based largely on the American Constitution, which has enabled the people of the United States of America to advance throughout 150 years towards their national destiny. Under their Constitution the American people have become an independent nation, have fought several successful wars, and have become the greatest economic and productive force in the world, and a great and wealthy power with territories all over the earth. Yet in certain respects the American Constitution is more rigid than our own. Therefore, the objection often urged by Labour speakers against the continuance of the federal system, that the Constitution is a straightjacket which will prevent Australia from achieving its national destiny, is proved by America’s experience to he groundless. And the Government must believe that. Because it has said that if this Parliament cannot get unlimited power, it can stagger on very well with one additional power relating to industry, although it could have ten additional powers by merely asking the people for them, because those are powers which every section of political thought recognizes to he necessary.
We are told that a unified system will reduce the cost of government, and that at this time in the history of Australia a substantial reduction of governmental expense is necessary. How is this economy to be effected? If the unified system were immediately to replace the federal system, there might he something in the argument; hut the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Blakeley) has said that, if the additional powers which the Government is seeking are given to this Parliament, the existing powers of the States will be only gradually whittled away. If this is the Government’s policy, we shall have during this difficult period of our national history a continuation of the federal system while the power of unification is possessed by this Parliament. In such circumstances we cannot expect that any immediate saving will be effected. In the Union of South Africa a unified system of government is in operation, the local bodies being entirely subsidiary to the federal authority. But, during the last 22 years, no less than four royal commissions have endeavoured to ascertain why the system is failing and is inefficient and uneconomical. The consensus of opinion is that the unified system must be scrapped, or wider and safeguarded powers must be given to the smaller areas. This means the local control of local matters, and control of national affairs by the National Parliament. But, when local control is thus given and safeguarded, we have a federal, not a unified, system. I notice that in the report of the Constitution Commission, Sir James Seeley is reported as having said that there is no essential difference between the two systems, and that one merges into the other. But, in actual practice, the federal system makes the local bodies independent in respect of territories and powers, which cannot be altered without their consent. The Government shpuld either withdraw the first bill or definitely inform the people, as the election propaganda of the Labour party promised, exactly what the unification proposal means. The people know the merits and defects of the present system, and they should not be asked to substitute blindly some other scheme with the details of which they are not familiar. The amendment of the Constitution should not be regarded as affording an opportunity for party gain.
The offer made by honorable members in Opposition to support the Government in framing a non-contentious issue for submission to the people is proof that we are anxious that some progress shall be made. Therefore, the Government should either withdraw the bill or set forth the details of the unification scheme ; or state that the safeguards mentioned by Mr. Kenneally before the royal commission regarding the representation of the States in the Senate and their boundaries will be preserved. The people are entitled to some guarantees in respect of those things. If there is to be subdivision of the States, the details should be announced before the people are asked to grant complete powers to this Parliament. I have no option but to oppose unhesitatingly the first bill; but I am prepared to consider sympathetically on its merits any concrete proposal that the Government may bring forward and to collaborate with the Government in producing for submission to the people an amendment that will bring about economy in government by the elimination of duplication and overlapping, and ensure that this Parliament shall be able to carry out its national work.
In regard to the proposed extension of this Parliament’s industrial powers, our experience during the hist twenty years suggests that it is almost useless to consult the people by referendum on this subject. This will be the sixth referendum on this issue; the proposal has been put to the people in till forms and guises, and there is no likelihood of its being carried unless it is presented in a form that meets with the approval of all parties. If we propose either exclusively State control or exclusively Federal control of industrial matters, one of the two will have some chance of being accepted by the people. But that is not what the Government is proposing or what has been advocated by ministerial members when speaking on the public platform. They have suggested that the existing system of dual control should continue. If the only result of an increase in the federal power is to be a perpetuation’ of the present dual system, the people will declare that this amendment is not worth the paper on which it is written. Either exclusively State or . exclusively Federal control will afford a chance of eliminating duplication and overlapping and the conflict and confusion that arise out of the existing dual system. One essential of any arbitration system is finality when an award is given, but duplication of control makes finality impossible. Therefore, unless the Government’s proposal is amended to give either to the State or Federal authority exclusive control, I cannot support it. I would like to see nu amendment submitted on the lines of that of 1926 providing that, instead of Parliament itself being continually engaged in dealing with industrial matters, we should set up outside authorities which would give detached and impartial attention to them. If the Government’s proposal means that we are not to have exclusively- State or exclusively Federal jurisdiction in industrial affairs, every elector, no matter what his political convictions, should reject it, because if carried it. would only make confusion worse confounded by making the present faults permanent. As I do not like to see £100,000 expended on a referendum without any prospect of the country deriving some definite benefit from it, .1 suggest to the Government that towards the end of this debate it should examine carefully what lias been said in regard to these bills, and then endeavour to get the collaboration and co-operation of members of till parties with a view to putting before the people from a united Parliament some proposals which will help us through our present difficulties, and assure that our future constitutional development will be along evolutionary rather than revolutionary lines.
– We all are agreed that the Constitution should be altered in some respects. During its 30 -years of operation we have experienced many difficulties and much limitation of the powers of the central authority, as a result of which a great deal of loss and inconvenience has been caused to the community. But, apparently, we cannot agree as to the measure of additional powers that should be granted to the federal authority. I listened with great care to the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), but the scheme he has proposed is no better than is embodied in the two bills now before the House. He has suggested that a series of questions embracing about ten different subjects should be submitted to a referendum for the purpose of conferring additional powers on, the Federal Parliament. That proposal may be wise, but how many supporters would it have? He alone has put it forward.
– The royal commission suggested these matters.
– Some of them, but not all those mentioned by the honorable member. The Leader of the Opposition, in defining the powers which should be vested in the central authority, mentioned aviation, navigation, films, wireless, the right of defence establishments to engage in business activities, intra-state shipping and certain additional judicial powers. .
– That: was not an exclusive list.
– It may not have been; but it was fairly comprehensive. The “right honorable member for Cowper has suggested certain other amendments relating to the legitimation of children, the retiring age of judges, retransfer of lands to the States, alternative methods for the subdivision of large States, and a new process of creating new States within the Commonwealth, in addition to those two lists, other honorable members have advocated further industrial powers, trade and commerce powers, powers over corporations, power to make a uniform company law, and others. It is difficult to get common agreement, even in this House, as to what additional powers should be asked for, and, mainly because it is impossible “to state what additional grant of power could be sought with the unanimous approval either of the Parliment or the country, the Government has brought forward the present proposal. The bill will give the Commonwealth Parliament authority to seek from time to time the additional powers that, experience teaches should be in its hands.
– The Government, asks for power to take these powers.
– No, to seek them. I want honorable members to understand that the Government is not asking the people to vote for the’ introduction of unification, or to confer on the central Parliament a wide range of powers not sufficiently considered beforehand. What is sought in the first hill is power for this Parliament to seek such additional power as it might be thought could be wisely exercised. There is a great, difference between what is aimed at by the Government and what is contended by honorable members opposite.
– Why does the Treasurer say power is asked “to seek” additional power?
– I hold that the bill will confer power on this Parliament, to seek additional constitutional authority. If the referendum were carried, it could not be supposed by any member with common sense that Parliament could then without a further mandate take extreme powers.
– Why not?
– Because Parliament itself would not tolerate it. The mere giving of the power to Parliament to amend the Constitution would not mean that unification, for example, would be proposed in the following week, or the following year. If I may venture, to make a prediction, I would say that- if the power asked for were granted, the procedure of successive governments would be to seek from time to time at general elections a mandate to make constitutional alterations. What happens in the United Kingdom, where the Parliament has power to amend the Constitution without referendum? What happens today in New Zealand, where the Parliament has that power? What happens in every State Parliament in Australia? Where an alteration of the Constitution is thought desirable ‘in any of the countries that I have mentioned, the matter is first the subject of controversy in the parliament, and the course proposed is endorsed by the people before legislation is passed to effect it. I do not know of any instance in which ti major alteration of the Constitution has not been made in accordance with this procedure. The practice that would grow up in the Commonwealth, if the proposed alteration were agreed to, would be one similar to that followed in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
– The existing Constitution would have to be safeguarded.
– The Commonwealth Parliament consists of the elected representatives of the people, and it is answerable to the electors.
– So are the State Parliaments.
– Yes, but we never hear of one of them running amok in regard to the amendment of its Constitution.
– Take what occurred in connexion with the abolition of the Queensland Legislative Council.
– Before the Legislative Council in that State was abolished the matter became one for discussion at the general election.
– There was a referendum, too.
– A referendum, was taken in 1917, when the people” declined to endorse” the proposed abolition of the Council. At the following general elections in 1918 the retention of the Legislative Council was made an outstanding issue by the Nationalist party, hut that, party was defeated. In the subsequent elections in 1920 the Labour party asked for authority in the most explicit terms, to abolish the Legislative Council. The Labour party was re-elected to office and thus given the mandate they sought.
– How could the Nationalist party have made that the issue ?
– One need only read the pages of the Brisbane Courier of the time to see that what I say is true. Every day the people were warned in full page advertisements that if they voted for the Labour party they would lose the Legislative Council. The Labour party did not seek a mandate in 1918 for the abolition of the Council, but in 1920 the Nationalists told the people that the return of Labour candidates would imperil the continuance of the Council. At that election I accepted the challenge. I was Premier of Queensland at that time, and I announced in my policy speech that the intention of my Government, if returned to power, . was to submit a measure for the amendment of the Constitution of Queensland and the abolition of the Legislative Council. The Nationalists accepted that challenge willingly, because they thought that the Labour party could be defeated on it.
– That was not the sole issue.
– No, but it was an outstanding issue. If honorable members base their opposition to the present bill on such episodes as that, let me remind the House that in 1920 I claimed that the Labour party had received a very definite mandate from the people to abolish the Legislative Council of Queensland by an alteration of the Constitution. It proceeded to do that. The Nationalists objected that the Government had not a sufficient mandate for its proposal. Therefore, at the next election, in 1923, when I was still Premier and Leader of the Labour party, we had to face an attack everywhere on the ground that we had tampered with the legislative machinery of the State without a sufficient mandate, yet, notwithstanding, we were returned to office with an increased majority.
– But the honorable gentleman tampered with the Electoral Act.
– That is the paltry excuse always offered by the Nationalists when they are defeated at the polls. Notwithstanding the gross charges of electoral corruption, during the whole fourteen years that Labour held office in Queensland there was not one challenge of its actions before an electoral tribunal. Honorable members have cited the abolition of the Legislative Council in Queensland as evidence that this Parliament would proceed to act without a mandate if the powers sought were conferred upon it; but that is not borne out by experience. We have an experience of State Parliaments in Australia of very many, years.- Can any instance be adduced in which a State Parliament has made major alterations of its Constitution contrary to the will of the people? Members of Parliament have a sense of responsibility to their masters, the electors, and that is true of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament. If the proposal contained in the first bill is approved by the people, and authority is vested in this Parliament to make alterations in the Constitution, no Government will bring down a bill proposing any serious alteration until it has first been included in a statement of policy submitted to the people and endorsed by them at a general election.
– Would the honorable gentleman give the same, power to the States ?
– They have that power to-day.
– Not to take power from the Commonwealth.
– Certainly not. Surely the honorable member does not suggest that the Commonwealth should be made the subordinate partner in the federation? The Commonwealth must be the dominant partner, and the trend of the day is to confer more, not less, power upon the central government. In sister dominions, and also in Great Britain, power is vested in the Parliament to make the most radical constitutional changes.
– There was never any division of powers in the United Kingdom or in New Zealand.
– How does that affect the contention that we can trust Parliament with the control of the Constitution ? What the bill proposes is not to establish unification or to give an enormous grant of power to this Parliament; it simply gives the Parliament authority to take power from time to time. It is objected that the Parliament might do something without the endorsement of the people; and I ask, therefore why our compatriots in New Zealand and in the United Kingdom itself do not run amok in that respect.
– They have no one to take, power from.
– Could not the British Parliament abolish the House of Lords? Would not that he regarded as revolutionary ?
– It has taken away the power of the House of Lords.
– It reformed the House of Lords, after the matter had been a main issue at a general election.
– Sometimes a Government submits drastic proposals with farreaching consequences without a mandate from the people.
– Yes, and in such a case it almost inevitably meets its fate. If any government hrings down proposals making fundamental alterations in a constitution without a sufficient mandate from the people, how long will it survive ?
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) speaking on another matter in this House a short time ago, said that it would be futile to suggest that the Commonwealth should retire from the sphere of industrial legislation, and any Government that made such a proposal to Parliament would not last a week. The Leader of the Opposition is of the same opinion as I am on that matter. Any Government that dared to flout the will of the people, or came down with drastic proposals contrary to its will, would be in danger of defeat, and Parliament would possibly be dissolved if that happened. Let meremind the honorable member f or Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) that what the Parliament might do under the present proposal might he reversed by a succeeding Parliament.
-What aposition for the States to be in!
– It is, of course, undesirable that there should be frequent tampering with the Constitution ; but the six State Constitutions have not been tampered with, although the State Parliaments have unrestricted power in regard to their alteration. That we should not proceed with this proposal because the additional power the central Parliament would gain mightbe abused is the kind of argument that is used against every proposal for reform. It was used in regard to the proposal to abolish the Legislative Council of Queensland, to which reference has just been made. When a bill was brought into the State Parliament making provision for an amendment of the Queensland Constitution and the abolition of the Legislative Council, the main criticism directed against it was that, with the Legislative Council out of the way, all kinds of extraordinary things might be done by the Legislative Assembly. It was said that pernicious legislation might be introduced, that the Government might run mad ; that there would be no restraint upon it. It is now eight years since the Queensland Legislative Council was abolished, yet nothing has happened to justify the doleful predictions of those who opposed its abolition, and the sense of responsibility displayed by the Queensland Parliament has been as great as that of any Other Parliament in Australia. I say that without fear of challenge. I say, further, that in Queensland to-day there is no body of opinion solidly in favour of the restoration of the Legislative Council. The people accept the position. The Queensland Parliament now consists of an elected Legislative Assembly, and it behaves as a responsible legislative body. Every three years its members have to give the electors an account of their stewardship, just as we have to do, and. as we should continue to have to do if the Constitution is amended as proposed in the Constitution Alteration Power of Amendment Bill.
Our contention is that, if the Constitution Alteration Power of Amendment Bill is carried, no attempt will be made to effect a major alteration of the Constitution without a mandate clearly expressed at a general election. This Government, of course, cannotanswer for its successors, but it will, no doubt, create precedents, anda practice will grow from which it will be very difficultto depart. If the
Constitution Alteration. Power of Amendment Bill is accepted by the people in August, and the Government immediately proposes a drastic alteration of the Constitution, such as the arbitrary creation of new States, as suggested by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), how far would it get? The bill would certainly not pass the Senate, and no doubt this chamber would declare that Parliament had been given no authority
Vo proceed with such a far-reaching proposal before its endorsement by the electors. But the acceptance by the people of the bill now before the House will leave this Parliament in an infinitely better’ position than it occupies to-day. It would enable the Government to formulate proposals for amendments of the Constitution, which are desirable, and, in most cases, urgent, to state them plainly to the electors, and, having received their endorsement, to proceed to give effect to them in the next Parliament. That would be an infinitely better way of governing Australia than is now possible.
– The electors might want a government, and not its proposals.
– The honorable member knows that if the people feared the consequences of a proposed alteration of the Constitution submitted to them at a general election, they would not return to power the party pledged to effect it.
– Have not governments been returned to power by the electors, although their referendum proposals have not been accepted?
– That is so. It would be foolish of us to ignore the difficulty that exists in the matter of amending the Constitution as it stands to-day, and it is because of that difficulty, and because of the heavy -cost of effecting an amendment of the Constitution, that the present Government says that a different method should bc adopted.
During the course of the debate it has been freely said that the Commonwealthshould have control of aviation. Why has it not that power? Why has it not full powers over navigation, films, or wireless, or those business activities that are so essential to the proper defence of the country, but which it has been ruled are ultra vires when operated by the Defence Department?
– We have not asked for those powers.
– Why have not successive governments asked for them? They have not done so because of the difficulty and heavy expense involved in a referendum, and because of the disturbing effects of such a’ campaign. The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) was a member of a government for more than six years, when the necessity for these powers existed, yet they were not secured for the Commonwealth.
– At that time we had not the unanimous recommendation of the royal commission that the Commonwealth should be granted these powers. .
– There was no need for a royal commission to indicate the need for fuller power over aviation.
– We were negotiating with the States for the powers, and the States were to refer them to the Commonwealth by legislation.
– Proposals relating to aviation, broadcasting, company laws, marriage and divorce laws, and quite a number of other subjects, were from time to time submitted to Premiers’ conferences; but full power to legislate in regard to them was never granted to the Commonwealth. There were many reasons for that. Take, for instance, the company laws. A uniform company law for Australia was drafted in 1913, because everybody recognized the need for it, and in some of the State Parliaments bills were introduced. But before these bills could be carried through all the State Parliaments, some governments were defeated, or State Legislative Councils rejected them. The need for uniform company legislation has always been recognized, yet such legislation has never been passed. The same remarks apply to some of the minor matters referred to by the right honorable member for Cowper. The right honorable member says that we can be unanimous in regard to certain matters, and there are certainly no grounds for opposition to the granting to the Commonwealth of powers over aviation, films, broadcasting, illegitimation, the re-transfer of land to a State, and the retirement of judges; but the
Commonwealth, has not got these additional powers, simply because governments have feared the difficulty and cost involved in having the Constitution altered. That is the strongest reason 1 can give why wo should have the method of amending the Constitution changed.
– It is not a difficult process to amend the Constitution when there is unanimity, as was the case when the financial agreement was submitted to the people.
– But, although the necessity for securing extra powers for the Commonwealth has been recognized for years, we have remained without them, because it is too costly and too difficult to amend the Constitution.
– It is because the people will not agree to amend it.
– Is that the only difficulty? It may be argued that the people prefer Parliament to take the responsibility of altering the Constitution, rather than leave it to them.
– That is very subtle.
– No. Many democrats advocate a simplification of the method of amending constitutions, rather than leaving ‘the matter to the difficult process of a national plebiscite; and, indeed, it is becoming generally recognized that a national plebiscite, especially when it is hedged round with qualifications as to majorities, is a most conservative way of amending a constitution. Surely there is no one who would seriously contend that we should continue attempting to govern Australia under an unalterable constitution. If we are to progress to full nationhood Australia must have a constitution that will respond readily to the will of the people and to the requirements of the hour.
– The Constitution lias been altered in regard to the financial agreement.
– It has been altered in regard to a couple of minor matters; but not by amendments of importance, although the main parties in Parliament have been in agreement upon them.
– The financial agreement was carried because the then Opposition took a broader view than is taken by the present Opposition.
– Let it be something that does not reek with party interests.
– Anything can reek with party interests if the Opposition makes it a controversial matter.
– I have not done so on this occasion.
– The right honorable member is doing it on this question.
– I made suggestions for co-operation and collaboration without the intrusion of party bias.
– That is exactly what this debate is - a collaboration and consideration, but the right honorable member, rather unfortunately, referred to the bitter controversy that is bound to take place in the country upon this referendum, and to the certainty, therefore, of its defeat. Why should there be bitter controversy on this question? Surely we can go to the people and advocate our respective views without recrimination, personal abuse or bitter controversy. I cannot see why these are an essential to the taking of a referendum. Why should there be any?
– Because the interests at stake are so big.
– If we adopted the suggestion of the right honorable member and submitted a list of ten subjects to the people there would probably be more bitter controversy, because, when a subject is specified, you come more nearly home to the personal effect the change is likely to have. For instance, if the question at stake is extra power over films or broadcasting, certain persons feel that their interests are at stake and immediately are up in arms and resort to propaganda that may or may not be fair. That may happen in regard to any specific question submitted.
– That is a very good reason why the people should have a voice in the amendment of the Constitution.
– It is a reason why questions affecting the alteration of the Constitution should be removed from the realm of partisanship and bitterness, to this Parliament with its impartiality, coolness and ability to study the questions at issue without recrimination and give a judgment upon the necessity for any alteration.
– But the honorable member suggests that every amendment should be fought out at the following election, when it must become a party matter.
– In that case those who wish to indulge in party controversy will direct themselves to the candidate, and not to the proposed amendment. I cannot understand the attitude of the right honorable member. He fears the carrying of the first amendment because drastic changes may be made in the Constitution, yet he devoted a considerable portion of his speech to an advocacy of the right of the Commonwealth Parliament to set up new States without the consent of existing States.
– That is not quite correct. I said that there should first be a majority of the people of the whole State as well as of the area in favour of it.
– The honorable member did not make that sufficiently clear. The power of the Commonwealth Parliament to create a new State with the consent of the residents in a particular area, but without the consent of the people of the State affected, might be very destructive to existing States. It might cause economic calamity in an existing State. Of course, I do not think that Parliament would ever take such a step, but the same argument that could be used against the possibility of arbitrary action on the -part of the Commonwealth Parliament in that respect, can be used in regard to the possibility of arbitrary action on its part in respect of other matters equally important.
– There is a whole page on that subject in the report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution.
– The report on the Constitution contains a great many recommendations, very few of which are unanimous. Nine out of ten recommendations are qualified by one or another member of the commission, and because of these qualifications, and because of the inability to get unanimity from any authority upon questions of this kind, Parliament itself should take the responsibility of deciding matters. Experts upon a royal ‘commission, or giving evidence before a royal commission, differ as to what extra grant of powers should be given or how a new proposal should be phrased for insertion in the Constitution, or as to the purposes of or consequences likely to follow any new grant of power to the Commonwealth, and when a referendum is being submitted to the people, the same clashes of opinion and controversy are experienced. There should be some clarity of thought and wise judgment in a question of this kind, and any chance of solving it by common-sense methods exists solely in this National Parliament which is composed of men who, at any rate, are charged with a certain definite responsibility in discussing and voting upon any law put before them.
– Is not the referendum a part of the Labour platform ?
– Yes, and to satisfy the widely held opinion about the necessity for the referendum and initiative, if such powers are sought, the Commonwealth Parliament would be wise to give to the people, or a section of the people, the right to initiate such a law. If that would constitute a safeguard against the administration and against Parliament, why should not the people have resort to a law of that kind? I see no objection to it.
– The present proposal is to remove the referendum from the Constitution.
– This proposal does not abandon the principle of the referendum. It sets up a more facile method of amending the Constitution, one more consistent with the progress of the times.
– This is to be the one grand last referendum.
– If the Government’s proposals are adopted, the interests of the smaller States will not be safeguarded as they are now.
– I cannot follow that argument, although it has been used by the press and in this chamber. Under our proposals the interests of the smaller States will be as well safeguarded as they are at present.
– This Parliament may get a mandate from the people to do certain things which, if carried out, would not be in the interests of the smaller States.
– Any amendment of the Constitution must be assented to by both Houses of the Parliament.
– There may not be two Houses of Parliament.
– There will be two Houses of Parliament. The honorable member is trying to forecast the happenings of the future.
– Honorable members supporting the Government have stated that if these proposals are passed, the Senate will immediately be abolished.
– 1 challenge the honorable member to produce such a statement. There may be solid arguments against the existence of the Senate. I myself believe that the second chamber is unnecessary and is an anachronism, but before it could be abolished a bill for that purpose would have to be passed by the Senate itself. In any case, there would need to be the clearest mandate from the people before any political party would attempt to abolish the Senate.
– That is only the Treasurer’s opinion.
– It is a commonsense interpretation of what is required under the system of government in Australia.
– That is not what the followers of the Government are saying.
– The honorable member, is misrepresenting their statements. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) feared that this proposal somehow affected the essence of the federal pact. He said that each party to federation must maintain its independence. I submit that, if there is any soundness in that statement, if we have to pay regard to certain alleged rights of more or less tangible parties to federation, then we must have the same regard in respect of any major alteration of the Constitution that may be devised. If it is contended that this proposed amendment should not be considered or submitted to the people because it involves somehow or other the lessening of the authority of some party to the federation, then the same circumstances will arise whenever this Parliament seeks to submit to the people a referendum asking for increased powers for the central authority.
The parties consist, on the one hand, of the Commonwealth, and on the other hand of the individual States, and if we take away all industrial powers from the States, and give them to the Commonwealth, are we not interfering with the rights of one of the parties to the federal pact?
– That is provided for in the Constitution.
– It is not. According to the argument of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) any transfer of industrial powers from the States to the Commonwealth, no matter whether the people give their consent to it or whether it is provided for in the Constitution, must be contrary to the spirit of the federal pact.
– Under these proposals the protection of the smaller States is to be taken away altogether.
– No. That is a different point. I am dealing with the point raised by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), that the change in the mode of altering the Constitution would involve-a disregard of the independence and the rights of the parties to the federal pact. If it is an interference with those rights, then any major alteration of the Constitution seeking additional powers for the Commonwealth must to a lesser extent affect those rights.
– To a very much lesser extent.
– It must affect those rights. Surely the honorable member does not measure justice by the extent of the injustice done?
– The Treasurer’s remarks are very subtle, but wide of the mark.
– That is one way of avoiding a controversial difficulty. I. ask how can we draw the line? First of all, what constitutes this alleged federal pact? Is the Constitution as framed in 1900 to stand or is it subject to amendment from time to time? We know that there is an ill-defined line of demarcation between federal and some other form of government. A federation is said to cease to be a federation when it has gone a long way towards unification, but it is difficult to define exactly where federation ceases and unification begins.
– The point, is that the Constitution provides that, an appeal must l>e made to the people for any alteration of the Constitution.
– The appeal must be made through Parliament. The Constitution provides for that, and we now propose to use the powers under the Constitution and to appeal to the people for certain additional powers. It is not suggested that we are ignoring or flouting the Constitution. We are acting under ibc Constitution. It is true that an eminent barrister of Melbourne. Sir Edward Mitchell, lias expressed the opinion that the proposed amendment is ultra vires, and could not be made operative. If that were the case it would bo a serious matter for the federation.
– It would be a good thing for the States who vote against the referendum.
– The Government, of course, has not acted without obtaining what it regards as sound and unimpeachable legal advice, but any question as to how far section 128 of the Constitution gives power to amend the Constitution, and even- that section itself, is a matter of opinion. Sir Edward Mitchell is of opinion that there is some doubt about the constitutionality of the proposed amendment, but if section 12S means that the Constitution itself cannot, in certain respects, be altered by the Australian people, then we are not as free as ever since federation wo have assumed ourselves to be. Can it be seriously contended by any one that the framers of the Constitution intended that it should bo beyond the power of Parliament and the people of Australia to alter or fo modify the Constitution ?
– The Government proposes to place the referendum beyond the power of the people.
– If what Sir Edward Mitchell says proves to be correct, and, as a layman, I am not challenging his authority, then we have not that measure of freedom and independence which we thought we had. and which the people of a democratic country have the right to have. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) said that he disagreed with Question No. 1. He thought that it was a proposal fundamentally alter ing the spirit of the federal pact, and that it would be better to confer upon the Commonwealth all reserve powers, and delegate certain enumerated powers to the States. What would be involved in that alteration? It would involve a considerably greater disturbance in the political and economic life of Australia than would a gradual movement towards unification, which, according to the determination of the people, might take place .1.0, 00 or 100 years hence. The alteration suggested by the right honorable member for North Sydney would be violent.
– Why would not the effect of the present proposals be violent?
– Parliament itself will safeguard the country against any violent movement. We could not take over the whole of the reserve powers and delegate certain enumerated powers io the States without causing a violent disturbance. The States would not know where they stood.
– They will not know whore they stand under these proposals.
– No power will he taken by the Commonwealth unless sanctioned by the people, at a general election. That, is the safeguard which prevails in New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and in till other democratically governed countries.
– We have no assurance of that.
– An election on any issue can bo bought.
– The honorable member is arguing as if the members of the Commonwealth Parliament are a lot of irresponsible fools not answerable to any one but themselves. That has not been the experience of this Parliament.
– A political party may be answerable to an outside platform.
– The right honorable member for North Sydney, in the early part of his speech, gave, cogently, the best justification for what is sought under Bill No. 1. He said -
When we examine the powers of this Parliament as enumerated in the Constitution, and determined by various decisions of the High Court, we find that in many matters that are vital to the welfare of this country, it has no powers at all, and in many instances where it has power the power is indefinite; and vague. livery one has recognized that as a weakness in the Constitution, but up to the present no one has been able to provide a cure for it. Undoubtedly, as the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) admitted this afternoon, and as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) said last, week, the legislative power to amend, which the Commonwealth Parliament ought to have, it lias been unable to get. An easier, better and simpler means to alter the Constitution is to ask that the Parliament itself should take the full responsibility from time to time ; that the Parliament should take over that power which rightly belongs to the Commonwealth and is necessary for the better government of the people.
I wish now 1o refer briefly to the industrial powers, which in the second of the two bills now before honorable members, the Government is asking shall be vested in the Commonwealth Parliament. 1. was astonished to hear the right honorable member for Cowper, who preceded me, oppose this grant of industrial power. [ should have thought that he, and indeed all honorable members, would agree to a proposal to confer upon the Commonwealth Parliament the additional industrial powers that are set out in that bill. Why should they raise objections to this grant of power, which they must knowwill put an end to a. great deal of confusion that exists in relation to industrial matters.
– Will the Minister say if the Government proposes to use this power exclusively?
- Lt, would bc unwise for the Commonwealth to take exclusive power over industrial matters. Surely the honorable member is not serious in suggesting that, if this grant of power is given the Commonwealth should have the exclusive right to pass industrial legislation and administer exclusively industrial laws in the Commonwealth? Under the enormous range of industrial power that is now being exercised by them, the various States have built up extensive organizations for the control of arbitration courts and similar tribunals for the regulation of wages, fixation of hours, and other safeguards of the health and lives of people employed in industry. For the regulation of all these phases of industrial matters the States have their factories and shops, and labour departments. To take away from them their legislative powers over industrial matters, and to re-vest it in the Commonwealth is, to my mind, a foolish suggestion.
– How would the respective jurisdictions be determined?
– If the Commonwealth were granted full power over industrial matters, that power, I suggest, must bc operated concurrently with State powers, but wherever Commonwealth awards operated they would do so to the exclusion of similar State awards. If, through its Arbitration Court, the Commonwealth Parliament fixed a basic wage for the Commonwealth, that award would be effective, notwithstanding any law that might be passed by a State Parliament. It is not competent for me, or for tha! matter the Government, to give a complete list of the industrial laws upon which this Parliament may be asked to pass judgment if these additional industrial powers arc granted. Our first objective is to secure this grant of power which every one recognizes is necessary. We can then provide for the difficulties which honorable members envisage when they talk about the difficulty at present experienced in the settlement of industrial disputes, and the necessity of citing a thousand or ten thousand respondents before an award can be made effective in a particular industry.
– But this Government is asking for further powers.
– Is that the only argument which the honorable member can adduce against the Government’s proposals? If so, will he tell me why he supported a government which in 1926 asked for a similar range of power?
– The previous Government did not then ask for anything like the range of power which this Government is seeking.
– The powers which we are asking for arc clearly set out in the bill. They are all-embracing in the industrial field, because our experience in the working of the Constitution has emphasized the need for unrestricted power for the Commonwealth over industrial matters. Rut this does not mean that if these powers are granted, the Commonwealth Parliament will operate in the entire industrial field to the exclusion of the States. I have already said it would be foolish to do that. All that we are asking is that with regard to industrial matters the legislative authority of the Commonwealth shall be unassailable in the future. This will not prevent the States from legislating and administering effectively in that portion of the field left to them.
– If these powers are granted will State arbitration courts and State wages boards be allowed to function ?
– They can still bc allowed to function.
– But will they ?
– The honorable member is asking me, on the spur of the moment, to define the future industrial policy of this Government. Surely he recognizes that it is unreasonable to expect mc to say how far, and to what extent, this Government may exercise its authority in formulating industrial law during its occupancy of the treasury bench, which may extend for ten years or longer.
– May we take it that the industrial matters mentioned in the bill are an exhaustive enumeration of the subjects that will be dealt with?
– It is believed that the grant of power indicated will be complete enough to enable the Parliament to exercise its jurisdiction over all industrial matters.
– Then why enumerate?
– The honorable member has taken part in many discussions on industrial matters in this Parliament, and be knows the difficulties which we have experienced in getting a satisfactory grant of Commonwealth power over industrial matters. The first referendum was held in 1911, and in 1913 a great deal of attention was given to the framing of questions asking the people for additional industrial power. In 1915, I attended a conference convened by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who was then Attorney-General in the Fisher Government, to consider still further industrial proposals for submission to the people in that year. Those proposals, however, did not go before the people, because State Ministers undertook to pass legislation surrendering the additional powers asked for to the Commonwealth. Queeusland passed the necessary legislation, but some of the other States, because of the attitude of their Legislative Councils, failed to honour the agreement. Accordingly, the proposals came before the people again in 1919 in almost the same terms as they appear in the bill now before us. Throughout all those years legal and constitutional authorities gave a great deal of attention to the framing of these questions to ensure that the Commonwealth Parliament should have the necessary power to legislate effectively in regard to industrial matters. This is the only motive which the Government has in view in submitting these questions now. We believe that the phraseology of the questions will ensure to the Commonwealth full power to legislate over industrial matters. How far that power will be operated must necessarily be determined by Parliament itself; but no Parliament, I suggest, would contemplate for a moment depriving the States entirely of their recognized functions in the industrial field.
– If the Commonwealth Parliament had exclusive jurisdiction in the industrial field general elections would be exceedingly interesting.
– I do not know if the honorable member, who appears to visualize all kinds of difficulties, has ever taken part in any of the previous referendum campaigns. If he has, he will realize that he is merely suggesting the most elementary difficulties which all of us have experienced from time to time. I am positive that, all reasonable men are agreed that, if we take additional industrial powers to the Commonwealth, we should do it in an unqualified way, so that the future authority of the Commonwealth may be unassailable.
– If these questions are answered by the people in the affirmative, could the Commonwealth Parliament abolish State arbitration courts?
– Of course it could. It would do that by exercising its power to set up its own Commonwealth Arbitration Court. So far as the award of this court conflicted with any State law the latter would cease to operate. The Commonwealth could do what the honorable member suggests if it occupied the whole industrial field to the exclusion of all State tribunals.
– But it would still be possible for Commonwealth and State arbitration courts to function unless one were abolished by an act of this Parliament.
– The Commonwealth court might be established to exercise an appellate jurisdiction, leaving original jurisdiction to the State courts; though I do not say that that would be done, or the two sets of courts could function concurrently so long as the overlapping which exists under the present uncontrolled method was ended. There is, I think, the soundest argument in favour of this policy. I am astonished to hear opposition to the Government’s proposals, because the people have so recently recorded their verdict against the industrial field being left solely in the hands of State authorities. In the circumstances the only logical course now is to ask for this additional power, which should be operated reasonably and in conjunction with the States in such a way as to obviate any hampering, restriction, or limitation of the authority of the Commonwealth tribunal.
. - 1 listened with real interest to those honorable members on both sides of the House who have contributed to this debate. The scope and importance of the proposed amendment of the Constitution definitely claim the attention of all honorable members and the people generally. To-day, as we know, alterations to the Constitution cannot be made without reference to the electors and are more far-reaching than any law brought in by a Parliament. I agree with other honorable members that the debate on these proposals should be conducted without party feeling. This matter, after all, transcends in importance to the people of this country all party politics, and surely we owe it to the people to see that the petty differences of party politics do not mar our discussions. The Treasurer asked that when these matters are brought before the people, the campaign should be conducted without reference to party politics. I quite agree with him; but I should like to remind him and other honorable members of one or two instances connected with the 1926 referendum, because they indicate how difficult, and, indeed, almost impossible, it is to conduct a referendum campaign without party politics influencing those who are placing their views before the people. In 1926, the Sydney Worker, which is the mouthpiece of the Australian Workers Union, was anti-referendum in its views, and ranged itself behind Mr. Lang in denouncing any proposal for increasing federal powers. This is what it said on that occasion -
The Labour movement has made up its mind to fight the referendum proposals tooth and nail. It will not have them, or any portion of them. From the first syllable to the last, they are anathema.
It is interesting to note that one of the most prominent planks of the Labour party’s platform had to do with just this question, and is set forth in the following words -
Unlimited legislative powers for the Commonwealth Parliament, and such delegated powers to the States or provinces as the Commonwealth Parliament may determine from time to time.
One of the suggested amendments which was then declared to be anathema from the first syllable to the last was exactly similar to that -proposed by the Fisher Government in 1911, and again in 1913. The Fisher Government’s proposals were to apply to -
Corporations including (a) the creation, dissolution, regulation, and control of corporations: (B) corporations formed under the law of a State, including their dissolution, regulation, and control, but not including municipal or governmental corporations or any corporation formed solely for religious, charitable, scientific, or artistic purposes, and not for the acquisition of gain by the corporation or its members; and (c) foreign corporations, including their regulation and control.
I will not detain the House by reading Mr. Bruce’s proposal in 1926, which was almost identically the same as that of Mr. Fisher’s. The same newspaper was, in 1913, the most enthusiastic advocate of Mr. Fisher’s proposals, and I think the real reason for the somersault was given by the Brisbane Worker in its issue ofthe 23rd June. 1926, when it said -
Every one who has considered the limitations of the present federal Constitution must readily admit that before the Commonwealth Parliament can function as it should in the interests of the whole nation, it must have wider powers than it at present possesses, not only in regard to the control of industry and commerce, hut in other directions as well. It is neither sound nor healthy, from a national view-point, that there should be one set of industrial or commercial conditions in one State, which do not obtain on the other side of a real or imaginary dividing fence. It is extremely unjust that the decent conditions and high standard of living in one State should be constantly subject to the competition of the sweated labour of the low-wage neighbour.
It goes on to ask the people to vote against the proposals, and concludes with the following words: -
Instinctively, the members of the rank and file will have nothing to do with them, because they emanate from the Bruce Government, which they know from experience is the most bitterly hostile anti-Labour, antiworkingebws administration that has over had control of the affairs of this country.
Perhaps the most remarkable example of inconsistency in regard to the 1926 referendum proposals was furnished by Senator Barnes. Speaking in the Senate on the18th June, 1926, he said-
Because this is an opportunity to broaden the Constitution along the lines laid down by the Labour party - it is the first plank of the Labour platform - irrespective of the source of that opportunity, I welcome it.I shall vote for the Government’s proposals. … I am prepared to advise the people to vote for the proposals outlined in this measure, because f believe that they are not only in accordance with the policy of the Labour party, but that they are also truly democratic. I do not fear that in a democratic country likeAustralia any great calamity will result from the granting of additional powers to Parliament.
A fortnight later Senator Barnes, as President of the Australian Workers Union, signed a manifesto which, in violent terms, condemned the proposals, and called on all unionists to vote against them. I quote those examples to illustrate the apparent difficulties of honorable members of this Blouse, and of another chamber, when it comes to active participation in a referendum campaign, and I endorse the Treasurer’s assertion that this matter is too important for the inclusion of party politics or party feeling.
The first proposal of the Government is to make provision for the alteration of the Constitution by Act of Parliament without reference to the people - for that is what it amounts to. The second is to give to the Commonwealth Parliament full industrial powers. Until the Treasurer spoke this afternoonI did not understand whether those powers were to be exclusive or not. He has stated now that it is not the Government’s intention that they should be. The Leader of the Opposition last week asked the Prime Minister what his attitude would be, if the proposals included in the second bill were agreed to by the people towardsa union in New South Wales carrying on under a State award. The Prime Minister did not answer the question, and the point has now been elucidated so far as I am aware. I take it that the Government does not intend to ask for exclusive powers under its second proposal. In that there is a big difference between the proposals we are now considering and those submitted by the Bruce-Page Government in 1926. I feel that the first proposal of the Government can be shown to be really undemocratic, and more or less reactionary. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman), speaking on the subject yesterday, declared the proposal to be almost audacious.I do not know whether the Treasurer was present when the honorable member for Reid was speaking, but the honorable member most definitely stated that the real objective of the proposal was unification, andI think that view was also expressed bv the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Chifley).
-And the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens).
– I did not hear the honorable member for Herbert, butI did hear the other two. After all, the Government does propose to do something the people have never authorized Parliament to do. The Treasurer this afternoon pointed out that the Government was only asking for authority to do certain things. I do not recall that in October last, when we were before the people, any statement was made either by the Prime Minister or his supporters to the effect that if a Labour Government were returned to office it, would take the step it now proposes to take under the first proposal.
– Very deliberate statements were made.
– If such statements were made to the effect that steps would be taken early in the life of this Parliament to amend the Constitution in the direction of practically wiping out section 12S, I certainly was not aware of it. and I venture the opinion that the majority of the people of this country were not aware of it. Some honorable members opposite appear to resent any opposition or criticism of this measure from this side of the House. They have drawn attention to the fact that when referendum proposals were submitted by the last Government in 3926 the attitude taken up by the then Opposition was something quite different. However, the Prime Minister himself stated during the referendum campaign in his own electorate that those 1926 proposals were really part of the Labour platform: that they did not go so far as the Labour party would like to go, but represented, nevertheless, part of the Labour platform. 1 am afraid that by no stretch of the imagination can honorable members on this side of the House say the same thing regarding the proposals now under consideration, particularly the first. Those who are supporting the Government have claimed, in connexion with the first proposal, that the present method of amending the Constitution is not, democratic, and is wrong in principle. They say that it is not proper that the small States, meaning the four States with small populations, should be able to overrule the wishes of the larger States. If that is their objection to the present provision in the Constitution, why not. introduce a really democratic proposal? After all, the most democratic way would be to allow the Constitution to be amended by an absolute majority of the electors of the Commonwealth without requiring an absolute majority of the several States as well. While that, would be really democratic, it would, I maintain, bc an unfair procedure so far as the States are concerned. I cannot help feeling - and my impression has been confirmed by the speech of the hon orable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) - that this is a first and definite move in the Labour party’s campaign for unification. Notwithstanding all that has been said, these proposals, if ‘passed by this Parliament, and agreed to by the people, would undoubtedly destroy the existing rights of the smaller States, and leave the whole method of government at the mercy of a majority in Parliament. I am quite willing to concede that the members of the present Government are imbued with the best motives in introducing this legislation. They believe that it is the best thing that could be done in the interests of the country.
– - We desire to give added power to this Parliament. That, surely, is a laudable object.
– Yes, but the party with a majority would be in a position, if these proposals are carried, to amend the Constitution in such a way as to alter the whole scheme of government. I was interested to hear the Treasurers statement that no amendment of the Constitution would bc made unless it had been previously included in a platform submitted to the people at a general election; but power would, nevertheless, be there for the dominant party to exercise in the direction I have indicated. What one government did one year, the other party, when it became the Government, could undo the following year. Honorable members opposite cannot hope to occupy the treasury bench for all time. It is just possible that they might be succeeded by a government not imbued with the same fine principles as their own, and it could undo all the amendments which this Government was instrumental in effecting. In that way, government would bc reduced to a perpetual seesaw to which there would never be any finality. The four smaller States would be in an utterly hopeless position. I do not say that the Government has any intention of immediately taking the course which the honorable member for Reid predicted it, would take, but, in any ease, the four smaller States would be in a most, unenviable position. At present they send ‘27 members to this House, while New South Wales and Victoria send 48. On all vital matters, such as the legitimate rights of the States, and matters relating to the amendment of the Constitution, the smaller States oan obviously be overruled by the larger States.
– -That has never happened.
– No; but Parliament has never had the power asked for under these proposals to amend the Constitution without resort to the people. I am merely pointing out what might happen if any government possessed such power as is asked for. ‘ There is no doubt that this would prejudice the position of the four smaller States. I do not- think any one disputes the fact that the Commonwealth Constitution needs amending; but there is, of course, a great difference of opinion as to the manner in which it should be amended. The late Thomas Jefferson, an ex-President of the United States of America, in speaking of the American Constitution, said -
Some mcn look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant - too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well; I belonged to it, and laboured with it. It deserved well of its country. It was very like the present, but without the experience of the present, and 40 years of experience in government is worth a century of book reading, and this they would say to themselves were they to rise from the dead: Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.
Although it is admitted that the Commonwealth Constitution should be amended in certain directions, no reason has been given by the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) and those supporting him for breaking faith with the people, particularly those resident in the less populous States. If we take away their right to be consulted, as is proposed under these measures, that is what will actually happen. It is not an answer to such criticism to say that the people will retain their present right of .amendment through their representatives in Parliament, as every one knows that personal and party considerations - not abstract views on the Constitution - determine very largely the electors’ choice. It would be impossible to have a parliament elected solely upon this issue, and even if you could, the disabilities that exist in connexion with the smaller States would still remain. There is another important consideration to which we should direct our attention. All the States joined the federation because of certain pledges .or guarantees given them under section 128 of the Constitution, which the Government now propose to render a dead letter. The mere fact that 30 years have passed since our present Constitution was adopted does not justify the breaking of those pledges and guarantees. It is surprising to find a Labour government making this question the plaything of party, and virtually disregarding the understanding upon which the Constitution was framed. At this juncture I should like to quote the opinion of Sir W. Harrison Moore, who is recognized as a world-wide authority on constitutional law, and whose reputation as an international jurist is better known, perhaps, in other countries than in Australia. In dealing with amendments of the Constitution in The Constiution of tha Commonwealth of Australia, he states that -
The adjustment of constitutional powers between the Commonwealth and States Governments is most obviously governed by the provisions concerning the alteration of the Constitution (section 128). The spirit of federalism requires that the federal pact shall not be at the mercy of the central government. In Australia it was as necessary as elsewhere to establish the federal system upon a basis which should not be disturbed by the legislature. But it was no less an object of the founders of the Commonwealth to enlarge the power of self-government. The existing colonies had the power of amending their own constitutions; the Commonwealth must have the power of amending the Commonwealth Constitution. One of the most difficult tasks which the convention had to perform, was to devise a mode of amending the Constitution which should make that instrument sufficiently rigid to protect the rights of the several States, to secure deliberation before action, and to discourage a “ habit of mending “ which might become a “habit of tinkering” but which should at the same time leave it flexible enough to recognize that development is as much a law of state life as existence, and to harmonize with the spirit of a people with whom “ majority rule “ is the first principle of government. The principles of parliamentary government, of . democracy, and of federalism which run through the Constitution, are all recognized in section 128. The tradition of parliamentary government and of ministerial responsibility, leaves the sole initiation of amendments with either House of the Parliament, and neither the States legislatures as in the United States, nor the electors as in
Switzerland, have any direct means of setting the machinery to work. The proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution must he passed by an absolute majority of each House of Parliament, a provision common to the Constitution acts of the several colonies and distinguishing measures of constitutional amendment in that one respect from ordinary legislation.
No part of “ The Constitution “ is withdrawn from the power of the Commonwealth.
In view of some of the opinions expressed, the following passage is of particular interest : -
Indeed, there is no doubt that the whole Constitution could be repealed under section 128 and that without any provision being made to substitute anything for it.
The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia bears every mark of confidence in the capacity of the people to undertake every function of government.
As we have all heard the slogan of democracy, “ Trust the People,” which has been loudly proclaimed, particularly by honorable members opposite, it is difficult to understand why the Labour party should decide that the people should no longer be masters of the situation. The Leader of the Opposition has reminded us of the fact that the Commonwealth Constitution is the result of the enthusiasm, skill and knowledge of the founders of federation; that it distributes powers between the Commonwealth and the States, and that it is an agreement between the States themselves as well as an agreement between the States and the Commonwealth. In this connexion I should like to quote briefly from Quick and Garran’s Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, more particularly in regard to the use of the words “have agreed”. In that connexion Quick and Garran state that -
These words make distinct and emphatic reference to the consensus of the people, arrived at through the procedure, in its various successive stages, prescribed by the substantially similar enabling acts adopted by the legislatures of the concurring colonies” In four of the colonies acts were passed enabling the people to take part in the framing and acceptance or rejection .of a federal constitution for Australia. Through those acts the people agreed, first, to send representatives to a federal convention charged with the duty of framing for Australia a federal constitution under the Crown in the form of a bill for enactment by the Imperial Parliament; and secondly, they agreed to pronounce their judgment upon the Constitution at a referendum, which in each colony was arranged to follow the convention. In all the colonies the Constitution was eventually referred to the people.
At this referendum each voter was enabled to vote by ballot “Yes” or “No” on the question asked in the ballot-paper : “ Are you in favour of the proposed Federal Constitution ?” In this manner there was in fourcolonies a popular initiative, and finally in all the colonies a popular ratification of the « Constitution, which is thus legally the work, as it will be for all time the heritage, of the Australian people. This democratic method of establishing a new form of government may be contrasted with the circumstances and conditions under which other federal constitutions became law.
One of the most important features of the agreement is that the Constitution shall be altered only as is provided in section 128. That section makes it quite definite that the Constitution cannot be amended unless a majority of the people, and, in order to protect the rights of the smaller States, a majority of the States, are in favour of the proposed amendment. In this connexion Quick and Garran further state -
The disability of a federal legislature to alter the Federal Constitution is one of the organic features and a prominent characteristic of every federal system.
As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) mentioned last week, if the proposal we are now discussing is adopted, that characteristic, and, consequently, one of the main safeguards of the people’s rights, will be removed. The people would be left without any voice whatever in any amendment of the Constitution. An absolute majority in both Houses could make any amendments desired, and the legislative power of the Commonwealth would be unlimited. In dealing with amendments of the Constitution, Quick and Garran say -
A federal legislature is a mere creature of the Federal Constitution; it is a mere instrument or servant of a federal community; it is an agent, not a master. The Consitution is the master of the legislature, and the community itself is the author of the Constitution. In this respect a federal legislature differs from a supreme legislature like that of Great Britain, which is the embodiment and essence of the sovereignty of the British nation. Sovereignty resides in that person, or body, or class of persons in whom is ultimately vested the power to amend a constitution of government. “ The test of the federal system lies in the principle that the central government cannot destroy nor modify the local, nor the local government the central. Now, this relation between central and local government is impossible unless both rest upon a common basis, i.e., the coordination of these independent governments as parts ofa harmonious political system requires an organization of the Sovereign, the State, distinct from and supreme over both.”- (Burgess, Political Sc., i., 141.)
In the Constitution of the Commonwealth, of course, there is no absolute sovereignty, but a quasi-sovereignty which resides in the people of the Commonwealth, who may express their will on constitutional questions through a majority of the electors voting and a majority of the States. No amendment of the Constitution can be made without theconcurrence of that double majority - a majority within a majority. These are safeguards necessary not only for the protection of the federal system, but in order to secure maturity of thought in the consideration and settlement of proposals leading to organicchanges. These safeguards have been provided, not in order to prevent or indefinitely resist change in any direction, but in order to prevent change being made in haste or by stealth, to encourage public discussion, and to delay change until there is strong evidence that it is desirable, irresistible, and inevitable.
A constitution is a charter of government; it is a deed of trust, containing covenants between the sovereign community and its individual units. Those covenants should not be lightly or inconsiderately altered. At the same time, a constitution which did not contain provision for its amendment with the development,growth, and expansion of the community which itis intended to govern, would be a most inadequate and imperfect deed of partnership. It would be doomed to collapse ignominiousy, and without hope of reconstruction. It would no bound to break beneath the pressure of national forces which it could not control or resist. A constitution may be compared to a living organism. It is not in the nature of a. living organism to remain monotonously the same from year to year and from ago to age. As with individual units, so with nations, change is one of the laws of life. The constitution of a nation is the outward and visible manifestation of its national life, to the pulsations of which it necessarily responds. The energy within any healthy organic structure must find vent in change. Change assumes various external forms. The power in a progressive community is never quiescent or stationary.
These principles are incontrovertible; but at the same time the tendency to change must be scrutinized to ascertain whether it is proceeding in a safe direction, and if possible to guide the tendency in that direction. Where a community is founded on a political compact it is only fair and reasonable that that compact should be protected, not only against the designs of those who wish to disturb it by introducing revolutionary projects, but also against the risk of thoughtless tinkering and theoretical experiments. The Constitution of the Commonwealth has provided a safetyvalve in the shape of a section defining the method by which its amplification and modification maybe effected, but its use is shielded with precautions, the wisdom and propriety of which claims favorable consideration from every reflecting mind.
If this amendment is carried, the only result will be the slow but certain destruction of the States. TheFederal Parliament could, by a party majority, overrule any decision upon any subject reached by any State Parliament, and safeguards in the matter of local government would be dispensed with. Not only could the Constitution of any State he amended by the federal legislature, in opposition to the will of the majority of the people of that State, but many other safeguards would be endangered. The powers which the Government are seeking are more comprehensive than those which the Labour party believe the Federal Parliament should possess. That party refuses to assist the Federal Parliament in securing power to legislate with respect to (1) the extension of. the life of Parliament, (2) alteration of the qualifications of the franchise, (3) deletion of the last paragraph of section 128 - the Labour party insists upon this being preserved, as it recognizes its importance to the smaller and weaker States - and (4) legislation with respect to religion. The Leader of the Opposition has directed attention to the possibility of the necessity of carrying this amendment by a majority in every State, in order that it may become effective. This necessity would arise in relation to the last paragraph of section 128. I agree, however, with the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) that the Government would not have submitted this proposal withoutfirst having consulted eminent constitutional authorities. But the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) has pointed out that there is this possibility.
I remind honorable members that long prior to federation there were many who felt that the spectacle of six colonies levying tariffs against each other and the outside world was absurd, and that the defence of Australia would be most effectively provided for by one authority. They realized, also, that posts and telegraphs were of common concern throughout the continent. The Constitution as finally adopted has as its fundamental principle the federal agreement, involving the creation of a central authority to which the then colonies yielded certain powers, whilst those not specifically defined were to remain with the States.
Unification was never contemplated, and any suggestion of the kind would have been most definitely negatived. Lord Acton, lecturing on the French revolution, said -
The true natural check on absolute democracy is the federal system, which limits the central government by the powers reserved and the State Governments by the powers they have ceded. It is the one immortal tribute of the United States of America to political science, for State rights are at the same time the consummation and the guard of democracy.
I am certain thatthe vast majority of the Australian people do not. favour unification. Both Professor Dicey and Lord Bryce have expressed the definite view that the Federal Constitution of Australia exercises a greater range of powers than do the Constitutions of the United States of America, Canada, or even Switzerland. Their views are not in accord with the contention of honorable members opposite that our Constitution gives too little scope to the National Parliament. I am convinced that the Government’s first proposal is not in the best interests of the people. It is undemocratic and highly dangerous. The framers of the Constitution included section 128 as a lasting safeguard of the people’s rights and privileges, and it is an impertinence for us to claim that we are better able than the whole of the people to protect those rights and privileges. A country’s constitution is “ the charter of its liberty, the rule of its authorities, and the bond of its union.” The proposed amendment would nullify the federal character of the Constitution. Where would be the guarantee that the powers secured would not be exploited for purely sectional or party aims.
The second bill proposes the widest possible extension of the powers of the Federal Parliament in relation to industrial matters. At present this Parliament can legislate only with respect to conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State. The proposal of the Government is to repeal this provision and give to Parliament the power to legislate with respect to industrial matters, including -
– Who will determine whether a dispute extends beyond the limits of any one State?
– If the first proposal were carried the High Court could be so deprived of its authority that it would have no power where the Parliament overstepped its authority. There would possibly be no limit to that authority. But if the people decline, as I believe they will, to give to this Parliament complete power to amend the Constitution as it thinks fit, but agree to the second proposal regarding an extension ofthe federal industrial power, the determination of whether a dispute extends beyond the limits of any one State will, I assume, continue to be made by the High Court. In October last, the people voted against the then government’s proposals to distribute industrial powers between the Commonwealth and the States. They were led to believe that those proposals were really intended to abolisharbitration. As a matter of fact the 1929 referendum proposals were in principle the same as those made by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) in 1922, and agreed to by all the States in conference in 1921. However, the people’s verdict was very definitely in favour of retaining the existing system. In 1926, Mr. Bruce asked the people to confer increased industrial powers upon the Commonwealth Parliament. His proposals were clearly defined, and he stated definitely that it would not be wise for Parliament itself to legislate directly upon industrial matters. Mr. Bruce recognized that Parliament and the people were entitled to know how the Government would propose to exercise the additional power if granted, and that is the outstanding difference between his attitude and that of the present Ministry, no member of which has yet enlightened the House as to the Government’s intentions in regard to the legislation that will be introduced if increased industrial power is conferred upon this Parliament. The 1926 proposals included a provision that the federal authorities, not the Federal Parliament, should have full power to deal with industrial matters, and also that the State authorities should, where retained, be invested with federal jurisdiction. That proposal would, undoubtedly, have resulted in the elimination of the dual system, which has done more than anything else to foster industrial unrest. One of my main objections to the bill which the Government has submitted is that if it were accepted by the people it would mean a continuance of the dual system in an accentuated form. I believe the people would readily sanction amendments to the Constitution in order to give this Parliament greater powers in relation to aviation, navigation, including intra-state shipping, films, wireless, defence factories, in relation to business operations, and other matters, of a non-party character. The majority of the members of the Royal Commission on the Constitution recommended that the Federal Parliament should have full powers in respect, of these matters and also in. connexion with health, and I am sure that all parties would support an appeal to the people for the grant of such powers. When referring to the bill relating to industrial powers, the Prime Minister appeared to be somewhat apologetic. That is not to be wondered at, because he is now trying to do what Mr. Bruce was definitely told by popular vote not to do. He did not enlighten the House as to what the Government intends to do with existing State tribunals. Although the Treasurer this afternoon said definitely that the Government is not asking that the federal authorities shall be given exclusive industrial power, he has not stated exactly what the Government intends, nor has a reply been given to the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition as to whether a union operating contentedly under a State award will be compelled to transfer to the federal jurisdiction. The only alternative to exclusive federal jurisdiction is to have two sets of tribunals, Federal and State, competing with each other in one field in a more unrestrained way than they do now. I would not support any proposals which would accentuate the existing evil of dual control”, which is responsible for so much of our industrial and economic trouble*..
It is well to recall that, the proposal in 1926, to remove the restriction on Commonwealth industrial powers, and to make it the sole authority, irrespective of whether the dispute be in one State or several States, was defeated by huge majorities in four of the six States. The State of Victoria recorded a negative majority of 233,000, and* the voting in the Prime Minister’s constituency of Tarra was 13,557 for and 23,000 against, a negative majority of nearly 10,000, notwithstanding that the right honorable the present Prime Minister represents that constituency and supported the referendum, saying that it was in accord with the policy of his party. Repeatedly the people have declared that they do not want the States driven out of the industrial field, so far as machinery for the settlement of disputes is concerned. That was their attitude not only in 1926, but at the referendums of 1911 and 1913. I cannot support a proposal which will give to the National Parliament power to legislate concerning wages, hours and working conditions. Its entire time would be taken up in the consideration of such questions, to the exclusion of the big problems which can be decided only by the national legislature.
– I do not think that any honorable member on this side desires that this Parliament should fix wages and hours.
– Even if in* creased power is granted only in relation to industrial matters, this Parliament will certainly be able to legislate on those subjects.
– The power to do so and the desire to do so are not the same.
– The honorable member cannot speak for other governments that may succeed the present occupants of the treasury bench. I have endeavoured to indicate the reasons why I cannot urge the people to support in their present form the measures which the Government has introduced. My first objection is that the evil of dual control would be continued. Again, an important principle of government is that no laws should be passed which cannot be effectively enforced. How can the industrial law be enforced by this Parliament if the complete power sought by the Government in the first bill is not granted? That question must be answered. Experience has satisfied me) as it convinced the last Government, that penalties in respect of strikes and lockouts are not an effective or desirable method of seeking to uphold the industrial laws. The only method of enforcement is to ensure that industry can be carried on. under the terms prescribed, whether by award or otherwise. So long as all parties are satisfied there is jio difficulty; but when one party is dissatisfied, will this Government be able to enforce the law more effectively than the last Government was able to do? When other industrial troubles arose the States were prepared to assist in enforcing the Commonwealth laws by making the services of their police available to the Commonwealth Government; but I doubt whether, if these additional powers were granted, the States would be so ready to help in that direction. I hope that the people will give these measures the fullest consideration, and endeavour to appreciate the absolute gravity of the issue, because, owing to their containing proposals for amendments of the Constitution, they are, as I have said, more far-reaching than any acts that might be passed by a Parliament.
– Proposals such as those now under consideration have been discussed on many occasions in this House. Honorable members of the Opposition who have taken part in this debate admit that the proposed alterations of the Constitution are necessary if Parliament is to give full effect to the will of the people; they differ in opinion from supporters of the Government only in regard to the nature of the questions to be referred to the electors. For the last 30 years this Parliament has been trying to obtain increased powers, and many of the most able men who have occupied ministerial positions in this House have agreed that those powers should be conferred. The High Court, by its decisions, has been gradually restricting the powers of this Parliament, and it has been the aim of all parties to make legislative provision by which effect may be given to the will of the people. Great changes have taken place since the establishment of federation. It must be generally admitted that the time has arrived when an alteration of the Constitution is essential. Our population has doubled in the last 30 years, and the whole scheme of government should be recast. Since every State Parliament is entitled to make laws for the government of the people, the Commonwealth Parliament should enjoy a similar right. At the last -federal election every Labour candidate advocated the granting of increased powers to this Parliament. One of the leading planks of the platform of that, party was that, if returned to office, it would take steps at an early date to obtain those powers. The late Government was in office for about six years; but the Leader of the County party (Dr. Earle Page) said very little during that period about new States. Now he wishes the Government to outline, in detail, in the proposals to be submitted to the people, in what way the States should be subdivided, and extra State Parliaments formed, in order that production might be increased and State legislation facilitated. I am reminded of a gentleman who once declared from the platform that, under a system of freetrade, there would be general prosperity. A lady in the audience interjected, “ Yes, my husband would have constant work.” The speaker asked the lady what was the nature of her husband’s employment, and she replied, “ He is a grave-digger.” I am afraid that the proposals of the exTreasurer for the formation of new States would not be as beneficial as he imagines. The remark was made that small States would bring progress to the Commonwealth, and the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) pertinently asked, “ What about Tasmania ?” We must get down to bedrock principles.. It must be recognized that this Parliament cannot legislate in the best interests pf Australia unless it enjoys full powers.
– Are there not enough governments already in Australia?
– I think that the people suffer from too much government, and I believe that, if they were asked to vote on a proposal for the abolition of State Parliaments, they would give an affirmative answer. A government may have a measure drafted with the aid of the best legal talent available, and all its work in trying to steer the ship of state away from the rocks goes for nought, because, when the legislation is challenged in the High Court, that tribunal has power to prevent effect being given to the will of the people. The framers of the Constitution desired that the Commonwealth Parliament should be supreme. I admire them for the great work they accomplished, notwithstanding interstate jealousies and conflicting legislation. It has been claimed during this debate that the Government proposes to take supreme authority for the Commonwealth Parliament; but all it desires is complete power to deal with interstate disputes and other matters of a federal character.
– Yet mono polies are not included.
– I should say that if the first bill were agreed to there would be ample power to deal with monopolies, trusts, and combines. In my opinion, we should also seek full power over trade and commerce; I am convinced that the people would grant it. On the occasion of the last referendum, Mr. Charlton, who was then the Leader of the Labour party, approached Mr. Bruce, and they arrived at an understanding as to the questions to be referred to the people regarding the granting of increased industrial powers. It is not too late even now for the Opposition to approach the Government in an endeavour to reach a compromise as to the nature of terms of the reference to the electors.
– We have made several suggestions this afternoon, and thev have been ignored.
– The three parties in the House should try to arrive at an agreement regarding the questions to be submitted to the people. If that were done,there would be a good chance of carrying the proposals. I believe that the Opposition would support the granting of full powers over trade and commerce. That would get us out of a good deal of our trouble. I hope that the Ministry will consider the inclusion of this question with the two others to be submitted to the people.
Will any honorable member suggest that the present powers of this Parliament in industrial matters are sufficient? For about fourteen months a lockout has continued in the coal industry, and this Parliament has had no authority from the people to deal with it. No country can be as productive as it ought to be if it is continually hampered by lockouts and strikes. At the last election the late Government proposed to hand over the whole of the industrial powers of this Parliament to the States, but the electors declared that those powers should be retained by the Commonwealth. We should try, therefore, to make our industrial legislative machinery as perfect as possible. I believe that the people would be willing to grant full industrial powers to this Parliament. When the late Government submitted its proposals for the amendment of the Constitution to give Parliament increased powers in the industrial sphere, the then Opposition considered them in a proper spirit, and they were accepted by an almost unanimous vote of this House. [Quorum formed.]
If all parties agreed to support, on the platforms throughout Australia, any proposed amendment, it would have every chance of success; but we are courting failure if we have divided views in this Parliament as to the need for any particular amendment. I remind those honorable members opposite who say that the present proposal is likely to lead to the injury of the smaller States that the Commonwealth Parliament has always been very good to those States. The linking up of Western Australia and South Australia by a Commonwealth railway has certainly been of great advantage to Western Australia, and Queensland is deriving advantage by having South Brisbane connected with Sydney by a railway of the uniform gauge. In addition to the return of Commonwealth revenue collected in the respective States the Commonwealth has paid £14,000,000 to Queensland, £4,000,000 to South Australia, £12,000,000 to Western Australia, and £9,500,000 to Tasmania. I am not complaining about that, but I do not think it is fair for these States to say that they would have been better off if they had not come into the federation. Out of the Cornmon wealth revenue collected in New South Wales the Commonwealth has paid £33,500,000 to the smaller States. In like fashion, Victoria has contributed £13,500,000 to these States. The larger States are pleased to help the smaller States. Had it not been for federation, Australia would have had six different defence systems, sixpostal systems, six customs departments and six interstate customs barriers. Although, as a Commonwealth, we have already done a great deal, much more could be achieved if the Commonwealth Parliament could secure an extension of powers. Uniform laws could be enacted dealing with companies, marriage and divorce, workers’ compensation, widows’ pensions, and child endowment and so forth. New South Wales has provided for the payment of widows’ pensions and child endowment, and its manufacturers are heavily handicapped because other States have not passed this beneficial class of legislation. The Commonwealth has passed laws which the High Court has declared unconstitutional. The High Court is composed of eminent lawyers who cannot feel the pulse of the people as it can be felt by members of Parliament, who have periodically to go before the electors. Justices of the High Court are not elected. They are appointed sometimes because of their ability, and sometimes because they have friends in cabinet; whereas members of this Parliament have to get the votes of the people before they are allowed to pass laws. If there is any man who know the needs of the people, surely it is one who has come directly from the electors. TheRoyal Commission on the Constitution, whose report was quoted so freely by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), sat for a long time, and, at a cost of about £18,500, took a lot of evidence, but I venture to say that three honorable members of this House, the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham), the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), and the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), all lawyers, could in a very few months put their fingers on the weak spots of the Constitution and suggest beneficial amend ments. I feel confident that if the people of Australia are given an opportunity to pronounce an opinion upon the advisability of giving extended powers to the Commonwealth Parliament, they willbe only too pleased to give an affirmative vote. We all know that the expense of governing Australia is high, and I feel sure that the granting of additional powers to the Commonwealth Parliament will lead to a reduction of this cost. We shall thus be proceeding on right lines.
– The cost of government will not be reduced even if this Parliament is granted the powers for which the Government is now asking.
– The State Parliaments, not having the same amount of work to do, could very readily reduce their numbers. The Government is to be congratulated on bringing up these hills so early. I ask it to consider the advisability of submitting to the peoplea third question relating to the granting to this Parliament of full ‘powers over trade and commerce, because I believe it would be in the best interests of the whole of the people of Australia if this were done.
.- This legislation has been introduced largely as a sop to the “ red “ element in . this country, and as a protection to the Government of the day. No doubtwhen the Labour campaign director at the last election told the people in the Newcastle district that if the Labour party were returned to power the coal-mineswould be opened within a fortnight - which statement brought about a contribution to the fighting funds of the party - they thought that he was in earnest, but when it came to the fulfilment of the promise, which was, among other things, to nationalize the coal-mining industry, they discovered that the Constitution prevented it. Naturally the “ red “ element would say to the Government, “You are in power, get rid ofthe Constitution so that you will be able to nationalize the coalmining industry, and, indeed, do everything that we tell you to do “. Let me tell the Treasurer that this Government’s proposal to hand the people’s rights to this Parliament will never be carried, and even if it were carried by the majority of the States, Western Australia would seize the opportunity to make one State less in the federation. The people are quite satisfied that this preposterous proposal to hand over the right of amending the Constitution to Parliament itself will never be carried. When Mr. Lang, of New South Wales, asked” the Premier of Western Australia to get rid of the Upper House in Western Australia so as to assist his own efforts to abolish the Upper House in New South Wales, he received a cold and negative reply. One of the State members of Western Australia told me, not in confidence, that the Upper House was the safeguard of our party. He said, “ Under the direction of the Trades Hall, we introduce certain legislation knowing very well that the Upper House will reject it; if not, the people would turn us out for passing it; we are thus saved by the Upper House.” This bill for a referendum is to be passed on to the people in order to save this Government. When the various States of the Commonweal th entered into federation, the Constitution was the Magna Charta given to the people. Their interests were safeguarded in that they had to be consulted before any change could be made in it. Any alteration would be made, not by Parliament, but by the people. It was not intended that all the domestic affairs of the States should be placed in the hands of a central authority. When federation took place only three questions were considered to be of a federal character. This Government has cut away one of the most important of those by placing the responsibility for the maintenance of a proper defence scheme upon the people themselves. The defence of this country was one of the main reasons for federation, so that in the event of invasion we could fight as one solid nation. The party which is governing this country to-day has departed from its original principles. I am not of a bellicose nature, but I contend that every citizen should be prepared, if necessary, to fight in the defence of his own home. To-day those who are enjoying the privilege of being citizens of this country are not obliged to defend it. This Government has failed lamentably, in that direction. The Government is seeking additional powers in respect of trade and industry. I venture to say that the original framers of the Constitution did not dream that eventually the Federal Government would have jurisdiction in these matters. Only because of the interpretation that the High’ Court has placed upon certain sections of the Constitution, have we been brought into them.. When federation took place, it was intended that the Commonwealth Government should control industry only in respect of disputes extending beyond the borders of one State. The late Government’s effort to revert to the original intention of the Constitution was firmly supported by the people of Western Australia. If this Government is given the increased powers that it is asking for, I should like to know how it intends to enforce federal awards. Will it superimpose another police force on the State forces? Will it use the military forces in cases such as the timber strike in order to give effect to the decisions of the court, or is it intended to create other powers for the enforcement of federal awards ?
– The Government’s proposals,, if given effect, will prevent State police forces from being used to assist capitalists to break federal awards.
– The honorable member has been deceived by his own party, and should now know when to keep silent.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– Three main reasons were advanced for federation - the need for uniformity of administration in the defence, customs and the postal departments. Prior to federation we were assured that the cost of administration of these three principal departments would be in the region of £500,000 per annum, but we have since discovered that that forecast was utterly unreliable iri every particular. This Government has taken action quite recently to entirely recast the defence system of the Commonwealth, so there remain, now, but two of the departments in the administration of which it was considered desirable that Australia should federate. As for the Customs Department, we all know that the amount of protection which the Commonwealth accords to our secondary industries is .determined by the voting strength of the representatives in this Parliament of New South Wales and Victoria. The States with smaller populations and smaller representation in this House are subject entirely to the viewpoint of the representatives of the two larger States. After 30 years’ experience of federation, I have no hesitation in saying that Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania would have made much greater progress had they remained outside the union for the next 50 years. I doubt that, as regards the Postal Department, federation has conferred a benefit upon any of the States, because prior to the federation there were agreements in existence between the postal departments of the several colonies concerning postage rates, telegraphic communication and other matters of common interest, and that arrangement did not cost the departments a penny.
The people of Western Australia have come to the conclusion that there has been altogether too much worshipping of the shibboleth of federation. The people of Australia were as loyal in pre-federation days as they have been since. As separate units of the Empire, the several colonies fought under the Union Jack just as they have fought under it since federation. The cost of the union has been too great. I have no doubt that if another Parliament were superimposed on our existing parliamentary institutions, this super-Parliament would discover avenues of expenditure hitherto unexplored. As a representative of one of the smaller States, my feelings are frequently offended by remarks of representatives of the larger States. This afternoon, for instance, the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley), with the object of showing the benefits of federation to all the smaller States, presented figures which told only one-half of the story and, as we know, a half truth is worse than a lie. The honorable member omitted to mention the huge sum paid by the people of the Commonwealth in bounties by way of customs taxation to our secondary industries, located, for the most part, in New South Wales and Victoria, if he had compiled figures on this basis he would have found that New South Wales alone had received many millions in the form of bounties since the inauguration of the Commonwealth, whilst Western Australia had received less than £100,000. The people of Western Australia are further penalized because they have to pay high prices for commodities produced in the eastern States. Some information bearing on this matter prepared by the ex-Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr Pratten) should be of interest to honorable members. If the honorable member for South Sydney had been honest in his intention to demonstrate that the smaller States had benefited from federation, he should have taken into consideration the trade relations of the several States. Western Australia buys approximately £9,000,000 worth of goods from the eastern States and sells, in return, goods to the value of about £1,500,000, so the adverse trade balance yearly is approximately £7,500,000. If, instead of being obliged to purchase commodities from the eastern States, Western Australia hau been permitted to buy in the open market, it would have saved £2,000,000 a year, which sum, spread over the 30 years of the federation, would have amounted to £60,000,000. The Royal Commission on the Constitution made a careful examination of the position of Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia which, as events have proved, have been languishing under federation. It is idle for the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) to attempt to show that benefits have been conferred upon those States since the inauguration of the Commonwealth. Actually the position is the reverse.
The Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), in his reply to the criticism of the right honorable the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page), this afternoon made a plausible appeal. He told us that the people might well trust the Parliament. On that point one only has to remember what happened in Queensland under his leadership. Honorable members will recall that, some years ago, a proposal to abolish the Legislative Council was submitted to the people of that State. The people voted emphatically against it, but because the Labour party had included this plank in its platform,” the .Treasurer, who was then Premier of Queensland, persuaded himself that he had a mandate from the people to abolish the Upper House and he did. Honorable members are aware, also, that, for many years, the State electorates in Queensland had been so unjustly regulated numerically that a Labour Government was kept in office on a minority vote. Because of what happened in Queensland, opponents of the present proposals are justified in asking whether the rights of the people would be conserved by any government of which the honorable the Treasurer was a member. Does any one believe that if these extended powers are granted the Senate, which is properly regarded a3 the States House, will be secure ?
– The Senate is not a States House.
– It is supposed to be a States House, and in it the States have equal representation without regard to population. If by any means the Senate were abolished, Western Australia, or any other State for that matter, would have legitimate reason for ceasing to be a member of the federation, one of the fundamental principles of which is that each State shall have equal representation in the Senate. The inclusion of this provision in the Constitution influenced the small States in joining the union. Even if the people were so foolish as to vest this power of amendment in the Federal Parliament, it could not become law until submitted to the British Parliament.
We have heard a good deal lately about financial stringency, and yet this Government proposes to incur an expenditure of £100,000 in submitting to the people proposals which have been rejected by them from time to time. This Parliament is not justified in authorizing such expenditure at a time when the Government,, in order that it may finance exotic industries established in cities like Sydney and Melbourne, is urging our primary producers to grow more wheat, regardless of the fact that already the great majority of them are working anything from ten hours to fourteen hours a day. A day or two ago I asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) if he could furnish information as to the quantity of petrol used in stationary and traction engines for the production of wheat, with a view7 to allowing a refund of the duty in respect qf that quantity. The Minister professed to be very sympathetic with the idea that a refund should be made, bur up to the present he has been unable” to ascertain the quantity that would be involved. No one can doubt that many hundreds of thousands of gallons of petrol are used annually on wheat farms throughout the Commonwealth. It should be noted also that, although our wheat-growers are expected to work long hours and pay high prices for everything used on their farms, they have to- sell their products in the world’s markets in open competition.
From what I have said, honorable members will realize that this Government is characteristically inconsistent in its attitude to our primary producers. I agree with the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) that this Parliament might have approached the discussion of proposals to amend the Constitution without having incurred heavy expenditure upon the costly commission which has recently presented its recommendations, and 1 agree also with the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) that it would have been well had the Government taken into consideration the general recommendations of that body before submitting these bills. The work of the commission has cost this country £18,000, and apparently its recommendations are to be ignored. I agree that we should have a uniform company law, a uniform marriage law and legislative uniformity with regard to many other matters; but this is not the time to ask the people to grant extended powers. We know from experience that they are loth to extend the legislative authority of the Commonwealth, and the proposals now before the House are so framed that it is practically certain they will be rejected.
When this bill is in committee I shall have a further opportunity to discuss its provisions. I hope, however, that the Government will not persevere with it. I should perhaps be more sympathetic towards the Government’s proposal regarding the control of trade and industry had 1 not heard the opinions of certain honorable members on the Government side, and read of the action taken by organizations connected with the Labour party. Those tilings indicate clearly what the Labour party intends to do with such powers if it. gets them. I am honestly in favour of either the Federal Government or the State Governments taking full control of trade and industry. I least prefer that the Federal Parliament should have such control, and I agree with the State Governments when they say that they are better qualified to perform such functions in their own courts, because the varying conditions to be found throughout the Commonwealth warrant the exercise of such powers by authorities possessing local knowledge. To repose full powers in a central authority which would have extreme difficulty in ascertaining the conditions existing in the more remote areas would not, it appears to me, be a satisfactory solution of our difficulties. Therefore. I am going to ask my constituents to vote “ No “ on both issues.
.- I propose to make some observations on this subject, not as a constitutional lawyer, but as one interested in the Constitution so far as it affects an industrial dispute in which I have been interested ever since I entered this Parliament. Apart from that, however, I have other reasons for being in favour of the proposals which are shortly to be submitted to the people of Australia. I favour the Government’s proposals because I hope that, if carried, they may be the means of allaying the general unrest throughout the Commonwealth, and of solving the difficulty created by conflicting awards issued from time to time by various industrial tribunals. I regard this matter, not a3 an issue between Federal and State authorities, but as one dealing with the right of the people to cheaper government. In Australia to-day, with a population of only 6,400,000 people, we have seven sovereign parliaments, with six upper houses, making a total of thirteen legislative chambers. The cost of government is enormous. According to the statistician’s figures for the year 1926-27, the total cost of parliamentary government in Australia was £1,297,205, distributed as follows: -
Among the chief items on this heavy bill of costs, were charges connected with the Governor-General and State Governors, which accounted for the following sums -
The cost of ministries was as follows : -
The cost of parliamentary government, that is for members of the rank and file like myself, was as follows : -
– The honorable member’s costs for parliaments represents the total for the Governor-General, State Governors, the Executive Councils and the parliaments.
– I am stating this matter as I see it. The honorable member has not yet spoken in this debate; he can follow me and make what corrections he chooses. In my opinion, a great proportion of the costs of parliamentary government in Australia represents an absolute waste of the taxpayers’ money. The C03t of elections for the year with which I am dealing, was as follows: -
On top of these enormous costs for the maintenance of our parliamentary system, there is also the cost of the various government departments, a full set of which had to be supported in each State. Each State administers it own railways, and has its own commissioner for railways. Each State administers its own tramways, has it own education department, its own lands, mines, and taxation departments, and its own arbitration system. I believe that the present proposals of the Government should be simplified, and a straight-out unification issue placed before the people. Wherever one goes throughout Australia - with the possible exception of Western Australia, if we are to believe the honorable member for Forrest - there is a large body of public opinion in favour of the abolition of State Parliaments. Of course, the honorable member for Forrest is entitled to his opinions, but most other people who have had an opportunity of gauging public .opinion, believe that the people would prefer to have the Commonwealth governed by a single Parliament, and think that the abolition of our present costly and cumbersome parliamentary system is long overdue. As a boy, I was not particularly interested in politics, except perhaps, to create turmoil at political meetings at which I was “ sooled “ on by those older than myself, to annoy speakers with whom they did not agree. Naturally, on such occasions, I sought to obtain over-ripe eggs to throw at unpopular candidates. On one occasion, however, some one more or less popular was speaking, and I had to sit and listen. This was during the period when, .the people were agitated over the question of federation, and the speaker said that if the people agreed to the establishment of a Federal Parliament it would involve the abolition of State Governors and ultimately of State Parliaments. State Governors and State Parliaments have not been abolished. We are now saddled with the expense of the GovernorGeneral. This is the first time an attempt has been made to give the people what they desire, and to secure a more economic administration of the laws of this country. Honorable members supporting the Government were elected on the understand- ing that they would endeavour to assist in reducing the expense of administration; because no such attempt had previously been made. There has been too much overlapping of governmental activities, and if this question and others were approached from a non-party viewpoint, I do not think there would be any difficulty in persuading the people to give to this Parliament supreme power.
– Did the honorable member support the late Government’s proposals to dispense with the overlapping in connexion with our arbitration system ?
– I have always been in favour of dispensing with a duplication of governmental activities. In 1926, when honorable members on this side of the chamber were in opposition, we cooperated with honorable members opposite in an endeavour to give this Parliament greater power. But what is their attitude to-day?
– They are adopting » dog-in-the-manger attitude.
– Undoubtedly. They are. opposing the Government’s measures to amend the Constitution merely because they are not in power. They are now condemning the proposals which they supported in 1926. If any honorable member opposite will be committing political suicide in opposing these constitutional measures it will be the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill), because Mr. Windeyer, who opposed the honorable member at the last election, and who believes in unification, reduced from the majority of the honorable’ member from 20,000 or more to a few thousand votes. The honorable member merely scratched home, and had the campaign extended over a longer period he would have been relegated to the political scrap heap. The members of the organization to which I belong elevated me from the position of a coalminer to that which I now hold because of their confidence in me. The men whom I represent are experiencing one of the most deplorable catastrophes with which the working men of Australia have ever been associated. The coal-miners, unlike other sections of workers who, in a few remote instances, have disregarded an inhuman award of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, were anxious to obey the award under which they were working, but were not allowed to do so. The coal-owners approached the court and endeavoured to secure a reduction of 33 1/3 per cent in their wages, but, failing in their attempt, they took the bull by the horns, overruled the arbitration laws of this country, and locked out 12,000 miners in an endeavour to starve them into submission. The coal-miners spent large sums of money which should have been used for sustaining their womenfolk and children, in appealing to the High Court, but, unfortunately it decided against them. The late Mr. J Justice Higgins accurately forecasted the position which has now arisen when he said -
The way to the court is through a veritable Serbonian bog of technicalities. . . . The costs and delays of arbitration are chiefly due to the efforts of some to prevent arbitration at all. . . We are engaged in a game of infamous word splitting.
What has been the position of the miners in connexion with the Beeby interim award which ordered a resumption on the rates and conditions in the award of Mr. Charles Hibble? I could quote numerous authorities to show that our Constitution stands in the way of progress and that the fetters which are now hampering the people should be removed. For instance, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) speaking on the 9th June, 1926, said that; -
In the past a great deal of money had been spent in determining the preliminary question of what was a dispute “ extending beyond the limits of any one State.” There could lie no justification for a continuance of that position.
Although the present dispute in the coal industry does extend beyond the limits of one State, the mine-owners in the shrewdest possible manner have endeavoured to convince the court that it does not extend beyond such limits. They know that if they could bring about a reduction of wages in the northern district, where 80 per cent, of Australia’s coal is produced, and where the quality is equal to the world’s best, the economic circumstances of the other coal-mining districts would be such that they would be unable to compete with the northern fields. They realize that the other coal. mines would have no chance of securing trade unless the miners working in them accepted a similar or even greater reduction than the northern miners had been asked to accept. When honorable members opposite were supporting the late Government they affected to deplore the existence of a lockout, but although that Government could have taken action against the coal-owners it did not do so.
– Has the Government which the honorable member is supporting taken any action in that regard ?
– This Government has endeavoured to do more than the Government which the honorable member supported. The ex-Prime Minister and the present leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) once deplored the fact that our constitutional powers were so limited that the Government could not intervene in the coal dispute. Everybody recognizes that that has been one of the most tragic disputes in the history of Australia. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) stated, according to a newspaper report, that no award for the coal-mining industry is in existence. I can prove to him that certain portions of the Hibble award, which was delivered in Mardi, 1926, will, operate until March, 1931.
– Mr. Justice Beeby disagrees.
– The honorable member cannot have it both ways. Mr. Justice Beeby may disagree with the Hibble award but the High Court, in turn, disagrees with him. I do not wish to say too much about the honorable member and his coal-mining experience, but if he will interject he must take the consequences.
– As the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has drawn attention to the interjection by members of the Opposition, I ask that they be discontinued.
– The honorable member had a unique experience while he was mining coal for two hours.
– I rise to a point of order. Has this anything to do with the bill?
– Whilst I do not desire the honorable member for Hunter to provoke interjections, his remarks are just as orderly as were some of the statements by the honorable member for Balaclava when he was addressing himself to this bill.
– The honorable member is provoking me to interject.
– If he does so further I shall deal with him ; but I ask the honorable member for Balaclava in turn not to do anything to provoke disorder. The honorable member for Hunter must address himself to the bill.
– If the honorable member interjects and I am denied an opportunity to reply I am not treated fairly. 1 was about to say that the honorable member for Balaclava had a unique experience of coal-mining - for two hours he worked in a mine alongside scab labour. That is an experience I have never had and never wish to have. Perhaps the honorable member has some respect for the opinion of the late Alfred Deakin, who, speaking as Prime Minister, said on the 13th December, 1907 -
To restrict the powers of the Common wealth 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 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 either do, or can secure uniformity in the conditions of manufacture throughout Australia. No authority but the Commonwealth Parliament can do this.
He said further in a memo presented on the 2Sth October, 1908-
As the power to protect the manufacturer is notional, 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.
Another statement by Mr. Deakin was -
The ideal of the Constitution is equality and uniformity in all national matters. With that end in view, it prohibited the imposition of taxation in such a way as to discriminate between States or parts of States. The ideal oan hardly be realized if uniformity of protection is coupled with wide diversity in the conditions of manufacture.
Surely if this Parliament has the power to protect manufacturers it should also have the power to protect the workers employed by the manufacturers. The fetters by which the National Parliament is bound, should be removed. The Commonwealth is no longer in its infancy and is able now to discard its constitutional swaddling clothes. Australia as a nation is able to walk and ambitious to work out its own destiny. Messrs. Ashworth, Duffy and McNamara, members of the Constitution Royal Commission, submitted a minority report in favour of concentrating power and responsibility in the National Parliament. In the course of that report they deal* with a point in respect of which I have directed against the present Government criticism which would be equally applicable to members of the Opposition. It is that parliamentarians on election platforms tell the people that they can and will do certain things, and when the time comes for them to honour their promises they are able to excuse themselves by pleading constitutional inhibitions. The minority report of the royal commission stated -
We believe that the authority of the Commonwealth Parliament as a law-making body has been impaired by the paramount and incalculable power of the High Court in its capacity as arbiter of the powers, and that the responsibility of Parliament and of the Cabinet have been lessened accordingly. Moreover, we believe that the adjudication of political issues by the court is tending to lessen the court’s prestige, decreasing popular respect for it as an instrument of justice. These evils spring from the uncertainty of and the absence of definite principle in the distribution of powers.
Under the system of dual authority operating at present, political parties arc enabled to make promises the non-performance of which can be excused on the ground of constitutional limitations. If the Commonwealth Parliament had complete power, these unfair votecatching tactics would not be possible. The parties and the people would know that whatever the majority of electors voted for would come within the legislative competency of Parliament. Those making the promises would do so with a sense of responsibility that is precluded hy the existing division of powers.
The division of powers leads inevitably to over-government.” Each authority is desirous of enlarging its own sphere. The manner in which the conflict develops is illustrated in Australia in connexion with the industrial power. With sovereign power concentrated in one government a more reasonable exercise may be looked for…..
We, therefore, recommend that full powers such as those embodied in the Constitutions of Great Britain, New Zealand, and South Africa be vested in the Commonwealth Parliament. This alteration will necessitate the empowering of the Parliament to amend the Constitution how and when it finds it necessary for the construction and alteration of its laws. The flexibility thus obtained will enable Parliament to make those modifications in detail which arc demanded from time to time by the ever-changing conditions of modern life, modifications which in the aggregate count for so much in promoting the social and economic welfare of the people. Moreover this flexibility will enable the transfer of powers from States to Commonwealth to be accomplished gradually, as and when necessary and desirable.
I have always believed that the Commonwealth Parliament should have unlimited legislative powers, and that there should bo delegated to the States or provinces such powers as this Parliament might determine from time to time. That is the policy of the party to which I belong, and I will be proud to see the day of its realization. If there is any body of people, or any individual that is desirous of having such powers extended to this Parliament, they are the constituents of Hunter and myself. We know what those people have suffered, although their only crime was that they tried to obey an award of the Arbitration Court. We know how they fought to retain their rights, and their standard of living, miserable as it is. We have seen the New South Wales Government protecting the coal-owners in their attempt to over-ride an award of the Arbitration Court, and, under the limited powers of the Commonwealth, this Parliament could not constitutionally protect the miners. We have found that we cannot police the awards of the court. In an endeavour to break down the morale of these unfortunate miners, the police force of New South Wales was pitted against them. Miners were shot down in cold blood. We saw a man done to death at the Rothbury mine. Sixteen others are known to have been shot, and many others did not report their wounds. What were they shot down for? Simply because they protested against the State authorities taking the bread and butter from the mouths of their wives and children. That was done by men of the calibre that the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) would associate with.
– The honorable member has reason to be opposed to all authority.
– The miners had to put up with insults from the police, who were sent to the district on special duty. I regret to say that a black mark has been placed against the New South Wales police force. Generally speaking, this body has undoubtedly done good work in the past, and will do the same in the future. I am not obsessed by any feeling against the police force as a whole, as has been suggested, because I stood up and condemned the action of the police in batoning poor unfortunate workers - miners from whom I have affidavits - ranging in age from seventeen years upwards. Some of them had their jaws smashed by batons. A man aged65 years was knocked down. A returned soldier with one leg was told to run, and he replied “ I cannot run “. The remark made to him by one of the police was “ Take that you dingo b-“ meaning that he was born out of wedlock. Those are the things that actuated me in calling these police indecent. I say again that they were indecent, and I do not make the statement merely under cover of the protection of this chamber. I will say it again on the hustings. I have repeated it since the summons was issued against me.
– Is the honorable member in order, Mr. Speaker, in describing the police of New South Wales, or even a section of them, as indecent?
– I do not think that it falls within the province of the Chair to take exception to the statement made by the honorable member. I gave the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) very wide latitude in describing his experiences on the coal-fields, and I am endeavouring to extend similar latitude to the honorable member for Hunter. The honorable member is endeavouring to portray the tragedies that he feels have resulted from the present division of industrial powers, and his remarks therefore, are relevant to the question before the Chair. I shall certainly not permit him to reflect on the administration of justice, or any agency associated with its administration.
– Or on any member of this House?
– I shall certainly not permit that.
– Should not the honorable member be asked to withdraw his statement concerning the police of New South. Wales, since the matter referred to has been the subject of a police court case?
– The police of New South Wales are not under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth, and I have no authority as Speaker to protect them, except in so far as the honorable member for Hunter may reflect on the administration of justice.
– I contend that the whole” of my remarks are perfectly in order, for the reason that, if this Parliament were entitled to police its arbitration laws, such things as have happened on the northern coal-fields would never have occurred. I have given illustrations of what happened there to show to this House and to the people generally the necessity to invest in this Parliament powers, and particularly industrial powers, that are essential for the peace, Order and good government of Australia. The police to which I have referred did baton the miners down. One of them went so far as to shove a revolver in the ribs of a lady. Those men, in trying to carry out what they thought were the laws of the country, went absolutely insane. Such things would not have happened if it had not been for the fact that Mr. Bavin was anxious to protect the coalowners and coerce the unfortunate miners into submitting to a reduction of their standard of living. I think that I would still be in order in showing that they proceeded against me ; but I say without fear of contradiction that I was not proceeded against by the New South Wales police force. I have information that Mr. Bavin called for a shorthand report of what was said at a meeting that I addressed. That report showed that I had tried to persuade the miners not to allow themselves to be led by anybody into acts of violence, and that I had also, said that there were any number of men in the New South Wales police force who were decent fellows. I had every reason to say that. I may have had a chequered career, and it may be that there are members of the force who have helped me to make a name for myself by putting me on the right track. I take my hat off to those men. I did not cast a slur on the whole of the force ; but I do say that the “flying squad” that came to the field, batoned the men, and shot them down in cold blood, were indecent, and indecent they will remain. It was a criminal and cowardly act to try to incite men to riot.
– Why did not the honorable member say in the witness box - in the public police court - what he is now saying in this coward’s castle ?
– The honorable member knows why. He wants to draw me.
– I rise to order.
- Smith’s Weekly-
– Order !
– This is only one of the honorable member’s dirty insinuations.
– Order ! I shall name the honorable member if he does not obey the Chair.
– I take exception to the honorable member for Warringah describing this Parliament as a coward’s castle. I have to add that the presence of the honorable gentleman as a member of it does not justify the statement.
– The remark was a reflection on the dignity of the House, and I ask the honorable member to withdraw it.
– Surely, Mr. Speaker-
-Order! There can be no argument. L ask that the remark he withdrawn.
– I withdraw it.
– The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has accused the New South Wales police of criminal and cowardly conduct. I submit that he should be called on to withdraw that statement. The honorable member said that they had shot down miners in cold blood and had batoned them. He is quite aware that the police acted in self-defence.
– Order ! The honorable member for Hunter has made it quite clear that he does not reflect on the police force of New South Wales as a whole. He has said that his remarks apply only to certain men who were engaged on the coal-fields in particular duties, and I rule that, in common with any other citizen, he is entitled to criticize . their actions if he feels disposed to do so. I see no reason why I should call upon him to withdraw the remark.
– I understand that in a previous ruling Mr. Speaker, you said that you would not permit an honorable member to reflect on the administration of justice in New South Wales. I believe that a public inquiry has been held into the conduct of the police on the occasion in question, and that they have been exonerated from the very charges that the honorable member is now bringing against them.
– The point has been taken that the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has exceeded his privileges and rights - and his rights are more important than his privileges - in sternly criticizing certain members of the police force of New SouthWales. I understood you to say, sir, that you would not sanction any condemnation of the administration of justice in any State, and about that I have nothing to say. But on the point that has been raised - I must assume genuinely - against the honorable member for Hunter - that he may not criticize any members of the police force of New South Wales or any other section of the community, I submit that the very essence of parliamentary privilege is that every member shall be free to express himself without fear or favour, and in terms of the strongest denunciation, if he conceives it necessary, subject only to the limitation that his language must not in itself be objectionable from the point of view of the House or of your high position as Speaker. I therefore suggest that there is not an atom of ground for the plea of the honorable gentleman who has taken upon himself to interrupt the speech of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) by saying that in criticizing certain members of the police force in New South Wales he has exceeded his privileges.
– I should be very reluctant to deprive any honorable member of the right to express himself freely upon public questions, and give to the House the benefit of any experience he may have gained, but I shall tolerate no reflection upon the courts of justice or upon those who are administering justice. So far, I do not think the honorable member for Hunter has transgressed in that respect. He has criticized not the police force of New South Wales, but a certain section of it which he considers went beyond the legimitate exercise of its authority. I am not aware of any investigation into the conduct of this section of the police force of New South Wales, and therefore I cannot sustain the point of order raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. (Mr. Gullett). If the honorable member for Hunter transgresses any ruling of the Chair, I shall at once call him to order.
– I was bringing my remarks to a conclusion when the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) interjected and asked why I did not go into the witness box when the State Government, not the police, had proceedings taken against Mr. Baddeley, the Deputy Leader of the State Labour party, and myself for some remarks alleged to have been made concerning the police. My reference was to the flying squad as being indecent and 1 used the expression because of the treatment to which they subjected poor unfortunate miners. I had sworn statements regarding the attitude these officials had taken up. When a married lady was passing one of these men the remark was made “Ain’t she sweet.” Would not any man be incensed if such a remark were made concerning his wife as she passed along a public street? Would the honorable member for Warringah like his wife to be treated in that way ? Yet this happened to miners’ wives. Some of these policemen were under the influence of drink while on duty.
– Order. The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The time allowed to me should not be reduced by the time occupied by interruptions.
– The Standing Order makes no allowance for the time occupied by points of order.
.- Any proposal to alter the Constitution is one of the most important matters this Parliament could becalled upon to consider, and I hope to be able to discuss dispassionately, and free from party political bias, that now before the House. I trust that I shall give expression to my views without any of the passion which the honorable gentleman (Mr.
James) who has just spoken has seen fit to import into the debate. The decision of this Parliament, and of the people, on the questions at issue, will have a very far-reaching effect in developing, or retarding the development of, Australia, Before our Constitution can be altered, a great deal of time must be spent in this House and in the country in giving consideration to the proposals and a considerable sum of money must be expended, apart altogether from the general dislocation of industry that occurs while a referendum campaign is in progress. In these circumstances, therefore, the utmost consideration should be given by the Government of the day to any proposals to amend the Constitution before Parliament is asked to discuss them.
In its wisdom the late Government saw fit to submit to a royal commission the question of whether or not the Federal Constitution had during recent years shown the need for amendment, and a comprehensive selection was made in the choice of the personnel of that commission. An extraordinary length of time was occupied in making the investigations, and after the whole subject has been thoroughly inquired into a comprehensive report was submitted. On many of the major questions on which the commission was asked to report, its decisions were unanimous, yet not one of those unanimous decisions has been embodied in the present Government’s proposal to alter the Constitution. As a matter of fact, the hill now before us is not. to alter the Constitution but to scrap it. It is true that we are also asked to submit to the people a proposal to grant full industrial powers to the Commonwealth, but I shall deal with that subject later.
I believe that the Constitution will need alteration from time to time. As a matter of fact its framers in their wisdom contemplated this. The Constitution, which is a monument to their forethought, provides in section 128, the last section of all, a means by which it may be amended. It is a carefully designed method of ascertaining the will of the majority of the people and of a majority of the States, and of protecting the interests of the smaller States. The present
Government’s proposals leave out of consideration the need for the submission ox any alteration to the people, and simply stipulate that Parliament itself may alter the Constitution. The design is to add the following new section to the Constitution - “ 120. 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, be passed hy an absolute majority of each House of the Parliament, and he assented to by the Governor-General.”
That is really a proposal that Parliament shall be given a free hand to do whatever it likes with the Constitution, to alter it in part or to scrap it entirely. It is a specious attempt to bring about unification in an indirect way. I hope that any party that succeeds to the treasury benches will have sufficient courage to place before the people the policy for which it stands. If it stands for unification, and the people have sufficient confidence in it to return it with a majority in this House, it should have courage enough to trust the people by telling them frankly the policy for which it stands. But the present Government has not done that. I think, Mr. Speaker, you will agree with me that the present proposal is a very indirect method of bringing about unification. Quick and Garran, in their Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, fay -
The Constitution can only be varied in a special way and after compliance with certain formalities.
In like manner the Congress of the United States of America is deprived of power to amend the American instrument of government. The disability of a federal legislature to alter the Constitution is one of the organic features and a prominent characteristic of every federal system. If the federal legislature could change the Constitution it might transform itself from a subordinate lawmaking body into an organ of sovereignty; it might destroy the federal system altogether, and substitute a consolidated form of government.
A federal legislature is a mere overture of the Federal Constitution, it is a mere instrument or servant of a federal community; it is an agent, not a. master.
The Constitution is the master of the legislature and the community itself is the author of the Constitution.
All these principles have been ignored by the present Government in bringing down its present proposal to alter the Constitution. The people should bc told in what respect the Government’s intentions are interfered with by the present limitations of the Constitution, and they should have carefully explained to them what amendments the Government intends to have embodied in it in order to give effect to its projected legislation. On the present occasion, however, the people are left in doubt and in a state of uncertainty. I am sure no honorable member knows what the Government really intends to do, unless it is to bring about unification. In the past many proposals to alter the Constitution have been defeated because the people have been uncertain as to how the new powers this Parliament sought to obtain would be used. , In my opinion the present suggested amendments, and those allied with them, will be defeated for ‘the same reason.
If the amendment set out in this bill is accepted by the people, any Parliament elected on a special issue will feel itself at liberty, once it has dealt with that special issue, to do whatever it likes in the matter of legislation that is now outside the constitutional powers of this Parliament. Simply by including in the bill, or introducing with it a clause conferring the required new power, it can, after waiting one month, thus embody in the. Constitution power to do what cannot be done now. I regard the present proposal as more than a request. for power to alter the Constitution. It is really a request for power for Parliament itself to do away with the Constitution. If it were carried, it would mean that the whole of Australia would be governed from Canberra. It would mean the removal of the protection that is now afforded under the Constitution to the smaller States, and no State legislation would be safe because the Commonwealth Government, by passing a small measure to enable it to take over any ‘State power would render null and void all State legislation on that, subject. The people of Australia will not stand for such a proposal, because, if given effect, it would bring uncertainty and indescribable confusion and chaos in its train. Surely on local questions requiring knowledge of local conditions the State Parliaments can best legislate. Australia is a wide continent with varying climatic conditions, and a scattered population. We could not, therefore, expect the Commonwealth Parliament to legislate effectively on all questions other than those that are nation-wide in their application. Many problems with which Australia is faced to-day are of a purely State character. Even in some of the larger States complaints are constantly being made of the treatment meted out to certain remote districts by the State Parliaments sitting in their own capitals and the cause for such complaints would become much more acute had we to depend for their settlement upon the Federal Parliament situated at Canberra.
An argument which lias been used by the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) and other honorable members in support of the Government’s proposals, is that the cost of government would be reduced. That is not so. The present administrative offices and personnel would have to be continued in the States. There would also need to be many more federal members. A costly system of local governing councils would also have to be instituted, and they would soon become another taxing and spending authority. The cost of government would increase by leaps and bounds and would eventually become far greater, than it is to-day. With one exception, there is no country as large as Australia that has but one government. Europe, which is roughly the size of Australia, has more than 50 different governments. Canada, which is slightly larger than Australia, has eleven governments, and the Unite(. States of America, which is slightly smaller than this continent, if Alaska be excluded, has 49 governments. Russia, alone, may be quoted as an instance of an area larger than Australia which is administered by one government. That government sits in Moscow. The major portion of that country, and particularly its extremities, are subject to the harshest tyranny, and the Australian people are not likely to follow the example it has set. South.
Africa has been quoted as an example of unified government. It is a country almost unique in character, and has problems of a racial nature which radically distinguish its requirements from those of Australia. Its area is even smaller than the State of Queensland.
The majority of the members of the Constitution Commission were definitely against unification as is shown by the following extract from their report: -
It seems to us that the concentration of all legislative and executive functions in one authority would be likely to produce that paralysis at the centre and anaemia at the circumference which has been referred to by many writers as politicalscience.
Finally I must oppose the first proposal as it is entirely contrary to the true spirit of the federal compact that brought the six colonies together into the Australian Commonwealth.
I wish now to deal briefly with the proposal for full industrial powers. I take the view that the Constitution cannot be considered as sacrosanct. It must, from time to time, in the light of our experience be altered. The general development, the expansion of our industries, the altered conditions and the growth of population during the last 30 years, have produced changes which were not contemplated by the framers of the Constitution. I believe it is essential that the Constitution should be altered and extended in many directions. I am thoroughly convinced that greater industrial powers are urgently required by the National Parliament if we are to deal properly with industrial matters. I strongly supported the proposal of 1926 to grant further industrial powers to the Commonwealth. On that occasion the proposal was to alter section 51 of the Constitution as follows: -
It is definitely provided in section 51 of the Constitution that a dispute must extend beyond the limits of any one State before it can be brought within the, jurisdiction of the Federal Arbitration Court. This provision in the Constitution is fomenting industrial strife, and is one of the greatest causes of industrial unrest. Paragraph a of the 1926 referendum proposal would have done away with the need to create an interstate dispute to get before the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Section xi. of paragraph b of that proposed amendment provided for the establishment, by Parliament, of authorities, for the regulation and determination of terms and conditions of industrial employment, and the rights and duties of the employers and employees in any industry, and removed the question of hours and the conditions of employment, &c, from becoming purely a question of bartering betweenpolitical parties. Further, State authorities were to be vested with any powers which this Parliament might confer on them, thus providing one authority only for dealing with industrial matters, and doing away with over-lapping awards and the confusion and complication arising from them. It maintained the true principles of arbitration ; that is the appeal to an independent authority to determine the conditions of industry. To my mind, those powers would have met all the requirements of the federal legislature without in any way hindering the States from carrying out the functions that are truly theirs. If those proposals had been carried we would have inserted in the Constitution the definite principle of arbitration. The present proposals are as follows : -
Section 51 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 - (a) labour; (6) employment and unemployment; (c) terms and conditions of labour and employment in any trade, industry, profession, occupation or calling; (d) the rights and obligations of employers and employees; (e) strikes and lockouts; (/) the maintenance of industrial peace; and (g) the settlement of industrial disputes.”
These proposals, if carried, would leave matters indefinite, vague and uncertain, and would cause extraordinary conflict and legal costs would be incurred in their interpretation. They would accentuate rather than ameliorate many of the difficulties with which we are confronted to-day. They would, in effect, grant to the Federal Parliament full industrial powers in a most .undesirable way.
– Can the honorable member make any suggestion that will clarify the position ?
– Before I conclude my remarks I shall make definite proposals to overcome these difficulties.
One of our greatest troubles is overlapping. The Treasurer has admitted that under these proposals the over-lapping will become accentuated, and that there will be more than one arbitration authority. Furthermore, he said to-day that this Government is asking for increased industrial powers although it does not propose to make full use of them. In any application for extended industrial powers, due regard must be given by this Parliament to the States. We should ask for those powers that we require and those only. We certainly should have power to do away with over-lapping and the necessity for a dispute to extend beyond the limits of any one State before an application can be made to the Federal Court. We should not ask for more power than we require or will use. Uncertainty as to how the powers asked for would be used by Parliament was one of the main causes of the defeat of the appeals made to the people by way of referendum in 1911, 1913, and 1919. To ensure success on this occasion, I urge the Government to confer with the leaders of all parties in this House, to ascertain how far we can agree as to what additional industrial powers are required, and then a united appeal could be made to the people . with every prospect of success. The only two referendums of any serious consequence that have been carried, were, first the referendum dealing with the Constitution submitted to the people in 1900 and secondly the referendum at which the Financial Agreement with the States was submitted. I invite honorable members to recall that, prior to the referendum with regard to the Constitution itself, a whole series of proposals had received the consideration of the several federal conventions. Some of them were brushed aside, but finally there were many subjects on which there was complete accord, and these became the basis of the Constitution. As regards the proposals to incorporate the financial agreement in the Constitution, honorable members will no doubt remember that in their original form they were not acceptable either to this Parliament or the people. Innumerable conferences were held until an agreement was reached. It was not until the 128 sections of the Constitution were agreed upon in conference by the representatives of the States that an appeal by way of referendum to tha people was made. In like manner no appeal was made to the people in connexion with the financial agreement until the Commonwealth and the States had come to an agreement. When an appeal was made to the electors the proposals were accepted by an overwhelming majority.
In no circumstances could we hope for the people to agree to an alteration of the Constitution on lines laid down in caucus without the support of all the parties in the House. If these proposals are to be carried, it is imperative that there should be complete agreement concerning them between all the parties in this Parliament. I therefore ask the Prime Minister now to invite the leaders of the various parties in the House to discuss the suggested alterations with him to ascertain if there is not some common ground on which all parties can recommend the acceptance by the people of the proposals to grant extended power to this Parliament in industrial matters. I suggest that the proposals of 1926 should be the basis of negotiations. This was the procedure followed in 1926, when the then Prime Minister invited the Leader of the Opposition at that time (Mr. Charlton) to discuss the amendments that were to be submitted to the people, and, as a result, the Government’s proposals went through this Parliament with hardly a dissenting voice. Had the then members of the Labour party rallied to the support of the Government during the referendum campaign, as the Government had every right to expect in view of their support of the bill in the House, the amendment would have been accepted. We should not then have experienced our present difficulties, and the development of this country would not have been retarded. Unfortunately, although members of the Labour party in Parliament supported the bill under which the proposals to amend the Constitution were submitted to the people, they deserted the cause during the referendum campaign.
– The Government’s proposals had the official support of the Labour party in Victoria but were defeated.
– Officially in Queensland find New South Wales, and, I believe, in other States, Labour deserted the Government and brought about the defeat of the referendum.
I am anxious to see a grant of increased industrial powers to this Parliament, and am prepared to support any effort in this direction, based on the proposals of 1926. There should be negotiation between the leaders of all parties in this House to arrive at some common ground upon which the request for fuller industrial powers can be submitted to the people with the full strength of all parties behind it. If the Prime Minister cannot see his way clear to accept this suggestion, then I ask him to convene a conference of representatives of all the State Parliaments to see if some definite basis of agreement cannot be reached whereby the States would surrender to the Commonwealth such industrial powers as it requires to do away with the need for a dispute in order that the court may have jurisdiction, also to prevent overlapping and to grant the right to delegate powers. In every appeal to the country at least two solid parties - the followers of the Government and members of the Opposition - will follow the advice of their leaders. If all parties in this Parliament could be brought together on this issue, there is not the slightest doubt that they would sweep the country and carry the proposals agreed upon. I, therefore, urge the Government to adopt the course which I have suggested. Furthermore, I ask the Prime Minister to give careful consideration to legislation to include in the questions to be submitted to the people those upon which members of the royal commission appeared to have been unanimous - aviation, navigation, wireless broadcasting, defence factories having relation to business operations, the interstate commission, and health.
As the first proposal, the power of amendment, is a specious attempt to bring about unification, I cannot support it. As to the second, I am anxious to see a grant of fuller industrial power to the Commonwealth, and I am prepared to support any amendments based on the lines of those submitted in 1926, which, I feel certain, would give the Commonwealth Parliament all the necessary power to legislate effectively with regard to industrial matters.
– The honorable member who has just resumed his seat (Mr. Francis) mentioned that only the people of Russia were governed under a system of unification. I remind him that at least twice in its history Australia has been under a similar system. Originally, this country was governed from Downing-street. As the population increased the seat of government for. the whole of Australia was in Sydney, and later as population increased still further the various colonies were vested with the full panoply of autonomy. Still later, with the inauguration of federation we had. three different systems of government - the National Parliament legislating in respect of national affairs, State Parliaments dealing with matters of lesser importance but vital to the peace, order and good government of the country, and municipalities and shires functioning in a purely local government sphere. All these bodies had certain powers particularly in relation to the expenditure of public money.
The Commonwealth Parliament was established with the consent of the people in the various States and since its inauguration they have been reluctant to extend its legislative functions with a view to bringing about unification. In the evolution of our system of government, the Commonwealth Parliament and municipalities have been gradually filching power originally vested in State Parliaments, which stand the risk of being denuded still further of their political clothing. Indeed some members of this House would even steal their political sox and leave them without any political raiment whatever. If ever we reach such a pass State Parliaments will be as bare as Adam, and, like him, become but a memory.
As the representative of EdenMonaro in this Parliament, I could more readily than any other honorable member support the movement for unification because the Federal Capital Territory is surrounded by the electorate which I have the honour to represent. But I look at these proposals from the stand-point of Australia, and I suggest that we should not endanger the agreement entered into when federation was inaugurated. Very great care was taken to safeguard the interests of the people in the framing of the Constitution. Accordingly, a provision was inserted requiring every proposed alteration to be submitted to the people for their approval. On this ground no objection can be urged to the Government’s proposals because they meet the requirements of that section of the Constitution to which I have referred.
I was interested to hear the various speakers quoting the views of distinguished constitutional authorities, none of whom is known to me. Possibly this is because my political education has been neglected. I noticed, however, that no one attempted to place on record the views of female authorities concerning these proposals. Why did not some honorable member tell the House what Mary Gilmore said in 1910, and why did not some one place on record the prophetic sayings of Mother Shipton? I understand there are at least 2,000,000 female- voters in the Commonwealth. Surely the opinion of their’ representative leaders should have been quoted in this debate. Can any honorable member say .what are the views of the wives of coal-miners in New South Wales whose husbands have been locked out and deprived of the opportunity to earn a livelihood? What do they think about these proposals? Do they consider it is desirable that a grant of industrial powers should be given in this Parliament so that it may legislate in industrial matters?
The powers which the Government are seeking are not new. Actually they are the’ legislative powers to which we have always been accustomed. Unfortunately there is in New South Wales a government, the head’ of which appears to be suffering from hallucinations and therefore is acting as if he were suppressing a revolution. His administrative acts hay/?, I think, disgusted ‘the electors in that State, and they are glad that the affairs of the National Parliament are in the hands of men with a statesman-like view who are fully capable of dealing with big industrial issues.
This Parliament has immense power. I do not agree with those who say that, legislatively, it is hamstrung. It has a plenitude of power. It has, for instance, complete jurisdiction over defence. What greater power could there be than that? At the present time one of our representatives is in the Mother Country in an ambassadorial capacity. In the latest of the English newspapers to hand honorable members will see a photograph of Mr. Fenton taken in the company of the King of Great Britain and the King of Spain. This Parliament has power to send to Great Britain representatives to deliberate with ambassadors from other parts of the world on the great questions of disarmament and defence. Surely if the Parliament is competent to deal with matters such as that it can be trusted to deal fairly with industrial issues. It may be true that Russia has a unified form, of government, but it did not arrive at that form by popular vote, or by the decision of the legislature, but by revolution. The
South African Parliament possesses all the powers that this Government desires, but what sort of a country is it ? [Quorum formed.] ‘ The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) said that South Africa had a population of only 750,000 Europeans, but I understand that the population is 1,700,000 Europeans, and 6,000,000 blacks. The South African Parliament possesses complete powers, and yet one of the early Speakers of. the House of Assembly, General Beyers, who had himself subjected the members of the Union Parliament to the oath of allegiance to the King, died a rebel. General de Witt, because he was find 5s. for punishing a native, involved South Africa in ?a revolution. The South African Union Parliament has power to deal not only with naval and military affairs, but with international affairs also, and yet honorable members of the Opposition are fearful lest this Government should deal harshly with industrial affairs if it is granted power over them.
Honorable members opposite’ tried to impress upon us that these matters should not be dealt with on party lines. That sentiment would do them credit if it were sincere, but if, as I suspect, it is merely dissimulation, their statements are contemptible. If they think that the Government would abuse these powers, and thus lose the confidence of the people, they would be best advised to support the measure because the only hope they ever have of being returned to power is for this Government to act in such a manner as to forfeit the goodwill of the electors.
A great deal has been made during this debate of the many governments we have in Australia, and of the cost of governing. I do not agree with honorable members who emphasized that point. The honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) is my authority that the national income of Australia is £600,000,000 a year. I should say that it is; at least, £200,000,000 a year more than that, but even assuming that his figures are correct, what is the £500,000 a year which it costs to govern Australia compared with our income? It does not represent 1 per cent., and in any business the overhead expenses will not be less than 2 per cent, or 3 per cent. If any one were to ask me what is the wealth of Australia I should say at least £10,000,000,000, which is a fair capitalization of an income of £600,000,000. If a country with such an income, and with such wealth, cannot afford to pay £500,000 a year for its government it must be in a very bad way. I do not join in the cry that we are overgoverned, and that we are spending too much on governments. I, for one, am not prepared to break faith with the States. I should like to see Australia peopled by a homogeneous race. We are at present 95 per cent. British, and there is no reason why, given proper government, we should not be the happiest people in the world. In my opinion our Constitution has worked out very satisfactorily. During the trying period of the war we were able to raise £400,000,000 for national defence because we were federated. Such an achievement would have been impossible if the States as separate entities had been endeavouring to assist in the defence of the Empire.
– The Commonwealth Parliament exercised more extensive powers during the war period than at any other time.
– They were principally punitive and not legislative powers. The federation of the Australian States was a great achievement, giving as it did to the people the opportunity of interstate freetrade, apart from many other benefits which it is unnecessary to enumerate. The Naval College at Jervis Bay, which is in the Eden-Monaro electorate, is ‘a very useful institution, although it has been referred to by some politicians as an expensive luxury. I am pleased to learn that the Government does not intend to exercise its powers in that regard, and discontinue the good work of that institution. Many of the prophecies I made in my early days have been realized, and although I do not intend to prophesy to any great extent in this connexion, I believe that from our Naval College at Jervis Bay we may, some day obtain a Nelson, who may be able to so direct our naval forces as to save us from the invader. In the course of time that institution may save Australia perhaps £20,000,000,000, and if it does it will prove a profitable investment. What is the good of objecting to the expenditure of a few paltry pounds in its maintenance.
– Our future defence may be in the air.
– That may be so. The students at that college should also be given an opportunity to study aviation. The High Court of Australia, which has exercised its powers with such disastrous consequences to the people, has been used by politicans to placate political partisans. Although reference has frequently been made to dual control we are at present experiencing a form of triple control in consequence of the manner in which our industrial laws have been handled by the High Court, which has given some extraordinary decisions. There are men in this country such as Judge Beeby and Mr. Justice Isaacs - the latter helped to frame our Constitution, and is one of the greatest constitutional authorities in Australia- who are capable of correctly interpreting our laws; but they are overruled by others, appointed to the positions they occupy, because of political partisanship. The difficulties with which we are confronted in consequence of our limited powers under the Constitution should be removed as soon as possible. The Government is not asking Parliament to amend the Constitution, but is placing that responsibility upon the electors, who can be relied upon to record an intelligent decision. They have already shown that they are progressing in their political education. On the 12th October last they showed to a remarkable degree the extent of their education and perspicacity which I submit are equal to that of the people of any country. They have shown that their good sense can be relied upon, and that there is no likelihood of members of the Opposition - many of them capable men who have delivered good speeches on this subject - coming into power for some time. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) is not without ability. Plausibility and volubility are characteristics of the honorable member who will, if he has the opportunity, impose upon the susceptibility and credi bility of the people. I would not be in favour of extensive powers being granted to a government of which the honorable member for Warringah was a member, because that would mean handing them over to the tender mercies of an oligarchy which has already done so much to destroy Australia. We have in power a parliament capable of restoring a better trade balance between Australia and America. At present our adverse trade balance with America is equal to £30,000,000, and it is the duty of any government to adjust that balance.
I would be in favour of granting the people as many governments as they desire, and the people’s wishes in this matter should be paramount. I believe that the electors generally will support the Government’s proposals. They may be opposed by some members of the Opposition, but their influence with the electors is insignificent. I think Australia has reached a stage when only a party possessing genuine qualities will survive, and the possibility of the Nationalist party ever being in the ascendancy is very remote. Its only opportunity would be if the present Government abused its powers, and that is most unlikely. When Great Britain abused its authority it lost the American colonies. We also know what happenedin Germany, where the Kaiser was given such extensive powers that he ruled that nation as he desired. In consequence of his action a large proportion of Australia’s manhood was unnecessarily slaughtered, and over 9,000,000 people died as a result of the power that was given to one man. This Government is not likely to abuse the powers which it already possesses or those which it is seeking to obtain.
The Federal Government already possesses very great powers, and I trust that its industrial powers will be enlarged, so that it will be able to legislate in the interests of those working in the coal-mines and in other industrial spheres. I have every sympathy with the men who delve into the bowels of the earth to produce wealth for the coal-mining companies which, so far as I can learn, have been making a profit of 38 per cent. There are in Australia plutocrats who have drawn many millions of pounds worth of dividends’ from the coalmines, and what do they do with their wealth? They keep strings of racehorses named after some of their judicial friends, but ‘ they offer no relief to the men who have toiled and risked their lives to win coal from the bowels of the earth. If the miners earn big wages they deserve them, because theirs is a dangerous and strenuous occupation. We are told that miners at 45 years of age are only fit to be jettisoned by the industry; if, in those circumstances, they ask for a wage which will enable them to make some provision for their old age, who shall blame them? I admire their fight to protect their interests and standards of living, and also the manner in which they have withstood the provocation of seeing free labourers working in an industry in which unionism is almost a religion. If this Parliament had full control of industrial affairs, it could take action in many ways to obviate conditions such as obtain on the northern coal-fields to-day. We are told that the miners have lost £2,000,000 in wages. I believe that statement is exaggerated. The production of coal in New South Wales last year was 1,800,000 tons less than in the preceding year, but as other States have made more money as a result of the lockout in New South Wales, probably the’ net reduction of output does not exceed 1,000,000 tons. The miner receives no more than 3s. per ton. As a large proportion of the shipping on the Australian coast now uses oil fuel the consumption of coal would have diminished even if no dispute had occurred in the industry. I am certain that if the present Commonwealth Government were able to exercise the power that it is asking the people to grant, industrial peace would be assured and many millions of pounds would be added to the national income. “ Bavinism “ has cost Australia millions of pounds, and it is unlikely that a government of similar complexion will ever be placed in control of this Parliament. We should judge these proposed alterations of the Constitution by common’sense standards. If we assume that the Constitution is based on commonsense we must agree that this Parliament can more adequately deal with the big problems of the nation than can several State Parliaments. So far the High Court has proved a stumbling block to the exercise of greater power and authority by this Parliament. I should like the Constitution to be altered so that Australia’s national parliament would have powers similiar to those exercised by the Parliaments of South Africa and New Zealand. It could then establish such subsidiary authorities as it thought fit. Despite the calamitous Government that is now in office in New South Wales, we can see a way out of our economic difficulties, and if the people will give to this Parliament the necessary powers a new era of prosperity will be ushered in. Already, our industries have received a filip from the legislation introduced by the present Government. Australia has great national assets, and nearly all its loan moneys have been invested in productive public works that are capable of earning a satisfactory rate of interest. That being so, the solvency of the country is assured, and we need have no fear of its ability ‘to honour its obligations and achieve a much greater measure of prosperity. Even if the members of the Opposition oppose these bills, public opinion will welcome them, and I am certain that, after the issues have been placed fairly before the electors, this Parliament will be granted the increased constitutional power that the Government is seeking.
.- Without posing as a constitutional authority, I intend to reply to some of the speeches delivered by members of the Opposition. I admire the boldness and courage with which they have approached the subject; they certainly have not allowed- the title of the bill to deter or limit them in any way. The Leader of the Opposition professed to see behind these proposals, as the Nationalist and Country parties have seen behind the Labour party’s policy during the last six years, the hand of the communist. He predicted that if the people entrust this Government with the increased powers for which it is asking it will proceed to destroy the States. I am sure the Leader of the Opposition does not advance that view seriously. The Labour party was in office in Queensland for fourteen years, during nine of which the State Parliament consisted of a single chamber. Having a majority in that chamber the Government could have done whatever it wished. It could have bowed to the dictates of the communists or the Other extreme elements in the community, but it recognized that it was elected to govern in accordance with the Constitution. The Leader of the Opposition, and the Government with which he was associated in 1926, appealed to the people foi’ extended powers for this Parliament, and the powers now sought would be just as safe in the hands of the present Government as they would have been if entrusted to members of the Opposition. The great mass of the people know that if ever a Government stood for class legislation and the prosecution of a class the late Ministry did. During its regime, did it not abuse its position by passing the Transport Workers Act and inserting penal provisions, under which penalties were inflicted on one class? Did not the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), when in power, issue a summons against John Brown and his brother at .Newcastle for locking out the miners? After influence had been brought to bear on him, was not that summons withdrawn? That shows that the penal provisions were intended to be applied only to the workers; there was to be one law for the rich and another for the poor. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson), supports the alteration of the Constitution because he recognizes, as a Country member, that extended powers are needed by this Parliament. Nobody imagines that the framers of the Constitution thought that this instrument of government would remain unaltered for all time. Certain action has been taken by this Parliament, and the decisions recently given by the High Court, if tested at the bar of public opinion, would not be supported. If Australia is to remain where it stood 30 years ago, we may as well be frank with the people and tell them that we have not the power necessary to enable us to deal with industrial disputes. It would pay the people to close up this Parliament if they are not prepared to grant the increased powers sought.
We have had the benefit of the opinions of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), who spent a few hours on the coal-mines in the Newcastle district, saw the ‘’ bosses,” and picked out half a dozen men who were earning from £10 to £20 a week. That could be done in any industry. We know that the Prime Minister receives £2,500 a year, and that the other members of the Ministry are paid more than the rank and file in this House. A number of officers are paid more than the parliamentary messengers, but it could not be truthfully said that every person employed at Parliament House receives £2,500 per annum. If the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), had got into touch with the miners at Newcastle, he would have been informed that the worker takes only about £3 16s. in wages for every £3 of profit on the capital invested in industry generally. That is not a fair distribution. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has joined the ranks of the revolutionaries and threatens that, if the electors vote in favour of the first measure, he intends to spend the remainder of his days advising the people of his State to withdraw from federation. Such members have been freetraders and protectionists; they have been all things to all men; and they become class-conscious when they enter this House. Such a reactionary step as to secede from federation would be detrimental to the Commonwealth as a whole, and would also have a destructive effect; upon Western ‘Australia. One can understand the opposition to the Government’s proposals from the honorable member for Swan and other Western Australian members. One knows that progress moves from east to west, so there is something symbolic in the honorable member’s excursions to Canberra.
The proposal contained in the first bill is that after section 128 of the Constitution, the following new section should be inserted - 1,29. Notwithstanding anything in the last preceding section, the Pari lament shall have full power to alter the Constitution in the following manner:-
The proposed law. for the alteration thereof must, after the lapse of one month from its origination in a House of the Parliament, be passed by an absolute majority of each House of the Parliament, and be assented to by the GovernorGeneral.
There is not much wrong in the Government asking for that power. If the people do not require such an amendment they are at liberty to say so.
In the second measure, the Government seeks full industrial powers. On the 12th October last, the people gave the Ministry a mandate to deal with industrial matters. The Bruce-Page Government made an appeal to the people on this issue, with the result that only a handful of its followers were returned to this Parliament. The present Government promised that if it was elected to power it would invite the people, by referendum, to extend increased powers to the Parliament. It is said that the small States would suffer if these powers were granted; but I fail to see how their interests would be affected detrimentally. Each State has six representatives in the Senate. If Victoria and New South Wales combined against the other four States, senators representing the other States could defeat the combination and if later the question at issue had to be submitted to the people it would have to be accepted by a majority of the people and a majority of the States. If Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales entered into a pact against the interests of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, they could not secure the required absolute majority in the Senate. and if an appeal were made to the people it would require an absolute majority of the whole of the people of the States and a majority of the States before it could become law.
The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) fears that if this Parliament gets extended powers some injustice may be done to Western Australia which, he says, has already suffered as a result of federation. But other States have suffered as the result of federation, and in any case the evidence does not bear out the assertion of the honorable member. Western Australia came into the federation voluntarily yet the honorable member makes the threat that if the people of the Commonwealth carry the present proposals he will not be prepared to obey the law. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) says the same. Both these honorable members would make the workers obey awards of the Arbitration Court, but for themselves they claim that they should be allowed to break the law and “ get away with the goods.” The honorable member for Forrest was also wrong in his references to the Queensland Labour Government. The position of Queensland to-day after fourteen years of Labour administration is such that it has been in the position to lend £250,000 to New South Wales to tide it over a period of financial crisis. It has been able to lend the Commonwealth £1,000,000 at a time when the Western Australian Government was about to discharge thousands of men in its employ. It is to-day the only State with credits at home and overseas. While the average unemployment of the Commonwealth is 11 per cent, it is not more than 7 per cent, in Queensland whereas in Tory governed South Australia and in Victoria it is 17 and 13 per cent. Neither South Australia nor Victoria has provision to meet the circumstances of men for whom in a time of economic depression no work can be found. On its return to power the Commonwealth Labour Government took steps to restrict or stop immigration to try to relieve the position, and it took steps to afford protection to Australian manufacturers with the result, indicated by the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs early this year, that 50,000 additional men have been employed in manufacturing industries. I think that eventually the tariff will provide work for an additional 100,000 people.
The economic position is undoubtedly serious. Whereas last year New South Wales spent £8,000,000 of loan money this year it is spending only £3,000,000. Thousands of men have been dismissed from the State railway service, and the Water and Sewerage Board of Sydney has put off 800 men. Yet the Melbourne Gas Company could import 750,000 tons of coal at a cost to the producers and users of gas of £250,000, and South Australia under a National Government has imported coal from overseas. The Queensland Government offered to supply South Australia with coal at 21s. a ton, but the State Government preferred . to buy its coal from Wales at 18s. a ton. There is no doubt something is wrong when coal can be imported from Wales at a cost which is less than that for
Australian coal, but the responsibility rests with the shipping companies operating on the Australian coast. The honorable member for Forrest was one of the party that did away with the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers.
– Could those steamers have been used for carrying coal?
– Yes ; the honorable members’s party did not destroy the Line, it gave it away. The assertion has been made that it was the seamen who destroyed the Line. Labour was not in power in the Commonwealth from 1916 until the end of last year, and it is therefore a reflection on the national administration that it allowed a. section of the community to destroy a line of steamers belonging to the community as a whole. But it was not the seamen who destroyed the shipping line ; according to Mr. Larkin, the manager of the Line, it was the shipping ring that did so. We know that continual representations were made to Mr. Larkin to increase freights, and that immediately the Australian Commonwealth Line was sold the shipping combine made a move to increase freights. Mr. Bruce conferred with the shipping companies and came to some arrangements with them, but I understand that an increase was allowed amounting to 2s. 6d. a ton on the wheat produced by the farmer whom we are now asking to produce more wheat.
Our friends opposite are quite sure that the Constitution Alteration Power of Amendment Bill will not be agreed to by the people. But I hope that the people will have as much good sense on this occasion as they had on the 12th October last when they returned Labour to power. We know that in October the Bruce-Page Government with its financial jazz was making for the rocks and that Australia was verging towards the crisis which is now with us. Companies which earn 10, 15, 20 and 25 per cent. on their capital have turned into calamity howlers and have even gone to the extent of preventing their employees from earning more than four weeks’ wages each five weeks. Mr. Cleary was appointed Railways Commissioner of New South Wales, with the object of making the railways a payable undertaking. Why was he given a salary of £5,000 a year? It was to sack 300 or 400 men. Any individual could have been appointed at one-fifth of that salary to do that job as effectively as Mr. Cleary did. It has also been stated that the only way to make the New South Wales railways pay is to increase freights and fares by 50 per cent. Let Mr. Cleary follow that argument to its logical conclusion and he will hunt every man off the land. When production stops, what goods will the railways carry? The difficulty of making the railways pay has been accentuated by the action of the Bruce-Page Government in spending the revenue from the duties on benzine and motor cars on the building of permanent roads to enable the Yankees to unload motor vehicles in Australia to be run on those roads in competition with the railways. We have had wrangles in State Parliaments in respect of the tax to be imposed on omnibuses. It is time that the transport of the Commonwealth was placed under a transport board. No one should be allowed to compete with, and to destroy, an asset of the nation, and one of the assets of the nation is the railway system. In every State of the Commonwealth there are good bitumen roads running parallel with the railway lines, picking the eyes out of the freight and leaving for the railways freight that can be carried only at a loss. I do not envy Mr. Cleary in his position. I know that he has made a big sacrifice. He has foregone £2,500 a year, but will he feel that loss as much as the worker will feel the loss of 8s. a week when he has to cease work one week in every eleven weeks, and work 48 hours a week?
– Mr. Cleary in the first place refused a. salary of £7,500 a year.
– There may have been special circumstances surrounding that offer. The newspapers and the New South Wales Government have made much of this personal sacrifice on the part of Mr. Cleary. What for ? It is to make a feed off the working class lamb in the interests of the financial dingo. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) said that another proposal should be added to the referendum. This Government should have no hesitation in increasing the scope of the proposals to be submitted to the people, so that Parliament may pass legislation enabling it to deal effectively with trade and commerce and industry within Australia. It has been stated that by submitting too many questions to the people they will become confused; but the people are no more likely to be confused than are honorable members of this chamber. They are as intelligent as we are, and perhaps more intelligent than most of us.
The Commonwealth Parliament should have full industrial control. There are supposed to be over .1.00,000 unemployed persons in Australia. According to the Year-Booh for the year 192S-29 the number reported by the unions to the Statistician is 45,000. That can be easily doubled, and in addition the dependants of these unemployed persons must be taken into account. That would mean that there are on the unemployed market to-day from 100,000 to 150,000 persons. No provision has been made to enable them to face the coming winter. The New South “Wales Government has said that the dole must cease because it encourages loafing. In Queensland it is said that the unemployed insurance legislation encourages the worker to be lazy. Yet in 1925 the Bruce-Page Government promised that if it were returned t’o power it would institute a national unemployment insurance scheme. Again in 1928 that Government, when returned to power, said that if the unemployed workers’ scheme were instituted it would fall on industry. What did the Government expect the scheme to fall ou?
– The Bruce-Page Government appointed a royal commission.
– The appointment of commissions had become a habit with the Bruce-Page Administration. That commission sat; its report was furnished to the Government, but nothing else was done. Honorable members opposite who talk about promises should be reminded of that fact. The Bruce-Page Government knew, when it promised an unemployment insurance scheme, that it would have to fall on industry. An industry must make provision for labour just as the farmer makes provision for his stock during the winter months. The farmer feeds. and rests his stock; but he knows when he turns the worker adrift that the economic position will force him to return to the farm next year. Australia has many seasonal industries, such as the pastoral, the wheat and the sugar industries. Men are employed in these industries for 4, 6 or 8 months of the year. At the end of that period they are turned adrift. No one cares what becomes of them. The only government that made any effort to assist them was the Queens.sland Labour Government. Legislation was introduced to place the worker on a better footing and because of that the industries of that State are in a better position to-day than the industries of any other State, despite the calamity howlers and despite the party which, during 1920. sent a delegation ‘overseas to try to prevent the present Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), when Premier of Queensland, from obtaining a loan for that State. Why wast that action taken? Because that Government was courageous enough to cut up for closer settlement any lands that became available for that purpose at the expiration of the lease. In that way it tried to encourage people to settle on the land. The money was spent in reproductive work instead of in the construction of motor roads for theuse of tourists, on which there was little return for the money expended. This Government should convene a conference of State Premiers; but before that gathering is summoned the State Premiers should call together all localgoverning authorities to consider what necessary works could be put in hand. In Brisbane, for example, there is no adequate water or sewerage scheme, and in Sydney, owing to the financial stringency, the Water and Sewerage Board is dispensing with the services of 800 employees. All works of this nature are reproductive, and in time will return fair interest on the money invested in them. Hitherto the policy adopted by governments which, have shown some consideration for the working classes has been to slow down on public works during the busy season of the year and to speed up during a period of slackness, so as to keep in employment as many persons as possible.
– What has all this got to do with the bill?
Mr.RIORDAN.- If the honorable member cannot see the application of my remarks to this measure he is hopeless, and I shall not attempt to explain. Unemployment insurance was promised by the Government of which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was a member. In Queensland the unemployed workers’ insurance has operated most successfully notwithstanding the criticism of honorable members opposite. Under that scheme a man cannot draw sustenance until be has been for three weeks out of employment, and then he may only draw on the fund for fourteen weeks. If we had a Commonwealth scheme on similar lines, provision could be made for those people who are thrown on the industrial scrap heap in times of depression. Honorable members opposite may smile at the suggestion that the Commonwealth Government should introduce an unemployment insurance scheme. This proposal was considered good enough by the Nationalists during the 1925 election campaign. This depression has not come upon the Commonwealth like a bolt from the blue. For some considerable time attempts have been made to bring about a reduction in the cost of production, which means, of course, that the man on wages must suffer first. Those who approved of this movement took the requisite steps to create the necessary psychology by crying “ Wolf “ and by the expression of pessimistic views as to the future. It was considered also that the average Australian was not servile enough to provide sufficient labour when the Transport Workers Act was in operation, and when the former Prime Minister bad surrendered control of industrial affairs to the States, so from 1923 to 1929 no fewer than 522,739 migrants were admitted to Australia without being required to pass the dictation test. It was anticipated; no doubt, that a large proportion of these migrants would be prepared to accept any wage offered by employers, whilst Australians were walking about the country looking for work. It is possible that large numbers of those migrants are to-day in the ranks of our vast army of unemployed. Critics of Labour policy care little for what happens to these people. They say that there is plenty of work offering on the Newcastle coal-fields, and they ask whythe miners decline to go back to work. We all know that those mines arenot working because they are held by big companies, and the Federal Government has not the power to make them re-open the mines. If State governments will not take the necessary steps it certainly is the business of the national Government to exert its authority, but when it tries to do so it finds it has not the power.
I hope that when these proposals are submitted to the people they will display as much intelligence as they did on the 12th October last. Although honorable members opposite seem to fear that if the additional industrial powers asked for are granted this Government may do something revolutionary, their fears are without foundation. As far as my knowledge goes, there are no revolutionaries in the ranks of the parliamentary Labour party, and when I remember what the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) have said about these proposals I cannot help thinking how reactionary we are. Those honorable members threaten direct action if things do not go in the way that suits them. I believe that the people will grant additional industrial powers to this Parliament, because on the 12th October last the Government received a mandate to legislate in regard to industrial matters. I firmly believe that if the Government is successful in its appeal to the people the evils which honorable members opposite predict will not overtake the Commonwealth. I feel equally certain that if honorable members opposite ever return to power they will be just as reasonable in their use of this extended industrial authority as the present Government will be.
Debate (onmotion by Mr. Gullett) adjourned.
House adjournedat 11 . 9 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 2 April 1930, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1930/19300402_reps_12_123/>.