House of Representatives
17 July 1931

12th Parliament · 1st Session



Mr. Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) to.ok the chair at 10.30 a.m., and offered prayers.

page 4055

QUESTION

NEW SOUTH WALES FINANCES

Mr MARR:
PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES

– Has the Prime Minister received official information that the Government of New South Wales is in financial difficulties through the refusal of the banks to render further assistance to it? Has the Premier of that State approached the Commonwealth Government for assistance, and does the Prime Minister intend to see that Mr. Lang is made to “ walk the plank “?

Mr SCULLIN:
Minister for External Affairs · YARRA, VICTORIA · ALP

– The latter part of the question is not proper; I hope no Australian government will be forced to “ walk the plank.” Any communications received from Mr. Lang in the last few days are at present strictly confidential.

Mr NAIRN:
PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

– Will the Prime Minister give the House an assurance that until the New South Wales Government guarantees to meet its financial obligations no further assistance will be given to that State by the Commonwealth?

Mr SCULLIN:

– I can add nothing to the definite statements I have made from time to time, and that made yesterday by the Treasurer.

page 4055

QUESTION

UNEMPLOYMENT RELIEF IN CANBERRA

Mr R GREEN:
RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES · CP

– Has the Minister for Homo Affairs read the report in the Canberra Times of to-day that on the 9th July a weekly pension of 4s. l½d. was taken into account in the issue of relief rations to P. McGrath, a returned soldier, formerly of the 1st Battalion? As that statement is at variance with the assurances given to the House by the Minister on two occasions, I ask the honorable gentleman if he has any explanation to offer?

Mr BLAKELEY:
DARLING, NEW SOUTH WALES

– I am advised by theofficers administering ration relief that the newspaper report is incorrect. The pensioner referred to was not refused rations.

Mr R GREEN:
RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES · CP

– Was his pension taken into account in the allocation of rations ?

Mr BLAKELEY:

– No.

Mr GREGORY:
SWAN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

– Is there any truth in the newspaper report that in connexion with the granting of unemployment relief the Minister for Home Affairs discriminates between soldier pensioners and others ?

Mr BLAKELEY:

– The assertion by the Canberra Times, like most of its declarations, is unsound. No such discrimination is exercised.

Mr MARR:

– Will the Minister consider the advisability of providing some useful work for the able-bodied unemployed in the Federal Capital Territory, so that the Commonwealth may receive some return for the money it pays for relief?

Mr BLAKELEY:

– At present 500 residents of Canberra are unemployed, and I have had extreme difficulty in obtaining sufficient money to provide relief work for them. To undertake relief works in the Federal Capital Territory for the absorption of the many thousands of travelling unemployed would be impossible. As I stated to the House yesterday, up to 1,300 travelling unemployed pass through Canberra each month, and receive rations on their arrival and departure.

page 4055

QUESTION

SALES TAX

Clothing - Cakes

Mr McGRATH:
BALLAARAT, VICTORIA

– Following upon the remarks made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on the Sales Tax Bill, I ask the Prime Minister to give full consideration at the approaching week-end to the representations by the master tailors?

Mr SCULLIN:
ALP

– I shall do so.

Mr WHITE:
BALACLAVA, VICTORIA

– I have received from the Melbourne Chamber of Catering Industries a communication pointing out that under the Canadian Sales Tax Act it was found impossible to define cake; and all such lines, except biscuits, arc exempt from this impost. Will the Prime Minister see that the exemption now granted in the Commonwealth act to pastry is extended to such lines as scones, buns and crumpets, thus sparing the small shopkeepers a good deal of irritation ?

Mr SCULLIN:

– I shall consider the honorable member’s request, but I remind him that a concession which would avoid irritation to the shopkeepers might be costly to the revenue.

Mr LATHAM:
KOOYONG, VICTORIA

– In preparing the amendments to the sales tax legislation, will the Government consider the exemption of meals ?

Mr SCULLIN:

– Meals, as such, are not taxed at the present time, but certain goods which are supplied for meals are taxable. The subject is still receiving the fullest consideration.

page 4056

QUESTION

AMALGAMATED WIRELESS

Mr CROUCH:
CORANGAMITE, VICTORIA

– The Commonwealth is the paramount partner in Amalgamated Wireless of Australasia Limited, and having regard to the fact that the Government nominees have never submitted reports to Parliament, and that recently they acted for the company in opposition to the Government’s interests, will the Prime Minister investigate this matter with a view to the better protection of Commonwealth interests?

Mr SCULLIN:
ALP

– If the honorable member will let me have any particulars in his possession I shall be glad to investigate the matter.

page 4056

QUESTION

FINANCIAL POSITION OF AUSTRALIA

Mr MORGAN:
DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND

– In the absence of the Treasurer, I ask the Prime Minister if he can supply an answer to the question I asked on the 14th July regarding a paragraph published in the London Daily Herald to the effect that Australia’s overseas indebtedness had been reduced by £21,000,000?

Mr SCULLIN:
ALP

– I have seen a reply prepared by the Treasurer to that question, but off-hand I cannot recollect the effect of it. I shall look it up.

page 4056

QUESTION

AUDITOR-GENERAL

Mr CROUCH:

– In last night’s Melbourne Herald the following paragraph was published : -

The Commonwealth Auditor-General is still dissatisfied with the manner in which the Treasurer’s accounts are presented. Next week he will meet the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee at Canberra to urge again that the financial statement should bc prepared in such a way as to enable them to be understood by the public.

Will the Prime Minister consider the advisability of suggesting to the AuditorGeneral that his criticisms should be communicated to the Government departments concerned before they appear in the press ?

Mr E RILEY:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · ALP

– Why not make him transfer to Canberra?

Mr SCULLIN:
ALP

– I shall inquire into the matter mentioned by the honorable member for Corangamite. Possibly the Auditor-General’s report was sent to the Treasury.

page 4056

QUESTION

FEDERAL CAPITAL TERRITORY

Agriculture

Mr GARDNER:
ROBERTSON, NEW SOUTH WALES

– Has the Minister for Home Affairs received a report by Mr. E. N. Robinson, of the development branch of the Prime Minister’s Department, regarding leasehold values in the Federal Capital Territory? If so, will he make the report available to honorable members ?

Mr BLAKELEY:

– I have received a report, which probably will be made available to honorable members next week.

page 4056

QUESTION

PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE

Mr R GREEN:
RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES · CP

– A newspaper publishes an estimate that £40,000 has been saved to the Commonwealth through the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lewis) being asleep in the chamber at 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon, thus bringing the budget debate to a sudden conclusion. As, on the basis of that estimate, the deficit would soon be wiped out by Parliament not sitting at all, will the Prime Minister consider the advisability of closing the Parliament?

Mr SCULLIN:
ALP

– I can only suggest that the administration of sleeping draughts to several honorable members would result in economy of time and money.

page 4056

QUESTION

ELECTORAL RE-DISTRIBUTION

Mr MACKAY:
LILLEY, QUEENSLAND

– I ask the Minister for Home Affairs whether the reports of the commissions appointed to investigate the re-distribution of electoral boundaries are still under consideration? If so, is finality likely to be reached before the next general election?

Mr BLAKELEY:

– I shall make a statement to the House on that matter in the near future.

page 4057

FEDERAL CAPITAL

Rent of Electric Meters

Mr CUSACK:
EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES

asked the Minister for

Home Affairs, upon notice -

  1. Hashe seenthe report of the chairman of the Electric Light and Power Supply Corporation Limited, Sydney, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of the 24th ultimo, wherein it is stated that the directors of that company had decided to dispense with the charge of meter rents, and that the first light and power meter was supplied free to consumers?
  2. What was the contract price for the supply to the Federal Capital Commission of the household type of electric light and power meter now in Canberra?
  3. What is the estimated life of these meters?
  4. What are the charges made to the householder in Canberra for hire of light and power meters?
  5. What proportion of this charge represents capital charge, and what proportion represents annual interest charge?
  6. What rate of interest is being charged for the hire of these meters after deduction of capital charge?
  7. In view of the decision of the Sydney Electric Light and Power Supply Corporation Limited, and the general reduction in interest charges, will the Minister be prepared to reconsider the existing high charges made in Canberra for meters?
Mr BLAKELEY:

– Replies to the honorable member’s questions will be furnished as soon as possible.

page 4057

WAR SERVICE HOMES

Mr PARKER MOLONEY:
HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES · ALP

– Yester day the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron), drew my attention to a press statement- regarding war service homes. I have now ascertained that the number of reverted homes at the 31st May, 1931, equals 531, of which number 294 were occupied by tenants. Various reasons have been given for the abandonment of homes by purchasers, the principal being: - (a) availability of other homes at cheaper rentals; (b) intention to share home occupied by another family with the object of reducing rental outlay; (c) returning to parents and living rent free. The Commission has provided 36,808 homes for ex-service men, and having regard to the present difficult times the small number of reverted homes possibly demonstrates the extent of the assistance given by the Government to those purchasers who are unemployed and who are unable to meet their obligations. The total instalments due by purchasers at the 31st May, amount to £11,476,392, and of this sum, £239,077 was unpaid. The arrears, therefore, equal only 2.08 per cent.

page 4057

PAPERS

The following papers were presented : -

Post and Telegraph Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1931, No. 86.

Wine Industry - Report by the Honorable John Gunn, Commonwealth Director of Development, and Mr. R. McK. Gollan, Department of Trade and Customs.

Export Guarantee Act - Return showing assistance granted to 30th June, 1931.

page 4057

FINANCIAL EMERGENCY BILL

Bill returned from the Senate with amendments.

In Committee: (Consideration of Senate’s amendments).

Verbal amendments to Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 10-

Notwithstanding anything contained in any other act … all salaries of officers and employees, whether such salary is payable under special appropriation or otherwise, shall be reduced by thirty-four pounds per annum in the case of adult male officers or employees and of marriedofficers or employees who are not adults, by twenty-two pounds ten shillings per annum in the case of adult female officers, and by seventeen pounds per annum in the case of unmarriedofficers or employees who are not adults.

Senate’s amendment. - Omit the words “ Twenty-two pounds ten shillings “ and insert in lieu thereof the words “ Twenty-eight pounds.”

Mr SCULLIN:
Prime Minister · Yarra · ALP

.- I move-

That the amendment be agreed to.

This amendment was made to remove an anomaly. When the bill was before this committee it was proposed to make a reduction of £34 with respect to all salaries of male and female officers, but it was pointed out that, under the cost of living adjustments, the rates had not been increased as much for females as for males. It was agreed to remove the injustice, but the amendment that was made was wrong. The Public Service Board has drawn attention to the necessity to correct what was done. If this amendment now made by the Senate were not agreed to, a female adult would draw more money than a male adult for the same class of work; under it the difference between the respective salaries is maintained at £6.

Mr KEANE:
Bendigo

– I am unable to accept the explanation given by the Prime Minister. The bill originally provided for a reduction of £34 for both male and female employees. We urged at that stage that the margin of difference between the salary reduction of male and female officers should be one-third. That was agreed to by the Minister in charge of the measure, and I believe that it gave satisfaction to the officers of the Public Service organizations that were handling the matter. If the bill were now under complete reconsideration in this chamber, exemptions would probably be provided on the basis adopted in Victoria. Under the Victorian scheme the minimum is fixed at £26 a year higher than under this bill. I ask the committee to reject this amendment. The Public Service generally has been heavily penalized already under this measure. Under an award, it agreed to a reduction of wages due to the annual adjustment on account of the cost of living three months earlier than the reduction would ordinarily have applied. The Public Service representatives left Canberra in the belief that this anomaly had been corrected, and the action taken by the Government in submitting this amendment in another place is provocative, and will, I believe, make the dissatisfaction more general than it now is. .

Mr SCULLIN:
Prime Minister · Yarra · ALP

– Prior to 1924 the salaries of males and females rose and fell in accordance with the variations in the cost of living, and there was no differentiation between them. From 1924 the increase due to the rise in the cost of living was £9 in the case of males and £7 in the case of females. The increases were £6 and £4 respectively in 1927 and 1930. It was felt, when the bill was before this committee, that the ratio of £6 to £4 observed when the salaries were going up ought to be retained when the salaries were coming down, but that principle disregarded the fact that up to 1924 the respective salaries had risen on the same scale. Owing to the hurry with which the calculation was made, a mistake occurred which was not discovered until after the bill had left this chamber, so that it was necessary to insert this amendment in the Senate. The following illustration will explain the position. Take the case of a male officer and a female officer, who, on the 30th June, 1924, were receiving £250 per annum. By the cost of living adjustments, the salary of the male officer was then raised by £21, making the total £271, and that of th« female officer by £15, making the salary £265. There was a difference of £6 in the cost of living adjustments. If the male rate were reduced by £34, and the female rate by £22 10s., as originally proposed, the salary of the male officer would be £237 and that of the female officer £242 10s., although both were doing the same class of work and under the same classification. Since there was a difference pf £6 in the cost of living adjustment, we should retain that difference at the present time. The object of the amendment is to avoid the dissatisfaction that would result from an inequitable adjustment.

Motion agreed to.

Clause 12- (1.) The last two preceding sections shall not apply to officers and employees to whom this section applies and the salaries of such officers and employees shall be subject to reductions as follows:-

  1. Where the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration has made an award prescribing the rates of pay, salary or wages payable to any class of employee specified in the award and that or any other award of that court provides for reductions in rates of pay, salary or wages based upon the index-numbers, and for a further reduction in rates of pay, salary or wages at the rate of ten per centum per annum, the salary of any employee of that class to whom the award is applicable shall be adjusted in accordance with the provisions of the award, and no further reduction of the salary of the employee shall be effected under this act except to such extent, if any, as the Minister, upon the receipt of a recommendation of the committee, directs; and

Senate’s amendment. - Omit “ and “ at end of paragraph (ii) and add the following: - “ Provided that the salary of an adult male employee, or of a married male employee who is not an adult, shall not be reduced under this sub-paragraph below the equivalent of one hundred and eightytwo pounds per annum unless the Minister so d irects ; and “.

Motion (by Mr. Scullin) proposed -

That the amendment be agreed to.

Mr CURTIN:
Fremantle

.- At the end of the proposed proviso a discretionary power is given to the Minister which seems to introduce an entirely new principle. The Minister would have power to reduce the salary of a married male officer, who is not an adult, below £182 per annum. The committee should have some explanation of this amendment before it accepts so extraordinary a principle.

Mr SCULLIN:
Prime Minister · Yarra · ALP

– The object of the amendment is to prevent the award being reduced below £182. The amendment affords additional protection; otherwise the salary might be reduced below the now accepted basic wage. The proviso was inserted to meet any special case in which the rate was already below £182.

Mr LAZZARINI:
Werriwa

– It seems to me that the proviso should be amended by omitting the words “ unless the Minister so directs.” No male adult employee should be asked to accept less than £182, which is much below the basic wage in the States. I agree with the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) that the amendment would give the Minister too great a power. A provision of this description is far too dangerous.

Mr CHIFLEY:
Minister for Defence · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · ALP

– The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) and the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) are labouring under a misapprehension. The object of the amendment is to improve the clause to which it refers. When the clause was passed by this chamber it was thought that no awards had fallen below £182 per annum, but it was found upon investigation that the wages of certain employees of the Commonwealth covered by outside awards bad actually been reduced to £176 and £179 per annum. Originally the clause conferred no discretionary power upon the Minister. If awards fell below £182 per annum the Minister was obliged to take notice of the fact, and to act accordingly but now a discretionary power is given him. In the absence of such a provision he would be obliged to take into account certain extra payments in different industries, such as merit money and so on. The Government has no intention of reducing the basic wage applying to the Public Service.

Mr LAZZARINI:
Werriwa

– I still cannot see why the words “ unless directed by the Minister “ should be retained. We are told that the Government desires to ensure to its own servants a basic wage of £3 10s. a week, but it seems to me that the inclusion of these words will make possible a reduction of this amount to any extent. In my opinion, the plan has been arranged to allow wages to fall to 40s., 35s., or even 30s. a week. If the words “ unless directed by the Minister “ are left out the Government will be able to reduce wages in this way.

Mr.Scullin. - That is not correct.

Mr LAZZARINI:

– I am able to understand plain language, and that is the meaning of my proviso, in my opinion.

Mr CHIFLEY:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · ALP

– I advise the honorable member to read the clause as it left this chamber.

Mr LAZZARINI:

– I am concerned about the proviso and not the clause.

Mr SCULLIN:
Prime Minister · Yarra · ALP

– The clause, as it left this chamber, reads as follows: -

The last two preceding sections shall not apply to officers and employees to whom this section applies, and the salaries of such officers and employees shall be subject to reduction as follow:-

where the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration has made an award prescribing the rates of pay, salary or wages payable to any class of employee specified in the award and that or any other award of that court provides for reductions in rates of pay, salary or wages based upon the indexnumbers, and for a further reduction in rates of pay, salary or wages at the rate of ten per centum per annum, thesalary of any employee of that class to whom the award is applicable shall be adjusted in accordance with the provisions of the award, and no further reduction of the salary of the employee shall be effected under this act except to such extent, if any, as the Minister, upon the receipt of a recommendationof the committee, directs.

It is proposed that the following words shall then be inserted : -

Provided that the salary of an adult male employee or of a married male employee who is not an adult shall not be reduced under this sub-paragraph below the equivalent of one hundred and eighty-two pounds per annum unless the Minister so directs.

The effect of the provision is to give the Minister a discretion so that, notwithstanding anything that the court may determine, the wages of these employees may not fall below £182 per annum. The need for this “discretionary power is due to the fact that some existing awards have already fallen below £182 per annum.

Mr Curtin:

– Is it the intention of the Government to continue to pay these lower rates?

Mr SCULLIN:

– We do not propose in this measure to increase or decrease any awards. Some employees of the Commonwealth are working under outside awards which are at present below £182 per annum. This is so in the metal trades, for instance. If the clause were left as it is the Government would be compelled to take notice of any new awards of less than £182 per annum given by the court. It is desired, however, that no more Commonwealth employees shall be obliged to work for less than £182 per annum. The clause will be vastly improved if honorable members will accept the amendment.

Mr CURTIN:
Fremantle

.- I agree that if the clause is amended in the way proposed it will be improved. In its original form it would have compelled the Government to reduce the wages of its employees below £182 per annum if the court made any additional awards for wages below that figure. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Chifley) has assured us that there are certain adult or married male employees of the Commonwealth receiving as little as £176 or £179 per annum, which is less than the £182 which I understand to be the basic wage under the rehabilitation plan. My complaint is that even if the amendment is agreed to the Minister may still take notice of any future adjustments below £182 per annum, although the declared intention of the legislature is that £182 per annum, or its equivalent purchasing power, shall be the basic wage. The Prime Minister has said that it is not the intention of the Government, under this legislation, to increase to £182 per annum the wages which are at present below that rate.

Mr Scullin:

– That cannot be done under this measure. Any action in that direction would require to be taken by other means.

Mr CURTIN:

– The words “unless directed by the Minister “ are superfluous unless it is the intention of the Government to bring up to £182 the awards which are at present below that figure. If the Government had such an intention there is justification for the amendment. If the Government desires that no adults or married males in its employ shall work for less than £182 per annum, or its equivalent, there is no need to give a discretionary power.

Mr Bell:

– If such a power is given, awards of the court may be overridden.

Mr CURTIN:

– This legislation is an entire negation of the provisions of the awards of the Public Service Arbitrator.

Mr Bell:

– I thought the honorable member objected to Parliament overriding industrial awards.

Mr CURTIN:

– What I say is that if £182 per annum is to be the basic wage under the rehabilitation plan, the Government should adhere to it.

Mr HUGHES:
North Sydney

– There is undoubtedly some ambiguity in the amendment. It certainly appeared to me that the object of the provision of clause 12, read by the Prime Minister, was to ensure that £182 per annum would be the rock-bottom basic wage.

Mr Scullin:

– It is necessary to amend the clause, as proposed, to ensure that that will be so.

Mr HUGHES:

– I listened very carefully to the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin), and I tried to follow the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini), but still entertain doubts on this point. The Prime Minister claims that this amendment will prevent any award rate falling below £182 per annum, but we are told that in some cases the rate will be below £182.

Mr Scullin:

– In some cases the rate is already below £182. This legislation will not affect the position, exceptthat it gives the Minister discretionary power to raise the rate of wage where circumstances make such a procedure desirable.

Mr HUGHES:

– It would appear, from what the Prime Minister has said, that the discretionary power is to be used only in one direction; to reduce wages, not to increase them.

Mr Scullin:

– That is not so.

Mr HUGHES:

– I quite understand that the intention of the plan is to reduce expenditure uniformly and equitably, and to prevent any invidious distinction being made, as that would be fatal. I know that the Minister for Defence (Mr. Chifley) is most sympathetic, and a very capable administrator, but I suggest that his last explanation left room for doubt as to what is the precise intention of this legislation. I know what the honorable gentleman meant, but I want him to say what he meant.

Mr CHIFLEY:
Minister for Defence · MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · ALP

– This amendment may cloud the issue and cause honorable members to believe that ambiguity exists. Actually it does not. “When the clause left this chamber to go to another place, it applied comprehensively to all awards. Upon examining the matter it was ‘found that although it was the intention that there should be no fall below £182 per annum, many awards, particularly in the metal trades, had already dropped below that figure. The clause contains the word “ equivalent “,which means that the wage may be equivalent to £182 per annum on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis. In its amended form the clause gives the Minister power to bring up the rate to £182 per annum, where the circumstances warrant it.

Mr Lazzarini:

– Can the Minister state specifically where an award for adult workers is below £182 per annum ?

Mr CHIFLEY:
MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES · ALP

– In some sections of the metal trades the rate is below £182. I do not think that honorable members are justified in criticizing the decisions of federal Ministers in this matter. Only recently the Government of New South Wales arbitrarily reduced by81/3d. per cent., not only the wages of public servants, but those of members of trade organizations employed in the Service. This Parliament is absolutely the last to show an inclination to interfere with arbi tration awards by legislative action. That cannot be said of any of the States.

Motion agreed to.

Senate’s remaining amendments agreed to.

Resolutions reported; report adopted.

page 4061

QUESTION

STATUTE OF WESTMINSTER

Dominion and Merchant Shipping Legislation : Imperial Conference Resolutions

Debate resumed from 3rd July (vide page 3421) on motion by Mr. Brennan (vide page 3415).

Mr SPEAKER (Hon Norman Makin:
HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

– To assist honorable members, I shall outline what will be the procedure in this debate. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) proposes to move certain amendments to the motion that has been submitted to the House. Standing Order No. 122 provides that the House may order a complicated question to be divided. I therefore propose, with the concurrence of the House, to divide the motion, and to submit it in sections. That will enable honorable members, who so desire, to make a fresh contribution to the debate as each amendment is submitted, or to speak to the whole question.

Mr LATHAM:
Kooyong

.- This motion involves a novel and important proposal, affecting not only the relations of the self-governing parts of the British Empire, but also the procedure of this Parliament. Presumably a similar motion will be introduced in another place, though there is no requirement that such action shall be taken; that will depend upon the will of the Government. If this motion is passed, important legislation will be enacted, affecting the Commonwealth of Australia and its citizens. I intend to say later something about the procedure and form adopted, and I have certain amendments to propose which I hope will draw the attention of honorable members to the fundamental and vital importance of the whole matter. In our usual parliamentary procedure, a resolution is regarded as of relativelysmall importance, the important work of Parliament being done generally by legislation introduced in the form of bills.

Mr Crouch:

– The Attorney-General said that no amendments to this motion could be accepted.

Mr LATHAM:

– I did not hear the Attorney-General say that, and I do not think that his remark is recorded in Hansard. A resolution of this Parliament is, as a rule, regarded as the mere expression of an opinion; but this resolution will be an invitation to the Parliament at Westminster to pass very important legislation affecting the powers of this Parliament, and, so far as that can be done, the powers of the Imperial Parliament itself. The question, therefore, arises whether this procedure is appro.piate for a matter of such profound importance. The proposals have been described as being designed to bring the legal status of the dominions into accord with the actual constitutional position. The Attorney-General referred to the resolution of the Imperial Conference of 1926, which was in these terms -

They are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

That resolution is generally known as the Balfour Declaration. The report of the Imperial Conference of 1926, which I attended, went on to say that existing legislative and judicial forms admittedly did not wholly conform to the position so described, and that it was desirable to inquire how far changes should be made to alter the legal position in conformity with the constitutional position. Consequently, a committee was set up to inquire into, report upon, and make recommendations concerning various matters, including the competence of dominion parliaments to give their legislation extra-territorial operation, and the principles embodied in or underlying the Colonial Laws Validity Act.

The declaration of the Imperial Conference in 1926 was that the dominions were fully self-governing political entities. This was a recognition of the existing position. There was no doubt, in Australia at least, as to the reality and extent of our self-government, because we knew perfectly well that, whatever the legal position, the supreme legislative power of the Imperial Parliament would never be exercised contrary to our will. So far as Australia was concerned, nothing called for a legal change, because no real difficulty existed. In certain other parts of the Empire, particularly the Irish Free State, South Africa, and, to some extent, Canada, there was opposition to the maintenance of the existing formal legal position. The committee of experts was charged with the duty of reporting upon possible legal changes to bring about a closer correspondence between the legal and constitutional positions. As a result of the work of that committee - which was substantially a committee of lawyers - certain proposals were made which were approved by the Imperial Conference of 1930, and some of them are now before us in this motion.

The motion is divided into six clauses, which should be considered separately. Speaking generally, the object of the motion is to extend dominion legislative powers in certain directions, and to limit the power of the United Kingdom in relation to the matters as to which the powers of the dominion parliaments are extended. Of course, the Parliament of the United Kingdom is not able to limit or divest itself of its legislative powers. Whatever act it passes it can, technically, repeal or amend immediately; but the constitutional position is altered when the Imperial Parliament deliberately declares that it will not exercise certain powers which it possesses. A remarkable piece of legislation was passed by the Parliament at Westminster in the reign of George III., during the American revolution, wherein that Parliament declared that it would never tax the colonies. At that time there was a contest between Great Britain and her American colonies, largely over the principle that subjects should not be taxed unless represented in the taxing parliament. The British Parliament passed an act declaring that’ it would never impose taxation on the colonists so long as they were not represented there. That act, of course, was not legally binding on succeeding parliaments, and the Parliament which passed it could have repealed it; but it had a profound constitutional significance, recognizing as it did, that a certain stage in the relations between the Mother Country and its colonies had been reached. As a matter of fact, that Parliament was making the best of a bad bargain ; it was retreating from an untenable position.

I propose to deal with these proposals under the separate heads under which they appear in the resolution. It must be remembered that, if agreed to by us, they will form the subject of legislation by the Imperial Parliament.

Mr Hughes:

– I wish the honorable member would call it the British Parliament, and not the Imperial Parliament.

Mr LATHAM:

– I have no objection to either term, but I have no apology to make for using the term “ Imperial Parliament.”

Mr Brennan:

– It is the nearest approach to an imperial parliament that there is.

Mr Crouch:

– In our Acts Interpretation Act it is termed the Imperial Parliament.

Mr LATHAM:

– I do not think it worth while to split straws over the matter. If the right honorable member wishes to be accurate, it is the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland might object to the term “ British Parliament “. I call it the Imperial Parliament because it is the Parliament of the British Empire, and has powers which no other parliament in the Empire can possess, even if this proposed legislation is passed.

The first proposal is that the Statute of Westminster shall include a clause in this form -

It is hereby declared and enacted that the parliament of a dominion has full power to make laws for extra-territorial operation.

I think that this extension of legislative power ought to be conferred on dominion parliaments; but, as a lawyer, I do not approve of the language which has been used. It suggests, for example, that a law of Canada may have effect outside Canada, or that a law of Australia may operate outside Australia. That is not intended, and the report of the committee of experts expressly sets out that it is not intended that the law of a dominion shall have operation outside that dominion. Sir Harrison Moore, who most ably represented Australia on the committee of experts, states in paragraph 8 of his report -

Much consideration was given to the question whether the grant of extra-territorial power should contain a clause of limitation making it clear that extra-territorial laws enacted by a dominion were not enforceable as law in other parts of the King’s dominions.

It was not desired or intended that .a New Zealand law of extra-territorial operation should form part of the law of Australia, and be enforceable here, whether the matter arose in Australia or elsewhere. The final opinion was that such an expression of opinion was superfluous.

The only object that is intended to be secured is that in Australian courts Australian laws should not be held to be invalid or inapplicable because they apply extra- territorially - but only in Australian courts. This clause does not mean that because it is proposed that the Commonwealth Parliament shall have power to make laws having extra-territorial operation it should be able to pass laws which will be enforced in any other part of the world, and by courts other than Australian courts. What is proposed is to prevent any legislation being declared invalid here, which it is otherwise within the power of this Parliament to pass, because it deals with facts, matters, circumstances, or things outside the territory of Australia. I agree that the change ought to be made; but the phrase is vague and loose, and may cause trouble in interpretation, as indeed appears from the report of the experts. It is shown that there may be real doubt as to whether the use of this particular phraseology was safe. Obviously it was concluded that it was safe, and with some dubiety I am prepared to accept it.

Mr Brennan:

– It may be vague from ‘ the point of view of outsiders, but not from the point of view of our own courts.

Mr LATHAM:

– It is probable that it will work, because the courts will not act as strictly as they should in the process of interpretation, but will take cognizance of the real object of the proposal.

The second clause deals with the Colonial Laws Validity Act. It reads: - (1.) The Colonial Laws Validity Act shall not apply to any law made by the Parliament of a dominion after the commencement of this act. (2.) No law and no provision of any law made after the commencement of this act (the Statute of Westminster) by the Parliament of a dominion, shall be void or inoperative on the ground that it is repugnant to the law of England, or to the provisions of any existing or future act of Parliament of the United Kingdom, or to any order, rule or regulation made under any such act, and the powers of the Parliament of a dominion shall include the power to repeal or amend any such act, order, rule, or regulation, insofar as the same is part of the law of the dominion.

The substance of the Colonial Laws Validity Act sufficiently appears from the second paragraph iu this part of the resolution. That act provides that laws passed by the parliament of a dominion, or a colony shall e vo void or inoperative if repugnant to a statute of the Imperial Parliament applying to that dominion or colony. This provision, therefore, declares that the Colonial Laws Validity Act shall not apply to the legislation of any dominion. I approve of these proposals. They confer complete legislative power upon this Parliament with respect to matters upon which it has power to legislate. I can see no reason for maintaining the rule of the Colonial Laws Validity Act in relation to matters within the power of the Commonwealth Parliament, but, of course, such a removal of limitations should not extend the powers of this Parliament in any respect beyond the powers already conferred upon it by the Constitution, and accordingly, in clause 4 of this resolution, it is expressly provided that the removal of the restrictions at present imposed on our legislative powers under the Colonial Laws Validity Act shall not extend the legislative powers of this Parliament beyond the powers which it already possesses under the Constitution.

Clause 3 of the resolution is important indeed, and appears to me to stand on an entirely different footing from the other clauses to which I have referred. This clause contains a suggested section of the proposed Statute of Westminster in the following terms: -

No act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this act shall extend, or be deemed to extend, to

Mr. Latham. a dominion as part of the law of that dominion, unless it is expressly declared in that act that that dominion has requested and consented to the enactment thereof.

I intend to propose an amendment to this clause, to omit the words “ that dominion has requested “ and to insert in lieu thereof the words “ the Parliament and Government of that dominion have requested “. The present position is that, as the Imperial Parliament can legislate for the whole Empire, any act passed by it which, in its terms, applies- to any part of a dominion, is law there and must be administered according to its provisions, and applied by the courts in that part of -.the Empire. It has not been the practice for the Parliament at Westminster to legislate for the selfgoverning dominions, except in accordance with the desires of those parts of the Empire. That has been generally recognized. It is now universally held that it is not for the Imperial Parliament to legislate on the many matters which are dealt with in this Parliament, though that Parliament has full power to do so. This clause of the resolution represents an effort to crystallize into a legal formula this political convention and understanding. I believe entirely in. the principle which is here represented. Speaking generally, the Imperial Parliament should not legislate in relation to Australia or Australian matters at all, unless at the request of Australia; and I would not be prepared, as an Australian and a loyal member of the British Empire, to recognize that it was part of the ordinary function of the Imperial Parliament to legislate on Australian matters. But when I am asked to express that principle in a statute, I must examine carefully aud precisely the wording which is suggested. I regard the relations of the selfgoverning parts of the Empire, inter se, as corresponding closely in the political world to the relations of the members of a family in the personal world. I do not want the relations of myself and my children to be determined by rules written in a book, to which each of us must refer to discover who is right and who is wrong. I do not desire such things to be made rigid by legal rules and enactments. On many political and constitutional matters, the British Constitution, as applied, not only to Great Britain, but throughout the Empire, has been a success largely because it has been loose and elastic, and has left things to be determined by the common sense of statesmen as emergencies arise, instead of being decided with the precision of lawyers in the interpretation of written documents. We are now asked to make a departure from that practice, and to endeavour to express in a rigid legal formula what is perfectly well understood as a practical, political convention, a convention which causes no difficulty or trouble in working. I should, therefore, prefer very much to leave things as they are.

Mr Coleman:

– This provision must inevitably become the subject of legal interpretation.

Mr LATHAM:

– Undoubtedly. I ask honorable members to follow me in an analysis of these very important words. First, it must be remembered that we are living under a federal constitution, and that the Commonwealth and the States each has a place in a federal system which depends upon a division of legislative powers between the Commonwealth and the States. This resolution does not affect, is not intended to affect, and certainly should not affect, the position of the States in relation to the Commonwealth or to the United Kingdom. The States have not been represented at any of the conferences from which this resolution has ultimately emerged, and they cannot be compromised or affected in any way by this legislation. I am sure that all honorable members will accept that proposition. I now ask them to examine the words of the proposed clause. It appears to me that these words have been drafted without -a sufficiently acute and active realization of the legal and constitutional position under a federal system. The words are -

No act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this act shall extend or be deemed to extend to a dominion as part of the law of that dominion unless, &c.

What is the meaning of “ dominion “ ? In relation to Australia it means the Commonwealth of Australia. What is the meaning of “ the Commonwealth of Australia”? The Commonwealth of Australia is an ambiguous term. For example, in our Constitution, covering clause 3 provides that “ the Queen may declare or proclaim “ that the people of certain colonies have united, or shall be united in a federal commonwealth under the name of the Commonwealth of Australia. “ Commonwealth of Australia “ there means a political entity, a political organization, for discharging legislative, executive and judicial powers. Covering clause 6 contains another example of the use of this word. There we find the phrase that certain of the colonies are “ part of the Commonwealth.” The States are part of the Commonwealth; that is, in the territorial sense. In that clause “ Commonwealth “ means a territorial area, namely, Australia, in the geographical sense. When we come to clause 3 of this resolution what is meant by saying that “ no act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this act shall extend or be deemed to extend to the Commonwealth of Australia, as part of the law of that Commonwealth unless, &c.” ? The States, as I have said, are unaffected by this legislation. They are entitled to preserve such relations as they like with the British Parliament. We do not control the relations between the States and the rest of the Empire. They have independent relations.

Mr Crouch:

– That is no longer accepted.

Mr Coleman:

– It still remains a subject of conjecture.

Mr LATHAM:

– Let me give an example. Take, for instance, the criminal la%v of the Commonwealth as applied to Australia as a whole. Very little of the Australian criminal law is federal law; practically all of it is State law. This Parliament has not the power to legislate, speaking generally, with respect to crime. Our criminal law is chiefly State legislation. Certain Imperial statutes, such as the Fugitive Offenders Act and the Jurisdiction in Territorial Waters Act, apply to the geographical area known as Australia, and are important in relation to the effective administration of State laws. This Parliament can, under its ‘ immigration power, deal with the influx of criminals, but is not able to legislate upon the subjects affected by the Fugitive Offenders Act and the Jurisdiction in Territorial Waters Act. Those matters concern the States, and any alteration of the law in relation to them does not come within the legislative powers of the Commonwealth. Therefore, we have no right to ask the Imperial Parliament to pass an act stating that it will never legislate in relation to these matters unless this Parliament, which has nothing to do with them, asks it so to do.

Mr Crouch:

– Have not extraterritorial decisions been almost confined to criminal matters?

Mr LATHAM:

– No; extraterritorial legislation is important in relation to taxation also. The conferring of extraterritorial legislative power upon this Parliament would not confer upon it any power which it does not already possess to legislate in respect of crime.

Mr Hughes:

– The legislative ambit of the Commonwealth is determined by the Constitution. By an amendment of the Constitution that legislative ambit might be widened. If we pass this statute and do not limit the Imperial Parliament in regard to State legislation, we shall possibly expose to Imperial legislation the wider sphere created by any amendment of the Constitution.

Mr LATHAM:

– These proposals would not be affected by any future amendment of the Constitution. Clause 4 of the proposed Statute of Westminster leaves our constitutional powers as’ they are, and prevents any extension of them, by reason of this statute beyond the matters referred to in the Constitution.

Clause 3 imposes a limitation upon the possibility of Imperial acts extending to Australia. Does an Imperial act extend to Australia when it applies in any part of Australia? I say that it does. The Fugitive Offenders Act is an example but that deals with a subject which, though of first importance to the States, is of very little importance to the Commonwealth. Accordingly, why should the proposed statute require that an, amendment of legislation dealing with matters within the realm of the States, shall not be passed by the Imperial Parliament unless this Parliament so requests?

Mr Brennan:

– Is it “part of the law” of this dominion?

Mr LATHAM:

– That is the question that arises, and it appears to me that it has not been sufficiently considered. What is part of the law of the Dominion of Australia? The Fugitive Offenders Act is in force in every State of the Commonwealth; is it part of the law of Australia? Honorable members will see that there is obviously room for argument, and I suggest that we should not unnecessarily invade the doubtful realm of legal controversy.[Leave to continue given.]

Mr Crouch:

– Could we not overcome all difficulties by omitting clause 4?

Mr LATHAM:

– I doubt that, butI shall deal with that clause later. Clause 3 proposes that no Imperial act shall extend to a dominion “unless that dominion has requested and consented to the enactment thereof “. I have always been troubled by those words “ requested and consented “. Either word would be sufficient; why employ both? A request for certain legislation surely implies consent to it.

Mr Paterson:

– But does consent necessarily imply a request?

Mr Maxwell:

– The dominion may have changed its mind after making a request.

Mr LATHAM:

– There can be consent independently of a prior request. A request can be made before the legislation is enacted, and’ if there is a difference between “ requested “’ and “ consented “, as applied in this statute, one would expect the consent to be subsequent to the enactment. But Obviously that is not intended.

Mr Hughes:

– A government may initiate legislation by request and consent to it after it has been enacted.

Mr LATHAM:

– One would imagine that to be the intention until one reads in clause 3, “unless it is expressly declared in that act that that dominion has requested and consented to the enactment thereof “. Therefore, both request and consent must precede enactment.

Mr Maxwell:

– An act might not be in strict accord with the request.

Mr LATHAM:

– I think the declaration in the act that the dominion concerned had requested and consented to it would be taken as conclusive evidence that a request had been made for and consent given to legislation in the terms embodied; in the act.

What is meant !by “ that dominion “ ? Generally it means, in practice, the executive government of the dominion. I propose to ask the House to amend that provision by requiring that the request and consent shall be made and given by the Parliament and by the Government. We are asked to do something very remarkable. The proposal is that no legislation shall be enacted for a dominion by the Imperial Parliament unless “ that dominion “ has requested and consented to it. When a request is received from the government of a dominion for the enactment of certain legislation, is the British Government to go behind that request to ascertain what degree of support it commands? It appears to me that the British Government would be in a very difficult position if it were to cross-examine on a request made by a dominion government pursuant to this statute. I am afraid that if the Statute of Westminster, which purports to define and settle inter-governmental practice, is passed in its present form, the practice of the British Government will be to accept, without examination, any request from the government of a dominion, and to legislate accordingly. That will mean a marked change from the existing procedure. At present, there is a general understanding that the supreme legislative power of the British Parliament will not be used unless that is .substantially desired by the people of the dominion concerned. That is a loose power, to be applied according to circumstances. I say, with hesitation, but with a sense of responsibility, that in the unsettled economic and financial condition of the world at the present time, and in view of what may happen in the next few years, recourse to the supreme legislature of the British Empire may be a valuable privilege, especially having regard to the legal complications of the Australian federal system. If, however, this statute is passed as drafted, a request by the government of a dominion will be final.

Mr Gregory:

– The request should come from the Parliament.

Mr LATHAM:

– That is my contention. The Government of the day might bona fide regard a certain matter of policy as vital to the well-being of the Commonwealth. In regard to monetary policy, for instance, widely divergent views are held by members in this chamber, whilst the Senate is directly opposed to certain government proposals. If the statute were passed, the Government could request the Imperial Parliament to legislate as the Government wished, and so override both the Opposition in this chamber and the Senate. I do not pay that the Government would do that, but no government should be able to do it. In extreme circumstances, there might be a strong temptation to a government to resort to this power. Unless the statute is amended, I am afraid that the British Government will often be embarrassed, because it will practically have to legislate in accordance with every request made by the government of a dominion. I prefer to leave things as they are. This clause is not required, and the

Statute would be better without it.

Mr Brennan:

– It is perfectly obvious that we have no authority to insist upon the British Parliament passing any act; in the last resort it must exercise its own discretion. I agree that it probably would act at the request of the executive government of the dominion; and I should hope so.

Mr LATHAM:

-Exactly. I am not prepared to entrust any government with the power of obtaining legislation by a mere request to the British Parliament.

Mr Hughes:

– We are discussing projected legislation arising out of the declaration of the equality of the. status of the Mother Country and the dominions. One thing is” obvious: if a foreign government makes a proposal to Great Britain, the British Government accepts it without question as a proposal by the. nation for whj.cn the government speaks.

Mr LATHAM:

– And the same rule would apply to a request from a dominion government if this statute were accepted in its present form. If that rule were accepted absolutely, this Government could put any legislation it liked through the Imperial Parliament. I am not prepared to accept that position.

Mr Lazzarini:

– If a government submitted a piece of legislation to this Parliament and it was rejected, does -the honorable member- contend that, ‘under this clause, the Government could appeal to the Imperial Parliament to pass that legislation ?

Mr LATHAM:

– Yes.

Mr Lazzarini:

– That would be surrendering our right of self-government.

Mr Brennan:

– Surely the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) is under a misapprehension. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) suggested that a measure which had been rejected by this Parliament might be passed by the British Parliament.

Mr LATHAM:

– A government that was a party to such an action would run the risk of passing out of existence. At the present time there is no possibility of that happening; but, if this statute is passed, it appears to me that the only practice that could be adopted in Great Britain would be to refuse to look behind the request of the government of the day. As the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has indicated, to deal with dominions in the same way as foreign countries, and to regard the government as representing the people, without looking behind the request, would be too dangerous, and I am not prepared to accept such a proposal.

Mr Brennan:

– I think that the honorable member for Werriwa has been left under the impression that there may be a motion of appeal to the British Parliament against a decision of this Parliament, whereas, in truth and in fact, the general scheme of this proposal is that no legislation of the British Parliament shall operate in Australia without the consent of its people.

Mr LATHAM:

– For the word “dominion “ I am proposing to insert the words “ parliament and government “. The object of my amendment is that, instead of the request being from a dominion, it should be from the parliament and the government of a dominion.

Mr Crouch:

– Strike clause 3 out altogether.

Mr LATHAM:

– I am prepared to do that.

Mr Crouch:

– The clause admits perpetual inferiority.

Mr Brennan:

– That is not so.

Mr LATHAM:

– These proposals are brought forward in the form of a reso lution, and there is a discussion upon it. There are no first reading, second reading, committee and third reading -stages. I suggest that the proposals should be put to the House in the form of a legislative request, instead of merely by means of a resolution. We should have the fullest opportunity for consideration and amendment, such as is afforded with respect to all important legislation.

Mr Coleman:

– May this resolution be amended ?

Mr LATHAM:

– It may, but the effect of an amendment upon action by the British Parliament would have to be considered. If requests were received in different forms from the various dominions, the statute would have to be more complicated than would otherwise be the case.

Mr Gregory:

– Is not the Canadian Parliament holding this matter over for further information?

Mr LATHAM:

– I am not acquainted with the Canadian position.

Mr Brennan:

– The measure has been passed in Canada, and, probably, in South Africa, too.

Mr LATHAM:

– There was a general idea that these proposals would go through the dominion parliaments as a matter of course, but I do not agree that they should.

There is another important matter to which I shall refer. If this clause is passed, Australia should request the inclusion of a provision identical in terms with that asked for by New Zealand. Should this clause be accepted, there should be a method of obtaining the concurrence of a dominion parliament in any Imperial legislation applying to the dominion. New Zealand has accepted these proposals, subject to the provision that the Statute of Westminster shall subsequently be placed before the Parliament of New Zealand, and shall not come into operation until it has been adopted by that Parliament. (Further leave to continue given.’] The proposal of New Zealand to deal with this position will be found in the report of the Imperial Conference, 1930, at page 13, and it is in these terms -

No provision of this act shall extend to the Dominion of New Zealand as part of the law thereof unless that provision is adopted by the Parliament of that dominion, and any act of the said Parliament adopting any provision of this act may provide that the adoption shall have effect either as from the commencement of thisact oras from such later date as may he specified by the adopting act.

I have circulated an amendment that a similar provision should he included, so that the statute shall not come into operation in the Commonwealth until, and then only in so far as, this Parliament has adopted its provisions.

Let me refer to another aspect of the matter, with a view to further extending the powers of this Parliament. On looking at clause 2, it will be seen that it is proposed that the Colonial Laws Validity Act shall no longer extend to a dominion, as distinct from the states or provinces constituting part of a dominion ; and it is provided that the powers of the parliament of a dominion shall include the power to repeal or amend any act, rule, or regulation of the British Parliament extending to that dominion. But there is no power, so far as I can see, conferred upon this Parliament to amend the Statute of Westminster itself, if passed, or to repeal it. If the statute is passed by the Imperial Parliament, it provides that a dominion parliament is to have full power to repeal or amend other Imperial legislation extending to it. This Parliament should have power, at least, to repeal the Statute of Westminster itself so far as it relates to Australia. Other wise, the statute, while conferringpower to repeal any British legislation apply ing to Australia, will have the unique characteristic of being itself unrepealable. Therefore, I propose to add to the clause the following provision: - and the Parliament of the Commonwealth may. at any time, repeal any provision of this act which has been adopted by the said Parliament.

I think that we ought to have that right, although we may never desire to exercise it. Why should such a clause as this be riveted upon us indefinitely?

Mr Hughes:

– Quite so. To the extent that it applies to us, why should we not have the right to repeal it?

Mr.Brennan. - We have the right to exercise our enlarged powers, in our discretion.

Mr LATHAM:

– The. first paragraph of clause 4 is essential, and unobjectionable. It reads -

Nothing in this act shall be deemed to confer any power to repeal or alter the Constitution or the Constitution Act of the Commonwealth of Australia otherwise than in accordance with the law existing before the commencement of this act.

The second paragraph is as follows : -

Nothing in this act shall be deemed to authorize the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia to make laws on any matter within the authority of the States of Australia, not being a matter within the authority of the Parliament or Governmentof the Commonwealth of Australia.

The object is apparent; but I suggest that there should be an addition in these terms -

Nothing in the Statute of Westminster shall be deemed to authorize the Parliament or the Government of the Commonwealth to request or consent to the enactment of any act by the Parliament of the United Kingdom on any matter which is within the authority of the States of Australia, not being a matter within the authority of the Parliament or the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia.

In other words, this Parliament should have no licence or right to invite the British Parliament to legislate on matters which are exclusively within the State sphere. That ought to be stated plainly.

Mr.Brennan. - We have no such rights, and do not lay claim to them.

Mr LATHAM:

– It is desirable to place the matter beyond doubt, on account of the generality of the phraseology used in clause 3, which refers to laws which “ extend to a dominion “. Clause 5 provides -

Notwithstanding anything in the Interpretation Act 1889, the expression “Colony” shall not, in any act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this act, include a dominion or any province or state forming part of a. dominion.

I am unable to see why we should concern ourselves whether the “ colony “ includes “ state “. So far as Australia is concerned, the words “ or state “ ought to be omitted. We are concerned only with matters in the federal sphere falling within the powers of the Government and the Parliament of the Commonwealth.

Mr Hughes:

– Yes; but this provision comes into conflict with clause 3, after all, because a dominion, geographically, includes states. The Imperial Parliament may amend the law relating to a state.

Mr LATHAM:

– Undoubtedly, it may. Clause 6 deals with sections 735 and 736 of the Merchant Shipping Act, and provides that those sections shall be construed “ as though reference therein to the legislature of a British possession did not include reference to the parliament of a dominion “.- I spoke on this matter in this chamber in August last. I think that this is a desirable removal of an unnecessary limitation on our powers. Nothing is gained by the provisions in those sections. They can easily be avoided - I will not say evaded - by any draftsman of reasonable competence, as has been done in Australia, where we have enacted legislation dealing with coastal vessels which, in effect, secures to our own ships the whole of the coastal trade, although British ships appear to be treated similarly.

Mr Bell:

– That power is being challenged.

Mr LATHAM:

– I cannot see any objection to this provision, for the reasons which I gave in August last, and which I shall not now repeat.

I approve also of the proposal with respect to Colonial Courts of Admiralty, although I regret that the opportunity was not taken to clear up the dubious and ambiguous position in Australia in relation to admiralty jurisdiction, as disclosed by the decision of the High Court in the case of John Sharp & Sons v. The Ship Katherine Mackall reported at 34, C.L.R. 420. All the States are exercising admiralty jurisdiction. The judges of the States have for many years heard admiralty matters; but, in view of the decision of the High Court, I doubt whether a State has any real authority in admiralty matters. It was held by the High Court that the Commonwealth is a British possession for the purposes of the Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act, and that, therefore, it may hold- Colonial Courts of Admiralty; but surely it necessarily follows that the States cannot hold such courts, although they have certainly been exercising this jurisdiction for many years. Some day a serious position will arise in this connexion. As this Parliament is unable to cure the matter by legislation, I am sorry it was not discussed at the Imperial Conference with a view to clarifying the position.

The remainder of the motion is in the form of recitals. The first paragraph of the recitals is practically a repetition of clause 3 of the schedule. I consider that both clause 3 of the schedule and paragraph 1 of the recitals should be omitted.

The final paragraph in the recitals, which is also the final paragraph of the motion, relates to the succession to the throne, and the royal style and titles, and provides that -

Any alteration in the law touching the succession to the throne or the royal style and titles shall hereafter require the assent unwell of the parliaments of all the dominions as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

I deplore the fact that this precise legalistic examination of the relations between the various parts of the Empire has been made, and that such an issue has been raised. It would have been better had it not been raised. I have no objection to the inclusion of this recital in the statute, although I believe that in a time of acute controversy its presence theremay do a great deal of harm. However, that is a question ‘that one oan hardly discuss under existing circumstances.

Although I am opposed to the provisions of paragraph 3 of the schedule, I do not intend at the moment to move that they be deleted. I shall, however, move -

That the words “ that Dominion hn.p requested”, clause 3 of the. schedule, be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the follow, ing words “ the Parliament and Government of that Dominion have requested”.

Mr COLEMAN:
Reid

.- 1 hesitate to intervene in this debate, being but a political minnow among Tritons on this subject. I rise chiefly to express my thanks to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) for the excellent contribution that he has made to this discussion. He has given honorable members a much clearer perception of the effect of the motion. I regret that there is no provision for such far-reaching proposals as those now under consideration to be referred to a committee of the House for examination and report. Nothing of greater importance as affecting our status and constitutional jurisdiction has been presented to this House since the establishment of the Commonwealth. The object of the statute is to give legal form to the declaration of the equality of status of the various dominions which was made at the 1926 Imperial Conference. But the giving of this legal form to that declaration must, in the future, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition pointed out, impart an element of rigidity into the interpretation of the Constitution which may not be found in practice to operate as well as the present system operates.

Mr Brennan:

– The statute is merely a declaration of an existing condition.

Mr COLEMAN:

– I can deal, in a very few words, with the point to which I wish specially to refer. As a selfgoverning dominion of the British Empire, Australia has a peculiar status. The Canadian constitution provides for a more unitary system of government than the Australian Constitution, while the South African Constitution provides for a wholly unitary system as does that of New Zealand. In Australia we have six sovereign States within the federal union, and although this statute purports to give us complete constitutional authority, it does not give us such authority. Even though a majority of the people of Australia should declare their desire to alter the character of our Constitution, it could not be done.

Mr Crouch:

– It could, if paragraph 4 of the schedule were omitted.

Mr COLEMAN:

– It seems to me that even though we may alter certain part3 of our Constitution, we have no power to alter the first six sections of it, which are part of an Imperial statute. There is no provision in our Constitution for the alteration of those sections.

Mr Thompson:

– Does the honorable member contend that we cannot alter the basis of the federation unless an act is passed by the Imperial Parliament?

Mr COLEMAN:

– That is a point which is the centre of a very great legal controversy at the moment. I do not intend, as a layman, to express an opinion on a subject, which is now engaging attention of leading King’s Counsel. The political aspect of this matter is of great importance in view of the relation of New South Wales to the other Australian States at the moment. While the Statute of Westminster vests in us, for all practical purposes, complete political sovereignty as a. federal union, we shall still have the State parliaments limited by certain vice-legal powers expressed in letters patent and royal instructions dating back to 1901. It is generally admitted that with our present constitutional status the Governor-General must act upon the advice of his advisors, whereas the State Governors have a discretionary power. As a matter of fact, under letters patent and royal instructions they have a considerable measure of discretionary power. Whether this is desirable or not will depend upon one’s point of view at the moment; but it is surely paradoxical, and indicative of our peculiar status as a member of the British Empire, that while the Governor-General of the Commonwealth may act only on the advice of his advisors the Governors of the States may exercise a considerably wider discretion. It is a pity that attention was not directed to this point at the Imperial Conference. As it is, Australia is still in a more or less ambiguous position.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition directed attention to the important legal complications that may ensure owing to the fact that provision has not been made for the extraterritorial operation in Australia of criminal jurisdiction.

It seems to me that while the statute represents a remarkable advance in the evolution of Imperial relationships in a. political sense, it may lead to complications. It certainly does not cover, in a comprehensive way, many pro!blems that have arisen owing to Australia’s peculiar constitutional system as a federal union.

Sitting suspended from 1241 to 2.15 p.m.

Mr HUGHES:
North Sydney

. -This motion, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) has stated, marks the arrival of a new era in the history of the constitutional relations of the dominions and Britain, and is of immense importance to Australia and ro the Empire. I disagree entirely with the principles underlying the motion. To attempt to crystallize Empire relations in a legal formula is an act of supreme folly. They rest upon two principles which are antagonistic: the complete autonomy of the parts, and the unity of the whole. That this mighty Empire coheres, that this constitution - illogical and unique in the history of mankind - works at all, is due to the genius of the British people for self-government. In the hands of any other race it would have certainly failed.

We are considering an attempt to give legislative sanction to resolutions of cabinets and conferences made during and since the war. These set out in terms leaving no room for doubt, that the old order of things has passed away, that the overlordship of Britain has now been replaced by equality of status - not of stature - of every dominion with Britain. The dominions, or most of them, still regard Britain as their mother, and freely and gladly acknowledge her pre-eminence. This equality of status, which has been freely granted by Britain, carries with it implications of immense importance. If the powers now vested in the dominions arc exercised unwisely, the disruption of the Empire is inevitable. I have opposed every attempt to reduce to writing the constitutional relations of Britain and the dominions. It has been stated freely in this debate that this motion springs out of the resolutions of the 1926 conference; but that statement is misleading. The 1926 conference added nothing to the constitutional position as it then stood. Different opinions were expressed as to what had been done, and it is not without interest to quote some of them. On his return to Australia, Mr. Bruce said -

There is really nothing new in the status of the British dominions as a result of the recent conference.

Mr. Mackenzie King said

I believe that the work of the conference will take its place in history beside those charters which have stood in one form or another for a larger freedom.

While General Hertzog was of the opinion that -

The British Empire now exists as a name only.

When opinions so divergent can be expressed in regard to a set of circumstances which, it is now generally admitted, did not in substance add one tittle to the powers of the dominions, or widen the ambit of their legislative or general jurisdiction, it is evident that the attempt to reduce to n formula the conventions and other instruments that govern the constitutional relations between Britain and . the dominions is, to say the least, an experiment of doubtful value. The 1926 conference, as I have said, added nothing to the constitutional powers of the dominions.

At the 1921 conference an attempt was made to summon a constitutional conference for the purpose of setting out in written form the constitutional relations as they then stood. A number of drafts were submitted to Cabinet, and I shall quote from my work on Empire relations, The Splendid Adventure, page 145, my opinions in that matter.I laid it down that -

These drafts are in the main Declarations of Bights recognized by existing practice. Unless it is contended that these rights or any of them are in danger, such declarations are unnecessary, and serve no useful purpose. On the contrary, they may do much harm. They relate to the distribution of powers vested in the dominions. . . . Originally all the powers now vested in the dominions were exercised by Britain. The present distribution is the result of voluntary surrender to the dominions by Britain of some of the powers inherent in her as a sovereign power.

This surrender has heretofore been made by -

Statutes of the British Parliament creating dominion parliaments and governments, and defining the ambit of their legislative and executive powers.

In despatches and communications passing between the British and Colonial and Dominion Governments.

By conferences of the representatives of Britain and of the dominions.

The distribution of powers had been gradual, extending over a long period of time. During the last few years the distribution has proceeded more rapidly.

It has never been the practice to attempt to set out in writing the precise limits of the powers surrendered by Britain to the dominions or those retained by her. The reasons against any attempt to delimit the respective spheres of power and define the constitutional relatione between Britain and the dominions are obvious and overwhelming. The great merit of the constitutional relationship existing between Britain and the dominions is, and always has been, its elasticity. To this is due its wonderful adaption to changing circumstances arising from the growth and development of the dominions. To attempt to substitute for this a rigid constitution or to define or set out in writing the relationship between the dominions is most undesirable. … As things now stand, it is impossible in practice to reconcile that complete autonomy which the dominions possess - which they exercise by virtue of British statutes and waivers by British governments - with the sovereign rights of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the unity of the Empire.

Speaking before representatives of the Dominions of Canada and South Africa, who were pressing for this so-called reform, I asked them what power could be added to those they then possessed, if to-morrow their dominions declared themselves to be independent? What thing of substance could be given to any dominion, if it were an independent power, that it does not now enjoy under this wonderfully elastic Constitution of ours? That the dominions would lose the substance in attempting to grasp at the shadow, is evident.

This motion, and all that preceded it at the 1926 conference, arises from the inability of some of the dominions to understand the nature of the Imperial pact. They think that membership of the British Commonwealth of nations limits their sovereignty. They are anxious to strut the world’s stage in the toga of complete independence. In 1926, to satisfy the demands of their partisans, they foolishly insisted upon putting into writing what can never be reduced to writing, the constitutional relations between Britain and the dominions. The result was to be expected, for you cannot imprison a living organism in a formula.

Our Constitution to-day is very different from that of even twenty years ago. What it will be in twenty years to come no man can say. Its outstanding excellency is its elasticity. Its adaptability to change and to progress has been strikingly demonstrated. The circumstances of the Empire have radically changed ; but so smoothly has the mechanism worked that these changes have passed almost unnoticed. It may be contended that while the equality of status is only set forth in a resolution, it lacks that completeness which would be given , to it by a statute. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) pointed out. what is obvious, that no statute of the British Parliament is to be regarded as the final settlement of anything. It is, of course, owing to that common sense and genius of self-government that mark the British that the Parliament of the United Kingdom does not exercise its undoubted power, but it cannot strip itself of it, and therefore a statutory declaration that, South Africa, for instance, was an independent nation, or that i’t had the right in the preamble to its legislation to omit reference to His Majesty the King, could be altered by a subsequent, or by the same, parliament.

Let us consider the practical application of this motion and of the resolutions of the 1926 conference which are responsible for its introduction into this Parliament. The folly of attempting to reduce the Empire Constitution to writing has been sufficiently revealed by events subsequent to 1926, and by the motion now before the House. No sooner were the resolutions of the 1926 conference - themselves sufficiently vague - committed to writing, than doubt, uncertainty and anxiety arose in many quarters. When the Prime Minister of Canada attended the Imperial Conference of 1926, he came hot from an election in which he had won a signal victory. The appeal to the Canadian people arose out of circumstances not without interest to members of this Parliament. Mr. Mackenzie King had advised the GovernorGeneral of Canada, Lord Byng, to dissolve the Canadian Parliament. His Excellency refused to accept the advice, and sent for Mr. Meighen, and asked him to form a government. He did so, but met with a hostile reception in the new parliament, and was compelled after a few months to appeal to the people. As a result Mr. Mackenzie King was returned with an overwhelming majority. After such a triumphant vindication of himself and his policy, Mr. Mackenzie King very naturally asked that something should be done to define the position of dominion prime ministers in relation to the representative of the King. He pointed out that if the status of Canada was equal to that of Great Britain in regard to affairs within her jurisdiction, then the advice of the Canadian Prime Minister ought to be 1 followed by the representative of the King in the same way as the advice of the British Prime Minister was in fact followed by His Majesty himself. As is well known, His Majesty has, for many years past, always accepted the advice of his Ministers in respect to dissolutions of parliament.

The attempt of the 1926 Imperial Conference to define these matters in writing was in part an effort to give the assurance to Canada that she really did enjoy in substance that equality of status which had been freely granted to her, and that her Prime Minister occupied the same position in relation to the GovernorGeneral as the Prime Minister of “Great Britain occupied towards His Majesty in person. No sooner were these resolutions shaped into the newest charter of liberty tardily granted to a downtrodden people than the Canadian legislature became like an ant heap on which hot water had been poured. Members became alarmingly aware that in getting what they had asked for they had involved themselves in unforeseen difficulties. If the status of Canada was equal in all respects to that of Britain, then she could do everything that Britain could do in regard to her internal affairs, and, among other things, could amend her own constitution. The British. Parliament has power to do anything and everything; even to amend the Act of Succession, or to remove the King from the throne. The constitution of Canada is based on the federation of two races differing in language, historical background, religion and general outlook. The French, who were in the minority, joined with the British with reluctance and misgiving, and only on the distinct understanding that the bases of the constitution were to be so firmly fixed that no chance majority in the Canadian Parliament could undermine it. Otherwise the French would have been at the mercy of the Anglo-Saxon section of the community. When this issue was raised after the framing of the Balfour Declaration, the Canadian Parliament was in a quandary. If parliament declared that Canada was not mistress in her own house, it was to expose the Balfour Declaration of equality as a hollow sham; if, on the other hand, it said that Canada could amend the Constitution, stable government and the Confederation itself were in grave danger. And so one of those admirable explanations was made by the French Minister, Mr. Le Binte, in which ambiguity trod on the heels of ambiguity, and men who, when they rose up, saw some glimmer of light, sat down in Cimmerian darkness. In South Africa, too, the position was hardly less unsatisfactory. General Hertzog returned to South Africa from the Imperial Conference declaring that the overlordship of Britain had passed away. South Africa, he said, was no longer in any way subordinate to the King of England. There was a king, it was true, but he was King of South Africa. That he also happened to be King of England was one of those unfortunate facts on which Mr. Hertzog did not dwell. In every direction, the attempts to crystallize the status of the dominion in a formula, to resolve doubts by setting out constitutional relations in writing, resulted in the creation of a veritable legion of doubts. Where there had been certainty, there arose not only doubt but fear. The resolutions, in the very nature of things, left some matters undeclared, and it is a maxim of law that those things which are not covered are omitted ; those rights which are not set down in the bond, do not exist, or, at any rate, are not firmly founded. And so in South Africa, Ireland and Canada, men began to ask for fuller information regarding the powers they were supposed to have obtained. In short, these resolutions defining the powers of the dominion settled nothing and disturbed everything.

One cannot define Empire relation in other than general terms, and I declare the terms to be these: That whatever power is necessary for the well-being of this Commonwealth, or of any dominion, that is compatible with the unity upon which every dominion depends for its safety and existence, is vested in the dominions by virtue of their equality of status with Britain, and can be exercised. Beyond that one cannot safely go. This motion proposes to give legislative sanction to the declaration of the last Imperial Conference, and to crystallize in a formula the constitutional relations of the various unit,.” of the Empire. Is it possible to achieve this? Has it not been shown during the course of this debate, that the attempt to define Empire relations has given rise to a hundred difficulties for every one it has removed. I do not hesitate to say that since the 1926 Imperial Conference, and indeed since the end of the war, all power has been vested in this Commonwealth Parliament to deal with matters within its jurisdiction, and that jurisdiction was not limited to the terms of the Common- -wealth Constitution, but was as wide as was considered to be necessary by this Parliament to safeguard and promote the national welfare.

Mr Coleman:

– There is no agreement on that point.

Mr HUGHES:

– I do not say thai there is, but it is because of the grave doubts which have been raised by the Balfour Declaration, that this motion has been placed before us with a view to defining our legislative powers by limiting them.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) stated that it was desirable to amend clause 3 of the motion in order to make the intention of the clause clear. As the clause now stands, it is sufficient for the Government of the Commonwealth to request the British Government to legislate in a certain direction for the British Government to do so. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that if this were done it would make it possible for the Commonwealth to be ruled by the Government and not by Parliament. He had in mind conditions similar to those which exist now and have existed on other occasions, when a government has a majority in one House and a minority in the other. The honorable member said that any request for legislation by the British Government should come from this Parliament, not from the Government. As things now are there is much force in his argument, but I have known instances in which the reverse of that would have appealed to the great majority of the people. The public changes its mind very rapidly, and the party which has a majority to-day may be in the minority to-morrow. I am not going to express any opinion on the matter now, other than to say that I shall, in the circumstances, support this amendment. But how infinitely better it would be to leave things as they were.

Mr Latham:

– I propose to move to omit clause 3 altogether. The amendment I have foreshadowed is to meet the situation if the clause is not omitted.

Mr HUGHES:

– I agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that we ought to take power to amend any legislation to apply to Australia under this statute. If we have not that power, where is our equality of status. In regard to the Colonial Laws Validity Act no objection whatever can be raised. Only very rarely does the act apply to our circumstances. It applied once to Canada in 1929, and has on occasion applied to Australia. All these are relatively minor matters, and I desire only to say that what the British Parliament is now proposing to do should have been done long ago. In 1917, Mr. Lloyd George declared, the constitutional status as between Britain and the dominions. The wholeground was covered by the terms of his declaration. We were equal in every respect in status, and to all intents and purposes independent nations. We had, as honorable members know, equal rights with Britain in signing the Treaty of Peace. Our representatives sat at the Versailles conference, and exerted considerable influence- on its deliberations. We had equal rights with Britain or France, and exercised power equal to that of the smaller independent nations that were gathered round the table. What more could we wish? To do anything more than to repeal the Colonial Laws Validity Act and the Merchant Shipping Act, so far as they limit our powers, is quite unnecessary, and I deprecate the attempts by the resolutions of 1926 and by this motion in some instances to placate the implacable, and in other instances to satisfy a childish desire to see how the machine will work, to convince sceptics who want to put their fingers in the wounds, and will not be satisfied until they have all in black and white. These things are likely to work incalculable harm. I am opposed to any attempt to reduce our constitutional rights. I am in favour of amending the Colonial Laws Validity Act and the Merchant Shipping Act; but I am not in favour of any other part of this resolution. I deplore the fact that the British Government listened to these tempters - these men who, in some instances, were new-comers to the table of the Empire - and acceded to their demand that there should be such a modification of the existing relations between Great Britain and the countries they represented as would permit those countries to pose before the world as independent nations. We have all the constitutional rights of an independent nation. We have unfettered control of our own affairs. We can make treaties. We and other dominions have made treaties. This Constitution has worked, and still works. It is capable of almost indefinite expansion ; but it behoves us, in our relations with the rest of the Empire, to exercise the great powers that have been bestowed upon us all with wise restraint. Unless that is done, the British Empire, like every other instrumentality of human design, must inevitably decline and fall.

Mr CROUCH:
Corangamite

.- I agree with the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) that, to attempt to legalize by statute the relations of the Empire would be an act of extreme folly. I would point out to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) that the proposed legalization has been rendered necessary because of the fact that our High Court has lagged behind in accepting our correct constitutional status. The right honorable member for North Sydney dates our independent status from 1916. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has stated that since 1926 what is proposed in this resolution has been almost entirely agreed to. My greatest regret is that the High Court has, in certain matters, refused to accept the constitutional position, and has been guided purely by statutory and written provisions, regardless altogether of our new status. The attitude that I have always taken up and will continue to take up is that Australia should have the same power over Australian matters as England has over English matters. That should be indisputable. No settlement of AngloSaxons, having reached its maturity, has failed to assert its right to selfgovernment. When this matter was discussed last August I was able to read to the House the claims of the Irish people year in and year out. I read their assertion of their own rights. I also read the statements of English settlers in the West Indies in the seventeenth century. I read, too, the declaration of the individual American States before their secession, declaring their own right to govern themselves’ free of English interference. I suggest that Australia has, since it received ite constitutional status in 1850 and 1860, had, as an

English-speaking community, rights of self government which, in my opinion, have been denied to us.

Mr Bayley:

– When were those rights denied to us?

Mr CROUCH:

– One instance is the decision in the case which was referred to by the Attorney-General of the Union Steamship’’ Company v. the Commonwealth, in which it was declared that although the Colonial Laws Validity Act gave us a large grant of national freedom, there was one section in that act to the effect that any law passed by us, even though it related only to Australian affairs, would, if it had any degree of repugnance to English statutes, be void. This was applied in respect of the registration of seamen in Sydney. On that occasion our rights were abrogated only to a slight extent and the incident passed almost unobserved. But the High Court, despite the statutes which have been in existence for many years, disregarded the constitutional position which had been given to Australia. They made the written word overrule the accepted constitutional spirit. It took action in accordance with the reading of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 and the Colonial Laws Validity Act of 1865. I am surprised that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who was Attorney-General at that time, did not plead, as he should have pleaded, our constitutional status, which lie has admitted to-day was then existent, but depended purely on the written statute in defending that case. In a later case, because, I assume, of the action that I took in bringing my views before the High Court judges, of course, without reference to any particular case, Mr. Justice Isaacs recognized a further stage of constitutional status and, in an extract which I read last August, he stated that it would be impossible in the future for the courts to disregard the new constitutional status that had been given to the Australian people. That case arose out of the operation of the Navigation Act, which has seriously affected a section of our population, and has been responsible for the appointment of many royal commissions. That legislation was the result of the attempt of the Labour party to give effect to one of its treasured ideals. That case affected only a minor matter, which although it did not receive public attention, seriously interfered with our constitutional rights. I venture to say that there are many other sections of that act which would have caused serious trouble if the same legal argument and interpretation had been applied to the written document. The honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) has asked for an example. There has been difficulty in Canada in regard to admiralty jurisdiction. I am not speaking of a difficulty such as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has referred to affecting this Commonwealth and the States. It was thought that Canada had full power to establish a court of admiralty with equal authority to the English court and it had exercised it, but an amending act of the Imperial Parliament has raised the doubt whether that right exists. These instances may be only minor ones. The right honorable member for North Sydney has said they are ; but we cannot have equality, and at the same time allow the legislation of another country to affect us. Although these are minor matters they may become important, and it is far better to settle them now than at some future time when friction may be caused thereby. I regard this attempt to legalize by statute the existing dominion status as quite unnecessary. We are an independent nation, whatever the Statute of Westminster may provide. That statute is entirely superfluous, and although there is no harm in passing it, we should, to preserve our independent status, pass legislation based on our own charter of liberty. I do not care what the legislation is called so long as it is in proper form. It is only ‘ our own act which we should recognize. Liberty is never granted to a people; it has to be taken. The right honorable member for North Sydney has quoted what Lloyd George said in 1917. How can we be equal to the English people if we have to ask them for a grant of additional liberty? We are equals only to the English people. I object very much to clause 3, which I consider should be struck Out. It says that no English act of Parliament shall affect Australia in the future. The very presence of those words is an admission that Great Britain has the right to interfere with our legislation, and that it has power to legislate for us. It should have no right to do that. I would repudiate completely any legislation that declared .that any parliament outside Australia has power to legislate for this country or to give us powers to legislate. We have those powers, and Australians are as much masters in their own house as Englishmen are masters in theirs. Any honorable member who does not agree with that attitude places the stigma of inferiority on our people and upon their inherent rights. Even the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) admitted such inferiority, but I refuse to acknowledge it. If, for legal purposes, and to influence a conservative and unobservant High Court, clause 1 of this statute is necessary, I accept it under protest, but I ask this Parliament to insist on declaring its independence by its own legislation and passing its own Act of Westminster. Clause 2 I accept reluctantly, but section 7 of the Colonial Laws Validity Act should be retained or section 51 of the report be carried out. Clause 3 should be omitted.

I come now to clause 4, the first part of which reads -

Nothing in this act shall lie deemed to confer any power to repeal or alter the Constitution or the Constitution Act of the Commonwealth of Australia, otherwise than in accordance with the law existing before the commencement of this act.

To-day Australia is up against the greatest difficulties in its history, and this statute proposes that the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament shall not be extended beyond the written terms of a constitution which embodies a bargain made entirely by the States amongst themselves and endorsed by the Australian people. The necessities of the time required the English Parliament to pass our Constitution Act. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) referred to the difficulties that were experienced preliminary to the union of Canada. The French minority would not trust the British majority^ and, believing that an outside authority would deal more justly with them, insisted that the BritishNorth America Act should be the basis of the Canadian Constitution, which would, therefore, be incapable of amendment by the dominion parliament. I am glad, however, that the French province of Quebec, after a recent conference between the dominion and . provincial governments of Canada, decided to accept the provisions of the proposed Statute of Westminster without any such reservations as the Commonwealth Government is proposing to insert in relation to Australia. The Colonial Laws Validity Act, section 7, gives to us complete power to make our own laws except in so far as they may be repugnant to the provisions of any Imperial statute. Canada has accepted the proposed Statute of Westminster as an amendment of the Dominion Constitution, to be used for the advantage of the Canadian people. Clause 4 of the proposed statute can be struck out without endangering the general agreement between the dominions, because it affects only Australian rights. If the clause is omitted we shall be able to amend our Constitution as the people wish, because the repugnancy provisions of the Colonial Laws Validity Act will no longer apply.

Mr Thompson:

– We can do that now.

Mr CROUCH:

– I very much doubt that. If the honorable member will read the report of the Constitution Commission, and will study carefully section 128, he will find that certain conditions inserted at the instance of Mr. Reid, and in accordance with the demands of a section of the New South Wales people, make it forever impossible, without the consent of all the States, to amend the Constitution, and certainly make impossible the creation of new States. If we accept clause 4 of the proposed statute, we shall bind ourselves helplessly to the existing Constitution, which the whole of the Australian people wish to alter. The honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) will agree that the latter portion of section 128 imperatively prescribes certain conditions precedent to an amendment of the Constitution, and many leading lawyers are convinced that if we accept clause 4 of the statute we shall bind ourselves in such a way as to be forever unable amend the Constitution on vital matters. That seems to be the decision of the High Court in the Legis lative Council Referendum case in New South Wales. I appeal to honorable members to retain the constitutional rights of this Parliament. Almost from the inception of federation the Commonwealth has been the paramount authority in Australian finance, and the financial agreement has brought about what is equivalent to financial unification. Although we control finance, which is the basis of government at all times, and particularly now, our hands are tied by expensive State Parliaments and Governors, and we are burdened with a defaulting State. Those who are advocating the creation of new States will find in section 128 an absolute negation of their desires.

Mr Thompson:

– We know the trouble.

Mr CROUCH:

– If the honorable member knows the trouble he will never consent to clause 4 of this proposed statute.

Mr Latham:

– Clause 4 does not increase any existing difficulty.

Mr CROUCH:

– I refer the honorable member to these words -

Nothing in this act shall be deemed to authorize the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia to make laws on any matter within the authority of the States of Australia.

Mr Latham:

– That is all right; it leaves things as they are.

Mr Lazzarini:

– Then why insert that provision ?

Mr Latham:

-Sothat any action to extend the Commonwealth power shall be taken in Australia, and to make dear that this statute shall not amend the Constitution.

Mr CROUCH:

– Those powers which Australia has under the Colonial Laws Validity Act it can exercise, as Canada is exercising them. We are asked to approve of this provision -

Nothing in this act shall be deemed to confer any power to repeal or alter the Constitution or the Constitution Act of the Commonwealth of Australia otherwise than in accordance with the laws existing before the commencement of this act.

Mr Latham:

– Surely the honorable member agrees with that?

Mr CROUCH:

– I do not. Because it takes away the rights we have under the Colonial Laws Validity Act.

Mr Latham:

– It leaves to this Parliament the right to say, by future legislation, whether it desires that provision to take effect.

Mr CROUCH:

– I think it goes further. What is the meaning of the provision that nothing in the proposed statute shall be deemed to authorize the Parliament of the Commonwealth to make laws on any matter within the authority of States ?

Mr Latham:

– The object of that addition is to prevent this Parliament from requesting the British Parliament to legislate on purely State matters. It may be argued that such a restriction is unnecessary, but the proposal is not objection able on the grounds stated by the honorable member.

Mr CROUCH:

– With the abolition of the restriction imposed by the repugnancy sections of the Colonial Laws Validity Act, we may, under section 7, make any law for the control of our own affairs. We may make laws applying to the whole of the Commonwealth, and that might in- clude power to amend the Constitution Act, which is an Imperial statute.

Mr Latham:

– The object of the amendment is only to obtain parliamentary Acceptance in Australia of the abolition of the Colonial Laws Validity Act.

Mr CROUCH:

– This statute declares that this Parliament shall not have power to make laws on any matter within the a uthority ofthe States..

Mr Latham:

– “ Not being a matter within the authority of the Government or Parliament of the Commonwealth “.

Mr CROUCH:

– That would affect the night and authority of the States to amend their own Constitution, and would limit the right of this Parliament to amend the Federal Constitution, which without such a limitation it can now do.

Mr Brennan:

– It expressly preserves the existing right of amendment.

Mr CROUCH:

– I certainly shall not accept this clause. If it is not a restriction of our legislative pow.ers it is not necessary. If it does impose such a restriction, it should not be inserted.I do not know wny Sir Harrison Moore was appointed to represent Australia at the legal conference which drafted the (Statute of Westminster. He has always been a strong Imperialist, and against Australian national sentiment.

Mr Latham:

– That remark is entirely out of place in reference to that conference, which Sir Harrison Moore attended as a legal expert.

Mr CROUCH:

– He was over-anxious to preserve Imperial rights. He was a member of the Drafting Committee, and his report shows that when there was a conflict between Imperial and Australian rights, he wasalways non-Australian.

Mr Latham:

– If the honorable member believes that, he has not read Sir Harrison Moore’s report.

Mr Brennan:

– I have not found anything in the report to justify the conclusions of the honorable member for Corangamite. Sir Harrison Moore, with characteristic ability, upheld Australia’s claims, based upon dominion status, as declared in 1926.

Mr CROUCH:

– He accepted dominion status grudgingly. It is clear from his report that he accepted just so much as the conference ordered. South Africa has accepted the statute without any limitation such as is proposed under clause 4. I have heard to-day that New Zealand has requested that the measure should be returned to it, and I wish it to come hack to us, but for an entirely different reason from that of New Zealand; I desire our complete liberty to be preserved and by passing our own statute not to admit the necessity for another legislature passing laws affecting us. As the narrow view of the HighCourt requires the written word and not the accepted constitutional position, it mightbe necessary for another legislature to pass such laws.

I was asked a few moments ago how w.e are affected by British legislation.I may inform the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) that ha would not be permitted to print any part ofthe authorized version of the Bible without the consent of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge because of the limitation of the copyright by an English act. Let me mention another instance of the effect of British legislation.A man had carried on business at City-road. Brunswick, near Melbourne, for 40 years under thename, “ Sheffield Iron Works”. Under , an English law, the use of the word “ Sheffield “ is reserved to certain persons living in Sheffield, and, on obtaining legal advice, this man did not oppose the granting of an injunction requiring him to refrain from using the word “ Sheffield “ in connexion with his premises. Many instances of interference by English law arise in Australia; but as they do not raise great public issues, or affect large numbers of people, little is heard of them. Ever since I have developed a political sense, I have felt entitled to object to English laws which conflict with those of Australia in regard to Australian matters. It is not always possible to be friendly with those who assume unauthorized superiority; but friendship with the Old Country on the part of the dominions will be assured if they are regarded as equals and copartners. The various members of the British Commonwealth of Nations must deal with one another as man to man ; as brothers in a family. When a son leaves the parental roof, and establishes a home of his own, he does not lose his friendship for his father. On the other hand, the right given to the son to control his own household removes the irksome restriction that is sometimes felt by a son because of parental domination. Since the dominions have been accorded self-governing powers co-equal with those of the Motherland, my regard for the Old Country has increased and will ever remain absolutely unshaken.

Mr MORGAN:
Darling Downs

– I enter this debate with some trepidation, after the excellent speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), and, in some respects, the no less admirable address of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). I shall consider the subject from some of the broader aspects which appeal to a layman who has endeavoured to take an intelligent interest in imperial matters. The profound importance of the proposal before the House has been admirably stressed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, but I have no intention of following him in. his contentions. The motion before the House has arisen almost wholly from the proceedings of the Imperial conferences of 1926 and 1930. When the Prime Minister was addressing the House eight or ten days ago, he took the stand that these proposals would increase community of interests in the Empire; that the selfgovernment now enjoyed by the dominions would be strengthened. To my mind, that rather savours of taking our history from a collection of Border Ballads, or our theology from a hymnary. These conclusions he based upon what has come to be known as the Balfour report. Robert Stokes, in New Imperial Ideals, makes the following reference to the Balfour report: -

The report is almost frankly disruptive, and in two cardinal matters, it goes, or appears to go, far beyond’ the 192G report -

In the first pla.ca it goes beyond its own terms of reference from the 1920 conference in recommending that dominion parliaments should have full power to make laws having extra-territorial operation, whereas the terms of reference had limited this to “ all cases where such operation is ancillary to provision for the peace, order, and good government of the dominion “.

In the second place, the 192G report did not devise any legal means whereby dominions might be at liberty to secede, and by a wellestablished rule of law, a dominion parliament could not legally pass a secession law having validity, because that would bc to transgress the purpose for which it had received its powers from the Imperial Parliament and for which it existed. Such a law must be reserved and disallowed. Accordingly, the only means of peaceable secession open to it was to try and persuade the Imperial Government to pass legislation dissolving the tie with it. Such legislation would naturally not be passed unless the Imperial Parliament were convinced that the change was desired by an overwhelming majority of the citizens of the dominion. But the present report provides for the abolition of reservation and disallowance, except in respect of the Governor’s constitutional powers as the personal representative of the King, and these can be overcome by the refusal of supplies. The report, therefore, would leave it possible for, say, the Irish Free State, even with an opposing Governor-General, to secede legally from the Empire by processes which could not be legally checked at any point by the rest of the Empire. A French writer “of weight contends that this is the effect of the position already described in the 1920 report itself. However that may be, it certainly appears to be the position likely to be ensured by the 1929 report.

The general design of this report is to carry the principles of the 1926 report to their logical conclusion by placing the dominions in a position of absolute equality with the United Kingdom. This involves divesting the Imperial Parliament of the last shadowy remnants of its capacity to legislate of its own motion for the dominions, and it leaves the Empire without a legislature entitled to make laws for it as a whole. It can only attain legislative unity in any matter by means of agreed concurrent legislation by the various parliaments. Of the difficulty of securing such unity let a very eminent Australian lawyer speak - “ Any one who has had experience of the difficulties involved in passing identical legislation through six State Parliaments in Australia, will not be over optimistic as to the chances of obtaining identical or reciprocal legislation with a reasonable approach to simultaneity in five parliaments sitting in every quarter of the globe “.

That opinion is the opinion of the Honorable J. G. Latham, M.P., Deputy Leader of the Opposition in this House to-day. Continuing, Mr. Stokes reaches these conclusions -

In practice the result must inevitably be to leave the Empire without any effective constitutional means of maintaining any kind of legislative unity. It would be reduced, in fact, to a mere league or community of nations united by a moral tic and by allegiance to the person of the King. It would be an empire almost without common institutions of any kind, and in its constitutional structure going far to justify the suggestion that it may be steadily dissolving into a precarious alliance.

That illustrates the point that I have taken, and it disagrees entirely with the view of the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) that the passage of this statute will increase, and not weaken, the community of interests among the different parts of the Empire.

We know very well that the decisions of the 1926 Imperial Conference were the outcome of a set of circumstances which, if I may use the phrase, have “left the world wondering “. That conference met under most peculiar circumstances. We had the spectacle of an enraged and politically-minded Prime Minister rushing from Canada to elicit the sympathies of the disgruntled representatives of the Irish Free State, and the equally disgruntled representatives of the South African Union. He obtained their aid to secure approval of a policy which, in my opinion, was formulated in a spirit of revenge that was awakened because of the political conditions which had arisen in his own dominion.

Mr Brennan:

– That is pure nonsense; the committee was presided over by Lord Balfour.

Mr MORGAN:

– Whether the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Brennan) regards it as nonsense or not, it is my considered opinion. I sincerely regret that the Australian representatives at that conference gave their approval to that policy, which was subsequently brought before the 1929 and 1930 Imperial Conferences. It is true’ that the committee was presided over by Lord Balfour. In that connexion, I wish to say that it was entirely due to a system of political metaphysics, applied by a master political metaphysician, that the conference adopted the course that it did, and paved the way for the formulation of the Statute of Westminster.

Mr Brennan:

Mr. Baldwin, a Conservative Prime Minister, was at the head of the conference.

Mr MORGAN:

– That does not alter my opinion one iota. This opinion is also held very widely throughout the British Empire.

Mr Keane:

– How can the honorable member know that?

Mr MORGAN:

– I know it because of my reading and my intelligent interpretation of what I read. I believe that at the 1926 Imperial Conference we saw the first definite evidence of the crumbling of the British Empire. At that conference, the bridge heads were surrendered, the boats were burned, and the key to the door of the citadel delivered up. Honorable members may remove from their minds any idea that the British Empire can continue along the old lines. It was transmuted at that conference into the kind of thing that it is shown to be by this statute that is now proposed.

I hate the raising of the legalistic position in this connexion, and agree with the attitude that has been adopted by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). I attribute the raising of the legalistic issue wholly to the proceedings of the 1926 conference.

Mr Brennan:

– The object of this statute is to remove the legalistic position.

Mr MORGAN:

– In my opinion, it emphasizes it.

The most important single factor in the maintenance of the peace of the world is the unity of the British Empire. It is therefore eminently desirable that we should do our utmost to preserve this unity, for once it is disintegrated the door will be open for all sorts of national and international embroilments. I cannot see thai the Statute of Westminster will <lo anything to maintain the unity of the Empire. In my opinion, it is much more likely to have a disrupting influence. The Prime Minister has said that the statute will preserve dominion status as we know it to-day; but I think that it will destroy it. It may be true, as we have been told, thai the statute will not involve any change in the United Kingdom; but it will certainly involve very definite and serious changes in the Empire. Believing, as I do, that the maintenance of the unity of the Empire is the best guarantee that we can have of the contin nance of peace, I feel it necessary to do my utmost to resist anything that is likely to interfere with that unity. A serious and widespread propaganda is being conducted to-day by communistic influences against the solidarity of the Empire. .It is therefore all the more necessary that we should not do anything which might even tend to impair our unity. Take, for instance, such a subject as extra-territoriality. Into this vortex the 1926 conference definitely precipitated this country. Extraterritoriality is likely to involve us in serious trouble. Australia is a country with a small population, and no adequate scheme of defence. Those factors, coupled with the wide legislative powers which Australia is to be given in relation to extraterritorality multiply the possible causes of war. It is contended that the forthcoming disarmament conference is a matter of prime concern to Australia. The Prime Minister said that it was essential that Australia should be represented at that conference. As in the case of his remarks regarding the Statute of Westminster, which, he said, would strengthen, rather thun weaken, Australia’s position in the future, I submit that the Prime Minister ip again wrong; for surely there is no need for Australia to be represented at the disarmament conference, seeing that for all practical purposes we have already disarmed. On the question .of disarmament Australia does not count. I submit that any system which will require this counU’Y to subscribe to any written document in the matter of inter Empire relations is not calculated ;to .serve its best interests. By adopting that system we should be abandoning political conventions which have stood the test for many years in favour of something nebulous. We must ask ourselves whether it is wise to depart from a practice which we have tried and proved to be satisfactory. The history and the traditions of the British Empire teach us that it would be unwise to adopt the proposals contained in this resolution. I agree generally with the views so admirably stated by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), and I intend to vote for the amendments he has tabled. I conclude by repeating that I agree with the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) that it is infinitely better to leave things as they are, than to walk into this legal straight-jacket that has been prepared, for us in a resolution unwisely adopted at the 1926 conference.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Lazzarini) adjourned.

page 4082

LOAN BILL 1931

Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.

page 4082

ADJOURNMENT

Financial Assistance to New South Wales - Russian Timber - Wau Pensions - Medical Attention for Unemployed - Wine Industry - Mr. Lyons and Sir Robert Gibson - Business of the Session.

Motion (by Mr. Scullin) proposed-^

That the House do now adjourn.

Mr LATHAM:
Kooyong

.- The Prime Minister will have seen in the Sydney newspapers - I saw it in the Sydney Morning Herald - a statement regarding an application made to the Commonwealth Government by the Premier of New South Wales. Is he in a position to say whether any application for financial assistance has been received from the Premier of New South Wales, and if so, can he state what action, if amy, the Commonwealth Government proposes ‘to take in regard to it?

Mr FENTON:
Maribyrnong

– Within the last week or two, numbers of questions have been asked regarding the importation <of timber from Russia.

It is time that we had a definite declaration of the Government’s intentions, not only with regard to the shipment of timber which has already reached Australia, but also with regard to other shipments which might arrive. The Melbourne Age of 15th July contained the following cable message : -

Riga, 14th July

The Soviet’s Supreme Economic Council has appointed a special commission to devise urgent measures, including the mechanization and increase of the timber export trade.

An official report on timber operations at Archangel says that barracks and public feeding places are unhealthy, and are often filthy. The workers could not bc expected to respond to the now plans to fulfil the export programme unless the conditions are improved. “Whether the information contained iri that cable is correct or not, there is evidence of an intention on the part of the Soviet Government of Russia to export wheat, oil, and timber to other countries, including Australia, and to sell them at almost any price. In marketing that timber peasant labour, indentured labour, the labour of imprisoned and unimprisoned convicts, of women and children, and political prisoners of the Soviet worked as slaves, is employed. We have official information to hand indicating that the death rate among those workers is exceedingly high, and that, owing to the inhuman treatment that is meted out, only a small percentage survive the rigours of slave service. Information has come to hand from officers and sailors of various nationalities as to the harrowing conditions of slavery that obtain on the wharfs of Russia. But, bad as are those conditions, the state of affairs in the lumber camps is infinitely worse. In six of the camps, the names of which are unpronounceable, employees numbering respectively, 30,000; 25,000; 30,000, 10,000; 20,000 and 20,000 are engaged in hewing and loading timber, and the hardships to which they are subjected are almost indescribable. It is time that we took notice of what is going on in Russia, and determined how we shall act in connexion with the importation of this timber.

Mr FENTON:

– When the opportunity is afforded me I shall inform the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini), the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan), and the House generally exactly what I learned about labour conditions in Canada, after consultation with Labour and Trades Hall representatives at Vancouver.

Protests are coming to hand from every State in Australia with regard to the importation of Russian timber. The latest is a circular from timber interests in Queensland, which I do not intend to quote. The following paragraph appeared in the Age of the 15th instant: -

There was a large attendance of representatives of primary producing industries and others concerned in Australian primary productions, as well as local organizations, at a meeting held in the board room, Temple Court, yesterday, to consider plans for combating Soviet activities in Australia, particularly in regard to imports of Russian products.

At that meeting the following resolution was carried : -

That the Lord Mayor be asked to convene a meeting for the purpose of pointing out to the general public the danger arising out of Russian importations to Australian commerce and industries.

I do not suggest that the Minister for Customs is sleeping at his post. The honorable gentleman is too alert and too good a protector of Australian industries to do that. My words are not directed at any individual, nor at the Government. I believe that the stage has arrived when we should definitely decide not to tolerate this invasion by the products of slavery. I ask, not for a declaration that the Tariff Board will inquire into the matter, that a surcharge will be imposed on the shipment of Russian timber that has already arrived in Australia, or that anti-dumping laws will operate in future, but that the Government will prohibit the importation of Russian timber into Australia. I am unaware whether the consignment already in Sydney has been disposed of. The Minister has available the necessary organization to obtain the desired information, both in the offices of his own department and of the Police Force, and I trust that his action will be prompt and effective.

Mr FORDE:
Minister for Trade and Customs · Capricornia · ALP

– Replying to the points raised by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), one shipment of timber from Russia was landed at Sydney. No invoices for the consignment are yet to hand, and my department has not been able to obtain a satisfactory explanation as to when they will arrive. About eight or nine days ago I was informed that they would be received within a week. The timber has not been offered for sale, so far as my department can ascertain. The agents, the Russo Export Company, have no information upon which they can arrive at the value of the consignment, and, therefore, are unable to place any price upon it. I have instructed the SubCollector of Customs at Sydney not to grant clearance of the consignment before consulting me. If at any time a clearance is granted, a security duty of 10 per cent. per 100 super feet will be demanded, in addition to existing duties. That amounts’ practically to prohibition. I assure honorable members that the Government is determined to continue in the future its policy of the past, that of giving adequate protection to the Australian timber industry, and that there is no reason to be apprehensive with regard to timber consignments from Russia. Obviously, the Government cannot act upon hearsay, or on paragraphs that appear in the press. The proper steps are being taken to investigate the conditions under which the timber industry of Russia is being carried on.

Mr JAMES:
Hunter

– I desire to bring under the notice of the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. McNeill) the way in which the proposed reduction in war pensions will affect a case that has been brought under my notice. It is that of a lady who had two sons killed at the war, and whose husband is crippled, and in receipt of an invalid pension. She is in a worse position than that of a widow. The recent conference between the Government and representatives of returned soldiers made no provision for cases of this description. The following letter was sent to Mr. Booth, the State representative of Kurri Kurri: -

Killingworth, 3rd July, 1931

Mr. Booth, M.L.A

Dear Sir, - Seeing an announcement in the Newcastle Morning Herald regarding war pensions, I thought it best to write to you and ask would I ho exempt from same.

I am a mother of two deceased sons, and, although my husband is living, he is unable to do any kind of work, and has not worked during the pa6t two years.

I receive 7s. a week for one son, and 15a. a week for the other, making a total of £2 4s. per fortnight.

Yours sincerely,

  1. Greenfield.

Mr. Booth, in a covering letter to me, stated that he believed that Mrs. Greenfield’s husband was in receipt of an invalid pension. Cases such as these were not considered by the soldiers’ committee which dealt with the Government’s proposals to reduce war pensions, and the committee had no right to accept any compromise without consulting the rank and file of the various organizations. I hope that the Minister will give consideration to this and other similar cases which may be brought under his notice.

A matter to which I direct the attention of the Minister for Health (Mr. McNeill) is the need for providing medical attendance for the unemployed. There are approximately 5,000 workless people in the vicinity of Kurri Kurri, Cessnock and the surrounding district. They are being attended by the local doctors,who are now unable to procure the necessary medicines, &c. As might be expected, sickness is more prevalent among the unemployed than among the more fortunate people who are in employment. The Federal Government should do something to aid the doctors in the humane work of attending the sick. They are willing to give their services free; but the Government should compensate them for the expense to which they are put.

Mr JAMES:

– I am appealing to the Minister for Health, and I should like to hear what he has to say. The health of the people is not the sole responsibility of the State Government. It has enough difficulty in providing food and other necessaries without being also accountable for the health of the unemployed. Some responsibility rests upon the Commonwealth Government. Why have we a Commonwealth Minister for Health if he is not to function in the interests of all the people? There is also a great deal of unemployment in Swansea, in another part of my electoral division. The people there have made representations to me for similar assistance, and I have forwarded their communications to the Minister for Health. They inform me that the local doctors are prepared to attend the unemployed, but they are not able to meet the cost of motor transport to and from the unemployment camps, or provide the necessary medicines for undernourished and sick children. It is not possible for parents to keep their children in good health on the miserable dole handed out to them. I hope that the Minister for Health will give these mutters his most sympathetic consideration.

Mr NAIRN:
Perth

– I direct attention to the latest development in connexion with the default of the New South Wales Government. The Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), in his discretion, did not this afternoon take the House fully into his confidence. I do not blame him for that; but I do claim that honorable members representing other States have a right to express the apprehension which they feel, because of the extent to which Commonwealth revenue is being used for the benefit of New South Wales. It has been made clear for some months that the Premier of the State has deliberately embarked upon a policy of getting ahead of the other States, so far as possible, with respect to advances from the Commonwealth, and, notwithstanding his insolence, he has succeeded in obtaining very large sums from the Commonwealth Government to make good the default of his Government in its interest payments on overseas loans. In addition, the negotiations which have been proceeding for some time with the Commonwealth Bank for the re-opening of the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales will probably greatly add to the financial responsibilities of the Commonwealth. In all these matters, this Government has so far acted without authority from Parliament. Now it is reported that there is a demand by the Premier of New South Wales for further very large sums. Honorable members representing other States are vitally concerned about these repeated demands from New South Wales, and I think the House should be consulted regarding them. The Premier of New South Wales should be told plainly that this policy of paying up for his Government cannot go on indefinitely, and that he cannot continue in the role of the rogue in politics. No one wishes the public servants of New South Wales to go short of their salaries or wages, but surely honorable members realize that the Commonwealth cannot accept responsibility for the shortcomings of the New South Wales Government in this respect. The people of that State’ put the present Ministry into power, and must take the consequences of their action, or else turn the Government out. I do not wish to complain personally of the attitude of the Prime Minister in this matter, but I direct attention to the urgency of the situation that has arisen, and suggest to him that the Commonwealth Government cannot go on paying out millions of pounds to New South Wales without consulting this Parliament.

Mr McNEILL:
Minister for Health · Wannon · ALP

– The cases mentioned by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. » James), will receive sympathetic consideration.

Mr GABB:
Angas

.- I notice that the report dealing with the wine industry was laid on the table of the House this afternoon without the customary motion to have it printed. I am prepared to support every proposal for reasonable economy, but I remind the House that we have received no fewer than three copies of the printed report dealing with the sugar industry. Will the Prime Minister state whether the report on the wine industry iB to be printed 1 Those interested in the sugar industry have been able to buy, at Ss. each, copies of the Sugar Investigation Committee’s report, and it is desirable that copies of the other report should be available to those who want them.

Mr E RILEY:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · ALP

– It is reported in the press that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Lyons) left Canberra last night to interview Sir Robert Gibson regarding the loan conversion scheme. I ask the Prime Minister whether that is true?

Mr Paterson:

– He is one of the committee of three appointed to deal with this matter.

Mr Latham:

– I know that the Leader of the Opposition has gone to Melbourne to attend a meeting at Heathcote, but there would be no harm in his interviewing Sir Robert Gibson regarding the loan conversion scheme. He is a member of the committee.

Mr E RILEY:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · ALP

– Has the Prime Minister authorized the Leader of the Opposition to negotiate with Sir Robert Gibson on behalf of the Government in regard to the loan conversion scheme, or is Mr. Lyons acting only as a member of the committee? The Prime Minister should make a statement on this matter, so that we may know whether this gentleman is taking charge of the business of the Government.

Mr Latham:

– It does not seem to be very important.

Mr E RILEY:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · ALP

– Perhaps it is only a means of getting the Leader of the Opposition out of the way so that the Deputy Leader may take charge of the Opposition.

Mr R GREEN:
RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES · CP

.- Will the Prime Minister inform honorable members what business now standing on the notice-paper is urgent, and must be disposed of before Parliament goes into recess? The right honorable gentleman promised to make a statement on this matter, and 1 should be glad if he could do so this afternoon.

Mr SCULLIN:
Prime Minister · Yarra · ALP

.- The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) asked me what action was being taken in regard to the payments made by the Commonwealth on behalf of the Government of New South Wales for interest due by that Government. I said this morning, in reply to a question, that communications which had been received from the Premier of New South Wales were, for the present, confidential. Honorable members- must recognize that there are stages in negotiations when communications between governments are confidential.

Mr Latham:

– I merely asked what stage the negotiations had reached.

Mr SCULLIN:

– I shall never be guilty of committing this Parliament, or this country, to obligations, without furnishing full information to Parliament, and to the public generally. I take exception to the remarks of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn), who said that the Government was meeting the obligations of the Government of New South Wales without consulting this Parliament; that we were acting without the authority of Parliament. That is a grave charge, but it has no foundation in fact. We are acting on the authority of the legislation of this Parliament, and of the legislation passed by every Parliament in Australia. Our authority is the financial agreement, and all we have done to date is to meet a legal obligation imposed on us by that agreement. When the New South Wales Government first failed to meet its interest obligations, I made a full statement to the House, placing before it all the information at my disposal.

Mr NAIRN:

– The Prime Minister made an offer to re-open the Government Sav.ings Bank.

Mr SCULLIN:

– I made no such offer.

Mr NAIRN:

– The Commonwealth Bank Board did.

Mr SCULLIN:

– All I did was to agree that negotiations should be conducted between the two banks with a view to re-opening the New South Wales Government Savings Bank. As a Commonwealth Government, we have an obligation to all the people of Australia. The closing of a government bank in one State is a serious tiling to -the people of Australia as a whole, and particularly affects the credit of the Commonwealth. In the interests of the people of Australia, I hope to see the New South Wales Government Savings Bank re-opened, but not at the expense of all the States for the benefit of any one State. This Government is determined that every State shall meet its own obligations, and- on that point we have never wavered. Is there, however, any honorable member in this House who disapproves of the action of the Government to date in meeting interest payments regarding which the New South Wales Government defaulted ? There is a legal obligation od us to do that.

Mr Paterson:

– We must pay.

Mr SCULLIN:

– We have instituted legal proceedings against the Government of New South Wales, and if that government does not meet its obligations, those proceedings will be gone on with. The proceedings have been instituted, not. only in the name of the Commonwealth

Government, but in the name of that Government and of the five State Governments who, besides New South Wales, are parties to the agreement. We owe it to the people of the States, and to the Commonwealth as a whole, to proceed with this litigation if necessary, but I should be glad if we could have this issue settled in a reasonable way without resorting to litigation. I have neglected no opportunity of arriving at such a settlement. It is a reflection on Australia that, when we are asking all sections to make sacrifices for the restoration of our credit, and the rehabilitation of our finances, the governments of the Commonwealth should be lighting one another in thecourts.

Mr Fenton:

– We should make New South Wales stand up to its obligations.

Mr SCULLIN:

– Have I ever said anything to the contrary?

Mr.F en ton. - No.

Mr SCULLIN:

– It has been suggested that we are using the money collected in all the States to meet the obligations of a particular State. The fact is that we have no option under the financial agreement but to followthe course we have taken.

Mr.Nairn. - Has the Commonwealth a legal obligation to meet interest payments in respect of those loans raised be- fore the financial agreement was signed?

Mr SCULLIN:

– Under the financial agreement we have a legal obligation to holders of State securities.

Mr Nairn:

– But only, I think, in respect of loans raised after the financial agreement was signed.

Mr SCULLIN:

-The honorable member may, on another occasion, dispute the advice we received from two leading counsel, ono in Melbourne, and one in Sydney. The only criticism levelled to date against the Commonwealth Government has been that we delayed four days in makinga declaration as to whether we would meet the interest payments or not. We delayed making a declaration, because we wanted to know exactly where we stood before we assumed the obligation. We obtained the best legal advice we could, and acted upon it. We propose to continue acting upon it, and to meet in full our legal and moral obligations. The Government has not committed this Parliament or the Commonwealth to anything without fully informing Parliament of what it was doing, and we do not propose to depart from that course.

Mr Latham:

– The Prime Minister is not able to give any further information as to the progress of negotiations?

Mr SCULLIN:

– I am not. I cannot do so at present without committing a breach of confidence. I may be able to say something later.

Regarding the request of the honorable member for Angus (Mr. Gabb), if there is a demand for the report on the wine industry, we shall have it printed. I am endeavouring to follow the rule laid down in regard to the report of the Sugar Investigation Committee. Copies of that report were sold to those interested, at 8s. each. That is very costly, I admit, but it is estimated that copies of the wine industry report could be sold for 3s. each. Fifty copies of the report have been roneoed, and, in response to an inquiry, I have learned that the stencils have been preserved. Instructions have been issued that a further 100 copies are to be made, and if the demand for copies persists, the report will be printed, and copies made available to those who desire them.

The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) raised the subject of medical attention being given in certain cases by qualified officers of the Commonwealth Health Department. This departmenthas been set up to deal with purely Commonwealth matters, and the cases to which he referred are the concern ofthe State. I have the greatest sympathy with those on whose behalf the honorable member has spoken, and it is not because I am callous to their sufferings thatI decline his request. It would create an intolerable position,however, if the Commonwealth Health Department were to make itself responsible for attention to individual cases throughout all parts of Austrafia. The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr.E. Riley) is needlessly alarmed. I have not seen a statement in the press that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Lyons) has gone officially to consult Sir Robert Gibson. He has. I understand, gone to Melbourne, and if, when he is down there, he consults Sir Robert Gibson, as a member of the committee he ia at liberty to do so. When I go to Melbourne next week I also hope to be able to meet Sir Robert Gibson.

Mr E RILEY:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · ALP

– What I wanted to know was whether the Leader of the Opposition was a member of the committee?

Mr SCULLIN:

– He is.

Mr E RILEY:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · ALP

– And as such is he authorized to negotiate on behalf of that committee ?

Mr SCULLIN:

– There is no negotiating to be done.

Mr Riordan:

– It was stated in the press that there was to bc a parley with Sir Robert Gibson upon loan matters.

Mr SCULLIN:

– Day after day I read scores of press paragraphs that are not altogether correct. In any case would it be a dreadful crime for any honorable member to go to Melbourne and discuss any important subject with Sir Robert Gibson, if he could meet him? To the simple question which has been asked - “ Have we handed over the government of the country to Mr. Lyons?” my reply is “ No “.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 4.22 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 July 1931, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1931/19310717_reps_12_131/>.