19th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Will the Minister for the Interior inform me whether the Government intends to proceed with the acquisition of property bounded by Lonsdale, Spring, Latrobe and Exhibition streets, Melbourne? The Minister will recall that the previous Government gave all tenants and occupiers of that property notice of its intention to acquire the site. Does the Minister realize the tremendous financial loss that occupiers will suffer should they have to vacate premises within this area, as comparable sites are not available in Melbourne? If it is absolutely necessary to have additional office accommodation for Commonwealth departments, will the Government consider an alternative scheme such as the acquisition of areas known as the Western and Eastern Market sites, which could be better developed in keeping with the architectural beauty of the city, and which would, at the same time, make possible greater office accommodation than is at present available on either or both of these sites?
– As the honorable member for Isaacs has stated, the previous Government decided to acquire the area in Melbourne bounded by Lonsdale, Spring, Latrobe and Exhibition streets and notice to that effect was given to the owners. That notice has been acknowledged by them, acquisition has taken place and, at present, negotiations are proceeding relative to the compensation payable. No intimation has been given to the tenants of when they will need to vacate their premises because the Government is not in a position to know precisely when the property will be required. Regarding tho structures that will be erected upon the property, the Government is obtaining information at the moment about the requirements of Commonwealth services in Melbourne, and when we have that information, a decision will be made. I shall have inquiries made into’ the alternative areas that the honorable member has mentioned as possible sites for government offices.
– I desire to address a question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. I remind the honorable gentleman that the present Prime Minister announced during the election campaign that if he were returned to office, legislation would be introduced to provide endowment of 5s. a week for the first or only child under sixteen years of age in every family, whereupon the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration adjourned the hearing of the basic wage inquiry. That inquiry is still pending. I also remind the Minister that the Prime Minister, in his policy speech, did contemplate, in a certain contingency, that the amount of endowment that would be payable in respect of the first child under sixteen years of age in every family would be not 5s. but 10s. a week._ Can the Minister state whether the impact of this proposal upon the hundreds of thousands of people who are affected by the basic wage has been studied? Can those effects and the intentions of the Minister be more fully explained to the House now?
Mr.- HOLT. - The matter raised by the right honorable gentleman was fully examined by the Government parties before they were elected to office, and has been further considered by them since. It would not bc proper at this stage to indicate the details of the Government’s proposal, but, as was foreshadowed in the Governor-General’s Speech, legislation on this matter will shortly be brought before the Parliament. Included in the matters examined when this subject was primarily before the then Opposition parties, were sundry illuminating observations of the right honorable gentleman himself..
– Has the attention of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture been drawn to a statement made by the secretary of the Milk Zone Dairymen’s Council at Sydney, that the ban on the sale of fresh cream is no longer effective? If this is so, will the Minister inform the House whether consideration is being given to permitting the sale of fresh cream?
– The Government wishes to conserve as much milk fat as possible for the manufacture of butter for the United Kingdom. It does not intend to revoke the ban on -cream. Whether or not the ban is legal is a matter that can be tested by the milk producers themselves in the proper place.
– On the 12th January last, the Sydney Daily Telegraph reported that at the Colombo conference the Australian Minister for External Affairs had had a dispute with Pandit Nehru over the recognition of the Communist Government in China. Was the Minister correctly reported, and if so, will he tell us in what respect his viewpoint conflicted with that of the representatives of the Government of India?
– The question of recognizing the Communists in China will be dealt with in the foreign affairs statement which is to be made to the House.
– I preface a question to the Minister for Supply and Development with the statements that the quality and quantity of our primary production determine to a substantial degree the prosperity and rate of development of this country, and that probably the greatest menace to primary production to-day is the rabbit pest. I am aware of State legislation on the control of rabbits, and plans for increased production of rabbit-control materials, but, in view of the national character of this problem, I ask the Minister whether any steps are being taken in the Commonwealth sphere to effect the eradication of rabbits in this country?
– The Government is fully impressed with the intensity of the rabbit menace in. this country. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization already has in hand an investigation into the life history of the rabbit as a preparation for plans to eliminate this pest. The Government will intensify its attack on this problem.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is true that British immigrants to Australia, who, having qualified for pensions, including non-contributory age pensions in this country, lose their entitlement to such pensions should they return to Great Britain, even on a visit, and do not become eligible for pensions in the United Kingdom? Does the right honorable gentleman not think, that in order to make these British migrants more contented in this country, there should be some reciprocal arrangement between the Australian Government and the Imperial Government in order that a pension could be payable to such migrants if they have qualified for it in either Britain or Australia? An arrangement could hp made between Australia and Great Britain similar to that made between this country and New Zealand, which provides, not only that a pension shall be payable, but also that the qualifying period of twenty years in either country or both shall be acceptable.
– The matter to which the honorable gentleman referred in concluding his remarks involves a question of policy with which I do not propose to deal at question time. His earlier questions raise matters of fact. I shall have them examined by the appropriate departments and will see that he is provided with a full answer.
– Having regard to the question asked by the Deputy Lender of the Opposition, and to the promise, made by the Prime Minister in his policy speech, to pay os. a week endowment for the first child in each family, to which matter the Leader of the Opposition referred yesterday, I ask the Prime Minister what assurance he can give this House that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court will not take into consideration this payment when delivering its judgment on the basic wage case? Further, what assurance can the Prime Minister give the House that the rebate now allowed in taxation assessments for the first child will not be reduced as a result of the payment of the 5s. endowment ?
– I suggest to the honorable member and to the House generally that any matters that arise in relation to child endowment may be fully and satisfactorily debated when the appropriate bill comes before the House, as it will do in due course. It is by no means satisfactory to endeavour to debate that bill in advance by means of questions and answers.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether it is true that approximately seven years ago a case was heard, known as the Tanking case, which established the fact that fruit-growers had been deprived of about £750,000, that being an additional amount that they would have received had their products been sold on just terms. Is it a fact that the case referred to determined the moral, if not the legal, right of all apple and pear growers to participate in the benefits of the decision that was given? Is it also a fact that the Government then in power consistently ignored the claims of the apple and pear growers? If these are facts, can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform the House whether he has yet had an opportunity to examine the position with a view to ascertaining whether the injustice can be remedied in a reasonable space of time?
– I remember the ,n–7—. case, which touched on the rights of apple-growers under war-time acquisition powers and I remember the ruling of the court on it. I am not in a position to express an opinion on whether administration since the judgment was given in the Tonking case has been in violation of the principle then established. I understand that the marketing of apples and pears to-day, insofar as it is conducted under the jurisdiction of the Australian Government, does not involve any violation of the legal principle established in the Tonking case.
– I ask the Treasurer whether any subsidy was paid on tha petrol recently imported from France, and, if so, what amount was so paid?
– The answer to the question is that no subsidy was paid.
– Will the Minister for Defence assure the House that defence stocks of petrol will be maintained? In this respect, an example was set him by the previous Government. The Minister for Defence will appreciate the importance of my question when he recalls that on the 31st May, 1942, four midget Japanese submarines entered Sydney Harbour, and, as a result of their attack on shipping, 31 naval ratings were killed. The Minister for Defence represents the electorate of Wentworth, and he will remember that eight days after that attack the suburb of Bondi was shelled from the sea. I have a vivid recollection of that time, and of the fact that many of the residents of the Minister’s electorate migrated from Bondi into the country after the attack. However, the people whom I represent in West Sydney had to go on living along the foreshores of Sydney Harbour, and go to their work on the harbour itself.
– The establishment and maintenance of defence reserves of petrol are the concern of the Minister for Shipping and Fuel. The Government does not intend to interfere with those defence reserves, and no suggestion to that effect has been made.
– Will the Minister for the Army say whether the Government is considering the claims that have been made by Australian ex-prisoners of war for the payment of a subsistence allowance in respect of periods that they spent in captivity and for specialized medical treatment? If the Government is considering those claims, can the Minister indicate when a decision upon them will be announced ?
– In the policy speech that was delivered by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, the right honorable gentleman gave an undertaking that there would be a full and impartial inquiry into the claims to which the honorable gentleman has referred. A substantial amount of work in preparation for the inquiry has already been done. I hope that a statement will be made on the matter at an early date.
– Can the Minister for Immigration inform the House of the number of war-time evacuees who are in Australia at the present time? What are the Government’s intentions in regard to them ? Has the Minister issued any deportation orders since he assumed office? If so, how many has he issued?
– I am advised by the Department of Immigration that there are approximately 600 war-time evacuees still in Australia. As I said in a statement to which wide publicity was given, the case of each of those persons will be examined on its merits. I expect that war-time evacuees against whom there is no security objection, who are in employment here and whose record during their stay in Australia has been good, will be permitted to remain. Other persons will be deported because they have not complied satisfactorily with the requirements that we have specified. I have issued some deportation orders since I assumed the office of Minister for Immigration. I do not know that any of them have related to war-time evacuees. I am unable to say offhand the number of such orders that has been issued, but I shall endeavour to obtain that information for the honorable gentleman. If I have not dealt with some of the points that have been raised, I shall supply the honorable gentleman with a full answer to them later.
– I ask the Minister for Transport whether, in view of the continuing agitation by residents of the northern suburbs of Sydney for the abolition of the toll on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the persistent refusal of the New South Wales Government to accept its responsibility in that matter, the Government has given any further consideration to the question of whether it can assist in achieving the abolition of the toll, which is a very desirable objective ?
– There has been no change in the policy of the Australian Government in relation to this matter which was announced a few weeks ago. The Premier of New South Wales wrote to the Prime Minister suggesting that the Australian Government should assume responsibility for the payment of the sum of £410,000 a year which, it was said, would be lost by the abolition of the toll. That suggestion was considered by the Australian Government. A letter was written to the Premier in which it was stated that the Australian Government could not see its way clear to assume that responsibility. The position remains the same as it was then, and I imagine that it will continue to remain the same. The view of the Government is that this matter is entirely the responsibility of the New South Wales Government.
– Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say whether early last year the Joint Dairy Industry Advisory Committee recommended to the Government that a further payment of 2d. per lb. should be made to butter producers on a commercial butter fat basis and that a further payment of id. per lb. should be made to manufacturers to cover production costs? Further, is it a fact that the previous Government accepted this recommendation and made provision for the payment of the amount for a period of six months, from the 1st July to the 31st December last? What happened after the 31st December? Did the present Government take any action to ensure the continuity of the payment of that amount and, if so, for what period?
– The Joint Dairy Industry Advisory Committee made a report to the previous Government towards the end of last financial year to the effect that the dairy industry required to be paid an additional 2£d. per lb., commercial butter fat basis, in order to recoup the farmers their cost of production and a reasonable margin of profit. It was revealed concurrently, I think, that costs of manufacture in dairy factories had increased by ½d. per lb. Those honorable members who were members of the last Parliament will recall that on the last day of sitting of that Parliament the then Government announced that a payment of 2£d. per lb., commercial butter fat basis, would be made to dairy-farmers for the period from the 1st July to the 31st December, 1949. At the first Cabinet meeting of the present Government it was decided to pay the same amount to the dairy farmers for the remainder of the current financial year. Very shortly after that, the Government also decided to pay an extra id. per lb. in order to compensate the factories for their additional revealed manufacturing costs so that they, in turn, might pass the amount of ½d. per lb. on to the dairy-farmers. That has been done. The Government decided that the total additional cost of 3d. per lb. should be met by means of a subsidy from Consolidated Revenue instead of being passed on to the consuming public. That is the policy of the Government. Subsequently the Government decided to pay the manufacturers of processed milk, such as dried milk and condensed milk, an extra amount of 2£d. per lb., commercial butter fat basis, contingent upon the manufacturers engaging to do what they had never done previously, to pay into the dairy industry’ stabilization fund an amount equivalent to that contributed by the butter factories. I am negotiating with the processed milk manufacturers at present, and I think that there can be no doubt that I shall be able to arrange for that contribution to be paid into the stabilization fund.
– Will the Prime Minister explain to the House the reasons that actuated the Government in instructing the Public Service Board to grant union award rates of pay and conditions of employment to non-unionists in the Public Service? Having regard to the fact that the Arbitration (Public Service) Act, which, incidentally, was introduced by an anti-Labour government, provides that the Public Service Arbitrator shall make awards for members of claimant organizations only, will the Government, if it believes in such specialized treatment of non-unionists, consider paying the unions’ share of the costs of proceedings before the Arbitrator so that unionists will not be at a definite disadvantage compared with those mean, unprincipled employees who will not pay union fees?
– As to the last part of the question my answer is “ No “. As to the earlier part of it, the view of the Government is that, as all employees of the Crown are citizens who are liable to the payment of taxes and therefore contribute to the cost of government, they are entitled to equal treatment by the Government in relation to the pay that they receive. Therefore it is not just or proper that the Commonwealth, as an employer, should discriminate between people on the sole ground of whether they belong or do not belong to an organization.
– Will the Treasurer consider introducing an amendment to the Income Tax Assessment Act to rectify the present injustice to taxpayers who succeed, in their objections to a wrong assessment? I direct attention to the fact that before making an objection the taxpayer is obliged to pay the whole amount assessed- which practice is, of course, necessary to discourage groundless objections - but when an objection is successful and the tax wrongly collected is refunded, no interest is paid on the amount involved. Is the right honorable gentleman aware that in many instances taxpayers, through no fault of their own, are deprived of money for months and sometimes even for years, and then receive no interest when amounts wrongly withheld are repaid? Will the Minister consider taking steps to rectify this injustice?
– The question that the honorable member has raised is being thoroughly investigated at the present time by the Taxation Branch and by myself. I recognize that taxpayers’ money, owing to the delay in reaching finality on objections, i9 sometimes withheld unduly. It is with a view to having finality expedited that the matter is being thoroughly investigated at the present time.
– I understand that the University of Sydney has made representations to the Government for financial assistance. I ask the Treasurer whether the Government proposes to grant financial assistance to that university to enable it to provide proper facilities for university education.
– The Government is already assisting the University of Sydney and the matter of financial assistance to all the universities throughout Australia is now engaging its attention.
– I desire to ask a question of the Minister for Immigration. Th& matter emanates from document No. 5601, registered with the Department of Emigration, 14 Strait-street, Valletta, Malta, which relates to a. group of British immigrants who were brought to Australia from Malta. At the relevant time, Australia was represented by Colonel Boyle, the Australian migration officer in Rome, and by Mr. Kain, an officer of the Department of Works and Housing in Canberra. Document No. 5601 was signed on behalf of the Malta Government by the Director of Emigration in Malta, by one, J. Axisa. The following paragraph appears in the document : -
Owing to the housing shortage priority will, be given to single men. Married men will also be accepted but the)’ should understand that no assurance can be given to them that they will be able to provide accommodation for their families before at least twelves months from their arrival. «
In the meantime many of these people have arrived here. Although the twelve months period has elapsed the housing authorities in the Australian Capital Territory know nothing of the promise that was made to them. Considerable dissatisfaction exists amongst these people. In fact, many of them have already left the Australian Capital Territory. Will the Minister take steps to ensure that no confusing or misleading statements about housing being available to migrants from Malta within twelve months of their arrival in this country are embodied in any subsequent contracts entered into with them?
– I have no personal knowledge of the circumstances referred to. Doubtless the arrangements mentioned were made prior to my assuming control of the Department of Immigration. I shall examine the matter and see what amendment, if any, should be made to the arrangements now in train between the Government and representatives of the migrants from Malta.
– I direct a question to you, Mr. Speaker, concerning a highly controversial statement by Sir Walter Massy-Greene about the devaluation or revaluation of the Australian £1, which, I understand, was placed on every honorable member’s desk in this House, and also presumably, in their correspondence boxes. As this is a highly political matter and as this propaganda apparently emanated from somebody outside of the Parliament, will you inform the House whether you authorized the services of any parliamentary officer to be used for the purpose of distributing typewritten copies of the statement?
– I know nothing about this matter. I have not seen the document. So far as I know, a copy of it has not been delivered to me. If the honorable member for Dalley will produce one and discuss the circumstances with me, I shall inquire into the matter.
– I shall certainly do so.
– As far as I know it is competent for any citizen of this community to address any document to members of Parliament. “We all have had experience of that practice.
– But officers of the House cannot be used for that purpose.
– I do not know about that. Can the honorable member prove it?
– I direct the attention of the Minister for Transport to the huge proportions that the toll of road accidents are assuming in Australia. In view of the national significance of 1,1 is matter, will he inform the House what action the Government contemplates to remedy this serious position ? Does the Government favour issuing an invitation to overseas experts on this subject to visit Australia to assist and advise our authorities ?
– First, I point out that the Government is making available £100,000 a year for road safety purposes. The campaign for road safety is being directed by the Australian Road Safety Council, which is a body associated with the Australian Transport Advisory Council. That body is comprised of representatives of all the States and is administered by my department. In my view, it is an extremely valuable organization. The Australian Road Safety Council is making a substantial contribution to the prevention, as far as possible, of any rise in the road accident rate in Australia. It is true that that rate is still alarming. In fact, the number of people killed annually in road accidents is now greater than the number we lose on the average in time of war. The total casualties in road accidents in this country last year was about 27,000. It is a matter of concern to everybody that the road accident toll in Australia should be so high. Unfortunately the rate is rising. Our population increased last year by about 4 per cent., whilst the number of motor vehicles in use increased by about 10 per cent. I have no doubt that one of the factors which has contributed to the arrest of the comparative rise of the road accident toll has been the work of the Australian Road Safety Council. I have seen some of the films that that council has imported from the United States of America, and as a result my own driving rate has been reduced by about 20 miles an hour. It also put out a good deal of publicity matter. Credit should be given to the previous Government for its share in this work.
-The honorable member is travelling a long road.
– This body is doing good work, including some of the things suggested by the honorable member in his question. Any further work of that kind will receive my support.
– by leave - There are good reasons why a statement should be made in this Parliament on the matter of the trial of alleged Japanese war criminals. One is that there have been some uninformed public speculations on the matter in recent weeks. Another - much more important - is that many thousands of Australians suffered at the hands of the Japanese, and there are, unhappily, thousands of homes in which the barbarity of the conduct of many of our Japanese enemies has brought untold sorrow and disturbance of spirit. It is, therefore, necessary that I should set out on behalf of the Government a brief but sufficient account of what has been done about Japanese war trials, and what it is now proposed to do.
I will not need to tell honorable members and the Australian public that the basis of the post-war trials has not been that those who fought against us should, by reason of that fact only, be punished; for there are many patriotic men in all the armies of all the nations of the world. The true foundation of the war trials has been the belief that certain things that were done - sometimes under orders - represented crimes against international law, and against the general, decent laws of humanity. Those who provoke international conflict or who engineer wars of aggression are immeasurably more guilty than those who fight under their commands.
A great deal of attention, therefore, has been concentrated upon the makers of the recent war, and proceedings against others have been founded, not upon their obedience to orders, which in itself is a soldierly characteristic, but upon their violations of the rules of war by the performance of acts of murder, of torture, and of inhuman treatment. Whatever reservations existed in the minds of at least some people, there was, when the war ended, a general conviction in the minds of the people of the democratic powers that suspected criminals should be sought out, that the cases against them should be marshalled, and that they should be publicly tried and, if convicted, dealt with. At the same time I should state quite clearly on behalf of all of us that, as the war was a crucial struggle against aggression and injustice, so our conduct in victory should be marked by an adherence to those great principles of clear allegation, prompt trial, and unswerving execution of judgment which have characterized the whole development of what we call, in simple but proud terms, British justice. The second feature to which I have referred is of immense importance. There should be prompt trial. “ To no man shall we deny or delay right or justice “ ran the words of the Great Charter. The indefinite postponement of trial may mean gross injustice. What is equally unfortunate, it may perpetuate, in days of peace, feelings of bitterness that afford a poor foundation for the pacification and the mutual understanding of the peoples of the world. With all these principles in mind, let me place quite shortly before honorable members an account of what ‘ has happened in relation to Japanese suspected or accused of war crimes.
Immediately after the termination of hostilities the trial of these people was undertaken by the prescribed courts. Suspected war criminals came under two main headings which were then devised. These were major war criminals, and minor war criminals. Major war criminals could be defined as heads of States and responsible government leaders, instigators and accomplices participating in the planning, preparation and waging of war in violation of international treaties or in pursuit of aggression. Twenty-five Japanese suspected major war criminals were convicted on trial by the International Military Tribunal in the Ear East with the following results: - Death sentences, 7; life imprisonment, 16; twenty years imprisonment, 1; seven years imprisonment, 1.
Minor war criminals - and the word “ minor “ is, as honorable members will perceive, a purely relative term - may be defined as those persons who, during the conduct of the war, committed violations of the laws and customs of war by being guilty of such crimes as murder, gross cruelty or ill-treatment. The trials of such accused persons was undertaken by military courts set up under the jurisdiction of each Allied authority concerned. Australian military courts operated at various times at Labuan, Weewak, Morotai, Rabaul, Darwin, Singapore and Hong Kong.
While these Australian trials were in progress trials of Japanese accused of war crimes were also being undertaken by the Governments of the United Kingdom, the United States of America, the Netherlands and the Philippines. The policy in relation to such trials was defined by the Far Eastern Commission. It was, that investigations should be completed by the 30 th June, 1949, if possible, and that trials should, if possible, be concluded before the 30th September, 1949.
For various reasons, it turned out to be no longer practicable to conduct Australian prosecutions at Hong Kong. Steps were then taken to effect further trials in Japan. Diplomatic objections arose to the conduct in Japan of proceedings by courts that were Australian and that had no strict connexion with the occupation of Japan. In these circumstances the military court at Hong Kong was terminated in December, 1948, since which time there have been no further Australian trials of Japanese accused of war crimes, although the work of investigation in certain cases was continued. In the result, no trials took place in 1949.
The Governments of the United Kingdom and of the United States of America adopted the Far Eastern Commission’s policy, brought their investigations to a conclusion and terminated the trials of J apanese suspects by the 30th September, 1949. The position when the present Government came into office at the very end of 1949 may be summarized in this way: - A total of 811 persons had been tried by the Australian war crimes courts and 143 convicted persons had been sentenced to death and executed. Four hundred and thirty-two of the original total of 811 persons, had been sentenced to terms of imprisonment, 236 of them being sentenced to terms of ten years or more. Of the total number of 432 sentenced, 30 are serving sentence in Hong Kong, 30 at Singapore, and 226 at Manus, while 146 have completed their sentences and have returned to Japan. There were, at the time of our assumption of office, on the 19th December, 1949, 44 cases, involving 191 suspects, in respect of which files were awaiting consideration to determine whether the suspects should be brought to trial. Immediately after the swearing-in of the new Government, this disturbing state of affairs was brought to the notice of the Cabinet by my colleague, the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis). It was, in point of fact, the first matter with which we dealt. We were greatly concerned to find that there were very many Japanese suspected war criminals who, well over four years after the war, had been confined in prison without trial, many of them for over two years and others for periods varying from six months to two years.
We at once formed the opinion that those extraordinary delays violated the fundamental concepts of British justice and that the whole matter must be brought to a head with all speed. We were, indeed, advised that the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Japan contemplated releasing suspects not brought to trial, but before doing so had on more than one occasion sought advice from the Australian Government about what it proposed to do in relation to bringing the suspects to trial. We, therefore, confronted by this state of affairs, decided two things: First, that if the evidence against accused persons had not been adequately collected nearly four and a half years after the termination of hostilities, the case against such persons must .be so speculative that prolonged imprisonment without trial could not be justified; and, secondly, that if evidence had been collected and there were cases ready to be tried, they should be proceeded with promptly. We therefore decided that an Australian military court should be established at Manus. We selected Manus because, Japan being excluded and other places not being available, Manus was the Australian territory nearest to Japan that was available for this purpose. We decided that the trials should be restricted to cases involving charges of murder or other revolting crimes or charges in relation to which, on conviction of the accused persons involved, the sentence of death might be appropriate.
Information already appeared on the files that the previous Government had been advised that there were eight such cases meriting trial, and that the remainder were either surrounded with doubts or would, on conviction, merit imprisonment sentences only. The Minister for the Army thereupon put in hand a final review of the cases extant. That review has extended the number of cases to seventeen involving charges against 120 suspected war criminals. The majority of these suspected persons are already held in custody in Japan, but some are at large. Action has been taken to apprehend them so that, together with those in custody, they may be taken to Manus Island for trial. It will be seen therefore that the present Government has moved with speed and decision upon these matters.
Our desires are, simply stated, to bring to trial those against whom grave and properly triable cases are shown to exist; to have those trials disposed of with such speed as is consistent with the processes of justice; and to terminate a wretched state of affairs in which justice is denied because it is delayed. I should add that where suspected war criminals are released because of a present inability to arraign them on satisfactory evidence, we reserve our right to make a re-arrest should fresh material appear which seems to demand a prosecution. I move* -
That the paper be printed.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Daly) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) - by leave - agreed to-
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act 1940, the following members be appointed members of the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings: - Mr. Speaker, Mr. Bate, Mr. Davidson, Mr. Fraser, Mr. Gullett and Mr. Rosevear.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) - by leave - agreed to -
That, unless otherwise ordered, this House shall meet for the despatch of business on each Tuesday and Wednesday at 2.30 p.m. and on each Thursday at 10.30 a.m.
Debate resumed from the 23rd February (vide page 92), on motion by Mr. Opperman -
That the following Address-in-Reply to the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General be agreed to: -
May it please Your Excellency:
We the House of Representatives of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.
– Like most of the new members who have preceded me, I confess to nervousness in attempting to make even a small contribution to this debate. Indeed, I have more reason than they to feel nervous on this occasion. Perhaps, honorable members are aware in the light of outside events that I am suspect insofar as my right to represent any one in this House is concerned. Consequently, I have an additional reason Ito feel nervous in attempting to address the House on behalf of the people who live in the electorate of Kingsford-Smith.
However, I shall attempt to do so to the best of my ability. First, I congratulate the honorable members who have preceded me in this debate; and I also congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, upon your elevation to your high office.
The question before the Chair is the motion for the Address-in-Reply. I believe that honorable members generally will agree with most of the hopes that are expressed in the Governor-General’s Speech. I use the word “ hopes “ because in my view very serious doubts exist as to the ability of the Government to bring to fruition the promises made in that document. My scepticism is wellfounded. Not many years ago nonLabour governments had substantial majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and they had every opportunity to give effect to their policy. They failed to do so, and, what is more, the people know why they failed. Although they appear to present a united front on all matters, experience has shown that the only issue on which they are united is that of political expediency. Outside the Parliament, members of previous non-Labour governments have opposed, abused and even threatened each other. To-day, however, they seem to present a united front, and they ask us to have confidence in them. They owe their return to office to the influence of the big financial and other interests that backed them during the election campaign, but because of their well-known inability to remain united and to legislate for the welfare of the people, I express grave doubts about their ability to give effect to all the proposals that are contained in the Governor-General’s Speech.
Speaking in general terms, I believe that we on this side of the chamber can agree with a number of the statements in His Excellency’s Speech. I refer particularly to the expression of loyalty to the Throne, and I note with pleasure that the Government confidently hopes that Their Majesties will be able to visit us in 1952. I also earnestly endorse the sentiment in the concluding paragraph of the Governor-General’s Speech, in which His Excellency has expressed the hope that Divine Providence will guide our deliberations and further the welfare of the people of the Commonwealth. I am convinced that this Government will require the goodwill and assistance of Divine Providence if it is to give effect to all the matters of policy that are mentioned in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech. We on this side of the chamber remember that nonLabour governments with majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives were unable to legislate for the welfare of Australians generally. Experience proves that non-Labour governments display an utter lack of sympathy for the common people, such as those whom I represent here. At this stage of my speech, I consider that’ it is pertinent to recall the complete failure of non-Labour governments to alleviate the distress of Australians during the financial and economic depression in the 1930’fi. Thousands of people suffered degradation. Although they were willing and able to work, the non-Labour government of the day was not prepared to make available the money that was necessary to provide employment for them. During those years, a Commonwealth Treasurer sought the approval of the Parliament to allocate an amount of approximately £20,000,000 for the purposes of stemming the tide of unemployment and reducing the hardships that the working people were suffering. The parties which now constitute the Government were instrumental in denying the granting of that financial assistance. Because of their lack of sympathy for the common people, they are unable to govern this country satisfactorily. As unemployment became widespread during the depression, property values were deflated, and landholders and small business people incurred heavy financial losses. Many people became bankrupt, and distress was widespread. Australia was pulled along, as it were, in the wake of the old countries of Europe, and the non-Labour government of the day was unable or unwilling to legislate for the welfare of the people. That government considered that any solicitude which it might have shown for the common people at that time would have limited the concessions which it obtained from the investing capitalists in this country and abroad. The record of the non-Labour government during the economic and financial depression makes very sorry reading indeed.
I was gratified to hear His Excellency state that the Government would establish a Ministry of National Development, and I express the hope that, when that department is formed, the Government will give it some work and provide it with the money that it will require. Emphasis has been placed upon the Government’s intention to foster major programmes of industrial expansion in close and friendly co-operation with local and regional authorities. If the Government succeeds in that sphere, it will have good cause for satisfaction. I have a fairly extensive knowledge of local authorities in New South Wales, Victoria and other States, and I know that they are carrying an increasingly heavy burden that has been imposed upon them by the Commonwealth and the States, often without the money that they required to enable them to meet those additional responsibilities. If this Government is able to render greater assistance to local authorities, it will have good reason for gratification. Some honorable members opposite who have spoken in this debate, have severely criticized various members -of the previous Government, and have failed to give credit where credit is due.
His Excellency has announced that the Government will endeavour to achieve a well-balanced pattern of decentralization. Had the critics of the Labour Government been fair, they would have admitted that the Chifley Government’s record in achieving the decentralization of industry surpasses the achievements of any previous government. Ten or fifteen years ago, when a non-Labour government was in office, many small country towns had no industries and young people who were reared in them were compelled, on attaining working age, to seek employment in the large cities. To-day, the scene has changed. Many small towns and even villages in the country districts of New South Wales and Victoria have their own factories which provide employment for a large proportion of young people from the surrounding districts. The decentralization of population and industries is well under way, and opponents of the Labour party cannot justifiably criticize the Chifley Government’s good work in fostering the development of industrial undertakings in various country districts some distance from the coast. Towns like Albury, Orange and Bathurst in New South “Wales, and Castlemaine in Victoria, have expanding industries. I spent the early part of my life in small country towns which were merely shopping places that people on the land visited once a week. In recent years, manufacturing plant has been installed in many of those towns. I visit the small town of Avoca, in Victoria, fairly frequently. For many years, that town offered few opportunities of employment to its people, but it now has wellestablished subsidiary woollen mills of the Maryborough or Geelong factories. The industrial development of towns in the country districts of Australia demonstrates that the Labour Government was not blind to the necessity for decentralization ; indeed, that expansion is a monument to the policy of the Chifley Government. Honorable members opposite have evidently wakened from their long slumber, and are beginning to realize the need for decentralization. Anything that the present Government is able to do in that matter .will be only an extension to the Labour Government’s policy. The foundations are there and the pattern is there. All that this Government has to do is to follow the lead given by the preceding Administration, and ensure that the Australian country towns shall be treated properly so that our economic welfare may be adequately safeguarded.
The Government’s announcement that it proposes to encourage “high output and stable employment “ causes me some agitation. Surely the word “ stable “ should not have been used. During the depression there was stable employment for a small section of the community while the great bulk of the people were on the bread-line because they could obtain employment for only one or two days a week. We do not want stable employment of that kind, although I have no doubt such a state of affairs is keenly desired by some honorable members opposite. What we require is a continuance of the present full employment so that happiness and security may be the lot of all people, and not merely of those who live on investments or upon the earnings of others. Only if there is full employment with security can the working man bring up his children without fear of want, and offer to promising members of his family educational opportunities commensurate with their ability, so that, as the years go by, all members of the community may have equal access to the higher posts. In the past, many such posts have been the close preserve of privileged people, and working-class parents of intelligent children have had to make sacrifices to provide education beyond the primary stages. Given the security of full employment, working people will know that they will be able to provide reasonable opportunities for their children to attain higher educational standards.
During the election campaign backer? of the present Government parties, including the banks and other financial groups, spent many thousands of pounds in propaganda. The electors were told, for instance, that if a Liberal government were elected to office, the Communist party and other subversive organizations would be banned virtually overnight. I was somewhat surprised, therefore, to read in the Governor-General’s Speech that all that the Government has in mind in this direction is the early introduction of a bill to protect the community, not against the Communists themselves, but against their activities. Surely legislation is not needed to protect this country against the activities of those who violate the law. .It already exists. Therefore, the high-sounding election promises which fooled so many people are revealed now as quite meaningless. They have been watered down to the weak announcement that the Government proposes merely to protect the community against the activities of certain people. I hope that the Government will also protect the community against the activities of certain other groups. We read in the daily press, for instance, that although working people in the cities are paying 4d., od., and 6d. each for pieces of fruit, growers are ploughing their crops into the ground. This is due to the activities of brokers and agents whose only concern is to keep prices up. The result is that fruit and vegetables are reaching the public at prices far above the cost of production. Therefore, when the Government is taking steps to protect the community against the activities of subversive organizations, it should not lose sight of these people too. Action should be taken also against large industrial organizations which from time to time make conditions of employment so chaotic that working men, unless they are cowards altogether, are forced to resist and defend their rights as citizens of this country. I suggest, therefore, that, in tackling subversive groups, the Government should not confine its attention to working class or labour movements, but should administer our laws fairly and justly in the interest of the people as a whole. This talk of controlling the activities of somebody or other is merely designed to let the Government out of its election promises.
We are informed that His Excellency’s Advisers have indicated that certain restrictions on the importation of goods from dollar countries are necessary. That seems rather strange, because only two or three months ago the antiLabour parties spent thousands of pounds trying to convince the people of the Kingsford-Smith electorate that the dollar problem was something devised by the Labour Government to gain votes. Now we fine! that the present Government parties, which used the dollar problem to such advantage during the election campaign, regardless of the welfare of the general public, are now convinced that the dollar position requires some attention. Most honorable members on this side of the chamber have been aware of that for a long time. Many years before the dollar problem arose we were most concerned about the willingness of certain individuals to bribe people to vote for them.
I should like somebody to tell me just what is the meaning of the following passage in the Governor-General’s Speech -
Because they felt that restrictions upon our capacity to produce and sell goods and to receive and absorb profitably substantial numbers of migrants were most undesirable, my advisers recently announced the termination of petrol rationing.
I do not know what it means. I have had some association with industry, both primary and secondary, in recent years, but I have not heard any squeal about a lack of petrol for essential use. We all knew, of course, that under petrol rationing salesmen, directors, and others were not able to do as much joyriding a* they wanted to do at week-ends in their high-powered cars; but I have yet to learn that production generally, or such vital undertakings as the transporting of wheat from country centres to our ports, was being hindered by petrol restrictions. I cannot understand, therefore, how the termination of petrol rationing has any relation to the other factors mentioned in the paragraph I have quoted. The bald fact is that petrol rationing has been abandoned, and one can only guess at the true reason. Most of us know it. Promises were made that could not be fulfilled with common decency. Honorable members opposite are prepared to allocate more dollars for petrol at the expense of other goods more urgently required by the people of Australia. Our limited dollar resources are now being more heavily taxed for petrol instead of for machinery urgently needed for the development of our hinterland. Of course the anti-Labour parties had to tell the people of this country some story to take their minds off the failure of past Liberal administrations. That is the only explanation I can offer for the promise to end petrol rationing. Rationing of petroleum products remains in other parts of the world. It is indeed a sad commentary that a government of. this country, in order to satisfy the desires of a small section of the community, should deprive Great Britain of additional dollars at a time when the people of the United Kingdom are finding the greatest difficulty in restoring their economy. The additional petrol coming to this country will not increase production, but will merely serve to satisfy the inclinations of certain individuals in the community.
The Governor-General said that the Government was firmly resolved to pursue a policy of immigration. Naturally, we can only agree with such an aim, but we hope that honorable members opposite will not forget that the greatest immigration policy ever implemented in this country was that of the Chifley Government. The Labour Government, which honorable members- opposite have ridiculed, set up the immigration machinery which is giving such benefit to the people of Australia and is now being used by the present Government. We are glad that they are using* it. Apparently some thing3 the last Government did are still worthy of support and the present Government is not going back on those things.
We come now to the matter of health. The Governor-General informed us that his advisers were concerned about 4he health of the community. The Minister for Health in the last Government - and, indeed, the Government -itself - was so concerned with health that it endeavoured to provide medical and other facilities for the people of Aus.tralia, but it was opposed by a certain organization which has the support of honorable members on the Government side of the House to-day. The present Government is now finding some difficulty in putting its own health scheme into operation because of the opposition of that organization. I hope that will be an indication to honorable members opposite of the difficulties which confronted the last Government in the implementation of its scheme, which had a good deal of merit in it.
As the present Government’s health scheme has not yet reached an advanced stage, I suggest that, in the setting up of any instrumentality to carry out its scheme, the Government should not lose sight of the people who for many years have been endeavouring, in an honorary capacity, to do something for the health of the community. There are a number of friendly societies whose officers have been catering for the health of many hundreds of thousands of people for many years. They are experienced in handling such cases; and they handle them at a very low cost. I do not expect this Government to continue with the scheme of its predecessor, but I suggest that when it comes to consider a health scheme of its own it should not forget that there are in the community men and women who, although not professionals, have a high sense of duty to other people and will be able to assist in making the scheme operate at very little cost. In this connexion I refer particularly to an organization with which I have been associated for many years - the New South Wales Railways, Tramway, Motor Omnibus and Road Transport Employees’ Hospital Convalescent and Consumptive Fund which has been in existence for longer than any other such organization in this country. It gives service to 60,000 people. In the year ended the 28th February, 1949, it handled contributions amounting to £S2,000 for an expenditure of 8.24 per cent. In that year £64,000 was paid out to its members. I suggest that before the Government finalizes any bill to give effect to its health policy it should give consideration to the many organizations which have, for so many years, been carrying out the work the Government now claims it desires to carry out.
I shall now refer to one or two statements made by speakers in supporting the Address-in-Reply. The statement of one honorable member opposite regarding country conditions was remarkable. He had the audacity to say that the country was in a bad way, and that country people were not well off to-day. I judge from the demeanour and general appearance of the honorable member that he knows very little about the countryside of Australia. There never was an era in Australian history when the man on the land was better off than he is to-day. He may be entitled to further concessions; but it is incorrect to suggest that during the last few years his position has become worse. Everybody must know the conditions which existed in country districts, some 30 or 40 years ago. There were no telephones ; there were no motor cars ; there were very few educational facilities ; there were no roads suitable for motor cars, even if people had enough money to buy them ; there was no radio. I remember the time when graziers were glad to accept lid. per lb. for greasy merino wool. How different from present wool prices ! There was only the oldfashioned way of milking by hand morning and night, whilst separators were almost unknown to all but rich dairymen. The honorable member seems to knowvery little of the history of Australia and its rural development. His statement was so ridiculous that it could not be allowed to pass without some reply. Although the man on the land may be deprived of many of the amenities of city life, he is enjoying comforts and amenities unknown to the pioneers of this country who put up with many hardships to make Australia the nation it has now become. Although some of us in this House are new members many of us have been concerned with the welfare of this country and its people since boyhood. We know the position of Australia to-day, and we know what it was in the days that have passed. Honorable members on this side of the House are confident that the Australian people know that conditions in the country are better to-day than they were 30 or 40 years ago.
I was very surprised to hear the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Spender) say that the main reason for the rise in prices was the Labour Government’s withdrawal of subsidies and the devaluation of the Australian currency. He stated that one of the worst problems to-day was rising costs. If he knows the cause why does he not take some action about it instead of trying in an underhand way to besmirch the reputations of the leaders of the last government? He criticized the Deputy Leader ‘ of the Opposition and spoke of a lack of loyalty. The Minister he criticizes has well proved his loyalty. It is not many years ago that no one knew what party the present Minister for External Affairs was in. On one occasion the honorable gentleman took such a dislike to the Liberal party that he stood as an independent, and in consequence caused the political defeat of Sir Archdale Parkhill, who was one of the bulwarks of the Parliament at that time. That was the loyalty that Mr. Spender showed to his party and to his colleagues.
– Order! The honorable gentleman must not refer to honorable members by name.
– We know that the loyalty of the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Spender) lies in a direction which affects his interests. As I have said, on one occasion he stood as an independent candidate. Many of us remember his fight on that occasion against the organization to which he now appears happy to belong because it has given him a very lucrative position. Generally, I avoid personalities, but I felt compelled to make those remarks because the honorable gentlemen opposite to whom I have referred attacked senior members of the Labour party and accused them of disloyalty. In those circumstances, I considered it to be appropriate to refresh the memories of honorable members by pointing out what some honorable gentlemen opposite have done in the past and how they are liable to react should similar circumstances again arise.
We approve generally of the pious hopes that were expressed in the Governor.General’s Speech, but I regret to say that I cannot take them seriously because of the nature of the men who are charged with the task of putting them into effect. We approve of the statements in theSpeech that concern the Royal Family.. We have a deep- sense of loyalty to tha duly constituted head of the British Commonwealth of Nations. We hope that Their Majesties will have a very pleasant time when they visit Australia. When they do come here, we shall welcome them in a manner that will be to the credit of Australia. As to the rest of the Speech, I regret to say that I do not think that the programme outlined in it will ever be put fully into effect.
– Mr. Speaker, you were good enough to remind new members of the indulgence that they may expect from this House. I am encouraged by that statement, but nothing can dispel entirely the diffidence that a new member feels when he speaks in this chamber for the first time. I hope to mitigate that diffidence by speaking of a topic in relation to which other honorable members share, to some degree, although not entirely, my own inexperience. This House is meeting in circumstances that are quite different from those in which any other House of Representatives in Australia has met. Previously, there was an effective means of resolving any deadlock that occurred between the House of Representatives and the Senate ; but, by a combination of circumstances to which I shall direct attention, we do not meet to-day under such conditions. The plain truth. of the matter is that at present there is no effective means of resolving a deadlock between this House and the Senate if it occurs. That change stems from the operation of Act No. 17 of 1948, which altered the method of election to the Senate. Under the old system, if there were a continued difference of opinion between the Senate and the House of Representatives, both Houses of the Parliament had to undergo the process of double dissolution. The method of voting was such .that there was then a clean sweep one way or the other in the Senate. The majority of the senators elected for each State belonged to one or other of the political parties. Because of that fact, there was a very natural reluctance on the part of members of the Senate to hazard their political futures if they were not certain of the way in which the vote would go. In consequence, the veto of the Senate on the legislation of this House was confined to measures in relation to which the senators who wished to veto them had a reasonable assurance that the majority of the electors were on their side. Now, however, election to the Senate is by proportional representation, and because that is so, it is clear that, in the event of a double dissolution, there would be no clean sweep in that chamber. The majority of the senators are not in personal hazard. As the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said in 1948, because of the introduction of the principle of proportional representation into elections for the Senate, “ the threat of a double dissolution is much less formidable than it was previously.”
But that, although a part of the story, is not the whole story, or even its kernel. There is another factor, introduced by chance or design, that will operate with much greater effect. It is that, in the event of a double dissolution, ten senators will be elected by each State. What will that mean under a system of proportional representation? If there be a 50-50 split, of the ten senators elected by each State five will be members of the Opposition parties and five will be members of the Government parties. If there be a 51-49 split, the position will be the same. If there be a 54-46 split, the numbers will still be five and five. The split must be 55-45 before that ratio can be disturbed. It is not impossible that the voting in any State would be 55-45, but it is unlikely. Although there was a great land-slide at the last general election, in no State did the percentage of electors who voted for the present Government parties in the Senate, after making allowances for all votes cast for minor parties, rise as high as 55. The figure in New South Wales was 53 per cent., in Victoria 5.1. per cent., in Queensland 54 per cent., in South Australia 49 per cent., and in Western Australia and Tasmania 52 per cent. It will be seen that, even if we were to experience, after a double dissolution, a political landslide as great as that which put the present Government into office, the division in the Senate would be 30-30. It will be recalled that in the event of an equality of votes in the Senate the procedure to be followed is governed, not by the Standing Orders of the Senate, but by section 23 of the Constitution, which provides that the President is to have no casting vote and that the question is to be resolved in the negative.
If there were to be a double dissolution, and if. the voting for the Senate were to be the same as it was at the last general election, the number of senators would be evenly divided, and the Government would be unable to secure the passage of one measure against the wishes of the Opposition, in spite of the fact that an overwhelming number of the electors had favoured the Government. Honorable members can see that the mechanisms of democracy have been very effectively thwarted in a way that was not perhaps envisaged at the time when that measure was passed and in a way to which attention was certainly not directed in the debates that occurred on the measure in this House. That being so, if a government is unable to pass any measure through the Senate it has recourse only to section 57 of the Constitution, which, as honorable members well know, lays down the procedure for a joint sitting of the Houses. However, and this is the relevant point, that procedure is applicable, under the Constitution, only to the hill which is the subject of a double dissolution. That means that, although the Government, with the authority of a majority of the electors, could pass one measure through the Parliament - that which was the cause of the double dissolution - it would still be impotent to carry out the policy which the overwhelming majority of the electors bad approved. Democracy has been “ spragged “ by the operation of the 1948 measure. As that follows from the form of sections 55, 56 and 57 of the Constitution, 1 may be pardoned if I recall to the minds of honorable members the circumstances in which those sections were framed and the constitutional forces under which they have been developed.
Constitutional ghosts buried for more than 50 years in their graves by Barton, Deakin, Parkes and Griffith are now about to rise and pace the Australian political stage for the first time. It is relevant, therefore, that we should turn back the pages of history and review the circumstances in which those sections of the Constitution were formulated. Honorable members will recall that, in the early debates about federation, the first idea of a .Senate, if indeed there was to be a Senate, was that it should be composed of eminent men, free from all ties of party, who would review each question on its individual merits. In the words of Sir Henry Parkes, in 1891, the senators would have - maturity of judgment, distinction of service, length of experience and weight of character.
Because of that, they would be able to consider each measure on its merits.
Later, as the struggle for federation developed and it became clear that the main impediment to federation was the opposition of the “States righters “, the conception of the Seriate took on a. new character as the House of the States. The position was clearly stated by Barton in 1897, when he said -
In the other chamber, whether it is called the Council of the States, the States Assembly or the Senate must not be found the ordinary checks of the upper house, but . . . the basic principle of federation conserved in that chamber, which is representation of the rights of the States.
As the political struggle developed, the weight of Barton’s view gradually overlaid the earlier view that had been expressed by Parkes. But both views had in common the fact that they were based upon the assumption that the Senate would not be a party House. However, a contrary view was expressed as early as 1897 at least. In order to illustrate that view, I quote these words of Deakin -
Contests between the two Houses will only arise when one party is in possession of a majority in one chamber, and the other is in possession of a majority in the other chamber. . . . lt is certain that once this Constition is framed it will be followed by the creation of two great national parties.
The view taken by Deakin was, as the verdict of history has shown, the correct one, but it was not the prevailing view. The view that prevailed was that of Parkes and Barton, that the Senate would not be a party House. For that reason, the deadlock provisions which were framed in sections 55, 56 and 57 of the Constitution were adapted to a dead-lock centred not upon parties, but upon a measure. That is why the provision for a joint sitting embodied in section 57 relates only to a measure that is the cause of a double dissolution.
The fathers of the Constitution did not foresee party politics in the Senate and did not find it necessary to hedge round the operations of the Senate with restrictions made necessary by the existence of parties. They regarded the House of Representatives as a representative and sovereign chamber. Undeniably an earlier breakdown due to this defect in the Constitution would have appeared with the development of parties in the Senate, had it not been for another historical accident, which was the nature of the Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1902. That act provided that senators should be elected by the voters placing crosses on their ballot-papers against the names of those candidates whom they wished to elect. It was a “ firstpastthepost “ system and, under that system, it was normal that there should be tides of parties sweeping through the Senate, the majority elected for any State always representing one party. The right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt), as Attorney-General, concurred in that view as late as 194S, when, referring to the 1902 system, he said -
All seats in a State go to the party or combination of parties favoured by a bare or simple majority of the electors.
The operation of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902 was intensified, if possible, by the introduction in 1919 of a new act which provided basically the method of Senate election that obtained until the last election. Another enactment in 1922 further intensified that process by providing that names could be grouped on the ballot-paper. The result of it all was that, until now, the veto of the Senate has been kept in check by the fact that senators could be called to account by the people and, at a double dissolution, be made to forfeit personally their own seats if they had guessed incorrectly about the wishes of the people, or be returned with a decisive majority expressing the will of the people and allowing effective government” to be carried on. Because of that feature in the election of the Senate, in spite of the constitutional defect that was incorporated in the original draft following upon the erroneous conclusion of Parkes and Barton that there would be no parties in the Senate, effective government has been carried on with a reasonable balance between the two chambers.
As early as 1910 attention could be directed to this right, and hecause honorable senators could thus be called to account the Senate could gain in representative character, public estimation and legislative usefulness. Suddenly, the position was altered. They cannot now be called to account because of what was done in this Parliament in 1948. There is no longer an effective means of over-riding the Senate’s veto on this chamber even when a large majority of the electors favour the Government. Democracy has been sterilized in a. way which one would have thought would have been least acceptable to the members of the last Government, because one of the planks of the platform of the Labour party is the abolition of the Senate. Instead of abolishing it, they instituted what incontestibly was the greatest constitutional change that had been made since federation. Unless it can be reversed, this ia a more important factor in constitutional development than any that had ever occurred previously, because it disturbs the whole foundation of parliamentary government. It radically changes the relationship existing between the two Houses and aborts the principle that the government should be subservient to the wishes of the majority of the electors.
A means of constitutional obstruction has been introduced into the parliamentary system of greater magnitude than anything of such a nature previously experienced. It is a tremendous constitutional change, but it depends mainly on the small and seemingly irrelevant fact that the number ten is even. Lf an odd number of senators were to be elected from each State it would not matter. Did that position arise by mere accident? There are some persons who say that the ex-Attorney-General, Dr. Evatt, is the cleverest time-server who ever appeared on the floor of this chamber and that he, designing to abort the verdict of the people against him in 1949, far-sightedly had this measure passed deliberately without drawing the attention of the House to its tremendous constitutional implications. It would be unfitting for me, as a new member, to try to choose between the two alternatives - was it manslaughter of the Constitution, or was it murder ? It is not for me to say, particularly since, as I shall show later, an event could surely prove which of the two it was.
It is no responsibility of a private member, and it is certainly unfitting for a new member, to try to lay down any measures that could be taken to alleviate or mitigate the situation and I would not presume to do so. But at least I have the responsibility of trying to show that the problem is not insoluble, and if I make some suggestions in that regard, they must be taken, not as the things which are best to do, because the Government in its wisdom must determine that, but as things which it is possible to do and which would probably cure the situation. This immense constitutional change has been made, not by any formal amendment of the Constitution but by an ordinary act passed through this Parliament. What this Parliament did,, it can undo. I should be Wry to see the principle of proportional, representation thrown aside, because I think that, except for its defects in dealing with this crisis of a double dissolution, it is a good system, but it would be possible to provide that, after a double dissolution, each State, should elect nine instead of .ten. senators. That would have the good result of imposing more responsibility upon individual senators, who would feel more keenly that their seats wore in danger. However, the important effect would be to provide for an uneven number of senators to be elected by each State. If that were done, a simple majority in each State would suffice to give a five to four decision and a workable Senate. If something more drastic is needed, I suggest that, after a double dissolution, but at no other time, the system of election for the Senate which we had up to the date of the last election should apply. That would give a more drastic personal sanction against senators and would tend to maintain the balance between the Houses even, more effectively.
I now come to the implications of something that I said earlier. The introduction of a measure such as I have suggested would conclusively demonstrate the good or bad faith of the Labour party in its introduction of the proportional representation measure in 194S. If members of that party opposed it, they would show once and for all that their assassination of democracy was deliberate and designed, and not accidental. That test would provide a touchstone that would test their intention. If they should show by their actions that their faith was bad, it would still be possible for the Government, under the provisions of section 128 of the Constitution, without the concurrence of the Senate, to put the proposal to a referendum of the people, have it carried, and thus restore to the people the democratic right which has been stolen from them by stealth by the Labour party under Act No. 17 of 1948.
If anything is to be done along those lines, let it be done quickly, for these four reasons: First, it is a constitutional matter which should be considered on its merits and not as a mere appendage to a bill about banking, communism or anything else. Let lt be considered on its merits,, not because it is made necessary by a vote of the Senate against the Government. A constitutional issue of this kind deserves to be considered! early, and considered free from those prejudices which must on one side or another attach to a particular measure. The second reason for speed is that we should show the good or bad faith of the Australian Labour party in this matter as quickly as possible. If that party did this deliberately it is the greatest constitutional crime that any political party has ever committed. If it did it accidentally the crime is venial. Let it bc blotted out at the earliest possible moment. The third reason is this: We all know that a referendum is to be held. His Excellency’s Speech made reference to it. It would be easy at the time of that referendum to include also a provision of this character, if the obduracy of the Australian Labour party should make that necessary. The fourth reason is that the significance of an odd or even number of senators seems at first sight so unimportant, because its implications are not perceived, that a long campaign may be necessary to explain to the people the significance of what has been done, and what they must do. Constitutional questions, always the mechanics of government, are sometimes its subject. It is well that they should be its subject as little as possible, but when they are, let them be considered with due solemnity and with proper and dispassionate concern. This constitutional question is the core of the livest political question of this hour. It relates to the policy of this Government, because on it depends the translation into action of much that was contained in His Excellency’s -Speech. Nevertheless, it is a constitutional question which should be considered on its merits as such.
I thank the House for its indulgence, and thank you, also, Mr. Speaker, for having’ encouraged me by reminding ma that I could rely on that indulgence, at least in roy maiden speech.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Treloar) - adjourned.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Commonwealth Public Service Act- Appointments - Department -
Postmaster-General - S. R. Ayling, H. EL. Buchan, J. Chambers, J. K.Custance, A. A. Dawes, H. W. F. Edwards, R. P. Froom, E. G. Goymer, J. Green, A. G. Harvey, R. B. Head, W. Herbst, A. G. Hilliard, H. D. Hyamson, L. Jewell, R. Larnach, M. N. Leveridge, E. W. Mansfield, C. F. McGrane, K. A. McKibbin, H. W. Millson, A. E. Perriman, T. P. Reed, J. D. Robertson, C. M. Sapsford, J. Tomlinson, R. V. Verrall. labour and National Service - M. Schwarz.
Social Services - B. M. C. Gordon.
Commonwealth Railways Act - Report on Commonwealth Railways Operations for year 1948-49.
River Murray Waters Act - River Murray Commission - Report for year 1948-40.
House adjourned at 12.30 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 24 February 1950, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1950/19500224_reps_19_206/>.