10th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator theHon. Sir John Newlands) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– On the 13th September Senator Thomas asked the following questions: -
I am now in a position to furnish the honorable senator with the following information : -
What is the estimated loss (a) per mile,
In view of the result of the attempt by the Commission to induce private enterprise to undertake the service, will the Government, in the interest of the taxpayers, remove the control of this service from the Commission, with a view to making satisfactory arrangements for the service with private enterprise companies?
I am now in a position to advise as follows : -
The following papers were pre sented : -
War Service Homes Act - Report of the War Service Homes Commission, year ended 30th June, 1928.
Ordered to be printed.
New Guinea Act - Ordinance No. 18 of 1928 - Mining.
THE LATE Mr. E. B. C. CORSER, M.P.
– (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands). - I have to report the receipt of the following letter from Mr. Bernard H.Corser : -
Dear Sir John,
I desire to thank you for yours of the 31st ultimo, conveying the Senate’s motion in which it so kindly expresses appreciation of the services of my late father. I would ask you to convey my thanks to the members of the Senate for their kindly action, which is much appreciated.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade find Customs, upon notice -
– The answers are : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What is the duty on electric-lighting plant used in country homes?
– The answer is us follows : -
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The information desired will be made available to the honorable senator as soon as possible.
asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The necessary information is not readily available, but inquiries are being made and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
Bill received from the House of Representatives
[11.13]. - I move -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the bill being passed through all its stages without delay.
This motion, if agreed to, will enable me to move the first and second readings of the bill. If an adjournament of the debate is then sought, no objection will be offered.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill (on motion by Senator Sir George PEARCE) read a first time.
[11.14]. - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This measure, which has been passed by another place, contains two principal features. Honorable senators are aware that a referendum is to be taken at the forthcoming election on a proposed alteration of the Constitution, concerning which there appears to be unanimity between the Government and the Opposition, although there is a difference of opinion regarding the agreement to be entered into under the proposed amendment. There is already a statutory provision to the effect that when a referendum is taken on an alteration of the Constitution, pamphlets shall be prepared and published setting out the views of the respective parties for the information of the electors. It would seem, however, to be a waste of money to publish such a pamphlet on this occasion since the Government and Opposition parties are apparently unanimous as to the desirableness of such an alteration. It is now proposed, as was done in a previous case, to provide that that shall not be necessary in this instance. The other provisions of the bill relate to the ballot-papers. Clauses 3 to 6 provide for an alteration of the system of voting at the referendum. The present system requires an elector to place a X opposite either the word “ Yes “ or the word “ No,” to indicate whether he is in favour of, or opposed to, the suggested alteration of the Constitution. The system of voting for members of the Senate and the House of Representatives is different; electors are required to indicate by numerals the order of their preference for the candidates. At the forthcoming election each elector will be handed three ballot-papers - one each for the election of members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and one for the referendum proposals. Unless the system of voting on the referendum proposals is altered, there will be confusion, resulting in a large number of informal votes being cast. The number of informal votes cast, even at ordinary elections, is astonishing. A greater percentage than usual of such votes might not affect the result of the referendum, because it could be arranged that a figure 1 on the referendum ballotpaper could be counted as though a X had been placed in the square; but if, on the other hand, an elector placed a X on the ballot-paper for the election of members of the Senate or the House of Representatives, his vote would be informal. All honorable senators will agree that it is desirable to reduce to a minimum the number of informal votes. At the 1919 election proposals to alter the Constitution were submitted to the electors, but, as at that time, the preferential system ‘of voting for Senate and House of Representatives elections was not in operation, no confusion was caused; an elector simply placed a X on each ballot-paper to indicate, his preference. But with the preferential system of voting in operation it is necessary to take action to avoid confusion. It is proposed that, instead of placing a X opposite his choice on the referendum ballot-paper, the elector shall place the figure 1 in the square. Should he favour an alteration of the Constitution, as proposed in this bill, he will place the figure’ 1 opposite the word “ Yes “ ; should he not favour the proposed alteration, he will place the figure 1 opposite the word “ No.” In ordinary circumstances, one method is just as effective as the other as a means of indicating the wishes of the electors, but, on this occasion, when three ballot-papers will be handed to each elector, it is much better that we should have a uniform system. The position is amply safeguarded by the further provision that a X placed on the referendum ballot-paper shall not make that vote informal. Whatever may be said against this proposal, the balance of advantage is certainly with the method proposed in the bill.
The Royal Commission on Electoral Reform expressed the opinion that, so far as possible, our methods of voting should be uniform.
– In the past proper efforts have not been made in that direction.
– The proposal in this bill is a step in that direction, in that it is an attempt to obtain uniformity, with a view to reducing the number of informal votes. I . Some time ago I examined a number of the informal ballot-papers cast at the last election for- members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, with a view to ascertaining whether, had they been formal, they would have been added to the total of the votes cast for Labour or non-Labour candidates, and concluded that, of about 900 informal votes in the division of Fremantle approximately 800 were intended to be cast for non-Labour candidates. That is hardly a matter of which honorable senators supporting the Government can be proud.
– Is that the reason for the proposed alteration of the method of voting?
– It indicates that the Labour party has devoted its attention to educating the people in the method of marking their ballotpapers. The time is, perhaps, opportune for me to suggest to honorable senators supporting the Government that they also should give some attention to this matter, because, if my deduction is correct, a reduction in the number of informal votes at the next election would increase the substantial majority gained -by Government candidates at the last election. I submit these proposals in the belief that they will simplify our system and reduce the number of informal votes recorded.
Debate (on motion by Senator Needham) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 11.25 to 11.30 a.m.
Senate called hy the Clerk.
The following senators were absent: - Senators Andrew, Barnes, Carroll. Sir William Glasgow, McLachlan, Ogden, Payne, Sampson, Thompson, Verran.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands). - I have received the following telegram from Senator Barnes : -
Regret I cannot attend call Senate owing sickness. Not serious. Apologize to self and Senate.
The following senators are absent on leave: - Senators Andrew, Carroll, Sir William Glasgow, McLachlan, Payne, Sampson and Thompson.
– I have received a telegram from Senators Ogden and Verran to the effect that they have been detained at Yass owing to the MelbourneSydney express breaking down.
Motion (by Senator Sir George Pearce), hy leave, agreed to -
That in view of the fact that Senator Barnes, who was absent from the call of the Senate, has sent an apology, that Senators Andrew, Carroll, Sir William Glasgow, McLachlan, Payne, Sampson and Thompson are absent on leave, and that Senators Ogden and Verran have sent an intimation that they are delayed owing to a breakdown in the train service, the said senators be excused for failure to answer the call of the Senate.
Motion (by Senator Sir George Pearce) proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
– I urge the Government, even at this late hour, to desist from the course that it is pursuing, and to refrain from seeking to incorporate in our Constitution an amendment that is totally uncalled for, unjustified, and undesired. It is an amendment which blurs the clear language of the well-defined powers of the Federal Parliament, robs the States of their sovereign powers, and gives to this Parliament nothing that could not be obtained by friendly agreement with the States. I realize that from the very inception of the Constitution its aims have been marred by a clause known as the “ Braddon blot,” and this objectionable amendment could aptly be termed “Bruce’s Blunder” or “Page’s Pill.” Unfortunately, the amendment does not convey to the electors of Australia the dangers that it threatens to the sovereign rights of the States. I trust that the Senate will realize that there is no necessity to clutter our Constitution with trivialities such as this. It will be merely another smudge across the Constitution, something that is wholly unwarranted, and I shall issue my manifesto to the Australian people urging them to stultify its influence by returning to power a Federal administration that will return to constitutional and responsible government.
– I wish to record my strong protest against this bill to amend the Constitution. I regard it as another link in the chain that has been forged for the purpose of despoiling the States of their fundamental rights. Without this bill the financial agreement with the States would not become vitally operative. It empowers the Commonwealth Government to make agreements with the States, and may mean that portion of the money previously allotted to the States will be set aside in future for the payment of State debts. To that I have no objection. But I do object to the general purpose of the measure, because I believe that the financial agreement with the States should not have been approved by this Parliament.
I am puzzled to understand why we should not trouble ourselves with what will happen under that agreement eight years hence. It is well understood that although it will work advantageously to the States for about eight years, thenceforth it will be detrimental to their interests. The monetary assistance provided for the States by the Commonwealth will dwindle and dwindle, until by the time the fifty-eighth year is reached it will have attained practically vanishing point. Only a little over £5,000,000 will then be distributed to States having a population of 20,000,000. It might be asked why I appeal on behalf of posterity. I believe that I have an infinitely better charter to do that than this Government has to attack and deprive them of their rights. When federation was inaugurated its founders considered that ten years would be a sufficient period to try out their financial proposals. Now this Government is prepared to jeopardize the interests of the States by making a financial agreement that will exist for fifty-eight years.
The functions and responsibilities of the States of this Commonwealth are vastly different from those of the American States. I propose to make a comparison of those functions and responsibilities. I invite honorable senators to compare the function of our States with those of the State of New York, which today has a population of eighteen millions. The Liberals in Victoria and also in the other State Governments for many years after the inauguration of federation were looked upon as the protectors of the rights and privileges of the States.
– And still are.
– I hope so. I invite honorable senators to compare the function of our State Governments with the functions of the New York State Government since it became part of the American Union. As we are all aware our State Governments are actively concerned in discharging a multiplicity of social functions with which the New York State Government, under its Constitution, has no concern whatever. Our
State Governments have stepped down into the industrial arena and actively assist their citizens in many ways. They provide water supplies for the people, which the New York State Government does not ; and if a man wishes to go upon the land, they provide him with the necessary financial assistance to help him make good. They also advance money for the erection of homes for the people and supply and control light and power. No State under the American Constitution, and no province in the Canadian Dominion has anything to do with these functions. ‘ In addition, our State Governments are responsible for the means of transport, and in many other ways as honorable senators will acknowledge, they concern themselves with the social and industrial well-being of their citizens generally. All this means that they must have . secured to them a substantial portion of the available revenue obtained from the people. Without this, they will be unable to give these services to the people. How then can we justify this proposal to rob the States of an important part of their financial strength? At the inauguration of federation the States had guaranteed to them “three-fourths of the customs and excise revenue. The belief, at that time, was general that one-fourth of the collections from customs and excise would be sufficient for the Central Government. I remind honorable senators that the total then was only about £S,000,000 annually, against about £44,000,000 to-day. I should like to emphasize the point that public opinion believed then, when the total customs and excise revenue was only £S,000,000, that one-fourth of the whole was sufficient for the needs of the Central Government. But times have changed. There are those who now argue that not only is one-fourth insufficient to meet the needs of the National Government, but that actually the whole of it is barely enough, notwithstanding that in addition to this vast increase in customs and excise revenue, the Central Government proposes also to retain its right to raise revenue through other avenues. So far as I am aware it does not intend to vacate any of those fields, but will continue to levy taxation on the people to meet federal needs, thus making it increasingly difficult for the States to obtain the revenue, which they urgently require, from the surplus earnings of the people.
– What the honorable senator is saying concerning the merits or demerits of the financial agreement has nothing to do with the motion for the third reading of this bill.
– It has everything to do with it, because the purpose of this bill is really to employ the Constitution to make the financial agreement a standing reality. I do not want that or anything like it.
– Why was not the honorable senator here to debate the second reading of the bill?
– I am here now, and propose to discuss this proposal in the time that may be allotted to me. It is easily seen that things went wrong when I was not here.
– But this bill does not deal with the financial agreement itself.
– I am aware of that, but I repeat that its real intention is to use the Constitution as it should not be used, and I shall do all that I can to prevent that. I am giving my reasons for the stand which I take in this matter, my main reason being that I do not wish to see the finances of the States impaired, as the result of any alteration of the Constitution.
– All the States Parliaments have accepted the financial agreements.
– I know they have, and I know also the reasons underlying their acceptance of the agreement, which, as I have said, should not be called a financial agreement at all. I say this on the evidence of at least three important actors in the drama - three State Premiers who declared that they had no option but to accept the terms offered by this Government. Mr. Collier in Western Australia, and Mr. Lang in New South Wales, have expressed this view; and the Queensland representative at the conference which adopted the financial agreement has said much the same thing in modified terms. They are all agreed that there was 110 alternative course open to them. All the evidence goes to show that the States were not free agents. They had to accept the agreement.
– That or nothing.
– The fact that one party at the conference dominated the situation has been responsible for a lopsided agreement, which is inequitable in its terms.
The financial agreement, this last link in the chain that is being riveted upon the States, should be judged by one Standard only - its effect upon the wellbeing of the average citizen. And what is the position of the average citizen in this country ? To which Government does he turn if he wishes to play his part in the development of this vast country ? To which authority does he look for assistance when be goes out to subject the wilderness? Is it not true that he turns first to the Government of his State, and is it not true also, that if this bill is accepted by the people, the State Governments will be severely handicapped? I have on other occasions reminded honorable senators that the average citizen is the care of the State Government from the time of his birth until he shuffles off this mortal coil. He turns to the State Government twenty times for every one time that he looks to the Central Government for help, relief, or encouragement. His birth is registered by a State authority. The same Government is responsible for his education, and as I have shown already, throughout his life it concerns itself with his social and industrial well-being. What does the Central Government do for him ? It is true that the Federal Government delivers his letters for 1-Jd.; transmits messages for nim, and performs certain other functions; but most of all it levies taxation from him. Periodically it sends its tax gatherer around with a big bag to collect his surplus earnings and leaves very little available for the State Governments to meet their obligations.
So far as we can gather, when the whole of the customs and excise revenue has been appropriated by the Federal Government for its services, the same authority will continue to tax those other sources of revenue which should be left to the States. In this way the financial strength of the States is being filched from them. Consequently, as sovereign governmental authorities, they are doomed to impotence. I am here to object to this course; to raise my voice against this piratical assault upon the financial resources of the States. I enter my protest against those State members, who, in a moment of weakness, accepted this obnoxious agreement from the Central Government. I charge them with having sacrificed the future welfare of their citizens to the needs of the present. For a paltry advantage that may be enjoyed for a period of seven or eight years, they have surrendered what I regard as their inalienable right to a substantial portion of the Commonwealth customs and excise revenue. I am here to see that evenhanded justice is dealt out to all the partners in the federation. Does any honorable senator suggest that the people would have voted for federation if at the referendum they had been told that in 28 years time, the whole of the customs and excise revenue would be swept from the States?
– Of course not.
– The honorable senator is right. The fact that the people were definitely led to believe that there would be no niching of State rights constitutes a fundamental claim on their part to financial independence, and indicates clearly that this attempt to whittle away their privileges and rights should be resisted to the very last. Their rights, though unwritten, are an integral part of the Constitution. The States have an unchallengeable claim to their full share of the customs and excise revenue, which unfortunately is being taken from them little by little. What is the purpose of the financial agreement if it ig not to aggrandize the position of the Federal Government, and to that extent, destroy the effectiveness of State Governmental institutions? I am not making this charge against this Government find this Government alone. The trouble always has been that the Federal treasury has been overflowing with money; and Federal Treasurers, even in Federal Labour Governments, have spent it most joyously. No Federal Treasurer, until this year, has ever felt called upon to spin a shilling in the air to decide how he should spend it. Every Commonwealth Treasurer has had millions of surplus money available, and has spent it freely, even lavishly. It was during the regime of a Labour Government that lavish expenditure was sanctioned on such, works as the Flinders Naval Base and the base at Cockburn Sound, and all on the authority of a single expert in the person of Admiral Henderson. Statesmen would not dream of spending their own money in such a way. It is true that I was here in support of the Government of the day that embarked on those enterprises, involving the lavish expenditure of millions of pounds, and very often on the say-so of a single expert. At Henderson, for instance, on the advice of one expert, an attempt was made to build a harbour out of dry land - but what was done then was only characteristic of the opulence displayed by one Commonwealth Government after another. On the Cockburn Sound naval base, Mr. Jensen, the then Minister, authorized the lavish expenditure of money and the setting up of standards of pay with which it was almost impossible for the State Labour Government of the day to compete, except ‘at the risk of landing the State in financial embarrassment. The present Labour Premier of Western Australia (Mr. Collier) said to me “ The Commonwealth Government is setting up standards with which we cannot compete, because we have not the money to do so. If we try to compete we shall fail in our duty to the people of the State.” Mr. Scaddan, the Premier of Western Australia at the time to which I have been referring, also complained of the false position in which the State Labour Government was being placed by the lavish way in which money was being spent by the Central Government, which, apparently, had more than it knew what to do with.
The citizens of Australia look to the States still to supply those social services that apply to the individual, from the registration of his birth to the record of his death. If, therefore, through the operation of this bill the States are to become financially embarrassed, the citizens of Australia must suffer first and permanently. It is useless to wait until afterwards and then to contemplate the damage done. Now is the time to call a halt. I shall welcome the time, when the per capita payments are restored to the States, and they are in a position to carry on those useful social public services of which the citizens of Australia take so much advantage. If the Central Government monopolizes the whole of the customs and excise revenue, and still continues in the field of direct taxation, the States will be reduced to such a state of penury and distress that out of the revenue they will still be able to garner from the few patches of the taxation field left untouched, they will not be able , to supply those services that the citizen so sorely needs.
I leave the matter at this point. I shall record ray vote against the bill, and if the bill is passed I shall record my vote against it at the referendum. I may be told that I should not vote against the bill at the referendum, but I propose to do so. A referendum is a peculiar weapon. It is like a tool that turns in one’s hand and hurts the user. It is supposed to be one of the most democratic of weapons, but has proved- to be one of the most conservative. At any rate, I hope that it will prove to be so on this occasion. I hope that, as a result of the vote, the States will be secured in their position and will not have to roam about like impecunious beggars looking for discarded morsels from the Commonwealth’s overflowing table. When I am told that I ought not to vote against a referendum my reply is that there are certain fundamental and inalienable rights which ought not to besubmitted to a referendum. Would any person allow such an inalienable right as his life or liberty, or his right to follow a lawful occupation to be submitted to a referendum? This is an inalienable right, and should not be submitted to a referendum unless by brute-force like that exercised by the present Government. Perhaps “ brute-force “ is too strong a term to use, but I am merely repeating the words of the three State Premiers, who have declared that they were forced into this agreement with the Commonwealth. The fathers of our federation established for the States their fundamental right to share in the customs and excise revenue, and that fundamental right still remains, because what was right 28 years ago cannot be wrong to-day. The process of time will never and can never convert a moral right into a moral wrong. Yet, although the Constitution secured to the States a portion of the customs and excise revenue, it is now contemplated that they shall be gradually deprived of this revenue until in the 59th year the amount to be distributed will be so paltry as almost to be described as contemptible. At that date the States with their 20,000,000 people, will be paid about £5,200,000, or about 5s. a head as compared with the 25s. paid under the Constitution. There is in Western Australia elbow room for tens of thousands of people who will flock there from the other States and from ‘other parts of the world. The experience of Canada and the United States of America indicates that the population of Western Australia will go ahead far more rapidly than that of any other State. In Canada and in the United States of America, over a period of years, the population has stood comparatively still in the older settled communities, whereas in such outlying districts as Saskatchewan and Alberta the increase has been at the rate of 26 per cent. per annum, and even greater.
The bill before us allows for a steady increase in the population of Australia at the rate of 2 per cent. per annum, and it is calculated that in 59 years it will be 20,000,000. But if our development is similar to that of Canada and the United States of America, Western Australia’s population in the 59th year will be approximately 2,000,000, and the allowance to the State will then amount to about 2s. 6d. a head. Not 30 pieces of silver, but 30 pieces of copper! Not the reward of betrayal but the reward of progress. I oppose this bill with all the vehemence and determination at my command in the belief that it is uncalled for and unjustified, and that it will prove to be most hurtful to the interests of the people whom I represent.
Question - That the bill be now read a third time - put. The Senate divided.
Majority . . . . 22
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands). - There being more than an absolute majority of the whole Senate voting in the affirmative, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
[12.17]. - I move -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders he suspended as would prevent the bill being passed through all its stages without delay.
If this motion is carried I propose to move the first and second reading of the bill, and then, if desired, to grant an adjournment of the debate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill (on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce) read a first time.
[12.18]. - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The bill is to ratify an agreement made between the Commonwealth,. Government and the Tasmanian Government relating to securities held by the Tasmanian sinking fund. This agreement is the outcome of the financial agreement entered into between the Commonwealth and all the States, in which it is provided that all moneys and securities standing to the credit of the sinking funds on the 30th June, 1929, shall be transferred to the National Debt Commission; but that this shall in no way limit the power of a State to cancel any of its securities before the 30th June, 1929. It was contemplated that all the States possessing the necessary power would apply their sinking funds in reduction of their debts, and thus obtain the consequential saving of interest to their revenue accounts. Most of the States have done this because their sinking funds were invested in their own securities; but the position of Tasmania was different from that of the other States, as almost the whole of its sinking funds were invested in Commonwealth securities. Tasmania could thus obtain the same immediate advantages as the other States, only by selling its securities on the open market, which would be most undesirable, or by coming to and arrangement with the Commonwealth. On the 30th June, 1928, the nominal value of the Commonwealth securities held by the Tasmanian sinking fund was £1,139,863. This agreement now provides that these securities shall bc handed over to the Commonwealth, and that an equivalent amount of debt due by Tasmania to the Commonwealth shall be cancelled, thus relieving Tasmania of any liability in respect of such debt. Details of the Commonwealth securities to be handed over by Tasmania are set out in the first schedule to the hill. The nominal value of tho debts due by Tasmania to the Commonwealth, which are to be cancelled, is £1,137,720 and are set out in detail in the second schedule. Owing to the securities and debts having different rates of interest, and dates of maturity, it was necessary to make actuarial calculations to arrive at the value of the securities on the 1st July, 1928, from which date the agreement is to take effect. This value was found to be £1,142,394. The value at 1st July, 1928, of the debts to be cancelled was also £1,142,394. It will be seen that, although there is a slight difference between the totals of the two schedules, the actuarial valuation is the same. Bv giving effect to this agreement as from the 1st day of July, 1928, Tasmania will save, for the current financial year. £62,690 in interest due to the Commonwealth. That is one of the savings referred to in connexion with the Tasmania Grant Bill. The whole transaction is really in the nature of a bookkeeping arrangement between the Commonwealth and Tasmania, and involves a formal agreement between the respective Governments and one which has to bt ratified by the Commonwealth Parliament and the Tasmanian Parliament.’
– Commonwealth securities are negotiable instruments.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Yes.
– Then why is it necessary to enter into an agreement?
– We do not wish these securities to be sold on the open market.
Debate (on motion by Senator Needham) adjourned.
Senate adjourned at 12.23 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 14 September 1928, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1928/19280914_senate_10_119/>.