12th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. W. Kingsmill) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Will the Government consider the advisability of facilitating the passage of the Life Insurance Bill, and also obtain a report from the Commonwealth Statistician or an actuary as to the necessity for the measure being passed ?
– The Government is anxious to facilitate the passage of the bill in question. It has received a report from the Commonwealth Statistician that the matter is one of urgency.
Communist Candidates : Attitude of Australian Labour PARTY
.’ - I ask leave to make a statement.
– Before granting the leave asked for, honorable senators should know the nature of the statement proposed to be made.
– The statement I desire to make has reference to certain words used by an honorable senator in a debate in this chamber on Wednesday.
– The’ honorable senator desiring to make the statement must realize that no debate can ensue on it. If he wishes to correct any statement which has been made, he must do so aa briefly as possible, and without comment. Is it the pleasure of the Senate that Senator Dunn have leave to make a statement ?
– Is it not usual for an honorable senator when asking leave to make a statement to tell the Senate the nature of the statement ha desires to make?
– Senator Dunn should be a little more explicit as to the statement that he desires to make.
– Senator Dunn ap- .proached me in relation to this matter. 1 understand that he has received a request from an influential body in New South Wales to remove a wrong impression that might have been created in the minds of certain honorable senators.
– That could be done perhaps by way of a personal explanation.
– I rise to a point of order. I understand that the honorable senator desires permission to make a statement to correct an impression which might have been created, not by his own speech, but by the speech of another honorable senator. Is it within the province of an honorable senator to correct the speech of another honorable senatorby making a statement or a personal explanation ?
– It is entirely a matter for the Senate to decide.
– When you were temporarily out of the Chair on Wednesday, Mr. President, a statement was made by an honorable senator. Senator Dunn rose, immediately to present another aspect of the matter. He was out of order in doing so and was so informed by the Deputy President. The honorable senator now desires to make the statement which he was not permitted to make yesterday.
– I suggest that he make it on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate to-day.
– He tried to do so last night, but was ruled out of order.
– In the way in which Senator Dunn attempted to make a statement last night he was out of order. He wishes now to make a statement in proper form. If leave is granted the honorable senator to do so, he, must make his statement succinctly and without comment. The granting or the refusing, of permission to make a statement is entirely in the hands of the Senate. Is it the pleasure of the Senate that Senator Dunn have leave to make a statement.
Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear!
– Leave is granted.
– I thank honorable senators for having given me an opportunity to make this statement. I assure them that it will be brief. During the course of the debate in this chamber on Wednesday an honorable senator used expressions in relation to the future civic administration of Sydney, to which the fullest publicity was given in the press. The honorable senator said that the Australian Labour party in New South Wales was putting forward communist candidates for election to the Sydney City Council. On behalf of the Australian Labour party I desire to state that one of the cast-iron rules of the party, whether in New South Wales or any other State, is that no member of any other political party or school of political thought shall have the credentials to enable him to stand as an accredited candidate of the Labour party for Federal or State Parliamentary honours, or for civic honours. I trust that my remarks will be given full publicity in the press.
– Was not Mr. “ Jock “ Garden specially exempted from that rule?
– Order ! Honorable senators must allow the statement to be made without comment.
– The Communist party has issued a manifesto in which it states that it is opposing all the official candidates of the Australian Labour party for election to the Sydney City Council.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s question are as under -
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.They are giving us some of our own back !
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The Minister for Defence has supplied the following replies to the honorable senator’s question -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Works, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s question are as under -
Has the loan of £750,000, now being raised in Victoria for New South Wales hospital purposes been approved by the Loan Council?
– The Treasurer of New SouthWales recently informed the chairman of the Loan Council that the New South Wales Hospitals Commission desired to raise approximately £600,000 for the re-organization of metropolitan and provincial hospitals. The State Treasurer understood the money could be secured from certain institutions on terms slightly better than those recently offered by the Loan Council. On that understanding, the chairman of the Loan Council concurred in the proposal of the State Treasurer that the Hospitals Commission be permitted to raise this money.
The following papers were presented -
Post and Telegraph Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules1930, No. 36 -No. 37.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired at Hundreds of Bagot and Strangways, North Australia - For Railway and Road purposes.
Munitions Supply Board - Report for period 1st July, 1927, to 30th June, 1929.
Debate resumed from 8 th May,(vide page 1548), on motion by Senator Daly -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- Continuing my remarks on this bill, which were interrupted by the dinner adjournment yesterday, I should like to ask Senator Daly in what respect has the Constitution failed to justify the expectations of those who framed it, or of the citizens who approved of its provisions some 30 years ago? I am not one of those who believe that whatever is, is right. It is very evident that there are a number of people who believe whatever is, is wrong. They appear to be inspired by something like the spirit which prompted Omar Khayyam several centuries ago to write the well-known lines -
Ah, Love! could thou andI with fate conspire,
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits - and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!
That seems to be the purpose in the minds of those responsible for the introduction of thisbill. They want to shatter the Constitution to bits and re-mould it in a way that will better suit the purposes of their party, without regard to the interests of the people of Australia or to the democratic principles upon which our Constitution is based. The present provision in the Constitution for effecting amendments is based on “the commonsense of most “. This bill proposes to rob the people of their right to decide the form of Constitution under which they shall be governed. I think that it is admitted by all that our Constitution is capable of some improvement in order to bring about the more effective working of the Commonwealth Parliament, and better government in respect of certain matters over which the Commonwealthhas jurisdiction, but if we judge by results, we should be very satisfied indeed with the progress that this country has made during the past 30 years. At the beginning of Federation Australia had a population of about 3,750,000. To-day, its population is approximately 6,500,000. By the end of 1935 it will probably be double what it was when Federation was inaugurated. Although for the moment our trade and commerce appearto be in the doldrums, we are hoping for better times. That improvement will undoubtedly take place if we inspire the people of Australia with the confidence which is necessary to ensure steady progress. To show that we have made satisfactory progress, it is but necessary to make passing reference to the part that Australia played in the Great War, to which it sent more than 300,000 men, who were admitted to be the best soldiers in the world. The world knows how they acquitted themselves on every battlefront on which they fought. Australia has been in a position to spend out of revenue some £300,000,000 to finance its share in the war and to meet its post war liabilities.
While I know that there are some people who would like to seethe Commonwealth go a little further with regard to industrial and social legislation, it must be conceded that Australia leads the world in those matters. Our Constitution was largely moulded on chat, of the United States of America. However, our provision for amendment is somewhat different from that in the American Constitution which, with the indulgence of honorable senators, I shall read later. The formation of the United States of America was largely the outcome of the War of Independence. During that war and for some time after, North America had a somewhat loose union of thirteen States. In 1777 articles of federation were drafted and approved by the representatives of those States. They were then submitted to the respective Parliaments concerned and finally approved in 1781. In 1787 the Constitution was adopted at a convention, and in 1788 it was ratified by the legislatures of the several States. Article 5 of the new Constitution provides the method of amendment. It reads -
The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three-fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three-fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first Article; and that no State, without, its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.
It will be observed that in the first instance a two-thirds majority is required before a proposed amendment can be submitted to the State Legislatures of the United States of America for ratification, and that it is then necessary to obtain the approval of three-fourths of the States legislatures before the amendment can become part of the Constitution.
– Is that by the people and the States?
– By the States legislatures ; not by ‘the people. It will be noticed that the States have power to initiate proposed amendments, and it is then for Congress to decide whether those amendments shall be submitted to a con vention or left to the State legislatures to decide. I believe that ours is the easier and better way to effect amendments. As Senator Colebatch told us yesterday, only 19 amendments have been made in the Constitution of the United States of America during its existence of 150 years. But that country does not appear to have suffered under it very much because it is operating to-day under practically the same Constitution that functioned 150 years ago. At the time of the War of Independence the United States of America had a population slightly le3S than that of Australia to-day, but it now has a population of over 120,000,000. Without question, it is the richest country in the world, and has progressed more rapidly than has any other country. It has often been stated by those competent to give an opinion that the fact that there are 48 States in the United States of America has contributed very largely to the stability of the country. To-day, when Australia has but a comparatively small amount of gold, the United States of America has no less than £800,000,000 worth of the precious metal. As we originally followed the example of the United States of America in framing our Constitution, we shall br on perfectly safe ground if we follow its example by refraining from making numerous and drastic amendments thereto.
The activities of government are rapidly increasing. As one who has had twelve years experience in this Parliament and nearly six years as a Minister of the Crown, I say, without hesitation, the legislation and administration must inevitably break down if an effort is made to concentrate the whole of these functions in one central administrative body. I believe State legislatures are more competent to deal with many matters because their members are in closer touch with the people, and have a better knowledge of their requirements than it is possible for members of the Federal Parliament to possess. There is an old saying, and one well worthy of acceptation, that in the multitude of counsellors there is safety. I am satisfied, and I am sure the people share this view, that their interests are much safer in the hands of several parliaments than they would be in the hands of one central administration at Canberra. There can be no doubt that the purpose of the bill is to concentrate in this city all the legislative and administrative activities of the Commonwealth. If we give the proposal serious consideration, it must be obvious how easy it would be for the Federal Parliament to practically destroy State Parliaments by taking from them two or three of their principal functions. Senator O’Halloran has suggested that education might very well be transferred from the States to the Commonwealth.
– He appears to hold strange views on that subject.
– That is so. If, in addition to education, responsibility for railways and State lands administration also were transferred to the Commonwealth, three of the principal functions of State Parliaments would be taken from them.
– State governments would be glad to get rid of the railways.
– I am not so sure that they would, because the various railway systems of the States are being managed more efficiently than they would be under Commonwealth control. Although State railway expenditure represents a heavy financial drain on State revenues, the transfer of the railways- to the Commonwealth would not in any way reduce the burden which the people have to bear.
– It might be possible to bring down overhead charges.
– I cannot see how that could be accomplished under Commonwealth control.
– The Commonwealth Government Shipping Line is an example of what can happen under Commonwealth control.
– The honorable senator is right. If the State railways were transferred to the Commonwealth the existing managerial staffs could not be reduced substantially. There may be room for economies in certain directions, but from my experience of Commonwealth administration I am convinced that State governments can manage their own affairs more economically than would be possible under the Commonwealth. We have an illuminating ex ample of the truth of this in the position of North Australia, which to-day has a smaller white population than it had when the Commonwealth took it over from South Australia. I do not suggest that those in charge of the administration in North Australia have been in any way incapable. The fault, I believe, is inherent in any system of central administration. The Commonwealth Government cannot promote settlement and the development of any particular territory to the extent possible under local control.
I am not one of those who believe that we Gan improve our present position by substituting provincial councils for sovereign states. I am not unmindful of the fact that the creation of new States is advocated in certain quarters, but strangely enough these suggestions emanate chiefly from Victoria and New South Wales, and they are all to the effect that Queensland should be subdivided into two or more States. The people who urge the adoption of this course omit to mention how the ‘ proposed new States would be financed, but the presumption is that the Commonwealth would come to their assistance in the same way that it is now helping several of the existing States.
– At one time there was a strong agitation in Queensland for the creation of new States.
– I am aware of that. Some time ago there was an agitation in Townsville for the creation of new States in Queensland, but when it was suggested that the seat of government would be at Cairns or some place on the Atherton tableland, the agitation at Townsville ceased immediately. And now the citizens of that important town, which has a population of about 30,000 people, are satisfied to continue under the present arrangement.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that Queensland should never be sub-divided into two or more States?
– No. The time may come when the exceedingly rich State of Queensland might, with advantage, be sub-divided, and a new State created.
– What would be the advantage?
– I doubt that there would be any advantage immediately. I am entirely opposed to the idea that existing State legislatures should be abolished and a number of small insignificant provincial councils substituted for them. Such action would be in the direction of sovietizing the Commonwealth, because this is the principle upon which the Russian Soviet Republic is based, and it does not seem to have been a success, because, so far as we can learn, the government of Russia is centred on Moscow. I reget to say that, to some extent, Moscow influences also appear to be operating in this country. If the Government submits this proposal to the people–
– If it does.
– I note what is implied in the honorable senator’s interjection. Possibly it may not be submitted to the people; but, if it is, I am sure it will be defeated by a substantial majority in each of the States.
– Then why not let it go to the people?
– No. Members of this Chamber would not be doing their duty if they allowed this suggested amendment to go before the people. I am aware, of course, that under a provision in the Constitution a proposed amendment of it, if passed twice by the House of Representatives, may be submitted to the people by the Government without regard to the attitude of the Senate. This Government has a majority in another place. If it is determined to submit this proposal to the electors of the Commonwealth, the Senate cannot prevent it from doing so. But those of us who are opposed to it would not be doing their duty to the States which they represent if they allowed the second reading of this bill to be carried because then it could be said that it went to the people with the approval of both Houses of the Parliament.
– What about the other amendments?
– I shall speak to those proposals when they are properly before this Chamber. At the moment I am confining my remarks to this bill, the object of which is to ask the people to approve of full power being vested in this Parliament to amend the Constitution. I know how that power, if granted, would be exercised. In the course of time there would be introduced and passed in this Parliament legislation that would mean the strangulation of State Parliaments and the concentration of all governmental activities in Canberra. I cannot conceive of anything that would be worse for Australia than that. Therefore, I shall not only oppose the passage of this bill by the Senate, but if the proposed amendment embodied in it is submitted to the people, I shall beseech them to vote against it.
Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW (Queensland) [11.32].- I believe that the Government, in asking the Senate to approve of this proposal, has a bad case, but it was put as well as was possible by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Daly). The criticism of the measure from honorable senators on this side has been both searching and effective. The right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Sir George Pearce), who has had an extensive experience of the working of the Constitution since the inception of federation, ‘ was listened to with marked attention and profit, as is usual when he addresses this Chamber. Because of his legal knowledge and his association with the late right honorable C. C. Kingston, one of the framers of the Constitution, and because also of his wide knowledge of constitutional law, the views expressed by’ Senator McLachlan are also likewise entitled to the utmost respect. His contribution to the debate was very valuable. Senator Colebatch, who was a member of the Royal Commission on the Constitution and who has made a special study of the Commonwealth Constitution and of those of other countries, also delivered a very fine speech. After hearing the opinions expressed by those three honorable senators it is quite evident to me that the proposed alteration of the Constitution would not be in the interests of Australia or the people generally. If this amendment were approved by the people it would be possible for a Parliament with a bare majority in both branches of the legislature to amend the Constitution in such a way as to enable the Commonwealth Parliament to legislate with respect to all those matters over which the States now have full power.
During the debate reference has been made to certain State activities, which under an amended constitution could be controlled by the Commonwealth. Senator O’Halloran referred to the subject of education and said that under’ the present system Tasmania with its comparatively small population was unable to offer the same conditions to the teachers in the Education Department of that State as were available in the more populous States on the mainland. The result was, he said, that Tasmania, after expending money in training teachers, eventually lost their services, because they were attracted to more remunerative positions in other States. Under a federal system of education he contended the conditions of employment and rates of pay would be the same throughout the Commonwealth and there would then be no need for such transfers to be made. When in Canada two years ago I found, as mentioned by Senator Colebatch, that all the provinces in that Dominion had absolute control in the matter of education. I also ascertained that throughout Canada a splendid system of primary and secondary education was in operation, and that excellent educational institutions had been established in all the provinces. There is healthy rivalry between these institutions, which I submit, tends to provide a better educational system. At Edmonton, in Canada, I asked the gentleman who was directing me whether they found it expensive for all the provinces, particularly tho smaller ones, to provide separate educational institutions, including universities. He informed me that the provinces found it a rather heavy financial burden, and that as the graduates from the provincial universities could not always find positions in Canada, some of them went to the United States of America. That is always likely to happen in a country where the conditions may be such that remunerative employment is not always available. In such circumstances transfers must be made to some other country. The position which exists in Tasmania is not peculiar to that State, and I think it will always be found that some men after qualifying find it advantageous to transfer to the mainland. Excellent education systems are in operation in the Australian States, and the same healthy rivalry which exists in Canada is also to be found in the Commonwealth.
The suggestion has also been made that with greater powers the Commonwealth Government could take over the administration of our lands. Does any one seriously suggest that those engaged in rural production in this country would consider it to their advantage to have the administration of lands in the hands of the Commonwealth ? I am sure that not 1 per cent, of the people at present settled on the land would support such a proposal. Some of the Canadian provinces control land legislation, but in others the central government is the authority. . . As a result of- inquiries made there I found that the settlers in those areas over which the provincial legislation had control were not in favour of that control being transferred to the Dominion Government, while those responsible to the central authority desired provincial control. The control of lands by the Commonwealth Parliament would, I am sure, be strongly resented by land settlers. The acceptance of this proposal by the people would mean that the Commonwealth would have an option over the whole of the powers at present enjoyed by the States. It would have authority to assume control of any State activity, and, indeed, might seek the power to abolish the Senate. ,
– That would be a calamity.
Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW.It is easy for the honorable senator (Senator Barnes), to laugh and to say it would be a calamity; but if the Senate were abolished the people iri the less populous States would have to depend solely upon the legislation passed in another place. New South Wales, for instance, with its large population and strong representation in that chamber would be able to reduce the power of the smaller States to such an extent that they would be regarded as inferior partners under such a system - the legislation passed would be influenced by New South Wales and Victoria.
– Is it not a fast that the proposals for financial assistance to the smaller . States emanated in another place where the larger States have strong representation ?
– The late Government recognized the necessity of assisting the smaller States; but if political power rested solely with another place the smaller States would not get that consideration which they are at present receiving. The Senate protects the interests of the smaller States. If the Senate were abolished a Labour Government would be able to carry out the whole programme of the Labour party. It would be possible for such a government to give effect to its programme as Labour did in Queensland where it undertook extravagant nationalization schemes which placed upon the people an exceptionally heavy burden that will .take many years to remove. The whole of these State enterprises have proved a miserable failure. The existence of a second chamber in Queensland would have been a check on the activities of the Labour Administration in that direction, and heavy unnecessary expenditure would have been avoided.
– The second chamber in that State made a terrible mess of things 30 years ago when the bank smash occurred.
– That chamber was not responsible for the economic crisis’ at that time.
– No; it was Australiawide.
– There were some big scandals in connexion with the Queensland National Bank.
– Queensland was not the only State affected by the collapse of the boom, and it. cannot be said that the Legislative Council in that State was in any sense responsible for the position which then confronted Queensland. I cannot think for a moment that the Government was serious when it submitted this measure to Parliament. It must know that there is no chance of carrying these proposals. The Constitution is in the hands of the people to alter as they think fit. Governments come and go, a»d it would be a terrible thing if each government as it came into power could proceed to alter the Constitution as it thought fit. The people would never know where they stood. I shall vote against this proposal, and if it should reach the people I shall do my best to advise the people to turn it down.
– This is the fifth occasion during the last nineteen years on which a proposal similar to that now before the Senate has been brought forward. That is to say, on the average every four years some kind of attempt has been made to alter the Federal Constitution in consonance with the dominant thought of the hour. It may be broadly stated that on these five occasions the nature of the proposed alterations has been very much the same, except that the one now before us goes a great deal further than anything this Parliament or this country has ever heard of before.
– The honorable senator supported one of the proposals.
– I supported three of them, but I am not supporting this. The Constitution had only been launched ten years when there was a kind of grumbling discontent with it, almost inarticulate. It was altogether wrong. Although I was one of those who, as a political neophyte, supported its alteration, I do not think that the Constitution had been given a fair trial. But I want to be candid with myself just as I propose to be candid with others.
– The Constitution was altered about that time.
– In minor matters only. In one instance it was altered to extend the period for which honorable senators were elected, so as to enable elections for the two Houses to be held simultaneously, and later on the financial agreement was accepted by the people; but I am talking of alterations that affect, as this does, the lives, liberty, and prosperity of the people.
Big majorities were recorded against the four attempts previously made to embody in the Constitution amendments then proposed, and the lesson to be drawn is that the less the inroad upon the powers, privileges, and prerogatives of the States the more willing were the electors to give consent, and the greater the inroad the less willing were the people of the States to consent. I should not. be averse to an amendment of the Constitution shaped in the right way, better denned, and, above all, if it had public opinion stamped upon it in a way which would recommend it to the people, arid did not go so far as is now proposed. But the present proposal has not public opinion stamped upon it. It bears the imprimatur of a section of the people only, and a section that at one time was very low in popular favour, although temporarily it has to-day the advantage of the hour.
I propose to examine the power of amendment proposal in all its nakedness, because it is a serious one. ‘ 1 do not believe in looking at nude things, because I do not think it is good for me. or any one else to do so ; but I propose to look at this proposal in its nude form - the form in which we can best see what it is like. In the ordinary course of life, we do not take things as they appear on the surface. We do not judge a book by its cover. Does the buyer take the word of the seller, as the Government wants the country to take its word on this occasion? If I am selling a bag of wheat, my reputation, which stands fairly high, is not sufficient for the buyer. He puts his little skewer into the heart’ of the bag to find out what is there ; and in the same way I propose to put my little skewer into the heart of the Government’s proposal to ascertain what is there, too. Few people take anything on trust, and by the same process of reasoning, we should not be expected to take this proposal on trust.
A royal commission was appointed by the late Government to inquire into the need for amending the Constitution, and it did so at considerable cost to the taxpayers; but the money was not wasted, because the commission produced a most illuminating document for our information and guidance. It gathered all the facts that could be collected from all parts of the world in relation to the working of federal systems, and placed before Parliament and the people two sets of recommendations. As a rule, some respect has always been paid to the findings of royal commissions, but what respect has the present Government paid to the findings of this commission I It is true that some matters, such as aviation, have been extracted from its recommendations, but they are only a microscopical part of what was recommended. On the whole the Governmenhas ignored the commission’s report, But that is nothing .new for Ministers to do. They have ignored other things to which they should at least pay zealous attention. They ignored Parliament when it became a political necessity to tear up our Defence Act; when it became necessary to placate the workers upon the industrial front; and when it became a question of tearing up a solemn compact made by the people of this country, through successive governments, with returned soldiers. Only a. few days ago - in regard to the latter matter they were compelled to eat their
Own words and go back on their tracks and respect the edicts of previous Governments as well as this Parliament. What they would not do public opinion, fiercely aroused, made them do. When we find a government ignoring the work done by a royal commission, it is not a matter for wonder that it should seek to ignore Parliament itself. The time is coming, however, when Ministers will be compelled to recognize that Parliament has a specific and set purpose in the scheme of things in this country; that it is the dominant authority in directing the material and political destinies of the Commonwealth; and that there is no power higher than it. Sooner or later any set of individuals attempting to do things in defiance of Parliament will bite the dust.
We find the Government is trying by this means to do big things. It is attempting to-day to fight on four fronts. The Germans failed when they fought on only two fronts. The Government proposes first to smash the referendum, secondly, to destroy the High Court; thirdly, to annihilate the States; and, fourthly, to smash our glorious Constitution. That is not a bad day’s work, especially in an age when work is rather frowned upon and laziness is at a premium. But just as the Huns failed because they were fighting on two fronts and in a wrong cause, so will the constitutional Huns of Australia fail because they are taking on too much, and particularly because they are fighting in a bad cause.
– Is not the referendum a pet proposal of the Labour party ?
– But tha referendum is to go. If these proposals are carried it will be a thing of the past. On a thousand platforms for years we have heard tens of thousands of voices disturbing the air in describing the referendum as a magnificent all-saving power in defence of popular rights. But it is to go by the board now. No longer has this “liberty-loving party” any time for that grand palladium of the people’s liberties. Like the queen bee, that, having discharged its duty to nature, dies, so the referendum, having served to consummate not the enlargement of liberties in this country, but their curtailment, this adopted offspring of labour, this favourite curly-haired darling of the Labour party of the past will vanish from this earthly scene. And over its tomb will be written, “ Here lies the bones of the referendum, done to death in battle by its false friend, the Labour party of Australia. Moral: ‘Never trust the flatterer ‘.” The average Australian does not believe in trickery. He says, “ Let trickery be left to the unregistered racecourse or the confidence man, or some latter day political party, but for heaven’s sake do not let it come into my scheme of things for the future respectable control of Australia.” Trickery is only fit for ill-conditioned citizens, or perhaps some ill-conditioned politicians, but it finds no place in the scheme of things worth while to the men of Australian character. Yet, as I will show, it marks the Government’s proposal for this amendment of the Constitution from the word “ Go.” The referendum is to go. A dagger is by stealth to be plunged into that grand defender of free peoples, for centuries past, from all forms of tyranny. It is to be done to death by Labour.
The High Court - the highest bench in the land to which every youngster in this country may aspire - is to go, as I shall prove. “What has the High Court done that it should be destroyed? With the States gone, as they will have gone, and nothing remaining but a powerful central government, what is the use of retaining an authority to interpret laws affecting the relations of the Commonwealth and the States? With the States gone, there will be no need for the High Court. So we see that both the referendum and the High Court are doomed. Next we come to the States. They will go also. Some sponsors of the Government’s policy have stated in a half-hearted manner that it is not the intention of the Government to abolish the States. I shall show presently that, that is the Government’s intention absolutely and undeniably. Of course, this measure does not contain any definite proposal to abolish the States just yet. The Government does not put in black and white what it proposes to do. The design of artful men, and animals, is not always seen on the surface. An innocent child, seeing a cat playing with the mouse, never imagines that the game will end by the mouse being devoured. While it is away from the cat, the mouse, as a denizen of the underworld, enjoys a glorious freedom. But the cat, having once put its paws on the mouse, will not rest until it has devoured the mouse. That this proposal places the paw of the political cat on the people’s freedom I’ shall show so clearly before I have finished that I fear I shall almost doubt, the soundness of my own judgment.
– Would the honorable senator expect the mouse to devour the cat?
– There are many persons in Australia as innocent of the designs of the Labour party as is a child of the designs of a cat with a mouse. A child watching a cat playing with a mouse thinks how gentle the cat is; but the mouse, seeing a malignant look in the eyes of the cat, knows what is in store for it. The Labour party in like manner is waiting to pounce on the States. It wants to vest the central government with unlimited power. There is no question about that; it is set out here in plain language. The States are to go, bag and baggage, until no trace of them remains. I do not know what will then be done with the State Parliament houses. Probably they will be turned into Trades Halls, or gymnasiums for the proletariat of the future under the new order of things.
Under State Parliaments - and State Governments this country has made remarkable progress ; but .now those institutions are to go. Over 44 years ago I landed in this country as a youth of eighteen. In every letter that I wrote home or elsewhere I expressed my delight that I had landed in a country of such freedom. I pointed out that, so long as I respected the laws of the country and the rights of my neighbours, I had all . the freedom I wanted. Australia is indeed a land of liberty - a land in which no obstacle is placed in the way of a mau working out his destiny so long as he behaves himself. Are we now to abolish those institutions which have had such a beneficent influence on the social life, progress and prosperity of our people? If they are to be wiped out what is the reason? The work they have done, and are still doing, will have to be done by some one else. The State Governments have a record of useful and meritorious work unequalled in any other selfgoverning land. They have done much to make the citizens of this country prosperous and contented. This record is a long and honorable one.
– Some of them are not very prosperous at present.
– It would do Senator Hoare good, and enlarge his stunted imagination, if he were to visit other parts of the world which I visited in my seafaring days. If he saw the wretched conditions of those countries as I saw them, he would be on his knees 24 hours each day in thankfulness that he lives in a land of such freedom. But the honorable senator has not been in those countries, and he scarcely knows that he is alive. I know what it is to be deprived of liberty, and to have my freedom circumscribed. But that was not in Australia.
Men get up on their feet and talk” of “freedom” with a big “F”, almost as high as Mount Kosciusko. They write “ Justice “ with a big “ J “ ; but they put a small “ d “ for “ duty “ - a “ d “ no higher than is an ant bed in the Northern Territory in comparison with Mount Kosciusko. They talk a lot about liberty and justice ; but not a word about duty. Yet, you can no more have “ liberty and justice “ -without “ duty “ than you can have life without breathing. When they talk of justice and liberty, 1 say to them “ Get outside of yourselves ; widen your midget imagination. Remember that you are living in a comparative earthly paradise; act like men.” Unfortunately they seem to have got into that frame of mind in which they are incapable of assessing life correctly, or of realizing the glorious freedom of this country, despite its State governments and Legislative Councils.
– Their thoughts are too much with Moscow.
– Yes. Every morning, like the Mohammedan who turns his face towards Mecca, they turn their faces piously in the ^direction of Moscow, where the assassins of human liberty, religion, and morality . dwell. Senator Rae laughs, but he knows that Mr. “Jock” Garden, with whom he is as well acquainted as I am with Senator Rae, accepts and believes everything taught by Moscow, notwithstanding that he lives in a free Australia. Senator Rae may well laugh, for he knows that he owes his trusted place in the Labour movement to that overwhelming, but unfortunate body of dupes, who drink in all the sophistries and deadly drugs that are placed before them. He knows, too, if he were in Moscow at this very hour and said “ booh “ against the Government it would be the last “ booh “ he would ever utter. In free Australia he can “ booh “ to his heart’s content. This body of electors is prepared to vote for a man who draws his inspiration from Moscow, where men are working on the roads for 3s. a day.
– The honorable senator told us all about that some time ago.
– Then I will tell it again. A good thing cannot be said too often, any more than a man can say his prayers too often.
– I do not.
– I would not say that the honorable senator is beyond praying for, notwithstanding that he appears, in a political sense, to be the most abandoned sample imaginable. I cannot kelp entertaining a deep-seated and warm regard for Senator Rae. He is capable of better things than to stand up in this chamber, which is the champion of the rights of a free people, and advocate revolution. The honorable senator is the most remarkable anachronism that has ever walked on two legs in this island continent. Whose blood will he shed when the revolution comes ? Will it be that of his fellow Australians? Where will he start ? Will it be upon the men who own their own houses and are worth tens of millions of pounds or upon the men who have over £100,000,000 in the savings banks? All this is private property and owned by the workers.
The honorable senator may say that we in Australia do not live under a free Constitution. If the Australian Constitution is not the product of a free people, then what is’ it ? It is a free Constitution, which has no equal in any land under the sun. Those people who have had an overdose of freedom for which they never fought, and do not know what freedom really means, do not appreciate it. Things got for nothing are never properly appreciated, but those which are secured only after a hard fight, are prized highly. Australia was given her freedom; she did not have to fight for it. The States are to go notwithstanding that they have done and are still doing a mighty work. That is the edict of this Government. Despite what they have done to benefit the people of this country, sentence of death has been passed upon them by the Labour party at a hole and corner meeting in some cave of Adullam, where the malcontents and the discontents - indeed all the “ mals “ and “ dis’s “ in the community - conspire against the liberties of a free people. They have done so in contempt of the people, as I shall show by giving chapter and verse.
What is to happen when these four things have gone? I confess that I do not know. Since the Labour party has been in power so many strange things have happened that I have lost my capacity for surprise. The political Huns of to-day are about to engage in a battle on four fronts, and they will meet the same fate as that which befell the
Huns of the past. Let them make no mistake about that. What the Huns could not do on two fronts, these people need not attempt on four fronts. They too will fail. When the historian writes the history of their time, he will not say “All quiet on the Western Front” but “All went bung ‘ on all Four Fronts.” That will he the epitaph written on the tombstone of this hair-brained campaign that seeks to rob the people of their liberties.
This objective originated in what I may describe as a cave of Adullam in. Western Australia, ‘and I shall produce my proof from this redcovered book that I hold in my hand. It contains some very important history of the Labour party. That party plodded along very well up to a certain point, and then considered it advisable to reach out for more than it could hold, to bite off more than it could chew. Prior to the holding of the Labour conference at Perth in 1918 the word “unification “ was rarely, if ever, mentioned. The leaders of the Government party have taken great care not to mention it during this debate, because they are afraid to awaken the sleeping dog. They know that if they openly declared their intention they would be jeered at from Cape York to the Leeuwin. Why are they not candid and aboveboard? Because they want to chloroform the people into the false belief that this is an innocent proposal. We know that it is nothing of the kind. Even the Prime Minister himself has declared that the purpose of the Labour party is not unification. His lieutenant, Mr. McTiernan, the rising hope of the party in another chamber, has said the same thing, as also have Senator Daly and Mr. Theodore. Senator Daly expressed surprise at the suggestion’ of Senator Sir George Pearce that the powers of the State Governments are to be taken away. The whole effort is indicative of shadiness and shuffling. I shall not use the word “hypocrisy,” but the tactics of the Government are very akin to that. I should be justified really in using that word, because the Government has not the pluck to admit that it seeks unification, or the bowels to say to. the people, “ Go the whole hog, or nothing.”
Honorable senators opposite are now going to hear something about this word unification, and my authority for my statement will be the Koran of the Labour party. Everything has a starting point, and this evil thing, like other evil things, had its starting point some twelve years ago. Its birth occurred on the 17th June, 1918, on the occasion of the seventh Commonwealth conference of the Australian Labour party. The reason why I go back to the origin of things is that I find from my observation of life that matters moral and material, when they assume a tangible shape, bear the same attributes and characteristics that they possessed when in their embryonic stages. Take the material world as an example. For ages the medicinal springs of Bath, England, . have effected wonderful cures. If you cut a channel away from these springs the water so deviated would still retain its healing qualities, because those qualities are inherent at the source. In Ireland we have the River Liffey, which takes its rise in the Bog of Allan, and thence wends its way to the sea. Those waters possess rare qualities, gained at their source, which have enabled the chemist to bring into existence that worldfamed drink, Dublin stout. All over the world efforts, have been made to imitate that beverage, but they have been futile. I could pursue the analogy further. Take the human race itself. If two white human beings were transplanted to South Africa and these married they would produce white children. If a black man and his wife were placed in the heart of England their children would be black. The new environment would count for nothing. The law of heredity would laugh at its barriers. The children would inevitably exhibit the characteristics of their progenitors carried down through countless ages. Mohammed, the camel-driver, with the aid of two renegades, .one a Christian and one a Jew, established a new religion the symbolism of which manifests itself in tangible fashion among the modern successors ,of ,the camel-driver who wandered .around the hills of Arabia. The same marks and tokens of that slap-up creed are as clearly discernible to-day in Central Africa as they were when their founder said, “ I shall enforce my religion with the sword “. Carry that analogy to the case in point. The features associated with this new-born part of the Labour movement in its embryonic stages obtrude themselves to-day; in fact, they are its salient features. During the twelve years since 1918 unification has been the very germ of the proposal. “ Germ “ is a fitting word. I do not think that I should use the word “micro.be,” although it is perhaps more appropriate, as microbes have a habit of fighting each other, just as have the sponsors of this proposal. This germ burst into existence on the glorious morning of the 17th June, 1918, at the instance of Mr. “ Mungana “ McCormack. of Queensland. I” want to distinguish that gentleman. He has made money. Good luck to him. I shall not inquire as to the means that he employed to do so. Modern convention has it that the man who makes money is a good man. Rumour has it that he gives all his goodE to the poor; but so far it is only a rumour. At page 16-
– Of the red book.
– Yes, the book that was originally blue and white, but is now “red”. At page 16 it is stated that Mr. “ Mungana “ McCormack presented a report recommending something to the conclave of - of what? Of unification. The account reads -
Mr. McCormack, on behalf of the agenda committee, presented a report recommending that the subject of unification be next discussed.
Now the Labour party’s chickens come home to roost. That party has scouted the people. It has turned its back on, them; segregated itself from those whom it would not trust. Here is my chapter and verse, taken from page 18 of the report. Mr. Scullin, now head of this Government, moved -
That a people’s convention be elected to recast the Federal Constitution to provide for the supremacy of the National Parliament, the abolition of the State Parliaments, and the creation of provincial councils; and, generally, for simplification and economy in government.
I ask honorable senators to centre their attention .on Mr. Scullin’s humble effort to consult the people. For doing that he was “ spoken to and his motion was rejected. Yet the Labour party repeats ad nauseam the catch-cry, “ Trust the people “. Senator Barnes was also present at that convention and had a word to say. The late Mr. T. J. Ryan was there, also Mr. Shoobridge, in all probability a towering constitutional authority in Tasmania. Mr. Holloway was present. Their names will bc written in letters of gold as the constitutional architects of Australia. When the time came for the Labour party to prove its sincerity it unanimously rejected Mr. Scullin’s proposal.
Sitting suspended from 12. 45 tq 2.15 p.m.
– At the Perth Labour conference, to which I have already referred, Mr. Scullin, the present Prime Minister, submitted the motion already cited.
I particularly direct the attention of honorable senators to the fact that, notwithstanding the arguments used by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) in support of his proposal for a people’s convention to devise a new constitution for the Commonwealth, it was flatly turned down.
– Is there a division list in the records of the proceedings?
– There is not. There is simply the’ bald announcement that the motion submitted by Mr. Scullin was defeated. That is sufficient. But another feature of Mr. Scullin’s then attitude to the proposition which he fathered was that he made it abundantly clear that his object was to abolish State Parliaments. He was unequivocal on that point. There is no possibility of misunderstanding his words. It is as well to bear this in mind in view of the more recent statements by him, as Prime Minister, and by certain members of his Cabinet. The Prime Minister has lately been endeavouring to persuade his audience, in another place, that his present proposals do not necessarily mean unification. But unquestionably he did mean unification when be submitted his motion at the Perth Labour conference in 191S.
If I were permitted to quote from the debates in another place, I should be able to read illuminating extracts from a speech delivered by the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), who went so far as to say recently that the Government had no intention of robbing the States of their legislative powers, and that anybody who suggested anything of the kind would be talking nonsense. We also have had the Leader of the Senate (Senator Daly) talking in the same strain. He told us point blank the other day that this proposal does not mean unification. But how can we reconcile these pronouncements with the mystifying utterances of Mr. McTiernan, a distinguished sub-lieutenant of the Labour party in another place? I am wondering if I would be in order in quoting briefly from the speech of that honorable gentleman in the debate on this bill in another place.
– The honorable gentleman would not be in order in quoting from the debates of the current session in another place, but it is permissible to refer to them, and summarize their import.
– That, Mr. President, will suit my purpose. Mr. McTiernan, speaking on this bill in another place, said this : “ The bill does not contain a principle repugnant to a federal system of government.” Here we have this queer kettle of fish in the shape of logic : “ Unification does not imply a denial of local autonomy,” and “ Federation does not imply the existence of a proper measure of local government.” So that unification and federation change places. Black becomes white. Darkness becomes light and an ill feeling is burned down through spontaneous combustion! But this jumble of logic i3 like Mark Twain’s bottle of wine that showed a world of difference between the label and the contents. It is an example of using bad logic to bolster up a worse case. Can any statement be more contradictory than that made by this luminary of the Labour party in another place? To say that unification will not jeopardize the powers of State Parliaments, is tantamount to saying that a sheet of white paper is black, or that an ebony ruler is a white stick. Before the introduction of this proposal, the avowed objective of the Labour party was unification. The sponsors of this move realize now that, if the objective is placed before the people clearly, it will not be so easily attained, and so are endeavouring to befog the issue. But we may be sure that in duc time they will again hoist the banner of unification and when they have secured full control they will introduce legislation which will destroy the State Parliaments. That, undoubtedly, is the object of the bill, and of the party which sponsors it. The people of Australia should be fully informed on this point. They have a right to know the whole truth, to know the worst, so that they may provide for it. They should know what lies behind this proposal, and what is in the mind of this Government. Again, I turn to the official record of the Labour party’s conference in Perth for substantiation of my statement. The information is to lie found on page 21 in the report of a committee, appointed on the motion of Mr. McCormack, and consisting of Mr. Mcnamara, a member of the Legislative Council of Victoria; Mr. Blackburn, a member of the Legislative Assembly in that State, and two others. Mr. Blackburn, as we all know, is a leading lawyer with a full knowledge of the objective of the Labour party. He is the standard authority. This is what he said with regard to this proposal to destroy the Constitution and substitute unification for federation -
Mr. Cameron’s desire that the Parliaments should be controlled by the people was met by the plank in the Labour party platform which provided for the initiative and the referendum.
I wish honorable senators to mark well and digest the words that followed, because they reveal the real intention of the Labour party -
The idea in the mind of the committee was that Labour should be able to go after the common enemy with one axe and not several different ones. The Federal Parliament at the present time had very much greater powers than usual, but that was solely owing to the war.
Now we see that the cat is out of the bag. Mr. Blackburn is the gentleman responsible for laying bare the plan. He tells us that when the Labour party gets the necessary authority it will go with one axe after the “ common enemy,” as he called a section of people in this country. The Labour movement wants unification, because it will make the job easier; it will be able to go after the “ common enemy “ in the Federal Parliament with one axe instead of seven.
But we have yet another sample of Labour duplicity. Mr. Curtin, in his speech on this subject at the Perth conference, disclosed Labour’s aspiration and high purpose! Mr. Curtin, I may add, is considered the rising hope of the Labour party in Western Australia. He is the member for Fremantle, and can speak with two voices - one in the west and one in the east. The meridian of political longitude is at some point in the Great Australian Bight. When he is west of that meridian, he gives expression to certain political views, which he considers will find favour with the people there, and when he is east of it, he speaks with another- voice as philosopher and guide. The supporters of this destructive proposal, I remind the Senate, were talking to an audience of the same age and experience as themselves. Opinions, which may be acceptable to a crowd on the’ Yarra bank, or any other forum in Australia, will not go down in this Parliamnt, because some of us, at all events, prefer to jealously guard the foundations of the Constitution under which the Commonwealth is governed. We, therefore, welcome every opportunity to lift the veil of secrecy and mystery which surrounds this nefarious proposal to destroy the Constitution. I take the following from the report of the Perth Labour Conference: -
Mr. Curtin thought that the Federal Labour party could be asked to draw up a bill to provide necessary amendments of the Constitution. The objection to a special Labour conference was the great expense, and at a people’s convention labour might fare worse from a point of view of results obtained.
I emphasize the concluding sentence of the remarks made by this newly arrived wiseacre. The meaning of his words is clear. He is another witness in the field to prove that the Labour party of to-day does not trust the people. Then we have Mr. Gunn, a former Labour Premier of South Australia, at the same conference supporting the plot, because it would enable Labour to go forward with national works on the lines of unification.
What sort of ingredients were these for the preparation ‘ of a scheme to amend the Constitution, which the
Government now contemplates submitting co the people of Australia ? This measure was conceived in miserable class consciousness and narrow and bitter sectionalism, gestated in mystery and darkness, and brought forth in shuffling and pretence. Labour leaders now pretend that it does not mean unification, when as a fact it does. But the people of Australia are not so gullible or credulous as to be unaware of Labour’s objective. When this proposal was debated at the Perth Conference the people of Australia, whose interests should have been considered, were outside the door. The press even were not invited. A representative of the press or public would not have been allowed even to sneeze inside this cave of Adullam. where these proposals were hatched. Should a movement for the amendment ( of the Constitution of a free people be started in the black murkiness of intolerant political partisanship? The thing is too unreasonable. The attitude of delegates at that conference reminds me of a story which I heard down in the South Sea Islands, that when cannibal kings were performing their sacred rites, they would not allow a white man within 50 miles of the meeting place. In the same manner these representatives of Labour, who pretend that they trust the people, carried on their deliberations behind closed doors. The official report of the proceedings at that conference shows that they would not then trust the people whom they now say they are so much affected about.
– They cannot 3ay that they were misreported at that conference.
– No. This is their own official report. An amendment of the Constitution in the direction proposed will not have the slightest effect upon the welfare of the citizens of this country, nor in the solution of those major pressing problems that confront the people to-day. It has nothing whatever to do with the points raised by the Prime Minister in another place or by the Vice-President of the Executive Council in this chamber. We have only to give a cursory glance at the reasons which the Government has submitted in support of this proposal to see how empty they are. (Extension of time granted!)
What is the object of the Government in submitting this measure to Parliament ? I have already quoted the opinions expressed at a certain conference of the Labour party and I shall now endeavour, in the limited time at my disposal, to tear away the secrecy and make-believe which have enshrouded the Government’s proposition up to the present. I repeat that the reasons for an amendment of the Constitution mentioned by the principal Minister of the Cabinet are mere moonshine. It would have no material effect on the things that are of vital concern to the people of this country at this very moment. My time is precious and I shall therefore quote only four. What is the position of Australia’s credit? We have to pay nearly £500,000,000 more on our indebtedness than the Dominion of Canada, £300,000,000 more than the Dominion of New Zealand and £200,000,000 more than South Africa. And all this because our credit is so much worse than that of those countries. What has the Constitution to do with improving thai situation? Will an amendment in the direction desired assist in a solution of that problem? Let us now take our adverse trade balance. What has the Constitution to do with rectifying our trade balance ? It has as little to do with it as the man in the moon. A further point is ‘one which has arisen in connexion with the industrial life of this country. I refer to the attitude of Mr. McKay, a manufacturer of agricultural implements on an extensive scale in Australia, who has been obliged to transfer a portion of his manufacturing activities from Australia to Canada in order to give full vent to his powers of organizing and to obtain that advantage to which he, and those with whom he is associated, are entitled. How will any such amendment cure that painful and losing situation? In this country he could not give full play to those organizing abilities in the industrial arena which he possesses, and has therefore been compelled to transfer his plant and staff and valuable experience to a sister dominion where the conditions are more favourable than they are in Australia. How can any Constitution amended or unamended cure the evils that occasion “such a heavy loss in money and employment to Australia? First things first. Let us tackle these and abstain from tinkering. Will an amendment of the Constitution assist in removing this and other disabilities under which we are labouring?
– Why should the honorable senator become excited.
– I am not excited. I am stating my case clearly - I am as cool as a cucumber. If I speak with some apparent heat, I am following the advice of Bacon who said that we cannot coolly contend for what we earnestly believe. That is why I should like-, an indication of some heat from honorable senators opposite. They are speaking with their tongues in their cheeks; they cannot speak with heat because their hearts are not in their job.
I have directed attention to some of the outstanding economic problems that are facing this country, and I again ask in what way can an amendment of the Constitution solve these problems ? They are so grave, so intense and so far-reaching that they are shackling the liberty and prosperity of our people, stifling energy and worthy ambition and preventing the development of industry at a time when there are thousands of men unemployed. An amendment of the Constitution has as much to do with these problems as has the ash of a cigarette. Instead of devoting its time to proposals of this kind, the Government should be settling down to work and facing major problems, the solution of which will lead this country out of the morass in which it is at present floundering.
Some so-called reasons have been given for the submission of this measure. Let us study some of them. The first one mentioned was the inability of the Federal Arbitration Court under its present powers to make a common rule. If the Federal Arbitration Court has not the power to make a common rule, every State industrial tribunal has, and experience has shown that State tribunals are more popular with the trade unionists of this country. An overwhelming majority of unionists has decided to work under the awards of State courts rather than under those of the Federal Arbitration Court. On the other hand if State Arbitration Courts can make a common rule, and the Commonwealth Court cannot, how is it thai this defect has not prevented a huge number from going to that court? The position is that this cause like others has been unduly magnified.
The absence of pow.er to fix prices has also been advanced as reason for amending the Constitution. If the Federal authorities cannot fix prices, every State has the power to do so. Pricefixing was tried in Queensland and in New South Wales where, when the price of butter was fixed at ls. 6d. per lb., dairymen in the north of that State quickly fattened their cows and drove them to market. That is how price- fixing worked in that State and it will work in. the same way anywhere, for the simple reason that you cannot compel a man to make or sell a thing at a loss. A similar policy was followed in Western Australia, with the result that the Labour party itself eventually supported its abolition. Those are the sort of tarradiddles used by responsible Ministers ! It has also been said that under the present Constitution profiteering cannot be prevented; but it is time those in authority openly admitted that the policy which they advocated is mere moonshine, and has been brought forward merely to delude the electors. Some State authorities have tried price-fixing and other such schemes, and have eventually abandoned them because they were found to be totally unworkable. That is an answer to the further bogey that has been pressed into service by those who favour an amendment of the Constitution. The right honorable the Prime Minister also referred to the difficulty under the Constitution of ceding to the State of New South Wales a tract of land on the border of the Federal Capital Territory in the vicinity of Queanbeyan. It is the first time I ever heard such a trivial argument brought forward in the National Parliament as a reason for the amendment of the Constitution. T always understood that the Commonwealth could sell land over which it has uncontested authority to any State, and to me it is clear’ that if the Commonwealth wishes to dispose of territory under its control, to New South Wales ot to any State, it has a right to do so.
– It cannot do so.
– If there are legal or technical difficulties in the way, I shall leave them to the lawyers; but surely an amendment of the Constitution is not necessary for a little thing like that. Another argument advanced in support of this proposal is that our Constitution is the weakest in the world. That contention, we have been informed, has had the support of Sir “William Irvine, whom the members of the Labour party studiously refrain from quoting in any other connexion. If that gentleman lias asserted that our Constitution is weak, I flatly contradict him. If it is weak it means that it is easy to amend.
– Then what does it mean? What is meant by a weak constitution? A weak constitution, if it is anything at all, is one that is flexible.
– That is not weakness.
– Opinions may differ as to what weakness in this connexion means. But if the contention is that our Constitution is weak, will this proposal strengthen it? Let some one answer that question. The answer is that if it is a weak Constitution to-day, it will be still weaker if the Parliament has the power to amend it in the way proposed - it will be so weak that it will be constantly struggling between life and death. How can our Constitution be strengthened by giving the Parliament the power to alter it at will ?
This is a specious argument used by responsible Ministers which they themselves cannot explain. They contend that our Constitution is weak and, therefore, ought to be amended, and then propose to weaken it still further by introducing a measure under which, if adopted, it could be altered on any day on which Parliament was sitting. Ministers know that if this bill is passed by both Houses, and is accepted by the people, a measure could be introduced to amend the Constitution, and could he passed as readily as could a bill providing for ‘the payment of a bounty on the production of peanuts or to increase the fees for the licensing of dogs. With the acceptance of this proposal by tho Parliament and the people we can : imagine a notice-paper in the future being distributed in this chamber, a copy of which would be laid before you, sir, and on which would appear, Order of the Day, No. 1: “Bill to amend the Dog Act”; and No. 2 : “A bill to amend the Constitution.” That is the position with which we should be faced. An amendment of the Constitution would be regarded as of no more importance than the most trivial measure. The Constitution, which is the groundwork and safeguard of . the federal system, is to maintain the balance between the self-governing States and the central authority.
Reference has also been made by the Prime Minister to the policy of new protection. The workers to-day have the right of approaching the Federal Arbitration Court or a State Court - a right of which they readily avail themselves. What is meant by the “fluctuating needs of the community”? The fluctuating needs of the community, without reference to any period, does not mean anything. The needs of the community this year may differ from those of any other period. The “fluctuating needs of the community “ are said to be wrapped up with the rapidly developing means of communication by air, wireless telegraphy, and so forth. Here we have again that blessed word Mesopotamia. We have words sprung on us with no attempt to point out their significance, and in supreme contempt and ignorance of the lessons of the past. What between double-headed exaggeration, unmeaning flowery phrases and emphasized ambiguities, the case for amending our Constitution presents a pitiable spectacle. We are told now that because wireless has been discovered, because films are in use for the education or otherwise of our people, and because aeroplanes have been invented since the Constitution has been framed, there is need for amending it.
– I did not say that.
– At any rate the honorable senator meant that, and his colleague said it over and over again. We must get this question out of fairyland; we must divest it of all the fairy tales hanging over it. Developments in science have reached far beyond the experimental s’tage. They are now in commercial use. Let us be guided by the experience of the past. What developments in science have taken place since the American Constitution was got together in 1781? Was electricity known before Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence? It was not until 1799 that Volta first discovered the art of measuring the intensity of electricity, nor until 1820 that Ampere found how to measure its flow, nor until 1821 that Faraday discovered electro-magnetic rotation, or in other words, found how electricity could be made to operate independent agencies. The first electric station in all America was put together in 1881 in Pearl-street, New York. But was the American Constitution changed to meet these “fluctuating needs of the community” in all the previous periods ? Take telegraphy for instance. Morse Brothers built the first telegraph line in America in 1837, and Brett laid the first submarine cable across the English Channel in 1845. Was the American Constitution altered because of the discoveries in regard to telegraphy ? It was not until 1876 that Dr. Bell invented the telephone, and it was not until 1879 that it made its first commercial appearance in England, America and other conntries. The first steam railway was not laid in America until 1829. It was not then operated by a locomotive but was merely a gravitation railway which was afterwards operated by locomotives. The American Constitution, therefore, was written long before the first railway was laid in America.
Electricity, telegraphy, telephony and steam railways all came into being long after the Constitution of the United States of America was written, but not a syllable of that Constitution, nor of the Constitution of Canada alongside, has been altered to minister to the “ fluctuating needs of the community”. All references, therefore, to the need for an alteration of our Constitution to meet the “ fluctuating requirements of the community “ because of recent developments of science in aviation, wireless and films are pure bunkum. As a matter of fact in the last century, time and space have been annihilated in man’s onward march in the realms of knowledge. The very sea itself has been made to surrender its power to man’s necessities. Yet the constitutions mentioned during all this time have not been altered by so much as a line or even a comma to meet the “fluctuating needs of the country.”
I have further evidence about the unification bogy, for which the supporters of the present proposals are now afraid to say straight out they stand. I have with me a pamphlet entitled Unification written by Warren Denning, Federal Parliamentary Correspondent of the Labor Daily, and published by the Labor Daily Limited, Sydney, in January, 1930, which surely can be regarded as fairly representative of the opinion of Labour. In a leading article on the import of the proposed changes in the Constitution, Mr’. Denning writes -
An approximate subdivision of powers on these lines would give us: - Commonwealth - defence, external affairs, postage, national health matters, radio, navigation, industrial law, arbitration, police, aborigines, law (criminal, equity, matrimonial, &c), railways, roads (main arterial, as against purely local), overseas markets, customs, finance, (including national taxation), repatriation, education, land settlement as a national policy.
Some of the functions he proposes to dole out to the provinces are “ Hospitals.” There is not a progress association in any hamlet in the land that has not already that high function to perform. But there is more laughter in store. Another function is “ ambulances.” That is a high-sounding function to call upon the States to take care of. What a glorified authority it would be for the Premier of a State to be entrusted with the task of arranging for stretcher-bearers and allotting the number of bearers to each stretcher! Yet another function suggested for the State or provincial authorities is “ control of maladies.” Presumably influenza, measles, meningitis, malaria and yellow jaundice would come under that heading. The States should swell with pride and glory to learn that they are to be entrusted with the control of yellow jaundice, meningitis, and microbes! Mr. Warren Denning suggests that the States should also be entrusted with control of “ electric and gas supplies “ and “ buildings.” There are, of course, many buildings in municipal areas that need to be looked after closely for the sake of the health of the community, and it is certainly a most high-minded and exalted suggestion that a matter so closely affecting the health of the community can be properly cared for by a State authority.
Mr. Warren Denning also concedes to the State authorities supervision of “ factories “ as a’ delegated power from the Commonwealth Industrial Department, and the control of a developmental policy generally in line with the economic needs of the State. The “grandeur that was Greece and the glory that was Rome “ will not be a patch on the exalted dignity of the States when they are entrusted with these high offices. I have already indicated what a suicidal policy it would be to multiply the work of this Parliament seven times over. Mr. Warren Denning writes - 1
State governments as decentralized units of control are a fallacy. They represent the very essence of centralization. Arguments against centralizing all control in Canberra, however valid they may be, cannot be used as arguments for the retention of the present State system. From one tiny peep-hole in Sydney, the New South Wales Government vainly strive to see the outermost boundaries of a State larger than some of the countries of Europe. From one tiny building in the heart of a great metropolis it strives vainly to understand what each separate district wants.
He then draws attention to this significant fact; -
The simple fact of the matter is that the State Governments have too much to do - too wide an area to cover. The ears of Ministers are dulled by the insistent clamour of a dozen sections. Their outlook is confused by an overplus of demands. They rush here to give help - drop it to rush somewhere else - dash back again, then hither and thither all over the map, playing blind man’s bluff with forces which call for stern action,, for they represent the developing pages of a nation’s destiny. From every district there come cries for help. Such help as is given is rarely adequate, partly because financial ‘ resources are not large enough, but chiefly because of the lack of understanding of the real needs of the situation.
The reasoning of that is that if the State Governments cannot cope with the requirements of the people of a State, a central government, sitting in Canberra, the “peep-hole” of a continent, can. Beautiful logic, is it not ? Yet honorable senators opposite would abolish the, State Parliaments in the name of liberty and progress, and claim at the same time that in so doing they were ministering to the true welfare of the people and giving them a chance to thrive and prosper. I could continue to read quotations to show that the Government’s proposals are inherently defective and could only end in one thing - national disaster. . What would honorable senators say if it were seriously proposed that Europe should be governed from one centre? But is that more than is proposed here, when it is suggested that this vast continent should be governed from one “ peep-hole “ in one corner of its vastness? ‘
– The honorable senator has exhausted his time.
– One might have listened to the impassioned oration of Senator Lynch with a good deal of amusement were it not that his arguments have been somewhat overdone. The honorable senator eulogized this country as the home of liberty and freedom, yet he was among those who, some time ago, attempted to rob the people of Australia of their liberty by supporting the infamous conscription proposal after more than a quarter of a million of Australia’s sons had voluntarily offered their services to the Empire.
– How many ‘other countries had adopted the same “infamous “ system ?
– That a great number of them did, does not make the proposal any less infamous. I support the bill before us for the reason that the more limited proposals which are supplementary to it, and which will be dealt with later, might not of themselves give the constitutional power necessary to carry out the objects they are supposed to achieve. Reference has been made to what the present Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) advocated twelve years ago. The right honorable gentleman has as much right to modify his opinion as has any other person in the community. I regard his suggestion at that time that there should be a convention to recast the Constitution as a statesmanlike proposal. I prefer it to the method which the present Government has employed. Many of our most important functions are not materially affected by the mere form of the Constitution under which we live. It is most desirable that the Constitution should be altered, not so much to make it stronger or weaker in the sense in which Senator Lynch understands those terms, as that it should be made more flexible. In its flexibility lies its truest strength.
There has been too much shoddy sentiment about the Constitution. It has been regarded as something sacrosanct. While our Constitution is probably the best that could have been devised at the time it was framed, even its authors would have agreed that it would probably require drastic amendment in the light of experience. I have studied carefully the reports of the debates which took place at the conventions at which the Constitution was” drafted. I know that there were the keenest disagreements between many of those eminent men who attended those conventions. On nearly every important matter there were wide divergencies of opinion. The results arrived at were compromises. Compromises seldom please any one; but they were necessary to the formation of the Commonwealth. One after another the delegates to that convention expressed their belief that many of those things to which they had reluctantly consented would require to be altered at no distant date. I remember that when Senator Lynch and Senator Pearce were on the same side of the parliamentary forum as myself, there was a proposal that the amount to be paid by the Commonwealth to the States per capita should be embodied in the Constitution.
– It is a pity that was not done.
– The party to which we belonged opposed that proposal. Those who say that no pronounced changes have been effected by the various referendums which have been taken appear to forget that on that occasion the people, notwithstanding what has been said regarding their credulity, adopted one proposal and vetoed the other. The proposal, they vetoed was that which was supported by those who now form the Nationalist party; that which the people accepted was opposed by those members. The people showed on that occasion ,as great a discrimination as they showed at the recent election, when they returned a majority of Labour members in the only chamber in which they had an opportunity to do so. If the majority of the people of New South Wales have any fault to find with this proposal it will not be. that it goes too far, but that it does not go far enough. Rightly or wrongly, there is an increasing public opinion in favour of unification in New South Wales. I do not know whether the same can be said of the other States.
– Do the people understand that unification means the wiping out of the States, with their autonomous powers?
– There is a great deal of misunderstanding as to what many of them believe. I certainly do not believe that it is possible to govern Australia in every detail from one centre. Nor do I think that it would be wise to do so, even if it were practicable. I agree with Senator Lynch that it would be almost as ridiculous to attempt to govern Australia in every respect from Canberra as to attempt to govern Europe from one centre. It would not be quite so ridiculous, because we are a homogeneous people, whereas Europe is divided into a score of nationalities, each with its own language. Nevertheless, a great many people in this country believe that it would be possible to govern Australia from one centre, and that the carrying of a proposal in favour of unification would mean the immediate and automatic dissolution of the State Parliaments, and the vesting of all authority in one central governing body. They believe, also, that if that were done great economies would be effected, and that it would prevent the clashes and differences of opinion which at present act detrimentally to the States. I think thatthose people are very much mistaken. Unification, in the sense that they understand it, would be impossible in practice. If we dissolved the States to-morrow, we should have to re-erect them in some form or another the next day. In saying that, I do .not desire to imply that I am not in favour of unification in the sense of having a unitary constitution as against one of a federal nature. I admit that, by voting for unification, we should be voting to destroy the federation as it now, exists. Unification and federation cannot exist at the same time. Those who favour a unitary constitution do not necessarily desire to take from the States the powers they now have; but they certainly do desire to give to the Federal Constitution that flexibility which would allow the Federal Parliament to take from the States the control of those matters which, in the opinion of the majority of the electors, can be better managed by a central governing body. If the Federal Parliament were vested with power to alter the Constitution to-morrow, that power could be taken from it if the people felt that it was being abused. From election to election the people can decide to what extent the powers vested in the Commonwealth Parliament shall be put into operation.
– The people would not be consulted if there was no provision for a referendum.
– Honorable senators will agree that if effect were given to the Government’s proposals to-morrow, not one law on the statute-book would necessarily be altered.
– But the Federal Parliament would have the power to alter them.
– That is the object, of the Government’s proposals. But until those powers were exercised, the law would not be altered one jot or tittle. From the remarks of some honorable senators, one would think that the Labour party desires to establish some form of despotism which would forever prevent the people from giving expression to their views at a general election. At every general election the people will have an opportunity of deciding the policy of the country during the life of the next Parliament. It will be. seen, therefore, that to vest these powers in a central authority is not necessarily to take them from the people. Within the ambit of their jurisdiction the States possess sovereign powers. Prior to federation, they enjoyed absolute sovereign power, subject only to certain imperial reservations. But did they then do any of those things which honorable senators say the Labour party will do if it accomplishes what Senator Lynch calls its secret and sinister designs ? I admit that parliaments have made mistakes and have acted unjustly in the past.
So long as we have parliaments, they will be liable at times to act in a manner which is contrary to the will of the people who elected them. But while the parliamentary system exists the people will have a means of rectifying their grievances by depriving those who have been guilty of offences of a further opportunity to offend. So long as we have a franchise which enables the people to express their political opinions at a general election, they will be able to indicate how far the constitutional power shall be exercised, and where a limit shall be drawn.
Senator Lynch said that if these powers were granted we could put the whole of the Labour platform on the statute-book. Does any honorable senator seriously contend that it is physically possible to deal with a multitude of subjects like that within the life of one Parliament? It is not, and it would then be open to the people to say whether that Parliament, as then constituted, should remain, and so continue to legislate along these lines.
This debate has indicated to me the facility with which honorable senators opposite erect Aunt Sallys just for the pleasure of knocking them down again. Senator Crawford declared that the proposal to establish provincial councils, in relation to the States, conveyed an intention to sovietize Australia, whatever that may mean. Has there been any such Sovietism in Canada where, for generations, the divisions of that dominion have been termed provinces? They are provinces with a unitary system of government.
– They have sovereign powers.
– No, they have specified powers. They are unitary in the sense that the dominion Government has the power to limit and alter the powers of the provinces. I admit that there are some reservations.
– The Canadian Senate is not elected by popular vote.
– It is just the sort of reactionary body that the honorable senator would like to have here.
– I do not think that the Dominion of Canada could pass a law to take away educational control from the provinces. That would1 have to be done under an Imperial act.
– I am not quite sure about that. While the Imperial Act of 1867, which constituted the dominion of Canada as it is to-day, retained certain rights to the provinces, outside of those reservations to which I have referred, the dominion Parliament can increase the powers of the provinces, or deprive them of some of their existing powers. That goes to prove that it is, in the main, a unitary system.
– It is a confederation.
– Its Constitution is practically the opposite to our own.
– The Canadian Constitution can be altered at the will of the dominion people.
– Only within the powers vested in the Imperial Act.
– Whatever is done is subject to ratification by the Imperial Parliament.
– All residuary and unspecified power rests with the central Parliament-
– That is my contention. That constitutes a vital difference between that system and our own.
– There is very little in respect of those powers that is not specified in the Canadian Constitution.
– The fact remains that the two Constitutions are very different in that respect; that, outside the powers vested in the provinces, the Dominion Parliament is supreme. Outside the powers specifically given to the Commonwealth Parliament by federation, we have no power at all. I doubt whether this Government would have the power to declare a general holiday throughout Australia, no matter how important the reason, if it were contended that that would interfere with trade and commerce. However well the United States Constitution may have worked, and I doubt whether it is as perfect as some speakers have claimed, it had to deal with conditions entirely different from ours. When federation was inaugurated in the United States of America there were thirteen States, and an enormous unpeopled territory which gradually became settled, and which was, from time to time, formed into new and additional States. Conquest and purchase added other States, until at the present time there are 48 in the United States of America. Each of those 48 States is small in area compared with the aggregate area of the country. From the outset we have had only six States and, being an island continent, it is practically impossible for us to have any more States than by the settlement of the Northern Territory, or subdivision. It is therefore foolish to attempt to draw a close analogy between countries where the conditions are so vastly different.
There have been nineteen amendments of the Constitution of the United States of America, some of them comparatively trivial, but some of them of vast importance. When we speak of the word “ fundamental “, it may be difficult to give an accurate meaning, but if it was not fundamental to abolish chattel slavery, I do not know what the word means. Again, whether we agree with it or not, the prohibition amendment was something fundamental. I am not up-to-date with American history, but, if I recollect aright, one of its amendments includes a kind of charter of citizen rights-
– Citizen rights against interference by the Parliament, rights reducing the power of Congress.
– I admit that they do not increase the power of Parliament on those specified subjects. Many other countries have modelled their constitutions closely upon that of the United States of America. I think that the greatest mistake in our case was the production of a hybrid constitution wherein we tried to graft the British system of constitutional government upon the American system. The hybrid that has been produced as a result will not be of permanent value in the working out of Australia’s -destiny. It has led to many contradictions, even when it concerns the relationship between this Senate and another chamber. One House may be precipitated into an election by a dissolution, while the other is allowed to run its specified time. Such anomalies are the result of an endeavour to graft on to each other constitutions that are vitally and fundamentally different.
A number of essential services in Australia are at present managed by the States. This is not conducive to the best results. Take our railways. In the United States the railways are owned mainly by private companies, and there is an Interstate Commission to prevent the people of any particular State trying to use the railways to their own advantage against the competition of other States. As a result there is a somewhat systematic method of running railways in all of those States. In Australia the States have constructed railways, not purely for the purpose of trade, but largely because of political motives. Although the expense might have been a little greater, our railways would have been much more effective had a number of the lines been constructed from an Australian instead of a purely State stand-point. Many New South Wales railways were built merely to focus trade and commerce on Sydney, at the expense of the best interests of the districts in which they originated. I remember one New SouthWales Premier being asked to build a line to cover the gap that existed in the railway connexion between Murwillumbah and Coolangatta. He replied : “ Not until we have our North Coast line completed, so that we may be able to compete with Brisbane.” A similar thing occurred in regard to a proposal to extend a railway line from New SouthWales to the Victorian border. It was claimed that if the line were built it would merely divert the railage of wheat to Melbourne, instead of Sydney. While that may be a very practical point of view, it is detrimental to the nation.
While we cannot make more than a passing reference to the other two proposals that the Government intends to submit to the people by wayof referendum, I may point out that it is intended, if those proposals are carried, to pass certain legislation. It will be only through the operation of this first bill that the Labour party will be able to give effect to that legislation without the necessity of appealing to the High Court. It has been stated that the Labour party wishes to abolish the High Court.
– Yes, as the interpreter of the Constitution.
SenatorRAE. - Had it been proposed ton years ago, or the day after the Constitution had been adopted by the people to abolish the High Court as the interpreter of the Constitution, I should certainly have been foremost in voting for that proposal. It is practically a third House of Parliament, with greater power than that of the other two combined. After all, the interpretation of the Constitution is not something that is subject to a divine interpretation. There is nothing omniscient in the gentlemen who constitute the High Court. They sometimes settle these questions by a bare majority of one, which is just as likely to be wrong as I am likely to be wrong.
– Then a differently constituted court gives an opposite decision.
SenatorRAE. - That is so. There is no reason why the High Court should be regarded as sacrosanct so far as its interpretation of the Constitution is concerned, and I see no reason why it should be retained as the interpreter of the Constitution. There should be in the Constitution some provision under which decisions of the High Court affecting the constitutionality of Commonwealth legislation could be overruled and the will of Parliament made supreme. Technicalities should be overruled by common sense. The rights of the people should not be brushed aside. I should like to see a proposal brought forward to prevent the High Court from being the final arbiter of the political destinies of Australia. Freedom lies with the people. They should be able to give full expression to their ideals. It may be that this proposal can be challenged on the ground that if it is accepted by the people there will be no necessity for future referendums to alter the Constitution. But it is not proposed to delete section 128, so that provision will still be available, and the people will still have the opportunity, by means of a referendum, to alter the Constitution in any direction desired by them. The acceptance of this proposal will not be the last word in regard to constitutional alterations. The people will be able to go forward or, by operating section 128, they may retrace their steps. After all, the object of the Government is merely to make the Constitution more flexible and more amenable to the will of the people. If this proposal is carried, our political opponents of to-day may, at some future election, be returned with a majority, and the provision which we are not seeking to incorporate in the Constitution may be operated by them.
– Other issues may be brought forward to obscure the mind of the electors.
– If there is any outstanding grievance in connexion with the use made by the Commonwealth Government of this enlarged power, minor matters will be brushed aside, and the electors will remove from office those who abused the trust reposed in them. I recall a statement made by the present Chief Justice of Victoria, Sir William Irvine, when the Fisher Government introduced a proposal to amend the Constitution. He said that he was partial to the powers proposed to be given to the Federal Parliament, but distrusted those who would wield those powers, meaning the Labour party. But are we to put up indefinitely with the defects of the Constitution simply because of the fear that opposing political forces will gain some temporary advantages from the change? That is a narrow, and, I suggest, a cowardly view. Whatever advantage the Labour party now holding office might gain from the carrying of this proposal, would also be gained by our friends opposite, if they again came into office with a majority. They would have the same opportunity to use these enlarged powers in the interests of the people.
– That may be after the mischief has been done.
– The Commonwealth is now suffering a great deal from the mischief done by the honorable senator’s party.
– The proposals submitted by the Bruce-Page Government in 1926 were rejected because the Labour party would not trust the administration with the enlarged powers.
– I am glad the honorable senator has reminded me of those proposals, because for the moment I had forgotten them. I was strongly opposed to the amendments brought forward by the Bruce-Page Government, and I adversely criticized members of the Labour party, who seemed to me to fall so easily into the trap laid for them. Those amendments were not proposals to enlarge the powers of the Federal Parliament at all. They were to vest larger powers in an arbitration tribunal under the Constitution, and if they did not prove satisfactory, Parliament had no power to alter them, except by another referendum. I ask leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
French Duty on Australian Wheat and Butter.
.– When the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Senator Daly) was replying to a question, asked by Senator Chapman this morning, relating to the recent increase in duties on Australian wheat and butter by the Government of France, the right honorable Leader of the Opposition (Senator Sir George Pearce) interjected that we were getting some of our own back. In my view the interjection, if allowed to pass unnoticed, would convey the impression to the people of Australia that the action taken by the Government of France was in retaliation for the imposition of duties recently by this Government with a view to building up Australian industries, and that, to put it briefly, Australia would lose more than it would gain from that policy.
– How will our wheat-farmers fare ?
– I should like the Vice-President of the Executive Council to give us more detailed information than was contained in his reply to Senator Chapman’s question this morning. If he can tell us what quantities of wheat, butter and other primary products are exported to France, and at the same time indicate the volume and nature of our imports from that country, we shall be in a better position to appreciate the significance of the action of the French Government, and have the whole subject in its true perspective.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [3.41]. - I had good reason for the interjection to which Senator O’Halloran has directed attention. Before Senator Chapman put his question to the Vice-President of the Executive
Council, he showed me a copy of the following statement which appeared in the commercial columns of the Sydney Morning Herald of the 5th instant : -
Mr. C. H. Voss, Australian Common weallth commercial representative in France, whose activities in that country are centralized in the offices of the British Chamber of Commerce in Paris-
That is to say, the Commonwealth rents an office from the chamber– in the course of a report at the annual meeting of the chamber on February 7, said: “The new tariff increases which recently came into force immediately provoked a movement of retaliation on the part of tho French authorities, and Australian butter and wheat are henceforth to be subjected to a super tax of 200 per cent, over and above the existing rate. These duties will no doubt make a difference to our exports to franco of such products, but the total figure will not be greatly affected as, following on France’s recent wheat compaign, the purchases of cereals had already diminished to a great extent.”
Having read the statement mentioned, I considered that the action of France was tantamount to retaliation for the imposition of heavy duties by this government on imports from France and that we were getting “some of our own back.” Evidently the commercial representative of the Commonwealth in France takes the view that the increase in the French duties was in the nature of retaliatory action on the Commonwealth for imposing high duties on goods which France exports to Australia.
– I am afraid that the trouble is not going to end with France, because in a recent issue of a Queensland newspaper, 1 noticed a report that Queensland meat works are not working full time owing to an import duty imposed by Germany on Australian meat. The immediate result is a distinct reduction in the price of cattle in Queensland. Whether or not this action by Germany is in the nature of retaliation, I am unable to say, but I hope the Government will ascertain the reason for it. and inform the Senate.
– I am rather surprised to learn that the Government was not aware of the retaliatory attitude adopted by France.
– Who said it was retaliatory?
– TheGovernment’s representative in Paris.
- Mr. Voss, Australia’s representative in Paris, has tomy knowledge done very good work for Australia. When I was proceeding to Great Britain some months ago, the passengers on the mail boat were notified that owing to an outbreak of small-pox in England they would be debarred from landing in France unlessthey were vaccinated. Although there were no small-pox cases on the vessel, and none had been reported in Australia or at any ports at which the vessel called, large numbers of Australian passengerswho intended to land in France were informed that they could not do so. The enforcement of that order would have caused some of the passengers who wished to visit France as tourists, and others who had business to transact, to cancel their arrangements, and would have caused them a good deal of inconvenience and loss. When informed of the position I .despatched a wireless communication to Mr. Voss, who was instrumental in obtaining permission for Australian passengers to land. Subsequently I met that gentleman in Paris, and from a conversation with him, I could see that he was very keen on protecting the interests of Australian travellers and Australia’s interests generally. He regards the action of the French authorities in tariff matters as retaliatory. I understand that an extra charge of 2s. a case is imposed on Australian apples entering Germany. If Australian apples and apples of equal quality from other countries are sold in Germany at £1 per case the Australian producer will receive 18s. only, and producers of other countries will receive £1.
– Is the honorable senator a Free Trader ?
– No. But the imposition of such duties will have a vital effect upon the producing interests of Australia and every government must take the matter into consideration when framing its policy. The effect of tariffs generally was discussed at an economic conference of the League of Nations some time ago when a resolution was carried to the effect that the imposition of ‘high tariffs was one of the primary causes of -war. At that conference a resolution was carried in favour of the reduction of tariffs. Since then 27 States have signed an agreement with certain reservations as to imports and export prohibitions and restrictions. If the present policy pf the Federal Government is to be adhered to, tce may expect reprisals from those 27 nations as well as others.
– When honorable senators refer to retaliatory measures and reprisals they should consider the value of the imports and export, from and to the countries referred One would think that our export of wheat and butter to France had assumed large proportions. Of the £15.000,000 worth of commodities exported to France, approximately £14,000,000 is represented by sheepskins and wool. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) has criticized the Government’s action in this respect, but it is using this medium of exchange for the purpose for which it should be used. If the returns from the primary producers’ wheat and wool which is exported to France are used for purchasing perfumes that can be manufactured in Australia, those proceeds cannot be used for paying our interest bill in London. If those returns are not properly used, the primary producers will have to pay increased taxation in order to meet our interest bill. I invite the attention of Senator Chapman and other honorable senators, who have referred to this question to the bulletin issued by the Trade and Customs Department, which shows that our imports from France of spirituous and alcoholic liquors are valued at £189,731. Senator Chapman is a member of the same political party as Senator Carroll, who on Thursday next will continue the debate on a motion in favour of trade within the Empire. Great Britain can produce whisky, wine and other such liquors of a quality equal to the French product, and Australia is prepared to purchase such beverages from Great Britain. Returned soldiers and others are engaged in fruit-growing industries on the river Murray, but edible nuts to the value of £13,758 are imported from. France. The returns’ from Australian! wheat sold in France have been used to that extent to pay for nuts grown in Trance. Pickles, sauces and dried fruits to the value of £3,000 are also annually imported from France. Blouses and skirts to the value of £171,163 are imported by us from France, and paid for out of the returns from our wheat and butter.
– Should re not sell anything to France!
– It is economically unsound to use the returns from our wheat to purchase wearing apparel which oan be manufactured in Australia. If we purchase £12,284 worth of French boots and shoes, they must be paid for. We do not want their boots and shoes.
– But we want France to buy our wheat.
– Is the Leader of the Opposition aware that of the £15,000,000 worth of wheat exported, only £480,000 worth goes to France. In return for wheat of that value we are purchasing £2/900,000 worth of goods which can be manufactured in Australia.
– We need all the markets we can get.
– Of course, but we do not want to assist clothing factories in France. Senator Glasgow, who is interested in the wool industry should know that artificial silk enters into strong competition with woollen goods. The Government is attempting to prevent the importation of artificial silk in order to assist the wool industry. Senator Chapman is aware that well organized woollen factories are operating in South Australia, and that there should be no necessity for Australia to purchase woollen goods from France. The Government .contends that there is no justification for paying £2,144,072 to France for wearing apparel. The value of other imports from France are as follows: - Olive oil, £44,911 ; rubber, £118,000, and stationery, £187,157. As olive oil of a high quality, is manufactured, even in the prisons, in South Australia, as well as in the other States, there is no justification for importing such a commodity. The value of other importations has been perfumery, £148,1-19; perfumed spirit, £45,172; bags and purses, £23,195. When the Government decided to impose increased customs duties on certain commodities, it did so in an endeavour to improve Australia’s financial and economic position. The only way in which we can prosper is by increasing trade within the Empire, and as I have said, preventing the returns from oar wool, wheat and butter being used abroad for the purchase of goods, some of which are not required, and others of which can be readily manufactured in Australia. The returns, from the goods which we export should be used in meeting our interest bill, and when that is done we can then endeavour to reduce the taxation of those primary producers whom Senator Chapman represents.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 3.68 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 9 May 1930, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1930/19300509_senate_12_124/>.