12th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. W. Kingsmill) took thechair at 3 pan., and read prayers.
The following papers were presented . -
British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition - Report by Sir Douglas Mawon, St., O.B.E., D.Sc., F.H.B., on the work of the Expedition in R.S.S. Discovery during the Season 1928-1930.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired near Crystal Brook, South Australia- For Postal (Broadcasting) Purposes.
Public Service Act- Appointments- Department of Health - R. Christie; L.G. Armstrong, and K. Brushfield.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. The plant and machinery for the power plant at Yallourn upon which remission of duty was made was imported chiefly during the period 1921-23. Since that time considerable advance has been made in the manufacture of electrical plant in Australia. The position at the present time is, therefore, materially different from the situation at the time when the concession was granted on the Yallourn plant. 3, 4 and 5. There would be great difficulty after so many years in getting these details, and they would not be completely available from departmental records. It is, therefore, regretted that the information cannot be given. 6 and 7. Yes. A decision was arrived at by the late Government to remit duty to the extent of 50 per cent. of the amount normally due, by admitting goods to that extent under by-law. The present Government sees no reason to interfere with that decision.
asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
Is it intended to introduce legislation this session with the object of providing a bounty on paper manufactured from Tasmanian timber?
– The matter is now receiving careful consideration.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
– On the 1st May Senator Ogden asked the following questions, upon notice -
I am now able to furnish the honorable senator with the following information : -
– On the 16th May, Senator McLachlan asked the following question, upon notice -
Is the report true that the insect parasite cactoblastus is attacking the tomato plant in Queensland?
I am now advised by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research that unripe tomatoes were attacked by the insect. The patch of tomatoes was, however, adjacent to an area of dead prickly pear which had been destroyed, leaving the insect without any of its natural sustenance. The caterpillars very soon died when the injured tomatoes began to ripen. Beyond that, no injury was done to the plants. It is stated that before the insect was liberated in the first instance, it was tested very exhaustively on all plants of economic value, and that it always died within 48 hours when deprived of prickly pear. Investigations show that there is no possibility of the insect ever completing its life cycle, except on prickly pear.
Debate resumed from 9th May (vide page 1643) on motion by Senator Daly-
That the bill be now mad si second time.
Senator RAE (New South Wales) 3.8]. - I do not intend to go over ground already traversed by me when last I spoke on the second reading of this bill, but there are a few matters which I consider worthy of the consideration of the Senate. It has been claimed by almost every honorable senator opposite who has spoken on the measure that the proposal contained therein is undemocratic, the inference being that the powers vested in State legislatures are exercised only by Parliaments fully representing the views of the people. By contrast it was said that this Parliament is out of touch with the feelings of the Australian people. That attitude was manifested in the statements to the effect that the people are averse to clothing this Parliament with greater powers. In that connexion I should like to point out that not only is there a strong anti-democratic element in the constitutions of the State Parliaments, in the form of second chambers elected upon a property qualification, but that in the Constitution of the Commonwealth as now existing there are some very undemocratic provisions. It is claimed by honorable senators opposite that the system under which an amendment of the Constitution must be agreed to by a majority of the aggregate votes cast in all the States, as well as by a majority of the States, is democratic. It certainly means that to get an_ affirmative vote there must be a large consensus of opinion favorable to the course proposed; but if i t is democratic to require such a majority for an affirmation of the principle, it should be equally democratic to require a substantial majority to cast a negative vote.
– It is difficult to follow the honorable senator’s reasoning.
– What I am endeavouring to show is that there is no more merit in denying than in granting. Every question submitted to the people should be determined upon its merits. Under the present method of altering the Constitution it is possible for not only a minority to prevent the will of the people being carried into effect, but for a very small minority to do so. It has been pointed out during this discussion that, if these proposals were carried; the Constitution could be altered by a minority, and that even an accidental majority in either place could effect that result. But what is the position when we submit a proposal to the people under the present Constitution? The population of the three more populous States, New South Wales. Victoria, and Queensland, is nearly 5,000,000 out of a total of 6,:”i00,000, yet if the electors in those three States unanimously voted for a proposed amendment, and there was a minority of only one in each of the other three States, the proposal would be negatived because the consent, of four States out of six is necessary to carry any referendum proposal. Obviously, therefore, a majority of only three, one in each State, against a proposal could nullify the desires and aspirations of more than five-sixths of the population.
– And one State where the population was sufficiently large could nullify the efforts of all the other States.
– What I have pointed out is a greater departure from democratic principles. Five million electors in three States may desire certain reforms and almost one-half of the people of the remaining three States may be in agreement with the 5,000,000, but the fact that the proposal was defeated by a majority of one in three States would nullify it. I admit that that is not probable, neither was the proposition put forward by honorable senators opposite. We are considering possibilities, and the possibility of nullifying the will of the people is greater under the present Constitution than it would be under the proposed amendment.
– What about the will of the States.
– That is what I am now discussing. A State is considered as an entity, and, therefore, if a majority of one in each of three States, decided certain proposals should not be accepted, the strongest possible desire of approximately one-half of the population to the contrary would be be nullified.
– The same argument could be used against equal representation in the Senate.
– Of course, and it has been. I am not saying whether it is right or wrong, but when we contrast that with the possibility of a proposal being carried by a bare majority in this Parliament then I submit the odds are against the present system inasmuch as it is still more easily conceivable -that die will of the majority may be flouted. 1 fail to see any indication of democratic principle in the constitution of this chamber. It was accepted as a compromise, and like all compromises was not acceptable to all sections of the people. Admitting that at that time the States would not have federation under any other system it is still a negation of democracy since it practically allows the minority to rule. Those who are able to exercise a veto are the real rulers. If the will of the majority were constantly vetoed, then the majority ultimately would have to make proposals in accord with the wishes of a minority in order to ensure their acceptance.
– Therefore the honorable senator would do away with the power altogether.
– No, it would be left to the representatives of those people to influence the others by the weight of their arguments. I venture to suggest that ever since the inception of federation any reasonable claim or request made on behalf of the smaller States has generally been acceded to by the representatives of the larger States, and that there has not been any separation or division of principles on State lines except on very rare occasions. In no vital instance has !:hat been the case. “We have seen how readily the representatives of the larger States have acceded to the requests of the smaller States for financial assistance owing to the disabilities that federation has brought upon them. A spirit of reasonableness has been shown by those representing larger States, which goes to show that there is no genuine reason for fearing that there will be a division in the future on these lines. The overwhelming representation of the larger
States in another place would give them opportunities to exercise their power to the disadvantage of the smaller States, but that has not been done.
L wish now to point to another fact which seems to have been entirely lost sight of by honorable senators opposite. Both parties have claimed that it is necessary for the Commonwealth to possess more extensive powers in certain directions. The fact that the late Government placed before the people proposals in that direction which I think were absurd goes to show that it is not a purely party question. Instead of honorable senators opposite opposing these amendments of the Constitution in every direction why have they not suggested variations of them? Why have they not said that while they believe in additional powers being vested in this Parliament they consider these proposals are in certain directions excessive? Personally 1 can see that the party of which I am a member stands to lose as much as it is likely to gain if effect is given to these proposals. Governments come and go, and parties oscillate between one extreme and another. I do not like the idea of a future Nationalist government forcing conscription upon us. It should be possible for the two parties in the Senate to come to some agreement as to the direction and the extent to which the Constitution should be altered. Generally, 1 do not believe in collaboration between political parties. I certainly do not believe in such collaboration where matters of vital principles are involved. But, after all, this is merely a matter of machinery. No vital principle is at stake. The government of a country depends on administration rather than on mere skeleton legislation which is supposed to embody certain principles.
– There is no harm in a blank cheque; it becomes dangerous only when a person places his signature on it.
– Probably the right honorable gentleman looks forward to leading his party to victory again. Should his hopes be realized his government would have the same power that the present Government would have if this proposal is carried into effect.
– I do not believe in any party having that power.
– It would then be possible to reverse the legislation introduced by the Labour party.
– That is one of the dangers of this proposal.
– If this proposal became law, the power conferred by it would be vested in any government which happened to be in office.
Honorable senators opposite exaggerate the position when they say that, under these proposals, it would be possible to amend the Constitution from day to day. Probably that is only a figure of speech; but it is not an accurate statement of fact, for not only will a majority of both Houses of Parliament be required before such a proposal becomes law, but a certain definite period must first elapse. I am not wedded to any particular proposals in regard to alterations of the Constitution. If honorable senators opposite were prepared to accept the principle that the Commonwealth Parliament should be vested with greater powers, I do not see why the two parties should not confer with a view to arriving at a decision as to the direction and the extent of those alterations. I can see quite legitimate reasons for differences of opinion regarding this proposal; but, after all, it is only a matter of the machinery of government. If honorable senators merely desire that there shall be greater safeguards than are now proposed, why is it that they offer direct opposition to all amendments proposed?
– This bill is too unreasonable to permit of any amendments.
– The honorable senator has not shown that that is so. One honorable senator referred to a proposal by the federal executive of the Australian Labour party that Parliament should be empowered to alter the Constitution in certain directions only, and that iri other directions, it should not be amended without the consent of the people. I should have preferred a proposal along those lines to that now before us. In my opinion, it would be well to reserve some things to the people. For instance, any question as to an alteration of the franchise should be determined, not by this Parliament, but by the people. I do not think that any one section of the community should have the1 power to disfranchise another section without the people themselves being first consulted.
– Does the honorable senator think that this bill reserves that power ?
– That power should not be exercised without the consent of the people. If the two parties in this chamber had the will to do so, there is no insuperable obstacle to their conferring with a view to arriving at an agreement as to the direction and the extent to which the Constitution should be altered. Both parties have expressed the belief that the power of this Parliament should be increased. It is therefore only a matter of the extent to which increased powers should be granted. I am aware that, so long as party government exists, there will always be difficulty in arriving at agreements. That is largely due to the fact that one party is not prepared to allow the other the “ kudos “ of having effected a settlement which the other had not found possible.
– An agreement was arrived at between the parties in 1926, but it was not honored in the constituencies.
– I fought against those proposals, not because they were introduced by the Bruce-Page Government, but because of the absurd method adopted in presenting them to the people. One proposal was that this Parliament should have power to appoint a tribunal to deal with industrial conditions. The tribunal was to be appointed for life and Parliament was to have no control over it whatever.
– The honorable senator is rather anticipating the debate on Order of the Day, No. 2. His remarks would be more appropriate in that connexion.
– I desired to refer to the details of the proposals then submitted, and to show that the principle underlying them invited defeat. Had those powers been granted, and the tribunal appointed, Parliament could not have altered it however ineffective it might have been.
– The honorable senator’s remarks still have reference to another order of the day. I think he has said sufficient to make his point clear.
– The proposals then placed before the people meant that Parliament instead of being vested with greater powers was really to be deprived of its . powers. My opposition to them was based on that objection. Ostensibly the power of Parliament was to be increased, but actually it would have been reduced. If the scheme had been found unworkable, Parliament would have been unable to make any alteration without first consulting the people and confessing that it did not know its own business. That is why I opposed those proposals.
– Is that why the honorable senator opposed the proposal dealing with essential services?
– I am not now discussing that phase of constitutional amendment. I am considering the way in which the enlarged powers sought by the BrucePage Government would have been exercised, and I am endeavouring to show that, instead of extending, they would have limited and crippled the powers of Parliament.
Whatever may be said against the present suggested amendment, it cannot be urged that any constitutional alterations resulting from its acceptance will be administered by a third party, as would have been the case with the proposed amendments brought forward by the Bruce-Page Administration.
– This proposal will place Parliament above the people.
– If the amendment is accepted, Parliament itself will determine what alterations to the Constitution should be made. There is a vital difference between the amendments introduced by the present Government and those proposed by the previous Administration. The proposals submitted by the previous Government would have been supported by the Labour movement to a much greater extent had there been no objection to the authority to be vested in a legal tribunal. All these proposals to alter the Constitution lack one essential - the decision of a federal convention. The
Constitution should be put into the melting pot and a convention on lines similar to that which drafted the original Constitution should be summoned to remodel it and bring it into conformity with present day needs. These piecemeal attempts to amend the Constitution are objectionable largely because of their piecemeal character. The people fear that although they may benefit in certain directions, they will be adversely affected in others. Consequently, they are disinclined to take a leap in the dark. The only satisfactory method is to have a popularly elected convention to overhaul the Constitution and recommend the adoption of necessary amendments.
Honorable senators opposite have mentioned the difficulties encountered in all attempts to amend the Constitution of the United States of America. I have given some study to the Federal, as well as the State Constitutions of the United States of America, and I believe that they contain certain provisions which might with advantage be inserted in our Constitution. The Constitutions of some of the States, for example, provide for the holding of periodical conventions to bring the Constitution up to date. The omission of that provision in our own form of government is unfortunate. The Constitution should not be regarded as sacrosanct. I am aware, of course, that some people think that, like a monument, it should endure for ever, but that view is due to a misunderstanding of the position. As a matter of fact, it is a human instrument intended to minister to human needs of the time, and it represents the best thought of those who framed it. As our conditions vary, so should our Constitution be amended to meet the altered needs of the people. The Constitution is entitled to no more veneration than any other human document. It was the best that could be obtained, but there is no reason why it should not be made more flexible and amenable to the will of the people. It might very well be amended so as to define more precisely the powers which it is claimed this Parliament possesses. At present we are working under a threechambered legislature, so to speak, because rulings of the High Court, which may be reversed, following any change in the personnel of that tribunal, materially modify the powers which the Constitution confers upon this Parliament. This was illustrated some years ago in a claim made for compensation on behalf of a member of the crew of the Kalibiah, who was seriously injured off the coast of New SouthWales. The claim for compensation depended on whether the ship was voyaging from one State to another, or from port to port within one State. Actually the vessel had left a New South Wales port intending to go to Brisbane, but owing to bad weather had to put into a port on the north coast of New South Wales. Consequently its voyage was held to be intra- instead of interstate. On this legal quibble the court ruled that theman was not entitled to compensation because the law provided for compensation to be payable only in the case of accidents occurring while a ship was engaged in the interstate trade. Decisions such as this affect materially the legislative authority of this Parliament, and there should be some method by which it would be possible better to defineits powers. In the Constitution of some countries there is provision for amendments to be made on a two-thirds majority of the electors or some other fraction greater than a simple majority. Under the proposals now submitted there would have to be a majority decision of both houses, and an interval before action can be taken. The power could not be exercised on a mere snatch vote. Consequently, the public would have an opportunity to criticize any proposal, and adequate safeguards would be provided against the Constitution being altered in any dangerous manner. I trust that efforts will be made to bring about some kind of understanding whereby we can say what powers are necessary for the better carrying out of the national needs of Australia, and how far they should be limited.
– It is surprising that with a few words, such as are contained in this amending bill, it is possible for a political party to undo the work of years of thought and deliberation by the great men who framed our Constitution. The proposal, if it will not actually de stroy that great work, seeks to take away from the people of the more sparsely populated States the whole of the safeguards that federation conferred upon them. It also seeks to take away from the people of Australia the right to be consulted in regard to any future amendment of the Constitution. I venture to think that the great men who framed our Constitution never contemplatedfor a moment that it would be possible for the ingenuity of a political party to’ devise a means such as this, to overcome in one stroke, the whole of the safeguards that they, in their wisdom, specially provided in the Constitution for the protection of the weaker States. In ordinary circumstances, we should have had very much louder protests from those States than have been heard. But in the present time of financial depression the people are not looking for much relief from political action. They have noted what the Government proposes to do and are determined, while they still have the right to vote in regard to alterations of the Constitution, to exercise that right in a very unmistakable manner. It is quite clear that the Government does not for a minute think that this measure will be carried, as it is introducing two other amendments of the Constitution, one a proposal that the Federal Parliament shall have full industrial powers and the other that it shall control trade and commerce. Neither of those proposals would be necessary if this bill were carried. In effect, the Government says to the people of Australia, “ This is merely a gesture. We do not expect it to be carried, but when it is defeated we shall ask you to carry other amendments which we consider necessary to give the Federal Parliament greater power in certain directions that we desire.” In Western Australia there exists a most remarkable unanimity among all political parties in their opposition to this attempt to destroy the rights given to that State under the Constitution. Since these proposals were put forward by the Federal Labour Government, there has been an election in Western Australia. Before the election a Labour Government was in power; a very moderate and careful Government. Mr. Collier, who was then Premier, made the following remarks in his policy speech, evidently having these measures of the Federal Labour Government in view -
We are out to resist illegitimate enroachments on the rights of Western Australia, irrespective of the source from which they emanate.
– That is the reason why he was defeated.
– Not at all. I shall proceed to show the honorable senator that the Nationalist and Country parties were even more opposed, if that were possible, to these proposals. Mr. Collier, as a good Western Australian, was prepared to put the interests of the State that he then directed before those of the Federal Labour party, as he has done on other occasions in the past. When he put to the people of Western Australia that policy of opposition to further federal encroachment he was only trying to show that in that respect he was as jealous of the rights of the State as were the Nationalist and Country parties. On that issue he entirely dissociated himself from the Scullin Government and its policy of federal encroachment upon State rights.
– That did not save him.
– But it is to his credit that he was not misled by the party shibboleths of the Federal Labour Government. This bill is merely the forerunner of centralization of all powers of government, in all matters, in the Federal Parliament. It certainly spells unification and the extinction of the existing State Parliaments and Governments. Once this alteration of the Constitution was effected a Federal Labour Government could, at any time that it had a majority in both Houses, abolish State Parliaments, take away their powers, or override them, without any reference to the people of the individual States.
– This Government might assist to create three or four new States.
– I suppose that such new States would be on the eastern side of Australia. Certainly they would have powers entirely subordinate to those of the central administration. We, in the State that I have the honour to assist to represent in this chamber, do not want to give the Commonwealth any further power over our local affairs. We prefer to be governed in all our domestic affairs by agovernment that we ourselves elect, that has a knowledge and understanding of our conditions, and that meets in our own State. We do not wish to be governed by people who are without a knowledge of our requirements and who sit 2,000 miles away, in the isolation and the chilly atmosphere of Canberra.
– Could we not send them a photo of Canberra to assist them ?
– I do not think that that would be helpful.
– A gold bonus would be more preferable.
– It would particularly in view of the fact that Western Australia has assisted to pay a large number of bonuses to interests . in the Eastern States from which we receive no advantage whatever. It would indeed be refreshing for at least one Western Australian industry to receive a measure of federal assistance. It would be quite unnecessary for the Government to pass the proposed measure in order to grant a gold bonus. It has ample powers under existing legislation to do so.
I shall quote what Mr. Collier thinks of unification. These remarks, which were made by him in Melbourne, reported in the Melbourne Herald of the 28th January, 1928, and widely circulated in Western Australia at the general elections that occurred two years ago, read -
When federation was decided upon and Western Australia, after protesting that what has happened would happen, joined the union, everyone hoped, perhaps believed, that the Federal Parliament would be the cement to bind the States together, leaving them to fulfil their proper functions without interference from a body that had its circumscribed area of government.
How different has it turned out! We have six States, poor and needy, and a rich, bloated Commonwealth ending each year with fat surpluses that are the sign manual of bad government.
On that basis the present Commonwealth Government can claim credit for itself, because it seems likely to have big increasing and recurring deficits. Mr. Collier continued -
Bit by bit the federal authority is growing at the expense of the States. We are drifting, as sure as fate, towards unification. Thai means ruin. This enormous country cannot be governed from a political centre by men almost entirely ignorant of conditions in the far corners of the land.
I commend those views of the “Western Australian Labour leader to- the Senate. If this bill is passed and agreed to at a referendum, any time the Labour party has a majority in the two chambers it will be possible for it to bring about the unification which is the desire of the Labour party, as expressed in the Australian Labour party’s platform, and which Mr. Collier says means ruin. Although “Western Australia is represented in the present Ministry, and has Labour members in another chamber, it is no wonder that, when this measure was going through that chamber, no representative from “Western Australia voted for it. I am very glad to say that the Labour representatives of that State in another place were far better occupied. They were in Western Australia supporting the election campaign of the then Labour Premier, who had stated his opposition to the Federal Labour Government’s proposal, which is so detrimental to the interests of Western Australia.
– Was it a matter of conviction or strategy?
– I do not know; but they were certainly doing more useful work in Western Australia than they could have done if they had remained here, because they were supporting the campaign of one who had announced his opposition to the proposals of the Federal Labour Government, saying that they meant ruin.
The opposition to the Government’s proposal is not confined to Labour leaders in Western Australia. Other sections of the community are even more strongly opposed to these proposals. Sir James Mitchell, the new Premier of the State, is reported in the West Australian of the 7 th May to have said -
Speaking of the proposals of the Federal Government to amend the Constitution, he agreed with Mr. Stephenson that they should be vigorously opposed in this State, as they involved unification and government from Canberra. “ We are a pretty poor crowd,” he declared, “ if we cannot govern our own country, and have to go to Canberra. We can govern it more effectively and more economically here. If we had never federated, we should be a much more prosperous State, but as we have, we must make the best of it. If we want this State to be well governed, and every one to have a chance, we must fight against unification. Do you think that people in the Eastern States will have the same concern for individuals in Western Australia that the State Government has? We know your troubles, and we are responsible for the lines on which we face them.”
I agree entirely with those remarks, and I draw attention to their similarity to the words of Mr. Collier. There can be no doubt as to the attitude of the people of Western Australia. They do not wish any extension of the powers of the Federal Parliament to control the domestic affairs of the State.
In order to understand the magnitude of the political crime which the Government contemplates against the people of the smaller States, and the effect this legislation is likely to have on their national life, it is necessary to review briefly the historical events which brought the Commonwealth into existence, and to recall the sphere which the great founders of federation designed it to fill. Prior to 1900 there were six Australian colonies enjoying complete self-government. Except in regard to a few minor reservations, unimportant for the purpose of this debate, each colony had complete sovereign power over the whole of its domain. Western Australia obtained responsible government in 1890, and in the following ten years attained most remarkable progress. After a short ten years of relief from Downing-street control, it decided to enter federation, and, as stated by Sir James Mitchell, its subsequent experiences have been most unfortunate. I was a young man when the federal vote was taken; I was not old enough to exercise the franchise; but I remember hearing a great deal about “ One Flag, One Destiny.” I do not recall having been told anything about two income taxes, two land taxes and two sets of probate duties. We were told that when we joined federation the tariff wall between the different colonies would be broken down, but we were not told anything about the building up of huge embargoes upon goods produced in the Motherland which has treated us so well, or enormous tariff walls against all the other parts of the British Empire. We were told a lot about liberty, fraternity and equality between the people and between the different States and a great deal about the advantages Western Australia, with its small population, would enjoy by the equal representation of the States in the Senate. But we were not told, neither did we foresee, that within 30 years one of the great political parties of the Commonwealth in control of the Government of Australia would be bringing forward legislation designed to destroy the federal compact, to bring about unification, to abolish the Senate, and rid us of the protection it affords, and to deprive the people of their existing control of the Federal Constitution by means of referendums. Federation from the point of view of Western Australia has undoubtedly been an expensive failure; so much so that so far as the people of the State are concerned, the only good news they receive from Canberra is no news at all.
It was only natural that the six colonies enjoying independent sovereign powers should have a sentiment towards a proper form of federation, particularly from a defence point of view, having regard to their proximity to Asia, and also because of the desire to break down interstate customs barriers. The form the proposed union should take was the subject of long and careful study and examination at repeated conferences at which all the colonies had equal representation, just as the States now enjoy equal representation in the Senate. Ultimately, a federal form of Government closely resembling that of the United States of America was adopted. The States agreed that certain of their sovereign powers and rights should be transferred to the central or Fe’deral Government and Parliament, but what these powers should be were the subject of discussion at several federal conventions; and eventually the States agreed to transfer to the Commonwealth the powers set out in sections 51 and 52 of our Constitution and nothing more. Practically they agreed to transfer to a national Parliament control over all national affairs, and reserved to themselves the control of all their own domestic affairs. On account of their distance from the eastern States, the people of Western Australia were no more prepared then than they are to-day to accept unification at the will of an eastern majority; but once the proposal contained in the bill before us is accepted by the people, any time the voters of the east ern States put a chance Labour majority into this Parliament in both chambers unification may be brought about despite the wishes of the whole of the representatives of Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania. It is true that provision was made in the Constitution for its alteration but the smaller States knew that they would be amply safeguarded by the requirement that before any alteration could be made there must be a majority of the electors and a majority of the States voting for it. That provision prevents any transfer of power without the approval of the three smaller States, but if the present proposal is accepted the people .of Melbourne and Sydney will dominate the Commonwealth; any alteration they desire can be brought into effect, despite the wishes of the people of Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, or Tasmania.
– How could the representatives of Victoria and New South Wales carry it in the Senate?
– The Senate could be abolished any time there happened to be a Labour majority in this chamber, and every Labour senator is pledged, and I am afraid for the future will be pledged, to the abolition of the Senate. Under the Constitution we now enjoy, further protection is afforded to the smaller States by section 128. The Constitution provides not only for an indissoluble federal - not unified - system, but also for protection in regard to the representation of the smaller States in this Parliament. The section reads as follows : - 128. This Constitution shall not be altered except in the following manner: -
The proposed law for the alteration thereof must be passed by an absolute majority of each House of the Parliament, and not less than two nor more than six months after its passage through both Houses the proposed law shall be submitted in each State to the electors qualified to vote for the election of members of the House of Representatives.
But if either House passes any such proposed law by an absolute majority, and the other House rejects or fails to pass it or passes it with any amendment to which the first-mentioned House will not agree, and if after an interval of three months the first-mentioned House in the same or the next session again passes the proposed law by an absolute majority with or without any amendment which has been made or agreed to by the other House, and such other House rejects or fails to pass it or passes it with any amendment to which the first-mentioned House will not agree, the GovernorGeneral may submit the proposed law as last proposed by the first-mentioned House, and either with or without any amendments subsequently agreed to by both Houses, to the electors in each State qualified to vote for the election of the House of Representatives.
When a proposed law is submitted to the electors the vote shall be taken in such manner as the Parliament prescribes. But until the qualification of electors of members of the House of Representatives becomes uniform throughout the Commonwealth, only one-half the electors voting for and against the proposed law shall be counted in any State in which adult suffrage prevails.
And if in a majority of the States a majority of the electors voting approve the proposed law, and if a majority of all the electors voting also approve the proposed law, it shall be presented to the Governor-General for the Queen’s assent.
No alteration diminishing the proportionate representation of any State in either House of the Parliament, or the minimum number of representatives of a State in the House of Representatives, or increasing, diminishing, or otherwise altering the limits of the S$ate, or in any manner affecting the provisions of the Constitution in relation thereto, shall become law unless the majority of the electors voting in that State approve the proposed law.
The individual protection afforded by the concluding paragraph of that section to each small State could be taken away from it if this proposal were carried into effect. Had the framers of the Constitution foreseen that a great political party would come into power, pledged to the abolition of the Senate in so short a time after federation, I am of opinion that provision would have been made, not only to prevent an alteration of the basis of representation in the Senate, but also to prevent the destruction of this chamber without the approval of every State which has the benefit equalrepresentation in it. If, as a result of a referendum, this proposal should become law, a Federal Parliament would be able to alter the Constitution contrary to the wishes of the electors in four of the States, and conceivably against the wishes of a majority of the electors of Australia. Such a proposal could be carried by a government having a chance majority in both branches of the legislature and no ratification of it by the- electors would- be required. The people would be robbed of their present right to be consulted before the Constitution is altered, and that charter of liberty which they now enjoy would be entirely destroyed.
The important question arises as to whether this proposed alteration of the law is constitutional - whether it is within the power of the Commonwealth Parliament to make it. Sir Edward Mitchell, one of the leading constitutional authorities in Australia, gave his opinion before the Royal Commission on the Constitution to the effect that a proposal such as that contained in this measure is entirely unconstitutional, and therefore invalid. I have here, also, the opinion of one of the foremost constitutional lawyers in Australia, Mr. Norbert Keenan, K.C., of Perth, who was Attorney-General in the Western Australian Parliament for some years, and is at present Chief Secretary in the new Nationalist-Country party Administration in that State. Mr. Keenan is at the head of his profession, and his opinion on this point was expressed in the West Australian of 8th April, in. these terms -
The important question therefore arises whether this law (if the Bill passes) is within or without the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament.
Let us examine this proposition from the point of view of the State of Western Australia.
It cannot be questioned that we entered into a Federal bond which, in the Constitution Act, is expressed as being indissoluble on certain clearly defined terms. One of these terms provided for future alteration of the contract, so as to transfer to the Commonwealth Parliament some one or other of the powers enjoyed by the Parliament of Western Australia. But. this alteration of the contract was to be brought about only as a result of a clearly expressed procedure.
If this procedure is departed from and another procedure adopted under which this State will have no voice, or a far less efficient voice, in determining whether the new and additional power sought by the Commonwealth Parliament should be granted or denied, it is clear that a term of the highest importance in the contract under which this State entered Federation would be broken.
Who could say that if this new procedure had been part of the original Federal Constitution the electors of Western Australia would ever have become a party to it?
Therefore it follows that it is ultra vires of the Parliament of the Commonwealth to compel Western Australia to accept this new procedure against her wish, even if a majority of the electors of Australia, voting as a majority in four of the States of the Commonwealth, endorse it.
I therefore agree with the opinion of Sir Edward Mitchell on the broad ground that no contract can be materially varied (save in the manner provided in the contract) unless with the consent of the parties to such contract.
It is proposed to seek for the consent to make this variance, not of the electors of Western Australia, but of the electors of Australia. Such a consent would not bind Western Australia, and if this contention is correct it followsthat the law is ultra vires the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament.
I accept that opinion unreservedly.I believe that this measure is ultra vires. and that the Government also thinks it ultra vires, otherwise it would not have introduced the two additional measures relating to industrial powers and trade and commerce. I submit that this bill is a gesture to that clement in politics known as the “ reds.” It is also an endeavour to put into operation a plank of the Labour party’s platform, which provides for unification and other legislation of that nature. A plank in the Labour party’s platform reads -
The Commonwealth Constitution to be amended to provide -
Unlimited legislative powers for the Commonwealth Parliament, and such delegated powers to the States or provinces as the Commonwealth Parliament may determine from time to time.
The Commonwealth Parliament to be vested with authority to create new States and provinces.
The Senate to be abolished.
The High Court of Australia to have final jurisdiction inall Australian causes.
The principle of adult suffrage to be embodied in the Constitution.
The initiative, referendum, and recall.
I submit that the Government has no mandate to put into operation that plank of the Labour party’s platform, which was very carefully kept in the background during the recent elections. Of course, it is clear that the abolition of the Senate is intended, and, if this measure becomes law, and is accepted by the people, a Labour government with a majority in both Houses could give effect to that plank.
– For the sake of the Commonwealth, and for the sake of Senator Rae, I trust that the party of which he is a member will not have a majority in this chamber and in another place while he is a member of the Senate. The Senate is the sole protector of the weaker States ; it is the House where the States have equal representation. In. another place, Victoria has 20 representatives and New South Wales 28, while Western Australia and Tasmania have only five each and South Australia has 7. Of 75 members in another place who have a vote, New South Wales and Victoria have 48. Therefore, the representation of Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania in another place is very weak.
– Have those States ever been refused a fair deal?
– Certainly. The fact that this legislation has been introduced is the denial of a fair deal to Western Australia. If this Government wished to deal fairly with the weaker States, it would adhere to the terms of the Constitution, or agree to its alteration only under the conditions provided in the Constitution. In whatever way the Constitution may be amended, the people in the less populous States should not be deprived of their present rights and no attempt should be made to abolish the provision in the Constitution whereby any proposed alteration must be approved by a majority of the electors and by a majority of the States.
It is quite clear that in this legislation the abolition of the Senate is aimed at. I quote from the Australian Worker of 7th May, 1930, which forecasts the destruction, not only of the Senate, but of the State Parliaments, in these words -
State Parliaments will go in the inexorable process of the years. The Senate also will go, because it was created in an anti-national spirit to preserve the inviolability of the parish pump. But the job confronting us of the present generation is to secure complete power to the Parliament of the whole united people of Australia and thus pave the way to the final and unlimited triumph of the Labour movement.
In other words, this Labour journal expresses the opinion that the smaller States should be subservient to the requirements of such cities as Melbourne and Sydney, and that the protection of the weaker States is merely preserving the inviolability of the parish pump. Apparently that journal has no outlook beyond those two great cities, and objects to Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania having equal representation in this chamber, without which they would not have entered the federal compact. Western Australia will never accept this measure. For some time past there has been a growing feeling in that State in favour of secession from the Commonwealth, so much so that it was regarded as a prominent and important matter by the royal commission which in 1925 inquired into’ the finances of Western Aus tralia as affected by federation. On the question of secession, the chairman of that commission and Mr. Commissioner Mills stated -
It is difficult in a ‘001111111111117 ‘such as Western Australia with its relative isolation from the Seat of Government and also from the other States, to prevent the creation and growth of a belief that other States are somewhat indifferent to Western Australia’s peculiar problems and difficulties. It is indeed very desirable that a greater knowledge of Western Australia should be attained by the residents in other States, and ably directed propaganda, having that object in view, should, in our opinion, be undertaken. Some reasonable degree of assistance by the Commonwealth, on the lines indicated in other sections of this report would, in our opinion, go far to put an end to the dissatisfaction with federation, which has been sedulously fostered by at least one Western Australian journal of wide circulation and which has obtained a degree of acceptance that cannot be dismissed as insignificant.
Commissioner Entwistle expressed dissent from that recommendation in these terms-
– Whose opinion is the honorable senator about to quote?
- Mr. Entwistle, one of the three Commissioners, none of whom was a Western Australian. He said -
In my opinion, Western Australia should never have entered the federation, but having done so, there is, I feel convinced, only one complete and satisfactory remedy for her present difficulties, viz., secession. If that event occurred all other recommendations in this report would become unnecessary. As, however, it cannot be taken for granted that secession will take place, I have joined in the recommendation having the object of relieving at least to some extent the present financial disabilities of the State of Western Australia.
The report goes on to make a number of recommendations in favour of Western Australia, none of which has been given full effect. On the contrary, since that time our disabilities in the way of tariff impositions and embargoes have been increased and the burdens under which primary producers in particular are labouring are even greater. In tariff matters the previous Government chastised us with whips, but this Government is chastising us with scorpions. The tariff increases which give assistance to cities in the Eastern States, particularly Sydney and Melbourne, are of no benefit to Western Australia.
– I would not object to Western Australia being given the right of secession.
– I am pleased to know that the honorable senator holds that view. Now this proposal, the objective of which is unification, comes before us. A large continent, with its different climatic and industrial conditions, cannot be governed satisfactorily from Canberra. Western Australia comprises one-third of the area of the whole Commonwealth, and is entitled to that fair treatment, which was guaranteed to it by the Constitution. I warn the Government not to go too far in depriving the people of Western Australia of their rights. I ask it to recall what happened when the people of Boston threw shipments of tea into their harbour rather than be governed and taxed from Westminster. Should legislative effect be given to the Government’s proposals, the people of Western Australia will consider the best method of State-wide resistance which may result in throwing overboard, not chests of tea, but perhaps bags of Queensland sugar.
As a West Australian I oppose ‘ this legislation, because it does not conform to those conditions under which Western Australia entered an indissoluble federal union. The people of that State ask that the Fe’d’eral Constitution shall be preserved, and that this nasty substitution which destroys the whole federal compact shall not be agreed to. They ask that the federal nature of the union into which they entered shall not be dissolved without their consent. They ask that any alterations of the Constitution- shall be made in. accordance with the provisions for alteration laid down in the original deed of partnership, which is the charter of the rights and privileges of the smaller and less populous States. The people of Western Australia wish to retain the control of their. lands, their railways, their education system, and all local affairs of importance. They do not wish the expensive and unsympathetic control of Eastern Australia to be extended to their domestic affairs. *
Legislation already on the statute-book provides that before a referendum of the people for an alteration of the Constitution is taken, the case, both for and against the proposed alteration, shall, on receipt of a proper request, be submitted in writing to every elector..
– That should be done on this occasion.
– The people should be acquainted with both sides of the case before they are asked to record their vote. I was indeed sorry to read a statement by the Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan), that it was not proposed to issue the usual pamphlet on this occasion.
– That was because of the bad precedent set by the previous Government.
– I think not. The Bruce-Page Government observed the law and saw that the people were in a position to record an intelligent and well-informed vote.
– The honorable senator is mistaken. The Bruce-Page Government did not send out an explanatory pamphlet.
– If that is so, it acted wrongly. The people should be given the fullest possible information regarding the proposed amendments. The Attorney-General says that the taxpayers will be saved £25,000 if the pamphlet prescribed by law is not issued to the electors. I maintain that if the referendum is to be taken at all, it should be conducted properly; the people should be given the fullest information. If the Government is really desirous of saving money, it could save more than the £25,000, which the issue of a pamphlet would cost by not taking the referendum at all. That would save an expenditure of at least £100,000, and, in addition, it would relieve of a heavy burden of responsibility those patriotic citizens who, if this proposal is proceeded with, will feel it incumbent on them to travel from place to place in order to’ inform the electors of the true significance of the proposed alteration-.
I am wholly opposed to this legislation; I regard it as a dishonest and shameless repudiation of the conditions under which Western Australia entered federation. It is more than a political confidence trick ; it is a deliberate attempt on the part of the Labour party to deprive the weaker partners of the federation of their rights under the Federal deed of partnership accepted by the people in 1900. If effect is given to this proposal it will centralize control in Melbourne and Sydney to the disadvantage of the outlying portions of the Commonwealth, particularly Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. By rejecting this bill, the Senate will show itself the true guardian of the rights of the people of Australia - the really democratic chamber. Should the Senate allow the bill to pass, its existence could no longer be justified. In the event of the referendum being submitted to the people I shall advise the electors of Western Australia to vote “ No “ not only to this proposal, but also to the other two proposals of the Government for federal aggrandizement.
– I am at loss to understand why the Government has introduced any proposal for the alteration of the Constitution, particularly the one now before the Senate. So far, I have not heard one sound reason for it. Indeed, I do not think that there is one honorable senator who really believes that it has the remotest chance of being carried. In my opinion, it has been introduced merely to give the Government an excuse for not having fulfilled its promises to the electors. I regard the discussion on this bill as a mere waste of time. When the people agreed to enter the federation there was a strong feeling in favour of unification. They expected a more centralized control, the removal of a great many taxes, and other benefits. They were carried away by the cry “ One people, one flag, one destiny.” They have been sadly disillusioned. Since 1901 unification has been on the ebb tide, until to-day only a very small minority of the people is in favour of it. Throughout Australia there is a strong feeling in favour of the retention of the State Parliaments. The people have found that there is more likelihood of their grievances being rectified by a Parliament close to them than by one hundreds of miles away. I confess that at one time I was strongly in favour of unification. I thought that it would result in many improvements, but I am not now of that opinion. Trade and commerce have become co complex that in a continent the size of Australia a. national parliament cannot deal effectively with the many vital questions which arise. Indeed, during the last five years a great deal of time has been wasted in this Parliament in attempting to deal with more or less local matters which could have been handled better by the States. Senator E. B. Johnston referred to the growing feeling in “Western Australia in favour of secession. Honorable senators know that a similar feeling has existed in Tasmania for some time. More recently South Australia also has submitted a claim for compensation for the ill-effects of federation. Unification would not improve the present position.
– Have there been no complaints from Queenslurid?
– - Queeusland has never approached the Commonwealth for financial assistance. That State is better off with its State Parliament than it would be if controlled by a central authority. Even now the people in the northern part of Queensland are complaining that they are too far removed from the seat of government at Brisbane. I know from experience in Queensland how grievances of the people are overlooked if the seat of government is in some distant part of the State. Since Brisbane is situated on the southernmost part of the coast, there is a disposition to neglect the legitimate demands of the people living in the northern part of that State. If this amendment is adopted by the people unification will follow, and the efforts of the people in distant States to work out their own salvation will be hindered by the indifference of officials at the seat of government in Canberra.
– There is nothing in this proposal inconsistent with the suggestion that extended powers should be given to local-governing bodies.
– I am aware of that, but this Government has given no indication of the manner in which it would use this extended power, if granted by the people.
– The policy is outlined in the Labour party’s platform.
– That policy is so vague that I do not take any notice of it.
– It sets out the objective of the party.
– -On paper the objective may be a fine ideal; but it will not be so easy to put it into practice. Labour’s policy is to abolish State Parliaments and, so we are told, to extend the powers of local-governing authorities. Unfortunately for this Government, members of its own party are against the present proposal, because it will lead to the abolition of State Parliaments.
– How does the honorable senator arrive at that conclusion?
– One has only to read the reports of recent Labour conferences to know that Labour members of State Parliaments are entirely opposed to their abolition. Mr. Lang, that great leader of democracy, has made it plain that he does not intend to take second place to any man in Australia, not even the Prime Minister. I agree with those State Labour members who are opposed to the abolition of State Parliaments, because I am convinced that State members, being in closer touch with the people than it is possible for federal members to get, are in a better position to understand their difficulties and legislate for them. In the Northern Territory we have convincing evidence of the inefficiency of administration from the Seat of Government at Canberra. “With the object of giving the people of the Northern Territory an opportunity to express their views in this Parliament, the Bruce-Page Government provided for the election of a representative without a vote, but there was no noticeable improvement in the affairs of the Territory following the election of the present member in another place. Ever since the Federal Government took over the Northern Territory from South Australia successive federal Ministers have given special attention to the problem of its development. The right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Sir George Pearce), when he was Minister for Home and Territories, travelled extensively in North Australia, as it is now called, and came back with well-defined proposals for its development; but, like many other schemes that have been brought forward from time to time, his proposals are now forgotten. So long as it was possible to spend large sums of public money on developmental works, all went well ; but immediately the amounts available became depleted, the Northern Territory once again became the white elephant which it practically always has been. Apart from the cattle-growing industry, there has been no permanent progress during Commonwealth administration. The latest proposal, the establishment of the peanut industry, is hardly worthy of consideration. Mining has declined because the Government has not been in the position to assist the industry. The Northern Territory is too far removed from the Seat of Government. A few years ago the Bruce-Page Administration introduced and passed a bill to provide for the control of North and Central Australia by commission, but as no money is available, that form of government is ineffective. The whole of our experience goes to show that an extension of the powers of the Federal Parliament is most undesirable. If State Parliaments were abolished, extended powers would have to be given to local governing bodies, and since the tendency is to pay for services rendered, it would not be possible to effect substantial economies in administration, because practically the same number of public servants would be required to do the work of the country. I have no objection to the principle of payment to members of local governing bodies because they give their time, just as we do in this Parliament, to the service of the people, and are entitled to some recompense.
The abolition of the Senate is also urged in some quarters. I do not wish to impute motives, but I question the sincerity of those honorable senators who support this proposal. I have always favoured the bi-cameral system, because of the check which a revising chamber imposes upon the passage of hasty legislation. The Senate has done and will continue to do useful work. The same may be said of the Legislative Councils of the various States. Therefore, I am totally opposed to the abolition of this chamber. It is easy te understand how mass psychology would influence legislation if the bi-cameral system were swept away. A government having a substantial majority in another place would be tempted to use its power, regardless of all other considerations, in response to an insistent demand for legislative action.
The way in which this power may be used by a government has been instanced in Queensland. Some years ago the present Treasurer, when Premier of that State, introduced legislation to provide for voting by proxy. It might be argued that no democratic people would stand treatment like that, but in Queensland they had to accept it, because in the meantime the Upper House had been abolished. Mr. Theodore, it will be remembered, took a referendum on the question whether the Legislative Council be abolished, and the majority against that course was over 60,000. To achieve his purpose, Mr. Theodore “stuffed” the Legislative Council with nominee members who were required to sign a pledge that they would vote for its abolition. In this way he was able to abolish the Legislative Council against the wishes of the majority of the people.
– Has there been any suggestion that the people of Queensland wish to revert to the bi-cameral system?
– No. Queensland is now doing very well with the present Government in power. It is a fact, nevertheless, that much of the legislation passed by the Queensland Parliament since the abolition of the Legislative Council, has been detrimental to the financial position of that State, because of the uncertainty that existed in the minds of those controlling financial interests concerning future legislation. Grave dangers would confront the people if the Senate were abolished. Only a few months ago Mr. Lang declared that, if he were Prime Minister, he would take possession of and re-open the coal mines in New South Wales and find out afterwards whether or not his action was constitutional. Without the check on legislation and government action imposed by the Senate, it would be possible for a Prime Minister commanding a strong following in the House of Representatives, to take arbitrary action to deal with any situation, because he would know that his followers would stand behind him. During the course of Senator E. B. Johnston’s speech, Senators Rae and Dunn interjected that the Bruce-Page Government had not issued a pamphlet to the electors stating both sides of the question in connexion with the last referendum. I remind those honorable senators that there was then no parliamentary opposition to the proposal and it was, therefore, unnecessary to issue a pamphlet publishing the views of both sides. On this occasion there is a division of opinion on the subject. I recall the fact that, although the parliamentary representatives of the Labour party supported the last referendum, the industrialists, led by Senator Rae and his colleagues, opposed it, and it was really through their action that it was defeated. Had their view been that of their parliamentary representatives, the present Labour Government would have most of the power that it now seeks to obtain. I do not think that the explanatory pamphlet to which I have referred would enlighten the public very much, but it would set the issue plainly before them. I believe that the false economy practised by the Government in declining to issue it may be the means of crippling its ambitions.
– Why not agree with the proposals?
– Because they would bring about the ruination of Australia. I am not in favour of granting to the Federal Parliament power to deal with these matters. A great deal has been said about the elasticity of the British Con stitution. I do not think that constitution can be used for comparative purposes in the present instance. Ours is . a written constitution, whereas that of Great Britain is simply common law, evolved over a number of centuries. It is eminently suitable for the English people, but not for the British Empire. I instance the history of Ireland, to which country the British Constitution was of no benefit at all. After many years of revolt, bloodshed, crime and ill-feeling, that country was given self-government. The British Constitution proved a failure there. There is now an agitation in Scotland and Wales for home government.
– Which is supported by the Labour party in England.
– That is so. A great number of extremists from Scotland, supporting the Ramsay Macdonald Government, are red hot about having a national parliament. So that there again the British Constitution fails to satisfy those immediately over the English border. A big strain is being placed upon that Constitution by recent happenings in India, a country which is causing Great Britain as much anxiety as Ireland did a few years ago. A great deal of misrepresentation occurs in our own press in regard to the position in India, but I take care to keep myself in touch with events in that country by subscribing to one of its weekly journals. In spite of the elasticity of the British Constitution, it cannot be satisfactorily applied in India. After all it is not a constitution which rules the people; they rule themselves.
I am confident that this proposal to amend the Constitution will be rejected by a bigger majority than has been the case with any previous referendum. My own State of Queensland has invariably supported referendums to alter the Constitution, but on this occasion it will reject the proposals because its people are aware that they can manage their own affairs better than the Commonwealth Government could. Actually, this is not a proposal to- amend the Constitution ; it is one to abolish it, and the people of Australia will regard it with disfavour.
It will be rejected and those who will be most pleased will be the members of the Labour party. The acceptance of it would take away from them a standard grievance, the claim that they are given only limited powers. Its acceptance would deprive them of a very powerful weapon, which they are very fond of wielding.
– When the opportunity occurs, we shall point out all the political sins of the honorable senator and his party.
– There is not the slightest doubt about that. However, I am confident that the Government will be thwarted in its object, that the Senate will not be abolished, and that Senator Barnes and those others who are fortunate enough to meet with the approval of the people will foregather in this chamber for many years to come. I shall oppose the proposed alteration of the Constitution, because it would interfere with the rights of the State that I represent - rights conferred upon it by the framers of the Constitution. I hope that the people of my State will reject the proposal, as I shall.
Senator Sir JOHN NEWLANDS (South Australia) [4.58]. - We have heard a great many speeches on this bill, and a good deal of advice has been tendered as to how it should be treated by the electors. I wish first to congratulate Senator Rae for having, perhaps for the first time, expressed an opinion with which I agree. The honorable senator stated that it would have been a good thing had the different political parties met in conference and decided upon the form of amendment that this bill should propose. Another suggestion put forward by the honorable senator was that a federal convention should be called to consider the alteration of the Constitution. Had section 128 not been interefered with that suggestion might have been sound. Section 128 is one of the fundamental provisions of the Constitution, inserted to protect the interests of the weaker States, all of which ,were not, at that time, members of the federation. Western Australia came in afterwards, and, with its eyes open, accepted the provisions of section 128 and the Constitution generally.
The other States accepted it on the vote of the people. I was a young man when federation was put before the people of Australia, but I took a fairly prominent part in urging its acceptance. I particularly pointed out at that time that section 128 was inserted in the Constitution to protect for all time the rights of the smaller States. That was one of the reasons that induced me to urge the people in favour of federation and to vote for it myself.
Senator E. B. Johnston referred in rather doleful terms to the position of Western Australia under federation. More than once it has been suggested that his State might secede from federation. In that event it would perhaps favour the tariff for American machinery entering Western Australia. I ask the honorable senator whether he seriously believes that Western Australia would be better off under the American, rather than under the British tariff that we favour in Australia. Recently high tariffists have gone just as mad as those who favour this alteration of the Constitution. However, I shall not labour that point, as we shall probably have an opportunity to deal with the tariff on a future occasion. I disagree with Senator Johnston’s contention.
I am certain that this proposal means just what it says - plain and unadulterated unification. It is no use saying that the Federal Government will not do this or that, if granted the necessary power. Generally speaking, parliaments do what they have been given power to do. If the Federal Parliament is granted power to abolish State Parliaments, it will do so. It is also fore-ordained that, in those circumstances, the Senate would go the way of the State Parliaments. For a number of years many people have claimed that this chamber has failed to look after the interests of the States. I deny that absolutely. Without fear of truthful contradiction I say that the Senate has done all that it was intended to do under the Constitution. It has not in any way departed from its constitutional position.
This proposal means unification, and those who understand the meaning of the word as compared with that of federation will be under no misconception in the matter.
If the views expressed in Labour councils in Sydney and Melbourne are any criterion, there is no doubt as to what the Labour party will do if unification is brought about. The framers of the Constitution would have rejected any suggestion to remove section 128, just as a builder would reject the advice of an apprentice to omit the foundations of a building. How many people would have voted for federation if this provision had not been in it? The Constitution is the creation of a number of sensible men who met in conference in the early days of Australia, and they looked upon this provision which safeguards the interests of the people of the States as one that should remain for all time. The people when they agreed to accept the Constiution did so in the belief that section 128 would remain for all time, but if it is now to be altered as proposed the people will no longer have the protection it affords. I regret the desire for secession on the part of many people of Western Australia.
In 1891 Sir Henry Parkes laid down the principle which should govern the settlement of federation in the following words : -
That the powers and privileges and territorial rights of the several existing colonies shall remain intact, except in respect of such surrenders as may be agreed upon as necessary and incidental to the power and authority of the national Federal Government.
No doubt his words carried much weight with the framers of the Constitution. They had the benefit of the experience of the working of the Constitutions of the United States of America, Canada and Switzerland and the experience of the people of Great Britain; and the Constitution they drew up was accepted by the people without much demur; but now they are to be asked to remove from it its most sacred provision. America, Canada, and other countries with constitutions have always been slow to alter them to meet the whim of the passing moment as we seem so inclined to do in Australia. We are too anxious, I think, to meet the views of a section outside this Parliament, who are ever pressing their claims to have the Constitution amended. Some bewail the terms of the Constitution because it falls far short of their desires and others because it goes beyond their wishes in regard to matters affecting the States. As a matter of fact the powers it confers upon the National Government are far wider than those conferred upon the Federal Government in the United States of America. This Parliament can take over State railways and construct and extend railways with the consent of the States. It can control postal, telegraphic and telephonic matters, trading and financial corporations, State debts, marriage and divorce, bills of exchange, invalid and oldage pensions, arbitration and conciliation, bounties, service of criminal and civil processes and judgments of State courts. But so far it has not exercised many of these powers. Forty-eight States in the United States of America have continued to exist for over n century and a half with very little alteration to the federal constitution. Political iconoclasts who are never satisfied and are always potshotting at all ordered forms of government will not follow the example of America ; they prefer to rush in foolishly to alter the Constitution in whatever way appears to them good for the time being. Sir William McMillan, then Mr. McMillan, speaking at one of the meetings of the Federal Convention, says in regard to the industrial power -
We shall, by giving that federal control, simply be laying the foundation of greater difficulties . . . Labour disputes will arise in different States, owing to special conditions existing in those States. They may overflow into another State. They may be purposely made to overflow in order that advantage may be taken of any provision of this kind.
His words were rather prophetic. We have seen hundreds of cases of strikes arising in one State and overflowing into another in order to have them brought before the Federal Arbitration Court. Bryce, an expert on the American Constitution, and on the constitutions of other countries, has said -
Compared with the Australian Constitution, the American is old-fashioned and the Swiss is archaic.
I would not go so far as that, but I maintain that our Constitution amply provides for the requirements of the people as it was intended to do. The gentlemen who are strenuously engaged in advocating its alteration have a great many melting-pots of all capacities, and they are exceedingly anxious to get our Constitution into these pots so that, they may mould it to suit their particular purpose, it is for the people of Australia to see that it is not done.
There are, nevertheless, a few directions in which the Constitution could well be altered. For instance, we have practically no federal health laws. Wc have no means of dealing with the fearful scourges of tuberculosis and cancer. Proposals to enable the Commonwealth to deal with health matters of that nature would appeal to the electors. They would not rouse party feeling, because it would be clearly to the benefit of the nation as a whole that such matters should be controlled by the central authority. It is quite evident that Ministers must have idle time on their hands or they would not be asking the Senate to discuss their present proposal. They might spend some of it in framing legislation to extend the powers of the Commonwealth in the direction I have suggested. They might put in a little time dealing with laws relating to baby clinics, foods and drugs, and American pictures which are having such a shocking influence on the people of Australia and causing thousands of pounds to leave this country. They might also bring forward uniform laws relating to marriage and divorce. They might frame proposals in regard to the aviation power, civil and military. Attention could also be devoted to electoral and other such matters, which are much in need of consideration, and which, while conferring benefits upon the people, would not cause any dissension in this Parliament or in the minds of the electors. In the course of the lengthy speeches that have been delivered upon this bill, a good deal of information and advice has been given, and arguments have been adduced in this chamber which, [ suppose, may be regarded as an indication of those which will be submitted to the people of Australia when this measure comes before them. I trust that this bill will be treated by the electors as I expect it to be dealt with by this chamber - that it will be rejected by an overwhelming majority - and that the two other measures, providing for an amendment of the industrial and trade and commerce powers under the Constitution will also meet with the same fate. If these measures are defeated in the Senate they can still be submitted to the people; but if they reject the power of amendment bill, as I feel sure they will, they will also deal similarly with the others I have mentioned. I intend on every possible occasion to recommend the people of Australia to reject, them all. I am convinced that the people will never accept an amendment of the Constitution that would, as in this instance, break faith with those who accepted federation, and would be a violation of the federal compact entered into 30 years ago. If such a proposal ns this had been embodied in the original Constitution Bill the people would not have voted for it; they would not have been so foolish as to accept a proposal under which their rights would be dependent upon the more caprice or whim of a government that secured a chance majority in both branches of the legislature. The right of the people to determine what alterations, if any, shall be made in the Constitution must be retained.
– I have listened with a great deal of interest to the views of honorable senators concerning the proposal embodied in this measure, although unfortunately the demands of other public business have prevented me from following the whole debate. It appears to me that a subject such as this should be studied in the light of history and experience. For a long time the people of Australia lived as separate communities under conditions which were such that, in the end, they decided that it would be in their interests to federate. Although they were members of the one race, occupying the one continent and speaking the same language, they were, in a sense, divided and governed under different constitutions. Under that system of control the continent was cut up into colonies with arbitrary boundaries, and goods passing from one State to another were subject to customs imports and other embarrassments, which at that time ‘ were thought to be well justified, although at this juncture it is difficult to determine whether there was ever any justification for their existence. Those who controlled the affairs of the country apparently thought such a system necessary; but eventually the wisdom of the people of the several States coming together in one union became apparent to them, and the federal system was adopted. There would appear to have been as much justification for the colonies operating as they , did prior to federation as there would be for placing a family of seven in a seven-roomed house - one in each room - and endeavouring to bring it up under a separate form of domestic control in respect of each room. The system, as I have said, was considered unsatisfactory, and an. agitation, led by the wise men of Australia, was commenced for the federation of the home, by which all the members of the family would be brought under the one roof so that they could take counsel together, speak with one voice, and give effect to the one desire common to them all. At the inception of federation, I, like Senator Sir John Newlands, was a young man, and was very interested in this country and the prospects it was likely to offer me. In common with many others at that time I was impelled, on the advice of more experienced men, to vote for federation, believing that in doing so I should assist to dispense with a lot of the governmental trappings that were hampering the development of Australia. It appeared to me that there were too many parliaments for so small a population; that too much money was being spent in this way; that the division of the continent into a number of selfgoverning colonies gave rise to disturbing elements, and gave no opportunity for the Australian people to speak with one voice. And so a federation was brought about.
In drawing up a constitution to suit the requirements of Australia and the Australian people, the federal convention undertook a mighty task. But even when that task had been completed there was still a big work in front of its members and other public men of the day, and that was to convince the people that it was a constitution likely to be of service to them. When, eventually, that, too, was accomplished and the Federal Parliament was established, the hope in the minds of ‘the people’ was that something solid and en- during had been built, as a result of which they would have ah opportunity to speak with one voice, and, with the experience of older countries for our guidance, do great things in the interest of our young country. During the past 30 years the Constitution has been Ofl trial and, notwithstanding that it was framed by great men, faults have been found in it. In the main the Australian people are well educated, and on all important questions can be trusted to record an intelligent vote, in the interests of not only the individual but also the community as a whole. Thirty years ago the framers of the Constitution thought it would be most dangerous to give the people the right to readily alter the Constitution on which federal legislation would be based. But I hold that they can be trusted to give an intelligent verdict on any issue of importance. The purport of this proposal is to give the people at election time an opportunity to select those in whom they feel they can safely repose the fight to govern them and legislate in the best interests of the whole continent. If this bill were accepted by the people, the Federal Parliament, after an election, would have power by legislation to remove any obstacle in the road of progress; but the people themselves would not lose their power over the Parliament, since the legislature is elected, not for life, but for only a specified period. A government, no matter from what party is, is drawn, is always responsible to the people, and that should be a sufficient safeguard for the electors. During the debate reference has been made to the fact that Britain has no written constitution. That to me is a most commendable basis upon which to legislate.
– The British Constitution is like Topsy; it just grew.
– Yes. Great Britain, like other countries, has had its political struggles. In the very early days the representatives of the people, speaking many dialects, met from time to time under an oak tree, and, I daresay, like those who were working on the Tower of Babel, found it difficult to understand each other. From that primitive system the government of the country has developed under an unwritten constitution to its present state. As we are practically all members of the same race, inhabiting the same continent, and speaking the same language, and so having no difficulty in understanding each other, there is no reason why we should attempt to leg-iron the National Parliament. Why should we not do as they do in Great Britain, where the Parliament, always responsible to the people; may pass any legislation it pleases ? Although there have been many changes in. the government of Great Britain, the British Parliament still has the power to pass any law it desires. The people of Scotland or of Wales do not raise any question of State or sectional rights ; their interests are in common with those of the people of England. The British Parliament legislates for the people from John o’ Groats to Land’s End. Why should not such a system be adopted in Australia? Why cannot we follow Britain’s plan and legislate for the people from Cape York to the Southern Ocean ?
– Does not the honorable senator recognize that conditions in Australia are different from those in Britain?
-I know that there are great climatic and other variations in Australia; but there is no great variation in the ambitions and desires of the people, or in the industries of the country.
– If the people of Queensland were asked to manage Tasmania, they would make a failure of it.
– No one section of the people has a right to expect better treatment than is given to the rest of the people. If it is a sane argument that we should retain seven parliaments in Australia, there could be no objection to having 27 parliaments. Indeed, during the present week, a conference sitting in Canberra has advocated the subdivision of the Commonwealth into a number of smaller States. They would have a parliament for every parish pump. Such a state of affairs would be most undesirable. The purpose of this bill is to make it possible for Australia to speak as a nation. The Government recognizes that, even when this bill becomes law, there -will.be local matters requiring attention, and that they can best be dealt with by local authorities. The amendment of the Constitution, as sought in this measure, would not affect that power. The Constitution should be amended along the lines set out in the platform of the Labour party. I do not claim that that platform is perfect; but, if effect were given to it, there would be one Australian Parliament speaking for a united people, with other bodies dealing with matters of local concern. Surely that is a sane way to govern a nation !
– What would the honorable senator call the local bodies?
– They might be called provincial councils. The name does not . matter much, so long as they are given powers sufficient to enable them to carry o.ut the functions entrusted to them. The Government proposal would make that possible. Honorable senators who oppose this measure are apparently afraid to trust the people. I am not afraid to trust them, although I sometimes differ from them. All we are asking is that the people shall be given power to govern themselves. Honorable senators opposite would keep the shackles on them. We on this side desire to loosen their bonds, and to give them the right to govern themselves. Unless it is for personal considerations, I cannot understand the opposition of honorable senators to this measure. The British Parliament, with its unwritten Constitution,’ can do anything it likes. So far, I have not heard of any great disaster having befallen that country because its Parliament has had a free hand. The Labour party has fought for the enfranchisement of the people, and it is prepared to trust them to use wisely the power that has been given to them. It realizes that the people cannot escape from the consequences of their decision at the ballot-box. The Labour party is prepared to trust the people to elect a Parliament with power to do what it considers necessary at any time. Every Federal Government has been hampered at one time or another because of its inability to deal with an emergency. The late Government submitted a referendum to the people, which was defeated. In connexion with, that referendum, I have been accused of having performed an acrobatic feat. It is correct that there was genera^ agreement between the various parties in this Parliament regarding the submission of that referendum to the people. As a member of this Parliament, I was in favour of the proposal. But the union of which I am the president - a powerful organization in this country - opposed my personal view, and issued a manifesto to the people. Because my name appeared on that manifesto as the president of the organization it is said that I turned a political somersault. Every government which has had experience of working the constitutional machine has realized its faults, and has tried to remedy them. Some of those attempts have failed because of party bias. Where the parties have agreed to the proposed alterations, the people also have agreed to thom. In the past, proposals to alter the Constitution have, unfortunately, started faction fights. The present proposal cannot possibly do that, because it is a proposal to give to the people the power to legislate as they please in this country. Our present electoral laws give to every adult the right to vote. There is no difference of opinion between the parties as to that right. In its present state the Constitution enables this Parliament to pass an electoral law which would disfranchise 50 per cent, of the electors. Could a more powerful weapon than that be placed in the hands of this Parliament ? The proposal before us will enable the people of this country to write their own history as they desire it to be written. What possible objection can there be to it? The only reason for opposing the present proposal is a fear that the people are not to be trusted. If the Government proposed to place power in the hands of outsiders, I could understand the opposition to this measure; but, seeing that it proposes to give the people of this country greater power, I really cannot understand why honorable senators opposite object to it. It. would appear that they merely raise bogys in order to knock them down. In submitting this proposal to the people, the Government tells them that it realizes they are one people, with one destiny, and that it trusts them to do the best possible for their country. The people of Australia have a’ right to expect us to ,repose such confidence in them. There is a section of the community which seems to fear that the party now governing Australia is dangerous, and likely to do grievous wrong to the country. Personally, I should not have opposed a proposal of this kind had it been submitted by the late Government. It would have been a wonderfully good thing for Australia if the Bruce-Page Administration had introduced a proposal on the lines of this amendment for the alteration of the Constitution. The then Opposition would have stood behind it and we could have gone to the people, not as a divided but as a National Parliament united in our desire to so amend the Constitution as to vest Parliament with powers necessary to enable it to discharge its legislative functions efficiently. It is probable that, the people in such circumstances would have accepted the proposals, and the late Government would then have been empowered to legislate in respect of matters which we are now seeking authority from the people to deal with. Honorable senators should bear in mind that parliaments are passing institutions. The party in power to-day is succeeded by another party to-morrow; but the Constitution stands. The people make their parliaments. Why, therefore, should one party be distrustful of this power in the hands of another party which, for the time being, is entrusted with the responsibility of governing ? After all, governments legislate in the direction desired by the majority of the people. If their actions are wrong the people at the first opportunity correct them. The wrong is righted. Honorable senators opposite and the people need not fear that harm will come out of this proposal.
It is said that the Government, in introducing this amendment, is asking for autocratic powers. How can that charge be sustained in view of the fact that this amendment, with others to be considered later, will be submitted to the people for their approval? The people elect this Parliament; they do not elect a king or a Mussolini and vest him with complete authority to arm the nation in furtherance of his own ambitions. They elect a parliament to give legislative expression to their own wishes. I am, of course, aware that if the power now being sought is given this Parliament to amend the the Constitution, it may be used to break down forms of State government as they exist to-day, and opposition will be offered to these proposals for that reason. Personal matters also will be intruded to cloud the issue. But we claim that, in submitting this amendment, we have the outlook of a nation ; that we are striving to give to the people the fullest opportunity to give effect to their wishes - a course that is impossible under the Constitution as it stands. At the referendum opponents to the proposal will raise bogies merely for the purpose of alarming the people and persuading them to vote against it. But every person who wishes to see Australia become a great nation will vote for this amendment of the Constitution to give the Parliament legislative power to express itself, not as the representative governing authority of a number of insignificant parts, but as the national government of a great continent. With the history of other countries to guide us; with the wisdom of the men who preceded us and played their part in contributing to the progress of the civilized world, we should have nothing to fear. Those of us who are supporting this proposal to vest in the Parliament authority to amend the Constitution, desire to give the people of Australia an opportunity to attain to those high ideals which the framers of the Constitution had in mind, and to disregard all those insignificant things that are preventing us, possibly for minor reasons, from thinking and acting as one people. We desire that this Parliament shall be vested with legislative power to do the big things that stir the heart of a people - to make it possible for them to see a little further and realize the possibilities of a country if its people are free to give legislative expression to their aspirations as the citizens of a great nation. This is what the amendment seeks to make possible for the people of Australia. Why do honorable senators opposite fear it?
– At the outset I should like briefly to refer to a statement made by the Assistant Minister (Senator Barnes), who said it would be possible for this Parliament, under the Constitution as it stands, to disfranchise one-half of the people of Australia.
– So it would.
– I refer the Minister to section 41 of the Constitution, which reads -
No adult person who has or acquires the right to vote at elections for the more numerous house of a Parliament of a State shall, while the right continues, be prevented by any law of the Commonwealth from voting at elections for either house of the Parliament of the Commonwealth.
That disposes of the Minister’s contention.
I do not wish to approach the consideration of thisproposal from the viewpoint of any party. Although I am a good Australian, I must consider it as it affects the State of Tasmania, of which I am a native-born son. Irrespective of the government which happened to be in power, whether representative of Nationalist, Labour, or Country party, I could not for one moment support this bill. In my considered judgment it represents a most audacious attempt on the part of a political party to deprive the Australian people of the most vital and valuable portion of their birth-right. In a sense it is a betrayal of a sacred trust, for it is the duty of the National Parliament to uphold the National Constitution. In another sense it savours of a piece of blatant political trickery, because it seeks to delude the people into transferring to Parliament that power which belongs, for the present, exclusively to the people them selves. In its existing form not one jot or tittle of the Constitution can he altered except with the consent of a majority of the States and a majority of the people. No one can deny that, in its present form, it is the bulwark of the people’s rights, safeguarding their powers and privileges against invasion by any partisan administration that may be temporarily in charge of the National Parliament. This socalled amendment of the Constitution is, in reality, an attempt to utterly destroy the Federal Constitution.
Prior to the outbreak of the Great War, and shortly after the CampbellBannerman Administration took office in Great Britain, the late Lord Haldane was entrusted with the task of re-organizing the British Army. In his memoirs, he tellsus that the first question which he asked himself when approaching that very difficult and highly-complicated problem was, “ What do we; have a British Army for?” Honorable senators will note that he put the preposition in the right place - at the end of the query. “What do we have the British army for?” In considering the merits of the proposal now before the Senate, I invite honorable senators to put the same question to themselves: “What do we have a Constitution for ?” It appears to me that the answer is : “ So that the federated States and the Federal Government may know what their governmental powers are.” The Constitution is a partnership agreement between the federated colonies, as they were then known, and it is a most solemn and binding contract between the States themselves and between the States and the Commonwealth. If honorable senators ask : “ What is a federal system ?” I refer them to that excellent report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution for a definition. On page 230 will be found several definitions. The one that appeals to me more than any other is this -
The definitions of a federal system include the following: -
A form of government in which sovereignty or political power is divided between the central and the local governments, so that each of them, within its own sphere, is independent of the other. The distribution of powers between the local and central governments may vary to any extent; but the fundamental idea is always that of the two-fold sovereignty and the independence of each government within its own sphere.
This really is the definition given by Sir Robert Garran in his evidence before the commission, and it is to be found in the report of the body which dealt with the finances of Western Australia. The definition appeals to me very much, because it indicates clearly what a federation is, and what was in the minds of the framers of the Constitution. The most important term in this partnership agreement, for it is really a partnership agreement, is the condition set out in section 12S of the Constitution, which deals with the mode of altering it. At page 229 of its report the commission to which I have referred deals at some length with proposals to amend the Constitution The proposed amendment is the. *most radical, nay revolutionary that could pos- sibly be conceived. If carried it would really mean the abolition of the Constitution. The’ object of the Federal Constitution was the distribution of powers between the Commonwealth and the States, which were not to be alterable by the will of Parliament alone. The procedure for any alteration is specifically laid down in the Constitution itself, but this is to be thrown on the . scrap heap: The extreme and really undesirable character of the change proposed by the Government in the compact between the Federal Government and the State Governments, should be patent even to’ the dullest intellect. It would place in the hands of ministers powers which would ‘ make them practically independent of the control df Parliament .so long as they could command a bare majority iti the House. Such a state of affairs would, conceivably, bring about unification.
At page 246 of the report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution may be found the minority report of Messrs. T. R. Ashworth, N. B. Duffy and D. L. McNamara, favouring a unified method of government. .The case is very clearly set out, and I quote the following extract -
In the light of these considerations we are of opinion that the most suitable form of government for Australia is one that provides for all major national questions being dealt with by the central Parliament and that leaves matters of minor importance, as well as the administration of federal laws to a considerable extent, to local bodies ‘(States or Provinces). We, therefore, recommend that full powers such as those embodied in the Constitutions of Great Britain, New .Zealand, and South Africa be vested “in the Commonwealth Parliament. This alteration’ will ‘necessitate the empowering of the Parliament to amend the Constitution how and when it finds it necessary for the construction and alteration of its laws.
We record our conviction that the time has arrived for placing full power and responsibility in. the national Parliament as the means of achieving social unity.
The bill that we have before .vis is absolutely on the lines of that suggestion. As a Tasmanian, and one who is proud of the fact, I assure honorable senators that the way in which federal governments have used their limited powers up to the present has not given Tasmania and the other small’ States any encouragement to grant unlimited power
They realize that they would merely be putting their necks more completely under the yoke. The concentration of all legislative and executive functions in one central authority would, I am confident, produce a kind of paralysis in outlying parts of the Commonwealth and lethargy at the centre. My own little State of Tasmania is a long, long way from Canberra, and I am satisfied that if the whole legislative and administrative functions of the Commonwealth were centralized here it and the other remotely situated and sparsely settled States, those that had not big battalions ofvoters,would be very sadly neglected, and a sort of paralysis would ensue.Frommy observations over a number of years, particularly in regard to governmental matters in another country, and to a certain extent in this country in pre-war days, I have gathered what overcentralizatioh has meant. It has been centralization run mad. I have before mea most interesting little book issued by the University of Queensland, The John Murtagh Macrossan Lecture for 1928. The lecture was given by Mr. W. A. Holman, K.C., and is divided into three sections, two of which deal with the interpretation of the Australian Federal. Constitution, while the third, which appealed tome very much indeed, deals with theamendment of the Constitution. It is amost lucid and logical treatise, and has assisted me greatly in. preparing the speech thatIam now making. Honorable senators are considering the giving of unlimited power to this Parliament, because this bill would confer on it the power to do anything that it thought fit.
I should like honorable senators to consider the question, as Mr. Holman did, in the light of the experience of the world - in the dry light of facts. The first fact with which we are faced is that, with theexception of Russia, no other country with an area comparable with that of Australia is ruled by a single government. There are six countries which have areas approximating the aggregate mileage of Australia, about 3,000,000 square miles. They are -
Taking them in the order enumerated, we find that. Europe is governed by from fifty to sixty governments, some of them purely national, others comparable with our own State Governments.
– Even now the people of Europe are talking about a federation of States.
– A federated Europe is a long way off. Such States as Ireland, Bavaria, Wurtemberg and the Swiss cantons can be compared with our own State Governments, because they are governments within a government. Brazil, which has an area a little less than that of Europe, has 21 governments. Canada, with an area smaller than that of Brazil, has eleven governments, while the United States of America rejoices - or it may be otherwise - in 49 governments. Then we come to Australia, our own country, which is smaller in area than the others, and has seven governments. China is the last country on my list, but it is impossible to say at the moment how many governments it has. Obviously there are several. It is apparent from a perusal of the press that in that country one government is warring with another.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– Russia, which is the last country with which I wish to make a comparison because its area approximates that of Australia, is apparently wholly governed from Moscow. It appears to foe the only country with an area approximating that of Australia which is an entirely centralized State. We cannot say whether the Russian experiment has proved successful or not, but in passing, I should like to say that the Russian Constitution provides for conscription, which Senator Rae abhors. Section 19 of the Constitution of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic provides -
To safe-guard in everypossible way the conquest of the great worker and peasants’ revolution, theRussian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic declares it the duty of all its citizens to defend the Socialist fatherland, and establishes universal military service. The honour of bearing arms in defence of the revolution is granted only to the workers. The leisured section of the population will fulfil other military duties.
In view of the intense bitterness displayed by certain labour men towards what they call “ dagoes and 1 foreigners “ generally, another section of the Russian Constitution is rather interesting. It is section 20 which reads as follows: -
Recognizing the solidarity of the workers of all nations the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic extends all political rights enjoyed by Russian citizens to foreign workers within the territory of the Russian republic, provided that they belong to the working class or to the peasantry working without hired labour. It authorizes the local Soviets to confer upon such foreigners, without any annoying formalities, the rights of Russian citizenship.
Practically every written constitution all over the world contains a provision with regard to defence and compulsory military training. For instance, the Constitution of the United States of Mexico, which is in almost every respect similar to that of Russia, provides that only certain services shall be obligatory, and the first of these is military service. Section 31 of the Mexican Constitution says -
It shall be the duty of every Mexican to enlist and serve in the National Guard.
– I rise to a point of order. Is the honorable senator in order in discussing these matters? If so, he has been allowed a much wider latitude than was allowed for me.
– I think that the honorable senator is somewhat wide of the mark, but perhaps he can connect the subject with which he is now dealing with the question before the Chair.
– I am endeavouring to show that one of the main principles in our Constitution is common to all written constitutions of civilized countries, and that the experience of all countries of approximately the same size as Australia, with the exception of Russia, is not in favour of the successful administration of an area of 3,000,000 square miles from one centre.
Enthusiasts for unification may cite the case of South Africa, but there is no comparison between the countries I have cited and South Africa, because the area governed by the Union Parliament is even less than that of Queensland. Putting aside Europe, which is not yet united, all other countries have a duplicate system of Government, which in the light of experience has proved to be the best, that is to say, there is one government to secure unity and one to> secure individuality. The two must work together. As a Tasmanian, I am very keen on having that” one government to ensure individuality. We Tasmanians are pleased to be members of the Commonwealth, but we desire to govern our own country in our own way with our own local government and sovereign rights. At the same time we can remain partners in the Commonwealth, pulling our weight in the Commonwealth team and working with the people of the other States. Apparently that is also the desire of the communities in the countries I have cited - to have one government for unity dealing with large matters of national interest, such as defence, and one government to safeguard the individuality of the States.
In all such systems there is, of course the risk of overlapping and the invalidation of laws. We have experienced this in the Commonwealth. It is a drawback, but reduced to a minimum by proper distribution and a proper working arrangement it does not appear to me to have hindered the development or diminished, the prosperity of Canada, the Unite. States of America, or Brazil. I do not suggest, that the several States of Australia are separated by the wide differences of race and history that characterize Europe, but geographically they are quite as widely separated and as definitely divided as the States of Europe. For instance, Canberra is further from Townsville than London is from Constantinople, and Sydney is as far from Melbourne as Paris is from Vienna, or Warsaw is from Moscow. We must also admit that we have great, differences of climate, outlook, and mentality. The people of Queensland have a different climate and different conditions of life from those of the people of’ Tasmania. The same differences apply in the case of the people of Victoria and those of Western Australia. And when we come to examine the size, of the States of the Australian Commonwealth as self-governing units, what do we find? New South Wales is as big as France and Italy combined; South Australia is as big as France and Germany combined; Victoria is as big as Italy or Great Britain, and
Tasmania is about the size of Austria, as we know it to-day, Belgium or Hungary. lt is larger than Holland or Switzerland, both of which are independent nations, and as large as Ireland, which ranks as a dominion of the British Empire. It is quite reasonable to suppose that the Australian States will, in the matter of population, ultimately make some approach to European countries similar in area. lt has been suggested that by reason of the existence of several Parliaments in Australia, the cost of government is larger than it ought to be and that it could be reduced with a unified system of control. The minority report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution takes this for granted, but, in my opinion, it is illusive. With unification it would probably be necessary to double or treble the present membership of the House of Representatives. To-day, some federal electorates are so tremendous in area that a member cannot traverse his division more than once a year. In some cases he cannot do so. That state of affairs could not endure under a unified system of government. If the vital interests of the people which are looked after by State members with smaller electorates were transferred to a central parliament, the federal electorates could not possibly be of the size that now prevails. There would also be brought into existence a large number of provincial councils with probably more members than now sit in State Parliaments. They would have to be paid. Surely no one would suggest that they would undertake their onerous and important work without remuneration. There would have to be some organization, and the employment of staffs would be necessary. In these circumstances, it is difficult to see where there would be any saving. Waste and uneconomic effort are inseparable from unification, and I believe that under such a system of government the cost would be greater than it. is to-day. The total cost of State governors, Parliaments, and ministries, according to the Commonwealth YearBooh of 1926, page 85, is about £700,000. This over-head organization controls a total expenditure of about £100,000,000. which is the total of the annual outgoings’ of the six State Governments, or about three-quarters per cent. This would be the measure of direct saving consequent upon their abolition. On the whole, State Governments get their work done more cheaply and efficiently than docs the Commonwealth central administration. The mere transfer of one function of any magnitude from the States to the Commonwealth would probably cause an expansion of expenditure sufficient to outweigh the supposed advantage.
The proposal before the Senate is. therefore, much more than an amendment of the Constitution. In essence it means the conferring of unlimited power on any party which may control this Parliament for the time being, and it would thus deprive the people of Australia of any voice at all in regard to an amendment of the Constitution. If this proposal is carried the Commonwealth Parliament will have the power to govern the whole of Australia from Canberra, and the people will have no voice in the amendment of the Constitution by way of referendum. Speaking without prejudice Canberra is itself a monument of political incapacity and ineptitude, and I tremble to think what would happen to the smaller States under a system of unification concentrated here. We had an example quite recently of the Canberra official mind as regards the State of Tasmania. One government official resident here suggested that Tasmania should be tacked on to Victoria. That shows the extraordinary state of mind of people who ure exiled here for any length of time. Apparently their minds begin to get “ sloppy “ ; they cannot think clearly. As a representative of Tasmania, I wonder what sort of a “ spin “ my own little State would get, if this proposal were accepted by the people. It is perfectly cleaT to me that the object of the Government is to obtain power to do anything which it thinks may be politically popular. If the Government can get away with it, well and good, but I do not think it can. I am firmly convinced that the State Parliaments are more competent to handle the multiplicity of purely local subjects than is the Federal Parliament. These State matters would be so submerged by others that they would receive ‘ little attention. It would be an extraordinarily long range shot from Canberra to Hobart. The target could not possibly be visible. It would be disastrous for this Parliament to attempt to deal with most of the work now undertaken by State Governments, and it is certain that if this proposal were adopted by the people the Federal Legislature would be cluttered with every subject which appeared to promise political advantage or politcal popularity not only to this Government, but also to any other which might be in power. I have listened very attentively to the debate on this matter and I am certain that if this proposal were agreed to it would mean the death knell of the States. The existence of the States would depend upon the whim or caprice of the central Government. I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
.- I move -
That the billbe now read a second time.
At theoutset I express my regret that certain honorable senators have apparently made up their minds as to how they shall vote on this measure. I had hoped that whatever opinions honorable senators might have held on the Constitution Alteration Power of Amendment Bill, this measure at least would be approached by them with an open mind. They must admit that for years the two principal political parties have been attempting to obtain some solution of the difficult problem of dual jurisdiction in matters of arbitration. I suggest that nothing is to be gained in the debate on this subject by a discussion of what the industrial position would be if compulsory arbitration had not been in operation or if industrial matters in any form ceased to be within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Parliament. The facts are that compulsory arbitration is in operation, that it is the accepted policy of this country, and the policy expounded by the Nationalist, Country and Labour parties alike.
I presume that all honorable senators who have made pre-selection pledges are bound to the principle of compulsory arbitration. Acting on that presumption I invite the Senate’s attention to the fact that a few months ago the people were asked for and refused a mandate for the destruction of the federal system of arbitration. In order to understand the full significance of that verdict we should briefly survey the facts placed before the people when they were asked to express their verdict on the subject. The two principal factors operating were, (1) the dual jurisdiction of the Commonwealth and of the States with resultant conflicting awards, and, (2) the uncertainty of the law owing to the conflicting opinions expressedby the High Court as to the nature and extent of the Commonwealth’s powers. When the election was held the political leaders of all parties and the industrial leaders on both sides were agreed as to the evils of dual control, but there was a difference of opinion as to the remedy to be prescribed to eradicate those evils. The Nationalist-Country party proposed as its first remedy, complete federal control. That was the first proposition put forward by the party now occupying the Opposition benches. The proposition put forward by its then leader, the Right Honorable S. M. Bruce, was that the States should transfer to the Commonwealth their residuary powers in respect of industrial legislation. That proposal having been rejected by the States, the remedy prescribed by the Bruce-Page Government was State control. It suggested that the whole field of industrial legislation should be handed over to the States, but the Australian Labour party and the Australian party adhered to the principle of federal control.
– Which means dual control.
– I am prepared to go even that far with the honorable senator in that it does not necessarily mean the wiping out of all forms of State arbitration. The political parties I last mentioned opposed the then Government party on the question of the Federal Parliament vacating the field of industrial arbitration, and that was in reality the issue upon which the last general election was fought. The people, in no unmistakable terms, said that they did not desire the Federal Parliament to vacate that particular field. It may be contended, and I think there is a good deal of weight in the argument, that the verdict of the people could not be interpreted to mean any more than that the federal arbitration system should not be abolished. Even if I am driven back to that interpretation I submit that, as the people were not prepared for the Commonwealth to vacate the field of industrial arbitration and on general grounds, first, that the present powers. are not wide enough to permit of the introduction of any system calculated to remove the present evils, and, secondly, that the only effective way to enable any such system to be formulated would be to vest in the Commonwealth Parliamentcomplete power to deal with the matters contained in this bill.
In order that we may understand the true position, I invite the Senate to .study a few passages from the report presented by the Royal Commission on the Constitution. On pages 162 to 165 the commission recites the powers of the Federal Parliament, and deals with the decisions which from time to time have been made by the judicial interpreters of the law. I propose to quote a few passages from that report in support of my contention regarding dual jurisdiction. We have a field in which both the State and Federal Parliaments are operating. Honorable senators will admit that in that field there is chaos. In the circumstances, we should all be prepared to consider any possible remedy. In my opinion this bill proposes the only effective remedy. The other remedy which the Opposition might have put forward, namely, that the States should have full control, has been denied us by the . verdict of the people. Discussing this question the report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution says -
Since the power to legislate with respect to industrial disputes is by means of conciliation and arbitration, the Commonwealth Parliament itself cannot legislate for fixing hours and rates of pay, or minimum rates of pay and maximum hours of work, for the whole or any part of Australia, or for any industry, and it cannot empower a court to do any of these things by means of a common rule. The Federal Court therefore, differs from a State tribunal which, being the creature of a Parliament of which the powers are limited only by the Commonwealth Constitution, may be empowered to make awards binding all persons engaged in an industry within the area of its j jurisdiction
That is a definite summary of the position. The Commonwealth Parliament cannot deal with a complete industry, but only with that section of the industry which becomes involved in an interstate dispute. In other respects the industry is under the control of the States, notwithstanding that all sections within that industry - both employers and employees - are in competition.
– It is easy to create- a dispute.
– That is so. But that fact does not alter the position. It is just as easy under the systems of the States to create a dispute as it is under the federal system. The filing of a log of claims is precisely the system which’ operates under the State arbitration’ laws. The Government is not attempting to make it easier for men to arbitrate, but to make the system of arbitration more effective.
Some time ago it might have been argued that the duty of this Parliament was to circumscribe, rather than enlarge, the limits of . the Federal Arbitration Court. Whatever opinions. Senator Colebatch may hold as. to the intention of the framers of the Constitution, the fact remains that the judicial interpreters of the law have extended the powers into a field to .which the framers of the Constitution presumably never contemplated .it would extend. We must, however, take the law as we find . it.. . For the purpose of this discussion, . we .must deal with what the . Commonwealth. Parliament can do - not with what the framers of the Constitution intended,, or what honorable senators allege., they intended. We find that the term “ industrial “ does not limit the arbitral power to production by means of- manufacture. The power extends to mining .and to employees of banking and insurance companies. Nor is it limited to industries carried on for profit. The Commonwealth system has grown to, such an extent that to-day it is in real competition with the industrial systems of the States whatever the intentions of the framers of the Constitution might have been.
– That is done by design.
– Even so, that does not affect the matter. We must face facts, and endeavour to find the best solution possible in all the circumstances. As was pointed out, even the term “disputes” means disputes which may be created by the service of a log containing a demand for changes in industrial conditions and the refusal of that demand. There need not necessarily have been any disputes existing between employers and employees apart from the service of a log, nor any dispute threatening the industrial peace of more than one State. The dispute becomes interstate if persons engaging in the same industry employed in different States join in the service of the same log. Senator Ogden interjected just now that it is easy to create a dispute. His statement is one of the strongest arguments in favour of this Parliament bringing industries more into line than they are to-day.
– In line with what?
– In line with each other. The proposal of the Government is to remove the evils of our present overlapping jurisdictions, the existence of which no one denies. The service of a log enables the Commonwealth to enter the field occupied by the States.
– With the object of ousting the States.
– I am not concerned with terms, but with principles. Whether or notwe agree with the existence of the fact, it is there; and we cannot alter it unless we are prepared to flout the will of the people as emphasized at the recent election. . The Commonwealth must remain in the industrial field. The service of a log is a simple method of creating a dispute.
– Is not the service of a log the act of a party rather than of a government? Does it not make the parties the arbiters of the situation ?
– No.It is the same procedure which has been followed for years, a procedure which is ingrained in our industrial system. Honorable senators might object to a dispute being created by the mere service of a log; nevertheless the fact that it can so be created remains. When that log is served in a State it affects only the section of the industry concerned which is served with the log. All other sections of the industry remain under the jurisdiction of the State arbitration laws. We have therefore that great evil of which all parties complain - the unfair position in which an employer is placed through having to obey a number of awards; and also the unfair position of one employer having to obey awards and competing with other employers working on an entirely different basis.
An award of the Federal Court does not bind employers or employees who are not parties to the dispute.
– Federal awards are not uniform throughout the Commonwealth.
– I admit that they are not. Why does the honorable senator state the obvious? The Government is attempting to bring about uniformity in such industries, or within such limits as the Commonwealth Court chooses to go, in the interests of industrial peace. An employer may be a party to a dispute whether or not he has any dispute with his employees. Under the existing system, an employer who employs twenty members of an organization to which an award is given, is still bound in respect of his employment of those men if six months later some of them resign from the organization. But the employer who had no members of an organization at the time of the dispute, or when the award was made, does not become a party to the dispute at all. Honorable senators will therefore see that this competition between the State and Federal tribunals, and between the federal tribunal and the people who are not bound by any award at all, is always going on. Successive governments have been confronted with that position. The party now in opposition made an honest attempt to overcome the difficulty. It may interest honorable senators to know that on no less than twelve occasions the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act has been amended, and that the whole of the powers of the Commonwealth have been exhausted in an endeavour to bring about a better system of dealing with industrial disputes than that which has been in operation for a number of years. We must, however, admit that all these efforts have led us nowhere. The Bruce-Page Government took the extreme step of appealing to the people when it found that Parliament would not adopt the remedy it prescribed to overcome the difficulty. That Government had been in office for many years, during which period it had piloted through Parliament a number of amendments of the Arbitration Act designed to get over difficulties which it said were creating industrial chaos instead of industrial peace.
The discussion of such evils has not been confined to Parliament. ^ Our predecessors in office convened an important industrial conference for the express purpose of bringing about peace in industry. At that gathering the representative of the employers made the following statement, which I take from Mr. George Anderson’s work, Fixation of Wages in Australia, page 20 : -
There is no denying that we have a conglomeration of industrial legislation existing in the various States and the Commonwealth, and different parties are enacting alleged solutions each year. One State is vieing with the other to place more advanced views on the statute-book. While some of the legislation may be perfectly safe to apply to certain industries, it may bo dangerous to others; nevertheless, once the legislation is there, employers bow to it, and the result is seen in the lack of harmony existing. The question is whether legislation is able to deal with such a complex matter, to provide for the minute details to cover practically every movement of a man, and to limit the capacity to which lie can be subjected. ‘ In attempting to carry out these things, I believe we are usurping the functions of mutual goodwill by a method of compulsion which is inimical to the spirit of co-operation. It is only with the aid of this spirit of goodwill that benefits can be obtained from industry.
This is a very definite statement against the present system of dual control in industry.
– It seems to be directed against every system of arbitration.
– No doubt it does. But I remind honorable senators that since this chamber did not go to the country, it should, in approaching the v consideration of this amendment, keep in mind the clear intention of the people to retain the federal system of arbitration. At all events, that is how I interpret the verdict of the people at the last election. At page 123 of the same volume the evil of dual control is again emphasized. I take the following quotation from the opinion expressed by the late Mr. Justice Higgins : -
This case puts in a glaring light the inconvenience and danger of the constitutional position. Here are two tribunals - one constituted by the Commonwealth and one constituted by a State - handling the same subjectmatters independently as if the other tribunal did not exist.
The position is the same to-day.
– And it will be even if this amendment is carried.
– That will depend very largely upon the application of the knowledge which members of this Parliament possess concerning industrial matters. The intention of the Government in submitting this proposal is to vest this Parliament with full power to legislate effectively in respect of industrial matters.
– Will the Minister deny that it takes away certain rights of the States?
– Certainly, it will. I am pleased that the honorable senator has confined his objection to State rights, because hitherto we have heard a great deal about the rights of the people being filched from them. Actually, under our present system of arbitration the people have no rights; they are powerless to lift a hand to secure legislation for their own protection. The learned judge went on to say -
There is no co-ordination, no interdependence between the courts; and the disputants are only too apt to treat the courts as rival shops.
That charge has been levelled many times ‘ it the industrial movement in this country. This amendment will give Parliament the right to legislate to prevent the continuance of such a state of affairs -
This position involves grave danger to industrial peace, and to the continuity of operations in industries. But I cannot see how the position can be avoided without a change of ‘ the Constitution.
That was the considered opinion of the learned jurist referred to. At page 125 there appears another passage from views of the same authority, dealing this time with the overlapping of awards. It is as follows:-
It was his decided opinion that employers and employees should not have two independent authorities - Federal and State - hanging over their heads and imposing different conditions, especially when those two powers were not co-ordinated.
– Why not give the people a chance to say which they will have?
-The honorable senator knows very well that this is the only question which this Government can put to the people. The Bruce-Page Administration asked the people to decide whether or not the Commonwealth should vacate the field of arbitration, and the people decided most emphatically to retain the federal system. We are now asking the people to say whether the present system of dual control shall continue or whether this Parliament shall be given complete legislative authority. The right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Sir George Pearce) agrees that there should not be overlapping of awards, and I submit that if this proposal is accepted by the people, it will enable the Parliament to co-ordinate the two systems as recommended by the learned judge whose views I have quoted. Parliament, if it chooses to do so, Will then have power to do precisely what it did with reference to the Bankruptcy Act - appoint State judges. As honorable senators are aware, State judges have been appointed judges of the Commonwealth Bankruptcy Court. In this way it is possible for the Commonwealth to deal with what may be regarded as purely State domestic problems.
– This Government has not made much of a success of Bankruptcy Act administration up to the present.
– It is too early yet to pass judgment. The present system has only been in operation since this Government took office.
– This Government secured a good judge.
– It did. But the bankruptcy law is altogether a different matter.
– It may sometimes be associated with the present proposal.
– But not legislatively, at all events. This amendment is the only conceivable means by which we can co-ordinate the dual arbitration systems. It has been suggested that we are bringing about unification, but the destiny of the arbitration system, even if this proposal is carried, will be determined by Parliament, and since Parliament is the elect of the people, its members should not fear to trust the people.
If this amendment is accepted, Parliament will have an opportunity to deal with all those evils about which we are at present complaining, and will be able to conserve to the States their right to deal with their domestic problems. The learned judge went on to say -
He knew that one large undertaking had had 125 different awards in operation within its works. It was an intolerable burden; it promoted industrial disputes. There was nothing which, in his opinion, promoted so much discontent as for the average workman to find that his prescribed wages and conditions were inferior to those enjoyed by another worker doing exactly similar work in the same industry.
That operates to-day. This is one of the difficulties which caused much concern to the previous Administration and induced it to take the serious step to which I have already referred -
He found that some sections of workers treated Federal and State courts like rival shops and tried to play off one against the other. It was a most inexpedient position.
Another learned jurist, Mr. DeputyPresident Hewitson, formerly President of the South Australian Industrial Court, makes the following comment: -
This is an appeal against the determination, dated 18th November, 1924, of the Brassworkers Board. There are two Commonwealth awards operating in the same field as the determination. The resulting complications are chaotic, if it were desired to design such a situation it might be conceived by the disordered mental efforts of a commission of lunatics.
There is a nice condemnation of our legal system !
Not only are there two living wage ratesarrived at by different methods and different authorities - the very bases of the two jurisdictions also differ. The State Industrial Board regulates the whole industry as scheduled. Some of the employees in that industry are members of one general union, some of another, or others: Each union may go to the Commonwealth Court and get an award on classifications, and at rateswhich conflict with the determination rates, if not with each other. These incongruous regulations arc intruded into industrial machinery of the board, machinery which has been adjusted to work in co-ordination and unison with the local industrial scheme.
Those honorable senators who are familiar with the South Australian industrial law system will see the possibilities for good in the present proposal. In South Australia we have the State Industrial Court and the wages boards systems in operation, and since both are on the same basis no confusion results, as in the case of the Commonwealth and State arbitration systems. DeputyPresident He’witson stated further-
The consequences are the very opposite of those intended or desired. There is confusion, harassment, . and unrest,, instead of industrial order and peace. The mischief is intensified when men in the same nominal classification, . or doing the same kind of labour’, work sometimes side by side, for differing rates of pay. The appellants ask, in so many words, that the court should vary the determination so that it will conform with the Commonwealth awards, under which a number of employees in the industry work.. That, in substance, is a claim that this court shall, pro forma, adopt the awards of the Commonwealth Court whereover the jurisdictions meet or overlap. But the awards and judicia of this court must be its own.
The State industrial judges contend, as they are entitled to contend, that the awards of their respective courts must be their own. They must function in unison with the rest of the State- system. After the learned writer to whom I have referred had dealt with the conflicting industrial’ awards he Went on to make a statement which I submit for’ the consideration of the Senate. He said -
In support of the extension of Constitution industrial powers, it was said that the existing restricted federal powers were responsible for much industrial unrest, as the Federal Arbitration Court could only function when there was an interstate dispute brought before it, and that limitation of the court’s jurisdiction led to the creation of artificial interstate disputes. With enlarged powers the Federal Government would be able to set up boards, conciliation committees, &c, with federal powers, for the handling of certain classes of industrial matters. Enlarged powers did not mean unification in the sense that many people thought. Although industrial legislation and regulation for the whole of Australia would be in the hands of the Commonwealth, State ‘ tribunals with Federal powers would be set up to deal with all suchmatters as might be entrusted, .to them bythe central, authority. Such a system of industrial regulation would result in relatively uniform conditions in industries throughout Australia, and overlapping of awards and conflict of industrial authorities would be things of the past.
I ask honorable senators if such a scheme as that were the ideal system in the circumstances? How could it be brought about other than by the means that the Government now seeks to employ? State Parliaments have refused to give this Parliament power. The people have said to the Federal Parliament, “We do not desire you to vacate the industrial field.” lft face of those decisions how is it possible to bring about even that system without the exercise by the people of the power which the Government is now asking them to exercise in its favour ?
– The honorable senator knows that there has been no duplication of awards in the shipping industry. Does he suggest that there has been peace on the waterfront? That is a clear case where the Federal Government has been the only authority.
– I am” not suggesting that the term “ industrial peace “ . is determined merely by strikes or lockouts.
– The honorable senator said that the existing duplication is the cause of unrest. There was no duplication in the instance to which I referred-.
–Apart from the matter of strikes and lockouts there .is. the unrest in the workshop itself. There was no suggestion of strikes in the brassworkers’ case’, nor in the case referred to by Mr. Justice Higgins. What the two learned jurists referred to was that unrest in a particular industry where an employer had, for example, to obey 125 awards’. I have had something like’ seventeen years’ experience of industrial arbitration, and1 I am not one who alleges that any system of industrial arbitration will prevent strikes or lockouts. It will not.
– But there was no: duplication in the case to which I referred!.
– If the ma’tter rested entirely upon whether the two systems caused industrial unrest of the class mentioned by the honorable senator there would have’ been my election last November. The Bruce-Page Government did’ not go to the’ country on that issue: It’ went to the country because it said that industrial chaos was caused by the existing dual system of arbitration.
– Which the present Government does not propose to remove.
– My Government proposes to submit a scheme for the consideration of Parliament, to remove this dual system of arbitration.
– To abolish State tribunals.
– As qua State tribunals, yes. My personal opinion is that that is the only way in which it can be done. I do not suggest for a moment that the whole industrial regulation can be governed from Canberra. I have a wider view of industrial arbitration than that. I believe that if there was an industrial system whereby one tribunal laid down the big national fundamentals this Government could with safety delegate to different State tribunals, operating as federal tribunals, powers sufficient to deal with domestic troubles that arose intrastate. In this volume from which I have already quoted - Anderson on Fixation of Wages in Australia - will be found a very fine scheme that was enunciated at a Premiers’ conference at which, I have no doubt, the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) was present. That scheme has much to commend it. l t certainly does not go as far as I should like it to go, but it is preferable to the present system and really deals with the fundamental proposition that there must be one basis in all the States, so far as standard awards and hours are concerned. The only way that it is possible for this or any other Government to get down to the real question as to how to deal with existing industrial evils is to give some Parliament full powers to deal with the problem. All other avenues, as I have indicated, have been closed. As a national Parliament we have to decide between u co-ordinating jurisdiction and the maintenance of the present system of dual control. That is the real kernel of the subject, and I invite honorable senators to view it from that angle. Once this power is granted it will be this Parliament which will lay down the system of arbitration that is to operate. The “ chance “ majority argument will probably be advanced. . But whatever adjective is used to describe the prevailing majority, they are certainly the elect of the people and as such should deal with this problem.
I ask honorable senators to give the most serious and earnest consideration to the measure. This Government confesses, as did the Bruce-Page Government, that the powers that the Commonwealth Parliament has to-day will not enable it to remedy any of the important evils with which it is at present confronted.
– I do not think that anything will.
– That is a counsel of despair.
– I am obliged to the honorable senator for his reply to that interjection. The political parties on this big question are ad idem, that compulsory arbitration should stand. It is the declared policy of the Opposition party and of this Government. We should be dishonest to ourselves if we admitted that, the present chaotic conditions are to continue and if at the same time we advocated arbitration, more particularly when, we appreciate and can deal with what is causing the main unrest, to which therepresentatives of the employers referred! at the industrial peace conference. The leader at that conference was not referring1 so much to strikes and lock-outs as to the general unrest that has been created in the breast of the man under State awards who is working side by side with a workeremployed under a federal award; of the man working under a 48-hour award working alongside another under a 44- hour award; of one who is on one basic wage whilst one is on another ; of one who. is on one margin of skill and his comradeon another margin of skill. That is theunrest which causes the whole of the friction. The Seamen’s Union and other such matters are quite outside the general’ problem.
– They represent a big problem.
– I candidly admitthat. If the honorable senator desires me. to repeat it, I do not allege that if thepeople gave the Commonwealth Parliament complete power it could by legislation prevent strikes or lockouts. It could; do nothing of the sort, although it could certainly minimize their effects. Nolegislation can do more than that. That*! is also the considered opinion of some of the most eminent authorities on the subject.
I ask honorable senators to approach i he subject from the standpoint which I have outlined. Let them give it their fullest consideration. I am perfectly certain that if it is viewed in the light of the opinions which honorable members opposite have not only held but expressed, the fate of this bill will not be that prophesied by Senator Newlands; instead, it will be passed through this chamber.
Debate (on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce) adjourned.
Senator DALY (South Australia - Vice-President of the Executive Council^ [9.12]. - I move-
That the. hill bc now read a second time.
Up to the year 1920 the viticultural industry in Australia was on a sound economic basis. The whole of the grapes i hen produced were absorbed by winemakers for the manufacture of wine to supply the home market, as well as about 800,000 gallons of dry wine of a Buigundy type for export to Great Britain. For repatriation purposes the State Governments in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, planted large areas with vines in irrigation districts for settlement by returned soldiers. When these vines came into bearing in 1923 and 1924 the grapes produced were much in excess of requirements. The Commonwealth Government then in office proposed to relieve the position by reducing the duty on spirit used for fortifying wine. This was opposed by the Federal Viticultural Council because the reduction would disarrange the wine-makers business by reducing the value of their stocks by the amount of the proposed reduction. The council suggested that a bonus be given on the export of fortified wines, instead of altering the duty. Up to this time very small quantities of fortified wine were exported, and these were sent in small lots to New Zealand. There was no export of fortified wine to Great Britain. So in 1924, the Government decided to provide a bounty of 4s. on each gallon of fortified wine for export. No provision was made to refund, in the form of drawback, the amount paid in duty on the spirits used in the fortification of the wine exported. The amount of duty so paid represented ls. 3d. on each gallon of wine. It was intended the 4s. should cover this drawback as well as the bounty. Early in 1927 the act was amended to provide for a bounty of ls. 9d. per gallon and ls. 3d. drawback. This meant ls. per gallon less than the first bounty. This act, which was assented to in April, provided that the reduction of ls. per gallon would not come into force until the 1st September. The consequence was that wine-makers, with the ample notice given thorn, shipped every gallon of wine they could produce to Great Britain in order to secure the extra ls. These wines we’re shipped on consignment and a great deal pf it found its way into auction rooms. This led to a big glut of wine on the English market and a great deal of damage was done to the industry. During the period about one and a half million gallons of wine were sent away without a market. In March, 1923, the then Government decided on a further reduction of the bounty. The decrease represented 9d. per gallon, thus making the bounty ls. per gallon. The actual amounts per gallon paid to the exporters under these three acts were respectively -
Consequent upon the reduction to ls. per gallon the exports fell off and there has been a severe depression in the wine trade. Those connected with the industry, such as the Federal Viticultural Council and various grape-growers’ associations in the Commonwealth, were very much agitated over the effect of the reduced rate of bounty, and were unanimous in asking that the rate of ls. 9d. be restored in order to ensure a market for their grapes at prices which would provide a reasonable return for their labour. The Government recognized that the industry required stimulating, and agreed with the petitions of all the separate activities connected with the wine-making industry that an increase in the amount of the bounty would have th<* effect of greatly assisting viticultural interests. But instead of providing » further amendment to the .present act, it. preferred to bring in a bill providing for a new Wine Export Bounty Act, and to repeal the present act of 1924-28.
The main new features contained in this bill are -
Our principal market for fortified wine, Great Britain, has been established since the first Wine Bounty Act, 1924.” A tribute to the excellence of the Australian product is the fact that although long-established British wine firms have extensive financial interests in the trade with Spain and Portugal, Australian wines have displaced large quantities of wine from those countries. The quantities of Australian wine imported into Great Britain and the quantities cleared for home consumption during the last three years have been -
Included in these yearly quantities are approximately 500,000 gallons of dry wine, on which no bounty is paid on export from the Commonwealth. The excess of imports over clearances during these three years represents 276,950 gallons. During the same period, stocks of Australian wine held in Great Britain have fallen from 3,000,000 gallons to 1,980,000 gallons, which is less than one year’s consumption, and may be regarded as a normal stock to be held. It will be seen that at present our exports to Great Britain are not equal to the consumption there. The increase in the bounty will encourage the wine-makers in the Commonwealth to export increased quantities at remunerative prices. At present they are receiving very little over the cost of production.
The quantities of Spanish and Portuguese wines cleared for home consumption in Great Britain show how these wines have been affected by the Australian fortified wines. The figures for the last three years are -
The decrease of Spanish wine consumption in Great Britain from 1927 to 1929 was, therefore, 998,979 gallons, and that of Portuguese wine 1,172,917 gallons, a total of 2,171,896 gallons, which closely approximates to the consumption of Australian fortified wines in Great Britain.
The average quantity of wine consumed in Great Britain for the last three years was approximately 15,000,000 gallons a year. It is estimated that, of this quantity, 10,000,000 gallons are sweet wines, most of it of the kind which can be produced in the Commonwealth. This fact alone shows the market available in Great Britain. With the assistance of the bounty increases, and by improved marketing methods which the Wine Overseas Marketing Board, appointed by the late Government, will create, our exporters of wine can confidently look for increased exports in the near future.
Since the first Wine Bounty Act was passed, and up to the end of January of this year, the amount pf £1,298,544 has been paid out of revenue as bounty on wine. The Government had to face the wine position, so far as bounty legislation is concerned, at a time when the finances of the Commonwealth required very careful consideration. In order, therefore, to avoid the severe drain on the general revenue, and to make the wine industry more self-reliant and self-contained, it was considered fair and reasonable, for those who controlled the wine trade in the Commonwealth, to contribute the amount necessary to pay a bounty on the wine exported. In order, therefore, to obtain the amount required to pay a bounty of ls. 9d. per gallon on fortified wine exported, the Government decided to increase the duty on spirits used in the fortification of wine. Sweet wines are fortified by the addition of grape wine spirit, and it is on these fortified wines the bounty is payable. Until 13th March of this year the duty on fortifying spirits has been 5s. per gallon, when the spirit has been made from Doradillo grapes, and 6s. per gallon when the spirit has been made from grapes of any other kind. By raising this duty to 10s. and lis. per gallon, respectively, the increased amount so derived is sufficient, at the present rate of consumption in Australia, to pay an export bounty of ls. 9d. per gallon and a drawback of ls. Id. per gallon on over 2,000,000 gallons of wine. There are strong indications that the consumption of wine in Australia is rapidly increasing, owing to the displacement of other kinds of alcoholic stimulants. Thus the revenue derived through the increased excise duty on fortifying spirit will be sufficiently augmented from year to year for the payment of the bounty and drawback. The whole of the amount of bounty will, therefore, be paid by the wine industry itself, without encroaching upon the revenue derived from the old rates of duty on spirits for fortifying wines.
– Yes; just as under the Paterson scheme the consumer of butter pays for the loss sustained on the export of butter, and the Australian consumer of sugar pays for the loss on the export of sugar. The person who does not put sugar in his tea is not assisting the great Queensland sugar industry. The scheme having worked admirably in regard to butter and sugar, the Government has decided that it should be given a trial in regard to wine. Hence this legislation.
Although representatives of Australian wine firms have visited Great Britain they have failed to organize their sales, and up to the present the marketing of Australian wine in Great Britain has been uncontrolled. Wines have been sent there on consignment, and they have been hawked by brokers and others to be sold at cut-throat rates. Some wines have found their way to the auction room, with results equally disastrous as to prices realized.
The Wine Overseas Marketing Board, which was appointed last year by the late Government, has control, over wine exports, and has power to issue licences to exporters under specified conditions. The board is at present framing regulations containing the conditions necessary to stabilize the home markets. These, which will soon be laid before Parliament^ will deal with such matters as the minimum prices at which wine is to be sold for export, and with the regulation of quantities for export.
Under the present system of retailing wine in the Commonwealth the raising of the duty on fortifying spirit should not result in a decrease in the sale of wine in the Commonwealth, or an increase in the price of wine to the consumer. A few years ago the wine-maker was receiving from hotelkeepers and other retailers about 10s. a gallon for his cheaper class of fortified wine, but the price he now receives is from 5s. to 6s. .per gallon, although the consumer still pays what he previously paid. The wine seen in windows in the bottle departments in the capital cities at 2s. 6d. per bottle, which represents 15s. per gallon, costs the retailer about 5s. per gallon, or lOd. a bottle, and even after allowance is made for bottling and other expenses, a profit of well over 100 per cent, is shown. Under these circumstances we are confident the retailer will not increase the price, which returns big profits at present, for fear of decreased business.
The previous Bounty Act provided for its termination in three years. This bill provides for a period’ of five years. The Government recognizes that a shorter period would not be effective in properly stabilizing the wine industry in the Commonwealth or in Great Britain. Merchants who trade in Australian wines abroad, as well as wine-makers here, will feel more secure when they realize that there will be no changes so far as the -export trade is concerned until February, 1935. They can also be confident that so long as the industry itself contributes the amount required to pay the bounty, a case for the extension of the period would be practically unassailable. Though there may appear to be no reason at present why the term should not be a longer one, the position of the trust account may require reviewing at the end of the five years period. The hill provides for the establishment of a trust account. The amount of extra duty collected on account of the increase of 5s. per ..gallon on spirits used for fortifying wine will be paid into this account each month. If the amount standing to the credit of the account is not sufficient to pay the bounty and drawback, the deficiency will be made up from the Consolidated Revenue. If the amount standing to the credit of the trust account shows a surplus after claims for bounty and drawback have been paid, it will be applied to repay any amount which has been taken out of the Consolidated RevenueFund, and the remainder will be used in the encouragement of the export of Australian wines and of their marketing overseas. Honorable senators will see that the whole scheme is that every penny collected in excise is to be used for the specific purpose of assisting the export of wine.
Ithas been found necessary to tighten up the provisions relating to the prices to be paid for grapes and fortifying spirit used in the production of the wine for export. It has been suggested that spirit for fortifying purposes has been sold at the rates considered by the Minister as a fair rate, but to secure the sale, discounts, or rebates, or other compensation has been made. Compensation in the shape of a big reduction in price of a parcel of wine sold at the same time as the spirit has been suggested. It is to overcome questionable actions of the kind that provision is made that bounty will not be payable if an arrangement or understanding affecting the price of fortifying spirit is made between the buyer and the seller by way of discount, rebate, compensation, or in any manner whatever other than what is fully shown in the contract for the sale of the spirits. It has been the practice of wine-makers to pay for grapes by extended payments, which sometimes cover a period of a year, and, in the case of co-operative companies, may extend over a much longer period. Provision is made so that a bond, or guarantee or cash deposit, may be required to the effect that reasonable prices for grapes or for fortifying spirit shall be paid within a specified time. If that is not done the bounty shall not be payable. Provision is also made to withhold the whole or any part of the bounty if the wages and conditions of labour employed in the manufacture of wine or fortifying spirits, or in the productionof grapes used in the manufacture of fortified wine, are not fair and reasonable. This condition has been included in other bounty acts at present in force. The Sulphur, Power Alcohol and Cotton Bounty Acts, all contain a similar clause. The provision covers all labour in wineries and distilleries, as well as those who are employed by grape-growers during vintage time. The bill also provides that no bounty shall be payable on wine produced from areas planted with vines on or after 31st March, 1928. Some slight amendment in that respect will be necessary in order to meet a position which has arisen in connexion with the claims of certain returned soldier settlers at, I think, Cadell in South Australia, who planted vines on land which was subsequently condemned and who have since planted other areas. The Government is anxious that these settlers shall obtain the benefits providedunder this measure. The Commonwealth Government has no power to limit the planting of vines. That matter is under the control of the State Government; but effective measures will be taken to see that the provisions relating to the payment of a bounty are carried out. The introduction of this bill and of the amended Excise Tariff Schedule, which provides for an increase of the duty on fortifying spirit, brings about a departure from the provisions of other bounty bills, which may be considered unique. The general taxpayer is not asked to assist the wine industry by a bounty. The whole amount of the proposed bounty of1s. 9d. per gallon is being provided by the industry itself, through an extra tax on the wine used for consumption in Australia. This bounty differs from other bounties, because those members of the community who are not consumers of wine do not contribute in any way towards providing the funds necessary to pay it. I submit the measure has. all the attributes necessary to enable it to secure a speedy passage through this chamber.
– Has the amount of rebate of excise yet been fixed?
– I shall supply the honorable senator with that information when replying to the second-reading debate or when the measure is in committee.
Debate (on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce) adjourned.
Senate adjourned at 9.37 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 21 May 1930, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1930/19300521_senate_12_124/>.