13th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. H. Mackay) took the chair at10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– In this morning’s press it is announced that favorable replies have been received from ten nations, including Britain, to President Roosevelt’s offer in connexion with world peace. Is Australia included among those nations?
-No direct invitation has yet been received by the Commonwealth of Australia to express its opinion regarding President Roosevelt’s declaration, but the Government is glad to have this opportunity of saying that it welcomes his outspoken statements, and hopes they may expedite the consideration by the Disarmament Conference of the draft convention recently submitted by the British Government, and lead to the speedy adoption of that convention in something like the form in which it was presented. The Commonwealth representative at the Disarmament Conference hasbeen instructed to support the proposed convention which, it is considered, offers the soundest hope for the success of that conference. Inquiryis being made to-day in order to ascertain whether an invitation has been sent to the Commonwealth of Australia to express concurrence with the general ideas voiced by the President of the United States of America. If such an invitation is made to us, the Government will unhesitatingly and gladly express such concurrence on behalf of Australia.
– A letter which I have received from the Essendon and District United Friendly Societies Medical Association and Dispensary, states, inter alia -
On behalf of the 5,376 members of this institution, I desire to draw your attention to the veryserious effect of the sales tax on drugs and chemicals used in dispensing medicines for the sick.
A similar letter has been sent to me on behalf of 3,150 members connected with another friendly society’s dispensary. Will the Treasurer, when framing his budget proposals, take this matter into consideration with a view to granting some relief?
– I undertake that the matter will receive the fullest and most sympathetic consideration when the budget proposals are being framed. The Government hopes to be able to give some relief in the direction indicated, but everything must depend on the state of the finances.
– A few days ago the Postmaster-General stated that it was proposed to establish a wireless broadcasting relay station to serve the GraftonLismore district, in the north of New South “Wales. Are we to understand that the northern tableland area, including southern Queensland, is not to be provided with a station? If a station is to be erected in that area, can the Minister say when the work is likely to be commenced ?
– My statement the other day contained some information regarding the area mentioned. The station which it is proposed to erect in the neighbourhood of Grafton is intended to serve the Grafton-Lismore coastal district of New South Wales. The Government has under consideration the provision of a second instalment of relay stations, and has in contemplation the erection of a separate station to serve New England and Southern Queensland. The present arrangement does not provide for that district, but the further proposals of the Government will do so.
– Will thewestern district also be served?
– Is the PostmasterGeneral ina position to say whether there will be one or two A class wireless broadcasting relay stations in Western Australia, and will they be erected at Katanning, Kalgoorlie, or elsewhere? Will the Minister cause an investigation to be made with a view to a short wave and a long wave synchronized transmission from the same station? Transmitting station 6WF had both wave lengths. In north-western Australia wireless messages from abroad can be received only on short waves.
– The present intention is to construct in Western Australia one additional A class station somewhere east of Perth. The technical advisers of the post office are now engaged in an exhaustive investigation to ascertain the most suitablewave length for this and other stations. That is the reason why an earlier statement has not been made on the subject. I assure the House that the most thorough investigation will be made, with a view to putting the best system obtainable into operation, so that listeners may be given the fullest possible satisfaction.
– Is there any founda tion for the report in to-day’s newspapers that a conference of representatives of the wheat exporting nations has agreed to reduce by 10 per cent. the acreage under wheat in their respective countries. If. so, can the Minister Bay how the reduction in acreage will be brought about?
Has any assurance been given by the wheat-growing States that they willassist the Commonwealth, by passing the legislation necessary to make the proposal effective; and if so, will the reduction in acreage apply to the present year’s seeding, or only to later operations?
– Apparently the honorable member’s question is based on newspaper reports of the attitude of the Commonwealth representative at the conference referred to. This subject was carefully considered by the Government, and the difficulties associated with it were brought to the notice of our representative point by point before he left for the conference. The advice given to him was set out in nine paragraphs, the seventh of which read -
The third to sixth points illustrate the seriousness of any step taken to limit production, and the vital importance of the alternative course of removing import barriers. For these reasons, unless some offsetting advantage not now apparent was assured, Australia’s attitude to the informal conference should not be sympathetic to the idea of restrictions.
So far as the Government knows, its representative has not departed from the instructions given to him. The Government has no official information along the lines suggested in the press announcement.
Bill brought up by Mr. Latham, and read a first time.
– Can the Minister for Commerce inform the House when the Government is likely to arrive at a decision in regard to the trade between Australia and New Zealand in citrus fruits and potatoes? Is it likely that a decision will be reached before the forthcoming recess ?
– This matter is at present the subject of cable negotiations with the Government of New Zealand; but it is unlikely that a final decision will be reached in regard to it before the House goes into recess.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that in from 90 per cent. to 95 per cent. of the specifications for buildings required by the department which he is administering Oregon is specified as the timber to be used for the support of iron, tile and slate roofs. If not, will he look into the matter, and advise honorable members what is the actual position?
– I am rapidly acquiring a comprehensive knowledge of the most intimate details of the administration of the Postal Department, but I am not at the moment able to tell the honorable member whether the roofing timber of the various post offices throughout the Commonwealth consists almost entirely of Oregon. My experience, however, leads me to think that, asoregon is so desirable for the purpose, the statement of the honorable member is correct. I shall make inquiry, and let him know the result.
– Has the Prime Minister seen the comment published in an editorial in the Argus of the 18th May, in which the following passage appears : - “ Publicity “ from Canberra on behalf of the United Australia Party and the United Country party flows in a steady stream. The latest bulletin from the Prime Minister’s Department contains an offensive reference to “ the poison cart section of the Country party “. These publications are issued under the nominal authority of the Prime Minister, but probably the Prime Minister is not personally acquainted with their contents. Nevertheless, those who are directly responsible may be taken as interpreting the spirit that prevails. It is not a healthy spirit. It might reasonably be expected that responsible Ministers would be above contributing to such mischievous recriminations.
In view of that condemnation by one of the leading newspapers of Victoria, I wish to know whether this propaganda is issued by a government department, and paid for by the taxpayers?
– The question asked by the honorable member might well have been raised by him earlier in reference to the propaganda emanating from his own party, for which I do not hold him responsible; though, I suggest, that he might have read to the House some extracts from the production of the “poison cart” section of the Country party, to which reference has been made. These fulminations have continued week after week, and I have endeavoured to ignorethem, although I realize that they evidence an unhealthy spirit on the part of those responsible. Not even the honorable member could expect that the Government would continue to remain quiet under such gross misrepresentation and misreporting of its doings. The Government is entitled to reply to such slanderous imputations, and it will continue to do so when necessary.
– Is the party propaganda of the United Australia Party and the United Country Party to which reference has been made, published at the expense of the taxpayer, and are government servants being used for the purpose?
– The taxpayer is only indirectly concerned in this matter in that the officer who carries out the duties of private secretary to the Prime Minister also acts as publicity officer to the Government; which is not an innovation. The country does not bear the cost of disseminating this propaganda; and, I may safely hazard the opinion that no direct charge is incurred by it in regard to the Country party’s propaganda.
– The Prime Minister is reported in this morning’s press as having broadcast a statement last night in condemnation of the Country party. “Will the taxpayers have to pay for that broadcast, and the connexion’ of a land line from Canberra to the studio of the B class station concerned?
– The Government did not pay one penny of the cost incurred by that broadcast.
– Some time ago the Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Francis) informed the House that a portion of the available surplus naval stores would be distributed in New South Wales and Queensland to groups of exnaval members and their families in various districts. Will the Minister representing the Minister for Defence ensure that a portion of that available clothing will be issued to the ex-naval members’ group in Williamstown, Victoria, where a good many families of exnaval men are in difficult circumstances?
– I was under the impression that very little of these surplus stores were available. I shall bring the matter under the notice of the Assistant
Minister for Defence, and see what can be done. Of course, the distribution will apply equally to all States.
– Is the Minister for Commerce aware that short weight in some of ourexports to Java and the Mayalan Archipelago is giving Australia an unsavoury reputation in a market which we are endeavouring to develop? Will the Minister try to ascertain the facts, and make compulsory a declaration on the labels of containers as to the weight of the contents?
– I have no knowledge of the alleged facts. The Government will certainly take the steps necessary to protect its external trade, and if the honorable member will supply the data on which his question was based, I undertake to have the matter investigated.
– Daily there appear on our notice-paper motions set down by private members, to be submitted when the opportunity occurs. Seeing that an opportunity rarely occurs for those notices of motion to be considered, could their appearance on private members’ days only be arranged for? If they were omitted on other occasions, one sheet of paper would ordinarily suffice for our notices of the day?
-From time to time this matter has been referred to the Government Printer, who has assured the officers of the House that no additional expense is incurred by printing these notices of motion, as they are kept set up in type. I admit that, occasionally, their printing necessitates the use of an additional sheet of paper. I shall see that the matter is brought under the notice of the Printing Committee.
– Will the Postmaster-
General confer with his colleague, the Minister for Commerce, with a view to evolving suitable slogans for printing on envelopes when cancelling Australian postage stamps, particularly on overseas mail, in order to increase the prospects of Australia obtaining additional benefit as the result of the Ottawa agreement?
– I shall be glad to confer with my colleague on the subject.
Admissions UNDER By-law.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs seen an article in the press, written by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), and headed “ Tariff by Regulation,” in which serious reflections are made on the administration of the Customs Department?
– I did see the article referred to, which appeared in an issue of the Argus last week. To be fair to the honorable member for Swan, I believe that he did not understand the subject when he wrote his article, which refers to by-law entries, his statements on which are just as inaccurate as are his utterances in. this chamber on the matter. The honorable member spoke on by-law entries recently on a motion for adjournment, and I explained the matter thoroughly to him. I might add that he has successfully made application for the admission of goods under by-law, as have many other honorable members, and I feel that, now that his knowledge of the subject is greater, he will admit that he is satisfied with the administration of the Customs Department.
– I desire to make a personal explanation in reply to what seems to me to have been an inspired question and answer by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White). I wrote a certain letter to the press under my own name.
– It was not a letter; it was an article.
– I was proud to see that it occupied a full column next to the leading article in the Argus. That newspaper evidently thought it important enough for such prominence. T quoted replies given by the Minister for Trade and Customs to questions that I had asked him regarding huge remissions of duties, about which this Parliament has not been able to obtain the slightest information. As, in one year, remissions of duty amounted to £1,738,842, and that in the next year such remissions amounted to £1,114,842, concerning which honorable members are refused information, I think 1 am justified in directing public attention to the fact. At the beginning of the debate on the tariff, I moved an amendment which, had it been carried, would have made it compulsory for such information to be given to the people of Australia. I hope that if the Minister for Trade and Customs has anything to say regarding the correctness or accuracy of my statement to the newspaper concerned, he will make a statement to the press in reply to it, instead of adopting the method employed to-day.
– In a publication of some 260 pages, issued recently, and entitled The Record of the Lyons Government, there appears at page 119 the statement that duties were increased on 440 items or sub-items, while on the following page it is claimed that the total number of reductions during the regime of this Government was 2C. Will the Prime Minister explain whether the policy of the Government is to reduce or to increase the tariff burden on the primary producers of the Commonwealth?
– The honorable member has been long enough in this chamber tq know exactly what is the policy of the Government in regard to primary producers. Besides, he has heard the recent tariff debates. It would take me too long to explain that policy, and I do not propose to waste the time of honorable members by going through the list of reductions in duty, and exemptions of special surcharges and primage, that have been effected in order to relieve the producers. Incidentally, those steps were taken after proper investigation had been made by theTariff Board. I believe that I am not. mistaken when I express the opinion that the honorable member has himself expressed approval of the general attitudeof the Government towards primary producers.
The following papers were presented : -
Navigation Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 55.
Norfolk Island Act - Report for year ended 30th June, 1932.
– I move -
That the bill.be now read a second time.
This is a bill “ relating to a commission to deal with the matter of grants by the Commonwealth of financial assistance to the States.” The subject with which it deals has been receiving increased attention in recent years in consequence of the applications made by certain of the smaller States for financial assistance. The disturbed financial conditions of Australia generally have emphasized the difficulties of the smaller States, and the grants made to them from time to time by the Commonwealth have now assumed considerable dimensions. The subject of the bill is, therefore, of great importance alike to the smaller States which have been receiving assistance; to the bigger States, which have really to provide the assistance ; and to the Commonwealth Parliament and Government, which has to decide the extent to which such assistance shall be given. The framers of the Constitution anticipated that some of the States might, in certain circumstances, need assistance of this character, for it was provided in section 96 of the Constitution that -
During a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth, and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.
Up to 1928, State requests to the Commonwealth for financial assistance were confined to Western Australia and Tasmania, but in 1929, an application was also received from South Australia. In consequence of these applications over a period of years, successive governments have appointed special commissions to investigate the claims of the applicant States, and comparatively recently the Public Accounts Committee of this Parliament was requested by a previous
Government to investigate the subject. These various bodies have covered a great deal of ground in their inquiries. Some of the investigations have been of a most thorough nature. Unfortunately, it has not been found possible, hitherto, to formulate any definite principle or basis upon which the Commonwealth Parliament and Government could be guided in the making of such grants. This has meant that, in the end, the amount of the grants has been determined in a more or less arbitrary manner. In 1923-24, the special grants to Western Australia and Tasmania totalled over £200,000. In 1928-29, the payments had reached a total of £520,000. In the present year the grants being paid to Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia are costing the Commonwealth £1,830,000 . But, in spite of this increase from 1923-24 to the present year, requests have been received for substantial increases in the grants for the next financial year. When the budget was brought down last year, I made the following statement on this subject: -
The Government considers that these large grants are justified only because of the difficult and special circumstances now existing, and that grants of such magnitude cannot be taken as a basis for permanent or longterm relief. It is, however, undesirable that annual applications should be necessary from the States for Commonwealth assistance, and the Government is convinced that, as soon as normal conditions return, some definite plan must be adopted for determining what grants should be made to the States over a period of years.
The Government has since been giving consideration to the subject, and a few weeks ago I announced that it was prepared to appoint a permanent body to investigate the applications of the States for assistance and to advise the Parliament and Government as. to the apportionment of the aid granted to the States. This bill is being introduced to give effect to my statement. The measure is simple. It provides that a commission of five members shall be set up which will conduct its investigations and make its reports entirely free from political or governmental interference. It is not intended that the commission shall sit continuously; there should be no necessity for that. The members of the commission will not be full-time commissioners, but will be appointed for a term not exceeding five years.
Mr.gabb. - Will it take five years to determine a principle?
– No; but the commission will be required to do more than determine a principle. I sincerely hope that it will be possible for it to do so, though that will not be easy, but in any event changes in the conditions of the Commonwealth and the States will make a certain amount of investigation necessary from time to time. It is considered wise, therefore, that the members of the commission shall retain office for five years. It should not be necessary for them to devote so much time to this work after the first year or so.
– That will be a matter for the commission to determine.
– Quite so. Everything will depend upon the character of , the men appointed to the commission.
– We know the sort of man that this Government appoints.
– I hope that the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) has not altogether lost faith in his fellow men. The Government thinks that men are available who will take their responsibility as seriously as the members of this Parliament take theirs, and can be depended upon to do the work they are intended to do with ability and with a full sense of responsibility to the Commonwealth, the States, and the taxpayers. There is no cause for fear in that regard.
The Government does not consider that heavy expense should be necessary in connexion with the appointment of this commission in view of the fact that the appointees will hot be expected to devote their full time to the work. It is proposed, therefore, that the chairman shall receive £300 a year, and each other member £200 a year. In addition, fees of £5 5s.a day will be provided for each day of sitting, and also travelling expenses, which will probably be fixed by regulation on the basis of such payments to the members of similar bodies. All the payments will be subject to reduction under theFinancial Emergency Act.
The functions of the commission are set out in clause 9 of the bill. The commission will be required to inquire into and report upon applications by any
State for financial assistance under section 96 of the Constitution. Applications received from States will automatically be submitted to the commission for investigation. The commission will also be required to investigate any matters referred to it by the Governor-General in relation to existing grants. The whole subject will therefore come under review by the commission. The payment of future grants will also be inquired into by the commission. Provision is made in the bill for the reports of the commission to be presented to Parliament, and for the Minister to attach to such reports any statement, recommendation or comment on behalf of the Government that he thinks proper. The other provisions of the bill are largely of a machinery nature, and can best be discussed in committee.
– The recommendations of the commission are not to be mandatory ?
– No. Of necessity the Government must take the responsibility of making recommendations , to Parliament, and Parliament must take the final responsibility of actually making the grants.
– Will not the commission simply cover the ground that has been covered by other bodies of inquiry?
– It will, of course, cover a lot of ground that has already been covered, but the Government feels that there should be a comprehensive investigation of the whole case by one body. When one commission is sent to inquire into an application for a grant by Tasmania, and another into a similar application by Western Australia, and yet another into an application by South Australia, it is not possible to obtain any degree of uniformity in the recommendations. Commissions of two or three members have sometimes been set up, and, on one occasion, Sir Nicholas Lockyer was appointed a sole commissioner to inquire into an application for assistance by Tasmania. The Government now desires that a comprehensive investigation shall be made by an impartial body which does not owe allegiance to either the Commonwealth or the States.
– It will be comprehensive in one sense only, that is, as to the amount of money that shall be paid, and not as to the disabilities of the State.
– The honorable member may rest assured that any State which makes an application for a grant will also submit the grounds of its application, so that the whole subject will be inquired into by the commission. If a State feels that as a result of, say, the operation of the tariff, it is suffering disadvantage, there will be nothing to prevent it from not only putting that to the commission as a reason why it should be assisted, but also assessing the value of that disadvantage. If that is done, the commission must of necessity inquire into and report upon the amount that ought to be contributed by the Commonwealth to compensate for the disadvantage.
– And then the commission’s recommendation would have to run the gauntlet of this House.
– Undoubtedly. No one can claim greater sympathy with the smaller States than myself. No one in this chamber has taken quite so big a part on behalf of any such State as I have done, either in the State or the Federal sphere, it having been my unfortunate task tofight on behalf of Tasmania. On the other hand, neither inside nor outside this chamber will I, as a representative of that State, attempt to rob this Commonwealth Parliament of its full responsibility in this matter. I am not prepared to shift that responsibility to any outside body. “We, as members of the Federal Parliament, have to accept that position.
– There is no alternative.
– We cannot pass on that responsibility. Any money that is granted to the States must first be voted by this Parliament, and the grant will depend upon the report of the commission, the recommendation of the Government, and then the decision of this Parliament.
– Will there not be difficulty in arriving at a common policy, because of the differing circumstances of the States?
– There are difficulties, and they must be admitted by any one who knows how necessary it is to place the granting of money to States upon a sound basis. Up to the present we have not done that. The amount of assistance to be given to the States is a matter for this Parliament to decide; it will, of course, be dependent upon the state of the federal finances. It, therefore, requires the fullest information, and not information that is, I shall not say biased, but to some extent, prejudiced. A federal representative of a small State who has lived his lifetime there, and has represented it probably in the State Parliament as well, must of necessity be enveloped in the atmosphere of that State, and be, to some extent, prejudiced in his opinions. We simply ask that any request for assistance by a State shall be inquired into by a body which is not prejudiced, and will investigate, not only the disadvantages of the State concerned, but also the extent to which they have endeavoured to help themselves. The commission will be a sort of semi-judicial body, and everything will depend upon its personnel. The desire is to press on with the inquiry; and immediately authority has been given by this Parliament for the appointment of the commission, the commission will be appointed, and will proceed with its task of investigating the claims of the States. The States themselves are, I take it, at present preparing their cases for submission to the commission. Some difficulty may arise in respect of South Australia and Western Australia, because new governments have taken office there; but no time will be lost by the Commonwealth Government, at any rate, in dealing with this matter, because we are anxious to know as early as possible in the financial year exactly what assistance will be required from the Commonwealth in order to help the States to balance their budgets.
– Although the Governments of South Australia and Western Australia are new, the departmental officers are not.
– That is true. I am anxious that there shall be no delay on the part of those Governments in submitting their claims to the commission. I anticipate that they willwelcome the appointment of this commission, in order that their disabilities maybe dealt with. The following table sets out the special payments to the States of South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania, during the ten years ending the 30th June, 1933:-
Grants approved by Parliament for 1933-34 : -
South Australia - Nil.
Western Australia - Nil.
I suggest that honorable members give the Government every assistance in passing this bill, so that the commission may be appointed as soon as possible, and may proceed with its work.
.- The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has correctly outlined the provisions of this legislation for the setting up of a commission to inquire into the disabilities suffered by various States under federation, and to assess the amount, if any, that should be paid to those States, by way of compensation. Honorable members generally must recognize the necessity, not only for arriving at some effective and stable basis upon which grants to the States may be made, but also for removing the degree of uncertainty that exists in respect of them. I have some doubt whether the procedure that is being now adopted by the Government will really fulfil the expectations, not only of the State parliaments concerned, but also of this Parliament. Much dissatisfaction exists in certain States to-day. They feel that the Commonwealth Government does not fully recognize the responsibility which rests upon it, not only to mitigate their disabilities under federation, but also to remove them. This legislation does not attempt to solve the problem of State disabilities. A serious agitation is taking place, especially in the smaller States, against federation. They consider that the Commonwealth Government does not fully recognize the disability of their isolation, the application of certain federal enactments, and their heavy burden of taxation. That agitation cannot remain unheeded. This Parliament, by granting various amounts to Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania, has recognized that the States are suffering from certain disabilities; but it has not yet arrived at a definite formula which would enable those disabilities to be adequately met. I certainly question whether the appointment of a permanent commission is justified. I know that in South Australia to-day an agitation has been set up for the establishment of such a body; but I feel that this legislation will not correct the difficulties of the States. It would have been far better had the Commonwealth Government arranged for a convention at which the whole of the sovereign governments in Australia could be reviewed. The time has surely arrived for the remoulding of our general system of government. The present system is uneconomic and unscientific. This wide distribution of power does not make for a proper method of government. I certainly have some hesitation in accepting the assurance of the Government that the appointment of the proposed commission will give satisfaction to those States which to-day are seeking relief from’ the Commonwealth. The proposal to appoint this commission brings to mind the unfortunate effects of the widespread delegation of Commonwealth powers to subordinate bodies. During the regime of the Bruce-Page Government we had an experience of the delegation of those powers that the people of the Commonwealth do not wish repeated. During that period, this country was virtually, if not actually, governedby boards and commissions. It seemed as though this Parliament sought to evade on every possible occasion the responsibility which rested on it. We must not sanction the extension of that doubtful practice. We are well aware of the tendency of bodies of this description to build up around them an organization which is not contemplated by the legislation under which they are appointed. We must guard against any such contingency in this legislation, and thus prevent additional burdens from being placed on the taxpayers. There is no doubt that certain States are suffering disabilities to-day. That is evidenced by the unfortunate state of their finances, and their continued inability to balance their budgets. Efforts are constantly being made to cut down social services, to withdraw benefits that the people have hitherto enjoyed, and to add to the burden of taxation. In South Australia the limit has been reached of the ability of the people to defray the cost of a sovereign system of government. Public services have been cut down even to the point of endangering the security of the community. So serious has the position become that the ex-Premier, Mr. Richards, in a speech that he delivered only two months ago, said that any further efforts to effect economies and to place on the people additional obligations, so that the finances might be balanced, would result in a definite lowering of the standard of life of the people, and might also mean the abandonment of the- State’s hospital, educational, and police activities. The position has become desperate when such an admission has to be made. When States like South Australia and Western Australia have to bear such taxation burdens as are at present imposed, resentment must be felt against the inequitable distribution of the responsibilities of government. That being the case, we should seek to effect a more equitable system. A remoulding of the Constitution is urgently needed. Activities of the States, such as education, transport, and the administration of justice, might, for very good reasons, be immediately handed over to the Commonwealth. There is no reason why those departments should not be brought directly under Commonwealth control. If co-ordination is to be achieved, something more is necessary than is provided by this bill. The desirability of unifying certain State activities, by placing them under federal control, has been admitted by succeeding Premiers conferences; but while the majority of the States desire to make that provision, it is difficult to find a basis on which unanimity is possible. It must be admitted that efficiency, economy, and the maximum degree of public convenience uniform methods in regard to every phase of governmental administration. When federation was established, it was not anticipated that the States’ system of government would continue along the lines that have been followed during the last 30 years; there was a fixed belief that there would be a curtailment of every branch of State activity, with the ultimate abolition of State Parliaments, all administration being placed under the direct control of the Commonwealth Parliament. In days such as those through which we are now passing, there is no reason why there should not be a remoulding of constitutional provisions so as to provide for a more uniform system, especially in regard to the representation of Australia abroad. Why should the respective States and the Commonwealth have separate representation in London? No sensible person is able to explain or to justify it. In the representation of the Crown in Australia, there is another avenue in which substantial economies might be effected. The overhead expenses of the different departments could be materially lowered if they were brought under a uniform system of administration.
I consider that the bill by no means meets the existing circumstances as effectively as it should, and that the States will not secure, under the operation of a permanent commission, that relief from their disabilities which the Commonwealth Parliament should afford to them as early as possible. If responsibility rests anywhere to effect the reforms that are needed to remove inequity and injustice, it rests with this Parliament, and not with a commission. I trust that the Government will realize that the bill does not satisfy the House, because it lacks that provision which is necessary to bring about co-ordination, without which the unfortunate condition in which the States to-day find themselves cannot be improved. Instead of having to balance seven budgets, it should be necessary to balance only one. I believe that there is, in the constituencies, a strong body of opinion which is demanding the inauguration of a unified system of government.
– Are the serious complaints in South Australia caused by Federal or by State administration?
– By both.
– As the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) says, both are responsible. This country can no longer afford to maintain the existing Costly duplication of governmental activities. An effective means of removing disabilities will not be found until we apply ourselves to the task of solving that problem. I, therefore, ask the Government to consider the advisability of bringing forward a more complete proposal than that which is now before us. We recognize, of course, the necessity for some immediate investigation, and the laying down of a definite basis upon which the States may receive the financial assistance to which they are entitled. It is absolutely essential for South Australia to obtain from this Parliament, during the coming year, such assistance as will enable it to meet its present urgent needs. If that is not given, serious dislocation is likely to occur. While I recognize the urgent demand that’ exists for investigation by the proposed commission, I think that we are not justified in creating it a permanent body merely to give effect to a particular purpose. I also object to some of the provisions relating to the members of the commission. I object particularly to the proposal to superimpose upon the salaries fixed, attendance fees and other allowances. The bill provides that the chairman of the commission shall receive a salary of £300 a year and other members £200, with, in addition, an attendance fee of five guineas for each day of sitting. It would have been preferable to adopt an arrangement similar to that for the payment of members of the Commonwealth Bank Board, or other bodies that function under a certain amount of supervision by this Parliament. In any event, there should be a limit set to the amount which members of this commission, or any other similar body, should be able to draw in the way of sitting fees.
– Members of the proposed commission will be in a better position than are the members of the Wireless Commission.
– A fee of five guineas for attendance at each sitting of the commission is altogether excessive; it is even more than is paid to the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) when engaged on public business away from the Seat of Government. It would therefore appear that the Government has been over-generous in this time of depression, when the country can ill afford unnecessary expenditure, and when economies have been made in all the social services which affect so vitally a most deserving section of our people.
– There will also be travelling expenses.
– As the honorable member has suggested, further costs, in the way of fares and travelling expenses of the commission, will also be imposed upon the people. Honorable members should certainly scrutinize, and, if necessary, challenge these provisions of the bill. It is desirable, as I indicated earlier in my remarks, that there shall be no return to the principle of delegating to commissions, boards, or committees powers exercisable by Parliament. Even if Parliament is prepared to do this, there is no necessity for the appointment of a permanent commission to deal with the disabilities of the various States under federation. Let justice be done to those States by the remoulding of certain provisions of the Constitution so that we may more effectively co-ordinate the administration of Commonwealth and State systems of government, and thus let relief be given to the people of Australia.
.- I welcome the introduction of this bill. The signs of its coming have been evident for some time past, and, I think, the impact of the depression has hastened it. I hope that the proposed commission will be the last of the long line of more or less distinguished commissions and boards of inquiry which have from time to time been appointed to consider the problems of the smaller States under federation. Unlike the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin), I have no objection to the appointment of a permanent body, as I realize that there is no stability in mundane affairs. Throughout the world there is instability on every hand, and the relations of the Commonwealth with the States, and of the States to each other, have, for many years, been continually changing. I am not in agreement with the unification proposals of the honorable member for Hindmarsh. His suggestion is a doctrinaire approach to the solution of this problem. In no part of the world is there an area approaching the size of Australia under one unified government. In this country distances are so great, and conditions so various, that any form of centralized government would, I believe, ultimately fail to give satisfaction.
As the right honorable the Prime Minister indicated, in the past there has been complete absence of principle in the allocation of Commonwealth assistance to the States requiring it. We have relied on expedients rather than on principles; but I suggest that, if principles are discoverable, it i.s the duty of this Parliament to propound and apply them. I take the view that, until we have a permanent body, not necessarily in permanent session, whose duty it will be to keep the problems of the smaller States perpetually in mind, we cannot reasonably expect to discover such principles and apply the right remedies.
I do not propose to plead the cases of the smaller States just, now; it is not necessary to do that at this stage. It is, however, necessary to make a few observations concerning their position under our existing form of government. The question arises, why is help necessary, and the answer is twofold. It is necessary, first of all, as the result of the operation of federal policy, and it is necessary also because of geographical factors involving costs, which, in their turn, affect the whole social and economical structure of the States. As to federal policy, we have to bear in mind that the fiscal policy of the Commonwealth has created problems not only for Tasmania and other primary producing States, but also for the primary producing portions of manufacturing States. This policy has, perhaps, done more than anything else to place at a disadvantage the smaller States taken as a whole. That added costs are falling upon primary industry as a result of high protection, given to secondary production, cannot be denied. Accordingly, it is to the fiscal policy that we must give our attention; and this matter has been very thoroughly discussed in this House during the last couple of months. The result of our tariffs .has been to group the Australian people into unwieldy masses at certain places, leaving other areas comparatively deserted. It may interest honorable members to know that, of the factory employment in Australia, 37 per cent, is concentrated in New South Wales, 37 per .cent, in Victoria, 11 per cent, in Queensland, 7 per cent, in South Australia, 4 per cent. in Western Australia, and 2-J per cent, in Tasmania. This grouping of population, which is principally in capital cities, cannot be dissociated from the deliberate fiscal policy of the Commonwealth, if indeed, it is not wholly attributable to it. The next factor to be considered is the protection, or subsidization of primary industries. The primary producers profess that they are not subsidized or protected in any way; but the facts do not bear o’ut their contention. In at least two lines of primary production, sugar and butter, there is very effective protection.
– And also in the dried fruits industry.
– That is so; but I intended to mention only the two major primary industries. Those States which produce sugar and butter obtain some compensation for the burdens imposed by the protective policy of the Commonwealth, because of their big local market. The production of sugar is confined almost entirely to Queensland, and butter production is a very, small matter in the States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, the production of Tasmania and South Australia in relation to the total Australian output being about 3 per cent., and of Western Australia approximately 4 per cent. These figures show that the three States mentioned derive no compensating advantage from the support given to the butter industry. In so far as primary products find a market in the centres devoted to secondary production, there are certain compensations for primary producers. I have tried to consider the position of Tasmania so far as it is possible for me to do so, without prejudice. Western Australia markets very little of her primary production in the Eastern States, where most of our secondary industries are located, but Tasmania markets a considerable amount of her primary production in those States, and thus, in an indirect way, enjoys some benefit from the protection policy of the Commonwealth. But the combined effect of the fiscal policy and the coastal provisions of the Navigation Act has placed Tasmania in a position relatively worse than that of either Western Australia or South Australia. Tasmania, indeed, has been described as an island which is completely surrounded by the Navigation Act. There is really more hi that parody of a definition than would appear at first sight. When it is realized that the volume of the trade between. Tasmania and the other States is two and a half times greater than the average volume of the rest of the interstate trade, and that the whole of Tas.manian trade is water-borne, it will be seen that: the Navigation Act most seriously affects the cost of those goods which Tasmania produces. Viewed from other aspects, too, the effect of the Navigation Act has been most harmful to Tasmania. We have enjoyed this year, and are promised for next year, certain concessions with regard to the Navigation Act which have enabled us to expand our tourist business, but such concessions should not depend upon the goodwill of the Government, and be granted only from year to year; they should be permanently embodied in the federal policy, and on a wider basis. Business cannot be carried on satisfactorily on an impermanent basis. I have no doubt that many honorable members belonging to the various parties in this chamber now see what they could not see before, that the Navigation Act has hurt Tasmania very much indeed, and that no harm can come to the rest of the Commonwealth by extending to Tasmania, the island State, special treatment in the application of the provisions of that act. I am relying on the growth of that belief for action at’ an early date by the Federal Government to secure Tasmania’s position beyond all doubt.
Experts like Professors Giblin and Brigden, both Tasmanians, and both exported to the mainland to fill bigger jobs than Tasmania could offer them, have estimated that the tariff costs Tasmania £2 14s. a head per annum, and the Navigation Act 10s. a head. If these dis- abilities alone were to be compensated for by grants, it would take a large sum of money. Putting the population of Tasmania at 215,000, these disabilities would represent a sum of approximately £750,000 a year. Shipping freights have recently been reduced by the interstate shipping Companies, and that is appreciated. I do not know whether, under the conditions at present existing, freights can be reduced any further. That is a matter for inquiry, but it is none the less necessary in the interests of the Tasmanian producer that freights be reduced, either by the companies themselves, or by an alteration of the conditions under which they work.
When Sir Nicholas Lockyer visited Tasmania, he commented on the fact that the State was losing population in excess of the natural rate of increase, and he regarded that as most significant of the inequity of Tasmania’s position. I do not suggest that all State disabilities can be reduced to tables of figures worked out to four places of decimals. The problem cannot be understood by anyone who makes merely a cursory examination of it, a “ hit and run “ inspection. It calls for continuous reflection, periodical examination, and sympathetic handling. We in Tasmania have done our part by cutting the cost of government. We have done our best to live within our means, and have never lived on the same scale as have the more prosperous mainland States. We cannot fairly be accused of having contributed unduly to our own troubles. As the Prime Minister said, one of the duties of the commission, among others, will be to find out whether the States are doing for themselves all that they can reasonably be expected to do. We face any such inquiry full of confidence.
– It should be a full-time job.
– I do not agree with the honorable member if he means that members of the commission should spend all their time meeting and making inquiries, but if men of the right calibre are retained - and the salary is only a retainer - they will be able, by periodical investigations, to come to a proper understanding of the problems of the smaller States.
I stand here as a federalist, believing that Australia can best be administered by a federal Government. I do not think that there is any possibility of unification being a practical success, and my State would not be willing to accept unification, because the price would be the complete loss of its’ identity. During our 30 years experience of federation, we have learned much, and the time is now ripe for recasting the system in such a manner as will result in evenhanded justice to all parties. The recent referendum in Western Australia furnishes strong evidence of the feeling that some of the States are not receiving justice under the present federal system. The same feeling exists in South Australia and Tasmania. We cannot be a happy and successful nation, we cannot bring this country to the destiny in store for it, unless we can solve the problems which arise between us, and make all the citizens of Australia, whether they live in northern Queensland, in the. farwest of Western Australia, or the extreme south of Tasmania, feel that they are fellow-Australians, in common sympathy, determined to do a fair thing by each and every part of Australia, and by each and every Australian.
.- In my opinion, the title of this bill is wrong. It is stated in the bill that the act may be cited as the Commonwealth Grants Commission Act, and that sounds a little “ doley “ to me. Under the Constitution, provision is made for the appointment of a permanent interstate commission, to inquire into matters of trade and commerce, and laws made thereunder. We desire a commission which would take a broader view, and understand the difference between cause and effect ; one which would inquire into the causes of State disabilities, and, having discovered them, propose measures for their removal rather than merely recommend the payment of a dole, allowing the injustice to remain.
The Constitution lays it down that there shall be an interstate commission. That commission does not exist, and its non-existence is in violation of the Constitution. Whatever legal reasons may be advanced for there not being such a commission, we cannot overlook the fact that, when the people voted for federation, they understood that an interstate commission would be set up to hold the scales of justice evenly between the States. Also, the electors understood that the commission would possess semijudicial power. The Commonwealth had authority to bestow that power on the commission, .but it was not done. If it had been done, there might not now exist in some of the States a desire to break away from federation. I am one of those who believe that we. entered into federation 100 years too soon. I am totally opposed to unification, because I believe that it would merely magnify our difficulties. The best thing to do would be abolish federation until such time as we had sufficient population, and a sufficient number of States, to enable the system to work evenly and justly. The United States of America, with an area less than that of Australia, has 48 States, so that it is impossible for any one or two States to overshadow the remainder.
I am not hopeful that any permanent good will come of the appointment of this commission. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) himself admitted that the commission would merely inquire into, and report to this House upon, State disabilities. It would then be for the Government to submit to Parliament proposals for compensating the States for their disabilities. That brings us back to the present unbalanced condition of our federal arrangements. Under the electoral system of one man one vote, Melbourne and suburbs have twice the voting power of the whole of Western Australia. I can assure honorable members that the policy of Melbourne and Sydney is directly inimical to the advancement of the smaller States. The honorable member for Denison (Mr. Hutchin) properly pointed out that the fiscal policy of Australia benefits the larger States and the big centres of population, but operates at the expense of the primary producers, and of the smaller States, whose principal industry is primary production. New South Wales and Victoria have 45 representatives in a Parliament of 75, and are able to out-vote the other four States. The fact that the small States are withering away, and are forced to come to this
Parliament to seek grants under section 96 of the Constitution, shows that something is wrong with our system of federation. The passing of the Navigation Act for the purpose of building up an Australian mercantile marine seemed a fine idea, until we realized that Western Australia is worse off when trading with the eastern States than if she were trading with New York or London, and that it costs more to carry timber from Tasmania to South Australia than from Vancouver to South Australia. No dole or grant can compensate the smaller States for commercial handicaps of that kind.
I have stated that Melbourne and suburbs have greater voting strength in this Parliament than Western Australia, which has only five members ; yet Western Australia exports produce annually to the value of £37 per head of population, whereas the value of exports from Melbourne and suburbs, representing their own production, would amount to hardly ls. per head. Western Australia, by its exports, is helping to keep Australia solvent, yet only thi3 morning an honorable member sneered at my State, saying that it was always coming begging to the Federal’ Parliament. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) to-day quoted the amounts which had been paid by way of grants to Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania. The grant received by Western Australia was less than £3,000,000. In one year, Western Australia purchased from the Eastern States good3 to the value of £10,600,000, while those States took goods from Western Australia to the value of only £1,200,000. If that State had been free of the laws of this Parliament, it would have saved in that year alone no less than £3,000,000. It is utterly impossible to develop that State, which comprises one-third of the area of Australia, under laws made by this Parliament, and under policies evolved in Melbourne and Sydney.
Western Australia produces, for export, twice as much per head of population as any other State. It is faced with a heart-breaking task, because it has competitors in Canada, the Argentine, and the United States of America for ‘ the commodities which it produces. Heavy production costs have imposed upon it a burden that it can no longer bear. It was shown by the recent vote on the secession issue that no commission could persuade Western Australia to continue under its present’ burden. If the proposed commission examined honestly the position of the smaller States its recommendations would have to run the gauntlet of this Parliament. Think of the sneers that would come from honorable members who are ignorant of the true position of the smaller States! If unification were accepted as offering a solution of the problem, those States would merely be driven further into the mire. Western Australia must not be made to surfer because of the ignorance of this Parliament.
– The honorable member may not apply the term “ ignorance “ to members of this Parliament.
– Western ‘Australia will not be governed by a parliament that shows a total’ want of knowledge of its difficulties. The policy of this Parliament has offended the natural customers of that State in the markets of the world, and has resulted in the closing of trade doors to its products. Only yesterday, the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) referred, in a most insulting manner, to Belgium. His remarks were a disgrace to Australia, and to the right honorable gentleman himself, and I think that the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) should repudiate the statement. Australia cannot do without the trade of Belgium and other countries. Belgium gives us £10 worth of trade in return for every £1 worth of goods we buy from Belgium, and admits our goods duty free while charging heavy duties to other countries on the same class of goods. Why should not that country make trade reprisals against Australia? We desire to send our wool and wheat to Belgium, and we should be prepared to take goods from that country.
– The honorable member is not dealing with the subject-matter of the bill.
– A commission is to be set up for the purpose of remedying the disabilities of the smaller States, and I have drawn attention to one disability that is due to federal policy. If the commission is appointed, it will no doubt examine the matter to which I have just referred. Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, and Japan gave Australia, in one year, trade to the value of £40,000,000.
– The honorable member is not confining his remarks to the question before the Chair.
– With all due respect to you, Mr. Speaker, I am trying to point out that the disabilities of Western Australia are not to be removed merely with a cash payment. If that State is to progress, it must have markets for its products. This bill provides for the appointment of a commission that will report to this House regarding the disabilities of the smaller States. If I am not in order in saying what those disabilities are, I shall resume my seat, for I conceive that there is a want of knowledge among members of the House regarding those disabilities. To my mind, the matter that I am discussing is quite relevant to the bill.
– The honorable gentleman will be quite in order in illustrating his arguments by brief references to Australia’s overseas trade.
– Clause 9 of the bill, I should say, has the closest relationship to the matter to which I have referred. It gives the commission power to ascertain the cause of the disabilities of the smaller States. The people of Western Australia, after 80 years’ experience of federal laws, have come to the conclusion that, having only five votes in this chamber, and as federal policies are determined by the majority in this House, it is utterly impossible for that State to make satisfactory progress under the present federal system. Being a young country, its difficulties are great. It has a wide territory, and the policy that would enable its people to prosper is that under which Victoria and New South Wales were developed in the early days. As Western Australia must open up new areas, and cope with all kinds of difficulties, .the policy now applied by the older States is quite inimical to its best interests. Yet the fact that these disabilities exist need not produce enmity between the States. Western Australia would be better able to advance the interests of the Empire if it were freed from the laws of this Parliament. In my opinion, it would be better for Australia if this Parliament were wiped out of existence, because I consider that the States cannot afford to maintain it.
The people of Western Australia are reminded of the supposed advantages of the transcontinental railway; but I assure honorable members that that railway is infinitely more valuable to the eastern States than to Western Australia. I have already remarked that nine times as much trade travels from the eastern States to Western Australia as goes the other way. Therefore, the line is very useful to the commercial travellers of the eastern States. The only freight advantage to Western Australia was a specially-reduced charge to enable goods from the eastern States to be dumped on the gold-fields. After all, my State would be better off without that railway. The Navigation Act has made ocean freights higher from Adelaide to Fremantle than from London or New York to Fremantle. Honorable members from Tasmania and South Australia have complained that their ocean freights are about three times as high as they ought to be. Queensland cannot send its timber to Melbourne because of the high shipping charges.
If the right men are appointed to this commission, it may do some good by restating the facts; but a royal commission appointed by the Bruce-Page Government reported that the smaller States did suffer great disabilities under federation, and remarked that the fiscal policy of Australia was the chief cause of them. That Government gave Western Australia a proportion of the assessed amount of damages due to its disabilities, but it promptly raised the tariff rates in a way that practically deprived the State of the grant that was made. If high duties were the cause of its disabilities in the first place, it logically followed that the raising of the tariff would merely increase them. It is not satisfactory to Western Australia to be paid only a portion of the amount assessed as damages, and to be sneered at in the process. It hardly meets the case to appoint a commission to determine the amount to be granted to. the smaller States to compensate them for their disabilities under federation. They would rather be masters in their own house, and, therefore, the work of this commission will, no doubt, prove abortive. All of the members of the last commission of this nature came from States other thanWestern Australia, and one of the members said that the only solution of the problems of that State was to be found in its secession from the rest of Australia. He added that, if that was not possible,Western Australia should have fiscal autonomy for 25 years. I am not sanguine that the proposed commission will be able to get to the root of the trouble. The main objective of the world to-day should be the breaking down of obstacles to trade, and we should begin in this country by removing the trade barriers between the States.
– The honorable member suggests putting up new ones.
– That is not correct. I desire to take away barriers to trade among the States.
– The honorable member wanted a customs barrier between “Western Australia and the rest of the Commonwealth.
– The AttorneyGeneral’s remark is due to a misconception of the facts. The people of Western Australia are hemmed in, and loads are piled upon their shoulders. They want to remove existing barriers, to exchange goods in the markets of the world, and to gain the goodwill of Belgium and other customers in order that the State may advance. They are shut out of many markets by the obstacles created by federal legislation. If those barriers could be overthrown, Western Australia’s resources would enable it to open up trade and commerce with many other countries. The attitude of the people . of that State towards the federation does not imply disloyalty to the King; they yield to none in their adherence to the Crown of England. The jibes of the Attorney-General may be ignored.
– I resent that. I made no jibes; I simply re-stated what the honorable member had said.
– We refuse to bear unequal loads, and to be dominated by a parliament in which we are continually outvoted by representatives of States whose interests are opposed to those of Western Australia.Under most trying conditions we are trying to develop in
Western Australia great national industries, but exotic, artificially fed enterprises in the eastern States impose upon the export industries a burden which has been assessed by a royal commission at 9 per cent. The people of Western Australia ask, not for a grant of money, but the removal of the unfair handicaps to which they are subjected. The title of this bill is erroneous.
– I decline to regard the speech of the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) as representing the better mind of the people of Western Australia, or even of himself. The honorable member is a much better man than his speech indicates. Listening to him, one would think that we were back in the days when Western Australia was a Crown colony. He made no mention of Australia, and gave no evidence of having an Australian spirit or outlook. The smaller States - so-called, although Western Australia is, geographically, the largest in the Commonwealth - have, in years gone by, produced broadminded men with national vision, and the constituency which the honorable member represents was named after one of the biggest Australians - Lord Forrest, who, because he was a big Australian, was better able to be a big Western Australian.
– He did not want Western Australia to enter federation.
– He led the people of his State into the federation, and found that while serving the Commonwealth he could loyally serve his State also. I shall not yield to the temptation to discuss the subjects which the proposed commission will be required to consider, or to reply to some of the amazingly incorrect statements made during the recent secession campaign in Western Australia. I can only suppose that some of those statements were due to the fact that very little chance of making an effective reply to them was afforded ; and that the tactics deliberately adopted by some of the supporters of secession to prevent the other side from being heard were responsible for the currency given to some of the inaccuracies. It is astonishing that responsible men could make statements such as were made during that campaign. The audience at Perth was afraid to allow the Prime Minister to speak ; at any rate, the organized hooligan demonstration prevented him from speaking. Much as I would have liked to be there, despite the hooligans and basher gangs, I must to-day restrain myself from replying to some of the amazing misstatements made during the secession campaign. I may, however, remind the House that the development of Western Australia has been greater than the development of any other State of the Commonwealth in recent years.
– Would the right honorable gentleman like to know why?
– It is sufficient for me that my statement is not disputed by the honorable member. One of his complaints was, apparently, that the people of Western Australia are overcharged in a large measure owing to the protective tariff system, which, I admit, operates in favour particularly of those States in which manufacture has been extensively developed. But in almost the same breath, the honorable member complained of dumping by the Eastern States. I am not sure whether his grievance is that Western Australia gets goods too dear or that it gets them too cheap. I have read many speeches made in the rural districts of that State promising to the farmers practically freetrade, and allround cheapness. I have read other speeches in which the burden of the complaint was that the development of secondary industries in Western Australia was prevented under the present system, and that by the erection of a State tariff those industries could be protected against the competition of imports from the Eastern States. Other arguments employed throughout the campaign were on approximately the same level of consistency. Many strange impressions regarding federation have been created. A few nights ago I was speaking at a public meeting in connexion with the referendum in New South Wales.
– The greatest mistake the right honorable gentleman ever made.
– I cannot abstain from congratulating my genial friend, as a citizen of Australia, upon the result of that referendum, and the failure of his party in connexion with it. At the meeting I was asked. whether at the inception of federation an undertaking was given to the Australian people that there would be only one Parliament, one representative of the King, one supreme court, and so on. I had to explain the very meaning of federation, particularly that the continuance of the States was fundamental. Another fallacy which is actively promoted in Western Australia relates to the interstate commission. Most astonishing things are said by Western Australian representatives about that body. Complaint is made that whereas the Constitution provides for the establishment of an interstate commission, and no such body is in existence, the federal bargain is, therefore, not being honoured, and Western Australia suffers detriment in consequence. A recent member of the Senate, who is now Agent-General for Western Australia, based innumerable speeches and newspaper articles on this demonstrably false proposition. And people believed him; they thought that he must have some legal and constitutional authority, because he had been a member of a royal commission which had inquired into the need for amending the Constitution. I do not challenge his bona fides or those of other Western Australian members who make similar statements regarding the interstate commission, in the belief that in some way the smaller States suffer because that body has not been preserved. But I ask those honorable members to read the Commonwealth Constitution; indeed, if the Constitution had been read as a preliminary lesson at some of the secession meetings in Western Australia, it might have informed the minds of many who voted affirmatively. The establishment of an interstate commission is provided for in section 101 which reads -
There shall be an interstate commission, with such powers of adjudication and administration as the Parliament deems necessary for the execution and maintenance, within the Commonwealth, of the provisions of this Constitution relating to trade and commerce, and of all laws made thereunder.
In other words, the interstate commission was to be a body with powers of administration and adjudication in relation to the carrying out of the federal law relating to trade and commerce. It was a federal instrument to put federal legislation into effect and to execute and maintain the Constitution. It gives ho protection to State policy, legislation, or administration, or, in any constitutional sense, to State interests. It has nothing whatever to do with the disabilities alleged by the States to be imposed upon them by federal laws. Its powers and functions were of this nature: If this Parliament were to prohibit discriminatory railway charges, such a prohibition could not become effective unless thu interstate commission had adjudged particular freights to be unfair and unreasonable. Always the commission was to administer the laws of this Parliament and was never intended to do anything in the nature of what the commission proposed in this bill is required to do. It would have had nothing to do with the grievances which have so often been referred to in Western Australia, particularly during the recent secession campaign. Indeed, if the interstate commission were re-constituted and the functions mentioned in this bill were attached to it, the whole institution would possibly be held to be illegal and invalid. As a matter of fact, subsequent to the passing of the Interstate Commission Act, the High Court, in effect, held that in the case of the federal agency known as the Interstate Commission, this Parliament had no power to require it to perform other than its constitutional functions.
Sitting suspended from 1.15 to 2.15 p.m.
– A doubt existed whether it would be possible to confer on an interstate commission, if appointed in pursuance of the Constitution, any other powers than those assigned to it by the Constitution. The general idea of the Constitution is that there shall be a separation of functions between the various constitutional organs or instruments for which the Constitution provides. Some years ago, this Parliament passed legislation which required the High Court, upon the application of the Commonwealth, to give a decision as to the validity of an act of this Parliament, independent of any litigation between parties. The question of the validity of the Navigation Act was brought before the High Court under that legislation. The High Court was asked to determine, in the absence of any litigation between individuals affected, whether or not that act was valid.. The convenience of obtaining such a declaration is obvious from some points of view, but there are objections of policy which may be raised to it. Leaving on one side those considerations, the High Court held, in the case of the Judiciary Act, 1921, C.L.B. 257, that this Parliament did not have the power to confer on the High Court this additional function. I do not say that that case absolutely decides that this Parliament is incapable of attaching other functions to the High Court. Indeed, five out of the six learned judges who concurred in that decision abstained from making a declaration on the general principle. They left it open. But they did hold that Parliament had not the power to attach this additional function to the High Court. There would certainly be a very real constitutional risk in appointing an interstate commission, and asking it to perform other than the strictly constitutional functions.
An interstate commission was appointed about 1912, and it operated until about 1915, although I believe that its members held their positions longer than that. In 1915, in a case of the State of New South Wales against the Commonwealth, 20 C.L.R., page 54, the powers of the Interstate Commission under the Constitution were examined. Those powers are described as certain powers of adjudication and administration in relation to the execution and maintenance of the provisions of the Constitution and of federal laws with respect to trade and commerce. The leading provision of the Federal Constitution with respect to trade and commerce is section 92, which, to put it shortly, provides for interstate freetrade. It is obvious that the intention of those who framed the Constitution was to confer certain powers on the Interstate Commission in order to secure the observance of the principle of interstate freetrade as embodied in section 92. The exercise of any such power almost necessarily involves the power to grant an injunction - to declare that certain things shall not be done; to prohibit or restrain the doing of specified acts. In the case to which I have referred, the Parliament of New South Wales had passed a
Wheat Acquisition Act, and, in pursuance of that act, had taken possession of certain wheat which was already the subject of a contract of sale. Proceedings were instituted for the purpose of obtaining a declaration that there had been a contravention of section 92 of the Constitution. That case was heard by the Interstate Commission which held that there had been such a contravention, and it granted an injunction against further contraventions. That was the only useful order that could be made. A declaration in the clouds that there had been a contravention would have been useless.’ The essential point was the restraint of further breaches of section 92 of the Constitution. But when the matter was taken to the High Court that tribunal held that the Interstate Commission, notwithstanding the presence of the word “ adjudication “ in section 101 of the Constitution, had no power to grant an injunction for the purpose of restraining a breach of section 92, or for any other purpose. It has been the universal opinion of those who have considered the matter ever since, that this decision, which is binding as to that interpretation of the Constitution., deprives the Interstate Commission of any really useful sphere of activity.
– When was that decision given ?
– It was given in 1915.
– Was the Interstate Commission not turned down because of its lack of judicial power?
– It was turned down on the interpretation of the word “ adjudication “. The High Court held that “ adjudication “ did not include the power to grant an injunction. Accordingly, the Interstate Commission was allowed to lapse, and, except for political purposes, it has never since been suggested that it should be revived. So long as the Constitution remains as it is, the Interstate Commission can do practically no useful work. If an interstate commission were appointed, it would have to be appointed in pursuance of the Constitution, and then there would have to be appointments of members, to hold office for seven years, and to be removable only upon an address from both Houses of the Parliament. They would have the benefit of the provision that their remuneration should not be diminished during their continuance in office. Even if it were thought that the appointment of an interstate commission were desirable in itself, and that the powers referred to in this bill should be vested in an interstate commission, the Government would not be prepared to make appointments for seven years with a remuneration which could not be diminished during the term of .office of those holding the positions. ‘
– Would the appointment confer judicial powers?
– Is it not a breach of the Constitution to refuse to do what the Constitution says must be done?
– I shall deal with that point presently. For all the reasons to which I have referred, the Government is not prepared to make appointments for seven years, subject to these conditions. Having regard to the provisions of the Constitution, any appointments to act as members of an interstate commission would have to he practically fulltime appointments. The Government has no intention of making full-time appointments under this bill. There is no need whatever for sittings throughout the whole year for the purpose of dealing with these questions.
– That is not a matter for the Government to determine.
– I shall deal with that aspect later.
Clause 5 of the bill provides for the payment of a small salary to the members of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, together with fees for each sitting. If the members of the commission were of the same character and temperament as the honorable member for Rourke (Mr. Anstey), it would be a dangerous thing to introduce legislation of this description.
– The honorable member for Bourke was not the only member of the Navigation Commission.
– I can hardly regard the honorable member for Bourke as having represented in the speech which he recently made in this House the mind or the character of honorable members generally. Certainly, if it were discovered that any members of the Commonwealth Grants Commission were acting on the principle which the honorable member professed, but which I believe he did not practise, legislation would be introduced to put an end to what would be a public abuse. The Government does not propose to make ‘any appointments to this commission of a character that would permit anything of the nature suggested by the honorable member to take place. However, I think that, on the occasion to which I refer, the honorable member was speaking facetiously.
The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) has said that section 101 of the Constitution provides that there shall be an interstate commission, and asks why there is not such a body in existence. That section has to be read as a whole. The Constitution is notselfacting in relation to this matter, and provides that there shall be ah interstate commission “with such powers of adjudication and administration as the Parliament deems necessary “ for certain purposes. The establishment of an interstate commission is a political matter, which is left entirely to the discretion of this Parliament. The absence of such a body does not constitute a breach of a duty owed to any person. If it did, there would be a remedy. Obviously there is no remedy. It is a political obligation to be considered in relation to all the circumstances. Suppose Parliament thinks that there are any powers of adjudication or administration which it is desirable to confer upon an interstate commission ! ft is quite true that there would be a technical compliance with the Constitution by appointing such a body with minimum powers or powers negligible in character. But the obligation is essentially a political one, because its fulfilment is determined from time to time by this Parliament. In any event, I should think honorable members would agree that, if the Constitution provided that there was to be something which would, in the judgment of this Parliament, be useless, Parliament would act in accordance with that view, and leave it to any person who thought his rights were infringed to obtain a remedy through the courts - a course which is open to any person who thinks there has been a’ breach of the Constitution. However, I doubt whether such a person would obtain advice from any sound quarter which would encourage him to take such proceedings. It is, therefore, left .on the basis of a political matter to be determined by this Parliament. It is open to this Parliament, for example, to say that it requires the Government to put into operation the provisions of the existing act of 1912, which provides for the establishment of an interstate commission. The Government would then have to take the responsibility of acting or declining to act on that instruction.
An examination of the act of 1912 reveals that the functions that were to be carried out by the interstate commission are being performed by the Tariff Board, the Arbitration Court, and various other agencies of the Commonwealth ; and it would be difficult, indeed, to support any argument for the expenditure of the money that would be involved in setting up an interstate commission. If at some future date the Commonwealth should enter to any considerable extent upon legislation dealing with interstate or foreign trade and commerce under those specific heads, and that legislation required a sort of administrative supervision, it would then be appropriate to consider whether an interstate commission should be appointed. However, all these references to an interstate commission really have nothing whatever to do with the contents of this bill. I have dealt with the subject only for the purpose of endeavouring, hopelessly, I fear, to correct misstatements that have been repeated for many years, and which have no ground in fact. Past experience has convinced me that it is hopeless to expect any correction to have effect ; I have no doubt that the statements will continue to be made without consideration of the provisions of the Constitution, or of the facts of the case. But as the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) has referred to the Interstate Commission, and as there has been a great deal of genuine misunderstanding about it, I thought it proper to set out the position as it is actually declared in plain terms by the Constitution; in the first place, to show that it is a federal agency which can overrule State, but not federal laws; secondly, to show that the functions proposed to be conferred upon the commission to be appointed under this bill are alien to the constitutional functions of the Interstate Commission; thirdly, that if they were attached to it, it is doubtful indeed whether the legislation would be held valid ; and, lastly, to point out that the decision of the High Court has determined that the Interstate Commission is unable to discharge the functions which, when the Constitution was accepted, were thought would be proper to it, namely, the preservation of free trade, commerce, and intercourse among the States. In the circumstances, I submit that the suggestion that there should be an interstate commission is not a useful contribution to the debate, and must be ruled out of court.
If accepted, this bill will involve the establishment of a commission consisting of men who will be selected for their qualifications to determine the matters that will be submitted to them. The Government has rejected the idea of having representatives of all the States on the commission, for they would be regarded as advocates for their respective States, than which, I submit, there could be nothing more unsound. It has also rejected the idea of professing to provide anything in the nature of full-time occupations for the members of the commission. It is hoped that when the commission begins its investigations if will succeed in defining and establishing certain principles which may serve as a guide for its future action ; and that the establishment of those principles, together with the provision of regular forms of application in which the relevant facts will be apparent, will lead to its really not having very much work to do after the first’ year or two.
Honorable members have rightly referred to the general effect of Commonwealth policy upon all the States. I agree with what has been said to the effect that all Commonwealth policy should be considered in relation to its effect upon all parts of the Commonwealth, and I assure the House that the Government bears that consideration very much in mind in all the proposals that it submits to Parliament.
.- This bill has for its purpose the creation of “ a commission to deal with the matter of grants by the Commonwealth of financial assistance to the States “. The subject is one of the hardy annuals ‘that this Parliament has to deal with, and our experience in connexion with it justifies us in believing that there is necessity for an alteration of the basis upon which grants have been made in the past. If such grants are to be made - and it appears likely that certain of the States will continue to make annual applications for such assistance - it is desirable to remove the consideration of the subject as far as possible from the atmosphere of political bargaining. There has been, in the past, a real suspicion that a degree of political bargaining has entered into the settlement of such applications. Originally, when certain States made application to the Commonwealth for assistance, they were prepared to accept what the Commonwealth felt it could give them. On the last occasion, however, when such applications were made, despite the fact that the amount paid by the Commonwealth in grants last year was a record, representative men in various States made it clear that they would not be satisfied in the future with the kind of treatment that they had received in the past. When this subject was last discussed in this chamber, I expressed the opinion that these applications were becoming such a rabid pest in federal politics that the whole system, if not checked, would develop into a species of political blackmail. If the provisions of this bill will result in the removal of the subject from the .atmosphere of political bargaining, as hoped by the Prime Minister, the measure should be welcomed; but I do not share the right honorable gentleman’s optimism. He has suggested that if this commission is set up it will be able to fix a reliable basis upon which the amount of State grants may be computed. But I can see nothing in this measure which justifies such an expectation. The only provisions of the bill which even suggest the granting of such powers are contained in clause 9; but I do not think that they will confer upon the commission any greater powers than those exercised by the Public Accounts Committee and various royal commissions which have made similar inquiries from time to time. I remind honorable members that the terms of reference to the Public Accounts Committee in connexion with its inquiry into “ the finances of Tasmania as affected by federation “ were as follows: -
Inquire into and report upon the following questions : -
1 ) Whether the State of Tasmania is subject to special disabilities arising out of federation and affecting the finances of that State;
Whether the State of Tasmania enjoys special advantages arising out of federation and affecting the finances of that State;
Whether any such special disabilities exist which, after taking into account -
Any such special advantages; and
Estimated shortages or surpluses as at 30th June, 1931, in the revenue accounts of the Commonwealth and of each of the States, justify financial assistance being granted to the said State under section96 of the Constitution; and
If it is found that the grant of financial assistance is so justified, the amount of financial assistance which should be granted, and the period commencing on 1st July, 1931, which should be covered by the grant.
The terms of reference to the same committee in connexion with its inquiry into the financial position of South Australia were similar. Comparing those terms of reference with the powers proposed to be conferred on this commission by this bill, I must say that it appears to me that the commission will be in no better position than was the Public Accounts Committee to determine a satisfactory basis upon which grants should be made. One point that we must bear in mind is that there is nothing in the bill to oblige the States which receive grants to give effect to the recommendations of the commission. It appears to me that any grants made by the Commonwealth should be contingent upon the carrying out by the State of the recommendations relating to it which the commission may make. To illustrate my point I ask honorable members to remember that the Public Accounts Committee, in its reports on Tasmanian difficulties, stated -
In accordance with the original terms of reference, under which the committee was requested to make a thorough investigation into the general question of Tasmania’s disabilities, the committee, in the course of a comprehensive inquiry, devoted particular attention to the primary industries of the State, as it was thought that scientific development of those industries would go a long way towards the rehabilitation of the finances of the State. Expert evidence, which strongly supported the view of the committee, indicated clearly that there was room for considerable improvement in the methods employed in the agricultural, pastoral and dairying industries, and it was confidently asserted that, if scientific methods were generally employed in those industries, the added wealth arising therefrom would soon remove the necessity for substantial financial assistance from the Commonwealth. The committee therefore made recommendations designed to assist the State to stimulate its agricultural, pastoral and horticultural resources.
Those recommendations were designed, undoubtedly, to stimulate the agricultural, pastoral and horticultural activities of Tasmania.
The committee hoped that the adoption of its proposals by the Tasmanian Government would result in such an improvement of the State’s financial position that there would be no necessity for it to make further application to the Commonwealth Government for assistance. “We cannot properly dissociate those recommendations from the actual findings of the committee, because the observance of them is just as necessary to the financial rehabilitation of the State as the making of a financial grant. If the Tasmanian Government and people are not prepared to give effect to the proposals of the commission, the Commonwealth Government would be justified in seriously considering whether it should continue, year after year, to make a financial grant to the State. Here again we have to consider the basis upon which grants should be made to the States. If this commission is to be effective, why not vest it with the power to make recommendations for grants to the States, and to make the carrying out of those recommendations a condition precedent to any further financial aid by the Commonwealth? Unless we do that, a State may continue to be governed on obviously uneconomic lines and still approach the Commonwealth year after year with the same old story that it is suffering from disabilities.
– The Commonwealth Government could do that without giving the commission any further power.
– It is claimed that this commission will be a non-political body. If we do not vest this power in it, a political atmosphere will surround any action that the Commonwealth Government takes to restrict payments to States. The commission should have power to make recommendations, and if any particular State fails to give effect to them, that fact should be taken into consideration by the commission when investigating subsequent claims for grants. I suggest that the omission of a provision to that effect in the bill is a serious defect.
Up to the present, the basis upon which grants have been made to the States has been unsatisfactory, and there is no new basis provided in this measure. The Public Accounts Committee referred in its report to the disabilities of Tasmania, some of which are entirely dissimilar to those existing in the other States. In the first place, Tasmania claimed to be suffering a disability because of federal arbitration, but the members of the committee were unanimously of the opinion that federal arbitration really benefited that State. The committee’s report reads -
It was claimed that the effects of the operation of the Arbitration Court rendered it difficult for Tasmanian industries to successfully compete with the mainland for the reason that the State was already suffering serious handicap on account of high shipping freights. Figures submitted in evidence showed that for the wages of adult males generally, the average rate of Tasmania was at present 7 per cent, below the average for the rest of Australia, whereas for adult female wages, the Tasmanian rate was about 15 per. cent, below the average for the rest of Australia. While it was contended in evidence that the industries of Tasmania were handicapped by reason of high shipping freights, and were thus in a relatively weak position to hear the costs involved in arbitration awards, it was also pointed out that, if the differences between wages on the mainland and Tasmania were more marked, there would be a greater incentive to migrate to the mainland. The Arbitration Court, therefore, insofar as it had acted as an equalizer of wages, had benefited Tasmania.
The claim of Tasmania that it was suffering a disability because of federal arbitration was effectively disposed of by the committee. At one time, a royal commission inquired into the operation of the Navigation Act in respect of Tasmania, and only the chairman, and one other commissioner arrived at the conclusion that the Navigation Act had proved to be a serious disability to Tasmania. The other five commissioners held a contrary view. Therefore, the claim of Tasmania that it was suffering a disability because of the operation of the Navigation Act was also disposed of. In addition, Tasmania claimed that it was suffering a disability because of the tariff, and the committee which inquired into the position of that State was of the opinion that while the figures quoted revealed a considerable loss to Tasmania, it was impossible to estimate the effect of such losses on the finances of the State Treasury. It is therefore evident that this commission, when appointed, will have a poor basis upon which to arrive at the grants to be paid to the States on account of their disabilities under federation.
This bill provides no reliable basis upon which the claims of the States may be assessed. In addition to the alleged disabilities of federal arbitration, the operation of the Navigation Act, and the fiscal policy of the Commonwealth Government, the various States are claiming other disabilities such as natural disabilities both geographical and commercial. There is a diversity of claims among the States, and that, of course, adds to the field to be explored by the commission. It is a consideration that must be taken into account by this House in deciding whether this body will have, as stated by the Prime Minister, a parttime job, or a full-time job. I suggest that the disabilities of the States will have to be investigated separately, because no two States are similarly affected. The commission must undertake its investigations annually, because it is impossible for it to make an award or settlement which will extend over a period of say, three years. The investigations of the commission will have to be made annually, as each year new disabilities will arise. If they do not arise, no doubt the States will make it their duty to create disabilities in order to ensure the continuance of the Commonwealth grant. Therefore, the commission is likely to have a full-time job, and we have to consider the matter of expense. The collective salary of the commission will be £1,100 per annum. That is the fixed salary for a part-time job. In addition, there is a fee of £5 5s. individually, or 25 guineas collectively for each day of sitting, and that, together with other expenses, may make this body more expensive than the Australian Broadcasting Commission. This bill provides for the payment of sitting fees only when the members are in attendance, but the members of the Australian Broadcasting Commission are paid fees whether they attend meetings or not. I do not know whether the provision in this bill will be an advantage or disadvantage. In numerous instances, the payment of members of boards and commissions on the basis of sitting days is a disadvantage, and, in the past, there has been serious political scandal in respect of sitting fees paid to both Commonwealth and State committees. It is therefore questionable whether the salary of the members of this commission should be on the basis of sitting fees. This body is likely to be more expensive than the Australian Broadcasting Commission. In assessing the amount that the commission will cost the country, we have to bear in mind that the affairs of each of the States must be investigated separately, and that, consequently, a good deal more time will have to be devoted to the matter than would otherwise be the case. If the work is to be done effectively, I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that it will be a full-time occupation, and that it will prove costly to the Commonwealth.
It is claimed that this commission will be non-political. It is difficult to-day to obtain such a body. As a matter of fact, even the Australian Broadcasting Commission is not free from political prejudices. The Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) claims that the men to be appointed will have no political or State prejudices.Where are such men to be found? I do not’ know of any in Australia. If we are to have a commission that is free from any suspicion of political or State prejudice, it will be advisable to have a justice of the High Court of Australia or of the Supreme Court of a State, assisted by a qualified accountant and a Treasury official. I have noticed in my perusal of the reports upon the disabilities of certain States, that Treasury officials have proved very useful, both in marshalling evidence and in the advice that, because of the nature of their duties, they have been able to give.
– They can cloud as well as lighten the issue.
– That is quite possible; but there will be sufficiently keen minds among those who are clamouring for financial assistance for their States to see that their interests are not overlooked. I believe that such a commission would not be more expensive; but that, on the contrary, the costwould be less, and that more general satisfaction would be given to those who wish to avoid political or petty State prejudices. It is understood that, even when this commission comes to a decision, that decision will not be final, that the grant to be made will be decided by the Government: and if it is not decided on party lines, there will at least be strong evidence of State prejudice in the minds of those who in the last analysis will say whether the grant shall be made or not.
– Would the honorable member give the commission that power?
Mr.ROSEVEAR.- The commission should at least have the right to fix the proportion to be made available to each State of any grant that might be made by the Commonwealth Parliament.
– The honorable member would delegate entirely to the commission the powers of this Parliament.
– I would not; but I would delegate considerably more than is proposed under this legislation. Unless effective powers are delegated, the measure will be useless. The practice to be adopted in the future will not differ very greatly from that of thepast. Instead of the Public Accounts Committee, or some commission, being authorized to investigate the disabilities of certain States, it is proposed to set up a permanent commission, but not to confer on it any new powers. The body that is to be appointed will not have the power to see that its recommendations to States are carried out. Unless that power is conferred, the position will be that the States will lodge their claims, the commission will hold an inquiry, and possibly find that the conditions are the same as they were last year, and will recommend that similar grants he made. Had the recommendations in the report on the disabilities of Tasmania been given effect, the probability is that the demands of that State would not be so great as they are to-day. As the result of my analysis of the bill, I contend that it does not establish any definite basis upon which claims are to be met or decisions arrived at. No power is to be conferred beyond what has already been held by the different bodies that have investigated this matter from time to time; and there are no means of discriminating between the demands of the various States. There is only a remote hope that the inquiry will be removed from the political atmosphere ; and it is questionable whether that result will be achieved. I regard the bill more as an antidote to the secession movement, which is gaining strength in Western Australia and Tasmania to-day, than as an attempt to remove the disabilities under which those States labour. There is not the slightest doubt that the political atmosphere in those States is highly charged with secessionist propaganda. However, my colleagues and I do not propose to offer any serious opposition to the measure. We merely suggest that the powers of the commission might be enlarged in the direction that I have indicated. If the bill succeeds in removing the actual inquiry from the political atmosphere, it will be an acceptable contribution towards the solution of a difficult problem that has had to be dealt with every year. I trust that the Government will make provision under which the powers of the commission may be increased, so that its recommendations to the States themselves for the improvement of their financial position will have to be put into operation as a condition precedent to the recognition of their claims by the Commonwealth.
– This bill must be considered in the light of the provisions of the Constitution under which the Commonwealth operates. Section 96 of the Federal Constitution provides that “during a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth, and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit “. That section represents a portion of the general financial settlement that was effected when federation was established. At that time, it was realized that .difficulties might arise in the States owing to their financial condition. The intention, when the section was enacted, was that the power to grant assistance should be an emergency one. According to Quick and Garran, page 871, it was intended as “ the medicine, not the daily food “. Referring to the effect of the section generally, the authors of this work said that the words “ on such terms and conditions “ - help to place beyond doubt the intention of the section, and to make it clear that ‘ the discretion of the Parliament is absolute, and that no duty is imposed upon it of giving assistance without demur and without inquiry, whenever assistance may be asked. The section is not intended to diminish the responsibility of State Treasurers, or to introduce a regular system of grants in aid. Its object is to strengthen the financial position of the Commonwealth in view of possible contingencies, by affording an escape from any excessive rigidity of the financial clauses. It is for use as a safety valve, not as an open vent; and it does not contemplate financial difficulties, any more than a safety valve contemplates explosions.
The existing constitutional power, however, enables the Commonwealth to make these grants from time to time in periods of serious financial stress, and the desire now is to regularize the method under this section of the Constitution so as to safeguard the interests of the Commonwealth, and, at the same time, give the necessary assistance to such States as require it.
The original arrangement for the granting of financial assistance to the States has been’ in more recent years compounded in a permanent financial agreement, which is now part of the Constitution; and it may be useful to recall how much of the Commonwealth customs and excise revenue is yearly allocated to the States by virtue of this agreement and under the other powers of the Constitution. The information is to be found in the latest Estimates, which appropriated for the current financial year special payments to three of the States in the following order : - South Australia, £1,000,000; Western Australia, £500,000; Tasmania, £330,000. Then there are the federal aid roads grant, £1,800,000; contributions towards the sinking fund in respect of State debts, £1,220,000; and contributions towardsthe interest on State debts under the financial agreement, £7,584,912. In other words, out of the total revenue for last year the Commonwealth appropriated to the States £12,434,912.
-Allof the States participated.
– I am aware of that. My purpose is to show that the Financial Agreement makes provision for permanent financial assistance to all the States out of revenues raised by the Commonwealth. In 1928 our revenue from customs and excise duties was £41,446,730. Last year it had declined to £28,405,796, so in round figures the total appropriations to the States for the current financial year represent, approximately, one-half of the revenue received by the Commonwealth last year from customs and excise. This raises a very serious question, touching upon Commonwealth policy. Our main source of revenue is from customs and excise duties, leaving to the States their ordinary avenues of taxation. Receipts from the other sources of revenue of the Commonwealth totalled £25,553,246. Due to financial stringency, and to the heavy drain upon Commonwealth revenue to provide for its heavy liabilities and the statutory payments to the States under the Financial Agreement, the Commonwealth has been obliged to explore other avenues of revenue, such as sales and entertainment taxation, some of which sources, in ordinary circumstances, would be left to the States. It would, therefore, appear that we shall have to consider the probable effect upon Commonwealth policy if this principle of granting assistance to the States is likely to make further inroads upon Commonwealth revenue. Clearly, it would be hopeless to appeal to the Commonwealth to reduce taxation or afford relief in other directions if the Commonwealth has to provide any considerably increased assistance to the various States. My submission is that, if we perpetuate grants of financial assistance on these lines, we shall be violating a fundamental principle of government - that the body responsible for the expenditure of public money shall be responsible for the raising of it. In this case, the Commonwealth imposes taxation, and a substantial part of the money so raised is appropriated to the States, which are responsible for its expenditure.
– The Constitution provides that the Commonwealth shall return to the States all excess customs and excise revenue.
– The original arrangement was that for ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth 75 per cent. of the net revenue from customs and excise duties should be returned to the States. Later, the Commonwealth made an arrangement for the payment of 25s. per capita, and more recently compounded these payments under the financial agreement into fixed contributions for specific purposes. My contention is that if we go on increasing these grants to the States, we shall effectively destroy the fundamental principle of government to which I have alluded.
Early in the history of federation it was realized that since the States were deprived of their revenue from customs and excise duties they would be in difficulties unless financial assistance were continued to them. In this present time of financial stress, it is also recognized that the credit of the Commonwealth is involved in the credit of the States, and that, therefore, the Commonwealth cannot withhold from the States such assistance that lies in its power to enable them to carry on their several governmental activities. It should be clearly understood that this assistance is definitely a grant, not to persons engaged in industry, but to State Governments to meet some emergency. The principle upon which we have been acting up to date has been inherently sound. Obviously, the responsibility of deciding the amount of State grants cannot be delegated to the proposed commission or to any other public body. Under the Constitution, Parliament itself must take full responsibility in this matter. Since it is the taxing power, and is accountable to the people for its actions, it alone is responsible for the taxation imposed and the appropriations made.
I come now to the principle upon which this power should be exercised.
When States in need apply for assistance, their claims necessarily must be considered and investigated. The intention of the Government is to appoint a commission to do this work, and as it will be dealing with the same problems from year to year, it is believed that its recommendations will be more satisfactory to the Commonwealth as well as to the States. The first duty of the commission will be to determine its line of approach to the problems presented, the best method for examining the difficulties peculiar to each State, and generally, to determine the disabilities, if any, of the various States due to the operation of the tariff, the Navigation Act, arbitration laws, and so on. If this important duty were delegated to separate committees or boards of inquiry from year to year, its members would have to do a great deal of unnecessary preliminary work. In this instance, the idea is to have a permanent commission that will become expert in this particular task. It will know how to approach the investigation of the subject, and will try to evolve some principle for attacking the problem. I am not very hopeful that the commission willbe able to lay down a sort of code applicable to all the States concerned, because each State will have its separate problems. Those of Western Australia are likely to differ from those of South Australia or Tasmania.
It has been suggested that the interstate commission might be revived to do this work; but I cannot agree with that proposal. The fundamental purpose of the interstate commission was clearly set forth in the Constitution, and it was generally believed that the commission would be endowed with certain definite judicial powers. This belief was upset by a decision of the High Court. The Constitution provides -
There shall be an interstate commission, with such powers of adjudication and administration as the Parliament deems necessary for the execution and maintenance, within the Commonwealth, of the provisions of this Constitution relating to trade and commerce, and of all laws made thereunder.
It appeared that the commission was to have gome powers of adjudication.. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was AttorneyGeneral and I was in Opposition when a bill was brought down that was believed by competent authorities to provide what was intended by the Constitution. The matter then went to the High Court, and the Chief Justice - Sir Samuel Griffith - Mr. Justice Isaacs, Mr. Justice Rich, and Mr. Justice Powers took a different view from that held by Mr. Justice Barton and Mr. Justice Duffy. There was a general feeling, however, that Sir Edmund Barton, who had been through the Convention, and was one of the most judicially-minded men we have had in Australia, gave the more correct interpretation of the Constitution, when he said that, in his opinion, the commission could be endowed with certain powers of adjudication. Without those powers, however, the commission was impotent. The Interstate Commission operated for some time. I was Minister for Trade and Customs when the Government appointed Mr. Piddington and two others to the commission. They were men of high character, and did much excellent work. The idea was that the commission should consider questions of trade and commerce ; it was given wide powers to conduct investigations into marketing, migration, &c., and also into the operation of the tariff. Part 5 of the act specially invested the commission with judicial powers, and it was this part that the High Court held to be invalid. If the commission were revived, it could, no doubt, again perform useful work; but I doubt whether the heavy expense involved would be justified. Even if it were revived, we should only be able to invest it with the same powers as we propose to give to the body which is to be created under this bill. Wecould not give it any judicial powers or any controlling power over the States or Commonwealth. It would be useless for us to set up an interstate commission for a period of seven years, as provided for in the Constitution, which states -
The members of the interstate commission - Shall hold office for seven years . . . and
Shall receive such remuneration as Parliament may fix; but such remuneration shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.
– That would not givethe commission judicial powers.
– No. Under the Constitution, if we appoint a court, we must give the judges a life tenure, lt would be futile to attempt to appoint a body with powers to investigate and decide, and entrust it with authority to dictate to this Parliament as to how the revenues of the Commonwealth should be applied. It was suggested by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) that there should be some authority over the State Governments to ensure that they carry out their duties properly. That, however, is not practicable, because the Constitution regards the States as bodies possessing sovereign powers. This Parliament has no power to alter the Constitution, or to set up an authority which can dictate to the States.
– The Commonwealth Parliament may withhold grants from the States.
– The Commonwealth . Parliament may attach terms and conditions to any grants made to the States, but, so far, we have not been justified in doing so. Certain States have been in serious financial difficulties; they are not in a position to exercise their taxing powers within their own borders to provide them with the necessary revenue, and the Commonwealth has come to their assistance.
The commission contemplated in this bill is to consist of five persons. Their appointment is to be in the hands of the Government, which will select such persons of high standing as it thinks will carry out the objects of the commission. No particular qualifications are set out; it will be a matter for the Government’s discretion. From the fact that members of the commission are to receive £200 a year and £5 5s. a sitting, it does not appear that it is intended to employ the services of Government officials. I have had a good deal of experience with Government servants, and they have a wonderful record for doing special investigation work without’ receiving adequate remuneration for it.
The commission is to take evidence. It has no power to call witnesses, but if the witnesses come before it, they will be compelled to answer questions put to them, and to answer truthfully. Thus, the commission will be purely an investigating body, and will not be clothed with all the powers of a royal commission. In the course of its investigations it will gain experience, and become efficient. It will therefore be a marked improvement on the present system of setting up committees of inquiry from time to time to investigate State necessities. It is better to have one commission to investigate the requests for grants by the States than to have separate committees operating in respect of those States. The commission will, of course, report to the Parliament, and then the ordinary principle of the responsibility of Parliament for the administration of its own finances will come into play. The scheme of the bill seems to be complete. This is not an appropriate time to discuss the merits of the particular claims of those States in need of assistance; but honorable members are entitled to refer to the disabilities of those States by way of illustration. On the whole, it seems that the bill provides for a distinct step forward, and is designed to enable the Parliament to give complete justice to the smaller States. But I again sound the note of warning that I uttered at the outset of my remarks. There is a limit to the capacity of this Parliament to grant financial assistance to the States in need, and I think that we are now nearing that limit. The primary producers are knocking at the door of the Commonwealth for assistance by way of relief from taxation, and a decision must be made whether federal taxation is to be continued on the present scale, or a reduction made. If there is to be a reduction it will impose a further limit to State grants. After the commission has made its report, the Parliament must determine what relief can be granted, to the States, having regard to the finances of the Commonwealth. The bill is od right lines, and I intend to give it my support. It is quite consistent with the federal system, to which I strongly adhere.
.- This is a bill relating to the appointment of a commission to consider the granting of financial assistance to the States. I have always regarded the appointment of commissions with some suspicion. A keen student of parliamentary procedure once said that if the Almighty had entrusted the making of the earth to a commission, he doubted if it would ever have been formed. Our experiences of commissions have been many and diverse. I differ somewhat from the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) in his criticism of the statement made by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) about the value of royal commissions, because, after all, that honorable member spoke the truth. I can say, from personal experience, that many meetings of commissions have been held for the sake of collecting fees. On one occasion, a commission had two sittings on one day, and charged fees for both meetings. I notice that the chairman of the proposed commission is to receive a salary of £300 per annum, and the other members £200 per annum. I compliment the Government on the modesty of those sums. In the past, members of commissions have received salaries ranging from £2,000 to £5,000 per annum. They have provided themselves with secretaries and other officers, and with suites of rooms. One commission was responsible for fabulous expenditure which rivalled that of one of the smaller States. It seems to me that the proposed fee of £5 5s. for each meeting attended by members of the commission is too great. When the commissioners travel, they will have free transport, and their travelling expenses should not be great. If an old-age pensioner received every month the sum fixed for the members of this commission for one day’s work, he would regard himself as fortunate. The fee might well be reduced to £3 3s. a sitting, and I hope that the Attorney-General will take steps to see that the commission is not permitted to collect two fees for sittings held on one day.
– I shall see to that.
– When Sir John Harrison was one of the commissioners who were charged with the administration of civic affairs in Canberra, he drew more for travelling expenses between Sydney and Canberra than his large salary, which ran into four figures. Evidence taken in 1927-28, regarding the cost of housing in the Federal Capital Territory, bears out my statement. When Sir
John Harrison was in the witness-box, we had the pathetic spectacle of hearing him appeal to the chairman to excuse him from answering certain questions that were put to him.
In 1895, the Swiss authorities adopted an international bureau system, which proved of benefit to the whole world. It provided for a universal 2£d. postage stamp, the parcels post, and, greatest of all, the red cross ambulance system. The amount to be expended on the bureau, including salaries, was limited to £400, which, divided equally amongst 20 or 30 contributing countries, would’ not have been a very heavy burden. But a principle was at stake. The Swiss people, who have the full power of recall. had not been consulted ; in consequence, a referendum petition was signed, and the ultimate vote resulted in the cancellation of the appointment and the censuring of the Government for ‘ having done an illegal act.
In clause 12, provision is made that witnesses may not be compelled” to attend, but a person who attends voluntarily to give evidence and refuses to answer questions may be fined any amount up to £500. In the Code Napoleon, now called Code Civile, provision is made for a penalty to be either a fine or imprisonment. No one knows better than the Attorney-General that when the penalty is a fine only the offender Wit money escapes, and the poor man whcannot pay a fine has to go to prison If the penalty included imprisonment a i offender could not escape. When witnesses refused to answer questions asked before the Royal Commission on the Sugar Industry, I was convinced that imprisonment was the only penalty that would be effective in such cases. I remember reading of a case in the United States of America in which the judge sent a recalcitrant witness to gaol for a week, at the end of which, upon= his still refusing to answer questions, he was sent to gaol for a month; when he was again liberated, he was given the choice between, answering the questions asked of him or being sent to goal for six months. He decided to answer the questions. Recently, the honorable member for Bourke wisely suggested .that a time limit for the bringing up of a report should be imposed on all commissions. I invite the Attorney-General to consider whether the commission to be appointed under this bill should not be required to report upon each matter referred to it within a month of such reference. That would prevent continual sittings, and perhaps unduly large expenditure upon attendance fees. The. unknown persons to be appointed may be thoroughly conscientious and honest, but even the most honest is more likely to remain honest if temptations are removed from him.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Gregory) adjourned.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Last year, an amending Bankruptcy Bill was introduced, and for a certain urgent reason its passage through Parliament before the end of the session was desired. There was little time available for its consideration in detail, and the right honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) secured its acceptance upon an undertaking by the Government that a committee representative of all parties and groups in the House would be appointed to advise upon proposed amendments, and that the report of the committee would receive the careful consideration of the Government. Such a body was appointed, and held a number of meetings; it presented a report, printed as parliamentary paper No. 82, which has been circulated to honorable members. I take this opportunity to express the Government’s appreciation of the valuable assistance rendered by the committee. Upon the recommendations of that body this bill is almost entirely based. In some instances, the actual wording recommended by the committee has not been accepted for drafting reasons. Elsewhere, the objects desired to be secured have been attained by amendments in places other than those suggested by the committee. Mainly, however, the bill may be said to be designed to give effect to the recommendations of that advisory body. The honorable members for Oxley (Mr. Baker),
Boothby (Mr. Price), and Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), made certain separate recommendations which the Governmenthas not adopted, but they are printed in the report’, and may be discussed by honorable members in conjunction with this bill. Amendments are proposed to various sections of the act, and I shall be studying the convenience of honorable members if I defer my explanation of them until the sections affected are reached in committee. I direct the attention of honorable members to the amendment proposed by the committee to section 146 which provides for the furnishing of a report by a trustee on the bankrupt’s conduct and affairs. I do not think that the amendment proposed by the committee should be incorporated in section 146, for that section contains ample provision for the purpose in respect of sequestrations. Accordingly, the amendment proposed by the committee has been incorporated in Parts XI. and XII. of the act by clauses 17 and 19 as being more appropriate thereto.
Another subject to which I desire to call attention is that which arises in connexion with the debtors’ relief acts of the various States. As honorable members are doubtless aware, the several States have passed legislation, the application of which results in some form of management or control over the affairs of persons, particularly farmers, who are in embarrassed financial circumstances. This legislation is applied to cases in which it is considered that the farmer is not really bankrupt, although in grave financial difficulties, and in which it is thought that some postponement of liabilities and the administration of his affairs jointly on behalf of himself and his creditors would be the wisest course to pursue. For some time negotiations have been in progress between the Commonwealth and the States with a view to the insertion in the Bankruptcy Act of provisions which would facilitate the operation of certain State acts relating to the relief of debtors. Five States have acts for this purpose. New South Wales has the Farmers Relief Act 1932; Victoria the Unemployment Occupiers and Farmers Relief Act 1931, as amended; South Australia the Farmers Relief Act 1931, as amended; Western Australia the Farmers Debt Adjustment Act 1930- 1932; and Queensland the Lessees Relief Act 1931; Mortgagors Relief Act 1931- 1932, and the Financial Emergency Relief Extension Act 1932. The object sought to be achieved is to allow these acts to operate in proper cases, but without’ excluding the possibility of the application of the federal bankruptcy law, where the Bankruptcy Court, upon proper proceedings being taken, considers that bankruptcy is the proper method of dealing with them. The position with which the Government and the draftsmen had to deal was difficult. The methods of administration of the affairs of debtors under these State acts are not uniform. It is not practicable to introduce specific provisions to meet each of the several acts, the titles of which I have recited, But it is considered that the clauses now proposed will permit of the acts functioning without any danger of conflict with the general provisions of the Bankruptcy Act.
Under the State legislation above referred to, farmers, graziers, and persons engaged in rural pursuits are the only persons receiving protection. These amendments in the Federal Bankruptcy Act relate to debtors generally, and are not confined to farmers. The Government considers that a federal bankruptcy act ought to deal with debtors generally. These provisions have been drafted so as to deal with the State acts in a way which will leave room for the State acts to apply in accordance with their terms.
Clause 6 provides that, at the time of presenting any petition for the sequestration of an estate, the petitioner shall state whether the debtor is, or is not, a person in respect of whose business, property or affairs, proceedings-have been instituted under any State act relating to the affairs of debtors. If the debtor is such a person, the Registrar of the Court at which the petition is presented must immediately notify the person or authority administering the State act of the presentation of the petition, and the date upon which it is proposed the petition shall be heard. The person or authority may, if he so desires, thereupon apply to the court to stay the proceedings under the petition ; and the court may stay the proceedings altogether, or for a limited period, as it thinks just. The effect of this provision is that when the affairs of a debtor are being considered under one of these State acts, and any proceedings are initiated in bankruptcy, the officer administering the State act will receive immediate notice by telegram, and will be given an opportunity to appear in order to show cause why no order for sequestration should be made, and why the affairs of the debtor should continue to be dealt with under the State act.
– Does the provision prevent, that from being done?
– No. It leaves the matter for the judge to decide; and that, I suggest, is the proper course to adopt. In” order that arrangements for the administration of the business, property, or affairs of the debtor may not be voided by non-compliance with the provisions of the Bankruptcy Act relating to the registration of deeds of arrangements, provision has been made in clause 18 that, in those cases in which the court has decided that petitions for sequestration shall be stayed, arrangements made under the State act will not be invalidated by reason of non-compliance with the Commonwealth act.
A number of these clauses can be properly examined only in committee. Some of them are matters of small detail ; others relate particularly to Part XI. of the act. I understand that Part XL is the part of the act of which some South Australians are particularly proud. Far be it from me to hurt the feelings of any one. A high authority, who is particularly skilled in bankruptcy law, has, however, described Part XI. as “ a peculiar conglomeration of incongruities and inconsistencies “. Thirty years ago - during last century - Part XI. was, doubtless, a fine piece of legislation. It appears to be regarded as a monument more enduring than brass, which ought to remain for all time in our bankruptcy law. The Government is not proposing to incur the risk of being hurled from office by presuming to lay an impious finger on the sacred edifice of Part XL ; but one or two provisions are directed to the removal of some serious difficulties which had not been contemplated by that primitive form of legislation. The larger question is reserved for further consideration. I shall say no more regarding Part XI. for fear of a serious breach with the Vice-President of the Executive Council.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Baker) adjourned.
Bill brought up by Mr. Perkins and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This measure is designed to remove doubts which have been raised by the State of New South Wales as to the validity of certain action taken by authorities of the State in relation to lands in the Territory for the Seat of Government which, after the acceptance of the Territory by the Commonwealth on the 21st January, 1911, continued to be held from the Commonwealth on the same terms and conditions as they were held from the State. Most of such lands were held either as conditional purchases or conditional leases. A conditional purchase gave the holder the right, upon compliance with certain conditions and the making of certain payments, to receive a Crown grant in fee-simple of the land. A conditional lease gave the holder the right, upon compliance with certain conditions, to convert his lease into a conditional purchase which, in turn, might lead to the grant of the feesimple in the land.
Section 7 of the Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1909-1929 provides in relation to such lands as follows: -
All estates and interests in any land in the Territory which are held by any person from the State immediately before the proclaimed day shall, subject to any law of the Commonwealth, continue to be held from the Commonwealth on the same terms and conditions as they were held from the State.
It is clear from that section that nothing contained in any legislation passed by the Parliament of the State since the 1st January, 1911, can, of its own force, in” any way affect either favorably or unfavorably any rights of the holders of such lands. Another provision of the Seat of Government Acceptance Act, namely, section 6, gives to the GovernorGeneral or the appropriate authority of the Commonwealth all the powers and functions of the Governor of the State or any authority of .the State under any law of the State which continues in forcein the Territory. By section 4 of theSeat of Government Administration Act 1910-1931, it is provided that the Governor-General may by ordinance declare that any law of the State which continues in force in the Territory shall continue to be administered by the authorities of the State as if the Territory continued to form part of the State. A declaration was made in pursuance of that provision by the Governor-General in Ordinance No. 1 of 1911. Among the laws which continued in force in the Territory were the Crown Lands Acts of the State in force on the 1st January, 1911, Under which the conditional purchases and conditional leases already referred to were held.
In 1924, the Crown Lands Acts of the State were amended to provide that the holder of a conditional lease may, upon application made during the last five years of the lease, have the term thereof extended for a period of twenty years divided into two periods of ten years, and that the annual rent for each such period should be determined by the local land board. A further amendment made in 1927 provided for the re-appraisement of the capital value of land held under conditional purchase upon application made within two years after the commencement of the amending act. Neither of those amendments applied in relation to conditional leases or conditional purchases in the Territory, but an investigation instituted by the Lands Department of New South Wales disclosed that the holders of five conditional leases andthe holders of five conditional purchases had purported to make applications in pursuance of the amended law and that the State Land Board or the State Minister had purported to grant the applications. Accordingly, the settlers concerned are enjoying advantages to which they appear to have no legal right.
Section 9 of the Seat of Government Administration Act 1910-1931 provides as follows : -
No Crown lands, in the Territory shall be sold or disposed of for any estate of freehold, except in pursuance of some contract entered into before the commencement of this act.
That section, read in conjunction with section 7 of the Seat of Government Acceptance Act, implies that any person who, prior to the commencement of the Seat of Government Administration Act 1910 had the right, either absolute or subject to conditions, to obtain a grant of freehold from the State could obtain such a grant from the Commonwealth. Since the 1st January, 1911, certain of such persons have received grants in feesimple, but such grants have been made by the Governor of the State in the name of the King. It may be that section 4 of the Seat of Government Administration Act, read in conjunction with section 3 of the Provisional Government Ordinance of the Territory, is sufficient authority for such grants, but having regard to the provisions of section 6 of- the Seat of Government Acceptance Act, it is doubtful whether the Governor of the State had power to issue the grants in question. Further, it is to be noted that section 9 only authorizes sale or disposal in - pursuance of some contract entered into before the commencement of the Seat of Government Administration Act 1910. The right to obtain a grant of freehold may, in some cases, rest on statute and not on contract, and doubts may, therefore, be thrown on the validity of any grant so made.
It is desired to remove these doubts, and to validate the action taken by the State in relation to lands in the Territory which appears to have been in excess of its authority. For this purpose, the bill has been introduced. In connexion with the validation of the issue of Crown grants by the Governor of the State, it may be observed that the administration of lands held under State laws in force in the Territory is in the hands of the State Lands Department, and the taking over of such administration will involve considerable time and work. Pending such taking over, it may be that it will be necessary for further Crown grants to be issued, and it is proposed by the bill to authorize the Governor of the State to issue such grants until a date to be fixed by proclamation.
The amendments of the existing law, and the substantive provisions proposed by the measure, together with certain amendments to the Ordinance law of the Territory which appear to be necessary, will secure to land-holders under the State Crown Lands, enactments which continued in force in the Territory the rights which were preserved by section 7 of the Seat of Government Acceptance Act, and section 9 of the Seat of Government Administration Act 1910.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Soullin) adjourned.
President Roosevelt’s ‘ Message - Allotment of Call to Honorable Members - Sales Tax - By-law Admission of Machinery - Dry Batteries - Repatriation Department and Anonymous Letters - War Pensions Claim of Sapper Victor Hugo.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
In reference to my statement in reply to a question this morning by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) as to whether an invitation had been received by the Commonwealth Government to express its opinion on the proposal by President Roosevelt, with which honorable members are familiar,- 1 now desire to inform the House that the President’s “message has been communicated to the Government of the Commonwealth for its consideration. In my answer this morning, I made clear the attitude of the Government to that message.
.- I should like your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on a subject which is exercising my mind. I believe that it is your custom to call honorable members from different sides of the House alternately. The point is that on this side of the House sit members who support the Government, others who support the Country party, and three independents. I have risen several times to-day, and have failed to catch your eye. On two occasions when I rose, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) did not rise, yet when he rose simultaneously with me on the third occasion, he received the call. I am not reflecting on the decision of the Chair, and I appreciate the change inaugurated by you, sir, which abolished the custom whereby an honorable member could place his name on a list, retire to the billiardroom or elsewhere in the interval, re-enter the chamber at a specified time, and receive the call. I merely wish to be enlightened as to the position of the independent members on this side; whether they receive their call after Government supporters and Country party supporters, or take their chance with all honorable members on your right.
– The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb), in his concluding remarks, has properly described my practice. The whole of the members sitting on my right, irrespective of the parties to which they belong, are regarded as being on my right, and the whole of the members on my left, irrespective of party, are regarded as being on my left. Discretion is, of course, exercised to see that the honorable members known as independents receive the call of the Chair fairly. The honorable member for Angas was perfectly right in stating that he rose onseveral occasions this afternoon, but I direct his attention to the fact that the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn), the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), and the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) and others also rose at the same time. In such circumstances, it is inevitable that some honorable members will be disappointed. Naturally, honorable members try to obtain the call as early as possible in a debate, but when four honorable members on one side rise at once, and other honorable gentlemen on the other side are waiting to speak, one of the four membersmust wait until at least seven speeches have been delivered before he can make his. In this debate a call has been given to a representative from each of the six States of the Commonwealth, including each of the five political parties sitting on both sides of the House. I assure honorable members that the practice that I follow is eminently fair. Discretion must always remain, in the last resort, with the Chair.
.- I have received a number of letters from dispensaries in my district regarding the harsh effect of the sales tax upon the dispensing business. The arguments against the imposition of this taxation on drugs and chemicals used in dispensaries have been very well put in one of these letters, which reads as follows : - flemington anddistrictunitedfriendly Societies Dispensary and Medical Association.
On behalf of the 3,150 members of this institution, I desire to draw your attention to the very serious effect of the sales tax on drugs and chemicals used in dispensing medicines for the sick.
One of the most disturbing results of the existing economic conditions is the marked increase in the number of our members requiring medical treatment and medicine. The consequent increased volume of dispensing means a much greater expenditure for drugs, &c., the costs of which have risen tremendously owing to high exchange, heavy duties and primage, and the imposition of 6 per cent. sales tax.
Where possible the contributions of members have been increased to meet these extra costs, but to add further to levies on members affected by reduced wages, unemployment or sickness would undoubtedly mean losing many of them who would be forced to seek the aid of public charities. Already, in some districts, membership figures show a downward trend, indicating the seriousness of the position.
Under these circumstances it is felt that the sales tax on medicines is a heavier drain on our resources, comparatively and actually, than those who imposed this tax realized, and it constitutes a burden which our members should not be called upon to bear, in view of our non-profit organization.
As our esteemed representative in the Federal Parliament, we ask you to do everything in your power to secure the remission of the sales tax on drugs and chemicals. This would be a very great assistance to us in carrying on our work, which is, after all, of some national value.
The following comparative statement of operations was attached to the letter: - flemington united friendly societi dispensary.
Comparative Statement of Operations.
I ask the Government to reconsider its attitude in this connexion.
– I desire to refer briefly to the subject of the admission of goods under departmental by-law. Considerable propaganda has been engaged in recently in Sydney and elsewhere on this subject, and I am afraid that, through ignorance of the procedure, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr White) has been subjected to a certain amount of unjustifiable criticism. Recently, on behalf of a biscuit-manufacturing firm, I applied for the admission of certain machinery under by-law. This machinery could not be manufactured in Australia, and after extensive inquiries had been made by the department to satisfy the Minister, the request was granted. As a result of the admission of this machinery, the firm concerned, in writing a letter of appreciation to me, stated -
We have decided to enlarge our premises by 50 per cent. and install not only the machinery, but later on a considerable amount of new plant, which we trust will be the means of providing, not only temporary, but permanent employment for a considerable number of hands.
The new plant referred to is made in Australia. It will be seen from that letter that the practice of the department is just as effective in increasing employment as it is necessary for the improvement of business methods.
– The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has himself applied for the admission of machinery under by-law.
– I understand that that is so. Onbehalf of a dry battery manufacturing firm in Sydney, and of the 268 employees of the firm whose livelihood was in jeopardy, I also desire to express appreciation of the Government’s action in requesting the Tariff Board to inquire into the subject of batteries. All the firms engaged in this industry are satisfied that they will be able to make out a case which will justify the retention of the existing duties. I make this statement at this stage because I was not able to do so last night on account of the application of the closure.
– On the 4th May, the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) made reference to anonymous letters which may be addressed to the Repatriation Commission in regard to individual returned soldiers, and suggested that such letters should not be retained on the departmental files. I then intimated that I would give the matter consideration. I have now had an opportunity to examinethe question. As I indicated to the honorable member, it is the practice to retain on departmental files any anonymous letters which may be received, and also the results of any investigations made concerning the contents of such letters. This procedure, it is considered, is most desirable, because if allegations prove that they are without foundation, the records on this particular point would be complete, and the war pensioner would not be affected adversely. On the other hand, if inquiries show that allegations made in anonymous letters are well-founded, no injustice is done to the ex-soldier, and if the subject of the inquiry and the result are contained in the files, there is a record to support any action taken. In addition, if similar allegations are made subsequently, the complete records in both classes of cases will probably avoid the necessity of conducting further investigations. I deprecate the writing of anonymous letters, but on occasions information has been received through anonymous letters which, on investigation, has proved that moneys have been fraudulently obtained from the department, and it would be unreasonable to disregard warnings from any source the heeding of which would possibly result in the protection of public funds. No action is ever taken, however, without the fullest investigation being made. In all the circumstances, I cannot see my , way to accede to the request of the honorable member.
On the 3rd May, 1933, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), raised in the House the question of the restoration of the pension previously paid to Victor Hugo, ex-No. 1418, sapper, Mining Corps, and I intimated that I would look into this ex-soldier’s case. I have now had an opportunity to examine the relevant departmental file, and have ascertained that, on discharge from the Australian Imperial Force, the ex-soldier was granted a pension on account of melancholia dementia, but that it was cancelled in September, 1931, as the result of a review of the case. The review was a thorough one, “extending over some months, and a decision was not made until the commission had before it the opinion of an eminent alienist, who considered the whole of the evidence. Earnest consideration was given to all the evidence by the commission’s experienced medical advisers, and the commission itself. In addition, the case was reviewed by the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, which had all the facts before it, and decided that any disabilities which Mr. Hugo was suffering were not attributable to or aggravated by his war service. I would point out that the Entitlement Appeal Tribunal was made by Parliament quite independent of the Repatriation Commission, and it was instituted by Parliament at the request of the returned soldiers as the final court of appeal. The statement of the honorable member for East Sydney that the file “establishes that either the Repatriation Department or the tribunals which deal with the individual cases of ex-soldiers, do not give sufficient attention to the evidence submitted to them . . . or there is a definite intention to deprive certain ex-soldiers of their rights,” is definitely and absolutely contrary to fact. I suggest that, before an honorable member adopts the course of bringing an individual case before the House, he should take up the matter with the Minister. I, as Acting Minister, should be pleased to obtain the necessary papers and discuss individual cases with honorable members, and I feel sure that the Minister would be willing to act similarly. Such a procedure would, I consider, be more in the interests of ex-soldiers. In view of the position in which the Entitlement Tribunal has been placed by Parliament,I can only suggest that, if Mr. Hugo or those interested in him are able to obtain further evidence in support of this claim which has not already been before the tribunal, an appeal be made to the tribunal. Every soldier has that right.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.16 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 May 1933, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1933/19330519_reps_13_139/>.