10th Parliament · 1st Session
The Deputy President (Senator Plain) took the chair at 8 p.m., and read prayers.
-I ask the Leader of the Senate if the Government has yet received a report from the Development and Migration Commission?
– The Government has not received such a report; an annual report is not yet due. It has, however, had a number of reports concerning various proposals submitted by the State Governments.
– Are we to understand, from the Minister’s reply, that Parliament is not to be furnished with any report from the commission other than the annual report. Since the commission has been in existence for over six months, is it not time that we had something more definite from the Minister than an intimation that the commission has been in touch with the States?
– If the honorable senator will examine the act which sets out the functions of the commission, he will find there is no necessity for that body to furnish to Parliament ordinary business reports concerning projects that may be submitted to it by the State Governments. If an honorable seantor is interested in any particular report presented, and makes a request for it, his request will be considered.
Senator BARNES brought up the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, together with minutes of evidence relating to the proposed selection of site and construction of wharf at Rabaul, Territory of New Guinea.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs whether the Government will at once consider the position with regard to the wine bounty, concerning which I understand a recommendation has been made by the Tariff Board. At present the distilleries are buying grapes, but in the absence of any definite information as to the intentions of the Government, growers are not in a position
– Is the honorable senator in order in making a long statement of fact when asking a question ?
– I should like to know if, in. view of the present unsatisfactory position, the Government will announce its decision at the earliest possible moment.
– I hope to be able to make a statement on behalf of the Minister for Trade and Customs in the course of the next few days.
The following papers were presented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determination by the Arbitrator, &c. - No. 44 of 1928 - Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.
Australian Commonwealth Shipping Board - Profit and Loss Account for the Year 1st April, 1925, to 31st March, 1826, together with Auditor-General’sReport thereon.
Commonwealth Bank Act - Aggregate Balance-sheet of Commonwealth Bank of Australia at 31st December, 1926, together with Statement of Liabilities and Assets of the Note Issue Department; and AuditorGeneral’s Reports thereon.
Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act - Dealings and Transactions during year ended 30th June, 1926.
Land Tax Assessment Act - List of Applications for Belief from Taxation during the year 1926.
Postmaster-General’s Department - Sixteenth Annual Report, 1925-26.
Transport in Australia with special reference to Port and Harbour Facilities - Volume I.- Report, dated 9th October, 1926, by Sir George Buchanan, K.C.I.E., Kt.
Public Service Act -
Appointments - Department of -
Health - H. G. Furphy. J. J. Graydon and R. T. Simmons.
Home and Territories - W.L. James.
Works and Railways - J. I. Strachan. Regulations - Statutory Rules 1026, No. 212.
Public Works Committee Act- Twelfth General Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works.
Air Force Act and Defence Act - Regulations amended- Statutory Rules 1927, No. 20.
Census and Statistics Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1927, No. 1.
Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Second Annual Report of the Federal Capital Commission, for the period ended 30th June, 1926.
Northern Territory Acceptance Act and Northern Territory (Administration) Act - Ordinance of 1927 - No. 2 - Northern Territory Government.
New Guinea Act- Ordinances of 1927 -
No. 6 - Native Administration.
No. 7 - Superannuation.
No. 8- Judiciary.
Quarantine Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1927, No. 8.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act-
Ordinance of 1926- No. 12- Leases.
Ordinances of 1927 - No. 2 - Auctioneers. No. 3 - Provisional Government (No. 2).
Land Acquisition Act - Land acquired at - Albury, New South Wales- For Defence purposes.
Seymour, Victoria - For Defence pur poses.
Sherwood, Queensland - For Defence purposes.
Beer Excise Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1927, No. 18.
Canned Fruits Export Charges Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1927, No. 14.
Canned Fruits Export Control Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1926, Nos. 134, 156; 1927, Nos.15, 16.
Cotton Bounty Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1927, No. 21.
Customs Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1927, No. 17.
Customs Act and Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act - Regulations amended, &c. - Statutory Rules 1926, Nos. 176,182; 1927, No. 11.
Dairy Produce Export Charges Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1926, No. 118.
Dairy Produce Export Control Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1926, No. 99.
Dried Fruits Advances Act - RegulationsStatutory Rules 1926, No. 96.
Dried Fruits Export Control Act- Regulations amended, &c. - Statutory Rules 1926, Nos. 55, 107, 149; 1927, Nos. 2, 10.
Export Guarantee Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1926, No. 169.
LEAGUE OF NATIONS.
.- I lay on the table the report of the Australian Delegation to the Seventh Assembly of the League of Nations, 6th to 25th September, 1926. It is my intention at a later stage to make a few remarks concerning the document, and in order that honorable senators may have an opportunity to discuss the report I now move-
That the paper be printed.
I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
TERRITORY OF NEW GUINEA.
Advisory Council : Trial by Jury.
– I ask the Minister for Home and Territories whether the Government has recently considered the question of giving the white settlers in New Guinea direct representation on the Advisory Council, and, if so, what decision has been arrived at; also, if the Government has considered the advisableness of establishing trial by jury in the Mandated Territory ?
Senator Sir THOMAS GLASGOW.The representation of white settlers in New Guinea on the Advisory Council will be considered when the expropriated properties have been disposed of. The Government has not yet considered the proposal to extend the principle of trial by jury to New Guinea.
NEW SETTLERS’ LEAGUE.
Action of Tasmanian Government.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Markets and Migration, upon notice -
– The Minister for Markets and Migration supplies the following answers : - 1 and 2. In 1922. the Commonwealth Government undertook to contribute to wards the cost of establishing and maintaining a division of the New Settlers’ League inTasmania, and, in pursuance of the undertaking, contributions were paid during the financial year 1922-23. Later, the undertaking was varied, the Commonwealth agreeing to contribute one half of the cost of maintenance of the league in various States. So far as the Commonwealth is concerned, this arrangement still stands, but no claimhas been made on the Commonwealth since 1924 in respect of Tasmania.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT announced the receipt of the following message from the House of Representatives : -
The House of Representatives, having considered Message No. 69 of the Senate, has agreed to the following resolutions in connexion therewith, viz.: -
That the House of Representatives agrees to the appointment of a joint committee to inquire into and report on the moving-picture industry in Australia;
That Mr. Forde, Mr. Gregory, Mr. Marks, and Dr. Nott be appointed to serve on such committee with three senators appointed by the Senate;
That the committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records, to move from place to place, to sit dur ing any adjournment of the Parliament, and to report the minutes of evidence from time to time;
That one member of the House ofRepresentatives, sitting with three other members of the committee, shall constitute a quorum, provided that in such quorum both Houses shall be represented.
That the time and place of the first meeting of the committee shall be half-past Ten o’clock a.m. on Wednesday, 16th March, 1927, in the Senate committee-room.
That the foregoing resolutions be communicated to the Senate by message.
Motion (by Senator Pearce) (by leave) agreed to -
That, with reference to the resolution agreed to by the Senate, on the 3rd March, 1927, the following Senators bo appointed to serve on the joint committee to inquire into and report on the moving-picture industry in Australia: - Senators Duncan, Grant, and Herbert Hays.
That one member of the Senate, sitting with three other members of the committee, shall constitute a quorum, provided that in such quorum, both Houses shall be represented.
That the committee have leave to report the minutes of evidence from time to time.
That the Senate agrees to the time and place proposed by the House of Representatives for the first meeting of the committee.
That the foregoing resolutions be communicated to the House of Representatives by message.
Bill received from the House of Repre sentatives.
Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders.
– I move-
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the bill being passed through all its stages without delay.
My object in submitting this motion is to place myself in a position, so soon as the formal stage of the first reading of the bill has been passed, to move the second reading of the measure and make a speech thereon. No objection will be offered to the debate then being adjourned. If that course is desired by any honorable senator, his right to move in that direction will not be in any way curtailed. In view of the small amount of business on our notice-paper, it is considered desirable to advance the bill to the stage that I have indicated. It is not intended to curtail the debate in any way.
– I am somewhat surprised that the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) should move for the suspension of the Standing Orders at any stage of this measure. I can see no urgency for the hill. On the contrary, there are strong reasons for its passage being delayed, particularly in this Senate. The right honorable gentleman has advanced, as a reason for our immediately entering upon a discussion upon this allimportant matter, the small amount of business that appears upon our noticepaper. I remind the right honorable senator that it is certainly not the fault of the Senate that there is very little business on the notice-paper. The fault lies with the Government. Sixteen months ago Ministers placed in the hands of His Excellency the Governor-General a document filled with lots of promises about certain legislation ; but very little, if any, of the programme then outlined has been put through Parliament. Now, after an adjournment from August until March, and after another place has devoted eight days to the consideration of this most important piece of legislation, the Senate is asked to suspend the standing orders so that it may be disposed of as soon as possible. I regret that I cannot countenance that sort of thing, despite the assurance of the right honorable senator that it is bis intention not to proceed further than moving the second reading of the bill. If ever there was a time for caution and even delay on the part of this branch of the national legislature, it is now when one of the most important measures we have ever been asked to consider has come before us. I trust that the Senate will not accede to the request for the suspension of the standing orders at any stage in the passage of this bill. As the motion now submitted, if agreed to, will save only one day, I think the right honorable senator might have adopted the ordinary procedure. I think also that the Senate ought to assert its rights in this manner, particularly as it is supposed to be the guardian of the rights of the States which, if this legislation is adopted, will be seriously affected. Care and deliberation rather than haste should be our rule.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing and sessional orders suspended and bill (on motion by Senator Pearce) read a first time.
– I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill provides for the termination, from the 30th June, 1927, of the per capita payments to the States as provided for in the Surplus Revenue Act. It also provides for special grants to the States of Western Australia and Tasmania and, subject to any agreement arrived at, for payments to all the States, equivalent to the per capita payments, during the financial year commencing 1st July, 1927. It is not proposed to ask Parliament to proceed with bills repealing the direct taxation imposed by the Commonwealth. That matter will be left in abeyance pending negotiations with States. If this bill passes it is the intention of the Government, later on in the year, to seek a conference with the States. Before the Senate is asked to pass legislation repealing the direct taxation imposed by the Commonwealth it is our intention to explore with the States, if they are willing to meet us, all or any methods that may be suggested for a new financial arrangement between them and the Commonwealth. The suggestions put forward may include the adoption of the present proposals, payments by the Commonwealth to a sinking fund to liquidate State debts, or the taking over of a portion or the whole of those debts. All these suggestions and others, if there are others, we are willing to consider and discuss with the States in an honest endeavour to arrive at an amicable arrangement with them as to the most satisfactory basis for the financial relationships between the Commonwealth and States. At this juncture, therefore, the Senate is not asked to approve of the repeal of all or any of the direct taxation referred to in the proposals placed before the State Governments some time ago by the Federal Government. All that honorable senators are now asked to do is to approve of the termination of the per capita payments fromthe 30th June next, and a continuation of similar payments pending au agreement, which we hope and anticipate will be reached before Parliament meets again. Parliament will then be in a position to know whether the States have agreed to meet the Commonwealth in conference, whether, that meeting having taken place, the Commonwealth or the States have adopted an unreasonable attitude, or whether the proposals put forward were such as should have been accepted either by the Commonwealth or by the States. Thus before the end of the financial year 1927-28, the Senate as part of the Commonwealth legislature, should be in a position to know what has taken place, and, if it wishes to do so, to repudiate the Government’s proposals and to direct, as it can, any government as to the course which it thinks ought to be adopted in arriving at a financial arrangement with the States. At this juncture, all that we are asking the Parliament to agree to is that the per capita system should end, and that by consultation with the States at a conference, at which every avenue is explored a more satisfactory financial arrangement should be arrived at.
I recognize that this is a very important matter, and with the indulgence of the Senate, I propose to set out at some length the historical associations surrounding it. First of all we have to remember that ours is a federation which was formed by colonies then in being. As a matter of fact, our Federal Constitution is. the creation of the States, having been drafted by men with long experience in the governments of the then existing colonies. When the leading representatives of the colonies set about the task of framing a constitution for a federation they Bad but few precedents for their guidance. There were, however, a few federations in existence, and we can see how they dealt with this question. In the United States of America Congress was given the exclusive right to impose the Customs tariff - the Commonwealth Parliament has the same exclusive right - but in all other respects the State Legislatures were, given concurrent powers along with Congress. However the Constitution of the United States of America contains no provision corre sponding with section 87 of our Constitution. Apparently the problem of an unmanageable surplus was overlooked by the framers of the American Constitution. In Canada the Provinces were given a subsidy from the Dominion Government, but not on a per capita basis. The discrimination between the Provinces can be conveniently shown by taking the figure 100 as the average subsidy, and giving the separate provincial subsidies in proportion. They work out as follows : -
These subsidies are small when compared with the Commonwealth per capita payment, but show that Canada has deliberately avoided the per capita principle and adopted a method by which the financially backward provinces are helped. In South Africa there is no such arrangement, as the Union Government receives all the revenue. In Switzerland the Federal Government can call upon the Cantons for levies, which are determined, not by the Cantons, but by the Federal Legislature. It will, therefore, be seen that there is nothing to be gained by studying the South African or Swiss legislation as it is entirely dissimilar from our own. Taking the Canadian legislation, it will be seen that Article 102 provides that all duties and (revenues over which tho respective legislatures of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick before, and at the commencement of the Union, had and have power of appropriation, except those expressly reserved by the act, shall form one consolidated revenue fund to be appropriated from the Public Service of Canada. Article 103, makes the cost of collection, etc., a first charge on the Consolidated Revenue Fund, and Article 104 provides that the annual interest of the public debts of the several provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, shall form the second charge on the fund.
Under article111 it is declared that Canada shall be liable for the debts and liabilities of each province at the time of the Union, and Article 118 provides for the payment by Canada to the Provinces of 260,000 dollars, plus 80 cent. per head, up to 400,000, “ at which rate such grant shall remain.” It enacts further that “ Such grant shall be in full settlement of all future demands on Canada; but that the Government shall deduct from such grants all sums’ chargeable as interest on public debts in excess of the amounts specified in the act.”
– Then Canada does pay on a per capita basis.
– Only up to an amount of about £80,000, and if the honorable senator can obtain any comfort from that information he is welcome to it. The main principle adopted by Canada was to make the public debt of the Provinces a charge upon the Consolidated Revenue of Canada; that is the principle underlying the Canadian Constitution. That is all that the experience of other federations had to offer Australia as a guide in dealing with this question.
Let usnow look at the position as it existed prior to the Convention. The problem was how to adjust the financial resources of the Commonwealth and the States with the obligations which they had to meet. Two points arose out of that consideration. One was that the direct taxation then in force was not sufficient for the States without Customs revenue, and the other, that the then Customs revenue was in excess of Commonwealth requirements. In these cases all agreed that an adjustment was necessary. There were four methods whereby the problem could be settled, and the reports of the Convention debates show how these were considered. They were: -
It was agreed that an adjustment must be-
In this statement I have endeavoured to put into concrete sentences an analysis of the attitude adopted by the framers of the Constitution, and I think they fairly express it. We come now to the Sydney Convention. It was admitted by publicists and every one taking an interest in the subject at the time that the financial question was, as it was expressed, “ the lion in the path.” The financial committee was of opinon that the surplus revenue should be distributed according to population, but it realized that such a distribution would be unfair at the time. It, therefore, recommended that the Customs and excise revenue be devoted to Commonwealth expenditure according to population, and the balance returned to the States in such a way that the amount paid by each State for such Federal expenditure, added to the amount returned, should be the amount contributed by each State on the dutiable articles consumed. The constitutional committee drafting the bill dispensed with the population basis, and made contribution the basis, not only for distributing the surplus, but also for charging expenditure. After discussion, in which the financial committee objected to the alteration made by the constititional committee, a clause was drafted providing that the revenue of the Commonwealth should be first applied to the Commonwealth’s expenditure, which shouldbe charged to the States according to population, and the surplus, until Parliament otherwise provided, returned to the States in proportion to the revenue raised therein. That is the point at which this question was left by the Sydney Convention. We now come to the Adelaide Convention of 1897. There the draft was treated as reverentially as possible, but the financial clauses were considerably altered. The clause regarding the distribution of surplus revenue was altered to a population basis. Guarantees were also inserted limiting the Commonwealth’s expenditure, and fixing the amount of surplus revenue returnable to the States after uniform duties had been fixed. At the Melbourne conference of 1898, these guarantees were deleted, and Sir Edward Braddon brought forward the first draft of the famous clause which afterwards bore his name, associated with the word “blot,” providing that of the net Customs and excise revenue not more than one-twentieth should be spent by the Commonwealth in the exercise of its original powers, that four-twentieths should be spent on transferred services, and the remaining threefourths distributed to the States. The financial clauses, as finally passed, substantially differed from those of 1891 in one respect only - the addition of the guarantee contained in the Braddon clause. Finality, however, was not yet reached. It was found that the Constitution was still unacceptable, and a further effort was made to amend it, so that it would be acceptable to the States. A Premiers’ conference was held in 1899, and the financial question nearly broke it up. All were willing to let the Braddon clause go if a substitute could be found, but every cure suggested seemed worse than the disease. The conference limited the clause to ten years and thereafter until Parliament should otherwise provide, and it also added a new clause, empowering the Commonwealth to grant financial assistance to the States during the first ten years and thereafter until Parliament otherwise provided.
When the ten years mentioned in the Braddon section of the Constitution was drawing to a close, the State Premiers and the Prime Minister of the day entered into an agreement, which provided that -
In the interests of the people of Australia, to secure economy and efficiency in the raising and expending of their revenues, and to permit their Governments to exercise unfettered control of their receipts and expenditure, it is imperative that the financial relations of the Federal and State Governments - which, under the Constitution, were determined only in part and for a term of years - should be placed on a sound and permanent footing. It is therefore agreed by the Ministers of State of the Commonwealth and the Ministers of the component States in conference assembled to advise -
Investigation of question of State debts,
Per capita payment of25s. per head,
Withholding of certain payments from States for old-age pensions,
Special payments to Western Australia,
That the Commonwealth Government bring before the Parliament during this session the necessary measure to enable an alteration of the Constitution (giving effect to the necessary paragraphs 2, 3, and 4) to bo submitted to the electors.
The Constitution Alteration (Finance) Bill 1909 was accordingly introduced, but it was defeated at the referendum. The Deakin Government was also defeated, and the Fisher Government passed the Surplus Revenue Act 1910, which, for a period of ten years and until Parliament otherwise provides, granted the per capita payment of 25s. to the States.
As we have reviewed the difficulties which confronted the framers of the Constitution and the attitude of the various conferences, let us now review the attitude of the members composing the Parliament which first dealt with this question. In doing so, I invite honorable senators to note the extraordinary change in the attitude of members of one party in this Parliament. At that time there was a Labour government under the leadership of Mr. Fisher. I propose to quote from the debates, as reported in Hansard, with a view to showing how the Labour party of that time regarded this question. Honorable senators may compare those statements with the opinions which will be voiced during this debate by the present members of that party in this Chamber. During the debate on the proposal to provide for the payment of 25s. per head being embodied in the Constitution, Mr. Fisher said -
Mr. Deakin appears more as an advocate of the States than as the chief guardian of national feeling and interests. The Premiers could not have been more successful in their search for an advocate of their case if they had selected the Prime Minister for the position. … So far from agreeing with the proposal of the Prime Minister to pay 25s. per capita for all time, I should be ready and willing to support any proposal to give even a larger sum provided that it was associated with the transfer to the Commonwealth of State debts. … I submit that we should hold in suspense the question of what shall be the revenue returnable until the State Debts Commission has completed its investigation and reported as to the best means of making the distribution.
When, as Prime Minister, he came to deal with the Surplus Revenue Bill, which the Labour Government was bringing forward, Mr. Fisher said -
If the Government err at all as regards this proposal, they err on the side of generosity.
Dealing with the proposal to embody in the Constitution the payment of 25s. per head, Mr. Hughes said -
There are two objections to the agreement, both of which are fatal. One is that the payment is too high, and the other that the arrangement is to be permanent. . . . The Commonwealth had at its command the entire situation, and was in a position to dictate reasonable terms and have those terms accepted by the States. . . . After ten years of a burden, which, as time went on, became almost intolerable, does any one think that the Commonwealth is justified in neglecting an opportunity to come into its heritage ?
. Now it is” obvious that under the 25s. per head arrangement we can do none of these things -
We develop the Northern Territory, build the trans-continental railway, and so on -
The very most we can give to the States at the present time and pay our way is £1 per head. . . The interests of the States consist in side-tracking, delaying, and hampering the Commonwealth in every conceivable way. The interests of the Commonwealth, as such, consist in laying a sure and lasting foundation for the future of this great nation. … I oppose the proposed agreement because I consider the contribution per head too high. I oppose it because it is to be permanent, and because of its underlying recognition of our dependence on the States.
I shall not pass over what I myself said in the course of that debate. I little thought that I should ever have the opportunity to claim the role of prophet; but when they hear my remarks on that occasion I think that honorable senators will agree that I have some claim tobe regarded as a prophet. During the debate I said -
I do not say that an agreement is not desirable. I say that if a return of 25s. per capita to the States is a fair return, let us agree to make it; but let us agree to do so for a limited term, retaining our power to review the matter at the close of that term. That is the vital issue connected with the bill. . . Indeed almost every proposal which comes before this Parliament means, not an increased revenue, but an increased expenditure. Consequently I hold that within six years all the advantages which the Commonwealth will gain under this agreement will have disappeared.
As we shall probably hear from Senator Findley at a later stage in this debate, let - us first refresh our memories by reading what the honorable senator said at that time : -
I have no objection to State Treasurers receiving a per capita grant from the Commonwealth but I decidedly object to embodying the proposed agreement in our Constitution, because I am satisfied that, owing to the news paper influence which would bo brought to bear in favour of its retention, it would be never taken out of it.
We shall probably see to what extent the newspaper influence has affected Senator Findley. Another honorable senator, who was a shining light at that time and who se light still shines brightly, is Senator Needham. During the debate that honorable senator said -
If we agree to return to the States 25s. per capita, the day may come when this Parliament will have no funds with which to carry out national undertakings which are urgently required and which have been too long delayed. . . . Speaking, as I am doing, my words will be reported, and I am prepared to stand by every sentence 1 utter.
En that last sentence the honorable senator made a gift to the gods. What a mortgage of the future; what a rash statement for a politician to make!
– The honorable senator has difficulty in conceiving that any person is prepared to stand by his word. He himself has often turned back.
– The report of Senator Necdham’s speech continues -
A study of these figures will prove that, even before the expiration of the Braddon section, and availing ourselves of the right to retain surplus revenue, we have not sufficient revenue to meet national demands; but after the expiration of the Braddon section it will be necessary to borrow. . . . The more figures I quoted, the more clearly it will be seen that if this Parliament tied up its control of Customs and excise, the more it would become an abject slave of the States. I am not here as a slave of the State Premiers. . . . The discussion of this question in both Houses has been a fight between the State righters and the Nationalists.
By nationalists, the honorable senator meant the Labour party. Our dear old respected leader, at that time, the late Senator McGregor, contributed to the debate in the following terms : -
We do not object to the payment at the present time of 25s. per head, but we do object to be bound to make the payment forever. If the Vice-President of the Executive Council will move as an amendment upon the bill, and embody it in the Constitution, that the terms of the agreement are to continue for ten, fifteen, or even twenty years, I am prepared to support it. The Commonwealth Parliament would then have an opportunity to review the matter again, and might agree to put the next agreement into the Constitution as well.
I am not one of those who would characterize the State Premiers as robbers and villains, but from the very commencement of federation they have exhibited an amount of selfishness which tomy mind is astonishing.
The States have always wanted to treat the Common weal th unfairly. . . . The post and telegraph services have been neglected from want of necessary funds simply because the Commonwealth lias boon far too generous to the States.
Although we are quite willing that at present tlie States shall receive a per capita payment of 25s., yet we think Parliament ought to retain the power to vary the amount whenever the exigencies of the Commonwealth might require an alteration to be made.
I leave those statements and invite tho Senate to note how honorable senators opposite will square their remarks during this debate with their statements in 1909.
I come now to the several discussions that took place concerning this problem at the conferences of Premiers. State- ments made by Senator Sir Henry Barwell, who, as Premier of South Australia, attended conferences in 1920 and 1923, show that at that time he thought there were two sides to this question. At the gathering in 1920 Sir Henry Barwell moved the following motion : -
That this conference directs the attention of the Prime Minister to the undertaking given after the last conference that no alteration of the per capita payments to the States would lie made pending the result of the convention for the revision of the Commonwealth Constitution.
Mr. Hughes, then Prime Minister, denied that such an undertaking was given. He said -
Mr. Lawson seemed to be under the impression yesterday that because the Commonwealth Government intends to call a convention the condition then set out exists. It does not. Tho convention alluded to was a term in the bond. The people turned these proposals down -
Ho was referring to the industrial powers - and the Commonwealth is under no obligation to call a convention.
Sir Henry Barwell did not speak on the finance debate, but his Treasurer (Mr. Ritchie) said -
If the Federal Government do what they say and retain the per capita payments, it will
Ite, in a measure, taking the revenue of the Stales to pay war expenses, thus passing part of the responsibility on to the States. . . . The fact should not be overlooked that wc are assisting the Commonwealth in a very important direction. I refer to soldier settlement. That is practically a Federal function.
Ti was rather extraordinary to say that tho States had no war responsibility what ever, and that all the obligations with regard to those citizens who had taken part hi the war must be shouldered by the Commonwealth Government. I doubt whether that view put forward by the then Treasurer of South Australia is now held by the Premier of that State. At the 1923 conference, Sir Henry Barwell said - his remarks are to be found on page 10 of the report -
We want to get back to the principle that the Commonwealth should operate entirely and exclusively within a certain sphere, and that the States should operate entirely and exclusively within another sphere. . . .
The first principle is that the States should have control of State taxation and that thu Commonwealth should rely on Customs and excise…..
We concede that the Commonwealth was quite justified in coming into the field of direct taxation and imposing both land and income tax. But now the war is over, we feel that the time has arrived when we should take a step towards getting back to first principles…..
No advantage is to be gained by submitting alternative proposals unless the Commonwealth Government are prepared to go right out of the field of income taxation, and place the obligation on the States of paying to the Commonwealth what is decided upon to make up the deficiency.
At page 33 of the report of the 1923 conference, Sir Henry Barwell is reported to have said -
I take it that he (Mr. Bruce) says, “ There is an insistent demand by the taxpayers of Australia for relief from the burden of duplication. The Commonwealth recognizes that demand, and is going to meet it, if possible in agreement with the States, but if it cannot arrive at an agreement it will do it on its own.” In that case the States must accept the position as laid down by the Commonwealth Government.
Sir Arthur Cocks. ; We have to act under duress.
– I do not know about that. I am inclined to think that, if the problem in New South Wales is more, deeply probed, it will be found that the position is not so bad as is now thought.
At a later stage Sir Henry Barwell said -
That (an adjournment) would mean that nothing would be done during the present financial year unless the Commonwealth takes the matter into its own hands and says, “ Notwithstanding what the States say, wo will do it.” I would rather come to an arrangement with the Commonwealth Government. I am prepared to accept, on behalf of my State, tlie proposal put forward by the Prime Minister, and my Government will meet the position by a total readjustment of the incidence of taxation in our State.
I venture to say that had that spirit been more in evidence during subsequent negotiations this vexed problem would long since have been solved.
Let us turn now to the utterances of another well-known gentleman who, both as a State and a Commonwealth Treasurer, has taken a leading part in negotiations concerning this issue. I refer to the Right Honorable W. A. Watt. At the Premiers’ Conference of 1919, Mr. Watt said, as set out at page 11 of the official report -
Sooner or later the States may have to do without any help whatever from the Commonwealth.
On page 62 the right honorable gentleman is reported to have said -
As to the per capita arrangement, I say without the slightest hesitation that it is not at all likely that the States will have as advantageous an offer made to them later on.
It has been urged that the present Government is unduly rushing this matter through Parliament. The long list of quotations which I have read, shows that the negotiations for a settlement of the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States, go back to 1910. Prom that year onward, practically every Federal Government has, at one time or another, raised it in conference with the States. How, then, can it be contended that the Government is acting precipitately, or that the States have not had an opportunity to come to an agreement with the Commonwealth? The fact is that there has been no agreement. It is also said that we have no mandate from the people to introduce this legislation. I have here a quotation from the policy speech of the Prime Minister at the last election. It was published in full in the Melbourne Argus, of the 6th October, and very nearly in full by every leading newspaper in the Commonwealth. In that speech, Mr. Bruce said -
It is essential that we should consider whether the Constitution meets the needs of to-day in the light of the developments which have taken place. The ideal which the framers of tlie Constitution had before them was to weld Australia into one great nation, while preserving to the States their rights of selfgovernment. The greatest problem which had to be faced, in the realization of this ideal, wat the question of Commonwealth and State finance.
After referring to the provision in the Constitution relating to the return of three-fourths of the Customs and excise revenue, the passing of the bill providing for the per capita payments, and to the’ Commonwealth’s obligations, the Prime Minister said -
The result of these fundamental changes is that tlie Commonwealth to-day is raising revenues in order to provide tho per capita payments to the States. This is contrary to the basic principle of national finance, that every Government shall have the responsibility of raising the revenue which it is expending. The development of Australia as a nation, and the necessity of dealing with many great questions on a national basis, such as that of road transport, also renders necessary, a reexamination of the financial relations between tlie Commonwealth and tlie States. . . . The Government proposes, in the near future, to invite the States to attend a conference for the purpose of reconsidering the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States, and dealing with the disabilities suffered by certain States, with a view to laying .down a basis for our national development, in which the Commonwealth and the States will cooperate. At this conference an opportunity will be afforded to consider all questions affecting the relations of the Commonwealth and the States.
It believes that the National Parliament of tlie Commonwealth, representative of tho whole of the people, is the proper body to consider these fundamental questions, and proposes to invite it to undertake this great task.
– There is not one word in that extract about the abolition of the per capita payments.
– Indeed, there is, as the honorable senator will see if ho reads it for himself. The Prime Minister definitely referred to the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States, and specifically mentioned the per capita payments.
– He did not contemplate the abolition of the payments.
– The Prime Minister contemplated that there would be a conference with the States to arrive at an agreement on a different basis. I spoke for the Government during the election campaign in Western Australia, and 1 have here a report of my speech io opening the campaign, in that State, as published in the West Australian, of 9th October, 192G. I said - 7 pass now to an outline - and it can be only an outline - of some of the proposals in th§ policy for the future. The financial relations existing ‘between the Commonwealth mid tlie States arc becoming extremely intricate and involved. The raising by the Common wealth of a greater amount of taxation than is required foi- its own purposes, and handing back to the States a portion of the money so raised, in the shape of grants for specific purposes, the payment of interest by the States to the Commonwealth on account of .moneys borrowed by the Commonwealth for the States, tlie per capita payments, and the special grants, all need to come under review in order that a satisfactory and less involved relationship may exist in future. It is proposed, at an early date, to convene a conference of the Federal and State Governments, to deal with these matters.
That conference was held, and the States were invited to consider the Government’s proposals. Honorable senators know what they were. They have been discussed in the Senate many a time. What was the attitude of the States? They said, in effect, “ We will not consider these proposals. We claim that we have a moral right to share in the Customs and excise revenue.” An examination of the position will show that the attitude of the States was not ‘ a reasonable one. I have here some figures showing that the commitments of the Commonwealth for invalid and old-age pensions, interest on war debt, maternity allowances, and the ordinary governmental activities, total over £50,000,000. Wo political party, nor, as far as I know, no politician in the federal arena, has ever proposed that those commitments should he interfered with; and, since there is no escape from those obligations, it is clear that the revenue from Customs and excise duties is not sufficient to meet them by many millions sterling. In the circumstances, what is the use of talking about the moral right of the States to a portion of the Customs and excise revenue? The financial obligations of the Commonwealth are clearly set out in the following table : -
In the face of those figures, how can any person talk about the States having a moral right to Customs revenue? There is no Customs revenue available. Moreover, the Commonwealth Parliament itself - not the present Parliament alone, but previous Parliaments as well - has long recognized that tho per capita distribution is not equitable and does pot meet the position. That is shown, not by the acts of the Government, but by acts that- have been, passed by both Houses of the Parliament. Owing to the special grant that has been made to Western Australia, and the arrangement by which every State contributes towards it, the per capita payment works out at £1 4s. lOd. per head of population in the case of every State except Western Australia, in which it is £1 5s. per head. In addition, there is a special grant to Western Australia and Tasmania, which represents £1 3s. 7d. per head of the population in the case of the former and £1 14s. 5d. per head of population in the case of the latter. Then there is the Federal-aid roads grant which works out as follows : -
New South Wales -4s. 9d. per head of population -
New South Wales is not yet taking the grant; but it is available.
Victoria - 4s. 2d. per head of population.
Queensland - 8s. 7d. per head of population.
South Australia - 8s.1d. per head of population.
Western Australia - £10s.1d. per head of population.
Tasmania - 9s.1d. per head of population.
That is not a per capita distribution.
The grant to the States for the provision of wire netting is as follows: -
New South Wales -1s.1d. per head of population.
Victoria - 6d. per head of population.
Queensland - 2s.9d. per head of population.
South Australia -1s. 9d. per head of . population.
Western Australia - 5s. 4d. per head of population.
Tasmania - 7d. per head of population.
The total grants to the States from the Commonwealth are as follow: -
New South Wales- £3,592,424 = £1 10s. 8d. per head of population.
Victoria- £2,548,585 = £1 9s.6d. per head of population.
Queensland - £1,592,936 = £1 18s. 2d. per head of (population.
South Australia - £978,058 = £114s. 8d. per head of population.
Western Australia- £1,412,659 = £3 14s.0d. per head of population.
Tasmania - £758,157 =£38s.11d. per head of population.
The average for the Commonwealth is £115s.8d. per head of population. It will be seen that the Commonwealth Parliament has deliberately, after consideration, broken away from the idea of a per capita distribution of the surplus revenue. It has recognized that it is its duty to assist in the development of the weaker States, and by its legislation has given a varying grant to the States.
It has been said that in this matter the Government is doing something that is not approved by the people. It is very easy for persons to assume that they can speak the mind of all the people of Australia; it is not always so easy to furnish proof of that capacity. There have been some opportunities of testing this question in an informal way. I notice, for instance, the statement that the organizations which support the Government are in every case opposed to the attitude which it has adopted on this question. As a side-light on that assertion,I may tell the Senate that last September the annual conference of the National Federation of Victoria was held in this city. Mr. Bruce being absent from Australia, I was asked by the conference to make one of the opening speeches as the representative of the Commonwealth Government. I did so. Whilst at the meeting I was told that the honorable Mr. Eggleston, acting for the Treasurer of Victoria (Sir Alexander Peacock), was to speak on the question of the per capita payment on the following day. Notices of motion had been sent in by various branches disapproving of the proposal of the Commonwealth Government to terminate the per capita payment. When I responded to the vote of thanks, I suggested that it might be as well to hear also the views which the Commonwealth Government held upon the matter. To my dismay, about half an hour before the conference met on the following day I received a note from the secretary inviting me to attend and place before the meeting the views of the Commonwealth Government. I attended under the great disadvantage of not having had an opportunity to prepare a speech. I have in my hand the report of the conference. This body of men had had only the press reports to guide them as to what the Commonwealth Government proposed to do. To illustrate the state of mind in which the dele- gates met, I shall read to the Senate motions that were sent in by different branches. The Wendouree branch gave notice that it would move the following motion : -
That inthe opinion of this conference the per capita payments, instead of being discontinued, should be doubled, and . that the Commonwealth should leave the States to attend to their own roads.
The Daylesford branch sent along the following notice of motion: -
That the question of the abolition of the per capita grant to the States be submitted to a referendum of the people.
A further motion by the Wendouree branch read as follows : -
That the action of the Commonwealth in abolishing the per capita payments on the pretext that the taxation should not be imposed by one authority and spent by another, and at the same time imposing a petrol tax to provide money to be spent by the States on roads, is illogical, and a contravention in policy, that it will only result in overlapping and wasteful expenditure, and increase in the burden of taxation, and that no real benefit will result.
Tlie report continues: -
At the invitation of tlie conference, Senator the Right Honorable G. F. Pearce and the Honorable F. W. Eggleston delivered addresses explaining tlie views of the Federal and State Governments respectively, after which the above motions were debated.
The Wendouree branch amended its motion (a) to read - That this conference proposes that the per capita payments should not be discontinued.
That motion was rejected by, I am informed, a large majority. A further amendment was then moved, reading: -
That, in the opinion of this conference, there should be full consultation between Federal and State Governments before any action is taken with respect to the existing per capita payments.
That was carried, and the others were withdrawn. That is exactly what the Commonwealth Government is doing.
– Not quite.
– We are inviting the States to discuss this question fully.
– After the per capita payments have been withdrawn.
– Certainly ; but I am pointing out that we are open to discuss the whole financial position with the States. I reiterate that the Senate is not being asked to express the opinion that the Commonwealth should retire from the field of land taxation, the entertainment lax, probate and succession duties, or 60 ner cent, of the income taxation field. lt is being asked to agree to the termination of the per capita payment on the 30th June, 1927. A distinct undertaking is given to the Senate and to the country that for twelve months thereafter the Government will continue to make payments to the States on the existing basis, in the interim seeking an early conference with the States, and informing them that it is prepared to discuss any alternative proposals that they care to put forward. We are prepared to explore the question of whether the Commonwealth should take over either the whole or a portion of the State debts, and the provision of a sinking fund for State debts. We shall meet the States in any way that is reasonable.
– When the Minister refers to the Commonwealth taking over State debts, does he mean the shouldering of the whole of the liability in respect of interest payments?
– We are prepared to explore that question, and to consider any equitable scheme by which it can be done. Personally I think that it oan and should be done.
– It was not the original idea that the Commonwealth should take over State debts. The proposal was that there should be only one borrower, under which the liability would remain with the States.
– We are not bound by that, or any other, arrangement. The whole field is open to be explored without any qualification. We are genuinely anxious to arrive at a settlement of this question which will not leave with the States a feeling of irritation. We realize that anything calculated to create that feeling would be both foolish and unwise. We are not approaching the States in the role of a dictator. But we do say that the present system of per capita distribution is inequitable and unwise; that it has already broken down, and that the Commonwealth has in the past departed from it. The view of the Commonwealth Government is that, if it has any surplus revenue, it should assist the States financially, more especially those in which the need for development is greatest and the financial need most pronounced. That is a principle which the Commonwealth Parliament has recognized in legislation that it has passed.
– Surely it would be wiser to postpone the passage of this bill pending the holding of the conference ?
– We say that it is not. The history that I have read proves that the adoption of that attitude gets us nowhere. From 1910 onwards the course suggested by Senator Barwell has been followed, and on every occasion it has failed. Mr. Hughes, Mr. Watt, Mr. Bruce, and later Dr. Earle Page worked along those lines, and nothing eventuated.
– Because the Commonwealth Government would neither discuss nor agree to any proposal other than that which it put forward.
– That is not so. I have quoted from a speech which was made by Senator Barwell at one Premiers’ Conference, in which he urged his fellow
State Premiers to come to an agreement with the Commonwealth. Sir Arthur Cocks, Treasurer of New South Wales, stood out, and brought the whole thing to the ground. If, in dealing with this question, we were to shut our eyes to the teachings of history we should resemble the ostrich that put its headin the sand when pursued by an enemy. The passage of this bill will show to the States that this Parliament is in earnest in its intention to have a different basis established. The States are very well aware that the Commonwealth Parliament will see that justice is done to them. If at the conference the States advance a proposal that is equitable and just to them and to the Commonwealth, and this Government refuses to give fair consideration to it, it will receive short shrift at the hands of this Parliament.
– Who is to be the judge of whether the proposal is fair ?
– This Parliament. It will meet in September or October of the present year, when the attitude that the Commonwealth Government has adopted towards the States and that the States have adopted towards the Commonwealth will be fresh in the minds of members. If the present or any other Commonwealth Government shows a disinclination to meet the States reasonably and fairly, the Commonwealth Parliament can pass a very effective judgment upon it.For that reason, I ask the Senate to agree to the bill and enable the Government to meet the States in such a way that they will realize that they must toe the line and come to a reasonable agreement.
– Do I understand the Minister to say that any arrangement which the Government makes with the States will ultimately come back to this Parliament for ratification?
– That is so. It is obvious that something must be done during this year. Whether the arrangement be for the establishment of a sinking fund or one under which the Commonwealth will take over either a portion or the whole of the State debts, or the abandonment by the Commonwealth of certain fields of taxation and the assumption of those fields by the States, it is absolutely certain that legislation by the Commonwealth Parliament will be necessary.
– Would it be competent for this Parliament to vary any arrangement that had been come to if it did not consider it to be a fair one?
– Certainly. This Parliament must be the final arbiter, and it will be competent for it to accept, reject, or amend any agreement that may be entered into with the States.
– What would happen if some of the States stood out and could not be induced to enter into an agreement ?
– It would be for the Commonwealth Government to decide whether it should proceed with the balance of its proposals. That is to say, if it was found impossible to arrive at an agreement with the States, we would have to tell Parliament when next it met and advise it what it ought to do. This Parliament would still be arbiter, and would have the advantage of knowing whether the States had met the Commonwealth in a reasonable spirit, whether the fault was due to the unreasonable attitude of the Commonwealth, or whether negotiations had failed because of some motive on the part of State Governments or State Parliaments. The present system is, and must remain, a disturbing factor in the relationship between the Commonwealth and the States. We have now an opportunity to end it, and Parliament has also the opportunity to see that the Commonwealth Government acts with justice and even generosity to the States in making a new financial arrangement with them. On the assurance that the Government will approach the question in that spirit, and do its utmost to bring about a just and equitable arrangement with the States, I ask the Senate to agree to the second reading of the bill.
Debate (on. motion by Senator Needkam) adjourned.
In committee (Consideration resumed from 4th March, vide page 113).
After section twenty-two of . the Principal Act the following section is inserted : - “22a. - (1.) Notwithstanding anything contained in this act, stock may, subject to this section, be inscribed in the name of any friendly society or branch of a friendly society which the Registrar is satisfied is registered under the laws of any State. “ (2.) An application by a friendly society or a branch of a friendly society for inscribed stock shall be in such form and contain such particulars as are prescribed, and any documents prescribed- by or under this Act and relating to that stock shall be signed by such two ormore persons as are appointed in that behalf by the society or branch, as. the case may be. “ “ (3.) Certificates, receipts and other documents relating to stock inscribed in the name of a friendly society or branch shall be issued only to such person as the society or branch, as the case may be, appoints in that behalf. (4.) No transactions under this act shall be effected in relation to stock inscribed under this section unless they are authorized by the persons appointed by the society or branch, as the case may be, in accordance with sub-section (2.) of this section, and the Commonwealth shall be under no legal liability in respect of any such transaction which is so authorized.”.
– When the bill was previously under consideration, Senator Duncan asked whether the power this clause proposed to confer upon friendly societies to invest their funds in inscribed stock of the Commonwealth could not also be conferred upon trade unions. The Government thinks that it would be a most excellent step to take to make provision in the direction suggested by the honorable senator, and I therefore move -
That the proposed new section be left out and the following inserted in lieu thereof : - “22a.: - (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this act, stock may, subject to this section, be inscribed in the name of any Friendly Society or Trade Union which the Registrar is satisfied is registered under the laws of any State or any branch of a Friendly Society or Trade Union so registered. “ (2) An application by a Friendly Society, Trade Union or any branch thereof, for inscribed stock shall be in such form and contain such particulars as are prescribed, and any documents prescribed by or under this act and relating to that stock shall be signed by such two or more persons as are appointed in that behalf by the Society, Trade Union or branch, as the case may be. “(3) Certificates, receipts, and other documents relating to stock inscribed in the name of a Friendly Society, Trade Union or branch shall be issued only to such person as the Society, Trade Union or branch, as the case may be, appoints in that behalf. “(4) No transactions under this Act shall be effected in relation to stock in scribed under this section unless they are authorized by the persons appointed by the Society, Trade Union or branch, as the case may be, in accordance with sub-section (2) of this section, and the Commonwealth shall be under no legal liability in respect of any such transaction which is so authorized.”
When Senator Duncan was speaking I expressed the opinion that trade unions might be recognized as friendly societies ; but I find that they are so recognized in only two States - Victoria and Queensland. As it is desirable that not only friendly societies, but also trade unions, should be encouraged to invest their surplus funds in inscribed stock of the Commonwealth, and should be protected in so doing, this amendment is submitted.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 3 (Verification of transmission).
, - I should like Senator Pearce to explain why the other provisions of the Inscribed Stock Act relating to stock left by a deceased person should not apply where the stock is worth under £100.
– The amendment is to bring the provisions of the Inscribed Stock Act into conformity with the usual practice’ in regard to deposits in savings banks. When a deposit in a savings bank in the name of a person who is deceased amounts to over £100, it is necessary to take out letters of administration or probate to operate upon it, but where the amount is less than £100 this requirement is not insisted on. This practice obtains in other legislation of a similar character.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 4 and 5 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment.
– As this is merely a machinery bill, and it is desirable that it should be sent to another place without unnecessary delay, I move -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the bill being passed through its remaining stages without delay.
.- Why should this measure be disposed of to-day? It does not appear to mo to be urgent.
– The bill has been before the Senate for about a fortnight.
– Why should it be disposed of to-day?
– So that it may be passed by another place during the present sittings.
– In those circumstances, I shall not oppose the motion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Pearce) read a third time.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator McLach- lan) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 4th March (vide page 121) on motion by Senator Pearce -
That the paper be printed.
.- Honorable senators will, I am sure, agree that the Imperial Conference recently concluded has been the most important, particularly to the British dominions, ever held, and that Australia has every reason to be proud of its principal representative at that gathering. In our present Prime Minister, we have a gentleman who has been able to make his presence felt amongst the representatives of other dominions, and make a wonderful impression upon the British people. It is interesting to read the comments in the English newspapers and magazines concerning the personnel of the Australian delegation. I may be pardoned for taking this opportunity to quote the opinion of a writer in Overseas, the monthly journal of the Overseas League, edited by Mr. Evelyn Wrench, who met many Australians some time ago. A writer in the Overseas says : -
The first time that I heard Stanley Melbourne Bruce, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, I felt in my heart, “ Here, indeed, is a man.” An Australian by birth, alumnus of Cambridge University, a barrister of the Middle Temple, a soldier, twice wounded and decorated for valour in the Great War, 42 years old, with the verve and vigour of 28, intense, practical, idealistic, Mr. Bruce has won the heart of England. If ever Australia wants to get rid of him - which she never will - we’ll take him and keep him, and not let him go. Here is a man with a spirit of Drake and Raleigh, who sees a vision ofEmpire as Rhodes saw it. He conies to us, not for what England can give him, but to learn what Australia can do to help in the common work of the Commonwealth. If Mr. Bruce frankly lectures British manufacturers and merchants about their shortcomings - as he does - it is because he wants to help them. And, between ourselves, there are some grounds for the complaints that he makes. His speeches, direct, sincere, eloquent, have touched us all.
I do not think one could reasonably expect to read a more pleasing commentary. I have already said the recent Imperial Conference was, in the opinion of most people, one of the most important ever held. The decisions reached should act as a damper to those pessimists who persist in saying that the Empire is crumbling, if we recall the condition of affairs in South Africa and in Ireland a few years ago, we must admit that the results achieved were miraculous. The writer whom I have just quoted refers to this twentieth century miracle in this way-
And then, as I looked again at the photograph of King George’s Prime Ministers,I thought - as must every one who contemplates the Empire - of the romantic story of the growth of the British Commonwealth, as illustrated by the two figures of General Hertzog and Mr. Cosgrave, the former in the field in command of the King’s enemies in the South African war twenty-four years ago. What magician had waved a wand and turned the erstwhile rebel into a Minister of the Crown? The man who, in the Amsterdam Telegraaf recently, stated categorically that “ South Africa’s attitude need not cause the slightest friction, as all that was being striven for was the explanatory defining of South Africa’s position within the British Empire. I emphasize ‘ within the British Empire,’ “ added General Hertzog. “ We never dream of asking anything else” - a statement all South Africans and others who care for the Empire must be glad to have direct from the head of the Union Government.
Another English newspaper, describing the different partners of the Empire, said that Australia would possibly some day be the hub of the Empire. Very important issues were considered at the conference, and were ably handled by our representatives, but it is not my intention to deal with them at this juncture, as many of them will come before the Parliaments of the Empire for consideration. I am sure we all believe that the work performed, not only by Australia’s representatives, but also by those of the other dominions, will materially aid the progress and prosperity of the British Empire.
Debate (on motion by Senator II. Hays) adjourned.
– I move -
That the report from the Joint Committee on Electoral Law and Procedure presented to the Senate on the 3rd March, 1927, be adopted.
As honorable senators are probably aware, the Joint Committee appointed last year to inquire into matters relating to electoral law and procedure has now completed its investigations, and has presented its report to Parliament. The committee took evidence in every State of the Commonwealth, and in doing so selected places where the conditions differed. The time occupied in conducting such an exhaustive inquiry certainly was not great when compared with that taken by some royal commissions and select committees. Our work, which commenced in June, was completed some weeks ago. The expenditure incurred can also be regarded as reasonable. We found a high degree of efficiency on the part of the officers employed. By men of all shades of political opinion, it was admitted that the proceedings under the Commonwealth electoral law were superior to those under the enactments of the States. It was admitted on all sides that the members of the electoral staff of the Commonwealth were men of high calibre, fair in their dealings, and helpful to a degree; nevertheless, the committee has made recommendations which, it hopes, will further increase the existing efficiency. The report contains a summary of the committee’s recommendations. 1 shall not weary tho Senate by reading them all, but I ask honorable senators to give the report their careful consideration. They will find it a fund of information, which must be of interest to every elector. I suggest that, published in hand-book form, would find a ready sale. The first of the committee’s recommendations was the result of much earnest thought and inquiry. It reads -
That the qualifying period of residence prior to” enrolment be three months instead of one, and that the period for the removal of names from the roll be increased from one month to three months.
The underlying reason for that recommendation was the difficulty experienced by the migratory members of the population in connexion with removal of their names as voters. In Queensland, particularly, migratory workers experience considerable difficulty in obtaining correct enrolment; but the trouble is not confined to that State. The committee’s recommendations should remove some of the present disabilities. Another reform recommended is -
That the work carried out by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department for the Electoral Department be made part of the ordinary duties of the postal officials and be performed in the usual departmental hours - the consequential financial adjustment to be made between the two departments.
The committee found that, although the work of the department is performed efficiently, there is a feeling on the part of some postal officials that the electoral work interferes too much with their duties as postal employees. Probably the heads of the two departments might not favour the recommended arrangement ; but the committee is firmly of the opinion that much good would result from its adoption. The financial adjustment should not bc difficult. Those honorable senators who are acquainted with the form of the present enrolment claim card will agree that it is cumbersome, and contains much redundant matter. The committee, therefore, recommended -
That the amended form of- enrolment claim card submitted by it, providing for all information on one side only, and for only one signature of the elector, be adopted.
The form of card recommended contains all the information which the committee considers claimants should supply, and its use should remove many of the present informalities. A further recommendation is -
That the Commonwealth electoral rolls should be reprinted annually, and that the supplementary rolls, which, should show removals and additions, should be printed at least every six months.
The committee, has been assured that its recommendation is practicable, and would entail very little additional cost. As to its desirability, I think there is no difference of opinion. As a result of the consideration given to the question of postal voting at Commonwealth elections, the committee has made several important recommendations, the first of which is -
That tho minimum distance at which postal votes may lie exercised be 5 miles, instead of 10. lt was pointed out that a voter who lives fi mile’s from a polling booth has to make a journey of 10 miles to record his vote. The committee considers that its recommendation in this respect is reasonable. It, also recommends -
That provision he made that an application for a postal vote may he witnessed by any elector on the roll, but that the act of voting shall be witnessed by an authorized witness as at present.
That reform is long overdue. At elections for members of shire councils and various public institutions a ratepayer may v.itness the signature of a person who claims fi vote. The committee considers that in connexion with Commonwealth elections applications for postal votes should be witnessed in a similar manner. The committee found that the existing provisions in respect of authorized witnesses to the actual postal vote worked harshly in many instances. It therefore recommended -
That the list of authorized witnesses be extended to include all legally-certified midwives, all matrons and nursing sisters in charge of public hospitals or public charitable institutions, bush nurses, station owners or managers, overseers or foremen of group settlements, surveyors in charge of survey gangs, persons in charge of railway or other large construction camps, commissioners for declarations, mail contractors, and assistant lighthouse-keepers.
Honorable senators will agree that that recommendation is a step in the right direction. . A further recommendation -
That an extension of time for receiving postal votes of seven days bo allowed, provided that the envelope containing the ballot-paper boars tho clear impression of the postal dato stamp of a date not later than the polling day, will enable a large number of postal votes which are now rejected to be taken into consideration. As the gMt difficulty confronting the committee in this connexion was that of ensuring that the date of posting the voting paper should be clearly marked on the envelope, the advice of the director of postal services, Mr. H. P. Brown, was sought. He informed the committee that very little difficulty would be experienced in making the date stamp perfectly legible. With that safeguard, the recommendation is a .desirable reform. The compulsory signing of leading articles in newspapers received the earnest consideration of the committee. The consensus of opinion among witnesses connected with the newspapers of Australia, both in the cities and in the country, was that the present legislation requiring such articles to be signed should be abolished. That the committee has recommended. But in respect of other articles, it has recommended -
That the provisions of the act relating to tho signing of ali articles (except leading articles), letters, circulars, advertisements, and dodgers on and after tho date of issue and before the return of the writs bc retained.
That any reports that contain any comment by the reporter or newspaper, either in the head lines or the report during election time, should be signed.
Under the heading “Polling Facilities,” the committee has made a number of recommendations, the first of which is -
That the hours of polling be from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The hours of polling at present are from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., which means that the officials on duty at the polling booths are required to work strenuously for a period of twelve hours. after which many of them continue till midnight counting the figures. The committee considers that the long hours impose too great a strain on the electoral officers, and seeing that in Queensland the hours of polling are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and in some of the other States from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., it concluded that to close the polling booths one hour earlier, than at present would be a desirable reform. For the reason that frequently “How-to-vote” cards are placed in the ballot-box, the committee has also recommended -
That all “How-to-vote” cards should be printed in card form.
To distinguish them from the ballotpapers, a different colour is suggested. The committee also recommends -
That organizations issuing “How-to-vote” cards shall print upon them in bold lettering an intimation that this card must not be left in the polling booth nor placed in the ballotbox.
The evidence in relation to canvassing in the vicinity of polling booths was somewhat contradictory. At present canvassing may not take place within 20 feet of a polling booth. Many witnesses expressed the opinion that the distance should be increased to 100 yards; others that no canvassing should take place on polling days. Honorable senators will realize that to prevent canvassing on polling days is impossible. The committee’s recommendation, which it believes will meet the position, is -
That the Act be amended to provide that canvassing or other acts referred to in section 171 shall be prohibited within 50 feet of the polling booth.
The committee believes that interested persons are in the habit of telling electors that their names are not on the roll. As in its opinion such persons should not go unpunished, the following recommendation is made : -
That the act be amended to provide for tho imposition of a penalty on all persons other than electoral officials telling the electors on polling days that they are not enrolled.
The enforcement of that penalty may be difficult, but the committee has faith in the ability of the department to deal with the situation. A recommendation which has been made largely in the interest of blind persons reads -
That section 120 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act should bc amended to provide that if any voter satisfies the Presiding Officer that he is unable to vote without assistance, the Presiding Officer shall permit any person appointed by such voter to accompany him into the voting compartment to mark, fold, and deposit his ballot-paper for him, this provision to be applied to blind and physically incapacitated electors, but not to illiterate voters.
AN amendment of the existing legislation along those lines is desired by the various organizations for the blind throughout Australia. Some members of the committee were of the opinion that the Presiding Officer should accompany the blind voter into the cubicle; but leading officers of the different blind institutions, and the honorable member for Fawkner in another place (Mr. Maxwell), strongly opposed any such provision. As the result of its investigations, the committee felt that no harm, but much good, would result from the adoption of its recommendation in this respect. Another recommendation is -
That no motor car or other vehicle shall lie hived on behalf of any candidate or any political organization on polling day except for the exclusive use of incapacitated electors, the presiding officer to be informed in writing, not later than polling day, of the number of cars to be employed for such incapacitated electors.
That, except in the ease of cars hired or otherwise secured for the use of incapacitated electors, no motor cars or other vehicles shall approach within 50 feet of a polling booth.
That will be a drastic alteration about which there is a considerable difference of opinion, and it may or may not be accepted by Parliament. A further recommendation is -
That in large polling centres booths should be established for other divisions, and, in exceptional cases, special machinery should bo provided to meet the requirements of any considerable number of electors who are out of their division or subdivision on polling day.
That is intended to give improved voting facilities for such places as Fremantle and Perth, Rockhampton - Range and City - Brisbane and South Brisbane, to mention only a few. If it is adopted, electors who may have to leave their place of residence too early in the morning to vote in their own subdivision, will be entitled to vote directly at the more convenient polling place in another subdivision. With regard to the counting of votes, the committee has recommended -
That the local count of votes should he made available to the public at the same time as the figures are wired to the capital cities.
We . had many complaints, especially in country centres about the existing arrangement. Apparently it is an instruction to presiding officers not to make known the result of the scrutiny locally, but to telegraph the count to the Returning Officer for the State so that, to cite Rockhampton as a concrete example, Brisbane is in a position to know the local count earlier than Rockhampton. This state of affairs should not be allowed to continue. The act clearly intends ‘.hat local information should be made available as soon as possible. Another recommendation of the committee relates to donations or gifts by members of Parliament or candidates. We advise -
That the act bc amended to provide that no member of the Federal Parliament shall offer, promise, or give directly or indirectly, any gift, donation, or prize to or for any club or other association or institution, except hospitals, institutions and associations for charitable purposes, schools, and war memorials.
At present, there is a good deal of latitude allowed. This recommendation, if adopted, will protect members of Parliament from importunate electors acting in the interests of local cricket or football clubs or other kindred associations. Invariably the appointment of a member of Parliament as vice-president of such organizations means a contribution of a guinea or so. If all such demands were complied with a member would have very little of his parliamentary allowance left at the end of the year.
– Does that recommendation apply to candidates who are not members?
– No, but the act provides for new candidates. We have not stated a penalty as we think that the Crown Law Officers will be able to make a reasonable suggestion. On the subject of informal voting the recommendation of the committee is -
That the names of the parties to which candidates belong should be shown on the ballot-paper.
This subject, caused a good deal of thought. The recommendation if accepted, will prevent a considerable amount of informal voting. The electoral authorities stated that the only reason that could be advanced against the recommendation was the possibility of some fantastic party of one being in the field ; but the committee believes that the adoption of the recommendation will reduce considerably the heavy percentage of informal voting recorded at every election. On the subject of absent voting, the committee recommends -
That electors who vote as absent when they could have voted in their own polling places and sign a declaration untruthfully, should he deemed to be guilty of an offence, and subject to penalty accordingly.
There was a great outcry in Queensland at the last election because of the extent to which the absent voting facilities of the act were availed of. A large number of electors made an untruthful declaration, and improperly voted as absent voters, chiefly because it suited their convenience to do so. We want to check the practice, because it leads to a tremendous amount of unnecessary work on the part of the electoral officials, and will continue to do so unless it is prevented in future. With regard to joint rolls, the recommendation is -
That negotiations between the Common- monwealth and the States of New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia should be pursued until the system of joint rolls is made uniform throughout the Commonwealth.
We found a general desire for the adoption of joint rolls throughout the Commonwealth, but, unfortunately, only three of the States have adopted the system. A fourth is preparing to come into the scheme, and I believe that a fifth State is in a reasonable frame of mind; but Queensland, I fear, is adamant in its objection.
– Because of the changes made so frequently in State electoral boundaries, a large slice of one electorate being added to another, and large numbers of workers being moved about very freely. Those States that have joint rolls declare that they would not revert to the former system in any circumstances. I hope, therefore, that eventually there will be the same uniformity in all the States. Electoral officials informed us that discrepancies inthe divisional or subdivisional boundaries of Commonwealth and State electorates were not an insuperable difficulty. I come now to the suggestion to the committee for improvements in the electoral law and procedure. We recommend -
Electoral officials informed us that many suggestions for ‘ improvements in the working of the law had been made, but asthey had received no response they were under the impression that all the work and trouble they had been put to had not been properly appreciated. We found, however, that all the suggestions were given careful consideration, but that only in the event of their adoption was the officer responsible for them advised.
If the procedure we recommend is adopted, suggestions made by officials who ure actually doing the work will have proper consideration. I hope I have made it clear to honorable senators that the committee has put up a good case for the recommendations it has submitted, and I trust also that the Government will take the necessary action, to give effect to them.
Debate (on motion ‘by Senator Sir William Glasgow) adjourned.
Senate adjourned at 5.17 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 15 March 1927, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1927/19270315_senate_10_115/>.