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Wednesday, 14 October 1914

Senator GRANT (New South Wales) . - I rise to support the motion moved by Senator Guy. While it is quite true that the recent elections were, to a certain extent, fought upon the issue of preference to unionists in the employment of the Commonwealth, I think the Government have done the right thing, in: the meantime, in granting preference to unionists in Government employ by an administrative act. But I trust that they will not omit, as soon as an, opportunity presents itself, to embody the principle in an Act of Parliament. Unionists know well that,, while the present Government remain in power, preference to unionists in Commonwealth employ will be assured; but they cannot tell what might take place in the event of a defeat of the Government. Previous speakers have dealt somewhat extensively with the present position, so far as the war in Europe is concerned. T should like to say that the action of the previous Government in deciding to send a Military Force to the assistance of the Empire, and the action of the present Government in proposing to supplement' that with' a further- Force of 20,000 men, meets with my warmest approval. I feel sure that tlie people generally do mot yet ever remotely realize the true .position Sir William Lyne, and pointed out to him that we wanted oldage pensions for the workers of the community when they could no longer assist themselves. We told him that if he did not carry through an Old-age Pensions Bill that session we would pass him out, and he found time to do so before the termination of that Parliament. Up to that time nothing of a definite character had been done. Dealing with the matter from a Commonwealth point of view, we know that the payment of Commonwealth oldage pensions was entirely due to the action taken by a previous Labour Government under the provisions of the Surplus Revenue Bill. The present Federal Government realized the necessity of coming to the assistance of workers and others who have been worsted in the battle of life, and they are prepared to increase the oldage pension to an extent commensurate with the increased cost of .living.. I -desire to refer for a moment to the Navigation Act. This measure was enacted some considerable time ago, but, for some reason or another, it has not yet been proclaimed. I should like to know why a proclamation bringing that Act into operation has not yet been published. It is a very important measure, and one that concerns a very great number of people. I hope that the Government in the very near future will see their way clear to proclaim the Act, and bring it into operation. Amongst the measures mentioned in the Governor-General's Speech is one referring to the Electoral Act. We are promised an amendment of that Act. While the Act, on the whole, is working satisfactorily, it would be as well to have some amendments made as soon as possible. For instance, we are told that returning officers, deputies, and poll clerks ought not to be appointed from those who have strong partisan views. Most men, whether they admit it or not, have partisan views more or less strongly marked, and any effort to fill these offices from people who have no political views must be doomed to failure. One amendment to which we may look forward with confidence would be a recognition of the fact that all men have partisan views, and that an effort should be made to insure that all parties have fair representation amongst the permanent officials. Instead of assuming that the returning officer and poll clerk have no political views, we ought to consider a proposal to pay from the Consolidated Revenue scrutineers to represent both parties. I do not wish to bring a charge against any officials, because, unless I have very strong evidence to support a charge of that character, I would not make it; but my proposal would give a degree of confidence to electors and candidates which at present they do not possess. I am pleased that the Government have decided to go on with general legislation, notwithstanding the present state of war in the Empire. I think they are doing the right thing, and I do hope that, when it comes to a question of footing the bill, they will not be advised by those who advocate that the necessary taxation should be imposed on tea and kerosene. No tax on those commodities ought to receive the support of any member of the Senate, no matter on which side he sits, for it would distinctly be a tax deliberately aimed at the poorer section of the community.

Senator Bakhap - A tax on kerosene would fall almost exclusively on country people.

Senator GRANT - Any tax of that kind ought to be sternly opposed by all members of this Chamber. An effort ought to be made to place taxation for this purpose upon the shoulders of those best able to bear it. There are different ways in which the money can be raised, and, when the time comes to consider the question, I shall be fully prepared to express my views on it. The Government have also recognised the necessity of providing employment for the very large numbers who have been thrown out of work. They propose to deal with the locking of the Murray, the Darling and its tributaries, and, so far as I can gather from the Speech, which is somewhat vague on that point, to also go on with the necessary works at Canberra. I am sure that those proposals, when they come before us, will have the sympathetic support of honorable senators. They are urgently required, because there are large and increasing numbers of men who fail to find employment; and I trust that, as soon as possible, the Government will see their way to proceed with the works mentioned. The question of a uniform gauge for our railways will be dealt with. It has been postponed time after time, and the task is becoming more costly every year. No Government have,, so far, had the courage to tackle the problem in a definite manner, but the present Government promise to do so. I hope they will stick to their promise, and! that, at any rate, a start will be made to bring all the railways of the Commonwealth to the uniform gauge of 4 ft. 8£ in. It is indicated that the Government intend to submit to the electors, as soon as possible, the referenda proposals for the amendment of the Constitution, already twice submitted. I trust that matter will not be overlooked, because we cannot carry out many of the ideals of the Government unless those amendments are, carried into effect. I hope, therefore, that as soon as possible the Government will see their way clear toput them before the people.

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