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Thursday, 3 March 1932

Mr SCULLIN (Yarra) .- In a* plausible way the right honorable the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) airily brushed aside, and failed to face, the important issue before us. The right honorable gentleman referred to the powers possessed by the Commonwealth Government in connexion with a taxpayer who disputed his assessment. He declared that as it could compel him to pay, pending a judicial determination, ipso facto, similar action could be taken with a State. Does the right honorable gentleman propose to deal with a sovereign State as he would with a subject of the Crown ? That is the fundamental difference. I have already pointed out that there is no analogy. The Commonwealth Government possesses extraordinary powers with regard to taxation, immigration, and customs and excise, and it has to take drastic measures to make the application of those laws practical. But that is a transaction between government and subject. I submit that the Commonwealth Government does not possess power under section 501a or 51 (xxxix), or any other section of the Constitution, to carry out this enactment. Seven sovereign governments have entered into an agreement, and the Commonwealth Government contemplates proceeding against one party, at the same time taking to itself power to take similar action against any of the other six. Where in any agreement between individuals or governments can be found the right to enforce that agreement in the manner that is here proposed? The right honorable gentleman said, " Of course the State Governments would have signed the agreement if such a provision had been incorporated in it originally, because not one of them contemplated default." That was no answer to my question. Supposing that the Commonwealth had had the foresight to put such a provision in the agreement, does any honorable member believe that the States would have accepted a contract that gave to only one party the power to enforce this provision, denying to any State, an equal partner to the agreement, the power to pass similar legislation? Is it feasible that the States would agree to a certificate being issued by the Commonwealth Auditor-General as to the amount that was owing by a State, when similar action could not be taken by a State Auditor-General with regard to a Commonwealth obligation? Yet the right honorable gentleman has the hardihood to tell this Parliament that the States would willingly have agreed to such a proposal. The assumption is that the Federal Parliament dominates, and that the State Parliaments are the subjects of the Federal Parliament. The whole thing is too ridiculous for words. Actually we are dealing with partners to an agreement who possess equal rights with the Commonwealth. I watched the proceedings of the Premiers Conference, and I saw the difficulties encountered by the right honorable gentleman, who presided, in dealing with the States, which were exacting to the last degree. I know how jealously the States guard their rights. We have a Constitution, which we must uphold. This provision will apply to other States as well as to New South Wales. It undermines the whole federal system. We hear it said that hard cases make bad laws. Here is an example of a bad case making hard laws.

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