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Friday, 20 July 1906

Mr CAMERON (Wilmot) .- In connexion with the proposal of the Government to increase The High Court Bench by two additional Judges, I, as a member of the House, am entitled to review the work of the Court, with the object of determining whether it is advisable to make this increase. When, in 1903, we were -asked to establish the High Court, we were told that that institution would be the keystone to the Federal building, without which Federation would not produce the highest benefits expected from it. The Ministry of the day proposed the appointment of five Justices, but the number was reduced by Parliament to three. I was against the institution of the High Court at that time, and opposed the Bill. The then Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton, solemnly assured the House that he would not accept the position of a Justice of the High Court.

Mr Bamford - No. He said that he would not accept the position of Chief Justice.

Mr Isaacs - That is my reflection. He did not say that he would not accept the position of Justice.

Mr CAMERON - My recollection is that he said that he would not accept the position of Justice, and I shall stand by. my statement until refuted by the Hansard report of his remarks. When the Bench came to be constituted, Sir Samuel Griffith, the then Chief Justice of Queensland, was appointed Chief Justice of Australia, and two members of the Government, of whom the Prime Minister of the day was one, who had never previously acted as Judges, were made puisne Justices.

Mr Isaacs - Mr. Justice O'Connor, I am sure, had at times acted as a Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales.

Mr CAMERON - That is practically a quibble. He had not been a permanent Judge of any Court in Australia. All three gentlemen may be able lawyers, but two of them had had no previous experience as Judges; while the Chief Justice, though probably an able man, cannot be said to possess greater ability than some of the Judges of the Supreme Courts of New South Wales, Victoria, or the other States. The stinging indictment brought against him by the right honorable member for Adelaide, indeed, raised doubts as to the wisdom of the appointment. Directly the Court commenced its work, it began to reverse the decisions of the Supreme Courts of the States. Now, in my opinion, a Judge of the High Court is not necessarily possessed of greater- ability than that of a Judge of a Supreme Court, although his position is higher, and it therefore seems to me a very curious thing that the Justices of the High Court have deliberately set aside practically every judgment coming before them on appeal. 'But a still graver charge can be brought against them in connexion with their action in sitting upon the cases brought to decide whether the Federal public servants were liable for the payment of the income taxation of the States. They have decided that neither members of the Commonwealth Parliament nor Federal .public servants are liable for income tax; but I contend that, under no circumstances, should the case affecting the liability of Federal public servants have been tried by them, because no ohe should adjudicate in a matter -in which he has a direct pecuniary interest, such as the Justices had in, the Tasmanian case.

Mr Isaacs - To which case does the honorable member refer?

Mr CAMERON - The case of D'Emden v. Pedder:

Mr Isaacs - Was not that a stamp case?

Mr CAMERON - The case of Bowden was the stamp case. The cass to which I refer raised the point whether a Federal public servant is liable for State income tax, and the Justices of the High Court, being themselves Federal public servants, were pecuniarily interested in its decision. The Justices were as much interested in the decision as were any other public servants, and it was their bounden duty to allow an appeal to be made to the Privy Council.

Mr Mcwilliams - Did they not refuse leave to appeal ?

Mr CAMERON - Yes. The Premier of Victoria, and also the Premiers of other States, were very anxious that a test case should be submitted for decision by the Privy Council, but the High Court declined to grant the necessary leave to appeal. Although the Prime Minister of the day stated that he was most anxious to facilitate the wish of the States' Premiers, so far as I know, nothing has been done in that direction.

Mr Isaacs - The question of the liability of Federal public servants to the payment of State income tax is now before the Privy Council, which has reserved its decision.

Mr CAMERON - Every obstacle was thrown in the way of an appeal being made to the Privy Council.

Mr Isaacs - There was no obstacle.

Mr CAMERON - The High Court refused leave to appeal. The Court decided in the case in which the Prime Minister was defendant that members of the Federal Parliament could not be called upon by the States to pay income tax. I presume that in view of their previous decision, the Court had no option but to decide the matter in that way, but I think that they arrived at a wrong conclusion. I do not think that the Victorian Government should have the right to ask honorable members from other States to pay income tax, but such honorable members should not be relieved from paying the taxation levied in their respective States. I would point out that there is no finality about the position which we occupy in this House.

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