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Thursday, 6 May 1920

Mr KERBY (Ballarat) . - I shall occupy the attention of honorable members for only a few minutes in dealing with the amendments which I submitted when this question was last before the House. The urgent necessity for a Convention to consider the amendment of the Constitution has been stressed by previous speakers, who have pointed out that it is absolutely necessary that the Commonwealth should have control over all Australian trade, commerce, and industry. In the House yesterday questions were asked in reference to the forty-two cases which are at present listed in the Conciliation and Arbitration Court, and the probability is that if the Commonwealth Parliament had had absolute power to legislate with respect to industrial matters we should not have had anything like that number of cases awaiting the attention of the Court. As I said last week, the States are carrying on in a very selfish manner. Each State practically is working wholly and solely for its own interests, and this is undoubtedly to the detriment of the rest of Australia. I am convinced that after going into the question thoroughly the proposed Convention will recommend the division of the States into smaller provinces, which would undoubtedly do away with a lot of State jealousies that at present exist. It would enable us also to overcome to a certain extent the difficulties of centralization. Each province would be made responsible for the administration of its own domestic affairs. The provincial councils, as the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) mentioned, would be given power to construct nar row gauge railway lines within their own boundaries, but if their finances permitted, they would no doubt have broad gauge lines. An amendment of the Constitution which would give the Commonwealth Parliament full control over railways would rid Australia of the breakofgauge difficulty, which is one of its greatest curses. If the Commonwealth Government had complete power over the railways, I am convinced that one of the first steps taken by it would be to remedy that evil.

The recommendations of the Convention will have to be ratified by the people of Australia, and we can only hope to secure for those recommendations the indorsement of the electors by educating public opinion as to the reasons for them and their urgent necessity. The first of my amendments, if carried, will bring this proposal into the region of direct legislative action, and will greatly facilitate the calling of the Convention. T move the omission of the words " of section 51 " in clause 1, because I think we are all agreed that the Constitution generally requires to be amended. It is useless to attempt a patchwork amendment, and we can hope to have a practical amendment only after the Constitution as a» whole has been considered by the Convention, and recommendations have been made by it. If my second amendment be carried, the motion will provide that the Convention shall consist of an equal number, of representatives of each State. I make this proposal because I do not think it desirable to tie down the Government to any particular, number of representatives for each State, I have purposely proposed to omit the words in the original motion which provide that the members of the Convention shall be elected " according to the principle of proportional representation," since their retention would look like an attempt to induce the Government to recognise the principle of proportional representation, which has not yet been thoroughly debated. When I mentioned this matter on a previous occasion the, honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) inquired why I proposed to omit those words, and I referred him to the fact that, as the result of the recent election, according to a letter written by him, 13,568 electors in my own division were not represented. The third amendment which I propose will not be necessary if my first amendment be carried. The urgent necessity for an alteration of the Constitution, so as to give the Commonwealth power to deal with Trusts, combines, railway communications, and the nationalization of monopolies, has been recognised in previous attempts to secure the approval of the people for an amendment of the Constitution. While we have dual control in each State, the position of affairs must remain unsatisfactory. We are hopeful that by an 'amendment of the Constitution, which will give the Commonwealth full power to deal with all national questions, leaving only matters of domestic concern within the jurisdiction of the State Parliaments or provincial councils, we shall aid in the development of Australia, and be able to overcome our social and industrial unrest.

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