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Thursday, 6 May 1920

Mr BURCHELL (Fremantle) . - In seconding the amendment, I desire to congratulate the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Kerby) on his action in moving along the lines he has indicated. The temper of the House, I believe, is distinctly in favour of the summoning of a Convention as quickly as possible. Bub it is one thing to agree to' a general principle, and quite another to1 agree to a motion laying down a number of conditions as to the way in which the Convention shall be constituted, the number of representatives of each State, and the method of their election. That, it appears to me, is quite uncalled for at the present stage. The Government, in the Speech of His Excellency the GovenorGeneral, at the opening of the Parliament, intimated that they intend to introduce legislation that will provide for the summoning of a Convention to devise ways and means of amending the Australian Constitution, and of bringing it more up to date, in the light of our twenty years' experience of its operation. That being so, if we simply affirm the general principle, and, in the terms of the amendment, express our opinion that legislative provision should be made for the summoning of this Convention, it will be a sufficient indication to the Government of the temper and the desire of the House. Proposals for amendments of the Constitution have been considered by this Parliament on a number of occasions. We have had almost innumerable opportunities of dis cussing the question again and again. Several Governments have tried to secure for this Parliament greater freedom of legislative action. They have endeavoured to obtain from the people of Australia authority to legislate along certain definite lines, but, so far, all such attempts have been unsuccessful. Only recently an appeal was made, but without success, to the electors to grant to this Parliament power to deal with the high cost of living. We are all individually feeling the pinch. The purchasing power of the sovereign is not nearly what it was a few years ago, and men and women receiving low rates of pay must have a very difficult task in making ends meet. I hope the Government will, at an early date, grant to' the House an opportunity to discuss the creation of a Convention, and I hope that we shall all bear in mind that the question of the steadily increasing cost of living is pressing more heavily on the community than any other subject. The increase is due, as we know, to different causes, and I hope the peoplewill recognise that the Parliament should not be hamstrung, but should have ample power to deal with that particularly distressful phase of our social life.

During this debate, the desirableness of having a number of small States or provinces has been urged, and valuable contributions to that phase of the subject have been made by the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), and the honorable ' member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), who have both given a great deal of attention to this evolutionary feature of the life of the Commonwealth. There are at present Statesthat are unwieldy in so far as administrative control is concerned. Although in the matter of population they are not very big, yet from the territorial standpoint, they are too large to be conveniently controlled from any one centre. It would be advantageous to the Commonwealth, as a whole, if the division of some of the States into smaller areas were taken in hand. We should forget for the time being the old boundaries that exist, particularly as between New South Wales and Victoria. I have also in mind the north-west 'portion of this continent. We have there a very large territory rich in minerals, and rich from a pastoral point of view, which could be converted into a veritable mine of wealth for the whole community, if an opportunity for its development were given, and there were greater concentration on the work of developing it. The small handful of people in Western Australia - the population of that State is only some 320,000 - has something like onethird of the continent of Australia under its guidance and control. We cannot expect a small population to finance the various undertakings necessary for the development of such a huge territory; but where there is natural wealth in the form of minerals and vast pastoral resources, action to exploit it should be taken on a broader line than has hitherto been followed. I believe that if a new State or province were created - I do not mind what name is adopted - that would lead to marked development. I do not say that the whole of the expense of that development should be borne by the taxpayers of Australia generally. Having been for some years in this Parliament, I know how many pressing problems face honorable members ; and I do not forget that other parts of Australia besides that to which I am referring are calling for development. Undoubtedly, however, the creation of a new State or province in the north-west of Australia would have a beneficial effect upon the development of that part of the continent.

Reference has been made to the need for the unification of our railway gauges. This is a matter that has been the subject of various conferences of Railways Commissioners. Many estimates have been made of the cost of giving the railway systems of Australia a uniform gauge. It was estimated some years ago that the cost would be £8,000,000; but since then our railway mileage has increased so greatly that now it would probably be from £20,000,000 to £25,000,000.


Mr BURCHELL - The honorable member may be thinking of the cost of giving to all the lines in Australia a uniform gauge. I am referring to the cost of giving a uniform gauge to the main State lines only, so that the traveller might journey without changing his train from Rockhampton right round to Fremantle or Geraldton. This is a matter that the proposed Convention might very well discuss.

Mr West - Is it practicable to give a uniform gauge to the main State lines only, seeing that lines of varying gauges connect with them?

Mr BURCHELL - I do not think it is absolutely impracticable, though the question is one for a civil engineer to speak on. I know that the attention of railway engineers throughout the world has for some years past been directed to the obtaining of a method to solve difficulties such as the honorable member has in mind, and I am convinced that, before long, a satisfactory solution will be found.

There are in the world at present Federal Constitutions of different kinds. Our own Constitution differs markedly from both the Canadian and the South. African Constitution.

Mr West - The Canadian Constitution would be the better one for us to follow as an example.

Mr BURCHELL - That is my opinion. Although the South African Constitution is more recent than ours, and much more recent than that of Canada, I prefer the Canadian Constitution. In South Africa I had an opportunity to discuss with provincial and Union members of Parliament some of the difficulties in the working of the South African Constitution.

Mr Jowett - Will the honorable member give us an idea of them?

Mr BURCHELL - When I was at Pretoria, a Labour member told me that, after many years, the Transvaal province had been able to place on the statute-book a measure for improving the working conditions of miners on the Rand; but it had to be submitted to the Executive of the South African Union, that is, to the Union Cabinet of the day, for approval or rejection; and I believe that amendments were insisted on by the Executive which were distinctly opposed to the wishes of the provincial Parliament.

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