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Thursday, 3 March 1932

Mr NAIRN (Perth) .- The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) concerned himself unnecessarily with his own reputation when he dealt at such length with his Government's delay in issuing a writ against the State of New South Wales. I heard very little criticism of the previous Government on that score, and probably if the right honorable gentleman had not been at such pains to excuse himself in advance, such delay as occurred would not have been mentioned. He was entitled to assume that the promises made to him by Mr. Lang would be honored, but having been grossly deceived, I am surprised that he should now believe that any measure short of compulsion would be effective in dealing with that gentleman, or any of his Ministers. The contention of the right honorable member for Yarra is that the Commonwealth should proceed by writ to obtain from the High Court a mandatory injunction, which, he said, no Minister would dare to disobey. Apparently he has a sublime confidence in the respect which New South Wales Ministers would have for orders of the court. I, on the contrary, imagine that those gentlemen would take the greatest delight in openly defying an order of the High Court, and in inviting the Commonwealth to get its money as best it could. The Leader of the Opposition said that this proposed legislation would delay the procedure by writ, and, if it should be declared invalid, considerable time would be lost. That is not correct. Action under this bill would not hold up procedure by writ. Writs have been issued already, and are proceeding in the normal way.


Mr NAIRN - And they will proceed irrespective of this legislation. But while the Commonwealth has recourse to process by writ, the Government believes that the legislation we are now considering will provide speedier and more effective means of compelling the Government of New .South Wales to meet its obligations. Judment on the writs may not be obtained for twelve months, during which the revenues of New South Wales would be received and spent, thus rendering any order of the High Court abortive. The virtue of this legislation is that it will enable the Commonwealth to attach the revenue of New South Wales at its source, and before it is received by the State Government. The Leader of the Opposition also questioned the power of this Parliament to legislate in this Why for the enforcement of an agreement to which the Commonwealth is a party. He declares that no Parliament has a right to do that. He seems to have overlooked section 105a of the Constitution which reads -

The Parliament may make laws for the carrying out by the parties thereto of any such agreement.

That section expressly vests in this Parliament power to legislate to ensure the performance of the financial agreements. The giving of that power was ratified by the Parliaments of the Commonwealth and the States and was approved by the people by referendum. It was also, I believe, supported by the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin). That same statutory power answers the right honorable gentleman's further objection that the Commonwealth Parliament, being a party to the agreement, should not exercise power to legislate for the performance of it, when similar power is not given to the States, which are the other contracting parties. .He complained of what he called the unilateral right which this legislation confers upon the Commonwealth Parliament. But power to legislate in this way was deliberately given to this Parliament by the States and the people, after full consideration. It was thoroughly understood that if laws should be necessary for the carrying out of the agreements, the National Parliament was the proper authority to make them. The right honorable gentleman's argument invaded the realm of constitutional law. I submit with all respect that it is futile for honorable members in this chamber to debate purely constitutional issues; the only sound course is for the Government of the day to take the best legal advice obtainable and act upon it. I deprecate the statement made too often in and out of this chamber, and repeated by the Leader of the Opposition to-night, that legislation of this character may be an incitement to civil war. Such words, if they have any influence at all, are calculated to provoke resistance to the claims of the Commonwealth.

Mr Lane - The Lang crowd will not fight.

Mr NAIRN - I do not believe that they will. Talk of this character is similar to that of fomenters of insurrection, who issue a warning that if their demands are not conceded, they may not be able to restrain their supporters. The majority of the people of New South Wales desire that that State shall act honorably and honestly; they do not approve of their representatives flagrantly violating their pledges. If this issue has to be determined by force, I am confident that the better element in New South Wales will stand definitely for the honorable discharge of obligations deliberately undertaken.

Mr James - Would the honorable member be prepared to pay the overseas interest and allow people to starve in consequence ?

Mr NAIRN - The first essential is that people shall be honest.

Mr Beasley - Feed them on words.

Mr NAIRN - The Government of New South Wales appears to have made up its mind to resist in every way possible the Commonwealth's just demands, and for that reason temporising by this Parliament would be futile. The majority of the people by their votes at the recent federal election showed that they desire the Commonwealth Government to deal with this matter resolutely, and I believe that the Government having entered upon the task of compelling performance of the Financial Agreement, will not be deterred by cheap sentiment such as has been repeatedly expressed during the discussion of this bill. A fair and proper contract was made, and the breach of ii is admitted. We need not anticipate trouble by saying that the court will nor accept the Auditor-General's certificate as prima facie evidence of the debt. Undoubtedly, the certificate will state the correct amount, and objections to prima facie evidence will be made merely for the purpose of defeating or, at any rate, delaying justice. As the objections by the Leader of the Opposition would, if accepted, defeat the purpose of this measure, the Government should not give way to them.

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