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Thursday, 3 March 1932

Mr BLAKELEY (Darling) .- On other occasions in this chamber, and during the period that the Commonwealth Parliament sat in Melbourne, we have had exhibitions of justice from different governments, but particularly the Bruce-Page Government, and more recently the Lyons-Latham-Bruce Government, even common sense being sidetracked in order to attack this or that section of the community. When the Bruce-Page Government was not attacking a section of the working class it was attacking a primary or secondary industry. The latest tariff schedule brought down by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) affords a further illustration of this tendency. Meanwhile the present Government is carrying on a war of hate against a certain gentleman in New South Wales. Apparently it has become obsessed by the cranky and futile schemes of this man, and is quite prepared to sacrifice that or any other State in its determination to " get " him. It can see nothing else but him. It cannot see the federation, or the constituent parts of the federation. It cannot even see the Financial Agreement, which was solemnly entered into by seven different parties. That agreement laid down clearly and definitely the different powers that were to be invoked under it. Each of the parties to it possesses certain rights, and no one party has rights greater than those of any other party. This bill, however, not only assumes rights, but takes what it has not the right to enforce or to attempt to bring into operation.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) worked himself into a great heat in reprimanding the Leader of the Opposition (M.r. Scullin) for indulging in what he termed " mock heroics ". I refuse to accept the declaration that he made to-night, that as the Premier of a State he would accept provisions such as those that are embodied in this bill.

Mr Lyons - I would not hesitate for a moment to do so.

Mr BLAKELEY - Knowing the hon- iorable gentleman, and the methods which he adopted as Premier of Tasmania to rid that State of the problems that confronted it - and they were many - I can only conclude that he would probably be the most conservative party to such an agreement. The honorable gentleman has been caught up in a whirlpool of political rancour and hatred. He does not see even his own State. Heaven forbid that he should ever lose sight of it. It has remained for the Parliament of that State to draw his attention to its continued existence, and its ardent desire to remain a party to the Financial Agreement into ' which it originally entered, not to one which usurps the rights and privileges of the various parties to it. Responsible men in the Parliament of the State have made strong speeches in condemnation of clauses 5 and 6, which are now so hotly defended by the honorable gentleman. So far as I can learn, not one voice was raised in the Tasmanian Parliament in praise of the steps that are now being taken by the Commonwealth Government. This is not the first blunder' that that Government has made, and I do not suppose that it will be the last. The Premier of Tasmania is not obsessed by the futile and foolish tactics of one party to the agreement, nor blinded into doing what may or may not have the effect of compelling the Premier of New South "Wales to recognize his responsibilities and obligations. He realizes, as do we who sit on this side of the House, that the legislation which we are now considering will have more far-reaching effects than the " getting " of somebody who for the time being has gone mad.

Mr Lyons - Yet that very Premier, as a member of the Loan Council, refused to find a single shilling to help the Premier of New South Wales.

Mr BLAKELEY - On the motion of the Premier of Tasmania, the State from which the Prime Minister comes, but which he has forgotten very quickly since taking up his residence in Canberra, the Tasmanian Parliament to-day adopted a motion " viewing with grave concern the far-reaching and dangerous nature of the Financial Agreement Enforcement Bill ". This gentleman is a conservative Premier; he is almost as conservative as the Prime Minister. It was agreed " that the bill would place the State in a most lamentable position if, at any time, through causes over which the Parliament had no control, it was unable to meet it3 obligations ". I venture to assert that if the Prime Minister were to take this bill to-morrow to a meeting of the Loan Council, that body would not agree to it. I am fortified' in that opinion by the observations that have been made by the Premiers of Western Australia, Queensland, and, last but not least, Tasmania. Thus at least three of the parties to .the agreement condemn the extraordinary methods that are being adopted by this Government to bring about an enlargement of the powers of one of the parties to it, an enlargement that was never contemplated when the agreement was consummated and never agreed to by the parties to it. I am perfectly certain that the honorable gentleman would have a majority of the Loan Council against him if he submitted the measure to them.

Mr Lyons - It happens to be our responsibility, not that of the Loan Council.

Mr BLAKELEY - Heaven forbid that I should uphold State rights, that I should in any way attack the federation or federal powers, that by act or speech I should prevent the consummation of unification in Australia. In opposing this legislation, I have in view the protection, not of State rights, but of federation. The Government has but to intro- duce another bill as drastic as this and federation will indeed have been dealt a great blow by the Federal Parliament. We cannot afford to be parties to legislation of this character. The Prime Minister has made certain statements as to what he would do and would not do, but I challenge him to withdraw the bill temporarily, and to submit it to the Loan Council for its approval. As a party to the Financial Agreement, the Loan Council has that right. We are accepting the responsibility for the payment of the debt of a defaulting State, and the rest of the States have exactly the same responsibility. As parties to the agreement, they must stand side by side with the Commonwealth so long as the Commonwealth. Government proceeds along sane and safe lines. In this instance, the Commonwealth Government is adopting a high and mighty attitude. It is acting as if it were the only party to the agreement. In the circumstances,I cannot see my way clear to support the bill.

Sitting suspended from 11.43 p.m. to 12.15 a.m. (Friday).

Friday4, March 1932.

Mr.RIORDAN (Kennedy) [12.15 a.m.]. - After the passing of this bill one can visualize the Prime Minister and the Assistant Prime Minister, headed by the Assistant Minister for Defence, marching on Sydney to collect the revenue of New South Wales. The Prime Minister stated to-night that had this clause been in the Financial Agreement, when it was put before the Premiers Conference, he would have accepted it, as would the Premier of New South Wales. If I remember rightly, Mr. Lang, who represented New South Wales at that conference, opposed the formation of a loan council, and actually refused to sign the agreement. He said that he was not prepared to place the finances of New South Wales in the incompetent hands of the then Treasurer, the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page). At that time there was a Labour Government in power in Queensland, and had this clause been in the agreement the Premier of Queensland would not have signed it. When this clause becomes operative, the Financial Agreement will become a very one-sided instrument. When the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) suggested that consideration of the bill be postponed for a few days so that a meeting of Premiers might be called to consider it, the Prime Minister interjected that the Government might as well refer the bill to a city council for an opinion. He added that he was accepting responsibility in the matter. I remind him that legislation of this kind is not so much his concern as that of the States.

This bill was introduced more than a week ago, and now the Government comes down with a sheaf of amendments almost as large as the bill itself. It is stated that the amendments are to be moved by the Prime Minister. Which, I ask, is the Prime Minister, the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Lyons), or the right honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) ? The bill should be referred to the representatives of the States for consideration before this Parliament passes it. There is likely to be a change of government in Queensland within the next few months, and who is to say that, under this measure, the same treatment will not be meted out to the new Queensland Government as is now intended for the Government of New South Wales.

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