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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Mr LANE (Barton) .- I am very glad that the Government proposes to review the Constitution with a view to bringing about a re-alignment of powers, as between the Commonwealth and the States in the light of developments in our national life since federation was inaugurated. We are indebted to the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) for having raised this matter in the able speech which he delivered last week, and also to the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies) for his lucid explanation of the difficulties involved. I suggest that the last referendum failures were due mainly to the methods adopted in submitting the issues to the people. Generally speaking, sufficient time is not allowed to enable the issues to be fully explained, whilst there is too great a tendency to decide the matter involved on party political lines. The referendum of 1937, on the question as to whether the Commonwealth should be given complete control of marketing and aviation, fully illustrates this point. In that instance the impression was given at the outset that the Commonwealth was seeking control over the marketing of only four or five products, and, as the result, the people doubted whether the Government was in earnest in taking the referendum. It was not until the Attorney-General, in reply to a wire which he received from a member of the Legislative Council of New South Wales, stated that if the referendum were carried in respect of the marketing proposals, future Commonwealth governments would be empowered to fix the price of all primary commodities, including meat and other products of our great pastoral industry, that the people understood what was really involved. In giving that reply the only reservation made by the Attorney-General \va9 that the term "marketing" would have to be defined by the High Court. In my view, the Commonwealth has invariably approached these referendums in a way which was calculated to defeat any proposal submitted. Each referendum has been preceded by wrangling between the Commonwealth and the States; yet, the Commonwealth never failed to appeal to every section of the community to cooperate for the success of the referendum. Furthermore, there was a tendency to create the impression in the public mind that each referendum involved a fight as between the Commonwealth and the States. I heartily support the proposal that a convention should be held to review the Constitution, and I suggest that the Commonwealth should not shirk its responsibility to take the initiative immediately in this respect. Australians are sick and tired of continual wrangling between the Commonwealth and the States as to their respective powers in various spheres. As one honorable member suggested this afternoon, it has been a case of the Commonwealth endeavouring to "pass the buck" to the States, and vice versa. The people cannot be expected to fall for this kind of dope for ever. They are anxious that the national Parliament should be endowed with sufficient powers to enable it to weld this nation into one great unit. I am of opinion that any proposals resulting from the deliberations of the convention, which it is suggested should be held, will be accepted by the people, so long as one of the issues be the abolition of the State parliaments. It is difficult of course to get the smaller States to see eye to eye with the larger States on many matters, but I suggest that 75 per cent, of the existing difficulties of the smaller States would disappear if the national Parliament were really enabled to function as a national Parliament should. The conflict as between the smaller and the larger States is repeatedly reflected in debates which take place in this Parliament. In that respect, however, we can say at least this much for the representatives of the larger States, that they have never objected to any just demand upon them in order to enable the smaller States to overcome their difficulties. Because of their limited resources some States can never hope to develop beyond a certain degree. It is time that we put an end to such anomalies as was illustrated by the AttorneyGeneral, when he pointed out the difficulties arising as the result of divided control between the Commonwealth and the States, for instance, in respect of transport and aviation. Because of this division of authority even those powers which the Commonwealth possessed in relation to such matters were nullified. The people of Australia are tired of this situation. They realize now that there is no necessity for seven different parliaments in this country. I entertain some doubt, however, as to whether the present Cabinet, because of the strong representation within it of the smaller States, will be capable of handling so important an issue as that of constitution reform along the lines I have indicated. For instance, the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) comes from one of the smaller States is very significant in this connexion, particularly should any conflict arise between the interests of the smaller and- those of the larger States.

I propose now to deal with the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act passed last session. When handling that legislation the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) adhered too slavishly to the guidance of Sir Walter Kinnear. I suggest that had the Government been more disposed to listen to the views expressed by many honorable members, who were well qualified to offer advice on this subject, we should have enacted legislation which would have proved more acceptable to the people of Australia as a whole. Even now the Government should take the opportunity to make the scheme more liberal. [Quorum formed]- The Government brought out Sir Walter Kinnear from Great Britain to investigate local conditions with a view to framing a scheme along the lines of the British scheme. That gentleman was afforded every facility in his investigations in this country. Too long a period was occupied by him ' in preparing a scheme of national insurance, and even when the measure was submitted to this Parliament, there was no provision in it for widows and children. Had the Government framed a more liberal scheme similar to that embodied in the British legislation, there would not have been much objection to the bill. Before the scheme becomes operative on the 1st May of next year, the Government should give it further consideration so that it may be more acceptable to those who have to come under it. When the bill was under discussion in this chamber, I stated that I was exceedingly dis- appointed to find that the Treasurer had not made any provision for sickness of juveniles between fourteen and sixteen years of age, but eventually . a paltry1d. was added, increasing the rate to 5d., which I consider was the height of meanness. The attitude of the Treasurer during the passage of the bill through this chamber was discreditable to him and to the Government of which he is a member. I believe that the scheme will have to be altered before it will receive the support of the people.

Mr Gander - Why did the honorable member support it?

Mr LANE - I regarded it as the foundation of an important social reform. Some members of the Cabinet did not understand the bill. One Minister came to the rescue of the Treasurer and read a prepared speech. I warn the Government that if it does not make the supplementary proposals more liberal, some honorable members will have to consider seriously whether they will continue to support the Government's policy in this respect.

I now wish to direct the attention of the Government to the activities of the War Service Homes Commission, particularly in connexion with the treatment meted out to some occupiers of war service homes. In discussing a taxation bill yesterday, we were informed that, when a taxpayer is unable to pay his tax, he can appeal to a tribunal which can, if it thinks fit, remit the tax, and that over a period hundreds of thousands of pounds have been so remitted. If such consideration is extended to taxpayers, why should not similar consideration be extended to occupiers of war service homes, who, through circumstances beyond their

Control, have been unable to pay their rents? Some of these unfortunate men have been unable to pay their rent for five or six years, and the accumulated arrears amount in some instances to £200 or £300. A committee appointed to deal with such cases decided that if the tenants were unable to pay the rent stipulated by the committee, they should not be evicted. We find, however, that in some instances the commission has been acting as rackrenting landlords by demanding that the tenants shall make up their arrears.

It is true that in. some cases the arrears have been capitalized. The power of the commission cannot be challenged in a court of law. In order to test the commission's authority in that respect, I attended a court on behalf of an individual who was prosecuted, but I discovered that I had no standing. I decided to employ a solicitor, but he assured me that I would be wasting my money, as he had no standing in the court. Eventually the magistrate withdrew the case temporarily to permit me to make a statement on behalf of the person who had been prosecuted, and after hearing me told me that I had really no right to appear. I asked him, however, to extend the period of 30 days which he could grant, to 60 days, to enable me to fight the matter out with the commission. I believe that in some instances no demand is made for the payment of a portion of the arrears unless the occupant is in receipt of £2 or £2 10s. a week. The capital value of some of the homes is ridiculously high. The Crown Solicitor was instructed to prosecute in the case of a man who had vacated his home eighteen months previously and was having small deductions made from his wages to defray a debt of about £200. Under an arrangement made a month or two previously, the arrears were reduced, but the commission said that it did not know that this man's wages were being garnisheed. Some of these men who have been occupying war service homes for eight Or nine years have had only intermittent reliefwork for four or five years.

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