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Tuesday, 9 April 1946

Mr BERNARD CORSER ("Wide Bay) . - Unlike most bills that come before this Parliament, the mere passage of the measures will not ensure that the power that is being sought will be available to the Parliament, for these measures ' are designed merely to authorize the submission of certain questions to the people by referendum. Something can be said for the contention that we should not fear to approach the people at any time for needed additional constitutional power. During the life of this federation many proposals have been submitted to the people but very few of them have been approved. It became apparent during the war that the powers of the Parliament were in need of readjustment, but it also became apparent, in that period, that it was dangerous in some particulars to entrust to the control of a central government the destinies of distant States. Whilst I agree, therefore, that something can be said for an increase of the power of the Commonwealth Parliament in certain directions, I am conscious, like many other persons in the community, that in the last few years a serious degree of lawlessness has become evident in some sections of the community . The people concerned have made it clear that they intend to use every means in their power to bring about alterations in our economic structure,' by revolutionary method, if necessary. In my opinion, the bill designed to give the Parliament additional power over employment in industry has been introduced because of pressure upon the Government by those extreme sections. The bills which deal with social services and the orderly marketing of primary products' have been introduced in the hope that they will help to secure the passage of the third bill. It is significant that this lawless section of the community advocates the socialization of the means of production, distribution and exchange, which is also a plank in the platform of the Labour party. In considering bills of this description, it is proper that we should bear in mind that the present Government, or any Government, will not always be on the treasury bench, but that makes it necessary to consider these proposals in the most careful manner. We should not take the risk of inflicting damage on the primary producers of Australia in the hope that by so doing we may influence the people to show their lack of confidence in the Government which introduced these bills. We must be big enough to be national in our outlook.

The first of the three measures relates to social services. We recognize that even if the Commonwealth Parliament lacks the necessary power to legislate for certain social services the State parliaments have full powers to do so, and if, at some time, a High Court decision should deprive the Commonwealth Parliament of power in respect of social services, this Parliament could still vote money to assist State governments to provide such services. There is, of course, no reason to believe that the Commonwealth Parliament lacks the power to provide old age and invalid pensions.

These services are not in jeopardy and are not included in the powers sought because the Constitution entrusts us with such power. But the bill also seeks to empower the Commonwealth Parliament to provide unemployment, sickness and hospital benefits, medical and dental services, and benefits to students. The High Court has not yet ruled that the Commonwealth lacks power' in respect of any of these matters.

Mr Beazley - What about its decision in the Pharmaceutical Benefits case?

Mr BERNARD CORSER - I admit that an order of the court gives good reason for believing that if the court had to give a decision in respect of pharmaceutical benefits it would be adverse to the Commonwealth. The main opposition to these proposals is due to. the fact that they ' represent, in the opinion of many people, an attempt by the Commonwealth Government to nationalize medical and dental services generally. That policy could be applied if this power were vested in the Commonwealth Parliament. An attempt is being made to cause the people to believe that maternity allowances, pensions and child endowment are in jeopardy, but these services are not likely to be assailed in any way. If any authority were foolish enough to approach the High Court for a decision in regard to social services, and the decision proved to be , adverse ' to the Commonwealth," this Parliament could still vote money to the States to enable them to provide such amenities. As a mater of fact, the Government of New South Wales had entered this field before the Commonwealth attempted to do so. It is clear in my view, that the Commonwealth Parliament will never be challenged on the payment of maternity allowances, widows' pensions, child endowment, unemployment, sickness and hospital benefits, benefits to students, and family allowances. Why, therefore, should those matters be included in the social services bill which we are considering? If a need exists to put the position beyond doubt, those subjects should be dealt with in a separate bill, and the power in respect of medical and dental services, could be the subject of a separate measure. Why should the

Government risk its .position in relation to these matters when no suggestion of a challenge has ever been made except when it is to influence the people to grant power in relation to medical and dental services? Why take the risk of losing everything in order to gain some additional ground? It will be remembered that when the previous proposals for the alteration of the Constitu- tion were before us it was said that unless the people granted the power that was being sought it would be impossible for the Commonwealth to proceed with its land settlement schemes for exservicemen; but we all know that such schemes are going forward in all States although the additional power was not granted by the people to the Commonwealth Parliament. The lands are held by the States and we can, and do, find the money. In regard to medical and dental services, I remind honorable members that the Government of Queensland has passed legislation which ensures free treatment for children and low rates for such services for people who cannot afford to pay the usual charges of practitioners. Hospital services are also available under similar conditions. There may be ground for fear that has been expressed that the Government is seeking this additional power in respect of medical and dental services in order that it may obtain full control over all doctors and dentists, and in that way proceed with its programme for the nationalization of medical and dental services. By most of these means, every facility is given to the workers in the big industrial centres, but they have not been extended in sufficient degree to the country people, who are equally entitled .to them.

The Government proposes to ask for power to legislate to give benefits to students. We are not aware exactly of what is intended. It must be conceded that up to the present Australia has not lagged behind other countries in the assistance it has given to education, through the instrumentalities of the States, which have had complete control of the matter, and deserve credit for the results, that have been achieved. Primary education is compulsory and free, and the children of country parents have the advantage of free transport to their schools where possible. I applaud the granting of additional benefits to students. For years it has been incumbent on the Commonwealth to grant assistance to the States for the advancement of education. If it now wishes to confer benefits on students, it could do so through the medium of the States, instead of spending money on a costly referendum which will merely cause widows and others to fear that they may lose the pensions they now receive from the Commonwealth should these proposals not be agreed to by the people. To-day, in this House, a Minister said in reply to a question that the Government wa3 not proceeding with certain education of ex-servicemen because the necessary buildings were not available for the purpose. The States have all the buildings, teachers and other machinery that are needed.

Mr Beazley - The Commonwealth is using the facilities of the States.

Mr BERNARD CORSER - Of course it is. Even if this referendum were carried, it still would have to Use them. Therefore, why not give to the States the amount which it intends to spend in benefits to students? Honorable members will agree that there is warrant for the re- _ mark I made earlier, that the proposals in relation to social services and organized marketing are being placed before the people in the hope that they will be the means of having the third proposal accepted. No one will lose anything, whether the proposal in relation to social services be accepted or rejected. Not one honorable member will contend that the payment of pensions would cease, or that any Government would be disinclined to give additional benefits to students through the medium of the States, if it were not carried. Facilities were not withheld from ex-servicemen because the last referendum proposals were not carried. The matter of free medicine has been capably dealt with by the Leader of the Australian Country party, who used information that had been obtained from authoritative sources in New Zealand. We do not want our people to live on pills -and drugs. A concession -such as free medicine does not provide the expected: benefit iri New

Zealand and it is not free when the people are taxed to provide it. In Queensland on one occasion arsenic was supplied free of cost for the destruction of prickly pear. It was used wastefully until the Government decided to make a modest charge for it.

The second proposal of the Government relates to the organized marketing of primary products. Section 92 of the Constitution provides that all trade and commerce between the States shall be absolutely free. On that account, much difficulty has been experienced in organizing marketing on an Australiawide basis. At the present time, the States can organize within their own borders. A Commonwealth organization can be established only under a voluntary agreement between the States and the Commonwealth, all of whom are required to pass legislation designed to that end. The 1937 referendum sought power in respect of organized marketing, but was rejected because it was not limited to the marketing of primary products. The present proposal specifies the organized marketing of primary products. The aim is to obtain power to organize marketing on an Australian basis. In order t'o be successful, a marketing scheme must be Australia-wide. It has been argued that if the powers sought be granted, the Government will be able to socialize rural industries. Were I confident that the Government desires to do that, I should hesitate to agree that the Parliament should have this power conferred on it. It has been apparent to me for many years that an alteration of section 92 of the Constitution is necessary in the' interests of primary producers and the country generally. In 1939, 1930 and 1932, I submitted to this Parliament motions to that effect.

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