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Wednesday, 22 March 1961

Mr POLLARD (Lalor) .- I rise only because I think honorable members should have their memories refreshed on what actually happened in respect of the work of the Labour Government led by the late John Curtin and the 1944 proposals to amend the Commonwealth Constitution. The honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Chresby) informed us, in effect but not in these words, that inherent in the 1944 referendum proposals was a plot or a plan to introduce socialist powers or to nationalize all industry in Australia. Let us examine the facts. In 1942, the then Prime Minister and war-time leader of this nation, the Right Honorable John Curtin, and his Cabinet colleagues, considered that if this country was to emerge from the war in a position to rehabilitate the servicemen of this country and to restore our economy to an effective peace-time basis is was essential that this Parliament be vested with certain powers to enable it to take the necessary action. The then Prime Minister then assembled at a convention in Canberra every State Premier and every leader of a State Opposition party. He submitted fourteen points to those leaders from the various State governments of the Commonwealth and, lo! and behold, every one of them, irrespective of whether he bore a Liberal Party tag, a Labour Party tag, or the tag of any other party, agreed that the fourteen points suggested by the Right Honorable John Curtin were reasonable and that action should be taken to give the Commonwealth Parliament the requisite powers. To avoid the necessity to hold a referendum, it was agreed by every Premier of Australia, Labour and Liberal alike, and every leader of every Opposition in the State Parliaments of the country that approval should be given to the passage of legislation in every State in Australia referring the requisite powers to the Commonwealth, as is provided for in the Commonwealth Constitution.

Mr Chresby - Now answer the first charge I made.

Mr POLLARD -If what you say is correct, then, by deduction, every Liberal premier was equally as culpable as the other premiers of seeking to introduce socialistic powers. What happened? Those men went back to their Parliaments, and the Premier of Victoria, Mr. Dunstan, introduced legislation - which was passed by the Victorian Parliament - referring the requisite powers to the Commonwealth Parliament. There was inserted in that legislation a reservation that the reference of these powers to the Commonwealth by Victoria would not operate unless every other State parliament in Australia passed a similar measure. Mr. Dunstan did not say he was not in favour of referring the powers; he said that he was in favour of referring them only if all State parliaments referred them. Down in the little State of Tasmania, where they had an undemocratically elected Legislative Council, the bill seeking to refer the requisite powers was rejected. That meant that the bill that was passed by the Victorian Parliament was inoperative, and the late Mr. Curtin's proposal collapsed. There was no objection to the proposal because of some hidden power it contained with relation to the socialization of industry.

Later, in 1944, the late John Curtin, still believing that it was essential that the Commonwealth have these powers, submitted the fourteen points to the electors of Australia for their ratification or rejection. The electors rejected them and, because of that rejection, every Commonwealth Government since then has lacked the power that would have enabled any sensible, wisely directed government to prevent the shocking inflationary trend that we are now experiencing, and to govern this Commonwealth more effectively than it can be governed to-day. It is strange, but nevertheless true, that a great many of the powers that were sought by that referendum have been recommended by the Constitutional Review Committee. This indicates that the only thing that was wrong with the referendum proposals made by the late John Curtin was that they were before their time so far as the needs of this great Commonwealth are concerned.

I remind the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Chresby) that amongst those fourteen points there, was. no proposal to amend that section of the Constitution which deals specifically with the nationalization of the banks. The nationalization episode did not take place until 1947. So all the honorable member's talk, assumptions and allegations are nothing more than the ravings of a man who does not understand what he is talking about.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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