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Thursday, 13 April 1961

Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) .- Mr. Speaker,1 very deeply deplore the lines upon which this discussion has taken place and I think it ill becomes this Parliament to have a discussion of this sort at this time. For that reason I wish first of all to congratulate the Constitutional Review Committee on the extraordinary job of work it did. I think its report is one of the best documents ever presented to this Parliament during its history and it is one which compares very favorably indeed with the reports of royal commissions held, previously by Sir John Peden and others in connexion with this matter. It cannot be dismissed on one or two points but must be looked at as a whole and in the light of its overall effect.

I would like to congratulate the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) for having brought this matter forward to-day, because I am satisfied that in common justice to the people of this country - of all parties - we must discuss these matters fully in this Parliament. We waste plenty of time in dealing with all sorts of minor things and I think we should set aside weeks in which to discuss the propositions which have been put forward by this committee, which sat for many months and went to a great deal of trouble to get all its data so that it could really deal with this problem of putting Australia on proper lines. Everybody must admit that 60 years ago, when the Constitution was brought into being the world was a completely different world from that of to-day. At that time there were no internal combustion engines, there was no semblance of aviation, no motor cars were in existence, roads were primitive and the use of electricity had scarcely come into being. As a result there was no mention of all those things in the Constitution, and yet il is so drawn up that the things which can be dealt with by this Parliament are only those allotted to the Commonwealth in the

Constitution. We are limited to those matters. The big powers really lie in. the hands of the States. They have: the powers of development and all sorts of other powers, but have not the money with which to implement them. The result is that to-day we see this continent threatened by many millions - hundreds of millions - of people elsewhere who are growing and increasing, their numbers while we are developing slowly; and more than threequarters of our country is still not developed at all.

The reason why so much of our country is not developed is that we are not governing from this Parliament in the way we should be and are not doing something to deal with matters as they arise. To-day we have heard of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics putting a man into space. Surely, we should put our Constitution on modern lines. That is the most important thing to do at the present time in order to get the best advantage from every modern invention which comes along, instead of having for a Constitution something which puts us in the cart. What is it that really prevents us from securing amendments to the Constitution? I have seen all parties agree in this Parliament; and on one particular occasion, on an industrial matter, we had voting of 63 to 2, and those two were Gregory of the Country Party and Rodgers of the Nationalist Party. All members of the Labour Party and every one else voted with us, but because of that dissension we found we could not get a majority of the States. We had a majority of the people, but could not secure a majority of the States, with the result that we could not clean up the industrial tangle.

The first thing we have to do is to make certain that there are more States. With six States, to get a majority it must be four to two, or of two to one but not a simple majority. We can get all the people of this country voting for us and, as we found in the matter of aviation, when the question was defeated by the people in three States, all the States came along and said to the Commonwealth, "We cannot handle this. For God's sake take it over." A nd as every one remembers, at that time it could not work. If we had only one more State we could have a majority of four to three, and if we had eleven, the majority could be six to five, whilst if we had 21 States the majority could be eleven to ten. Ten or 15 or 20 per cent, would be the majority that we would have to fight against. Anybody who does not look at it in that way is quite blind.

When thinking of this question of delay I recall quite well what happened in regard to the financial agreement. That was carried by a three-to-one majority in every State in the Commonwealth, although every State government opposed it. Sir Edward Mitchell, the greatest legal luminary at that time, brought out a book entitled "What Every Australian Should Know ". In it he said of the Constitution change -

Here you have put a chain around your necks which cannot be altered in any degree.

The first meeting of the Federal Loan Council altered it, because the act made provision that this could be done by the unanimous decision of the governments of Australia sitting in the Australian Loan Council. They altered it. In the first five years they altered it about five times, during the period when the depression was so bad that we had to deal with it. Therefore I beg the Government to let this debate be just a pipe-opener and to arrange for a full discussion on this question. If the Government thinks some of these things are wrong, let us discuss them; and if we cannot get unanimity on all of them, let us put what we can to the people so that we will get the power to enable us to do what is necessary.

Take the question of navigation. Sir John Peden said the navigation power should be a federal power. Chief Justice Marshall, of the United States of America, said navigation should be a federal power, and in that country they are able to deal with water from the tops of the mountains right down to the sea. Because of that fact the American authorities have been able to harness their great rivers. Here we have the most miserable showing of any country in the world on what we have done in the last 60 years in regard to the harnessing of our rivers - just a few. Recently we have dealt with the Snowy River and two or three others; but seven-eighths of our country is practically without dams at all, because we have no proper control. Here we have our own Government saying, within the last few weeks, that we must find money to overcome this position to some degree - money which

I think will be spent ultra vires the Constitution, except that we could use section 96, which would make us dependent entirely upon the consent of the States. In New South Wales the State Government has closed all the coastal rivers for navigation, and yet Sir George Buchanan said that the river Clarence should be the first one made available for overseas traffic. He pointed out that we are the only continent with an ocean all around us, with all our good country within 300 miles of the sea and with the shortest land haul possible. He said we should open the rivers in order to get the stuff away and cut the cost of transport. If we did that we could cut the cost of transport tremendously and be able to do ever so much better and get more production away.

When I examined the question the other day for the dairy people I found that there was a loss on half the dairy cattle in Australia north of the thirty-second parallel of 1 50 lb. of butter every year, simply because there is no irrigation in those places; and there never will be until we get something like this done to deal with the matter. In the United States of America the authorities have dealt with the question of water in the proper way. Since we have taken over the powers of taxation - we have practically all the indirect powers and now we have taken over the direct powers - the States have not the money; so we should come into the ring, as America has done, and find the money for the big and costly headworks. The American authorities are finding that money free of interest and are letting the States do the minor works and the local bodies the rest. The alternative to that is to keep on messing around with little result.

The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) knows as well as I do, because he was once Minister for Commerce, that we have to work the Australian Agricultural Council illegally and unconstitutionally, because we have not the requisite power. The council functions only because during war-time we were able to get it completely imbedded in the minds of the people so that at the present time nobody questions it, because not only the primary producers who send their stuff away but every one who depends on it would lose his purchasing power if it did not function. I beg the Parliament to see about this matter. Let us go on with it. Do not let us just sit here as if we were blind, dumb and deaf and say that everything is all right. It is not. It is all wrong, and we will lose this country unless we do something to bring the Constitution up to date. In my profession, no doctor can live to-day if he is not using modern instruments, and yet we say, "Let the legislator have something which is 60 years old and which was brought into being before these modern instruments were known ". It is too absurd for words.

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