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Thursday, 13 April 1961


Mr POLLARD (Lalor) .- In 1901, my mother had the great privilege of being a guest, in the Melbourne Exhibition buildings, when the Commonwealth of Australia was inaugurated. Because of that, it probably followed naturally that, as I reached an age of understanding and learned of this great occasion in the history of Australia, I should have devoted myself to taking at least some interest in the Constitution of Australia and its usefulness in serving the needs of the people of Australia from time to time. In applying myself to a study of these matters over a fairly long parliamentary experience in both State and Commonwealth spheres, I found that one thing has stood out conspicuously - the fact that, because of internecine strife between political parties, because of the policy of objecting to a proposal simply because the opposing political party has submitted it, essential amendments to the Constitution that have been submitted to the people over the years have been in the main rejected.

Now, at long last, thanks to the initiative taken by the leader of the very Government now in office, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), a man of considerable constitutional knowledge, an all-party committee was appointed to inquire into the need for amending the Constitution. As a result of that, what might be considered to be almost a miracle happened. Twelve good men and true, some of them now Ministers in this Government which was responsible for referring the matter to the all-party committee I have mentioned, said to the Government: "We have deliberated for a period of nearly two years. We have sat for 89 days. We have examined witnesses from every sector of Australian life, political, economic and industrial, and we come to you with an almost unanimous recom mendation that certain specific amendments be made to the Constitution." And to-day, we have the spectacle of the AttorneyGeneral (Sir Garfield Barwick), a member of that same Government, standing in his place in the Parliament and raising a series of difficulties, completely false in character, as to why no action has been taken by the Government so far, and saying in effect that the Government does not intend to take any action! Why did the Government humbug the people in connexion with this matter? Why did it waste the time of an intelligent committee? Why does the Government now fail to take action? Why does it persist in misleading the people of Australia? The Attorney-General rises in his place and says, "Think of the terrific cost of a referendum! " Did not the Government think of that at the time it appointed the committee? The Attorney-General also said, " Think of the dangers and disabilities that could result from handing to the Commonwealth Government increased economic powers that could be abused should the Labour Party, in the course of time, attain office in Australia ". He makes no mention whatever of the fact that the so-called vesting of increased economic powers in the Commonwealth Government would simply be the transference of the powers now vested in private interests which are not responsible to the Parliament of Australia.

The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) made a magnificent speech in which he roundly condemned the Attorney-General, the Prime Minister and the whole of the present Ministry for ineptitude and falsity in connexion with these matters. I, too, have become disgusted. Let me say to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that when it comes to word spinning and evasion the members of the legal profession - and perhaps this includes my colleague, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) - are past masters, and it is time the public woke up to them. It is also time the members of the Government parties woke up to the legal gentlemen in their Cabinet. Let me given an example of what I mean. When I was a member of the Victorian Parliament over 30 years ago, after having listened to a speech delivered by the present Prime Minister, who was then the honorable member for Nunawading in the Victorian Parliament, I said to the then Speaker of that Parliament, " Mr. Speaker, what notice can one take of the honorable gentleman? Last week, he appeared in the Arbitration Court of Australia on behalf of the tramways employees advocating that they be granted reduced working hours and increased wages. This week, he appeared in the Arbitration Court on behalf of the employers opposing increased wages and reduced hours." The then honorable member for Nunawading, with all his picturesque appearance, then stood, waved his arms and said, " Well, Mr. Speaker, I won both ways, did 1 not? " And that is what the right honorable gentleman is doing in connexion with this particular problem. He is trying to win both ways. He is trying so to befog the minds of the people that they will believe that the Government is seriously endeavouring to amend the Constitution in order to give to this Parliament the power it should have, and at the same time his spokesman on this matter - the Attorney-General - is saying, in effect, to the people of Australia: " This thing is impracticable. The drafting problems are very great." He knows full well that each recommendation made by the Constitutional Review Committee contains a simple instruction to a competent daftsman to draft a proposed amendment that will give effect to the expressed intention of the committee. Why, the AttorneyGeneral could draft such a proposal himself within a week because we know that he, like the Prime Minister, can argue a case both ways

The right honorable member for Cowper has pointed out some of the difficulties confronting this country because of the lack of powers required by the Commonwealth Government, and I shall deal with only one of them. The right honorable member for Cowper has had practical experience, and so have I. Because the Commonwealth Parliament lacks the powers necessary in connexion with organized marketing, we now find that every time it is thought desirable to take action to protect the primary producers - at their own wish, mark you - we have to follow the circuitous procedure of trying to get legislation passed through not only the Commonwealth Par liament, but also the six State Parliaments, and this is tremendously costly.

Let me quote my own experience to illustrate my point. At the end of World War II., it was clearly demonstrated that it was essential that the wheat-growers of Australia should be protected against the exploitation which they had been suffering at the hands of the wheat dealers and traders, not only of Australia, but of the world generally. At that time, it was clearly demonstrated that organized marketing was essential in the interests of Australian wheat-growers. The Commonwealth Parliament had no power to legislate for organized marketing. In those circumstances, it became my duty to contact the six State Ministers for Agriculture, to call meetings of the Australian Agricultural Council and to have discussions at Premiers Conferences in an endeavour to persuade the six State governments that they should all pass legislation complementary to Commonwealth legislation in order that a system of organized marketing might be set up. That took a long time to do, and it was only by a miracle that eventually the six State Parliaments and the Commonwealth passed the legislation which has been the means of protecting the wheat-growers of Australia in the last few years against the rapacity of the wheat-dealers and traders throughout the world. To give some idea of how they have been protected, I mention that when attending a recent convention in connexion with the wheat industry, I was introduced to a certain gentleman who looked at me and said, "Oh, yes, I am pleased to meet you, but if you could hear what I said about you many times when you were a Federal Minister, your ears would burn". I said to him, " Yes, you represent a great wheat trading firm ", which I named. I said: "Now I understand. I was the individual who, after a very difficult experience owing to constitutional problems, made it possible for the wheat-growers of Australia to be protected against the speculation and gambling of those who in the past lived on the wheat-growers and on the industry."

The Constitutional Review Committee has suggested an amendment to the Constitution which would make it quite easy for legislation to be passed within a very short time to protect the interests of primary producers, but first of all, mark you, they would have to indicate by an affirmative vote at a ballot that they wanted organized marketing. The dairying industry has stood for years on the brink of economic disaster and at the mercy of certain interested proprietary bodies. Were these organizations to take certain economic action, the present dairy industry stabilization could be wrecked overnight, and there is no Commonwealth power existent at present which could be used to prevent that very serious state of affairs arising. Surely at this stage of our political development, in view of the unanimous recommendation of the committee, and in spite of the excuses of the AttorneyGeneral, this Parliament should take a hold on its own business and indicate to the Government by an affirmative vote that no longer will we tolerate evasion, delay and excuses such as were contained in the Attorney-General's speech.







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