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Wednesday, 30 October 1912

Senator McGREGOR (South Australia) (Vice-President of the Executive Council)

L9-S]- - I do not think that any criticism of a very vital character has been advanced against the Government proposal. Although the members of the Opposition have been very generous, and Government supporters have been fair in their criticism, still I think that some reply is necessary to assertions that have been made on both sides. I am pleased to hear from' those senators who support the Government that they recognise that we are the first Government to take this matter up seriously. Members of the Opposition, by interjec tion, have sought to make it appear that it was not within the power of the Commonwealth Parliament, prior to 1910, to doanything of the kind. Even Senator Clemons, backed up by Senator Keating, referred to the financial sections of the Constitution, and especially to the Braddonsection. I reply that there is not a section in the Constitution which offered the slightest bar to any previous Government doing, what this Government is now proposing. Let honorable senators read section- 96 of the Constitution. It lays it down that for a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth, and until the Parliament otherwise provides, such financial assistance may be granted to any State as Parliament thinks "fit. Is there any condition or embargo there? A Government could have taken action tenyears ago; and it certainly is not because the attention of the Government of the day was not called to the position of Tasmania that action was not taken.

Senator Clemons - The honorable senator is surely not asserting that Tasmania suffered ten years ago?

Senator McGREGOR - Certainly she suffered. She was complaining withinthree years of the establishment of the Commonwealth.

Senator Ready - The first complaint ' was in 1903.

Senator Clemons - Tasmania was complaining at that time against the bookkeeping section of the Constitution.

Senator McGREGOR - She complained that she had not sufficient revenue to meet her requirements. It seems a very peculiar thing that any excuse should be made on behalf of any past Government on this account, because; during the first ten yearsthe Commonwealth paid back to the States £6,059,000, out of which it could have taken action in this direction; and that is twelve times the amount that is being set apart by the present Government to assist. Tasmania. As I said in my secondreading speech, it is hardly fair when we are going to assist a friend, a brother, or a relation to say anything about the reasonswhy such assistance is necessary. But statements have been made during the course of the debate by those who have been advocating the cause of Tasmania to the effect that the amount derived from Customs and Excise revenue fell from- £475,000 in 1900 to a little over £220,000 a few years later. If honorable senators look closely into the question, they will find that the £475,000 was taken out of the pockets of the people of Tasmania. Does anybody imagine that they did not feel it? A few years later, only £220,000 was taken out of their pockets.

Senator Keating - No; that is all that went back to Tasmania. That was Tasmania's three-fourths.

Senator McGREGOR - Well, say that £320,000 was taken out of the pockets of the Tasmanian people. That means that £155,000 still remained in their pockets.

Senator Clemons - Not a bit of it. That money went to Victorian manufacturers.

Senator McGREGOR - If, at one time, £475,000 was taken out of the pockets of the people, and a few years later only £320,000 was taken out of their pockets, evidently £155,000 still remained in their pockets.

Senator Millen - Is the honorable senator's argument tending to show that Tasmania ought to pay a bonus to the Federation?

Senator McGREGOR - I am not saying anything of the kind, but I am pointing out in my own way the sophistry and fallacy of an argument of that description. In combating these statements, I am no less a friend of Tasmania than I ever was, and I am prepared to do all I possibly can for her. It is not the fault of the majority of the people of that State that they have not been able to put their affairs on a better foundation. We know that they have not been able to work out their own salvation, but we hope that in future they will do so. I have shown that that money still remained in the pockets of the people, and, consequently, as it was not taken out by Federation, there was no loss to the people of Tasmania generally. Another statement that has been made is that the people of Tasmania were loyal to Federation, because, instead of consuming imported goods, they purchased Australian made articles. Senator Clemons has repeatedly used that argument in the Senate. He has pointed out that if the people of Tasmania had imported goods from abroad, and paid Customs duties on them during the operation of the Braddon section, they would have been acting in their own interest.

Senator Clemons - I said that they would have been increasing the revenue, and saving local taxation.

Senator McGREGOR - Will any honorable senator stand up here, and say that the business people of Tasmania were so patriotic that if they could get goods from outside Australia 2½ per cent. cheaper than Australian-made goods they would not have imported from abroad?

Senator Keating - The business people had to get what their customers asked for.

Senator McGREGOR - I know the business people of Hobart and Launceston just as well as any one does, and I know that it was because they could get their goods cheaper, more expeditiously, and of better quality, than they obtained them from Australia. I am not speaking of the people generally, but of the business people; and every honorable senator from Tasmania knows as well as I do that they are no better and no worse than the business people of any other part of Australia. There is not a business man here who, if he could get goods from outside Australia2½ per cent. cheaper than he could obtain them in Australia, would not jump at the chance.

Senator Ready - Will the honorable senator accept me as a business man?

Senator McGREGOR - Perhaps I would make an exception of the honorable senator, because I have always regarded him as a patriotic Australian, and especially as a patriotic Tasmanian. Still, it would be a strong temptation if such an offer as I have indicated were placed before him; and strong arguments and powerful evidence would have to be brought before me to convince me that he would not take advantage of any bargain that presented, itself. It is a business instinct to do so, and to rest a case on such an argument is not to found it upon common sense.. I might refer to other points that have been raised in the course of the debate, but I have no desire to delay the Senate. I am anxious that this Bill should be passed as rapidly as possible in order that it may receive the Governor-General's sanction, and that the people of Tasmania may obtain the benefits derivable from it immediately. I do not blame the Tasmanian senators for doing their very best for their State. We ought all to be Australians, however, before we think of the interests of any particular State. If we look at this matter from an. Australian point of view, we shall realize that the money to be granted has to come out of the pockets of the whole of the people of the Commonwealth. Furthermore, if the request, which has been foreshadowed, were carried, the Bill would be delayed. It would have to go back to another place, and then there would be no possibility of carrying it.

Senator Vardon - That is not a fair argument.

Senator McGREGOR - Surely the Government may be supposed, to have canvassed this question honestly and sincerely in both Houses of the Parliament, and they ought to know something about the general opinion. They have brought forward a proposal which they thought they could carry without great difficulty in both branches of the Legislature. If the Bill be sent back to another place, it will cause difficulty between the two Houses, and will delay the assistance which we desire to give to Tasmania. We may well leave the future to look after itself, and determine at some time hereafter what, if anything, is necessary to be done. It will be a fair thing to give the Government proposal a chance,and see whether it does not help Tasmania to get out of the longstanding and almost hopeless position in which she has been for the last forty or fifty years, and to become one of the most prosperous States in the Australian Union. I therefore hope that the suggestion will not be pressed.




Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee :

Clause1 agreed to.

Clause 2 -

Subject to this Act, there shall be payable out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, which is hereby appropriated accordingly, for the purposes of financial assistance to the State of Tasmania, the sum of Five hundred thousand pounds.

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