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Wednesday, 15 April 1914

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) ., - I rise to second the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply, and, in addressing myself to the motion, I hope I shall escape any censure on the part of the mover by not indulging in any undue discussion of the matters mentioned in the Speech. Several measures have been indicated as likely to come forward for consideration during the course of this session. It is not my intention at this stage to traverse the arguments for and against, the principles that will be embodied in. those measures. I hope to give full consideration to all proposed legislation, and, to add my quota, of discussion upon it when it comes forward for enactment. For the present I will not neglect the opportunity of making a few remarks in regard to some of tho matters referred to in the Governor-General's Speech, not so much in relation to the legislation that is foreshadowed, and which we shall have an opportunity of dealing with later, but more particularly in regard to other matters of administration. At the outset, I desire to join most cordially with the mover, and, I believe, with every member of this Parliament, in expressing the deepest regret at the impending depar-tura of His Excellency the GovernorGeneral, and equally deep regret at the cause of his departure. I think I am also safe in saying that I am voicing the opinions of all the members in this Chamber and in another place, and of the people of Australia generally, when I ex-i press the hope that His Excellency's successor, and a long line of successors, may discharge the duties appertaining to their high office as satisfactorily as our departing Governor-General has done during his term of office. It is indicated in the Speech that His Excellency's advisers propose to submit to Parliament two " test Bills." That is the way in which they are referred to by the mover of the motion.

Senator Pearce - They are called " test Bills " by courtesy.

Senator KEATING - I am using the phrase as a matter of convenience, because we do not know yet what will be contained .in those measures. As I said before, I do not intend to discuss the principles of those Bills at this juncture, but I hope that when they come before us I shall find the whole of the Senate in a much better frame of mind than it was in during last session. Reference is made in the Speech to the Premiers' Conference. This Conference has become, as it were, an established institution in the Comm on wealth .

Senator Barker - Another sort of Parliament.

Senator KEATING - It is not another sort of Parliament, but when these Conferences were first held, and it became apparent that they would be of regular occurrence, I viewed with a great deal of apprehension the permanent establishment of such a body - apprehension, not on account of any idea in ray mind that as Premiers of the Stages they would approach the consideration of these problems in any improper spirit, . but apprehension because I believed that there was a tendency on the part of some of the State Governments, and of many of the citizens of the States, to overlook the fact that to this branch of the Federal Legislature is especially assigned in the Constitution the responsibility of legislatively representing in our Union the States as States. If this bodydid its duty consistently and continuously, as we are depended upon to do it, there would be no occasion for the establishment as a permanent institution of any such assemblage or convention as the Premiers' Conference. It was for that reason that I viewed with apprehension its establishment in the first instance, and the accompanying indications that it was to be an annually, recurring body.

Senator Rae - Does the honorable senator admit that beyond equality of members there is nothing especially to constitute this a States House?

Senator KEATING - That is the key of the position of this House in the Constitution. There is also the fact that this House is elected on precisely the same franchise as the other House, and that if we had not equality of representation here as States, this House would be practically a replica of the other. There are, therefore, the two features: The Senate is elected on the same franchise as the other House, but the basis of representation is different. Senator Oakes referred to several authorities upon the value of the Federal system of government, notably to Mr. Gladstone. The Federal system of government, as weknow, differs from all other forms of government for several' ' communities which have decided to come under one '. common government with regard to certain matters, in this one feature, that it. is a dual form of union - a union of the people of the several communities, and also a union of the several States as States. The other House is the legislative expression of the union of the people of the six States into one, and this House is the expression of the union of the six separate and distinct States.

Senator Rae - A beautiful theory.

Senator KEATING - It is the principle underlying federalism, and it is in this that it differs from all other forms of composite government.

Senator O'Keefe - Do you still believe in each of the six States having six senators ?

Senator KEATING - I believe in the Federal principle, and whether the number is six or any other number there should be one House in which each of the six States is equally represented.

Senator Blakey - Then you differ from the Attorney-General when he says that a Tasmanian voter has seven times the representation of a New South Wales voter in the Senate?

Senator KEATING - If he says that in condemnation of equal representation, I do differ from him, and also from members of the honorable member's own party, who have said the same thing, in New South Wales for instance. I am sure that I have also heard in this Chamber from Labour members, as well as others, expressions of opinion inimical to the principle of equality of representation. We have adopted a Federal rather than any other form of composite government, and so it is essential to have one House in which each of the component parts of the Federation as territories or States is equally represented. When we proceeded to draft our Constitution, each State, whether little and scantily populated Tasmania or large and populous New South Wales, was equally represented by seven delegates each in the Convention of 1891, and ten each in the Convention elected by the people which sat in 1897-8. Each State was then regarded as equal for the purpose of forming a union. This House expresses by its equality of representation from each State the fact that each of the six component States of the Federation is still a separate entity for a number of purposes, and those are not the purposes with respect to which this Parliament has legislative control.

Senator Senior - Then the honorable senator will not indorse the sentiment that the Senate is useless?

Senator KEATING - Certainly not.

Senator Rae - The Attorney-General proposes to radically alter that provision.

Senator KEATING - I find nothing of that sort in the Governor-General's Speech, with which I am dealing. I do not propose, at present, to deal with any other speech. I have been led to this by reference to the prominenceof the Premiers' Conference as one of our recognised institutions.

Senator Needham - Do you believe in the National Parliament being merely a recording chamber for the Premiers' Conference ?

Senator KEATING - I do not support anything of the kind, nor did I dream of such a thing. I have already said that when the first Premiers' Conference assembled there was every indication that it would become an annual conference - a permanent institution. I viewed this tendency with apprehension, because I believed that those conferences were likely, to some extent, to usurp the functions of the Senate, although my apprehensions have been dispelled to some extent by what has taken place. I am pleased to notice there has been a rapprochement to a greater extent during the last Premiers' Conference, as between the Commonwealth and State authorities, than has hitherto been the experience at any previous meeting of that body.

Senator McDougall - Birds of a feather.

Senator KEATING - It may be so; but there seems to be a better feeling between the Government of the Commonwealth to-day and those who constituted the recent Premiers' Conference than there has been at any previous time between the Government of the day, no matter which it has been, and the annual gathering of that body.

Senator Guthrie - On certain questions.

Senator KEATING - It seems to be so, generally speaking ; and, as a result of that, we are given to understand that it is contemplated to make provision for the handing over to the Commonwealth of the responsibility for the State debts. To put it more correctly, it is proposed to consolidate the State debts, and it is hoped that effect will be given to the proposal. We should all welcome that, and, personally, I am very glad to see that Sir J ohn Forrest is in control of the Treasury at the particular time that this matter is being dealt with, because I know personally, and the people of Australia know generally - although, perhaps, not so intimately as I do - how much attention the Treasurer has devoted to the subject, both in Australia and in the Old Country, and how he has, time after time, given up a considerable amount of his energy, ability, and application to the discussion and solution of the problem on lines that will be conducive to the best interests of the Commonwealth and the States. Another matter referred to at the Conference was the proposal to prevent the overlapping of the State and Commonwealth Savings Banks. I sincerely hope that effect will be given to this, particularly as Tasmania was the first to lead the way in bringing about an amalgamation between the Savings Bank of that State and the Commonwealth Savings Bank, avoiding dual control, lessening the expenses of management, and benefiting the taxpayer generally. I am glad to see that the Commonwealth is likely to follow Tasmania's lead in this matter. If it does, it will not be the first time by any means that Tasmania has given the lead, not only to her sister States, but even to the outside world. Another important matter that I was glad to see that the Premiers' Conference dealt with in conjunction with the representatives of the Commonwealth was that of a uniform railway gauge. It is astonishing how long this matter has lagged upon the stage of Australian politics, seeing that every day we have an increasing mileage of railway in several of the States.

Senator Story - Was it not settled by a Conference of State civil engineers some years ago?

Senator KEATING - I believe it was; but I do not think their recommendations were unanimous. I do not profess to be in any way an expert, or to controvert the opinions of the persons summoned to conference to deal with these matters. But, as a layman, I desire to state my views.-

Senator Guthrie - What right have we to deal with the- gauge?

Senator KEATING - Only in relation to our powers -over the railways of the States. Under section 51 of the Constitution we have power over the railways in so far as the States commit it to us. We have, also, without the consent of the States, power over the railways in connexion with defence, and these powers we can exercise without reference to them.

Senator Rae - Even to the extent of building.

Senator KEATING - As far as gauge is concerned, I am inclined to think that there has been a disposition on the part of various Conferences to not give enough consideration, even favorable consideration, to the broader gauge of 5 ft. 3 in. I think it has been accepted from the first almost as an axiom that it is desirable that 4 ft. 8$ in. should, if possible, be the gauge, because it is called a standard gauge. Again, it is suggested that an alteration from 4 ft. 8$ in. to 5 ft. 3 in. would involve a considerable amount of expenditure at railway stations, in widening cuttings and tunnels, and probably in alterations of bridges.

Senator Blakey - Estimated at £14,000,000.

Senator KEATING - I believe that the estimated cost is much greater than in the adoption of the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge. The question is whether the increased tractive capacity which is given to locomotives by the broader gauge would not, in the long run, compensate for an additional outlay of that character at this stage. At any rate, there is another matter which I think is well worthy of consideration in connexion with the question of the gauge, and that is the consideration of the practicability of adopting in Australia the Brennan mono-rail, or some modification of it. When I was in office, there came before my Department a proposal for the acquisition by the Commonwealth of the rights in the Brennan mono-rail, and from a succeeding Government, some years ago, I asked in the Senate particulars as to how the matter stood. When I asked for the production of the papers, I was informed - I think in error - that there -was no proposal in any of the Departments in reference to the matter. I am thoroughly convinced that that statement is not correct.

Senator Rae - A year ago, I received an answer to the effect that the Government turned down the rail because it is not good enough.

Senator KEATING - I think that the fullest consideration might be given to the practicability of adopting such a scheme, and perhaps it might serve to solve many very difficult railway problems in Australia. It has been suggested by the Commonwealth authorities that this matter should be turned over to the InterState Commission, and that suggestion is likely to be adopted. To me, it seems that much of the really important work for which the Inter-State Commission was destined under the Constitution will have to be left undone, at any rate for a considerable time. I think that to the Commission the responsibility of investigating the Tariff in such detail as it is doing has produced a very undesirable chock of business with that body, and large and important matters in relation to the promotion and the maintenance of proper Inter-State Free Trade will have to await consideration, and many evils which are being complained of at the present day will have to be borne with patience by the public while the Commission is, to a large extent - I do not say it disrespectfully - frittering away its time in dealing with petty technical matters in relation to the Tariff which had far better be dealt with by some other body.

Senator Guthrie - By what other body?

Senator KEATING - Perhaps by the Minister or the Department.

Senator Needham - What about this Parliament ?

Senator KEATING - Of course, the duties could not be altered without reference to Parliament. I believe that many of these inquiries could be made by the Department of Trade and Customs, and the result of such a proceeding would be to indicate a course of action to the responsible Minister, and to his colleagues, who would submit their proposals to Parliament. It seems to me, however, that using the Inter-State Commission to inquire into all these petty details in regard to various industries, is like using something in the nature of a steam hammer to smash an egg shell.

Senator Needham - The Commission is double-banking, because Parliament will have to go over the same ground.

Senator KEATING - Yes, because with Parliament alone will rest the alteration of the Tariff in any respect.

Senator Rae - Do you not think it is a most beneficent provision to prevent the Fusion from splitting on the fiscal rock?

Senator KEATING - I do not know that. It seems to me that the Inter-State Commission is being diverted from its principal course of duty. In regard to main features of the Tariff or important items, or matters such as the establishment of an iron industry, it might be very well to relegate to the Inter-State Commission the responsibility of inquiring most fully into a project and reporting as to the best means of doing the thing whether by bounty or Customs duty, or both, or by nationalization, or by any other means. But to investigate every detail which comes up for consideration will prevent the Commission from considering matters of much graver consequence to the whole of the community.

SenatorGuthrie. - Are you prepared to vote for the restriction of its powers?

Senator KEATING - Yes.

Senator Guthrie - Will you move in that direction?

Senator KEATING - I am not prepared to answer the honorable senator at this moment, because the Government may takesome action. They may be influenced by what I say here, or by what some of my honorable friends opposite may say in support of my remarks; they are very amenable to reason, I can assure my honorable friend. Reference has been made to the fact that reports have been received in regard to the Northern Territory, and that it is proposed to circulate them amongst honorable senators, and also proposals for the development of the Territory. Here, again, I do not think that we can be a day too soon in regard to this matter. The Northern Territory is a daily menace to the people of the Commonwealth. It is all very well for us to try to develop our more populated States, to try to increase the population of our larger centres by Millions Clubs, and other things of that kind, but if we have this large open space, fertile as we see it, capable of settlement, susceptible of sustaining a large population, it may be that not only the space itself, but all its facilities for production and provisioning people, may be used, not by us or for us, but against us, by those who have no regard for Australia, no affection for its laws or institutions, but who would come here as most undesirable immigrants, against our will, and with no other idea than that of conquest, acquisition, and settlement. I think that connexion with the Territory, so far as railways is concerned, should proceed as rapidly as possible, not only from the coast inland, but from the south to the north - that population should go into the Territory from the State Capitals of Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, and Hobart, that our people should, as it were, be an advancing line on the Territory which belongs not to South Australia, not to the Imperial Government, but to the whole of the people of the Commonwealth, and that, as far as possible, the railway should go through the Territory. That is the country which it is our responsibility to populate, and every mile of that railway should, therefore, be pushed within the Territory from the south to the north as well as from the north to the south. I have no objection to branches of the line through Queensland and New South Wales, but that is a matter to us of secondary consideration, and one for which the States particularly concerned can very well assume the responsibility in the first instance. I do not wish to deal further with anything that is contained in the GovernorGeneral's Speech.

Senator Guthrie - Give us a constitutional opinion.

Senator KEATING - If the honorable senator will submit a case, I shall be prepared, in due course, to do so. I trust that, during the course of this session, the matters which will come before us. will receive fair and honest consideration at the hands of honorable senators. I am inclined to think that in Australia we are on the threshold of a system of party political warfare which many Australians of to-day may, and certainly many of the future will, regret.

Senator Guthrie - Never!

Senator KEATING - I differ from my honorable friend.

Senator Barker - From which side of party politics is the honorable senator speaking?

Senator KEATING - I am speaking of party politics. There is too keen a desire to consider the interests of a political party before the interests of the whole community.

Senator Rae - Does not the honorable senator draw a distinction between party politics and party government ?

Senator KEATING - To a large extent party government is responsible for this evil. I have never been a very great believer in party government from the stand-point of its suitability to young countries, or to a Federation of any kind. I share the opinion which was expressed by the late Sir Richard Baker, that it was quite on the cards that party government would kill federalism-

Senator Millen - Not party government, but responsible government.

Senator KEATING - He said that responsible government would kill federalism, or federalism would kill responsible government, and I am inclined to agree with him. There isno doubt that party strife has become very keen. Very frequently, upon both sides of the Chamber, the interests of. party are made primordial, and those of the country are relegated to second place.

Senator Rae - What is the honorable senator's opinion of a double dissolution ?

Senator KEATING - I feel fairly indifferent about it. I hope that we shall not find in Australia anything that will savour of what mightalmost be called political tribal warfare. I feel sure that, in this short session, full attention will be given to these matters; and I join with His Excellency the GovernorGeneral, and with his advisers, in the hope that our labours will be productive of good to the people of Australia.

Debate (on motion by Senator McGregor) adjourned.

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