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Thursday, 7 May 1914

Senator McGREGOR (South Australia) . - Such a long time has elapsed since we listened to the fervid eloquence of Senator Oakes, and the cautious and sage-like utterances of Senator Keating, that an individual like myself might be easily excused if the ring of their words had almost disappeared from his mind. Yet so fervid were some of the statements that I still hear them ringing in my ears. In paragraphs 1 and 2 of the opening speech the Governor-General is practically taking farewell of the Parliament of the Commonwealth, and is about to depart from our midst, and the reasons given for his departure are those of ill-health and other private matters. I do not think we have any right to pry into the private matters that may have influenced His Excellency to, at such a period as this, go away from Australia to quieter regions than he might consider those of the Commonwealth at the present time. I am sure that every member of the Opposition is sincere in his regret that the climate or conditions of Australia should in any way impair the health of a gentleman whose stay here has been so agreeable to all the citizens of the Commonwealth. I am going to take what may be regarded as a rather irregular course. The custom is to deal with the opening speech paragraph by paragraph. But for reasons of my own, and perhaps also for the convenience of the other members of the Senate items 3 and 4 dealing with the test Bills that the Government are apparently making an attempt to force through both Houses of the Legislature may be left to a later stage of my remarks in connexion with this extraordinary Speech. Paragraph 5 contains a rather surprising statement from the GovernorGeneral as the mouth-piece of the Government to the effect that the report of the Premiers' Conference will be laid before us. I suppose we are expected to infer that the Senate will receive from this document sufficient information to justify the meagreness of the policy which His Excellency's Advisers have so far laid before us. During the election campaign, and subsequently through the press and in other ways, the Government have continually assured us that they were going to bring forward a very substantial policy when they had the opportunity. Yet here we have them bringing before us - what? The report of the Premiers' Conference ! Where is that report? I have not yet received a copy of it, and cannot tell what it will contain. Seeing that the Government have proclaimed its existence by means of the Speech, and that the Senate has had an adjournment of considerable length, every honorable senator ought to have had a copy of it long ago. Even if we had it, what has it to do with the policy of the Government of the Commonwealth ofAustralia ? Have we reached a stage at which the Federal Government must go to an outside body for a policy to bring before Parliament - and not a constitutional body either? I have made similar statements to this on previous occasions, and have been criticised for making them, but though I have the greatest respect for every Premier and Government of the Australian States personally, I do not see where they come in, so far as the policy of the Federal Government is concerned. Yet paragraphs 5 to 11 of the Speech seem to refer to nothing but the Premiers' Conference. We have had Premiers' Conferences before, and we have had other Governments. We have had Prime Ministers actually sitting on the doorstep of the Premiers' Conference waiting for a courteous hearing, but we have never been told before that we are to take our policy from any Premiers' Conference that may sit in Australia. Paragraph 6 makes another extraordinary statement to .the effect that the Government have some idea of a policy with regard to the taking over of the State debts, and that the Prime Minister and Treasurer have conferred with the Premiers of the States on the matter. I can imagine the Treasurer and Prime Minister doing a thing of that description. The right honorable member for Swan years ago made the statement that he had often been compelled to eat dirt, an,d I imagine from this paragraph in the Speech that the right honorable gentleman, in company with the Prime Minister, is still prepared to eat dirt if necessary to retain office.

Senator Russell - He prefers to eat trust funds.

Senator McGREGOR - I believe the members of the present Administration have been indifferent to almost everything. I can imagine the right honorable member grovelling before such an august body as the Premiers of Australia and other State Ministers when going before them with a statement, that he had prepared. I have had his statement carefully read to me, and expected to find something in it, but there was nothing in it. It practically says, "Here is what I have done. If it does not satisfy you, for the love of heaven tell me what will !" I can imagine the smile of derision on the faces of the Premiers when they saw the Federal Treasurer in such an abject position.

Senator Russell - I understand that he apologized for the first speech, and went back and delivered a second.

Senator McGREGOR - Yes. He was prepared not only to apologize for his first statement, but to adopt any suggestion that the State Premiers or Treasurers might make, and then go back and prepare another statement himself. In fact the right honorable gentleman was prepared to do anything. It is degrading o not only to the Commonwealth Parliament, but to the people of Australia that their Ministerial representatives should be brought down to the position of having to kneel to the Premiers, Treasurers, and other Ministers of the States in connexion with the policy that they propose to introduce. The Commonwealth has not only been authorized, but has almost been directed by the Constitution to take over the State debts. It has also the alternative of taking over an equivalent or proportionate amount from each State, and we know that the Constitution has actually been amended to enable the Government to take over all the indebtedness of the States to date. Seeing that the Government have actually received that authority from the people direct it is their duty to take the debts over, no matter what the opinions of any State Government may be, although of course it will be all the better if it can be done with the full consent of the States themselves.

Senator Millen - What has the honorable senator been talking about for the last half hour ?

Senator McGREGOR - I have been talking about the manner in which the Premiers of the States had been ap- 'proached by the honorable senator's colleagues. They did not go to the Conference as men who were taking the responsibilities of government on their own shoulders. They rather went as men pleading to the State Ministers to give them some assistance or ideas that they did not possess themselves. Even though they went to the Premiers' Conference and discussed matters with State Ministers, they have not finished anything. There is no finality about the business. We are in exactly the same position as we have been in since the Act amending the Constitution in respect of the State debts was passed.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - They are going to have another meeting by-and-by to fix things up.

Senator McGREGOR - They are going to meet the Treasurers to fix things up because they are so incapable themselves. Then I suppose they will meet the AttorneysGeneral, and when they have met them-

Senator Barker - They will meet their wives.

Senator McGREGOR - Very probably, and will get as much wisdom perhaps from them. It is the duty of the Commonwealth to take over the State debts, and the Commonwealth Government should go about it in their own way. If there was any obligation on me to assist the Government to carry out this obvious duty I would give them my advice, but as they apparently prefer the opinions of the State Premiers and Treasurers to those of members of this Parliament, I will leave them "in their own soup," to quote the elegant expression already used by some of them. * Nothing has really been done, nor is anything going to be done, concerning the State debts until a fresh Government comes into office, because it is notorious that this is a Government of no results. They have done nothing up to the present, and are not likely to do anything in the future. I make bold to say that the great majority of the electors of Australia hope they will go out of office without doing anything. They say they have not had time, or if they had time they say, "It is not opportune," and so they keep deluding the people.

Senator Barker - As in the case of the cost of living.

Senator McGREGOR - They do not trouble about that question.

Senator Ready - They made enough noise about it at the last elections.

Senator McGREGOR - The people listened to them, and believed them on that occasion, but the longer they stay in office the less trust the people have in their promises. The right honorable the Treasurer and his colleagues also had a long consultation with the Premiers' Conference on the subject of banking. If any member of the Senate, of the Government, or of the Premiers' Conference looks carefully at paragraph xiii., of section 51 of the Constitution, he will find that under it the Commonwealth was to take over banking. The paragraph does not say general banking, or savings banking, but it covers -

Banking, other than State banking; also State banking extending beyond the limits of the State concerned, the incorporation of banks, and the issue of paper money.

It will be seen that State banking is exempt. There is a peculiar feature connected with State banking. I can remember that, when in the Federal Com.vention the question of banking wasraised, the only State in the Commonwealth that had a State bank was South Australia. That State then had a small State bank which was crippled, restricted, and confined as much as possible by the Conservative element in the South Australian Parliament of that time. It was a mere semblance of a State bank, and could only lend money to the producers of South Australia in certain proportions and under certain conditions. I admit that since then it has been liberalized ' to some extent, but even now it is so restricted that it is not of as much value to the people of the State as it was intended to be by those who were responsible for its establishment and who supported it. It only issues debentures and lends out the money so received at a little higher interest, than is paid for it. It was for the protection of that little State bank of South Australia that the words to which I have referred were inserted in paragraph xiii., of section 51 of the Constitution, and an exemption was made of State banking other than that extending beyond the limits of one State. But there is nothing in the paragraph restrictingthe operations of the Commonwealth in connexion with banking, savings, banks, or anything of the kind. If thepeople of Australia at the inauguration of Federation meant that the Commonwealth should take over and control banking, are we now to suppose that they meant only general or commercial banking, and that the Commonwealth was not to have anything to do with the savings of the people? Is that the opinion of the people now ? I do not believe it is. At the inauguration of Federation all the Savings Banks in the different States were not Government Savings Banks. Any one who knows the history of savings banking in Australia must know that it was only after the Commonwealth began to move in this direction that the Savings Bank in South Australia got the security of the Government of the State behind it. The same may be said of Tasmania, and we know that in New South Wales there were two savings bank institutions in operation there. It was only within the last few weeks that they were amalgamated into, one institution, and were guaranteed the security of the State. In the case of all the institutions in the different States there was competition, irregularity, and lack of a State guarantee. It was because the framers of the Constitution were aware of this that they inserted paragraph xiii. in section 51 of the Constitution. They were of opinion that it was better, in the interests of Australia, that the Commonwealth should control and direct the Savings Banks throughout Australia. When the Commonwealth Bank was established, we know the opposition that was displayed, not only to the general banking, but to the savings banking, and everything else in connexion with it. We know the names and reputation of those who were opposed to it. We know that those same gentlemen are to-day members of the present Government, or supporting that Government, and that they never had any sympathy with the general or savings bank branch of the Commonwealth Bank. One reason why the Commonwealth can more effectively control and manage the savings of the people is that we have taken over, in the Post and Telegraph Department, an institution which can materially assist in the conduct of this business. The Savings Banks in the different States were connected with the Postal Departments of those States, and when those Departments were taken over by the Commonwealth, it should naturally have followed, as the most economical and best thing to do. that, the Savings Bank branches should have been taken over at the same time. General banking and savings banking by the Commonwealth Bank had many opponents amongst the supporters of the Government, who did all they possibly could to defeat it. Not being able to do so in this Parliament, they went outside and influenced their friends in the State Parliaments to do as they did. That is why the Treasurer, the Prime Minister, and the Premiers of the different States, with their henchmen, are prepared now to do what should have been done long ago. If they had any sympathy with the best interests of the people, and loyalty to the Constitution, they would long ago have seen that the State Governments did their business through the general branch of the Commonwealth Bank. They have shown their opposition to the establishment of that institution by refraining from doing so.

Senator Ready - Excepting Tasmania, where a Labour Government do their banking with the Commonwealth Bank.

Senator McGREGOR - There are Departments in some of the other States that are doing the same thing, but, as a general rule, and in some of the States particularly, they have shown direct hostility to the Commonwealth Bank. They now come along, however, and say, ' ' Mr. Treasurer, we object, and always have objected previously, to the Commonwealth Bank having anything to do with the savings of the people. If you will give up the Savings Bank business, we are prepared now to do what we should have done long ago, and will deposit our surplus cash in your bank, and make a great- institution of it."

Senator Millen - Whilst the party opposite were attacking the State Governments in connexion with the Savings Bank business, they expected those Governments to assist them in connexion with the general banking branch of the Commonwealth Bank.

Senator McGREGOR - We were not attacking them, but were carrying out the duty we were directed to discharge by the people of Australia.

Senator Millen - It was a direct attack upon the States' Saving Banks.

Senator McGREGOR - I have already stated that when the Commonwealth Bank was established, and the Commonwealth Savings Bank branch agreed upon, a number of the Savings Banks in the different States were not State institutions at all. Senator Millen knows that. I have given instances of it. It was only when the Commonwealth Government did their duty that those opposed to the Commonwealth taking over banking of any kind roused themselves. What did they do? In Victoria the State Government increased the interest paid by the State Savings Bank, and increased the salaries of the officers. Those officers and th© general public of the State have to thank the last Commonwealth Government, and not the State Government of Victoria, for anything they have gained in that "way.

Senator O'LOGHLIN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -Colonel O'loghlin. - The State Government liberalized the institution in South Australia also.

Senator McGREGOR - Of course they did, and they gave the Savings Bank there the guarantee of the State which it never had before. Previously that institution was an outside affair, and all the control the Government had in connexion with it was the appointment of a certain number of its directors. The people of South Australia had no Government guarantee for their deposits in that bank. The late Commonwealth Government did everything they possibly could to give the States a fair deal in this matter. At the very inauguration of the Commonwealth Bank the State Governments were offered, if they were prepared to come in and assist the Commonwealth and do their duty under the Constitution, the use of all the money they already had control of. They were offered 75 per cent, of all new business in each State, and were offered an equal call with the Commonwealth institution of the remaining 25 per cent. I have already mentioned that the Commonwealth Government, in taking over the Post and Telegraph Department of the different States, had the best facilities for _ the carrying on of the Savings Bank business which had previously been conducted in the post offices of the different States.

Senator Millen - If the Commonwealth Government could have taken over the Savings Bank business with the postoffices, why did they not do it?

Senator McGREGOR - They did what the Constitution permitted them to do. They established a Savings Bank in connexion with the Commonwealth, but the Constitution did not give them the power to compel the State Governments to fall in with their proposal.

Senator Oakes - And the competition of the Commonwealth Bank was not good enough to get the money.

Senator McGREGOR - Who is it that is keeping up the competition ? It is the Governments of the States, although they know that the work can be carried out more economically by the Commonwealth than by any of the States.

Senator Barker - They admitted that at the conference.

Senator McGREGOR - They could not help but admit it. Here we have six different institutions in the various States, with six boards of management. Those six institutions could be carried on with one head office in the Commonwealth. We have six boards of management spending money in erecting buildings and in other ways to carry on a business which could be more economically carried on by the one institution established by the Commonwealth. Every honorable senator knows that, and the Premiers themselves know it, but their jealousy of the greater powers of the Federation and their alliance with those who have been opposed to the conduct by the Commonwealth of both general and savings bank business makes it impossible for them to .see any good in the Commonwealth Bank. In summing up I say that it was the duty of the States to assist the Commonwealth by transacting all their business through the Commonwealth Bank, and it was in the interests of the people of the different States that they should have handed over to the Commonwealth - under conditions that we set down - the Savings Bank branches. Had they done that a saving would have been effected to the people, there would have been greater prosperity in Australia, and the Commonwealth Bank would have been a greater success than we can ever hope it will be under existing conditions. I am looking eagerly forward to the time when the people will wake up and realize what is best in their own interests - the time when they will condemn these State jealousies rather than commend them.

Here we have another instance of the Government going to the Premiers' Conference

Senator Oakes - It was nearly as bad as the Hobart Labour Conference.

Senator McGREGOR - But there were intelligent men at the Hobart Labour Conference. They drafted a policy for Australia that is a national policy, not one of a parochial colour.

Senator Millen - Had they any authority to draft that policy ?

Senator McGREGOR - They had every authority inasmuch as they had the people behind them. But the Treasurer and the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth attended the Premiers' Conference and said, "Well, gentlemen, we are in a quandary. We do not know what to do. There are several engineers and railway managers in Australia wrangling about what the uniform gauge ought to be. We have not the ability to decide the question, and we have not the courage to ratify what has already been done. What shall we do, what shall we do?" Do not honorable senators recollect that some years ago the battle of the gauges was fought in this Parliament?

Senator Millen - We did not deal with the most difficult aspect of it, namely, the financial aspect.

Senator McGREGOR - The Opposition are prepared to deal with that. A statement was made in connexion with it some years ago. Honorable senators know that the battle of the gauges was fought here and that the Commonwealth is at present constructing 1,063 miles of railway on the 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge. They also know that we have a guarantee from Western Australia that the State will build another 400 miles of railway on the same gauge. The Premiers' Conference was not competent to deal with this matter. Its members said to the Treasurer and the Prime Minister, " We can only accept your recommendation. What is it?" Thereupon the Treasurer replied, "Well, gentlemen, I think the best thing we can do is to refer it to the Inter-State Commission." Neither the Government nor the State Premiers felt themselves competent to dealwith it.

Senator Ferricks - The Government are making the Inter-State Commission their lumber room.

Senator McGREGOR -Yes. They are putting all their old rubbish there to be stored up. They have no idea of doing things at all. Their one idea is to push them on to " father." To my mind, the question of the railway gauge to be adopted by the Commonwealth was settled long ago, and I cannot understand this particularparagraph in the GovernorGeneral's Speech. When one looks at it, ono does not know whether it is the uniform gauge, or the financial aspect of the matter which is to bo referred to the Inter-State Commission. Then I would ask, "What qualifications have the InterState Commission for investigating the question of a uniform railway gauge?" With the exception of Mr. Swinburne, I do not know that any of the other members of that body possess engineering knowledge, and even his knowledge is of a limited character. Although the Commonwealth has decided to adopt a 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge, the Government are referring this question to a body of men who know very little about it. So far as this conversion of the different States lines to a uniform gauge are concerned, the Government ought to have a policy of their own. It should not be necessary for them to consult the Premiers' Conference, or the Inter-State Commission, or even the Judges of the High Court. They ought to have a policy of their own, and they ought to come boldly forward with that policy. In paragraph 12 of the Governor-General's Speech, we are informed that -

It is intended later in the year to bring forward proposals for meeting the financial issues which will then claim the serious attention of both Houses.

Everything is to be done later in the year.

Senator Millen - What the honorable senator is afraid of is that there will not be any "later in the year."

Senator McGREGOR - We are tired of listening to Ministers exclaiming, " Wait, and you will see what we will do." We have been waiting now for twelve months.

Senator Barker - They are like Micawber, waiting for something to turn up.

Senator McGREGOR - The longer they can wait, the longer they will wait. I repeat that the Commonwealth has already a 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge; and, in respect of the financial aspect of this question, I say that the late Government were always prepared to make a statement of their policy in that connexion. The ex-Treasurer has earned a financial reputation that will take him out of any difficulty, whereas the present Treasurer has earned a reputation that will lead him into every difficulty.

Senator Millen - What financial proposals did the late Government make for dealing with the gauge question ?

Senator McGREGOR - No question of that description arose while the Fisher Government were in office. It arose only when the transcontinental railway was in course of construction. The present Ministry will find that the Opposition always have a policy, and are always prepared to support that policy. They do not rush to an outside body for assistance in connexion with it.

Senator Millen - What is the honorable senator's policy in regard to the financial aspect of the gauge question ?

Senator McGREGOR - Does the Minister of Defence want to borrow it? That is what his party have done many times previously. I would be afraid to trust them with a threepenny bit.

Senator Millen - It would be a counterfeit if the honorable senator did.

Senator McGREGOR - It would probably have a hole in it, so that the Minister would never do anything with it beyond hanging it on his watch-chain. Then we are told that the Government intend to do great things in connexion with our navigable rivers - the Murray and the Darling. They had not a policy even on that matter, financial or otherwise, but they exclaimed, " For God's sake, let us get out of the difficulty. Let us pass this question on." So they passed it on to the Inter-State Commission, which has more work before it than it will be able to do in a thousand years-

Senator Millen - Can the honorable senator show me any authority for his statement that that matter has been referred to any body?

Senator McGREGOR - It has been referred to the Inter-State Commission.

Senator Millen - Where does the honorable senator find that information?

Senator McGREGOR - In the GovernorGeneral's Speech.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator is absolutely wrong. That document contains a definite statement that a Bill will be introduced into this Parliament for the purpose of dealing with the matter.

Senator McGREGOR - And it will be introduced on the recommendation of the Inter-State Commission. The Government cannot adopt any other course. Everything else has been referred to that body. The Inter-State Commission is to carry on the government of Australia. Then the Government also approached the Premiers' Conference on the question of immigration. They went there and said, " There is a great outcry in the press in regard to immigration, and the Labour fellows are complaining that we are flooding the country with immigrants. What are we to do ? Can we do in co-operation with the States anything which will relieve the Commonwealth Executive of blame? Do, for God's sake, tell us, so that we may get out of all our difficulties." Then they made certain suggestions with a view to the selection of suitable immigrants. They are going to get suitable immigrants to come out here, and the Commonwealth is to assist to bear the expense. It is a very peculiar thing that immigrants are corning out. They are being brought out by the States.

Senator Long - The immigration is slackening off now that there is a Liberal Government in power.

Senator McGREGOR - Yes. Under the Fisher Government there was no necessity for this fuss about immigration. Immigrants came here then as fast as they possibly could, because they knew that there was in power a Government who would do them justice if they got into any difficulties.

Senator Senior - They could not get vessels to carry out the immigrants.

Senator McGREGOR - No, but now the immigration is beginning to slacken off. There is a Government in the Commonwealth, and there are Governments in many of the States, that take very little interest in the people when they come here. They have been unable to get able-bodied men and women to come, and now they are bringing out boys and youths. Any one going about the streets of Melbourne this morning could see batches of these immigrants. Although I can see very badly, I saw about five youths in one group, seven in another, and three or four in another. I saw batches of young immigrants walking about the streets of this city with haggard faces, wondering where they were going to get employment. These were youths in point of years, but men in point of physical ability. It is the same old story: "We will bring boys and youths out here, every one of them being able to do a man's work. We will give a boy or a youth 10s. a week, and as soon as he becomes a man he will get the sack, and we will get more out." Is that the kind of policy which the present Government, in conjunction with the Premiers' Conference, are prepared to advocate for Australia? The immigration policy of the Labour party is to make the Australian conditions so satisfactory that men here will write to their friends in the older land, and say to them, "Come out here, where you can get a better living than at home." That is the immigration policy which we think is justifiable, so far as Australia is concerned. But what a miserable thing it is to bring out boys able to do a man's work, to give them a boy's wage, and when they want a man's wage to get out more boys ! I ask the Minister if that is their immigration policy, and if it is then I am ashamed of the Government, the Premiers' Conference, and the whole lot of them.

In the opening Speech there is a paragraph in reference to combines. I do not know whether the matter was considered at the Premiers' Conference or not, but it looks as though it was. We are told that legislation is to be introduced to control combines. For the last five or sis. years our opponents have been declaring that there was nothing of the kind in this country. If that is so, what is the use of their introducing legislation to control combines ?

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