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Thursday, 8 July 1915


Senator WATSON (New South Wales) . - With reference to these measures for extending the functions of the Federal Government, I can conceive of no higher duty or obligation resting on a National Parliament than that with which we are confronted As regards the war, we are all at one, and nothing can possibly sepa rate us in our quest for victory over our enemies, not even a question of this kind. The fact that we are at war does not necessarily imply that our obligations Co the electors have ceased in any degree, but rather that they have become intensified. The powers sought in these measures are powers which the Labour party has time and again made known to the people. There can be no question as to our limitations under the Constitution, and but for the fact that we have sympathetic Governments in the State Parliaments, our position, as a Commonwealth, would be much worse than it is at present. An instance is furnished by the Government of New South Wales, and that of Queensland. But for their active sympathy and co-operation in matters affecting the general weal our position from the stand-point of the capitalist would have been much worse than it is. The Wheat Acquisition Act of New South Wales saved the farmers a quarter of a million of money, whereas the speculators lost over half-a-million. There is speculation in connexion, with the foodstuffs of the people. In regard to the sugar question, the attitude of the Queensland Government has shown that they are prepared, not only to support and protect the people against the ramifications of the trusts in- that State, but also to cooperate with the Federal Government in order that the whole of the people of this country may be benefited by that means. While those Acts stand out clearly to the ' credit of the two State Governments there was no obligation resting upon them to do anything of the kind. They might have said, " If we were to act in that manner we would break the spirit of the Federal compact which provides for InterState trade on a Free Trade basis." On that ground they might have refused, ea a Government, to take any action for the preservation and protection of their people. The good results which have already accrued in New South Wales and Queensland are only an indication that if the powers were given to us in the National Constitution we might, with greater force and advantage, create a position in times of national calamity and peril which would protect the interests of the people from one end of the Commonwealth to the other. If I know anything of the compact for Federation it was one for the preservation of the whole of the people, that what affected one State and had a direct bearing on another, should be a matter of Federal interest. But we find that no such spirit has been evidenced. We find that wherever one State lias had an interest which it could conserve to its own advantage, little or no consideration has been given for other States. Take trade and commerce at the very border lines of each State. The one desire uppermost with a State is to bring all the trade and commerce of its own territory to a central seaport, notwithstanding the fact that an easier exit to market might be found in the adjoining States. The spirit of State interest or .State rights has maintained itself as vigorously as ever. In large centres centralization has become more rampant than ever it was. But powers, such as those which are asked for in these measures, would enable the Federal Government to so distribute our trade and commerce that such things would be rendered altogether unnecessary. In connexion with our industrial laws it will be admitted, I think, that there is a need of uniformity as regards the working conditions of the masses. At present in Australia there are seven sets of industrial laws, each one differing from the others, and it seems almost impossible to use the Federal law to any particular advantage. It does not matter what the nature of the dispute is, it does not matter how far-reaching its effects on the Commonwealth may be, if a dispute is confined to an industry within a State there can be no interference on the part of the Federal Government.


Senator Bakhap - Where is a necessity for interference on the part of the Federal Government if the dispute is confined to one State?


Senator WATSON - I will endeavour to show. During the year of 1909:10 we had evidence in connexion with the coal trade of New South Wales. Whilst the dispute amongst the miners was confined within the limits of a district, and to -a certain, organization, the position of the whole Commonwealth was imperilled, and trade and commerce were almost at a stand-still. Coal being a necessary product for the conduct of all industrial and commercial life,- it was perceived that some power should be given to the Federal authorities which would render it imperative that a Court should deal with the difficulty, which seemed to be beyond the bounds of the State authorities to cope with. As we were affected directly, and as it affected trade and commerce, and threatened the whole of our national life, we claim that some power should be given in the Constitution which would enable the Federal Government to act. It is a matter of history that as the result of a test case it was found that the question was outside the jurisdiction of the Federal Government, consequently the men had to continue the agitation, and the whole of our industrial, life was threatened. We find another instance in connexion with our railway systems. In each State there is a system of railways controlled by the Government, and it is only under State laws that any people who feel aggrieved can seek redress. It is a case of men going to law before their employer. There is no means of redress outside the employer for the settlement of a grievance. Therefore, in connexion with our great railway systems it is imperative that some power should be given to the Federal authorities to go into any State where there is a dispute or a difficulty and adjust it, even though it may be against the interests of that State which may be contending against its own employees.


Senator Bakhap - Set aside the State authority which is the representative of the State-owning of property.


Senator WATSON - The right of one man ceases where the right of another man begins. The right of the Commonwealth is greater than "the right of any State, and no difficulty can arise in connexion with the railway system of a State which does not affect the Commonwealth as a whole. Surely it is apparent that something should be done to put an end to this guerilla warfare which is ever manifest in connexion with our industrial life. I am conscious, of course, that these sax proposals have been submitted on several occasions to the Senate, that the arguments have been threshed out, and have become almost threadbare. In a question put to an honorable senator, Senator Bakhap asked whether, in the event of our not succeeding at the polls we would come again with the proposals. To that question I reply "Yes."


Senator Bakhap - Drag the principle of the referendum in the mire have one every day.


Senator WATSON - Our motto is, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again! " In the course of five years we have had three Federal elections.


Senator Bakhap - It is the only time that one has intervened between the statutory periods.


Senator WATSON - We were elected to the Senate on certain pledges, which were made known to the people. If there is any true test as to the reasons why these proposals should be submitted at this hour to the country, it is the fact that when %ve were in the first blush of this awful conflagration which is upon us we said to the people that, if returned to power, one of our first acts would be to resubmit the referenda proposals. The people gave us an overwhelming majority, and if we were to refuse at this hour to resubmit the proposals, we would certainly be recreant to our trust and the principles we have espoused.


Senator Bakhap - You have an overwhelming majority in the representation, but you did not have an overwhelming majority of the votes. You had a very small margin of votes.


Senator WATSON - That is immaterial. I have yet to learn that any Government have constructed their policy on the aggregation of numbers so far as the election was concerned. The practice has been that if a Ministry had a majority of one in the House, even though the majority was the Speaker, the party would still continue to carry on the affairs of government. This is one of the affairs of government so far as the Labour party is concerned. We say that, unless the powers are conceded to the Parliament, we cannot give effect to the wishes of the people as set forth on our platform and enunciated in our policy speech. If we cannot give effect to our policy, and we were to refuse at this hour to proceed with the referenda proposals, it means that we are to shut up shop, go home, and tell the people that we cannot do anything while the war is in progress. I have no doubt that our honorable friends on the other side would like to see that. It would suit their programme very nicely, and when we went before the people again this statement would be thrown in the faces of our supporters - " Although the Labour party had a great majority in both Houses, what did they do for you? They promised you that they would do this, that, and the other, but when the crucial test came they were found wanting."'

The people would have a just grievance against us. We are asked to desist from taking these proposals to the people on the ground that we are now at war. But do not honorable senators recognise that we were at war previously ? The greatest war of mediaeval times is that between capital and labour.


Senator Shannon - Only in mediaeval times ?


Senator WATSON - I should have said in modern times. That conflict has raged for many ages, but that is no reason why we should now lay down the puny arms of rebellion. The worker has had to fight his way all along the line of progress, he has had to manifest a spirit of eternal vigilance, otherwise he would not have attained the position which he occupies to-day. In endeavouring to give effect to the proposals embodied in these Bills, we are only exercising our undoubted prerogative. We are merely seeking to cope with an evil which has been only too apparent for many ages. We do not aim at overthrowing the present capitalistic system by means of these proposals. Their purpose is the regulation of the affairs of life in their relation to the. social and industrial welfare of the people. That one man should have the right to indiscriminately impose certain prices on articles of food - to corner the foodstuffs of the people, and to demand any price that he may choose for them by reason of his possession of a monopoly - is an iniquity that knows no hounds.


Senator Shannon - Is that being done in Australia?


Senator WATSON - I unhesitatingly assert that it is. It was done in Queensland in connexion with butter. Two shiploads of butter were despatched from that State to London after the drought had made its presence felt. When the shipments reached England, instead of the butter being unloaded, it was returned to Australia to be sold here. Having first created an artificial scarcity in the article, the owners of this butter were thus enabled to exact a higher price. That is not the only instance of exploitation by a combine to which I can point. There are trusts in existence in connexion with our coal, our wool, our meat, indeed, in connexion with every article of diet that one can mention. Of course, one may not be able to place his finger upon them. That is the difficulty. Bub we have merely to reflect that our population has not increased in a ratio commensurate with the increase of our commodities to recognise that there can he no real scarcity of commodities.


Senator Shannon - Is there no real scarcity of meat in Australia to-day?


Senator WATSON - There is no real scarcity. It is a monopoly of that commodity which creates the scarcity.


Senator Shannon - Why, it will take Australia ten years to recover from the effects of the drought.


Senator WATSON - Exportation is only legitimate after the needs of the people have been satisfied.


Senator Bakhap - Should what is required for the needs of the people be sold compulsorily at a lower price than it would realize if exported?


Senator WATSON - Our experience is that food exported from this country is sold at its d.estination for less than it would realize within our own borders.


Senator Bakhap - Then why all this cry about exploitation in connexion with export ?


Senator WATSON - The position is that if we disallow any article to be exported in excess of our normal requirements, competition will bring the local price within reasonable bounds. But by creating an artificial scarcity monopolists are able to command their own price.


Senator Bakhap - Half of our wheat crop has to be exported in normal years.


Senator WATSON - I take no exception to exportation in excess of our own needs. But I claim that we have the right to the first cut-


Senator Bakhap - At our own price?


Senator WATSON - No; but at a price which is reasonable for the article.


Senator Bakhap - Who is to fix what is reasonable?


Senator WATSON - When the powers sought in these Bills are conferred upon this Parliament, the Commonwealth Government will be able to regulate the prices of articles consumed. At the present time there is a Necessary Foodstuffs Commission sitting in New South Wales.


Senator Keating - If the honorable senator is going to rely upon that, he is doomed to a fearful disappointment.


Senator WATSON - Whether that Commission is sufficiently constituted or not I do not propose to discuss ; but I am certainly more prepared to place the interests of the people" in the hands of a

Commission of unbiased experts than I am to put them in the hands of a designing monopoly, which has only one interest to serve - its own pecuniary interest. When we reflect that in America there are about nine or ten men who own from £600,000,000 to £700,000,000 worth of wealth, it will be apparent to the ordinary man where the wealth which is being created is going. He will then realize whether there is a fair distribution of it, or whether a few individuals are reaping an advantage at the expense of the many.


Senator Keating - Under the Necessary Commodities Act in New South Wales the price of butter was fixed. Yet in Sydney on Saturday last I saw people scouring the city for a half-pound of butter, and they were unable to get it.


Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The butter is in Victoria and South Australia, where it is being sold by the hundredweight. Make no mistake about it.


Senator Keating - The honorable senator would have made no mistake if he had seen people in Sydney telephoning from a club for it, without avail. In such circumstances what is the use of fixing a price ?


Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - We should fix the price and handle the commodity.


Senator WATSON - Since the Necessary Commodities Commission began its work in New South Wales it is quite evident that there has been concerted action on the part of some people for the purpose of creating a scare in the market. When we find cattle which ought to be on our farms being sold for beef, we can only conclude that some ulterior motive is operating.


Senator Bakhap - The producers dried off their cows because of the price of butter.


Senator WATSON - -They desired to break down the work of the Commission, and to render it impossible for us to say what was a fair price to pay for butter.


Senator Keating - It paid the dairymen better to sell' their cows for beef than to milk them and to sell their butter at the price fixed for it.


Senator WATSON - The fact may be explained in various ways.


Senator Gardiner - The north and south coast districts of New South Wales - which are the dairying districts - have just experienced two of the best years they have ever had. The companies are actually refusing to take their cream.


Senator WATSON - These facts explain what is behind all this. I am inclined to think that there has been concerted action on the part of certain individuals who desire to thwart the ideals of the Labour Governments, not only of New South Wales, but of the Commonwealth. The development of the Labour movement has been most striking. Indeed, that movement has spread over this country with the force of a tornado. There has been an enunciation of certain principles which have been the dream of our fathers for ages, and the people have subscribed to ideals which are dubbed socialistic. I say all hail to such socialistic ideals as will protect the interests of the masses against the greed of capitalism. We have been met with the sentimental cry that these Bills ought not to be referred to the 1 electors at this time, because the people are in dire distress as the result of their sons having fallen in the war, and because our country is a house of mourning. We bemoan the losses which have been sustained, not only by our own people, but also by our Allies. But, because we are engaged in a great struggle for liberty against a military despot, it is not to be assumed that the people of Australia are incapable of managing their own domestic affairs. If we are going to protect the British Empire from a military autocracy, we have as much right to protect our own people against the ravages of individualism and capitalism. That being so, opposition to our proposals on the ground that there is lamentation throughout the land, and that the people are grief -stricken to such an extent that they cannot discharge their ordinary duties, seems to rest upon a very unstable foundation. It may be said that we are asking for extraordinary powers, but the necessity for their exercise has never been more apparent than it is at the present time. The cost of living was never so outrageously high as it is today. We have had it thrown in our teeth that. the high cost of living is due to the greatly-increased wages of the worker, but it cannot be shown that any advance in the wages of the worker has increased the cost of the necessaries of life. The evidence given in the various industrial Courts upon applications made for increases of wages shows that the plea always put forward by the workers in support of their application has been that their wages should be increased because the cost of living has gone up. The fact, therefore, is not that the increase in the cost of living is due to the increase in the wages of the worker, but that the increase in the wages of the worker has been necessary because of the increased cost of living. Our whole civilization is gradually becoming more and more organized. The workers are organized to-day as they never were before. That is why we have in the Senate thirty-one members who represent the cause of Labour and only five representing the Liberal cause. That is why we have a majority of ten in another place, and why five out of six of the State Governments at the present time are Labour Governments. But, whilst Labour is organized, capitalism and the interests of commerce are also organized; I was going to say to an equal extent, but I will say to a far greater extent. Trade and commerce of any consequence at all, having a unity of interest, has its combination or organization, or, if it has not, those carrying it on have what they are pleased to call " an honorable understanding." The two forces to which I have referred are at war, and it is the object of this Government to seek from the people all the powers necessary to enable them to adjust the relations between the two conflicting parties in such a way that neither shall be in a position to fleece the other, and that, combined, they shall not be in a position to fleece the general community. As a new member of the Senate, I admit my limitations in dealing with this question. I have no more desire that the people should be harassed, or that the spirit of party conflict should be encouraged, at a time like this than has any other member of the Senate. If I thought that submitting these proposals to the people would in any way interfere with the successful prosecution of the war, I should be the first man in this Chamber to rise up in protest against anything of the kind. If there is opposition and party conflict in connexion with the matter, they must come from the other side. So far as honorable senators on this side are concerned, they have not raised an issue that was not before the public previous to the war and since its commencement. We have all along had these necessary amendments of the Constitution in view. It is singular that the Opposition should raise the cry of truce in regard to these matters, and, at the same time, refrain from putting forward their arguments against these proposals. The fact that they have used no argument against them in the Senate or in another place will, doubtless, be noted by the general public. This should be a reason why we have a right to anticipate that there will be no party conflicts when these proposals are submitted to the people. If honorable senators opposite are not prepared to debate them here, I take it that they will not be prepared to debate them on the public platform at the referendum.


Senator Bakhap - Let the honorable senator not make any mistake about that.


Senator WATSON - If they are prepared to debate .them from the public platform, they should now state their arguments, that the people may be given an opportunity to decide whether these proposals are worthy of consideration at the present time.


Senator Bakhap - The honorable senator must not forget that the leaders of his own party have confessed that the proposals have already been discussed almost ad nauseam.


Senator WATSON - That may be so, but I am not aware that it is a good reason for the silence of the Opposition.


Senator Bakhap - We will give it to the honorable senator pretty loudly presently.


Senator WATSON - I shall be prepared to listen to the honorable senator's loud voice, and will not take any exception to it, either.


Senator GARDINER (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) - The honorable senator should not make any rash promises.


Senator WATSON - I mean to_ say that we on this side are in a position to welcome any opposition which our friends opposite have to offer to these measures. I am quite sure that if I had had the good fortune to follow Senator Bakhap, rather than to precede him, in this debate, my address would have been more animated. I am. ' satisfied that, notwithstanding all that honorable senators may have to say in discussing these measures, their discussion of them can only assist our case. Their silence will not do it any harm. I have no doubt that the spectacular demonstration in another place, the other day, will only pave the way for a greater demonstration of public feeling against the opponents of these proposals for their silence, and on the ground that they left the legislative chamber when a matter of vital interest to the Commonwealth was under consideration. I believe that they will have to pay the penalty for that. I am satisfied that the people were never more earnest in their consideration of matters of a national and political character than they are to-day. I had the pleasure of spending a few weeks in Queensland during the recent election campaign in that State. I had no previous knowledge of the people there, but I want to say that I never saw so much interest shown in a political campaign as I witnessed on that occasion. ' The people were united in seeking to return to Parliament a party that would serve the highest and best interests of the State, and I am glad to be in a position to say that they did their work well. In view of what took place in Queensland, I am of the opinion that the people will give more attention to these referenda proposals when they are submitted to them than they would give to them at any time other than that of a general election. I believe that the cry for a truce in this matter when the people are at war will be ignored, and that no notice will be taken of sentimental talk which has not redounded to the credit of the public press, which is, in a measure, the leader of opinion, or of the men who have made use of such talk with a knowledge of the limitation of our powers for good government in the Commonwealth. I trust that when the people are given an opportunity to vote upon these measures all the scare about the war will be at an end, and the war itself will be a thing of the past. I hope that the questions will be settled once and foxall, and that we shall have a Constitution which will enable the Commonwealth to work out its destiny as a progressive nation.







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